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 day...in 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 morning...so 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 (christmasdaddies.org), 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: http://www.hopeforwildlife.net/donations.html

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: http://www.msf.org/msfinternational/donations/


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 LearnPysanky.com 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!

Link: http://learnpysanky.hyperboards.com/index.php

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! :)