Friday, December 28, 2007

Snowy days

After a brief warming of temperatures on Christmas eve and Christmas day, which gave us some rain, we're back to the cooler temps and lovely puffy snow.

Some little grey juncos were out and about, but they were alone at the feeder this a.m. This guy is so cute in his little "tuxedo". :)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

I'm on the BBC!

How very cool is this?! On BBC Leicester, one of my forget-me-not photos is featured on a very sweet article about a dying mother making a memory book for her young son.

It's a great honour to be featured on the BBC!

Check it out here!

Time to Check Your Spices!

This is a fantastic ad I saw in one of my women's magazines a couple of months ago, hilarious AND informative:

Especially for this time of year, it's important to chuck out your old spices and get some fresh ones. I know, I find it difficult to throw away something I haven't finished using, but really - using something really old and flavorless isn't going to do your cooking justice, now is it? I have a lot of old ones I have to get rid of...

Check out McCormick's awesome site regarding spice freshness. Only one note: they have a visual display of old bottles (if you have this bottle, it's too old) - but here in Canada, we're still using the bottle from the '90s in America. So don't chuck your bottles if they look like that and you're Canadian! :D

Spices are often at sale prices at this time of year, so take advantage! Do your cooking a favor!

Surprise Winter Freeze

Beautiful frozen dew on the trees this morning, sparkling in the sunshine! You can even see the sunbeams streaming through the tree branches. Lovely morning!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A Sweet, CHILLY Christmas Journey in honour of Grandma

An amazing journey for one family, all the way up to Tuktoyaktuk to honour their Grandmother's dying wish. They're bringing a little tree she got while in palliative care to live near the area of the Trans-Canada trail that she sponsored. But Grandma's wish was not as straighforward to accomplish as it initially sounded! Read the whole story from the CBC here.

Monday, December 17, 2007

A Pickle in the Christmas Tree

The German Christmas tradition that Germans don't know about

A few years back, I made pickle ornaments out of polymer clay for myself and my best friend. Yes, I said pickle. As in, a little dill pickle - gherkin style. Shiny and green. I had read about it, and it sounded like a really fun Christmas tradition of German origin. Once the tree is decorated, you hide the pickle ornament on the tree, then let the kids search for it. The first one to find it gets a special small present. Fun! My friend's kids LOVED it, and now look forward to the pickle decoation every year!

Once I heard about it, I found several references to it on Nova Scotia websites as part of Christmas festivities - a large percentage of our population on the South Shore are of German ancestry (as am I), so it seemed like a great way to get in touch with my roots.

But, just when I had settled in nicely with this new-to-me tradition (seeing a pickle hanging on a tree is really quite hilarious, I get a real kick out of it every time my eye catches it), I found this article. It turns out that Germans don't know about this tradition!! So now, no one knows how it started!

It's still fun, and I'll still do it, but with the knowledge it's not as old a tradition as I thought! :)

Read the entire article here, it's very enlightening: German gherkin ornament puts historians in a pickle

Want your own pickle ornament? This shop has a fantastic assortment, made of glass, sure to become a treasured family tradition: Christmas Decorations and Gifts Store.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Ready for Snow

It's been such a fantastic winter so far here! The last few years, it's been so unnaturally warm, we've had nothing but rain 'til February. But now, it's as I remember the weather years ago: crisp and cold - and whenever there's precip, it's snow! So pretty. :) It's lovely after a light snow overnight - the little puffs of snow exploding off a branch as tiny birds take off look so cute!

Nice and sunny yesterday morning, and beautiful today - but we're getting a 1-2 punch of storms over the next 48 hours, starting this evening. Glad I don't have anyplace to go!

All this snow puts me in the Christmas spirit much more than drizzle and rain!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Cute Christmas Craft

Found this very cute Christmas craft ornament in our local paper today, by Lori Pittman. Check out all the how-to details here.

Monday, December 10, 2007

More Christmas Cookies

What says Christmas more than this?

Mmmm...cookie dough in a log, ready for cutting into cookies! Check out the recipe for these fantastic cookies, and why I make this recipe every year!

But now, we have lots of cookies. Lots and lots and lots. And they will be eaten, oh yes. I don't even want to think about how many pounds this will add...gotta get out for exercise more...but it's so much more fun staying in and baking cookies! :D Besides, it's Christmas! We don't get to eat these buttery treats the rest of the year. :)

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Holiday Anguish Cheer - Simple tips to keep your celebrations on track, Part III

Welcome to my third and final installment of helpful hints to assist you this holiday season! Today I'll be covering:

Recipes and Food Preparation

Write it down. On the big day, write out the baking/cooking times for each of your recipes, AND the oven temperatures. Figure out what dishes can be cooked together at the same temperature. Make sure you give yourself a little extra cooking time if you've got the oven stuffed full. Then convert the baking times to actual clock values: that way, you know the exact time you need to put each dish in. I introduced this idea a few years ago to my mother, and she was really impressed with how much more smoothly things went!

Having a menu written out is good. Not just to help you stay on track with what you're preparing, but because you can run over it quickly just before serving, and see if you forgot anything! I can't tell you the number of times we've forgotten the buns or the cranberry sauce. There they are, sitting in the fridge, or the nuker, and when dinner's all over and we're cleaning up, we find them! Augh!

The microwave is your friend. Anything that can be made ahead, should be! A quick reheat and you're off to the races. Stove Top brand stuffing (my favorite) can be made entirely in the microwave! That's a great help on the big day, believe me.

Need some ideas for freezable foods that would be handy to have on hand (not just on the big day, but throughout the busy holiday season)? The MommySavers forum has some great ideas!

Now is not the time to try a recipe for the first time. It's been said before, but I'll reiterate it here: If you want to do something new, practice it at least a couple of times before the big day. It is WAY too much pressure to try something new - too much disaster potential!

Instead of doing one big turkey, do two smaller ones. This was a great hint I read in a magazine a while back. They take less time to cook than a large bird, and you can carve one up for serving, and still have one complete one to bring for display on the table.

Don't be afraid to let others help. If a guest wants to bring a dessert or a salad, it's a win-win - they feel good about helping, and you get one less thing to worry about - except finding a spot in the fridge for it. But be sure that who is bringing what is sorted out in advance of the big day - and remind them the day before to ensure you don't end up salad-less.

Don't feel badly about buying some pre-made foods. For example, at our house, we're not huge fans of holiday fruit cake. But I do like to have a little bit of it during the holidays (with a nice cup of tea...mmmm). So I buy a small brick of it from the store - I get a taste of what I like, without having to do through the huge effort of making it myself. There's a lot of great premade products out there made by small local companies - give them a try and save yourself some time without sacrificing quality and taste.

Hope these hints will help you as much as they've helped me in the past! Have a great holiday season!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Snow Day!

Thank goodness, we've had 2 snows this year so far - last year, it was so freakishly warm, we didn't have any until late January! THIS is more like winter - so I'm not complaining! :)

Last night, Casey made a giant snowball around her favorite rock. :)

This morning, Casey and Lila (who stayed home for the day) were out with Dave, playing toss the stick and frisbee - a good time was had by all, even though the stick and frisbee were frequently lost! :)

Monday, December 03, 2007

James Barber has passed on

This is so sad!! James Barber, the "Urban Peasant", has died at the age of 84.

I watched his cooking show on the CBC for years and years when I was younger: he definitely was a big inspiration for me. He was such a casual cook, cooking with what he had on hand: I learned to be experimental and not afraid to play around with food, adjusting things to taste on the fly to make a unique, delicious dish.

He was so fun to watch, he'd always be drooling by the end of the show, heh heh.

He will really be missed. Fortunately, he left behind a number of cookbooks! And a number of inspired cooks, I'm sure.

Read his obituary, and check out his website too.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Cookies, Donairs, and Christmas Daddies

Christmas Daddies, our wonderful Maritime charity helping poor kids at Christmas, is having their great telethon right now - the time when many, including myself, do some Christmas baking! My cookies turned out great - but the decorating...well...I think I need to do some serious practice. For now, they are frosted rather roughly. Oh well, close your eyes and eat 'em. :D

And just now, Bash Toulany came on with what he donates every year for auction on the show: a mega-normous pizza, and a super-incredibly long donair! The staff and people running the telethon will get to eat these ones, but he will make another couple with whatever toppings you want. Every freakin' year he brings out this stuff that looks SOOOOOOOO GOOOOOOODDDDD, we used to just drool at the tv. Then we realized, we really need to head on down to our local pizzaria and get ourselves our own donairs! So that's become our tradition - first, cookie baking, then followed up with a donair supper! Yippeee!!

So thank you Bash, for your awesome donation to our family tradition, and of course the fantastic donation to the Maritime's favorite Christmas charity!

The auctions for some amazing stuff, from a Sidney Crosby jersey, to beautiful furniture, to a gorgeous Canadian diamond ring, are still going on now, get in on the fun and help a great cause!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

New Nova Scotia Ad Campaign hits home

If you're not from here, you may not realize it, but a lot of Nova Scotians (and Maritimers in general) are going out west to big-paying jobs working the oil sands, etc. However, that has left us with a lot of job positions being unfilled here (I've not seen that a whole lot, but I hear it on the news all the time). So the government has launched a new billboard campaign in large cities west of here to remind people of all the good things that "home" has to offer. They have arrows pointing East, with the nearest TransCanada highway marker, and words like "ocean" and "family" - but the one that's talked about the most is the one saying "donairs".

As I mentioned before, Nova Scotia is the home of the donair, and boy do we Bluenosers miss it when we leave! So this new ad campaign is really popular!

Something we hear all the time here (regarding Toronto and gyros), and is reiterated in the article, is the following:

"Lynn Poirier says: 'Try to explain to the people in T.O. the goodness of a donair from Nova Scotia. A donair is not a gyro. You can only get a real donair in Nova Scotia. The sign helps, I can now say, ‘See, I told you,’ and they get it. I really only come home for the donairs. Well, not really, but it is a bonus.'"

So, hugs to all you fellow Nova Scotians who are missing home right now!

Read the whole article here.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Holiday Anguish Cheer - Simple tips to keep your celebrations on track, Part II

Welcome to Part two of my three part series, offering some of my best tips for trying to simplify your holiday celebrations! (Missed part one? Click here). Today, I'll be tackling aspects of Gift Giving.

Use a gift book.
I make entries in a record book of all the gifts I give, and to whom, every Christmas. I stuff the receipts inside the book as well, and when I dig the book out the following year, dispose of the receipts (if I haven't needed to return an item by then, I probably won't ever need to). It's great to have an "at-a-glance" way to see everything left to buy, and to retrieve receipts when necessary. It's also good to add comments about gifts you've given. If it appears a person really loved something, make a note of it - and vice versa. If a gift went over badly, or you sensed the person didn't enjoy it (eg. you buy them a purse and find out a few months later she gave it to someone else), make a note of it, that in future it might not be a good idea to buy that person fashion items.

Consider the Clutter-Free gift
Let's face it: many of us suffer from too much "stuff". When you're overburdened with "stuff", you have trouble finding the things you really treasure, among all the "unnecessaries". Do you really want to contribute to someone else's clutter? Probably not.

Flylady is the Queen of Clutter-free living - terribly inspirational, definitely check out her website and get inspired! She has a great list of clutter-free gifts for people like teachers, clergy and others for whom you may want to choose a gift, but also want to give something that won't contribute to their "stuff".

The best part about clutter-free gifts (besides them being clutter-free!) is that they're usually pretty quick and easy to do, without being "cheap" looking. Donating in a friend's name to their favorite charity only takes a few minutes (check out my list of great charities). Buying colored pencils and crayons for a teacher (often they have to buy supplies for the classroom out of their own pocket) can be done during a regular shopping trip - no specialty store visit required.

If you decide to go the charity route, there are some charities that offer a little stuffed animal in return for your donation. So you could donate money to sponsor a Polar Bear, and get a small stuffed toy for under the tree, along with some info about the animal who will be helped by the donation.

Unique Do It Yourself Gifts
Head on over to the MommySavers Boards for tons of fantastic present ideas you can make yourself! And they don't all require you to be super-handy with a sewing needle either (mercifully!)!

If you want to keep the presents simple, avoid the malls. I know this isn't easy for most people, but truly: out of sight is out of mind. I had to go into the city the other day, and almost had a brain cramp when I went through the malls - and I wasn't even shopping! There were just SO many booths with "Stuff" that all looked interesting and fun and ideal...but ideal for what? When I got home and thought about what I had seen, I knew that none of it was stuff that we really needed, and the majority of it would have ended up being tossed aside in only a few months anyway. One or two little "fun" items are fine, but these things can get out of hand so fast. So for me, it's much better to save that money for something more meaningful and fun, like a movie and junk food date with my boyfriend! :)

Buy staple wardrobe items ASAP. Everyone buys underwear and socks for the holidays. But I highly recommend going out now and getting them. If you wait till the weeks before Christmas, the racks are stripped almost bare, and you get no choice of colors - you're lucky to get the right sizes. So buy the underwear and socks NOW.

Joint Gifts.
If you're good friends with someone, why not come up with a joint gift you can give each other? For example, you and your best girl friend can make a date to go together to a day spa. Spend quality time relaxing while getting a pedicure and massage (get a baby sitter to look after the kids - a babysitter who, no doubt, will be glad of some extra cash for the holidays). Guys can go to a pub to watch a pay-per-view event, or go watch a favorite sporting event together, which they may not get the opportunity to do all that often. These are gifts you get too!

Stay tuned for Part III, Recipes & Food Preparation...

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Celebrating Old Chicken Strains

At the University of Alberta, they're celebrating the 50th "birthday" for a genetic strain of broiler chicken. They saved the strain, to ensure the current (1957) version of the broiler would live on, unaltered, while the chickens sold in stores would continue to change and evolve.

It's similar to the Seeds of Diversity program, and others like it around the world, that preserve old (heritage) strains of seeds - not only to save their unique flavours (that are sometimes lost in modern strains), but as a backup in case some virulent disease should wipe out modern strains. The more strains you have a record of, the safer the food supply is.

But wow, have these chickens changed! Check this out:

Seriously, modern chickens look pretty damn freaky! It looks like it has a hormone problem or something - but, this is just an average bird from today, so big breasted, it can barely stand!

I dunno, Dave always buys the smaller breasts (when he has the choice), because he finds the smaller ones more flavorful. It makes you wonder if there's only so much "flavor" per chicken, but when they get bigger, they don't necessarily get more flavorful. No scientific basis here, just personal opinion. :)

Like some plants - roses, for instance - maybe the change is at the cost of another prized aspect. Modern roses are way more disease resistant than their ancestors - but, the scent of modern roses are faint compared to the way they used to smell. Unfortunately, we still don't know enough about genetics to ensure disease resistance AND strong scent - but maybe we will in the future! Until then, though, it's good to hold on to genetic samples of heritage farm animals and plants.

Learn more about the birthday party for these "old" chickens, here.

If you're interested in learning more about the Poultry Research Centre at U of Alberta, go here.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

So this is where we are...

He's back from his trip to the vet. And he's not talking to us.

Right now he's under my bed, and crying. He finally peed...after holding it all night and all the carrier. Oh well, at least it's easy to clean. :) He was pretty good at the vet's too. We think we might have made a mistake with Peepers - we had thought bringing him directly from outdoors to the vet's would be less traumatic, but he totally freaked out and destroyed the back area. Pretty Kitty spent only one night under a people-roof, and at the vet's he was totally calm! Allowing the vet to examine him, and even take his blood calmly! The only time he panicked was when he accidentally tipped the weighing scales - it made a noise, and he spent the next 30 seconds trying to climb shelves and knocking all the pamphlets in their plastic containers on the ground, making more noise and freaking him out more. Dave finally caught him, and only had to bleed a little for his trouble.

But, it's all over now. Aside from a little heart murmur, which Baby Boy has too, he seems in good health. We've got a dewormer for him, and next week he'll be able to go in and get the Big Snip. His blood tests came back negative (Hooray!), so we're starting to introduce him to the rest of the family. He came out from under the bed briefly and met Peepers, which went okay. Peeps hissed a bit, but after a nose-to-nose sniff, nothing else happened. Pretty Kitty actually purred while looking at Peepers, so that's good. Hopefully the rest of the meetings will go as smoothly as that one did. We'll see!

Kitty Cat breakdown

So, last night, I couldn't take it any more. Pretty Kitty showed up late, as it was raining for most of the day yesterday. He was wet, and I knew it was going to get cold (The last cold morning, he was so chilly that he ate while pressed up against me to get some heat). So, I said, that's it! I know it's a really bad time - Dave has his play, and I have a job interview on Thursday, but this little guy has to come in now!

The capture itself went weirdly smoothly. Considering he didn't like me touching his body (only his head), he let me pick him up (I was all prepared with leather gloves and a towel - Peepers nearly ripped Dave's head off when we captured him), but Pretty Kitty was completely docile!! We took him to the bedroom - he needs to be segregated from the other cats until he's had his blood test for all of those highly contagious feline diseases. He spent a few minutes trying to get higher up in the room, trying to climb up on bureaus and such. He then chose my bed - and cried. This was really strange, none of the other cats ever cried like this before. I gave him some alone time, then spent the latter half of the evening with him. He spent it pressed up against me, purring. Then came bedtime. Peepers was pretty annoyed at being locked out of "his" bedroom - did everything he could to get in. Weirdo. We let him in briefly, while holding on to the other cat, so there'd be no contact. Then we kicked Peeps out, and he wasn't happy.

Lights out. After a short additional bout of crying, Pretty Kitty did the same thing Peepers did to Dave on his first night indoors - curled up right under my chin, and purred. What a silly cat! Every time I twitched in the night, he'd start up purring again.

Once dawn came, he started to cry again. A lot. Didn't know what to do about that...I let him do it for a bit. When it didn't stop, I picked him up and brought him back to bed, and commenced non-stop petting. He purrs when he's petted, and when he's purring, he can't cry. So, eventually he forgot he was sad, and settled down again.

We have an appointment for him this afternoon (we were able to get in touch with the vet last night, fortunately), so fingers crossed that he'll turn out okay, and we can let him out and about in the house.

I'll keep you all posted!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


Beautiful layering of frost over the world this lovely, definitely wintery!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

First Snow of the Season

It was wild last night - the wind was crazy, and we lost power longer than we did during the post-tropical storm last week (a whole HOUR) ;) So glad Dave made it back safe from the play in the city - he said the drive in was worse than coming back - even though the weather was worse, the roads were clearer later in the evening.

And, as a result of all that woolly weather, we got a light layer of snow - between that and the cooooolllllddd wind, you can say winter's on its way! (I'm glad, really - the last few years it's been mild straight through till December, which just ain't right in these parts!)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

A new additon at the bird feeder

We're expecting a blustery storm tonight - it's been cold, windy and cloudy all day, and tonight we'll be getting rain and even some snow. Well, I can't be too squeamish about the s-word, it IS after Hallowe'en after all. Can't really complain. :)

This morning, these guys showed up - figure they got blown off course from the storm, or thought they'd take shelter. There were only a few - I only saw females, but Dave might have seen a male as well. They are huge compared to the American Goldfinches that have recently returned to our neck of the woods.

Always cool to have new birds at the feeder!

Learn more about the Evening Grosbeak here.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Dave's pic in the paper! :)

Have to brag... :)

Dave's pic is in the local paper for the play he's doing, called Jitters. In fact, as I write, he's getting ready to go on stage for tonight's performance.

Read the article here.

PhotoRama: Peepers the Cat and his new Indoor Life

Thought I'd share some photos to show you all how Peepers (also known as Peeperman, Peeper-man, PeeperDeeper, Peeps, Peeper-cat, and more) is adjusting to indoor life.

It's quite shocking really! Aside from spending all his days lazing on our back deck, he seemed very independent and older when he was outside - but now, he's completely reverted to kittenhood.

He mews in the litterbox when he's having a poo, when Dave is in the washroom and he's outside, and when he's outside our den door, until we invite him in. (The door's open, mind you - he just wants the invite!)

He is truly the sort of cat that inspired the phrase "Curiosity killed the cat" - he jumps up beside the kitchen sink when I'm doing dishes; he sits on the kitchen table, mesmerized, to watch the microwave cook things; he jumps by the bathroom sink while Dave is trying to shave, and walks back and forth under Dave's arms; and a couple of times, he's started to head for the oven when a pot is burbling. He gets chased away from even thinking about that VERY quickly!

He is more "actively" affectionate than any cat we've known. Baby loves to receive affection: he will greet you in the morning, but spends most of the day crashed out on the couch - you have to go to him to pet him. At which point he'll roll over and stretch out to touch you, while you rub his belly. But Peepers will follow you around constantly, rubbing up against your legs as you walk around the house. He'll rub noses with you, and he never really wants to be alone. He's been a joy to have around the house, and is a wonderful addition to our little family!

Baby and Peepers are getting along better! They sleep on the same couch without incident, and only occasionally chase each other a little - no actual tussling though.

Peepers nervous about the bathroom cupboard being open for the first time in his life...I don't think he realized it could open up like that. :)

Peeps and Casey are big-time friends - they are constantly rubbing noses and grooming each other. Adorable!

Dave tries to shave, with a Peeper-cat running along the edge of the sink, back and forth across Dave's chest. Silly boy!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Celebrate Christmas, Ukrainian Style!

Holiday Anguish Cheer - Simple tips to keep your celebrations on track, Part 1

This is my absolute FAVORITE time of the year. Yes, I'm one of those people who put up their decorations and start Christmas cookie baking as early as I can get away with (usually December 1st). But I try hard to pace myself and keep things organized, or else I end up a giant stressball by the time the big day rolls around.

Don't let the stresses and downsides of the holidays ruin all the good times for you! Remember, it really is about the celebration, and feelings of peace and goodwill - and if you're over-exhausted trying to make it "perfect", it'll be nearly impossible to conjure up those feelings for yourself, much less inspire others.

I've got a few hints and tricks that should help things run more smoothly this holiday season, and hopefully leave you time to relax and have fun. I'll cover three overall topics: Organizing & Cleaning House, Gift Giving, and Recipes & Food Preparation. Today we'll cover the first section, Organizing & Cleaning House


Pre-planning is key. Organizing is not difficult, it's just restrictive - but in a good way. It allows you to set up boundaries for what you're going to do, and not do. Write down a detailed list of the things (cleaning, special foods and activities) you think would be nice to do this year. Dig out old Christmas magazines for inspiration (or, if you're like me, dig out your folder of clippings of the best ideas from holiday magazines). Do this at the very start of the season.

Pare down and prioritize.What would make Christmas not Christmas if you didn't do it? For instance, we have a charity telethon on our local TV station every year at the beginning of December (, during which many Maritimers, including myself, bake Christmas cookies. For me, this time set aside listing to local musical talent and baking cookies is truly a must - Christmas would not be Christmas without it! Are there similar rituals and traditions for you? Things like this should be at the top of your list. Prioritize the other items on your iist accordingly. Then, look at your list, and the calendar: if it doesn't look like you have enough time to fit everything in, make some hard choices. Remove some things from the bottom of the list until it becomes do-able. Remember to leave a little extra time spaces for unexpected company, parties, and other obligations.

Now: Stick to this List! If it's not on the list, it is either: a) not done, b) written down as an idea for next year, or c) left until all the other things that are actually on the list are completed. (This excludes, of course, unavoidable accidents like illness - the list comes second to things like these).

Write it ALL down. It is all well and good to say, "I'll remember this". But seriously, you won't! You will remember some things, but by no means all of them. You have to be religious about writing things down. It is a hard habit to get into, but once you are there, you will see how much easier things instantly become, by being written down in a manner that lets you see all of your potential activities and chores lined up at a glance. Make lists for the foods you'll be preparing, the cleaning that needs to be done (more on that below), and all of your activities.

Regarding Cleaning...

Do anything early that can be done early. For instance, we have a lot of woodwork in the house - the first week of December we will oil them down to give them a nice shine. If you have similar things that can be done early, like deep-cleaning the carpets, do it at the beginning of December. Things like that will still look good for the holidays, but taken off the to-do list early (which is what you want!)

Leave out cleaning that won't be noticed. Eg: Washing down cupboards. Unless they're god-awful, leave that for spring cleaning. This is where having a regular decluttering schedule is really helpful. If you don't, and run out of time to declutter, you may have resort to drastic measures: toss all the crap in some empty boxes and hide it in the spare room. I've heard of people hiding stuff in the tub and closing the shower curtain, but one curious guest peeking could lead to embarrassment. Best to have a room you can close (and possibly lock!) the door to.

Cleared-off countertops and tables instantly make a place look neater. Decorations on the walls and doors are fine, but keep in mind that often "less is more". A couple of richly decorated areas are attractive, but places like coffee tables and counters should be cleared off. Put appliances that you won't be needing on the big day (like food processors & blenders) away in a cupboard. I know it might look strange, and you might be so used to clutter there that you think it looks sparse, but it will only look neat and tidy to company.

Stay tuned for Part two, Gift Giving.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Save time this Christmas, AND make a real difference!

You're tired of roaming the malls trying to find the perfect gift, knowing it probably doesn't exist. Even after all the searching, you might end up getting your loved one something that will be worn out in 6 months anyway - and contribute to a pile of clutter they don't need. Ugh!

So maybe this year, you should consider something else...something that won't sit around as clutter but instead would make a huge difference in someone's life. Doesn't that sound more like what Christmas is all about?

And I won't even mention the fact that you don't have to hit the malls to do this... :)

I've chosen some wonderful charities that are personal favorites of mine - check 'em out (or choose one of your own faves) and make a donation in your loved one's name that will make the season sparkle more brightly for all involved!

Hope for Wildlife
The woman who runs this place, Hope Swinimer (get it? Hope Swinimer and Hope for Wildlife?!) is a dynamo. The woman LIVES to help wounded or abandoned/orphaned wild animals get rehabilitated. Even with this difficult and constantly heavy workload, she ALWAYS has time to answer questions from the general public regarding their own wildlife issues. We've been in contact with her more than once, regarding getting a humane trap to try and catch one of our cats that got outside (she lends them out for free!), and about a local crow whose wing was broken (can it be fixed? should we try and capture it or leave it be?). She is patient and kind, and a really great person to talk to. When I went over to my parent's house recently, I happened to glance at their list of phone numbers by the phone, and there was Hope's number! They had been in touch with her about wildlife issues too.

Her cause is admirable, and her dedication inspiring. If you want to donate to a worthy animal-related cause, please consider this one!

Learn more about all the work the Foundation does here.

Go to their Donation Page:

World Vision International Catalogue

A perennial favorite with me! They've come up with a great way to really make you feel connected to your donation. It also lets you see just how far a small amount of Western money can go in some developing nations. You can choose to buy a family a goat (to provide milk and cheese, both to eat and to sell), or a pair of rabbits (to breed them, to eat some and sell the meat), or buy a family 10 fruit trees, or buy a school safe water. All of these gifts are very reasonably priced! They also have larger gifts, like wells, that you can buy a share in - several people's donations get pooled together and can build a well for a town. It's a very cool gift idea - imagine telling your friend who has everything that you bought them a goat for Christmas! :)

Kiva - loans that change lives

A simple idea: you loan money to a person in a developing nation who has a small business that needs money to expand (generally an amount that would be considered a pittance in the West, but to them is an unattainable sum). As they pay the loan back (usually over the course of a year) you get your money back. You can choose from lots of types of businesses: there's everything from a grocery store owner in Paraguay that wants to expand his merchandise to someone wanting to sell an expanded variety of clothing in Azerbaijan. A great way to help people in developing nations support themselves!

Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) International
This organization won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999. An organization of heroes - men and women who spent years training in medicine. They could stay home and make a fortune in cushy surroundings. But instead, these brave doctors go to some of the most dangerous areas in the world to give medical aid - medicines, surgeries and everything in between - to people in most desperate need. Whether in war, or massive natural disaster, these people will work in horrid conditions to bring health and survival to the people they treat.

Donation page:

An American site that allows people to donate to various projects that public school teachers have created as great learning experiences for their students, but lack the funds to carry out. Everything from buying a projector for a science class to buying props to help illustrate proper food portion size for good health, and everything in between. Look up your favorite subject, and you'll likely find a project relating to it. Help some kids get a richer educational experience!

Blankets of Love Foundation

(snail mail donation only)
People in the grips of depression and other mental illnesses need comfort more than most. Some of these people have been abandoned by their families, and feel abandoned by society. This great charity gives them a bit of personalized comfort, in a physical form that they can touch and hold on to. Here's a quote from one of the recipients:

"One day Bob came in and gave me this special quilt and told me it was made just for me to help me get through my dark days with depression. I cried and couldn't believe someone would make something so nice for me. I bring my Blanket of Love with me each time I go back to the Hospital."
-- Sarah

To donate financially, click on her "Contact" link in the left sidebar for more info. To donate a quilt, click on her "How to Participate" link.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Update on Noel (post tropical storm/hurricane/whatever)

Well, we got away pretty well. We did the basic prep of getting rid of anything in the yard that could become a projectile, filled the bathtub with water (our well only works with electricity - if the power goes out, we lose our toilet! We need that water to flush!), and we had a supply of drinking water and canned goods. We didn't really go overboard in our prep, because Noel wasn't going to be even hurricane strength by the time it reached us. Last night was the worst of it, driving rain and such wind! We lost a birch tree out back, but nothing else seems to be damaged. We lost power at some point during the night, but it's back now - I guess over 100,000 people in Nova Scotia don't have their power right now, though, so we feel really lucky.

It's still so very windy outside! I can hear it howling even now. But at least the rain has passed.

If I ever can, I'll post my reminicences sometime about "Juan", the worst hurricane to hit NS in living memory, a few years back. We've had hurricanes, but never like this! The ocean was still so warm, it had lots of fuel to kick our butts, and it did! The experience totally mentally scarred this household, and I'm sure many others. Unfortunately, with climate change/global warming, we're likely to get more such hurricanes in the future.

But, all's well for now, we survived another one! :)

Saturday, November 03, 2007

New Pysanky Discussion Forums!

I've created a new discussion forums area off of my site, for all those interested in this ancient art form. C'mon by and have a chat with other people who love pysanky as much as you do!


Thursday, November 01, 2007

Hallowe'en Wrap Up

We had a record-breaking turnout at our house this year - 49 kids! Wow! Fortunately we didn't run out of candy. Unfortunately, we didn't run out of candy - this is bad news for the household waistlines. :)

I was surprised at the number of older kids out and about this year - there were only a handful of small kids - most were early to mid teens. I know some people don't like older kids trick or treating, but I don't really mind. You're only young once, and you can only go out on Halllowe'en for a few years in your whole life - plus the fact that there's no set in stone cut-off age, it can be difficult for kids to give it up. Plus, Hallowe'en really is fun! All the older kids I saw put a lot of thought into their costumes, this wasn't a last minute candy-grab deal for them.

A wide range of costumes this year - not too many off-the-rack ones, which was nice to see. Several bunnies, a few princesses (ah, but only one knight - that makes it tough for the princesses) :), and a surprising number of zombies (haven't seen many of those around the last few years). There were even a few harlequins, which was quite unique. The most unique costume was an older teen in a homemade costume, dressed as a Mario cube/box/square (something like that) - I had to ask him what he was. :) I must have looked puzzled, so he sung the Mario tune for me - I think at that moment, I winced slightly. Not because of his singing, he did that really well - but because I realized that aside from the word "Mario", I didn't understand a thing he said. And I felt in my very bones how old I am. I'm not even 40 yet but am so out of touch with a lot of "what's hot". :) Reminded me of the scene in the Simpsons where Grandpa was talking to a young Homer and Barney, telling them "I used to be with 'it', but then they changed what 'it' was. Now what I'm with isn't 'it' anymore"... Heh heh heh, oh well.

So, aside from feeling my age, Hallowe'en was great! :)

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Hallowe'en is here again!

I saw the yellow moon slowly rising late last night - clouds skipped across its surface, and the wind carried a few remaining autumn leaves through the air. A new neighbour was burning brush earlier in the evening, calling to mind Pagan autumn rituals of old. Hallowe'en time has definitely come!

Candy: check.
Pumpkin (a plug in kind): check
Clean and neat front door area: check
Hallowe'en pumpkin earrings: wearing
Welcoming smile: ready to go

Yup, I'm ready! I'm leaving the candy packed until about 4 o'clock - getting it out early just leads to a candy lunch, candy mid-afternoon snack, candy supper - you get the idea. :D

Kids usually start to arrive after 5 o'clock - I really look forward to seeing the costumes every year! I saw one of the little wee ones on our street (she's about as big as a minute) trying out her costume the other day - a little ladybug! It was all I could do not to run over squealing with glee! Adorable.

Even with all the premade costumes available now, kids can still be very creative - I remember one year a group of girls came dressed as "the farm": one girl was the farmer, with cute freckles painted on her face, her hair in braids, wearing a cowboy hat and overalls, and one of the other girls was dressed like a cow. It was really cute!

I bought a little pair of fairy wings for Casey this year...I'll get a pic later and post it. :)

Have a fantastic night, everyone!

(To learn more about Hallowe'en, check out Wikipedia).

Sunday, October 28, 2007

A Sweet Story of Childhood Generosity

People often (I like to believe) have generous thoughts. But putting those thoughts into action - that takes a special kind of individual. Check out this great story I read in our local paper today of a child who started off not wanting to brush his teeth, and ended up donating over $80 to a program buying mosquito nets to protect kids from Malaria.

How did he get from A to B? Read the article to find out! :)

Friday, October 26, 2007

Squirrel proof feeders - amusing unintended consequences

I don't think this little guy thought a feeder could become his jail! He could get INTO it okay...but then ate so much once inside that he was too big to get out again!

He had to be rescued with a crowbar...silly squirrel!

Read the full story here:

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Book Review: Out of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens

This is a great cookbook I got for Christmas last year. If you have roots in, or currently live in, Nova Scotia, or if you're just interested in early East Coast settler living, this is a great book to have. I've really enjoyed learning about the different groups of people who settled here, including the French Huguenots and Protestant Germans, of whose lines I descend. And the foods are fascinating! Of course, there were no grocery stores - you ate what was locally available, and nothing was wasted. And you spent a great deal of time in the fall preserving foods for the long winter ahead.

Among the more interesting informational tidbits: wild ducks have a "fishy" taste to them (I didn't know that) - to get rid of it, parboil the duck with a peeled carrot inside it 15 minutes, then remove the carrot and soak the duck in fresh water for a half hour (pg. 65). And, when you went blueberry picking in the old days, you had to light a small brushfire nearby to keep bears away!

One interesting recipe was for Head Cheese. *shudder* To quote:

Step 1. Cut up the pig's head and remove all the undesirable parts.

Okay, already you've lost me. To me, the entire head is undesirable! I'm thinking this recipe is probably not for me...I don't think a little summer savory is going to save it, either. It is fascinating to read about though, and see how absolutely nothing was wasted (except eyeballs, I guess).

But there's other kinds of "cheese" in this book that sound really delicious, and more in keeping with modern tastes:

Scotch Cheese
Line a pan with cut-up cheese and add chopped onion, using enough to cover the bottom of the pan thinly. Beat 2 eggs with 1 1/2 cups of milk, and pour over the cheese and onion. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Bake in a moderate oven (350 deg F) about 1/2 hour or until dish is set.
© Out of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens

But it's not all turtles in the shell, or wild eels (with instructions on how to skin them) - there's lots of recipes for pies, cakes, meat pies, breads & preserves.

As I've mentioned before, Nova Scotia has a gorgeous wild rose that grows practically everywhere. After the roses are finished blooming, you're left with beautiful rosehips, bursting with Vitamin C (very important for early settlers to avoid scurvy). They have an interesting recipe for rose hip jam that I hope to try sometime.

Rose Hip Jam
2 lbs fresh rose hips
1 1/4 cups water
1 cup sugar (or more)

Remove stems, seeds and blossom ends from rose hips. Wash quickly. Bring to boil and simmer, cover for about 1/2 hour or less, until tender. Strain through a sieve and weight the pulp. Add 1 cup sugar for every pound of pulp. Bring to a boil, stirring continuously, and boil for 10 minutes. Pour into hot sterilized jars, cool and seal (or seal and cool, depends on your sealing method). :)
© Out of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens

I also discovered that Germans made Carrot Pudding instead of the British Plum pudding for Christmas. I'm not a huge fan of the Plum Pudding, but I'm sorely tempted to try Carrot Pudding as a little celebration of my heritage. We'll see! :)

It's really neat to try recipes that have been handed down through Nova Scotian families for a couple hundred years - there's a great feeling of being part of a chain, extending from the past through to the present.

From a cultural and a culinary perspective (but then again, how much of culture IS food?), this book is a highly entertaining and enlightening read.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Litter Box Wars: A Kitten's Revenge

We've been trying to wean the cats off of using the upstairs litter box (in our bedroom....ugh). We cover it with cardboard during the day so they'll head on downstairs, and uncover it at night when Peepers sleeps with us. Dave and I were chatting in the bedroom the other day, and noticed that even though the cardboard was still in place, there was a tiny spray of litter on the outside of the box. We lifted up the edge of the cardboard, and saw that SOMEONE (read: Baby Boy) decided that he could wiggle just his butt under the cardboard and still use the box, and no one would be the wiser. Baby Boy is VERY territorial, he couldn't stand that Peepers has a virtually private box all to himself. What a little jerk.

But that afternoon, Peepers had the last laugh. I went to take a nap, and Peepers wanted to stay with me. I uncovered the box for him in case he needed it, and went to lie down. It sounded like he was digging in the box for 5 minutes or so - I wondered if he was having troubles. I got up to take a look, and saw that Peepers had remedied the "This is Baby Boy territory" situation. He moved all of the litter that Baby had used, or even touched, and created a pile of litter almost half a foot high - OUTSIDE the box!

What petty, petty behaviour on the part of both cats! We love you both, Dudes, no need for squabbles!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Remembering apples on a rainy day

I'm in the middle of writing a big article on getting organized before the holiday season coming up, featuring tips I've found to be very useful. I'll post it sometime in November.

It's a super rainy day outside, so I'm glad to have an indoor activity. :) During a break, I remembered I had wanted to post the pics below, but hadn't gotten around to yet. Now seems like an ideal time...

I was out in the back field last week, collecting long grasses to soften a sheltered area under our deck for Pretty Kitty. I found that one of the old apple trees there, planted over a century ago by a long forgotten farmer, had actually produced fruit! I was so suprised! Beautifully red, gorgeous looking, yet tiny (under 1" in diameter) apples! The small tree was laden with them. I picked a few to take home and give them the ol' taste test. "Maybe I could make a little pie out of them" and other similar thoughts went through my head. They looked so delicious!

Yeah, well, looks can be deceiving. I got home, showed them to Dave, and as I was biting down, he said, "Let me guess, they're terrible", and oh my, they really were! Tough skin and a tartness that was off the scale, almost into bitter territory! Yuck!!

So, no pie. :) I knew that the green crab apples you see on some trees didn't taste very good, but these looked so good.... I'm assuming that with proper care and monitoring of the soil pH etc, that you could make a better tasting apple. (Can't say I know all that much about apple growing, though). If it was on my property, I think I would work on it! It would be worth the effort to make those beautiful little red apples taste as good as they look.

For now though, I'll just look at them and imagine how good they should taste...yum!

Friday, October 19, 2007

eBay Auction: Ornamental Old World Art Piece

I'm selling one of my favorite bold and vibrant original works on eBay.

A bold piece of ornamental art in a circular, mandala like form. Motifs range from ancient Byzantine art to Renaissance European design. Reds, oranges, and blues vie for your attention, yet compliment each other beautifully. Filled with floral and other decorative patterns, it will make a stunning addition to your decor - definitely a conversation-starter!


Get in on the bidding and have this great piece hanging in your own home!

Pretty Kitty: gets frisky

Ouch! I was outside last night, petting the little guy as usual. Got outside a little late, so he had to wait, and I think he was a little worked up. Within a few seconds of my starting to pet him, he got overstimulated and attacked my hands, biting hard and scratching. Ow! It is, unfortunately, par for the course when trying to deal with a feral cat. All you can do is clean your wounds well, and not take it personally.

Cats can get overstimulated in a split second - it's got something to do with their finely tuned nervous system. It can get overloaded and suddenly what felt so good (a nice scritch) turns to almost pain to them instantaneously. And they react violently, wanting you to stop. Just back off and let them be.

Got this pic's Peepers all over again.

Sitting with Pretty Kitty last evening, I got this great photo. Check out this cat's eyes! Aren't they just the most glowing yellow you have ever seen? He's a pretty handsome boy.

And check out these toes! I've never had a cat who had jet black toes. All of my other cats had pink toes with spots and dots of black, but these toes are all black. Adorable! I want to nibble them!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Blog Title Change

Just thought I'd let everyone know I have changed the name of this blog from Ann's Sinister Blog (so named because I'm left handed) to something that more closely reflects the nature of what I write about: Ann's Ruralish Life.

Between the rural countryside and the heart of the city, lies the ruralish life. :)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Photos: An Autumn Stroll - what gorgeous colors!

A spectacular day here on the Eastern shore of Nova Scotia! The 17th is (unofficially, of course - this is just something I've noticed) the height of the fall colors here, and it was sunny and pretty warm out, to boot! I went out for an extended morning walk and got some great photographs of the fall colors - reds and yellows and greens all set against an azure sky. Amazing!