Attack of the Holiday Manicures

Hello all!

What will all the holiday parties recently I've been doing a lot of at-home manicures. They're all on the simpler side since I've had a bit of a time shortage, but I figured I'd share anyway.

First up is my first foray into the "accent nail" idea. I wanted a deep red manicure, but also wanted some glitter to catch attention. I used OPI's "Malaga Wine", then did my ring fingers in "Midnight Kiss" by China Glaze with a coat of OPI's "Bring on the Bling". I was really happy with the result!

My most recent manicure is for a Christmas party tomorrow night. I'll be wearing an inky-black velvet dress with a gold zipper down the front and wanted my nails to play up the gold theme. I also picked up a great gold rose ring and wanted to tie it all together. I'd seen this manicure a few weeks ago, but unfortunately I can't find it anywhere to link to. I started with two coats of "Midnight Kiss", then did two or three coats of Sephora by OPI's "Traffic-Stopper Copper" on just the tips. The photos aren't great quality but the combination of gold and copper turned out really well!

Arch Nemesis

I have a new Arch Nemesis.

I'm not really a "gym" person. For a long time I have professed a violent hatred toward the gym, which (largely) still exists. The gym, as many of you will know, is mainly stocked with two types of people. The first are the 'roided out guys: they spend every evening of the week pumping iron, grunting, and alternating between checking out themselves and checking out other 'roid monsters to make sure they're not being out-lifted. The other type of gym-goer are the super-fit women in tiny spandex: their favourite pastimes include tugging at their too-short shorts and trying to distract the 'roid monsters from their own reflections. Now despite having taken a few classes in gyms I still haven't mastered the subtle art of knowing what the hell to do with myself while there, and thanks to the super judgemental audience I never have the guts to try and figure it out. When you throw in outrageous fees and inconvenient commutes, going to the gym just never makes it onto my priority list.

However, I recently have found it necessary to overcome this distaste for the gym. Every year around this time, I - like most other people - manage to start packing on the holiday weight. While most other years I approach this phenomenon with a kind of depressed resignation, this year I've been trying to make a preemptive strike. For the first time I'm living in a building with a gym, and the fees are already part of my rent so it's basically free to use. While I still barely know what I'm doing, I've managed to work out a cardio routine that I can make it through without embarrassing myself. For the last few weeks this has been going pretty well, and I've succeeded in ignoring everyone else in the gym.

Until today, when I met my Arch Nemesis.

Things started well enough: I came in, set up at reclining cycle or whatever you call that thing, and zoned out to my music while trying to make it through the first half hour of my routine. I vaguely noticed an impractically dressed woman on a treadmill, but for the most part was trying not to sing aloud to The White Panda and Justin Bieber. It was when I went to use a treadmill myself that things started their rapid descent into Nemesis Town. One of the four treadmills is a little older and a little broken. The handles have broken where the heart rate monitor is, so every time you adjust speed or incline you receive a shock: not my favourite. To my delight, there were two available treadmills, though I noticed a towel and a sweatshirt on the not-broken one next to impractically dressed woman (henceforth "gym floozy"). Unsure, I concluded the good treadmill's occupant must have gone to the restroom, so after hesitating for a minute I resigned myself to the shitty treadmill and a half hour of shock treatment.

While running, however, I noticed that no one came to claim their towel. I also couldn't help but notice some more details about gym floozy. I've already mentioned that I'm no gym proficient, but even the greenest novice could see that this woman didn't have a clue what she was doing. Interval training is one thing, but gym floozie was alternating between about thirty seconds of all-out sprinting and five minutes of quick-stepping (nope, it didn't even qualify as speed walking). She would get going so fast, wouldn't be able to sustain her speed, and then would have to hop onto the side rail to slow the treadmill down before continuing. It was probably the most pointless exercise I've ever been witness to.

Now I realize I've done a terrible job of painting a full picture of what gym floozy looks like. For her sprint/walks gym floozy decided to go for one of the smallest outfits of all time. She was sporting itty-bitty high school-style hot pants that I'm pretty sure she stole from Michael Cera in Juno, paired with a spagetti strap tank top that didn't even come close to covering up her (generous) bust. So imagine, if you will, gym floozy at an all-out sprint. Just imagine it.

I wouldn't have been her biggest fan under those circumstances, but could have forgiven the impractical athletic wear and improper equipment use if that was all there was to it. It was the fact that - as I eventually discovered - she had draped her sport jacket and towel on a second treadmill instead of over the rail of her own that really cemented her status as Arch Nemesis. I mean really? Did she REALLY need to take up TWO treadmills for her performance of amateur-hour?! I would have preferred to have my half-hour run without the 20 or so electric shocks.

By the time I made it over the the elliptical for the final half hour of my session I was in a pretty unhappy mood. Still, the sight in front of me was ridiculous under any circumstance. On one of the cycles was what I can only conclude to be a lost hippy. She was middle-aged and had come to exercise in glorified pyjamas that were probably made of hemp. She also seemed to have forgotten a bra of any kind. None of these things were what really caught my attention though. What caught my attention was that she was cycling in wooly socks, with her Birkenstock sandals just to the side of her cycle.

It was at this point that I gave up on life and left.

As for you Arch Nemesis, thanks for the half-hour of shock treatment: see you at the gym, bitch.


New York, New York

Apparently my trip to Europe (and the traveling I did while there) has started something of a trend in my life! For the last month I've been living in Toronto, and last week in a spur-of-the-moment decision my cousin and I decided to accompany my aunt and uncle on a trip to New York City. I have never been to New York, and the last and only time I visited the states was when I was seventeen and briefly stayed in Las Vegas. You can imagine then that I was out of my mind excited to be visiting Manhattan during the Christmas holiday season.

We flew out on Saturday afternoon from a smaller airport on Toronto's waterfront (this was a huge improvement over flying from Pearson), though I laughed when I was selected for "randomized additonnal screening". It essentially consisted of them waving some wand around my hands and telling me I could go. We arrived in Newark (New Jersey) after a short flight, and then it was into a cab and off to Manhattan. My uncle attended grad school at Harvard, so we stayed at the Harvard Club near Fifth Avenue and 44th Street. The Harvard Club is absolutely stunning! All the walls are Harvard scarlet, as well as the soft carpets. It's filled with dark-wood columns and mouldings, as well as old Harvard memorabilia. In addition, everything was decorated for Christmas with boughs of cedar and pine, christmas lights, gold bows, and holly. In one of the dining halls was a huge Christmas tree which must have been at least 25 feet tall and fully decorated. For our first night there we decided to go for dinner at a Greek place, but unfortunately the first choice was too busy. Instead we stumbled across another restaurant called Molyvos that wound up being excellent. They served a particular flaming cheese dish that we all loved. Afterward we drove through the city, including Time Square, Bryant Park (where they hold New York Fashion Week), and we visited Grand Central Station.

The next morning I woke up to I Can't Help Myself (better known as Sugar Pie Honey Bunch) on the radio, sun streaming through the windows, and the overwhelming feeling that it was going to be a great day. I wasn't disappointed. We breakfasted at the Harvard Club, then went on to Fifth Avenue where we visited the Rockefeller Center (including the skating rink and tree) and did some shopping in Saks. After that we headed over to MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) to see the large De Kooning exhibit there. I must say, De Kooning is not my favourite. I found his works grotesque, and thought they displayed an alarming degree of misogyny. Some of the work practically radiated evil, which was totally weird. After grabbing lunch my aunt and uncle went to go see the Diego Rivera exhibit while my cousin and I went in search of Van Gogh's Starry Night, one of my favourite paintings. Find it we did, as well as a second Van Gogh that I am now equally in love with. It's called The Olive Trees, and it has me completely enraptured. We also saw some Picasso (not my favourite), and some Henri Rousseau, whose paintings I find slightly hypnotic (and love). After MoMA we were all pretty tired, so we went back to The Harvard Club for a rest before dinner. The Sex and the City Movie (the first one) was on TV, which seemed appropriate given it was my first visit to New York.

By dinner time we were all still tired though, so we decided to go to Kellari Taverna, which is right next to the Club. Kellari serves Greek food, which (once again) was totally incredible. One of New York's major highlights is that there is so much amazing food all around. After dinner it was off to bed in preparation for another busy day.

The next morning we went to the Upper East Side to a cafe called Sant Ambroeus that officially serves the best hot chocolate anywhere. It is a Milanese-style place, and beautifully decorated. After hot chocolate and a croissant, my cousin, aunt and I wandered along Madison Avenue, exploring BCBG, J Crew, and Elie Tahari before heading for lunch at a French restaurant called Le Charlot on Madison Avenue and 69th Street. After lunch we walked through Central Park, then went up to Bergdorf Goodman's to enjoy the windows and have a look at the glamorous merchandise.

One thing I'll add was I noticed something of a Manhattan uniform. Almost every woman carried a Louis Vuitton purse of some sort and wore a plaid Burberry scarf, often with a fur coat. Men all wore suits, and also wore Burberry plaid scarves. At times the sheer concentration of wealth was overwhelming.

After Bergdorf Goodman's we walked over to The Four Seasons and had tea at The Bar, a famous Manhattan watering hole and meeting place for the glamorous and successful. Once tea was concluded it was back to the Harvard Club to shower and change, and then off to Soho to a restaurant called Beauty & Essex. Beauty and Essex was amazing! One enters the restaurant through the back door of a pawn shop, and the restaurant itself is a huge two-level high-ceilinged affair. The wall I was facing was covered in collections of framed lockets. The food was European, and I had a fantastic cale, walnut, apple and goats' cheese salad that reminded me of Europe. Afterward my cousin and I shared a bottomless butterscotch pudding type-thing which was unbelievably good. The music was loud, pumping Rihanna, David Guetta, Usher and other popular club beats, and the crowd was young and fashionable.

Our final engagement for the evening was Ivanka Trump's jewelry store launch in Soho. Dinner had run long so we got there only five minutes before the event's scheduled end, but we went in and had a look. Mostly the crowd seemed to be her older friends and investors, but I stood about a foot away from her for at least five minutes before we decided we were bored and wanted to leave. We did one more tour of the city (my aunt needed photos) before going back to the Harvard Club.

The next morning it was up and off to the airport, though we made a quick stop near the Flat Iron Building at another Milanese coffee place called Eataly for hot chocolate and coffee. Things at the airport were quiet (thank god) but I had a rather unpleasant surprise once we got to security.

You see, Newark's airport has one of those hotly-contested security scanners that has many people upset right now. In case you're not familiar with the issue, the USA has been introducing high-intensity scanners that essentially allow security to see what you look like under your clothes. Not having encountered these on the way into New York I didn't anticipate having to face them on the way out. Furthermore, they had the usual metal detector right there, but for some reason were marching everyone through the privacy-violating contraption. I didn't like it one bit, but I didn't exactly have a choice. On the bright side, Once I was on the other side I had a look at the actual visual the guards see, and it's not what I expected. Contrary to the images floating around the internet, it's a very simple person icon, with a yellow flash anywhere you're wearing metal. Nevertheless, I don't like those machines. If you'd like to read up on the issue you can look at this article, or just type "airport security scanner" into google.

Anyway, overall the trip to New York was exciting and so much fun. I can't believe how much amazing food and how many incredible sights and decorations I got to see! Christmas really is the best time to visit I think, but I hope I'll go back again.

Auf wiedersehen , Hamburg!

Well, it's taken me over a month to write this up, but I figured it was finally time to cover the last weekend of my German stay. Mostly because this past weekend I was in New York and really need to get some more updates going.... more on that later.

My last European update left off after my return to Hamburg from Ireland. I had only the Thursday and Friday left at work before leaving on Monday for Canada.

Because so many of my coworkers from Online were vacationing that week my days at work were pretty quiet. On Thursday I went out for lunch with my boss (who is also an old friend of my uncle's). Because of some details relating to selling the apartment I had been staying in he kindly offered to be my host for my final weekend in Hamburg. On Friday I had one final lunch with the Advertising boys, which was fun and a little nostalgic. I found it pretty funny how much their English had deteriorated in the eight weeks since we had been working together. The rest of the afternoon passed quietly enough, but when the end of the day came around I noticed the whole floor of the agency was all gathered up around the meeting table. I wandered out and everyone was looking at me, and then they presented me with a little gift and a card everyone had signed. On the card was a picture of the How I Met Your Mother cast, though they had photoshopped my face over Robin Scherbatsky's, and below had put "How I Met Your Mudda", a word-play on my first German words "deine mudda". I, of course, got totally overwhelmed and started tearing up, then made a probably incoherent speech about my time there.

That, however, was not the end of the night. Our agency is split up into two buildings, one of which is Advertising, Design, Online, (generally the more Creative side of things) then the other  building that mainly houses PR, Accounts, Management and other such administrative type things. That Friday night we were having a big company party to encourage everyone to get to know one another (A Team themed party, I might add). Like most German parties, everyone got pretty drunk at the open bar and had a prodigiously good time singing and dancing to hits of the '90s. I wound up swing dancing with a member of senior management who was delightedly telling me about his recent marriage (I think... it was really tough to hear). It was a brilliantly fun send off. Though in a particularly obnoxious turn of fate, I happened to meet a charming, attractive, tall, successful, single gentleman who was actually interested in me. Go figure. Neither of us was pleased that I was leaving the damn continent in three days. Thanks Europe. Nothing but married men for three and a half months and then Prince Charming days before I leave.

Anyway, the next day was my boss' father's birthday, so I joined his family in journeying to the countryside outside of Hamburg for the party. I was a little nervous that it would be awkward since I'm essentially a complete stranger and can't even speak German, but the family was so welcoming. For my benefit they all spoke English, and my boss' parents were probably the sweetest people in the world. The area they lived in was also exceptionally beautiful, and it was nice to get a sense of what there was outside of Hamburg. I had a great chat with the birthday-man, who happened to be pretty hilarious. He asked if I was planning to be in Design permanently, and when I said I had lots of different plans for my future he replied "Good, you're too smart to waste your whole life on that." Haha classic old man honesty.

I should add that my boss happens to live in one of Hamburg's nicest communities. His residence is right near the lake, on a tree-lined street with gorgeous white Victorian townhouses and wrought-iron gates. It was a pleasure to stay there and get to walk around the area.

Once we had returned from the countryside birthday party I headed downtown to try and get my final shopping out of the way. I needed another bag (too much shopping during my trip) and also had to find a souvenir for my father, which I eventually was successful at getting. While wandering around I did see the craziest thing though. Right in the middle of the shopping district was a giant and rather frightening looking man hauling around a giant wooden cross and shouting German at passersby. I would have taken a picture if I wasn't genuinely concerned for my safety. Shortly thereafter I decided I needed some caffeine and headed over to Starbucks, where the freak-parade continued. As I was standing at the bar waiting for my order, the man ahead of me picked up his: a venti white mocha. For those of you who are coffee-illiterate, a venti white mocha is a 20 ounce drink made up of two shots of espresso combined with white hot chocolate and then topped with whipped cream and white chocolate sauce (thanks, job at a coffee shop!). It is probably one of the highest fat and calorie drinks you can order, not to mention it is bordering on sickly sweet. I then observed the gentleman take his sugar-fest diabetes-inducing drink to the condiments stand, where he casually poured half of a giant tumbler of sugar into the drink. I mean it, he poured almost half of that sugar in there. I could barely contain my laughter, though the thought of all that sugar made my teeth hurt for all the cavities I'm sure he has. Now you're probably imagining a morbidly obese man right now, but in fact this guy was pretty young and really skinny. All I can say is I'd hate to be him when that metabolism slows down. As though that hadn't been enough hilarity for one night, on my way back to the metro I passed yet another comedic sight. I was using a crosswalk when two gentlemen pulled up to a red light in a flashy convertible with the top down. Despite it being well after dark, I'm quite sure one or both of them were wearing sunglasses. The best part? They were blaring Bollywood music like it was the coolest shit this side of Ibiza. Once again I had to suppress laughter as the President and Vice President of the Douche Squad rolled on by.

The next day (my last in Europe) I was determined not to spend packing. So, in the morning I got my stuff together, then went to my favourite place - the Alsterarkaden - to meet up with a friend from work. We got coffee and hung out there for a bit, then moved on to get lunch. We finished the day by walking around the lakes, something I hadn't actually done before. Unfortunately the day was fairly overcast, but I was still pretty pleased with how it went. When I got back to my host's place a friend of his was visiting and so we all chatted for a while. The friend (whose name I absolutely cannot remember) was very interesting and for quite some time had been a European fashion mogul. I was therefore all the more delighted when he complimented me on the design of my shirt and the colour of my fur scarf (which has turned out to be one of my best European purchases). Anyway, we all decided to go out for dinner at a place called Brücke. Brücke is a small little restaurant/bar that was once a choice Hollywood hang out. It was started by a rather famous restauranteur and has a great reputation. We started with champagne (which I have developed quite a taste for), and then I had a fried fish on a bed of lentils, with perhaps the best sauce I've ever had. It was fantastic! The three of us debated spending a night out on the town, but concluded that since my flight was so early it was probably best that we get to bed early.

The next day it was off to the airport at something like 5:30am. My first flight was from Hamburg to Frankfurt, and of course it was delayed by at least an hour thanks to one of the runways getting shut down. This stressed me out a little since I had a connection to make and really didn't want to push my timeline. Anyway, eventually I got on the flight and arrived in Frankfurt without too much trouble. If you'll recall Frankfurt is one of the largest airports in the world, and dragging myself through it was not what I would call "fun". Anyway, after jumping through hoops with security I arrived at the correct gate, and finally it was on to the giant air bus headed for Vancouver International. Unfortunately, unlike my flight from Vancouver to Hamburg I was not seated by any handsome gentlemen this time around - just some stringy looking quiet guy. I was, however, one seat over from a window and right next to the aisle, which definitely improved my flying experience. Though I had hoped to get some sleep, instead I wound up watching a ton of movies. I started with the new Pirates of the Caribbean (sucked), then watched Bad Teacher (better than I expected), Thor (which I've already seen), Something Borrowed (sucked), The Green Lantern (sucked), Voyage of the Dawntreader (sucked), and probably at least one other film I can't even remember. I believe once I'd run out of movies I moved on to 30 Rock, and then an episode of Modern Family. It was a long flight. One of the coolest parts was flying over Greenland. I had been too far from a window on the way to Europe to see anything, but on the way back I was able to glimpse the endless hills of snow in the arctic. It was incredible! I've never seen anything like it, and I wish I could've gotten a picture or even just looked at it longer.

After ten and a half hours in the air we finally landed in Vancouver, and then I had to deal with at least an hour or two of customs, duties, and security. The fact that I had been out of the country for so long also made things more confusing, though I haven't been hunted down yet by the IRS so I'm guessing I didn't fuck anything up too badly.

There are a lot of things I've taken away from my time in Europe, and I expect I'll discover many more as time goes by. First, it's given me a better understanding of my own culture, country, and what it means to be a Canadian: an identity I only had a vague sense of before. Second, it taught me a lot about culture in general. During my first month in Germany I resented that the culture wasn't as open as my own: I was constantly frustrated that it was so difficult to connect with people, and I concluded that it was a closed-minded way of operating. Ironically, I was the one who was being closed-minded. While I will still tell you that the Northern German culture is more reserved, I won't say that that's a bad thing. It's simply different. While their friendship is a little more work to come by, once you have it you can depend upon it. I hope that in the future I'll be able to experience more cultures and continue learning these lessons.

Another thing I gained from my time overseas was an increased faith in my abilities and a greater independence. While I've always been a fairly independent person, I now feel like I can do just about anything: nothing could ever be as much of a challenge as working and living on the other side of the world in a culture I'm not familiar with, in a country whose language I don't speak, and on a continent where I know no one. These days I am more likely to look at a situation and see opportunities to be grasped rather than challenges I cannot overcome. I am also not afraid to be alone. I know I can take care of myself, and that I don't need to rely upon anyone else to do the things I'm interested in. My travels taught me to be alone in a way that I don't think I could've learned otherwise.

I'll always look upon my time in Europe as a significant period of growth, learning, and change in my personal history. I am so overjoyed that I got to go, and I can't wait to have more adventures just like it.