A Nato So Good Experience…

Anyone who knows me is quite aware of the fact that I will eat just about anything, dead or possibly still alive. Well, the next morning I finally found my match…

After having a nice sleep in, we went to have “breakfast” at 11:30 at one of the restaurants Atsushi had recommended. Unfortunately, they had stopped serving breakfast, and since there wasn’t really anything Steph could eat, we found another restaurant nearby that was accommodating. They served mainly sushi here, which, like yesterday’s meal, came out on a conveyor belt. Actually, this time, there were 3 levels of conveyor belts! I was in sushi heaven. That is, until I let my adventurous curiosity get the better of me and randomly selected what looked like a very delectable item. I took one bite and quickly realized something was wrong. Oh, very, very, wrong. I cannot even remotely describe the atrocity that was in my mouth, but it wasn’t going to go down. I actually feel sick just re-living the moment as I type these words. I immediately looked around for the nearest washroom or possible exit, but I was trapped. Steph noticed I was in sudden panic mode and, with a large gob of the stuff still festering on my tongue, I explained how I was going to puke. She thought I was joking and laughed hysterically as we looked for escape options. Time was now of the essence. I didn’t want to insult the owners, server, or disgust the old men sitting right next to us. So, once the coast was clear, I reached for several napkins and let’s just say I created my own sushi roll. We discovered what this was the very next day when Steph fell victim to it as a side dish – in raw form! I immediately identified the smell, and in a later conversation with Atsushi, he told us that this legume is called “Nato”, or, as he prefers to name them, “destroyed beans”. Indeed! It turns out that only 40% of Japanese people can actually stomach it. An acquired taste, perhaps? Not in my lifetime!

After an eye-watering experience, we headed for Kyu Shiba Rikyu Garden which is located just on the fringe of Tokyo amidst some tall skyscrapers. It was only 130 Yen each to get in (roughly, $1.50 Canadian). Again, it was an absolutely gorgeous, sunny day, and again, I was absolutely blown away with this much larger garden. Although there were only a handful of flowers in bloom with it being January, as a gardener, it was a real treat for me to get a better sense for the actual shape and bones of a Japanese garden since they would otherwise be filled in with foliage. There were also a few guys pruning some bonsai-style juniper trees which was equally rewarding. Anyway, I could go on and on (as most of you know), so I’ll let the pictures take over from here.

We ended our day with a visit to Zojoji Temple, close to Tokyo tower. It was a little chilly nearing dusk, so we warmed up to some hot chai lattes before going in. We sat inside, mesmerized by the beautiful gold Buddha, while taking in the spiritually cleansing smell of incense. It was a very peaceful experience. They say smell is the most nostalgic of all the senses, so we purchased a pack of 100 incense sticks so we can try to re-create this atmosphere back home. Now all we need is a 1/2 ton bodacious Buddha and we are all set! 🙂

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Back to the start of our Asian Adventures: Exploring Asakusa & Meeting our 1st couch-surfing host!

After a late night hanging out with the Aussies, we woke up surprisingly early the next morning around 07:30 to a beautifully sun-filled day. Although it was still a little chilly out (around 7 degrees), it was still a nice change from constantly damp B.C. weather. We were extremely hungry, so before Steph went on one of her famous hunger rages, we grabbed a couple of “breakfast” items from a 7-Eleven just around the block. Compared to the barely edible sandwiches and those wieners that spin around 24/7 like caged hamsters back home, they actually have REALLY good food there, and even Steph-friendly food!

After breakfast, we took a stroll to Asakusa’s main market, Nakamise, which leads up to one of Tokyo’s most colourful and popular temples – Sensoji. While walking through the city, my first impression of Japan was how CLEAN everything was. The streets and even the alleyways were so spotless you could lick the ground! There wasn’t even a small scrap of garbage anywhere!! It was really quite remarkable, especially given the fact that Tokyo is THE most populated city in the world. The air smelled SO fresh, some flowers were in bloom, and everything just made sense.

We wandered the numerous kiosks and food stands (there are over 200 of them!) within the temple grounds and eventually made our way to the Sensoji Temple itself. Legend has it that in the year 628, two brothers fished out a statue of Kannon, the goddess of mercy, from the Sumida River, and although they put the statue back into the river, it returned to them. Consequently, Sensoji was built nearby for the goddess of Kannon. The temple was later completed in 645, making it Tokyo’s oldest temple! As it was my first time visiting a Buddhist temple, let alone any temple, we watched as people cleansed themselves in the water pools. Steph had been once before, so she took the first plunge, but quickly forgot what to do. Luckily, this cute old Japanese man saw her and took the time to demonstrate the routine. Steph then showed me the ropes and we went in to witness huge masses of people tossing in money and making wishes. My wish was that the brave men who went in to retrieve the dough didn’t get coined to death!

We then stumbled into this garden adjacent to the temple. My dreams immediately came true. As a gardener, my favourite style by far is that of the Japanese. The natural stone features and exceptionally manicured shrubs combined with the soft movement of flowing water and teeming koi always elicit an amazing feeling of calm and tranquility for me. As you might have guessed, I immediately went on a camera frenzy to try to soak in everything I saw. The funny thing is, I only covered about a 1,000 or so square foot area in just over an hour. Steph said to save the pictures for the famous Shinjuku Garden, but I was already mesmerized by this little plot which isn’t highlighted in any guide book. Maybe that’s what I liked about it most. I easily could have stayed there for the remainder of the day being entertained by all the koi, but the sun was starting to fade, meaning Steph was getting cold and hungry. We tried this traditional sushi place around the corner (which was SCRUMPTIOUS), and then packed up our bags to meet up with our very first ever couch-surfing host, Atsushi.

Atsushi lives in Kawasaki, which is located about an hour from Asakusa by train. He e-mailed us earlier in the day to tell us he would be working late, so he arranged for one of his friends, Kohei, to receive us at the Kawasaki train station. When we arrived, we were about 15 minutes late, so naturally, Steph was freaked out, and even more so when we couldn’t find him by the clock tower where he said he’d be. When we realized we couldn’t actually contact him since we didn’t have a cell, I panicked a bit too. We searched around frantically and finally stumbled into a nearby internet cafe. We tried to call him using gmail chat on our laptop, but when their wi-fi connection wouldn’t work, we eventually just asked the cashier if we could use their phone. The girl at the cash was really helpful; she even let us use her own cell! We finally spoke with Kohei and he swung by in 5 minutes. Despite not knowing what we looked like, it wasn’t too hard for him to spot two Canadians in a sea of Japanese faces.

We instantly got along with Kohei as he is just so nice and laid back. He walked us to Atsushi’s place, which is an interesting 15-minute experience through Kawasaki’s flashy stores, restaurants, and other “special services”. We were a tad hungry, so again we walked to the 7-Eleven located just steps from Atsushi’s place and had a great chat getting to know Kohei over a few local beers before Atsushi finally arrived home from work – at 11:45 p.m.!!! Despite being clearly exhausted, he was SO accommodating – to the point where he asked if I wanted his take-home meal he had brought home for dinner. He even stayed up a bit to help us plan out our next couple of days. Atsushi also lent us an extra cell (which his American girlfriend uses when she is in town), in case we needed to contact him at any time, day or night. We went to bed late again to recharge for another action-packed day.

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We’re Alive! :)

Greetings from somewhere in Laos! As I begin to write this with an epileptic pen, Steph and I are comfortably stretched out in our bunk on a sleeper bus headed to Luang Prabang ~ or, at least as comfortable as one can get on a bumpy road. We thought it might be a good idea to update everyone on our travels, just in case you thought we had lost our way or were kidnapped by the Yakusa (Japanese Mafia) – I believe that is where we last posted.

Our journey to date has taken us on quite the adventure and we would like to highlight some of those moments – good and bad. We apologize for the very lengthy delay as a solid wi-fi connection has proven hard to come by in South East Asia and we grew frustrated waiting up to 30 minutes at times just to load a single picture. It could be, though, that our recently acquired travel laptop is a lemon. Actually, I prefer the term “piece of poop.” I love lemons! Either way, we hope to bring you up to speed before we return.

If you are reading this, it means we were able to decipher my scrambled notepad writing from the sleeper bus, secured a good enough Internet connection at our next guest house, and successfully transferred it to the post you are reading now. Anyway, if you still remember who we are and would like to read on, we invite you to do so.

Well, it’s time to turn off my flash light now on this dark, rickety-rackety bus and try to catch some shut-eye. Steph’s already passed out and I think everyone else is too for that matter. Goodnight from the true ragged ass road, Laos.

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In the plane, part of the plane: Trip to Tokyo!

After a late night of laughs with Phil and Justin watching “Adventure Time”, we quickly caught some shut-eye at Phil’s place around midnight before my heart-attack inducing cell alarm went off at 4 a.m. to signal the start of our big journey. With heavy eyes, Phil and Justin got up and drove us to the airport for our 7 a.m. flight. Thanks so much guys as we otherwise would have spent a fortune catching a cab to the airport!

After the usual cattle-prodding through airport security, we made a few last-minute calls to put our cell phone plans on hold, and then we were off! Our first flight was a quick 1 hour hop over to Portland, Oregan with Alaskan Airlines and it went pretty smoothly. We then had to wait several hours in the international transit lounge before our next flight. It’s a beautiful airport with lots of natural light shining through and their little souvenir shops were quite telling of their city. Portland looks like a very cute, green little place and Steph and I would love to take a little trip there one day. They really seem to love their “Ducks” though lol (whatever football franchise that is) as just about everyone was wearing a shirt or hat with a beak on it.

While waiting to board, a barely audible announcement by Delta Airlines came on calling Steph to the counter. I assumed it was to double-check on her food for the flight since she had called the evening before to pre-arrange a “Steph-friendly” meal. Well, this assumption was totally wrong. Steph then came back in a feverish sweat and said they also needed me at the counter ASAP. It turned out that Delta required proof of exiting Japan since we didn’t have a return ticket. We explained that we had booked our flight out of Japan (to Malaysia) the week before, but the clerk required documentation. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a print out of our receipt, and that is when Steph went into absolute panic mode (her mom knows this state very well). After freaking out a little myself, I opened up our laptop to access our flight itinerary online. I showed it to the clerk, but she insisted this was still insufficient since we didn’t yet have our pre-boarding pass and seats booked. How is that even possible? What do we look like, magicians? With Steph fuming, I firmly explained that there was no way this information would be possible to obtain since they only release pre-boarding passes a few days before the flight. I jokingly added that there was no way on earth we could even afford to stay in Japan anyway lol. She then explained how strict Japanese customs agents are and that they could actually deport us. Apparently, Delta is charged a fine of $10,000 USD for every person they have to send back. She said we could try to use what we had, but there was no guarantee they’d accept it. We really didn’t have any other option, so we just took our chances and boarded the plane…

I’ve always imagined the 12-hour trans-Pacific flight from North America to Asia to be long and grueling. Steph was painfully bored of it about half-way through, but it honestly didn’t affect me at all. Maybe I’m just getting old lol. I never even once felt tired, but it was likely that “wired” feeling combined with excitement. Or, perhaps it was the fact that they kept coming by with food, snacks, and refreshments every hour on the hour, and so my stomach did not want to miss a thing. They even served ice cold Japanese beers, and so I definitely took advantage of this pricey commodity back home 🙂

We finally arrived at the Narita airport around 4:30 p.m. Tokyo time. It was strange to think that we were already a day ahead, but neither of us were abnormally tired or jet-lagged. We filled out our customs forms and plugged our computer in a vacant outlet in the wall while we waited for our bags (our laptop battery died on the plane, so it needed a quick charge so we could open our only proof of exiting Japan). Steph started panicking once again with the thought that we might get deported. We grabbed our bags, and nervously shuffled our way to the customs agent. He asked us where we were from and how long we were staying, and then said, “Have a great time in Japan!” PHEWF! With a HUGE sigh of relief, we took the metro (which looks like an infinite spider web of track lines) and eventually found our way to the Nui Hostel in Asakusa (a subdivision of Tokyo), where we would be staying for the night.

Being my first ever night in Japan, I thought it was only fitting to suck up our fatigue and take advantage of the beautiful bar lounge downstairs. It was a great thing we did as we met some crazy cool back-packeroos from Australia! They had already been there for a week, so were telling us about how great the area was. As our heads crashed through our pillows that night, we couldn’t wait to see what was in store for us next…

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Last Days in BC

So, what have we done since Christmas? Not any posts obviously…

We took a Grey Hound bus from Victoria up to Nanaimo to spend our last few days on the island with my mum. The bus was very stinky. I know that it won’t compare with buses in Asia and India, but for Canadian standards it was not nice. The people on the bus were a sketchy lot, and they smelled variouslly of booze, smoke, BO, and possibly urine. I suppose it was a good test to see how we will handle other transportation while we are away. lol!

Once back at mum’s house, we didn’t do too much really. On New Years Eve we went to The Crow & Gate Pub, which is an English pub in Cedar. It is a very nice pub that really does have the English feel to it (the owners are from England). We were sitting in the pub having a nice quiet drink (not knowing anyone else there) when Jay decided to pull down a bit of the Chistmas decoration “snow” (you know that cotton ball, fluffy stuff) and make himself a beard out of it. Well, that started a bit of a fad, and before you know it we had a large group of people all making various hairy additions to themselves. Jay sure does know how to break the ice! lol

I’d say the only other thing of significance that happened on the island before we left was saving the lamb next door. On Thursday evening (Jan 3rd), both of our neighbour’s (Jim) ewes gave birth to twins. One of them wasn’t doing too well, so since he doesn’t know too much about sheep (he’s a cow person) he asked mum to go take a look. Mum got her to drink some milk and then told him to make sure she drank more in the morning. I went over the next afternoon with Jay to show him the lambs. I didn’t think that she looked like she had eaten at all as she just didn’t look right. I asked the neighbour’s kid (who also happens to be named Jason), but he said that she had eaten. I found out after that he just likes to talk like he knows what is going on but he really doesn’t, so I didn’t do anything at the time. When mum got back from work, though, I told her I didn’t think the lamb looked right, so we went over after dinner. And a good thing we did, too! By the time we got there at about 6, the poor little thing was too weak to stand, and her belly was all sunken in. She was too weak to even suckle if you lifted her to her mum’s teat. So, mum milked the ewes and then fed the lamb with a suringe! We went out again at 10 to check on her and she really was not doing well. She was shivering and cold to the touch and her eyes were closed – she was on her way out for sure. Because the neibours weren’t going to do anything, we took her back to our house and put her in a large open box in the bathroom for warmth. Mum made a hot water bottle out of a ziplock bag and we put that under the blanket so she could warm up. It worked! Saturday morning she was looking a lot more alert and after mum fed her again she was able to stand a bit.

On the morning before leaving for the ferry, I went back over to get some more milk, which is a really hard thing to do! I haven’t milked an animal in years, not since I was about 8 or so, and you really lose the technique. Needless to say it took me 3 times longer than it did mum, and I didn’t get as much milk because when I finally got it figured out, the ewe was sick to death of me and wouldn’t hold still anymore. I named the lamb Miss Marianne, and she is now doing fine. Mum and Jerry are supplimenting her and her brother’s diet with goat’s milk because there is something not right with their mum. I am so glad that she didn’t die on Friday night (I really thought she might) as that would have put a real damper on the start of our trip.

We left for Vancouver on the 8:30 a.m. boat to stay with my brother and to see some friends before leaving early Sunday for Japan. When we arrived at my brother’s apartment, he was still asleep! So, we knocked on the door and even started singing to get him up. It worked, and Justin happened to be over, so let us in. They had obviously been partying the night before. We dropped off our stuff and went to find lunch and give him and Justin some time to sleep more. After that, we wandered Vancouver and basically ate everything. Well, I shouldn’t say “we” because I didn’t eat. It was the boys. They just kept eating. I thought it would never end! We met up with my good friends Breena and Ryan for dinner. It was nice for Jay to meet them as he wasn’t able to come to their wedding in October due to his Fall clean-ups. After dinner, it was time to head home to bed as we had to get up at 4 to get to the airport for our flight. Thus ended our almost 3 weeks in BC. (boy did it go fast!)

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Metchosin Christmas & Boxing Week in Victoria

After a fine evening of laughing and stuffing ourselves silly, it was time for yet another feast. We woke up early Christmas morning to drive down to Metchosin, where Steph’s Aunty Hilary and Uncle JP hosted a Christmas Day Breakfast/Brunch/Lunch/Lunner/Dinner (I really don’t know if such a meal has yet been invented as we never seemed to stopped eating).

Metchosin is located just outside of Victoria, about a 2 hour drive south of Ladysmith, so to get there, you must drive through one of B.C.’s most notariously tretchorous stretches of highway called the Malahat. I’ve driven this a few times before myself having been to Victoria and Metchosin with Steph the previous 2 Summers to visit her family, but I’ve never experienced it during a typical B.C. winter. It was pouring the morning we left and the roads were a little slicker than normal as some of the snow from earlier in the week had not yet melted. As we ascented into the dangerously beautiful mountains overlooking the ocean, I marvelled at how the rain gradually started to slow down and turn into wet snow, followed by a short squall once we reached the peak, then wet snow again, and eventally returning to rain as we began our descent. Thank God Jerry was driving us this time as I would have been destracted the entire time by how fascinating it was to actually witness the reference points of temperature change due to altitude at the precise moment it happens.

After a slow, but safe drive, we finally arrived at about 9:30 a.m. to a house bustling with cheer. We sat down to a wonderfully scrumptious buffet of food spread out across about 3 area codes. I believe my stomach was still digesting food from the previous night, but there was no time to waste as everyone quickly dove right in.

After this meal of biblical proportions, it was time to open gifts in the living room. Before that though, I called home to wish my family a Merry Christmas. I’m always late for everything, but luckily I called at just the right moment as everyone was over at my parents’ for Christmas lunch. It was so comforting to talk to each of my family members. Nonna, Nonno, Mom, Dad, my sister Jen, Uncle Chris, Aunty Michelle, and my cousins Julia and Derek: I love and miss you all!!! I was especially emotional when I talked to my Nonna. She always has that effect on me. Thank goodness there are lots of tight, triangularly-cornered spaces to hide in at the Lussier residence 😉

Steph and I also had a chance to Skype with Andre (who looked like a dark Mexican in Florida), as well as chat with Steph’s Aunty Meredith, Uncle Roy, and cousins Alison and Margaret who were all in Prince George, B.C. celebrating. Hilary and JP – if your phone bill is higher than normal this month, you know where I live. 😉 I probably talked all 8 ears off, but it was awesome to catch up and get travel (and return tips) from them. Thanks Ally for suggesting Kayak. It has actually proven to be the best go-to sight thus far for flights as we used it to book out of Japan (and Steph to India later on, as well as her return trip back home )!

Before leaving for B.C., Steph had told me that nobody really buys gifts for anyone anymore. Well, Santa must have been extra fudging generous this year (or there must have been a few grinches in the family), because I have honestly never seen so many gifts in my entire life. The ratio of gifts to people must have been at least 8:1, and that didn’t even include the Christmas stockings and cards!! In Steph’s family, it is always tradition that two of the “kids” put on a Santa hat and hand out the gifts, so since it was both Joe and my first Christmas, we were deemed the honourary kids for the day. Since there were so many gifts, I decided it would be practical to hand out several at a time in order to finish before the next dawn. Well, what a commotion this started. Steph immediately told me that I was doing it all wrong (surprise, surprise) and that I had to start with a small gift to “build things up”, rather than the larger one that was directly in my path and taking up roughly a half acre. With my family, it’s usually like a pack of wolves preying on an innocent dear that has absolutely no chance in hell. In fact, I remember one Christmas Eve (our family opens gifts on the 24th, in keeping with Italian tradition) when my little cousins beat everyone downstairs and opened up all of their gifts before half of the adults had even made it to the staircase. This was just far too civil. It didn’t make any sense.

By the time each person carefully opened their gifts (and one by one, I might add), the sun had almost completely set. Afterwards, all the “kids” (I love still being called one at 30) sat down and played a few board games, including a new one that Karina got Richard for Christmas – “Ticket to Ride (Europe)”. We paired up in teams and, although Richard and I were dealt a poor hand (and a few others were obviously cheating ;)), I had an absolute blast, and Steph and I will definitely be buying a copy upon our return! Ticket to Ride Asia, perhaps. 🙂 Of course this entire time, we continued our endless graze of food and literally ate the night away chatting and laughing.

On Boxing Day, Hilary, JP, Richard, Karina, Joe, Steph, and I (oh, and cute dog Taz :)) all went on a wonderful little hike up to Sitting Lady Falls, which is just a stone’s throw from Hilary and JP’s place. I kept having to pinch myself as I couldn’t believe everything was still SO green and warm this late into December in Canada!! After the brisk 1.5 hour hike, we returned home to some more food and Ticket to Ride 🙂

Steph and I spent the rest of Boxing week in Victoria (about 30 minutes away from Metchosin) to visit with Steph’s Grandma and Grandad. It was so nice to just chill out, relax, and chat with them during our 3-day stay. Steph also took me to see downtown Victoria a little more as I hadn’t seen much of it the last two Summers we were down. We were also going to visit Butchart Gardens to check out their annual “12 Days of Christmas” display, but there was honestly no point. We visited the garden in full bloom last Summer and, although it is absolutely gorgeous (and it would have been interesting to see the bare “bones” of the garden during winter), who needs to pay the price of admission when all we had to do was stroll along Victoria’s harbour front to see hundreds of flowers popping out and palm trees still looking great!? Besides that, we also had Steph’s grandma’s (yellow) winter jasmin to come home to, which, upon first glance, I honestly thought was fake!

On our last day, we took a stroll around the bog next to Steph’s grandparent’s place, which was equally rewarding. Frogs were still croaking! What the BLEEEEP? Steph pinched me and it hurt!! It was then time for us to say goodbye to Steph’s grandparents and head back to Ladysmith on the Greyhound bus to prepare for the big trip…

Thanks everyone for making my first Christmas away from home so special. You really made me feel like part of the family. Love and hugs to you all!! XOXOX

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Arrival in Ladysmith, B.C. & Preparing for Christmas

We made our 5 pm flight without too much trouble; although, when I went to do the automatic check-in, the stupid machine told me I couldn’t do it and I had to go see an agent. This gave me a mild heart attack as I was worried I had read the time incorrectly. I sometimes have issues with the 24-hour clock, so while I was waiting in line, I was beginning to freak out that the time on the ticket wasn’t actually 5pm, but that it read 15:00 and I had missed the 1 and so we had missed the plane. By the time it was my turn to go up, I was so certain that this is what happened that I was actually feeling sick to my tummy. However, I hadn’t messed up at all. Everything was fine. It was just Air Canada’s system doing weird things.

The rest of the trip went without further trouble and we landed at the Nanaimo Airport at 11:30pm. My mum was there to pick us up and when we went outside to the car there was snow on the ground! 😦 Boo. I couldn’t see mum’s car so I asked her if she had brought the truck, but it turns out that early that morning (really easily before 5) she had gotten in an accident due to all the slush on the road and her car was wrecked. My mum, thank goodness, was OK. So she had a rental car. It really sucks about mum’s car because it was a good little thing. The insurance company said it was a write-off though, so now she has to wait to get the money for it and then figure out what to do from there. Merry Christmas indeed…

I was not at all impressed with the white crap on the ground. I had been selling the Island to Jay as the only place in Canada with a green Christmas, and what do we see when we arrive? Snow, and more of it than on the ground back in Ottawa at the time! It didn’t last long, though. Within two days it had rained it all away and we could get on with a proper Island winter.

We settled in at my mum’s house and some of our first chores were to help with the chicken coop fence which had collapsed due to the wet snow. So the day after we arrived saw us outside pulling up fallen fences and putting up wire to try to block the hawks and eagles from getting to the poor hens. After we finished with the fences, we came back inside to put up the Christmas tree. Jay and I put up the tree while mum and Jerry, mum’s partner, finished the chickens. Putting all the decorations on didn’t take nearly as long as I remember it taking when I was younger. But, that being said, I didn’t put all of the decorations on because I decided there were too many, and besides, decorating the tree gets boring pretty quickly.

The next day we helped mum add clean shavings to the chicken coops so that they weren’t living in muck. We didn’t do a full clean because it was still all slushy and it was raining that day. Chickens have to be kept separate if they aren’t the same age/size because chickens are actually cannibalistic and if there is a much smaller one, they will peck the crap out of it until it dies. They will also eat their own eggs. Yuck. Anyway, when we did the quick clean, mum found one of the chicks (they are actually at the “pullet” stage – they aren’t all cute and fluffy and yellow, but they aren’t full-grown either, you can think of it like the teen-age years) on the hen’s side of the coop. She had got through the wire somewhere. She had been pecked a lot. Mum thought she was dead, but she wasn’t! We got a box and filled it with shavings and brought her inside to heal. We didn’t think she’d make it through the night, but she pulled through and made a good recovery. She is now back out with the other chicks and doing fine. I named her Plucky. Jay enjoyed working on the farm and he really likes collecting the eggs. We have 50 layers and another 90+ layer chicks right now. When the chicks get older, mum will sell half as “point of lay” (this means that they are just about to start laying) and keep the remaining 50. The older hens will be sold to other people who just want a few chickens for their own personal use. As hens age, they lay less eggs, so to make money, mum has to keep the younger ones and get rid of the older ones.

On the afternoon of the 19th, we went to my papa’s house to spend the day with him. He and his partner, Judy, were leaving the next day for Tassis, as Judy had to work over the holidays. After that, they would be leaving for their annual trip to Mexico. This time they are taking the cats as well! This would be the only chance I would have of seeing my papa, so we made the most of it. We chilled at their place, and went for a short hike in the trails to see the waterfall. It was still very slushy, snowy and wet in the woods, so we couldn’t do the longer trail we had originally wanted to do. After the hike, we came back in to have an espresso. Papa makes really good  lattes. It is at this point that things started to go a little haywire. A few days before, papa had gone to the doctor to have some lump removed from his elbow. When we were over, he started to complain that his elbow was stiffening up and getting really sore. Judy, who is a nurse, took a look at it and said it looked like it was infected! So off we all went to the emergency/minor care clinic in Ladysmith. We were there for about an hour and a half, but papa got in quickly. They had to give him an IV thing of antibiotics. Jay and I waited in the lounge while Judy went in with papa. While we were waiting we heard Judy say, “Louis, are you still with us?” Turns out papa passed out at one point! After he was all shot up with antibiotics, we went to the Mahle House for dinner. We had to delay our reservation by half an hour because of the little hospital detour. Papa had to leave the IV stint in his arm so that he could get another dose the next morning. If you are ever in the Ladysmith area, I recommend having dinner at the Mahle House. It is a very good restaurant – not cheap, but very, very yummy food.

My brother Nick came up on the 20th from Victoria. We spent the day preparing the Christmas baking and Christmas presents for the aunts, uncles and grandparents. On Friday evening we (all three of us – Jay, Nick and I), went to play pick-up soccer in Nanaimo thanks to Jay’s friend back home, Eddie, who told him about it when he used to go to Vancouver Island University. Jay and Nick were picked to play on the same team, and I was on the other team. Nick played keeper mostly, and he was pretty good! I got bored before we were done. I am not very good at soccer, but Jay said that I wasn’t bad at all, even having never played indoor before. He said that my positioning was good, and when I was covering him, I was “annoying him” because I did a good job. I can’t kick the ball worth a darn though, and I always feel very awkward. Oh well, it was fun anyway. 🙂 My other brother, Phil, and his partner Justin came over Saturday evening on the ferry from Vancouver. They were supposed to take a morning one, but Phil slept in and missed it. Mum was not happy, but it worked out well for me because I picked them up and used the opportunity to get my mum her Christmas present! I was very sneaky-sneaky about it, as she had said we weren’t to get her anything – as if I would listen to that! We even cooked up an excuse about why we were late coming back, but she never asked. On Sunday, mum and I made gluten-free gingerbread men and in the evening the boys and I decorated them. Neither Justin nor Jay had decorated gingerbread men before, and they had a blast. I tried to tell them that they should go a bit easy on the icing as it looks a lot better than it tastes, but as you can see by the pictures, they didn’t listen. Poor Justin almost busted a tooth on the nasty silver ballbearing candies – no one thought to warn him that they are practically inedible.

Christmas Eve was held at my Auntie Laura’s house (which is on the same property as mum’s house). Jay’s Christmas present came early as he got to do up mum’s Fall clean up in the garden just prior to dinner. We cooked the turkey and potatoes at mum’s and then brought it over to Aunty Laura’s when it was almost done. We had a large number of people for dinner, and it was noisy and cheerful as always. My Grandparents, Aunty Hilary, my uncle JP, my cousin Richard and his girlfriend Karina, and their friend Joe, all came up from Victoria for Christmas dinner. We also had Stewart’s post-doc student, Anita, from Germany over as well. In all, there were 17 people in total. Unfortunately, my cousin André is working in Florida (lucky bugger) and so couldn’t make it. My mum made homemade egg nog because I had asked her to make it for Jay. I made “vegnog” which is a vegan version made with coconut milk and avocado. It is really tasty. Even the “normal” people said it was outstanding 🙂 Jay was fairly overwhelmed by the amount of food. He totally missed the appetizers in the other room! He still had to see Christmas breakfast the next day…

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Preparing for the trip & Leaving Ottawa

The planning for our trip began long before the Summer. The first thing Steph and I had to do was figure out what to do with our tiny, yet conveniently located apartment which we rent month to month. We’ve grown so attached to the cute little spot on Bolton St. (located at the tail end of the Byward Market) as well as our awesome next door neighbour and friend, Ainsley, but we couldn’t afford to keep it for the 3 plus months we’d be away. We therefore either had to give up the place entirely and search for a new place upon our return, or sublet it. After much debating over the Summer (and although we were a little apprehensive about the whole process), we finally decided to try the sublet challenge…

We placed a few ads on Craigslist, Kijiji, and Used Ottawa over the Thanksgiving long weekend, and literally within a day our inbox was flooded 10 replies! Steph and I always felt the location was second to none for the price, but we had no clue we’d be able to find a person needing a place for such a short period of time, especially in the winter. Beginners luck, I suppose? We then sifted through the replies and found the perfect couple who even wanted to take care of our precious plants while we were away. Ellorie and Matt, we hope you are enjoying the place and finding yourselves at home! 🙂

With one giant box check marked, we had to figure out what to do with all of our stuff. My parents came to the rescue as they had ample space in their basement, or so we thought. Ever since I was a child, I’ve always been one to keep things. While some would call this being nostalgic, “hoarder” would probably be a more suitable term – a trait I must have inherited from one of my parents. Thanks, Dad!  I had no idea just how much stuff had been piling up down there, as if things had been left there for dead, literally a cemetery of my youth!

With my gardening season done for the year and Steph finally quitting her “beloved” position at Environment Canada on December 7th, we only had a week to get our act together. We had to re-organize and clean my parents’ basement before we could start bringing stuff over from the apartment. It was a long trip down memory lane as Steph and I found ourselves buried head-deep in my old papers, schoolwork (JK to University!), books, sporting goods, my crazy key chain collections, interesting clothing items throughout the years, etc., etc., etc.!! There were even old Sports Illustrated bikini model posters and calendars from the 90s (likely “cougars” by now). Steph and I instinctively knew what to do with these (I will get to that later). There was just SO much stuff that really had to go though – be it recycled, donated, or simply thrown out. Thank God Steph was there to council me through my separation issues as I wanted to keep just about everything I saw.

Once things started to look somewhat civil, we started bringing things over from the apartment. Of course Old Man Winter had to slap us with frigid weather and then several days of rain as we made multiple trips back throughout the week. Although it was a seemingly endless task at the time moving and cleaning everything, looking back now, it was pretty fun. It also felt SO refreshing to do a FULL clean sweep of the entire apartment as Steph says it had actually never been done when she first moved into the place back in July of 2008. We’ve spared pictures, but let’s just say there were so many dust bunnies, they were practically mating!

During this time, Steph still had to get her visa for India (where she will be spending a month at an Ashram in Rishakesh immediately following our journey together in South-East Asia). After 2 failed attempts to submit her application the week before at the Indian Embassy (once we went there and it was suddenly closed because there was apparently a “national holiday” (lol), and on the second, she was told she needed a second proof of address (which wasn’t initially listed on the website or application form), she finally obtained her Indian visa a few days before leaving. Although this was a frustrating experience as we walked all the way there and back several times, the man at the desk was SO kind and patient with us. Steph and I both felt this aura of peace and tranquility around him (we literally had goosebumps to the point where we both wanted to hug the jolly round man), so hopefully this is a sign of good things to come for Steph’s journey.

With most of our stuff now more or less organized, it was time to say Goodbye to loved ones. Although we won’t even be gone for a third of a year, it was still emotional to leave everyone behind for a while. I even had a tough time leaving my Saturday morning pick-up soccer, staying back at the end of the session to soak in every last bit I could of an empty gym. No wonder I am half Italian! Steph and I had such a small window with which to get things ready, we didn’t have enough time to see some friends before taking off (sorry to all of you whom we missed!), so Ainsley (living just across the hall) kindly organized a very last-minute shin-dig at his place for us on the Saturday night with a couple of close friends. Many thanks to you all for a fine evening of laughs! 🙂

The most emotional part of us leaving came on Sunday night, just moments before Steph and I were going to leave to see my family for an early Christmas dinner on the night before we left. As we were getting ready, hard drops of freezing rain started pelting the skylight window pane. This was really bad news. My mom called not even a minute later and told us not to risk making the 20-minute drive out as the roads were already a slick nightmare. I also didn’t have my winter tires on (since we would be gone until Spring), so dinner was officially cancelled. As soon as we said goodbye, it hit me that this would be my first Christmas away from my family, and I literally broke down crying. As Steph consoled me, my mom called me back (almost sensing my tears), and said she’d come and pick us up since she had winter tires on and could tell I was upset. Yay, mom! 🙂 To commemorate our up-coming trip, we ordered Thai food from Silver Spoon and enjoyed a wonderful send-off night with my Mom, Dad, Nonna, and Nonno.

After a very satisfying evening, we had to wake up early the next morning to finish packing things up from the apartment to bring to my parents’ house. Of course we were once again confronted with poopy weather, as rain soaked a lot of our stuff in the back of my truck, but we just laughed as there was nothing we could do. With things all packed up, we had just enough time to pull one last prank on Ainsley (a friendly, on-going war we have had for a while). Remember all of those Sports Illustrated bikini models? Well, we’ll let the pictures speak for themselves… 😉 With one final laugh with our freshly pranked neighbour, it was then a mad scramble as we had to dash across the city to run several last-minute errands, including buying my actual back-pack from MEC only 2.5 hours before our flight! All things considered, everything went pretty smoothly as we feverishly packed our bags (literally up to the last minute) before my mom drove us to the airport. Arrivederci, Ottawa! See you in the Spring!

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And they’re off!

We started this website so that you, our family and friends, can travel along with us as we explore the world (or at least little bits of it at a time). We figured it might also set some minds at ease for those of you who tend to worry (you know who you are ;)). Please don’t stress if we don’t post for weeks at a time – who knows what the internet situation will be like. We hope you enjoy the site and our posts (and hopefully our pictures, if we can figure out how to get them up).

Steph & Jay


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