Friday, August 29, 2008


I mentioned a while back that I grew up eating homemade relish on burgers and hot dogs and that I really hated the taste of the neon green store bought relishes. Well since this is the time of year to get fresh local cucumbers, I thought I would share my moms recipe for "Sweet Pickle Relish" I've divided the original recipe in four, as the original made about 12-13 pints which was WAY too much for me. I grind the veggies in the food processor. I just made 1 1/2 recipes of this over Thursday and Friday of last week and got 5 pints. All 5 lids "popped" within 90 minutes but it can take several hours.

Sweet Pickle RELISH
6 Long English/burp-less cucumbers 
2 medium onions 
2 medium red bell peppers
1 large green bell pepper
Scrub the cucumbers and trim off ends - do NOT peel unless skin is damaged. Slit lengthwise and remove seeded area by scraping gently with a spoon. Use the grater blade on your food processor to grate the cucumber. You should have about 6-7 cups.

Peel the onions and cut in small pieces. Place in food processor and use the pulse setting to grind to a finely minced consistency. You should have about 1 1 1/4 cups.

Wash, cut and seed the peppers. Cut into small pieces. Place in the food processor and use the pulse setting to grind to a finely minced consistency. You should have about 2/3 - 3/4cup of red pepper and about 1/2 - 2/3 cup of green pepper.
Combine the veggies in a dutch oven, large pot or crock and cover with a brine made with;
1/4 cup pickling salt (aka coarse salt)
8 cups water (I prefer using water that has gone through a filter system such as Britta)
Stir well. Cover and let stand overnight (or up to 24 hours) at room temperature.

Drain WELL - use a colander! (I use a rubber scraper to press the pulp against the sides of the colander to remove much of the liquid) You will have about 5 cups of pulp.

In a dutch oven combine the following ingredients for a cooking brine;
1 cup white vinegar
2 1/4 cups white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons tumeric
1 1/2 teaspoons celery seed
1 Tablespoon mustard seed
1/8 teaspoon dried tarragon leaves
2 Tablespoons lemon juice (fresh)

Mix well, then stir in the veggie pulp. Bring the mixture to a boil. Remove 2-3 Tablespoons liquid and mix with 4-5 teaspoons all purpose flour. Whisk till all the flour is dissolved. Slowly add the flour mixture back into the relish while stirring constantly till fully mixed in. Cook relish on medium heat until thickened, stirring occasionally - about 20-30 minutes.
Meanwhile, sterilize 4 pint jars, lids and rings in a (gently boiling) hot water bath in a canner for 10-15 minutes. Remove carefully, with jar tongs, 2-3 minutes before filling with hot relish. Allow the jars to drain upside down on a drain rack, so there is no liquid in the jars. Add more water to the hot water bath and bring to a boil so it is ready for the sealed jars.

Carefully add the hot relish to the pint jars, leaving about a 1/2 inch space at the top. Wipe the mouth of the jars with a damp paper towel. Place lids and tighten the rings. Stand the jars upright in the canner's basket and carefully lower it into the boiling water. Do NOT allow the jars to tip over. The water should be covering the lids. Remove the basket carefully after 10 minutes. Allow the jars to stand on a wire rack for 24 hours to allow the relish to completely cool to room temperature. The jar lids should also "pop" (indent) during that time. That indicates that the jar is properly sealed.
Relish will keep for up to 3 years in a cool, dark, dry place. Store opened/unsealed jars in the refrigerator.

NOTE: Depending on the size of the veggies, your finished quantity will vary from 3 to about 3 1/2 pints. A partially filled jar will go into the fridge to be used first. I only process the full jars.



Thursday, August 28, 2008

Garden Fresh!!

Summer is not my favourite season. I'm not good in hot weather. I wilt when it gets above 27C/80.6F - especially if you add in some humidity! I much prefer mid to low 20's for a summer high. As my grandmother always said; "You can always put more clothes on, but there is only so much you can take off!" Truer words were never spoken!

As you know, I grew up on a farm, which was both good and bad. It was bad in that I could never see well enough to drive and therefore it was rather isolating for me. It was good, in that I liked the tranquility and the abundance of fresh produce in late summer and early fall.

My parents had a HUGE garden for many years. They spent hours tending to the plants and pulling weeds so that we could have lots of fresh food and extra to can, freeze and preserve. I described my lack of gardening abilities back in May, so I wasn't required to help in the garden. I did however, help prepare the fresh produce for eating and preserving.

I helped with shelling peas, cutting beans, husking corn, cleaning carrots, potatoes, onions and various other produce. I often helped mom with the canning and freezing of the vegetables so that we could enjoy the tastes of the farm produce all year long.

Every year, mom would take stock of what was in the pantry in the cold cellar and decide which pickles, relish, jams, jellies and fruit to can. She'd check the freezer to see what was left of the peas, beans, corn, squash and other goodies.

If the produce was ready, it had to be done that day, regardless of how hot it was. That may mean standing over a hot stove blanching veggies for freezing or stirring jams, jellies and sauces. It could also mean cranking an old style food grinder to make relish or peeling apples for canning or to make apple sauce.

It was hot, tiring, labour intensive work - but the taste? Oh the taste of fresh home grown produce and it's offshoots was worth every effort!

The taste of fresh picked corn on the cob that is cooked within an hour or so of picking? New baby carrots, potatoes and onions? Tomatoes, cucumbers, peas and beans straight off the vine? There is just no comparison to the stuff that passes for fresh produce in the stores.

The produce is so plentiful at this time of year that we didn't need to eat a lot of meat. We could make a meal of corn, potatoes, tomatoes and cucumbers with fresh fruit for dessert. Mom used to keep a block of butter or margarine just to roll the hot cobs of corn on! Sometimes, we made an herb margarine with chives, salt and pepper for the corn and potatoes. Our favourite variety of corn was the "peaches and cream" as it was sweet and tender.

We scrubbed the baby carrots and ate them raw, bar-b-qued or steamed them

Potatoes and onions done on the bar-b-que with steak or chicken were melt in your mouth delicious!.
The tomatoes were a delicacy unto themselves. We'd eat the small ones whole or cut them for salads. The larger ones were sliced for sandwiches. Some were so big that you only needed one slice/sandwich. A little mayonnaise, salt and pepper on moms home made bread - we were in heaven! Sometimes we'd add lettuce or a slice of cheese but that really wasn't necessary as the taste of a tomato sandwich was so perfect on its own!!

I really miss all those great tastes. The produce in stores today, is better than it used to be but it still doesn't compare to locally grown fresh stuff. If you don't have ready access to a garden then try and find a local farmer's markets in your area and treat yourself to what really fresh vegetables and fruits taste like. You won't regret it!

Now, if you will excuse me, I'm hungry and I have to find a garden I can raid!


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Answers To An Age Old Question!

I got this a couple of days ago and decided it was to funny not to share....

Why did the chicken cross the road?

The chicken crossed the road because it was time for change! The chicken wanted change!

My friends, that chicken crossed the road because he recognized the need to engage in cooperation and dialogue with all the chickens on the other side of the road.

When I was First Lady, I personally helped that little chicken to cross the road. This experience makes me uniquely qualified to ensure right from Day One! that every chicken in this country gets the chance it deserves to cross the road. But then, this really isn't about me.

We don't really care why the chicken crossed the road. We just want to know if the chicken is on our side of the road, or not. The chicken is either for us or against us. There is no middle road here.

Where's my gun?

Now to the left of the screen, you can clearly see the satellite image of the chicken crossing the road.

I did not cross the road with that chicken. What is your definition of chicken?

I invented the chicken.

Although I voted to let the chicken cross the road, I am now against it! It was the wrong road to cross, and I was misled about the chicken's intentions. I am not for it now, and will remain against it.

Why are all the chickens white? We need some black chickens.

The problem we have here is that this chicken won't realize that he must first deal with the problem on this side of the road before it goes after the problem on the other side of the road. What we need to do is help him realize how stupid he's acting by not taking on his current problems before adding new problems.

Well, I understand that the chicken is having problems, which is why he wants to cross this road so bad. So instead of having the chicken learn from his mistakes and take falls, which is a part of life, I'm going to give this chicken a car so that he can just drive across the road and not live his life like the rest of the chickens.

We have reason to believe there is a chicken, but we have not yet been allowed to have access to the other side of the road.

That chicken crossed the road because he's guilty ! You can see it in his eyes and the way he walks.

To steal the job of a decent, hardworking American.

No one called me to warn me which way that chicken was going. I had a standing order at the Farmer's Market to sell my eggs when the price dropped to a certain level. No little bird gave me any insider information.

Did the chicken cross the road? Did he cross it with a toad? Yes, the chicken crossed the road, but why it crossed I've not been told.

To die in the rain, alone.

Because the chicken was gay! Can't you people see the plain truth? That's why they call it the 'other side.' Yes, my friends, that chicken is gay. And if you eat that chicken, you will become gay, too. I say we boycott all chickens until we sort out this abomination that the liberal media whitewashes with seemingly harmless phrases like 'the other side.' That chicken should not be crossing the road. It's as plain and as simple as that.

In my day we didn't ask why the chicken crossed the road. Somebody told us the chicken crossed the road, and that was good enough.

Isn't that interesting? In a few moments, we will be listening to the chicken tell, for the first time, the heart warming story of how it experienced a serious case of molting, and went on to accomplish its lifelong dream of crossing the road.

It is the nature of chickens to cross the road.

Imagine all the chickens in the world crossing roads together, in peace.

I have just released eChicken2008, which will not only cross roads, but will lay eggs, file your important documents, and balance your checkbook. Internet Explorer is an integral part of eChicken2008. This new platform is much more stable and will never reboot.

Did the chicken really cross the road, or did the road move beneath the chicken?

Did I miss one???


Sunday, August 24, 2008

Getting ready for the new school year

Well, it is almost time for all the little "darlings" to head back to school. That means one thing - avoid all malls and stores this week! Most stores are offering back to school sales and deep discounts to lure shoppers in. It will be a feeding frenzy of parents and kids trying to find new outfits, shoes, school supplies and food for the school lunches that the kid will actually eat!

Parents and kids rarely agree on what the essentials really are. The parent is looking at the price, quality and whether it is age appropriate. The kid is looking at the style, colour and the level of the "cool" factor.

Kid: "Mom, I just HAVE to have these for school! Everyone else has them!!"
Parent (in shock): "$50.00 for a T-shirt? $95.00 for pants? $175.00 for shoes?" $30.00 for a pen? You have got to be kidding me! This is insane!!! We are not made of money so keep looking!"
Kid (whining): "BUT MOM!!!!"
Parent gives the kid the look that says do as I say now or ELSE!!
Yup, it's not much fun for the parent, kid or the unfortunate shoppers and clerks that have to overhear this dialogue.

Families of all kinds have been enjoying the summer and living in blissful ignorance of the approaching cooler weather and the need for new clothes, shoes and other accessories for school.

Some parents are proactive and have been looking and purchasing items for the kids for awhile already, but I think most have been trying to avoid the inevitable hit to the pocketbook and the shocking truth that their child managed to outgrow every single item of clothing and footwear in their closet over the last two months.

Most kids have mixed feelings about going back to school. Some have been bored out of their tree and can't wait to see their friends and start learning new things. On the other hand, they have to go to bed earlier, get up earlier, meet new teachers, new classes and do the dreaded homework that will cut into their leisure time and social life. For some there are new schools and all new people - that's a little scary even for the older kids as they try to figure out where they will fit into this new world.

Then there are the teachers. After the kids left in June, they spent a week or so cleaning out their rooms before getting away for a MUCH needed break! Then they came back a couple of weeks early to get the lesson plans ready and set up the classroom in anticipation of eager young minds ready to drink in every word the teacher says. Reality is, if they've been in that school for a year or so, they know what to expect and dread about the next group of students to walk through the door and are wondering why they wanted to become teachers in the first place.

The parents have been counting the days till school starts since their little angels got out in June! Even with camp and other activities, most are ready to let someone else be in control of their kids for a few hours a day, just so they can get some of their own work done without playing social convener and referee. Parenting is a tough job.

So whether you are a student, parent or teacher, this next week is going to be a challenge as you get ready for the first week of September and the start of the new school year.

Try and play nice, okay?


Thursday, August 21, 2008

He warned us!

Well, he finally did it! He's been threatening to do it for a while now, and a couple of weeks ago he finally got off his ass and did it!

What am I talking about, you ask?

VideoNick has started his own blog. He's been posting in my comments section for months and has decided that he wants his own space to rant and ramble to his heart's content.

If you've ever had the "pleasure" - and I use the term loosely - of meeting VN, then you know as well as I do that this man has one very creative and twisted mind! Give him a topic and he's off - no holds barred.

We first crossed paths, 18 years ago this past May, at a bus stop at the University of Manitoba. After we said hello, it was all downhill from there. You see, I was a sweet innocent country girl before he came into my life.....

Okay, Okay! Stop laughing! Well I was a country girl, and I really was just starting to spread my wings when we met, so he did help with retooling my brain. That really does explain a lot doesn't it?

We hung out together a lot that first summer and he introduced me to other twisted souls and kindred spirits. Over the next couple of years we went to a few concerts - Moxy Fruvous, Victor Borge, and Double Exposure to name a few. We even went to a couple of plays. One that we saw, was the MTC Warehouse production of the Jane Wagner and Lily Tomlin play called "The Search For Signs Of Intelligent Life In The Universe" (Don't recall the actress who did that version, but it was good).

There were several parties where he delivered a rant or two that I WISH I'd have had a tape recorder! One in particular was just before Christmas, 1990. It was only about a month after I had lost most of my sight and I really wasn't in much of a party mood. My friends convinced me that I needed to get out for a little fun. VN and another guy, started doing a riff on "Do You Hear What I Hear". They did more than a dozen verses, each with "unique" words. Everyone was cracking up! I don't remember anything they sang, but I know that it was a good job that I was sitting on the floor. I was literally rolling on the floor, laughing harder than I had laughed in months! A year or so later he performed as the "Irreverent Reverend Nick" at a mock wake for a good friend of ours who was moving away.

We actually crossed paths in Toronto one time. I was there with a friend for one of my many eye treatments. I called a good friend to let her know I was in town for a couple of days and she said; "Small world, so is Nick! Why don't we all have dinner?"

We kind of lost touch for a couple of years but connected again in 2002 for a close friend's funeral. We've tried to stay in touch ever since. We still occasionally run into each other at a bus stop or on a bus, but usually keep in touch by email now.

He really is a great guy, and I am honoured to call him my friend. I hope you will check out his blog. He has a wicked sense of humour and strong opinions. He doesn't censor himself. His first few posts are evidence of that. He took on some pretty HOT topics around these parts. So consider yourself warned! He may rant. He may ramble. You may not like or agree with everything he says, but he will make you pause, think, laugh or all of the former!

I've placed a link in my "favourite web sites" on the right side of this page, or you can just click here;



Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Life in the 1500's

When I was in school, I was never that good in history - for the most part, I found it to be quite boring. I remember it being a lot of dry facts and dates that we had to memorize. A few weeks ago I got the following history lesson in an email that a friend forwarded to me.


The next time you are washing your hands and complain because the water temperature isn't just how you like it, think about how things used to be. Here are some facts about the 1500s:

Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May, and still smelled pretty good by June. However, they were starting to smell, so brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odor. Hence the custom today of carrying a bouquet when getting married.

Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water, then all the other sons and men, then the women and finally the children. Last of all the babies. By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it. Hence the saying, Don't throw the baby out with the Bath water..

Houses had thatched roofs-thick straw-piled high, with no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the cats and other small animals (mice, bugs) lived in the roof When it rained it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof. Hence the saying . It's raining cats and dogs.

There was nothing to stop things from falling into the house.. This posed a real problem in the bedroom where bugs and other droppings could mess up your nice clean bed. Hence, a bed with big posts and a sheet hung over the top afforded some protection. That's how canopy beds came into existence.

The floor was dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt. Hence the saying, Dirt poor. The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery in the winter when wet, so they spread thresh (straw) on floor to help keep their footing. As the winter wore on, they added more thresh until, when you opened the door, it would all start slipping outside. A piece of wood was placed in the entranceway. Hence the saying a thresh hold.

(Getting quite an education, aren't you?)

In those old days, they cooked in the kitchen with a big kettle that always hung over the fire. Every day they lit the fire and added things to the pot. They ate mostly vegetables and did not get much meat. They would eat the stew for dinner, leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight and then start over the next day. Sometimes stew had food in it that had been there for quite a while. Hence the rhyme, Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old..

Sometimes they could obtain pork, which made them feel quite special. When visitors came over, they would hang up their bacon to show off. It was a sign of wealth that a man could bring home the bacon. They would cut off a little to share with guests and would all sit around and chew the fat..

Those with money had plates made of pewter. Food with high acid content caused some of the lead to leach onto the food, causing lead poisoning death. This happened most often with tomatoes, so for the next 400 years or so, tomatoes were considered poisonous.

Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and guests got the top, or the upper crust. Lead cups were used to drink ale or whisky. The combination would sometimes knock the imbibers out for a couple of days. Someone walking along the road would take them for dead and prepare them for burial. They were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up. Hence the custom of holding a wake. England is old and small and the local folks started running out of places to bury people. So they would dig up coffins and would take the bones to a bone-house, and reuse the grave. When reopening these coffins, 1 out of 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside and they realized they had been burying people alive. So they would tie a string on the wrist of the corpse, lead it through the coffin and up through the ground and tie it to a bell. Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night (the graveyard shift.) to listen for the bell; thus, someone could be, saved by the bell or was considered a dead ringer..

And that's the truth...

Now, whoever said History was boring ! ! !

Okay, I'll admit it, if my history lessons had been that interesting - I may have actually learned more!


Saturday, August 16, 2008

Female/Male Relationships

We all have people in our lives, as friends, business associates, professional contacts and the everyday people that cross our paths that we greet but never really know. We need people in our lives to survive emotionally, physically and for companionship.

Good or bad they are in our lives for a reason, a season or for life. They can enrich our lives, but can also cause complications - especially in the female/male friendships. Female friends are great, I'm just not interested in any of the superficial things that many women are, like fashion, gossip and the cattiness that often goes with it. Thank goodness, not all women are like that, or I wouldn't have many friends! I love my female friends, it's just that I can have totally different kinds of conversations with men.

Misspoken words, misunderstood comments and mixed signals can mess up the best of relationships. A lot of these can be worked out with a little effort over time and if both sides are able to be honest, open minded and level headed in the process.

Men tend to work out there differences fairly quickly, with little communication.

Women need to talk it out and fully understand where things went wrong so that we can learn from the situation and move on to healthier relationships and not make the same mistakes.

Men and women sorting out their differences together can be a nightmare! The male figures a few quick words will fix it and then you move on and can't understand why the woman needs more discussion. The woman can't understand how the man can just let the whole thing drop without analyzing what happened, yet he can watch the sports channels analyze the same game play over and over and over.

We really are wired differently!

When a relationship hits a bump or a landslide, I want to know where it went wrong. Was this building up for awhile? A miscommunication? Can we find a way to work it out? Is the relationship able to be repaired? Is it worth the effort?

Trust is a huge issue for most women, myself included. I don't trust easily. I never have, but when I do trust you, I will slowly open up to you. If that trust is broken, it is really hard to regain it. I've had more than my share of friendships gone sour. I've also had to walk away from a few friendships that had just been irreparable and that hurts like hell. A couple of them lasted more than 20 years. Friendships from my teenage years that became betrayals in confidences. We tried to talk it out, but our lives had just become too different to find a common ground to rebuild.

I've never been married, nor do I really want to go there. It's not that I don't enjoy men, I do, I just don't know if I'd have the tolerance and trust to put up with one on a full time basis! I know everyone says it would be different if the right one came along. Maybe it would - but I really think I'm better off single in this go around at life. Maintaining a friendship with a man is hard enough, let alone anything more intimate.

Being "friends" with a man can get really dicey. Odds are, at some point someone is going to want more or "think" that the other one does and it's going to get messy. It gets even more complicated if one of you has a significant other. The last thing you want to do is cause a "problem" in that relationship.

Every spousal relationship is different and has it's own set of acceptable behaviour. Some are comfortable with their partners having friends of the opposite sex through work or business but draw the line at spending time with those people outside of that environment even for coffee or lunch. Some encourage friendships in general as long as they remember that "what is good for the goose is good for the gander"! A lot of it depends on the level of trust and communication between the couple.

One man I knew many years ago was watched like a hawk by his wife. He had never strayed but her previous husband had and she just didn't really allow herself to trust again. I understand that. I also understand that not all men or women cheat, but it only takes one betrayal to destroy a trust.

I've met some wonderful men over the years that I would like to have gotten to know better, not necessarily on a romantic level, just on a casual or social level. I could never knowingly be the "other" person in a relationship. Odds are if someone is willing to cheat with you, they will cheat on you.

If there are issues in the relationship, find a way to deal with it that doesn't involve the feelings/heart of a third person. Get counselling, work things out or divorce.

Life happens and feelings can change and do develop, It is critical to keep the lines of communication open and be specific about where the boundaries are. If they are crossed inadvertently or deliberately you have to speak up before things get out of hand. Staying quiet can destroy a good friendship and a spousal relationship.

I can't speak for all women, but I'd really rather hear the truth - that the person has/hasn't feelings - than wonder if it was all in my imagination. Telling a friend that there was nothing between them to "protect" the persons feelings is a cop out! I'd much rather know that the feelings were real and can't be pursued. Either way can hurt and I understand why the cop out is often used. It's easier than dealing with your own feelings - especially for a man. Being hurt by any friend sucks but I'd still rather be hurt by the truth than a lie. I don't want to wonder if it was all a game, if I was being used or if we were even really friends in the first place. I'll take the truth over the shadows of doubt any day.

Being honest may hurt me, but I'll survive and I'll respect you more for telling me the truth rather than what you think I want to hear or a lie. The lies eat away and no matter how hard you try, they do come back to bite you.

So here is the bottom line. We all need friends. Good friends are hard to find. Even casual friendships take work. I may get the odd telepathic sense, but I can't read minds. You have to tell me where your boundaries are and what you want or don't want. Don't change the rules without telling me. I expect my friends to be open, honest and truthful with me and themselves. Doing that will earn my respect, love, loyalty, trust and friendship.


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Learning To listen To Your Inner Voice

"Engage brain before putting mouth into gear"
"Think, before you speak"
"If in doubt, don't"

Great advice, right? So why don't we always follow it? Simple, because we are human and we all make mistakes. I'm sure we've all been guilty of saying something in the heat of the moment or on the fly that we wish we could take back - I know I've done it. Trying to keep the sensible part of your brain ahead of the spontaneity of the mouth can cause problems.

I enjoy a good conversation. It can be informative, invigorating, serious, or light hearted banter. I love being able to be completely free in the conversation and not have to censor my thoughts - easier said than done. I don't always listen to that little voice in my head that warns me to stop and think about what is about to come out of my mouth. One of the things I'm known for, is my quick wit and that has helped me in a lot of situations but it can occasionally get me in trouble. So have double entendre's and slips of the tongue.

Inflection in the voice can say a lot - especially for those of us who are visually impaired and therefore not apt to pick up on visual cues.

Talking to people is great, but sometimes it is just easier to put it in writing - especially if you are hitting sensitive subjects. The last thing you want to do is hurt someone or have your words misinterpreted. There have been times that I've used written communication rather than verbal so that I can think things out more and express myself in clearer terms. Depending on the subject, circumstances and person it can be difficult to say what you really want to say and not have it misunderstood. It is also safer than saying things in the heat of the moment that can't be taken back. Putting it in writing, ensures that the person can look back and see what you really said, not what they thought they heard.

This is especially true if you are attempting to settle any kind of dispute.

If you are writing a letter like that you have to follow some simple rules.
1. The first draft is to get the emotion out of your system.
2. NEVER EVER MAIL THE FIRST DRAFT!! (I knew someone who did that and most of her family has never forgiven her.)
3. Let the first draft sit overnight before you reread or change anything
4. After you've had a little time to digest, rewrite the letter with a little more thought and understanding of the situation. - Note: be sure to destroy that first draft!.
5. Say what you think and mean what you say without being crude.
6. Let the letter sit for a couple of days or even a week if you can. You'll be surprised at how much you can calm down and see things differently in that time.
7. After taking time to reflect, you may feel the letter is unnecessary, or the situation has resolved itself. If that is the case, then destroy it so that no one else ever sees what you wrote.
8. Rewrite it a third time if you want to make changes and let it sit overnight.
9. If you still feel that you need to send the letter then you have to be willing to accept the consequences. That could mean loosing a job, friend, changing a relationship or your life.

Once the words are out there - verbally or in print - they can't be taken back. We may be able to forgive, but it is often hard to forget what others say. Taking that extra time to think things through isn't always easy, but learning to listen to our instincts and that inner voice can teach a lot about patience, tolerance, thoughtfulness, and respecting the rights and feelings of those around us.

Trust me, I've been there.


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Finding The Writer In Me

When I was a kid, there were a few years that I got diaries as birthday or Christmas gifts. I wasn't thrilled. I never managed to keep up with regular entries and I felt I had a pretty boring life. Not much to write about. I wasn't that great at writing letters either. I would write to a cousin once in a while but that was about it. The majority of my writing was done for school assignments.

After I started working at summer camp, I did start writing letters on a more regular basis, as I really wanted to keep in touch with some of the people I had met. At that time long distance phone calls could get really expensive. The further away the more/minute. Stamps were cheap. I managed to keep up regular correspondence with three or four people and was writing 6-8 letters a month for a year or two. Then, as life so often happens, there is less to say and friends drift off to other interests. I still wrote individual letters at Christmas, but that was about it.

In the late 1980's, I started going through some difficult times (I wrote about trying to find inner peace back in May). I was so confused by everything that was going on in my life that I started writing a journal of random thoughts and ideas just to keep my head on straight.

It was really hard at first as I realized that if this process was going to help me at all, then I would have to be completely honest and open in my writing. That was really scary. What if someone else saw what I had written? The only way I could convince myself to do it, was to ask a friend to agree that if anything ever happened to me that they would destroy the journals before anyone else could see them.

Once I knew the writings would be safe, I felt free to write. The emotions poured out and I wrote at least a couple hundred pages of loose leaf over a year and a half. I made a lot of emotional progress in that time. I was becoming more comfortable and self confident. I was also actually managing to keep up a daily journal! Then in November, 1990, my retina in my good eye (left) detached, and I couldn't see to write or to read what I had written.

I got special reading glasses by late spring 1991, but somehow in loosing the sight, I also lost most of the ability to read hand writing - no matter how neat or legible. I've regained a bit of that ability, but it takes at least twice as long to read handwriting as simple block lettering. I did do some more writing, but it took a lot longer to write anything and that was really frustrating! As much as I needed that outlet, my heart wasn't in the writing anymore and I was terrified to go back and reread what I had written. It took me a number of years before I managed to start reading it. It was hard to read the emotional pain that I had been in, but also very encouraging to see just how far I had come. After I finished, I shredded all of those journals. It was like setting myself free.

It wasn't until I got this computer in October, 2006, that I started writing more than a grocery list! I've next to no typing skills and hadn't touched a typewriter in twenty years, so this was hard to get used to. Last fall, I joined the Y&R Wiki, and started posting comments. It didn't take me long to realize just how much I had missed writing. It did take me awhile to figure out what to do about it.

Well as you know by now, the solution was to start this blog. I can write about what interests me. I'll admit, I've written some pretty personal stuff. That isn't easy for a person like me who is generally quite private, but it is also quite therapeutic to put yourself out there from time to time.

I keep a list of blog ideas and I also make notes as I come up with new ideas or I run across something interesting that would be a perfect addition to a post. Some of the blog posts have been in draft for weeks while I figure out just what it is that I want to say and exactly how I want to say it.

My main rule of thumb? If I'm in doubt about the content, I don't put it up! I ignore it for a bit. Let it sit in draft for a few days or a even a few weeks. Then go back in and reread it when my mind has had a break and I can look at it objectively. Sometimes it looks good, sometimes it needs tweaking and other times it gets deleted and I start fresh.

Learning to let things sit and digest is a difficult lesson. I'll talk about that and more - tomorrow.


Sunday, August 10, 2008

Family Reunions

How do you really feel about your family? I'm not talking about just your immediate family, but your aunts, uncles, cousins and even the in-laws that you end up running into at these family get together's. The people that you only hear from at Christmas or see every few years.

It really is true, that we can pick our friends but not our relatives. Would we even admit that we were related to most of them if we weren't at a reunion? Probably not. The odds are we are only going on the word of other people that we really are related!

I had a couple of "aunts" and "uncles" that weren't even related to me. They were siblings of people who had married into the family and were good friends of my parents. It wasn't until I was doing work on the family tree in my teens and twenties that I realized we weren't actually related! That probably explained why I actually liked them!

In 1972, the descendants of my great grandparents had a family gathering and at least a couple hundred people crawled out of the woodwork and admitted to being related! My paternal grandfather was the tenth of eleven children born between 1853 and 1876. Nine of those eleven children lived to maturity. Those nine children had anywhere from one to eight children. The relatives came by car, camper, bus and plane from all over Canada and as far south as Nevada. They ranged in age from a few months to well into their 90's.

My dad was the third of five children born to the tenth of those eleven children. Many of my first and second cousins were old enough to be my parents! I'd heard my parents and cousins talk about several people but I'd never met the majority of them.

Reunions can be really weird when you don't really know any of the people and even the closest cousins are all a lot older. You have nothing in common, other than similar DNA running through your veins. Some of them can be nice and show respect and genuine interest. Some expect that because you are "related", that entitles them to hear your life's story in detail! Even with colour coded name tags, depicting which branch of the family they are from, it can get a bit overwhelming! Sort of a "Who's Who at the Zoo!"

Because that first big gathering was held in an Olympic year, the organizers decided to hold a mini-Olympics with races, games and contests to get people acquainted. I think it was more to weed out the smart and the strong! There was a big pot luck supper with enough food to feed an army.

In the evening, there was an old time dance at the local community hall. My fathers siblings had a dance band in the 1940's so they and a few other family and friends took turns providing live dance music for the evening.

The next day, there was a picnic at my parents farm as that was the original prairie homestead of my grandfathers branch of the tree. My great grandparents and some of the younger children moved from Ontario to southern Manitoba in the early 1890's.

Such a good time was held by so many of the attendees at that first gathering, that it was decided to do it again in four years. Thus a new tradition was born. It has continued over the years. Attendance has dropped significantly as the older generation has thinned out a lot. The younger ones are just too spread out and really not that interested in carrying on the tradition. The last few reunions, the Sunday gathering has been at a cousin's farm a few miles away.

The most recent one was held over three days last weekend. A wiener roast on Friday, a pot luck on Saturday and a picnic/bar-b-que on Sunday. This will probably be the last one that includes all those branches. It's just too hard and expensive to organize.

Did I go? Are you kidding? No way! I haven't gone to one of those in over 20 years! There are only a handful of the whole lot that I would even admit to being related to! I'll take my friends over most of my extended family any day!

If I have to be at a family reunion, I'd much rather be a spectator, than a participant! I'll watch from the sidelines as others cringe when they see "Auntie" coming or talk behind "cousin's" back.

I did come across one family reunion on line that sounded like it may be fun. It was the synopsis for a dinner theater "murder mystery";

Murder At The Family Reunion
7 Characters, 2 Women - 4 Men(two male roles played by one man)
Characters include: Rich uncle, his girlfriend, a niece and her idiot twins, a nephew and his daughter, and a plastic surgeon.
A murderously funny family get-together.
The Hooper family reunions are never a dull event. How could they be? Everyone hates each other. In fact, the only reason the family gets together at all is because Uncle Louie likes them. Despite all the family backstabbing and infighting, everyone likes to please rich Uncle Louie. Once a year, the Hoopers try to bury the hatchet in the hopes of gaining a little favor in Uncle Louie’s last will and testament. But this year, they may want to bury the hatchet in Uncle Louie when he shows up with his new friend, Daisy, in this ferociously funny festival of dysfunctional fun!

Now that's my kind of reunion!!


Thursday, August 7, 2008

Food storage to save you money! - Part 2

Today, I'm going to give you some storage tips for all those beautiful and healthy vegetables and fruits. I sometimes want to cringe when I see the price of fresh produce, but really gets me, is that some shoppers just grab an item without checking the condition of it first! I'm really picky when I buy produce. I'll pick up half a dozen or more of almost any produce to make sure I'm getting exactly the quality that I want. If I can't find it, then I probably won't spend the money. Once I get all that fresh bounty home then I really get to work. I'll admit that my methods take a little extra time, but I can keep a head of leaf or romaine lettuce for two weeks. I can keep celery and bell peppers three to four weeks. Curious? Read on...

I keep root vegetables such as potatoes, carrots and onions in the crisper. I know the experts say not to keep potatoes in the fridge. I buy a 5 or 10 pound bag and sort them first. Any that look or feel soft or have bad spots are used first. The rest go in the crisper and I take out what I need the morning of the day I want to use them and allow them to return to room temp. You can't taste the difference. If there is excess moisture in the bag of carrots, I allow them to dry in a single layer on paper towel on the counter. I also cut off any sprouts or rotting ends before putting them in the fridge. I keep a pealed carrot in a zippered snack bag so it is ready for salads etc. Any unused onion that is already pealed is wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and then stored in a zippered bag in the crisper.

Broccoli - Trim the woody part off of the stems and cut the florets an inch or two into the stem. Soak the florets in cold salted water for 15 minutes. Drain well and place in air tight container in fridge. The stems can be pealed and grated for a slaw.

Cabbage - remove the outside layer and trim the root stem. Wrap the head tightly in plastic wrap and place in plastic bag. This will help prevent the cabbage from drying out, turning colour and emitting odours into other products. I've kept and used a 2 lb. cabbage for close to a month with very little waste.

Repeat after me; "Paper towel is produces best friend!" Yup, and you can even use the cheaper, no name products for these! Now here's the secrets to this amazing product!

Leaf or romaine lettuce - Carefully pull off leaves about an inch above the root end, gradually working your way to the center. Wash the lettuce under cold water, then stand leaves upright in a colander for a few minutes to drain. Next, lay the leaves in a single layer on paper towels. Allow to air dry for about 20-30 minutes. Then start with the smaller leaves. Take two similar size leaves and lay them on the end of the paper towel that you dried them on. Fold the towel once to cover. Place two more leaves on top and fold over once. Repeat the process until every second leaf is separated by a layer of paper towel. Store in a plastic produce bag. The ones in the produce aisle are perfect for this as they are not air tight - it needs to breath, so don't seal the bag. The paper towel absorbs excess moisture. As you use the lettuce switch the leaves to single layers between towels and trim any brown spots by hand - never use a knife on lettuce. I've kept a large lettuce for two weeks and only thrown out the equivalent of a couple of leaves.
Green Onions - remove the elastics, trim off the root, leaving as much of the white part as possible. Remove any wilted stems and a small amount at the top. Rinse well under cold water then lay in single layer on paper towel for 15-20 minutes. Take one green onion and lay it at the end of the towel, fold 1/4 turn, place another one parallel to the first and fold again. Repeat till they are all wrapped, then store in produce bag. As I use them, I open the whole role and trim a little off of each end for whatever I'm making, then roll up the same way. I can keep two bunches of green onion for two weeks this way with minimal wastage.

Celery - Same as the green onion, trim tops, and bottom, wash, dry ribs upside down to allow moisture to drain out of the rib onto the towels. Wrap with paper towel allowing 1/4 to 1/2 turn of towel between ribs. Trim the ends as you use them each time and check for brown spots. I've kept large celery stalks for three weeks.

Bell Peppers - I buy the four count or 2lb. bags but I also check each one very carefully to make sure there are no spoiled/soft spots on any of them before purchase. I wash and dry the peppers, then wrap each one in a separate paper towel and store in the bag I bought them in. Before I cut one, I check all of them to see which one is the closest to going bad, That one gets cut first. The rest are re-wrapped and stored. Once the pepper is cut in half and seeded, I re-wrap any unused portion in the same towel and store in a zippered bag in the crisper. I find that if I cut the outside edges on all sides and store them with the flesh sides together, that each one can last me up to a week. That's almost a month for the whole bag.

Berries - Sort the berries and use any soft ones first. Layer in single layers between paper towels in a loose plastic bag. Wash/clean only as you use them.

Citrus - never store in the fridge - especially lemons and limes as the chemicals they emit can sour almost any dairy product. If you must store part of a citrus product, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and store in zippered bag. Use ASAP!
BTW, I'm sure you are wondering what to do with all that paper towel afterwards. I often make my salads in the morning then cover with a damp paper towel, place in a plastic bag and store in the fridge until the evening when I add the dressing and serve. This keeps the salad fresh and crisp. Even if it is stained, you can still use the towels for quick clean up of spills on the counters or floors.

I know these may seem a little obsessive and time consuming BUT when you are on a fixed/limited income and trying to eat healthy, you do whatever you can to make your dollar go a little further.


Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Food storage to save you money! - Part 1

I don't know about you, but it drives me nuts when I have to throw out any spoiled food. I heard a story on the CBS Early Show on July 23, 2008 that said the average family throws out $100.00/month in food!

$100.00?! That is insane! What are these people doing? There are a few simple things that everyone can do to preserve all that food.

I shop a couple of times a week and I do buy in bulk, but I have learned a few tricks along the way to save all that stuff from going bad before I get around to eating it.

The first thing is that you HAVE to own a deep freeze - even if you live by yourself get one! I have a 7.5 cubic foot and it is almost always full. Yes I bake, but there is also a lot of meats and meals that I have prepared myself and frozen in individual portions. I buy warehouse trays of meat and then portion into 1 or 2 portions/freezer bag. I then lay the packages on cookie sheets so that they will freeze flat and take up less room in the freezer. I cook stews, casseroles, chilli and other dishes that make 6 - 10 servings and freeze the portions. These can also be frozen flat in zippered sandwich bags or small freezer containers.

I don't buy the IQF (Individually Quick Frozen) meats and poultry. I find that even though they may be cheaper, the product generally has less flavour and their are often additional additives to increase the shelf life of the product. I also find that by buying the fresh meats and poultry, I can trim excess fat and remove bones and skin if desired. I buy large trays of lean ground beef, turkey or chicken then make them into individual meat loaves, burgers or divide into 1 pound packages and freeze for later use.

Generally, if I open a container such as apple sauce or stewed tomatoes, I only use a cup or so. Rather than allowing it to sit in the fridge for a month or so and go bad, I measure it into 1/2 cup portions and freeze in zippered snack bags that I also lay flat to freeze. Once frozen, place in a freezer bag and return to freezer for later usage.


Dairy products are another area where money is often wasted.

Pre-grated and sliced cheeses are a waste of money. You can grate and freeze cheddar and mozzarella (most commonly bought grated). When I open a package of cheese, I carefully open only one end and fold back the plastic shrink wrap. I then slice/grate what I need. Then I pull that wrap back over the exposed end AND wrap the entire piece tightly in a good quality plastic wrap. Keep an eye on the cheese as you use it. Watch for any change in colour or start of mould, If there is any, remove the manufacturers wrap and cut the mould off. A little mould does not mean that you have to throw the whole piece out. Just cut it off and replace with fresh plastic wrap. I have also taken over sized elastic bands and wrapped around the plastic wrap to prevent the plastic from coming undone. As I get closer to the end of the piece, I remove the original manufacturers wrap and cut all six sides of the cheese for the next use. That removes any immediate potential for mould. I also replace the plastic wrap it it is getting torn. Using this method, I can keep a 2lb. block of cheddar or mozzarella for about 6 weeks or so. Cheeses will vary, but I've also kept 1 pound Monterrey Jack and Havarti for at least a month.

Is the milk getting near the end of its best before date? Is there the faintest hint that it is starting to turn? Odds are it is the container that is causing it. I saved a 1.5 litre/quart jar with a plastic lid (It was from Miracle Whip). I washed and basically sterilized the container. When it was completely dry and cool, I poured the milk from the jug into the jar. It should keep for up to an additional week. Yes, you have to be more careful pouring, but it is still cheaper than throwing out sour milk!

Bread and buns going dry or mouldy? When I buy a loaf of bread, I always have it sliced at the store. When I get home, I take out what I need for the first day or two and the rest goes in the freezer. Buns/bagels are sliced horizontally and put in sandwich bags to freeze. Pre-slicing the bakery items is also a great way to save time if you are making a lunch to go. Take it out and make the sandwich/bunwich while still frozen. Put the cold item in the fridge or your insulated lunch bag, It will help preserve the freshness of your lunch. If your eating right away, then pop the slice in the toaster for a minute or the microwave for about 4 or 5 seconds. It will be like fresh from the bakery!


Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Grocery Shopping

A lot of people really hate grocery shopping. It can be very confusing trying to figure out if the product is healthy and economical. The increase in the price of gas has really started to effect the cost of what is on the grocer's shelf. So how do you shop healthy and still feed yourself and your family without going bankrupt at the cash register? Here are a few tips that will hopefully make you a smarter, more efficient shopper.

Always keep a list of things you are running low on. This way you can keep an eye open for the item to go on sale and stock up before you run out and have to pay full price.

Take a grocery list and follow it. Spur of the moment purchases are often more expensive in the long run. If the store has a "temporary" special, check the price and quality carefully. Is the item near the expiry date or damaged? How much of the product will you actually consume before it goes bad.

Never shop on an empty stomach. You are far more apt to make impulse purchases of buy more than you actually need or will use because you are hungry. The eyes really can be bigger than the stomach!

Manufacturer and store coupons are only a good deal IF the coupon is for an item you actually use on a regular basis. The reality is, that most coupons are put out to promote the sale of a higher priced item that isn't necessarily healthy such as sugar coated cereals, cookies and prepackaged TV dinner entrees'. These items are often loaded with calories, sugar, fats and preservatives that the body just doesn't need. You almost never see coupons for fresh products and basic staples because the store profits are really in trying to get you to buy premium prepackaged convenience items. Store savings programs can also be a waster of time/effort as you usually pay a higher price up front for being a loyal customer before you spend enough to get any real "bonuses" down the road.

Buying a sale item or a lesser known brand because it is cheaper is only a better deal IF you actually like the taste/quality of the product. I've tried a few "unknown" brands and ended up throwing them out or trying to "doctor" the taste because they were a poor quality or the taste was just not that satisfying. I've tried store brands of peanut butters, cooking sprays and mayonnaise that I thought were horrible, but I've also found little difference between the taste of some products such as salad dressings and canned meats. There is nothing wrong wit "trying the sore/cheaper brand, BUT start by buying the smaller size, not the econo size - at least until you know that you like it! Make a choice as to whether the difference in price is worth the sacrifice in flavour/quality.

Did you know that the majority of healthy shopping can be done on the outer aisles of the store? Take a second and think about the layout of the store. The produce, meat, bakery and dairy are all on the outer aisle of the store.

The pre-packaged and convenience items are all in between. Even most of the frozen food aisles are in the middle aisles.

There are some healthy items in the middle aisles such as whole grain cereals, pastas, rice, spices, some baking products and canned products but most of the stuff is just products that are expensive, unhealthy and unnecessary for most people.

That's not to say that there aren't problems in the outer aisles, as there are also unhealthy choices in the bakery, dairy, meat and even in the produce department. The trick is to be aware of whether you are purchasing a convenience item or a real basic. Pre-cut carrots, shredded, cheeses, seasoned meats, bakery sweets and prepared items from the deli, may save you time but they will more likely than not add a lot to your grocery bill and to your waist line.

If you must venture into those middle aisles, then be aware that the better deals are generally on the top or bottom shelf. The product that the store "wants you to buy will be at eye level. They assume you are in a hurry and that you won't take the time to really look at all the options. The same is true in the cookie, cereal and crackers areas. The heavy sugar stuff is ll at a level that the little kids will see first. They spot it and beg the parent to get their "favourite". Many parents end up giving in rather than risking a scene, only to have the kid hate it or go on sugar high!

You can't win either way and the store planners know it! Items displayed at the end of the aisle are not always on sale - they just may be over stocked or near the expiry date. Know your prices!

If possible shop early in the morning to get the best selection of fresh products.  I like to shop Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. The stores aren't as busy as they are on weekends and most sale items will be in stock. If you can, try and shop at the same time of day in the same store each week. This allows you to get to know some of the staff - and in turn they get to know you and your shopping habits. Being friendly with the staff can lead to help finding the better deals, freshest items and sometimes a discount for a slightly damaged product or something near expiry that hasn't been marked down yet.

By shopping early, you will also be able to check out the newly discounted items in various departments. Produce may be starting to wilt or spoil, but if it is discounted enough and you can use it in a couple days or freeze it, it may be worth the discount. Fresh meat items that are close to expiry are deeply discounted. These can be portioned and frozen immediately for later use. Bakery items on discount can almost always be frozen. Dairy items are a bit trickier but if you know you can use it quickly or freeze it than the discount and short life of the product may be worth it for you.

Try and browse all the area flyer's. Use a high light pen to mark the deals in each. Then check your list to see where the best deals are for you for that week and go to one or two stores where you'll spend your grocery dollars most efficiently.

Always take the store flyer with you so you can make sure you are getting the right products and get faster assistance if you can show a clerk the item you are looking for. It never hurts to ask for a rain check if they are out of a sale item. Some stores say they don't give them out, but if I tell them that I know I won't be able to get back before the sale is over, the person from that department (rather than customer service) will usually sign the flyer authorizing a future discount when the item is in stock.

Personally, I take all the flyers with me when I grocery shop as many stores will price match competitors. Many stores actually do the price comparisons and mark down items their competitors have on sale but there are some things they miss so it is always better to have the flyer with you if at all possible.

If at all possible pay cash or use your debit card. Paying with a credit card may earn bonus points, but it is also easier to loose track of just how much you are really paying for your groceries each month. I check all receipts when I get home to make sure I haven't been overcharged and also keep a running total of what I've spent on groceries for that month. Some months I spend a lot more or a lot less but last year, I averaged about $170.00/month. That included all my kitchen products - edible and non edible. It also included all my Christmas baking supplies (over a $100.00 on its own).

So there you have it. Just a few ideas and a little common sense to beating the rising costs of eating healthy. Over the next two days, I'll gibe you some tips on how to store all those that deals once you get them home.