Saturday, November 03, 2012

First Snow

I dread snow. I mean, don't get me wrong, when it's all on the ground, and we can ski and toboggan and it crunches under the feet on crisp mornings, it's great. It's that first snow I hate because it is always such a shock. When you're still under the illusion of fall, and all the leaves are on the ground and you can look forward to maybe squeaking one more weekend out of the barbeque, then it snows and all that is shattered.

The Christmas decorations aren't out yet, and the boots not yet unpacked, and it's already there. The other day I stayed overnight up in Bancroft so I could get an early start on work up in the Monteagle Valley. I was lucky enough to have accidentally packed the camera, and in the morning woke to this:

First snow.

I was thinking it was just going to be a sprinkle, and it would melt when the sun came up, and for the most part it did. After some work, and driving, and more driving, I had about an hour to kill in Bancroft, so I drove up to the lookout and the Eagle's Nest trails over the city, to a treat. The snow had stayed, just that little bit higher elevation, and was on the trees.

It was a winter wonderland, but only where the snow could stick to the cold trees. The ground was still warm enough to melt it. Bancroft has a beautiful park up there overlooking the city.

I went for a long walk, thinking about how screwed I would be if I fell and hurt myself on the slick stones, and snapping shots as I saw them.

This would have been perfect snowball snow if it had stuck.

The drive back down was gorgeous, too.

Then in the Monteagle Valley I was treated to an entire forest of it. I was blessed to have been there at the right time and right place, and with my camera. By the time I drove back to Belleville that evening, it was gone, but it'll be back soon.

Now I'm ready for winter.

My wife, Jennifer's, blog can be found here:
Cleverly Disguised as Cake

And my first novel, squeakyclean, here:
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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Drop finger

I have been in construction a very long time, and have had all sorts of minor injury. I have never broken a bone though, or torn a ligament, or a tendon, nor even had to go to the hospital for anything more severe than a cut.

I stressed out my right hand enough last year that I learned to write with my left hand, but that's mainly because I am a bit of a workaholic (see my post Northpaw.)

A couple of months ago I was tucking sheets into the couch, to make a good bed for my daughter, and as I pushed them in the crack between cushions, my left middle finger made a snap. I didn't think too much of it, because it wasn't painful, but I did manage to snap a quick picture of it, because it hung at an odd angle. The other finger behind it is actually permanently bent UP, because of the strain of three years of jamming trees into cold soil in northern Alberta ... perhaps another time for that story...

At any rate, it didn't hurt, so Jenn and I, thinking it was out of joint, tried to pull it back into place. No luck. I figured something was wrong enough to go to the hospital, and by the time I got there, the pain had started.

Triage in Belleville General took less than four minutes. It was splinted, and felt a bit better, and within an hour and twenty minutes, they had done the x-ray and referred me back to the specialist. The plastic splint that they gave me was very different than anything I'd ever seen before, and they showed me how to put the tape on it to keep the right pressure on it.

To know for certain that it was severed, the specialist snapped it again. Then it really hurt. He explained that it is called 'Drop finger' or 'Mallet finger' and that tucking in sheets and other such activities actually are the leading cause. When the stress bends it too quickly and with force, the tendon (which usually holds the finger straight) snaps. Then he explained that in my case it had severed cleanly from the bone, which was actually less preferable to the tendon taking a portion of the bone with it, because bone heals more quickly.

I was very thankful I went to the hospital. Without prompt treatment, it wouldn't right itself, and waiting even a day or two would mean the tendon would recede back into the finger, and it would never heal.

I was a little paranoid about bending it, as the specialist told me that even bending it once would reset the eight week countdown.

Great. Take the forgetful, spacially-challenged Sprung, and make him follow directions fully for a whole two months. I came up with a complex system, where I wrapped the finger in gauze, then put the plastic splint back on, and then another piece of cloth put between the gauze and the tape to hold it on. If I didn't get it wet, it would last all day. That way, on and off construction sites, I didn't have to change it every so often.

Eight weeks, though, was a challenge. I woke twice in that time period to find that the splint had come off in the middle of the night, and my finger was just out in the open. Groggily I would turn the light on and find the splint in the bed, keeping it straight, wondering if it had bent when I didn't notice, and whether or not I had to start counting from that day now.

It made for some humour. When anyone asked what happened, I would stick it up as if giving the finger, and say "I wore it out." Really, though, it was more of a nuicance. I worried, though, when I first started taking the splint off, that it wouldn't heal.

The end result? Well, I now have a lump on the finger farther up, where the tendon receded. Aside from that, it keeps itself straight, and I can once again type and write with it. The first two weeks after I took the splint off were the hardest. It hurt like hell, a deep-down body ache that went right up to the elbow. But then, even that subsided, and now it's back to normal.

It truly is amazing how the body heals.

My wife, Jennifer's, blog can be found here:
Cleverly Disguised as Cake

And my first novel, squeakyclean, here:
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Sunday, October 14, 2012

Last days of summer

With the rain outside freezing as it hits the ground, and ice pellets in the forecast, it seems a long time ago that we went down for a market day in downtown Belleville. Yet it was only two weeks ago that the Chamber of Commerce had closed off Front street for the 'Flavours of Fall' festival.

The main reason we wanted to go there was to get apples for the pies we'd be doing for Thanksgiving, and we did. Cortlands, and Honey Crisp, and many others are in season, and we prefer to get our produce there. It saves it having to be trucked all over the country, and it's as fresh as one can get without growing it ourselves.

Not only that, but the Chamber of Commerce had set up also a pumpkin carving competition, and the kids were excited to take part in that. We bought a whole bunch of pumpkins, and because we're early-birds, we had some time to grab breakfast in downtown as well.

We stopped in at the Auberge de France on Front Street. It reminded me so much of the little cafes in Montreal. Jennifer and I both had a cafe au lait, and some chocolate croissants, which the boys really liked.

The coffee there is very good, if not a little pricey, but it's very fresh like the pastry. The people are warm and friendly, and if it weren't for the festival and the line of people waiting to get tables, I could have sat for hours.

They were very accommodating as well. Daisy ordered a Caesar salad instead of all the sweet and flaky stuff. She is one of a kind, and probably the only kid I know who would take garlic over chocolate! Chacun son gout....

The sign of a good breakfast is that it is soon gone!

Back on the street, the Thurlow Firefighter volunteers had set up with their trucks, and showed the kids the different pieces of equipment, and answered all their questions.

Owen and I took a bit of time to dance to the music they had on the outdoor stage.

By far the boys favourite part was that they got to sit in the Belleville Police Department SUV and look at all the gear they use for their Emergency Response Team.

Now Cole wants to be a Police officer just like his cousin Lee. I was a little shocked that they let them play with all the gear, and hold the flash-bang grenades and guns. There was some criticism of the Police, but  I believe it shows just how sensitive people are about this kind of thing. As someone who is going for my firearm safety course in the spring, I think it's very important to show children, from a safe and reliable source, how to be careful around weapons. It's not like we can uninvent them!

Finally, the pumpkin decorating was ON!

As we finished there, the hay ride was in full swing as well, and Daisy just loved seeing the horses.

Inside the Memorial Arena we saw some familiar faces helping the kids through a Thomas the Tank engine bounce castle.

I think that was Daisy's favourite part.

My wife, Jennifer's, blog can be found here:
Cleverly Disguised as Cake

And my first novel, squeakyclean, here:
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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Fall Photos

Jennifer and I had the wonderful opportunity on thanksgiving weekend to walk around aimlessly on the property where my parents live, and where we will soon be building a house. We had the camera with us, and she is getting a great eye for photography, so I thought I would share some of the photos that we took on the walk.

I can't even remember who took which photo, but here they are.

My wife, Jennifer's, blog can be found here:
Cleverly Disguised as Cake

And my first novel, squeakyclean, here:
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Monday, October 08, 2012

Trudeaumania part II

Conservatives and New Democrats alike would love to categorize Justin Trudeau as a lightweight celebrity, cashing in on his father's notoriety and aplomb, to hoodwink voters into putting him into power. For what end, they can't say, but it must be nefarious if he's fighting so hard for it. It confounds them that polls state he would be the next Prime Minister if he attained the Liberal leadership role.

Justin Trudeau speaking to a full house in Belleville, Ontario

If there isn't an old saying that goes 'if you're surprised in politics, you're out of touch', then there should be. And right now, both extreme parties are out of touch. This is why seemingly every criticism of the old Liberal Party, and every misconception about its support, its revival, and its gains in the polls, is tacked onto the Trudeau name. They want it to be Trudeau's game, even though it has all happened before his leadership bid. Now they want to jump on him quickly to attack, hoping that if they define him as lightweight, that support will vanish.

A quick sampling of NDP and Conservative critics shows that they say he is not experienced enough to lead a party, which could be true, but we don't know that yet. Not only will he have an entire system of ground-up Riding Associations behind him, but also some of the greatest political minds of the past fifty years. The party is already rallying behind him, people who have run the country with great popularity, defined the social systems Canadians value, AND balanced many budgets.

Another argument goes that Justin Trudeau is young. I'm turning 41 this month as well, only two months older than he is. Young? Thank you. I do feel young now, if only for a fleeting second.

They also say that it is a popularity contest. Show me a party that isn't. NDP leadership hopefuls were so reluctant to actually criticise each other that they had a love-in instead, and all the real politicking went on behind closed doors. They loved themselves into a position where Mulcair won. Thomas Mulcair had never led a party either.

It seems silly to then criticise the Liberals for picking the most popular politician among all Canadians, as the best choice to lead the party to victory. The NDP chose Jack Layton the same way. If elected, it doesn't matter which person takes the Liberals there, so long as someone does. It may be the only way to save what makes Canada ... well ... Canada, before the extremes polarise us to the point where we can't relate across the spectrum.

At any rate, even though the NDP have more reason to fear a Trudeau win, the Conservatives are even more afraid than the NDP are. That fear is exactly why the new Infrastructure ads show working people put to work, I'm assuming, by Federal Government funds. They don't mention those funds were cut off abruptly in May of this year, with no extension, even while our infrastructure is crumbling, nor that the Conservatives have spent all the money, and no more will be coming. The ads aren't about construction. They are about connecting to the average working person, whose support the Conservative government is losing fast with its latest draconian laws against EI recipients and Unions.

Justin Trudeau was a school teacher, sure, but he scares the crap out of Stephen Harper. Not in the House of Commons, where Harper's smug, clever, and contrite responses are legendary in their vitriol against Liberals and New Democrats alike. No, he connects to the average person in a way that Harper couldn't buy, even if he was Bill Gates. Justin is everything Stephen is not, personable, a man who can talk to anyone, and with charm. He's natural, and real, and talks like an average Canadian. He can relate. He is already an exceptional orator, and people love that he's NOT the autocratic controller of the Liberal political machine.

Both Harper and Mulcair, in backing down from Pauline Marois when she took down the Canadian flag from the Quebec National Assembly, showed their true colours. They were spineless in their lack of criticism for the blatantly anti-federalist move. When it looked as if it would harm them in the polls, they backed down, proving themselves only as patriotic as is politically expedient.

It doesn't surprise me from Harper, the endless game-player, but Mulcair? His reasoning is more complex. The Quebec NDP vote is now precarious because their position in the middle of the separation debate leaves them open for all kinds of damage. Their Sherbrooke declaration, which allows separation from Canada at 50% plus-one-vote, frankly scares me. It is a timid shadow of Chretien's Clarity Act that set out the firm rules for Quebec sovereignty, and yet there is no way they can back down from it now that their support is in Quebec. Hell, they have MP's in their caucus who are sworn separatists.

A Trudeau win would steal all the support they've built in Quebec, and move it to a Federalist party. The New Democrats rely on the consolidated protest vote, where the Liberals pull the middle class, so it's going to end badly for them. Quebec will be where the next election is decided, and the NDP, far from embracing it as the Liberals always do, are running from the fight. Many voters don't even know their MP's there. In fact, what has put the Liberals into office more often than not in a hundred years is their ability to duke it out in Quebec and Ontario, and win.

The extreme parties are in a delicate situation. They've expended their best arguments against a party that was down for the kicking after last election. Instead, less than seven months later, they face a newly envigorated Liberal party. They face a foe that has signed over 25,000 new supporters, and that stands at 25% popularity in the polls and continues gaining.

(update: The polls as they stand November 3, 2012 are CPC- 33%, Lib 30%, and NDP 26%)

It is solid popularity, built from the ground up by listening to people, and making their views the next party platform. What the extremes call pandering to the electorate, Canadians see as listening, at a time when both the NDP and Conservatives are clinging to their top-down policy making model. The extreme parties refuse to see this as a three-way race, which is going to hurt them even more in 2015. In ignoring this, they are setting themselves up for failure.

They also like to ignore that "Young" Mr. Trudeau has skills. He fought it out with the Bloc Quebecois in the diverse riding of Papineau, knocking on doors and speaking to people, and won. Twice. The riding looks as if it will keep putting him in office, so his critics will have to get used to him in Ottawa. He does not sit like a wallflower in the House, and his genuine 'average guy fighting for good' persona fires people up. His speeches about inclusion, about what he loves about Canada, and his vision for how we are going to rebuild the country from this polarisation, are inspiring. He packs every house.

The extremes fail to see that Canadians don't want another autocratic, crafty, go-for-the-throat debater like they have in Harper and Mulcair. They can see these men are in power simply for power's sake. Canadians are sick of the internal politics, the endless control, the answers-from-a-page in the House of Commons. They want 'Answer Period', not an ignored Question Period. They want 'real people', and that's why Trudeau scares them. He is real, and he's been doing the work. Those skills used to stand up for the average Canadian ... it's no wonder both parties on the extremes are afraid of him.

They should be.

In ignoring Mr. Trudeau's skills, and in going for the cheap shots as they've been doing with the Liberal Party, they are already losing the next election. Liberals, in fighting for their survival, are already building their campaign where it matters most. With the people.

Justin Trudeau's website can be found here.

My wife, Jennifer's, blog can be found here:
Cleverly Disguised as Cake

And my first novel, squeakyclean, here:
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Saturday, October 06, 2012


I have been praised for my pie for many years. Specifically, for my pastry, because generally it is Jennifer who makes the filling ahead of time, or after I've set the pastry to chill. My Mom, incidentally was one of the best pie makers, and she learned it from her mother, Daisy's namesake great-grandmother. When her hands started to suffer from extreme arthritis, I still hadn't learned how to make pastry, so she taught my Dad how to make it, and he then taught me by showing me. Grampa still makes a mean pie!

It's always good to have helpers!
So, in the spirit of Thanksgiving this year (and just in time!) if you're looking for a recipe for pastry, here is the Sprung version. I'm warning you. It's not perfect. I'm not a pastry chef, nor is this going to be without glitches. But really, it's the glitches that make it specifically NOT what you get in the stores.

It's home-made apple pie, Sprung style. Here is what you'll need:

From left, vinegar, salt, eggs, cake and pastry flour, and shortening. (Plus all the tools)
6 cups of cake and pastry flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 box Tenderflake shortening
1 tablespoon Vinegar
1 egg

1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 pat of butter
1 lemon (for 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice)
1 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp cinnamon
1 dash nutmeg
eight apples, peeled, cored, sliced. (I used Cortlands for this recipe, fresh from the Belleville market this morning...)

First, the pastry. If you follow the instructions on the outside of the Tenderflake box, you'll get average pastry. There are tips that will make it exceptional, and that will help you improve your pastry over time. You won't get it right the first time, or every time, but if you practice you'll get it right most of the time.

Pastry, if you haven't guessed, is an art. It takes feeling the consistency between your fingers. So first, take off your rings, and wash your hands.

I always mix the liquid first. Mix the egg and vinegar in a 1 cup measure. Then top it up to the cup mark with water, mix, and let it sit.

Then cut the shortening into the flour and salt mixture, and to use a spoon to churn up the dry parts until it is the consistency of coarse oatmeal. While this can be done with knives, I find the specialty tool is essential.

Then you pour in about half the egg vinegar water mixture, and mix it with your hands.

I have no pictures of the mixing, for obvious reasons. It can get a bit messy. Even at this stage, you need a very light touch. You're not mixing, per se, but getting it slowly to a state where it holds together. It's an art. If you need more of the liquid, add it very sparingly, as you don't want to use it all, you just want to get the pastry to the point where it barely holds. That's it. The drier the mixture, the flakier your pastry will be.

When you take it out of the bowl, there should still be cracks, and little pieces falling off it. That's normal.

The blob!

At this point, you cut it into four. Two bottoms, and two tops. If you're doing a pie that requires only a bottom, that has to be baked and then have filling added, such as a chocolate creme, coconut creme, or key lime, then you'll want to cut it in three to make shells.

Take your three, or four smaller bits, and you wrap them in cellophane and put them in the fridge for more than an hour. If you want authentic pie from days past, you skip this step. Then you will need a rolling pin. I used to use one from my grandmother's kitchen, but now we have one from Jamie Oliver's line, that allows more precise control over the dough. It is tapered at the ends, with no handles, so if the dough isn't taking the right circular shape, you can roll specific parts of it to get it back into round.

Start by pushing the dough down in an 'x'.

Then roll out from the centre, making sure to keep it round, and consistent thickness throughout. Easier said than done, I know!

If any cracks develop, then just push them back together, and use the roller to reshape it.

Gently lift the pastry into the clean dry pie plate. Don't worry if it doesn't cover all the plate, or if it rolls over the edges. All you have to do to fix this is cut the excess from the sides...

Then fit the pieces in where there are gaps, pressing it gently together.

That done, you have your lower crust. Roll out the upper crust the same way, and keep it aside. 

If at this point you're making shells, then take a fork, and put holes all throughout the pie then fill it with dried beans or a pie weight, so the pastry doesn't lift and crumble in the oven.


Alright, for this pie we start the filling with apples. I suggest fresh and local, so there's no bruises or rubbery texture from the shipping. I bought Cortlands from the market in Belleville, and they are very fresh. The smell was wonderful!

Peel them, core them, and slice them.

When your apples are ready, juice and strain your lemon.

This next part is not difficult. Just mix the apples, cinnamon, sugar, nutmeg, butter, kosher salt, and lemon juice together in a mixing bowl.

Then pour the filling mix into the pie shell.

You'll want to gently 'reposition' the apples, so that they fall into place and take up all the space. Air pockets are not a good idea.

The top goes on just like the bottom went in. Fit it on top. Then cut the edges, and pinch it to an edge which you can then crimp, or decorate as you like.

Then, we brush the top with egg white and water

Just before putting it in the oven, cut vent holes. I've done pies with skeleton faces, or if pumpkin filling, like jack 'o' lanterns. The reason we cut vents is that pie filling creates a lot of steam that needs to escape.

If you like, you can also sprinkle brown sugar or brown sugar and cinnamon on top.

Bake at 350' for 45 minutes, and if it's browned unevenly, then turn the pie a half turn. If it seems ready, take it out. If not, leave it for another 10 minutes.

At this point, when you do take it out, you'll want to let it cool for at least twenty minutes before anyone cuts into it. This allows the insides to gel and not leak out.


My wife, Jennifer's, blog can be found here:
Cleverly Disguised as Cake

And my first novel, squeakyclean, here:
eBook, pdf, mobi, epub, rtf, lrf, palm, txt
Kindle US
Kindle UK
Kindle Germany