Sunday, February 27, 2011

Snow Moominmamma

Finally, the days are starting to get longer and Spring is just around the corner. But before we bid adieu to this Winter and while there is still some snow left on the ground, my younger son and I took the opportunity to build a snow Moominmamma. It's an annual winter tradition for us. That's about the one good thing about winter. We get to build snow sculptures!

Before I move onto the snow sculptures, I have a pet peeve I'd like to clarify with all those winter-loving souls. There is no such thing as WARM weather during the WINTER season! It makes no sense to me when people remark how warm the weather is as soon as the temperature goes above zero. So, here's a handy chart describing how our body really feels according to the outside tempertaure.

Temp Range ........ Joan's Description......... My Hubby's Description

under -15°C .......... Friggin Freezing ...................... Freezing
-15°C to -6°C ......... Damn Freezing ........................Cold
-5°C to 0°C ............ Still Freezing .......................... Cool
1°C to 13°C ........... Cold ....................................... Warm
14°C to 20°C ......... Cool ....................................... Getting Hot
21°C to 25°C ......... Warm (Nice) ........................... Hot
above 25°C ........... Hot ......................................... Damn Hot

But I Digress. Here are some pictures of our snow sculptures from winter 2011 and winter 2010.

This is Moominmamma. We got this cutie while visiting Tokyo. But its origins is actually from Finland. According to Wikipedia, Moominmamma is married to Moominpappa and is the mother of Moomintroll. She very rarely gets cross and takes even the most distressing circumstances (such as the arrival of a comet, or being washed away by a flood) in her stride. Moominmamma would permit anything to her child and his friends, even smoking (she says it's good for the stomach).

Here's our Snow Moominmamma. If you look very closely, you can barely make out the apron we etched out around her belly.

This is what Moominmamma looks like in the evening.

Derek made this snow turtle last winter. It looks like it's sunbathing on the edge of a pond.

This is my interpretation of Sumi. Remember Sumi from the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics?

Monday, February 7, 2011

New Year, New Challenges

It's been only 3 weeks since I quit my long time job at Scotia. I had been employed in the same company with the same department for over 23 years. It beats me how I managed to stay so long at an extremely stressful job without losing my sanity. I suppose I stayed all this time mostly out of fear.

When I first started, I actually did enjoy the work, even though sometimes the work was so overwhelming, it scared the heck out of me. But I was young and full of energy back then and I took on the challenge of going through the steep learning curve. I forced myself to learn as much as possible, often taking work home where I can go over all the complex documents in order to familiarize myself with all the new material.

I was well rewarded in my early years and often given recognition for my hard work and dedication to learning more and more about my job. It turns out that the work I was involved in was always undergoing change so that even 23 years later, there is still more to learn.

Now, I didn't really mind learning new things, but over time, along with my seniority, I was expected to take on more and more of a workload and I didn't feel I was appreciated any more. I was simply expected to take on more and more challenging work because the bar kept on being set higher and higher, until I felt really really burnt out.

So why did I stay in a job where the stress level was so high that I started dreading going to work every day? Well, in fact, I did try to escape it on several occasions. The first couple of times I tried to transfer to a different department, my managers persuaded me to stay by offering me some relief in my daily tasks. It worked for awhile, but again over time, the burnt out feeling crept back in.

As I stated before, it was fear that mostly kept me on the job. The first fear was that once my husband and I acquired a mortgage, thus taking on one of the biggest debtload in our lives ever, we were scared to death of losing our jobs. So we both stayed put.

Then of course when children came along, we got ourselves nearly another mortgage in the form of childcare expenses. With the arrival of a new car, our monthly expenses just skyrocketed! There was no way we were going to leave our jobs now or even attempt to look for alternative work.

Fortunately, we stayed the course and bit by bit, we chipped away at all our debts. First, we got rid of the car payments, then the childcare expenses disappeared and last but not least, we got rid of our mortgage. That was the best feeling ever, to be Mortgage-Free!

Our next plan was to build up a large retirement nest egg by aggresively saving and investing in high quality and high-yielding securities. That was coming along nicely until the biggest scare of all happened. The stock market crashed in 2009! Again, my plan to escape the work place was derailed.

Now that the stock market has started to recover and our fears have been somewhat allayed, we finally felt this may be a good time for me to take that leap. I felt secure enough to leave my stressful job. That's not to say I'm ready for early retirement but I'm definitely ready for a change. So with that said, I gave notice at the beginning of 2011 and waded into the territory of semi-retirement. Yes, it is a little scary, not knowing what else lies out there for me, but I'm ready to take on new challenges.

So now I am looking forward to finding that dream job that is less stressful, is closer to home and hopefully one that allows for more creative input. I came close to getting that job just last week but a manager from a different department at Scotia offered me a short term contract that I was at first hesitant to take on. But then I thought, what the heck, let's see what else I can do at Scotia. It turns out this job is so stress-free and enjoyable that I may make a second career out of doing short-term contract work with Scotia for just a little bit longer. At least, with more spare time and less worries, I can more easily continue to pursue that dream job on the side.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Chinese New Year 2011 Celebration

We began the Chinese New Year celebration early this year by having some friends over on January 29th. Since none of us were overly traditional, we celebrated with an assortment of non-traditional food like pork stew, baked salmon marinated with miso sauce and shrimp with lobster sauce. But we did pass out red packets for the kids and I made some stuffed bunnies to give out, in honour of the Year of the Bunny Rabbit.

The next day, we visited my mom and we brought her some Chinese candies and mandarin oranges. I also prepared some coconut red bean pudding (molded like flowers) and baked her some bunny butter cookies filled with red bean paste.

Later in the week, we visited my in-laws and as usual, my mother-in-law treated us to a huge home-cooked meal. The meal was very traditional and included a fish served up whole (symbolizes prosperity), a soup consisting of dried bean curd (happiness), rice noodles (long life) and black moss seaweed (wealth) and many many other delicious dishes.

For the remainder of the week, we made some steamed turnip cake (lo bok goh), pigs tail stew and some mochi ice cream balls. None of these dishes are really traditional Chinese New Year food but we were just in the mood to try something a little different, but still has Asian roots.

I sewed these 2 bunnies to give away to the Nakamoto girls.

This bunny is posing in a clay pot which can be transformed into a carrot. I will do a separate post on "Transformer Toys for Girls" on another day.

Butter cookies for the Year of the Bunny. (Those darn turtles keep popping up every time we bake cookies).

The Bunny cookies were filled with red bean paste for that asian touch.

Coconut red bean pudding flowers

Some goodies we received from my in-laws. Red packets, tangerine oranges (luck & wealth), deep-fried coconut-filled dumplings (wealth), roasted pumpkin seeds, egg with black vinegar soup (fertility) and sweet dough soup (wealth & prosperity).

Mochi ice cream balls failed. Didn't form them fast enough. The ice cream started to melt and leak out.

This was the best looking one. Ugly but they tasted really good.

The ingredients I used for a steamed turnip cake.

Freshly steamed turnip cake

They tasted even better the next day, after they were fried up.

Defrosting some pigs tail and pork bones for a yummy stew

These are the dried ingredients that went into the stew

The dried ingredients are soaking.

Mmmmm.... pigs tail stew.

Friday, February 4, 2011

It's back to work!

Well, that didn't take long! So much for my maiden voyage into semi-retirement. It's been less than 3 weeks since I left Scotia and already I have been asked if I'd be interested in doing some contract work, starting next Monday. Coincidentally, I was also being considered for a full-time position working closer to home, at a job I was quite looking forward to. But since Scotia made me a firm offer I couldn't resist, I had to bow out of the other potential job offer.

I'm still holding out to finding more satisfying employment closer to home but I guess it just wasn't meant to be at this point in time. Oh well, I'm sure another opportunity will come up in the near future. For now, I get to re-start my 1-1/2 hour commute downtown to my previous workplace for the next 4 weeks. At least I got to miss the recent (Snowmaggeddon?) and I thoroughly enjoyed the 3 weeks off. I sure hope Old Man Winter will co-operate for my 4 week work term.

It's funny how after working at a stressful place for so many years that I came to dread Mondays, as well as Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. But now that I'm returning to a new job in a different dept., I'm quite looking forward to this coming Monday. I am a bit nervous because it is after all a new job and I don't know if things will work out or not, but at least I will get to see a lot of friendly and familiar faces and that is always a nice feeling. Maybe that was what I really needed. A nice loooong break from work to appreciate the work place again.

Now I only have a little over 2 days left to squeeze in some more fun time before I return to work. My hubby happened to have found this tutorial for me on how to peel a tangerine bunny rabbit. So, thanks to YouTube and a plentiful supply of mini mandarin oranges, I was able to cut out a respectable looking bunny on my 3rd attempt. Click here if you would like to give it a try.

Stay tuned for yet more fun with food during the Chinese New Year. (Next Post, Folks)

For this project, all you need is a small paring knife, an orange and a pen.

Draw in the markings.

After cutting, start peeling.

Almost done....

Admittedly, it looks more like road kill, but it does have some bunny like features, no?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Snow Days

For the Eve of Chinese New Year, Torontonians were warned to brace ourselves for a Snow Storm with between 25-30 cm of snow expected to accumulate by the evening. So far, we only saw a mere 8 cm of snow accumulated by early noon-time,which we easily cleared within half an hour. But snow is starting to fall again as I type.

Due to the dire warnings and announcements of school closings all across the GTA, February 2, 2011 was declared a Snow Day. The first Snow Day announced since January 1999. Wow! Remember January 1999 when Mayor Mel called in the Army to dig us out from under 40 cm of accumulated snow? Ever since that day, Torontonians have been endlessly jeered by the rest of Canada for being wimps. Imagine what the rest of Canada thinks of us now!

Personally, I think it's nice to have a Snow Day. Why should we all scramble out and fight through the snow if we don't have to? Why not stay home and just have some fun in the snow right in our own backyard? Heck, if people in Orillia can have 5 to 8 Snow Days on average a year, why can't Torontonians enjoy a Snow Day every 12 years or so? So come on, denizens of the GTA, kick back your snow boots and relax and enjoy your Snow Day!

Our neighbour was just finishing up as our family leisurely strolled out just before noon to shovel our driveway.

All the men came out in full force to attack the snow shovelling.

Colin seems to think shovelling snow in my direction will dissuade me from taking pictures of them.

Whoa! That snow is flying in my direction a little too close. No one ever appreciates what a dangerous job we paparazzis must endure in order to report a good story.

Time to retreat and report on "Snow Days" from the past.

Here we were back in 1999, digging out our little Spruce Tree. It was just a baby tree back then, just like my little ones.

Good Job! We can almost see the bottom of the tree now.

Aaaah, time for a break.

After hours of shovelling, we made a snowbank so high, that Derek had to go mountain climbing in order to get to the top. Colin is already walking along the top of the snowbank ridge.

Once at the top, Derek came sliding back down. It made for a fun tobaggan run.

Colin had fun sliding down too, sans toboggan. Those were the good ole days when a Snow Day really was a Snow Day.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Happy Year of the Bunny Rabbit

Happy Chinese New Year. 2011 is the Year of the Bunny Rabbit and lands on February 3. It's supposed to be the Year of Peace and Love.

Here's my attempt at depicting the Year of the Bunny Rabbit.

Check here for more Chinese New Year trivia.