Saturday, December 29, 2012

It's LONG DISTANCE!


I am old enough to remember when a long distance phone call was a very big deal.

Maybe other families were cool about these calls. When I was a kid, my group just wasn’t. Calls were scarce from people living far away, so the occasion usually caused wide-spread panic in our house: “Everybody! Come quick! They’re calling LONG DISTANCE!!!” At Christmas and New Year, each member of the family would have a turn talking to whoever phoned – never mind that the conversation itself would be repeated in each telling: “What did Santa bring you? Who’s coming over for dinner? What will you do on your Christmas vacation?” But the calls had to be kept short, mostly because we were all acutely aware of the additional expense, “It’s LONG DISTANCE!!!!” but also because there was inevitably a “bad connection.” The crackly, tinny, echoey signal made communication difficult, at least it did at my house in spite of the fact that everyone talked at really high volume as if the person on the other end might actually hear us if we yelled loud enough. And because these calls were such a rarity, everyone forgot how to talk like normal people and the conversation got all awkwardly weird: “Oh, yup, yuh, yuh, everybody’s fine. And there? Oh! U-huh. Uh-huh. Oh, yup, yuh, yuh, that sounds good! Well, o.k.! I guess I should let you go now!” Hardly ever was there actual real news shared in these calls.

Over the years, telecommunications improved, of course, and long distance calls lost their curiosity. But even in fresh memory, maybe as recently as a few years ago, it was tough to “get through” on major holidays. The phone lines jammed with callers and you’d get a message from the telephone company saying, “I’m sorry. Your call cannot be completed at this time.” So you’d redial over and over hoping to catch a gap in the “call volume” or you’d wait until “later” when your family would inevitably translate the late hour as your uncaring attitude toward them. And even when long distance rates came down to infinitesimal amounts on calling plans, my mother would still say things like, “Well, I should let you go. This is costing you an arm and a leg. It’s LONG DISTANCE!”

That’s all history of course, but I had it in mind this holiday season when we chatted with friends and family via FaceTime on Ken’s iPhone – with video! Imagine! What a total miracle that is. Mind you, the conversations were pretty much the same as they have always been: “What did Santa bring you? Who’s coming over for dinner?” but now we could see each other! And we’d wave to one another! And show each other around the house: “Here’s the Christmas tree! Here’s the dog wearing his Christmas collar. Here’s what we got from Santa. Here’s the turkey carcass.” It was almost like being together! The technology isn’t perfect yet, though. We lost connection with friends in Vancouver every few minutes and we’d wait while FaceTime gave us a “Please wait while we reconnect you” message. But I thought it was a nice bit of symmetry with the past that the communications weren’t absolutely flawless. It was kind of fun that way.

One fly in the ointment, however. If we are on the edge of a future when our phone calls will be accompanied by video, it’s a bit like getting unexpected company. I’m not sure I’m prepared to be dressed and out of the jammies, hair washed and makeup on, just in case someone calls long distance on Skype or FaceTime. And the house is going to have to be kept tidy at all times! We walked into the kitchen during our call with our Vancouver friends and turned around at the doorway! “OOOPS! Yikes! Forgive the mess! We haven’t done the dishes yet!” Uh, call 'ya later!

 

Friday, December 21, 2012

That's a Wrap


When you’ve been married as long as we have, (35 years last May) you are often asked questions by young newlyweds seeking your wise counsel about how to ensure a successful marriage.

Here’s a tidbit of advice: try not to surprise your partner with three new food items in one meal.

A new recipe once in a while, O.K. Three or four over the course of a month or even a week, fine. But three in one meal? No fair.

Normally, I think I am on fairly solid ground around here as far as my cooking goes. In 35 years, I can only think of a handful of occasions when my cooking hasn’t been edible. I think that’s remarkable considering that dinners to date exceed 12 thousand, or so. I feel quite lucky that I married a man who appreciates my skills in the kitchen, especially as it is my absolute joy at the end of the day to make a nice meal. So what went wrong last night? I have no idea. The chicken in the ad on TV looked so good.

Have you seen this ad? A cheerful young mom wins smiles and admiration from her beautiful kids and handsome hubby for slathering mayonnaise over chicken breasts and sprinkling them with parmesan cheese, whereupon she sends them to the oven where they get bubbly and brown and juicy. Slam dunk, right? Wrong. They were terrible! They were totally gross.

For a side dish, I tried a new recipe featuring Butternut squash and Shitake mushrooms. I had seen it in a magazine that I picked up at the chiropractor’s and asked the receptionist to photocopy it for me, it looked that good! It wasn’t! It was terrible! Heavy and dense. Those mushrooms and that squash had no business being together in a dish. Neither of us found this one tasty and we held our ritual tearing up of the recipe after dinner.

I had high hopes for the oven-fried potatoes. They nearly jumped out of the freezer case at the grocery and hopped right into my cart! The packaging was so pretty! They looked positively gourmet. The label said, “Tossed Lightly in Olive Oil, Rosemary and Garlic.” I thought, “Yum.” Yum, right? Wrong! They were terrible! They were the driest old potato wedges ever eaten in the whole entire history of potato wedges. It was like biting into the cardboard box they came in. But, clearly batting 3 for 3, I wasn’t going to admit I didn’t like them.

You didn’t like your dinner, dear?” I asked, innocently.

“You know I love your cooking, but to be honest, tonight has not been one of your good ones,” replied the hubster.

“Didn’t you like the potatoes?”

“They’re ghastly.”

“Oh, you’re exaggerating! No they’re not!”

“Those potatoes are as dry as dust. They’re as arid as Arizona. They’re as dehydrated as dryer lint.  They’re like eating sheet rock.”

“But they’re gourmet! The packaging was so attractive! Well, I liked them.”

I was lying.

We both took solace for the bad meal in apples for dessert. Riley, our Golden Retriever, followed us to the kitchen after dinner when we cleaned up. He sat beside the dishwasher, hoping for a morsel of whatever left over he might get. I looked at him and hesitated for a second. I held out a potato wedge in front of his nose. He sniffed it and turned his head away. That tells you a lot.

So, tips to newlyweds: After you’ve been married 35 years, you can take some risks. But for now try to limit your impulses for “surprise-in-a-dish” to only  every once in a while. Take warning from a couple we knew when we first got married; divorced over refrigerator crescent roll wiener wraps. And that’s not a euphemism.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

OH! Christmas Tree!


They just don’t make Christmas trees like they used to. They’re hardly any fun anymore.

Ken brought a Noble Fir home from the St. Albert the Great Church parking and tree lot on Saturday. He put it into the tree stand in the garage and left it there until Sunday to let gravity loosen up the branches and rain drops fall off. He hauled it in the front door and it hardly dropped a single needle. It only took a couple of turns of the tree stand screws to get it standing straight. It’s very symmetrical — every side is a good side. It is now occupying a corner of the living room stoically waiting for lights and decorations. It hasn’t even fallen over.

As I say, hardly any fun.

When we were kids, now THAT’S when Christmas trees were fun. Not one of them was ever symmetrical. My Dad brought home some of the worst looking trees you’ve ever seen. Every last one would have a huge bald spot with no branches. That’s the side that got shoved into the corner. But if there was more than one bald spot, this required cutting a branch and tying it on so that it looked more as if it was filled out. You could only put light-weight ornaments on these cantilevered limbs because if it was going to start leaning under the weight, it might just take the whole tree down with it. Where did these trees come from? Was Christmas tree farming that primitive in my youth? Didn’t anyone know about leaving space around the trees for even growth?

Anyway, the trees my Dad bought were also, consistently, too tall for our living room. Maybe there weren’t many different height choices in those days. Anyway, he’d haul it down to the basement and saw off a chunk of the trunk and haul the thing back upstairs. Showers of pine needles rained on the floor behind it. Branches whacked him in the face. Still too tall. So he’d haul it back down again. And up again. And it would still scrape the ceiling. So, down he’d go again, cursing this time. Sounds of cursing and sawing from the basement — cutting the silence, because by now we all knew we needed to keep our mouths shut. Back up to the living room. Still no room for the angel at the top. “DAD! Do we not have a tape measure?” My mother would go to the kitchen and stay out of it. This time, he’d take the hedge clippers to the top branches, hacking wildly to make room for the “Blanket-blank, bless-ed angel!!”  See? Good times. Every year.

My parents never “sold out” and got an artificial tree, though. Our trees left a thick carpet of needles on the floor by January 1st and we lived in constant tension that the 30 degree slant on the things was a sure indicator that they'd fall down any second. But, every year my mother would say, “Oh, Christmas just wouldn’t be the same without a real tree!” And so, that fresh piney smell and the sound of cursing and needles dropping would fill our home once again.

The most fun Ken and I have had with a Christmas tree was in 1980, the year we moved to Vancouver. In that environmentally-conscious city, we decided the responsible choice for Christmas d├ęcor would be a “live tree” – i.e., one that was rooted in a pot and that could be released into the wild once we had our holiday fill of it. We lived in a small apartment. So, it wasn’t a large tree, and the pot took up a bit too much room. But we felt good about this act of ecological heroism. Until one night, a few days into its stay, we were watching TV, all aglow with Christmas cheer, when we heard,
“Bzz.”

“Did you hear that?”

“What?”

“Bzz.”

“There it is again! Listen! A bzzing sound.”

“Bzz. Bzz. Bzz.”

“It’s coming from the tree.”

“No.”

“Yes! The tree is bzzzing.”

We crept closer.

“Bzzzz. Bzzzzz. Bzzzzzzzzz.”

“It’s alive! There are bees! Dozens of them. They’re waking up!!!!”

You’ve never seen anyone get a pair of gloves so fast in your whole life! Ken had that tree chucked out onto the balcony in seconds! That cured us of environmentally-motivated greenery selections. But we did laugh ourselves silly.

It will take us all week to decorate the tree we have this year, there are so many ornaments we’ve collected over the years. Each year, it’s such a treat to become reacquainted with them all, like they’re old friends.

We hope you are enjoying your own special magical moments this season, whether Christmas or Hanukkah or Bah-humbug-ing. It’s all good!


                                              2011 Christmas Tree Canine Inspection

Monday, December 3, 2012

Christmas Lite

Dear Friends, I hope you like the new look of my blog page. I am very excited about the illustration by my dear friend, Bernie Lyon in Vancouver - thanks, B! Please check out more of her wonderful drawings at her web site - see link below. You might have noticed that I didn't post a blog last week. That was because I was fiddling with the Blogpsot templates to try to get even this far with this page design. It exhausted me. As some of you know, I am a techno feeb when it comes to computer fiddling. I still might opt for my own web site one of these days, but I'd have to hire a twelve-year old to help me. Your comments on design are welcome and in the meantime, please enjoy this week's blog!

 
It seems to me that when the calendar turns to the first of December it ought to be accompanied by the sound of pealing church bells, or maybe jingling sleigh bells. You can hear it, too, right? You know, like in old movies; the page tears away to DECEMBER 1 and the scene opens on the month of merriment.

Among my favorite things about this season are the lights. As soon as Halloween is over, I start looking for a house that has the outdoor lights ready to go. There’s one in every neighborhood. And although we’ll say, “OH, WAAAAY too early! What are they thinking?!?” I regard it as a herald of things to come and am secretly glad to see those little twinkles in the darkness.

Every weekend thereafter other houses will get decked out, especially if the weather is good (“Got to get those lights up before the weather turns bad.”) until December arrives, and houses throughout the neighborhood will sparkle with everyone’s personal interpretation of the holiday light display. Some are modest and polite, some ghastly and totally over the top, and everything in between. We once had across-the-street neighbors who draped their house in thousands of red lights. It was so glaringly red it seemed to throb like an infected wound. They had a tiny sound system that played “Jingle Bell Rock” until 3 am in kind of tinny, high-pitched “nee-nee-nee, nee-nee-nee, nee nee nee nee…” sounds that would hurt a dog’s ears and our power dimmed every time they put their lights on. It was tasteless, but you had to give them points for spirit.

I think there is something totally magical about illuminating the night at this cold, dark time of year. Ken and I usually go on a light tour one or two nights before Christmas. Up streets and down again, looking for the most spectacular display. It might be one of those houses with various figures of clashing scale – like a giant penguin beside a teeny-tiny Santa and reindeers beside a bunch of those half-sized, wire framed, animated deer beside those colossal blow-up Snoopies. Or a house with the giant fir tree out front decked from top to trunk in colored lights. Or a street where a dozen houses in a row are all lit up like, well, like a Christmas tree. We’ll go home again and make cocoa or pour a glass of Port feeling like we’ve had a great evening of cheap entertainment.

So now that December is upon us, we flipped the switch on the clear twinkle lights that trace our house outline. I hung the wreath on the door and stuck some greenery in the planters on the front steps. A lot of neighbors around us decorated their houses this weekend as well, just in time for our city of Oakwood’s charming tradition. Events like this always remind me how lucky we are to live here. I mean, you’ve got to love a place that holds a community festival in the park, including hay rides, music and Christmas tree lighting, and has City workers line the boulevards on two major streets with “luminaria.” Oakwood encourages residents to do likewise at curbsides in front of their houses and even hands out the white bags filled with sand to be lit from within by candles.  Every house on our entire street had “luminaria” out after dark last night. We stood back, our eyes all aglow. Our hearts as well.