Friday, May 30, 2008

Mel Blanc - Part 2

In 1936, Mel Blanc joined Leon Schlesinger Productions, which made animated cartoons distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures. Blanc liked to tell the story about how he got turned down at the Schlesinger studio by music director Norman Spencer, who was in charge of cartoon voices, saying that they had all the voices they needed. Then Spencer died, and sound man Treg Brown took charge of cartoon voices, while Carl Stalling took over as music director. Brown introduced Blanc to animation directors Tex Avery, Bob Clampett, Friz Freleng, and Frank Tashlin, who loved his voices. (Wikipedia)


This talented group, created some of the most beloved and funniest cartoons ever made under the banners of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies. For a great compendium of their work, I highly recommend; "Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies A complete guide to the Warner Brothers Cartoons" By Jerry Beck & Will Friedwald (ISBN 0-8050-0894-2)

On January 24, 1961, Blanc was involved in a near-fatal car accident on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. Hit head-on, Blanc suffered a triple skull fracture that left him in a coma for three weeks, along with fractures of both legs and the pelvis. (Wikipedia)
More than 15,000 letters and get well cards were sent to the hospital including some that were addressed to "Bugs Bunny, Hollywood, USA". While in the coma, Blanc's doctor could not get him to respond. The story goes that one day, out of frustration, the Doctor said "How are you today Bugs Bunny?" and Blanc responded IN Bugs's voice! Mel had no recollection of this but his wife and son swore to him that it had happened. He credited Bugs with bringing him out of the coma. Mel was released from hospital almost two months later on March 17. In later years, he revealed that during his recovery at home, his son Noel "ghosted" a few of the cartoons for Warner.

Mel had an exclusive contract with Warner for many years, but when it expired, he also did work for Hanah Barbera as Barney Rubble and Dino the Dinosaur on "The Flinstones" and Mr. Spacely on "The Jetsons". While he recovered from his accident the Barney character was voiced by Daws Butler until the studio set up recording equipment so he could work from home. Blanc was also the first voice of Toucan Sam of the Fruit Loops cereal commercials.
In later years, he continued to do some work for Warner in various specials, commercials and in movies. He mainly voiced Daffy, Speedy, Sylvester and Tweety. The loud and raucous voices of Yosemite Sam and Foghorn Leghorn were a little to much for his vocal chords and therefore given to Joe Alaskey for the 1988 Amblin/Disney movie "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" This was also one of the last performances by Blanc.

His voice credits are numerous but here are his most well known credits from Warner and Hanah Barbera (an expanded list can be found on Wikipedia.);
Porky Pig (1936-1989, assumed from Joe Dougherty)
Daffy Duck (1937-1989)
Bugs Bunny's prototype (1938-1940)
Bugs Bunny (1940-1989)
Cecil Turtle (1941-1947)
Tweety Bird (1942-1989)
Yosemite Sam (1945-1989) ("Hare Trigger")
Pepé Le Pew (1945-1989)
Sylvester (1945-1989) aka Thomas (1947) in some films
Foghorn Leghorn (1946)
The Barnyard Dawg (1946-1989)
Henery Hawk (1946-1989)
Charlie Dog (1947)
Mac (of Mac & Tosh) (1947)
K-9 (1948) (sidekick to Marvin the Martian)
Marvin the Martian (1948-1989)
Road Runner (1949-1989)
Beaky Buzzard (1950)
Elmer Fudd (1950, 1958, 1970s and 1980s)
Bruno the Bear (1951)
Wile E. Coyote (silent until 1952, first spoke in the short "Operation: Rabbit")
Speedy Gonzales (1953)
The Tasmanian Devil (1954-1960) aka Taz
Barney Rubble (1960-1989)
Dino (1960-1989) (Fred Flintstone's pet.)
Cosmo G. Spacely (1962)
Here is a link to an interesting video on YouTube - it is a promotional video for animation art, but it is still a worthwhile listen to see just how the famous voices came to be. Mel Blanc - How He Created the Warner Bros. Cartoon Voices http://youtube.com/watch?v=p5hMN4nTctI
There is also this one with Mel Blanc on David Letterman. Mel Blanc ( Loony Toons voices); http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iHYEt4zptRg

Mel Blanc, died at age 81 on July 10, 1989 of cardiovascular disease. He was a true genius and pioneer in the field of voice work. From Yosemite Sam to Tweety Bird, no one has ever been able to replicate his range of voices. His countless hours of voice work has left us with a timeless legacy that will keep us laughing for generations to come.

dn

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Mel Blanc - Part 1


Tomorrow marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of a genius!

Melvin (Mel) Jerome Blanc (May 30, 1908 – July 10, 1989) was a prolific American voice actor and comedian. Although he began his nearly six-decade-long career performing in radio and television commercials, Blanc is best known for his work with Warner Bros. during the Golden Age of American animation (and later for Hanna-Barbera television productions) as the voice of such iconic characters as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Sylvester the Cat, Tweety Bird, Foghorn Leghorn, Yosemite Sam, Barney Rubble, Mr. Spacely, and hundreds of others. Having earned the nickname "The Man of a Thousand Voices", Blanc is regarded as one of the most gifted and influential persons in his field.
quoted from; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mel_Blanc

Blanc began his radio career in 1927 as a voice artist. His ability to create numerous voices was quickly recognized and by 1933 he had his own show on a small station (KEX) called "Cobwebs and Nuts" He moved to Hollywood in 1935 and worked for Warner Brothers, CBS and NBC over the next few years.

He was a regular on "The Jack Benny Show" and was featured in a number of roles including the voice of Jack's auto (Maxwell) which was constantly coughing and sputtering. He also voiced Polly the Parrot and the tormented store clerk. One of the most famous of the Benny characters was "Sy", the Mexican who only spoke one word at a time. No matter how often the routine was done, the "Sí...Sy...sew...Sue" was always a hit! Blanc was also the voice of the train announcer "Train leaving on Track Five for Anaheim, Azusa, and Cuc.....amonga". Eagle eyed members of the studio audience woul often see Benny trying to maintain character while Blanc deadpanned his lines. Benny and Blanc were close friends in real life and Benny often said that no one could make him laugh like Mel could! High praise indeed. You can watch a clip of Benny and Blanc on "The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson (1974) on YouTube at; http://youtube.com/watch?v=beMIl_jzRN0

Mel was the voice of the postman on the "Burns and Allen Show" and also made appearances on numerous radio shows during WW2 as Private Sad Sack, a soldier that stuttered worse than Porky Pig!

He was the original voice of "Woody Woodpecker" (Universal) but had to give up the role when he earned an exclusive contract with Warner Brothers.

There were notable similarities and references between the Warner cartoons and the movie and radio broadcasts of the day. The most striking were between Jack Benny and Bugs Bunny. Bugs and Benny were both famous for saying "Now cut that out!" Bugs even appeared in a dream sequence of Benny's radio show in 1954. The train announcer bit was also used by Daffy Duck. The imitations of cars, parrots, horses and other sounds were also Incorporated into the cartoons. The ultimate salute/tribute was "The Mouse That Jack Built", a 1959 cartoon that featured Benny and the rest of the cast drawn as mice.

"The Mel Blanc Show" ran for 42 episodes on CBS Radio from September 3, 1946 to June 24, 1947 and featured Blanc as the hapless proprietor of "Mel's Fix-It Shop". There was a regular cast, but he also did several voices including his assistant, "Zookie". You can listen to most of the episodes at; http://www.freeotrshows.com/otr/m/Mel_Blanc_Show.html

Reportedly, Blanc changed his name from "Blank" to "blanc" at age 16 after a teacher told him he would amount to nothing - just like his name!

Thank goodness that teacher was wrong! Even with the comedic genius of the writers and animators at Warner Brothers, their cartoons would never have been as successful without Mel Blanc behind the microphone!




video

dn

Tomorrow; Mel Blanc - Part 2

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Dad

My dad was born on the family farm on this day in 1915. He was the third of five children - four boys and a girl. The five kids all walked to and from the country school that was less than a mile away.

Dad stayed on the family farm, raising livestock and harvesting various crops. My brother took over the farm in later years. My dad always joked that now he was the hired hand.

Dad loved working the land. Every week day during the noon hour he would listen to the livestock and grain market reports. That was the one time you didn't dare talk, cough or sneeze within earshot of the radio! As I wrote in an earlier post, he was passionate about the flowerbeds and the garden.

He played hockey and baseball as a kid and young man. He also loved listening to the games on the radio or watching them on TV. If there was more than one game on that he wanted to keep track of, he would find one on a radio dial and have the other on the TV then adjust the volume as things got interesting in one game or the other.

Dad also dabbled in woodworking. One Christmas he made several lamps. The bases were made of diamond willow that dad had found, cleaned, cut and varnished. Mom searched for months to find just the right type of shade to compliment the wood. He also made a crokinole board (a table top game that is a cross between curling and shuffleboard) and he built a curling board game. The curling board was about 10 feet long and 20 inches wide. Those games helped pass a lot of time during the winter months and were big hits at parties.

Dad had a great sense of humour and was always up for having a little fun. Like the time he and his brothers were harvesting and took a break to have their meal in the field. It was a big pot of stew. When one of my uncles wasn't looking, dad slipped a twig that resembled a bone, onto his plate. My uncle thought it was a bone and chewed on it! Dad was the life of the party and he and my mom loved to entertain. There parties were often more fun than any that us kids had.

Dad loved watching "The Flintstones" and got a huge kick out of all the modern inventions. He loved to laugh and tell jokes and stories about the old days.

We weren't that close as we disagreed on a number of things - especially political and religious but we did share the humour factor and he also taught me to play cribbage. We didn't talk a lot during the games and would usually have the radio or TV on in the background. We often listened to "Royal Canadian Air Farce" or "Double Exposure" on CBC Radio. I didn't beat him very often but that and a few other card games was something we could share.

Music was also one of the things that dad really loved. He enjoyed the old fiddle and polka music. He was also a big fan of Glenn Miller and The Mills Brothers. He particularly enjoyed "Yellow Bird" by the Mills Brothers and "In The Mood" by Glenn Miller - which also happens to be one of my all time favourite songs.

Dad spent all but the last nine months of his life on the farm, before his death at age 88 in November 2003. He and mom were married a few months short of 60 years. He is greatly missed by mom, us kids, grand kids, great grand kids, numerous relatives and many friends. Stories are still told and there are many happy memories.

You can download/listen to dad's favourites at;
Glenn Miller - "In The Mood"
http://cid-a81ae5c6101f0a66.skydrive.live.com/self.aspx/Big%20Band%20and%20Standards/Glenn%20Miller%20-%20In%20The%20Mood.mp3
The Mills Brothers - "Yellow Bird"
http://cid-a81ae5c6101f0a66.skydrive.live.com/self.aspx/Big%20Band%20and%20Standards/Mills%20Brothers%20-%20Yellow%20Bird.mp3

dn

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Punny

I received this email last week. Since I love puns, I decided to share this with you! Hope these tickle your funny bone!!

1. Evidence has been found that William Tell and his family were avid bowlers. However, all the league records were unfortunately destroyed in a fire. Thus we'll never know for whom the Tells bowled.

2. A man rushed into the doctor's office and shouted, "Doctor! I think I'm shrinking!!" The doctor calmly responded, "Now, settle down. You'll just have to be a little patient."

3. A marine biologist developed a race of genetically engineered dolphins that could live forever if they were fed a steady diet of seagulls. One day his supply of the birds ran out, so he had to go out and trap some more. On the way back, he spied two lions asleep on the road. Afraid to wake them, he gingerly stepped over them. Immediately, he was arrested and charged with transporting gulls across sedate lions for immortal porpoises.

4. A skeptical anthropologist was cataloging South American folk remedies with the assistance of a tribal brujo who indicated that the leaves of a particular fern were a sure cure for any case of constipation. When the anthropologist expressed his doubts, the brujo looked him in the eye and said, "Let me tell you, with fronds like these, who needs enemas?"

5. Back in the 1800s the Tates Watch Company of Massachusetts wanted to produce other products and, since they already made the cases for pocket watches, decided to market compasses for the pioneers traveling west. It turned out that although their watches were of finest quality, their compasses were so bad that people often ended up in Canada or Mexico rather than California. This, of course, is the origin of the expression, "He who has a Tates is lost!"

6. A thief broke into the local police station and stole all the lavatory equipment. A spokesperson was quoted as saying, "We have absolutely nothing to go on."

7. An Indian chief was feeling very sick, so he summoned the medicine man. After a brief examination, the medicine man took out a long, thin strip of elk hide and gave it to the chief, instructing him to bite off, chew and swallow one inch of the leather every day. After a month, the medicine man returned to see how the chief was feeling. The chief shrugged and said, "The thong is ended, but the malady lingers on."

8. A famous Viking explorer returned home from a voyage and found his name missing from the town register. His wife insisted on complaining to the local civic official who apologized profusely saying, "I must have taken Leif off my census."

9. There were three Indian squaws. One slept on a deer skin, one slept on an elk skin and the third slept on a hippopotamus skin. All three became pregnant and the first two each had a baby boy. The one who slept on the hippopotamus skin had twin boys. This goes to prove that the squaw of the hippopotamus is equal to the sons of the squaws of the other two hides.

10. By the way, I know the guy who wrote these 9 puns. He entered them and one other in a contest. He figured with 10 entries he couldn't lose. As they were reading the list of winners he was really hoping one of his puns would win, but unfortunately, no pun in ten did.

dn

Friday, May 23, 2008

Rowlf

Rowlf the dog was the first Muppet "Star". He was designed in 1962 by Jim Henson and built by Don Shilon for a "Purina Dog Chow" commercial. From 1963 to 1966 he made weekly appearances on "The Jimmy Dean Show" and received as many as 2,000 fan letters a week! He and Kermit The Frog made a promo pitch for Sesame Street in 1968, but it was Kermit, not Rowlf who went on to Sesame Street fame.




Rowlf joined the cast of "The Muppet Show" in 1976 as a recurring character and resident pianist. He also played the wisecracking Dr. Bob, "the quack who had gone to the dogs" in the medical drama parody skits called "Veterinarians' Hospital". Rowlf also played "Sherlock Holmes" and the western bar piano player. He appeared in 89/120 Muppet Show episodes. He also played numerous small parts in many of the Muppet Movies.

The last public performance that Jim Henson gave with Rowlf was in 1990 on The Arsenio Hall Show. After Jim's death (May 16, 1990), Rowlf was retired for several years out of respect for Mr. Henson's genius. He was slowly brought out of retirement starting in 1996 and has since been performed by puppeteer, Bill Baretta. There is a really good Rowlf bio with additional links at; http://muppet.wikia.com/wiki/Rowlf_the_Dog

In 1993 BMG released a CD called "Ol' Brown Ears Is Back". The various cuts had been recorded by Jim Henson back in 1984. The recording has long since been out of print but is considered a collector's item.






As the first nationally famous Muppet character, Rowlf was one of the earliest characters to be immortalized as a hand puppet by "The Ideal Toy Company" in 1966. Now a coveted collector's item, the puppet had a felt tongue, tail and a hole in his back for performing.

So why am I writing about Rowlf you may ask? Well the truth is, that I have been in love with this brown eyed, brown haired, floppy eared, musical mutt for as long as I can remember. What can I say! There is just "something" about this pouch that just makes my heart go a flutter. Maybe it's the ears. Maybe it's just that I have a soft spot for laid back multi talented musicians.

When I was a kid, I wanted a Rowlf puppet. I never got one. Over the years, I've looked at yard and rummage sales but never found one. I also wanted the CD but never found that either. Sigh. I had lots of "crushes" as a kid, but Rowlf is the only one that has endured. I've saved several pics of Rowlf on my computer but would still love to have a puppet or stuffed Rowlf. The kid in me would be SO happy!! The music lover in me still wants the CD too!
Well I guess for now I'll just have to wait and hope that someday I find the pouch of my dreams. But I did find this little gem that I'd like to share. It is Rowlf at the piano, performing one of his classics. Enjoy!
video

I also found an episode of Veterinarian's Hospital that has Rowlf at his punniest! (not sure what language the sub titles are!) Hope you enjoy!


video

dn

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Finding Inner Peace - Part 2

I never did go back to that church and it actually took me several years to be able to listen to any Christmas music and put up even a small tree. I did try going to some other churches and other denominations but just never felt like I belonged. I felt empty, but at the same time I had made new friends who supported me and encouraged me to find my own path. They never tried to push me one way or the other. They just made sure that I looked at my choices from various views before making decisions. I honestly don't know if I would still be here, had they not been part of my life.

Three short years after I walked out of the church, I lost most of my sight to a detached retina in my good eye. I recall a nurse asking me if I wanted her to pray with me or if I wanted to see a hospital chaplain. That was the last thing I wanted. I wanted my friends that loved and supported me no matter who I was - not the representatives of a place that had made me feel so empty. I'm sure that some people thought that this was Gods' way of punishing me for leaving the church. The thought certainly crossed my mind. I didn't like this direction that my life was taking and I certainly wouldn't have chosen it but this was the life I had been given and I needed to figure out how to deal with it.

The first few years were tough. I went from doctor's appointment to doctor's appointment and felt like I had no control over where my life was headed. I definitely felt like a lost soul. I lost some friends through those years - both through leaving the church and loosing sight. It was hard and very sad to loose those relationships, but I was also finding new friends and new support networks that had nothing to do with religion.

Through a lot of discussion with a psychologist (and also with friends), I gradually accepted my vision loss and came to understand that everything happens for a reason. There were people who came into my life just before I really needed them. I crossed paths with people I would never have met within the church. My mind was being opened to subjects like social justice, human rights, equality, and political beliefs. There was still a huge conflict between my mind and my physical body. I told you in March, that it took me many years to deal with my external image issues.

As time went on, I slowly realized that I was finding my own inner peace. I no longer felt empty inside. I had come to believe in fate and destiny - that everything happens for a reason. Some people will argue that, that is God taking care of me. I consider myself as an "Agnostic". I believe that there is a Higher Power - I just don't believe that there is one Almighty being who knows all. I think it is more of a combination of beliefs mixed in with the oh so human element of free will.

What works for me, doesn't necessarily work for anyone else - nor should it. To me, that is one of the great things about being human and living in a free society where our beliefs aren't dictated. It isn't easy to question your beliefs. It is even harder to walk away and start over. It was a long and difficult journey and I often wondered if I would ever find "inner peace", but I did. It is never to late to question and explore who you are and what you believe. You may decide that you are very much at peace with who you are. You may decide that it is time to re-examine who you are and your belief system.

I'm not particularly comfortable going into a house of worship or even talking about religion as I prefer to leave that part of my life in the past. I still remember a lot of the music, but I don't remember much of what I learned in Bible studies or in Bible School. However, I do recall something that one of the teachers told us in a religious studies class. He said that "The Creator" is like a diamond with multiple facets. All sides are slightly different and various religions see different sides. So whether you refer to The Creator as God, Jehovah, Alla or as a Higher Power you are actually just looking at another side of the same thing. Yes the various religions have different beliefs, but there are common factors that will always unite us if we choose to be open to each other.

dn

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Finding Inner Peace - Part 1

In the last few weeks, I have told you that I believe in reincarnation, soul mates and telepathy - so would it surprise you to learn that I was once a very religious person?

When I was a kid, my mom would take us kids to church if we wanted to go. We weren't forced to go. I went till I was about 7 or 8 I think. I didn't really enjoy it and I couldn't figure out why some of the same kids who teased me at school were nice to me at Sunday school. So I told mom that I didn't want to go anymore.

In junior high, I started hanging out with some of the Christian kids. They were nice girls and frankly about the only ones who didn't tease me or make fun of my low vision. A couple of them wanted me to come to a young peoples group that hosted a Coffee House every couple of weeks in a local hall. I finally agreed to go one Saturday night in April, 1973. The music was amazing! It was all Christian music, but it wasn't the old hymns I'd heard as a kid. This was music I could get into. The harmonies were great. I went a couple of times and started going to the Bible studies on Wednesday nights as well. as they also had a lot of group singing.

I felt more acceptance with this community than I had ever felt in my life and as a teen, acceptance and a sense of belonging was crucial. I became a Christian, joined the church and even went to Bible School for two years after grade 12. I also worked as an assistant cook at the school for a year before becoming a student. Part of the summers, I worked at a Bible camp in the kitchen and with the music program.

I tried very hard to live a "Christian" life. I made a lot of friends and loved the music, singing solos and in groups. I loved working at the camp. But the truth was, that no matter how hard I tried, I still didn't feel "whole". I felt like a fraud. I was miserable. I knew crisis of faith was a fairly common occurrence and I tried to talk to my Christian friends about it. They really didn't understand my doubts and questions. Short of offering to pray for me and with me, they didn't know how to help me. I tried very hard to find that inner peace that everyone wants, but all I felt was conflict. I drifted through my 20's trying to keep up the pretence of a happy Christian.

In my late 20's I met several agnostics and a couple of atheists. Not that unusual, but the funny thing was, that they also accepted me for whoever I chose to be. They listened to me and encouraged me to question my beliefs and figure out what I wanted from life. I took their words to heart and spent a lot of time soul searching. I was becoming more and more uncomfortable within the church. I couldn't accept some of the teachings and beliefs within the church. I had been part of this religious community/denomination for almost 15 years and I'd never been able to feel at peace with my life. I knew I had to make a very difficult choice.

I walked out of the church service on the first Sunday of Advent in 1987. I had had enough and I knew that I couldn't go back to another service. I took my Christmas tree down. I couldn't even listen to any Christmas Carols without crying. It was a rough December but I knew this was a path I needed to explore.

Over the next few months, I spent several hours speaking with my church's pastor about my concerns. I was in real emotional and spiritual conflict. My pastor was very understanding. He was a few years older than me, but we had actually grown up in the same church in the same town and came to this other church in our teens. He understood the conflict and encouraged me to find my own peace even if that meant walking away from the church for a while - or possibly permanently. He did pray for me and with me, but he also listened and encouraged dialogue. He even helped me find reading material on both sides of my conflicts. I was shocked that he would give me such advice, but he also knew how miserable I'd been the last couple of years.

dn

Tomorrow; Finding Inner Peace - Part 2

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Green Thumbs

The third Monday in May is a national holiday in Canada. It is a celebration in remembrance of England's Queen Victoria. In the southern areas of the three prairie provinces, the Victoria Day long weekend is traditionally seen as the first time it is safe to start putting out bedding plants and planting gardens as the risk of overnight frost is almost gone. Gardeners of all types will be busy working in their yards and going to the gardening stores to select the perfect plants to compliment their surroundings.

As you know, I grew up on a farm. My maternal grandpa was an Agricultural Representative from the 1920's through to his retirement in the late 50's. My paternal ancestors were farmers.

Our farm yard is large and my mom and dad spent countless hours making it into a paradise of green grass and floral rainbows of colour. In late March, my did would start hundreds of bedding plants in the sun room. He'd start by "baking" the potting soil. He never bought fertilized soil. He used dirt he'd saved in the fall, then "bake" it in the oven to remove any bugs. (Mom always cleaned the oven after dad was done.) The smell of dirt baking was disgusting, but it was a quick and simple way to clean the soil. After it cooled he would add various nutrients to the soil and carefully plant the seeds. He hung grow lights to help the plants along. He watered, and nurtured those baby plants till early May. Then he'd move them and the grow lights to his small green house that he'd built using old wood and windows. Dad turned on a heater at night to keep the plants from freezing.

If all went well (and it usually did), by the May long weekend dad would have somewhere between 1,000 to 1,500 plants ready to be transplanted to the prairie soil. There were Salvia, Marigold's, Snap Dragons, Petunia, Geraniums, Zinnia's and numerous other flowers. There were also the bulbs that he'd saved or bought such as Gladiola's that had to be planted. Dad even started all his tomato plants

Mom and dad spent hours planting, flowers and vegetables. The yard had several rock gardens that they had created and each one would take on it's own unique colour scheme every year. The yard was their pride and joy and a real showplace for many years. Even the house was full of plants - close to 80 at one point. Mom even has a Christmas Cactus that is older that I am and blooms several months a year!

As my parents aged, they always said "This is the last year!" but they kept going until my dad started getting sick in 2002. That was the last summer that dad worked in the yard. He died in late 2003. My mom has not been able to do yard work for several years. My brother does all the mowing and cleans up around the shrubs and perennials. A long time family friend has taken it upon herself to do the spring planting for several of the flower beds. She loves to garden and brings bedding plants every spring. She comes every week or two through the summer to weed and also to bring mom produce from her garden. In the fall she comes and cleans up all the flower beds.

All three of my siblings have green thumbs. So, you'd think I'd have a green thumb wouldn't you? No such luck! In elementary school, we tried growing green beans in science class. Mine was the only one that died. Supposedly, one of the easiest plants to grow is an Aloe Vera. They say it's almost impossible to kill one. Want to bet? I've killed three!

I've over watered, under watered, and accidentally pulled actual plants rather than weeds. It really isn't safe to let me in the flowerbeds or vegetable garden - unless of course you want your plants to die!

My thumbs aren't green. My thumbs are brown. Not just because I kill plants but because I can bake and cook.

So brown thumbs of the world unite and be glad you don't have to get down on your hands and knees to take care of all those delicate beauties and harbingers of bountiful produce. Our talent is in the kitchen.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it!

dn

Friday, May 16, 2008

We Met For A Reason

It is always easier to second guess yourself in 20/20 hindsight. Playing the "shoulda', coulda', woulda'" game can eat away at you - if you let it. You may think you would have reacted differently but the truth is you don't get a "do over" so you learn from your experience and you move on. No blame - just except it as a life lesson and move on. Not always easy but the only way to survive without living in the past or loosing your mind.

As I have said it is very easy to play the "what if..." game. When I lost most of my sight in 1990, I spent a lot of time wishing I had done things differently. But the truth is, I didn't have the information I would have needed to make other choices in the months leading up to the detachment. I didn't know that my eye history could lead to a detachment or that there were signs to look for. My doctors had never told me or my parents about any risks. I beat myself up pretty badly for a long time before I was finally able to let it go and move on.

I now realize that if I had not lost most of my sight that I would never have met some of the amazing people who have been part of the fabric of my life over the years. I've come to believe in fate and destiny. Everything happens for a reason.

In May, 1990, almost six months to the day before my retinal detachment, I met a man who was legally blind. We started talking while waiting for a bus. Through him, I met several other blind people. We became a pretty close knit bunch that summer. When I ended up in the hospital they were there to support and love me. They answered my countless questions about how to cope. They gave me a talking clock so I wouldn't have to keep asking the nurses what time it was, and a portable radio so I could listen to music whenever I wanted. They even brought me Chinese food and chocolate cheesecake! They let me rant, vent my anger, cry on their shoulders and they made me laugh!

I've wondered what my life would have been like had I not spoken with that guy at the bus stop. I didn't know any other blind people. I learned so much, just by watching and talking with them. Yes, I did receive some help from the C.N.I.B., but having friends who had gone through similar experiences of vision loss (one even had the same eye specialist!) made the process a lot less stressful. I had a real support system 24/7 and I took full advantage of it!

We don't always get to see the big picture. Some people wind there way in and out of our lives. Some we may never see again - but we have crossed paths for a reason.
In a way it would be kind of neat to have the "George Bailey" experience of seeing what life would be like if we had never been born - but it would also be scary to realize just how much we really have touched others lives.

Some people are there for a page or a chapter and some are there for the whole book that is your life. We don't get to read ahead and see the future. We just have to take each day as it comes and make each decision with the information at hand.

I am still good friends with that guy I met at the bus stop, 18 years ago today.

Sometimes we don't run into each other for awhile but he is only a phone call away. One of that group died of cancer in 2002 and another member is one of my closest friends. We have seen each other through the good and the bad and through laughter and tears. I am truly thankful to have met these people.

So next time you are standing at a bus stop, a checkout or sitting in a waiting room - say "hi" to the person next to you. Start a conversation. You never know how a few words may change a life!

dn

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Chocolate Scones

Several years ago I found a recipe for Chocolate Scones in a recipe book called "Company's Coming - Chocolate Everything" by Jean Paré. I LOVE this simple and quick recipe! I've tweaked it over the years to add some whole wheat flour and more chocolate chips, but other than that, it is pretty much the same recipe. I hope you like it as much as I do!!

Chocolate Scones

1 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup white sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup hard/block margarine (cold out of the fridge works best)
2/3 cups semi sweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup milk
1 large egg, fork beaten
Topping;
2 teaspoons milk
2 teaspoons white sugar
Combine first 6 ingredients in large bowl. Cut in margarine and combine until crumbly and well mixed.

Stir in chocolate chips. Add milk and egg and mix to form a stiff ball. DO NOT OVER MIX. Place dough on lightly floured surface and gently knead 8 strokes. Divide dough into 2 equal portions.

Place on parchment paper lined cookie sheet and gently flatten each ball into a 6 to 7 inch circle. Brush the top of each circle with milk, then sprinkle with sugar. With a sharp knife, score the top of each circle into 6 pie shape wedges.

Bake in preheated 425F oven for 14 to 15 minutes or until risen and firm. Carefully slide parchment paper and circles onto wire racks and cool.

Serve warm with any number of toppings, such as peanut butter, nutella, lemon spread, jams, jellies, marmalade or fruit flavoured cream cheese. I love having these for lunch with a fresh fruit salad and a cold glass of milk!

These freeze well. I package each separately in saran or fold over sandwich bag and store in large zip lock bags. When serving, I defrost on the counter or in microwave then warm on high for 10-12 seconds.

Makes 12 YUMMY scones!!

Enjoy!!

dn

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mother's Day

Mother's Day is celebrated in many countries around the world.

In Britain and Ireland, it is also called "Mothering Sunday" and is celebrated on the fourth Sunday of Lent and falls exactly three weeks before Sunday. "It is believed to have originated from the 16th century Christian practice of visiting one's mother church annually, which meant that most mothers would be reunited with their children on this day. Most historians believe that young apprentices and young women in servitude were released by their masters that weekend in order to visit their families.[1] As a result of secularization, it is now principally used to celebrate and give thanks for mothers, although it is still recognised in the historical sense by some churches, with attention paid to Mary the mother of Jesus as well as the traditional concept Mother Church. Mothering Sunday can fall at earliest on March 1st (in years when Easter Day falls on March 22nd) and at latest on April 4th (when Easter Day falls on April 25th)." (quoted from Wikipedia)

More than 60 countries, including Canada and the U.S.A. celebrate on the second Sunday of May. It was loosely inspired by the British day and was actually intended to be a call to peace and disarmament after the Civil War. The idea of a "Mother's Day for Peace" never took off. The first Mother's Day in the U.S.A. was celebrated in West Virginia in 1908 in honour of Ann Jarvis. Jarvis had worked tirelessly to improve sanitary conditions for both sides. She also worked to reconcile the north and south after the war. President Woodrow Wilson declared the first national Mother's Day in 1914. A decade later, the day was also a commercial success. In 2008, the U.S.A. is expected to spend well over 10 BILLION dollars on flowers, pampering, cards, jewellery, various gifts, phone calls and dinners to celebrate mothers.

I never had kids. I never felt that I would make a good parent. It was never really an issue for me. I didn't really understand how most women could be SO sure that they wanted to have children! I tried babysitting once when I was a teenager. It was 1972. I was almost 15, and my first niece was only a few months old. My sister and her husband were going to a dance and my older brother and I were the sitters. My niece was really fussy that night and possibly teething. We could not get her to sleep and ended up calling her parents to come home. I swore I'd never do it again. Many years later, I did stay with a friend with a baby and I did help out a bit, but I just never felt that need/desire to have one of my own.

I have tremendous respect for mother's. They take on HUGE responsibilities and most do a remarkable job of raising those squirming, screaming bundles into caring and loving young adults. It is often a thankless and vastly under-appreciated job.

My mom raised four kids while helping my dad run the farm. She cooked, cleaned, laundered, sewed, knit, gardened, nursed, taught, played and chauffeured us and still managed to have a social life to entertain friends and curl during the winter. I have no idea how she managed to do it and retain her sanity. I know her sense of humour went a LONG way!

Not long ago, I read an article that said the average mother spends 90 hours a week doing all the child care and housekeeping. If she were paid fairly she would earn almost $120,000.00/year! Yeah, like that will ever happen. Most mothers are repaid with love - for the majority, that seems to be the greatest reward. But just in case it isn't, don't forget to tell your mom how much you love her and say thank you for everything she has done for you.

To all the mothers out there (including mine!), I hope you have a very special day!

dn

Friday, May 9, 2008

No, Not The Fridge!

My fridge died on Saturday. It would have been one year old in June. Yup, ONE whole year! They don't make them like they used to. I've lived in this apartment for ten years and this is my third fridge.

The first one I had was fabulous! Separate doors for fridge and freezer (self defrosting). Nice big compartments for all of my perishables. It was well laid out and had a good light so I could see everything. It kept stuff REALLY cold. Milk and water were ice cold - without the ice! The produce never froze and the freezer section kept things almost as solidly frozen as my deep freezer.

It started acting up just before Christmas, 2006. I was preparing for an annual luncheon that I host and noticed that things weren't as cold as they usually were. I had been doing a lot of cooking and baking though and the fridge had been open a lot, so I figured it would cool overnight. The luncheon went off fine, but the next day the fridge was warmer not colder. I called the building caretaker and she called the repair guy, who was here within a few hours. He fixed the problem and I was a happy camper until two days later, when it did the same thing.

This time, it couldn't be fixed. NO!!! Say it ain't so!!!

I was given a replacement fridge that afternoon. The replacement was not a good match for a visually impaired person who loves to cook. It was deep and narrow with poor lighting. I couldn't arrange the shelves the same way, which meant having to set up a whole new arrangement for where things would be placed to make them readily accessible. It also didn't keep foods nearly as cold as my old one. I wasn't happy. I was promised a new fridge after April 1, 2007, which was the start of a new fiscal year. New fridges were ordered for several tenants, but the company was behind schedule in making apartment sized fridges and so I didn't get mine until early June, 2007.

When I finally got it, I was disappointed to see that it was VERY similar in style to my temporary fridge. It was only slightly better in layout. The fridge light was basically a night light. The shelves were shallower. They were deep and narrow. The one advantage was that the crisper's were a bit bigger. Even setting the temp to about 8 out of 10 only barely kept things cold enough. It was noisier too. I wasn't thrilled but I learned to live with it. I didn't have any other choice.

Fast forward to this past week. I wasn't sure, but I thought things didn't seem quite as cold but it was a subtle change and I just upped the temp control a notch to cool it down. When I made lunch on Saturday, the milk was noticeably warmer - I like mine really cold. When I took some time in the afternoon to do a salad prep for supper, I realized things were even warmer. I moved as much frozen stuff as I could to my deep freeze but it was already almost full. I called the weekend caretaker and we put the temp as cold as it could go. Sunday morning I moved all my frozen and dairy products to an empty apartment on the same floor that I live on and was given a key so I could access it any time I wanted. I moved all my produce after supper Sunday night.

Don't get me wrong, I am very thankful to have a full fridge and freezer. Many people do not. I am also extremely lucky to have an understanding caretaker who is willing to help and provide speedy repairs whenever possible. I've lived in places that you had to go to the Rentalsman just to get minor repairs. It's just really frustrating when you have no control over what is happening and just the thought of having to spend money, that I don't have, to replace food that might have been ruined is enough to drive me nuts. I really hate wasting things.

Monday morning, I talked to the caretaker and it was finally arranged that I would be given the fridge from the empty apartment. The fridge that is now in my apartment is very similar to my original fridge only newer. The lighting and layout are very good. The milk and water are COLD!! The produce is not frozen or wilting! The freezer is big and cold. The crisper is smaller but that is minor.

Is it possible to love your fridge? Yup! Now please cross your fingers that it has a long healthy life, 'cause I really don't want to go through this again!

dn

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Life Lessons From A Cow

Several years ago I received a great poster board from a close friend. It listed all the things you could learn from a cow. A few months ago, I received an email with even more lessons to be learned. Today, I thought I would share this wisdom.

All I need to know about life, I learned from a cow (from poster);
- If it's good, milk it for all it's worth.
- Successful people are "moo-vers and shakers".
- Don't be just one of the herd.
- The cream always rised to the top.
- Don't stoop to a barnyard mentality.
- Don't be bossy.
- It is better to have milked and churned, than to never have milked at all.
- If you need to get somewhere, hoof it.
- Some days can be udder frustration.
- If you're feeling low, moo yourself a little song.
- Chew your food 50 times before swallowing.
- Don't let others corrall you.
- Munch hay while the sun shines.
- He who lives with the herd, learns to watch his step.
- Following your heart will always steer you in the right direction.
- Party 'til the cows come home.
- Live for-heifer young.
- Here a moo, there a moo, everywhere a moo-moo.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

All I Need to Know About Life I Learned from a Cow (from email);

1. Wake up in a happy mooo-d.
2. Don't cry over spilled milk.
3. When chewing your cud, remember: There's no fat, no calories, no cholesterol, and no taste!
4. The grass is green on the other side of the fence.
5. Turn the udder cheek and mooo-ve on.
6. Seize every opportunity and milk it for all its worth!
7. It's better to be seen and not herd.
8. Honor thy fodder and thy mother and all your udder relatives.
9. Never take any bull from anybody.
10. Always let them know who's the bossy.
11. Stepping on cowpies brings good luck.
12. Black and white is always an appropriate fashion statement.
13. Don't forget to cow-nt your blessings every day.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Have a mooo-velous day!

dn

Monday, May 5, 2008

Cinco de Mayo - part 2

Yesterday, I shared my "Mexican Lasagna Casserole" and "Taco Meat" recipes. Today recipe goes great with either one. It is a modified version of a corn bread recipe called "Corn In The U.S.A." from page 54 of "Crazy Plates" by Janet and Greta Podleski.

Corn Muffins

1 cup + 2 Tablespoons all purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
2 Tablespoons white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 can 398 ml (14 ounce) cream style corn
1/2 cup milk
1 egg
2 Tablespoons + 1 teaspoon margarine, melted
1/2 cup mild salsa

Preheat oven to 375F. Lightly spray 18 muffin cups with Pam and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In a medium bowl, combine egg, cream corn, milk, margarine and salsa.

Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and combine just until all ingredients are moistened.

Divide batter evenly into 18 muffin cups and bake for 16 to 18 minutes or until an in inserted toothpick comes out clean.

DO NOT OVER BAKE!

Remove muffins from tins and cool on wire rack.

serve warm or cool completely and freeze.

Note; these muffins can also be baked in mini muffin pans and baked for about 14 to 16 minutes. This version makes about 30 or so.

Enjoy!

dn

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Cinco de Mayo - part 1

In honour of Cinco de Mayo, I thought I would share my favourite Mexican inspired recipes today and tomorrow.

Mexican Lasagna Casserole

350 grams (3/4 pound) boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into bite sized pieces
1 medium onion, chopped fine
1/2 sweet red pepper, chopped fine
2 cups frozen kernel corn, thawed
1 650ml (22ounce) jar mild or medium salsa
2 - 2 1/2 cups crusaded tortilla corn chips (I use baked chips)
2 cups grated medium cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 375F. Spray a 2 litre casserole dish with Pam. Combine first five ingredients and spread evenly in casserole dish. Top with crushed chips. Spread cheese on top. Cover and bake for 45 minutes. Uncover and continue baking for about 10 minutes or until cheese is starting to get crispy. Serve with fat free sour cream and chopped green onion.

I love to serve this with corn muffins and a side salad. Serves four.

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Taco Meat

575grams (1 1/4 pound) lean ground beef, turkey or chicken
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 sweet red pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1 Tablespoon minced garlic
1 650 ml (22 ounce) jar mild or medium salsa
1/2 teaspoon cumin
a few drops Tabasco sauce (optional)

In a large skillet brown the meat in a little bit of cooking oil. Remove the meat to a paper towel lined plate. Brown the onion and pepper, adding a little more oil if necessary. When the onions are translucent, stir in the garlic and continue cooking for a couple minutes. Return the meat to the pan and add the salsa and cumin, stirring well. Add a couple drops of Tabasco sauce if you like it hot! Simmer, stirring occasionally until the liquid of the salsa is all but absorbed.

This meat can be used right away for tacos, taco salads or try a taco pizza. It can also be frozen in individual portions (about 1/2 cup) for future use.

Taco pizzas: Place 2 small soft corn tortillas on a lightly greased baking pan. Spread about a 1/4 cup Taco mixture on each. Top with finely chopped tomatoes and green onion and sprinkle with grated medium cheddar cheese and bake in 375F oven for about 15 minutes or until cheese is crispy. Makes a dinner for one or serve with a side salad and it serves two.

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Tomorrow, I will print my corn muffin recipe. It goes wonderfully with either of these dishes!

dn

Friday, May 2, 2008

Rising Prices and Global Crisis

Have you purchased flour, rice or bread lately? If you have then you know that prices are going up - way up! Last fall I bought a 5kg (11 lb.) bag of no name whole wheat flour at Superstore for $3.98. In mid April I paid $5.79! The name brands were in the $8-8.50 range. The 100% 454g. whole wheat bread that I have purchased for years at $0.99 rose to $1.19 in February and I paid $1.39 two weeks ago. I am not out of brown rice yet, but I bought a bag this week as I have heard that prices are climbing fast. The price was only 15 cents more for a 900g. package (2 lb.) two months ago.

These and many other staple items are rising in price around the world. Some North American retailers are even limiting quantities on some staple items. The Winnipeg Free Press ran an article earlier this week about the cost of hunger and how this global crisis was effecting food sources and imports/exports to foreign nations. Food riots in Mexico, parts of Russia and West Bengal. Riots and protests in Haiti, Burkina Faso, Egypt and Cameroon. Curtailed exports on rice/wheat in Argentina, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, India, Vietnam, and China. There are line ups for rice in the Philippines and in Australia there has been drought for two years resulting in little wheat for sale.

North America is fairing better so far, but one bad crop year could change that dramatically. Many farmers have switched to growing corn to be used to make ethanol as an alternative fuel source. This is good in theory as we desperately need greener fuel alternatives. However this switch is also starting to create a shortage of grains here as well.

If more people were to get off their collectives butts and walked, biked, car pooled, used public transit or drove hybrid cars, it would go a long way to reducing the need for gas and alternatives. Not to mention that the extra movement of people may actually help some people to loose some excess weight.

Think about it. Eat healthier = loose weight = better energy for movement = less dependency on motorized transport. If you still need transport to and from work, a lighter you is also less wear and tear on the vehicles. Sounds like a win win situation doesn't it?

If you have a garden, why not plant a little extra this spring and donate the extra to a local food bank. Many communities have programs promoting this option. Here in Winnipeg it is called "Grow a Row".

Even if you don't have a garden or still believe that you have no choice but to keep using your gas guzzler vehicle there is always something you can do to help preserve and protect our dwindling resources.

A few months ago I heard about a great web site called freerice.com. It is a site that promotes vocabulary skills for all ages and donates 20 grains of rice for every word that you guess the correct definition for. There are many skill levels and they are automatically adjusted depending on your responses. 20 grains may not seem like much but it doesn't take long to add up. I played for about 10 minutes one day and had almost 1000 grains. There are approximately 250 grains of brown rice in a teaspoon which is equal to 1500 grains in an ounce. Granted that doesn't sound like much but it adds up. There are daily updates on the site. On Wednesday of this week, 233,975.040 grains of rice were donated - that's almost 156,000 cups of rice in ONE DAY! Just over 30 BILLION grains have been donated since the site started on October 7, 2007. That is a phenomenal amount to be donated in such a short time from one little website - but it is only a drop in the bucket of what is needed to help feed the growing number of starving people in the world.

So why not enrich your vocabulary and donate to a worthy cause at the same time. You can play the word game and learn all about how the program works by going to; http://freerice.com/ I have the site listed as one of my favorites in the sidebar near the top of my blog. Bookmark the site. Send the link to all your friends and family. Play often! You might actually learn some new words and improve your vocabulary!

dn