Saturday, November 27, 2010

Surreal Moments and Church Calves

(Hi, Tricia!)

Our household is now official virus free once again. That’s a lovely feeling. Nothing like being really sick to appreciate how good it is to be healthy.

And while we’re talking about ‘official’ moments, the holiday celebrations have officially commenced for Bryan with tonight’s consumption of the first post-supper rum and eggnog of the season. Just as I prefer dark ales to pale lager, I prefer dark rum to light, but that’s his mix of choice. Last Christmas up at Marlon and Krista’s we were snapping back cranberry juice and spiced rum – nutritious and delicious!

I’ve been sewing this week. That does not, unfortunately, mean that the account books are up-to-date. I may have to buckle down on that this weekend. Nor does it mean that the fabric stash has been diminished in any way (heaven forbid). In the pursuit of recipient-appropriate Christmas gifts, I’ve been popping into the fabric store lately – they have stuff on sale!!! – but I can’t tell you what I’m making because the recipients (those who are old enough to read) are sometimes known to visit this site. Perhaps there will be a modeling session after Christmas complete with photos.

That and curling were the highlights of the week, such as it was. Snow and iffy road conditions dampened the urge to get out and about other than to work and back.

Bryan’s just informed me that due to some long-standing subscription screw-up that has recently been resolved, he’s paid up for Cycle World magazine to May 2014. Ergo, that’s his ‘best before date’ because he intends to get his money’s worth. There’s been a long-standing joke between us, what with all his health issues over the years, as to his ‘best before date’ – I can’t find it stamped on him anywhere. Doesn’t that violate some Consumer Standards regulation?

And now my life just got another little bit surreal. First I learn my husband’s expiry date. Then CKUA radio (available throughout the world on-line) proudly announced they are solar-powered, wood-fired radio. Things that make you say Hmm.

Ah, a Lindt chocolate! That settles the world properly back on its axis.

I worked on a long-ago promised essay this week, have been working on one last revision tonight. It got me thinking about a small but very interesting (at least I think so) bit of history from my hometown that might get lost in the mists of time if I don’t write it down. I’ll send a note of it to my folks to get all the details correct but in the meantime will tell you the gist of it, and maybe a few of you will be reminded of it.

I was raised just east of Airdrie, Alberta, a community immediately north of Calgary.

The Airdrie United Church was and probably still is the only church with a registered cattle brand. Back in the day when Airdrie was a village and there were more ranchers and farmers in the congregation than town folks, inventive means were required to keep the church fiscally afloat.

Those who live off the land know that ready cash is sometimes scarce and a farmer only has income when he sells his crop or markets the livestock. I don’t know what year it started, or who thought of it or how many were involved (little help, dad) but the livestock producers of the congregation each donated a calf or calves to the church, as well as enough grain to feed it to market (or maybe the grain producers donated the grain – told you I was a bit vague on details).

I do know that the calves came to my folks’ place. Legal transfer of ownership was made, the price of the calves credited to the donors. We calves were branded with the church brand (AUC, of course); we provided the bedding, roughage and labour to get the calves to market, then did the marketing as well. All proceeds from the sale went to the church. At one point there were 27 calves in the church herd – that number sticks in my memory.

Even in the days when raising church calves ceased, the majority of the church’s income arrived in the late fall when the farmers and ranchers had the cash and knew what their financial situation was. My mom was church secretary and treasurer for several years. She told me once about a minister they had (long after I’d left home) who was not familiar with rural habits; he was in full fledged panic at the church’s financial situation at mid-summer and spoke bitterly about the parsimonious members of the community.

Mom patiently educated him about the ways of the country, how the congregants would be generous when they could be. He didn’t believe her, but had cause to repent of his harsh judgment later in the year when not only did cash donations arrive in amounts to make his eyes pop, but he and his wife were recipients of the time-honored tradition of ‘fruits from the field’ – farm raised chicken, turkey, vegetables and preserves.

If I recall correctly, it was also the custom at one time for ranchers to provide a half a beef, or at least a goodly portion of cut and wrapped meat, when they butchered for their own use. Bet you didn’t know that, Cheryl.

In all the community histories that I’ve read, including a few from my own home town, nothing has ever been written about the church calves or the bounty that farmers and ranchers supplied to the church and ministers. Overdue, don’t you think?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Snow, Muses of an Old Techie, & Searching for Rita Buchanan

“O the weather outside is frightful…”

Not really, but the volume of snow that fell on Thursday night had me humming that old chestnut under my breath driving home from the curling rink. And the roads in Vernon are truly frightful, with their layer of ice under the dry snow. Co-worker Barb likened it to trying to walk in wool socks on a highly polished linoleum floor that someone has dusted with flour. That brought back a memory of my mom in just such a situation … but that’s a story for another time.

There are several cm of snow on the ground now, but the sun is valiantly trying to come out from behind the clouds of the past two or three days.

I was cruising through Facebook one night this past week. I’m not a big Facebook fan but it does keep me in touch with a lot of people I otherwise never hear from, like my cousins. Reading through their wall posts is something like rubbering in on a party line.

Remember party lines, my children? We still had a telephone party line at the homestead up north until … hmm, when did we get private lines, Fay? Probably 1990, 1991. Oh the memories of listening to Dave Taylor’s chickens clucking over the line when he’d answer the phone out in his layer barn, move into the house to complete the call, then forget to hang up the phone in the barn.

Listening in – rubbering - was a favorite pastime for many farm people of idle intent to listen in on their neighbours’ telephone conversations. When there were up to seven phones on a party line, there was ample fodder for gossip.

To return to the point, I was reading cousin Carrie’s Facebook page, looking at photos of her daughter’s recent wedding (nice pics, Eugene!). Scrolling down the page I saw an entry made by Kelvin, the youngest cousin in the pack, who wrote “I’m surprised to see my older cousins have such advanced computer technical skills” or something like that. What? Because they can post something on Facebook?!

I’m sure (I truly hope) it was a mouthy line made in jest.

I truly hope.

Because sonny boy, I was already computer literate before you were toilet trained.

Let me tell you about mainframe computers and modems that were units you placed the telephone handset into after you’d dialed the mainframe telephone number. About writing programs in BASIC because there weren’t prepackaged programs. About Dynabyte 64 computers with A & B drives, A for the program and B for the data because those early desktop models didn’t have internal hard drives. About 5 ¼” floppy disks and our delight when the compact 3 ½” were introduced. Remember formatting disks? Oh, and the joy of ZIP disks!

Don’t get me started on dot matrix printers, so noisy that they were often placed in a separate, insulated room. In fact the computers themselves were in separate, controlled rooms to protect them from contamination in the main office areas. Those were the days when people were still allowed to smoke at their desks. Woe betide the non-smoker working beside a chain smoker with only a cubicle partition to offer protection. Owen Prince, wherever you are, you owe me a quarter of a lung!

I was the default IT person ( apparently an intensive three day course in Edmonton, during which I had to share a computer with the Grande Prairie district engineer, qualified me as the lead technician) who introduced the first desktop computer to the Alberta Transportation office in High Prairie in 1984. I had to load everything into what was an empty IBM – the operating program, the working programs, everything. And then I had to train the other staff, kicking and screaming, on how to use it because I was pregnant and leaving employment there in the next six months. They were terrified of the computer and wouldn’t come near it until only a few weeks before I left. I took their tri-weekly tech support calls at home for three months after our son was born before I told them that beginning now, my consultant fee was $200 a call. I didn’t hear anything again until almost six months later when a panicky Monica called to ask how to retrieve information following a computer crash.

“Load the stuff from your backup disks.”

Long, long pause.

“You have been making backup disks, haven’t you?”

They had not.

I imagine it took them a long time to re-enter about six month’s worth of data.

I’ve gone from DOS to Windows, from dot matrix to laser printers, from dial-up to high speed DSL. I’ve crashed hard drives, upgraded from 8MG to 80GB of RAM, and learned to be quite fearless throughout it all.

For the past 15 years I’ve made a living as a graphic designer using cutting-edge computer graphic and design software. Now I also design and layout books, not only locally but overseas. I worked on a daily basis with people in other locations whom I’ve never met face-to-face.

The only frontiers I haven’t entered are video and web design, primarily because I have absolutely no interest in them. In fact, I’ve been leaning retro these days and showing an unhealthy interest in woodblock and lead type. There’s a fellow in Vernon who is rebuilding lead type presses and producing chap books. I’m hearing the siren song.

Funny how these things are. I live in a cyber world at work and to some degree at home, yet my primary recreational pursuits include spinning and weaving and sewing, some of the oldest arts in history. (There’s a fabulous book I bought years ago called “Women’s Work: the First 20,000 years” that explores fibre arts.) There was a time back on the homestead when I was trying to download a program on dial-up and passed the hour (or more) by spinning so as to keep one eye on the computer (in case the connection failed and I had to retry….again). Computer to one side, spinning wheel and wool to hand on the other. The dichotomy of my life.

What was the name of the woman from Pennsylvania who used to teach workshops on using computers to design quilt patterns? I took a course from her at the Alberta Handspinners, Dyers and Weavers conference in Fairview 20 years ago. She also brought a fascinating slide presentation about her search for indigo block printers in Eastern Europe. Margaret something… some of you out there know the name I’m digging for, have probably met her. I thought of her when in Erfurt, Germany standing in front of the Indigo Guild’s house in the old city.

And can anyone tell me what the spinning diva Rita Buchanan is up to? I had the great privilege of taking a two day master class in spinning from her at that same Fairview conference. What an experience. And I’d love to get my hands on a copy of her one-off metal drop spindle.

Ah, apparently we're off to do some shopping. The Head Chef has been perusing the Fabricland flyer that arrived this week and found a fabric that I simply must make up into a shirt for him. Why not? I need a new project.

Tally ho!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Movies Seen Recently

We own a television, a small 27" LCD one not much bigger than the screen on some of our computers at work. We watch DVDs and listen to graphic audio books with it.

We do not have television service.

We aren't Luddites. We just don't see the point in spending a lot of money on satellite or cable service when there aren't many programs that interest us. I'd like to watch sports more often, but quite frankly I need to be doing sports more often than watching.

My husband and I love movies, though. As the days creep ever closer to winter solstice, it's time to clean out the Whirly Pop and stock up on Orville Redenbacher popcorn.

A few weeks ago we saw an absolutely great movie - RED (Retired - Extremely Dangerous).

Of course it's got all the fav actors in it: Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Brian Cox, Helen Mirren. But any movie with John Malkovich is worth the money, and he's still stellar in this one! There's a cameo appearance by Ernest Borgnine that's pretty sweet, too.

Second favorite show these past few months was Salt, with Angelina Jolie.

You know what was really neat about this one? Other than the great action sequences and a plot that kept me guess right to the end. There was no gratuitous violence or profanity. Strong language, yes, but not a never ending stream of F-bombs and gore. Just a good show.

Winter is the time to rent movies, but we were both under the weather last week and a movie or two was just what the doctor ordered Thursday afternoon (Remembrance Day, aka stay home and try to get healthy day). I picked up two. The first one was Pirate Radio.

The story was ho-hum. The music quite fine. BUT... as with John Malkovich, anything with Bill Nighy is a must-see. The rental was worth it if only for the dance scenes with Nighy. Thinking upon them still makes me smile if not laugh right out loud.

Then we watched my second pick: Surveillance.

This is a truly twisted show. The odd, edgy feeling I had at the beginning, that "what's wrong here?" feeling played out in a totally unexpected way. A good show, just not one I'd choose just before going to bed, if you know what I mean.

Bryan was still in movie-mode on Sunday. I was deep into a good book so didn't really follow his picks. I think the first one was Jonas Hex, a sorta-western based on a DC comic story.

He also brought home Harry Brown, primarily because he's a Michael Caine fan.

On a different night, in a different mood, I might have enjoyed this one. As it was, I watched a little bit of it but drifted back to my book. There was a lot of graphic violence; the story was well done according to Bryan and the ending satisfactory. I don't think I'll rent it again just to watch what I missed, though.

Well, though I'm no Siskel or Ebert, I still have an opinion about the shows I watch, and for the most part, these were worth the time and admission.

I highly, highly recommend RED for a great evening's entertainment.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Here and There - and Apologies for the Absence!

The soundtrack in our house today is definitely an atonal symphony – sneezes, hacking coughs and nose blowing. I reluctantly confess that I’m the author of my husband’s distress, having brought home the virus from work. In my defense, I’ve been battling the bug for a week now while he’s just succumbed to it. Still, we’re not in any fit state to entertain company.

It is, of course, Remembrance Day and so the office is closed. Thank goodness, because this chest cold aside, I needed a ‘down’ day. Any variance from a regular five-day work week creates headaches in the newspaper production world. Peoples’ resilience is already being worn down by the latest cold virus (‘going viral’ has a literal meaning in my world). I was draggin’ butt when I got home last night. But was there time for rest? There was not. It was curling night, and not just any curling night but the inaugural game of the season.

Our little rink was slow on the start this year due to mechanical problems with the cooling system compressor. Not to worry, the ice is in and we’re learning its quirks. It was a brutal introduction to the season, though. All four teams (we have two sheets of ice, hence four teams per night) were shorthanded, meaning the leads and seconds/thirds (whichever player was there) had to shoot three rocks each end. Believe me when I say there’s a significant difference shooting 24 rocks instead of 16 in a games, especially after a summer hiatus. And it’s harder on the sweeping detail as well. Add a set of congested lungs to the picture and you can well imagine the shape I was in by 9 pm.

Could have been worse. One of the women on the other sheet slipped and fell hard right at the beginning of the game, breaking her wrist. Now that’s harsh. Her husband came down to the rink and took her in to Vernon Jubilee Hospital. No doubt details of her condition will be in next week’s community gossip sheet newsletter.

There’s no excuse for not writing the past several weeks. I’ve been busy but not overly so, distracted but not more than usual. Bryan got home the third weekend of October and we’ve just been coasting along – over to see his mother in Revelstoke one weekend, out on a Sunday drive to Merritt another. Attended the Farmer’s Market in Vernon today – the bi-weekly market is always a great event but the added Christmas bazaar made it prudent to attend early.

No problem there. Bryan was up and around at 4:30am. I was in the guest room, my nightly abode these past few days in an attempt not to disturb him with my frequent coughing fits through this cold. He was wide awake anyway, from his own coughing and the beginnings of a sore throat.

When I’m awake in the middle of the night or far too early, I make a pot of herbal tea, find a book, curl up in a chair under a quilt and read until I fall asleep, drink all the tea or it’s time to go to work.

Not Bryan. Wrapped up in his fuzzy teddy bear housecoat and slippers, he began rummaging in the fridge for soup makings and had a pot of chicken stock simmering on the back of the stove when I emerged at 7am.

Pictures are of ramblings and things seen the past few weeks.

Looking east down Kamloops Lake, just before Savona. There's a golf course in the foreground (Tiburon?) - you'll note the rough is a bit savage.

"This is my sign," quoth the Raven (with apologies to E. A. Poe). He was quite a mouthy beggar, but of course that's redundant - it's a raven.

The Thompson Plateau is a popular location for movies. These are props from some past production, located at the entrance to a property between Savona and Cache Creek. These particular buildings, although they look full size in this perspective, are actually 1/4 scale.

These buildings, across the driveway and further along, are full scale. The property owners are in some distance further.

Just north of Cache Creek, towards Hat Creek Ranch, the eye-catching gateway to a cemetery on the First Nations reserve.

Stopping above Ashcroft to take photos, came across this boot. Every ditch and byway that I stopped along had a boot or shoe stranded in it. What is it with single orphaned footwear? Don't you think you'd notice if you had lost some footwear on the roadside in the middle of nowhere?

Looking northwest across the valley, Ashcroft out of view in the top left hand corner.

First sight of the Highland Valley Copper tailings pond, looking south-ish.

Tailings pond dam on the north end.

First glimpse of the Highland Valley Copper open pit mine, one of the largest in the world.

Now, below, unrelated photos. The first is a quick take at another amazing sunlit view of the Enderby Cliffs. Hard to get good shots - the light changes so quickly and I'm usually in the middle of highway traffic made up of people all anxious to get home.

And now to Lorenzo's Cafe and The Contenders concert.

Lorenzo aka Lorne, and his Halloween get-up as one of Andy Warhol's 'Angels'.

Lorenzo's bar in what was the old Ashton Creek schoolhouse.

Valdi and Gary Fjellgaar. What an amazing couple of men! and in honor of Halloween, Valdi in his guise as an Odd Ball (there's a number 5 painted on his bald pate).

Good shot of the show pit and gallery. Note the bowling pins for railing supports and bowling balls for finials. The floor is all made of bowling alley laminate hardwood. And there's a bowling lane out back for intermission entertainment - you have to clean and reset your own pins!