Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Power of Procrastination

It is amazing how much I can accomplish when I am avoiding an unwelcome task. I am not a procrastinator by nature, but the thing that will drive me to task avoidance every single time is paperwork. International adoption can do that to a person. And after three international adoptions I think it would be fair to say my well of paperwork tolerance is empty.

I consider paperwork to be so loathsome that it actually informs my vision of hell. This would be, of course, assuming there is a hell, but I think I will steer clear of that controversial topic. Forget fire and brimstone. Enter mounds of paperwork. Just when you complete the last form, the devil hands you another one. And another. And another.

While avoiding my latest paperwork nightmare I have managed to read several books, watch numerous documentaries on the internet, and finish all eight seasons of MI-5 (Spooks). I'm not too proud of that last item, but what can I say. Faced with the choice between paperwork or watching the BBC consistently kill off their main characters there really was no contest. Violence, terrorism and death was the easy winner.

There is one other item I have managed to complete while avoiding The Task. It is an example of how procrastination can prove to be a powerful ally. Otherwise dreaded jobs suddenly have an appeal they might not otherwise have possessed. You see, as much as I love to knit there are two things I don't like doing. One is knitting sleeves. I dislike sleeves so much that I actually have a sweater stuffed in a bag in my craft closet that I finished last year. Well, almost finished. It still needs the sleeves. The other thing I despise is sewing the knitted garment together once it has been knit. Which means even if I ever do get around to knitting those sleeves there's a very good chance they will never get attached to the sweater.

Last fall I started knitting a sweater for Alexandra. The yarn was beautiful and the pattern fun to work with. I finished the body and was faced with still needing to knit the dreaded sleeves plus a hood. If the sweater had been for me it might have joined the amputee sweater bag in the craft closet, but Alexandra really wanted this sweater. What kind of person commits to knitting something then doesn't finish it anyway? Um, comment.

I have run out of ways to put off the inevitable. It has come down to that armless sweater hiding in the closet or the one page letter of not more than 250 words that I have been avoiding for the past two weeks. What a choice. I think I'll just go have a quick look to see if season 9 of MI-5 has been released yet. 

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Politics and Pumpkin: Canadian Culture Part 3

I didn't intend to write two Canadian culture posts in a row, but Friday's news has dictated otherwise. The headlines proclaiming "Canadian Government Falls" probably had more than one citizen North of 49 rolling their eyes in exasperation. However, I realize for readers whose governments don't operate on the parliamentary system these same headlines might make it sound like things are falling apart in the Great White North. Rest assured, they're not.

What follows is the briefest of briefs on how our system works. Canadian readers might want to scroll down to the second part of this post. I don't want to contribute to your election fatigue, which probably set in within minutes of the no-confidence vote on Friday.

First things first. We do not directly elect our prime minister. When we go to the polls on May 2 we will be voting for an MP (Member of Parliament) for our riding. No more, no less.

There are three main parties throughout Canada, and a fourth party that exists only in Quebec. The party that exists only in the province of Quebec is called the Bloc Quebecois. You might be wondering why this party has not expanded beyond the borders of its province of origin. A quick look at their party goals reveals that they are devoted to the protection of Quebec's interests in the House of Commons and to the promotion of Quebec sovereignty. My guess is you aren't wondering any more.

The other three main parties are the Conservatives, the Liberals and the NDP (New Democratic Party).  After the election the party that elects the most candidates is asked by the Governor General to form a government. The leader of that party becomes the prime minister. Which brings us to the current situation.

In the last election the Conservative party won the most seats, i.e., had the most MPs elected. The Conservative Party's leader is Stephen Harper, so he became the Prime Minister. However, his party formed what is called a minority government. This occurs when a party has fewer than half the total number of seats, but more seats than any other single party. Remember, unlike places like the US that only have two viable political parties, we have four major players here.

If the parties that do not currently form the government can stop their petty bickering somehow find a way to agree they can, under the right conditions, bring down the government with what is called a vote of non-confidence. Which is exactly what happened on Friday. It is how the parliamentary system works. And in case you are wondering why some of us might be rolling our eyes it is because the outcome of this election could very well give us the very thing we already have - a minority government. Sigh....

Now on to what was to be the original content of this post, which is pumpkin scones. These are the same knock-off Starbucks pumpkin scones I mentioned last fall. By the way, if you are Canadian you most likely just read the word scones with a short "o" sound. This would hold true for residents of other Commonwealth countries as well. If you are an American my guess is you pronounced the word with a long "o". (Since this is supposed to be a post about Canadian culture I thought I should point that out.)

Throw all the dry ingredients into the food processor

Use the best kitchen gadget ever to measure out the butter (seriously, if you don't have one of these you need to get one!)

Pulse the butter and dry ingredients until crumbly

Beat the eggs, pumpkin and half & half together; add to the mix in the processor

Mix until the dough looks like this

Roll out a 9" X 3" rectangle, cut in three parts, then cut those parts diagonally

Place on baking sheet covered with parchment paper

Ice the scones and brew a pot of tea

Share them with someone you love

Pumpkin Scones

2 cups flour   (I used half spelt)
7 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. cloves
1/4 tsp. ginger
6 Tbsp. cold butter
1/2 cup canned pumpkin  
3 Tbsp. half & half
1 large egg

Heat the oven to 425F. Mix the dry ingredients, then cut in cold butter. In a separate bowl mix the egg, pumpkin, and half & half. Add the liquid mix to the dry/butter mix and mix until you get a proper dough consistency. Caution - do not over mix! Form into a ball and roll on a floured surface into a 9 X 3 X 1 inch rectangle. Cut into thirds, then cut each third diagonally. Place on a parchment lined or lightly greased baking sheet. Bake for ~ 15 minutes. Cool on rack. While cooling mix 1/2 cup icing sugar and 1 Tbsp. milk together. Ice scones, make tea and enjoy.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Signs, Sports and Signs About Sports: Canadian Culture Part 2

Ricademus asked if the outdoor rink pictured in my last post would get converted to a basketball court now that the ice has melted. This is a perfectly legitimate question coming from an American, and if the question was directed at someone living South of 49 the answer would no doubt be yes. However, because the question was directed at someone living North of 49 my response was the following:

Ric - Um....this is Canada. In the summer the ice hockey rink gets converted to a floor hockey rink. What's basketball? :-)

I should also mention that once the ice has melted the rink also doubles as a lacrosse box. Which brings up an interesting piece of Canadian trivia. I am sure it is no surprise when I tell you that hockey is one of Canada's official sports. What might come as a surprise to many people, Canadians included, is the fact that lacrosse is our other national sport. Lacrosse is basically the Native game of baggataway, and First Nations people have been playing it for over 500 years.

This leads to another difference between Canada and the US. In the US it is still quite common to refer to Native people as Indians. Not so in Canada. In the 30+ years I have been living here the language has slowly evolved. The terms Native, Aboriginal or First Nations have, for the most part, replaced the term Indian.

A note to my European readers. A friend told me that some relatives visiting from Austria were so enthralled when they saw a Native they kept circling around the person to take pictures, effusing about the "red Indian." This term is definitely not on the acceptable list. As far as the circling for pictures behaviour I will withhold judgment. Perhaps I would behave in a similar fashion if I encountered a guy in Lederhosen while strolling through the streets of Salzburg.

The city of Kamloops borders reserve land belonging to the Tk'emlups First Nation. The stop signs at Thompson Rivers University are in both English and the Tk'emlups language, as are the signs on the reserve itself.

Encountering signage in both English and a Native language is not an everyday occurrence North of 49,  but finding signs in both of our official languages is commonplace.

This sign is largely ignored, making it dangerous to cross the street in either official language.

Signs in both English and French can be found at locations with federal involvement such as airports, national parks, border crossings, and military bases. However, you do not have to visit any of these if you want to practice your high school French.

All labelling in Canada must be in both official languages so everything from shampoo to ketchup will give you ample opportunity to see if you were sleeping through all those dreary language lessons. Two years of French left me totally unprepared for the task. Most of the French I know has been learned through the corollary to the fact that if you drop your toast on the floor it will always land jam side down. Inevitably I turn to the French language side first on any given item I am looking at. This has had the unintended consequence of making me quite fluent in what is referred to as "cereal box French."

Last but not least, and going with this blog post's rather eclectic theme of culture, signs and sports, I would like to point out that there is another popular sport Canadians play on the ice. In fact, we are very good at it. Our women won silver and the men gold at the 2010 Olympics. It is curling, a game where a heavy stone is pushed down the ice, accompanied by two players with brooms who help by sweeping the ice if need be. Which should clear up any confusion about this sign in front of one of our local stores.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Bits and Pieces

Today is the first day of spring which means yesterday was the last day of winter. My parting words to the season just past are "good riddance." For weeks I have had to endure the torment of people from more southerly locales posting pictures of snowdrops, crocus and other signs of spring. Green here in Kamloops remains elusive other than the 24 hour burst we got on St. Patrick's Day. So today I decided to go out and look for something, anything, that might point to a change of seasons. These might not be quite as beautiful as purple and yellow crocus poking out of the earth, or grass that is slowly changing from dull brown to a vibrant green, but hey, I'll take whatever I can get.

These were spotted in a yard nearby. May they rest in peace.

Even more hopeful than the the dead Santa and Rudolph, which I fear might still be making an appearance in that yard when we switch from spring to summer, is this: our local outdoor hockey rink devoid of ice.

In other bits and pieces here at North of 49 I have something to say that will probably shock most of my readers. Until two weeks ago I had no clue who Charlie Sheen was. Seriously. I had a vague idea that he might be an actor and that was the extent of my knowledge. I rarely watch television and have never been interested in stories about people in the entertainment industry.

I did, however, know who Rob Bell was before he became a media celebrity of sorts. I'm not sure what these two things say about me other than that I am an outlier. An outlier is a person or thing situated away or detached from the main body or system. In other words an oddball.

And finally, a couple days ago when I checked my answering machine I had two messages. One was a reminder that if I wanted to order compost manure from the local group selling it as a fundraiser I needed to get my order in now. There are numerous humorous things I could say about that particular message. I am choosing to show restraint.

The other message was from the library. They were phoning to let me know they have rescheduled Emma Donoghue to come speak on March 30. That would be the same Emma Donoghue whose book I gave away last month. The irony of those two messages being on my answering machine together was not lost on me.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Chocolate Chip Cookie Cure

After my last post about losing a follower, it was very nice to see the gap has been filled by a new follower.  Welcome!

I am greatly relieved to be able to say with 97% certainty that Rebekah and Anton are going to cancel their trip to Japan. They were set to go three weeks from now, but as events have unfolded cooler heads have prevailed (that would be Anton's head, not my daughter's) and they will be looking into getting their tickets refunded.

I had not realized just how stressed out I was about their upcoming trip to Japan until I got the official word that they were cancelling. People react to stress in different ways. Some sleep, some eat, some drink. Not me. I bake cookies.

I don't bake just any old cookies either. It has to be chocolate chip cookies. They are a very versatile cookie in that not only do I bake them when I am stressed, I also bake them when I am happy. In this case I was baking them because I was happy not to be stressed. There seems to be no shortage of stress in people's lives, so I thought I would do what I could to help. Here is my chocolate chip cookie recipe, which comes with my personal guarantee of being the best ever.

2/3 cup butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
1 3/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
6 oz. package chocolate chips

Cream the butter and sugars. Add in the egg and vanilla and beat some more. Then add in flour, salt and baking soda. I use part spelt flour just so I can tell myself they are healthy. Finally, stir in the chocolate chips.

Bake @ 375F for 8 - 10 minutes. Less time is better if you want a perfectly chewy cookie.

As far as the chocolate chips go I totally ignore the instructions. I have a huge bag of chocolate chips from Costco and just dump in enough to make sure that each cookie will be loaded. I am quite sure it ends up being way more than the 6 oz. the recipe calls for. I attribute my generosity with the chocolate chips to the deprivation I suffered as a child.

My mom, normally both a good cook and a generous person, somehow suffered a personality change when she baked chocolate chip cookies. She would consistently double all of the ingredients except the chocolate chips, which she halved. Once when my brother was attending university he and some of his fraternity brothers stopped by my parents' home for a visit. Mom had just baked a batch of cookies and offered them to the guests. My brother quickly spoke up and said there would be a prize for anyone who found a chocolate chip in their cookie. True story.

Knitting is the other stress reliever in my life, so what could be more perfect than the two together? This sock in progress is Fresh Breeze (Ravelry link), based on a traditional Danish design.

It is from the book Around the World in Knitted Socks. My goal is to knit every pair of socks in this book. I think my excesses in the chocolate chip department might be spilling over into my knitting!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Baaad Hair Day

Baaad Hair Day
by Thomas Joseph
This picture perfectly illustrates the challenge my hair presents. Our family has some strange time-release curl thing going on. The older I get the more unpleasantly unstraight my hair gets. I have noticed the same phenomenon with my two older sons. Karsten's once slightly wavy hair would now be an Afro if he let it grow out more than his one inch limit. Kellen's used to be ram rod straight but now has more twists and turns than the plot of a good whodunit. Clearly their only future hope lies in baldness.

Being the owner of a head of bush curls I have grown used to the worn out comments I get from every hair dresser I have ever gone to. They are always obvious statements of fact spoken as if they are letting me in on a secret. "Your hair is so thick!" And its sister comment, also meant to be a revelation to me, the owner of the hair. "You have so much hair!" Some day I hope to get up enough nerve to have a pretend breakdown in the chair after hearing this distressing news delivered. The only unique comment I have ever been on the receiving end of was at my last visit when the hair dresser said, "You have such lovely salt and pepper hair." Note: this was not an improvement.

My worst ever hair experience occurred two years ago in China. Karsten, Diana and I had taken the train from Jinan to Tai'an, the city at the foot of Tai Shan, one of the Five Sacred Mountains in China. Due to time constraints we took the gondola up the mountain rather than spend several hours climbing up one of the two routes that lead to the summit.

The view looking down from the summit was incredible.

The summit itself was filled with colourful temples and unique food stalls.

After spending several hours exploring we hurried down the mountain to catch the train back to Jinan where we were expected for a special meal Diana's mom and yi mas (aunts) were preparing. We sat next to this sign while waiting for the train.

Karsten and I were the only non-Chinese in the station. In fact, I don't recall seeing another Westerner that whole day. This was towards the end of our trip and I had grown quite accustomed to being the object of attention. But what happened next stretched even my rather elastic ability to be a good sport.

I was sitting there totally zoned out when suddenly I felt my head move. The thing was I hadn't moved it, someone else had. If this has never happened to you, trust me when I say it is rather disconcerting. As I turned my head to see what was going on I heard Diana let loose with a stream of vociferous Chinese.

An older man, one who was clearly a stranger to soap and water, was reaching out to grab my hair. Diana continued to yell at him in Chinese. I don't know exactly what she was saying as I hadn't started learning Chinese at that point, but I think it is safe to say they don't teach any of those words in my Rosetta Stone Chinese language program.

He kept grabbing my hair. Diana kept up her rather impressive stream of Chinese. Rinse. Repeat. Apparently this poor man had never seen anything quite like what sat on top of my head and just couldn't resist the urge to keep touching something so unique. I am not sure why I didn't jump up and get out of his way. It all happened so fast, and I think a part of me was mesmerized by my daughter-in-law's performance. It was epic. Eventually he wandered away, leaving Diana sputtering and me desperately wanting to shampoo my hair.

It's a heavy burden being the owner of hair that has been responsible for a public incident.

For a hilarious story about a haircut in Slovenia check out this post at My Kafkaesque life. I promise you won't be disappointed.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Holy Crap, It's Time For Breakfast!

It might be the most important meal of the day, but it is also the one I have the least enthusiasm for. It isn't that I don't want to eat breakfast. The problem is I don't want to make breakfast. As a consequence I find myself falling into the rut of making the same things over and over. Saying I make the same "things" over and over makes it sound like the menu is full of items. The reality is there is a paltry total of two items in my morning rotation.

First up is oatmeal. Of course, this being me, and me being slightly quirky, even a hot bowl of cereal ends up not being straightforward. No little packets of instant stuff you dump boiling water over and stir until the chemicals ingredients dissolve. I rotate between using organic large flake oats and rolling my own oats. Yes, you read that right. It is possible to roll your own oats, and the resulting flavour makes it well worth the bit of extra time it takes.

You simply dump the oat groats in the top of the grinder and turn the crank.


The bottom bin fills up with fresh rolled oats.

Keeping with the quirky theme I add a couple spoonfuls of hemp hearts. 

My brother has made the tongue-in-cheek observation that Canadians can find more ways to use cannabis than anyone else. To clear up any misconceptions about the ability of this breakfast condiment to add anything other than nutrition to my day here is what the Canada Hemp Foods site has to say about  consuming this product.

What is the difference between Hemp and Marijuana?

Hemp and Marijuana are both in the Cannabis family, but hemp seed does not contain the psychoactive compound, Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), that Marijuana does. Hemp is grown for industrial purposes; food, fiber and fuel. This is why hemp is legal and marijuana is not. It is similiar to the difference in poppies that are grown to make opium narcotic and the poppys that are grown for the poppy seeds that are used in food products like bagels.

So, now that we have cleared that up I will just add some home dried cranberries and Canadian maple syrup, stir, and enjoy a perfectly legal breakfast.

The other item in my morning line-up is yogurt. Of course, not just any yogurt. If you recall from this previous post, I make my own yogurt. Since that post I have discovered a great source for yogurt cultures and now make my own Bulgarian yogurt, using part whole milk and part cereal cream (half and half for my American readers).

I start by stirring in some homemade blackberry/raspberry jam.

What comes next makes referring to myself as quirky the observational equivalent of the captain of the Titanic saying to his crew and passengers they were just going to stop off the coast of Newfoundland for a wee bit. I am sure you must be thinking, "Holy Crap, what next?" Good question.

This blurb is from the company's website:
the world’s most amazing breakfast cereal

Holy Crap is super packed with Omega-3s, Omega-6s, protein, calcium, iron, zinc, fibre and antioxidants. Our three main ingredients are some of the oldest perfect foods known to man. Our key ingredient, Chia or Salvia Hispanica L. is a recently revived oil seed crop from the America’s that was once more valuable than gold to the Aztecs. Used by the Tarahumara Indians, the greatest long distance runners on the planet, our Chia has had a long history as a slow burning rocket fuel for both athletes and warriors alike.

The ingredients include organic chia, cannabis hulled hemp hearts, organic buckwheat, organic cranberries, organic raisins, apple bits, and organic cinnamon.

Let's see what's in the bag.

It might not be the breakfast of champions, but I think it qualifies as a breakfast for weirdos.

Holy Crap.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

No Cure For Stupidity

One hates to be the subject of one's own blog when the title is "there is no cure for stupidity." Especially when the stupidity occurred in an area in which I consider myself to be quite competent, i.e., driving.

The fact that I am a good driver may be due in part to the two bonus years of driving I have under my belt. These bonus years came about because I grew up in a state with no consideration for human safety Idaho. I have no idea if this still holds true, but in the 1970s you were allowed to obtain a daylight only driver's licence when you turned 14. Scarier yet is the fact that I had actually been driving (off road of course) for a couple of years prior to being legally sanctioned by the state.

It only took my driver's ed teacher one lesson to figure out two things. One, that I had driven before. And two, that the girl I was taking lessons with- a neighbour who shall remain unnamed- had never sat behind the wheel of a car in her life and, in the interests of all other vehicles on the road, perhaps never should be allowed to do so. What followed was a series of terror filled Saturday afternoons with me sitting in the back seat of the driver ed car the entire lesson while the instructor desperately attempted to teach my friend the difference between the brake and the accelerator. Those lessons didn't teach me much about driving, but I sure learned a lot about courage. Fast forward four decades.

Monday morning I had planned to drive down to Vancouver. The purpose of the trip was two-fold. Rebekah had taken the bus up to Kamloops to visit for the weekend and I had promised to give her a ride back, and there was an event at the Vancouver Public Library on Monday evening that I wanted to attend.

I had kept a close watch on the weather forecast and although it didn't look ideal, it didn't look dreadful either. The Coquihalla Highway is long, high, and when weather conditions are unfavourable, treacherous. One can never be too careful. Just before we headed out the wind suddenly picked up and in a matter of minutes the temperature dropped from -6C to -9C. I was actually happy to see this change, thinking to myself that the snow would be dry and light- the kind that doesn't stick to the road or ice up.

As we headed out of town I checked the overhead sign that has the latest highway information flashing across it. Conditions on the Coquihalla were described as "compact snow and limited visibility." I could live with that. After all, this is BC. If I stayed home every time there was compact snow or limited visibility I might as well give up and become a hermit. Here is where the "no cure for stupidity" part comes into play. I had neglected to check the road report on the Drive BC website. Apparently they were not painting as optimistic a picture of the conditions as the overhead sign. I had just committed a critical driving error by not keeping abreast of the latest conditions.

It turned out that I was right in my predictions of the snow being the kind that doesn't stick to the road or ice up. Those features almost became our undoing. Because the snow was not slippery vehicles were going at almost full highway speed, this in spite of the road being covered with snow. The fact that the snow wasn't sticking to the road also meant every time a vehicle went by we were enveloped in a cloud of snow swirling around us, making it extremely difficult to see.

If it had just been what you see in the picture above everything would have been fine. The problem was the transport trucks. At one point I looked in my rearview mirror and saw one barreling up from behind and knew we were in serious trouble. Sure enough, as it passed us we were immersed in a white hell. For a full three seconds we couldn't see a thing. It was much like looking out of an airplane window when the plane is in a cloud bank. Except for the fact that I didn't have radar to help me out. I was driving blind at 90 km/hr (55mph).

It took another five or six seconds for the snow to swirl away enough for me to be able to see where the road was, or at least where it was supposed to be under the snow that was covering it. Five or six seconds might not sound like very long, but I challenge you next time you are a passenger in a car to close your eyes for that length of time and imagine being in the driver's seat. Although not as extreme as when the truck passed us, the picture below gives you some idea of what it was like.

The sun did come out for a short time and provided a glimpse of winter beauty. Unfortunately I was suffering from post near accident stress disorder and couldn't muster up my usual appreciation for such sights.

There were three more horrific incidents on the 355 km (221 mile) trip, but I will spare you the details. Let's just say that by the time we arrived in Vancouver, a full three hours later than we had anticipated, I was a wreck. It was the second scariest driving experience of my life, and the only time I have actually started crying while driving. Keep in mind this is from the person who developed nerves of steel all those years ago while sitting in the back seat of that driver ed car.

The trip home was, I am happy to report, uneventful. The roads were still snow packed, but without the visibility problems of the previous day.

Maybe, after all, there is a cure for stupidity. The next time I head out on the Coquihalla in the winter I will be checking the Drive BC site for the most current conditions because they weren't kidding when they put up these signs.