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.