Thursday, December 23, 2010

Five Ingredients, Two Mistakes, One Engagement

The holiday season is about to go into full swing here at North of 49. Our celebrations don't really start until the 27th, which is the day my brother, sister-in-law and two nieces arrive. The next day Karsten and Diana arrive, and a day or two later we will hit an even dozen when my future son-in-law arrives. Yes, you read that right......

Rebekah and Anton are officially engaged! The first part of the story is here on Rebekah's blog, and the second part is here. Several interesting facts are revealed in her posts. One is that she is going to have what might possibly be the biggest engagement ring ever, so big in fact that it will have to be worn around her neck instead of on her finger. Another is there are a few things about communication they forgot to teach in the journalism program she just completed.

Rebekah and Anton
Christmas 2009
Anton and Rebekah
Korea 2010

Now on to the Christmas baking which, by the way, is where the "two mistakes" part of my blog title comes into play. It was not referring to Rebekah and Anton's engagement! 

Rebekah had some friends over on Sunday afternoon to make Christmas goodies.One of the things they made were these amazing chocolate concoctions. As soon as I ate one I knew I had to make some for our family for the holidays. I thought I would share the recipe here. If you want something fast, easy and delicious these are what you are looking for. 

Chocolate Mistakes

1 package chocolate chips
1 package butterscotch chips
1 package peanut butter chips
2 cups chopped unsalted peanuts
2 cups crushed potato chips

Melt the chips in a double boiler. Remove from heat and stir in the ground peanuts and crushed potato chips. Spoon into mini baking cups and chill until firm. 

Now, the only difficult part about this should be trying not to eat the whole batch in one day. After all, there are only 5 ingredients. How could anyone mess this up? Well, apparently quite easily. First of all, we didn't buy any peanut butter chips. Oh well, I just added extra butterscotch chips and chocolate chips and stirred in a bit of peanut butter. Close enough. The next mistake was not so easily fixed. Even though I had purchased the potato chips I forgot to put them in. I didn't notice this lapse until the chocolates had hardened in their little paper cups, making it impossible to rectify my mistake. The good news is they taste good anyway. The bad news is I need to be capable of feeding a dozen people a day breakfast, lunch and dinner next week and if this is any indication of my skill level we are all going to come out of Christmas 2010 weighing a lot less than we went in. 

Given my difficulties performing the simplest of tasks, I think I had better focus on guests over the course of the next week. I will be back to North of 49 the first week of January. Merry Christmas, and thanks for reading my eclectic ramblings!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Celebration Failure Complete

December 26th is Boxing Day in Canada, so I was certain there was no way we would be able to find an appliance repairman willing to come to our house. I was proven wrong in this instance, as my husband went alphabetically through the listings in the Yellow Pages until he managed to connect with a live person at the other end of the line. 
The conversation at our end went something like this. “What? Could you please repeat that? Stikine Street. No. Stikine. S.T.I.K.I.N.E. No, I said Stikine. S as in Sam. No, Sam. T as in tango. Hello?" 

Normally I would have had “needs to speak English” as one of my requirements for an appliance guy, but six guests arriving the next day meant these were desperate times.  Although I am sure that what followed when he finally found our house (three excruciatingly painful phone calls later) was informative, I didn't understand a word he said, so will have to gloss over the finer details and skip right to the diagnosis. 
Apparently, judging by the gesturing at the top panel of our stove, there was a problem with the computer components. Now, as any owner of an appliance that has had a digital death knows, this is the worst possible news. The ESL appliance guy's animated head shaking seemed to indicate he did not have the replacement part. 

As Jay handed him a $100 bill and showed him to the door I noted that the repairman’s communication skills had improved remarkably when it came time to collect his payment. Resigning myself to the fact that I would have to wait until Monday to get my oven fixed, I did the only thing I could do. I hauled out my crockpot cookbooks and started pouring over recipes. I was going to have to rework my "cooking for a crowd" menu plans.
As it turned out, and keeping entirely with our holiday theme of 2008, I needn’t have worried myself about feeding all those people without a working oven. On Boxing Day evening my brother phoned from the airport in Chicago. The city was completely enveloped in fog and all flights were cancelled. Not a single flight was getting into or out of the city. There were so many people rebooking flights that they could not fly out for another two days, which would leave them only one day to spend with us. The trip was cancelled.
Karsten and Diana did manage to make it, and it was lovely to have them here in spite of the gloom we were all feeling. I wish that I could report that that was the end of the string of failures that followed us that Christmas season. It wasn’t. Our electric tea kettle’s automatic shut off broke. This resulted in the water in the kettle boiling off, leaving a red hot appliance searing our counter. Not only was the tea kettle toast, so was the steamed woodwork on the kitchen cabinets above the kettle. The replacement kettle I purchased the next day leaked like a sieve and had to be returned. 
The engine light in our car appeared as did a distinct lurching when it was driven, resulting in a visit to the repair shop. The timer on the toaster oven, which had now moved into a place of prominence as the only functioning oven in our home, caught whatever appliance influenza was sweeping our home and also stopped working. 

And the oven? No appliance store in Kamloops had the computer panel in stock. Phone calls were made, only to discover the appliance manufacturer did not have any in stock in all of Canada. They were waiting for a shipment from China.  We didn’t have use of our oven again until Valentine’s Day. It gave new meaning to the expression “slow boat from China.”
As I write this last paragraph another Christmas has come and gone. I am pleased to report that 2009 was calamity free. All appliances were fully functioning, the new tree holder did what it was supposed to do, and everyone who was supposed to be here was. I do admit that there was one scary moment on Christmas night when my 21 year old son started a load of laundry and the washing machine sounded seriously ill. Thankfully it turned out to just be overloaded, but my near panic attack made me realize the scars of Christmas 2008 run deep. 

You might ask how we managed to turn things around last year and I would have to say that I am not really sure, but I suspect it might have been when I decided to keep the outdoor lights safely tucked in their box in the garage, where they will remain as we look forward to celebrating Christmas 2010.

Christmas 2006
Grandpa Glenn, Grandma Thelma. Alex, Kellen, David, Rebekah, Diana, Karsten
cousins Danielle and Corinne

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Celebration Failure Part 6

Sadly every one of us Hammonds seems to be lacking mechanical/practical skills. This has a tendency to work against us at the most trying of times, namely every time something breaks. In fact, the need for a family member with practical skills is so great that I have issued a wish list for future sons and daughters-in-law that includes a plumber and a computer programmer. 
We have all developed our own coping skills over the years when things fall apart, and it generally follows the theme of “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Kellen immediately phoned his future father-in-law, an incredibly handy guy, and asked for advice. After some discussion it was decided that the problem could be the bottom element. If I would just keep restarting the oven every fifteen minutes or so the top element should come on and keep the oven close to the temperature it needed to be in order to cook the cursed bird. 
What followed is not something I am particularly proud of, but remember- I was sleep deprived and had already taken a few life hits this fine Christmas day. This is how the next five hours played themselves out. Push off button on oven. Set oven to 450 and push start button. Set timer for fifteen minutes. Sit down and knit furiously until timer rings. Repeat process. All the way from 90F to 180F. The novelty wore off somewhere around the 105F mark, and by the time it reached 180F the bird wasn’t the only thing that was finished.  
At exactly 8:00 on Christmas night I pulled the thing out of the oven. I placed it on top of the stove and told everyone that dinner was ready, which in my current frame of mind simply meant the turkey was done. It did not mean the vegies were cooked, the gravy made, the potatoes mashed. I then walked upstairs to my bedroom, closed the door, curled up under a blanket on my bed and sobbed. 
Some time later there was a tentative knock at my door. Apparently Rebekah drew the short straw and had been sent up to tell me dinner was, indeed, ready. I won’t even say I tried to pull myself together before going downstairs. I simply sat at my place, sniffing and taking food from each dish as it was passed to me. After what was probably the quietest meal our family had ever eaten I went back upstairs, had a bath and went to bed. The day was beyond redemption. 

Now I know what you are thinking. Christmas is over, so the story must be finished as well. Not quite. Remember, this is North of 49, where Christmas is followed by Boxing Day. Another holiday, and perhaps the biggest disaster of the whole season awaits.

Christmas 1995
Kellen, Rebekah, Alexandra, David, Karsten
Christmas 1996
Rebekah, Karsten, Kellen
Christmas 1996
Jay, Kristie, Kellen, Karsten, Grandma, Grandpa
David, Rebekah,Alexandra

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Celebration Failure Part 5

 Previously at North of 49:  Parts 1  2  3  4
After clearing up the discarded wrap, a job made more difficult by the presence of soggy packages distributed in odd spots around the floor, I decided it was time to stuff the bird and get it in the oven. As I hoisted the huge turkey into the oven I glanced at the clock and figured if I put it in now it should be ready to pull out around 5:00. Two hours later the smell of bleach had finally receded (I am a poultry paranoid, and bleach everything within sight after turkey prep) but, oddly, the smell of cooking bird had not yet filled the house. 
I decided to go out for a walk and try to regroup. By the time I came back the wonderful scent of roasting turkey would no doubt have filled the house, and I knew this would go a long way towards restoring my sagging Christmas spirit. This plan would have been fine except when I returned there were no wonderful smells to greet me when I opened the front door. Puzzled, I walked into the kitchen, expecting my nostrils to pick up the scent at any moment. Still nothing.
I glanced at the digital meat thermometer on the counter and the turkey was only up to 90F. That seemed odd. It was supposed to be done by 5:00 and it seemed like an extraordinary amount of cooking needed to happen in the next few hours. I opened the oven door and was happy to note I could faintly smell cooking turkey, but alarmed to realize that I was also greeted by warm, not hot, air. I decided to raise the oven temp up to 350F. 
In twenty minutes when I once again checked the meat thermometer what to my wondering eyes should appear but the same 90F reading! I decided the batteries in the thermometer must be weak so I madly searched the house for four AAA replacements. Of course there were none. So I opened the oven door again to wiggle a leg- the bird’s, not mine. After all, this used to be how I tested to see if a turkey was before I owned the fancy thermometer. 
Even in my sleep deprived state I knew as soon as I opened the oven door that the problem was not dead batteries. It was a dead oven. The air coming out of this doomed appliance was barely warmer than that surrounding me in the kitchen. It suddenly dawned on me why I had had trouble baking the shortbreads earlier in the week, and why the sticky buns would not cook properly that morning. My oven was broken. Complete with a semi-cooked twenty four pound bird in it. I was scrooged.

Christmas 1994
Karsten, Kristie,  David, Rebekah, Alexandra, Jay, Kellen 
Christmas 1994
Karsten, Alexandra, Rebekah, Kellen, David
It's not over yet.....!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Celebration Failure Part 4

Part 1    Part 2    Part 3
We had decided to just open one package each, saving the rest for when everyone would be home later in the week. So with those lead bullet buns sitting in our guts we headed to the tree to each open a gift. I grabbed a package to hand out and was surprised to discover it was damp on the bottom. Odd, I thought, and grabbed the next package. That one was not just damp- it was soaked. 
Being the owner of two cats that have been known to exhibit undesirable behaviours I hesitantly smelled the wrapping paper. In what I misinterpreted to be good news, there was no odor. Perplexed, I put my hand down under the presents and was greeted by a water logged carpet. I started pulling the packages out one by one to inspect them and every single present that had been in contact with the carpet was soaked on the bottom. Once the presents were all removed the source of the problem became clear. The water holder on our Christmas tree stand had cracked. 
Let me just add that this wasn’t any old Christmas tree stand. It was a deluxe model I had purchased three years previously, one whose main feature was the gigantic water reservoir attached to the side that you filled when you put up your tree. After that the tree conveniently watered itself. Or not so conveniently in our case, watered the carpet. Presents were turned upside down, well away from the tree, so they could dry. Short of taking the tree down there wasn’t much we could do about the carpet other than blot up the water with towels and hope the fact the living room was kept at a very cool temperature would inhibit any dangerous growth of mold. 
Bravely smiling, I then handed out each person’s package and we proceeded, stomachs swelling with the yeast in the uncooked dough the whole time, to open them. I had carefully chosen a book for each child, but was somewhat dismayed to find out Rebekah already owned the book I had bought her. Normally this would have been something to laugh about, but remember- I was sleep deprived, a failure in the kitchen, and the original purchaser of the Christmas tree stand of doom. I felt totally deflated.

Christmas 1990
Rebekah, Kellen, Karsten

Christmas 1991
Rebekah, Karsten, Kellen

Christmas 1992
Kellen, Rebekah, Alexandra, Karsten

Christmas 1992
Karsten, Kristie, Jay
Rebekah, Alexandra, Kellen
Christmas day is not over yet! More disaster to follow.....

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Celebration Failure Part 3

Previously at North of 49:  part 1 and part 2.

Celebration Failure Part 3
The lead up to Christmas looked promising. Christmas itself was going to be relatively quiet, but two days later Karsten and Diana were due to arrive, and also my brother, sister-in-law and two nieces from Chicago. We had plans to go to the snow tubing park, skiing at Sun Peaks, and best of all, have our second annual “cook off.” The year before we had divided everyone into pairs and each pair was given a category (meat, salad, veggie, etc.). The pair then chose a recipe and prepared it for the big dinner. By the time the meal was served the kitchen was a disaster, but we all had a great time and the food was amazing! A new Hammond tradition had been born. 
Christmas Eve day was productive. I had all the make ahead cooking done and just needed to run to the grocery store to pick up our fresh turkey. I had ordered a whopping 24 pounder so asked Kellen to come with me so he could lug it out to the van. As we went through the check-out I cautioned him to be careful how he held it because they often leak out of the packaging. I know this would never happen with your kids, but several of mine tend to not listen well when given instructions (I can hear the moms of twenty-something guys laughing again). He proceeded to pick up the turkey and hug that thing like a newborn baby. 
When we got to the van he looked like the baby had not been properly diapered. He was covered in raw turkey juice. His jeans were especially grim. Perhaps for most people this would not have constituted a crisis, but at this financially challenged point of Kellen’s life he only owned the one pair of pants. And in just two hours the parents of Anita, Kellen's girlfriend, were coming to our home so we could meet each other. Still, this was just a small blip on the radar screen of impending doom. Somehow he managed to clean his solitary pair of pants before the big meet-up and we moved through the afternoon smoothly. 
After the Christmas Eve service we had a quiet evening and I made a point of getting to bed early since I needed to be up at 5:00 to start the sticky buns, a Hammond Christmas morning tradition. I had just entered a sound sleep when the phone started ringing. I glanced at the clock and it was exactly midnight. I stumbled out of bed to answer it and was greeted with a voice saying I had a text message, along with canned Christmas music playing in the background. Is there such a thing as phone spam? I went back to bed, but of course was wide awake at that point and remained so until about 3:30 in the morning. 
I had just fallen back to sleep when I was woken up again, this time by the sound of the dishwasher starting to run. Someone had put it on the 6 hour delay setting, which gets my vote as the most loathsome appliance feature ever invented. Knowing there was no chance I would be able to fall back asleep, I decided I might as well get up and bake the Christmas morning sticky buns, a food tradition that we had enjoyed for many years. I used to start them from scratch early on Christmas morning, but for the past several years have made them ahead and popped them in the freezer. On Christmas Eve I put them in the fridge, where they thaw overnight and are ready to bake early the next morning. 
I have done this so many times I have it down to a fine art. Or at least I thought I did. When the timer rang and I pulled the buns out of the oven they were not cooked all the way. I thought it was odd, but put them back in for an extra five minutes. The timer rang again, and this time I pulled them out confident they would be ready. 
I could not believe it when I saw the bread dough was still not cooked, especially on the bottom. The tops looked a bit over done, so I was afraid to pop them back in again. I decided to invert the pan onto a cookie sheet and put them in that way, thus allowing the undercooked bottoms a chance to catch up to the overcooked tops. I set the timer for five more minutes and this time when I pulled them out they seemed to be cooked all the way through. 
I have to admit I felt somewhat demoralized. Had I lost my touch? How could I have had so much trouble baking a simple batch of sticky buns, something I had successfully done dozens of times in the past? I told myself I was sleep deprived thanks to the midnight spam call and the dreaded dishwasher delay feature, and it really wasn’t a disaster, just a set back. My family was kind and assured me the buns were as good as always, in spite of the obvious globs of uncooked dough in the middle of each one.

Rebekah, Kellen and Karsten
Christmas 1988
Karsten, Rebekah and Kellen
Christmas 1988
Rebekah, Kellen and Karsten
Christmas 1989

Friday, December 10, 2010

Celebration Failure Part 2

Here is today's instalment, and a link to part 1 in case you missed it.
One thing I have noticed about grand scale disasters is they tend to start out small, in a sneaky sort of way that leaves you, a total innocent, thinking that things will turn around any moment, that the current small crisis will soon be resolved and peace on earth and good will towards men will once again prevail. Looking back, I realize that my first clue should have been when Kellen hung up the outdoor Christmas lights. 
Being taller than not just me, but everyone else in our family, he seemed the obvious choice for the task. I had to go do some jobs in town and figured he didn’t need my supervision; after all, he was twenty four years old (I can hear all you moms of twenty-something guys laughing in the background). When I returned it was so nice to see the lights on our house as I approached from down the street. In hindsight I really wish I had just stopped right there and enjoyed that Kodak moment a while longer, because as soon as I turned into our driveway it vanished. Poof. 
I sat looking at the lights in front of our house, complete with two bulky, hideous extension cords hanging down the front in a Christmas display better suited to Home Depot’s electrical department than a family residence. It reminded me of one of those pictures where, depending on how you look at it, you see one of two different objects. Once you start looking at it a certain way you see just the one object and it becomes hard to “switch” and see the other. Well, it didn’t take long for my brain to only see extension cords. Thick, orange and ugly- the prominent feature of our festive display. I trudged in with the groceries while visions of extension cords danced in my head, but in a parenting moment I have to say I am proud of I chose to say nothing. Well, at least not to Kellen. 
Over the course of the next week I started to develop a mild case of extension cord anxiety. My brain simply could not register lights, only cords- thick, orange monstrosities hanging down the front of our house. It looked like we were decorating for the wrong holiday, and the way they would eerily blow in the wind did nothing to dispel that impression. 
Then late one afternoon, in what I would later come to realize was the single moment of Christmas cheer for 2008, I drove home and saw lights. Not cords, not a potential movie set for a horror film, just pretty lights twinkling against the snow on the roof. Apparently I had made the obvious, but wrong, choice for designated light hanger. My amputee son David, a whopping nine inches shorter than his older brother, and minus both hands and part of an arm, had come to my rescue. The lights were restrung with extension cords neatly tucked at the side of the house. To this day I have no idea how he managed it.

Christmas 1986
Karsten and Kellen
Christmas 1987
Karsten and Kellen
Stay tuned for part 3.... 

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Celebration Failure Part 1

Over the course of the next few weeks I am going to share with you the story of a Hammond Christmas gone wrong. Very, very wrong. Think of it as a sort of "black advent." Instead of opening up a window on a pretty holiday calendar and getting a chocolate, you can read this and get another dose of disaster. Pictures of Christmases past will be at the bottom of each post. Enjoy!

Christmas is rapidly approaching and I must confess my first instinct this year is to become Jewish. I figure my only guarantee of a stress-free holiday is to simply not observe it. Some of the perks of being Jewish at this time of the year are as follows:
  1. No tangled Christmas lights, cutting down dramatically on the risk of breaking the third commandment
  2. Owning a vacuum cleaner that hasn’t been ruined by pine needles
  3. Gift giving spread out over the eight days of Hanukkah rather than the five minutes of frenzy and two hours of clean-up experienced on Christmas morning
  4. Santa becomes null and void
  5. And from the cook’s point of view the best of all- going out for Chinese food on Christmas day
I find it odd that our family’s most memorable Christmases edge more towards Dante than Dickens. We have endured falling trees, which aren’t a bad thing if you are in the woods collecting firewood, but not so desirable in your living room complete with an attached cat. Power outages have darkened our day. And there was the Christmas Kellen ate so many cookies he threw up all over his pillow then immediately put his head back down and slept soundly until the next morning. 
Topping the list of Christmas memories that have transitioned from nightmare to fond reminiscence would be the year Alexandra had such a high fever I had to rush her to the hospital (remember, she is immune suppressed). This happened at the same time the turkey was ready to come out of the oven, gravy needed to be made, potatoes needed to be mashed, etc., etc. As I sat with my daughter at the emergency department I couldn’t help but reflect on the irony of the situation. After all, I had wished for years that I could have a Christmas where someone else did all the food prep. 
Several hours and multiple tests later we were home again, greeted by the smell of turkey and my horrified mother. Apparently when my mom was busy at the stove making gravy the turkey was left unattended on the kitchen counter. My mom, cat hater extraordinaire, turned from the stove to find our cat on the counter with its paws firmly planted in the side of the bird, having a feline feast. This happened over a decade ago and my mom still shudders when that particular story gets retold. 
So why the sudden urge to sneak in the back door of the synagogue this Christmas? The answer is quite simple- the Christmas of 2008. It was celebration failure on a scale beyond anything we had been able to attain in previous attempts, a season filled with so many disasters, both large and small, that I knew by the end of it that any future attempts to exceed it in magnitude were doomed to fail. It was Scrooge on steroids. 

Karsten Christmas 1982
Karsten and Kellen Christmas 1984
Jay, Kristie, Karsten and Kellen
Christmas 1985
To be continued......

Monday, December 6, 2010

Too Many Choices

The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less is a book written by psychology professor Barry Schwartz. In the book he claims that each day we are confronted with too many choices. These choices provide the illusion of a great number of options when, in fact, not that many truly different ones exist. Schwartz says that having too many choices actually takes away from our overall happiness and sense of well being. I happen to agree with the author.

I am one of those people who freeze when confronted with too many choices. I can spend five minutes staring at the wide array of toothpastes lining the shelves in front of me, unable to narrow the choice down to just one tube. Size, price, flavor, gel or regular, whitener or not, and lately even the shape of container all have to be considered. The coping strategy I have developed is to never vary what I buy. My eyes quickly scan for the container they have been pre-programmed to recognize, which I then quickly grab and throw in my cart before I can be mesmerized by the other 50 kinds on display.

Shopping for toothpaste, however, is nothing compared to the consumer nightmare that lurks in the yogurt aisle. I used to think that the excesses that exist in the dairy section were a reflection of our capitalistic society. That is, until I went to China. Apparently the communists have the same yogurt problem as us.

I have come up with a solution to the onslaught of yogurt choices, and I wanted to share it with you. I now make my own. It is an easy process, costs much less than what you buy in the store, tastes a bazillion times better, and is much healthier. The best feature? There are no choices involved, at least not until you need to decide whether or not to put some fruit or jam into your finished product.

It is possible to make yogurt without a yogurt maker, but I decided it would make things much simpler if I went ahead and purchased one. I bought the Euro Cuisine and have been very happy with it. The link is to Amazon, but this model is widely available in health food stores. The price under $50, so for those of you still looking for Christmas gift ideas here is a budget friendly one for you.

First thing in the morning you gather the few items you will need:

-yogurt culture (this can be purchased at a health food store, or you can use a plain commercial yogurt as a starter)
-milk (I use whole milk, but you can use a partially skimmed one)
-a cooking thermometer
-a 1 liter (4 cup) measuring cup
-a medium saucepan
-large spoon for stirring
-small bowl

Measure 1 liter of milk (4 cups) and pour into the saucepan. Turn on heat to medium and place the thermometer in the pan. You want to bring the temperature of the milk just up to the boiling point, which will take about 15 minutes. Stir occasionally while heating. Once the milk has reached the proper temperature remove it from the heat and place the pan on a wire rack to cool.

Now you just wait while the milk cools to about 75 degrees. I give it a stir every ten minutes or so to help the cooling process along, but that is not necessary. With the stirring it takes about an hour and twenty minutes to get to the right temperature. Next you empty one of the yogurt starter packets into the bowl then add a bit of the cooled milk. Stir the starter until it completely dissolves.

Then add that mix back into your pan of milk and stir well.

 Now for the fun part! Pour the milk into your glass yogurt jars and place the jars in the yogurt maker. Please be aware that you do not put the lids onto the glass jars! The lids are for placing on the jars once the yogurt is finished.

It can take anywhere from 9 to 12 hours for your yogurt to incubate, depending on how creamy you like it. When your yogurt has reached the consistency you want simply remove the jars, let them cool for a bit, then place the lids on and refrigerate. You now have "choice free" yogurt. It comes with the added bonus of not having a lengthy list of non-recognizable ingredients on the container.

Stir in some homemade huckleberry jam.

Spoon on top of some homemade granola.

The perfect breakfast combo!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Farewell To Teens

This is a momentous day for me. It is the last day I will be the parent of a teenager. Tomorrow Alexandra turns twenty. I have had varying amount of teens in this house for the past sixteen years, including two brief periods when there were four of them at once. In case you are wondering how on earth I managed it I have to admit I have no clue, but being hopelessly deluded an eternal optimist probably helped a lot. 

The day Alexandra arrived home from Romania
Rebekah 3, Karsten 9, Jay holding Alexandra 3 months, Kellen 6 
Raising Alexandra has challenged my generally optimistic nature on many occasions. She has struggled with two rare diseases, and for many years it was a tough battle. She is a girl with an incredible amount of courage, a special kind of courage that has carried her through days, weeks, months and years of not feeling well. Through it all- hospital stays, procedures, powerful drugs, and bandage removal (her most dreaded medical event!) she never once lost her smile. Over the past couple of years she has experienced a gradual improvement in her health, and now that she is turning twenty it appears she is leaving behind her medical issues along with her teens. You have no idea how thankful I am to be able to say those words!

Alexandra at the beach- don't you love the hair? 
Karsten 14 and Alexandra 5
Alexandra and Rebekah dressed
up as Laura and Mary
All grown up!
Isn't she lovely?
Honestly, I am not sure where all those years have gone, but gone they are. I am now the parent of five "twenty somethings" which makes me, well.....let's just say it makes me somewhere North of 49. Happy birthday Alexandra!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Going Into Hibernation

I am officially going into hibernation for the winter. No, I do not find a cave and sleep until spring. I do, however, put my car into "local only" mode. When I made plans to go down to the US for American Thanksgiving I had not factored winter driving into the equation. That was a miscalculation on my part. This picture was taken while I was still in British Columbia. The outdoor temperature showing on my instrument panel was hovering around -18C when this was taken. This is the Kettle River and you can see it is almost completely frozen over.

It seemed fitting, given the holiday I was heading down to celebrate, that I had to stop the car while a flock of wild turkeys crossed the road. There were at least 30 birds, and I think they were all hoping this particular holiday would pass without incident.

Although it was extremely cold outside the roads were mostly clear of snow and ice. At least until I got to my destination. Spokane was a winter wonderland! The problem being, of course, that it wasn't yet winter. I felt like I had arrived for the wrong holiday.

Thanksgiving day itself was spent at relatives sharing a wonderful meal, looking through some old family photos and hearing family stories, many of which were new to me. The highlight of the day for me was sitting in the kitchen watching somebody else prepare the feast. I could get used to that!

This will come as no surprise to those of you who know me. Black Friday- that infamous shopping day that occurs the day after Thanksgiving- found me hunkering down with my knitting and avoiding setting foot inside a store of any kind. There was no bargain on the face of the planet that was worth venturing into that madness for. Not to mention that fact that the day found Spokane in the midst of another snow storm that proceeded to dump 5 more inches on what was already on the ground.

Saturday my mom and I did bravely head to the mall as we both needed to pick something up at one of the stores there. Fifteen minutes into our shopping trip we looked at each other and agreed that we had had enough. We had a few other stops to make, but by the time we got to the last place on the list neither one of us could face it. At that point they could have been giving away the complete contents of the store. We didn't care. We crossed it off the list and headed home where I made a cup of tea and slowly recovered from the trauma. 

On Sunday it stopped snowing long enough that my dad and I were able to take their new car out for a drive. We were proud of ourselves since we managed to figure out quite a few of the features such as how to program the garage door so dad just has to push a button in the car to open and close it, how the satellite radio works, how to set the trip mileage indicator, and how to work the cruise control. I can't believe how complicated new cars are! We were laughing about how far things have advanced since the Ford Model A, a car my dad also happens to own. 

I had taken down a knitting project to work on. It is a Christmas gift that needs to be finished soon so I can get it mailed to the recipient. I procrastinated finishing the Christmas project by casting on for a pair of thick wool slipper socks.

Then I decided I needed a new headband. After the headband I finally did manage to pick up the Christmas knitting and it is now almost finished. I have the snow, and the fact it kept us housebound for most of my visit, to thank for all the knitting I accomplished while I was away.

The day I drove home was snow free, but another storm moved in right after I left setting a 100 year record for the month of November. All of this makes me very happy that the next holiday will be spent right here in our home in Kamloops even if it means I will be the one preparing the food rather than watching someone else do it for me.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Frugal Luxuries

There are certain things in this world that have definite dividing lines. You are either for them or you're against them. For instance, in the food category two that come immediately to mind are cilantro and asparagus. I don't know a single person who is neutral about these foods. People either love them or hate them. In the musical category there would be the banjo. You either love it or you hate it. Actually, I have never met anyone who likes the banjo, so I am just guessing when I say there would be people who love it. I have no proof.

The Sound of Music is the entertainment category's example of this dividing line- the one where you are either firmly on the "yeah" or the "nay" side. I personally think this is one of the best movies ever made. I love the scenery, I love the music (and I am not usually a big fan of musicals), and I love the story. And if you happen to be one of those people who hate the movie I want you to know I respect your right to your opinion, even if you are wrong.

I have to admit that this post was probably inspired by my latest viewing of The Sound of Music. The first time I watched this movie I was a young girl, probably around 6 years old. I remember sitting in the theater and feeling like I couldn't breathe when the Nazis were searching the convent for the Von Trapp family. I still get nervous when I watch that part. And yes, I know it's pathetic. After approximately 58 subsequent viewings it's not like I don't know what happens.

So last night while I was watching the scene during the thunderstorm when Maria and the children are singing My Favorite Things I was thinking about what some of my favorite things are. That brought to mind a book a friend gave to me a number of years ago called Frugal Luxuries. The subtitle of the book is Simple Pleasures to Enhance Your Life and Comfort Your Soul.

I love the idea of simplicity. Frugal luxuries don't cost a lot of money, they don't take enormous amounts of planning or work, and they are usually found in our own homes. I want to be the kind of person who appreciates the "every day", not the "some day", and focusing on my favorite things helps me along the way. Here is what's on today's list:

-Flannel sheets to crawl into tonight while the wind howls outside and the thermometer plummets to -15C

-my hot water bottle and heated rice bag for the same reason as the sheets (it is really cold here right now!)

-the beauty of the fresh snow outside

-my afternoon cup of tea

-some Theo's chocolate to go with that cup of tea

-the smell in the house from the batch of applesauce I made earlier this morning- yum!

-a home made loaf of artisan bread sitting on the counter ready to be eaten with tonight's stew

-chocolate cupcakes

-warm mittens

- a new toque

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Border Smuggling

Tomorrow morning I will be driving south of the 49th to celebrate American Thanksgiving with my parents. It has been many years- twenty two, in fact- since I last was down to celebrate with them. Here is the tale of that long ago trip. My apologies for the length of this. It is actually an excerpt from a longer piece of writing. Oh- and if you manage to stick with the story to the end you will see "then and now" pictures of Rebekah and me. 

When Rebekah joined our family in April of 1988 she was flown into the Seattle airport. Her Korean passport had an American visa stamp in it, so there had been no problem with her entering the USA. The following November the kids and I headed down to my parents’ farm in northern Idaho to celebrate American Thanksgiving. Here I was, an ex-pat American who had been living in the great white north for six years, finally living close enough to home to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family. (We had just moved from Fort St. John to Nelson) Not only would I be celebrating Thanksgiving, it would be baby Rebekah’s first trip to meet her two great grandmothers. 

We left Nelson early in the morning, hoping to be down to the farm by lunch time. The boys were excited as well, singing songs and jabbering in the back seat. It was one of those special times, the kind where you feel perfectly content and secure, where “all is right with the world.” 

I pulled up to the small border crossing and rolled down my window, positively aglow with the anticipation of my first Thanksgiving home in years. The border guard asked where we were headed, then stuck her head in the window to see who was in the back of the van. When her eyes lit on Rebekah she asked to see her identification. Still smiling, all still right with the world, I handed Rebekah’s Korean passport and Canadian immigration papers to her. She thumbed through the documents, scanning each one with a growing look of concern. This border guard was starting to mess with my glow. 

Then she looked at me and said she needed Rebekah’s entrance visa. Wondering how she could have missed it, I pointed out that it was stamped in the back of her passport. No she said, that was just a temporary 24 hour visa issued for in-transit purposes only. Rebekah needed a regular visitor’s visa to be allowed entry to the United States of America. 

Her official “don’t mess with me” tone had me reassessing my previous “all’s right with the world” sentiments. However, I knew there was no way they could keep me from crossing the border. After all, I was an American and it was Thanksgiving. She begged to differ, saying it didn’t matter, refused to let us cross, and informed me that I could go to the nearest border crossing staffed with an immigration officer to see if they would issue the appropriate paper work.  

I don’t want this to degenerate into name calling, but seriously this lady was Scrooge one celebration early- the nearest crossing with an immigration officer was a two hour drive away, and not in the direction we were headed. I pleaded. I begged. It was not to be. I turned around and headed back north, silence emanating from the back seat and my glow having turned to a burning anger. 

Did I mention it was Thanksgiving and I am an American? Nobody was going to stop me from spending the holiday with my family! There was just one slight problem- the guard had strictly warned me not to attempt crossing again without the proper paperwork or I could be charged with attempting to smuggle an illegal alien into the country. Apparently they frown on this. 

I took her words as a direct challenge rather than the warning they were meant to be. This time I would not volunteer any information about Rebekah. I would simply drive up to the next border crossing, a mere hour’s drive away, roll my window down just enough to be able to talk to the guard but not enough for him to stick his head in, and vaguely wave towards the back seat when he asked who was traveling with me. 

My heart was racing as I approached the border. All was going as planned until the guard looked at me and asked if I happened to have a Korean infant traveling with me. Busted. I could not believe it. Apparently the witch on a broom we had encountered at the last crossing had phoned this crossing and warned the staff that there might be a woman in a blue van with three young children attempting to cross the border after being denied entrance earlier in the day. 

I'm just not the kind of person you would expect to carry out illegal activity between international borders, and thankfully this kind border guard didn’t think so either. In what had to have been an absolute God moment, he looked at Rebekah (she really was sweet!) and asked to see her passport. It turned out that he had a nephew adopted from Korea and he was quite taken with the little fellow. I told him my story- the long wait for Rebekah, the misunderstanding about the 24 hour visa, and my deep desire to be home with my family over the holiday. 

Then this man did the impossible! He told me he would go fill out a bogus piece of paper saying he was allowing her to cross the border, which he really didn’t have the authority to do since he was not an immigration officer, but would do anyway. He simply asked if I could mail the paper back to him when I returned to Canada so he would know Rebekah was no longer in the US. I was quite sure it was no coincidence that we happened upon a customs officer who had a Korean nephew and a big heart! 

We made it home for Thanksgiving thanks to the compassion of this kind man, and I had one more reason to be thankful this particular year, namely that I wouldn’t be sharing my turkey with the inmates at the local detention center instead of those nearest and dearest to me.

Rebekah's first birthday, two weeks before the border incident
 22 years later