Saturday, December 31, 2011

Things To Do Before Midnight

Although routine is generally a challenge for me, twice a year, I do make a special effort to follow some kind of regimen. Those times are New Year's Eve and Chinese New Year's Eve. On those particular days, certain things need to happen. I suppose it all stems from tradition or even superstition. In my case, it's probably not a bad thing to retain these habits.

As I sit here, the laundry is washing. There is to be no dirty laundry in my house on January 1st. I will change and wash the linens after I've had my afternoon nap (necessary so that I might go out and stay up until midnight tonight). Dead plant parts or shrivelled flowers and leaves will be meeting the composter. The dishes will be washed and put away after our last meal, probably consisting of leftovers because the fridge needs to have those items removed. Garbage must go outside and into the bin. And of course, that final blog of the year that needs to be written.

Once all those things are done, I can linger in the bath, dress up for the evening and get ready to ring in 2012.

I do not subscribe to such beliefs as scaring away evil spirits through midnight fireworks and noisemakers. I think those are just fun things for outdoor celebrations and indoor parties. Since I am becoming more sensitive to sounds as I continue on my path toward the grumpier years, perhaps I'll be one of those who will be scared off from public events in the future.

Over the years, I have made my share of resolutions, a New Year's tradition for some. Very few have turned out as anticipated. I learned that making resolutions involving others rarely works. (eg. my grown children will move out of the house this year). Unrealistic resolutions are also usually unsuccessful. (eg. my grown children will move out of the house this year). Having said all that, there will be a New Year's resolution for 2012. Since it's not a "to do" requirement before midnight however, I will share it at a later time.

So as I now go off to fulfill the rest of my pre 2012 chores, I will take this opportunity to wish everyone a productive day followed by a Happy New Year.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Autumn Au Revoir

My parents bought their first real home in the early 60's. I was eleven years old. It was a small three bedroom bungalow with one bathroom, no garage, a gravel driveway and an unsodded backyard. Until then, we lived in a series of flats in Toronto. In those days, people didn't live with their parents indefinitely, nor did they purchase a huge home the day they got married. My folks worked, they scrimped and eventually, they bought.

One of the first non essential purchases my parents made was an oil painting. They bought it in a jewellry and gift store at the Oshawa Centre. I remember that they went back several times. Spending $50 was a huge decision. They had admired several pieces by a Finnish artist who lived locally named of *Erkki Jalava. Although they preferred his works that showed splashing waves, the price was prohibitive and they ended up selecting an autumn scene, this autumn scene.

I liked it well enough at first, but then, over the years, twenty to thirty years, I began to tire of the picture. Part of the reason was that it seemed "dated". I thought it was time for my parents to revisit their living facilities and try to move into a newer decade of home decor. I had a friend whose parents had almost the exact same picture, painted from a slightly different perspective. In fact, they had met the artist who informed them that these were his "bread and butter" paintings.

In later years, I was surprised to see yet another version of the same painting, a winter scene at the home of my inlaws. Mr. Jalava seemed to be doing well in the "bread and butter" department. I also learned that there was a sister-in-law, Anna Jalava who painted similar scenes. I don't recall the exact location of the works, but they were painted near an Ontario cottage which the Jalava family owned.

After my dad died, the painting was homeless. We took it in. For awhile, it was hanging in our basement hallway. I hesitated to part with it...nostalgia I suppose. I still didn't particularly care for the colours or style. It didn't match my tastes at all, nor did it fit into my small house.

I researched similar paintings. Most were in the $325 price range. Some were even marked "sold". I decided that this was too small an amount of money to part with a piece of my family's history.

Imagine my surprise one day recently, when my daughter in law, admired the picture. "I really like that painting and the frame matches our furniture really well." she said. I remembered their grand house with its spectacular and tastefully decorated formal living, dining room containing French provincial furnishings. I had an idea.

Erkki Jalava would have a good home. I could visit from time to time. Everyone would be happy.

*Erkki Jalava

 The Jalava family arrived from Helsinki Finland in 1952 and included Mauri and Anna-Liisa Jalava, Mauri’s brother Erkki and his wife, also named Anna-Liisa, their mother Orvokki and Mauri’s brother-in-law, Paavo Hyttinen. Mauri Jalava had worked in Finland as location manager for two studios and as a freelancer for Finnish movie trade magazines. His wife Anna-Liisa was an accomplished artist, as was Mauri’s brother Erkki.
Erkki Jalava is listed in the National Gallery of Canada archives.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas, Happy Hydro

It’s 8 a.m. Christmas morning. So why am I not cooking turkey, singing Christmas carols with Justin Bieber or unwrapping gifts with my family? Simple, our hydro is out. After just enough on and off flashes of light to leave our mini dachshund trembling, we sit in the dark. Despite the 7:48 sunrise, the overcast sky has made it pretty difficult to negotiate much of the house.

Since moving to this location, I have learned several things. Patience is certainly near the top of the list. Hubby and I were surprised at the many power outages during our first year here. We accepted it as part of the “small town” experience. There were enough advantages that we could overlook the minor inconvenience of resetting all of our clocks about once a month.

I understand that my distress is not nearly as great as that of the utility employees who now need leave their own families and get out there looking, yet again, for the problem. So I ask, why are there these constant issues? 

Despite my current frustration, I am grateful. I am grateful that I have lived to see another Christmas. I am grateful that it’s not too cold outside or there’d be a whole other issue. I am grateful for family and friends. But most of all, I am grateful for the birth of our Saviour and the opportunity to celebrate on this special day.

In a strange kind of way, I am even grateful for the dark and the quiet that is currently all around me. It has given me time to reflect.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Tree Part Three

Ok, so I was being a bit sappy and overly dramatic in my last blog. For the past week, since the great "festival of trees" caper, I have been hearing nothing but nothing but "we need something in our front window...maybe some candles." We have searched from store to store for an item that would brighten up our large living room window and look good from inside and outside. The stars across the top don't seem to be quite enough. We thought of electric candles but the ones we saw were too short and somewhat chintzy.

After we went downtown and saw the lovely display of lights in the trees of the park, I started to hear, "maybe we should get a tree."
Victoria Park is spectacular
We were running out of time. I ventured out and picked up a cheap fake tree which sprouted plastic optic fibres off its tips. I put it in the window, plugged it in and watched the fibres change from red to blue to green. Then, I waited for it to be noticed and to see the reaction. I got none. Finally I had to say, "I did something and when you see it, let me know if you like it or if I should return it."
Another beautiful sunny day in December
The tree was the right height and the shape was good. The fibres were barely visible at night and totally invisible during the day. This wouldn't do. With two days left until Christmas, the plan changed. If we added a few lights and decorations, it just might work. First we found a string of white lights. Then I made a topper with ribbon and baubles which wouldn't interfere with the optic fibres on the tip.
With a little bit of digging through some bins of ornaments and white lights, we now have a Christmas tree inside and outside the living room window.
Our wedding tree is still visible outside

Monday, December 19, 2011

What I've Won

In the past, I have often "known" things. For example, I once knew I was going to win a piece of art despite the fact that there were many, many entries. Yes, I did win.

I knew I was going to win a tree from the festival of trees. My best guess now is that I didn't win. The draw was held yesterday and I have not received a phone call.

People asked about my backup plan. I didn't have one and I didn't need one. I was going to win the tree that sparkled and shone and caught my eye. It was going to look fabulous in my living room window. Perhaps it's my own fault that I didn't win. There was a brief time when my resolve wavered. I almost considered purchasing a tree.

I did not come away empty handed during this festive season. I did win something. Hubby and I were at a dance and here is the magnificent centrepiece I brought home. It now graces my dining room table. Lovely.

To me, this arrangement represents more than just flowers, greenery and holly. It reminds me of my many "winnings". It reminds me of all the things I have to be grateful for during this holiday, friends, health and a comfortable life.

And in case that's not enough, I have a fantastic hubby who made my vision come true this Christmas after all. I have a colourful and shining tree in my living room window. It's one of our "wedding favour" trees from four years ago. Hubby transplanted it into the middle of our front lawn and covered it with a tiny blanket of lights. I have to look outside, but will gladly do so as I watch our tree grow older along with us.

Friday, December 16, 2011

My Christmas Tree 2011

I do not have a Christmas tree in my living room this year. Not yet that is. I am waiting because I'm going to win a tree in two more days. This I know for a fact.

Each year, a local theatre holds a "Festival of Trees" fundraiser. It consists of a three week long display of decorated trees contributed by local clubs, groups and businesses. People are then able to view the exhibit and purchase ballots for a raffle in the hopes of winning their favourite tree. Each tree is more spectacular than the next. Besides trees, there are wreaths, a hand carved wooden train and a few other assorted items. The trees are many and varied. This year I saw a palm tree, a grapevine tree, a white tree and a plastic card tree along with many of the more traditionally decorated artificial varieties. There are 80 trees in all, filling the entrance and the hallways of the theatre with Christmas beauty and cheer.

I marvelled as I walked around viewing the elaborate efforts. There was a cookie tree containing gift certificates for baked goods, a toy tree, a veterinarian's tree with goodies for puppies and a tree donated by a dentist which was filled with dental products. There was a beautiful firefighter tree, which unfortunately was not covered in firefighters, but lovely nonetheless.

Although I put a few ballots into other tree boxes, I carefully selected "my" tree, making certain that the bulk of my tickets went into the appropriate container. Not only that, I folded each one twice in order to have the maximum number of points available for someone to draw out my ballot.

When I selected my tree, I based my choice on the numbers of lights and the overall effect and brightness. Ornaments can always be changed. My favourite was the simplest, shiniest one of all. As I looked down the line of trees, this tree called my name. It will look lovely in my living room window. Here is a photo of the tree which I am going to win at 4 p.m. on Sunday December 18th.

After steering hubby away from the gorgeous blue and turquoise trees which don't match our house decor, he also selected a nice tree. It was unusual, in a more modern style of gold and brown hues. It would also be o.k. in our living room window, not spectacular, but o.k. Coincidentally, it was located right next to my fabulous tree.

These two ballot boxes are currently stuffed with most of our tickets. So now, we wait. We wait until Sunday at 4 p.m. I will then look forward to showing photos of our prize winning tree and our lovely decorated living room. Then, we'll be all set for Christmas.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Pomegranate Cleaning & Juicing Joy

It's the season once again. I was first introduced to the pomegranate fruit in seventh grade. I had a friend, Justina who brought one for her recess snack. In fact, she brought the same pomegranate for several days until she had finished it. Eventually, she would show up with a new pomegranate and begin nibbling again. I was fascinated so when I asked her about it one day, she gave me a segment. "You can swallow the arils and the seeds," she said. 

Yum...sweet, juicy and 
flavourful. After I finished picking the seeds from the yellowish pulp, my fingers were tinted red. Apart from my dyed hands, I don't remember a huge mess although I now understand why Justina's parents made her eat the fruit at school.
As an adult I have learned many things about the origins, biblical references and health benefits of pomegranates. I don't need to share those. I will describe some other essential tips that I've discovered. After several pomegranate disasters involving red juice spraying on floors, walls, appliances and clothing, I found a less messy technique. I use the sink with water and a colander. A bowl of water works as well, but I like to have more space. I cut the fruit in half, then peel the seeds off the pith of the immersed pomegranate. The squirting juice stays under water and the seeds are easy to remove and scoop up.
I have seen an even simpler technique although I haven't tried it. Cut a pomegranate in half. Then put the seed side down in the palm of your hand and tap the back with a spoon. The released seeds should drop into a bowl. I would think that the juice would stain hands with this method.

A pomegranate tool is now available. It looks like some type of bowl with a strainer inside. Perhaps I'll look for it in a kitchen gadget store. For the number of pomegranates I consume, I think it might be worth the lack of hassle.

Finally, for those who prefer their pomegranate in juice form, here's a hint from the "Steven and Chris" show. Use a potato ricer, place pomegranate seeds inside and put entire ricer head into a plastic baggie, closed as much as possible, before squeezing. Juice and mess remain in the baggie and juice can be poured into a glass.

Mmmmm...According to some sources, exactly 840 seeds per fruit. According to others
between 200 and 1000. In my opinion, the more, the better.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Appliance Anguish and Plumbing Plagues

Sometimes I think I should not have been born in a century so rife with technological advances...specifically, anything electrical or water related. I'm not certain if I carry some kind of magnetic force field that messes with household conveniences, or whether all these items are truly defective. I prefer to think it's the latter. At any rate, I've been doomed for years. Hubby has noted and commented on this same personal defect and has said that there's a story here somewhere. I'm not so sure, but here goes.

I first became aware of my affliction some 20 plus years ago. I no sooner moved into my own home with my two small children than the curse began. The fridge conked out...something to do with the defroster timer and in fact, it malfunctioned on two more occasions during that particular appliance's lifetime. The first time it broke, I decided to forgo the repairs indefinitely. I did not feel in a position to maintain my house and an appliance repairman. The good news is that it was winter and we managed to use the great outdoors to keep our food frozen for the next four months. By the second and third times the defroster broke, I located the essential part and replaced it on my own.

My washer stopped functioning shortly thereafter.  It filled with water and sat, and sat, and sat. The washer was clearly far less agitated than I was. Fortunately, the transmission was under warranty. The labour wasn't. After shelling out $171, the repairman left and the washer sounded as though it was readying itself for liftoff, but that's another story.

I was familiar with the saying "everything happens in threes", so I wasn't too shocked when the clothes dryer fizzled or I should say sizzled, next. The drum stopped revolving in mid load and half of every item inside became seriously singed and slightly scented. I was thankful for a sympathetic neighbour who not only dismantled the appliance, but cleaned it, replaced some kind of belt and restarted it for a mere $20.

I believe the aforementioned saying about "threes" is inaccurate. At least, it was in my case. It should have read, "everything happens in multiples of three".

 A "friend" sold me a used dishwasher that lasted for 2 weeks. That was just long enough for me to enjoy its benefits and realize that I really needed this appliance. Anyone who has ever been blessed with children entering their teens, knows how good they are at denial. It's amazing how every dish in the house gets dirtied by one of two culprits, "nobody" or "wasn't me".

My VCR became defunct during a particularly riveting episode of the now cancelled, "All My Children". I used to look forward to relaxing after work and fast forwarding through my favourite daytime t.v. programmes. One day, the cassette became wedged into the rectangular opening and refused to release a captive Kelly Ripa. Perhaps that's how she was teleported from a soap opera into the realm of the "Regis and Kelly" talk show. I have come to appreciate the modern tivo/dvr Bell thingy that records shows without additional equipment or aggravation....well, unless the satellite dish is disrupted by inclement weather or the smartcard develops a multiple personality disorder. It's always fun dealing with technical support staff. I particularly enjoy pushing every button on the telephone while attempting to get connected to the correct person in a department that is "experiencing higher than usual volume" of calls at that moment.

As for the plumbing, I am proud to say that I have become an expert. I know all about toilet stoppers, floats, chains, plungers, plumbing doctor and numerous other minor essential repairs. I have single handedly replaced the entire inner workings of a toilet.  My biggest plumbing challenge came when I tried to figure out how to get my jeans to hang below my....well, never mind.

So today, I found myself home alone and faced with not one or two, but three, defective toilets. The first was experiencing a phantom flush, another developed a leaky pipe and flooded the floor and the third wouldn't stop running. No problem. I looked inside in horror. Not a single one of them had the familiar floats, chains and stoppers. I was flummoxed. I did not think for a moment that I'd ever have to relearn all my plumbing techniques.

Ah well, since I only require one such facility, I shall stick with the phantom flusher and turn off the water flow on the other two. Although I considered phoning a plumber, I have decided rather to call upon one of my newly acquired skills. This is one which I've found very useful. In fact, I've become extremely adept at it over the past few years. I'll simply wait for hubby to return home.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Another World

No, that's not a soap opera title. I have decided it's a place where thankfully, no people live that I know. It is a fantasyland in which designers, decorators, chefs, stylists and their clientele seem to exist.

Here's the sort of thing to which I'm referring. I recently attended a fund raising workshop wherein a group of us were taught how to decorate the perfect tree and fireplace mantel. I knew I was out of my element the minute I saw freshly coiffed women pull up in the parking lot with brand new SUVs, wearing designer clothing and looking as if they had just stepped out of the pages of Vogue magazine. We sat together in a small room and as one of the instructors spoke. He included a line that went something like this, "I know that most of you live in large century homes." As I shrunk into my chair, I looked around and saw people nod approvingly. Was this a prerequisite for attending this workshop? Did I deign to show up at a function where I didn't belong and wasn't expected? I listened intently, had an enjoyable time and by the end of the 3 hours, I had learned how to do this. Gorgeous.

I  usually enjoy viewing  Christmas themed fashion, decorating and  "helpful hint" shows. It does my imagination good and makes me dream of possibilities.

I can't fully wrap my head around everything that I see in magazines, in shops and on tv, particularly at this time of year. For example, I have often heard "This would make a wonderful hostess gift," after some decorator shows treasures and finds from a designer store...knick knacks and other assorted items that I can't imagine anyone needing or wanting in their house. How many functions do people actually attend where they feel the need to bring some kind of unique and expensive "hostess gift"? What ever happened to taking a bottle of wine or a box of chocolates or cookies?

Right now, I'll go back to reality. I'm fairly certain that my family room would make a decorator cringe. I however, quite like living in my fun, non designer world and I don't need to change a thing.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Who Says You Can't Teach An Old Dog?

I don't know how I survived all these years without knowing some fundamental information about the art of being a hausfrau. Strangely, I have learned many household hints in recent years, since my retirement. When I was a teen, I didn't have the opportunity to study home economics in secondary school. In fact, before I began high school, my family moved from the city to the first suburb in Ontario. There, the much coveted free choice course option was "agriculture".

***Note to self - Write a blog about city kid deposited into high school agriculture class for four years.

After you've read this, some of you might say, "everyone knows those things". Don't judge me as inept. I was a career woman and busy mom. I dealt with household problems in other ways. Usually, my way was fast, ineffective, messy or costly. So now, sit back and learn...or just laugh at me for my lack of knowledge.

Visiting my relatives recently taught me two things. Firstly, I learned how to fold socks properly...yes, there is a correct way. Secondly, I finally discovered how to stir anything that might threaten to stick to the bottom of a pot. Allow me to share.

As I was attempting to cram twelve balls of socks into my suitcase, my cousin's wife said, "Let me show you a good way to fold socks. It will take less room." I believe I've seen her method someplace before, but since I'm spacially and geometrically challenged, I have never been able to figure it out.

Step One - Lay the two socks from a pair atop one another. This assumes that you've found a matched set after doing the laundry. Fold the toes of the socks up once past the heel, toward the top, but not the whole way.


As you can see, this method can be used with any colour of socks. Thickness does not make that much difference either. Just remember, unlike the gray pair above, both socks must have heels and tops directly matching. Once you have accomplished this challenging task, move on.

Step Two - Take the rim of the outer sock and fold it down until you get past the toes. It should look like this, perfectly flat and take up hardly any space when you are done. Simple. This allows the socks to be placed in neat, colour coded piles in drawers and luggage.


I can't believe that all these years, I've folded the tops all the way over to the end and created huge space wasting sock balls. On the other hand, my method is fast and works wonderfully well when you need weapons for impending sock fights.

The other thing I learned is actually quite simple. As my tante was stirring wine sauce which was heating on the stove, she said "Do you know about using metal spoons?" The puzzled look on my face must have given away my lack of culinary expertise and utensil knowledge because she immediately elaborated.

"If you use a metal spoon instead of a wooden or other type when stirring things like puddings, you are better able to feel the bottom of the pot so that you can tell when it's thickening or starting to stick." Brilliant. And here I've been burning white sauces among other things for forty years. I guess it helps too if you keep stirring and don't wander off someplace, forgetting that you have something sensitive on the stove.

As an extra tip, I have included this youtube video of a method for folding sheets. It is very useful and clever. No more lumps and bumps? No more tossing a wad of sheets into the closet? No more giant mounds of fabric? Has anyone besides this person been able to master the technique? I haven't. Oh wait. Perhaps that's just because it's not a "woman's job".

Friday, November 25, 2011

Café Au Lait, Hurrayyyyy !

This is my friend, Denise. Her family owns a coffee shop, the Karma Café. She's smart. She knows coffee. I'll be the first to admit, that I don't really understand much about coffee. I didn't drink it prior to age 50 and then I only consumed the occasional cup of instant. That has changed somewhat in recent years.

My friend not only knows what cappuccino, macchiato, latte, espresso and frappuccino are, but she knows how to make these fancy concoctions and more. She sells fair trade coffee. It smells great and comes in biodegradable, compostable bags...unless of course you order a cup of java in which case....well, you know.

Did I mention that Denise also works at a full time career while doing all this in her "spare time"?  One day, she mentioned that she wouldn't mind some help with store decor, specifically shelf and window displays for Christmas. I enjoy doing jobs like that but had never seen the coffee shop, so I was a bit concerned about what might be required and how it would turn out. Nonetheless, it sounded like fun so I sought out some potential ornaments and loaded up several bags with a large variety of seasonal items.

My other friend Mona and I happened to be in the city for a Christmas show last weekend. Afterward, we stopped in to decorate the café. As soon as we arrived, Denise offered us coffee. "What kind would you like?" she asked. Mona responded, "a cappucino please".

"I'll have the same." I said. We each received a lovely huge cup of cappuccino with a fancy design atop. Fantastic. Our engines were revved and we were ready to work.

Two hours later, here is what we had done.
Shelving displaying giftware

Window display with red Christmas balls, red & green sinamay,
coffee bags, gifts and of course, Santa
Showing how one might personalize labels for gift giving....recognize anyone?

  And the final words are....

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Tante's Torte

My tante is a fantastic cook and baker. Everything she makes looks professional and delicious. The only thing she lacks is confidence. She doesn't believe that hers looks as good or could possibly taste as good as the one in the recipe. Don't take my word for it. I'll let you choose. One of these tortes is the one she made. The other is a photo in a book. Don't cheat and try to look at details. Just do a quick scan of each and decide.

Torte #1

Torte #2

Ok, clearly the first one is hers. You can't miss all the crumbs left on the platter. People had devoured several slices before I even had a chance to get a photo. Yummy. I suppose I'm biased but the second cake looks as if someone's tried too hard. Besides, it's lopsided. Seems more like one of my efforts.

So here's the recipe. It looks easy, but.....'s in German. I tried to figure it out and post it in English, but the internet translator kept giving me the same words back. As far as I know, there's no word "einrieseln" in English.

 I can struggle through the recipe if I desperately want to attempt this magnificent torte one day. Or perhaps I'll just go back to Germany and enjoy tante's.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

1000 Uses for Kale

Hubby has often talked about a certain meal he once ate in Bremen. In fact, he said he consumed the same dish many times, on an overseas vacation prior to our marriage. "Kale and pinkelwurst" to some, is a highly coveted delicacy.

I often searched for a recipe and tried to figure out what form of sausage "pinkelwurst" would be. It just didn't exist in the world as I knew it. No amount of description or babelfish translation helped me. I returned from my recent trip armed with some new information. Firstly, I found out that the German version of is I also learned that kale is "kohl". After only a bit of searching, I found the recipe. Unfortunately, it's quite complex and will require more lessons from the local library's "German for Dummies" before I can figure it out...should I even want to that is.
Photo borrowed from Menschenkind24 and
Grünkohl mit Pinkel nach Bremer Art

I do sometimes eat kale. It lowers cholesterol. It reduces the risk of certain cancers including bladder, breast, colon, bowel and prostate. It provides us with vitamins, nutrients and fibre. It contains antioxidants and anti-inflammatory qualities. And as if that weren't enough, Dr. Oz says to eat it.

There are as many kale recipes as there are leaves on the plant, perhaps more. When I look at some of them, I wonder whether cooks are at a loss for what to do with this vegetable and are simply attempting to be creative. Here are some examples, "lemon kale with chickpeas"," gemelli with kale, sage and potatoes",  "squash and kale phyllo pie" and "kale and olive stew".

I have found a recipe that I quite enjoy. It is for kale chips. It's a particular favourite of mine because it has the right number of ingredients...three, just three. It's as simple as washing and drying the kale, removing the spine and breaking the rest into bite sized pieces, drizzling it with 1 tsp. olive oil, sprinkling with 1 tsp. salt (or substitute) and baking on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet at 375 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes until the edges are brown. They taste like potato chips with fewer calories, no bad fats and tons of nutrition.

Last Saturday, hubby announced he was going to the farmers' market to buy a bit of kale. He wanted to try his hand at cooking some kale and sausage similar to the recipe from Bremen. Kale is in season now so he bought a small bunch.

Does anyone have another 999 uses for kale?

Monday, November 14, 2011


I was thinking it had blog potential

As we stood outside an aviary in a park in Germany, one of my cousins asked, "Why are you taking that photo? It's just a plain yellow bird. There are prettier ones on the other side."

"I'm taking it because it reminds me of the canary I killed when I was little."

"What! You killed a canary?" my cousin reacted in shock.

"Yes, but I was little, only three and it was an accident. We had a pet canary and I wanted to hold it. I took it out of the cage and accidentally squished it." I responded.

"What? You killed a bird?" she asked, incredulous, as if she hadn't totally internalized the first response.

"Yes, but I was little, only three."

I stood there feeling a little like Hannibal Lecter as one of my other cousins chimed in. "Don't worry about it. She doesn't understand. She's never had children."

That comment seemed to act as an explanation that appeased everyone including my distressed eldest cousin.

Would that it had been that simple during my childhood. I could have been saved a lot of guilt and embarassment. On the other hand, the experience has become part of who I am today...a person with an evil and secret past...a bird murderer.

I heard the sad tale of our dead bird several times a year, every year as I was growing up. My mom used to sigh, then show the blurry black and white photo of me sitting beside the little cage. This always prompted people to ask, "Where is the bird?" The story of the canary's tragic demise was recounted to family, friends and strangers. It was one of those traumatic events that psychologists claim we easily remember from our formative years.

We lived in a mining town in northern Ontario. I have no idea why we had a canary, where it came from or what his name was. I could probably remember with some psychological counselling or perhaps under hypnosis, but to be honest, I don't really care.

I used to watch mom clean the bird cage and take out the canary. I was fascinated and envious. Often, I'd ask, "May I hold him?"

The answer was always the same. "No."

Children don't understand that response. Children require reasonable explanations even at age three. I was no exception. In fairness however, my parents were practically children themselves. They did the best they could with what they knew. They hadn't heard of Dr. Spock or Dr. Seuss or Dr. Phil. Of course, neither had most of the rest of the world. 

One day, I inquired about holding the bird and received no answer. My mom always used to say, "Keine antwort ist auch eine antwort." (No answer is also an answer). I reached into the cage and removed the feathery creature just as my mom yelled, "No! Don't touch that bird. Besides, he'll fly away."

Thinking back on it now, I'm fairly confident that my terror upon hearing those shrieking words caused a reflexive jolt that ended with this sad statement. "No, look how nice and still he's laying on my hand."

After hearing the story of how I squeezed the life out of that little canary with my bare hands, everyone was appropriately disgusted and gave their deepest sympathy and regrets to my parents...either for the loss of the bird, or for having such a deviant child, I'm not certain which.

I am fairly sure though, that I have since, repaid my debt to bird society. I've hatched and raised dozens of chickens and ducks. I've nursed injured sparrows and robins back to health. I've fed bread to swans, geese and other wildlife. I've allowed birds to build nests under, and subsequently poop all over my deck. I've hung feeders outside in the winter. But just in case there's something more I can do....if perhaps this bird in an aviary in Germany is a distant relative of our long deceased pet, I am taking a picture. Perhaps I'll even place it in an album next to the old black and white photo of a 3 year old me sitting beside the cage, staring longingly at the canary inside. Or maybe, I'll just write a blog.

Wild child eyeing her unsuspecting potential victim

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Waddling In Weinheim

I've noticed that some heavier, older women walk in a certain way. It looks like more of a sideways rather than forward motion. In fact, I recently commented that one of my favourite actors, Kathy Bates walks in a similar fashion. Sadly, I recently developed this same gait.

After only a few days in Germany, my legs became swollen and the thickness of my calves stretched to my feet. I had pain everywhere, even in the spaces between my toes. The word "cankles" developed new meaning. The bottoms of my feet felt as though they'd been etched by a cookie cutter. My feet ached, my legs waddled, my shoes barely closed. At first, I thought it was caused by all the walking that I'd done since my arrival. I had been covering about 10 km a day. Then I noticed a large number of  "technische orthopadie" foot, leg, brace, cane and walker specialty stores within close proximity of each other. I soon realized there was more to the problem than the distances I was covering. Clearly, there was also a regional issue which provided business for all these stores.        

The obvious and immediately discernable issue was the walking surface....cobblestones. The soles of my most comfortable shoes were too thin to protect my feet from these ancient instruments of torture. Horseshoes would have been a better option and once were...just not on humans. I finally purchased a pair of senior specials, shoes I swore I would never wear. They didn't help.
Lumpy, bumpy with ankle twisting cracks
As I thought about what else could be the cause of my physical discomfort, I realized that the food and drink were clearly culprits. I had noted that the meals had often been fried and quite salty. Although I had the occasional salad, vegetables were rarely served. Meals consisted of meat, potatoes, bread and gravy. My body couldn't adjust and my legs were the first to demonstrate evidence of retained fluid. Cold cuts with sodium and nitrites were also served at least once a day. When water was requested in a restaurant, we were presented with sprudel, with kohlensaure (carbonated), similar to soda water. Medical experts have always made it clear that besides consuming vegetables, it is necessary to drink plenty of plain water to help the body release excessive toxins and avoid fluid retention.

So, the more swollen my legs became, the more difficult it was to walk, hence, the waddle. In a matter of days, my feet began to burn and my knees ached. The flight home caused even more agony. I could no longer do up my shoes as my feet spilled over the top...frightening. I had visions of having to live with this condition and became extremely frightened.

I have been home for one week. It has taken this long for some recovery to occur. Besides consuming large amounts of water and tea, I have used no salt and have limited my consumption of unhealthy foods. My legs are starting to return to their shapely former selves. I have had several tub soaks. My feet still hurt. Today, I walked. My knees are returning to normal.

 I have learned that when I travel in the future, I need to be more cognizant and selective about my activities, realistic about my age and limitations and careful about the food and drinks that I put into my body. This was an experience too scary to repeat.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Older and Hangin' In

I'd like to say that it's hard to believe that I was born 62 years ago today, but really, it's not. Sometimes I think back over my life and all the things I've squeezed into it and I'm actually amazed. For some of what I've done, I have to say, I'm lucky I survived. For other things, I'm proud and satisfied. I have no regrets and I still look forward to future experiences.

The key for me used to be to "learn or do at least one new thing each day". Now, I try to learn or do something new each week. After all, I've slowed down, and I'm retired.

I look in the mirror and I still see me. It's an older, well ok, much older version of me, but still me. My body has received a few bumps, bruises and scars along the way. It's added some pounds and some "freckles". My knees are achey and my 20/10 vision left me around the time they started making the print in phone books smaller. By the way, does anyone use phone books anymore?

My hearing is still good, although I am now limited to listening to one conversation at a time at a crowded table. I am also still adept at "selective hearing". This skill was once particularly useful when trying to get 5 year olds to raise their hands rather than shout out in class. If it became intolerable, I would simply look them in the eye, put one finger on my lip and raise the other hand in the air to demonstrate what they ought to do. Wouldn't it be great if this would work with polititians?

My teeth are my teeth although the fillings keep getting larger. I still have a few hairs on my head and I'm stubbornly keeping the "mature" colour hidden as much as possible. Not that there's anything wrong with the colour gray, it's just that I'm a "spring" in the seasonal colour palette and gray just doesn't look that great with those warm shades. Besides, I'd have to get a whole new wardrobe to match...hmmmm.

I consume a couple of drugs a day but am relieved that I do not yet need one of those giant plastic containers with compartments that say, Monday, Tuesday etc. or, as I like to call it a "pill suitcase". Besides my multivitamin, I take one pill for blood pressure and one for heart burn. The inhaler is not compulsory, but it's nice to have whenever I have difficulty and feel the need to breathe.

I think that my IQ is still at a reasonable standard although I'm sure I've lost a few points over the years. Crossword puzzles are often nothing more than printing exercises without much challenge. I love language, literature, poetry, music and art. Science and technology fascinate me. I am in awe of the wonders of nature and the world around me. History has developed new meaning especially since I am now part of it. Money and the economy are and will remain mysteries.

So as they say, "this is the first day of the rest of my life". I am realistic. I have sometimes glanced at the obituaries and have been amazed at how many people have died at an age much younger than my current 62 years. I have been very lucky. I think I have a lot of life left in me and a lot of goals and dreams to live out. I'm hoping for many more birthdays and will consider myself fortunate should I be given the ultimate gift...that of more, healthy years. We shall see.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Penguins & Paparazzi

I've always had a fascination for penguins. Not only are these birds durable, surviving the harshest of conditions in the southern hemisphere, but they're entertaining and cute.

While admiring an assortment of plants and animals in a lovely park in Mannheim, Germany, I came across a small enclosure containing penguins. I was fascinated and of course, took several photos. I believe they were African penguins also called black footed penguins, cute little guys who normally live off the southern African waters. As I watched them, I thought to myself that I could stare at these entertaining, waddling birds for hours.

I was part way around the world, observing these penguins, yet, a controversy about the same species was brewing back home. News reports surfaced about a "couple" of penguins at the Metro Toronto Zoo. Nothing unusual about that except that the penguins, Pedro and Buddy, both males, were described as inseparable and as having "pair bonded".

Apparently, Buddy and Pedro became friends as part of a male group at their former zoo in Toledo, Ohio and have remained close after being moved to the Toronto zoo. Since they have particularly good genes and because the species is expected to die out by the end of the century, it has been determined that Buddy and Pedro need to spend time with female penguins rather than with each other. The Metro Toronto Zoo is one of forty zoos involved in breeding programmes. For this reason, the penguin pals will soon be separated.

Public outcry since this announcement has been widespread. Facebook and twitter are all abuzz with talk of these penguins. There are accusations of homophobia. Gay penguin rights groups have formed. Jokes have been made on late night television. Zoo officials admit there will be separation anxiety. Scientists suggest that one or both of the animals could suffer serious depression from being torn away from each other.   

Tom Mason, the zoo's curator of birds says, “But in the long run they’re more important to the population as a whole … these animals are very important to the survival of the species in North America.”

If you believe that an individual penguin's rights supercede what's best for the species, you would probably suggest this pair be left alone. If on the other hand, you feel that it's important to keep these particular penguins from becoming extinct, you probably agree with zoo officials that they should be separated and paired with female penguins. What are your thoughts on this sensitive issue?
Photos taken in Luisenpark, Mannheim, Germany

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

In Search of Halloween

"Do they have Halloween here in Germany?" I asked. Then I held my breath remembering that I had packed my "Happy Halloween" shirt and witchy nail stickers.

"Yes, they seem to have adopted yet another piece of foolishness from America. It's been growing in acceptance and has been here for about two years." replied my cousin.

With that information in hand, I set out in search of Halloween in Germany. Here are some of the things I found.

A store window contained a pumpkin and a number of chickens. Nothing says Halloween like chickens.

This restaurant owner made certain all the bases were covered... signs in several languages, orange-ish table cloths and a Jack-o-Lantern. 

Interesting menu choices on a pumpkin shape. Yum...pumpkin chili.

                 Unusual Halloween baking...punschdessert.

And finally, there was the definitive bearded witch.

As much as I tried, I really didn't find a lot of evidence of Halloween. What I found, was something quite different. It was something that I didn't expect. It was something I didn't see, but rather, heard. I heard church bells. Services were being held all over Germany in honour of something more important than Halloween. It was Reformation Day. Yes, I saw a sprinkling of trick or treaters. Yes, there were those individuals who sat at home. There were also many, many people, walking toward churches to celebrate. It was at church on the evening of October 31st that voices joined together and loudly sang, "A Mighty Fortress is Our God". That was how large numbers of people spent Halloween in Germany.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Daring to Make Dampfnudeln

I remember several meals that my family ate when I was young. My parents didn't have a lot of money, so some of our dinners consisted of cream of wheat and fruit; boiled potatoes and cottage cheese; rice and canned meatballs; salad, eggs and pan fried potatoes; pasta and weinschaum; soup and bread and finally, dampfnudeln with sauce. Sometimes, meals were variations or combinations of the above. Dampfnudeln with weinschaum (wine sauce) were by far my favourite.

"Dampfnudel" (pl. dumpfnudeln) is translated literally as "steamed noodle". It is not a noodle, but rather a type of white bun with a crusty bottom, eaten as a meal or as a dessert in southern Germany. It is cooked in a pan using steam on top of the stove. Then, it is supposed to look like this...with emphasis on "supposed to". These photos were taken at a German bakery just before I consumed their potato soup, dampfnudel and wine special of the day.


Mom did not make the dampfnudeln often. Once or twice a year when she did, they were a special treat. I got the impression that they were a lot of effort, because there seemed to be frequent moans eminating from the kitchen. Besides that, when mom would appear, dampfnudeln in hand, her hair was always curlier than usual and beads of perspiration were visible on her forehead. I learned to cook many things from mom, but I never learned to make dampfnudeln.

While in Germany, I had the opportunity to spend some time with my Tante, mom's sister. I asked her to show me. I wanted to learn how to make both dampfnudeln and the wine sauce although, as an adult, I can't imagine why anyone would want to eat those things together.

It took me half a day to make dampfnudeln. Now I realize why my mother made them infrequently. In fact, she made them about once or twice a year more often than I probably would have. It has also become more clear why she didn't seem interested in teaching me.

First, I needed to translate Tante's recipe from ye olde German. Fortunately, she was able to tell me everything and I wrote down steps in English. I also photographed the stages.  Although the ingredients are few, it all required much patience, separate bowls, yeast rising moments, helpful hints and stressful anticipation. When we finally completed the shaped dampfnudeln, they were placed on a floured pan. Then, they were covered yet again and left to rise before putting them in a large pot with some oil, some salt and some water, covered with a lid and left to their own devices for a full 30 minutes.

Several people have told me that the most difficult part is to resist the temptation to lift the lid before the time is up. I was not tempted because by this time, Tante had moved on to demonstrating Weinschaum or as we used to call it "Woi soß ". When she insisted that she did not need my help with this sauce, I began to develop some concern about my dampfnudel making efforts. Oh well, they looked good to me thus far. What could possibly have gone wrong?

Tante made the wine sauce, cornstarch, sugar, wine, cooked until thickened. Put in bowl, mix in two egg yolks. Egg whites whipped until stiff peaks formed then added to and stirred into wine mixture. It was finished in no time. Yummy. Perhaps I should have started with something this?

It was finally time. Thirty minutes were up. The grand unveiling of my dumpfnudeln. Despite the fact that making these had never been added to my bucket list, I was excited. I now had another thing to add to my life's accomplishments. I could now brag to my family and friends that I know how to make this delicacy. In fact, I could go back home and make dampfnudeln for company. Yes friends, I did it. Here are my dampfnudeln. I'm proud to say that they look almost exactly like the bakery dampfnudel photos above. Well, almost.