Thursday, December 31, 2009

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Survived Another Christmas...

Well, I have survived yet another Christmas.

For many, it has been a rough year economically and that meant cutting back on Christmas celebrations. Not an easy thing to do in the season of giving. Our hearts and minds say we want to give to others and spend time with the people who are important to us, but our finances say that may not be possible. It really is a balancing act at holiday time.

I don't do much on Christmas anymore. I do, however do a fair bit of socializing beforehand. I try to spend some time with the people in my life - family and friends - and share some of my baking with them.

It has been close to 20 years since I actually went home for Christmas. We almost always had our gathering on Boxing Day. I think the first year I missed was in the late 1980's. I remember the weather was a bit warmer than normal and it was quite icy. Travel wasn't advised in some areas. The bus depot was about a 20 minute walk from my apartment and I recall nearly falling a couple of times as I hauled my suitcase and gift bag along the slippery sidewalk. I bought my ticket and sat waiting for departure time. I heard several travelers talking about the road conditions and even a couple of drivers saying they wished they didn't have to drive. Granted it may have been because it was Christmas, but it didn't make me feel confidant about the trip. I went to a pay phone and called home collect to see what the weather was like. I was assured that as long as drivers took things slow it would be okay, but I just wasn't feeling that great about the adventure so I cancelled my trip home and got a voucher to reuse my ticket at a later date. My brother offered to come in and pick me up but having him drive an hour each way just seemed too much to ask and I still would have been stressed about the road conditions.

That was my first Christmas alone. It wasn't great, but it wasn't horrible either. Yes, I missed the family and the big meal but I wasn't dealing with my stomach in knots over the weather and safety!

The year I lost most of my sight, 1990, I was home a few days before Christmas but came back to the city for Christmas as I just wasn't emotionally or physically ready to deal with a crowd - even if we were all related. I'd only been out of the hospital about three weeks and really wasn't seeing much of anything - nor was I navigating well outside of my apartment block. That was tough, but I went to the dinner in the building and spent time with some friends which made it easier.

I went out the following year, but the commotion and non stop sounds was a bit more than I could deal with. Another factor was that so much stuff is moved around to make room for the holidays and I wasn't able to help with any of the prep as nothing was marked for me to see or use. It was more frustrating than relaxing or enjoyable. I've only gone out to a family Christmas gathering once since then and that was the year my dad died. He died in November 2003 and my sister had a gathering at her home the first weekend of December. It was a lot more somber than usual of course, but it was good to see everyone and spend some time together.

It's not that I don't like Christmas or that I want to be alone on Christmas. It's not that I don't like my family or the Christmas gatherings - I do! They are a great bunch - well at least our immediate family is! I also love all the food and traditions. I just hate the commotion. I find it really hard to visit with anyone when there is so much going on. There never really seems to be enough time to spend with each person that you want to or you get stuck in conversations you'd rather not!

Over the years, being alone at Christmas has been a mixed bag of emotions. It can be peaceful yet painful. It can be lonely but relaxing. It can be stress free with no travel yet sometimes I still miss the family banter and camaraderie. I miss watching the kids open their gifts and the card and gift game our family played for years.

So how do I spend my Christmas?
- I make sure I have various non-Christmas things I can do if I get that lonely feeling. Things like books, non-holiday movies or PC games. One year I even sorted receipts!
- I choose the music - mostly non-traditional Christmas stuff that is a little (or a lot) off the beaten path. The less traditional, the less apt I am to get sentimental.
- The menu and meal times are up to me. I don't have to fight with anyone over who wants white or dark meat (I do a turkey breast and dressing in the oven!) or what type of salads to do (NO tomato aspic!). I try to make something special without going overboard.

This year was pretty good - although I have had better. The emotions were a bit more raw, but that could well have been menopause! I read, played PC games, did some online shopping and ate lots of good food. I did however forgot to take the turkey breast out of the freezer until noon on Christmas so had to adjust coking time for supper. I made Turkey Breast, Mom's Dressing and a baked potato in the oven and steamed broccoli in the microwave. Had some Terry's Dark Chocolate orange for dessert! Washed it all down with sparkling white grape juice. It was delicious!

All in all, it was a pretty good day. The weather wasn't great for travelling and I was glad I didn't have to be out on the roads. I kept thinking about the family and friends that I knew were travelling - and hoping that they were all safe and sound. (As far as I know they all are!)

I'm thankful to have the family and friends that I do. They don't push me to do things I'm not comfortable with or make me feel guilty for not participating in family traditions. I'm thankful for the time I do spend with each and every one of them and how much they have brought to my life.

As for next Christmas? Well, who knows? I'll cross that bridge when I get to it.


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Remembering Glenn Miller

"On December 15, 1944, Miller was to fly from the United Kingdom to Paris, France, to play for the soldiers who had recently liberated Paris. His plane (a single-engined UC-64 Norseman, USAAF serial 44-70285) departed from RAF Twinwood Farm in Clapham, Bedfordshire and disappeared while flying over the English Channel. No trace of the aircrew, passengers or plane has ever been found. Miller's status is missing in action." - Wikipedia

Glenn Miller was a true talent and has left us an incredible legacy of timeless classics.

The following video is from the movie "Sun Valley Serenade" (1941), The Glenn Miller Orchestra performs one of their alltime biggest hits - "In The Mood"

A photo tribute to Glenn Miller, while "Moonlight Serenade" plays.


Friday, December 11, 2009

Thanks George!

"You've been given a great gift George. The chance to see what the world would be like without you."
- Clarence Odbody ASC (Angel Second Class)

I've always loved "It's A Wonderful Life" and actually rewatched the movie a few days ago. We've all seen it dozens of times over the years and probably shed a tear or two every time when we are reminded just how important George Bailey was to every person in his life. Sure, the Frank Capra classic can be a little schmaltzy and overly simplistic in its tale, but that is what makes it so interesting and watchable.

Dickens's "A Christmas Carol" lays out a similar scenario with Ebenezer Scrooge being shown how his life has impacted others through the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future.

Scrooge and Bailey were polar opposites, but both men see how they have lived and how they can live a more rewarding and appreciative life in their day to day actions as ordinary people through their respective journeys with otherworldly spirits.

There have been countless remakes of these scenarios - some better than others - but it always gets me misty eyed and wondering how my world would be depicted. I'm not fishing for compliments nor am I depressed or anything like that. It is just one of those "What if...." questions that go through my mind from time to time.

If we are completely honest, we have all pondered that question at some point. Come on, we have all had those moments when we have wondered if we have ever made a difference or if we would ever be missed when we are gone. We may have even wished we'd never been born.

I firmly believe that we meet and cross paths with specific people for a reason that may or may not be obvious to us or them. We may be affected immediately or much further down the road in our journeys.

I find it fascinating the way each person has such unknown impact on the people around them. We can't all literally save a life such as doctors, fire fighters or police do, but yet we each have the ability to "change" others lives by the way we live ours.

It is pretty easy to see the impact that others have had on our lives, but we often never know the true impact we have had on theirs.

If any of us WERE ever granted that "gift", I think it is safe to say that we would be rather shocked at just how profound our presence has been. It isn't always the big things that leave an impact. It is, more often than not, the little everyday things that leave the lasting impression.

Unfortunately, most of us don't get to know how we have impacted others. Our impact is often only felt or expressed after we are gone.

It is pretty hard for most of us to really say what others have meant to us. We don't tend to tell each other the good stuff about each other. It can be awkward to express how we really feel - and sometimes even more awkward to hear. Being told that you have made a difference can be a bit daunting. We want to do the "aw, shucks -me?" routine.

We also tend to assume that the other person KNOWS that they are important to us and are loved - but that isn't always true. Sometimes we need to be reminded.

To be honest here, I've shed quite a few tears as I've been thinking about and writing this post. I keep thinking about all the "George Bailey's" in my life and how lonely and sad my world would be without them. Would I even still be here without them and how would that have effected the people I have touched? I'm not good at telling people how I really feel and tend to avoid or change the subject when conversations get sentimental. Mostly 'cause I'm a bit of a sap for sentiment and don't like to let people see me cry - even the good tears. Most of us don't like being that vulnerable.

So here is my idea. If you are anything like me, but still want to tell others how important they are to you - then send them a link to this post and say something like:

"I wanted to share this with the wonderful people in my life and say thank you for being one of my George Bailey's!"


Watch "it's A Wonderful Life" (1946)
To hear the 1947 Lux Radio Theatre production of "It's A Wonderful Life" (1:00:47), click here, then click on the mp3 link near the top of the page. You can also right click the mp3 link and hit "save target as" to download the 10.4mb audio file to your computer.

Monday, December 7, 2009

A New View

Google Street View has just put Winnipeg on the map. We are just the latest in line to have our city on visual display for the world to see.

Earlier this spring, the Google vehicles that are equipped with special cameras that allow 360 degree shots, cruised through the city for several weeks.

Why they came in spring was beyond most of us living here as Winnipeg is not exactly at its most picturesque at that time of year. Snowbanks, melting snow, puddles and leafless trees abound. It just looks dull to even a seasoned Winnipegger.

We knew they were planning on coming at some point, we just hoped that it would be a little later in spring - like once the last remnants of winter had been cleared away.

The Google crew was actually here for several weeks though, so some parts of the city were rather well "greened" by the time they got shot. Pity the poor folks who were shot in the first couple of weeks!

I went looking for several addresses, just to see what was there and how user friendly the Street View system is. The system isn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination. Once you type in your address or cross streets, the regular map comes up and you then drag "pegman" - the little yellow guy who sits above the zoom toolbar in the Google maps window - to that location to get the street view.

The main problem that I found, was that pegman seems to drop at least 1/2 block from where you want him. If you aren't familiar with the area, know the street number, or the colour/shape of the building you are wanting, then you are pretty much screwed! It does say "address is approximate" but it can be very frustrating trying to get the exact address in view. Depending on the view, street numbers can be covered by trees, lattice work, poles or other objects. Some buildings don't seem to have visible numbers at all.

One building I went looking for, was only found because I knew the shape and colour. Another one, I found purely by luck after clicking on several other buildings on the same street. I had hit it earlier but the first view obliterated the number so I didn't know I'd found what I wanted until much later when another view of the same building came up.

Another problem that I found was the extreme variations in the scenery due to the shooting schedule. When you start looking at various areas of the city, it is rather odd to see snow in some sections (mostly the south end) and leafy green trees in others. At one point, I found an address on a main drag that was rather bizarre. The first shot was leafless, but when I double clicked for a closer view, I got a different angle with leafy trees. Another angle was also leafy, but shot at a different time of day. My guess is that the vehicle went through all the main thoroughfares first then went back to get the secondary and side streets thus creating the differences.

I checked out the route from downtown to a business in the south end of town and the pics literally went from leafy green to winter as I headed south on the virtual route. And here I thought that things got colder as you headed north not south!! LOL!

License plates and peoples faces are blurred, but if you know what someone's vehicle looks like or the way certain people stand or something specific they wear/carry, then it could be pretty easy to be recognized.

There has been repeated concern by privacy advocates around the world that this whole system is an invasion of privacy. I see their point, but given the flaws in this system, most people aren't going to have the patience to play with pegman to find what they are looking for.

This could have been a brilliant system - and may be someday - if Google could actually have the address automatically match the exact picture rather than playing a virtual version of "pin the tail on the donkey"!.

An improved system could be a great boon to the local transit system if the street view could be matched with telebus numbers so transit riders could see where specific stops are. Is the stop before or after the intersection? When I get off the bus what direction do I go? Where is the nearest set of lights or cross walk?

As it is, the Google Street View is well intentioned but greatly flawed. If you can follow directions or read a road map, then do yourself a favour and skip the Google street view. You'll get to your destination a lot faster without this virtual tool.


Thursday, December 3, 2009

dn's Double Chocolate Almond Shortbread

Have you started Christmas baking yet? Or are you looking for something new and mouthwatering to bake for the holiday season? Today, I'd like to share one of my favourites!

This recipe is a combination of a whipped shortbread recipe that I have made since childhood and a recipe that I found in a "Kraft What's Cooking" magazine a few years ago. This is a hybrid of those two recipes that I have created and been making for the last few years. It has gotten rave reviews from all who have tried it.

Hope you enjoy it!

dn's Double Chocolate Almond Shortbread

2 cups block margarine (NOT butter), softened
1/2 cup cornstarch
1 1/4 cup icing sugar (confectioners sugar)
2 3/4 cups sifted all purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder (I generally use Fry's but if you use a higher grade cocoa powder you may want to add a Tablespoon less cocoa or a 1/4 cup more icing sugar to offset the bitterness of the cocoa powder)
8 one ounce squares bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup finely chopped toasted almonds (Place almonds on microwave safe dish and roast on high power for about 5 minutes, stirring every minutes until desired doneness. Cool to room temp before adding to dough)
Optional garnishes, red cherry pieces, almond pieces or chocolate pieces

Mix flour, cornstarch, icing sugar and cocoa powder together. Cut in margarine. Combine on low speed for a minute or so then gradually increase the speed to medium (about 4 or 5 with Kitchenaid stand mixer). Continue mixing until dough resembles whipped cream. This will take about 10 minutes or so with a Kitchenaid stand mixer or about 15 to 20 minutes with a high quality hand mixer. (Note - if using a hand mixer you may need to stop mixing every few minutes to rest the motor or you may burn it out!)
Turn speed down to low and mix in the chopped chocolate and toasted almonds. Mix in evenly.
Transfer the dough to a 2 quart dish and cover with plastic wrap. Chill dough for one to two hours.
Shape into small balls and place on parchment paper lined pans. (If you try shaping the dough straight out of mixer it is to soft to work with. The dough may be a bit crumbly while cold but the warmth of your hands will quickly warm the dough to be able to shape into small balls.) Flatten slightly and place your choice of garnish in the center of each cookie. (Note: A cookie press does not work well with this recipe due to the chocolate pieces and almonds. Rolling the dough out and cutting with a cookie cutter can overwork the dough and make it even more crumbly. It also looses the "melt in your mouth" quality when baked.)
Bake in 325 F oven for 11 - 12 minutes. DO NOT OVERBAKE! Let cool for 1 - 2 minutes then carefully transfer the cookies to paper towel covered wired racks to finish cooling.
To freeze: Layer the cookies between paper towels and store in freezer safe container in freezer for up to six months.
Makes about 10 dozen "melt-in-your-mouth" cookies!