Sunday, February 28, 2016

Getting Ready

The warm weather and steady melting, despite the time of year, have caused us to start thinking about the upcoming growing season, our fourth.

So far, with each successive year we've improved our production and selected an ever improving crop array.  Obviously, we're hoping for similar similar successes this year by building on what we've learned in past years.

Over the past three years we've two crops that have proven to be particularly successful: potatoes and celery.

Last year, thanks to Jeannette and my Mother, we had our potatoes in the ground early and producing potatoes early enough that we were able to have two crops in part of our potato patch.

Though starter celery plants were purchased at the same time as the original seed potatoes, they didn't end up going in the ground quite as early.  If I recall correctly, we again pushed our luck and put them in just a week or so later, still in early May.

This year, based on a few photos I saw online, I'm going to try a slightly different approach with the celery.  Instead of (or maybe in addition to) starter plants, I'm going to try to use the bases of the celery bunches that I buy over the next few weeks to start the plants.

So far, I've got two such plants going and I seem to be making some progress.

I'm really quite impressed by how much development I'm getting after about a week or so.

That said, I suspect that without the development of a new root structure - which I haven't seen yet - this operation may not be much of a success.  Assuming I do get new roots and the growth continues, I'm hoping that by the time we're ready to transplant our celery plants we'll have a few that will be ready to go and they will have come to us at no additional cost.

Cameron - 11
Neil - 0

A Few Quick Notes - 629

-Despite a light dusting of snow late yesterday afternoon/evening, the winter continues to be unseasonably warm.  Again today we're expecting temperatures close to five degrees above freezing and I'm not sure if it's even gone down to -20 at any point this month.  It's just bizarre.

-A few months ago I noticed that our oven didn't seem to be heating evenly.  Of course, because it did eventually heat up it took me a while to identify the problem.  That the element in the oven continued to operate as normal made the problem even more baffling.

Finally, after months of procrastination we finally called an appliance service company last week and arranged for a visit by a repairman.  After quickly describing the problem, the service technician got down to work and began disassembling our oven.

Before long panels were off and he was deep in the gut of the thing, where he found that the oven's second element - which was hidden in the side of the oven away from site - was shot.  Fortunately, he had a replacement element on hand and he was able to have the oven back in proper working order in less than an hour.

While we were more than satisfied with the quality of the service call, it seems like a bit of a design weakness to place a replaceable element in a location that requires the oven to be torn apart to reach.  That the first element lasted about fifteen years will hopefully mean that this won't be a service call we will need to make again.

-With our newly functioning oven we've both already completed baking projects.  Yesterday I made a loaf of bread and Jeannette made a small batch of coconut cookies.

-In addition to regular Sunday cleaning and errands, we'll likely have to make a trip to the grocery store later today.  Hurrah!

Cameron - 10
Neil - 0

Breakfast of champions

For better or worse, it seems that I start most weekend mornings by finishing the dishes that magically appear overnight.  And it seems that no matter what I do the day before, there are always at least a few dishes waiting for me in the morning.

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Fortunately, in recent weeks, thanks to a great segment on the Going Deep with David Rees TV show, I've improved my dishes game a fair bit.  Not only are we using much less detergent and water than we were before, but we're also washing dishes much more quickly.  

Cameron - 9
Neil - 0

Saturday, February 27, 2016

New Neighbour Day

My gut is that just about a year ago a neighbour across the street decided to move to BC to be closer to her children.  Not surprisingly, this same neighbour placed her house on the market.  Though it did take a few days for the house to sell, it did sell a fair bit more quickly than many of the other houses in our neighbourhood that have been on the market recently (there are two on our street that have to be approaching at least 2 years with no movement).

Sadly, soon after the sale was announced it became clear that the house hadn't been purchased by an individual but by a developer interested in demolishing the cute yellow house occupying the lot and replacing it with two much larger homes.

I get a little hazy about the order of operations, but at some point not long after the sale closed the house entered a partial demolition phase - though the demolition was definitely just partial.  I know the front door was removed and I heard rumours that a few of the fixtures were also removed.  Conveniently, the windows were left handy so that they could be smashed at a later date.

At some point between the point of possession and the time of the final, complete demolition the houses being advertised by the developer were removed from the market.  Though we didn't know what, we could tell that something was in the works.

Eventually, as Summer transitioned to Fall, construction began in earnest on the two houses - which now appeared to be mirror images of one another.  Much to our surprise, the houses went up quickly and work on the finishing touches has continued throughout the Winter.

Of course, during this entire construction phase there has been a single, common For Sale sign between the two newly subdivided lots.  As far as we could tell, neither had sold, nor was there much apparent interest in the semi-complete houses.

Of course, it was just about two days ago that I finally clued in to the fact that these 'houses' aren't really 'houses,' but two suite mini-apartment buildings.  Each building seems to have an upstairs and main floor apartment.  How we didn't clue into this fact until earlier this week I will never know (though I think it's fair to say that the developers didn't make a show of it either).

Anyway, today, just days after noticing the two-flat situation we came home from a walk to discover people moving into one of the main floor flats/suites/units/apartments.  Pretty exciting.

Then, after a few errands, we both came home to a second move-in a little later in the day.

Definitely an exciting development for the two new, as-yet-unstuccoed and unlandscaped buildings across from us.

Though I haven't yet seen much activity from the newly arrived residents, I imagine that over the next few days we'll begin to see a little more of them as they get to know the neighbourhood?

Cameron - 8
Neil - 0

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Episode 400

Since about October 2000 I have regularly listened to This American Life, originally as broadcast on WNYC (supplemented with streaming archived episodes), more recently as a podcast (and still supplemented with streaming archived episodes).  Over the more than 15 years that I've been listening to the show (which has since grown in popularity) quite a number of episodes have stuck with me, a disproportionate number of which have stories from Scott Carrier (Does it get better than Running After Antelope?).  Contributions of individuals aside, the show has been consistently great for the 20 years it has been on the air - which is an impressive feat (Hell, they even managed to develop a semi-well known passable spin-off [not counting the TV show].)

One episode, above all others, for more than six years has stood out as a miss.  First broadcast in early February 2010, episode 400, in which several of the show's producers attempted to produce stories based on suggestions from their respective parents.  And, ha ha, most of the stories pitched to these producers weren't very good and really didn't make for great radio.  The somewhat self-congratulatory point of whole thing seemed to be that professional radio producers are better at picking stories for radio/This American Life than average people.  (Give me at least a little bit of warning when you're going to hit me with such hard truths makers of This American Life - I don't want to hurt myself when I get knocked over).

(Kidding aside, yeah, we know - you're good at your jobs.  That's why so many people keep coming back to the show week after week and why Serial is as popular as it is.  I think it's fair to say that most listeners recognize this skill when we listen to the show.  While I, presumably like many other listeners, would love to be able to make a This American Life-style show, it is clearly beyond my skill set and the skill sets of many in the listening audience.  I think most of us recognize and accept that there is something in the skill department that the makers of This American Life bring to the table that we don't have.)

Of course, I am inclined to suggest that at least two of these parental suggestions didn't make great radio not because of the quality of the suggestion, but because the staff at This American Life just didn't understand the significance of the stories and, not surprisingly, the resulting stories missed the point/weren't that great.

In the show's first Act Lisa Pollak attempts to follow-up on her mother's suggestion that she look into funny funerals or humour at funerals or maybe funny things that have happened at funerals? She's never seems all that clear about the issue she is trying to examine.

I think the point Pollak misses is that her mother isn't looking for funny anecdotes about funerals gone awry, but about funerals that are true celebrations of the life of the deceased that involve the use of humour.  As someone, like Lisa Pollak's mother and father, who has attended a funeral that did have a fair number of laughs I think I see where's she's coming from.  Really, what better way is there to celebrate the life of the deceased than by remembering the high points of that life and, maybe, punctuating those memories with hearty laughter?

At my grandmother's funeral in 2003 there were plenty of laughs, all of which reminded the attendees of the best features of her personality.  Instead of wallowing in sadness and loss, we were reminded of my grandmother's unique contributions to our respective lives.  By others laughing along I could also tell (or at least thought I could tell) that others in attendance were reflecting on similar experiences they'd had with her.  The feeling that I had at the end of the event, despite the inherent sadness associated with her death, was that my grandmother was truly known and appreciated by those in attendance - and the shared laughter was the mechanism by which this truth revealed itself.  Had it been a normal, quiet funeral I would have been provided with no sense of the feelings of the other attendees.

Since this funeral I have realized that the only features of my funeral that I truly care about are that it is filled with laughs and that it celebrates my life instead of mourns my death.  I don't care about which songs are or are not played, which readings are or are not read, or where the event does or does not take place as long as most people leave after having had a hearty laugh.  (I can't really say that I'll be disappointed if this doesn't come to pass - I'll be dead after all - but I'll definitely be disappointed if this doesn't come to pass.)

I think part of the problem with Pollak's approach to the story is that she contacted funeral directors for input.  Despite this group seeming like an obvious place to turn, I'm not convinced that funeral directors as a group get this approach to funerals and that funerals really, at their core, should be celebrations.  Maybe it's because most funeral directors don't have a particularly strong connection to the people whose funerals they're leading (and thus don't know how to draw out the humour in each person's life) or because there's a general sense that funerals are supposed to be sad and sombre affairs (rather than funny) so that's what they give the dying public?  Or maybe it's because when you're surrounded by the business of death and the grieving it's hard to always find the light?  I don't know exactly the cause, but the reality seems to be that a strength of funeral directors, and their are many strengths, is not injecting levity into the funeral process.  And that's a shame, maybe even more of a shame than Lisa Pollak also seems to miss this point.

(Maybe the craziest part of this mess of a story is that after the story is played for the audience the staff of This American Life, themselves having just listened to the piece for the first time as a group, all heap praise on the piece and laud it for being well reported.  Apparently, the fact that even in the story Lisa Pollak's mother seems dissatisfied with the results of the investigation doesn't merit much consideration.  Weird.)

Alex Blumberg's story, or Act 3, based on a suggestion from his father to examine the origins of corporate personhood suffers from slightly different problems - it adheres too closely to the original pitch and spends too much time showing it's workings while transitioning to a more do-able version of the pitch.  In this case, the suggestion from Alex's father is something I think has the potential to be quite interesting and it seems to be a story pitch that Alex understands.  As is reported in the story, maybe the approach to the issue of corporate personhood suggested by Alex's father isn't quite the best way in - which isn't that surprising given his lack of expertise on the subject demonstrated by his quest to learn more - but that doesn't mean that the general topic isn't fascinating and ripe for inquiry.

Unfortunately, just as Alex's story has worked it's way through the hiccups of the pitch and is moving on to the interesting side of the story (and I suspect that in most This American Life episodes they would have just cut this prologue and gone right to the portion of the reporting that lead to fruitful results) Ira decides the story is too boring to continue and the kills it, leading to a reverse en media res of sorts.

How Alex's dad's pitch was handled was disappointing because I think that it is likely a This American Life-style narrative story about the origins of corporate personhood, or maybe a consequential instance of corporate personhood, could be a great fit for the now.  Now, because of the failings of this piece, we're unlikely to hear such a story.  It seems it's been decided that issues associated with corporate personhood are just too boring for This American Life.

For better or worse, I can't really remember the other stories included in this episode.  I suspect that means that they were just fine, but not particularly memorable for being either great successes or great failures.  Whatever the quality of the remaining stories, this certainly hasn't been one of the episodes I've been tempted to revisit over the years since it was first broadcast/podcast - it just wasn't that good.

The ultimate irony of epiosde being that in an attempt to demonstrate the special skills and contributions of producers of This American Life that go into the creation of each and every episode of the show, this episode was one of the least skillfully produced and execute.  These skilled producers certainly weren't able to manage the less-than-alchemical transition of silver to gold.  Instead, we were given a peak behind the curtain and shown that when handed a story they don't understand, just like us, the producers of This American Life fumble around and, sometimes, miss the point of the assignment.  Of course, I don't really think that this was the point they were trying to make.

(Ok, there hasn't been much narrative to this whole thing, but how was that for a This American Life-style ending.  Just throw a little Coffaro's Theme or Mogwai underneath and you wouldn't be able to to tell this wasn't the real thing.)

(Jeannette thinks this post may be a little harsh, especially when I am a fan of This American Life and typically listen to each episode the night it is released.  I think it is because I know the quality that is typical of the show that this somewhat disappointing episode merits discussion - but maybe I'm wrong and I should just let it go after six years.  The truth is that I'm probably probably overly committed to the idea of funny funerals to provide an unbiased assessment of any piece of work that doesn't understand their significance in the same way I do - it's possible that this first story set the tone for the entire episode and I'm not judging the rest of the episode fairly.

Who knows?

But you should definitely take the opinion of a rando on the internet who's been obsessing over a single episode of a long-running podcast for more than six years with a grain of salt.)

Cameron - 7
Neil - 0

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

A Few Quick Notes - 628

-Despite technically warmer temperatures on Saturday, both yesterday and today have felt a fair bit warmer.  Sadly, neither of these days has been accompanied by the sunnier skies of Saturday.

-Yesterday was Family Day in Saskatchewan.  Though I tried talking Jeannette into a day trip to Montana and North Dakota (Plentywood and Williston in particular), we spent most of the holiday cleaning the house.  Despite being a little disappointed that we didn't manage an international adventure, I'm quite happy that we did some long-overdue deep cleaning.

-One task I didn't finish yesterday is folding all of the laundry that I did.  Guess I should get down to that shortly (and because I've also changed the sheets since then theres even more to fold).

-In most cases I feel as though if I'm not completely unreceptive to ads, I'm relatively unreceptive to ads.  There are many companies whose ads I know I've heard thousands of time (if you listen to podcasts you know which companies I'm talking about) that I have no interest in patronizing.

One product, despite the low production qualities of most of its ads, I've long been tempted by is CLR - a product that promises to de-calcify household objects.  Even as a child I found this product tempting, though because St. John's has relatively soft water how or when this liquid would be used was never entirely clear.

Since we've lived in Regina the uses for a product that might de-calcify a household objects have become a little clearer.

Since first buying some CLR for Jeannette (so that I could clean our kettle) I've had the pleasure of using this product and observing that it works as advertised and did exactly what I wanted it to do.  It was strangely satisfying to finally buy this product after so many years of ads and then find that it works as advertised.

Oddly, I'm not sure that I have similar feelings about many of the other products I've seen ads for on a regular/daily basis for the past 15 years.

Cameron - 6
Neil - 0

Sweet Treats

Last weekend, and again this past weekend, Jeannette asked about the possibility of me making sweet treats for her to consumer.  For reasons that are unclear to me, I didn't quite get around to making anything particularly sweet to eat last weekend.

When the request was lodged again this weekend I decided that I couldn't put it off any longer, I was going to have to make something on the sweet side of things.

I turned to the Oh She Glows cookbook for inspiration.  Since my parents gave us a copy of this book last spring we've both found it to be a good source for relatively healthy recipes that taste good.  Because all of the recipes are also vegan it is particularly handy.

I soon settled on the Chilled Chocolate Espresso Torte at least in part because it called for 3/4 cup of hazelnuts, which we just happened to have in the cupboard.  Of course, what I didn't know when I settled upon this recipe was that the 'chilled' was really 'frozen' and that the while the prep time for this recipe wasn't all that bad, the final chill was to take some number of hours (like quite a number of hours).

Maybe this is why it is good to read the full recipe (and not just the ingredient list) before you settle on a recipe?

Anyway, before long I had the crust in the oven and was on to preparing the filling.  The only real delay was the baking of the crust, which was delayed by 30 to 45 minutes because our oven has started taking quite a long time to heat up.

Soon enough everything was assembled and the torte was in the freezer for the required chilling time.

When all was said and done that evening we were finally ready to sample the torte.  Much to my surprise, I was a little disappointed by the crust - which was definitely a little cardboardy.  Sadly, I think the my equipment and ingredients may be to blame - as the recipe made sense.  

On the equipment front, I think that even after about an hour in the oven I may not have really toasted the crust quite enough.  I suspect that this process didn't quite manage to impart the desired flavour.  Bummer.  

On the ingredient front, I had a sense that the oat flour I was using may have been a little off even before I used it.  Now I'm almost certain the oat flour is off.  Guess it's time for new oat flour.

That said, I think that possibly using granola instead of rolled oats might be a good improvement to the crust.  Jeannette and I agree that this might be a good way to add a little extra flavour to the dish without really adding much sugar (or other nutritional components we don't want).  Alternatively, we also wondered how this might work with a completely different crust?

Once I realized that I'd begun making a dish that wouldn't be ready for many hours I continued to flip through the cookbook a little more, this time settling on the 'Yolo' recipe.

What was striking about this recipe was the simple ingredient list, really just a handful of ingredients the primary being chocolate chips and dates.

The general premise of the recipe is a date-based faux-caramel enrobed in chocolate.

The date paste takes almost no time to make, though does require some chilling before it can be handled properly.  Even with this chilling I found working with the paste tricky.  I think that the next time I make this recipe I will opt for a much more extended chilling process, and I may even try to find a way to freeze the past in a shape that will be conducive to handling while almost frozen.

Once the date paste is in the desired shape (and chilled again) all you have to do is dip it in chocolate and let it cool.

The end product was amazing.  It was hard to believe it was date.  Had I been served this blind I never would have guessed that they were date based, or that they were so easy to make.  

On Sunday Jeannette finally talked me into making yeast-based doughnuts.  I'd long been putting these off because of the length of the process and because even a half batch of the Joy of Cooking recipe would leave us with about 12 doughnuts.

On the other side of the equation, I've long been curious to try making this style of doughnut (as I've always made cake doughnuts in the past).

Much to my surprise, the Joy of Cooking recipe was relatively easy to veganize.  I think that the only ingredients I had to swap out were the butter and eggs.  

Once I got going what I liked about the process is that though there were several stages, each stage was relatively discrete and simple.  In all, only a few minutes of labour was required before the donuts were to rolled and fried.

The downside of the process was that, like the torte, several hours of waiting are required before the product is ready.

Another downside is that even once we'd made it through all the waiting, the doughnuts were a little dense and fat-clogged.

At least they looked like doughnuts (once we figured out the glazing process).

While I'm glad to say that I went through this process once, I'm not sure I'll be too keen to do this again just to end up with a dozen greasy, not-to-pillowy doughnuts.

Fortunately, aside from the doughnuts, the first two dishes weren't too unhealthy, nor do they demand to be eaten within minutes of being made.

Cameron - 5
Neil - 0

Saturday, February 13, 2016

A Few Quick Notes - 627

-After several days of warm weather we awoke yesterday to relatively cold and windy surroundings.  Of course, it seems that what passes for cold these days is nothing like winters past when cold was cold (and cars needed to be plugged in).

-One major consequence of our unseasonably warm weather is that we haven't had much snow to shovel.  While I can't really complain about the lack of shovelling, I was expecting a somewhat typical amount of shovelling this year.  I was further expecting that this shovelling would finally be enough to wear out one of our two shovels.  Because of these nested expectations some number of months ago I began dreaming about the replacement shovel I could justify buying once the cheap shovel I'm currently using finally wore out.  Somehow, and maybe for the better, the cheap two-pack of shovels that we bought about three years ago just so that we would have shovels when we moved into our house have been much more resilient than expected.

-Several months ago, for reasons that are no longer entirely clear to me, I decided to try to up my cabbage consumption.  Thinking back on this decision I think that it must have had something to do with price as it wasn't until after I'd made the decision that I learned that there were some nutritional benefits to be derived from the dietary addition.

While I can't say that I'm yet a daily consumer of cabbage, I have gotten pretty good at adding to my soup rotation, using it as the base component for any salads, and adding it to sandwiches.

I'm quite impressed with myself that I've managed to keep this going for a few months with relative ease.  Maybe with a few months more of effort the practice will become so ingrained that it will no longer require effort.

-I really think I need a nap.

Cameron - 4
Neil - 0

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Apparently it's February

So our unseasonably warm winter has continued.  Today we're experiencing temperatures quite a few degrees above freezing accompanied with intermittent blue skies.

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On the whole, the effect is quite palatable.

Unfortunately, we may be due for some rain later this afternoon.  Of course, the upside of any rain would be that it would likely go a long way towards eliminating the small amount of snow that we do have remaining on our lawn.  The downside would be rain in February - and one of the best things about Regina is that it doesn't typically have rain in February.

Cameron - 3
Neil - 0

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Biggish Dig - 4

After several weeks of developments that made the site actually look like something of a 'dig' (meaning there was a hole) we've now returned to a relatively flat construction site (but with piles sticking out of the ground in a few places).  It's all rather underwhelming and kind of looks as though someone with a drilling rig is just basically driving around and drilling on a whim (though I'm sure that's very far from reality).

The return to flatland (making for rather uncompelling photos) and the addition of a barricade on the portion of the sidewalk that used to take me past the worksite explains the paucity of updates.

I'm hoping that as the days get longer and standing with my hand exposed while I reach above the fence to take a photo becomes more pleasant I'll begin to take a few photos and observe the process more closely.

Despite the apparent slow progress, it's still quite entertaining to watch this process unfold.

Cameron - 2
Neil - 0

And you thought I forgot

Nope, I was just delayed - I wouldn't dare forget the most anticipated event Montifax's calendar, the annual blog-off.

As usual, I plan on entering this year's competition with the understanding that I'll have to put up a fight (as unlikely as that is).

Anyway, can't wait to get going.

Because I'm a generous guy looking for a little bit of competition I'll spot Neil 15 points per post while I'll only take one per post.  If I get any uptake this should make for a close race.

Cameron - 1
Neil - 0