Sunday, December 25, 2011

Holiday Wishes

Another Christmas is here. Christians around the world are celebrating the birth of the Holy Child.

This is supposed to be a day to spend with family and friends. To share fellowship, food and gifts. A day of peace, love and goodwill towards all.

For many, this is a day tinged with sadness, anxiety and stress.

Too many people in this world, have little to celebrate. Economies are in trouble in many parts of the world. Financial problems have led many to abandon their homes. Wars and civil unrest have torn lives, and countries apart. Extreme weather and natural disasters in the forms of hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, floods and more have also taken human, emotional and financial toll.

Then there are those who have been dealing with illness or the loss of a loved one.

The thought of facing another Christmas is overwhelming for all too many. We want to crawl back under the covers and stay there till things look brighter – whenever that may be.

Some do just that – but the majority of us find a way to move on and celebrate even the smallest things in our lives.

Some decorate their homes to the hilt. Some just put a couple of ornaments out.

Some will prepare or sit down to a bountiful meal. Some will heat a frozen dinner or get take-out.

Many will choose to gather with others and some – either by choice or circumstance – will spend the day alone.

Some will go to a place or worship while others will say a quiet prayer of gratitude.

No matter what others may say, there are no set rules for how we spend this day.

We try to find a balance of what is right for ourselves while respecting the rights of others in our lives. Not an easy accomplishment on any day but even more so on this day of days.

We are thankful for the food on our plate. The shelter around us. The people around us who really do give a damn about us.

We are thankful for the times past that were shared with those who have left this world.

We cherish past holiday memories and traditions while creating new memories and traditions.

No matter how you and those around you spend the day, may if be a day of peace and love. May it be warm and safe. May there be food on your plate and goodwill in your heart. May the coming year bring you love, peace, health and prosperity!

Merry Humbug,

John Lennon – War Is Over (Happy Christmas)
So this is Xmas
And what have you done
Another year over
And a new one just begun
And so this is Xmas
I hope you have fun
The near and the dear one
The old and the young

A very Merry Xmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear

And so this is Xmas
For weak and for strong
For rich and the poor ones
The world is so wrong
And so happy Xmas
For black and for white
For yellow and red ones
Let's stop all the fight

A very Merry Xmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear

And so this is Xmas
And what have we done
Another year over
A new one just begun
And so happy Xmas
We hope you have fun
The near and the dear one
The old and the young

A very Merry Xmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear
War is over, if you want it
War is over now

Michael Bublé - Grown Up Christmas List
Do you remember me?
I sat upon your knee
I wrote to you with childhood fantasies
Well, I'm all grown-up now
Can you still help somehow?
I'm not a child, but my start still can dream

So here's my lifelong wish
My grown-up Christmas list
Not for myself, but for a world in need

No more lives torn apart
That wars would never start
And time would heal all hearts
Every man would have a friend
That right would always win
And love would never end
This is my grown-up Christmas list

What is this illusion called the innocence of youth?
Maybe only in that blind belief can we ever find the truth

No more lives torn apart
That wars would never start
And time would heal our hearts
Every man would have a friend
That right would always win
And love would never end

This is my grown-up Christmas list
This is my only lifelong wish
This is my grown-up Christmas list

PS – I am taking a bit of a break over the next couple of weeks, but I will be back sometime in January, 2012 with new posts.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Soulful Chicken

Looking for a recipe to use up some leftover turkey? Or how about a great dish for a cool winter’s night? Have I got a recipe for you!

This recipe is a bit of a cross between a “Chicken A La King” and a Shepherd’s Pie”. It has a kicked up potato crust and a creamy filling loaded with veggies and chicken!

I found the original recipe “Hearty Chicken Bake” is from a 1992 cookbook called “101+ Hurry-Up Chicken Recipes”.

The original was good, but like every other recipe, I’ve played with the ingredients and method to make it my own.

What did I do differently?

To me, the sauce was always a bit too bland and runny so I decreased the amount of milk and added a bit of ranch dressing to kick up the flavour. Rather than using mixed frozen vegetables, I used frozen corn and frozen peas – but also sautéed onion, red pepper, garlic and carrots.

I baked the potato crust for a few minutes while I was preparing the veggies and making the filling. That way, the crust has a bit more stability and flavour.

As for the chicken, well there are a couple of things you can do differently. I’ve used leftover chicken or turkey and sautéed it with the vegetables to give a bit more flavour. If I didn’t have any leftover poultry, I used 1/2 pound of boneless skinless chicken breast. See the * at the bottom of the recipe.

Soulful Chicken

1 cup frozen kernel corn
1 cup frozen peas
2/3 cup frozen cut green beans
4 medium potatoes (about 1 1/2 – 1 3/4 pounds)
1 79g/2.8oz can French fried onions, divided
1 1/4 cup grated medium cheddar cheese, divided
4 Tablespoons Ranch Dressing, divided
1/2 cup chopped onion
Olive oil for sautéing (about 1-2 Tablespoons)
1/4 cup chopped sweet red bell pepper
3/4 cup diced carrots (fresh – not frozen or canned!)
2 teaspoons minced garlic (bottled type) or 3 cloves, chopped
1 1/2 cup diced cooked chicken or turkey*
1 284ml/10oz can mushroom soup
2 Tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
1/4 tsp ground black pepper

Place the frozen corn, peas and beans in a colander and rinse with warm water till thawed. Set aside to drain thoroughly.

Peel and quarter the potatoes. Cook till tender and drain. Mash the potatoes. Crumble 1/2 of the fried onions and add to the potatoes along with 1/2 cup of the cheddar cheese and 2 Tablespoons of Ranch Dressing.

Spoon the potatoes into a well greased 2 quart oven dish. With the back of a spoon, spread the potatoes evenly along the bottom and up the sides to form a crust. Bake in a 350F oven for about 15-20 minutes.

While the potato crust is baking, sauté the onions, red pepper and carrots in olive oil. Once they are starting to brown, add the garlic and the cooked chicken*. Sauté for a couple of minutes then add the thawed veggies, mushroom soup, ranch dressing, milk, mustard powder and pepper. Stir to combine and let it heat through on a medium low setting. Stir occasionally.

Remove the potato crust from the oven and add the creamy chicken and veggie mixture to the center of the crust. Return to oven and bake for an additional 25 minutes.

Top with the remaining cheese and fried onions. Return to oven for 5 minutes or until cheese is bubbling and onions are starting to brown.

Let stand for 5 minutes before serving. (Do not expect the servings to lift out intact as a pie would. The potato crust is not that solid and does break as you take it out.)

Serves 4-6

*If you do not have left over chicken or turkey, take about 1/2 pound of boneless skinless chicken breast and dice into small pieces. Brown the chicken in the olive oil and remove to a paper towel on a plate. Then sauté the veggies in the drippings. Add the garlic on its own, then add the freshly cooked chicken with the veggies, soup and spices.

Note: If you have individual oven proof serving dishes, you could divide the potatoes among each of them and proceed as above – also dividing the creamy mixture, the cheese and onion toppings. Heating time will be less in this case but since the ingredients are all cooked, you are basically waiting till everything is heated thoroughly.



Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Holiday Waist

Have you looked at a grocery store flyer lately?

Noticed anything different?

An observant and health conscious shopper would have noticed that the usual fare is all but missing.

Oh sure, some of the basic produce, meat, dairy and grains are still there – just not as many of them. The versions that are there also tend to be more of the fancy variety or better cuts though.

Staple items have been replaced by the “must have” seasonal treats and delicacies. The fancy cheeses, gourmet meats and specialty baked items. Countless variations on appetizers, side dishes, desserts, flavoured beverages, snack foods and treats have filled the flyers and the aisles of our favourite stores.

The advertisers and manufacturers want us to buy their premade products rather than waste time making them ourselves. Who cares what it is made of or how many calories it has! This is already made! Why not pay us your hard earned money because we are saving you all that prep time!

Yes, I’m sure they have our best interests at heart – NOT!

We want to entertain and be entertained at this time of year. We try and crowd it all into a few weeks. To do that, it often means shortcuts of convenience and pre-packaged foods from the bakeries, delis and other specialty food shops to serve to the guests.

Just what we need – more artificial foods laden with hidden calories, sodium, saturated fats and other unwanted additives.

Waistlines get thicker and wallets get thinner in the name of socializing and being a good friend/family member or host.

‘Tis the season to indulge! We can diet in January!

Yeah, right. January rolls around and many people roll over on the couch, too tired from the holidays to get up and exercise or shop for healthy food. Oh, they may have good intentions and may even show up at the gym for a week or two, but far too many don’t have the will power to stick to it.

For that reason, we need to be very aware of what we do now. Think about what is being served at all those holiday functions.

Now, I’m not trying to be a party pooper, nor am I suggesting that you can’t have an occasional treat. Almost anything in moderation. There is nothing wrong with having a wee taste of almost anything. The problem is that most of us have trouble stopping at just one of those holiday favourites!

Before you put any of those seasonal fave's and treats on your plate or in your glass, ask yourself if the extra calories, sodium and lack of nutrition are really worth the temporary taste sensation.

Make a deal with yourself that you can’t have the less healthy options until after you’ve had two or more healthy options. Odds are, that you won’t be as hungry after the healthy foods and may even say no to those lesser options!

Here are a few more suggestions:
- Try and pick a healthier choice.
- Fill up on the raw veggies, whole grains and fresh fruit.
- Avoid the processed foods and creamy sauces.
- Limit your alcoholic beverages.
- Position yourself as far from the buffet table or other food trays as possible. It really does help to avoid grazing.
- Some people also find that if they drink extra water and have a small healthy snack before going to a holiday gathering then they are far less apt to overeat while they are out.

Oh, one more thing – PLEASE don’t drink and drive! If any of your guests have too much to drink, please make sure that they have a safe ride home or allow them to sleep it off at your home. If you want to drink while you are out, have a designated driver or pre-order a cab to drive you home. Many communities have programs that you can call to get a ride home. Here in Manitoba, we have Operation Red Nose. Teams of volunteer drivers, will drive you and your vehicle home. The service is free but donations are greatly accepted and money raised goes to local charities.

I know there is more stuff on your calendar than you probably want, but whatever you do - DON’T stop your workouts! With all the extra calories you are most likely taking in this month, your body needs that physical activity on a regular basis. Yes, I know that fitting a workout into a crowded schedule isn’t easy, but trust me – your body and your mind will appreciate the effort! Quitting or even cutting back on those regular workouts, will make it a whole lot harder to get back into the routine once the holidays are over.

Speaking of your mind. It is pretty easy to get overwhelmed this time of year. Either with schedules, responsibilities or family dynamics. You can’t escape all of it but try and set aside at least 10 minutes a day just for yourself – more if you can. Clear your mind of the past few hours and set aside the coming hours. Do something that relaxes and clears your mind. It could be meditation, yoga, a walk, playing your favourite music – whatever works for you. It will rejuvenate you. Taking that time will help you to de-stress and face whatever is coming up.

My mom always joked that had she known that Christmas was coming she’d have been ready. Well we do know it is coming. It is the same day every year. If you really wanted to take off some of the stress of the season there are things you can do.

Why not try spreading the socializing out more? There is no law or rule that says you HAVE to see everyone within a couple of weeks of Christmas or even in the month of December. There tends to be at least one friend that I end up getting together with in late November. Almost every year there are at least a couple of people that I don’t get to see until sometime in January as schedules are just too busy. Those visits are always more relaxed as the pressure of the season either hasn’t really started yet or is already over.

Whatever your holiday season brings, I hope you find the will power to resist the majority of those over processed, calorie laden, nutritionally challenged treats. I hope that the stress of the season is greatly overshadowed by the love, peace and goodwill that this season is supposed to bring.

Merry Humbug,

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Materialistic Season

December is always a busy time. There is Christmas and Hanukah as well as other seasonal celebrations. A season that is supposed to be about peace, goodwill and spending time with the people we care about.

Somewhere along the line, that peace and goodwill has all too often been replaced by materialism, over spending and over scheduling.

Once upon a time, Christmas used to be about spending time with the people who were most important to us. Sure we’d get small presents but they didn’t cost a lot. Certainly not enough to put consumers in debt for the next few months.

There would be one gift from Santa for each of the kids. A stocking with some peanuts, a mandarin orange, a candy cane and maybe some socks or a small toy. Parents would also give each child a gift. Depending on the income of a family, kids may or may not exchange gifts. The kids usually made something in school for the parents. With or without religious beliefs, it was more about spending time together than exchanging gifts.

Some families have tried very hard to stick to those goals. I know of a few families, where Santa leaves a stocking full of necessities such as new toothbrushes, combs, deodorant, socks etc. Yes, the kids also get an orange and a bit of candy but it isn’t excessive.

Merchants and manufacturers want us to believe that giving more is better. Their message is to buy, buy, buy! They want us to believe that the value of the gift is directly equal to how you feel about the other person. The more you spend the more you care.

Stores and advertisements are filled with the supposed “must haves” of the season. The things that they feel the customers never knew they always wanted and needed. They push their merchandise at unwitting shoppers, desperate to find the perfect gift. Our homes fill up with things we didn’t need, didn’t want or can’t use.

It’s hard to resist many of those sales pitches when it is all presented in a neat little ad or a 30 second pitch. People have gradually been conditioned to expect big and expensive gifts. You are made to feel like a cheapskate or you don’t really care if you don’t buy the expensive (fill in the blank) item that everyone wants!!

I’ve never bought that logic. My friends and family are in my life because we care about each other and love each other – not how much we spend on each other’s gifts. I refuse to measure a friends worth by how much they spend on me. I’d rather have something from a dollar store that was given with love than something that cost a lot of money and given out of obligation.

Many years ago, when one of my nieces was about 6 or 7, she gave me a plain white note pad for Christmas. Nothing fancy – just one of the ones you’d write a letter on. I asked her what made her decide to give me a note pad. She said that since I was always making lists on scrap paper, she figured this would be something I’d like! It was the best gift I got that year!

If consumers were to be perfectly honest, does anyone really NEED multi hundred dollar gifts such as shoes, purses, shirts/blouses, sweaters or jewellery? $50 pens or paperweights?

You can find lots of great deals at second hand shops, craft sales and discount retailers. I’m not talking kitsch either. There are gently used books, music, movies, clothes, toys, jewellery and any number of other items to be found in nearly new shops.

Consumers work extra hours to pay for the extra gifts and the extra entertaining of the obligatory gatherings. The extra hours mean less time with the people we want to be with so we compensate with bigger gifts we can’t afford. It’s a vicious circle.

Some recent surveys have shown that the average consumer here in Manitoba will spend close to $700 on gifts this holiday season. That isn’t counting the extra foods and decorations they may also buy!

In many ways I am lucky. I can’t afford to spend a lot on gifts but what I do spend goes a long way. Most of my Christmas gifts are my homemade chocolates and baking. This year I spent about $130 on supplies – including packaging. From that, I made up 37 gift bags and 3 trays in varying sizes. I donated 2 gift bags to a friend to auction as part of a fundraiser for “Movember” – a cause that has guys growing a moustache for the month of November to help raise awareness and money for prostate cancer research. The remaining will go to family, friends and the wonderful people who make my life easier throughout the year.

I spent about $125 on nine other gifts. Several of those were Christmas ornaments for the children in my life – the grandnieces and grandnephew and kids of friends. From the year they are born till they leave home they get a Christmas ornament every year (usually something handmade that I pick up at a craft sale in November). By the time they leave home, they have enough ornaments to decorate a small tree. They look forward to seeing what I get them every year and I love it because I don’t have to know what they have on their wish lists or the sizes they wear or what they already have.

Wish lists - done within reason - are a great way to make the shopping easier. Mine is generally quite detailed and even includes price estimates for many of the items. The most expensive item on it this year was about $60 but most were in the $5-$15 range.

Not everyone has the time or ability to bake or make their own gifts but that doesn’t mean that you have to spend a lot at this time of year either.

Spend what you can afford without putting yourself in debt. If you are lucky enough to have the extra money to spend, please consider a donation to your local food bank, a homeless shelter, a coats for kids program or a toy drive. Pay it forward - you never know what the future holds. Somewhere down the road you or someone you love may need that helping hand. Even a small donation can warm a lot of hearts.

Give from the heart – not the pocketbook. It isn’t about the cost. It really is the thought that counts.

Yes, that is a bit of a cliché but your real friends will understand and appreciate whatever you give them. And in the end, isn’t that what the season is all about? Goodwill, peace and spending time with the people who matter to us.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Big Game

If you live in Canada, no doubt you’ve heard there is a football game today. The Canadian Football League (CFL) is having their season ending game to see who wins the Grey Cup.

This year the fans are flocking to Vancouver for the 99th Annual Grey Cup.

Host cities have huge parties to celebrate the league and the two teams that made it to the end. Festivities began on Thursday with concerts, parties, parades and a whole lot of other fun fan events. Fans from across the country head out for both the game and the parties to cheer for their favourite teams and just to have a lot of fun with like minded people.

This year’s game features the Vancouver’s B.C. Lions and our very own Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Bomber fans are planning parties and several hundred have made arrangements to be in Vancouver for the game and festivities in the days leading up to the big showdown.

Football fans tend to be a fanatic lot. Especially here in Winnipeg. In the summer they’ll sit in blistering heat or pouring rain to watch the team play and IF the team makes it to the playoffs, they’ll sit in freezing cold weather! Some years, they’ve sat there in falling snow just to see the home team play. This past Sunday, the Bombers game was played in -10C to -14C weather.

Let’s face it, there aren’t a lot of sports where the teams can play in such extremes and still have thousands of fans brave the elements in shorts and T-shirts or snowmobile suits and sleeping bags.

I’ll be honest here, I am not a football fan. I’ve never actually watched a full game although I have caught bits and pieces of games over the years on TV. Many years ago, a friend tried to explain the game to me but he might as well have been speaking a foreign language.

I just don’t get it. Guys in skin tight pants and bulky upper body armour racing up and down a field chasing an oval shaped ball. They kick it, throw it and tackle other players to get it to their end of the field to score more points.
The uniforms are absurd looking but the tackle part really gets me. I’ve never been a fan of any sport where any violence is involved. Okay, I know that all that extra armour like padding and the helmets help prevent some injuries but it just looks ridiculous to me.

Then there are the cheerleaders. Lovely young ladies in skimpy outfits that lead the fans in cheers during the countless breaks in the games. For some fans, watching the cheerleaders do their thing is almost as exciting as the game itself. Mascots, Buzz and Boomer have been entertaining the fans and helping to cheer on the team for over 25 years. Depending on how the favourite team is doing, sometimes the girls and the mascots are better than the game.
Halftime is almost as important as the game in some circles. When it comes to playoff time, the entertainment at half time can draw in even more fans.

I know there are four quarters and something about downs and passes. The Canadian game is also different than the way it is played in the USA which just helps to muddle the game play even more. No matter where it is played, it just confuses the heck out of me.

One of the things about televised games – especially US ones - that really annoys me is that networks tend to allow about three hours for a game. Now you’d think that would make some sort of sense when you consider the four 20 minute quarters plus a half time break. But, what they don’t seem to fully factor in is all the start and stop time. The game is constantly starting and stopping – every few seconds it seems. Therefore, a scheduled three hour broadcast can take four or more hours sometimes.

Granted, that extra time really shouldn’t bother me and for the most part it doesn’t. Except when a longer game delays the beginning of the shows following the football game. US networks tend to air a lot of football – particularly on a Sunday. Primetime Sunday night is often delayed for anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour. PVR’s and DVR’s don’t know the game is running overtime. So, if you aren’t around to watch your shows live, you either set it to record an extra hour which wastes a lot of space or you miss part of what you wanted to see.

It’s been 21 years since the Blue and Gold won a Grey Cup so the fans are really chomping at the bit for their beloved Bombers to win today. For the sake of the fans, I hope the Bombers do bring the Cup back to Winnipeg. It’s been a long road to get to this point.

Will I be watching?

Well, let’s see here. You’ve got: men in skin tight pants and tons of padding; cheerleaders in skimpy outfits; a representative or two from each team dressed in a mascot costume; musicians in half time; gratuitous violence in effort to score points; thousands of screaming diehard fans dressed in the their teams home colours. Thousands in the Vancouver stadium watching live while tens of thousands will be gathered in living rooms and public viewing venues across the country. There will be tail gate parties before and numerous snacking and “beverage” drinking during and even after the game.

To some people that description may sound like the perfect way to spend a day, but sorry Winnipeg fans - this gal will not be watching. I’ll wait and catch the ad nauseam rehashing in the news on Monday.

Oh, one more thing ... Go Bombers!


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Attention Shoppers!

So, have you started your Christmas shopping yet? Five weeks from today is Christmas. Yup, it is THAT soon! Malls and stores are getting crowded.

People tend to get cranky while holiday shopping. It’s hard to manoeuvre in crowds. Line-ups are long. Stock can run out early. Customers aren’t happy and neither are the staff that has to deal with it all. Civility often gets left out in the cold.

Personally, I avoid malls like the plague around the holiday season. I don’t even like going to any stores when there is a crowd. Most of my gifts are homemade baking and I buy my supplies a couple months in advance. I pick up other gifts throughout the year and finish it off at the Christmas Craft Sale at the Winnipeg Convention Centre in mid to late November, so my holiday shopping is done.

Last year, however, I had a crowded store experience that I’d like to tell you about. A new Zeller’s (similar to Target) had opened in downtown Winnipeg in early December. I avoided going the first couple of days, as I knew the place would be insane. I only decided to go when I did, because there was some items on sale in the produce section that I needed. The store was quite busy when I got there but I spent some time wandering around, checking out various items before picking up my produce and heading for the checkout about 12:10.

There were at least 6 checkouts open but there were also at least 20 people in each line! As we waited, we heard that the reason for the delay, was that the new cash registers weren’t scanning grocery items properly so things had to be entered via a code entered from a print list. The cashiers were working as fast as they could but it sure didn’t stop people from complaining!

I heard many people griping about waiting in line on their lunch hour and being late to get back to work. They didn’t see why they should have to wait when they were on the clock. The woman behind me grumbled loudly several times about how angry her boss would be when she was late.

I suppose I could have let her in front of me – and I probably would have had she explained and asked politely, but I wasn’t feeling well. I was just starting to get past a really nasty cold. I was exhausted and wanted to go home, but I needed the fresh produce. Almost every person in front of me, also had grocery items in their baskets so letting the whiny one in front of me wouldn’t have saved her more than a couple of minutes. It took almost 40 minutes to get through the checkout.

When I got to the cashier I greeted her with a smile and said I was sorry that so many people were being rude when the staff were doing the best they could with the equipment they had. She smiled and thanked me for understanding.

Later, I shared a bit of a rant with some of my friends.

Attention Shoppers - If you work and want to shop on your lunch hour that is fine BUT if you go to a new store during the first week of the opening or shop during the holiday rush then you get to stand in line with everyone else and risk getting back to work late. You knew the place would be a zoo but you came anyway. So stop complaining and suck it up or all you will be getting is coal in your stocking!!

None of us WANT to stand in line for 20-40 minutes but we live in a society that loves to get a deal. Getting a deal can often result in line-ups - if you can't afford the extra time on your breaks then shop somewhere else or at a different time of day. The world DOES NOT revolve around your schedule! Stop bitching/whining about how long you've been there and how angry your boss is going to be when you are late. Unless you are using a cane or a walker you aren't getting in front of me!

Downtown workers "expecting" to be allowed to go ahead of seniors or other shoppers just because they were on the clock! Get real people! You can wait like everyone else!

Oh, and don't take it out on the cashiers either! They are doing the best they can as fast as they can! It isn't there fault the items aren't scanning properly! A kind word or a simple thank you can go a long way to make the day a little easier for the staff and the other shoppers.

The amount and tone of grumbling I heard was just uncalled for. Why can't people be thankful that we live in a society with so much opportunity and choice to get the things they want or need? It is so sad that people can't be more appreciative of things - even to stand in a line-up to pay for something on sale!

A friend added this: ”If people are rushed because of their own schedule or lack of organization, they shouldn't take it out on the sales staff who are likely working their butts off already with the holiday season - or on the other customers. If someone is trying to shop on her lunch hour, and is somehow surprised to find a line-up at this time of year, she should realize how fortunate she is to have the good health and finances to be doing so....this is supposed to be a season of peace and goodwill and it's too over-populated with pushy, demanding, materialistic people expecting the world to revolve around themselves.” EXACTLY!

So here is the deal folks. It’s only five weeks till Christmas. Stores are getting crowded and lines are getting long. You don’t know what kind of day the staff have had and they don’t know what your day has been like. Patience, civility, a smile and a thank you can go a long way. Be thankful that you have the opportunity to make the shopping choices you do. So many people in this world don’t have even a fraction of what you have.

Okay, rant is over. I sincerely hope holiday shopping is an enjoyable experience for you and the staff.


Sunday, November 13, 2011

Getting Ready For Winter

October was a weird month. It started out warmer than normal and only a few days were below normal. We had two thunderstorms. The first one had only a couple of mild thunder boomers and several streaks of lightening with only a bit of rain. The second one was a bit more intense and lasted a good half hour. Lots of lightening and precipitation that was somewhere between rain, hail and ice pellets. October thunder storms aren’t unheard of in these parts, they just aren’t the norm. Usually an October storm brings snow. Sometimes that snow stays all winter.

For the most part, the trees are bare and the leaves have been raked. Most people have finished up the last of the yard work and have their winter cleanup gear ready to go. The Halloween decorations are down and many have already started to put up outdoor Christmas lights and displays.

I’ve spent a good part of the last month or so getting ready for that inevitable arrival of snow and the, oh so fun, challenges of navigating city streets and sidewalks.

In mid October, a gal pal and I headed to Costco to pick up many of my pantry and non perishable supplies. I’ve been to Morden’s to pick up my chocolate for the Christmas baking. I’ve been to a couple other stores to do more of my winter “squirreling” so that my cupboards will be full for the coming months. The summer clothes have been moved to the back of the closet and the winter coats have replaced the lighter weight coats in the closet by the door. I bought new boots at the start of last winter and I bought a new winter coat this year. (There is a story in that coat but I’ll save it for when winter really gets going.)

It’s not that I want to do all that prep work for the changing seasons. Maybe I’ve taken it to a bit of an extreme, but for those of us with mobility issues or that don’t own a vehicle, it is just easier to get as much of the bulky, heavy or awkward stuff done before the snow flies.

On October 11, the Winnipeg Free Press published an article that had weather forecasters predicting an early and cold winter for us. Supposedly temps will be about 2 degrees cooler than normal with the coldest being in December and January. Most of our snow should be in January and February.

Um, pardon me but how exactly is that different than any other winter in Manitoba? Most years, it is cold by December and even colder in the early new year. Of course, we are going to get some snow accumulations in those months! Okay, that can vary but even I could have predicted that forecast!

On the plus side, they goofed about snow in October here. They predicted that we would have an accumulation of snow BEFORE Halloween! Well, thankfully they were wrong on that count – and hopefully they will be wrong on how cold it will be also.
As advanced as weather forecasting has become, it is still an educated guess. Accuracy can go out the window in a heartbeat. Frankly, I think they could just write the various predictions on a paper and throw them all in a hat. Might be just as accurate!

On October 29, much of the north-eastern US got hit by an early and very nasty winter storm. The leaves were still green on some trees and the weight of the snow, caused limbs to break and trees to fall on buildings, vehicles and power lines. Tens of thousands were without power for several days. In some areas, Halloween trick-or-treating was even postponed for several days so that crews could clean streets and remove fallen trees.

We, here in Winnipeg can understand how hard it is to cope with those early and unexpected dumping of white stuff. We’ve learned to expect the unexpected when it comes to weather. Driver’s carry winter survival kits in their vehicles along with shovels, scrapers and any number of other items they may need along the way. We’ve learned to take winter with a grain – make that a bag of salt to melt the ice. Many a relationship has been started over talk of the weather. And yes, it is a dry cold!

We are almost half way through November now and at least here in Winnipeg, we really haven’t seen much snow yet. Okay, there was that one morning in mid October that there was a light skiff of white stuff on the ground but it melted in a couple of hours so that doesn’t really count. Oh yeah, we had an inch of snow late last Sunday into Monday (November 6/7) but quite a bit of that has melted. The only real snow on the ground here in the city is the stuff on the north side of buildings or grassy areas that don’t get much direct sunlight. Only a few flakes here and there otherwise.

As far as I’m concerned, the cold snowy winter weather could hold off indefinitely but apparently Mother Nature isn’t interested in my winter wishes. Oh well, I guess I’m more or less ready – just don’t ask me to like it.

Back in the early 1970’s, a man by the name of Alden Diehl was working as the GM of CKY-TV and CITI-FM here. He penned a winter anthem for Winnipeg that was nominated for a JUNO. Almost forty years later, it still stands the test of time for anyone who has lived through a Manitoba winter. No matter what the winter weather may bring, at some point this winter we will be living this song!


Sunday, November 6, 2011

An Extra Hour

Overnight, we added an extra hour as we rolled back the clocks. Well, actually we just regained the hour we lost when we turned the clocks forward last spring.

Every year we play this gain an hour/lose an hour game so it isn’t like we actually “create” an extra hour. As much as we’d often love to add a few hours to the clock we can’t.

The actual change takes place at 2AM local time so most of us are likely asleep when it happens. For those who work late shift or overnights, they generally do an hour shorter shift in the spring and an hour longer in the fall. Some 24 hour businesses actually change the whole shift schedule so that no one loses or gains an hour.

In the spring we complain about losing that hour. We either lose sleep or lose time with friends and family or work.

An hour may not seem like a lot of time but our bodies can take days to adjust to this change regardless if it is a loss or gain of an hour. It’s worse in the spring as we have to get up an hour earlier. Even if you are a morning person, that hour earlier can be rough the first few days. If you don’t gradually adjust your schedule in the days leading up to that loss, the mind and body can take a lot of extra coaxing to wake up and function.

Fall is a different story though. Granted, we don’t like that the sun sets so much earlier and the days are getting shorter but we contemplate how to spend that extra hour. Should we sleep? Should we spend that time with family and friends? A party? Maybe we should catch up on some work.

I think most of us would probably opt for the sleep.

Sleep would certainly be my choice. If only it were that easy.

I’ve always been a light sleeper but the last few years that lightness has just gotten even lighter.

To be perfectly honest, I can’t remember the last time I had a decent night’s sleep. You see, I am at that oh so charming age when so many of us women are fighting hot flashes, insomnia and calls from Mother Nature. The Night Shift can be rough!

I try to keep a regular schedule of being in bed around 10 and up around 7 or so but my sleep is severely disjointed – to the point that I am lucky if I get about 5 or 6 hours if you added it all up. I rarely sleep more than 2-3 hours at a stretch. That means I don’t get very much REM or deep sleep – the kind needed to wake up rested and refreshed.

So much for a good night’s sleep.

There are times that I truly envy bears. Every fall they slow their hearts down and slip into a deep sleep that lasts through winter. They don’t have to deal with the snow, the icy streets and sidewalks or traverse snow banks to find a bus stop or cross an intersection. No household chores or running errands. They even lose weight while they sleep! How great would that be? Okay, there is that part about wearing the fur coat in summer which would get way too hot, but if a geneticist can figure out how to tweak humans genes to let them hibernate than they can figure out how to deal with the fur coat thing. (Stuart McLean shared his own musings on Hibernation a few years ago on The Vinyl Cafe.)

Unfortunately, hibernating isn’t an option for us humans, so we deal with the sleep deprivation as best we can.

I’ve tried several things to improve my sleep. I rarely nap during the day as that tends to make my night sleep even worse. The exceptions to that rule are if I am sick or even more exhausted than usual. Fluid intake is very limited after supper – less than four ounces. I don’t drink coffee or tea – and rarely drink alcohol. Chocolate is my only caffeine. Don’t even THINK about asking me to give that up or you will really have a bear on your hands!

The computer and the TV are generally off about thirty minutes before I crawl into bed. My bedroom is dark and cool. I do some deep breathing and stretching. Due to medications I use for my eyes and other family health history, I can’t take any sedatives. I did try a very mild med a few years ago, but even that left me feeling very groggy when I woke up in the morning. It didn’t do much to improve my quality of actual sleep either. I’ve just started trying Melatonin but it is too soon to tell if that will make a difference. As much as I’d like it to help, I almost hope it doesn’t as it isn’t covered by our medical system so I’d have to pay out of pocket for it. Not easy on a very fixed income.

So, for the foreseeable future, I just have to deal with whatever sleep I am able to get. Some nights are better than others and hopefully you will forgive me if I act like a crabby bear at times.

I hope you enjoyed your extra hour and made good use of the time – ‘cause you won’t get another one till next fall!


Sunday, October 30, 2011

Spoiled Fun

Halloween has gotten a lot scarier since I was a kid – and not in a good way.

We used to dress in costumes that our mothers made or maybe buy a mask and a few things at a store then drag one of the pillowcases from house to house until our bags were so heavy and full we couldn’t carry them anymore. Then we’d rush home and sort through the loot – putting our favourites in one pile and the stuff that was okay or ones we didn’t like in a pile to share with the other people in the family. Sometimes you could trade with your friends or siblings.

There were, of course frights along the way, but for the most part they were the innocent “boo” type when someone snuck up or popped up unexpectedly.

It was a night for kids of all ages to have some innocent fun.

Sure, there were the occasional reports of someone’s bag being stolen and even rarer reports of candies and apples being tampered with but they were just that – rare. For the most part we knew the people who lived in the houses we went to.

That isn’t the case anymore. We don’t know our neighbours. We don’t know our neighbourhoods. Even going to what seems to be a safer or more upscale neighbourhood isn’t always a good plan. Sadly there are some very real dangers lurking around almost every neighbourhood. It has gotten to the point that a lot of parents aren’t willing to let their kids hit the streets anymore.

Not just because of the possible physical dangers or risk of treats being tampered with – but the fact that so much of the treats are basically sugar. With the growing rate of childhood obesity, many wonder if it is really a wise move to send the kids out to beg for even more sweets. Sure some houses do give out slightly healthier treats or even small toys or such but then they are at risk of some type of retaliation from kids who expect or demand the treats! Seems like neither side can win. It isn’t just a “TP” decorating of your yard or an egg on the house. It’s spray paint and outright vandalism.

Some hospitals offer to scan the kids loot bags to see if anything has been tampered with. I’ve heard of a few police departments that are even offering to run the loot through a metal detector.

So much for a fun night!

In Winnipeg and many other cities, there are community centres or other organizations offering a safe place for the kids to hang out for the evening. There are games, costume contests, snacks and lots of treat bags for the kids to take home after. Some shopping malls are offering the kids a chance to trick or treat in a safe environment. Employees from participating stores hand out treats to the costumed kids as they walk by.

Then there are the costumes. This is yet another bone of contention for many. Costumes have gotten much more elaborate since I was a kid. Some parents still make the costumes but store bought ones come in a wide variety of styles. Not all of them are tasteful or even appropriate for the child’s age either. Costumes can also get very expensive. Kids don’t want to wear the same costume two years in a row, so that can get very pricy for some families even if they hit the second hand stores. I heard one report that an average family can spend between $75-150 for Halloween. That includes the costumes and the treats to be handed out. That makes a formerly fun night out of the question for many.

Several schools here in the city and even in small towns have banned costumes during the school day. That has outraged some parents who say their kids want to show off their costumes and continue traditions. Some parents have started petitions but educators think the parents aren't seeing the bigger picture.

The schools have laid out several reasons for the changes. Teachers have enough to deal with trying to teach and discipline on a normal day – let alone with a bunch of kids who are distracted by costumes. Peer pressure, teasing and bullying are huge issues among young people. Choosing the wrong costume or not wearing a costume – either for personal, religious or economic reasons – can cause untold problems for many.

I don’t recall if we wore our costumes to school when I was a kid. If we did, I think it may have been that we changed into costumes for part of the afternoon. I seem to recall a costume parade when I was in about grade 5 or so.

For the record, I’m siding with the schools on this one. They are there to teach - not throw parties. I’m not saying that kids can’t have fun at school – learning should be fun, but costumes are just too distracting and a mind-field for potential trouble and humiliation. It just isn’t worth it.

Personally, I think the community centers and the malls also have the right idea. The kids are having fun and getting a more limited amount of sugar laden treats while also getting to show off their costumes in a safe environment.

Halloween used to be fun. It used to be safe to dress up in a costume. Sure we ate way to much candy but we also didn’t sit on our duffs with a tech toy, IPhone/IPad or in front of a computer screen all day. We were active and managed to burn off most of those extra calories. The bullies didn’t have social media and weren’t nearly as cruel or vicious as they are now.

Manufacturers of candies, costumes and decorations are capitalizing on the season. Merchants are filling shelves with overpriced products. Advertisers are trying to turn consumers into gluttons. Peer pressure to fit in has reached a boiling point for many.

Families can’t afford to celebrate Halloween anymore. Kids aren’t safe on the streets and risk endless teasing for the wrong choice of costume or any other so called coming of age infraction.

I wish we could turn back time and let kids enjoy the night the way we did when we were kids but that just doesn’t seem to be possible in this day and age. I don’t think that Halloween should be cancelled – at least not yet. Kids grow up too fast. They need to experience the fun of dressing up and spending time with other kids in person rather than through texts, cell phones and computers.

We need to keep the costumes out of the schools and let them focus on teaching. We need to encourage local community centers and malls to host safe events for the kids. It’s sad that things have changed so much but nothing ever stays the same and at least for now, these are the most reasonable alternatives to preserve Halloween..

Halloween should be a night of fun. Enjoy it if you can. Above all, be kind, be safe and have fun!


Sunday, October 23, 2011

Baked Pork Tenderloin with Veggies and Kraft Dressing

This is a recipe I came up with a couple of months ago. I wanted something flavourful and simple that would also be versatile depending on what dressings I had in the fridge.

Baked Pork Tenderloin with Veggies and Kraft Dressing

1 12-16 ounce pork tenderloin
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon McCormick No Salt Added Garlic & Herb Seasoning (or equivalent
1/2 medium onion – sliced thin
1/3 cup sweet red bell pepper strips
1/3 cup (approx) Kraft Mandarin Orange With Sesame Dressing*, divided

Preheat the oven to 375F.

Pat dry the pork tenderloin and place on a parchment lined baking dish. Combine the garlic powder, onion powder, basil, thyme, and seasoning in a small dish. With your hand, spread half of the spice mixture evenly over the tenderloin. Drizzle with about 2 Tablespoons of the Kraft Dressing. Carefully turn the tenderloin over. Spread the rest of the spice mixture evenly over the other side of the tenderloin.

Arrange the onion over the seasoned pork, then lay the red pepper strips over the onions. Drizzle approx 2-4 Tablespoons of the Kraft Dressing over the veggie topped tenderloin. Bake in the preheated oven for approx 35-40 minutes. Remove from oven and let stand for 5 minutes before slicing. Serves 3-4.

*Other Kraft dressings would also work well with this. Such as: Sweet Onion; Roasted Red Pepper; Greek Feta and Oregano or Italian.

Note: You could add additional sliced onion and strips of red pepper along the sides of the tenderloin if desired - just make sure that a bit of the dressing is drizzled on them to prevent them from drying out while baking.



Sunday, October 16, 2011

Picky! Picky!

A couple of weeks ago I saw a segment on a TV show about picky eaters. Picky in the extreme actually. Some of these people had diets that consisted almost entirely of potatoes in various forms. They ate next to no meat and found most other vegetables and fruits to be disgusting. Some of them seemed to be more healthy than others but no medical evidence to their health or lack thereof was provided.

People who can walk into a grocery store and not have to worry about what ingredients are in any given product or go to a restaurant and order anything off a menu are extremely lucky. They have no idea just how hard it is to shop or go to a restaurant and have to check all the ingredients. Whether it is by personal taste or an allergy, finding foods that a person is comfortable with or is safe to consume can be a real challenge.

I’m not quite sure where I’d fit on the picky scale. I’m not an overly adventurous eater. I tend to try new foods by asking to try a bite of whatever the people I am with have ordered. If stores are offering free samples, I check the ingredients and then decide if I want to try it. I don’t like to spend money to try something I may not like. I don’t want to end up wasting the money or the food if I don’t like it. There are some foods that just repulse me either by appearance, smell or taste and I couldn’t even consider eating. There are some foods that I remember eating as a kid and just found to be disgusting or even made me nauseous.

So what are some of those foods you may ask?

Well, there is a bit of a list here.

My mom used to cook a duck or a goose once in awhile, but I just never enjoyed the taste of either one. The flavours were strong and the meat seemed either stringy or greasy even when roasted. Lamb and venison weren’t on the menu very often either but they were meats that just didn’t appeal to me. Liver was on the family menu every few weeks – I couldn’t even tolerate the smell of it let alone the taste!

Sardines and head cheese (a truly disgusting luncheon meat) are two of the things I recall my dad eating on occasion. I couldn’t even sit at the same table when he ate them! Actually, pretty much all “luncheon meat” is rather disgusting.

I’ve never enjoyed bitter tasting foods such as grapefruit. I can tolerate a tiny amount in a mixed fruit drink but not a glass of juice or a cut up grapefruit to eat. I do like lemons – just not straight! I put them in lots of different main course and desserts as well as squeezing the juice on fish or vegetables.

Besides the grapefruit, I’m also not a fan of raspberries. The flavour is too strong to my liking and I hated the seeds getting stuck in my teeth! You won’t find cranberries on my plate or in my glass either. We had crab-apple trees on the farm as well as rhubarb. Mom used to try sneaking some into an apple crisp or other desserts but I could ALWAYS taste it and never ate more than that first bite! Gooseberries aren’t on my grocery lists either. Plums aren’t particularly appealing to me but I don’t mind a bit of plum sauce with an egg roll. And yes, the dislike of plums does extend to prunes and prune juice. I’ve never enjoyed the taste of cantaloupe yet I love honeydew! Mom made a lot of jams and jellies but about the only ones I ever ate were strawberry or grape.

I’ve never liked the taste of figs or dates – even baked in desserts or cookies. Speaking of desserts, I’ve never understood the taste appeal of tapioca, rice pudding or even a bread pudding. I’ve tried several types of these desserts over the years but it just doesn’t do anything for my taste buds. Same goes for any toffee or caramel type candies or desserts. A true waste of calories for me. Marshmallows are empty calories. The only way I’ll eat them is in a piece of rice krispie squares or an occasionally perfectly roasted marshmallow between chocolate and graham wafers – in other words a s’more!

The taste of an olive is not something my palate enjoys yet I do cook with olive oil!

I eat a fair amount of vegetables but parsnips, turnip/rutabaga, and egg plant are not on my plate. I’ve tried cooking turnips in various ways but the smell alone is enough to turn my stomach. I’m not a big fan of cauliflower but will eat it in a mixed veggie combo or a stir fry. Green peppers don’t agree with me (I burp them almost instantly) yet I love red peppers. Jalapeno’s won’t be in my shopping basket either – a mild salsa is as close to spicy as I get! Lima beans and beets are also not welcome on my menus.

Smelly cheeses such as blue or Swiss do nothing for me. I much prefer a medium cheddar, a mozzarella, Monterey Jack or a Havarti.

I love celery but can’t stand using celery seed in a dressing. Dill makes me ill so I’ll never steal your pickles! I can’t stand the taste of liquorice. That means that you won’t find anise or aniseed on my spice rack. I’m not a huge fan of mint but I can handle the flavour and taste in small amounts in a dish or dessert.

Walnuts aren’t a nut that I care for. I think I’ve just had too many experiences where they were a bit stale or on the verge of being rancid. I’ll take an almond, peanut or cashew ANY day!

I love tomatoes, but can’t stand tomato soup – although I will eat a vegetable soup that has tomatoes in it. I love salmon but refuse to eat the skin or bones. I wrote a whole post about my dislike of Perogies.

There are foods that I have mild to moderate allergies to. They aren’t severe enough that I would need an epi pen but I would get severe stomach cramps and/or diarrhoea if I ate them in even a small serving. Those foods include oranges, rye and barley. Orange in a cookie, cake or a mixed fruit drink doesn’t bother me, but a multigrain bread or baked product can really mess with my stomach.

For some reason, there are also some foods that even though I am not actually allergic to them, I get sick if I eat them. Yogurt of any variety – even the frozen ones give me severe stomach cramps.

Eggs and I don’t get along either. I can’t eat them as a main ingredient in a dish without getting sick. That also means that I have to avoid eggnog or other beverages that include eggs. If I were to have even a paper thin slice of angel food or chiffon cake, I would need to drink at least a quart of water to avoid stomach cramps or throwing up. I can eat Miracle Whip – which is made with eggs but I can’t tolerate a homemade mayo. My potato salads contain no eggs other than in the mayo.

Then there are foods that I have no idea if I like or not because I’ve never tried them. This may seem strange but to the best of my recollection I’ve never tried oysters, clams, lobster or escargot. Believe it or not, I don’t recall if I’ve ever tasted an avocado, artichoke or a guacamole dip. The closest I’ve come to an anchovy is in a Caesar Dressing. I’ve never tried sushi or tofu either.

So, all that being said – that does eliminate quite a few things from my diet but there are still a lot of foods that I love. I just have to be a bit more creative with the things that I do enjoy eating.

Oh all right - maybe I am a slightly picky eater!!


Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Beauty Of The Season

In mid September, I got to spend a weekend at a friends cottage up at Gimli. It was a cool, windy weekend, but very relaxing. The leaves were just starting to turn, but what I noticed more than anything was that the geese were flying south. Hearing their honking as they flew over was a definite sign that the seasons were changing.

Back here in Winnipeg, it took another week or two for the leaves to really start turning. We've had some beautifully warm weather here for the last couple of weeks and limited amounts of frost, so the changing of the leaves has been more gradual. Some trees are still rather green.

As I said, the weather has been well above normal for the last while - in fact we broke a record on Wednesday October 5 with a high of 31.1C/88F! Our normal highs for this time of year should be about 13C/56F so the days of 25C/77F are very welcome!

I've been taking full advantage of the warm weather to get out and enjoy the beauty of the season.

Anyone who knows me, knows that autumn is my favourite season! I love the spectrum of colours that Mother Nature paints the landscapes as the season progresses. The crunch of the fallen leaves under my feet. The smells of wood fireplaces. The bountiful tastes and aromas of the garden harvests. A true seasonal feast for the senses!

In the last day or two, the weather has started to head to more seasonal norms. The winds have taken many leaves from the trees and we are expecting some rain this coming week. All good things must sadly come to an end.

I knew that change was inevitable, so a week ago Saturday, I grabbed my camera and went for a walk in a nearby park. It was a sunny but cool, windy morning - and I loved it! Then on Monday, I met my aunt to go for a walk in another local park.

The two parks are vastly different. With the exception of a couple of cement paths and a few wooden benches, the first is still somewhat rustic. The second is a huge park that has been almost entirely landscaped. Both are quite interesting - but in many ways I prefer the first as it reminds me more of being in the countryside at this time of year.

I took a lot of pics on those walks - about 120 or so on Saturday and about 80 on Monday! That may seem like an excessive amount, but as I've said in the past, I tend to take a LOT of pics when I pull out the camera. Despite having a 3" LCD screen on my camera to view the pic, with my lack of eyesight, I really can't tell what I've got till I get it onto the PC and see it in full screen. I often take two or more of pretty much the same shot so I'm more likely to get one that I can use. Occasionally, I get really lucky and surprise myself with how good a shot turns out!

So, earlier this week, I spent some time sorting and editing pics. I saved about half of what I took. From those, I've put together two new autumn slideshows from the two walks.

The first is called "An Autumn Morning Walk". All the pics were taken on October 1, 2011 along Wellington Crescent and in Munson Park.

The second is called "A Walk In The Park". All the pics were taken on Monday October 3, 2011 at Assiniboine Park.

If the leaves haven't all fallen where are you, I hope you will take a little time and get out to enjoy the beauty of the season!


Sunday, October 2, 2011

Maxine on Autumn

Well, we are just over a week into fall, and I am trying to get out and enjoy as much of the beauty of this season as I can. Today, I thought I'd share some of my favourite seasonal observations from Maxine!!


Sunday, September 25, 2011

Wabbit Cookies

Last fall I came across a recipe for Carrot Chocolate Chip Cookies on the Taste of Home website. Somehow, the idea of making a cookie with carrots hadn’t occurred to me before, but the recipe looked interesting.

Naturally, I played around with the ingredients to make my own version. I used a 50/50 combo of all purpose and whole wheat flour. I’m not a huge fan of raisins so decreased mine to 1/2 cup from the original 1 cup. I added a cup of chopped almonds for a bit of crunch. Oh, and of course there wasn’t nearly enough chocolate chips in the original so I doubled it! Seriously people - 1 cup of chocolate chips is NOT nearly enough for a recipe that makes 7 dozen cookies!!

I gave some samples to a few friends without telling them there was carrots in them. They all thought they were great but asked what the little orange coloured stuff was. When I admitted that it was carrots they all said: “Really?”. Yup, good old, good for ya’ wabbit food!

So, grab some of those beautiful fresh carrots from the garden or take advantage of the fall harvest prices for local produce and make yourself some yummy cookies!!

Wabbit Cookies
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup canola oil
2 eggs
1/3 cup 1% milk
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips (I use a dark mini chip)
1 cup quick-cooking oats
1 cup grated carrots
1 cup chopped almonds
1/2 cup raisins


In a large bowl, beat brown sugar and oil until blended. Beat in eggs, then milk. Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, baking soda and nutmeg. Measure out 2 Tablespoons and set aside. Gradually add the flour mixture to egg mixture and mix well. Stir the reserved flour mixture into the chips, oats, carrots and raisins and stir to mix. Add the mixture to the batter and mix well.

Drop by heaping teaspoonfuls onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper; flatten slightly. Bake at 350° for 10-13 minutes or until golden brown. Remove to wire racks to cool.

Yield: about 7 dozen.



Sunday, September 18, 2011

Fall TV - 2011

It’s mid September and that can only mean one thing – a new crop of TV shows and some returning favourites!

I’ve been checking around the web, watching preview trailers/promos and reading the critics reviews. Here is my take on the freshman shows of Fall 2011:

New Shows:

- Once Upon A Time Sunday’s ABC 7C CTV 7C (Oct 23) Fairy tale characters stuck in the real world and either have no memory or are unwilling to remember who they really are. A little dark, a little over the top but if you can totally suspend your sense of logic and reality you may buy it – for a few episodes anyway. Will likely end unhappily ever after fairly quickly.
- Pan Am Sunday’s ABC/CTV 9C (Sept 25) This is ABC’s bid to keep the audience of Desperate Housewives. A throwback to the glory days of air travel and the life of the stewardesses and pilots of Pan Am. It seems to be getting better buzz than NBC’s Playboy Club but only time will tell if either is worth more than a passing glance.

- 2 Broke Girls Monday’s CBS 8:30E Citytv 8:30C (Sept 19) Odd couple on estrogen with predictable and unlikeable characters. Hard to believe this was one of the highest rated pilots – unless of course only those with empty minds saw it. Can’t believe the network cancelled “Mad Love” for this!
- The Playboy Club Monday’s NBC/Citytv 9C (Sept 19) Do we really need to go down this same sexist route again? Even with a murder mystery thrown into the mix, this is one retro show that likely won’t be around long.
- Hart Of Dixie Monday’s CW 8C (Sept 26) Classic fish out of water as New York surgeon Zoe Hart moves to Alabama to practice medicine. The trailer for this is surprisingly likeable even though there were the predictable new kid in town situations. I’d like to watch this but I’d have to make some changes to my cable line up to get the CW and I’m not sure it is worth it for one show. Unfortunately, I can’t even watch this online as the site’s videos state “content is not available in my location”!
- Terra Nova Monday’s Fox/Citytv 7C (Sept 26) Citizens of the future head back to the time of the dinosaurs to create a better civilization. Huge on CGI and Steven Spielberg behind it should make this solid for fans of Jurassic Park type drama but only time will tell if this new colony will survive more than a few weeks.

- Last Man Standing Tuesday’s ABC 7C (Oct 11) Sunday’s Citytv 7:30E (Oct 16) Tim Allen is a man’s man in a world of estrogen. If you liked Home Improvement you will likely find this amusing – tired stereotype jokes and all.
- Man Up Tuesday’s ABC/CTV Two 7:30C (Oct 18) Geared to the males and full of your regular guy humour.
- Ringer Tuesday’s, 8C CW (Sept 13) Fridays 9C Global (Sept 16) Twin sisters – one leaves witness protection and reconnects with her estranged twin who dies suddenly thereafter. She assumes the life of her deceased sister only to discover she had a secret life. One can only hope this identity ruse is discovered quickly and then Sarah Michelle Gellar can find a better series.
- Unforgettable Tuesday's, 9C on CTV/CBS (Sept. 20) Poppy Montgomery (Without A Trace) is back as a cop who can’t forget anything – except for how her sister died. A female version of The Mentalist – without the psychic ability. Too bad it is up against Body Of Proof. If you have a PVR/DVR use it!
- New Girl Tuesday's 8C Citytv/Fox (Sept. 20) After a nasty breakup a girl finds a new place to live – with three guys! This may well turn into a hit if the singing doesn’t turn you off.

- Suburgatory Wednesday’s 7:30C ABC/Citytv (Sept 28) Single dad uproots teen daughter from Manhattan and moves to a suburb after finding a box of condoms in her drawer. Looks like a typical fish out of water set up and could go either way.
- Revenge Wednesday’s ABC/Citytv 9C (Sept 21) Described as Desperate Housewives meets Gossip Girl. Is there room on the small screen for another show filled with the secrets and romances of the rich and powerful? Could be! I loved Canadian born Emily VanCamp on Everwood a few years back. She is really proving herself from what I saw in an extended preview! I was quite intrigued and will definitely be tuning in!
- H8R Wednesday’s CW 7C (Sept 14) Real life people confronted by the celebs they hate. Odd concept but if it were done with taste it could actually open some eyes to how other people really live. Sadly, I doubt that it will teach anybody much of anything.
- The X Factor Wednesday’s Fox/CTV 7C (Sept 21) Yet another reality talent show – YAWN!
- I Hate My Teenager Daughter Wednesday’s – 8:30C Fox/Fridays, 9E Global (Nov 30/Dec 2) Kids hate their mothers just as much in this one. If this wasn’t premiering so late in the season it would be the first to be cancelled.
- Up All Night Wednesday’s CTV/NBC 7C (Sept 14) Young couple with a new born. She goes back to work and he stays at home. Watching the extended trailer for this was more than I wanted to see. Luckily it is up against Survivor so will likely be voted off the screen quickly.
- Free Agents Wednesday’s NBC/CTV 7:30C (Sept 14) An office relationship and all the quirky characters that work there. The trailer was only mildly amusing and most of the characters have a high potential to grate on the nerves. Viewing the full pilot was even worse.

- Charlie’s Angels Thursday’s CTV/ABC 7C (Sept 22) Yet another remake.... yawn.
- How To Be A Gentleman Thursday’s CBS/Global 7:30C (Sept 29) Another buddy comedy with an uptight columnist getting to know his former high school buddy. The trailer was more than enough for me.
- Person Of Interest Thursday’s CBS/Citytv 8C (Sept 22) “An ex-CIA hitman and a secretive scientist team up to eliminate internal corruption and fight potential crime before it happens.’ A bit creepy with the “Big Brother is watching” aspect but could be appealing if you enjoy that sort of thing.
- The Secret Circle Thursday’s CW 8C (Sept 15) An orphaned teenager girl returns to the small town where her mom grew up only to discover she is a witch. Um, haven’t we had a few occult type shows already? I cheered for ABC’s Eastwick last season and it was dumped. I watched the trailer for this and it was intriguing in a youthful way but I won’t switch my cable line-up to watch this new series.
- Whitney Thursday’s NBC 8:30C / CTV 7:30C (CTV Sept 19 and NBC Sept 22) Happily unmarried couple Whitney and Alex share their life and experiences. I’ll admit, I hate the TV promo for this but after watching the extended promo online, I’m looking forward to checking this one out.
- Prime Suspect Thursday’s NBC/Global 9C (Sept 22) An American remake of the British series that starred Helen Mirren. This version has Maria Bello as a NYC murder investigator facing sexism while solving violent crime. A little too hardboiled and sexist for my liking but fans of procedural dramas may enjoy.

- A Gifted Man Friday’s CBS/Global 7C (Sept 23) A gifted surgeon’s life is turned upside down when his dead ex-wife starts talking to him. We’ve seen this premise similar to this before in several series so I doubt that this will last more than a season – if that.
- Grimm Friday’s NBC 8C / CTV 7C (Oct 21) Grimm’s Fairy Tales meets cop drama. The show is more gory and deeper on the gruesome side than Once Upon A Time but can also be a bit campy. Suspend any sense of reality and this twist may appeal. Personally, I liked reading Grimm’s Fairy Tales but these fairy tales are a bit too grim.


So much for the new shows. I’m checking out Pan Am, Unforgettable, Revenge and Whitney.

Here is a brief look at some of the returning shows:

Returning Shows:
- Amazing Race Sunday’s CBS/CTV 7C (Sept 25) I’ve loved this show from day one and am looking forward to seeing yet another race around the world!
- Desperate Housewives Sunday’s ABC/CTV 8C (Sept 25) Marc Cherry recently announced that this would be the last season for the ladies of Wisteria Lane. It’s been a fun ride watching all of their antics over the years and I’m betting this last season will be one to remember!
- The Good Wife Sunday’s CBS 9C Global 8C (Sept 25) I enjoyed the first season but quit watching early in the second. I was tired of the office mind games and the continuing secrets of the wayward politician husband. Now that it has moved to Sunday’s, Even though I have a PVR, I’ll still be passing it by as it is on against Desperate Housewives and the new series Pan Am.
- How I Met Your Mother Monday’s CBS/Citytv 7:30C (Sept 19) The gang is back for another season. Is Barney really going to get married – and to whom? Are Marshall and Lily really pregnant? Will Robin meet Mr. Right? Will we find out who the mother is? Stay tuned!
- Body of Proof Tuesday’s ABC/Citytv 9C (Sept 20) One of the best new mid season shows from last year! Dana Delany rules this time slot!
- Survivor Wednesday’s - CBS/Global 7C (Sept 14) The 23rd season brings back two former players Ozzy (Yes!) and Coach aka “The Dragon Slayer” (Not again!). One of the castaways is the nephew of former survivor Russell Hantz. If the nephew plays anything like his uncle, I may be switching channels or only partially watching. Let’s face it – as great as this show was it is getting past its prime.
- Criminal Minds Wednesday’s – CBS/CTV 8C (Sept 21) Last year’s spin off “Suspect Behaviour” was a disaster but the original is back for a seventh season and still going strong! The good news is that A.J. Cook is back as J.J. and Paget Brewster is back as Emily Prentiss. I’m looking forward to seeing what the team of the BAU will face this time around!
- Harry’s Law Wednesday’s NBC/Global 8C (Sept 21) This was my favourite new show from last season so was thrilled to see it renewed. Some changes for season 2 will take a bit of getting used to for me. Jenna (Brittany Snow) and Malcolm (Aml Ameen) are gone. Tommy (Christopher McDonald) is now a regular. I was hoping that Paul McCrane (Josh) would also return. New cast have been added and Harry gets new office digs. I’ll miss the old one! Hopefully the David Kelley show will retain its wit, great banter and quirkiness!

As for the rest of the returning shows, you can check out all the latest changes and potential storylines by heading to TV Guide Canada Fall Preview. Click on any day of the week and then click the show you want to learn more about.

Happy viewing!


Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11 – Ten Years Later

Ten years ago today, much of the world came to a stop as we watched with numbing horror, the terrorist attacks on the United States.

We wanted it to be a bad dream but it wasn’t.

The hijackers had taken control of four planes and used them to destroy the lives of countless individuals. The lives of their families, friends and the ones who somehow managed to survive were forever altered. The livelihoods of thousands who worked in the area were also greatly changed.

Almost 3,000 people died that day. Hundreds of fireman, law enforcement and medical personal who raced to the scene to save others were among those who perished. Over 3,000 children lost a parent on 9/11.

I’m not going to go into the details of that day or the reasons for the attacks. There are any number of articles that one can read if you search for them. I wrote my own remembrances of that day three years ago.

What I will say, is that it still boggles the mind that anyone could have that much hatred and belief in their convictions to knowingly and willingly want to destroy not just their own life but the lives of innocent people who happened to be travelling on those planes or be in those buildings on that day. The attacks were focussed on the USA but citizens of over 100 countries were lost.

I’ve never had the pleasure of visiting New York, although I’ve had relatives living there and know many people who have traveled there. I’ve never been to Washington or Pennsylvania either.

At the time of the attacks, I didn’t know anyone who was born and raised in or near New York. Since 2001, I’ve gotten to know at least a couple of New Yorker’s online but I’ve never asked them about how that day impacted their lives. I think I avoided it because I was afraid of opening a barely healing scar or stirring up memories they may not wish to discuss with someone they only know online.

Since that day, there have been even more military personal killed fighting the war on terrorism. There have also been many deaths due to other smaller scale terrorist attacks around the world by various radicals, groups and home-grown extremists. Most recently the lone gunman who killed 77 people and injured more than 150 in Norway. The reasons for that attack, were completely opposite of the 9/11 ones, but they were all carried out by people who believed in their cause to the point of killing others to promote and carry out their beliefs.

Reactions to any of the mass killings – regardless of the reasons behind them – are generally met with horror and the cry of “not again!”. Lives are shattered by these events and we always wonder if there was something that could have been done to prevent it. Citizens have been advised to be aware of their surroundings and watch for things that seem unusual for the setting. That awareness has prevented some dangerous situations but it has also brought false accusations. Finding a balance of that watchfulness is difficult.

Sadly. many have become suspiciously watchful of those around them. Questioning and distrustful of those who are not of similar backgrounds and beliefs. Building walls around themselves to protect them from perceived evil rather than taking a little time to learn about the cultures and beliefs of others. They fail, or perhaps refuse to see that there are good and bad in all facets of society - be it religious, ethnic or any other factors.

Some choose to call for revenge. Some choose to live in fear.

Thankfully, not all have closed their hearts and minds to others in this world. Many are reaching out to learn more about how other people on this shared planet live and what they believe. If one looks long enough and close enough they will almost always find a commonality.

I shared this concept a few years ago but I think it bears repeating here. Back in the late 1970’s, a teacher in a religious studies course that I took, used this analogy to explain how various religions can see the same God:

“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, Allah 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."

Reaching out, trusting and moving on are not easy by any stretch of the imagination. Especially if your world has been shattered so brutally and unexpectedly.

We can’t ignore the past. It happened and we can’t change that. Nor should we forget it. We don’t know how long each of us has on this earth, but we can’t stop living, learning or loving while we are here.

But, if we are to live a life worth living and experience all that it has to offer, then we must also learn to accept other people as they are and be respectful of their life.

I choose not to live in fear.

I choose not to live in ignorance or intolerance of other cultures or beliefs.

I choose to love.

Yes, I realize that the terrorist attacks did not take place in my neighbourhood, nor did I lose anyone on September 11, 2001, but we all have to decide how we will live our lives in these sadly troubled times.

Canadian singer/songwriter/artist Meaghan Smith has written a deeply inspiring post called Peace September. She talks of the ways we must all find peace within ourselves to live and to love. She closes with this:

“Because Love can walk freely where Peace has cleared the path.

With all my heart I hope that we can find peace within ourselves. And then that peace will overflow into our homes and families and friends and co workers and neighborhoods and cities and counties and eventually countries and finally... Peace on Earth.”

Recently. Canadians lost a beloved and charismatic politician named Jack Layton. He had been the leader of the New Democrat Party of Canada for the last several years. This past spring, he led the party to its strongest showing ever in a federal election and the first time that the party gained opposition status.

Mr. Layton succumbed to cancer just days after writing a heartfelt letter to the people of this country. The letter was released to the public after his death on August 22, 2011. It addressed the issues that the party and the people would face in the coming months and years.

The words with which he chose to close the letter, are words that we should all strive to live by no matter where we live in this world and regardless of our political or religious beliefs.

“My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”
– Jack Layton (1950-2011)


Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Wrist - Part Two

Last week, I told you about my adventures with a painful wrist.

Oh, that was such a fun weekend! I was tired, in pain and bored! I could do almost nothing without pain.

If you’ve never had an injury to your non dominant hand or wrist, you just don’t realize how much you really do use it until you can’t use it.

There are all kinds of things that are harder – or next to impossible to do. Pulling up underwear or pants with only one hand. Putting on a bra or any top with sleeves Squeezing the shampoo bottle. Opening a jar. Holding a knife or anything else for that matter! I mouse with my right hand. I use the remote and even dial the phone with my right hand! I couldn’t hold a book – let alone turn the pages. Even doing my regular eye drops requires both hands. Removing a child proof cap from a bottle – now THAT was fun! Oh, and a word to the gals out there – don’t attempt to shave the underarms with an injured wrist! Trust me - it is beyond painful!

Monday morning, I was up by 6:30. I’d slept a bit better and the wrist was not nearly as sore or warm to the touch as it had been. I did most of my stretches, showered, had breakfast and headed out by 8:30. Using the buses wasn’t too bad but I had to be careful as I generally use my right hand to hold the railing as I get on. I also tend to open doors with my right hand. Not that day!

I saw a triage nurse who then called in a doctor. They had me do a number of movements to see where it hurt or was tender. My dexterity had improved but I showed them how bad it had been. Between them, they thought it was either a pinched nerve or tendonitis. That was better than carpal tunnel or bursitis. They said to continue the icing as that was helping and to limit movement – especially on the PC for the next few days! The doc also wrote a script for an anti inflammatory and a wrist/hand brace.

Once I started the anti inflammatory meds and continued with the icing, things started to improve fairly quickly.

I wasn’t thrilled about being off the computer. I missed playing my games and I wanted to write! But, of course I knew I had to behave or it would take even longer to heal!

The real test of the wrist came on the Wednesday morning. I needed groceries – including a 4L jug of milk and fresh fruit. It actually went fairly smoothly – I just had to keep reminding myself not to lift the basket – or anything heavy with the right hand! I made it home in one piece and iced the wrist after I’d put the groceries away and cleaned up the produce.

I decided to push the envelope a bit and do laundry. Rather than carry it down to the laundry room in one big pile in one trip, I took my two loads down separately so it wouldn’t be as heavy. By the time I was done, I was tired but the wrist wasn’t too bad. I iced it off and on most of the afternoon to be safe.

It was Thursday before I returned to doing full stretches and even attempted a workout. It felt so good to get that routine back! Also felt great to be back on the PC for more than five minutes to check my email! I didn’t overdo it though.

By Friday – one week after the start of the wrist problem – things were more or less back to normal. I even made a batch of my homemade buns!

The weekend went smoothly – including another day trip to the family farm. I did minimal lifting and iced the wrist when I got back.

This past week has been almost normal movement with some caution thrown in for good measure! I’m back to full regular workouts and even managed to move a few heavier items while cleaning the apartment - without any problems.

Now, just over two weeks since the problem started, life is pretty much back to normal.

I’m not taking my recovery for granted though. I’ve bought some over the counter anti inflammatory meds to have on hand. This coming week, I’ll be getting the right hand thumb splint that the doctor wrote a script for. I’ll use it when needed. The doctor also gave me a print out with some exercises to do once things had cleared up – to make sure this doesn’t happen again. I’ll be doing those on a regular basis. I don’t want to go through that kind of pain or the frustration of that kind of injury again anytime soon!