Monday, December 28, 2009

Belated Greetings

I know, I know. I'm way behind on this thing. There are good and valid reasons, not the least of which is the death of my modem's power inverter following the latest skirmish in the BC Hydro vs Telus battle of the titans. Telus has graciously agreed to provide another modem and Bryan has already installed a surge protector on that line. (How many surge protectors does one house need? One more than it previously had, apparently.)

And we just returned from a there-and-back trip to Grande Prairie to visit this little Missy:

Abby in her Christmas Eve dress.

and her parents and auntie as well, I hastily add. Abby celebrated her 1st birthday on the 19th. Now, wouldn't you make a 2000 km round trip for 48 hour visit with that cute munchkin?

The trip up was 'interesting'. Details to follow when the time is more apropos and the home internet connection is once again 'GO'.

Hope you holiday festivities were enjoyable and low on the stress scale.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Fill Ads and a Wee Advent Rant

A newspaper paginator becomes a master of the 'fill' ad. You've all seen them, the ubiquitous messages to support research for any number of diseases or physical ailments, youth support programs or other social foundations. They fill the gaps in a page when article copy falls short of the space allotted to it, when an ad is pulled at the last moment, or when there's an awkward juxtaposition of editorial and advertising elements.

The fill folders (I have several to choose from) have a tremendous number of causes, sizes and shapes. I have my favorites, however, the ones that are quite witty and to the point, that never wear no matter how often I pull them out of my hat. The Sex and the Kitty fill is just such a fill ad. Thought I'd share, because your paper may not have it. Feel free to share.

Roar of the Rings is on in Edmonton. Cheryl Bernard and Shannon Kleibrink play for the women's spot on the Olympic team, while Kevin Martin awaits the results of the other men's semifinal to learn his last opponent. This is an occasion when I wish we subscribed to television service. I don't miss shows but I do miss sports.

Glenn Howard has sure been a crybaby during the event. Earlier in the week, I heard on the radio that he was complaining the ice conditions weren't perfect enough. Excuse me?!! Hang around with the peasants awhile, Howard. Remember where the sport began and get rid of your princess attitude. I think he'd be shocked and amazed how well some of the small town teams would play if they could enjoy the ice conditions he takes for granted. One thrill of the sport for us is figuring out ice conditions on an end-by-end basis. Wonder if he remembers (or even knows!) what negative ice is?

Then I read this morning that he's been accused of debris dumping on the ice, and then retorting that Martin's rink better sweep according to the rules. Oh. Come. On. I think it's time he went back to evening mixed draw league for awhile, get his head screwed back on straight.

The Morning Star crew decided to use 'Olympic Sports We'd Like to See' as our theme for the United Way Christmas tree and our staff greetings in the 23 Dec issue. It was a lot of fun once the creative juices got running.

Groups of people invented silly games, then posed one morning in the parking lot for Lisa. Jordan decided to 'cookie cut' his and Michelle's photo and put it into a surreal background, and the whole thing took off. Wesley, Andrew and I ended up cutting all the group photos and finding (or composing) winter backgrounds.

The MultiPuck Hockey picture below is an example; the rink is in Windsor, Ontario, the people in a car parking lot in Vernon, BC with a large building behind us. Yet, it is a lot of work to cut that all out. Thank you for asking.

Debbie, Angela, Alan, Carol, Brenda and Tanya. Look closely at the hockey sticks. That's a clue.

Quiet day today. The office Christmas party is tonight in town, a moderate affair given the number of people who are unable to attend - flu, conflicting events, etc. A visit to Mom G in Revelstoke is pencilled in for tomorrow. I've not been over since Thanksgiving (I know) and no way to account for my lapse other than lazy.

Hearing the weather report on the radio as I type. The north country is plunged into the -30's plus windchill. It's -8C this morning. That's why we're here now, not there. Much as I'd like to be with the kids for Christmas, I'm leaning more and more to staying here for the Christmas weekend and taking a week off in January for a more leisurely visit, when worries about weather conditions aren't an issue.

I really dislike the artificial pressure put to bear against us (I'm using the generic 'us', not Bryan and me specifically) at this time of year. When conditions can be down right dangerous what with blowing snow and hypercold temperatures, we have no business being out on the roads making long journeys, and yet we're made to feel guilty (self-imposed and otherwise) if we don't sit down with our dearest on that one specific day.

OK, that's my annual gripe for the year. I'll leave off all the other irritants (people who make a big deal out of Christian celebration when they aren't practicing or even believing Christians is a BIG one) of the season (what other baby's birth is celebrated before the child is born and then abruptly halted upon its arrival?!) that make me cranky.

Hmm, maybe I wasn't too successful just at that moment.

But wouldn't it be something if Christians could take back possession of Christmas Day and say "Stop. It's our celebration. Enough with presents and hoopla and excess and misunderstanding. Find some other date in the year to practice your materialistic worship and leave this little birthday party to us."

Of course, Western civilization as we know it would collapse. Wouldn't it? No. Well then.... :)


Becca just called from Vermilion. It's -36 plus windchill, so combined to -49C. Yeehaw.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Seeing the World in a Whole New Way

Just time for a quick post. Bryan arrived home last night and we're off to Armstrong to do some shopping.

I had the strangest experience last Saturday while getting fitted for contact lenses. I use contacts only for sports, especially curling, and I'm down to my last pair. I recent got new eyeglasses and the contact lens tech at the dispensary said it was possible to get full-range lenses for me. Right now, I use toric lenses that address my astigmatism and distance vision only.

Saturday bright and early, she sits me down and I try a set of multifocal lenses. Strange - my sight is both blurry and clear at the same time, hard to describe. So she gives me another set to try and the sample card to read.

"Is the graphic on the topic 3D?" I asked.

"What? No. Why do you ask?"

"Because," I told her, "I am seeing all the print material on this card in stereoptic view."

"Are you sure?"

"Yup." I can adjust my focal length naturally to look at 3D views without using a viewfinder or stereopticon. I used to do a lot of aerial photo work, so I know whereof I speak. That's what these lenses were doing, but on regular 2D images.

There was a pause, and then "Well, perhaps we'll have to get the toric lenses again to compensate for your astigmatism."

Indeed. And I also asked her to talk to someone at the manufacturers to find out if that's ever been reported before, and I they have a clue what's going on.

My life. In living and artificial 3D.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Habits of a Solitary Person, and Gong Show Memories

I laugh sometimes at how quickly I revert to single person habits when Bryan is gone up north. Take the kitchen table, for instance. It's become more of a desk than a place where meals are shared with friends and family, a work place rather than a social arena.

A short pile of bills and business is set to one side, items to be sorted and dealt with on the other. A current read under a cup of coffee on my left, the address book and as-yet-unfinished Christmas cards to the right. The closest I come to socializing at the kitchen table these days is writing letters and blog entries.

I do have a social life, sorta. I spend eight hours a day surrounded by people at work. I curl once a week with fun, friendly people. I see the immediate neighbours and share a cup of coffee or wine if they aren't occupied with company or chores.

Val and I had plans to get together today and work on a book layout for one of her smaller projects, a combined social and business date. I was tossed over, however, for her impending visit by an old friend out from Vancouver, so I'm hunkered down at home today.

I do need to find a Grey Cup party tomorrow, though, to cheer on the Roughies. There's no contest when it comes to choosing between Montreal and Saskatchewan - everyone who isn't a Saskatchewan Roughriders fan secretly wishes they were. They have more fun than people! I mean, really. When there's a run on watermelons in Calgary, when Safeway diverts their entire watermelon inventory to Cowtown just to slake the demand of the melonheads, you know you wanna be one.

CBC photo

Have no fear Melonheads -- Canada Safeway is rushing hundreds of watermelons to Calgary from California for Saskatchewan Roughriders fans to carve and wear to this weekend's Grey Cup.

And Winnipeggers have little to fear either if they want to make a Roughrider fashion statement or just eat a watermelon. Safeway has no plans to yank the fruit from their Winnipeg store displays to send them west.

"Everything in our warehouse system is being shipped out to Safeway stores in Calgary," Safeway spokesman John Graham said Thursday.

- Winnipeg Free Press

I was reading some of the print coverage this morning. One headline from Calgary used the term 'gong show' and I had a flashback to an interesting conversation a few years ago in New Zealand. I was with some friends at St. Andrew's and can't remember the topic of the conversation other than to remark that the thing had been a gong show.

"What's that?" was the reply.

That stopped me. I didn't realize that The Gong Show was a North American phenomenon in the 1970s. So I had to explain the show's concept. And that how the name is now used to describe an event when something goes haywire or is all over the map: "That meeting was a total gong show."

There was a long, silent pause.


But remember the Unknown Comic?!

And it spurred some fabulous local talent spin-offs in small towns. We had a Gong Show on day at our high school when I was in grade 12, brother Scott in grade 10, some sort of school spirit event. Scott did his rendition of "Little Rabbit in the Woods", wearing a fuzzy Elmer Fudd cap (remember when they were real headgear?!) and I think he had a cap gun as well. He wasn't 'gonged', he was 'encored.' I think it was the appealing way he flung up his hands at the 'Help me, help me, sir he said' part. Whatever, it still makes me laugh recalling it.

And Scotty's either gonna laugh his head off or put out a bounty on my head when he reads that bit. I'm hoping 30-some years has put the event into perspective.

Maybe he'll do another encore.

It's a white and grey world out there this early Saturday morning. Last evening's gentle moisture turned to sticky snow overnight. It was dead calm at 7am but I've noticed the wind picking up; the temperature is hovering around 0 so the white stuff won't last long. Snow on the ground, be it ever so thin, keeps me from longing for gardening season.

A new coffee is brewing on the stove. A small Italian grocery down the street from where I work has closed its door this week. The owner, a wholesaler turned seasonal retailer, decided to retire, and as the storefront part of his operation is in his yard along Okanagan Landing Road, he wasn't inclined to sell. I took advantage of his closing specials and bought some high quality olive oil, stocked up on less common types of pasta, some jars of sundried tomatoes and a large sack of coffee beans.

This is my first pot from those beans. It's Cafe Mauro 'Concerto', quite a different aroma but not unpleasantly so.

I had trouble getting to sleep last night - not actually getting to sleep, but getting to bed. Another solitary person pitfall. Generally I love sleeping and look forward to crawling into bed.

Friday morning I awoke to a very odd dream. Like most dreams aren't odd. Anyway. I was horseback with a group of people, pushing cattle, about to embark on a long drive. The group included both my mom and dad, my brother Scott but not brother Todd, friend Alvin Kumlin but not his wife, friend JoAnne Gardner but not her husband Rick, and a vaguely familiar looking Chinese couple who were riding horses but somehow organizing something.

We were working a large herd of what looked like yearling steers, with a significant percentage of longhorns. That's one of the odd things (like the Chinese couple isn't odd enough) because among the people gathered, not one would come within shouting distance of a longhorn steer for love or money - especially money considering they're useless for beef and missing several cogs in their bovine brains.

It's been over 25 years since I last sat in a working saddle, five since I pushed cattle in any venue. Where do these things come from, and why? Dreams have always fascinated and frustrated me. Maybe there is no hidden messages in them but I still want to know what depths the various components are dredged from and what crazy cooking process throws them together.

Speaking of crazy processes, my next self-appointed task today is to clean out and sort out the pantry. Bryan may not have been home much lately but it's long enough to throw my cupboards into disarray. He has a shopping and cooking habit that is both delightful and deplorable. There are ingredients and hither-to-unknown purchases lurking in corners and on high shelves. Watching him in a grocery store is akin to watching a whiskey-jack: something 'shiny' catches his eye and into the cart it goes. "Oh, look at this!" is a statement that gives me pause. What, I wonder, will I have to deal with a few weeks from now?

I guess the frustration comes because he doesn't rotate his stock. New purchases go to the front of the shelves, old stuff gets lost behind and then forgotten. We're overstocked on some things that he thinks we're out of and buys more simply because he doesn't keep the shelves clear and organized, and that makes me wild. It was worse when we had a large deep-freezer.

I used to chastise him about that, but it hurts his feelings. Now I just pick my opportunities and just deal with the chaos.

Must now gird my mental loins and march forth.

The Italian coffee is delightful, by the way. I'm a fan.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Wood Work, and Widow-in-Training Again

A snowy Sunday morning, and once again Bryan is on the road north to the Peace Country. He was hoping to be here until after Christmas, but urgent phone calls drew him back. Figures only two weeks at most this time.

Was good while he was here. We got many jobs done, visited family members and indulged ourselves through the first two seasons worth of 'Deadwood' DVDs . Thanks to his baby sister for getting us hooked!

The wind through this region throughout the entire week was intense and unrelenting. Gusts of unbelievable ferocity tore through the valley, wrecking havoc on a daily basis. It finally blew itself out Friday night and we woke to rain-soaked ground and lingering fog in the calm air.

Two trees, a fir and a pine, blew down on the firehall property just off the southwest corner of our lot. As well, one the firs beside the west side of the house was lifting at the roots and giving signs of succumbing to the gustatory onslaught.

Bryan's old chainsaw finally gave up the ghost after over 20 years of felling, trimming and bucking our firewood. It surely doesn't owe us a thing. We do, however, have need of a saw. Canadian Tire conveniently had a sale on Poulan saws this week past, so Bryan bought himself a nice little unit with a 16 inch bar.

He had a glorious time felling our fir, catching a gust of wind just right to drop our tree onto the wooded lot next door, and bucking up all three trees.

Fallen trees bucked and the big blocks left for neighbour Dean's woodstove.

Saturday was a trip back in time, loading freshly-sawn wood into the little green wagon, toting it up the hill and field stacking it between a set of live trees. How many Saturdays in years past did we toil at that task. The sharp bite of running sap was delicious, but I had no illusions that I'd want to return to the job on a regular basis - although it would probably be good for my general physical condition.

While we were in the mode, so to speak, Bryan also sawed up an older fallen fir on Kelly's lot, alongside the driveway to the east. Becca was so kind as to limb most of it and clear up the general debris in the area when she was here in September. It's not our property but we do have to look at it (there's a small grove of young fir hiding it from the owner's direct view), deal with the weeds that thrive there, but most importantly, would be most immediately affected by any fire fed by that fuel. Given the fire season we just came through, it's only good sense to be a good steward and clean up potential fire fuel within 100m of the house.

That wood also piled, we proceeded to enjoy a small fire in the backyard with the bits of detrious gathered from about the yard, broken from nearby trees and strewn about by the wind. Bryan brought two lawn chairs out from the garage and set them by the fire ring. I found two ciders in the fridge. We rested from our labours, enjoying the flames and the warmth, prodding the fuel with the Official Pokey Fire Stick of the moment.

Close to the time the sun moved behind Estekwalan, the wind picked up for the first time all day, dropping the temperature considerably and taking the fun out of the cozy fire.

First thing in the morning, before we started hauling wood, we took the opportunity of a warm sunny morning to hang the outdoor Christmas lights. I haven't taken a photo yet. Perhaps tonight, and then I can post the pictures here.

The bikes have once again been moved to the basement for the winter. The garage cleaned up and summer gear stored high so my car can spend winter nights inside. New feeders have been added to the birdfeeding station, the bins of seeds in the garage filled anew, hopefully so see us through to the end of December. Conditions have been mild so the bird population dining here is still sporadic. I miss seeing the quail, as they arrive sometime after I leave for work, and it's dark when I get home. They are definitely making our yard a part of their daily routine, and in large numbers, if the feeder use is any indication.

Fresh snow in the gypsum quarry behind the house this morning.

I've heard news from friends recently whom have been silent or otherwise occupied in past weeks or months.I sometimes despair of their interest in my postings and letters, and then out of the blue comes a delightful piece of correspondence.

Friend Susanne, for instance, wrote for a specific reason, said that nothing much had happened in their life and oh, by the way, she was now working at the library.


Last time I knew, she was working at one of the banks in town. Don't let that shoe fall and keep the other hanging! Details!! Names!!

And so with gentle prodding and a light hand ("What the hell happened?!") I learn of unrest at one place, fortuitous changes of circumstances in another and a subsequent adventure undertaken.

Don't tell me 'nothing has happened.' Something is always happening, and the little stuff is just as interesting, if not more, than those grand events that warrant a notation on the calendar or diary.

Barb and Nathan have a new son born to them, the 'bookend' to their eldest son and multitude of sisters in between.

Maggie May is looking better after a bad spell last spring with recurrent kidney failure. We've been through much together over the past 25 years, and distance has no bearing on the care and concern we have for each other. Here's to a wonderful final year at Red Deer, Mags.

Fay is just celebrating another birthday, and again with much history behind us, that is always a reason to celebrate. As a witty old-timer once told me, getting older sure as hell beats the alternative!

Marc of the Hinglish accent is soon to retire (who'd a thunk he'd live that long? not him!) and planning long and extended bike trips with Bryan in his semi-retirement while his wife and Bryan's continue to toil away as wage slaves.

Marc is a French-Canadian Manitoban. Last time he was here, he asked me what kind of accent he had.

A French one, I replied.

He and Gail had recently been on holiday to France, and he said that while there, they said he had a "Hinglish" accent. I know Fay and Roland will laugh at that, both because they know Marc and because Roland can also pull off a pretty good Hinglish rendition of English.

It's always a quiet empty day when Bryan leaves. I've filled an hour or two writing here and to others of you in my life, but it's time to let you get on with other things and for me to also move on with my day.

Have a good week, dear people.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Medium Life Goals and Saturday Musings

In life, we have three types of goals: big goals, medium goals and little goals.

Big goals are landmarks along our life line, bucket-list items.

Our trip to Germany was a big goal.

Little goals are the ones that help us survive our lives, the 'get me through this day, Lord' goals.

Getting through last Friday with body and mind intact was a little goal. Trust me.

Medium goals are the bookmarks between survival and life-time achievements. Wednesday I completed a medium goal on my to-do list. Bryan and I drove the length of the Douglas Lake Road and explored a very little of the famous Douglas Lake Cattle Company Ranch.

It seemed a shame to waste a perfectly beautiful afternoon on a 'free' day midweek. The inside stuff could wait. Bryan and I grabbed the water bottles, camera, topog map and filled the pick-up's fuel tank. We'd attempted this trip last spring but his back was still too injured to take the rough road. Just in case, he also grabbed a bottle of extra strength pain killers. Always prepared.

If you have a map or use Google Maps on-line, you can follow along. Better the Google topographic feature, because then you can see the terrain we traveled through.

The north end of Douglas Lake Road meets Highway 97N at Westwold. The first little bit of road travels along the edge of a farmed valley. That soon gives way to horse and cow country, and then moose and mountain goat terrain.

For not being a specified forest service road (aka, a REAL road), it has its moments.

Looking east from the crest of the Douglas Lake Road, at about 1000m elevation or so.

Well, almost the crest.

Heck of a road, eh? Looking north-ish, from where we came.

And then, over the high point of the road, we descended into a sea of grass. The Douglas Lake Ranch is half a million acres of some of the most astounding natural grasslands in the west. Lakes are strung along the valleys like sapphires on a necklace.

Perhaps it takes a cattleman to appreciate the beauty of the area. I know that Bryan and I were both in awe. At the valley's bottom, we drove past the feedlots.

And then, around a bend in the road, lay the Home Ranch.

Looking southwest at the Home Ranch, and the Quarter horse barn below.

I stole these two photos from websites because by the time I had the presence of mind to take pictures, we were on the other side of the valley!

If you've never been to an old-time remote ranch, you'd not know that they were often little villages unto themselves. There is a general store here, and a school, perhaps twenty or more families.

At the end of the valley, looking back over the ranch and the Home Ranch buildings.

We continued on, through two Indian Reserves, until we met Highway 5A. Turned right and travelled in a generally north direction towards Kamloops. At Campbell Creek Road, we turned right again, heading east-ish towards Bernhardvale (Bernhardtvale? I can never remember how to spell that place!), continuing on to Highway 97N. In a short way, we were back to our starting point in Westwold and home in time for supper.

A lovely three hour drive and we never passed through a community of more than 50 people, reserves not counting.

There was snow above 800m that day. There is snow on the ground here as of Friday morning. It was a mild day today, snow is gone in the lower places, and temperatures are to be much high again the first half of next week. This is why we live here now.

But we are still winter people. Curling season started in Falkland this week! and we won our first game on Thursday night, an auspicious beginning under a new skip. Our second, Mike, is AWOL in South America for a few months. So Carrie press ganged her father Don to be our skip - I hope we don't give him reason for second thoughts.

Carrie is now third, Fay second and I in a repeat performance as lead. Seeing as I got back into curling for fitness, that's a good thing. And given the heavy ice conditions the first four ends, I did indeed get a work-out, both throwing rocks and sweeping others.

Tender twinges in various and sundry parts of my body were reminders of that work-out. I'd hoped that gardening season would closely overlap curling so's to offset the worst of the twinges, and I may have been somewhat successful with that.

I was thinking about curling, about winter sports and winter people. A few years ago, I was at my mom's house with friends from a temperate country, and the question was asked: How long does it take for you to get ready for winter?

Mom and I looked at each other and smiled. As farm women raised on the prairies, the answer was instantaneous: All summer.

We (my childhood family, and then my family up north) did enjoy hot afternoons at the river and mild evenings playing slow pitch and drinking beer. But from the first crocus poking its nose through the snow and the first calf to hitting the still-frozen ground in spring, through to the last load of barley off the combine, the last calf through the sorting gate and momma cows off to winter pasture in the fall, summer was one long piece of work all geared towards surviving winter.

Winter, too, was hard work. But it was also long dark evenings of socializing and relaxation: cards, curling, skating on the local rink under floodlights, snowshoeing or cross-country skiing through the bush on full moon nights. When the snow was deep, the mercury at the bottom of the bulb, the livestock all cared for the and woodbox full, that's when life was quiet and contemplative.

Enough retrospection. We have a supper date in Kamloops. The show Bryan's watching is almost done. The sun has set behind the mountain and it's time to head out the door.

I hope you've enjoyed a quiet, recuperative Saturday.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Remembrance Day, Pirates and the Sandmänn

It's one of the weird things about the publishing industry.... we've often already 'lived' through a day before it happens.

Take today, for instance, Remembrance Day. Because it is mid-week, all sorts of deadlines and scheduling had to be altered. My little Lake Country Calendar had its deadline moved up to Friday for today's paper due to press queues and so that Canada Post had their copies in time to deliver it yesterday. Yes indeed, tomorrow's news today.

That meant that much of Thursday and Friday was spent working on Remembrance Day ads for the special section honouring veterans. Yesterday was regular publication day for the Morning Star, also containing a RDay section. I'm about poppied-out.

Poppied-out, pooped-out, flat-out tired. It's been a trying week or so. So much to tell you and so much time drifted by.

Hallowe'en was a hoot. Due to the fact that my shipmate already had imbibed too much grog before we even set sail, my portrait is blurry. I'm a little choked about that. It was a good costume.

However, when you have Death as a table partner, you're not likely to put up much of a fuss. That's the dread pirate PK to the left, me partner in crime.

'Tweren't all scariness. This cute couple won a few prizes.

A fun time was had by all, the costumes were great and we were home at a reasonable time (we are responsible pirates).

Had a great day cruising shops in Kamloops the next day, looking for items for Phyl and Gary's new condo.

Bryan arrived home the end of the following week. He had a good six weeks up north and is ready for some R&R.

I already had plans for Saturday, never assuming he'll be home when he says, so it became a 'date' day. To my favorite antique shop to look again at a bookcase I'd been considering. It's a student bookcase; there's a companion desk that I wasn't interested in. I found it especially nice because it's Vilas maple, which means it's well-built, but also because it's blonde wood, and most Vilas furniture is a deep red colour. I used to have a bedside table that I gave to a friend who had most of suite in that style.

The 'new' bookcase is now in the guestroom, loaded with volumes ready for your perusal. In fact, most of the one on the first two shelves are available for readers to take home with them. I know how it is, to start a book at someone's house and no time to finish it before departure.

The Inuit pictures on the top shelf need to be hung. The one on the right is by Benjamin Cheechee - I particularly treasure it. The photo is Rebecca when she was just over a year old. She would pull a small chair over to the piano bench, crawl up and then gently play away on the keys, looking at whatever music was open on the ledge as if she was a concert performer.

As we prowled Randy's shop, Bryan looked at some vintage toys. I heard him say, "Hey! Look at this!" and handed me this wee fellow.

To most of you, he's just a funny little doll. But we know better. He's a Sandmänn ("Sandman") from the GDR (East Germany). And this one is from the early 1960s. Sandmänn is a children's television program that airs in the evenings, just before young children ought to be in bed. Our 'daughter' Claudia and her partner Chris grew up with the Sandmänn, and now their sons are as well, as the GDR version is still telecast as reruns. He's very much a part of the country's culture. Like Mr. Dress Up or the Friendly Giant in Canada.

Claudia gave our little Abby a Sandmänn nursery ornament that plays the Sandmänn song.

Wiki trivia about Sandmänn:
Sandmänn was part of the Soyuz 31 voyage to the Soviet Space Station Salyut 6 along with fellow GDR citizen Sigmund Jahn, Soviet Cosmonaut Valery Bylovsky and the Soviet Doll "Mascha", in 1978.

It was a nice find for us. Randy was bemused by my excitement, I think... I know, because the doll means nothing to him. We, however, have context. Anyway, when I made the deal on the bookcase, Randy gifted us the doll.

We went from there to a caselot sale for fresh nuts - pecans and almonds, walnuts and cashews. Then up to The Rise for a tasting session and purchase of some house white and their merlot. Stop at Swan Lake for black oil sunflower seed for Bryan's birds and a sack of Ambrosia and Honey Crisp apples (where are the Pink Ladys this year?). Nuts, apples and wine - that's intelligent shopping!

Well, it's looking to be a nice day. We the shortened daylight hours, I'm at that stage of the game where I travel to work in faint dawn light and home in the dark. Other than a 1/2 hour walk during my lunch break, I'm bereft of sunlight. Days like today, I'm either outside as much as possible or curled up in the sunbeams, book in hand, in the house on blustery days.

I'm not attending a cenotaph ceremony this year, but I'm well aware of the day. I hope you are, too.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Wine Cruisin' and Roses

Cheryl at Camelot Vineyard.

It was time for what is becoming the annual wine cruise with Brian and Cheryl Goldsmith. Cheryl was a McCall onct upon a time and we've known each other forever, since her parents moved to Airdrie when she was a toddler.

The Goldsmiths arrived late last Friday night - their modus operandi for the past 25 years! - safe and sound. It was a cool but pleasant weekend and so first thing Saturday morning (or after a pot of coffee or so) we headed south towards Lake Country and South Kelowna.

Brian was our DD last year so I offered to be this year's driver. That way, Brian could actually see the countryside and partake in the tasting at each stop. It does add up! I wanted to take them to different places than we saw last year, and I'm better at reading maps (usually) than giving directions. ("Left. No, my left. The other left. That way." with emphatic pointing)

First stop was Arrowleaf Cellars. Small place. Acceptable wines. Bought the first 1/2 dozen of this year's bottles to be laid by in the cellar: Pinot Gris 2008, Pinor Noir 2008 and a lovely 'patio sipping' white called Snow Tropics 2007.

On to Gray Monk with its new wine shop and stunning view over the OK valley. Longer stop. More purchases: some white and red each of their signature Latitude 50, 2007 and 2008 respectively, Gamay Noir 2008 and Merlot 2007.

El Nihilo is on the same road as the first two but their wine shop isn't open yet. Their claim to fame so far is an endorsement from none other than Mike Jagger himself for a product they call Rolling Stone.

Stopped at The Jammery for, of all things, waffles. And lots more coffee.

The third stop, after some reference to road maps in Kelowna, was a delightful find. House of Rose will be a future buying destination. It's a very small place, a family vineyard that produces some astounding wine including a sweet red that I fell in love with. (Yes, I did have some very small tastings here.) This red was such a startling taste that for many long minutes, I didn't know what to think of it! It's a heritage wine called duChaunac (2005), so known because House of Rose has probably the only surviving deChaunac vines left in the Okanagan. Also purchased of their Chardonnay (2007 I think).

Our last vineyard of the day was down the mountain and across the creek from House of Rose - Camelot. Their big reds weren't ready yet so I wasn't too interested. I think Brian and Cheryl did buy something here - the car truck is open in the next photo. Seriously, we were loaded down with purchases!

"Hmm, let's see if we can stuff in a few more bottles....."

Mugging it up at Camelot - Cheryl and Brian Goldsmith

Not surprisingly, we had a quiet evening with soup and toast, tea and no wine.

Sunday was a slower day, and a more overcast one. This time I took them up the Salmon River road and to Carlin Crossing Water Gardens. There was a misstep (I usually find it from the west, not the east, and so missed the turn) but it was eventually found.

Of course, it's the off season and so the store was closed. I suppose technically the grounds were too, but we trespassed with gentle intentions. The Goldsmiths have a waterfall and pond in their backyard but it apparently requires some work. Carlin Crossing has almost a dozen waterfalls installed on their grounds, large ponds and streams. It's a lovely, inspiring place. Despite the temperature, most were still flowing.

We'd thought to stop in Salmon Arm but the day rapidly deteriorated. During a stop for late lunch-early supper in Armstrong, heavy rain moved into the valley. By morning, there was snow in the 800+m areas and slush in Falkland.

My friends were on their way back east Monday morning, following me out the driveway. It was lovely to have them with me for the weekend. It's been a quiet month while Bryan's away. It takes visitors to remind me how lonesome it gets sometimes.

Bryan's planning on being home mid-week next week. For how long, who knows.

It's Hallowe'en on Saturday night! and the girls are goin' howlin'! Sister Phyllis has declared we are going to the Falkland Pub party as pirates. Swash, swash, buckle, buckle. It's as good an idea as any. I've mostly got my costume assembled, as staff are expected to be in costume at work tomorrow.

Been assembling dishes for tomorrow's potluck lunch as well. There's a great little Italian grocery store just west of the office and so, ta-da! squid-ink linguini and multi-coloured orrechetti ("little ears") for Witch's Pasta (with home-made marinara sauce) and Ear Salad. The orrechetti is black (squid ink), pink (beet), green (spinach), yellow (tumeric) and grey (cuttlefish).

There was a layer of snow on the ground this morning. It hasn't stayed and temperatures are to be warmer again on the weekend. Winter is in the air, though.

David Austin 'Jubilee Celebration'

I got my new roses planted. Oh, did I forget to mention them? There was a 50% off sale on David Austin roses at Swan Lake Nursery so I bought a few: two Jubilee Celebration, one each Benjamin Britten, Claire Austin, Alan Titchmarsh, Tea Clipper, Lichfield Angel and Wildeve. They're all modern versions of Old English roses, which means they're mostly very fragrant. The heavy, steady rain we had all the previous week made digging very easy. I had plenty o' compost to mix in (can you believe, after 15 years of raising sheep I'm now reduced to paying for sheep shit!) and the plants are already dormant, so they should do well. I have two compressed bales of shavings to mulch everything this weekend.

I'm already looking forward to spring!

David Austin 'Tea Clipper'

Saturday, October 17, 2009

A Very Good Knitting Day

It's the perfect day for knitting and reading. A heavy, steady rain is falling over the entire region, a desperately needed rain. A deep soaking rain. Farmers (or ex-farmers) can wax eloquently on the beauty (or holy terror) of rain. It's the life-blood.

Much as I can look approvingly at the outside scene, I'm not going out into it except as necessary. I do need to dig the last of the carrots in the garden. Other than that, it's an inside day. And this week has been a knitting week, so how perfect is that?

These are some of the little hand warmers I've been making. The finished pair are of 3ply tussah silk that I spun 20 years ago for a show, and then stashed. Perhaps not the best choice for this project at first blush. However, I made a set from the fine, fluffy burgundy stuff in front and took them to work (my little corner of that world is very, very cold in the winter) and discovered that fine fluff is not compatible with my computer mouse. I'm still using them but made the other ones to take to work on Monday.

Meanwhile, daughter Rebecca wants a set so the one on my new bamboo needles (aren't they nice?) is for her (don't tell her; Becca, cover your eyes).

They're a nice get-back-into-knitting project ("Hmm, decrease.). I admit I had to take my first mitt to the mother-in-law's last weekend because I couldn't remember a technique or two. I am not a natural knitter. I'm great at crochet, needlepoint and weaving, adequate at sewing. My paternal grandmother was a great knitter who tried valiantly to teach me, was able to instill basic casting-on and tension control skills, but finally gave up as my super power then seemed to be dropping stitches.

When I had small babies at home, Oma (our neighbour lady, Erna Plontke, and the kids' adopted grandmother) taught me to knit on four needles to make tube socks. I made little tube socks from homespun, then shrunk them and they were perfect moccasin liners for the kids.

One day, maybe this winter, I will learn to turn a heel. Then Bryan will get his long-desired homespun, home-knit boot socks. He loves wool socks and has often looked at my fleeces and yarn stashes with covetousness.

Spoke to Becca the other night on the phone. Midterm exams and term papers are threatening to overwhelm her, but she'll be fine (once she stops hyperventilating). We've many of us been through it and come through the other side, albeit a bit battered and bruised at time. Moments like this remind me why I didn't want her to go to post-secondary school right out of high school. She wasn't ready for it and very likely would have dropped out. A few years of 'real' life taught her perseverance and fortitude.

Becca lives here....somewhere. Might have to make a quick and dirty road trip out there this winter. And this is a link to the program she's taking.

I stopped at Talkin' Donkey on the way home last night and picked up some used paperbacks. The tidy stack on the bedside table includes an Andrew Greeley mystery, a Richard Patterson detective story, the newest 'Jason Bourne' story, a fluffy Regency romance by Eloisa James and a great find - a new reprint of Grant MacEwan's classic 'Fifty Mighty Men.'

I was and am a great MacEwan fan. He was a famous western Canadian, farmer, politician and writer, a friend of my dad's uncles and an inspiration to me. As a teenager, I was a 4-H public speaking competitor and found the basis for my first winning speech in one of his books. When I graduated from Olds College, MacEwan was Alberta's Lieutenant Governor and presented our diplomas, a warm memory for me.

He wrote western Canadian history books and this one is a collection of stories about men who helped shaped the west, from the Black Robes (missionaries) to the cowboys, doctors, chiefs and everyone in between. He wrote a followup 'And Mighty Women, Too', which I have but I'd never found a copy of this one because it was long out of print. I love his writing style; my dad dislikes it intensely but is a big fan of Pierre Burton's stuff, which bores me intensely.

Neighbour Adrienne called early this morning: was I going to the chili cooking competition at the community hall tonight? I only knew about it from the sandwich board on the sidewalk when I went to get the mail on the way home last night.

"I made a pot of chili. Are you still alone? (her Ken is up in Edmonton, my Bryan in the Peace) Then you could be my date! Would you bring a salad?"

Of course. I'm thinking a Copper Penny salad, what with my supply of carrots. Or a Five Bean salad. I do like a good bean salad.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Potsdam, Denmark, and Turkey (food not country)

Statuary in gardens at Sansoussi.

After our gallivanting with Ursel, Bryan was tired. We did a lot of walking, and his beat-up ol' body don't do walking on cobblestones so well. We had a quiet day with Claudi and Chris, a wonderful evening of conversation made possible by Chris' comfort level with us and increased ability to converse in English. (Claudi said they found themselves speaking English at home even while we were away!)

It was Bryan's birthday on Saturday, and so the kids took us to Potsdam and Sansoussi, Fredrick the Great's summer palace. We couldn't all fit in Chris' car with the child seats, so they rented a SmartCar for the weekend. What a hoot! We are thinking seriously about getting one after the fun we had with it, and playing red-light tag through Berlin (girls in the SmartCar, guys and kids in the Audi).

Anyway, Sansoussi was fabulous. Can't take photos inside, so y'all will have to go see it yourselves or perhaps click online. And of course, as with all the places we went to, a person could spend days just exploring that site and area.

The gardens around the palace are extensive and elaborate. Many people go to Sansoussi to spend the day on the grounds, picnicking and relaxing. The only cost is for tours of the palace itself. Claudi and Valentin enjoy a moment by one of the many fountains. The little guy loves fountains.

There are terrace upon terrace of grapevines and fruits - the glass doors you can kind of see in this photo enclose niches for figs.

Sunday we left by train for Denmark. Claudia and Chris both said, "Don't worry. Everyone one on trains speak English."

Well, as we pulled out of Berlin, a long involved announcement came over the speaker system explaining (I think) destinations, times and connections, all in German. There was a brief pause, then "Welcome to I.C.E, destination Hamburg." in English. And that was that.

"I think we lost something in translation," I said to Bryan.

The Inter-City Express is a very fast train, over 200khm most times (heck, just like the Autobahn). The countryside continued flat, flat, flat all the way north, and hundreds of power-generating windmills throughout the area.

We changed to the Regional Express train north in Hamburg.

Hamburg train station is not as big as Berlin's but still has 12 (14? lots of) tracks and enough going on that you have to have your wits about you.

The concourse above the tracks is extensive, full of shops and food venues, much like an airport. Trains are a primary transportation mode in Europe, something we Canadians are not used to, unfortunately.

A sight very common in my life: Bryan headed off (not always with suitcase in tow, I hasten to add) without seeing if I'm with him, confident that where he's going is the right direction and I'll have the good sense to keep up. This strategy is somewhat less effective in crowded shopping malls, one reason we don't go to them together very often.

Arrived in Flensburg, on the border, whereupon Christian and Tove Marcussen met us. They were almost on time, too! I don't know about Christian, but after 25 years, I still recognized him perfectly well! We've exchanged a few photos of family, etc over the years.

I didn't realize we'd crossed the border until we were well into Denmark. Dealing with the US border service all my life has conditioned me to onorous procedures. I don't think Chris (Claudi's Chris) understood my vague anxiety about crossing borders because all (? most, I guess) of Europe has open borders.

Christian and I worked in New Zealand at the same time as trainees with International Agricultural Exchange Association. I've thought lately about that term 'trainee' - we were born and raised farm kids, so the 'training' had been done long before. No matter.

We were milking cows in on farms in Taranaki, his near Ti Riki (I think) and mine at Stratford. Our small group was the first to arrive in August (the main group didn't arrive until November), which made us a tight bunch. Christian and I became good friends and kept in touch after returning to our respective homes.

Christian worked in the Middle East for several years (working for a Danish company establishing a dairy operation in Saudi Arabia, for example) and wrote very fascinating letters about his experiences there. In 1984 he and a friend travelled to Canada and the US, and fit in a visit to our place. Bryan and I had just bought the farm the previous fall - we didn't even have running water yet, but the guys were game.

Christian and Tove are close to Skaerbaek; they have a large pig operation, having got out of dairy many years ago. Their children are grown, or almost (the youngest is attending high school in Ribe).

Spending a few days in the country on a farm was a soothing experience for our rural souls after many days in cities. Tove had days off work (she's a nurse) and so the four of us had two very lovely days exploring Jutland.

I was lost much of the time in Denmark - the language had me completely baffled, and I didn't have a map. I can place most of our travels and a few of the placenames.

On Monday, we drove to the island of Romo. There's a causeway now, but it's not long ago that it was an isolated place. It was the home of whaling families: the men were gone for long periods of times on the whale boats while the women and children kept the homefires burning (sounds like life in the oil patch, eh?). It's part of the maritime legacy: centuries before, the Viking women and children ran the settlements while the guys were out pillaging (cue Hagar the Horrible).

This little building is a school. It's typical of the building on the island - brick walls, thatch roof. One of my mom's dreams on her long-ago trip to England was to see a thatched cottage. Denmark is the place to see thatch. We saw dozens and dozens of thatched roofs, even one in the process of replacement.

Close-up of the thatch roof: they use marsh reeds.

Yet more thatched buildings, and of a common design: the family residence and livestock barn all one unit.

The beach on Romo is large and wide; we never did get to the water's edge here. The flat expanse is popular for many sports, primarily parasailing (both with parachutes and the large sails).

We continued down the coast and stopped at an honest-to-God windmill. Ya, I'm a nerd but this was cool! I've been fascinated by windmills and dikes since Grade 3 when we did a geography project about the Netherlands.

This is Hojer Molle, not spelled correctly here because I don't have the O with a slash through it that's part of the Danish alphabet. Anyway, that means the Hojer Mill in Sonderjylland (Southern Jutland). Thankyou, Babelfish translator.

This was a milling mill, not a water-pumping windmill (they had them as well). There's a store to the right, a warehouse to the left, and the photo (one of my favorites, I must confess) is from the mill garden. A specimen garden with little tiny plant ID signs, and when I trod on the grass to read one, Tove pointed out the much larger sign that warned me not to walk on the grass. We liberated several delicious ripe pears from the tree in the foreground as revenge.

Bryan checking possible weight gain (ha) from excessive consumption of German chocolates (Mr. Never Gains Weight).

On the platform atop the windmill, looking at the mechanism the miller would have used to turn the sails: Christian, Tove and Bryan.

This entire part of Europe is called the Lowlands for a reason - they're barely above sea level and so very prone to flooding. Farming and habitation is possible only due to extensive drainage and flood management. Long dikes keep the Wadden Sea from inundating the area when fierce winter storms whip up the water.

This photo is looking east from one of the locks. The river flows to the west, behind me and out to the sea. I told you it was flat!

And looking out onto the Wadden Sea, Christian leaning on the railing. There are huge gates below him that close when the tide rises and threatens to flood back on the land. The incline on the seaward side of the new dikes is very long and gradual, so it's had to see just how high they are.

Note that many of Bryan's new 'friends' are of the stone variety (not stoned). Found hisself a seal to cuddle up to.

I don't remember the name of this town, and I'm going to get my fingers slapped when Christian reads this, but it's a very, very old town. The houses were intriguing. If you could find a passageway or gap between them, you would see the gardens behind, where the inhabitants really live their lives, and oftimes the barns from years past. As in the photo below.

I think this was also the town where a Danish prince has a residence. We peeked through the gates and Tove fed a resident dog some dog cookies that happened to be in her pocket, but no one was home (how do we know? The flag was not flying, the universal sign for 'come on over, the coffee's on').

Day two was a real time travel day. We went to Ribe, originally a Viking settlement goingback to the 700s, and a stop at the Ribe Viking Centre just outside town where Viking-Ribe is being recreated as sites in the real town are discovered. This is the point in the journey where I was sans camera due to crossed communications, so I stole a few pics. You can Google Riber Viking Centre, or better yet, go there yourself.

Interesting that as close as they live to it, Christian and Tove had never gone themselves. Takes visitors to kick in the 'home tourist' mode.

Then to Ribe itself and one of the funnier moments of the trip. This is Ribe Cathedral, Lutheran I hasten to add. We went to see the Cathedral, and once there Christian bought tickets to go up the tower. I didn't realize at the time that he meant right to the TOP of the tower.

There are people in my life who know how much I hate climbing things, especially long flights of stairs. I have hyper-extended knees, which makes stepping up and down things (particularly down) difficult. Two flights of stone steps to the clockworks - how hard was that? Piece o' cake. But then Christian said, "Come on, we're not there yet." Not where yet?

Up narrow wooden stairs, and then another flight, and then the bells, but are we 'there' yet? NO!

"Just a few more steps." Great lies of our times. But once out on the top, the stunning view was worth the climb and laboured breathing. All of Ribe and the Jutland penisula was laid out before us.

Christian was pointing out various places of interest. When I couldn't figure out where one of the places was that he was pointing to, he said, "There, by that red house."

I stopped and turned to look at him and said, "Christian, they are all red houses." Long pause, and then we both laughed, and it became a running joke for the rest of the day.

And look, I was right, wasn't I?

The inside of the cathedral is dramatically different from the roccoco and renaissance specimens we'd already seen. This is a very modern altar, redone not that many years ago, inside a clean and austere sanctuary. I would be comfortable here, rather than over-awed as I was in the German Doms.

While Tove attended a meeting during the afternoon, the three of us spent the afternoon with another old IAEA friend, Grethe Jensen. She worked for Fred & Jessie Cook, close to where I lived. We wrote to each other for a few years and then lost contact, as those things happen. When we arrived at Marcussen's, Christian asked, "Would you like to see Grethe?"

Turns out she's a nurse at the same hospital as Tove! Of course I'd like to see her. We had a lovely visit at her place just a short distance out of town. It was a little awkward at first, not surprising considering we hadn't seen each other in 30 years! and lost written contact perhaps 25 years ago. And yet, in a short while it was comfortable. And as the photo albums came out and the coffee pot replaced with beer, the stories flowed. Whereupon Bryan learned that not only were the stories I'd told him over the years all true, but that there were a lot more he'd never heard!

"Do you remember the time we were coming back from a party and I drove the wrong way round the round-about in Stratford?" asked Grethe. Which made Bryan laugh, because I'm sure he didn't believe that one.

And my answer that the modus operandi for the Canadians and Brits who were at large in NZ was to always travel with a Dane, then pretend not to understand English and let the Dane-of-the-moment talk to whatever officer of the law whom we might catch the attention of.

"Ya, I remember that!"

Grethe's husband and son arrived home just as we were leaving, so we weren't able to visit much with them. Enough, however, for the respective husbands to decide that the stories grow in the telling - but I think they're just jealous.

That's it for photos of Europe. We were back in Berlin for a few days, but we both acquired head colds from the little boys (all the adults got it) and Bryan had a very bad, achy Thursday in bed. Friday was a quiet recovery day for him. Chris took us for a drive in the city and out around Brandenberg.

Leaving was difficult, as partings always are. We'll be back, though. We've got our feet wet and now are ready for the plunge.

Bryan, back where he's most comfortable: as the driver, not the passenger, driving through the Cochrane area, towards the mountains and home.



The day after the turkey before.... but I'll say none of us overindulged. Getting older sometimes does mean getting wiser. And I'll truly enjoy my turkey sandwiches today.

PK wanted to kick up a cribbage game but mom's crib board is MIA. We tried just keeping score, but it lacks the thrill of pegging (you crib fans know what I mean) so Gary took pity on us and we embarked on a riotous session of Crazy Eights. Yes, the children's card game we all grew up with. Now, be honest, when's the last time you played Crazy Eights? I challenge you to get a game going around your table tonight and if you don't laugh as hard as we did for a few hours, I send you my apologies. We howled with laughter - strategy forsooth!

It was a cold and windy day, despite blue skies. Not a day to invite leisurely fall strolls. On the list of things I'm thankful for is that I spent all Saturday afternoon outside.

It was only marginally warmer yesterday (yes, I realize it's much warmer than the land east of the Rockies, and no snow, Ive seen everyone's photos, so stop yelling) but I still had a great time planting lavender and gaura (I said, stop yelling), burning potato and tomato stalks in a lovely bonfire. With the tops froze off, it was time to dig potatoes, and my little plot yielded a very respectable crop with some fairly large tubers. They're definitely going to be included in next year's garden crop.

This posting has taken me most of the morning. Think I'll brave the cool wind outside this holiday Monday and take a walk down to Bolean Creek. The laundry is done but there are still chores to be done inside today.

Hope you've had a great holiday weekend. And that you've enjoyed our photos.