Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Bedside reading.

Hi. Today I cleaned our room, and realized how many damn books I keep around, and how they pertain to what I'm writing.

Here's some stuff I am currently reading for inspiration:

Trinity, Leon Uris
Lysistrata and Other plays, Aristophanes
Atonement, Ian McEwan
Men at War, Ernest Hemingway
Chesepeake, James Michener
Independence Day, Richard Ford

Some that I consult for snippets of structure and tone:

A Picture of Dorian Gray
The complete works of Mark Twain
The Short Stories of F.Scott Fitzgerald

...and others that are lingering but yet to be read or re-read:

Mason & Dixon, Thomas Pynchon
The Lovely Bones, Anne Sebold
Precious, by Sapphire
A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
The Oddysey, The Iliad, Homer
Moby Dick, Herman Melville

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

And my first novel, squeakyclean, here:
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Monday, August 29, 2011

Merger dilemma

With all the talk of the possible merger between the Liberal Party of Canada, and the New Democratic Party of Canada, there is the inevitable wrangling of whether or not the local provincial counterparts should also merge, and the question of who should be the leader, and all this. (for the record, my answers would be yes, and Bob Rae, as he's hit from both sides of the plate in this double-header.. Justin, perhaps, or my always favourite, Brian Tobin if we could convince him). But I digress.

For me, those questions are not quite as important as what to name the party. Lets start with all the names and labels and whittle it down ... and I mean ALL the names.

If we go back into history, the Liberals have always been, well, Liberals or Whigs, if you please, in the British tradition. Meh, no real new ideas there, but we'll add Liberal, and Party. The NDP grew from the Canadian Labour Congress, and the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, to become the New Democratic Party. (again with the Party ... hmmm)

Well, there's some to work with. The New Democratic Liberal Co-operative Labour Congress Party ... whew.
Co-operative. I mean, really, if we're not going to co-operate, what the hell are we paying these MP's for anyway? They're there to co-operate. So, I think that's a given. We drop the Co-operative. 

Congress? Too American.

Labour. Well now, I would love to see a Labour party in Canada, just as in the European tradition, say what you will about their histories (and wasn't the NDP supposed to be the labour party way back when?) ... but Labour doesn't really sum up everything most Canadians are about. (or aboot ... more on that later). My boss would argue that many of the things we Canadians hold dear, like the 40 hour work week, kids not working in the mines, minimum wage, pensions, benefit plans, vacation pay, stat holiday pay, universal medicine, and the right to collectively bargain, even though they were fought for and won by the labour movement, benefit all Canadians as well.

But I work for a Labour Union. So in the interests of not sounding biased, and Labour as a term not being all-inclusive as it is (we would be representing non-working people, too, non?) will have to be dropped as well. What does that leave us with? The New Democratic Liberal Party? It's a little too NDLP ish for anyone's taste. That's okay, we can cut a few more...

Since they're really not New any more, we can effectively drop the 'New'. For those of you who will so astutely point out that what we are, in fact, doing is creating a new party, I would say, how long do you wait before finally dropping the 'New'? And we don't have a very good history of dropping it in the first place, now, do we? New. Gone.

Next, I'm thinking the Democratic has to go, because, really, like the co-operative, it's a given that we're Democratic, isn't it? The Conservatives haven't been in THAT long to dismantle democracy ... no, they're still working on dismantling budget surpluses, the health care system, and accountability.

Liberal? Liberal Democrats? New Liberals? Well, even the Conservatives ran into that brick wall. We certainly couldn't do any worse than the first-go at naming the new Conservative Reform Alliance Party (or, as was pointed out when they quickly withdrew it, CRAP, which I thought rather fitting) No, they started a brand-spanking-new party, and changed the brand and everything, but with naming it the Conservatives, all those old folks just kept right on voting for them! "New party? What do you mean 'new'? It doesn't say that in the name, does it?" Well, no.

How about we'll keep that Liberal term in our pocket for now because we wouldn't want it to look like the Liberal party just swallowed up the NDP. 

That leaves only one term left. Party.

Well, this is Canada after all, and we may not be able to stop the Tories from taking away a whole bunch of things, but they'll never take the Party out of Canada .

Crank the hip! Where's the Moosehead?

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

And my first novel, squeakyclean, here:
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Friday, August 26, 2011

Weekend getaway.

From our hotel.

Jennifer and I have been working so hard lately, that when an alignment took place, we had to take advantage. No, I'm not talking about the planets, I'm talking about Mom and Dad cancelling a trip to Michigan aligning with recieving a discount hotel card from work.

We decided to go to Ottawa to see the National Gallery.

The gallery.
Ottawa is only two hours away, but we thought that if we got a hotel room, and then goofed around in the market, we could have some much needed away time without spending a fortune. Reservation for the Chateau Laurier in hand, bags packed, and kids dropped off at Gramma and Grampa's, we went straight there to check in and drop off our things. First thing we found was that the hotel charges an extra $26 for parking. Okay, should've read the fine print. Paid up. Done.

We unloaded our luggage, and went to the National Gallery, which, for the collections available, is a steal at $9 a person, especially with in-and-out privileges. For our first walk around, we went to see the historic paintings and sculptures from India, and 16th century European permanent exhibit. Marvellous.

Some picture I quickly snapped before being beaten over the head.
I took some pictures, but was accosted by a security guard who very politely pointed out that we can't do that. He let me keep the pictures I took, but we were told to stop (sigh ... ohhkay...)

We then went to the market, to a pub. Not the greatest food, but quick and easy as a pit stop before returning to the gallery. This time, we checked out all the Canadian exhibit. Jennifer and I both were enthralled with the Group of Seven paintings. Definitely my favourites of the day.

7th century carving from India
I did get a chance to check out 'Voice of Fire' again and to breathe in the use of colour. Despite the fracas that happened when the National Gallery bought it, I have always loved the raw power of it. Not sure it's worth $14mil, but it is definitely worth checking out.

I don't know what she's doing here, but the tax people better not find out.
We chose the Chateau Laurier, not because it is cheaper, (because it's not) but because it's central. With the discount we only paid about $150 for the night. It's more expensive than most hotels in the country, but about on par with most of those in downtown Ottawa. The 'Chateau' was a bit of a disappointment. Not only was it extra for parking, but it was extra for EV-rything. Wifi Internet was an extra $15 per night. Hell, in Quebec city, in the downtown we paid less per night, parking and wifi was included, AND they put pastries fruit and yogourt in a basket on our door. I'm glad we didn't pay full price because I would have felt ripped off.

Jenn loved the recessed windows.
That said, it was a beautiful old hotel, and the architecture is well worth one visit, but for the same amount of money, I'm sure the Sheraton or Weston would have had parking and internet included, with a better view.

Some of the fresh stuff available. Jenn bought an eggplant from this stand.
Our stop in the market brought us up close with some of the local growers. They have an excellent market there all summer, and we bought some produce to take back with us. Not what the kids were hoping for, but the pastry would hold them off until Jenn could make cake out of the veggies.

They are a lot bigger than they look.
Next stop was the Parliament buildings. Jenn hadn't seen them since she was 18, and I haven't seen them in a while also. We went up close and walked around them, noting all the little intricacies that make them such marvelous pieces of architecture.

I wonder who they modeled the gargoyles after...?

Jenn, not feeling well, had to retreat to the hotel again, so we settled in for an evening of TV and some time together, which was what we needed in the first place.

Jenn was reduced to tweeting on the Blackberry. Oh for shame!
The next morning we were up relatively early, and stopped in a place that boasted Barack Obama had visited recently, called the Moulin de Provence. The pastries looked wonderful under the glass, and we ordered coffee and treats.
This looks way better than it actually was.
 Though the coffee was good, the pastry was stale and gummy. Now I know why Obama hasn't been back. (Well, that and Harper)
Ahhhh coffee.
The market was abuzz though, and so we set out looking for another place to get things to bring home for the kids. We found Au Delices.

They make gluten free cookies, cupcakes, and treats, and also a selection of pastries, truffles and chocolates that are fresh and yummy. Cookies for the kids, and mousse cake for my Mom's birthday in hand we returned to the monsters, because the best part of any trip is coming home.

Rideau canal.

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

And my first novel, squeakyclean, here:
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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Owen v

It's probably a good idea to read the progression of posts on Owen before this one if you haven't already:

Owen ii
Owen iii
Owen iv

Well, the results are in.

Jennifer and I went in to Sick Kids Hospital many weeks ago to find out where the triplication in Owen's eleventh chromosome came from, and yesterday we got the results. The possibilities were that it was new in Owen, or that it came from either Jennifer or myself.

It's me. I have a triplication on my eleventh chromosome just like Owen does. I'm ecstatic.

Usually one does not jump for joy when finding out they have something odd like this, but I am. Why? Owen is not alone. It doesn't change who I am. I am still me, just as Owen is still him. When we thought he was the only one in the world with this triplication, we didn't know whether or not it came with a reduced life expectancy. Now we know he could easily live to 40 just as I have, and longer. Whew.

Of course, there are no real conclusions we can draw from just genetics, especially when it comes to an entire lifetime of learning and responding to environment, and being so influenced by the same family that is also possibly affected, but it opens a whole nature vs. nurture debate in our household, about what could have been caused by the genetic anomaly and what was just passed down through other means.

Much more on that later, I promise.

For now, to tell the truth, I'm just happy my little guy is no longer the only one out of over 6 billion people. It makes the world seem a little less lonely.

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

And my first novel, squeakyclean, here:
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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Girl ya got sauce...

Who knew that making sauce could be so easy?

The basil growing in the kitchen.

For those who haven't followed my twitter posts, we have had a bumper crop of tomatoes this year. We put in four plants of normal sized tomatoes, and two of cherry tomatoes. (We always put in cherry tomatoes because we found in our old house that the squirrels would go for them before the big ones, and it has worked ever since).

What we were expecting was enough of a yield that we would be able to hold off buying tomatoes for the summer, and could teach the kids a bit about growing things in the back yard. We go through normally about a tomato or two a day.

Well, fast forward to the weather we've had, alternating blisteringly muggy heat with humidity, and overwhelming deluges of water in the form of thunderstorms, and our tomatoes have become monstrous.

The one green pepper we got had an inferiority complex.

At the peak, we were harvesting fifteen to twenty a day, and for a couple of weeks we could not eat, give away, or turn enough into salsa to get through the backlog. They were going mushy before we could get to them.

The solution: pasta sauce.

I wanted to try something easy and relatively foolproof to start, and then move on to chutney and chili after.

Because I have nothing but thyme.
So, I took a whole pile of tomatoes, and didn't even count (if you're looking for specific measurements, you won't get them here. I'm a guy.)

First, to skin them, as skin does not break down in sauces. I boiled a big pot of water, and then put it in the sink, and then put in handfuls of tomatoes in batches for a couple of minutes each, sticking them with a knife quickly before pulling them out. The tomatoes kept their consistency inside, but the skin peeled off easily with a bit of coaxing from the knife. Next, I came up with a very good method for cutting off the top, and using my baby finger to clean out the seeds.

Different tomatoes have different properties, and I can see how certain tomato varieties became popular for sauces, for their ease in peeling and seeding.

I missed a seed or two. Oh well.

Black Krim: skin peeled off like a dream, pulp disintegrated. Yellow heritage: skin was harder to remove, seeds easy, and pulp was still solid, but lacked robust flavour. Red: skin was a breeze, seeds nearly jumped out themselves, and pulp was still fragrant and juicy. (winner!)

I began to saute some sweet onions at this point, in olive oil, not butter, as I wasn't sure if I'd make preserve or freezer sauce. For preserve, it's best to avoid the dairy products, as they can spoil the batch.

Next, I put the pulp into a blender, and poured it into a pot. For the last batch of pulp, I added two big gobs of minced garlic, several sprigs of thyme and more than a dozen fresh basil leaves, the lonely diced green pepper, and a tablespoon of salt. All went into in the pot, even the onions, though I didn't blend them. The only ingredients not from our garden were the salt, onions, and garlic.

This whole mixture simmered for just over three hours, and boiled off much of the liquid, until it was the consistency I wanted. Now, if you want it to firm up a bit more, you can add tomato paste, but I didn't. This is also the time, nearing the consistency you desire, to add some of your finishing herbs, and to fish out the thyme, which went in whole (and bay leaf if you used that).

I really like how the yellow heritage tomatoes made much more of a rose sauce, without dairy products. I left my sauce without finishing herbs, because we figured we'd add the herbs (oregano, cheese, or mushrooms, sundried tomatoes, etc.) to change the sauce with each meal, and use this as a base only.

With the finished product, you can also go through the whole canning or bottling process, but after tasting this batch, I didn't figure it would last the summer, so I put it in jars and dropped it into the freezer. Voila! Much simpler than I thought it would be.

Now, what to do with the next fifty tomatoes!?!

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

And my first novel, squeakyclean, here:
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Friday, August 12, 2011

Someone else's words.

Sometimes, someone else's words just hit an issue so well that I can't possibly write about it.

I drove past an anti-abortion protest today, and it bothered me, not in the way the protesters intended, but in a saddened, disappointed way. I did not sympathize with them, nor did their protest make me want to support them. I was disturbed, and couldn't even begin to think to put words to my reaction until I read Juliet's post in 'In Spite of all the Damage'. I put the link here for all the women I have known and supported in their decisions, and all the women I have known who were caught in a horrible situation and considered or went through with it. I think everyone should read it, no matter what their stance on the issue, because these things need to be said, and these things need to be heard.
How to Save a Life

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

And my first novel, squeakyclean, here:
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Sunday, August 07, 2011

Old stuff

I've always been a nerd when it comes to old things. I have a collection of antiques downstairs including telephone batteries, original Palmolive shampoo (still in bottle) and other odd stuff accumulated over years of picking things up where I can. So an opportunity to visit a virtual gold-mine of antique stuff, all heaped up in piles and there for the picking, and you can count me in!!!

Site as it looks today.

I went down to the new Quinte Consolidated Courthouse in Belleville, Ontario, to talk to the workers excavating there. The foreman and I walked around looking at all the old stuff coming out of the ground. There is broken pottery everywhere, and some of it very interesting.

There were homes on most of the property until only a few decades ago, and half of the excavation was once a lock factory. Archeologists have already gone through with their sifting screens and brushes, with lines all over, photographing the footings, and cataloging pieces of interest, but there are lots of great things yet to be discovered. Of course there were many keys and the rotting, rusting inner workings of many old locks, but what is surprising is all the everyday objects. 
There were china shards everywhere.
Also, I should mention the contamination. There were piles of dirt that I didn't go through (and nor should you!) as a result of all the chemicals and heavy metals that were found on site. I was lucky enough to have someone to tell me where I could and couldn't dig around. He also came up with some gems that he and the others had found, and the pieces were so numerous that they gave them to me.

Believe it or not, even though a lock factory existed on site, the most numerous item would have been the door handles. There were hundreds, if not thousands of red-orange clay door handles, enamelled in black or white, and some still attached to the metal posts.

A couple of the door handles, and a top from a sealer jar.
This was a great item. Dave had put aside a Webb Stubby soda bottle, and a Vick`s vaporub bottle. I gave them to my Dad, who has an old bottle collection.

This could have been bought at Jenn's great grandfather's store on Murney St.

So, well, I don't have much more to say, but here are more photos. Sorry if they`re not the greatest quality, but they were taken on my Blackberry and I hate the camera on it. :)

Bottom of a gold-embossed teaacup.

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

And my first novel, squeakyclean, here:
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Thursday, August 04, 2011

Would you be my ... could you be my ...

Our old neighbourhood, on Hillside Street, was a great place. We had a little house that was too small for our family, but we owed relatively little on it, and it was ours. During our house hunting in ... oh, 2004 or '05 I think ... we found a few places in our price range (which was peanuts, we were broke), and this one kind of stood out from the start. We went inside, and loved it. It needed work, but we wanted to make sure that the survey was done before putting an offer. Jenn's grandfather came to look it over, and realized his father had built this house, in 1927, and that he'd lived there for the from the age of six until 16. It had a small front yard, and a huge back one that the kids and dog could play in. We bought it.

After moving in, we found that the neighbours were mostly good, and some wonderful. At the one side was the older lady we never saw, who had lived there since she was born, and knew everything about the history of the area. On the other was the young couple who had a little boy named Jake, who was a little younger than Daisy. Very nice, never complained, and said hello every so often. We were sad when they moved, just before we did, to Yellowknife.

In behind there was a house that shared a right of way, and the old guy with the eye patch who lived there with his quiet wife. They had taken the place over when the drug dealers who had it before were arrested. He used to use his snowblower for the long lane, and come over to do the bottom of our drive when we were snowed in by the plow and I was working in the city. Behind us directly there was Anne, a foster mom to several great kids who were always poking over the fence to play with Cole, and who came to birthday parties, and such. It felt like we were part of something, even if we didn't spend time with them, we could go over and say hello and it wouldn't be out of the ordinary.

Contrast that to the new house. Our neighbours here were a little skeptical of us as soon as we moved in. We were one of only a couple of families on our street with kids. We have a huge front yard that we rarely use, and a small back one.

On two fences, the neighbours are great. Peter the old English gent, and his wife we never see, help us with materials from the gardens back and forth, and like Wilson from Home Improvement, we are always chatting about the gardens or he is identifying plants for us. Next door, Craig, with his two teenage daughters, and twenty-something son, who are more like us than anyone on the street. Easygoing, quiet. Nice people.

But on two sides we've had problems. The first incident is legendary in our house now. Jenn and I had so many problems with Bell (poor reception, and an installer who put the dish on so it was tearing down our siding - then telling us it was our problem to fix - all that story for another time maybe...) that we decided to go with Cogeco and get phones and everything done through cable. So we put in the order, and had the Bell cut off for the same day as the Cogeco was to be installed.

The day they came to set it up, the other neighbour at the back wouldn't allow them access to their property to hook it up, so Cogeco said they would come back later. The neighbour then said that Cogeco could never have access because they had not purchased a right-of-way. The box is right beside the fence, so we looked up property law, and called a police buddy, and figured out that as long as we own the fence (which we do) and Cogeco didn't step on their side of the property line, which they didn't plan on doing, we could rip boards out of the fence and have them lean over to connect us.

At the time, Owen had just gone through a bunch of testing, and of course they came back with the usual Owie-odd results, and we were waiting for a call from Sick Kids.   As I was taking boards off the fence, and with Cogeco on the way the next day, the neighbour confronted me about the fence. Jennifer, in one of her finer moments, began to yell over from our back porch, and called her a "b*&;ch" for denying us access to 911 and to phone service. I, for my part, left the boards off the fence for the next three days, and the women (a full year later) worked it out amongst themselves with apologies on all sides.

Our second major problem in the neighbourhood just came up last week. Unfortunately, it's not one of these easily (or even with difficulty) resolvable issues. Really, we don't know what to do. Next door we have a retired nurse, who goes to the US to buy pesticides that are banned in Canada. She uses them on her lawn to make it greener, and yet doesn't understand the links between them and illnesses that she thinks are "just terrible".

The other day she was talking to her son in the backyard, not knowing that Jenn was sitting quietly on our porch, and said "Next door their son is retarded, and they're sending him to school this year. Retards don't belong in general population."

Did she just say that? Retarded? From a nurse? She's thoughtful of people's rights when it benefits her, but has nothing to say when her guests blow off fireworks near midnight, while my kids try to sleep. Really. We're planning on moving in a couple of years, and we're very much looking forward to being around more tolerant, worldly, and intelligent people, but how much can we endure for those years? I don't mind someone insulting me, but my kids!?! Unacceptable.

She went on to say that there should be specific sections for children in restaurants so they don't bother others, and that they shouldn't be allowed on airplanes. This from a mother, and a nurse. It was a long, quietly spoken tirade that left Jennifer seething in the yard. Now what? What does one do about ignorance? I'm at a loss. What would you do?

On Tolerance.

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

And my first novel, squeakyclean, here:
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