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Archive for December, 2007

A belated Merry Christmas!

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Bam… there it is. 

The last few years there has been so much talk leading up to Christmas about using the simple phrase, “Merry Christmas”.  To be politically correct and sensitive to the celebration of every holiday, we are told to use the phrase ‘Happy Holidays’ instead.  Politicians mutter the phrase through broad smiles and glowing teeth with every “pick me!  pick me!” hand shake.  Publications like newspapers try to do the right thing and post HAPPY HOLIDAYS messages on their front pages. 

They can’t win.  There is always someone that is going to be pissed off.  How do they not realize this by now? 

While driving home yesterday I was reading a fairly widespread newspaper and came to the editorial section.  Countless (because I didn’t count them) people wrote in with disgust at that Happy Holidays message on their front page… “it’s the celebration of Christ’s birth so it’s Christmas“, “if you’re going to pretend you’re celebrating all holidays then print the message at the beginning of Hannukah too”, blah blah blah. 

It makes me a little sad that people would let something so silly get under their skin to the point of taking time out of their holidays to write a nasty note to a newspaper.  It’s supposed to be a time of family and cheer, not hate letters and jeers. 

I think we should all just say what we want and leave it at that.  If I want to say Merry Christmas, then I will.  If your reply is Happy Hannukah, fine by me.  If your response is to get in my face about it, I genuinely feel sorry for you. 

If the newspaper wants to write one big Happy Holidays instead of one hundred other greetings to cover the belief systems of everyone living in Canada, then accept that they are trying to address everyone, smile at the effort, and go back to eating your turkey. 

——

On a personal note, we had a lovely Christmas in Cape Breton with my husband’s family.  It was my first Christmas away from home so it was different in many ways but, surprisingly, the same in a lot of ways too.  It was nice.  The long drive makes the holidays feel kind of rushed and too short but the downtime at home was wonderful. 

We took Nelly and Maggie with us and were joined by Molly, Todd’s lab.  Three chocolate labs make for a bit of extra craziness but they’re good girls. 

And that’s nothing compared to the mayhem that must be happening today when two of the other siblings show up with four kids and a pile of new presents in tow.  Yikes. 

Merry Christmas! 

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Sesame Street Classics

I was chatting with a friend this morning who was talking about a co-worker making him mad.  When I hear the word ‘mad’, I am reminded of the Sesame Street skit with an angry goat, singing, “I get maaad, I get maaad, I get maaad”.  When I mentioned this to him, he immediately found it on youtube and it made both of our days. 

“It ain’t bad to get mad!”

 And that all got me looking for other Sesame Street skits that have stuck with me.  Of course there were all of the classic characters like Oscar and Wormie, Big Bird and Snuffleupagus, Bert and Ernie, and the Count that had memorable moments but they’re for future posts. 

 I’m not sure there is a television show better suited for childhood than Sesame Street was (and is, I imagine).  The format of the show is brilliant; the guy that realized a child’s attention span is better kept with many short segments deserved a big raise that year.  BIG. 

The writers over the years were geniuses, covering everything from up and down to numbers in spanish to cooperation.  Their mechanisms weren’t complicated… a Count that counts, a typewriter that types, turtles presenting the letter T by playing trombones, trumpets, and tubas and juggling tomatoes and tulips.  I guess the simplicity of it is what made it so attractive to kids and what makes it so memorable. 

The other thing that struck me while wandering around youtube this morning is the broad range of music that they used for those skits.  I suppose I didn’t notice it then but that would have played a huge part in capturing and keeping out attention, creating a mood, conveying a point… all of it.  Ray Charles doesn’t hurt either. 

There are so many that I could put up here but here are a few of my all-time favorites. 

The ladybugs picnic!  My sister and I were trying to remember the words to this a few weeks ago, possibly probably under the influence of sufficient amounts of wine.  It’s so catchy! 

I thinke veryone remembers the one where the mother sends her daughter out to the grocery store… “a loaf of bread, a container of milk, and a stick of butta”. 

I don’t know what it is about this one… maybe it’s the guy’s voice, maybe I have some sort of weird connection to the letter U … but when I hear the word ‘uniform’ I can’t help but repeat it in that high, wobbly voice. 

 Me and my M we go mmm mmm mmm. 

 

I think I liked this one because the music was so different.  Or maybe it’s because the n finds a friend in the end.  Who knows… I was 6.  

 

And I just had to stick this Bert one in.  My sister and I could definitely be found doing ‘the pigeon’ from time to time.  I think this is the only time you ever see Bert’s legs and I remember being a little wierded out by it even then.  (Scroll about halfway through to see the actual dance). 

 

I really wanted to find the one about the plan involving stan in the tan van but I couldn’t, darnit. 

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Snow Day!

Snow days don’t happen very often anymore, now that I’m an adult and all.  People expect more of you when transportation is up to you and not up to the school system. 

It has been storming here since about 1 pm yesterday.  There is snow and lots of it.  The wind was so strong last night that it created drifts several feet high in some places.  The sleet bouncing off of our windows kept us awake for a while last night.  This morning it is still snowing and still a little gusty. 

I was hesitant about work but the clincher was Ken, my carpool buddy, who called to tell me that he couldn’t get out of his driveway.  I e-mailed my boss who lives basically next door to tell him I would not be getting to work and received a reply that said he did not even try to get out and would plow later.  Yeah… he plows our driveway.  How perfect is that? 

It’s not that I worry about driving… I have lived with snow, I know how to drive in snow, I know when to slow down.  I guess what I’m saying is… I am Canadian.  It is just snow. 

What I worry about is the other people on the roads:  The ones that freak out at the slightest dusting of snow and slow down to 40 km/h; the ones that don’t slow down and decide to drive 110 km/h in three inches of snow just to pass you; the ones that don’t realize that hitting the brakes has a different effect when the pavement under the tires is snow-packed (and are surprised by it every time); the ones that figure their big bad 4×4 is invincible and the public roads their playground. 

The local business in town has hired several people from India and Columbia in recent years.  How well do you think they drive in the snow?  Any guesses? 

My friend Randy tells me of a driver in Brampton that tried to pass him in a slush-filled lane.  The first time he gets beside Randy and jacks the brake, worried by the slush, and is again behind him.  He did this a second time and a third time until Randy finally cut him off to keep him from doing it again. 

It’s really just about being smart.  That’s where it all falls apart for me … I expect people to be smarter than they are. 

My bad. 

Remember this shot from a couple of weeks ago?   

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This is our deck.  We have since put the furniture away for the winter (a little late, obviously). 

Here is a picture from this morning: 

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Same deck, same angle.  We have had a lot of snow but much of this was created by the wind.  Drift or no, it will need to be shovelled off later today.

Any takers? 

 

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My Recipe Box

So …

I have decided to start a Recipes page on my blog.  I thought about having a separate blog just for recipes but then I remembered a few things…

I’m not a chef.  I don’t create my own recipes.  And I’m only about 4 months old when it comes to cooking. 

With all of that humble pie in front of me, a food blog did not seem appropriate.  I kind of wanted a glass of milk actually. 

I do enjoy cooking though.  A lot.  I like trying new recipes.  Even more, I like taking a recipe I know is good and making something equally as good (sometimes better!) by tweaking two or three of the ingredients.  So why not have a page where I post recipes that I have tried, liked, and filed away into my recipe box? 

Why not, indeed…

I am from smalltown, New Brunswick, where farming (potatoes in particular) is a large part of our culture.  When I was young, everything came from the small local grocery store; if you couldn’t make it with meat and potatoes, the grocery store did not carry it.  There was no ethnic section, no organic section, and there were two kinds of apples to choose from, not ten.  Eggplants were a thing of mystery.  There was only one type of mushroom. 

Things were simple. 

Enter me, age 15.  “Mom, I really don’t think I want to eat meat any more.  I’m going to be a vegetarian”.  Talk about throwing a wrench into mealtime!  I’m sure they figured it was just a phase, that it would work its way out of my system, but here I am almost 14 years later and still going through “the phase”.  It took a while for Mom to adjust but, although I always insisted that it wasn’t necessary, she began making vegetarian versions of everything… lasagna, pasta, pizza, all of it.  She still does to this day, actually. 

My mother is an awesome cook but for much of my life she was … let’s say … limited.  She had a collection of recipes that would resurface regularly, most of them probably passed down from her mom.  She would try different things, sure, but the dishes almost always centred around the meat and potatoes standard.  The grocery stores didn’t start carrying different ingredients until the big box stores were born and that didn’t happen until I was in high school.  She started branching out then and is still enjoying trying new things today.  About a month ago, she was so excited about getting avocado on a salad in a restaurant that she told me about it three times. 

Now we enjoy sharing recipes back and forth.  I am really just in the beginning stages of building a repertoire of recipes, now that it is Brian and I.  Some of them are my mom’s recipes but many of them are new.  I love that I have access to a full range of grocery items.  The possibilities are endless really. 

I am very lucky to have a husband that enjoys cooking too.  Fortunately, he also has a knack for sensing when I just don’t feel like it and it is his turn to step in.  The herbivore/carnivore thing is not an issue.  We work with it.  I have even been known to throw my hands into a bowl of ground hamburger (extra lean, of course) over the past six months or so. 

As I mention on the recipes page, I enjoy food photography or “food porn”.  I think a great photo of a plate of pasta is going to sell a recipe more often than the list of ingredients.  Brian is a great photographer so we will try to take some pictures along the way too. 

So with all of that said, enjoy the recipes and feel free to comment if you have a similar recipe, would do something differently, or have tried a recipe and liked/disliked it. 

But please… chew with your mouth closed. 

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You’re 64.  You are returning from a trip that has you bringing home vodka as a souvenir. 

What would possess you to chug that two pints of vodka?  What possible explanation could there be for such behavior? 

  • A gun to the head?
  • A tightening vice to the scrotum? 
  • Being forced to watch a 12-hour Rosie O’Donnell marathon? 

What about a pesky airport fee for checking a carry-on bag? 

“… he was told at a security check that he would have to either throw out the bottle of vodka or pay a fee to have his carry-on bag checked.  Instead, he chugged the vodka, and was quickly unable to stand or otherwise function, police said.”

Well… yeah. 

That would have to be one heck of an airport fee to make me risk getting extremely ill and spending a few days in the hospital.  (Putting the risk of death aside for a moment of course… )

How do you get to be 64 years old and not realize that chugging two pints of vodka is going to f&#* you up?  Anyone? 

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Do You Hear What I Hear?

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A crowd, a crowd.

Shopping all the night.

With a fervor as crazy as a kite. 

I think I’m truly scared for my life. 

—–

December is most definitely the month to be reckoned with. 

As of Sunday, all of my Christmas concerts, dinners, and parties were done.  The end of three straight weeks of party planning, rehearsals, and just general holiday mayhem.  “Free and clear”, I thought, “to revel in some good ole Christmas spirit.  That will get me focused on gifts and baking and decorating”. 

Saint Nick… is that you screwing with me or is that good ole Murphy?  I suppose either way I want to shove the culprit in a stocking and send them off to play kickball with Rudolph and the rest of the reindeer. 

What I always seem to forget and what always takes me by surprise is that life and its normal appointments and business go on regardless of the holidays.  I trudge on with normal piano lessons and board meetings and curling games with visions of candy cane cookies and panic dancing in my head. 

On a typical day, I think, “Okay… there will be about an hour between piano lessons and the point I drop from fatigue so what can I squeeze in there?  A batch of Christmas cookies?  Gift wrapping?”.  Because every spare minute has to be filled with something, right?  I literally wait all week for the one evening that isn’t full of something, planning every little thing that I’m going to fill that time with. 

So far I have shopped for three people on my list; they were all under 10 years old so that was easy.  I have countless gifts yet to buy that, given the lack of time, will all have to be thought of in one shopping trip.  After all, there are only 12 shopping days left until Christmas… 10 if you don’t count Sundays (but most people do, don’t they?  Yeah, I thought so).  Oh well… gift cards to all and to all a good night…

The baking is definitely not necessary but I plan to use much of it as Christmas gifts and it is fun.  I think I am more excited at my cookie selection and being in flour up to my elbows than I am at my gifts this year.  I think that means I’m getting old… when the hell did that happen?  Now, yhey are cookies shaped like candy canes.  That’s youthful, right? 

I wish I remembered a time when Christmas wasn’t such a mad dash; when people took an entire evening to stroll the neighborhood and sing carols (with no gain in mind other than spreading cheer); when sleigh rides weren’t just for Santa; when people gathered around a fireplace with their family and not in a school gym with strangers; when stockings were filled with oranges and candy canes rather than Dora, Diego, and Wiggles; when people went to the local store to shop and give greetings to local townsfolk instead of trudging to the hustle and bustle-filled department store clones filled with stressed and stranger-filled crowds that make you want to stab yourself in the heart with an ice skate. 

That is the true spirit of Christmas… er, not the skate in the heart but the other stuff.  I’m going to try really hard to find it this year, despite the hustle and bustle. 

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Fa la la la la…

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Tis the season for concerts. 

Last night my choir performed one of our two Christmas concerts in a church in Woodstock, NB.  It was my first time in this church.  It is big; the crowd was a normal size and would have filled our normal venues but it seemed small in this church.  It is old; the ceilings are high and have the original wood panelling.  There is a big pipe organ at the front of the sanctuary but I was allowed to play their half or 3/4 grand piano (I’m not sure which it is). 

All of this lends to a rockin’ place for a 50+ voice choir to stretch their vocal muscles.  The choir has a huge sound on a normal day but the acoustics in this church make for an enormous, full sound that would make the hair on the back of anyone’s neck stand on end. 

As I get older, I appreciate more and more the effects of music on a person’s soul.  I’m not speaking of the soul in spiritual terms here but rather of that essence that is deep within each of us and makes us who we are.  Our self.  What makes us an individual.  We all have a soul, regardless of how deep it may be buried or how much attention we may pay it. 

Each of our souls is stimulated by different things.  What turns you on does not necessarily turn me on.  For you it may be watching a lively football game or pushing yourself extra hard on a jog.  If that gets your motor running, I’m glad to hear it. 

For me it is music.  And while I appreciate a good tune on the radio as much as the next person, in this case I am talking about making music. 

I have always been musical.  It has always been close to me and part of my life, whether it was piano lessons at age 6 or accompanying the high school choir at the parliament buildings in grade 11.  Lately, though, the effect it has on me feels much deeper, like it’s striking a chord within me that I didn’t know I had. 

At the concert last night, in addition to our choir, there were two solos performed by young girls aged about 7 or 8 I would guess.  They were simple Christmas carols.  Nothing fancy.  Maybe it was the acoustics in that church but I imagine that’s what angels sound like.  Their little voices were so strong and so clear and so brave (I did it when I was young but now I wonder how a 7-year-old ever drums up the courage to stand in front of 100 people, look them in the eyes, and sing).  As cheesy as it sounds, I saw my future daughter or son in those little girls and hoped that music would enter into their lives in some way.  The thought brought tears to my eyes. 

On one of the choir’s pieces I leave the piano to play a djembe hand drum alongside a string bass played by Wes, a high school student.  It is different but fun to set aside the exactness of playing a piece on the piano and switch to the randomness of pounding on a drum instead (although there is a knack to those drums; if you are actually pounding randomly, you might as well be banging your fist against the wall). 

The choir performs many selections but none of them are as stirring as the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah.  The accompaniment is complicated and loud and impressive.  The vocal parts are urgent and loud and perfect for a venue like that church. 

On a regular Tuesday, rehearsing at the high school (where sound is quickly swallowed by low ceilings and bad acoustics), the Hallelujah Chorus moves me.  In that church, the 50+ voices became 150.  Every high soprano note went straight through me.  Every strong bass line underscored the sheer scale of that song.  The music filled the high ceiling of that church and danced there. 

As the song moves along it just gets stronger and bigger and more fervent.  The final page is a melee of soprano, alto, tenor, and bass parts that are all made up of different notes but that come together in a passionate conclusion.  Voices are stretched and my fingers are pounding out the notes and then, in the third-to-last bar, everything comes to an abrupt stop for two beats. 

Last night, in those two silent beats, the voices of the bar before echoed through the church.  They echoed.  The only other sound was the gasp of someone in the crowd. 

It was awe-inspiring.  Impassioned.  The air was charged with the music we had created and it was such an emotional thing that, after the final two bars of the song, I was trembling.  My breath was literally taken away. 

There isn’t much that speaks to my soul like that. 

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