Monday, November 28, 2011

Sands of Time

Sand collected in Egypt, 1977

"Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;"
-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

No one has left bigger footprints in the sand than the ancient Egyptians. With relatively narrow bands of arable land bordering the the Nile, they built most of their great monuments in the desert.

Reading Nighthawk's interview of Khasekh from Asenath (by Anna Patricio, Imajin Books) reminded me of one of the most memorable of our family trips.When I was eighteen, we took a cruise down the Nile. By "we" I mean my mother, father, sister, four cousins, aunt, uncle and Nana. The eleven of us made up about a third of the passengers on the boat. Maybe a half. It wasn't a big boat.

We flew to Aswan and cruised north to Cairo. It was the most amazing trip I almost didn't take. Foolishly, I considered staying home alone so I could assert my independence. Yeesh! Talk about young and foolish. I changed my mind - just in time - and got to assert my independence by sharing a cabin with a forty-something divorcee named Ursula. After the onboard Egyptologist lectured us on the temples and monuments we would be visiting, Ursula lectured me on the importance of moisturizers and what OLAY meant.

If you've ever watched The Mummy (1999), our boat looked exactly like the one they travelled on, minus the horses. All the places they visit in the Mummy Returns (2001) - excepting the oasis with the diamond topped pyramid - we visited. Watching the movies is like home movies with an adventure thrown in. When I'm old and senile, I'll probably tell my grandkids how I collected sand from Hamunaptra - The City of the Dead.

In fact, I'm not sure where in Egypt I scooped up the sand that resides in the bottle above. It might have been after our camel ride. I would have been very appreciative of sand beneath my feet by then.

Monday, November 21, 2011

I Love a Parade

November 20, 2011

I have many happy childhood memories of this season: riding the Queen streetcar downtown to see the decorations in the Simpson's window; throwing up in the street car; having a panic attack on the escalator. I was convinced I was small enough to fall down the slats. Yes, I was very young at the time.

Is it any wonder we always watched the Santa Claus Parade on TV? My mother could only handle so much excitement.

I didn't watch many parades, but I did march in them. I felt the cold wind blow up my kilt marching with the high school band. I played string bass in the concert band, which meant I got to play cymbals in marching band. With the bass drum, the cymbal players kept the beat. To this day I start walking in step when I hear the beat and I anticipate the music when I hear the snares go "ratta-tat, ratta-tat" followed by "clash-clash-clash".

November 1992?
Later I marched in the Guelph Santa Claus parade in a completely different uniform (that's me on the far right) as Captain Bruce of the USS Welfen. The parade finished up close to home, so my roommate (far left) and I would have the gang back for chili and mulled cider after the parade. Those times bring back many happy memories and a little residual gas.

It wasn't until my son joined cadets that I actually watched a parade from the sidelines. Remembrance Day Parade, Santa Claus Parade, Battle of the Atlantic Memorial Parade (he's a Navy League Cadet) and even the Fergus Highland Games Parade one year. Now Sam is in the Sea Cadet band. He plays the mellophone, not cymbals, and wears pants, not a kilt, but I feel a circle has been closed.

I still feel the beat (left, left, left-right-left) and still get that thrill of anticipation (ratta-tat, ratta-tat, clash-clash-clash). What can I say? I love a parade.

Cadet Band - November 20, 2011

Sunday, November 13, 2011


Build Your Own Burrito

One of our favourite family meals is burritos. There’s just one little problem. Among the people who regularly eat at my home, I have a niece who is vegetarian, a son who doesn’t like vegetables visibly mixing with his protein, a good friend who can’t eat onions, garlic and bell peppers, and a daughter who would become a vampire except for the no-garlic rule. That doesn’t even count the spicy (me and my kids) and mild (everyone else) camps.

It started long before burritos. When I was taking care of my sister I learned to make build your own everything because I couldn’t make a meal to satisfy everyone. My older niece went through a foods cannot touch phase and was vegetarian for a while before her younger sister took over. My son would only eat plain noodle with soya sauce, peanut butter sandwiches and KD.

I went from being the queen of the one pan meal - a title I held throughout my pre-kid years - to being the master of the Do It Yourself dinner. Everything was cooked separately and served buffet-style.

Thank the hearth goddess that the kids grew out of that phase eventually. I can now make a pasta dish and only worry about keeping the meat separate - not even that if my nieces aren’t over. Still, smiles abound when I announce it’s BYOB night. On the off-chance it will bring a smile to your face, here are my super-simple recipes.

The Meat
I like getting a family-sized lot of hamburger meat and cooking it up all at once. Then we have leftovers for sloppy-joe and nacho lunches.
  • Cook hamburger at medium-high so that it browns as well as cooks through
  • Drain off any excess fat
  • At a medium-low heat, continue to cook hamburger while adding to taste: ketchup, tabasco sauce, soya sauce, cayenne, paprika, sage, chili powder. (I made my own barbeque spice so that there’s no onion or garlic in it) or use a bottled barbeque sauce your family enjoys.

The Beans
  • Saute finely chopped onions until brown and transluscent
  • Take a can of red kidney beans or bean medley, drain, rinse then add it to the onion.
  • Add barbeque spice (see above)
  • Smush the beans as they cook. (Sometimes I blend them so the kids don’t realize what beans I’m using. Mostly I don’t because except for my vegetarian, they won’t touch the beans.)

  • Grated cheese - Monterey Jack is best or mix Mozzarella and Cheddar
  • Guacamole - should be made fresh 
  • Salsa - from the store or made fresh
You can find my recipes for salsa and guacamole at

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Happy 50th Birthday Joey

That's my sister on the left.

My parents gave me a 35mm camera for my graduation gift and I was going a bit nutsoid taking photos. Better to be behind the camera, is my motto. Obviously I had taken one too many of Joanne when she gave me that look.

That's her "big sister look:. Her daughter Sophie has it down pat. Joanne - or Joey as I called her - was technically my little sister. She was younger and shorter than me. That didn't stop her from taking over the big sister role somewhere around her second year of high school.

It was in her second year of high school that Joey joined the Drama Club and stage managed her first show. It was a farce - I remember that much. The next two shows were more memorable. She staged managed Charlie's Aunt and You Can't Take It With You. By then I was at Ryerson and didn't feel quite as immediately overshadowed by my sister.

At least we were never in Band together. I played upright bass in the Senior Band. She played alto sax in the Junior Band. I'm not sure if she was a better musician than me. She was better at performing though. And she loved her sax. By the way, a big thank you to Brooke McEldowney for his Sunday edition of  9 Chickweed Lane - not that I think he was aware of the tribute.

The big sister schtick continued after high school. I graduated from university first, but Joey married and had kids first. The big sister look had nothing on her "I'm your mother, that's why look."

Joey always gave the appearance of confidence that I couldn't match. I know now that she didn't always feel that sure of herself, but she could fake it 'til she could make it. I remember her teaching me how to schmooze at networking breakfasts we went to when we were starting to promote BelleFare Communications. She made it look so easy.

Even when she was flat on her back, cancer making bones increasingly fragile, Joey radiated strength. I was her caregiver and helped mother her children and well as my own. She still ruled the roost. Like any good "big sister" she felt she knew what was best for me. One thing she got absolutely right - I needed to be writing. So she organized time for me to do that and she insisted I had to be serious about it. This time I was going to get published.

Yesterday was the book launch for Under A Texas Star (and Rowena Throught the Wall and Cheat the Hangman). We had it at the Wooly. Ten years ago, we were celebrating Joey's fortieth birthday there.

My friend and current boss, Garry Ryan, was quoted in the Calgary Herald saying: “I set myself a goal to have a novel published by the time I was 40 and it happened when I was 50.”

I managed to have my first novel published in time for Joey's 50th birthday. She only made it to age 42, but I'm still counting the birthdays and this one was a landmark.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Midnight Ramble

Shadows dance across the trees,
of things that you can not see.

The feeling of an evil power,
beware, it's now the witching hour.

From the Witching Hour by Makala Shay

Happy Hallowe'en

The midnight hour is almost upon me as I write this. My kids are snug in their beds with dream of Snicker Bars and Cheetos dancing in their heads. Somewhere, Linus is waiting for the Great Pumpkin. I'm contemplating the turning of the year.

In Celtic tradition, this is new year's eve. The old year has seen its harvest. The seeds of the new year are sewn in the frost. Winter isn't the death of the year, it's the gestation period before Spring is reborn.

Hallowed Evening is the crossroads and anything is possible at the crossroads. That's where ghosts of loved ones appear and demons can break through. Most of our Hallowe'en traditions stem from tricking or appeasing demons and evil spirits.

Ghosts have haunted me in the past. The ghost of my mother-in-law was the scariest - but only because her son was so sick and seeing ghosts under such circumstances is a little worrying. The ghost of my friend Allen was a comfort. I was at his funeral at the time and I felt he was satisfied. The first ghost I ever saw was my grandmother. I was six or seven at the time. She came to say good bye. When my mother told me the next morning that Grandma had died in the night, I already knew.

I've never seen a ghost on Hallowe'en... excepting kids in costumes.

The Witching Hour is upon me.

Some say the Witching Hour is three in the morning. That's the Devil's Hour. (I read somewhere that more people commit suicide at 3 am than any other time. All I know is that if I wake up at three, I have a devil of a time getting back to sleep.) Officially it's November 1. Generally I don't have a problem with midnight being the end of the day. Hallowe'en is different. The new day (and new year) awaits the dawn. Until then (and making allowances for the fact that I'm technically agnostic):

From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!