For my regular visitors, if you find that this blog hasn't been updating much lately, chances are pretty good I've been spending my writing energy on my companion blog. Feel free to pop over to Moving On, and see what else has been going on.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Aftermath

Christmas has come and gone, though for us the season continues until Jan. 6.  This being Boxing Day, we're making a point of staying well away from stores! ;-)

Christmas was a lot of fun this year.  We stretched our Wiglia meal from somewhere before 7pm to past 11:30.  During one of the breaks between courses, Dh had time for a short nap. *L*  The Scallop Shumai turned out all right - Eldest and Dh liked them the most.  I'm not a seafood lover, so to me they were just okay, and Youngest wasn't too keen on them... which suited Dh and Eldest just fine. :-D  I managed to NOT cut my fingers off while chopping the shrimp, but not for lack of trying. *L*  I have a noteable chunk of my index fingernail missing now, and an annoying little slice on the side of my thumb that keeps catching on things.
Ah, the joys of cooking! *L*

The appetizer course also included a cheese plate.  Along with some tried and true favourites (havarti, gouda and brie), we tried a new artisanal goat cheese.  Mon ├óme est aux Terres de Portneuf ce que mon coeur d'artisan est fromage.  The goat cheese was coated in ash.  I figured the ash might lend a saltiness to it.  I was wrong.  No, this method brought out the painful side of ash.  It was extremely acidic.  Strangely, Eldest developed a taste for it, though it needs to be eating rather carefully! *L*  We also had a variety of olives to nibble on.  Plain black olives, caper stuffed green olives (way too salty!), and cheese stuffed green olives (quite nice).  There were pickled onions (very harsh and vinegary: I'll have to remember to stay away from this type in the future) and tiny pickles (much sweeter than I expected!) with fruit, sourdough bread, a baguette and olive and cheedar bread.  To drink, we had warm apple and cranberry juice (about a 50/50 mix) heated in the slower cooker with whole cloves, a few cinnamon sticks and some nutmeg.  We fished out as much of the spices as we could when it reached a flavour we liked, after a few hours in the slow cooker.

After a break to digest, Eldest made her Greek Salad.  We were still pretty full, so it was after this course that we took an even longer break and Dh got his nap in. *L*  After that we had the ham (falling off the bone tender!), garlic mashed potatoes and tourtierre, and the roasted leek and apple dish.  That was the one thing that could be considered a failure.  It was *really* sweet.  Even though it used only one apple, it dominated the dish, while the leek flavour just sorta disappeared.  I wouldn't mind trying it again without the apple, though.

When we were done with that, we waited long enough for the whipped cream to be made.  It was sweetened only with the crushed candy canes.  It was all right, but not something I'd want to do again.  Probably because we're just not really fans of candy canes in this household. *L*  The apple pie, however, was really good.  Youngest and Dh didn't actually have any.  She doesn't like apple pie or whipped cream, and Dh figured he'd screwed his blood sugars up enough already. *L*  So Eldest and I get the pies all to ourselves.  Mind you, there were also chocolates (boxed mix), cookies (we actually bought those as much for the tin as for the cookies) and brownies for sweets, too.  Those actually didn't see a lot of action.  The chocolates are gone by the end of Christmas Day, but there are still plenty of cookies and brownies.

After we finished eating, we relaxed for a while until midnight, then opened our gifts.  I am so glad I set up the video camera to film this!  The kids were pretty excited about their gifts.  We got Youngest a stereo CD player.  She's needed one to practise her singing in her room, but we have had the worst luck with basic portable players.  The CD players on all of them never seem to last more than a couple of months.  The radio's continue to work fine, but we really don't listen to radio.  With that in mind, we sprung for a higher end system that I really hope will last her a while.  I've been hearing her singing in her room for the past two days now. :-D

As much as she liked that, she was even more excited over the carved rosewood crochet hook and skeins of Peruvian wool yarn we got for her. *L*  Gosh, it's so much fun watching the kids unwrap their gifts.  With the hook, all she could do was squeak in excitement, and she was literally speechless when she unwrapped the yarn.

Those where the highlights of Youngest's gifts.  Eldest was just as fun.  We got her several books, including Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, and The Zombie Survival Guide (I may be remembering the Zombie title wrong).  Then there was the big, hardcover reference book simply called Birds.  The remote control spider robot was a hit, too.

Dh's gifts were much enjoyed.  Some were hobby related, like the photography book on family portraiture.  I think he had the most fun with the Hickory Farms kit Youngest bought for him, with sausages, cheeses, etc., complete with a mini-cleaver.  She got it because of the cleaver.  It's adorable! *L*

The highlight of my own gifts was most definitely an autographed copy of Ree Drummond's The Pioneer Woman Cooks!  I love cookbooks that you can read to start with, but throw in some amazing photography and Pioneer Woman's fantastic sense of humour, and I'm totally hooked!  I keep reaching for it and flipping through the pages.  I'm really looking forward to trying some of those recipes!

After the gift opening, it was off to bed.  In the morning, we had our stockings waiting for us for a few more gifts, then a quiet Christmas day.  We've been drinking a lot of tea lately - one of Eldest's gifts was a tea chest, so we're working through all the flavours.  The days are sunny and relatively warm - after the Arctic deep freeze and snow we've been having, our current -6C is practically t-shirt weather - so I'm hoping we'll get a chance to head out somewhere and do some exploring and picture taking.

There's still New Year's to celebrate, and finally, Three Kings Day.  Dh doesn't even have to go back to work until the 4th, which is kinda nice. :-D

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Recipe: Apple Pie

The girls and I just finished baking a couple of apple pies, plus some tarts with the leftover dough and filling.  The following is a modification of the recipe, Blue Ribbon Apple Pie, from the Land O Lakes Treasury of Country Recipes.  I kept the ingredients the same, but changed how the filling is put together. 

For one 9" double crust pie

Crust:

2 c all purprose flour
1 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup shortening
4 - 5 Tbsp cold water

(note: using 2/3 cups butter instead of butter and shortening works very well)

Filling:

1/2 c sugar
1/4 c firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 c all purpose flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 c whipping cream
6 c tart cooking apples, peeled, cored nnd sliced (I like Granny Smiths)

Top: (optional - I usually skip it)
1 Tbsp butter
1 tsp sugar

Pre-heat oven to 400F. 

Making the dough.
While the oven is preheating, stir into a large bowl the dry filling ingredients.  Cut in the butter (and shortening, if used) until crumbly.  Mix water in with a fork until moistened.  Divide the dough in half and shape into balls.  Wrap one in plastic and refrigerate.  Roll second ball on lightly floured surface to fit bottom of 9" pie plate.  Trim and set aside.

Making the filling.
In a large bowl, combine all the filling ingredients, except the apples. Combine well, then add the apple pieces and stir to coat.  Spoon into prepared crust.

Roll the remaining refrigerated pastry ball out to about 12"   Cut in vent slits, then place over the filled pie shell.  Crimp or flute the crust.

Optional topping:  Melt 1 Tbsp butter and brush over top crust, then sprinkly with 1 tsp sugar.

Cut a strip of aluminum foil to cover edge of pie by 2 inches and cover.  Bake in preheated oven for 35 min.  Remove foil and bake another 10-20 minutes, or until crust is lightly browned and juice begins to bubble through the vents in the crust. (Note: it helps to place a cookie sheet on the oven rack under the pie to catch any drips.)

Serve warm.

The original recipe didn't add the whipping cream until after the pie had baked.  The cream was to be added to the pie through the vent slits, then returned to the oven long enough to warm up the cream.  I found it extremely messy and frustrating trying to get the cream into the pie that way, but find it works wonderfully to just add it to the filling right from the start.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

So close!

Just a couple more days before we start celebrating Wigilia.  Today, the girls and I did the food shopping.  The only thing we'll have left is getting the lettuce for the salad and the fresh shrimp and scallops - though it looks like we'll have to go with frozen scallops, at least.  I asked at the grocery store today and was told they won't be getting more fresh scallops until after New Years - the suppliers are out.  With that in mind, we'll be picking up frozen scallops tomorrow, rather than waiting for Christmas Eve morning.

We'll need to time some things out rather carefully.  The apple pie(s?) will be baked tomorrow.  I'll be starting the ham early in the day, as I'll need the oven for the roasted leeks and apple dish.  The ham can be kept warm more easily than a vegetable dish.  Of course, we'll need the oven to heat up the tourtierre, as well.  The hot spiced apple drink can be done in the slow cooker, so all we'll lose there is counter space. 

I do still need to look for more stocking stuffers for Christmas morning.  I'll make a run out again sometime after Dh gets home from work.  I'll have to remember the plug the van in for the night, too - we're dipping below -20C tonight.

I am hoping to post a couple of recipes in the next day or so.  If not, I don't expect to post again until after Christmas.  We'll see how it goes. :-D

Wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas, and health, wealth and happiness in the coming New Year!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Our Menu

The girls and I have worked out the menu plan for this year's Wigilia.  Traditional, it's not! LOL!

Here's what we've worked out.

Appetizer: Scallop Shumai
recipe from: The World in Bite Size

It's a combination of chopped fresh shrimp and whole scallops in won ton wrappers that are steamed.

Salad: Greek Salad
(no recipe)

I wanted either a soup or salad for the second course.  Usually, we have a soup, then a salad with the entree.  The soup we usually had would be something like a clam chowder, which I found too heavy.  So my restriction with a soup was that if we had one, it would be something light.  Instead, Eldest suggested she could make a Greek Salad.  She makes an excellent Greek Salad, so we're going with that. :-D

Entree:
Baked ham studded with whole cloves, roasted with apple juice.
Tourtierre (this year, our filling mix included elk!)
Garlic mashed potoatos with cheese (Youngest asked for this one. :-D )
Roasted Leeks & Apple

The roasted leeks is a recipe from The Philosopher's Kitchen and includes white wine, honey, marjoram and anise seed with the apple and leeks. 

Dessert: home made apple pie
I use a recipe modifed slightly from one in Treasury of Country Recipes that is incredible.  I'm not actually a big apple pie fan, but this one is an exception!  We'll be baking this in the next couple of days.  Eldest recommended we try it with a whipped cream with crushed candy canes in it.  Should be interesting. :-D

Drinks
hot drink: Spiced apple and cranberry juice
(no recipe)
cold drink: Cranberry and ginger ale punch
(no recipe)

Along with this, we're going to have a cheese plate, fruit, and little nibblies like olives, tiny pickles, pickled onions and whatever else I see that looks good.  Hmmm... maybe we can do a fondue?  The kids love that. :-D

I'll have to see what nice breads I can pick up, too.  The breads, lettuce and seafood won't be picked up until the last minute - Christmas Eve morning, if I can swing it that late.  Otherwise, the night before.

I figure by the time we finish the feast, it'll be midnight or so. *L*  It easily takes us several hours to finish it, as we take our time with each course.

The family is debating whether or not we're going to Midnight Mass this year.  We're not practising Catholics at all, but Midnight Mass is something special.  We've got a Catholic church just up the block from us now, but I have no idea what they're got scheduled, if anything.  We'll see how that works out.

Either way, I'm looking forward to our first Christmas in our new home!

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Getting in the Christmas spirit

Today, the girls and I decorated the Christmas tree.  It has actually been up for a couple of days, but we had to get rid of an extra couch - a friend of mine was able to make use of it - and rearrange the living room.  While Eldest and I delivered the couch, Dh and Youngest moved furniture around so that the tree could fit right in the corner.  Since it's covered on two sides by walls, that meant we only need to decorate the front half.  There isn't a lot of room there.  We pulled it away from the corner and Eldest helped me put on the lights and garlands, with one of us in the corner and the other in front, passing things back and forth.  Once that was done, we pushed it back in, then did the front.  I asked Youngest if she wanted to help, but she pointed out there really wasn't any room for her to be in there, too, so she went back to using her bead loom. :-D

Looking at the tree as I write this, I find it seems to be tilting to one side quite a bit.  That's never been an issue before.  Could our floor really be that much uneven?

Now that the tree is up, we can work on decorating the rest of the house.  The tree has LED lights, but I still have my old strings of lights that can go around windows or something.  The girls can decorate their rooms, too.  At some point, I'll have things organized enough that we can position the couch and armchair in places we won't want to move them from until after the tree is down again. 

Today was also the day I got to open my first Advent gift exchange gift.  I've become a member of a local crafter's group and a bunch of us signed up for an exchange.  The person organizing it paired off the people who signed up for it.  Once we had our partners, we filled out questionaires for each other, sharing things like what our favourite (and least favourite) colours are, what kinds of crafting we like to do, what music or books we like, etc.  Then we each had to buy 24 small gifts (maximum $5 each) and 1 large (maximum #24) gift. My partner actually numbered all the gifts!  Much more ambitious than me. *L*  Mind you, she also had 2 others she was collecting for, as she was doing exchanges for her kids, too, so labelling was necessary.  I just made sure the last gift had something different about it.  I did consider numbering them, but aside from the last gift, it really didn't matter too much what order they were opened in.

Today, I got a set of transparent decorative balls that looked like they would go on a tree, except that the "confetti" inside was meant to dissolve in bathwater for a luxurious soak.  What a cute idea!  She got them at Michaels and, even though I've been there several times recently, I had never seen them.  I look forward to trying them. :-D

Meanwhile, I've been trying to place an order for our tourtierre meats.  I want to have the meat by friday, so we can make them this weekend, but I haven't been able to get through to the butcher.  I did leave a message saying I wanted to place an order, but no one's called back.  Looks like I'll have to do it in person.  For this year, I think we'll do Elk for the game portion of our pies.  We're planning to do two dozen pies this year, so we're looking at 24 pounds of ground meats.  I need to figure out what I'll use to cook them.  I might have to buy a new pot.  At my in-laws, we'd use my MIL's roaster and lid (which could double as a second roaster on its own), each over 2 elements. I have two roasters, but our oven is bigger than hers, so they can't straddle two elements.  I've seen some big, deep pots that should work, but at $80 - and that's the cheap price! - it's pretty expensive for a pot I'll only use once a year. We did 12 pounds of meat last year, and it just fit in one roaster (we hadn't bought the second one yet), with barely enough room to stir it, so I know using what we have now will be a pain.  I really do need something else.  I just hate spending money if I think I can get away without.*L*

Monday, November 23, 2009

Pioneer Dinner; cooking rabbit.

Well, our pioneer themed dinner worked out quite well!  Before I go on to that, though, here's how I ended up cooking the rabbit for the evening.

The rabbit we got was frozen - fresh wasn't even an option.  Friggin' expensive, too.  Just over $25 for the one.  The bison roast was more expensive, though, and wasn't really much more meat, so we stuck with the bunny.

Ingredients for this dish:


1 whole rabbit
about 1/2 cup flour
salt and pepper to taste
1 onion, chopped
3 cups chicken broth (or water)

Once it was thawed, we figured out why we couldn't see the hind legs.  They were tucked into the body cavity, where we also found the liver (which fell out, so it isn't in the photo) and kidneys (which were still attached).




Some of the recipes I found included instructions for the liver and kidneys, but not for how I'd decided to cook it.  In the end, I chopped them up and gave them to the cat.  Only one of our cats will eat real food, for some reason, and she was more than happy to have it all to herself. :-D

If this had been an old rabbit, I would have soaked it in salt water for a while, first.  As it was, I just rinsed it out.

I then had to figure out how to cut the carcass into pieces.  I've never butchered a bunny before.  The legs were easy enough, but the body took a bit more figuring out.

I've decided I need a cleaver, though.  Making do with a chef's knife will only go so far.  Bunny bones are weak enough to go through, but it still took a bit more than I was comfortable doing with the knife I had.




This is what I ended up with - 8 pieces.  Plenty of meat on those back legs.  The ribs are quite scrawny, though.  The rib and back pieces got rolled up to make the thickness similar to the leg pieces.











The pieces were then dredged in a mixture of flour, salt and pepper.  Some versions from the time period had the pieces rest for a while, then get dipped in beaten egg, followed by breadcrumbs. I decided our hypothetical settlers weren't established enough to have eggs or large amounts of flour.  For a long time, if the settlers were able to grow their own grain at all, they usually had only enough to grind small amounts in a coffee grinder to make bannock or pancakes.  Breadloaves, especially yeast breads, didn't become common until the late 1800's, early 1900's.




The floured pieces were then browned in a pan.  I used bacon fat for this.  Pigs became common well before cows, so pig fat was more available than any other kind.  People would let their pig root around in the bushes, feeding itself throughout the spring and summer.  In the fall, they'd butcher it, preserve the meat (usually smoked or brined) and render the fat for use in the winter.  Adequate dietary fat was a major concern.  In the early years, a lot of people died of "rabbit starvation."   Rabbits were plentiful and easy to catch, but the meat is very lean.  It was the only food source for some people, but didn't have adequate amounts of fat for the human body's needs.  So even though their bellies were full, they were hungry, as their bodies craved fat.  Unable to get any, they died of "starvation."

Isn't that a cheerful subject.

*ahem*





The browned pieces were then set aside for later.













 Onion pieces were then added to the pan the rabbit was browned in.  I found myself needing to add more bacon fat, though, as the pan was really dry.

At this point, if our hypothetical settlers had had other veggies, they'd add the cut up pieces now.







When the onion (and any other veggies that might be there) were softened, I added about 3 cups of chicken broth that had the last of the dredging flour mixed into it.  Orignally, the broth might have been made from Prairie Chickens, other game, vegetables, or just plain water.

The broth was cooked down to about half it's volume, give or take.  With the flour in it, it started to thicken a bit, too.




Once the broth was cooked down, the browned pieces were returned to the pan and left to simmer for about 1 1/2 hours.

It went over really well at the dinner. Both of the girls found it delicious.  I had one person comment that this was the first time she'd had rabbit, and it won't be the last! *L*  With 20 people, we all took only a little bit each, and there was actually some left.  For a while.  A couple of the kids discovered them, and polished them off. *L* 

This is definitly something we'd do again - if we're ever willing to spend that much money on it again! *L*

Friday, November 20, 2009

Increases

Ugh!

Today is our big errands day.  Every couple of fridays, we do our bulk grocery shopping and general running around.  The girls helped me pick up the groceries, and the total bill was about $75 more than usual.  About $30 of that was stuff we don't buy very often, but at the same time, there were things we normally buy that we didn't need to on this trip.  In fact, the stuff we didn't buy comes out to more than the "extras" we did get this time around.  I'm going to have to totally re-work our budget and find some way to re-direct more into the groceries budget.

Part of our running around today involves getting ready for our pioneer dinner this Sunday.  We picked up a frozen rabbit at a butcher shop.  This particular shop has all kinds of unusual meats, including kangaroo, camel, and musk ox.  Today we saw something different - python!  A little piece about 6 inches long, 3 inches wide and maybe half an inch thick cost $7.50  Ouch.  We saw some alligator, too.  I didn't even look at the price of that.

Cooking the rabbit authenticaly isn't going to take much.  The butcher said to just cut it up and pan fry it, which is pretty much what I was thinking.  I'm tempted to marinade it or something, but that would never have been done in our time period.  There's so little meat, though.  Maybe I should do a rabbit stew, instead.  It was expensive - just over $25 for one - but it still cost less than a bison roast.  I'm not sure that the bison would have given us any more meat for our money, either.

Now we're on the hunt for wild rice.  I used to see it in our usual grocery store, but now I'm just finding it in blends.  There's another place I want to try out before I break down and use one of those.

*sigh*  Time to get off my butt and start on supper.  I'm making hamburgers tonight.  I haven't done that in a long time, and the kids are asking me to. :-)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Time to write

Funny how I have no real problem sitting down at the computer... it's sitting down to actually write that's a problem.  Well, here I finally am now, headphones one with Band of Skulls "I know what I am" playing, drowning out the sounds of Youngest playing a new Xbox 360 game behind me, while Dh and Eldest head off to a second run movie together. 

The biggest news since I last wrote is that we finally got a new computer.  Just the tower, plus a higher end video card and some updated software that wasn't worth getting as long as we had the old machine.  Not enough processing power.  Getting it used up most of my husband's sign up bonus, but I think we all find it's been worth it.  Amazing, how much of a difference there is.  I can actually browse and listen to music at the same time, without loading pages causing the music to stutter and skip.  The difference really shows when I work with photos, graphics and movie software, but little things, like booting up in under 2 minutes instead of 15, are greatly appreciated, too. ;-)

Eventually, we'll get another monitor and rebuild the old machine so Dh will have his own desktop.  We did offer it to the kids, but they chose to stick with their old Dell.  Something to do as funds get freed up.

I haven't done a library list in ages.  We slowed down on the library trips quite a lot after getting our own books back.  We finally even have them all unpacked, though a couple of small boxes of books are set aside to pass on, as the kids have outgrown them. 

The library trips are picking up again, though.  Eldest has been getting lots of books on weapons for reference drawings.  Youngest is more into Brother's Grimm, which are somehow not in our collection (though we do have the complete Hans Christian Anderson and a lot of world mythology).  We've got another historical themed dinner coming up this weekend.  We've officially started a group with others interested in doing these, but no one was up to hosting an evening, so the girls chose an early pioneer theme.  They were looking specifically for early agriculturalist, prior to the land grants and rush of immigrants in the late 1800's, set in the prairies.  It's been a challanging theme.  Most of the info for the time period is either US based (where things happened a lot faster than in the Canadian prairies), or coastal (with well established towns long before central Canada was settled).  There just weren't a lot of settlers in the prairies before then, and they certainly didn't spend much time writing cookbooks. *L*  So we're researching into what they did have, as far as equipment (often just a frying pan and a Dutch Oven type pot) and ingredients (very much feast or famine!).

We're looking at a good turn out, though - three other families are coming, for a total of 19 people.  There will be kids as young as 3 yrs old.  The mom of one family is actually a professional story teller who focuses on this region's history, which is totally cool!  I'm really looking forward to it.  If I can find it, we'll be doing wild rice and rabbit.  If not, mixed grains and bison.  With some of the other ideas bouncing around, things should be really good. :-D

Youngest, meanwhile, is well into her voice lessons, with only a slight roadblock.  She has a very well developed, deep voice.  What she doesn't have is a developed high voice.  Her teacher wants her to stay away from using her lower registers completely for the next while and focus on singing in the upper registers.  The challange was finding songs she likes that are already in the key she needs to sing in.  The music she usually listens to are male singers or deep voiced females. So now we're getting a lot of Loreena McKennett and the like.  Once she gets her high voice developed. her teacher will start bringing her back down again, and eventualy be marrying them all together, and she'll be able to sing just about anything she wants.

After we got back from her lesson today, which was more about listening to songs the teacher was suggesting to add to her list (a few more, and they'll be set with a songs list to work on for quite a long time!), Eldest made up a pot of tea and suggested watching a library movie.  They chose Elegant Universe, a 2 dvd set on physics, quantum physics and string theory.  It was a bit more edutainment that we usually watch, but they really liked it.

Normally, tomorrow is our library day, but I think we'll push it back to thursday.  One of the things about living in a co-op is that unit inspections for mainenance are regularly required, and we've got that happening sometime tomorrow.  A good time to think about the little things that need to be worked on that we tend to let slide. 

*sigh*  And some time tonight, I need to get all the cut down boxes from the books and other stuff we've unpacked into the recycling bin, which is across the street in the highrise of our complex.  I really don't want to be doing those stairs.  My knees have been doing the patella polka far too often for my comfort. *L*

Monday, November 02, 2009

Pausing to regroup

Isn't it weird how we can just go and go and go and seem to busy, but when you look back, it's hard to see just what was accomplished?  What was I so busy with?

We've finished up with a rather quiet halloween, except for the home schoolers party we went to.  Nothing quiet about that! *L*  The group we've joined booked facilities for the party, and it's a really nice little play.  I'll have to keep it in mind for the future. 

Youngest spent weeks making a papier mache Zor helmet, with some help from Eldest at the end.  Some painted cardboard pieces, black t-shirt, belt, a drawn on mustache and blue-black hair completed the outfit.  She did an excellent job.  Eldest used her postapocaliptiic regalia for a costume, which she's been working on for a couple months now.  Unlike a friend who's working on his at the same time, she had no access to home make swords and chainsaws, but she did make a very cool canteen out of an old-fashioned soda bottle, some leather scraps and strips of fabric. She made a holster for her replice flintlock, too.  We dyed her hair black, too, but that's just 'cause we had dye left over from doing Youngest's hair, and we had to waste anything.  Even hair dye. *L*

The kids didn't go out trick or treating, though.  We were at a loss as to where to go.  Certainly not our block-long street (oh, good news - the drug house at the end of the street was torn down.  That makes 2 down, possibly one more to go, though that house might actually be salvageable).   Eldest and accompany me to hand out candy at our co-op's lobby.  I dressed up at the last minute, going as a tacky diva.  Shiny, bright purple wig in a bob hairstyle, lots of make up and sparkles with a deep green gown.  Funny thing was, people actually didn't recognise me, and I got lots of complements on how well the purple looked on me. *L*

In our co-op, members donated candy over the past couple of weeks, then the social committee made up baggies for every kid in the complex.  There was extra for other kids in the inner-city housing on our street, too.  The baggies were all labelled with unit numbers and the names of the kids.  Even my two got one each - I wasn't sure if they would, since they're older.  These were very generous baggies!  One little girl came in and I had help her put it into her bag.  One stop and her bag was full! *L*  There was another little one with a bucket that it just wouldn't fit in.  Her mom had a bigger bag, though, so it went straight into there.

With halloween come and gone, we can focus on our next historically themed dinner.  I've now formally started a group for this, and we've got an email group to help organize things.  The girls chose the theme, since no one else volunteered to host.  Early settler, Canadian prairies.  We're not talking Little House on the Prairie, here, but even earlier.  It's turned out to be a challanging time period.  We ended up opening the time period up to include the first half of the 1800's because there simply weren't a lot of settlers on the Canadian plains before then.  It was mostly exploreres and traders.  We're after recreating meals eaten by the first agriculturalists, and quite frankly, they starved a lot.  It should make for some very interesting dishes.

What's cool, however, is that we're going to have 19 people for it!  Four families, including ourselves.  We'll even have a couple of story tellers among the guests, and interest in dressing up.  We've booked on of the multi-purpose rooms in our complex for the evening. 

It should be really great!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Regulations met...

As home schoolers in our province, we have minimal requirements.  We register with the board of our choice, do a bit of paperwork and get 2 facilitator visits a year.  We can have more involvement with our board if we want it, but only if we ask for it.  They have a number of online courses, real life activities and so on, but we've yet to take part in any of them.

Tonight was our first facilitator visit for the 09/10 school year.  We won't see him again on an official capacity until May or June.  Normally, these visits are about an hour per child as we fill out a form and talk about the things we expect to cover, strengths and weaknesses we are seeing, etc.  At least that's how it's supposed to go.  For us, we break out the teapot and some snacks and have a grand old visit.  Somewhere in there, we take care of the paperwork. The girls show off some of the stuff they've been doing, but mostly we talk and talk and talk.  Our appointment was at 7.  It was somewhere between 10:30 and 11 when he left.

As you've probably guessed, we really like our facilitator, and he seems to like us, too. ;-)  Enough that he books us as his last appointment so that he doesn't have to leave at a set time and we can get a good visit in.  He has some of the most interesting stories, and we enjoy sharing some of ours.  Discussions ranged from school board funding, evolution, the existance of God, the Firefly tv series (like us for so many years, they don't get any channels, but have a tv for movie watching), different types of watercolour paper, Youngest's art style preference (graphic noir), encyclopedias, and plenty more I can't remember right now. 

I really appreciate having him as our facilitator.  I've heard a few horror stories from other hs'ing families that have had problems with their facilitators.  With our board, they're all home schooling parents themselves, but some boards have facilitators that don't actually know a whole lot about home schooling. 

So, as of tonight, we've met our regulatory requirements for the start of the year.  Now, it's back to our regularly scheduled programming... whatever that turns out to be. :-D

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Glass

Today, Eldest and I had a wonderful outing.  We headed to the museum, me with camera in tow, her with sketchbook.  We got there early enough to get the weekend half price admission (our yearly pass expired back in June - will need to get another, I think).  We hung out around the lower level displays until the cafe opened, then went for an early lunch.  We each had a "Brain Wilson" sandwich - turkey and avocado - which was delicious.  They came with spiced pita chips that I loved, she hated, so I traded half my sandwich for her pita chips.  I also had a lovely bowl of beef vegetable soup.  Good, though I had to admit, my own is better. ;-)

After lunch, we parted ways.  There's one section in particular, featuring Aboriginal culture, that has been my photographic nemesis.  The displays are unusually dark, and tripods or monopods are not allowed anywhere in the museum.  I've been trying to get good photos of the exquisite examples of embroidery and beadwork - and failing, most of the time. *L*

The display runs in a clear progression.  It starts with the earliest artifacts of Native habitation in our region, then works its way through time until the first European contact.  The displays continue in linear time, with a mix of artifacts that were Native, Metis, European traders and missionairies, etc., through to modern times.

I had worked my way though the the first contact period and was well on my way to modern times when I was passed by two women.  They were about my own age (early 40's).  I couldn't help but hear the following comments...

1st woman: "... but it says glass beads. Where did they get glass from?"
2nd woman: "Lightning stikes in sand?"
both women start laughing as they continue walking.

While I doubt they meant it that way (I could be wrong, of course), they sounded incredibly condescending!  How could they have gone through almost the entire display, read the signs enough to see that these beads were glass, but not catch on that these pieces were made at a time of trade with Europeans?  Even if they hadn't read any of the signs at all, the artifacts alone were enough to show the progression of time and eventual European influences.  Strange.

Eldest, meanwhile, has discovered that sketching in a museum means being turned into a display.  Especially for little children.  There were special programs today aimed at the younger set, so there were lots of wee ones toddling about.  Some quite happily plopped themselves beside her with a bright and cheery "hi!"  Parents and kids alike simply started talking about her.

"She's drawing!"


"Yes, look.  She's drawn a deer... and a mountain goat... and a fish..."


Child and adult happily keep on going.

Quite adorable.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Getting re-aquainted

The girls and I have been having fun getting re-aquainted with old friends - of the paper variety!  I've been slowly opening up all the boxes that we brought back with us.  Some, I could actually unpack into shelves.  Others will have to wait until we get more bookshelves.

The girls are in heaven.  Youngest is enjoying our Encyclopedia of Mythology, and Eldest is happy to have her animal reference books (we've found the bird and dinosaur ones, but her animal one has yet to be unearthed).  We've also found several textbooks on psychology and sociology she's got fond memories of.

I've got all my craft books again, as well as all my cookbooks.  Those were greatly missed.  My gardening and health reference books will come in handy, too.  Two encyclopedia sets have made their way upstairs for the girls, waiting in their boxes for more bookshelves up there, too.  Eldest will probably get good use out of my herb books, too.

Opening all those boxes and seeing what comes out makes it feel a bit like Christmas! :-D

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Belated Happy Canadian Thanksgiving

A belated Happy Thanksgiving to my fellow Canadians. 

The family and I were away for Thanksgiving this year.  Thanks to having a reliable vehicle and the generosity of family members, we were able to make a road trip back to our old stomping grounds, with three nights in a resort hotel, and take part in double family reunions!  We haven't seen most of our family members in over 4 years.  The handy thing is that my parents and my in-laws live in neighboring towns, which made getting together easier.  One of my SILs was able to come out from Toronto, and the other family members had no more than an hour or so to drive out.

Unlike us.  It's a 16 hour drive for us, and for the drive out, we decided to leave later and drive through the night.  With two drivers to take turns, this should have been relatively easy.  Unfortunately, we drove right into the teeth of a storm.  Through most of Saskatewan and part of Manitoba, we were driving on roads slick with ice and driving snow.  At one point, we found someplace safe to pull over for a while to wait things out.  That in itself was a bit of a challange.  We didn't dare just pull over onto the shoulder.  Firstly, because we weren't quite sure where the shoulder was.  Secondly, because oncoming traffic might not see us in the near white-out until it was too late. 

In the process, we discovered that there are a lot of insane truck drivers out there.  I have no clue how they can keep driving so fast in such poor visibility.  I also wonder if they have any idea how dangerous they are to other drivers.  Every time we saw the lights of a semi through the snow, we had to prepare ourselves for the initial buffeting of wind as it past us, followed by complete lack of visibility due to swirling snow kicked up behind the truck.  After a few second of blindness, we could only hope that the road hadn't started to curve on us, or that there wasn't another vehicle behind.  More than a few times, the snow would clear, only to reveal another truck barreling down the highway, kicking up even more snow.

As if these vehicles weren't challanging enough, some suicidal drivers would actually pass us.  What sane person passes another vehicle when you can't see where the lanes are, where the sides of the highway are, whether or not there's a curve ahead, or if there are any vehicles coming?

There was some pretty white knuckle driving going on!

When we finally got to Winnipeg, things had cleared up.  We met up with an old friend for breakfast before heading North and our hotel.  As we left the city, the rain started coming down.  In minutes, the rain turned to snow and we were driving in conditions not much better than they had been before, though no where near as dangerous as in the dark. 

We sure were glad to get to the hotel, that's for sure!  My in-laws had booked adjoining rooms for us, so the girls could have their own rooms.  As much as we wanted to, we didn't nap.  We knew that if we did, we wouldn't be able to get up again to visit Dh's parents!  So we all just spent some quality time with showers and toothbrushes before heading to the in-laws for supper.  My SIL was already there, so we got to spend some time catching up with her.  She and Eldest really hit it off.  After all this time, the kids have to get to know everyone all over again.

We didn't visit for very long, though.  At least not as long as our visits used to be.  We all needed to get some sleep in!  None of us - not even the girls - were able to get much sleep while driving through such ... interesting weather. 

The hotel wasn't the most comfortable we've been in.  With two double beds in each room, Dh and I ended up sleeping in seperate beds.  The mattresses were rather soft, with little support along the outer edges, so there was this constant feeling that we were about to roll out of the bed, solved only by sleeping in the middle of the bed.  Then there was the fact that the bed frames wobbled.  A lot.  Not that any of this stopped us from sleeping for 10 hours straight!!!  I would gladly have slept longer, but I had a date with an old friend from high school for breakfast.  That was another enjoyable reunion.  When I got back, we all headed back to my in-laws, where the rest of the family had a late breakfast and a brief visit before the girls and I headed out to visit my side of the family (Dh stayed behind to spend more time with his own family). 

They, of course, promptly fed us.  Because that's what my parents do.

It was so good to see my parents again.  Even my mother, who was on much better behaviour than usual.  That was a big concern of mine.  My dad seemed to be doing well.  He was walking around with just one cane, rather than 2 of them or his walker. Later on, Eldest and I wandered around the farm, looking at the "graveyard" of old cars and farm equipement, log buildings, sheds and the remains of my mother's gardens.  My youngest brother and his son made it out, too, and my nephew brought his Xbox.  He and Youngest were soon esconsed in my dad's bedroom (my old bedroom, as it's the warmest room in the house, and right next to the bathroom), playing Halo together.  My brother gave us a tour of the workshed he's been putting together in a building that used to be attached to the house we lived in before leaving the province.  Though it was used as a storage shed, it's the size of a small house.  He build a furnace for it, as well as installing the old wood cookstove we'd had but had never been able to install, due to the cost of having another chimney built for it.  He can do that stuff himself, so he just needs to aquire the materials.  This brother of mine is one of those people that seems to be able to build or make anything. 

Eventually, we headed back to the in-laws, where they fed us again.  Though their cultures are different, the act of feeding everybody is a custom both sides of our families share! *L*  This time, my BIL and his family made it out and we had the first of our reunions.  It was a lot of fun, though we were reminded of just how different our own family dynamics are from theirs.  We home school, they don't.  We parents our kids differently, and have completely different interests and priorities.  It can make for some interesting  conversations.  Some of the things the kids do that are "cool" are a bit confusing to us.  Like making this hand gesture while tilting the head to one side, opening the mouth and lolling the tongue off to one side.  My niece did that to Youngest.  When asked what was, the resonse was "you know!" and a repeat of the motion.

Hhhhmmm....  No.  No, we don't know.  Not at all.  And apparently, she didn't, either.  She just did it. *L*  Just a bit of culture shock, there!

For this evening, I brought along a whole bunch of crocheted gifts I'd made for the families.  Most of them, I didn't make for anyone specific.  I just pulled them out and let people pick for themselves.  Since my BIL and his family were late, my SIL and her parents got first dibs. ;-)  I made useful things, like hats, scarves, mitts, and slippers, as well as more decorative items, like jewelry and a stole.  I was glad to see they were well recieved by all. :-)

The next day was split up between the families again.  A morning visit with Dh's parents, then a family reunion with my family.  By the time we got there, they'd just sat down to eat (we weren't sure when we'd make it, and had expected to be doing brunch, though that changed at the last minute, so they weren't going to wait for us).  Somehow, we managed to fit 15 people around the tables!  Then, because one of my brothers had to leave for work, we hurried to get some family photos taken outside.  Shortly after that, Dh headed back to his own parents while the girls and I stayed and visited for longer.  I brought out some gifts I'd made specifically for my parents - a sweater for my mother and a blanket for my dad - as well as the rest of the gifts I'd made, while Youngest brought out some hunter orange toques she'd crocheted herself.  I have several hunters in my family, and all of them spend lots of time outdoors, so there's no such thing as too many warm hats! I was glad to see that the sweater I'd made fit my mother just right, and it was exactly the sort of style she liked (open neck and 3/4 length sleeves).  Even the colour, a deep, sparkly purple, suited her well.  I had some concerns, since the only size references I had were from my sister, who'd sewn clothes for my mother a number of years ago.  I had no idea if my mother had lost or gained weight in that time. 

Over all, things went quite well.  My mother did try to through out some weird stuff - a few rants about how the Canada has become such a terrible place, and it's because we took prayer and God out of the schools, and let all those Asians and Muslims into the country.  We're all kind of used to distracting her to other things when she gets like that.  She also insisted that I need to cook more soup, because if I did, I'd loose weight.  When I pointed out she has no idea what I eat or how much, she tried to guess that I eat lots of pizza and drink lots of pop.  Sorry, Mom.  I'm not fat because of what I eat, and eating soup isn't going to change anything.  Funny thing is that my mother is also fat, had just had her regular physical and is in perfect health, except for some osteoarthritis in her knees.  She's coming up on her 80's.  Even funnier is that she's giving my sister and her husband a hard time for being too skinny!  *L*

All in all, though, things went really well.  Everyone just sort of spread out into conversational groups.  The alcohol was flowing (my youngest brother and my mother getting decidedly tipsy), more food was brought out, and we all swapped stories for hours.  We didn't leave until Dh called because the cousins were asking about the girls, and would have enjoyed staying longer.

After Dh picked us up, we went back to his parents - just in time for their turkey dinner! *L*  They don't have quite as much room, but the girls and I happily waited to take second shift eating, having just eaten not that long ago.  Three meals in one evening!  And it was all amazingly delicious.

Still, we couldn't stay for too long.  We had to leave fairly early in the morning, swing by our old house to pick up boxes we had in storage, and manage a last visit in Winnipeg before heading home.  We finally got to meet our friend's son - we weren't sure his ex would allow an "extra" visit or not - and he is such a sweetie!  Totally adorable.

It was hard to cut all these visits short, yet at the same time, we couldn't wait to get home.  The drive back was MUCH more pleasant.  We considered getting a hotel partway through, but decided against it.  The drive was made extra interesting with all our boxes in back.  We were actually able to fit all our boxes of books, plus a couple of storage bins or stuff, and still be able to see out the back window.  Dh estimates we had 400 pounds of books alone back there.  The back end was so low, it tilted our headlights.  We kept getting drivers from the opposite direction - even semi's - flashing us because they thought we were driving with our brights!

We made it home by 3 am, which was really good time.  Our cats were so glad to see us!  We'd hired a friend's kids to cat sit for us (two or her kids run a pet sitting business), so they were care for while we were gone.  Even Youngest's cat, who is usually quite aloof, was all over us.  Even today, she's still really cuddly, though she seems to be slowly going back to her old stand-offish self. *L*

The van didn't get unloaded until this evening, though.  We just took in our suitcases on arrival.  With the girls' help (Dh's back injury meant he was banned from even touching any of those boxes), we got them all on.  Twenty three boxes and 2 large bins!  Granted, the boxes were rather small, but with all but 4 of them filled with books, they were all quite heavy.  The girls once again have their two encyclopedia sets, which Youngest has already taken upstairs, and I have my craft and cook books again. :-D  Going through the boxes was like being reunited with old friends!  We still don't have the bookshelves to properly unpack them all, but we can at least access them.

It feels good to have our library again.

We definately won't head out to visit family again next Thanksgiving.  If we manage the trip again, it will be in late spring or summer, not in the fall!  I'm glad we were able to do it, even though it was quite exhausting.  It was worth it.

And now... time for me to go to sleep in my own familiar bed that doesn't wobble all over the place when I get in. :-D

Monday, September 28, 2009

Getting into the groove

The past few weeks, we've all been slowly getting things going in all sorts of different directions.  We've altered our usual weekly schedule to fit in a few new or different things.

Youngest has started up with a voice coach.  She loves to sing and has a fabulous voice.  Now she's going to learn how to use and control it.  She's had all of 3 classes so far and is quite enjoying it.  When we interviewed with the voice coach and made the decision to go with her, she asked Youngest to burn a cd with some of her favourite songs.  Severl of them, the coach has never heard of before, and she commented favourably on my daughter's wide ranging tastes. *L*  She's got songs from Vitas, Gowan, Great Big Sea, and a whole bunch more, including songs from Disney's Hunchback, Fiddler on the Roof and Phantom of the Opera.  Anyhow, those are once a week.

We've also been going to a different home school organization's weekly park days, though now that the weather is getting cooler, those will be stopping.  The girls aren't interested in going to the park days we've been going to for the past few years anymore, though we'll probably take in a few now and again.

The big thing we're getting ready for right now, though, is a road trip. After 4 years, we're finally going to be heading back "home," to visit family for (Canadian) Thanksgiving weekend.  It's going to be a double family reunion.  It's going to be a tight schedule.  It'll take us 2 days to drive out there, unless we drive through the night (NOT my preferance!), we'll be there for 3 nights, but have to leave early on Thanksgiving morning to get back home at a respectable time.  I've been able to reschedule Youngest's voice lesson, so we don't have to hurry back for that anymore, but we'll still need time to rest up from the trip.  More specifically, to give my husband time to recover physically.  His back has been giving him troubles a lot lately, and the trip is going to be quite painful for him. 

One of the things we're looking forward to is bring back some of the boxes we'd left behind when we moved, expecting to send for them rather quickly.  That didn't quite work out, and we've been really missing our library!  We won't be able to bring everything back with us, but we at least want to bring back the books.  We've got encyclopedia sets and referance books that are very handy to have.  How many boxes we'll be able to cram into the van is questionable.  Even with the back bench seat folded down, we'll still need room for our suitcases. We won't need to pack a lot for such a short trip, but it'll still need space.  Then there's the camera bags and at least one tripod we'll be bringing along.  Ah, well.  We'll see how it works out.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Library List

Our weekly schedule for the year is going to be changing, as we're looking into joining another local hs'ing group that meets on what is normally our library day.

Eldest has gone all out in studying art; specifically watercolour techniques. She explains here. In the process, she's been putting on hold as many watercolour (and watercolor) books she can find in the library system. Hence the current pile of related titles.

Mastering Light & Shade in Watercolor: Infuse your paintings with luminosity and dramatic contrast.
Painting Wildlife in Watercolor
Paint a watercolor landscape in minutes: Buildings, Bridges and Walls
Paint a watercolor landscape in minutes: Atmosphere, Mood and Light
Paint a watercolor landscape in minutes: Skies, Mountains and Lakes
Watercolour Series: Hills & Mountains
Robert Wade's Watercolor Workshop Handbook
Watercolor for the fun of it: Flowers & Leaves
Watercolor for the fun of it: How to Sketch with Watercolor
Reader's Digest - The Ultimate Watercolor Course: Simple Techniques to Paint Like the Pros
Exploring Watercolor: Creative Exercises and Techniques for Watercolor and Mixed Media
The Watercolourist's Guide to Painting Buildings
Watercolor: Painting outside the lines: a positive approach to negative painting
Chinese Brush Painting: Step by Step
Watercolor made simple with Claudia Nice: Complete easy-to-follow instructions from start to finish
Simplifying complex scenes in watercolor: 18 hands-on projects
Light up Your Watercolors Layer By Layer


This is just the list of what was waiting for pick up today. She maxed out the number of holds the library allows, and has already taken out dozens more that I never blogged about over the summer, with more she wants to put on hold once there's room again.

Yeah, she's passionate about her art. :-D

Youngest is still working on a couple of books from before, including one on drawing in the Graphic Noir style. Lately, though, she's been plowing her way through old, again mostly film noir, movies. This week she has:

"Crossfire" Hate is Like a Loaded Gun. This 1947 movie features Robert Young, Robert Mitchum and Robert Ryan (a suspect a bit of confusion on the set with 3 Roberts starring!), along with Gloria Grahame, Paul Kelly and Same Levene.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame with Anthony Hopkins. This is a newer version than I'm familiar with (other than the Disney version, of course). It stars Derek Jacobi (who played Brother Cadfael in the tv series) as Dom Claude. Lasley-Anne Down plays Esmerelda. Looking it up, I see was was a TV version from 1982. No wonder I've never heard of it before.

The Usual Suspects. At 1995, this one is positively new.

As for myself, I borrowed books with specific requirements. We're finally going to heading out to see the families next month, and I want to make gifts. Since I still haven't figured out what I want to make for this year's Christmas decorations, and even if I did, it's unlikely I'd have time to actually make enough of them to bring along, I was looking for quick projects in crochet. Hats, Scarves. Accessories. That sort of thing. With that in mind, I got...

Get Your Crochet On: Hip Hats & Cool Caps.
Quick Crochet: 35 fast, fun projects to make in a weekend
Crochet in No Time: A Simple, Stylish Collection of 52 Quick-Crochet Projects
Easy Crocheted Accessories: 30+ fun fashionable projects
24 Hour Crochet Projects

I've taken all of these out before, at some point or another. The last one even includes how long each project takes, which is good to know for what I have in mind.

So that's our list for this week. :-D

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Cinnamon Caramel Cream

I guess all those cooking shows I've been watching while crocheting have come in handy!

Have you ever had one of those times where you crave... something? Nothing specific, and usually not something that you actually, you know, HAVE in a cupboard somewhere?

I had one of those moments yesterday. I was craving something luxurious. Indulgent. Decadent. But what? I had no idea.

Then I remembered a comment someone had said on a Food Network show about making caramel with brown sugar and cream. I've never made caramel before, but it sounded good. I had brown sugar, and I was pretty sure we still had a bit of whipping cream left.

So I started experimenting and came up with a creamy sauce that was a total hit. Here's the ingredients - quantities are not precise, since I didn't actually measure anything.

Cinnamon Caramel Cream

about 2 Tbsp butter
approx 1/2 cup brown sugar
a bit of water (1/4 cup or less)
whipping cream (a little under a cup, but I would have used more if I'd had it!)
powdered milk - optional - about 1/4 cup
ground cinnamon to taste
vanilla to taste


In a small saucepan, melt the butter, then add the brown sugar and water. Bring to a boil and cook on med. high heat to a syrupy texture, stirring constantly with a wire whisk. Add ground cinnamon and stir until smooth.

Remove from heat and slowly whisk in the cream. When incorporated, return to heat and continue to cook at med. temperature until its at thick as you want it. Stir in the powdered milk at this stage, if using.

When at the desired consistency, remove from heat and stir in the vanilla. Pour sauce into a deep bowl and whisk while cooling. I did it by hand, but you might want to use an electric mixer. Continue whisking the sauce until it's completely cool. Pour into clean container and refrigerate.

This cream sauce thickens slightly in the fridge, but it still quite pourable and does keep a bit of that air from whisking. I was looking for an almost foamy consistency, but would have needed more whipping cream for that. It worked just find as it was, though.

After making the sauce, Eldest and I made a quick trip to the grocery store to pick up some bananas, strawberries and plain vanilla ice cream. It works well as a dessert sauce, or as a fruit dip.

The kids are already asking me to make sure I pick up more whipping cream on our next big grocery shopping trip, so we can make more! :-D I'm thinking a bit of nutmeg as well as cinnamon would be nice.

And yes, it did satisfy the craving for "something."

Sunday, September 06, 2009

What if?

Driving home today, we had the radio on an alternative music station the girls like. This evening, they were doing a show on alternate histories - those pivotal points in history where, had things not happened the way they did, we find ourselves wondering, "What if...? " The most commonly debated versions of these are things like "What if the assassination attempt on Hitler had succeeded?" or "What if the Nazis had won?" Others are things like "What if JFK, Abraham Lincoln, or Mahatma Gandhi weren't assassinated?" What alternate history would we have, if these "what if" moments ended differently.

Eldest had two interesting examples. One was;

What if Crete wasn't destroyed?

Crete was home to the Minoan empire. This was an advanced civilization, with some of their technologies being rediscovered only recently, that flourished 5000 years ago, then suddenly disappeared. There are some that believe that they are the source for the myths of Atlantis. Their technology and culture were highly sophisticated, with such modern conveniences as an elaborate sewerage system and hot and cold running water in homes. Their disappearance is still somewhat of a mystery, with blame being put on such things as a volcano, an earthquake and tsunami, famine, war, or combinations of several of these possibilities. How much different would our world be if the Minoans and their technology were never lost? One suggestion brought up was that the Roman Empire would never have risen to the power it did, being instead a part of the Minoan Empire. The fall of Rome would not have lead to the Medieval Dark Ages, where a great deal of knowledge and technology was lost. Would our modern technological and information age have happened millennia ago, instead of within the last century?

The other question that came up was;

What if the Avro Arrow had not been destroyed?

The Avro Arrow was the most technologically advanced plane of its time. In fact, much of its capabilities were not matched for many years after its destruction; a dark blot on Canadian history. The project was incredibly expensive and, when a new federal government was elected, shutting it down was one of its priorities. Shutting it down wasn't quite enough, though, as the prototypes and plans were also destroyed. Most of the developers ended up working for NASA, helping to put the first man on the moon. There are a number of theories as to why so much effort was made to wipe out these planes entirely.

I believe the destruction of the Arrow was as much a blow to the Canadian psyche as it was to the physical planes and plans. This was a project that brought Canada to the forefront of technology, worldwide. The excitement of this innovation could have spawned a culture of achievement. After its destruction, Canada faltered and fell behind. Personally, I think we have yet to recover from this, with our tendency to downplay our own achievements and look to other countries to emulate, rather than taking the lead ourselves.

One "what if" scenario suggested was that, if the Arrow had not been destroyed, Canada would have been the first to send a man to the moon.

All in all, it's a fascinating philosophical question.

So what is your "what if" scenario? Is there some pivotal point in history you can think of that might have change our world, had things gone another way?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Our latest adventures

With various things going on lately, it's been difficult for me to sit down at the computer at all lately, never mind actually writing a blog post. Time to take care of that while I can! *L*

A few days ago, we met with a voice coach and ended up signing Youngest for singing lessons. Starting after the long weekend, she'll be having weekly lessons. The teacher seems to be a good match, though I have to admit to being a bit taken aback with her mannerisms. I thought she might be used to teaching very young children, but her students range in age from 10 or so to over 70! It was like talking to Mr. Rogers or something. *L* Youngest was comfortable enough with her to give the go-ahead for lessons, so we signed her up. I do hope it works out well for her. Youngest as a marvelous voice; she just needs to learn how to use and control it.

I also recently managed to take in a local government surplus sale. A couple of times a year, in a warehouse on the outskirts of town, the government sells off various pieces they no longer need for their offices. Desks of all shapes and sizes, tables, chairs, bookshelves, couches, armchairs, coffee and end tables, storage lockers, filing cabinets, and even cork boards, clocks, wall art, fake plants and more were all available and ridiculously low prices. I got there an hour before the doors opened, and there were people already there. Thinking ahead, I brought along the afghan I'm crocheting for Eldest and got some decent progress in before the doors opened. :-D

There's a trick to going to these things. First, get there early. Very early. Second, if you're looking for a number of items, bring someone along to help find things. Third, if you find something that looks good, don't leave it in the off chance you'll find something better. By the time you get back, it'll be gone. The way they work it, once you've found something, you stay with it and raise your hand. People working the sale go around with clip boards to the people with their arms raised. They make out an invoice with the item and mark it as sold; then you can take the sheet and look for something else to be added to it. For people in groups, they come in and immediately fan out, searching out the items they need. Sure, they end up with multiple sheets, but it works out. Various businesses, churches and charitable organizations have furnished entire offices that way.

On the down side, once something is on the sheet, you can't take it off. So if you *do* end up finding something better, you're stuck with the old one. Which is how I ended up with two couches. *L*

The last time I went to one, we had the car. I could only fit two chairs into the back seat. They cost me $5 each. This time, I had the mini-van, with all the back seats stowed away. It took three trips and snagging my husband from work to help with one particularly heavy piece, but I've re-furnished much of our living room and part of our dining room for under $60. I was actually there for bookshelves, but never found any, though the shelf I did get was listed as a bookshelf. It's more like a sideboard with hutch, though all in one very solid piece. It's a bit dinged and scratched, but being made of real wood, not particle or pressed board, we can refinish it.

That particular shelf just fit into the back of the van, lying flat on it's back. I'd hoped we could set it on its side and fit something else in with it, but it was a bit too long for that.

For the other trips, I was able to fit in a couch and an armchair per load. Between the number of loads and the long drive to and from our place, it took all morning and most of the afternoon. Things had to be out by 3pm. Anything left behind got donated.

So now we have a "new" couch in the living room that doesn't hurt my knees to get in and out of! Granted, it does need a serious steam cleaning, but it's solid, has almost no wear and tear on it, and only cost $15. As for the second couch, we're still debating whether to find a way to keep it in the living room (we need to re-arrange it anyways) or put it in the master bedroom. Personally, as much as I'd like it in the bedroom, I don't really want to haul it up the stairs! *L* For now, it's standing on one end in our dining room. Youngest's cat has discovered that she can use the new shelf to jump to the top of it, which puts her at about 18 inches from the ceiling. She stayed up there for most of the day! :-D

As if that weren't enough, the next day the girls and I were up early and heading for the library. No, it wasn't library day. It was the library's book sale. We walked over to arrive just before the doors opened, and there was a line up down the block! Talking to one of the staff later on, they estimated that 200 people came in when the doors opened.

Unfortunately, the room the sale was in was really quite small. The last time I made it to one of these, they'd set up in the underground parkade. There was lots of room, not only for a lot of tables of books, cds and dvds, or for people to mill about in between, but for the couple hundred boxes of books waiting to be unpacked as room became available. Not this time! They did the best they could with the space, but there was barely room to move even without everyone with boxes, bags or armloads of books.

The girls and I managed to score some good stuff. I found some cookbooks, craft books, photography books, etc. Eldest got a couple of interesting finds, including a book on North American birds that's she's enjoying. Unfortunately, she was after art books and, before she even got to the section, she saw someone going in the opposite direction with her arms filled with all the art instruction books she could find. Ah, well. For Youngest, I spotted and snagged a bunch of mythology books from the Time Life series she's been borrowing for a while now.

It didn't take long for me to fill the backpack we'd brought to overflowing - thankfully, we brought an extra bag. Grand total for them all? Only $13.

That was just the first trip.

We met up with a friend later on and went back in the afternoon. Things weren't quite as crowded, but it was still hard to get through to some sections. This time, I actually got into the dvd section and we got a bunch of Cirque du Soleil dvds, as well as a couple of nature documentaries. Youngest asked me to show her where I'd found the mythology books I'd snagged for her earlier, but when we got there, there were no similar books left at all. She kept me company as I worked my way down the table. There wasn't much order left by then. As we were doing that, a staff member started restocking across the table from us. That's when I see Youngest suddenly reach out across the table and grab a book that had just been added. The Encyclopedia of Things That Never Were. She's borrowed that book so many times and really loves it, so this was a major score for her!

All in all, it was a very successful event for us. The sale is actually still going, and I will have to really resist going back for more! They may be incredibly cheap, but we do still have to stay in budget. ;-)

Monday, August 17, 2009

That time of year...

Well, here we are again. "That" time of year.

The time when stores fill with binders and pencil crayons and backpacks.

When, everywhere you turn, signs scream out "SALE! SALE! SALE!" almost as much as Christmas.

When Staples puts out the horrifying "it's the most wonderful time of year" commercials.

Yes, it's that time again, when parents apparently can't wait to send their kids off to school. The adults are supposedly all excited, jumping, dancing and smiling with glee, while their children sit morosely, depressed and saddened.

Parents, it seems, can't wait to foist their little monsters back to school, while kids universally hate it.

Heaven forbid parents actually might enjoy spending time with there kids. Or that some kids out there actually like going to school. What novel concepts.

I have to admit, there are some things I like about this time of year. I happen to really like stationary products, and I like getting papers, writing instruments and similar tools on sale. The selection is better now, too. Before long, the varieties will disappear until next year, so it's a good time to stock up. Even my kids enjoy being able to get their supplies at better prices.

This is also when we get our favorite haunts back. No more crowds of tourists, kids on "day camp," or groups of kids who have no idea how to behave appropriately without constant supervision, at the museums, science centres and art galleries. We'll be able to shop during the day and not get bowled over by crowds.

For us, little else will change. Our summer was busier, as we took in various festivals and events that aren't available in the winter, but that was about it. We still had our library days (though I relax posting the lists over the summer). The girls still work on their various projects, etc. As I'm writing this, they're both on the couch, going through some new art books from their holds I picked up at the library for them today. We stopped going to the weekly park days, as they are on a different day and a different location for the summer. The day happens to be on what's now our regular library day. Those will start up again soon, though I'm considering getting involved with a different group. I don't think we can swing both, so we'll see which one we end up going to regularly.

Meanwhile, time for me to stop procrastinating and kick the girls off the couch. Then get them to help me re-arrange the furniture as I clean the living room.

Hmmm... maybe I should get a few more rows of crochet in before I start... Or marinade the meat for supper... or...

... or get my butt in gear and work on the living room.

*sigh*

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Yes, then no, then yes after all!

Buying our new van has been an interesting experience. Long story short, though, we do have the same van we took home for an "extended text drive" that I wrote about in my last post.

Shortly after we took the van home, we got a call telling us the monthly payments would actually be much higher than what we were talking about when we agreed to buy it. After some back and forth-ing, it turned out that the original payment we were quoted (based on a 72 month contract) did not include life/disability insurance or warranty, but the second amount did. This was well above our budgeted amount, so we were going to take the van back.

We ended up dealing with a different manager. This turned out to be someone we enjoyed working with a lot more - the other one that gave us the original numbers was much more of a hustler type. Anyhow, after some discussion, we figured out where the miscommunication was - we'd thought the original numbers we'd agreed to included all taxes, insurances and warranties. Since it was outside of our budgeted amount, we started talking about lower priced vehicles. It turns out they only had one older mini-van in stock - all the others were the same year or newer. We test drove the other van (a 2002 Venture), and it really sucked. The payments wouldn't have been any different, either, as the older van would have been on a 4 year term, instead of 6 years. The payments would have been only about $20 a month less than the newer van, and we'd be paying more interest, because the banks charger higher interest rates on older vehicles.

They were going to get a couple more mini-vans in later in the week, though. These were 2005's, one of which had things like the bucket seats in the middle instead of a bench seat. The dealership's garage needed time to go over them and fix anything that needed fixing, we couldn't actually see them until the day after they came in. At this point, we were no longer expecting to get the 2006 we already had on loan and were going to go home in our old car. Instead, they told us to keep it until we came back to test drive the other vans! That was fine with us!

So we come back on the Friday, late enough in the day that I could pick my husband up from work. The van we wanted to test drive, also a Grand Caravan, was so fresh out of servicing, the carpets were still wet from the steam cleaning. In most things, it was identical to the 2006 we'd been using. It had a few extra toys, like a dvd player for the rear passengers. The mileage was still quite low, too - only another 5000km more than the newer vehicle.

Then we test drove it.

It was a short drive - pretty much just around the block - but it was enough. It didn't handle corners or bumps in the road as well, and the engine seemed less responsive. Since one of the main purposes we have for getting a new vehicle is to be able to do road trips, these were things that were important to us. In comparing the financial side of things, the older vehicle was a slightly cheaper base price, but that 1 year added another 1% on the interest rate. That was enough to put the total cost and payments at just about the same! At that point, it made no sense to take the older vehicle.

So we decide on the 2006 Grand Caravan we'd had for almost a week already. We start talking to the finance guy so did some juggling of numbers and managed to get us payments that we could live with that also included life/disability insurance and even a warranty, though not a premium one, by any means. The total payments were still higher that we wanted, but live-able. It means some other purchases we wanted to save up for will take longer to get. We've also delayed our trip to visit family until Thanksgiving weekend in October. I'd hope to get out there this month, but that just wasn't a possibility anymore.

Things should have been finished at that point, but it didn't quite work out that way. As if anything ever does work out the way it should? *L*

Because of our move, our driver's licenses still aren't updated. We just kept forgetting to do it. Normally, that's not a problem, and for my husband, it wasn't. The loan is in both our names, but we ended up just registering the van in my name, as we'd done with the car. The bank needed a couple of recent pay stubs from my husband, which had our new address on them, but of course, my name isn't on those. I was going to give them my updated vehicle registration, only to discover that the person had made a mistake and put our old address on it. That was what they had on file, since we hadn't bothered updating the registration due to our plans to get rid of the car soon. I was able to get it fixed and the finance guy faxed a copy to the bank. We both that that would be it.

Of course, that wasn't good enough.

The bank said that a bill would be enough. That's when I realized that none of the bills coming to our home have my name on them! Since my husband came out here 6 months ahead of us, he set all this stuff up in his name, and we've just kept it that way. We had nothing!

Talking to the finance guy again, he told me the bank said they'd be willing to take just about any piece of official mail (not personal mail) with my name on it! The only thing I could think of was my personal bank account statements, which I certainly wasn't comfortable giving them. I finally thought of our occupancy agreement. It has both our names on it. When I looked at it to bring it in, though, I noticed that it doesn't have my hyphenated name. I usually use my full name, but when space is an issue (a lot of forms, both written and on computer, don't have enough spaces for my full name), I just use the half that's my husband's name. Just in case, though, I grabbed the vehicle insurance papers that just happened to come in the mail the day before, just in case!

When I got to the dealership, I had a chance to talk to the finance guy again. He told me that the bank had said they don't normally accept lease-type agreements, which he thought was strange. After all, if you're looking for proof of address, wouldn't an occupancy or lease agreement be the best thing? He told them that it had better be good enough for them, because if it wasn't, he wasn't going to be sending any more business their way! Still, he took a copy of the insurance paper, just in case they had issues with the name thing after all.

Meanwhile, he'd also had the folks upstairs (various managers in their upstairs offices) questioning him about why our purchase wasn't financed yet. He told them about how we've only been living here for 5 months and hadn't changed our driver's license yet. Not only where they understanding, but several of them admitted that their driver's licenses still had their old addresses, too - and I don't think any of them had moved within the last 6 months!

I haven't had any calls back, so it looks like things were finally worked out. They'd better be, as our first car payment is supposed to come out next week!

In the mean time, we're really enjoying our new mini-van!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Wheels

For quite some time now, we've been in need of a newer vehicle. Our car is quite the beater, and I'm amazed it's lasted as long as it has.

Our needs were pretty basic. We needed something reliable for multi-provincial road trips. We needed more seats, so we can give rides, but we needed to be able to remove those seats to be able to haul larger items - including modestly sized furniture, if necessary. A mini-van would suit our needs, though there were some crossover vehicles and SUV's that also would meet our needs. We were already familiar with the Dodge Caravan, which I liked, but I wanted to try other vehicles to compare.

The girls and I had done some test drives. We weren't going to get anything without their input. However, as a stay at home mom, I can't actually buy a vehicle. My husband has to be along for that. He has not, however, been able to come along with us to kick tires.

Until today.

At first, we were going to an area where there's a lot of dealerships within blocks of each other, but on the opposite side of downtown from us is a dealership we'd been meaning to check out, so we stopped there along the way.

Several hours later, we left with a 2006 Grand Caravan.

So much for just test driving something and going someplace else!

We don't actually own it. We haven't paid a dime towards it. We've signed some papers, but things won't be finalized until the end of the week. Until then, the deal can still fall through. Meanwhile, they have our car as a trade in, which is really quite laughable. They gave us $400 for it. We paid $50 for it. I'm amazed they took it at all!

It's a newer vehicle than I planned on getting, so the cost is higher, even with the sale price. In the long term, though, that's to our benefit. The thing only as 29,000 km on it, which is practically nothing. It's still under warranty. The price was higher than I wanted to pay, but we'll be able to manage. Again, long term, it'll be better for us. It doesn't hurt that as of this month, we've finished paying off the shares for our co-op, so our housing charge is now lower, starting next month. The down payment we'll be making on top of the trade in is pretty minimal. Considerably less than what we had to pay the last time we bought a car at a dealership.

They sure did want to make that sale! Personally, as much as I liked the vehicle, I was content to walk away at any point. Between that and the sight of my husband's new income, they *really* didn't want to lose us as customers.

I think we did all right. I hate having car payments again, but at this point, we need a newer vehicle sooner than we can save up to either buy one outright, or put down a more significant down payment.

Until the paperwork is done and cash changes hands, though, it's just a really nice loan. They even made sure the gas tank was full.

Once that's done, we're already talking about making some day trips outside the city, and will be working things out as far as timing goes with my husband's sister, so that we can head back to Manitoba and have a bit of a family reunion. We won't be making it out next month, as I'd originally hoped. My husband is talking October, but I'd love it if we could swing September.

One thing's for sure. Trips will be a lot more comfortable! Especially for the girls. They've got individual bucket seats instead of the bench type seat other ones we'd tried had. They can actually see, now, too. Plus, the A/C in this thing actually works, unlike our car. They're the stow-n-go seats, too, which will be handy.

On the down side, we actually have a vehicle that's worth stealing again. That was one plus of owning a beater. It looked so crappy, we could've left it unlocked on the street downtown, and it would be ignored. Not so with this pretty thing.

I think it'll work out all right.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Mushroom Pasty

Last night, we had a very successful evening of historical cooking and eating. More on that later, but first, here's how we made our mushroom pasty, using a recipe from this site.


The ingredients:

1 - 1 1/2 pounds mushrooms (the girls chose a mix of white button and crimini, and this is actually closer to 2 pounds)
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup grated cheddar
1/2 tsp each of salt and ginger
1/4 tsp pepper


dough for one pie






We started off by sauteing the mushrooms in the oil, though I did end up adding a bit of butter, too. I cooked them until the liquid was gone.
















Then added the other ingredients and mixed it all together well.












The recipe was for a pie or tart, but I decided to make individual pasties, instead. Using small tart pans as forms, I divided the dough into 8 and rolled out the pieces to cover the bottoms of the pans. Then I added the filling.


These can be made with or without a top. A single recipe of dough, which should have been enough for top and bottom of 1 pie shell, was just enough to cover the bottoms. I didn't like how they looked, so I tucked the edges over the filling a bit, then rolled out another 1/2 recipe of dough (I'd pre-made 3 recipes in anticipation of other baking) and used a glass to cut circles. I wet one side of the circles with water before putting them onto the pasties, so that the dough would stick better.

These were then baked at 350F until golden.

The hardest part of making these was to stick to the recipe. I kept wanting to add garlic or other flavorings. I'm glad I didn't. They were so delicious, just the way they were!

Strangely, I neglected to get a photo of what they looked like when I took them out of the oven. Ah, well.

The entire meal was made up of 3 removes. The pasties were served with the stewed chicken our guests brought, which was incredibly good. They, too, had to resist adding at least garlic to their recipe. *L* Their leek soup was wonderful, too. Very light.

The most challenging part of the meal was the strawberry tart and baked apples in the third remove. The recipes were originals, not translated to modern cooking. What instructions were vague and confusing, and there was one ingredient we couldn't figure out at all. We used strawberry syrup instead. They were good, though we'd definitely change things if we made them again - like not including egg yolks with the baked apple. (One of the dishes Eldest wanted to make didn't pan out, as we couldn't find elderberry blossums for it.)

At the end of the meal, we were all quite full and satisfied. They sure knew how to cook well in the 12th century! Unfortunately, our guests had to leave rather suddenly as a storm moved in. We were on the balcony when the wind, rain and what we thought was hail started - the "hail" turned out to be pieces of a neighboring tree. The real hail started later on. Thankfully, we'd brought most of our planters in by then. The electricity flickered a bit, but we didn't have an actual power outage. We were lucky. I've spoken to one person who was without power for 16 hours, and today we saw one area where the power was still out.

No surprise about the outages, judging from the carnage we saw today. The streets were littered with broken branches, and we saw downed trees all over the place. One street was completely blocked by a huge elm - thankfully, no vehicles had been parked where it fell, and only some branches at its top hit the house on the opposite side of the street it had fallen on. An apartment block we passed had a patio and second floor balcony filled with a downed tree. Many others were seen in various parks we drove past. There's going to be a lot of clean up in the next few days. For now, the city must be focusing on those areas there the power was knocked out.

We didn't even get the worst of it. After the storm blew over us, I went onto the balcony a few times. We have a clear view of about 1/3rd of the horizon from our balcony. To the south and east, we continually saw lightning strikes that must've been outside the city. The small towns in those directions would have been hit far harder than we were. Quite a wild night!

As for our medieval themed evening, we all had a great time and really look forward to doing it again. Nothing like the combination of good food and great company! The only question is, what time in history shall we do next? Eldest brought up ancient Egypt and the pioneer area, both of which I would love to try out.

Whatever we end up doing, it's going to be a blast! :-D