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A Holiday Break of Sorts and final countdown to my @CMNHospitals goal for @RunDisney

A Holiday Break of Sorts and final countdown to my @CMNHospitals goal for @RunDisney

January 2 is my deadline for my Children’s Miracle Network fundraising goal for the 2015 RunDisney Glass Slipper Challenge! I’ve raised over $1,050 toward the $1,200 goal…ONLY $150 TO GO! CLICK ANYWHERE ON THIS PARAGRAPH TO GO TO MY FUNDRAISING PAGE!  Help me cross the finish line!!! PS– if you sponsor me, I’ll put your name on my running pance for the half marathon princess run! Yinz are absolutely the best, for SRS.

Despite my complaints that real grown-up life no longer has a winter break, things have been noticeably quieter around these parts for the last week. I’ve spent a fair amount of time hanging out with family, reading books, and best of all napping. SO many naps. It’s been lovely. You’d think I’ve had used this time to finally get together our belated Holiday letter…but it’s already late, so what’s a few more days later, when I can use this time for glorious glorious naps instead.

We wound up last week’s Toronto trip with a stop at Mystic Muffin. It’s a local favorite, known for its friendly owner, Elias, and the amazing apple cake he bakes. It was such a laid back, cool place. We had a great time chatting with Elias about how he came from Lebanon as a refugee and ultimately settled down in Canada, and about his sweet little daughter. The breakfast bagels were great and the buttery, sweet apple cake did not disappoint. This place was the best.

Mystic Muffin

#1 Apple Cake Fan

#1 Apple Cake Fan


On the long drive home, we listened to Serial (LOVE IT) and made a couple quick stops at wineries in Niagara-On-the-Lake. I did my best to keep Baby Beez occupied with my phone as we sampled a few wines and stocked up for the long, cold winter ahead.

I found about 300 of these on my phone by the end of the afternoon.

I found about 300 of these on my phone by the end of the afternoon.


We stopped first at Caroline Cellars, a homey and friendly favorite, to pick up some of their French Revolution marechal foch blend. Our second stop was Stratus, which has a cool modern vibe, and easily the most gorgeous tasting room I’ve eve seen. Our third and final stop was Jackson-Triggs which easily won me over as my favorite of the trip with its selection of multiple kinds of bubbly, both white and red.Jackson-Triggs

My mom came in to visit the day after we returned from our trip, and it’s been a laid back Christmas season. Baby Beez enjoyed ripping into the remainder of her Hanukkah presents and getting to show her grandma how she lights the Hanukkah candles.

Hanukkah Box

Since Mr. Beez’ family is Catholic, we spend Christmas at their house, and Santa even visits Baby Beez there. So basically, she’s the most spoiled kid ever. This was the first Christmas since Mr. Beez’ mother passed away, so the whole thing was a bit different and sad. Grandma was always in charge of Santa’s complete disregard for limits when it came to presents, and since I took over the Santa responsibilities, this year was more modest. I can’t say Baby Beez noticed the difference though. She did get her GoGo Pet pup, and was THRILLED.

Gogo Pup

Baby Beez

We continued the holiday spirit on Friday with a visit to the Nutcracker. On the way there, Baby Beez told us all the story of the Nutcracker. Her ballet teacher had been talking about it with the class, but I suspect Baby Beez added her own interpretation. According to her, in the Nutcracker: “The girl throws her shoe and kills the mices and then the Nutcracker grows and kills them with its butt, and then they get married.”

The Nutcracker

We also went to see Annie over the weekend. We intended to see it on Christmas, but with our foo comas and multiple naps, we decided to skip it for the time being. Instead we went this weekend. It was absolutely fantastic. The music is just as fun and catchy as the original movie (and play) with a modern twist to it. Baby Beez sang the songs nonstop afterward, and it was nice for her to be singing something that (for once) does not get on my nerves.

ANNIE

Let me tell ya, IT’S A HARD KNOCK LIFE, YINZ. Especially if you are 4. She looks all cute and cheerful in those pictures, but she’s been ridiculously difficult over the last couple of days. Even at the movies, where she is usually very well behaved, she was kind of a nightmare. Maybe it was lack of sleep, maybe it’s just a change in schedule, maybe it’s the lack of outdoor time. Who knows. But I’m ready to get back in our normal routine.

So that’s all for now yinz. Back in the office tomorrow, but luckily the courts aren’t chomping at the bit to get back to work, so it should be pretty easy going for the next week or so. Hope yinz all had a lovely holiday and are gearing up for a fun New Year!


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Moar Eats and Sights in Toronto

Moar Eats and Sights in Toronto

I asked Baby Beez this morning what her favorite thing is about our trip to Toronto, and she announced “EATING ALL THE FOOD!” Because she’s my kid. Obvs. I initially thought of writing a post for each day we’re on our trip, but drawing out our weekend might be completely torturous to my readers, because one weekend really is not that exciting. Also, we’re winding down our visit, Mr. Beez and I are sipping some beers while watching Gone Girl while Baby Beez is sleeping, so why not sit down and write a spell. The focus of our trip has been (1) eating things, and (2) looking at things. It’s been going very well.

St Lawrence Market

The #1 destination for our trip was St Lawrence Market, and we were definitely not disappointed. I had failed to do any research on the shops themselves before arriving, but my foodie spidey-sense was on point, and we beelined it to the first bakery we saw was Carousel Bakery, which just happens to be THE place to go for the Toronto signature dish, peameal bacon on a bun. Yes, pls.

Carousel Bakery

Donut for her, peabacon on bun for me

We continued wandering around, enjoying all kinds of tasty things, like a cafe au lait made from freshly-roasted coffee, sausage from the Ukranian store, allllll of the cheese-stuffed antipasti and delicious, buttery chocolate chunk shortbread.

Coffee Roaster

Ukranian Store

Antipasti

Chocolate Chunk Shortbread

all the cheese

Have you ever seen more beautiful words?

Have you ever seen more beautiful words?


I treated myself to a facial during the day. Mr. Beez stayed back at the room with Baby Beez. He fell asleep, during which time she took advantage of the situation and unwrapped all the Hanukkah presents we had brought for her. I told her she wasn’t in trouble, but we were just disappointed that we didn’t get to see her open them (and also she’d have to wait til we get back to Pittsburgh for any more presents.) She got all big and teary-eyed and said “I tried to wait!” I just wish we had a camera in the room, so we could have seen her “trying” to wait.

We went to the Hockey Hall of fame, and by “Went To” I mean “Stood in front of and took a picture.” We’re not really into hockey, or sports in general. But our hotel was right next to the hall of fame, and everyone else was taking pictures in front of the sign, so why not? If we come back when Baby Beez is older, and she actually WANTS to go there, I can show her this picture and tell her she’s already been there, and get myself out of that one for sure.


Hockey Hall of Fame

Our big touristy adventure for the day was going to the CN Tower, which was pretty neat and provides a lovely view. Baby Beez is apparently not afraid of heights in the least, because she just loved looking out the windows.

Taking pictures with her toy camera

Taking pictures with her toy camera



CN Tower

CN Tower

The thing with traveling with a 4 year old is that you only get about 2.5 hours of doing things until she starts absolutely losing her mind. Because she’s 4. And that’s what 4 year olds do. So we try to make the most of those 2.5 hours, and know that it’s all going to unravel afterward, so it’ll be time for us ALL to go back for a nap.

Toronto has an AMAZING food scene, and we were lucky enough to line up a sitter so we could go out for a grown-up dinner with friends whom we have not seen in way too long.  Not wanting to miss an opportunity to Rent the Runway, I got myself dressed up!

Rent the Runway Lela Rose Floating Flowers

We went to Beast, in the King West neighborhood, and had a great time sampling its inventive, locally focused menu. My favorite dishes were the first two pictured below, the simple but amazing cava + oysters, and the stuffed pasta that I can’t remember more details about, other than it being fantastic.  All of the dishes were great, but those two were my absolute favorite.

Beast

Beast

Beast

Beast

Beast

Beast

Beast

As much as I would have LOVED to return to St. Lawrence Market and eat my face off AGAIN, it is sadly closed on Sunday and Monday.  Mr. Beez ended up getting tied up with work, so Baby Beez and I explored the City together. First things first, snacking Canadian-style at Tim Horton’s.

Tim Horton's

Next up, trolley tour!! It was very cold out, but it was a nice way for us to see the city (and conveniently fit within the 2.5 hour window of my child behaving like a human, instead of a gremlin).

Bus Tour

Of course, afterward a nap was NECESSARY. And did serve us well. Then we were off to Eaton Centre to wander around the mall. Because when we go on vacation, my child begs to go to (1) the playground, and (2) the mall. Next year, we’ll vacation in the suburbs. But to keep this little one occupied, we did let her pick out a toy at the Disney Store. She passed over the princesses, and picked out Eve from Wall-E, so we were extra-pleased. I must say, the mall WAS decorated in a lovely way for the holidays, and it was a nice night out wandering around together.

Eaton Centre

Tonight, I ordered the kid to go to bed at a reasonable time (she ignored me, she’s laying on the couch and sneaking goldfish crackers), and Mr. Beez and I are up watching Gone Girl and sipping some beers. And you know what, movies and beers, that’s a nice night.

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Go North, Beez Family!!

Go North, Beez Family!!

Sometime in the Autumn, I hit a funk where it was clear that I NEEDED A VACATION. Not even a long vacation, just a little trip away, just to have some fun and (if all went according to plan) take a brief break from work. Smart people in Pittsburgh head south to where it is nice and warm. We are not smart, and we only had 4 days for this trip, so we went north, to see our friends in the land of moose and maple syrup. Mr. Beez had fond childhood memories of visiting Toronto around Christmas, and I had only visited Toronto once in my freshman year of college, and barely remember the place. Plus, hotel points=free lodging= yes pls. So Toronto, it was.

Our plan was to get on the road at 6am, but due to various work commitments for both Mr. Beez and I, we didn’t even get around to packing until 11pm the night before. We ended up waking up at a reasonable time and getting on the road by 7:30….so still early, just not as early as we hoped.We had our road “reading” all picked out. World War Z was a super fun book and was perfect pick, both Mr. Beez and I enjoyed it. (Note: We’ve got Serial all teed up to listen to on the drive back).  And then some idiot truck river got himself in a major accident on the highway causing a MAJOR traffic backup. It took us 2 hours to get to Wexford. It usually takes about 30 minutes.

truck accident

FINALLY we made it out of the Pittsburgh metro area. We did hit a couple more spots of traffic, but FINALLY Toronto was in sight!

CN Tower

Our plan for the first evening there was to visit Toronto’s famed Christmas Market in the Distillery District. It rivals the Christmas markets in Europe, and has been rated one of the World’s 10 Best Christmas Markets by Fodor’s Travel.

Toronto Christmas Market

Toronto Christmas Market

It really is a lovely and large Christmas Market, but everyone else in the Toronto Metro area apparently planned to go that night, too, and it was PACKED. Mr. Beez and I would rather sit and stare at a wall than be in a crowd, and crowded areas are even less navigable with a hungry 4 year old, so after about 20 minutes we called it a day and went searching for some food that did not involve standing in line.

I don’t know how people managed to travel or find anything before there was Yelp. I mean, I have vague memories of studying abroad in 2002 and lugging around a big ol’ travel book, but if I still had to do that today, I wouldn’t get to see anything cool, because I cannot get my act together to pre-plan our outings. We were leaving the Christmas Market, were hungry, and THANK YOU Yelp, found a well-rated Thai place nearby, Mengrai Thai.  Chef Sasi has won all kinds of awards and accolades, and we were very happy with the delicious and creative menu. The space is unique and comfy, the service quick and attentive. My favorite thing about the menu is that they have 4-course price fixe options, and they do not require everyone at the table to pick the price fixe. This meant I was able to get my price fixe, Mr. Beez picked out a couple of individual things on the menu he wanted, and Baby Beez ate steamed rice and deep-fried shrimp, as you do when you’re 4.

Mengrai Thai appetizer platter

Price fixe appetizer platter, ALL FOR ME.

Pumpkin Soup & Tempura Vegetables

Tofu with Cashews

Mr. Beez and I were both pleased to observe that our orders were chock full of fresh, delicious veggies. Lots of broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, and all kinds of good things. After spending a day in the car, mostly eating carbs and salt, it’s nice to finish the day with a meal full of colors and flavors.

sticky rice and ice cream

My meal was completed with a dessert of mango sticky rice and green tea ice cream. While I’d describe most of the rest of the meal as a solid Thai option, the kind of place I’d have on speed dial for take-out if I lived nearby, this dessert stood out as awesome. There is something about rice based desserts that sounds disgusting to me, but this sticky rice was the perfect texture and flavor, and the green tea ice cream was fabulous. Loved it.

I’ll be sharing the remainder of our trip soon. We’re on our last night here, and plan to make a few stops in Niagara-on-the-Lake and make our way back to Pittsburgh. The time just zoomed by this weekend, and more than anything, I’ve noticed just how many zillions of things there are to do in Toronto. It genuinely has all the options and excitement of New York, with far fewer headaches and at a much better price point. We’re already talking about coming to visit again soon, because there are so many more things we still want to do.

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Exploring THE ROCK

Exploring THE ROCK

It’s a little heartbreaking that our vacation is well over, and with the exception of a 2 day firm retreat to Cleveland next week (full of meetings, not adventuring), I’m not going anywhere fun in the near future. As is typical after vacation, I returned to a chaotic workload and not nearly enough time to get everything done. Add on top of that the myriad tasks that go along with settling into a new house and selling an old one, I’m surprised I haven’t completely lost my mind. I’m close though.

The one activity I was looking forward to the absolute most on our vacation was our tour of Alcatraz Penitentiary, better known as THE ROCK. I’ve visited San Francisco many times in my life, but never have I had the foresight or organization to buy Alcatraz tour tickets in advance. You can’t just stroll in and buy same-day tickets. They sell out a few weeks in advance. As soon as I knew we’d be spending part of our vacation in San Fran, I booked our trip.

View of San Francisco on the boat to Alcatraz

View of San Francisco on the boat to Alcatraz

Alcatraz

Alcatraz


The first part of the tour is the ferry ride over to the island. My kid LOVES all modes of transportation, so she was pretty jazzed to be riding on a boat. The bay is extremely windy, and since it was a hot day, this felt pretty comfortable. The boat ride is only about 10 minutes, which is just enough time for it to be fun, but not long enough to get boring.

Happy campers on our way to prison

Happy campers on our way to prison

alcatraz

We got to the island and had a short orientation about where to find things. I was really hoping to tour the island and prison with a live guide, but instead the tour is self-guided with a headphone device. Fair warning: a self-guided tour with a 3 y.o. who refuses to wear the headphones is torturous. She quickly got bored, and I was NOT about to ditch this activity because she was bored/tired/bratty. So I guided myself through much of the tour, carrying her and gritting through my teeth “You WILL be quiet and behave or so help me.”

Child, I may leave you here.

Child, I may leave you here.


Touring the prison was fascinating. Alcatraz is a lot smaller than I imagined. There were only a total of about 1500 inmates who were housed here during its years of operation. The cells of course were very small, and the whole prison was designed in the panopticon model. Back in college, one of my literature professors had a couple lectures on the panopticon, so I was very excited to dust the cobwebs off of my education and feel s-m-r-t.

alcatraz

Alcatraz lighthouse

Alcatraz rec yard

More than anything, the tour made me sad. The audio tour gave the impression that Alcatraz’ conditions were barbaric and a thing of the past. It suggested that the modern penal model is focused on rehabilitation more than punitive measures. Given several cases I’ve handled recently dealing with inmate civil rights, however, I can tell you that the housing conditions at Alcatraz are fairly reflective of the modern conditions in many restrictive housing units (and in some ways Alcatraz may be a more comfortable living situation, in light of the Department of Justice’s recent findings concerning the Pennsylvania DOC’s use of restrictive housing on mentally ill inmates.) It made me sad to think that all the tourists don’t realize that these conditions aren’t actually a thing of the past, but actually a view of confinement conditions that still exist.

Alcatraz Prison

I was hoping that the tour would be ghost-story spooky, but unfortunately there were no such scary tales. Nonetheless, it was a tour absolutely worth taking. Had my kid been older and better behaved, it would have been a great opportunity to talk about social expectations, the need for law and order, and also the importance of treating every person with dignity and humanity.

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And we’re back! So now you have to suffer through the pictures.

And we’re back! So now you have to suffer through the pictures.

We arrived back in the ‘burgh at the fine hour of 6am today, took a nap, and got right to business with getting things moved into the new house. By Wednesday, we’ll be outta this old place. I’m so excited!

Our vacation was full of the unexpected. I anticipated that our visit to my dad and stepmom would be very similar to my summer visits in college. I remember we sat around a lot, watched TV, read books and really didn’t do much of anything. I remember being bored. Now I suspect that those bored visits were a remnant of my high school attitude of “everything sucks.” During this visit, we had plenty to do! We did manage to fit in a few minutes here and there to relax, but spent most of the days out and about. We ate well, drank well and did lots of fun things. It was a great visit.

The sights– A jet boat tour of the Rogue River and Hellgate Canyon

Hellgate Canyon

Hellgate Canyon

Jet Boat

The eats: Dinner and brews at Standing Stone brewery, cheeses at the Rogue Creamery, wine tasting at Southern Oregon vineyards and of course, the 4oJ wouldn’t be complete without jello pretzel salad!

photo 5(2)

Standing Stone Brewery

Rogue Creamery


Eagle Point winery

Ledger David winery

Jello Pretzel Salad

And the ACTIVITEEEZ: Splash park! Visiting the horses on a farm! Hanging out with family! The Eagle Point 4th of July 5k Race and Parade!

Central Point splash park

Gavel Ranch

Cousins


Eagle Point 5k


Eagle Point Parade

Eagle Point Parade

photo 5(3)

Fourth of July

Hopscotch

Cousins

‘murrica!