Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Happy Birthday Canada!

"Oh Canada, We stand on guard for thee..."
On July 1 Canada will be 144 years old. We are in our infancy as a nation compared to countries such as China and Japan that count their existence in thousands of years rather than mere hundreds. However, I can say with some pride that what we lack in terms of longevity we more than make up for in spirit.

I became a Canadian citizen in the fall of 2007. One must pass a test in order to become a citizen. On this test they ask questions pertaining to Canadian history, government and geography. I was a bit nervous about taking the exam. After all, it had been quite a few years since university, and after parenting five kids my brain has partially disintegrated.

On exam day I have to admit I felt ashamed for being so worried. As I looked around the room at the other twenty people taking the test I realized I was most likely the only one whose native language was English. I can't imagine what it would have been like to study for and then take a test in a language you were struggling to learn. I should have had ten points taken away for having an unfair advantage. I'm happy to say I did end up passing the test and a couple months later attended a ceremony where I was sworn in as a Canadian citizen.

I love this picture for two reasons. The first is that the four of us are all immigrants to Canada. I think it is pretty neat to have that common bond with my three youngest kids. The other reason I love the picture is the RCMP officer. Even after thirty years in this country there is still something about seeing a Mountie in red serge that makes my day.

Citizenship Ceremony
RCMP Officer, Kristie, Alexandra, Rebekah, David, Judge
This country that I now belong to is quite an amazing place. It is the second largest country in the world in terms of land mass, yet is tied for fourth among nations with the lowest population density. Basically this means we have a lot of empty space.

We have the longest coastline of any country and the highest tides. And when you turn away from the oceans and look inland you will be faced with 2 million lakes and 1/4 of the world's fresh water.

We have the third largest oil reserves in the world, and in what will be a surprise to many we actually provide the USA with more oil than the Middle East.

We invented basketball and insulin.

We consume more donuts and Kraft Dinner (Kraft Macaroni and Cheese for Americans) per capita than any other people on the planet. Let me just say this is a statistic, not a point of pride.

Our citizens can expect to live longer than those of all but seven other nations. (There might be some room for improvement here if we would give up the donuts and Kraft Dinner.) And upwards of 90% of us fully support our system of universal medical care.

The population of Canada currently stands at 34,500,000. I am very happy to announce that as of September of this year that number is going to increase to 34,500,001 when my niece Corinne moves North of 49 to attend Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick. When Corinne was here over the Christmas holidays we did all we could to prepare her for life in the Great White North.

We introduced her to cooking Canadian style. Whatever that means.

Rebekah and Corinne
We taught her how to knit. This will come in handy not only to keep her warm during our long, cold winters, but will also give her something to do if she is bored in any of her classes.

Danielle, Diana and Corinne
We took her skiing at Sun Peaks so she would know when Canadians say "mountains" they really mean it. Corinne is from the flatland of Chicago, which is why it was important to clear this up.

Corinne and I at the top of Sun Peaks
Of course no introduction to life in Canada would be complete without a stop at Tim Hortons. Here is Corinne enjoying her first ever "Double Double."

Bienvenue au Canada
Here is your official North of 49 Canada Day Quiz. I promise to make it easier than the test I had to take to get my citizenship. It only has one question, so shouldn't take too long to complete.

Who has been a Canadian citizen longer, Corinne or me?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Eggs For Dummies

I love early mornings. I especially love early mornings in the summer. It is light outside, the birds are chirping, and my garden looks fresh and filled with potential. I have a corner of one of my garden boxes dedicated to herbs, and this is where I headed first thing this morning.

Due to the fact that nobody else seems to appreciate my love of the early morning I was reduced to taking a self-photo. This was the only one that didn't make my arms look like the legs of an elephant. I'm not sure why self-photos do that to my arms.

I am not an egg lover. However, I know eggs are healthy and I am trying to incorporate more of them into my diet. One of the ways I have figured out I can swallow them is if I make them into an omelet. Omelets are a cinch to make. On our family scale of culinary difficulty these would qualify as being easy, meaning something even Anton and my brother John (they were the "brown team" for our Christmas cook-off) could make with minimal supervision.

Start with some free range eggs. I bought these yesterday at the Kamloops Farmer's Market. The only way they get any fresher than that is if you have the chickens in your own backyard!

Head to the garden and pick an assortment of herbs. Today's collection includes some basil, sage, oregano and chives.

Melt a small pat of butter over medium heat and add the herbs. Stir for a minute or two.

Whisk the eggs and then pour over the top of the herbs and butter.

Cook until the eggs firm up nicely. I then carefully flip the eggs over and cook on the other side. This step is only necessary if you are like me and the thought of consuming a "less than well done" egg gives you the same sort of queasy feeling you get when you watch your daughter-in-law eat jellyfish.

Add a bit of salt and pepper and sprinkle with cheese. I used Parmesan because that was what I had in the fridge, but any cheese will do. I should say any real cheese will do. If you have some of that fake rubbery stuff in you fridge save it for dog training treats. Or better yet, just throw it out.

Fold the omelet in half, eat and enjoy.

Just like I promised. Oeufs Pour Des Idiots. Good in both official languages.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Cat Cure

I recently posted about my frustrations with Emily, our needy cat, and how my husband had ended up with a broken toe when he was dealing with her neediness in the middle of the night. When I wrote that post I knew we were on the brink of having a cure for Emily's loneliness, but due to the Family Secrecy Act I was not at liberty to reveal our plan.

Father's Day has come and gone, so details of our miracle cure for cat loneliness can now be shared. This plan was in the works for almost two months, with many secret phone calls and emails being exchanged between Karsten and myself. As Father's Day drew closer communication increased, as did the excitement levels.

There is a lot of truth to the expression that the only secret that ever gets kept is the one that doesn't get told. With 5 kids, 3 kids-in-law, a set of grandparents, Jay's 2 sisters and numerous friends all "in the know" there was a high risk of a security breech. So when Karsten and Diana, procurers of what was to double as the cat cure and a group Father's Day gift, arrived Saturday afternoon and Jay was still oblivious we were all pretty proud of ourselves.

Introducing the Hammond cat cure:

Jenny, our 3 1/2 month old short-haired Dachshund
Rebekah and Jenny
Karsten and Jenny
Karsten, Diana and Jenny
The efficacy of our plan was not as successful as we had hoped for. Emily took one look at her new companion and responded by going into a pout that is now entering its fifth day.

Emily, the dethroned cat
Emily might not have been having a good time, but the rest of us had a great weekend. With all five kids here, along with their spouses, spouses-to-be, and a new puppy it was a busy house. I would just like to go on the record as saying that caring for a new puppy is not only fun, it is also a ton of work. I am exhausted!

On Sunday afternoon some of us went out to the BC Wildlife Park. These little donkeys at the petting zoo didn't seem to know if they were coming or going.

After many lost hours of sleep thanks to our new addition I kind of feel the same way myself.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Out Of Control

The title of this post is not referring to the fact that I have skipped the chocolate tonight and headed straight for the wine. The "out of control" part is actually about what drove me to the bottle.

Rebekah is here visiting for a few days. This afternoon, in between rain showers, we decided to go out for a walk. We were almost back to civilization when I looked ahead on the path and standing between us and the end of the trail was a huge German Shepherd. About 15 meters behind the dog was its owner, totally oblivious to the fact that there were people approaching. I took one look at the dog's posture and knew we were in trouble. It was standing perfectly still, staring at us like we were the enemy. There wasn't so much as a twitch coming from its tail.

I said to Rebekah that the dog didn't look friendly and she assured me that it did, and that German Shepherds were nice dogs. I observed that must be why they used them for police dogs. (We Hammonds are a witty lot when faced with danger.) Any question about who was right was quickly cleared up when the dog suddenly ran straight at Rebekah, growling as it got closer. It did a couple of lunges, stopping each time just short of her outstretched hand. (We Hammonds are also apparently not too bright when faced with danger.)

I am terrified of big, aggressive dogs, and this looked to me like it certainly fit that category. Rebekah must have reached the same conclusion because she no longer had her hand extended to pet the pooch. She needn't have worried though, because the dog had turned its attention to me. It did its lunging, growling routine once, then circled around me, opened its mouth, and ran its teeth down the back of my leg. This was the moment when I wished two things.

1. That I had not worn shorts.

2. That I hadn't left my sturdy walking stick at home.

The dog's owner, who we will call Mr. Jerk since I don't know his actual name, finally got to where we were and grabbed his dog. I said the dog had got the back of my leg and he said a casual "sorry", clipped the leash on his dog and looked as if he was going to walk off. I was pretty shaken up and asked for his name and number. I will continue to refer to him as Mr. Jerk since he refused to provide me with either one.

Then he asked to see what the dog had done and when he saw the scrapes running down the back of my leg he said in a snarky voice, "You call that a bite!"

Well. I did mention I was pretty shaken up didn't I? I repeated the request for his name and number, and once again Mr. Jerk refused. I then told him no problem, we would just copy down the license plate number off his vehicle. Then he told me he wanted my name and number and trotted off down the trail with his dog. Yes, I'm confused about that part too.

The kindness showed to me by the Kamloops Bylaw Enforcement officers almost made up for the awfulness of the situation. I was told to take a picture of the scrape. (Don't worry, I won't be posting it.) Details of the story were passed on to the appropriate person and three phone calls later it was all sorted out.  I was asked what action I wanted taken. A warning could be issued, or a fine could be levied. It was up to me. Kamloops has an aggressive dog fine of $300 per incident, and because the dog went after both of us that meant a potential fine of $600.

I asked her if she could see if there had been any other complaints about the dog. There weren't, so I said a warning would suffice. After dinner the doorbell rang and I was surprised to see the enforcement officer standing there. She just wanted to stop by and see if I was okay, and to let me know she had just been to see the owner. The German Shepherd was 18 months old and the owners admitted they had had a few training "issues" with the dog. They assured her that from now on they would have the dog on a leash at all times, and the guy didn't dispute any part of my story, although she said he did seem a bit defensive. No doubt.

Last week after the coyote encounter, which I must say didn't even put my heart rate up, I swore off wearing my iPod while I walk the trail. I realized I need to be able to hear what is happening around me. This dog/bad owner encounter did put my heart rate up. From now my iPod will be staying home but my walking stick will be going with me every time I head out into the bush.

And what on earth was I thinking of when I decided to have wine instead of my daily quota of chocolate? The trauma must have clouded my thinking. What I really need is a glass of wine to accompany my chocolate.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Recipe to Cry Over

I have made a culinary discovery. Bags of these "new to me" onions appeared at our local Costco store last week and I decided to take a risk and buy some. They are called Cipollini onions, and am I ever glad I threw them in the shopping cart!

Twice this past week I have baked them in the oven with some olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The second time around I remembered to take some pictures so I could share this recipe with you. It is amazing that something that takes so little time to prepare could be so tasty!

Set your oven to 400F. Gather olive oil, balsamic vinegar, sea salt, and an oven worthy pan. Stoneware works especially well.

Next comes the only hard part - peeling the onions. I won't lie. By the time you finish peeling those thin, papery outer skins you might need to add a box of Kleenex to your ingredient list. Trust me though, it will be worth the pain.

Drizzle the olive oil and balsamic vinegar over the top then add a bit of sea salt. Give it a little stir and place in the oven.

Bake until onions start to caramalize, about 10 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven, give the onions one more quick stir, and enjoy!

Tonight is the seventh and final game of the Stanley Cup. It is do or die for the Vancouver Canucks. I sure hope these onions are the only thing I have to cry over today!


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Feline Frustration

At the risk of losing a huge portion of my readership I am just going to come out of the closet and say it. I am not a cat lover. Having said that I also realize I am in the minority, both in my family and in the wider world. Not only are the other six members of my family cat lovers, so are my two daughters-in-law. I simply don't stand a chance.

I grew up on a farm. Cats lived outdoors and were there to keep the mice population down. It was a shock to marry into a family of cat-crazed people who not only allowed their cats to stay indoors, but actually didn't even allow their cats outside the house for fear they would get run over by a passing car. The difference between the two scenarios can be summed up by saying that on a farm you own a cat and in the city you are owned by a cat.

Another difference between rural cats and city cats is the cost. There is no such thing as a vet bill for a cat when you live on the farm. Charles Darwin could have saved himself the trouble of going all the way to the Galapagos to make his observations about natural selection. He could just as easily have observed this by watching the cats on a local farm. The stupid ones get eaten by coyotes and the weak and/or sick ones expire on their own. As a result country cats are a hardy species and also quite easy on the pocketbook.

Contrast this with their weaker city cousins. Diana was recently quoted a price of $600 to get a decayed tooth removed from her cat Lucky's mouth. All I can say is somebody definitely is getting lucky here, and I don't think it is the cat. Even worse was the mystery infection our cat Emily had last year. I am reluctant to admit how much that vet bill was, but I will say this. It beat the cost of my plane ticket to Korea, taxes and security fees included, by about $50.

Which brings us to the present. Just over a month ago we had to put one of our two cats down. This has left our remaining cat, Emily, sad and lonely. She goes around our house making a pathetic crying noise that sets my teeth on edge. She also has developed dog-like behaviours such as following her people around and begging for attention. It is both pathetic and irritating.

At nights we keep her locked in the basement of the house where Alexandra sleeps. There is only so much this non-cat person can handle, and I draw the line at having my sleep disturbed by a needy cat. On Friday night - well, actually the early hours of Saturday morning - this is exactly what happened. Emily had somehow managed to get out and she was doing that pathetic cry by Jay's side of the bed. I pretended not to hear, but knew that if Jay didn't get up and take care of That Cat I would have to break down and do it myself. My cat patience quota is pretty low.

Thankfully he did get up, scooped the cat in his arms, and headed down the stairs to lock Emily back in the basement. Unfortunately when Jay was on the second flight of stairs he misjudged which step he was on and fell. Hard. The result? He broke his big toe. To give you an idea of how hard he fell our carpet has a dent in it similar to when a heavy piece of furniture has been on it for some time. Jay is 6'4", so when he falls he falls big.

This was at 3:40 AM and I never did fall back asleep. Any guesses as to the answer I gave when we had friends over for dinner last week and they asked if we were going to get another cat?

Not in a million years.......

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Button Quest

My nephew and his wife just had a baby girl, and this great aunt was prepared. Well, almost prepared. I had knit two baby sweaters, one for a girl and one for a boy. I decided I would wait to buy the buttons until I knew which sweater I was going to need. I wish that I could say there was some brilliant reasoning behind this plan. The fact is, I just hate to sew on buttons.

Yesterday I could procrastinate no longer so made the painful decision to go to Fabricland. I am allergic to sewing, so a trip to this store puts me way out of my comfort zone. The helpful thing is it has recently moved from a location 25 minutes away in a part of town where you were never sure if your vehicle would still be in the parking lot when you returned, to a storefront a five minute drive down the hill. I forced myself into the car and headed out the door saying I would be back in a few minutes.

The Canada Post outlet is in the drug store next to Fabricland's new location, so I decided I would go in there first and buy the mailing packet for the baby gift. I got in the line-up and was pleased to see there was just one person ahead of me. However, fifteen minutes later that person was still ahead of me and the lady being helped at the counter had just finished her change of address application. I glanced at the person ahead of me and was horrified to see she was also holding a change of address application. I was just about to turn around and leave when she kindly offered to let me go ahead of her if my business was going to be quick. I said it was and stepped to the front of the line.

This was where things started to go south. When I went to use my debit card to pay for the Express Post envelope it said there was a PIN error. This was odd since it hadn't even asked for my PIN number. The clerk retried but got the same message. Clearly there was something wrong with their machine. The result? I ended up having waited in line for 20 minutes and didn't have a thing to show for it other than elevated blood pressure.

I regrouped and walked over to Fabricland. Getting the right buttons is as important for the look of a finished object as the knitting itself. No matter how great a knitted project looks, in the end the buttons will make or break it. I wasn't sure which buttons were going to work best so I decided to buy three different kinds. That is how strongly I felt about the button choice. I wanted to see what they looked like when they were sewn on before I made a final choice. I headed over to the counter, inserted my debit card, and got the same message I had at the postal outlet. That was the moment I knew this trip down the hill was going to be a bit longer than the fifteen minutes I had expected.

All was not lost though as I was able to pay for the buttons using my Visa, a brainstorm I wish I had also had at the postal outlet. Gritting my teeth I headed into town to the bank to straighten out my debt card meltdown. I will spare you the details, but lets just say the line-up at the bank made the postal outlet look good. Two hours later I returned home with buttons and a working debit card.

This is Elizabeth Zimmermann's famous Baby Surprise Jacket (BSJ). Since this pattern's debut in 1968 tens of thousands of these have been knit. To give you an idea of how popular this pattern is there are almost 15,000 BSJ sweaters posted on Ravelry, and Ravelry has only been in existence for four years.

All the aggravation of the afternoon faded away when I took the baby sweater outside for a photo shoot. It's hard to go wrong when you knit one of the most popular patterns ever, a pattern designed by the world's most famous knitter. Congrats to Blake and Nicole!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Coyote Sandwich

This is a sandwich post, wedged between returning from a visit to my parents two days ago, and the arrival of guests from Nelson today. That left one day to grocery shop and get caught up on stuff around the house. I have never been able to figure out how being gone for just four days can result in almost the same amount of chaos and neglect that being away for a couple of weeks does. If you can shed some light on this mystery I would really appreciate it.

In the midst of playing catch-up yesterday I did manage to find time for a walk out in the hills. I decided to take my camera, so put it in a small pack and headed out with my sturdy walking stick in hand. I was heading back along the trail when the podcast I was listening to finished. I decided to stop walking while I searched for another one. It only took a few seconds and I was ready to head off again. I looked up and on the trail, not more than 10 meters in front of me, a coyote was crossing the path. Most coyotes tend to have a scrawny, mangy look about them. Not this one. It was huge and had a beautiful, shiny coat of hair.

I was not afraid. I grew up on a farm in northern Idaho and we were surrounded by coyotes. Almost every night I would go to sleep listening to their haunting call. It is one of the things I enjoy about where we live here in Kamloops. Quite often at night I can hear the coyotes yipping away and it instantly brings back memories of my childhood. It is like they are singing me a lullaby to put me to sleep.

I might not have been afraid, but I was cautious. If it had been a pack of coyotes I would have felt differently, but this was just one lone canine who happened to be sharing the same space as me. Two thoughts went through my mind. The first was concern for my iPod Touch. If the coyote showed signs of aggression I was worried that my iPod might fall off and get damaged. And yes, that really is the first thought that went through my mind.

I quickly opened my pack and tossed my iPod in. My next thought was that it would be great if I could get a picture of the coyote for my blog. I grabbed my camera out of the pack, but by the time I got it turned on the coyote was heading off into the hills.

I will keep up my attempts to get some good wildlife pictures on my walks, but I think I might have to give up listening to my iPod when I am out on the trail. Had I not stopped to switch podcasts I would have run right into this coyote. There is no way I would have heard it approaching.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

South of 49

Alexandra and I are down in Spokane visiting my parents. We drove down on Memorial Day, and as we passed through several small towns with their decorated cemeteries it occurred to me that Canada does not have an equivalent holiday, so an explanation might be in order for my readers North of 49.

Memorial Day originally started as a day to honour veterans. Its scope eventually broadened, and it also became a day for people to go out and do whatever maintenance was needed at their local cemetery. Grass would be cut, weeds would be pulled, and a general tidying up would be done.

Nowadays most cemeteries have caretakers to perform these tasks. Somehow the focus of the day has shifted from upkeep to "keep up", at least in small towns across the country. Please keep in mind the following observations are for small towns and rural America. I have no idea if they hold true for city people.

On Memorial Day everyone who has a family member or loved one buried at the local cemetery, in other words, Everyone, takes flowers and/or other decorative items to place on the graves of the deceased. In the town near where I grew up to leave your loved one's grave stark naked on Memorial Day would be committing a form of social suicide. Failure to conform and decorate your loved one's grave on this day will make you the source of gossip and speculation for the people who decorate nearby plots. Remember- this is small town America and everybody knows everybody else, both the living and the dead. I will give you a small example of this.

My favourite cemetery history story growing up was about a particular lady whose husband died and was buried at the cemetery. As is the custom, two plots were purchased and she had every intention of being buried next to her husband when her time came. But things got a bit awkward when she remarried and her second husband died. She wanted to be buried by both husbands, but there was no room next to her plot. The solution? She purchased three adjacent plots in another section of the cemetery, had husband #1 dug up and moved to one side and husband #2 buried on the other side. When she died she was placed between the two loves of her life.

My favourite part of Memorial Day is actually what happens after all social obligations have been met and the day has passed. It isn't exactly grave robbing. Let's call it grave regifting. Here is an example of how this works. Soon after we arrived on Monday I heard my mom on the phone with a friend who still lives near our farm. Mom was telling this person she could go take the plants that my parents had left on various graves before the caretaker disposed of them. This mass migration happens every year. In the days leading up to Memorial Day the flowers move out to the cemetery, and in the days following they are quietly taken away again to be placed on front porches and in flower beds around the community. For those people like my parents who have traveled some distance to leave the flowers, there is no way they are going back to retrieve them. Thus the regifting.

Of course, since I am at my parents' home this also means I have been able to catch up on my favourite local news - the Sheriff's Log out of the St. Maries Gazette Record. I thought I would share a few.

Saturday, May 14: A St. Maries woman called to report that she found some dentures in the roadway wrapped in a plastic bag.

Tuesday, May 17: A Plummer man called to report a loud booming noise that is consistently playing from a vehicle. He believes that he should be protected from the noise. He has complained about this before.

Wednesday, May 18: A Santa woman called and said she wants something done about her brother always blocking her mother's driveway, which makes it hard for her to get in.

Alexandra and her Grandpa
These two characters took in Pirates of the Caribbean. My dad noted that 3D technology has improved quite a bit since the last time he saw a 3D movie, which was in the 1960s.