Sunday, 31 August 2014

Travel Broadens the Mind

Yesterday I arrived back from a week-long vacation in New Brunswick where I took my daughter to visit my brother Ern and sister-in-law Gail.  New Brunswick is a largely rural province with only three communities whose population exceeds 50,000: Saint John, Moncton, and the capital of Fredericton.  Its primary industries are forestry, mining, and fishing.  My brother once joked that the best jobs were in forestry, military, or education (the province boasts four top-notch universities) but that's now shifting toward more high-tech and resource-based companies.

One of the main reasons that I've always loved New Brunswick is its beauty.  The province is bounded on two sides by ocean, and experiences some of the highest tides in the world on the Bay of Fundy coast.  The main watershed, the Saint John River, meanders through the rugged Appalachian mountains; it and its tributaries nurture salmon runs and large forests.  In 2011 the river was designated as the Wolastoq National Historic Site of Canada in recognition of the Native American communities that it once sustained.

 Downtown Fredericton from across the river. 

Ern and Gail have a lovely home in the community of Douglas just west of Fredericton, up on a ridge overlooking the river valley.  Their home and my parents' house are a study in contrasts.  While my parents' house was always meticulously decorated, my brother's house has a somewhat haphazard theme with a fair amount of mismatched furniture and country-style accents.  Part of it was due to combining two households, since both were already well established before they purchased the house and moved in together.  The other part was Gail's decorating style; she bought many pieces from local artisans and antique shops.

This caught my eye.  Both the vase and apple ornaments were made locally.

One place known for its ambiance is Casey's Diner on Route 105 (or Route 2 depending on who you ask) in Sheffield, east of Fredericton.  Not only is the food good, but there's a large selection of local crafts for sale. The back of the establishment houses a tiny antique museum that includes a pristine 1950's Chevrolet convertible and a 1940's farm tractor.  And who can forget Harvey's Big Potato Market on the same road in Maugerville with its 15-foot high potato statue?  There are so many unique places to explore in New Brunswick.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Cautionary Travel Tale

I enjoy travelling, and I've generally had pleasant experiences while visiting places far from home.  However in recent times it has become difficult, even dangerous to travel to places that once were relatively welcoming to visitors.  There's a 1948 Bugs Bunny short in which Bugs finds a genie and wishes he could visit Baghdad; he's promptly transported there and treated to a romanticized and stereotypical version of the city that looks nothing like the place it is today.

A long-time family friend was a frequent traveller for his volunteer organization's conferences.  He rarely encountered difficulties during his jaunts, but there was one story he told me that made me think twice about certain exotic destinations.

This particular trip was to Singapore, and one of his connecting flights was through Calcutta, India which is one of the largest cities in the region.  The flight itself wasn't the problem, but the people who boarded the plane there.  According to my friend, these passengers were filthy, noisy, and didn't seem to understand how to use the plane's facilities properly.  After the plane landed in Singapore, there were reports that the interior of the plane had to be practically gutted and disinfected because the Indian passengers had blocked the toilets, soiled their seats, and left trash everywhere.

It wouldn't have surprised me if this were standard practice for Singapore - the health regulations there are so strict that people can be fined hundreds of dollars just for spitting in the street.  However my friend implied that only the flights out of India were treated in such a manner, because the sheer poverty and overpopulation in that country were not conducive to a particularly clean lifestyle.

It's my understanding that general conditions have improved over the last 20 years but I think the closest I'll ever get to Asia is the West Coast.

Sunday, 17 August 2014


Recently I watched a TV show in which a young Shoshone man was trying to help his ailing grandfather get home to the reservation so he could die in peace.  The grandfather lamented that their people had forgotten who they were and didn't want to remember their old stories.

This is one reason why I'm so involved with researching my family history.  I want to remember the stories, to find them and write them down so that future generations will be able to understand where they came from.

My paternal grandmother denied the existence of her extended family for most of her life because she'd had a rift with her mother.  My maternal grandfather rarely spoke about his past because of the horrors he witnessed during the wars in which he served.  Thanks to other family members and the records now available on the Internet, I've managed to piece together their stories, but nothing can substitute for a person telling their own history.

The next time an older relative says "When I was young" please listen to them, before the story gets lost forever.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Maritime Poetry

An upcoming trip to my brother's place in New Brunswick got me thinking about a poem that my mother used to recite to me, as her father had told it to her.  As the years passed I had forgotten all but a few snippets of it.  Since my mother is no longer alive to ask of its source, I turned to the Internet to search for it but came up empty save for a few historical place-names that have been retained from the original Native American descriptions.

Fortunately a fellow researcher on a New Brunswick historical and genealogical forum knew exactly what I was talking about and posted a link.  So I'm re-posting the poem here so I won't forget again. It was written in 1870 by Canadian author James De Mille, and describes various fishing streams in New Brunswick and Maine.  As strange as it might sound, all the names mentioned in the poem are real and many of these places are still known by their Maliseet or Mi'kmaq names. I've been to a few myself.

Sweet Maiden of Quoddy

Sweet maiden of Passamaquoddy,
Shall we seek for communion of souls
Where the deep Mississippi meanders
Or the distant Saskatchewan rolls?
Ah no, in New Brunswick we’ll find it -
A sweetly sequestered nook
Where the swift gliding Skoodawabskooksis
Unites with the Skoodawabskook

Maduxnekeag’s waters are bluer;
Nipisquit’s pools are more black,
More green is the bright Oromocto,
And browner the Petitcodiac.
But colours more radiant in autumn
I see when I’m casting my hook
In the waves of the Skoodawabskooksis
Or perhaps in the Skoodawabskook.

Let others sing loudly of Saco,
Of Passadumkeag or Mistouche
Of Kennebecasis or Quaco,
Of Miramichi or Buctouche;
Or boast of the Tobique or Mispec,
The Musquash or dark Memramcook.
There’s none like the Skoodawabskooksis
Excepting the Skoodawabskook.

Think not that the Magaguadavic
Or Bocabec please the eye.
Though the Chiputneticook is lovely,
That to either of these we will fly.
No. When in Love’s union we’re plighted
We’ll build our log house by a brook
Which flows to the Skoodawabskooksis
Where it runs with the Skoodawabskook.

Then never of Waweig or Chamcook
I’ll think. Having you in my arms
We’ll reck not of Dideguash beauties;
We’ll care not for Pocologan’s charms.
But as emblems of union forever
Upon two fair rivers we’ll look,
While you’ll be the Skoodawabskooksis
I’ll be the Skoodawabskook.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Thursday Treat: Bejeweled Bowtie Soup

On cool days I frequently get out my crock-pot or dutch oven to make soups and stews.  It's heartening to come into a room with a simmering pot from which delicious smells are emanating.  Today's recipe is courtesy of a good friend of mine whom I've known since grade school.  Sorry I don't have a proper picture, it has been a while since I made this myself.

Bejeweled Bowtie Soup

To make this you will need:

Large soup pot or dutch oven with cover
Made-ahead beef and vegetable spaghetti sauce

8 cups water or beef broth
1 cup split peas
1/2 medium turnip, peeled and cut into chunks
2 to 3 carrots, peeled and cut
3/4 cup beef and vegetable spaghetti sauce
A few handfuls of small or medium bow-tie pasta (Farfalle)

Bring the water to a boil in a large soup pot; add the split peas and cover.
Let simmer about 20-30 minutes, until peas begin to soften.
Add vegetables to the pot and continue to simmer another 20 minutes.
Once the vegetables are tender, add the spaghetti sauce and bow tie pasta.
Cook about 20 minutes more, until the pasta is just done. The broth should thicken on its own, and should develop a reddish orange tinge from the blend of split peas and tomato.
Serves 6-8 people.

Bejeweled Bowtie Soup is very filling! It's recommended to serve it in mugs, as a big bowl is too large a portion for kids. It goes well with buttered bread or potato pancakes on the side.

Vegetarian Option:
Make the spaghetti sauce without the meat or simply substitute a can of diced tomatoes for the sauce. If you choose broth instead of water for cooking the peas, use a vegetable based broth.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014


I've been looking for a job for almost two years, since my daughter started school full-time.  I've become a member of at least half a dozen job-search web sites and carefully crafted profiles and resumés to reflect my experience and skill set.  However these sites' search engines frequently present me with listings that are way off the mark.

Project manager.  Customer service representative.  Hardware installer.  Marketing assistant.

I am none of those.  I'm a writer and editor.  Long ago I moved up from a simple data entry clerk to a "Database Support Specialist" and then to "Office Support" which became "Technical Communicator" after I took a certificate program in the same.  But forget about those fancy-schmancy titles that so many companies seem to favour now; at my core I'm a writer.

So why can't I find any positions that match my skill set?

I'm grateful to currently be contributing articles to a web magazine, and I really enjoy it.  My work is supposedly getting good coverage and readership, but this is a six-month intern (non-paying) position with no guarantee that I can expect a referral to a paying job at the end of it.  Plus my husband is looking for work in his field elsewhere - and to be honest I've been strenuously resisting doing the same - and I'm getting increasingly frustrated at not being able to land something appropriate close to home.

People have told me that with my skills I'm not unemployable.  But it's hard to believe that when almost all of my applications, even those to fast food outlets, have gone unanswered.  Perhaps it has been too long.  I chose to leave the workforce to raise our daughter, but now I'm regretting that decision.  It's too hard to get back in once you leave.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Opinions of Foreigners

About a week ago I noticed an article on Google that featured an interview with Danish tourists who were "horrified" by the number of cars on Canadian roads.  Fully half the comments on the article were variations of "the Danish are stupid".

Who are those commenters to judge?  Denmark is a tiny country, about the size of the state of Virginia.  Its extensive train and long-distance bus network gets travelers from one end of the country to the other in a relatively short time.  Its sustainability initiatives are world-class.  So it's no surprise that they might find us "backward".

Besides, many citizens of Europe have no clue about how large Canada really is - or North America for that matter - and how necessary a car is to many people living here because of the sheer distances between places.

When my cousin Graham first came here from England he had landed in South Carolina to visit his fiancée, and then phoned and told us that he would see us "tomorrow".  My father was flabbergasted and told him that it took three days to drive from Conway to Montreal, but Graham insisted that it appeared much closer than that on the map.  He arrived a week later (after making a side trip to Niagara Falls) and the first thing he said was "You were right".

So don't judge a country or its people on the basis of one visit or one article.  There is always more information available if one's willing to look.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Look Beneath the Smile

We lost one of the funniest people in the world today.  The irony is that Robin Williams had battled depression and alcoholism for years and made no secret of it, and yet I find it terribly hard to believe that he would succumb to it even though his calling in life was to make people laugh.

Depression is a powerful illness.  It can cause you to lose who you are and who you were meant to be.  It can be treated with medications but many people don't know that it can also be treated with a simple act of kindness.

A husband could take out the trash that's been piling up for weeks because his wife has reached the point of not caring about their home any more.  Or a wife could do that one thing her husband loves so much for her to do.  A child could do chores the way the parents would if they had done the job themselves.  Friends could realize that their friend is struggling to hide the pain behind the rants and raves that they post daily.

However we as a society see what is only in front of us, but refuse to dig deeper into what's wrong with each other because we are scared we might find out more about ourselves.  Especially about things we try desperately to hide even from ourselves.

Remember today to just look and listen.  You might find a missing piece of yourself that you didn't realize was missing.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

The "Real" Laws

Just a bit of fun today.

Forget Galileo or Newton. Here are the real natural laws.

1. Law of Mechanical Repair - After your hands become coated with grease, your nose will begin to itch or you'll have to pee.

2. Law of Gravity - Any tool, nut, bolt, etc. when dropped, will roll to the least accessible corner.

3. Law of Probability - The probability of being watched is directly proportional to the stupidity of your actions.

4. Law of Random Numbers - If you dial a wrong number, you never get a busy signal and someone always answers.

5. Supermarket Law - As soon as you get in the smallest line, the cashier will have to call for help.

6. Variation Law - If you change lines (or traffic lanes), the one you were in will always move faster than the one you are in now.

7. Law of the Bath - When the body is fully immersed in water, the telephone rings.

8. Law of Close Encounters - The probability of meeting someone you know increases dramatically when you are with someone you don't want to be seen with.

9. Law of the Result - When you try to prove to someone that a machine won't work, it will.

10. Law of Biomechanics - The severity of the itch is inversely proportional to the reach.

11. Law of the Theater and Hockey Arena - At any event, the people whose seats are furthest from the aisle, always arrive last.  They are the ones who will leave their seats several times to go for food, beer, or the toilet and who leave early before the end of the performance or the game.  The folks in the aisle seats come early, never move once, have long gangly legs or big bellies and stay to the bitter end of the performance.  The aisle people also are very surly folk.

12. The Hot Drink Law - As soon as you sit down with a cup of hot drink, you will be asked to do something which will last until the drink is cold.

13. Murphy's Law of Lockers - If there are only two people in a locker room, they will have adjacent lockers.

14. Law of Physical Surfaces - The chances of an open-faced jam sandwich landing face down on a floor, are directly correlated to the newness and cost of the carpet or rug.

15. Law of Logical Argument - Anything is possible if you don't know what you are talking about.

16. Brown's Law of Physical Appearance - If the clothes fit, they're ugly.

17. Oliver's Law of Public Speaking - A closed mouth gathers no feet.

18. Wilson's Law of Commercial Marketing Strategy - As soon as you find a product that you really like, they will stop making it.

19. Doctors' Law - If you don't feel well and make an appointment to go to the doctor, by the time you get there you'll feel better.  But if you don't make an appointment, you'll stay sick.  This has been proven over and over with taking children to the pediatrician.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Thursday Treat: Latvian Dumplings

While I was growing up, our neighbours next door were from Latvia.  The mother was an excellent cook and always made wonderful snacks and foods during the holidays.  One of her Christmas specialties was meat-filled dumplings very similar to pierogies.  Sadly she died of cancer before I thought to ask for her recipe but here's one that is quite tasty.  It's time consuming but worth it.

Latvian Dumplings

To make this you will need:

Large bowl and spoon
Small bowl
Wire whisk
Large skillet
Non-stick baking tray
Pastry board

3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup butter, softened
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 envelope dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
2 eggs, beaten separately
3 cups flour
1 lb lean bacon, finely diced
1/2 medium onion, chopped finely
Salt and pepper

Heat milk to almost boiling.
Remove from heat and add butter, then add the salt. Allow to cool and add sugar.
In a small bowl, prepare dry yeast in warm water. Add to mixture.
Add 1 beaten egg to mixture, then add flour one cup at a time.
The dough will be stiff but sticky. When it begins to leave the sides of the bowl, turn it out onto a lightly floured pastry board.
Work enough flour into the dough so that it does not stick to hands or board. Knead for about 5 -10 mins. Cover bowl with tea towels or plastic sheet and leave in a warm place to double in size, about 1-1/2 hrs.

In a hot frying pan, fry the bacon quickly for about 5 mins without letting it crisp.
Remove any fat that separates and discard it.
Season the fried bacon with salt and pepper . Remove to bowl and cool in refrigerator.
In the same pan fry the onions until they are almost clear, but again without letting it crisp. Mix them in bowl with the bacon.
Preheat oven to 400 F.

There are then two ways of rolling out the dough.
METHOD ONE: Split the dough into two portions and roll each into 20" long strand. Cut each into 1" portions. This will give you 40 pieces.
METHOD TWO: Pinch off a piece of dough off that looks 1" cubed.
With your hands, roll and flatten each piece into a patty large enough to put a teaspoon of filling into the middle.
When filled, fold the edges over then pinch closely together, pinching the seam underneath.  It's important to not let any fat into the seams or the pastry will pop open during baking.
Place on greased or non stick cookie sheet.
Brush the tops with a beaten egg (for shine) and bake for about 12 to 15 mins until golden brown.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Musical Memories

While researching potential employment in the United States, my husband found a listing in the area of Denver, Colorado.  He ended up not getting the job, which was a bit of a relief because I didn't really want to move there.

Still, I've never visited the Midwest (other than the GenCon game convention in Milwaukee) but I've heard a lot of songs about the area, one being the following tune "Denver" written by Randy Sparks and first performed by The New Christy Minstrels in 1964.
(Lyrics source:

(Come on big mule!)
I was drivin' a rig out o' Texas
All loaded an' bound for Cheyenne
Takin' my pleasures so freely
Just a good lovin' ramblin' man

I had a way with the ladies
Sweet Daddy was my middle name
Till I got to a place they called Denver
An' I ain't never been quite the same

I've been to Saint Louis an' Abilene
I've rambled through many a town
But I got me a woman in Denver, Lord
That's where I'm settlin' down

Well, I kissed her an' swore that I loved her
I told her some day she'd be mine
Then I laughed all the way back to Texas
Hah-hah, to think she'd believe that ol' line

Well, I got to pining for Denver
It's funny how things come to be
As I slipped the ring on her finger
Well, I knew that the laugh was on me

I've been to Saint Louis an' Abilene
I've rambled through many a town
But I got me a woman in Denver, Lord
That's where I'm settlin' down

Now all you young fellas take warning
You single men, run for your life
Be careful an' stay out o' Denver
Or else you'll wind up with a wife

You'll walk down the street unsuspectin'
An' you won't believe what you see
'Cause the prettiest girls live in Denver
Lord, you'll wind up happy, like me

I've been to Saint Louis an' Abilene
I've rambled through many a town
But I got me a woman in Denver, Lord
That's where I'm settlin' down

Got me a woman in Denver, Lord
That's where I'm settlin' down

Monday, 4 August 2014


An opinion piece in this morning's newspaper lamented that in today's hyper connected society, many people no longer have a sense of courtesy.  Can't be bothered to talk to a certain person at that moment?  Let the call go to voice mail.  Received a text from an annoying person?  Delete it.  Unfortunately this sort of attitude means that one can also miss out on things.

Since school ended for the summer, our daughter has been wanting to spend time with her friends, which is natural.  Every other day it seems, I'm making half a dozen phone calls to various friends and neighbours.  Almost every call I've made has gone to voice mail, and I can count on one hand the number of times people have responded.

I can forgive things like being on vacation, being out for the day, dealing with a new baby, or having other plans.  But when you notice that you do have a message, at least call me back and suggest an alternate time when our kids can play together.  Don't leave me hanging and upset my daughter by not replying to my messages.

At this point I've given up calling, and our daughter just has to find some new friends to play with.  If people won't return calls I consider them very rude and they're not really "friends" anyway.

However I do suspect that certain people are deliberately ignoring us because our daughter has been having an attitude lately, and nobody wants to deal with a bratty child.  Even so, they could still reply to my messages and tell me that they have a problem with her.  That's way better than silence.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Plus Ca Change

Everyone knows the saying, "The more things change, the more they stay the same."

The ongoing violence in the Middle East shows no sign of ending.  Many other countries are threatening violence at some slight or other.  Illness runs rampant in Africa because people don't have enough clean water and resources to halt the spread.  It's a scary world out there.

Recently I was thinking of David Bowie's apocalyptic song "Time Will Crawl" which is essentially a rant against unchecked industrial pollution, proliferation of nuclear weapons, and chemical warfare.  He has stated that it was inspired by the Chernobyl disaster.

Almost 25 years after that song was written, the world has changed very little.  The environment continues to be polluted at the expense of polar ice and stable weather patterns.  Countries still have nukes pointed at each other.  Chemicals used in food production are killing beneficial insects and contributing to the rise in cancers.

I'm sure none of us want our children to grow up to see a poisoned world.  Unfortunately too many people in positions of power fail to see how insane the status quo is.

Time will crawl
And our heads bowed down
(Time will crawl)
And our eyes fall out
(Time will crawl)
And the streets run red
(Time will crawl)
Till the 21st century lose

Friday, 1 August 2014

Photo Friday: Fredericton Summers

I have many fond memories of visiting New Brunswick as a child.  My parents were both teachers and had the months of July and August off, so as soon as school ended we would pack a trunk and drive down to my grandfather's house just outside of Fredericton, the provincial capital.

Fredericton has a rich military history which shows in the many buildings in the downtown area, including the York-Sunbury County Museum, which was once a barracks.  Here is a photo of downtown from across the Saint John River.

My grandfather's Cape Cod style home was located in the suburb of Lower Saint Mary's on the north side of the river.  A family story goes that originally the house had been on the other side of the road but my grandmother didn't like it there, so they had the house moved.  During the move the house fell apart, so my grandfather spared no expense at having it rebuilt to my grandmother's liking.

Granddad and several of his buddies also built a hunting cabin "up north" on the shore of Miramichi Lake. Over the years the cabin has been improved upon and expanded, but I remember it best as having a rickety porch, rattling tin roof, and access to the second floor was by a ladder through a trapdoor. (It has since been replaced with stairs.)