Friday, July 31, 2009

Summer Nights

The heat of the summer days on the farm could drive me crazy - but oh the summer nights! Now those could be a whole different experience!

Depending, of course, on the weather of the day, a bit of stormy weather could develop quite quickly as the afternoon progressed into evening. You had to listen to the weather reports and watch the skies. If the sky had a yellowish tinge (not from the sunset) or the clouds were really dark or there was a sudden drop in temp - then you knew that there was something ominous nearby. There could be hail, damaging winds or even a tornado hiding in those clouds.

I only remember a couple of really bad electrical storms when I was young. Sheet lightening and a bit of thunder never scared me, but oh my - the more severe storms still scare me. The sudden streaks followed by thunder booms could knock my socks off! They make me shudder with fear of what could be coming.

A gentle rain on the other hand can be a welcome relief. I loved walking in the rain and didn't care if I got soaked to the skin! As long as there was little risk of it becoming a thunder storm, then I wanted to be out in the rain. If I couldn't be out in it, I wanted to sit by an open window, watch, listen and breathe in the smell of the rain as it cooled down the lingering heat from the day.

The hot muggy nights were the worst. You wanted a little rain to cool things down, but if it started to rain it might turn to a storm, so you hoped for a breeze from the north. Trying to sleep on those muggy nights was next to impossible. The air would be still, thick and sticky. You didn't want to even put on any type of sleepwear - let alone have a sheet covering you. You'd lay on your back, with your legs and arms out to the sides because even the thought of another warm body part touching your skin was enough to make you sweat. The heat was exhausting, but sleep wouldn't come easy. Oh you might doze, but the air was so thick and hot that it wasn't a fitful sleep.

We never had air conditioning. Mom and dad wouldn't leave the fan from the furnace on all night as the cool air from the basement would all be sucked out and we'd roast even more the next day. Sometimes we'd set one of the box fans on a chair at the bedroom door and let it blow even a warm breeze on us, but the noise from the fans would keep us awake too!

We didn't always get to fully enjoy our yard and peaceful surroundings in the evenings, as that was always a favourite time for the mosquito's. Bug sprays helped, but a nice breeze helped even more!

If the weather co-operated and the bugs stayed away, we often entertained guests outdoors. We'd turn up the stereo from the living room and listen to music through the patio door as we chatted over drinks and desserts on the patio.

Dad had a horse shoe pitch down behind the house and there was also a croquet set or lawn darts to set up on the front lawn if we wanted games to play. We could also take a walk along a path through the trees that lined the grass on the east side of the lane.

When I was a teen, I learned to play a bit of guitar while working at summer camp. I often took my guitar out with me in the evenings - along with a notepad and pen in case I got inspired to write some lyrics for a song. I usually just played and sang songs that I knew.

I have always loved sunsets. My favourite place to watch them, was a tree behind the house. I don't recall what kind of tree it was, but it had split into two sections about 3 feet off the ground. Where the split was, made a perfect seat to view the western skies. I spent many an evening sitting in the base of that tree - contemplating life and marveling as Mother Nature painted the sky every night. I always loved taking walks at dusk or even after dark. I always carried a flashlight with me to be on the safe side, but I rarely had to use it, as there wasn't a lot of traffic along our part of the road at that time of evening.

There is just something very calming about a walk in the evening. You hear the crickets chirping, owls hooting, and the breezes blowing through the trees. Occasionally you'd hear the sounds of grass rustling as a fox, a squirrel, or some other small animal scurried by. Sometimes you'd hear a neighbours dog bark even though it was almost a mile away. If the wind was just right, you heard a train whistle as it passed through a small country station/whistle stop about 5 miles to the south west.

Besides the sounds along the walks, I loved to just watch the sky turn from dusk to dark and watch for the first star sighting of the night so I could make a wish. If I was really lucky, I'd see a falling star. It didn't happen often, but if the conditions were just right, there may be a bit of northern lights doing it's colourful dance in the northern skies! Walking when the moon was out was wonderful, as you didn't need a flashlight - unless you needed to identify your presence to a nearing vehicle. The shadows of the moonlight, cast a wonderful glow on the surrounding countryside.

If I didn't go for a late night walk, I would at least try to sit in my tree or lay on a blanket on the grass for awhile. When I was old enough, I would sometimes even sleep out under the stars. Even though, I was within sight of the house, mom would still worry about me!

On the nights I couldn't sleep, I'd grab the guitar and head out behind the house or down the lane into the trees and sing into the wee hours. I just had to remember to do it softly or make sure my voice would carry away from the house so that I wouldn't wake mom and dad.

I also listened to the radio late at night. Many stations turned down their power at dusk. Once the powers went down, the stations from Winnipeg didn't come in as clearly, but you could scan the dial for far away stations. They weren't always perfectly clear either, but it was interesting to hear what people several hundred miles away were listening to! I had a small portable radio that was about 3"x5"x1". I used to put it right beside my pillow so I could listen to it quietly. I fell asleep listening to the radio more nights than I can count! I also wore out a LOT of batteries! Mom and dad finally bought me a clock radio!

Living in the city, definitely has it's advantages but, I do miss those summer nights of my youth. The sunsets, the walks, star gazing, northern lights, the moonlight and the sounds of nature's night life. I'd love to be able to turn out all the city lights and stop all the traffic and other noises so I could enjoy the night skies and sounds, but since I can't do that, I'll just hope for sweet dreams!


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Summer Days

Well it is almost the end of July, and the summer is half over. Here in Manitoba, we haven't had a really normal summer. The temps have actually been below level. We had a cold spring and now a cool summer. Apparently we are on track for a record nine months of below normal temperatures. That doesn't bother me though, as I prefer the weather to be a little cool! I don't do well in anything over about 27C - especially if it is humid.

I've actually been thinking about my summers as a kid and some of my memories of those early years growing up on the farm.

We never really took a summer holiday because that was always the busiest time on the farm with the fields and garden to take care of. We did occasionally take a day trip to my aunt and uncles cottage at Delta or to a nearby lake to enjoy a little beach time or boating. If there was family/friends visiting, then there would be picnics in the town park.

Most of the time, we found our own amusement on the farm. There is a creek that runs through the property, but it really isn't that great for swimming. Since it floods every spring, a lot of branches and other debris are carried down stream. Those things get hung up on reeds, rocks and other stuff under the surface which makes it unsafe for any regular use. Every year after the floods, dad hooked up a pump and garden hose so that he could use the creek for watering the flower beds and the lawn. On really hot days we'd run through the sprinklers for temporary heat relief.

My brother found an old horse watering trough one year and cleaned it up so we could fill it with creek water from the hose, just to sit in and cool off. He put it on top of the cistern (where we stored our potable water). That was on the north side of the house (near the back - northwest corner), so there really wasn't any sun there until the late afternoon sun came around to the west. The trough wasn't that big - maybe about 6 feet long and about 30 inches high/wide. It wasn't in great shape and there was a couple of small holes near the top, so you couldn't fill it really full, but it served the purpose of staying cool! It would comfortably fit two people - one at either end - as long as you didn't mind an occasional kick from the other persons legs.

I spent hours in that old thing! I'd take a book with me and sit in the cool water reading or just listening to music from a portable radio.

It's seems so absurd now, but back in the 1960's and 1970's we would pour on the baby oil or something like Coppertone and then lay roasting in the sun. I rarely spent long periods of time tanning, as my body never liked the heat, but I did get a couple of sunburns and a couple of heat strokes over the years. Those were not fun at all, so I was usually pretty careful not to overdo it.

Finding a nice shady spot to relax was pretty easy as we had lots of big shade trees in the yard, but the mosquito's and other bugs also enjoyed the shade! Even so, I loved taking an old blanket out on the grass and enjoying the breeze and a bit of sun with a book or the radio. I could while away hours listening to the music and watching the clouds role by!

I have vivid memories of sitting on the steps eating big pieces of watermelon and the juice running down my chin. Mom would by cherries (in season) and we'd have spitting contests with the pits. If we had Popsicles or other frozen treats, we were usually sent out to the steps to enjoy them so they wouldn't melt all over the house.

Since I have brown thumbs when it comes to gardening, I wasn't really expected to help in that area very much. Occasionally, mom would have me help her pick vegetables, but my assistance was usually reserved for shelling peas, cutting beans or husking corn. We did go strawberry picking most years. If the Saskatoon's were good, we'd also drive up into the Pembina Hills to pick berries and stop for a picnic along the way. I also helped mom with the canning/freezing of the produce.

We never had air conditioning, so mom would usually close up the house early in the day. She'd draw the curtains on the east side of the house as early as six AM if it looked like a hot day. The windows on the other sides would be closed as the sun came around. Unless there was a breeze, the windows would also be closed. We had two or three box style fans and a couple of oscillating fans that could be moved from room to room, which would help cool things down. There was a fan on the furnace, that could be switched on to draw the cool air up from the basement. That didn't get turned on till late afternoon though, as the house didn't really heat up too bad before then. Whenever possible, any cooking was done early in the day. Sandwiches, salads, cold plates and bar-b-ques were often a part of the summer menu.

When my dad and brother were working in the fields, during seeding and harvest, we made meals to take out to them as they never wanted to have to stop to come in. Good weather and working equipment are precious commodities on a farm - you don't waste them! We'd cook for noon, then take out sandwiches and fruit or a dessert in late afternoon. They often worked till after dark, so there was also a lighter meal waiting when they came in.

The mail was delivered to a mail box three days/week (Monday, Wednesday and Friday) about 1/4 mile from the end of our lane. During the summer, I usually walked or biked down for the mail in late morning. If it wasn't too hot, I'd go early and take an extra long walk or ride. There wasn't a lot of traffic on our road, but you did have to pay attention as nearby farm equipment or the wind, could sometimes drown out/distort approaching traffic. Farm vehicles and neighbours would slow down for someone walking/biking or even honk to alert you, but strangers didn't always have that same courtesy, so you had to be ready to pull over into the ditch at a moments notice and watch for loose gravel flying up behind them.

We lived nine miles from town and did most of the shopping there on Saturdays. If we needed something during the week, mom would often go to a little country store in a village about 5 miles away. There had been a town there many years ago, but it gradually died out. I sort of remember my siblings going to a school there and my parents going curling in the rink, but mostly I just remember the little store. It was the only place we ever went that mom never made us get all cleaned up first! We'd wash our faces, necks and hands and make sure there were no stains on the clothes, but other than that, it was a quick trip and if we did run into anybody we knew - besides the store owners - they would also be farmers, so it didn't matter! Going there was always kind of fun as the place was a real throwback to the old stores. There was a bit of everything there. Also, if we behaved, mom would let us get a soft drink, or a fudgesicle before we left!

Summers on the farm seem like a lifetime ago - a far away dream. I never really liked the isolation of the farm. I hated not being able to go somewhere when I wanted to, but I do have some great memories. Even though I was born and raised on a farm, I am a city gal at heart. But, sometimes, I really miss the quiet simplicity of living on a farm.


Friday, July 24, 2009

Christmas In July

"Twas the night before Christmas
And all through the house
Not a creature was stirring
Not even a ....."

Wait a minute, that isn't what I meant by Christmas in July! Although, exactly 5 months from tomorrow IS Christmas Day.

You really didn't want to hear that did you! Well it's true. I know most of you haven't started shopping yet and those of you who have, are really annoying to the rest of us!

Christmas In July isn't really that uncommon. Since Christmas is generally considered a winter themed holiday, some countries in the Southern Hemisphere actually do celebrate a second Christmas in July with all the trimmings. The seasons are reversed in southern hemisphere and July is often the coldest month. Australia, is one of the countries where inhabitants take advantage of the cool weather of July to have a full Christmas dinner. For them, December is often far too hot to serve a roast turkey/ham, so salads and cold plates are often on the menu for the actual holiday. Nothing wrong with that menu either, it's just that most people think of a more traditional menu for a Christmas dinner.

In the USA and Canada, Christmas in July is often an excuse to throw a winter themed party as a way of cooling off from the summer heat. There are gifts, cool foods like ice cream and sometimes even Santa makes an appearance! The concept for this mid year celebration is really to embrace the spirit of giving. Some charities use the theme as a fund raiser.

Of course, if you were going to celebrate Christmas in July, you'd have to have some music to play that would be more fitting to the climate than most of the traditional songs that are normally associated with the season. Let's see....

"Marshmallows roasting on an open fire
black flies nipping at you toes
Beach Boys songs being sung by the fire
And folks with sunburn on their nose....."

Okay, I'll keep working on that. Now where was I?

Even Hollywood celebrated this time of the year when it release the 1940 movie "Christmas In July". It is a screwball comedy about a man who believes he won a lot of money in a contest and goes on a shopping spree to buy gifts for friends and family. He even proposes to his girlfriend.

Retailers have been using this as a theme for summer clearance sale since the early 1950's. Some will even decorate the stores! It is a great opportunity to clear out a variety of end of seasons merchandise. They give discounts on the merchandise and even reduce the taxes in some cases. Online retailers and TV shopping networks in the USA and Canada have also jumped on the bandwagon and offer free shipping for orders placed on or around July 25.

"Oh sunscreen Oh Sunscreen
You SPF is 50...."

You know, when you stop and think about it, celebrating Christmas in July isn't that crazy. Granted, you can't build real snowmen, or do the winter sports that most people do. Santa may have a little issue with the runners on his sleigh, but won't have to worry about there being a fire lit in the fire place when he comes down the chimney! You don't have to put on tons of clothes to go outdoors, then roast as you wait in endless checkout lines. There won't be any ice on the highways or blizzards to drive through on the way to grandma's house! If you are tired of the relatives hanging around, then just go outside. You can cook the bird on the grill rather than using the oven. Okay, some people already do that - my sister and brother-in-law, have been doing the bird on a grill rotisserie on the patio in frosty December for years already, but that is partially to free up the oven for other dishes.

So I figure this Christmas in July thing is worth a second look. After all, my parents and a bunch of their friends, had a New Year's Party on Canada Day every year for over twenty years. That started on a bitterly cold New Year's Eve back in the 1970's when someone said why can't we celebrate New Year's in summer when it isn't so miserably cold? They all looked at each other and decided to sign a declaration that from then on they would celebrate New Year's on Canada Day (July 1). It worked great for them.

"It's the slap, happiest time of the year
Countless bugs are attacking
I'd rather be napping
Or drinking a beer
It's the slap, happiest time of the year!"

Some consider celebrating Christmas in July as rushing the seasons. Unless you go full tilt into baking, gifting and decorating, I think it is just a great excuse for another party. The real thing comes soon enough and by September some retailers will already be pulling out the decorations for store displays and for customers to buy. Now THAT is rushing the season!

"On the twelfth day of Christmas,
My true love gave to me
12 cans of ale,
11 quarts of ice cream,
10 pairs of sunglasses,
9 cans of bug spray,
8 bottles sun screen,
7 pairs of sandals,
6 big gulp slurpees,
5 iced cappachinos,
4 trashy novels,
3 sun hats,
2 umbrellas,
And a hammock for the back yard!"

Merry Christmas in July!


Monday, July 20, 2009

"Dating In The Dark"

A new show called "Dating In The Dark" is about to debut on ABC tonight and also on A Channel here in Canada.
Here is the premise:
"Dating in the Dark is a unique alternative series that asks the age-old question, "Is Love Blind?" Each week, three single men and three single women, all looking for love, will move into a house together, but be totally sequestered from the opposite sex. While they will have no chance of seeing each other in the light, they will have the opportunity to date in a completely dark room. Looks will be taken out of the equation as the men and women get to know each other and form bonds in total darkness. After several days of dating in the darkroom, the participants will select the one member of the opposite sex that they want to see revealed in the light. For the first time, the participants will see whom they've been dating, wooing, kissing, snuggling with and forming bonds with. And after they see each other in the light for the first time, they have to make the difficult they stay with the person they fell for in the dark, or leave them behind? Hosted by Rossi Moreale (Can You Duet?, Temptation)."

Oh great, just what we need another excuse to humiliate someone in front of a few million people! From the promos that I have seen, the men and women meet up in the darkened room, then have discussions with the other members of the same sex about there experiences and what may or may not be happening in the dark. Then they also have individual "confessionals" in front of the camera to talk about what they like/don't like about the person and what they would/wouldn't want in a potential partner.

Okay, let's see if I've got this straight.... They spent this time getting to know each other and then after a few days they actually see what the other looks like. Is it still "Love at first sight" or do you want to run for the hills screaming "My eyes! My eyes!"?

How desperate are these people, that they are willing to subject themselves to such scrutiny and in all likelihood humiliation and rejection from someone they got to know "in the dark"?

This isn't exactly a new concept. It has been done on TV series in the past. Back in 1986 - January 6 to be precise - CBS aired an episode of "Kate and Allie" titled "Dark Victory". Kate was headed for a dentist appointment when a power outage occurred. She makes her way to the office, and finds one other person waiting in the dark - a guy with a really nice voice - they start talking. They hit it off wonderfully and agreed to go out on a real date at a later time. When the power came back on, they were both in for a surprise. Kate, who is white, questioned her otherwise liberal values when she realized that she was hesitant to go out with a black man.

I don't have any issues with interracial dating. Been there, done that and would do it again if I liked the guy.

What I have an issue with, is the superficiality of appearance and how society is so quick to judge and reject purely on appearance.

Think about it. We cross paths with strangers constantly - and I'm guessing that if we were all totally honest - that we also judge those people as we pass by. We wonder what that person is really like or how they possibly thought that outfit/style could look good on them. We see couples together and wonder what they could possibly have in common or what they see in each other. We see what is in their cart/basket at the store and make a judgment on what the person is like.

When you take the visual out of the equation, you are forced to listen more closely to what and how something is said. You learn to rely on your instincts rather than your observations of the person and perceived external imperfections.
Back in the golden age of radio, people used their imaginations to fill in the pieces for the countless programs that aired. Unless you saw a newsreel in the theater or a photo in a magazine, you didn't know what someone on the radio looked like.

I read an article once about legendary jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald. She had won a talent contest as a teen, but was also told that she was too ugly to ever have a career in music! Luckily for us she never listened to those critics and went on to have a hugely successful career with countless hits and millions of fans.

It isn't that long ago that people actually did get to know each other through letters. They sometimes sent along a photo but you never knew if it was a recent photo or was even really that person. Some people still get to know each other through Internet dating sites. Not everyone is honest or forthcoming when it comes to their bio - let alone what they look like!

How many of us have talked to someone on the phone or gotten to know each other through letters/emails? We don't always get to see what the other person looks like, but you form a connection with them through what they have shared.

Meeting that person can be terrifying. What if they are not at all what you imagined or worse yet they reject you because of how you look in real life.

I've been there and done that too. About 15 years ago, I tried a new phone intro service that was offered here in the city. I was looking more for friendship than romance. I agreed to three meetings over coffee in very public areas - mall food courts. We gave just enough descriptions of ourselves so that we could be recognized and a code word to be sure it was the same person. Only one guy actually came and sat with me and he turned out to be married!

As for the other two, well I strongly suspect that they didn't like what they saw and beat a hasty, cowardly retreat rather than spending 15 minutes with someone they didn't think of as attractive enough to be seen with them. Their loss. Yes, it hurt, but, at the same time, I really wasn't that surprised. I'm not going to hide the way I look just to satisfy the superficiality of society. If people can't accept me for who I am on the outside, then why would I possibly want to let them know who is on the inside? I don't need the hassle.

Whether they admit it or not, people are far too focused on the visual to really pay attention to what is on the inside.

Until the advent of TV, there really wasn't a huge emphasis on the overall appearance of how anyone looked. It has only intensified over the years - to the point of ridiculousness if you ask me. I don't care how well you take care of yourself or what your "beauty regime" entails. The reality is that beauty fades and becomes less important as a relationship progresses. It isn't the exterior that holds people together - it is what is on the inside. The common bonds that unite people in friendships and if you are really lucky - a deep and unconditional love that lasts no matter what nature and genes dictate.
Those of us who are visually impaired/blind have an advantage in that respect. Because we can't really see the detail of who we are with, it is easier to concentrate on really getting to know who the other person is. Sure we are curious as to what the other really looks like, but it isn't going to end the relationship because of what they look like.

Don't get me wrong, not all sighted people are that superficial, but it is harder for them to take the external out of the equation. In that respect, I can see where this show is coming from.

When it comes to dating and reality TV, I guess that "Dating In The Dark" would be considered new and different, but I have a hard time believing that this is going to make anyone see how superficial society really is. All it is going to do is hurt a few seemingly nice guys and gals who are searching for love. My guess is that at least a couple of people will wish they never had to have seen the light of day. They may say they will not be so judgmental in the future, but old habits die hard.
If I thought that this show could be done with taste and actually show people how superficial society has become, then I might be willing to give it a chance. However, I'm afraid this is just one more opportunity to embarrass and humiliate people for the sake of a few laughs and better ratings. It is bad enough to be rejected in real life for what the other person considers a visual imperfection such as too tall/short, skinny/stalky, or just a fashion disaster, but to do it in front of millions of viewers, shows a whole new level of desperation for both the network and the participants.

I have no desire to see this dating experience played out on TV as a supposed form of entertainment.

"Dating In The Dark"? No thanks. Been there. Done that in real life.


Friday, July 17, 2009

Memories of Camp Koinonia in the 1970's

Last July, I wrote a series of three posts on my experiences working at a summer camp on Max Lake near Boissevain, Manitoba. ( Part one, part two, part three ) I loved spending time at Camp Koinonia. It was a peaceful place to spend time with Mother Nature and get to know interesting new people.

Most of the work that I did there was as an assistant cook. There was no air conditioning, so it could get rather hot in that kitchen from time to time. We tried to plan our menus with the weather in mind, but it didn't always work in our favour. We were lucky, though that a lot of our food prep could be done in the early morning - before it started to get too hot. The kitchen staff was usually able to take a couple of hours off in the afternoon to avoid the hottest part of the day.

One of the things that I remember about the cooking is that we had a HUGE cauldron like pot that we could cook with over an outdoor fire pit. We used it at least a couple of times a week for popping corn for a campfire snack or to cook a one pot meal. I recall taking turns stirring chili, sloppy jo's or something called "Koinonia Special".

"Koinonia Special" was similar to a chili, with ground beef, onions and spices, but instead of beans and tomato sauce, it had canned vegetable soup, canned spaghetti and beans of some kind - kidney I think. I know it sounds a little weird and even a bit disgusting, but it actually tasted pretty good once it had simmered for awhile and all the spices were added! I don't recall the whole recipe and it has been about 25 years since I even made a small batch let alone enough to feed 60 - 70 people! I'm not really sure how the recipe even came to be, but my guess is that someone had to get creative when they were running low on supplies. You improvise and do the best you can with what you have. Sometimes it works out really well and becomes a favourite! I know the campers always enjoyed it and there was never any left overs!

Going out in a canoe was something I always enjoyed as long as the water wasn't too rough. There is something very tranquil about dipping your paddle silently through a glass like surface of water. Singing was often a part of the fun on the water. It was a wonderful way to hear the harmonies of a few voices echo off the water. One of the songs that I remember singing was called "The Sweetest Song" When we sang this on the lake, we would switch the word mountain to water. It was really beautiful in three part harmony! I don't know who wrote this song, but here are the words as I had them written from long, long ago!


The sweetest song we ever sang
Out across the mountains rang
Peace on Earth, good will to man
The sweetest song of all

Love is a mighty thing,
Yet it's such a very simple thing
The joy and happiness it brings
For you and me and all

Peace is a rainbow thing
Hallelujahs let us sing
All the colours join and bring
The white dove on the wing

Help dry a child's tears
And calm a frightened strangers fears
Make this my purpose through the years
To love my brother's all
In the second post that I wrote last year, I talked about the time that we had our campfire on the water. Here is what I said:

"My all time favourite camp fire happened the summer of '77. Some of the staff rigged up a tin metal platform on a pontoon. They attached wire handles to the sides and then hooked long ropes on the handles. On top of it they built up a large amount of wood for the campfire. Just before sunset, all the staff and campers gathered at the canoe dock. We all put on life jackets and I think there were about two staff and two campers/canoe. About 14 or 15 canoes in total if I recall. We paddled out onto the lake and then proceeded to rope all the canoes end to end in a large circle. The log laden pontoon was positioned in the middle and the long ropes reached back to the canoes so we could constantly adjust it's position in the middle of the lake. Before the last boat tied in to the circle, they paddled in to light the campfire.

We sang for over an hour that night as we all oowed and awed at the spectacular effects of the fire on water! The sounds of our harmonious voices were also reflected off the crystal calm water. It really was one of the most memorable nights of my life."

I found an old photo of that night and here is what it looked like from the canoe that I was in:
Oh what memories! Sometimes I wish I was that young again - or at least that I had the opportunities to go out and enjoy nature the way I used to. I miss the peacefulness of the early morning, the quiet contemplation of a walk through the trees, the gentle lapping of the water along the dock or against the canoe.

Most of all I miss the late night singing and companionship by a campfire. Somehow it was easier to let yourself go and be really honest as the burning logs crackle, the flames flicker and dance in the dark, then gradually become glowing embers. No matter how you had spent the day, you just felt relaxed and at peace with everything in your little corner of the world.

"Fire’s burning fire’s burning
draw nearer draw nearer
in the glowing in the glowing
come sing and be merry."


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Cleaning Up

I cleaned my apartment the other day. Not that that is an unusual occurrence, I clean it on a regular basis.

I sweep and hit the high spots as needed or when I'm expecting company. I do a more thorough cleaning every two weeks. That means getting out the rags, cleaners and pail. I sweep, dust, clean the mirrors and glass surfaces, then clean the bathroom and wash the floor with a rag on my hands and knees. I do own a mop, but it just doesn't get into corners the way you can with you hand and a rag. Generally, it takes me about an hour and a half from the time I take out the broom till everything is back in its' place. It isn't like I have a huge home to clean as it is just under 500 sq. ft. - or that I'm a slob - I just don't look forward to doing it.

Then again, who except the Bree Van de Kamp's and Felix Unger's of the world really do look forward to cleaning?

If I lived with other people, had pets or entertained a lot - then I would have to clean more often. Since I live alone, I can wait till the dust bunnies start to build condos under the coffee table or draw smiley faces and write "Dust me" on the shelves if I want to!

When I was a kid, I'd help my mom clean the house every Saturday . My job was to clean my bedroom and the one bathroom in the house. It wasn't much fun but it had to be done. It is one thing to clean up your own mess, but having to clean up other peoples messes can be really disgusting. Why is it, that other people's messes and dirt always seem more gross than your own?

Let's get something straight here. I'm not a neat freak - but I'm also not a slob. Granted, my place wouldn't pass a white glove test, but I pick up after myself, rinse the dishes after I use them and wipe my feet before entering a building. In my younger years, I had roommates who fit both categories and neither one were fun to live with. The neat freak would clean my desk to the point that I couldn't find anything when I came back into the room five minutes later. The slob, on the other hand, had no concept of what hangers or a laundry hampers were for, let alone how to rinse a dish!

Cleaning is one of those necessary evils - I mean chores! We do it so that we aren't living in pig pens. We do it to present a good image to those who come to call. Most of all we do it for our own sanity.

There is a satisfied feeling you get after the home is cleaned. If you are lucky, it will last for more than five minutes. If you are really lucky, you have a housekeeper that does the cleaning for you!

Speaking of which, weren't we supposed to be living in self cleaning homes by the millennium? At least that is what I remember hearing back in the 1960's. We were all supposed to have our own Rosie the Robot by now. We were supposed to be able to press a button or give a command and the home would automatically start a self cleaning process. Sweeping, mopping, dusting, scrubbing and so on. I guess the great predictors kind of blew that one. Okay, so they have come up with the "roomba" that little vacuum that maneuvers on it's own BUT it can't get into nooks and crannies or handle stairs, so there is still some cleaning that has to be done by a human. It does only half the job, so doesn't seem like a great deal to me. Granted, we also have dishwashers, but you have to rinse the stuff before you load it and then put everything away after it is done. Shouldn't the dishes put themselves away? I don't even own a vacuum or a dishwasher!

Oh well, back to the drawing board - I mean cleaning.

There have been a few times in the past that I have had to have a cleaning person come in and do the work for me due to post surgery restrictions. As much as I appreciated having someone else do it for me, it still felt a little weird to have someone else cleaning my mess. I can't help but wonder what they really think, as they dust your stuff or clean your bathroom. I actually know several people who have admitted to doing some "cleaning up" before the cleaning service arrives so that the place doesn't look so bad. Kind of defeats the purpose, doesn't it? I mean, really - if you're going to pay someone to actually come to your home and clean - then make them work for it!

Over the years, I have known several people who have done cleaning as a profession. The stories they could tell! Made me feel like my little corner of the world was impeccably clean even before I cleaned!

One of the reasons that I dislike cleaning is that I have to be really careful with what products I use. I am very sensitive to chemicals and scents that are often found in these products. I had to wear a mask and gloves for awhile and also did hire someone to clean for me for a year or so. I left while she cleaned so that the smells wouldn't bother me.

It took me a long time to find products that I could use that didn't make me wheeze, sneeze and gasp for fresh air.

For several years, I used the products from Orange Clean. They did a fantastic job of cleaning and left my apartment smelling like oranges! The super concentrate of the Orange Clean has become next to impossible to find here in Canada though. There are a lot of imitators out there that claim to do the same as Orange Clean, but they are either laced with chemicals or are ridiculously expensive and not nearly as concentrated or effective as the original. So for a year or so I was using only Oxi Clean for my general cleaning.

Oxi Clean is one of the best products I have ever found for multi purpose use. You can use it instead of bleach and it doesn't leave that horrible smell or damage fabrics the way regular bleaches can. Just add a scoop to every load of laundry. I dilute a scoop of it in about 2 litres of hot tap water, then pour slowly into the toilet bowl. Let it stand for about 15-20 minutes, then scrub and flush as with other products. Works like a charm! I've used it as an all purpose surface cleaner and also to wash the floor when I'm out of other products.

For glass surfaces, mirrors and windows, I use a solution of 1 part white vinegar to 2 parts water. I keep it in a spray bottle so it is always at the ready. For dusting a damp cloth works as well as anything. I've also used old sweat socks - yes, I washed them first! Dampen them, then put one on each hand to dust twice as fast! Try it - it works great!

For cleaning the bathroom and washing the floors, I can always use Oxi Clean. There are lots of environmentally friendly products available nowadays, but a lot of them are also outrageously expensive. For the last year or so, I have been using Ecover All Purpose Cleaner. It has a nice light lemon fragrance. A 33.8 ounce bottle is about $6 at a local organic market. It isn't the cheapest on the market but considering that you only use a cap full (a bit more than an ounce) for 4 litres of water (which is enough to do my bathroom and floors), it really isn't too bad. I don't think it cleans quite as well as the Orange Clean, but it is the best I've found so far.

So, that is how I clean. A self cleaning apartment would be really nice, but short of a miracle or finding a guy who likes to clean, I guess I'm on my own. Oh well, I can dream......


Friday, July 10, 2009

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Maxine Is My Hero!!

What can I say about Maxine, except that I LOVE her! She is my hero! Whenever I buy or send a greeting card - for birthday's, Christmas, get well or just because - my first choice is always Maxine! I've been laughing right along with millions of other fans for over 20 years now. I've collected about 450 cartoons of this old girl and her wit since I got my computer almost three years ago. I've also found numerous ecard (animated shorts) on the Hallmark site as well as collections of her brand of wisdom on YouTube.

If you don't know who Maxine is, then I suspect you have been living under a rock. She's a cranky old broad with attitude to spare. She isn't afraid to tell it like it is or at least as she thinks it is. And the truth is, she is usually right on target with the way she sees things. Her witty, sarcastic and sometimes brutally honest remarks have been making us laugh for over 20 years through cards, cartoons, collections and a wide variety of other products.

She started out as a character for the Shoebox collection of Hallmark Cards back in 1986 and became an overnight sensation. The Maxine line of cards was expanded into a syndicated comic in the 1990's and the comics have also been issued in at least five books that are still available through Hallmark or online. The comics can still be seen daily on the Crabby Road web site. There are links there to her blog, downloads, history, cards and more.

What many people don't know, is who the creative genius is behind Maxine. I hadn't really thought about it, but assumed it was probably a group of writers at Hallmark who were batting around ideas or telling stories about the older women in their lives who just said whatever popped into their minds. Seriously, we all know people who just say what they are thinking rather than editing themselves and they tend to be older women, right? Think Sophia Petrillo (Estelle Getty) on The Golden Girls (1985-1992) and you get the picture.

Well, as it turns out, the real creative genius behind Maxine is - A MAN! (Gasp!) Yup, that's right a guy is writing all those great remarks! Here is the story (as I received it in several emails over the last year or so):

John Wagner, Hallmark artist since 1970, says Maxine was inspired by his mother, his maiden aunts and his grandmother, the woman who bought him art lessons when 'fill in the pumpkins' was about the extent of his art classes at St. John's Catholic School in Leonia N.J.

John remembers doodling as a preschooler and says both his grandmother and his mother encouraged his artistic interests. He eventually attended the Vesper George School of Art in Boston and landed at Hallmark as part of a new artists group. But it was the birth of the humorous Shoebox Greetings (a tiny little division of Hallmark) in 1986 that added a new dimension to John's professional life. The Shoebox way of seeing the world unleashed his talents and he created Maxine."

Cartoonists are sensitive to the insanities of the world; we just try to humanize them," John says. "If Maxine can get a laugh out of someone who feels lonely or someone who is getting older and hates the thought of another birthday, or if she can make someone chuckle about stressful interpersonal relationships, then I'm happy. Putting a smile on someone's face is what it's all about."

Those smiles have led to Maxine's becoming a bit of a celebrity. She (and John) have been the subject of media stories, including People, USA Today, Good Morning America, The Wall Street Journal, St. Petersburg (FL) Times, and Las Vegas Journal-Review, and they have been included in a major Associated Press story. Collector and trade publications have reported fans nationwide are collecting Maxine items. Letters from consumers and fans to John and Maxine reveal a very personal connection to Maxine. Many people say they are just like her.

Why the name 'Maxine'? "People at Shoebox started referring to the character as 'John Wagner's old lady', and I knew that would get me into trouble with my wife," John says. The Shoebox team had a contest among themselves to name the character and three of the approx. 30 entries suggested 'Maxine'.

John says the name is perfect.John, who says he's humbled by such acceptance of Maxine, admits he's proud of her.

Now you know the story of how Maxine came to be.


Saturday, July 4, 2009

dn's Lazy Mixed Bean And Corn Salad

A few years ago, I was watching the CBS Early Show (as I often do) and saw a recipe that sounded very tasty. It was for a "Three-Bean and Corn Salad with Cider Vinaigrette". I didn't get all the ingredients or instructions written down fast enough, so went to a local library and had someone there help me find the recipe on line and print it.

I did make it - once - and it was very good but, it turned out to be a more complicated recipe than I had thought as all three of the beans that were used had to be cooked separately first. Each type took 30-45 minutes to cook, so with three pots steaming away on the stove, this really wasn't a great recipe to make for a salad on a warm day.

There had to be a simpler way to do this that would taste just as good. I've tried various versions over the years and there are a couple of recipes that I found to be quite good; "Southwestern Bean Salad" and "Southwest Salad". They just lacked that extra something of the original.

So, I went exploring the canned bean aisle at my local grocery stores. I have discovered a few variations that will work fairly well with the original recipe. Here then are two simplified versions of this recipe with some variations thrown in for good measure.

dn's Lazy Mixed Bean And Corn Salad

1 540ml can No Name Mixed Beans (or brand equivalent)
1/2 cup frozen kernal corn, thawed and drained
1/2 cup chopped red pepper
1/3 cup chopped green onion
1/3 cup chopped celery
1/3 cup fresh chopped cilantro
2 Tablespoons oil (corn or canola)
1 Tablespoon Cider vinegar
3 Tablespoons salsa (mild)
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon minced/chopped garlic (bottled type)
salt and pepper to taste

- drain beans, rinse well. Allow excess liquid to drain off thoroughly while preparing the other ingredients
- In a large bowl, combine the corn, red pepper, green onions and celery. Set aside.
- In a small bowl combine the dressing ingredients except salt and pepper.
- Add the drained beans to the other veggies in the larger bowl and stir gently to combine.
- Stir in the dressing and the cilantro. Add salt and pepper IF necessary!
- Cover and marinade in the fridge for several hours or overnight
- Stir before serving
This salad makes about 3 1/2 - 4 cups and will serve 6 - 8 half cup portions.
Can be kept in the fridge for several days.Very tasty!!!

- If you can't find a mixed bean version, you can use a marinated bean salad. Just drain all the liquid and rinse the beans several times to remove as much of the marinade as possible, then drain well. Proceed with recipe as above.
- If you are making the original recipe for a crowd of 12-15 people then I would suggest buying a can each of black beans, kidney beans and white kidney beans. Drain and rinse the beans thoroughly. Double the remaining ingredients. and make according to the above directions.

dn's Lazy Bean and Corn Salad

1 398ml/14oz President's Choice Southwestern Bean Medley (or brand equivalent) - undrained
1/3 cup frozen kernal corn, thawed and drained
1/3 cup chopped red pepper
1/4 cup chopped green onion
1/4 cup chopped celery
1/4 cup fresh chopped cilantro

1 Tablespoons oil (corn or canola)
1 1/2 teaspoon Cider vinegar
1 Tablespoon salsa (mild)
pinch cumin
1/2 teaspoon minced/chopped garlic (bottled type)
salt and pepper to taste - may not be needed

Combine all the salad ingredients. Mix all the dressings ingredients together and stir gently with the rest of the ingredients. Chill several hours or overnight. Stir before serving. Serves 4.



Wednesday, July 1, 2009