Welcome to Plaid Eggnog!

Welcome to Plaid Eggnog!

Feb 27, 2010

On Messy Houses and Priorities

I really wish I were a minimalist...but I'm not. After visiting Germany and a few Scandinavian countries, I ardently admire the nordic sensibilities toward space - large amounts of empty room, with very little clutter and almost everything concealed behind closed doors of cupboards. Ah, bliss!

However, both Steve and I have to reckon with our British clutterbug roots...and the academic bent that we have. Guess what our house is full of? You've got it - paper! Lots and lots and lots of it! In bookcases in the form of books, on the kitchen table in the form of recently arrived mail (happily, most of it is personal letters), and next to the bed (both sides) and in various and sundry other places in the house, in the form of piles containing magazines, newspapers & books that are either currently being read or are on the must-read-soon list. Even our combined hobbies of article-writing, letter-writing, papercrafting, guitar-playing, cooking and photography involve loads of paper. Sigh...so much for minimalist aspirations!

After years of frustration, I think I'm finally at least starting to come to terms with our paper piles - not as an indication of our failure in housekeeping, but rather as the sign of two very active, very curious minds. No piles of paper goods would be a very bad sign indeed at our house.

I'm also learning from my grandmother, Pauline, who tells me that when she was younger, she used to forego chances to go out with friends if she had housework to do. Now, in her 80s, she's changed her mind. Even if she's got everything pulled out of the kitchen cupboards and it looks like a tornado hit the house, whenever a friend calls her to go out for lunch or take a short trip, she drops everything and goes. Housework can wait - and anyway, it never ends. I think she's got her priorities straight.

I'll leave you with a little ditty that's on her wall in the kitchen:

Although you'll find our house a mess,
Come in; sit down; converse.
It doesn't always look like this;
Some days it's even worse!

Feb 25, 2010

Olympic Rings North and South

On our 3-day North Dakota getaway this week, we were fascinated to see the vast difference between Canada and the USA in awareness of the Winter Olympics.
Granted, they are happening on Canadian soil, not American.
But the US is doing so well in so many events. And it's the Olympics. And there are several Dakotans competing. And North Dakota is not exactly winter-free...
In Canada, Olympic-branded or -related merchandize is everywhere. In 3 days in North Dakota, we did not find a single scrap of Olympic merchandise for sale anywhere.
In Canada, one sport or another is on just about every minute of the day. In the US, it seemed to only show up in the evening prime-time spots, usually as something taped earlier in the day.
In Canada, the broadcasts are filled with interruptions, where event A is suddenly cut into by an important live moment in event B. During our watching in the US, such live updates were absent in the extreme (maybe because of the tape-delay).
So after weeks of Olympic saturation in Canada, we were stunned by its almost-complete absence for our 3 days in the US. We had to hunt out the broadcasts and the special newspaper coverage. HAD to, because we couldn't quit, 'cold-turkey' ...

Our biggest amusement at US coverage was watching NBC broadcast curling games. The sport is big in Canada, and HUGE in Saskatchewan - the proverbial 'little old ladies' leave meetings early to get home and watch curling broadcasts. But the sport is so little-known apparently in the US that they brought in Canadian Maritimer and champion curler Colleen Jones (6-time Cdn champ, 2x world champ) as colour commentary (or 'color-commentary' for our American friends ;-) and to educate the viewer.
Fascinating to hear the NBC announcer react with, "Nice shot!" while at the same time Ms. Jones is saying 'Oooooo....' - and not a good, admiring OOO!, but with an 'Oh, what a shame!' tone. She would then explain why and how the shot went wrong.

Fascinating cross-cultural couple days!

Feb 18, 2010

A Penguin? It's not THAT cold here!

So we're driving home from our usual Thursday in Arborfield tonight, around 9:30pm. It was a very dark night, with low clouds blocking what little moon there would be. Light flurries in the air. Very black pavement on the road. Headlights not penetrating the deep darkness very far.

When suddenly ahead, a flash of white - an animal on the highway! As we drew nearer, it was clearly an animal about 2 feet tall, mainly black with a patch of white  running almost its entire height right in the centre. And it appeared to waddle... or at least sway slightly side to side.

We both, quite independently, thought: "a penguin? in the middle of the Saskatchewan bush?"

Only when we drew within a few dozen metres did we finally determine that it was that rarest of penguin species, the "Border Collie Mix" penguin.

Time to brush up on our wildlife identification skills...?
(Photos from Penguins-World.com and LoneGunMan)

Feb 15, 2010

Happy Chinese New Year!

Gong xi fa cai! Happy Chinese New Year!

In honour of our many Chinese friends around the world, we like to celebrate Chinese New Year. When we lived in Toronto, we used to live just a short walk from Chinatown, with its bustling markets, colourful wares and superb selection of local and international produce. Throughout this post, you'll see pictures from Toronto's Chinatown.

But getting back to Chinese New Year, how better to celebrate, than with Chinese food? Gryffin the Welsh Terrier would say we always seem to be eating around here...and why doesn't he get to eat whenever we do? However, Gryffin would agree with this next bit...here we want to say a special thanks to our Taiwanese-Canadian buddy, Chung, who takes us to an Asian food superstore in Calgary, every time we visit him there. And thanks to him also for putting up with us crashing at his place whenever we go to Calgary for a get-away! This is where Gryffin would concur. He loves to sit beside Chung's kitchen counter when he's concocting an Asian dish for us - because who knows when something will fall on the floor? ;-)

Over the years, Chung and other friends have introduced us to all sorts of Chinese fare - everything from how to cook rice to just the right consistency, to how to order dim-sum, to (yes, even this) how to eat chicken feet. Asian food - be it Chinese, Thai or Indian - is now a regular part of our diet. In fact, we eat Asian food more than we eat potatoes! So we've ventured out quite a way from the traditional meat & potato cuisine we grew up with on the east coast. This year, our Chinese New Year feast included homemade beef & broccoli, served on wonderful Taiwanese spinach noodles, and topped with one of the wonderful (and easy-to-use) Chinese sauces from the Lee Kum Kee line. They come in single-meal pouches and are very inexpensive, too.

Chinese cuisine is not known best for its desserts, but there are actually many interesting Chinese treats. The photos show one of our favourite Chinese sweets - little dessert balls, filled with interesting pastes. Not everyone likes them, as they have quite a different texture from western foods. The little balls are not solid like cake, but rather have a somewhat squishy feel to them. But we love them! These ones contain the following delectable surprises inside: white balls - sweet red bean (you can also make a wonderful sweet dessert soup out of these red beans); mauve balls - taro (Julie's favourite); brown balls decorated with seeds - nutty sesame (Steve's favourite); and  green balls - a rather pungent green tea.

So enjoy Chinese New Year, thinking of your Chinese brothers and sisters around the world. And maybe even send a note to someone you know, using one of Canada Post's cool new Year of the Tiger / Chinese New Year stamps. Gong xi fa cai!

Feb 13, 2010

You Are My Cheeseburger

Remember all those hand-made Valentine envelopes that you saw Gryffin and me mailing earlier this week? Well, as promised, here's the scoop on what's inside...instructions to make cheeseburger cupcakes! Then you can say to that special someone, in the immortal words of Veggie Tales, "You are my cheeseburger!" 

We tried making these yummy cheeseburgers last weekend, for the Family Sunday at St. Patrick's Church in Hudson Bay. The children in our congregation loved them - in fact, one boy made such a beeline for them that his mom had to restrain him, and one little girl liked them so much that she asked her mom to make them for her birthday party later this month!

And we thought they were pretty cool, too, as you can see from the pics. If you'd like to try making them yourself, check out the link where we originally found them here on the 'Net. Happy grilling - I mean, frosting!

Feb 12, 2010

Winter Olympics Open in Canada Today

Happy Winter Olympics 2010!

Today, the Olympics open in Vancouver - a funny place to have the Winter Olympics in February, as right now it's springtime on Canada's west coast.

We have fond memories of the temperate rainforest climate of Vancouver from when we lived in there in the late 90s - crocuses would be in full bloom by mid-February, with the cherry blossoms following soon afterwards. So the international athletes who are anticipating a snowy, cold landscape in Canada will get quite a surprise in balmy Vancouver!

The Olympic furor has hit Canada in many ways, from sales of colourful Olympic mittens (see photos - mittens courtesy of my mum) to the creation of special websites detailing when different regions' athletes are competing. Click here to see the list of competition times for Saskatchewan's Olympians. And check out the Canadian Olympic stamps - more are scheduled for release on February 22.  

Even Gryffin is in the Olympic spirit (sort of)...in the photo, he's wearing a Canadian Olympic Team scarf from the last winter Olympics, although he doesn't really look like he's enjoying it. However, he definitely did enjoy our new Olympic mittens - he sampled their enticing fuzziness earlier and declared them fit to wear.

If we Canadians are experts in anything, it's winter...so go, Canada, go in this year's Winter Olympics! :-)

Feb 9, 2010

Abe Lincoln on Writing Letters

One of our American calendars tells me that this Friday, February 12th, is Abraham Lincoln's birthday. Lincoln, the 16th President of the USA (1809-1865), is my favourite President for many reasons - his humble beginnings yet self-taught education, his role in the abolition of slavery in the USA, his unbending convictions for what is right and good (that ultimately led to his assassination), and his personal elegance and wit.

It turns out that he also had something to say about letter-writing. That's the icing on the cake for me, as correspondence has been a real passion of mine since I got my first penpal at the age of 10. In the photo, you can see me practicing the art of correspondence, by writing post cards this past summer. We were tenting at a national park in North Dakota that was named for another great President - Theodore Roosevelt.

But let me leave you with the great Abraham Lincoln's words of wisdom on letter-writing:

"Never let your correspondence fall behind."

I think I'll take that advice and sign off to go write some letters...care to join me? :-)

Feb 8, 2010

Green Eggs and...Prosciutto?

After a week full of travel for several out-of-town work obligations (about 1200 km/750 mi in all), we decided to treat ourselves to a special brunch this morning. We made an omelette with cheese, prosciutto, and spinach, served with a French Toast bagel and a bowl of fruit & yogurt. And of course, some lovely Campfire coffee, our favourite blend prepared by Great Western Coffee Co., our local coffee roaster in Prince Albert.

First, though, we went to the fridge to get some eggs. Just yesterday, our friends Karen and Tyler brought us some eggs when they came to church. Karen and husband Ray live on an acreage with their son, Tyler (8), where they keep lots of critters. Besides a cat and two dogs of their own, Karen and Tyler are in charge of a whole kennel-ful of canines. Gryffin absolutely LOVES it when we need to drop him off at the kennel.

Karen also has a chicken coop with a number of hens, so the eggs she and Tyler brought were farm-fresh. (Thank you, Karen and Tyler!) These eggs have a bit of a different consistency from store-bought eggs, and they also taste better, somehow. But what we like best about them is their colour!

Have you read the Dr. Seuss story, Green Eggs and Ham? (Click here for the 1.5-minute video.) If you get eggs from Karen, you can actually try this dish! We had green eggs and prosciutto, which is a type of ham, so our omelette qualifies. :-)

Besides green eggs, Karen's hens also produce white and brown eggs. We really get a kick out of the rainbow of colours they produce.

So the moral of the story is...

Yes, we DO like green eggs and ham, we DO like them, Sam I am!

Feb 6, 2010

Tintin 'en Québecois' et ensuite...

(I started writing this post in French, but changed my mind. Do we have many French readers?)

The National Post reports that the classic French comic-series Tintin has been 'translated' into Québecois, and that les habitants de Québec are not impressed.

As a boy, I loved Tintin and his globe-travelling adventures. I guess I must have been reading the France-French version? I didn't understand then all the references and words, but devoured the books. I became so much a fan that as an adult, I've collected the whole set - again, in France-French.

Some time ago, I spent 2 years working as an Official Languages Coordinator in New Brunswick, mostly making sure that a hospital's services were available as fully as possible in both English and French. When signs and brochures were translated, one issue was whether the result was the right balance between the French from L'Académie Française and the French spoken and understood by our predominantly Acadian citizens.

Acadians are generally quite shy about the Frenchness of their French, so to speak. Some described to me times of travelling in Québec and - even worse - France, and being looked down upon since their mother-tongue sounded hickish and uneducated in the ears of others. Not so, apparently, in Québec, where there seems to be much greater pride in their version of la langue de Molière. To the point of being offended, rather than pleased, with this new version of Tintin.

Now what I really want to know is when Tintin will be available in Chiac, the French-English blend of the Maritimes...
(for more on Chiac, watch a short video clip here; or read an "I Am Acadian" manifesto here)

Handmade Valentine Envelopes

An early Happy Valentine's Day to you!

Valentine's Day has always been a special day in my family. My mum would (and still does) assemble a beautiful card for me, along with some other little surprises. It was so much fun for me - especially in the doldrums of the Canadian winter - that I've tried to continue the tradition, with family members and friends around the world.

So...here are the Valentine's Day cards that I posted earlier this week. OK, I didn't really post them in this box, as it's a replica of a British post box. Being a complete Anglophile, I jumped at the chance to get one of these when I spotted them for sale in a shop in Yorkton, Saskatchewan last Christmas.

And here is a photo of some of the Valentines I sent...do you maybe see your address among them? This year, I got a template for making envelopes, so I decided to make all the envelopes myself, using colourful Valentine-themed papers.

Are you curious to know what's inside those delectable red, pink and white envelopes? There's a surprise for everyone who receives one of them in their mailbox...and I'll share what that surprise is right here, online, on Valentine's Day. Check back on February 14th, Heart Day! :-)

Feb 4, 2010

No One Called the Rector

This poem came today in our monthly mailout from the diocese (that's the region that's overseen by our Bishop Michael Hawkins). We thought it was very funny - although unfortunately quite true more often than we'd like to admit - and we had to share it. So do enjoy the poem - and remember to call your minister when major life events occur! :-)

Note for all non-Anglicans: the rector is basically the minister in charge in a place.

 No One Called the Rector

When little Damian was born
amid great joy on Monday morn;
They called their parents just to say,
that everything was "A Okay"; 
They called the papers to announce
his name and weight in pounds and ounce;
They bragged with "fire and smoke and bounce",
but no one called the Rector.

When Damian's parents had their fight
amid great noise on Friday night;
They called their lawyers to present
a quick divorce and settlement;
They signed the forms that sealed their fate
and told their friends of their new state;
They divided up their real estate,
but no one called the Rector.

When Granny had her spell that day
they called the doctor right away;
They called her friends and family
because, of course, she's ninety-three
and suffers from a faulty heart
which tends to skip and stop and start;
And they all thought she'd soon depart,
but no one called the Rector.

The Rector bought a crystal ball,
some tarot cards and voodoo doll;
He bought a new car with "C.B.",
and took a course on E.S.P.,
He nightly charts the stars for signs;
He's read a book on reading minds;
He's sold the phone and cut the lines,
since no one calls the Rector.  

-attributed to The Reverend D.A. Petley, (with apologies to S.J. Forrest)

Feb 3, 2010

Quote of the Day

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me - watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly.

- Jesus

Taken from the Bible: the end of Matthew 11, in The Message version.

Feb 2, 2010

Like Riding a Bicycle?

How humbling to see skills get rusty!

I've started a new programming project, and the logical choice was to write my new computer software in the Java programming language. Back in the day, in my first career, I could program in Java in my sleep (in fact, I twice solved perplexing real-world programming problems in a dream, and the solution worked when I awoke!).

Great idea, except I've not touched Java since June, 2003, when I left Syntact Consulting. And in those 6 and a half years, most of what I knew faded into the dusty corners of my brain. So when I look at the results of my first 6 or so hours of effort, it's humbling to think that I once could have done that much in 30 minutes.

Of course, I've not let all the skills rust; I keep active as webmaster for the diocesan website and a monthly Anglican newspaper, and I've written a couple database programs in MS-Access, one for Julie to organize her thousands of letters from her hundreds of penpals, and one for my obsession with counting the number of times I listen to each CD.

And the Java skills are coming back. The dust is being brushed off. I do still remember how to ride that bicycle. I just have a couple skinned knees, that's all.