Sunday, June 27, 2010

Canada Day In The Neighbourhood

This Thursday, July 1, Canada will celebrate its 143rd Birthday!

It is a national holiday and there will be countless celebrations across the land. The largest gathering is always in Ottawa – the nation’s capitol but odds are there is also a gathering near you.

I’m one of those people who has access to a party in my own neighbourhood and another one within about a mile.

Having a Canada Day gathering in your part of town can be both good and bad.

On the plus side, you don’t have to worry about how you are going to get there – you can walk or ride a bike if you are so inclined. It’s great if you want to pop in and out at various times of the day and evening. If you forget something you can just walk home. Local transit also offers shuttle service between the larger celebrations if you want to party hop!

The area I live in, has hosted a large street party for many years. The local business improvement zone closes off several blocks so that they and other vendors can set up displays and offer entertainment for the crowds.

They usually start closing streets at 6:00PM on June 30. Stores and vendors set up special displays with crafts, clothes, jewellery, books and other merchandise. Restaurants offer food and drink specials and set up street patios. Food vendors also abound with mini donuts, corn dogs, cotton candy – you name it. Things are more or less set up and ready to party by about 7:30PM.

There is a fun zone for the kids and a beer garden for the adults. The beer garden also has a free stage featuring local performers. A second free stage is also set up at the opposite end of the blocked off area and offers a variety of performers. Just for good measure, there is a smaller, third stage set up about the middle of the blocked off area. Several buskers also set up along the streets between the stages.

The scheduled entertainment goes until about midnight on the stages then resumes late morning on Canada Day. Things start shutting down around midnight on Canada Day and streets are reopened by about 3 or 4 in the morning.

Sounds like fun, right?

Well, yes it can be a lot of fun. Unfortunately there can also be a lot of negatives to a neighbourhood party.

Transit buses are rerouted to usually quiet side streets. Aside from emergency vehicles from the neighbourhood fire hall, most streets are restricted to local access only. In other words, if you don’t live in the area and have your vehicle parked here before the streets are blocked - then don’t even bother trying to drive here or you will be walking at least 10 minutes from wherever you do find a place to park!

Depending on the weather, up to 10,000 people may visit the party. That is a lot of extra people milling about. That is great for local businesses and vendors, but can be a nuisance for local residents who are tolerating you traipsing through their streets and back lanes.

The part that I hate the most though, is the noise factor.

Walking along the party area can be a bit loud – much like walking through a packed midway - especially as the day wears on and the crowds swell. Many businesses and vendors also have their own sound systems. Everybody wants your attention. They want you to check out what they are offering and open your wallets. The entertainers on the free stages, tend to ramp up the volume as the day goes on. That is okay, IF you happen to like whatever genre of music that stage is offering but not much fun if you aren’t a fan. Sometimes you have to shout just to be heard by the person standing next to you.

Regardless of your audio tastes or how long you stay, you tend to walk away with a bit of ringing in your ears. That goes away fairly quickly once you get to quieter areas.

Escaping the sound isn’t much of an option for those of us living in the area. There are a lot of apartment blocks in this neighbourhood and the audio from the various sound systems of the three stages tends to reverberate off of the nearby buildings. You don’t notice it much from street level but if you live in one of those buildings it can be very annoying. It’s like getting three overlapping radio stations and not getting any of them clearly. The booming base of all three stages comes through though! Add to that the drone of the crowd and ... well it starts to sound like those annoying horns that are constantly blaring during the World Cup Soccer Games in Africa this year.

It probably wouldn’t be so bad if the street noise actually went to a reasonable level after the stage entertainment ends at midnight. Unfortunately, that is when so many of the buskers – with varying degrees of talent - come out and try to entertain the young revellers who don’t want to go home yet as well as the semi sober and the inebriated who have spent some time in the beer gardens or local pubs. For these people, there is something very appealing and liberating about being able to party in the middle of a deserted city thoroughfare. They want to enjoy this normally forbidden activity as long and as loudly as possible. Just when you think things have quieted down, someone will set off a few firecrackers or start singing Oh Canada at the top of their longs – off key!

They don’t realize – no make that they don’t care – that there are thousands of people living in the area who are trying to sleep. Children who need their rest. People who don’t have the next day off to sleep in. Residents who didn’t have the option or ability to go somewhere else for a couple of days of peace and quiet.

I think most of us who live here, tolerate the inconvenience and the absurdly high decibel of noise for the street party. After all it is only once a year for a day and a half right? Well, yes unless of course Canada Day falls on a weekend in which case the party is usually a 2 ½ day affair with three nights of little or no sleep. Oh, joy!!

Over the years, I’ve tried using earplugs to block the noise and get some shut eye, but I don’t sleep as well with them in. I can barely hear my phone ring with them in, let alone if there were a fire alarm. Frankly, I find the earplugs make things too quiet and very disorienting. It’s not that I am a party pooper – I love my country and want to celebrate its birthday just as much as the next person - I just need my rest to function decently the next day.

Wherever you happen to be, I hope that you have a safe and enjoyable Canada Day as you celebrate the birthday of our great country.

Just one little favour ... please try and keep it down to a dull roar after midnight, okay? Thanks!


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Hats On!!

Have you ever noticed how some people look better in hats than others?

Most men can find a hat that suits them without a lot of effort. Depending on the shape of their head, most can wear a baseball cap and look pretty good – although I’ve never been a fan of the backwards or sideways cap. Just looks silly to me. Some guys look great in a poor boy or engineers cap. Cowboy hats have always been a staple for men. Frankly, some can pull it off better than others.

Personally I think a lot of men can look really great in a fedora – especially tipped slightly to one side a la Bogart! Most can also look pretty darn good in a panama hat!

It isn’t that simple for a woman. I swear some women were born to wear hats! From the stylish hats that women wore for special occasions to the Sunday hats to the everyday hats that ladies of a bygone era wore just to run errands - a hat was always a must to complete the ensemble. It still is a must for some women.
Nowadays, hats are more for protection from the sun than for glamour and style. Not that these kind of hats can’t be stylish!

For some of us, finding a hat that suits us isn’t a simple or even enjoyable experience. I’m one of those people that hats don’t look that great on.

I’ve never really been a fan of hats. As a kid, I remember my mom making me wear one when I went out on really hot days in the summer. I looked ridiculous. I took it off whenever I could. It made my head sweat and made a mess of my hair.

By the time I was a teen in the early 1970’s hats were a bit more in fashion again. My friends were wearing the crocheted floppy brim hats. I had a friend make one for me in a dark brown and also in a denim shade. These weren’t bad because they were made of a cotton yarn and had lots of little holes so at least the head didn’t sweat!

Floppy brim cloth hats were also popular and I bought a couple. They didn’t look great, but it was passable and it did keep the sun out of my eyes. For awhile, engineer caps and bandanas were all the rage among my friends. I wore it too, but didn’t look nearly as stylish!

I’ve owned my share of ball caps that promoted various companies, organizations and promotions. I still own one for the local drive-inn of my youth and a favourite radio station! I’ve also worn a few visors.

My parents brought me a soft brim leather hat from Mexico many years ago. I really liked that hat even though it didn’t look that great on me. I also owned a cowboy hat at one time.

If I had my choice, I wouldn’t wear a hat at all. Actually, the only time I wear hats these days is on bright, warm sunny days when the UV ratings are high.

I have a floppy brim denim hat that reminds me of my teen years but it looks like hell on me. It also doesn’t stay on very well if there is more than a slight breeze.
Over the last fifteen years or so, I’ve been wearing a modified style of a baseball cap, It ties in a bow at the back rather than the notched band and also has an extra long, wide brim to keep the sun out of the eyes. I really like this style and it is one of the few that actually suits me. The main problem is that it doesn’t cover the back of the neck or the ears and tends to blow off fairly easily in a breeze.
Trying to function with this kind of hat hasn’t been easy for me. Walking with a white cane is challenging enough in the best weather conditions. Then, throw in using a monocular to see distance or trying to carry any bags/packages in the other hand. If the wind picks up, you practically need a third hand to hold your hat on. Although, a third hand may come in handy at certain times, it just isn’t a practical or viable solution. As much as I hated to admit it, it was time to buy a hat that had a chin strap option – or as my mom likes to call it, “something to tie my head on with”!

So, I finally went looking for a new hat a few weeks ago. I hadn’t seen anything I liked that was even remotely practical or durable in most of the major stores, but I knew that there was one place that I would surely find a good selection AND knowledgeable staff that could help me find the right hat for my needs – Mountain Equipment Co-op!

I checked the web site first and found a few possibilities so printed off my three top picks. The following morning, I went down and a very helpful staff member showed me the hats I had printed off as well as a few others. Most didn’t look that great on me or I felt that the brim was too narrow or way to floppy to actually protect me from the sun in a breeze. Some were also heavier material than I wanted or were meant more for wearing in rainy weather.

The hat I ultimately chose is stylish, practical, durable and very versatile in how it can be worn. I bought the Halcyon Sombrero which is made by Outdoor Research. OR’s site lists the hat at $42 Canadian yet I paid only $34 (plus taxes) regular price in store at MEC.
I’ve only worn it a few times so far but have gotten several compliments on it. One of the days that I did have it on, also happened to be extremely windy – gusts of 50-70km/hour (31-44 miles/hour)! For that strength of wind, I tightened the hat band and used the chin strap. In the ten minutes I was facing into the wind, the brim only went up once. Later that same morning, the wind was at my back for about 10 minutes and the back only lifted once. Not once did I have to worry about losing my hat – it stayed on perfectly!

This hat isn’t a great choice for rain, but it will keep a light squall from soaking you. It is also light and airy enough to keep your head from getting sweaty. This particular style is suitable for both women and men.

Warm sunny weather has arrived. Summer officially begins tomorrow – June 21.

So, if you are looking for a great summer hat – and you really should be wearing one to protect yourself from those dangerous UV rays – then this just may be the perfect hat for you too!


Sunday, June 13, 2010

Improvised Camp Chilli

When I worked at summer camp back in the 1970’s, there were certain foods and recipes that were unique to each camp. For those of us who worked there several weeks or over several years of summers, it came to be as much a tradition for us as it was for the campers. Some we enjoyed more than others! There was your basic camp food like pancakes and sausages, hot dogs, hamburgers, roasts, soup, sandwiches and so on.

But where I worked, there was a type of chilli that was not found anywhere else. Almost every week we would make this recipe – outside in a large cooking pot over an open fire if the weather cooperated. It was so good and there was rarely any leftovers.

It isn’t your basic chilli recipe and many people will likely screw up their noses just reading the recipe. I recall the first time I worked in the kitchen and had to help assemble the ingredients I thought the head cook was joking when she handed me the list of ingredients.

I asked the origin of the recipe. I was told that several years earlier, a cook was going to make chilli and discovered she was missing a couple of ingredients so she had to improvise. The campers loved it and a tradition was born.

Before I left the camp that summer, I wrote down the recipe – not the version that served 50 but a more manageable family size version. I made it several times over the next few years.

Eventually I got tired of it and actually forgot about it until a few months ago when I was talking to a friend about weird recipe ingredients. I wondered if I would still like the recipe after all these years. I would have to try it again one of these days.

So, a few days ago, I checked to see if I had all the ingredients. I was missing only one - the second canned ingredient listed below - so picked up the ingredient while shopping. Before I prepared the chilli, I looked over the old recipe again and decided that my tastes had changed a bit over the years so I should probably add a few more things. The peppers, mushrooms, garlic, basil and oregano were not in the original but I had a strong sense that I would need them to make it satisfactory to my more mature taste buds.

As I was preparing the recipe, I really wondered if I was making a mistake in even trying this again after so many years – let alone making changes to it. When it was ready, I ladled out a bowl and set it on the table beside the fresh French bread that I had bought that morning.

Okay, here goes nothing .... hmmm ... this isn’t bad if I do say so myself!

So here it is - a modified version of the camp chilli that I enjoyed as a teen. It isn’t cooked over an open fire, but there is no reason you can’t cook it inside or out this summer.

Improvised Camp Chilli

• Olive or canola oil
• 1 pound lean ground beef
• 1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 ¼ cup)
• ½ sweet red bell peper chopped (about ½ cup)
• 1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
• 1 Tablespoon (bottled type) minced garlic
• 1 14oz./398ml can red kidney beans, undrained
• 1 14oz./398ml can spaghetti in tomato sauce
• 1 10oz./284ml can vegetable soup
• 1 ½ teaspoon chilli powder
• 1 teaspoon dried basil
• 1 teaspoon dried oregano

Drizzle about a tablespoon of canola or olive oil in a large, deep frying pan and add the ground beef. Brown the beef over medium high heat stirring often. Add the onion and pepper and stir into beef, cooking till translucent. Stir in the mushrooms and garlic and cook just till tender. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Reduce heat to medium low and cook about 15 to 20 minutes, stirring often.

Serve with a tossed salad and a bread such as Focaccia, French or homemade buns.

Serves 4



Sunday, June 6, 2010

Gal Pals

I have a confession to make. I’ve never watched Sex And The City.

Yup, that’s right – not one single episode. Of course, I have seen clips of the show and heard about it enough over the last decade or so, to know the main players; Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda and Samantha. Frankly, you’d have to be living under a rock not to know at least a little bit about the show. It has been a huge hit among women around the world. Even men have followed the show – if only in hopes of getting a clue about how a woman’s mind works!

I understand the concept of the show – four female friends sharing their life experiences and fantasies . The bonding and the camaraderie. The men, the drinks, the fashion and so on. I get that this is a huge draw for many.

I just don’t want to watch it. I have no interest in fashion. I don’t own any high heels or designer handbags or even a dress for that matter. I’ve never bought or read a fashion mag. I’ve never been interested in the bars or club scene. I have no idea what is in a Cosmo. I almost never drink and when I do it is vodka – which is about the only alcohol I can tolerate without getting sick! Some would see all of this as blasphemy and I could be considered a traitor to my gender.

Sex And The City, certainly wasn’t the first to promote the gal pal relationship. They just did it in a more provocative way. Being a cable show allowed them a lot more freedom to say and do things that weren’t allowed on network TV.

That being said, the ladies of Wisteria Lane on ABC’s Desperate Housewives could give them a run for their money in my book. Bree, Susan, Lynette and Gabby have unique bonds. They are not only neighbours, but have experienced a lot of drama together over the years - all while looking rather stylish and hoisting a few cocktails. They play poker together, shoot the breeze, offer advice, a shoulder to lean on and an alibi when necessary. Now that is a gal pal!
But, if I were going to go for the best gal pal ensemble of all time – well, there is no question in my mind that it was “The Golden Girls”! Blanche Devereaux (Rue McClanahan), Dorothy Zbornak (Bea Arthur), Rose Nylund (Betty White), and Sophia Petrillo (Estelle Getty) were four spirited women of a certain age who shared a home in Miami, Florida. These four women, bonded over cheesecake – usually late at night. They talked about their lives (past and present), their families and growing old. They shared their hopes, their dreams, their fears, their sorrows and their triumphs.

They also talked a lot about men and sex! These women all grew up during a time when s-e-x was more of a dirty word, but as they aged, they discovered more freedoms and liberations in their sex lives. Even though they were all considered seniors, they were dating and enjoying the company of men in and out of the bedroom. The conversations that these ladies had were enlightened, entertaining, frank and often thought provoking. They were also rather spicy at times. They said what they felt and took risks to find love again.

The Golden Girls gave us hope and encouragement to be ourselves and take chances with our love as we age. They gave us something to aspire to in our golden years or at any age for that matter.

Sadly, real life isn’t as simple.

Gal Pals on TV always manage to work out their differences – eventually. Real life often tells a different story. We change as we age. Our priorities change. Spouses/Partners, children, careers and interests change how we feel and react over time.

Then there is the whole clique like thing that often happens in gal pal relationships. Some feel closer than others or get their nose out of joint when they think they aren’t’ fully in the loop. Some get territorial or too gossipy. Way too much drama and immature behaviour for my tolerance level.

Don’t get me wrong, I do have my own gal pals but I just can’t imagine sitting down with them and sharing the intimacies of my life with all of them as the ladies on TV have done. I’m better at the one on one conversations for the really personal stuff.

Let’s face it, some gal pals are closer than others. Some you can confide only a few things and some you can tell almost anything! There are a couple of my gal pals that I can tell anything to and others that I’d be much more cautious in how much I share.

Gal pals means different things to different people. I have no idea if any of mine watch Carrie and her pals but it really doesn’t matter. We will never be Sex And The City gals. Thankfully we don’t have the drama of the Wisteria Lane gals. I think we can relate more with The Golden Girls even though we aren’t quite that old - yet.

My gal pals aren’t anything like the gals on TV, but we are all intelligent, open minded, spirited, compassionate, insightful and funny women of a “certain age”. We know that when push comes to shove or we just need a shoulder to lean on – our gal pals are the ones we want at our side. I love my gal pals dearly and try not to take any of them for granted.

So, if not being interested in the latest designs in fashion or sipping trendy cocktails at a hot spot and dishing about the latest gossip or man to cross my path makes me a traitor to my gender – so be it. I can live with that!