Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year

When I was a kid, I usually spent New Year's Eve at my maternal grandparents unless my parents were having a house party - then I got to stay home and try and stay awake till midnight. I usually fell asleep, but woke up to off key strains of "Auld Lang Syne" at midnight.

The first New Year's Eve I really remember was December 31, 1966. I was 9 years old. It was leading into the beginning of Canada's year long celebration of its centennial. I was staying with my grandparents. The church that they went to was having a late night candlelight walk and carol service with a couple of other churches in town. I think we met about 11:00 at one of the churches and got a candle and song sheets. My grandpa and I walked down the streets with a few dozen other people, singing carols and also stopping for moments of reflection and prayer. It was a little strange, as no one shouted "Happy New Year!" at midnight, but it was also okay, as that was the first year I was allowed to stay up past midnight. When we got home, grandma had fresh cookies and hot chocolate waiting for us.

Most of my teen years and twenties, were involved with a Christian young peoples group, so I never really celebrated the night. We would hold game nights at the church or a small house party, but it was more of a way to avoid the whole indulgence and party scene. The stroke of midnight was not really important and often slipped by without notice or very little fanfare.

There was one year in the late 1970's that I thought I might actually have a real New Year's Eve celebration. The guy I was seeing, said he'd be over New Year's Eve. I made us dinner and we listened to Christian music while we talked and played board games. I wasn't expecting anything romantic as we weren't that serious, but I assumed we'd at least bring in the New Year together with a hug. Around 11:00, he announced that he had to get going as it was getting late and there was a church service the next morning. I thought he was joking, but he wasn't. He explained that New Year's Eve was a pagan celebration and therefore he could have no part of it! Ouch! That was the first year I rang in the year by myself.

I moved one New Year's Eve day in the mid 1980's. It was bitterly cold and by the time we were done I was exhausted and starting to sniffle. I caught a nasty cold! I've also been storm stayed on the farm a few times over New Year's. I've also been kept awake by late night revelers in various apartment blocks over the years.

In the early 1990's I lived in a building that was 2/3 disabled and 1/3 able bodied tenants. We had a large social area that was perfect for parties. There was even a mirror ball hanging from the vaulted ceiling. The tenants association would organize the parties and a tenant or a friend of a tenant would play DJ with the sound system. Since it was a private gathering, it was B.Y.O.B. (bring your own booze). The mix was provided as well as snacks and a buffet style cold plate was set out after midnight. Those were fun parties, usually less than a hundred people and you knew almost everyone there.

Once I moved to the Village, I watched the fireworks display at The Forks from our roof top. The novelty of that wore off after the first few years - especially on the colder nights.

For many years now, I have chosen to spend New Year's Eve alone. I've watched movies or listened to music.. I take time to reflect on the year that has been and what I have learned and experienced during the past twelve months. Hopefully, I have I grown as a person.

I know a lot of people look forward to going out and celebrating the beginning of a fresh new year, but it doesn't really appeal to me. There are a lot of unrealistic expectations around the night. It is supposed to be one of the most romantic nights of the year, but it rarely lives up to the unrealistic expectations that so many people place on it. The restaurants, clubs, bars and countless parties are crowded, noisy, and over priced. For some reason, people are willing to pay more, for the privilege of eating so-so food, tepid drinks and socializing with a lot of people they've never met before.

Maybe someday I'll celebrate the night again, but if I did, it will be a more intimate evening at home with someone special who won't disappear before midnight!

If you are celebrating tonight, please be safe. Drink responsibly and make arrangements ahead of time for a safe ride home.

May the coming year bring you love, laughter, peace, health and prosperity.

dn
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll tak a cup of kindness yet,
For auld lang syne!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Rose Parade Passe

If you are a fan of the annual New Years Day Tournament of Roses Parade, you won't like this post - but I think you should read it anyways.

It was always a tradition in our home to watch the Parade every New Year's Day. We would ooh and ah at the creativity and design of each float as it flashed by on our screen. In the 1930's, my dad (a farmer and avid gardener) and a friend had driven to California one winter and actually saw the parade in person. He would vividly recall the look and the fragrant smell of all the flowers on the floats. He always wanted to take mom to see it someday, but they never got the chance.

The Rose Parade has been in existence since 1890. It started with horse drawn carriages decorated in flowers and has evolved into an extravaganza of floral festooned motorized vehicles with computer programmed animation. Each year has a theme which is announced shortly after each parade. Floats can take up to a year to design and build.

Nowadays, most of the floats are designed and built by float building companies, but there are still several that are done by volunteers. Thousands of man hours go into the creation of each float. Because the float is covered in "live" material, the majority of the assembly must be done in the week before the parade. Each float varies, but the estimated time to do the assembly is that it would take 60 volunteers, 10 hours/day for 10 days to decorate each float. That is 6,000 hours/float or the equivalent of 3 people working 40 hours/week for a year with two weeks holiday. Multiply that by a few dozen floats and that comes to a LOT of time!

"Rose Parade rules require every square inch of float surface be covered with "flowers or other natural botanical materials." According to Hynd, natural botanical materials are defined as substances that "have grown, are growing or will grow." So flowers, seeds, mosses, barks, dried leaves, vegetables and grains can all be employed on floats as long as they’re used in their natural color. Dyeing is not allowed." "Making The Floats" HGTV

As early as April, float designers begin ordering hundreds of varieties of flowers and other living items from vendors around the world to be delivered in the week leading up to Christmas.

That is a lot of hours and plant material to use for only one parade and a day or two of viewing afterward before it all starts to wilt and the whole process starts all over again for the next year.

I used to love watching the parade when I was young, but as I grew older, I began to seriously question why so much time and money would be directed towards this annual event. The city of Pasadena has made millions from the annual event that draws countless visitors and world wide attention every January 1, but is it really the best way to use such precious resources?

Think about it.

What if the 6,000 volunteer hours/float were devoted to other volunteer activities such as working with: sick kids; child and youth programs; music/arts/sports programs; community centers; hospitals; nursing homes; schools; homeless shelters; food banks; etc. If those hours were devoted to other worthwhile causes, would there be a reduction in troubled youth and adults or as much violence?

What if the money that is used to design the floats, buy and import the supplies to decorate the dozens of floats, promote and stage the parade as well as the monies paid by various networks and advertisers was used for programs such as literacy, youth at risk, or research into cures for cancer, AIDS, Alzheimer's and other worthy projects?

What if the land and resources that were used to grow and supply the various types of plants, flowers and seeds could be used to grow fruits and vegetables to feed the hungry in poorer countries and also the less fortunate in our own neighborhoods and communities. If there were more fresh healthy foods, there would be less obesity and malnourishment. People would have access to better food choices, which would lead to healthier lives and less reliance on an overworked health care system. Better food availability and more volunteers in local programs, would do wonders to improve the overall mental and physical health of millions of people all over the world.

Now I know that this is all speculation and that the Rose Parade is not going to end any time soon. nor do I have anything against the City of Pasadena. I don't even have anything against parades in general. I have nothing against flowers or the people who grow them. I know that not all parade volunteers would be good at or want to do other volunteer jobs, but surely there is some other way they could volunteer their services to better their own communities or other causes.

It just bothers me that so many of our worlds most precious resources are being used for such a limited display when there is so much hunger, poverty and people in need.

I just wondered, what if....

dn

Saturday, December 27, 2008

After Christmas Sales

What is it about the after Christmas sales that makes people want to get up out of a nice, warm bed in the middle of the night and go stand, shivering in the cold, outside of a store that opens at 6 or 7 on Boxing Day morning?

Everyone loves a deal - especially here in Winnipeg. We are known as a wholesale and discount city. If there is a bargain to be had, a true Winnipegger will find it! We really don't like paying retail!

There is a local furniture store that has been running the same promotion for many years. Many items are on sale, but ONE dining room suite will be marked at 90% off. The price tags are all turned upside down so that people can't scope out by looking in the windows or such. When the doors open, there is literally a stampede of customers who rush in looking for that one massive deal.

The annual event always makes the local news. They interview the "winner" and many of the people who have been waiting for hours for that slim chance that they will find the right item first. Some actually camp out overnight in the frigid weather! They bring sleeping bags, portable heaters/stove and hot beverages to stay warm. The ones that do that, tend to work in teams to better their odds. The problem with that, is that they are only in it for the hunt and not because they really need the furniture. If they get it they tend to resell the item to make some money. Luckily, these types of people don't win the deal very often. This year, it was a woman who really needed it that found the $1952.00 dining suite marked down to $19.52!

Other stores also offered massive discounts, but only had a limited quantity - just enough incentive to get you in the door and hope that you'll buy other discounted items since you are already there. Still, hundreds of people lined up outside as early as 8:00PM, Christmas night for a 6:00 AM opening on Boxing Day!

With the economy the way it is, most retailers were offering deep discounts before Christmas already, so there really isn't much wiggle room left to lower prices and make even a small profit.

I've known several people who do the annual Boxing Day hunt, but they don't start before 9 or 10 in the morning. It's as much of a tradition for them as the Christmas dinner!

I love finding deals. I look through the flyer's every week - especially for groceries - but to go stand outside for hours? No way! I'm not quite that crazy! I have gone to a few Boxing Day sales in the past, but I was careful in what stores I decided to venture into. The three or four years that I did venture out, I only went to the downtown malls - Portage Place and City Place (formerly Eaton Place) as I knew they wouldn't be quite as insane as the suburban malls.

A few years ago, I went to my favourite clothing store - Cotton Ginny. I had lost a lot of weight and really needed new clothes that fit, so I used Christmas money to shop. One of the clerks helped me scope the store a couple of days before Christmas to see what was available, try things on and make a list of what I wanted. When I got to the store about 20 minutes or so before it opened, there were only a couple of others waiting. The clerk that had helped me a few days earlier was working that morning and the minute the doors opened, she started pulling stuff that she knew I had my eye on, as she knew that with my vision, I would have trouble if the store got really busy. She even found a couple of other items that I had missed. I didn't have to try anything on, so I was out in less than 20 minutes! I went back the following year, but didn't find quite as much. The next couple of years, their pre-Christmas sales were as good as the after sales so I quit going on Boxing Day.

While I was out, I also looked for CD's, Christmas decorations, and a few other things but the main objective was clothes. I was always home before noon.

I still hit post Christmas sales, but I wait till at least the 27th or 28th so that things are a little calmer. Sure, things may be a bit more picked over, but they are also getting stuff returned, so I do find some good deals.

This year, I'll hit the stores on Monday the 29th or Tuesday the 30th. Weekend bus service in this city isn't that great and the stores I want to hit are in suburban malls. I'm not looking forward to the crowds, but it won't be as crazy as the 26th.

There is definitely an adrenalin rush in finding that perfect item on sale. Some people thrive on the door opening hunt. It is the survival of the fittest to find the best deal the fastest! I envy their tenacity and stamina to face the masses.

Boxing Day morning, I slept in late - in my nice warm comfy bed! I hope you found some good deals out there and that you left a few things in the stores for me!

dn

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Little Holiday Humour...

Only two more sleeps till the big day. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. So which category are you in?
1) You've been good and have finished all the holiday prep which means that you are now sitting back and enjoying the season!
2) You've been naughty and are now frantically running around trying to get everything done!
Either way, you could probably use a little humour, so hear are some of my favourite seasonal cartoons:















Merry Humbug!

dn

Sunday, December 21, 2008

"Baby It's Cold Outside"

Winter begins at 6:04AM central time this morning.

Really? Are you sure it only started today?

Huh, I could have sworn that here on the prairies, we've been experiencing winter for at least a month now! I guess it was really just an incredibly cold fall with a bad case of dandruff.

Okay, I know that winter only OFFICIALLY started today, but seriously, most of Canada and a good part of the USA has been experiencing winter "like" weather for quite awhile already.

I have no idea why the seasons are divided equally into three month sections. They certainly don't stay very close to that outline. I imagine that Mother Nature was trying to set some order among her four children.

So Mother Nature set out to give each child its own time to shine and express itself. She gave each one three months, but like every other group of siblings, these four don't always play nice. They try to out maneuver the others and throw nasty tantrums when they don't get their own way.

Winter - a cold domineering bully who doesn't like to be made fun of or told to calm down and have a little heart. It likes things cold, crisp, white and also likes long dark nights.


Spring - is a bit of a servant to winter and summer. It always has to clean up the mess that winter left on the way out and also get things ready for summer. It can be slow to start as it doesn't like to go up against winter until it is good and ready to. It is normally mild mannered unless you try to rush it, in which case it can kick up one hell of crying fit.


Summer - Loves her time in the sun and can be very pleasant but has a penchant to blow her stack when she gets a little too hot under the collar. Also tends to favour the company of small pesky insects. She is the polar opposite of winter in that she is very warm blooded but doesn't like having to wait for spring to get things ready for her and leave when it is time for the next season to begin.

Fall - is the most beautiful of the four and loves painting the landscapes with bright colours. The downside to fall is that she can be very passive and is often squeezed out of her space by a late summer or an early winter who is trying to get her to chill out.


Fall and winter are really having a nasty battle this year. Winter has really been pushing the limits - it even snowed in Vegas! As I said, here on the Canadian prairies, we have had snow on the ground for over a month. This past week has seen bitterly cold weather with wind chill warnings issued. We have been hovering around the -30C/-22F range for highs (-40C/F with the wind chill factored in) and the normal for this time of year is minus 12C/11F.

Mother Nature has her own plans for each of her four children, but they rarely listen. I really wish these four could sort themselves out and learn to play nice, but I guess that is a little much to expect from them. They seem to relish the idea of trying to outdo the others.

Oh well, there isn't anything we can do about the weather so we just have to deal with whatever they throw at us.


As for me, I'm taking a cue from an old episode of M*A*S*H called "Baby It's Cold Outside". The 4077th was in the midst of a bitter cold snap and didn't have the proper gear. Near the end of the episode, they huddled around the last working heating stove and had a sing song. The song they sang?


We're having a heat wave,
A tropical heat wave,
The temperature's rising,
It isn't surprising,
She certainly can can-can.

She started a heat wave
By letting her seat wave
In such a way that
The customers say that
She certainly can can-can.

Gee, her anatomy
Makes the mercury
Jump to ninety-three.

We're having a heat wave,
A tropical heat wave,
The way that she moves
That thermometer proves
That she certainly can can-can.

("Heat Wave" by Irving Berlin)


Yup, I'm feeling warmer already!

Somebody, pass the hot chocolate......

dn

Friday, December 19, 2008

Mandarin Chicken Bake

This is a delicious and simple meal that will be a hit at any festive dinner you are hosting! I found the original "Mandarin Chicken Recipe" on Taste Of Home last year, but thought it sounded a little bland. I realized that with a bit of tweaking, this could be a fabulous main course dish. I served it at a holiday gathering last December and my guests loved it!

MANDARIN CHICKEN BAKE

olive oil
1 1/2 cups uncooked brown rice
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into small pieces
1 medium onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 tablespoon crushed garlic (bottled kind usually found in produce section and packed in olive oil or water)
1 - 1 1/2 cups fresh sliced mushrooms
2 cups unsweetened orange juice
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon lemon pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
1 can (284 grams/10 ounce) mandarin orange segments, drained (Note: You could retain the juice and add to the orange juice to make the 2 cups required)
1/2 - 3/4 cup slivered almonds

Spray a 3 quart shallow casserole (or a dutch oven) with Pam and spread rice evenly over the bottom.

In a frying pan, brown the chicken in a tablespoon of olive oil. Remove chicken to paper towel lined dish. Add onions and red pepper to fry pan and saute until onions are translucent, adding a bit more olive oil if necessary.Then add mushrooms and garlic and saute an additional minute.

Spread the veggies evenly over the rice. Then spread the chicken evenly over the veggies.

Add the juice, broth and spices to the fry pan and stir just enough to lift the pan drippings.

Pour gently and evenly over the chicken. DO NOT STIR!

Cover and bake in a 350F oven for about 45 to 50 minutes or until rice is almost done. Arrange mandarin segments and slivered almonds over the top and return to the oven uncovered for about 5 minutes.

Makes 5 to 6 servings. Serve with a tossed salad.

Enjoy!

dn

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Christmas Memories

I've been thinking about some of my favourite Christmas memories. Until the mid 1970's, we always had a real tree. My grandfather and father had planted a lot of different types of trees on our property - including evergreens. They were really good for creating wind rows, which helped protect the property during strong winds and storms. Over the years, they purposely planted some of the trees closer together, so that as they grew, some could be cut down as Christmas trees. Eventually, we used most of the ones that were suitable for decorating. Buying a real one was expensive, so we bought an artificial. It wasn't the same, but it was a lot less work. We did break down and buy a couple of real ones over the next few years, but the artificial one was just easier to deal with and we could enjoy the decorations a lot longer.

When I was very little, we used to have a set of "bubble lights". They were the coolest thing! Once the lights got warmed up, they would bubble up this little eye dropper like end. It was really like a mini lava lamp! I loved to watch those things and I was so disappointed when the last one finally burnt out. Mom always tried to find more, but she never did.

My sister is twelve and a half years older than me. One year, when I was about 5, there was a large, shallow box under the tree that was addressed to both of us. What could possibly have been in there that we could BOTH use? It was driving us nuts. There was a rattling noise when we shook it, but it was also very light. Turns out, mom had bought us matching slippers and added peanuts in the shell to throw us off!!

Our family loved disguising gifts. We'd wrap little things inside a number of boxes, or add peanuts for noise or small stones for weight. One year, my brother taped an LP to the bottom of a larger box and added all kinds of junk fillers inside the box. At the bottom of the box was a note that said to turn the box over!

Mom sent me on a mini treasure hunt one year. She had made me a pair of green cords and a matching jacket. She had done all the sewing, while I was in school and had been very careful to make sure that there was no scraps of material or threads lying around when I got home every day. Rather than wrapping it, there was one envelope for me under the tree. Huh? Only one present? It led me to three or four more clues that took me to the front hall closet where the outfit was hanging in an old garment bag! The pants and jacket fit perfectly!

We always opened our gifts on Christmas morning. We were allowed to open our stockings before mom and dad got up, but everything else had to wait until mom, dad and us kids were all in the living room. This could be torture as my dad LOVED to "delay" his entrance. He always made sure that he was last out of bed, then he had to do any number of things before he came in the room. When we still had livestock, he'd go check the animals first. He'd also go to the bathroom, then decide that he should shave while he was in there. He'd brush his teeth too. Then on his way through the kitchen, he'd decide to stop and peel a mandarin orange! We'd all be calling ; "Come on dad - hurry up - PLEASE!" He'd keep hollering "Hold your horses - I'll be there in a minute!" My mom's dad used to do the same thing to them when they were little!

I don't recall Christmas gatherings with my dad's siblings as they were busy with there own families. We did however have gatherings with my moms siblings until the the early 1970's. It finally got to be too hard to coordinate all the schedules to find a suitable time to get together. Around that time, we also started hosting our immediate family Christmas dinner on Boxing Day so that we could all attend. That way some family weren't running between two large family meals with in-laws in one day. Mom didn't care what day we all got together, as long as we were all together at some point.

The day after actually worked quite well for us as it gave her and dad an extra day to get everything ready. Some years, mom was even finishing sewing or knitting for one of the kids or grandkids on Christmas night. I recall many Christmas Days helping mom wrap presents and make some of the food for the next day! It also gave at least one or two family members an extra day to shop as they could hit the Boxing Day sales, before they came to the farm!

Everyone would arrive around 3:30 or so. We'd eat dinner around 5:00 then we'd open gifts. My older brother wore a full beard for many years. He also owned a Santa suit and would dress up for various Christmas parties and go around to visit "kids" of all ages in their neighbourhood and circle of friends. When my nieces and nephews were small, he used to bring the suit with him. He's slip off after supper on some quick errand and change, then come in shouting "HO HO HO"! He'd hand out gifts and candy canes then slip out while the kids were opening gifts! He was always shocked when he'd come back in and find out that he'd missed seeing Santa!

After the gifts were all opened, we'd wash up the dishes from the main course and get the dessert ready. Waiting a while between courses, always gave us a chance to relax a bit and let the dinner digest - besides there were always at least two or three desserts and a tray of baking to choose from - so we had to wait till there was room in our tummies!

In 1980, dad decided to make lamps out of pieces of diamond willow that he found. He cleaned the wood, stained it and drilled the holes for the light fixtures. He bought lamp fixture kits and did all the assembly himself. Mom spent hours looking for just the right type of shade. She finally found some that looked sort of like a rustic burlap that were the right size and shape. The photo that I have doesn't do them justice as the lighting was poor and the plastic was still on the shades. He let each of us choose our own lamp. I picked the second from the left as it had a smaller base that would fit well on my end table and I loved the wood grain. I still have that lamp and it is one of my most cherished possessions.

Somewhere in the early eighties, we started playing a gift game after dessert, Everyone brought at least one wrapped gift under $5.00 that was suitable for male or female. Gag gifts were often included but it could also be practical things like tube socks, candles, rubber scrapers, candy, etc. The gifts were all placed in the middle of the floor. We had two decks of cards. One deck was dealt out to everyone who was participating (each person had three or four cards usually). The second deck was used to draw cards. When one of your cards was pulled, you had to hand it to the dealer and take a gift from the pile and unwrap it so everyone could see it. Then the next card was shown. The owner of it could either take a gift from the pile OR turn to someone with an opened gift and say "May I pleas have ____?" You had to let them "steal" the gift as long as they remembered to say Please and Thank You - if they forgot either one they lost their turn and whatever they wanted! This would continue until all 52 cards were drawn from the deck. There were usually only about 20 gifts so you knew some stuff was going to get "stolen" and that you would likely get left holding some unwanted "treasures". The "treasures" often made encore appearances in the following years. One gift that made numerous appearances was a can of beans and a roll of toilet paper! You weren't allowed to "hide" gifts so that others might forget what you had. Some people would "steal" just for the sake of "stealing" and making the game more interesting! You quickly learned that if you were too excited about any one gift, the odds are someone would try and steal it. Depending on the gift, you sometimes begged people to "steal" it from you! You just had to hope that one of your cards would come up near the end, so that you could get it back! It usually took about an hour or so to play and was always good for a lot of laughs and good natured teasing!

After loosing so much of my sight in 1990, I didn't go out to the farm very often for Christmas. I'm not a good winter traveller and with all the people and commotion around, I found it a little too overwhelming for my senses. It was very disorienting and difficult for me to move around safely. The last couple of years that dad was around, my sister hosted the dinner at her home about an hour away. She still hosts for the family that wants to come every year. There is still always enough food to feed an army, gifts for everyone and lots of laughs and good cheer!!

dn

Monday, December 15, 2008

Holiday Traditions

Every family has there own traditions when it comes to the holidays.

My maternal grandfather's family always had Christmas crackers. We had to pull the crackers before dinner and wear the silly paper hats that were inside. The hats never stayed on! Every time you bent or moved your head they fell off on the floor - or more often than not - into the food. If the hats got wet (from falling in the food) the dye would run and make a terrible mess! By the end of the meal no one was wearing them! We all hated them - but we kept buying them every year because it was a tradition!


Well, that tradition came to an end for our family in the late 1960's. One year we couldn't find any or the Christmas Crackers. We had left it too late and by the time we remembered we couldn't find any. We decided that this was actually a good thing and that it was time to start a new tradition.

We would make place cards for everyone instead.

The designs started out very simple. The first year, we made napkin rings. We cut cylinders of paper towel tubes into short pieces and covered each with coloured foil. We wrote each name on a white sticker in red or green ink and then rolled a napkin to go in each piece.

Some designs were more elaborate than others. Some we started working on weeks in advance and others were done a day or two before Christmas.

One year, we used the pointed ice cream cones and iced each with green icing. We stood them pointy end up and decorated each with candy sprinkles so that there was a Christmas tree at every place. We used egg cartons and straws to make mini sleighs another year.

One year I made red pom poms and placed each on a cloud of cotton baton. Each pom pom had eyes, nose and mouth. I found the mini black top hats and the white earmuffs at a craft supply store. These were pretty easy to do to:
The napkin snowmen were a last minute idea. We took red napkins, cotton baton and bits of yarn to make these simple place cards:
Some of the ideas were very simple and easy to do. We purchased plain, mini jewelery boxes from a craft supply store. The bottom half were already gold so we just "wrapped the tops with coloured foils and used Christmas ribbons and bows to accent. Inside the boxes, we places after dinner mints.I used to make a German Christmas cookie called "Peppernuts". One year, I decided to make small gift bags of these for each place card. I cut circles of fancy Christmas fabric and tied them up with ribbon:

These snow people were a collaborative effort between mom and I. I made all the pom pom snow people and did the faces and buttons. I made the felt bases with a little cotton baton to set them on. Mom knit all the tiny scarves and toques!
One year, mom spent hours making these cross stitch mailboxes:

Mom, did another cross stitch design a few years later. She stitched various words like Peace, Joy and Love on small pieces of cross stitch canvas then sewed them into a cylinder around an empty thread spool. She attached a tiny bell and a ribbon to each one so that our name tags could be attached and later used as a tree ornament. Another year, she knit tiny stockings in a variegated red/white/green yarn and had a white border at the top. She fastened a small bell at the top and put a roll of life savers in each one. Near the bottom of the roll she broke the seal of the package so that it would bend to form the foot of the stocking.

Other family members have also made the place cards over the years. There have been angels made of cotton and lace; decorated cookies with our names on them and many more. Everyone always looked forward to seeing what the next year's design would be. There have been Santa's, snowmen, angels, reindeer, sleighs, bells, trees and many other designs. Some were edible, but most were meant to be used as ornaments in coming years.

I wish we had taken pictures of all the designs that were made over the years. A few years ago, mom and I went through the old photos and found many of the designs - but not all. I do know that we never repeated the exact same design in all the years that we did them! I still have several of these Christmas place cards. I put some on my tree and some around the apartment. They hold special memories in my heart and mind.
The tradition continued until a few years ago. After my dad died in 2003, my mom quit having Christmas at the farm. It just wasn't the same without him there and it was way to much work for mom. Some of the family still get together at Christmas, but with each passing generation, the younger families are creating their own new traditions to pass on to their children and grandchildren.

dn

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Dick Van Dyke












Richard Wayne Van Dyke was born 83 years ago today in West Plains Missouri and raised in Danville, Illinois with his younger brother (and fellow actor) Jerry Van Dyke. During WWII, he enlisted in the Air Force and served as a radio announcer in the USA. In 1948, he married Marge Willett on a radio show called "Bride and Groom". The show paid for the rings, wedding and other items that the couple was to poor to afford!

Dick Van Dyke was a struggling actor for many years, doing game show hosting, morning television and even briefly worked as a weatherman, before landing a part in "Bye, Bye Birdie" on Broadway. He won a Tony award in 1961 for the role and also starred in the movie of the same name in 1963. His role in Mary Poppins (1964) was widely criticized as a horrid British accent, but it was a huge hit and is still a fan favourite!

Mr. Van Dyke became a household name after he was cast in the lead role of a series created by Carl Reiner. Reiner based the Rob Petrie character on himself and the Allen Brady character on his former boss Sid Caesar (Your Show of Shows).The Dick Van Dyke Show began airing on CBS in October 1961. The cast was an incredible ensemble with: Van Dyke as comedy writer Rob Petrie; Rose Marie and Morey Amsterdam portraying his co writers on the "Allen Brady Show" Sally Rogers and Buddy Sorrell; Mary Tyler Moore as Rob's lovable wife Laura: Larry Mathews as their son Richie; Jerry Paris as the dentist/neighbour Jerry Helper; and Ann Morgan Gilbert as Jerry's wife Millie. Richard Deacon appeared as Mel Cooley and Mr. Reiner appeared in many episodes as Allen Brady.

The show was almost cancelled after the first season, but a boost from summer reruns and an Emmy win for the shows writers launched the series into the top ten. Dick Van Dyke and company kept us laughing and smiling for 158 episodes over five seasons. The series has been in syndication on many networks over the years and is also available on DVD.

I wasn't very old, but I can vividly remember sitting on our living room floor, watching the show in the early 1960's. I thought that Rob and Laura were such great parents. Even though most of the humour was over my head at the time, I still wished I was part of that family. There was such a strong bond between all of the characters and they always had such great chemistry and fun together. I loved the party scenes and loved the idea that everyone took turns performing - it was never like that in real life! Picking a favourite episode from the series is impossible - there are just too many gems to choose from. I have about 30 episodes on VHS including the wonderful reunion episode that aired in 2004. How wonderful to see so many of the original cast reunited!

During the 1960's he also starred in several other movies, including: "Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang" (1968) ; "Fitzwilly" (1967)(one of my favourites!); "Divorce American Style" (1967); and "The Comic" (1969). There were many more movies through the 1970's and 1980's. Some of these included: "Cold Turkey" (1971); "The Morning After" (1974) and "Breakfast with Les and Bess" (1985). There were a few short lived series such as 1971-74's "The New Dick Van Dyke Show" and many, many guest starring roles in shows like: "The Carol Burnett Show"; "Columbo"; "Matlock"; "Highway To Heaven" and "Airwolf".

In 1991, he did a guest star as Dr. Mark Sloan on "Jake and the Fat Man". This led to a TV movie and one of my very favourite long running series, "Diagnosis Murder"! The series ran for 178 episodes from 1993-2001. His co-star in the series was his own son Barry Van Dyke. Almost the entire Van Dyke clan has the acting gene and many of the family have appeared on screen at one time or another with their legendary father and grandfather.

He continued to do various guest starring roles on shows like "Coach"; "Becker"; "Sabrina" and "Scrubs" Dick has also done several "Murder 101" movies for The Hallmark Channel. Unfortunately, I have been unable to see any of those as we don't have that channel in my area, but I hope I get to see them someday!

He has also done voice over work in movies and has a role in the upcoming "Night At The Museum 2" which will be released next year. In 2003, he teamed with Mary Tyler Moore for a TV production of "The Gin Game".
Dick also keeps busy musically with the group "Dick Van Dyke and The Vantastix". The quartet was started after a chance meeting with Mike Mendyke in a Malibu coffee shop. Van Dyke, Mendyke, Bryan Chadima and Eric Bradley have a wonderful sound and their love of the music is obvious when you listen to any of their music. You can hear a sample of their harmonies by going to Dick Van Dyke and the Vantastix During the holiday season you can also download two marvelous Christmas songs by hitting the Free Christmas mp3s to benefit Feed The Children link then right click the download button and hit save target.

Dick and his wife Marge, divorced in 1984 after a long separation. They raised four children together and have seven grandchildren and a great grandchild. He has been with his long time lady love, Michelle Triola Marvin since the mid 1980's. After the tragic 1987 death of his granddaughter Jessica Van Dyke, Dick did several commercials to raise awareness for Reye's Syndrome

Mr. Van Dyke received a long overdue star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1992. He was made an honorary life member of The Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America (SPEBSQSA), Inc in 1999. Dick has dabbled in computer animation since the 1980's. A segment of his work appeared on the "Dick Van Dyke Show Revisited".

There is so much more that I could write about this incredibly versatile and talented man, but as you may have already guessed by now, I am a HUGE fan of Mr. Van Dyke's!! I have admired his creative talents in comedies, dramas, and music since I was a little girl! There have been very few actors that I have ever really followed the careers of, and enjoyed so many of their roles and endeavors, but Mr. Van Dyke ranks at the top of my list. So much so, that many years ago, I promised myself, that if I ever found an address for him, that I would write him a letter! Well a couple of years ago, I came across an address for a "Richard Van Dyke" in the Malibu area and I wrote a letter. The current resident of the address wrote a short note back to explain that, sadly, it was the wrong Dick Van Dyke! I was disappointed, but not really surprised as the address was too easy to find even for a novice PC user.

Who knows, maybe someday, I'll have the opportunity to say thank you and tell him how much I have loved and admired his work over the years! For now though, I will just raise a glass of sparkling white grape juice and toast to Mr. Van Dyke's continued good health and wish him a very Happy 83rd Birthday!!

dn

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Without women there'd be no Christmas!

I was debating about what to write for this post, so I decided to do a little surfing and do a bit of research. I came up with the following two pieces that prove once and for al that there would be NO Christmas without women!

"Rudolf to Blitzen"

According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, while both male and female reindeer grow antlers in the summer each year (the only members of the deer family, Cervidae, to have females do so). Male reindeer drop their antlers at the beginning of winter, usually late November to mid December.

Female reindeer, however, retain their antlers till after they give birth in the spring. Therefore, according to every historical rendition depicting Santa’s reindeer, every single one of them, from Rudolf to Blitzen…. had to be a female.
We should’ve known this when when they were able to find their way!

I know, you're skeptical and I don't blame you! You want more proof?

"Santa is a WOMAN!!"

I think Santa Claus is a woman….
I hate to be the one to defy a sacred myth, but I believe he’s a she. Think about it. Christmas is a big, organized, warm, fuzzy, nurturing social deal, and I have a tough time believing a guy could possibly pull it all off!

For starters, the vast majority of men don’t even think about selecting gifts until Christmas Eve. Once at the mall, they always seem surprised to find only Ronco products, socket wrench sets, and mood rings left on the shelves. On this count alone, I’m convinced Santa is a woman.

Surely, if he were a man, everyone in the universe would wake up Christmas morning to find a rotating musical Chia Pet under the tree, still in the bag.

Another problem for a he-Santa would be getting there. First of all, there would be no reindeer because they would all be dead, gutted and strapped to the rear bumper of the sleigh amid wide-eyed, desperate claims that buck season had been extended. Blitzen’s rack would already be on the way to the taxidermist.

Even if the male Santa DID have reindeer, he’d still have transportation problems because he would inevitably get lost up there in the snow and clouds and then refuse to stop and ask for directions.

Other reasons why Santa can’t possibly be a man:
- Men can’t pack a bag.
- Men would rather be dead than caught wearing red velvet!
- Men don’t answer their mail.
- Men would refuse to allow their physique to be described even in jest as anything remotely resembling a “bowlful of jelly.”
- Men aren’t interested in stockings unless somebody’s wearing them.
- Having to do the Ho Ho Ho thing would seriously inhibit their ability to pick up women.
- Finally, being responsible for Christmas would require a commitment.
Santa is most definitely a WOMAN!
Case closed!

To read more "enlightened" material please click here!
dn

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Holiday Movies and Specials

Every Christmas, we are hit with an avalanche of holiday movies,specials and themed episodes of out favourite show - all claiming to be the next classic. Only a few reach "Classic" status. Many make us laugh and they all tend to pull at our heartstrings to some degree. We all have our favourites. You know - the ones that we have to see at least every couple of years (if not every year) or it just doesn't feel like Christmas! So, I thought I'd share a few of my holiday favourites.

- "Holiday Inn" (1942) starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. There wasn't a lot of plot to this movie. Crosby, plays Joe, a retired performer who becomes a farmer then decides to open a nightclub that is only open on "holidays".This movie gave us some wonderful songs such as; "Be Careful, It's My Heart". "Easter Parade" and was the first to introduce the classic Christmas song "White Christmas".

- "It's A Wonderful Life" (1946) Jimmy Stewart stars as George Bailey, the man who thinks he has lost everything and "wishes" he'd never been born. His "wish" is granted by Clarence Odbody, angel second class (brilliantly portrayed by Henry Travers). I've seen it at least twenty times over the years, but I still love it. Who among us has not at some point, wondered, if we have made a difference in this world?It's a poignant reminder of just how important we all are and how our actions have influenced the lives of the people around us.


- "Miracle on 34th Street" (1947) Kris Kringle (a perfectly cast Edmund Gwenn) is on trial and must prove that he is indeed the real Santa Claus. There are so many good scenes in this movie, but I think my favourite is near the end when the Post Office workers decide to deliver the Santa letters to the courthouse and proceed to carry bags and bags into the courtroom!

- "A Christmas Carol" (1951) This movie has spawned dozens of remakes and imitations, but the 1951 classic, which is also known as "Scrooge", is the definitive version of the Dickens's classic Christmas story with Alastair Sim in the starring role of Ebenezer Scrooge.

- "White Christmas" (1954) starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen. I've never been a fan of any movies that had anything to do with the military, but this movie is an exception. I could do without the "artistic" dance routine scene, but I love the romance gone awry and the housekeeper/busybody Emma Allen (Mary Wickes). The movie also gave us some great songs such as; "Count Your Blessings", "Sisters", "Snow" and reintroduced the now classic "White Christmas".
- "Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas" was a 30 minute Christmas special from Jim Henson Productions that aired in 1977. It was based on a 1971 children's book by Russell Hoban. Paul Williams wrote the music to go with this tale of a poor otter family who risk everything to win a cash prize at a local talent show. I had a friend pick up the DVD of this for me when she was in the USA last month, and I re watched it this last weekend. I hadn't seen it in years but it is still as charming and fun as I remember. This should be shown every Christmas!
- "The Muppet Christmas Carol" (1992) was the fourth Muppet movie and the first to be released after the death of Jim Henson. All the Muppet favourites are there along with Michael Caine as Ebenezer Scrooge and of course Kermit The Frog as Bob Cratchet. I know most people aren't fans of remakes, including myself but I love the Muppets and I love the humour that was added and also the music of Paul Williams. I try to see this movie every Christmas. I just got this movie on DVD as an early Christmas present from a very good friend, so I'm looking forward to watching it and seeing all the "extras" that are included.

- "Santa And Pete" (1999) TV movie staring James Earl Jones and Hume Cronyn is based on the book by; Christopher Moore and Pamela Johnson. As with any movie that is based on a book, the story is told slightly differently, but I have a copy of the book and an old VHS of the movie and I really love the blending of historical facts and fiction of how Santa and his various customs/folklore came to be. This is a wonderfully creative story and I highly recommend that you see the movie and read the book!

- "It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie" (2002) This is yet another take on "It's A Wonderful Life" with Kermit the Frog as the manager of a theater who feels he is no longer useful. His guardian angel, Daniel, (played by David Arquette) shows him what life would have been like for his friends if he had not existed. Joan Cusack is hilarious as Rachael Bitterman, an old Mr. Potter like character.
- "The Family Stone" (2005) I saw this movie for the first time a few months ago, but really enjoyed Sarah Jessica Parker as the incredibly uptight Meredith as she and her boyfriend visit his free spirited yet slightly dysfunctional family for Christmas. Diane Keaton is wonderful as always! There are some very funny parts to this flick as well as some very touching moments.

Honourable mentions:
- Tim Burton's "The Nightmare Before Christmas" (1993) is a little out there, but it is still a great movie.
- "Mrs. Santa Clause" (1996) A TV movie starring Angela Lansbury/
- There are a trio of holiday movies staring Peter Falk as the angel Max who weaves some heavenly magic to make the holidays brighter. The TV movies are: "A Town Without Christmas" (2001); "Finding John Christmas" (2003) and "When Angels Come To Town" (2004).
- "The Polar Express" (2004) This movie, is based on the book, and stars Tom Hanks voicing many characters.

You can find the majority of the above at your favourite Video rental place and many will be shown on TV over the next three weeks.

I just found out, that there is a new Muppet special that will air on NBC on Wednesday, December 17, 2008 at 8:00PM eastern (7:00PM central). It is called "A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa". Apparently three letters to Santa accidentally get intercepted by the Muppets and they must deliver them to Santa at the North Pole before he leaves on Christmas Eve or the three letters wishes will not be granted. This is a one hour special with many guest stars.

There is also a Vinyl Cafe special on CBC TV called "Stuart McLean's Christmas Pageant" (Dec. 22, 8:30PM ET/7:30PM central). All Stewart wants is an old-fashioned Christmas. Lucky for him, he's found the perfect town to help him out.
A complete listing of movies and specials for the Canadian networks by clicking here

So get your favourite holiday beverage, snacks and loved ones, then gather 'round the TV and enjoy some great seasonal entertainment!

dn

Saturday, December 6, 2008

"dnsyl57's Peanut Butter Bars in Dark Chocolate"

I have been making 3 batches of these yummy treats every year for several years now and including them with my annual Christmas "Goody Bags" of homemade treats for friends, family and others who help me throughout the year. I've tweaked the original recipe to come up with this one! These are SO good that they make Reese's Peanut Butter Cups taste like imitations!

1 1/2 cups crunchy Peanut Butter (I use Skippy)
1 1/2 (300g) packages Peanut Butter chips (I use Hershey's)
1/4 cup icing sugar (also known as confectioners sugar!)
1/2 cup crushed peanuts (I use blanched, salted)
1/2 cup crushed Rice Krispies
3/4 to 1 pound (340-454g) semi-sweet or dark chocolate wafers (I've been using Morden's of Winnipeg for over 20 years!) DON'T USE THE CHEAP STUFF OR CHOCOLATE CHIPS - FIND THE GOOD STUFF!!!

Melt the peanut butter and peanut butter chips in a 2 quart microwave safe bowl on medium power, stirring every minute until completely melted. (About 2 1/2 - 3 minutes.) Stir in icing sugar, peanuts and rice Krispies and mix until well coated and evenly mixed. Pour mixture into wax paper lined 8X8 pan and spread evenly. Chill 3 or 4 hours. Carefully remove wax paper and cut into small bars about 110 - 120. Chill on wax paper lined cookie sheet for 2 - 3 hours. (Note: If the peanut butter mixture crumbles when you cut it, you can press it into a log shape with your hands, then even out the sides and edges with the flat side of a knife. Cut the log into small bars and chill.)

In a double boiler, melt about 1/3 of the chocolate, being careful not to allow any moisture or steam to get in the chocolate or it will seize and be unsuitable for dipping. Add more wafers as needed and stir in as melting until smooth before continuing to dip. (Note; Do not melt this chocolate in microwave as it needs to stay warm and melted to dip properly. Reheating it will change consistency and affect final appearance.) For best results, remove only a dozen or so from the fridge at a time. This will prevent them from becoming to soft and melting while dipping. CAREFULLY dip one at a time in chocolate, turning to coat all sides. Place on wax paper lined cookie sheet and chill till set (1 hour).

Trim off any excess chocolate around the bottom and check for any missed spots. You can touch up missed areas with a bit of melted chocolate on a spoon or with the flat side of a toothpick. Chill any touch-ups.

Store in an air tight container in fridge for up to a month or in freezer up to 4 months - if they last that long! Makes 9 - 10 dozen.

Enjoy!!

dn

Friday, December 5, 2008

"dnsyl57's Cherry Brandy Chocolate Truffles"

I've been making this recipe since the mid 80's and have gotten rave reviews when I include this with 4 or 5 other homemade chocolate treats in about 3 dozen "goody bags" that I give as Christmas gifts each year to friends, family and people who help me throughout the year. I make 3 batches every Christmas.

DO NOT SETTLE FOR BULK BIN OR DISCOUNT STORE CHOCOLATE WAFERS.

They contain a low grade chocolate or imitation chocolate flavour and a large proportion of paraffin. DO NOT use a chocolate that needs to be tempered or chocolate chips. This recipe is worthy of PREMIUM chocolate wafers. Some local chocolate makers will also sell a good quality dipping wafer. I've been using Morden's of Winnipeg for over 20 years! Find the good stuff before trying this recipe!!!

1 can regular or low fat sweetened condensed milk
1 pound (454g) semi- sweet, dark or bittersweet chocolate wafers
2 Tablespoons cherry Brandy (or your favourite liquor)
3/4 pound (340g) milk chocolate wafers

In a 2 quart microwave safe bowl melt the dark chocolate and sweetened condensed milk on medium power, stirring every minute until melted (about 4 minutes). Stir in cherry Brandy. (Note: I always measure the brandy into the empty sweetened condensed milk can and stir it to get the last bit of milk that never wants to come out of the can.)

DO NOT ADD MORE THAN 2 TABLESPOONS OF ANY LIQUOR OR THE MIXTURE WILL NOT SET PROPERLY AND THE CHOCOLATE WILL BE IMPOSSIBLE TO SHAPE OR DIP!!

Mix until well blended and smooth. Pour evenly into a wax paper lined 8X8 pan and chill at least 6 hours or overnight.

Lift the wax paper and chocolate out of the pan. Carefully remove the wax paper and then pull small pieces of the chocolate and roll into balls about a half inch round. You could also divide and shape by cutting the chocolate into small squares (about 9x10 or 90 pieces). Then take each piece and hand roll into a ball. (Personally, I find that the easiest way.) Place on wax paper lined cookie sheet and chill for 2 - 3 hours. They will flatten slightly as they chill.

In a double boiler, melt about 1/3 of the milk chocolate, being careful not to allow any moisture or steam to get in the chocolate or it will seize and be unsuitable for dipping. Add more wafers as needed and stir in as melting until smooth before continuing to dip. (Note; Do not melt this chocolate in microwave as it needs to stay warm and melted to dip properly. Reheating it will change consistency and affect final appearance.) For best results, remove only a dozen or so truffles from fridge at a time. This will prevent them from becoming to soft and melting while dipping. CAREFULLY dip one at a time in milk chocolate, turning to coat all sides. Place on wax paper lined cookie sheet and chill till set (1 hour).

Trim off any excess chocolate around the bottom and check for any missed spots. You can touch up missed areas with a bit of melted chocolate on a spoon or with the flat side of a toothpick. Chill any touch-ups.

Store in an air tight container in fridge for up to a month or in freezer up to 4 months - if they last that long! Makes about 7 - 8 dozen.

Enjoy!!

dn

Thursday, December 4, 2008

DN's Chocolate Bakery

This time of year, I always feel like I am running my own chocolate bakery!

I've been baking most of my life. My grandmother and mom started teaching me when I was very young. I've always enjoyed the creative outlet of making my own home made items from the kitchen. My baking may not always be visually spectacular, but when you bite into it there is the taste sensation that instantly says this is homemade with love!

The insanity of my holiday baking frenzy started innocently enough. Many years ago, I did some Christmas baking to give as gifts to friends who didn't bake and to those who didn't get to go home at Christmas. The reviews were raves. Months later, I was still getting comments of how good it was and how thoughtful to get homemade baking rather than something from a store. The main question was; "Are you going to do that again this year?"

Well, I decided to keep going - and I'm still going more than 25 years later! The packaging has changed several times and the variety of goodies inside has also changed a lot over the years! I used to do a wider variety of treats - sometimes up to 9 or 10 different items, but I was only doing a dozen or so packages back then. I do so many now, that I've had to narrow it down to 6 varieties just to keep it within reason and to keep me somewhat sane!

Ever since I was a kid, I had almost always done a bit of baking around the holidays. There were always recipes that I helped my mom make every year. My own specialty was "Whipped Shortbread" - a delicately light, mouth watering treat that literally melted in your mouth! My "Double Chocolate Almond Shortbread" is a modern version of that recipe that I have pretty much perfected over the last few years!

I started doing this year's Christmas baking just over a month ago. I do massive quantities to package into gifts for the special people in my life - the family, friends and people who make my life easier throughout the year. By the time I am done in mid December, I will have made:
- 4 Chocolate, Cherry Pound Cakes
- 30 dozen (360!) Double Chocolate Almond Shortbread
- 270-290 Almond Crunch (almond filling dipped in dark chocolate)
- 270-300 Peanut Butter Bars (peanut butter filling dipped in dark chocolate - Reese's eat your heart out!)
- 270-300 Cherry Brandy Chocolate Truffles (dark chocolate centers with a hint of cherry brandy, then dipped in milk chocolate)
- approx. 9 pounds of a white chocolate bark that my mom and I created over 25 years ago that we named Boo Boo Candy!

That will all be divided up into 3 dozen gift bags of varying sizes. I only keep about 5% of each for myself. I know that sounds like a ridiculous amount of time, effort and cost - and maybe it is - but I like the more personal and creative gifts to express my love and appreciation for the people in my life.

Every year, I keep threatening to stop the madness of my baking frenzy, but I know how much people look forward to the home made treats. When I tell people that I don't know how much longer I'll be able to keep doing this, there is a look of horror on their faces as they contemplate the thought of Christmas without my "goody bags"!! One year, I wasn't sure if I'd be able to afford all the supplies and at least three people offered to help pay for them - just so I could keep the tradition going. Yup, I have definitely created a monster of a Chocoholic lovers fantasy here!

In the long run, this really is cheaper than buying gifts or giving cash. How much cheaper may surprise you. I did a rough estimate of the cost of all the baking supplies including packaging and it came to about $160.00 - or about $4.44/package not counting labour. It takes me about 60 hours to prepare and package all of the goodies. That is not counting about 6 1/2 hours of oven time for the shortbread and pound cakes OR the nearly 60 hours to chill all of the hand made chocolates.

It does get a little frantic around my apartment this time of year, as I do all the prep, packaging and triple check my lists to make sure I have sufficient supplies to make enough for all the people I want to give to. I also make sure that I have a couple of extra packages in case of emergency!

I also feel like I've given up my fridge and freezer space for a few weeks while I'm making and storing all the "Chocolate Treats". It takes some careful planning for my grocery shopping and menu planning to ensure that I have sufficient space to store any items that need to be in the fridge or freezer. As much as I love doing all the baking for gifts, there is always a part of me that breathes a sigh of relief when it is done and I have full use of my fridge and freezer again!

Over the next two days, I'll share a couple of my favourite Chocolate recipes that have been part of the "Goody Bags" for years. I hope you enjoy them!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to get back to "DN's Chocolate Bakery"!!

dn

Monday, December 1, 2008

The New PC

In late October I related my tale of woe with a new PC. It wasn't a pleasant experience. I learned from it though, and that made ordering another new PC a lot easier. I still wasn't thrilled about Vista, but I needed a new PC. My old one was past retirement and slower than molasses running uphill in January! It was only a 256 ram and 20 gig hard drive. There was less than a gig of free space left so it really wasn't running well.

I ordered another PC on November 3. This time I ordered a Compaq with a 3 gig ram, 320 gig hard drive and a 19" LCD flat screen monitor. It even came with an HP printer/copier/scanner. The deal is offered through my service provider. If I switched from light connection to lightening, then I could get the PC for $99.00 down and $19.00/month interest free payments for 36 months. I don't have a lot of money to shell out at one time, so I thought this sounded like my best option. It would definitely suit my needs and my budget.

The new PC arrived on November 10. I set it up that afternoon and was on the Internet by about 3:30 or so. I managed to transfer my music, photos and documents. I set up my Outlook Express accounts, but couldn't find my Outlook files from my old PC on my backup drive. I knew they were probably there but I just wasn't looking in the right places!

There was a 60 day trial of Norton included, but I quickly realized that I wasn't going to like using Norton Security. I'd never heard to much good about it anyway! I decided to uninstall it and install Zone Alarm which is offered for free from my provider. I thought I uninstalled it correctly, but screwed up somewhere and couldn't get back onto the Internet. I called my provider on Tuesday morning, who talked me through a restore. We set it back to Monday evening when all was working. It was in the process of restoring when the tech and I hung up. Turned out that didn't work. I called back and they couldn't fix it. They told me to call HP.

After supper, I called HP and talked to a very nice/patient lady who talked me through a restore to factory settings. That meant removing EVERYTHING I had uploaded from my backup drive and all of my accessibility settings! That was annoying, to say the least, but I knew that was the only way I was going to fix it. It took quite awhile to reset so we chatted about food, cooking, my vision issues and other stuff while we waited. She then helped me set up my service connection and reset my accessibility before we went on the Internet to download a Norton uninstall program. We uninstalled Norton, rebooted and then she even stayed with me while I downloaded and installed Zone Alarm! We were on the phone together just over 2 hours but the time went quickly. She was so wonderful about my limitations and offered many helpful tips while we talked.

On Wednesday, I reloaded all of my music, pictures, documents, favourite web links and my missing Outlook Express files. The only thing I wasn't able to move were my games. I found a couple of the free software programs that I had really liked to use with my old PC and installed them.

All was well - until Friday morning. I logged on and could not get on to MSN, my Hotmail accounts, Winnipeg Transit, Environment Canada Weather and a few other web sites. I was really annoyed and frustrated! I tried calling my provider but couldn't get through. I called a friend that uses Hotmail, but he uses XP and was on no problem. I emailed another friend on Saturday to see if he had issues as he also uses Vista - no all was well. I reconnected my old PC and got on all the sites no problem - also had 9 emails! I called HP again on Saturday night and another very nice/patient tech talked me through several commands but nothing worked. I didn't call my provider till Monday, as I knew I would be sitting on hold forever if I called on Sunday. When I did call, they ended up putting me through to a more advanced tech. Turns out that it was a known issue between Vista and some of the older modems from the provider. He talked me through a few commands and rebooted. I logged on and there was MSN, my Hotmail and 18 more messages!

Monday night, November 17, I finally got around to setting up the printer and testing it. It will be really nice to be able to make my own copies and also upload photos and other things. I've been playing with Window's Paint over the last few months so am also looking forward to making some of my own creations to print for gifts in the coming years.

I was able to reload a couple of my games and have found a couple of games that I was able to download full versions of. With the help of a flash drive, I was able to transfer 5 games off of my old PC including a couple of favourites. There are still about 10 games on the old PC that I will really miss - especially some of them! I know I can't transfer them, but will hopefully be able to replace them eventually. If I can't, then I will probably purchase a KVM switcher which would allow me to use the new monitor, keyboard and mouse with the old tower so that I can still get on the old PC and play them when I feel like it.

I've barely begun to experiment with this new PC, but it is definitely a keeper! It still amazes me that I even have a PC and how much I have learned in just over two years. Computing and surfing really is an adventure. There are certainly a lot of bumps along the highway, but with the exception of a few days, I wouldn't trade this opportunity for anything!

dn

Saturday, November 29, 2008

That Time Of Year Again

Well it is that time of year again - the end of November. That means that December is just around the corner which means that Christmas will be here before you know it!! In fact it is already less than four weeks away and my guess is that the majority of you haven't even started to shop - or in some cases even think about it yet!

Our friends to the south, in the United States just had their Thanksgiving on Thursday and what is commonly known as "Black Friday" yesterday. That is the official kick off to the holiday shopping season.

For the religious among you, the first Sunday of Advent is tomorrow. Christian churches around the world begin holding special services on the first of the four Sunday's leading up to Christmas.

Even though I consider myself an agnostic, I still start the festive season about this time every year. Usually sometime between USA Thanksgiving and the first Sunday of Advent. I actually put up my decorations yesterday.

I leave them up until the day after Ukrainian Christmas. Why do I leave them up so long? Well it is a lot of work even for a small place like mine, so I'd rather leave them up and enjoy it for awhile! I have a 3' artificial tree that has 100 mini lights and over 100 mini ornaments that I have collected over the last 30 years or so. I have several other items that I place around the apartment to brighten up the place.

I don't own a camera at the moment, but this is a picture of my tree from 1999:
I've gotten a different tree since and have added some other ornaments, but you get the idea!

Some people go a bit crazy with all the decorating and such, but I keep it pretty simple. I haven't actually counted, but I would guess that somewhere between 35-45% are Looney Toons related - mostly of the Sylvester and Tweety variety. I also have lots of mini snowflakes and snowmen themed decorations.

I'm not really a big fan of garland. It looks okay on some big trees, if it is well done, but usually looks more like a messy filler than a compliment to the rest of the decorations. I'd much rather use a silver tinsel. It can be a little more time consuming putting it on but it gives great effect if done sparingly and individually.

I have a fair amount of Christmas music on mp3, but I don't go heavy duty into it like some people do. I have a few classics and a lot of pieces that are Christmasy without being religious in nature. I like the music interspersed with my regular listening.

There are a few people whom I still buy gifts for, but only a half dozen or so. Most people on my list get my homemade Christmas baking. I told you about my ornament gifts for the young ones in my November 20 post about the Christmas Craft Sale. I bought 4 1/2 gifts that day and went to St.Vital Centre earlier this week and finished the rest. I also did a bit of gift "creating" on the PC this week, but in answer to your question - YES - I am done "shopping"!!! The gifts are even wrapped and the cards are written! I don't have to face the insanity of the malls over the next few weeks. I'll still have to do grocery shopping, but I can get in and out of most grocery stores pretty early in the morning and therefore avoid the crowds.

I'm not a shopper by any stretch of the imagination! I like getting in early and getting out before the crowds hit. I hate being jostled and shoved by shoppers that look like they have only one hour to buy for twenty people! I always go in with a list of who I have to buy for and some idea of what they might like/need. Never been that crazy about gift cards. They always seemed like a bit of a cop out and unimaginative to me. I'd much rather have a "Wish List" of a few things the person would like in a given price range. At least that way you know that the gift is something that they want and won't be standing with at the returns counter after Christmas! Granted, if you know the person REALLY well you can get away with buying them something without a list. We've all seen the "perfect gift for ____" at some point. The trick is remembering that you are buying for their taste NOT yours!

Seriously, who hasn't gotten "the gift from hell" that you wouldn't be caught dead wearing/using? You really have to wonder about just how well some people know you! I've always hated the colour pink, but one year I got a neon pink night shirt! I used to have a collection of stuffed animals and one year I was given an 18" stuffed mouse that squeaked when you touched it's paws. Cute to some, but I HATE MICE! I threw it in the bottom of the closet and forgot about it until a couple of months later when I was rummaging around for something in the closet and touched something furry that squeaked!!!! I screamed, then cursed the thing! It went to a charity drive at the first opportunity and I've written lists ever since!

So why not write a wish list? You can be as specific as you want but the more vague you are the less apt you are to get what you really wanted! Just listing genres such as books or tools leaves too much error potential. If there is a specific book or tool you want then give the details! I have a friend who will only shop in one area of the city. If the gift isn't there - then you aren't getting it! She doesn't have time to run all over looking for the "perfect" gift! The more info she gets on what you want the better the chances are that you are going to get it. On occasion, I have even given her the stores sku number so she gets the right item! I give her a list of 10-15 things that I would like and can use. I know she will buy 3 or 4 of them and that way I'm still surprised but I get gifts that are right for me!

I know that isn't the way a lot of people like to do things, but it works for me and for most of the people in my life! What do I want for Christmas this year? If you really want to know, send me an email and I'll let you know what is on my "2008 Wish List"!

Closer to Christmas, I'll send a few e-cards. So except for some more Christmas baking, I'm pretty much ready for the season!

dn