Monday, November 27, 2000

Holiday Edition #1

Hello everyone,

Happy Thanksgiving ! Of course, you're all thinking "Andrea's gone off the deep end, Thanksgiving was last month." American Thanksgiving is in November, not October. I believe it has something to do with Canadians harvesting much earlier. It would not be in the spirit of the holiday to celebrate a harvest when there is snow on the ground. But I digress.

As the Halloween celebrations came to a close, the stores and television commercials quickly changed their focus to Christmas stuff, seeming to miss Thanksgiving in the middle. Not that this is surprising - on August 8th of this year, I saw icicle lights at Costco. They weren't even on sale. The Halloween candies were at Loblaws by the middle of August. When I was in Atlanta two years ago, the Christmas display at one department store in Lennox Square was out on October 4th. Every year, the holiday hype is pushed further and further back, obviously to extract as much capital gain from obliging shoppers as possible. Nobody seems to have a problem with it, and the retailers are harvesting the rewards. No pun intended.

Why don't we all just have Christmas and Halloween and Groundhog day displays all year round and get it over with ? There's no doubt that our society has fallen prey to the holiday commercialism, eroding its very meaning and reason for existence. I vow to continue my tradition of Christmas shopping IN DECEMBER, fighting for parking spots and grabbing the last items in stock the day before the holidays. Mark my words, I will not be beaten !! Well, except for that gift I got for Scott... but I didn't buy it for Christmas !!!.. well, it's wrapped in Winnie the Pooh wrapping paper... so what ???... well, it's green and red. Dang !

Speaking of holidays, I got a present from my work's cafeteria. At our $2 Halloween lunch, Nick, Damon and myself entered a draw, and exited with pocketfuls of chocolates. Guess who won the $100 gift certificate at Fry's ? Yeah baby ! Damon, who was wearing jeans and a shirt, asked if he could enter the draw. The lady asked what he was dressed up as, and without missing a beat, he proclaimed "A failed venture capitalist." Guess who won the $100 gift certificate at Macy's ? Nick, who had dressed up for real, left with nothing. He was green with envy.

As you may already know, due to an unfortunate circumstance, Scott and I returned to Toronto from the 4th to the 7th. My uncle Nick, at 68 years of age, and the oldest of 8 children, passed away due to a massive, instantaneous heart attack. There was no warning, no time for preparation, no sign that anything was amiss. He simply fell to the floor while walking from his den to his kitchen, and never got up.

My uncle was a generous, giving man. He was the first of the family to relocate from Italy to Canada in the 1950s. The other children always loved receiving his gifts and letters, especially since they had few toys growing up. Over the next few years, the entire family had moved to Toronto.

Uncle Nick had a wife, Auntie Anna, and four children, my cousins. His brother Frank had married Anna's sister Sue, and the two families were very close. Their children were more like siblings than cousins.

He was a healthy man, strong as a horse, with endurance which could surpass men 20 years his junior. He was a working man, even after his retirement, and would haul heavy building materials as if they were styrofoam. His younger brothers could barely keep up with him when they were working on a project together.

Uncle Nick always put his family before him. He had never wanted or needed a snowblower, even living in Toronto, preferring to shovel the snow himself. When he and his brother bought a condo in Florida, he realized he would not be able to shovel the snow for his family while he was gone. He bought the snowblower.

His passing was a complete shock to the entire family, and came at a difficult time. Almost one year before to the day, my aunt Jessie's husband, Uncle Sabino, had passed away. They had a wake for him only a few days before. Around the same time, we found out that Auntie Rose, the second-oldest child, is not well. Yet it was Uncle Nick, the strong, silent leader, the source of stability and strength for the family, who went home.

When the paramedics were called, they arrived within two minutes. The youngest son, Mark, was called upon to attempt CPR. As in most cases of heart attacks, the effort by both Mark and the paramedics was unsuccessful. They had to leave my uncle in the kitchen, blocked off by chairs, until the coroner arrived.

Uncle Nick lived to see his son Joe walk down the aisle with his new wife Anna. The newlyweds received the call on their honeymoon, and boarded a flight home from Europe. Many people came from far away to pay tribute to a great man. My father's uncle, who is 80 and in poor health, was devastated by the news. He wished out loud that God had taken him instead.

The family is deeply religious, with a faith stronger than anyone I know. My cousin Joe stated it perfectly when he said "You have not lost something when you know where it is." We may not see him for a long time, but we will see him again. Rest in peace.

While in Toronto, we had a chance to meet up with friends. Saturday night, Scott and I went to Colossus to see Charlie's Angels. Good movie for those who like cleavage and Drew Barrymore, but a rather weak plot and scripted fighting moves made it almost unworthy of the ticket price. I still don't understand the fascination everyone has with Drew Barrymore, but who am I to judge. If anyone can shed some light on this seemingly inexplainable phenomenon, please let me know.

Scott's J-Body car club met for this evening, along with other members from afar. Some people drove all the way from New Jersey for movie night !! All in all, there were at least 30 cars present. We attempted to cruise for a while, but due to the large number of cars, it did not turn out too well. We ended up talking and socializing in the parking lot, me freezing my butt off in 0C/32F weather and wearing a borrowed heavy jacket. OK, so I'm a wimp now. Sue me. Even Scott was disappointed at my sudden inability to handle the cool weather.

Sunday evening, the ball team got together for dinner and bowling. We met at the Goose and Firkin, which used to be the old Rogers hangout. After gobbling down mass amounts of food, we headed to the bowling alley for some 10-pin action. It was there that I realized I'd been holding the ball wrong my entire life. I'd always used my thumb, index and middle finger in the holes, but was informed that I was supposed to use the middle and fourth fingers instead. What a concept ! I bowled a 90, the highest I've ever achieved.

Dizzy, taking after his bowling pro grandmother, kicked butt as usual, with heavy competition from Brian and the other men. Scott had to use a 16-pound ball, as none of the others would fit his fingers properly. A good time was had by all.

Scott and I ventured to Sears to look for a wedding gift for Gary and Rowena. They are getting married on December 22nd, and Scott will be the best man. Our idea was a pair of crystal champagne flutes, engraved with their initials. Unfortunately, the cheapest ones that looked even remotely nice were $50 each.

While surveying the expansive selection, we decided to open a box of what looked like very nice glasses. In the box was a card. "Happy 50th Birthday Pina !" Someone had been given these beautiful glasses for a gift, and had returned them - with the card still inside !!!!

It's a good thing we didn't buy those glasses at Sears. A nicer pair (with gold around the rim) were a mere $18US each at the Mikasa outlet in Gilroy.

As some of you may or may not know, Scott and I have bought a house in the fastest growing suburban/rural city in the state. We were very fortunate to have come across this house. It is a mere three years old, the owner having rented it to family members. The carpets are stained, the walls are scratched, and two doors have punch holes in them. Of course, it requires a repaint and recarpet, as well as landscaping in the backyard.

Regardless of the condition, the house is beautiful. The front area is a dining room, with a two-storey-high ceiling and Spanish-style windows. The kitchen is massive, so large that it has an island in the middle. There are four bedrooms upstairs, along with the laundry room. Yes, the laundry room is UPSTAIRS !! This means I don't have to lug laundry all over the house, I just have to walk outside the bedroom. This house MUST have been designed by a woman architect. Whoever she is has my full admiration.

We were going to offer $15k below market value for it, to compensate for the fact that we had to do some work. While preparing the paperwork for the offer, Scott overheard the realtor state that the owner was in bankruptcy. We offered $20k below market value. We got it.

Sure, we have to spend some money up front to make it look nice, plus we have to buy a fridge and washer/dryer. However, we get a three-year-old house, with new paint and carpets, in exactly the colors and styles we like. What more could one ask for ?

The wire transfer for the downpayment is going in today. Hopefully we will have keys by tomorrow.

On the 8th, I participated in an earthquake drill put on by the Emergency Response Team at my company. This team is a group of volunteer employees who are highly trained in first aid and disaster relief efforts. After expressing my interest in joining this group, I was invited to act as a victim for the drill.

This wasn't just a campus-wide drill. It was being put on by organizations all across the entire state. Real firefighters, ambulance attendants, doctors, and med-evacs were involved. As a 26-year-old heart attack victim, I was dragged out of the building by the first rescue team. I was getting into the acting, and was starting to feel like it was real. When the first team led me out of the building, staggering and in pain, they plopped me down on the curb, and without a word, ran back into the building. I yelled after them "Hey, don't leave me !!" I noticed a moment later that the cameraman was filming me. I hope it looked realistic, because it sure felt like it.

From the curb, I was loaded onto a stretcher (yes, a real one) to the triage area. A tag was placed around my ankle stating I was an Immediate. I noticed that some people were being pulled out of the building with Deceased tags on them. There was one particular rescuer who was very good, calming and reassurring those of us who were there. He remarked to me over lunch that he was scared as heck and wasn't sure what to do. I told him he did the best thing he could have done for anyone.

At the triage area, I was visited by real firemen, and given a (fake) shot of nitroglycerine. My symptoms improved, so I was downgraded to status Delayed. I watched as the field nearby accomodated the landing of two REAL helicopters !!! I'm not sure if anyone actually got to ride to the hospital in them, but it was a sight to see. Even the dead people were sitting up watching in awe.

Of course, there were errors made. One person was actually left in the building, and wasn't found until much later. A diabetic patient passed out, and was left for 10 minutes without someone checking on him. But that's what these practices are for, right ?

As one of the last people to leave, I was loaded into an ambulance, and carted off to the hospital along with the diabetic patient. I had an IV taped to me (without the needle sticking in of course), and three sticky heart monitor pads.

As the ambulance was driving up the freeway, it attempted to make a right lane change. One of California's wonderful drivers scooted into the lane the ambulance was trying to get into, and gave the ambulance the finger. The ERT lady snapped "Let's see what happens when YOU need an ambulance !" We all were in hysterics.

Upon arrival at the hospital, I was checked over by a real doctor, then given a tag around my right ankle. Each foot was tagged. I looked like a geek trying to walk around like that. As the drill reached a close, I removed the sticky tape and monitors from me, taking about 3 layers of skin along with them. It hurt like hell, and you could see the tape marks on my hand for a full day afterward. The ambulance attendants had a good chuckle at my plight. I rode the ambulance back to work and continued with my day.

November 10th was my boss' last day at work before flying to Jamaica to get married on the beach. When she first told me that she was getting married, she insisted that she did not want anyone to make a big deal of it. It was supposed to be this big secret, but of course, it got around. We planned a pizza lunch in a conference room, complete with cake and balloons, and a gift from our group.

Now the cake. You would think a nice cake with "Congratulations Lourdes" or something like that on it right ? Well, little did we know, the VP's admin was a bit more adventurous than that. She ordered a cake in the shape of, ahem, a male torso. Complete with pectoral muscles, chocolate shavings for chest hair, and, um, a strategically placed bulge. The cake place actually called and asked if we wanted the gentleman to be naked or covered up. Of course we said covered up. The baker then said "Ah well, if you've seen one, you've seen them all." Uh, ok...

So the cake arrived wearing a bright red icing Speedo and black chest hair.

We totally surprised our boss. She was told she had to come to this conference room for an emergency meeting, and when she arrived, we all were there to shout "Surprise !" Even though she didn't want a big deal made of it, she was very grateful, if not a bit embarrassed.

When it came time to cut the cake, I pointed to the.. umm... bulge and remarked that that was her piece. So you think she would have cut around it ? Nope. Chopped it into three pieces. All the men cringed, while the women made Lorena Bobbitt jokes.

The cake was delicious if I must say so myself. The Speedo gave everyone who ate it the appearance of red lipstick. When everyone had had their fill, the chest area remained. Of course, since there was no accomodation in the cake for the washboard stomach, these pecs looked more like, well, man-boobs. They even had an extra layer of cake (I called it implants) to beef them up.

I got one picture of one of the directors positioning himself around the cake such that those boobs looked like his. Each pec was placed on a separate plate and passed around the office for all to enjoy.

That weekend, my friend Sameer from Toronto was in town. He had just been hired by [my company's] Toronto office as a Systems Engineer. This is the guy who went to write the CCIE exam (the highest networking certification available today) just to see what the questions were, and PASSED.

On the Saturday, we went up to San Leandro to the Sears outlet, where I looked at fridges. I found a few that I liked, and also picked out a washer/dryer pair. These all were scratch-and-ding models. Some were very obviously damaged, while others looked brand-new. The prices were excellent as well. Scott and I will return soon to make our final choices. We also went to this store called Weird Stuff, which was basically a warehouse full of junk. Old TVs, radios, monitors, computers from the 1980s, parts, wiring and so on. I found a box of bad RAM, and picked out four pieces to be used as key chains. I've had RAM chips as keychains for years, but had run out recently. Now I have my next year's supply. Sameer bought some fiber cable and a module for his computer which was worth over $100. We walked out of there having spent around $50 in total. My keychains were free.

Sunday morning, we headed to downtown San Jose to cruise the Tech Museum of Innovation. This establishment was much like the Science Centre in Toronto. There were exhibits of everything from sports physics, earthquakes, robotics and biotechnology to the making of silicon chips. A robotic arm spelled out anything you told it to by positioning lettered blocks. I got to build a building and subject it to an earthquake similar to the 1989 Loma Prieta. My first building collapsed, the second one survived. We used a robotic arm to attempt to shoot a basketball in a net (and failed miserably). We rode a simulated bobsled, raced one another in simulated wheelchairs, built moving vehicles from Lego, fabricated a new medicine and observed the shock waves generated when one stamps up and down on the floor. It was a fascinating experience.

Just as fascinating was the assortment of toys and knicknacks in the gift shop. I bought a matted slice of REAL silicon, ready for framing, as well as a blue metal slinky with "The Tech" stamped on it. There were picture frames and clocks made out of circuit boards, a holographic time/date clock, and those watches that light up when you shake them.

This particular week I was also exposed to the wonderful world of American health care. As a result of visiting Toronto, I had developed bronchitis, and required some antibiotics. Like a dilligent student, I looked up doctors who cover my health care plan and started making calls. Some were not in when I called, others stated I would have to wait up to two weeks for an appointment. By then I would have pneumonia, so I called a hospital. They agreed to take me in their Urgent Care facility on Sunday afternoon.

The hospital itself was expansive, one wing decidedly newer than the other. There was every type of service available. As I walked through the older section, I saw a patient with leg shackles being followed by a police officer. I kept my appointment and, after 1/2 hour wait, received my prescription. We then headed to Santa Cruz to find a gift for Sameer's girlfriend.

For those of you who have heard of Santa Cruz, you know it as a true surfer's town. It is right on the ocean, at a spot where large waves are commonplace. The hardcore surfers frequent this area pretty much year-round, with the less serious enthusiasts appearing in the summer months. The downtown area is full of quaint, new-age shops, interrupted by large conglomerate skate and surf stores. The waterfront is a huge amusement park.

After driving around for some time, we managed to find the place Sameer was looking for, a glass art gallery. It was quite a feat considering he had been at this place only once before. Unfortunately, it was closed. Along the main strip, we noticed a small shop which sold glass, rock, crystal and quartz decoration pieces, and decided to check it out.

The store itself was small but cozy, with new-age music piping softly from the sound system. One of the salesmen was speaking to a customer about the spirituality and healing properties of different rock types and shapes. There were numerous curio cabinets displaying some of the most beautiful glass art and quartz crystal growths I have ever seen. The most attractive ornament had frosted and clear glass/crystal, with a swirled design inside made of multicolored flecks. This piece requested a cool $250, well out of my price range. I selected a tasteful multi-colored crystal in the shape of two ocean waves. Sameer walked out of there with at least 25 specimens of rock, crystal and quartz worth over $300. He talked the salesperson down to $200 cash.

The 13th was my coworker Hayley's birthday. To celebrate this occasion, we brought balloons and a cake to the weekly team meeting. The cake was white separated by strawberry mousse, and topped with fruit slices. It was the best cake we'd all had in quite some time. Kwong brought in his mandolin, and to it, we sung Happy Birthday.

It was that week that I was scheduled for my driving test. Even though I've been driving for almost 10 years, I was very nervous at the prospect of being graded. I spent two hours Wednesday morning practicing my long-dormant ability to back into parking spots and to keep two hands on the wheel at all times. Surprisingly, I was able to do this without much difficulty. Scott and I were both told in advance that we would not be asked to parallel park. Thank goodness for small miracles.

Even though I was early for my appointment, a line-cutter and slow service resulted in me arriving at the counter 10 minutes late. The DMV officer was very upset that I had not been issued a temporary driving permit after passing my written test, which made me all the more nervous.

The instructor was cordial but very curt. I was asked to show hand signals and the location of my emergency brake, wipers, defrost and so on. He did a complete signal and brake light check and had me honk my horn. During the test, I was asked to back up, and in the process, forgot to look over my shoulder. I did it right the second time, but was scolded by the instructor for omitting this crucial action. What I also did not know was that they want the driver to look left, right and then left again before proceeding through the intersection. I was deducted points for this. After a 20-minute long evaluation, I was granted my California driver's licence.

That very evening was a doubleheader for my softball team. Normally, when scheduled for a doubleheader, a team plays one game, then plays the other right afterward. Whatever the scheduler was smoking when he made up this doubleheader must have messed with his mind. We had a game at 6:40pm, and another at 10:10pm.

This day was also the birthday of Todd, one of the team members. In the long stretch between games, the team took him to the Brass Rail. You can guess what type of establishment this was by its name. NO I DID NOT GO, I went back to work and performed some testing on the new software image.

When the team returned to the ball field, many were feeling the effects of a relatively large amount of alcohol in a short period of time. Julie, the catcher, showed some difficulty maintaining her balance. As Todd was pitching, it proved to be an extremely elusive feat for Julie to throw the ball to him, and for him to catch it. She would lob the ball back to him, and he would miss it. Every time. It is difficult to say if it was her throws or his catches that were at fault here.

In between innings, a Polaroid picture was passed around for the whole team to see. It depicted a smiling Todd, on his hands and knees, with a (clothed) stripper sitting on his back. This will be blackmail material for many years to come.

Despite the intoxication of many team members, both games were won. It was in the second game that I fully got the hang of this new style of pitching. I cracked three solid line drives directly into center field. In the final inning, we were down by three runs, I was on first, and the bases were loaded. One of our team members then proceeded to whop a grand slam. How's that for going out in style ?

Thursday evening, I met with Sameer and the other company trainees from all around the US for dinner at an upscale Asian restaurant in downtown San Jose. Despite its appearances, the food was nothing special. I wasn't happy at spending over $20 for a meal I didn't particularly enjoy. The waiter was rather rude and curt with our group of 15 diners. Regardless, the company was good. It seems that [my company] hires people based not only on their qualifications, but their personalities. Every attendee at this dinner was humorous, outgoing and interesting.

On the way back to the car, I noticed a plainclothes police officer detaining a male suspect. The suspect was handcuffed, sitting on the curb. From what the officer was saying, I deduced that he was being arrested for propositioning a prostitute. He must have noticed us watching, as he lowered his voice and talked directly to the suspect.

For several days, Scott was in Texas visiting his friend Curtis. Curtis' dad had offered a gift of frequent flyer miles, taking Curtis wherever he wished to go. Curtis opted to fly Scott to Texas, to assist with rebuilding his turbo-charged, souped-up Cavalier. He gratefully accepted.

So the weekend before Thanksgiving, I was faced with a dilemma - what to do ? I did what every other woman without her husband for a few days would have done - I got in the car, drove up the 880 freeway, and went shopping.

First stop was the New Park mall in Fremont. Here I bought a new pair of black Tearaway pants that fit me surprisingly well. I searched, unsuccessfully, for some black running shoes, as my previous pair had worn out. I then went to the Great Mall in Milpitas, an utterly massive collection of outlet stores. While looking at bed linens, I came across the most incredible prize for my slinky collection - a Slinky telephone !!! One end of the large, neon green slinky was the base, the other end was a flip-open receiver and dialpad. I bought it without hesitation. It will go in the computer room.

From there I headed south to Gilroy to purchase the champagne glasses for Gary and Rowena. I inquired about engraving services, and was told to go to the Valley Fair mall in San Jose. Back in the car I went.

Upon arriving at Valley Fair, I noticed the acute shortage of parking spots. Undeterred, I followed people as they walked to their cars, and nabbed a great spot right near the entrance. I looked on the directory for the store that I was supposed to go to - it wasn't there. After inquiring at a jewellry store, I realized I was at the wrong mall. I was supposed to go to Vallco, a fashion plaza approximately 5 miles west of Valley Fair. Not wanting to give up the awesome parking spot, I decided to shop Valley Fair. I bought an awesome Fila shirt for Scott, and finally found a pair of black and white shoes for myself. Mental note: My sisters will love Valley Fair. Every possible fashion store you can imagine is there, including a large Macy's. From there I went to Vallco to finish off my shopping.

This past week was a short work week. Thanksgiving was Thursday, and most businesses allow workers to take the Friday off as well, resulting in a four-day weekend.

We did play softball on Wednesday night, and surprisingly, had enough players to continue the game. Without any assistance of alcohol, we won yet again. That win placed us in first place in the division, a position completely foreign to me. Not that it matters much, I had just as much fun playing for losing teams. :) Still, it's nice to play with a winning team.

On Thanksgiving day, of course, not much was open. I did walk across to Albertson's to buy some milk, and was somewhat surprised that the place was a zoo. Scott and I piled into the car and headed up Highway 1 for a drive.

You may remember me writing before about Highway 1, which follows the coast of the Pacific ocean, when we drove it southbound to Monterey. This time we decided to head northbound. We drove up the 101, through San Francisco, and across the Golden Gate bridge. From there, we split off to Highway 1.

This road led us up and down the mountains and around hairpin-tight curves. Some portions were so steep that our ears were popping when we were descending. We passed through three quaint little towns with a few shops and restaurants, and stopped at one for bagel dogs and potato chips. We stopped near one mountain summit, which overlooked the ocean, and the sun beaming over it. I can't wait to see the pictures. We passed small marinas and lots of open space. The scenery was so astounding that I didn't feel the least bit restless spending 6 hours in the car.

Friday was the fabled Day After Thanksgiving. Down here, this is the single biggest shopping day of the year. Many stores opened at 7am with drastically reduced prices. I would compare this day to Boxing Day in Canada - droves of shoppers show up in record numbers, searching for Christmas bargains.

We arrived in San Francisco's Union Square at approximately 10:00am. We managed to score one of the last parking spots in one of the downtown garages. Another fifteen minutes and we wouldn't have been so lucky. This parking garage had 8 floors, and we managed to find a spot on the roof.

Union Square is THE place to shop in the City, but only for those who are looking to spend money. Every major corporation you can imagine has a large store in this four-block area. There are actually TWO Macy's, a women's and a men's. The streets are dappled with camera/souvenir stores, high-end fashion stores, gift shops, restaurants and hotels.

I finally found a new purse, one to replace the worn out, cracked, messed up one I'd had for years. For those of you who know me well, you know that purses and shoes are the most difficult things in the world for me to buy. I'm so picky about every aspect of these items, and it doesn't help that I have wide, flat feet. But I found this purse in Macy's. It fit all my junk. It was on sale for 25% off. And guess what - it was a Guess purse !!! Wow. My very first designer piece of clothing. (Ok Mom you can get up off the floor now.) Outside the store, I moved all my crud to the new purse and threw the old one out.

Union Square itself had an interesting assortment of people hanging about. We noticed immediately the scores and scores of police officers, many with motorcycles, stationed at strategic points around the square. There were at least five officers per group. As we surveyed the square itself, the need for this was apparent.

It was full of protesters. People holding flags and banners denouncing the fur trade, sweat shops and the removal of redwoods. A parade of "Bushwhackers", Republican supporters who shouted for the election to be decided in Geroge W. Bush's favor. In the mostly Democratic, tolerant San Francisco, the patronage of this parade was quite small.

The sweat shop and redwood protests were dynamic, moving from storefront to storefront, boycotting the Gap, Banana Republic and Old Navy. To our misfortune, we happened to be in Old Navy when the protest moved in front of it. We waited until they had moved off to the side of the entrance before venturing out. Luckily we hadn't bought anything. The protestors picked a good day to deliver their message; they were witnessed by tens of thousands of passing shoppers.

On our way to the Niketown, we passed a street vendor, selling hand drawings and paintings of various San Francisco scenery. We were amazed at the detail of the drawings, and the sheer talent that this lady and her husband possessed. We purchased two black-and-white drawings and two color ones for our new house.

Every small store and vendor was looking to deal this day. Our drawings were roughly 25% off the regular price. We bought two crystals tax-free from another small store, one for over 50% off retail. We purchased gifts for our families in a similar manner, negotiating prices and incurring significant discounts.

No trip to Union Square would be complete without visiting Ghiradelli's Chocolates. This is a true San Francisco treat (even more so than Rice a Roni). The store features large truffles, gift bags, chocolate bars, chocolate chunks, boxes of chocolates in the shape of cable cars, and so on. We bought a small gift bag for our insurance agent (who had given us a crystal figurine), and some chocolate for our consumption. I dare say it's just as good as Cadbury's.

The holiday season was in the air, with the droves of shoppers and discounts abound. There's something special about doing Christmas shopping while wearing jeans and a t-shirt with no jacket required. The leaves are all changing colors and falling off the trees, however it is still warm enough to leave the jacket in the car during the day, and go for long drives with the windows down and the sunroof open. You Canadians can do this too, if you do your shopping in August. Christmas season will start in August in a few years anyway, so problem solved.

Some of you may be wondering what the status is of our return to Toronto for Christmas. Scott will have his J-1 visa by then, so he will be able to return for Gary's wedding. However, the Green card application is due to be filed before then. Unfortunately this means I must stay in the US until my H-1B is approved in February. Barring any exceptional circumstances, I will not be able to return for Christmas. Now that we have more permanent housing, and four bedrooms, everyone is welcome to visit at any time. Just be sure to call before you come over.

Take care and talk to you all soon,



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