Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 in Reflection

Category-wise, you'll definitely be getting Meanderings today, on this the final day of 2010.  Now I'm going to have to go through that confusing phase of writing '2010', crossing out the last zero and putting a '1' in place, for the next month or two.

For the  past twenty years of our marriage, the missus and I have carried out a silly tradition.  But it is one that a lot of people seemed to appreciate and anticipate each year.  We cut, fold, design and paint our own Christmas cards.  As well we include a yearly poem summarizing the events of the year gone by.

 I was sitting thinking how I was going to go about ending the year in my new blog project and it hit me.  Why bother reinventing the wheel, just cut and paste the poem onto the blog.

So here goes:

Wasn't it just a week ago
We wrote of two thousand and nine
No, wait a year has passed us by
Once again it's Christmas time

Youngest one hit sweet sixteen
Surrounded by friends and fun
And to add to complications
Completed her driver's G1

But earlier on in the year
She was seen on the stage as a Pye
Josie's Ma in Ann of Green Gables
Drama at the local High

Next was a wicked stepsister
Of Cinderella, rude, selfish and mean
Along with her real life sister
Created quite the scene

Third play was Bye By Birdie
Ursula she brought to the stage
A teenage teeny bopper
From when Elvis was all the rage

This fall, in grade eleven
Another dramatic role befell
This time the harlot, Sonya
In the musical performance, Godspell

In addition, she works hours at the grocer
All summer and throughout the week
She whips up goods in the bakery
Makes all sorts of good things to eat.

Most mornings she's up and about
Working out at the break of day
Achieving a level of fitness
From which she does not stray

A top notch scholar and student
At studying, she does her part
Got top awards in two of her classes
Grade ten English and Art

And last of her accomplishments
She is always singing in tune
Finished with flying colours
Grade Eight voice in June

Now on to the older sister
Who's moved to higher learning
She'll be home for Christmas
A time for which she's yearning

She started the year as Marilla
A role she played stern and grey
And then there was “Read All Aboot It”
That five students wrote, sang and played

Thirteen songs she composed for this venture
Which she played with panache and flair
Their dancing, singing and acting
Got accolades from everywhere

The second wicked stepsister was next
Played only as our eldest couid
Simp'ring, whimp'ring, whiney and brash
Annoying, but my she was good!

Bye Bye Birdie, a joint venture
'Tween the two rival city schools
Saw Gillian as Rosie Alvarez
The girls who breaks all Mama's rules.

Thus ended her high school career
A big fish in the local pond
Where she made lasting friendships
And created memories so fond.

An Ontario Scholar she finished
Several scholarships headed her way
With music as her major
They helped her tuition to pay

She toiled at cleaning rooms each day
Endeavouring money to earn
And then we loaded her up at the end
And headed down south to Western

A tiny minnow in a great big sea
She's found the term daunting at best
And she's counting the days till she's home
To do nothing but visit and rest.

With our nest at half way empty
We needed to make our house merry
So imported a girl from Korea
And a Chinese lass known as Cherry

Imagine a house with three girls
All grade eleven in the same year
Competing for time in the bathroom
And watch the groceries disappear

And now on to the fifth lady within
The Mama, the wife, the big cheese
Who's only half what she once was
Not nearly as much to squeeze!

First as director of music this spring
For Cinderella's cast
Conducted her pit band of nine
Forging friendships that surely will last.

Throughout the year she continued to teach
Guitar, piano, voice and art
Keeping the wolf away from the door
She most certainly does her part

Summer saw the return of the Art Camp
Expanding children's art knowledge
Then taught another kid's camp
At at the local community college.

This fall a new adventure
About the province she's travelling
As she teaches the teachers to teach
A course called 'Art on a Shoestring'

May fifth this year we reached it
Twenty years of marital bliss
We recommend the matrimonial state
And tell you how pleasant it is!

This fall we joined the community choir
Singing alto and learning bass
To Handel's great Messiah
In all its majesty and grace

As well, we ventured afield
On a bus trip to Amish land
To Lancaster Pennsylvania
The scenery and theater grand

I started the year with a bang
Well maybe twas more of a crash
As I waved goodbye to industry,
Old friends, security and cash

But I've hardly missed a day
Supply teaching far and near
Landscaping and summer school
Has rounded out my year.

The greenhouse is back up and running
Growing wave petunias and such
For those who bought our wares
We thank you very much

Our deck was tiny and cramped
More a pathway to the pool
So we added more square footage
Just after we finished with school.

The twenty first century beckoned
With each day we saw more need
So finally up with the tower
And forward with internet high speed.

And that about sums it up
Our year from beginning to end
We send our love in this
Be you family or friend.

A safe and blessed holiday
A joyous wonderful New Year
To each and everyone of you
We send our Christmas cheer.

That the yearend tally, although giving details within the confines of words that must rhyme (well within reason anyway) and meter that should flow (I know it's all over the map) can make some life events seem rather trite.

Today is the first anniversary of my final day in industry, after almost twenty years in the same routine.  A victim of the recession, actually one of about two hundred in our particular case, I started the year with a fair sense of trepidation.  Life's safety net had evaporated, and the tight rope seemed pretty daunting.

Fortunately I completed my teaching degree a few years ago (during an unfortunate work stoppage period) so at least I was not completely unarmed, as many of my colleagues seemed to be.  As well I had been supply teaching a day or two a week, while working shift.  At least I had my foot in the door, and something to move directly into.  I have been pretty much gainfully employed as a supply teacher, throughout the area for the entire year (excluding the summer hiatus). 

The second most difficult phase, that the poem trivializes, was my eldest daughter's exit to university.  Our close-knit little family group, suddenly had a gaping hole.  I know Dads aren't supposed to show emotion, and I did hold it together externally.  But inside.....different story.  
The van is packed, I'm ready to go.

And then there was the difficult flying visit at Thanksgiving.  It was great to see her, but she was so busy, so over tired and wouldn't you know it,  I had a course on the one day of the three she was home.

So we've much enjoyed her two week break home over the holiday season.  But I'm already starting to lump up, just thinking that she goes back in two short days.

2010 has been a bit of a free fall session; an emotional roller coaster so to speak.  However we managed somewhat intact, and for my part a little more self confident in my ability to make do and survive financially and emotionally. 

And that is about all I have to say for today

Musings and Meanderings from the Musical Gardener.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Great Grandmother's Dishes

I'm not sure how to categorize this entry. I think it may fall into both Cooking and Genealogy, an interesting mix, I must say.

I grew up on a farm about six hours northwest of my current abode. In my sister's bedroom there was a sort of crude walk-in closet that was a bit of a catch-all for Christmas stuff, extra bedding, and a rough wooden box. This box was the home to Great Grandmother Patterson's dishes. I don't recall them ever coming out of the box when I was a child. However I do see from family photos, that once I was old enough to take an active part in preparing Christmas dinners, great grandmother's plates were resurrected into use once at least.

Family legend always said that Great Grandmother came from England and brought the set of dishes as her wedding present. Upon examining more closely, the info I have in my family tree research, I find this is quite erroneous.

Sarah Taylor was born in Elma Township, Ontario February 02, 1860. On December 25, 1874 she married John Mark Patterson in McKellar Ontario. You do the math – talk about your child bride! A year and a half later she had her first child – teenage motherhood is not a new phenomenon. The Pattersons were some of the earliest settlers in the McKellar area. The government was just opening up the bushland of Parry Sound District, offering free land to any hardy pioneers who wanted to tackle the wilds of Northern Ontario. The Taylors and the Pattersons had settled in southern Ontario in the mid 1800's as had most of my other forefathers and mothers. I've been to several of the present day prosperous farms, once owned by these hardy folks, and the question comes to mind, “Why on earth would you leave the lovely flat, deep soiled paradise, to wander into the wilderness of rocks and trees of Parry Sound?” Whatever was their motivation? Were they in financial stress in southern Ontario, was the offer of free bush enough to lure them, or were they just adventurous explorers?

Back to the dishes. A small insignia on the bottom of each dish offers the following information: 
Regal, Durability, JHW & Sons, Hanley, England, Semi Porcelain. The pattern is Regal, made by JHW & Sons (J.H.Weatherby and Sons), manufactured in Hanley, England.

The following is a brief history of the company, swiped from the website:

J.H. Weatherby & Sons(Ltd)

The J.H. Weatherby & Sons(Ltd), a family-run company was founded in Tunstall in 1891 and moved to Hanley the following year. Named 'Falcon Pottery', it was the base for their manufacturing and trading of earthenware, and was one of a number of similar potteries in Stoke on-Trent. 1906 saw the addition of a circular bottle kiln, typical of the time but becoming rather rare now.

It first made domestic ware such as printed toilet sets, trinket sets, vases, teapots, tableware and tableware fancies, jugs, fern pots and lidded chamber pots. Soon after World War I, Weatherby began to supply advertising ware to hotels and caterers and later to hospitals and institutions. In the 1920s and 1930s it experimented with modernist matt glazes and introduced Art Deco-style vases, tableware and fancies.

In 1934 it launched Woodpecker Ware tableware, which is highly sought after today, as it its Harvest Time tableware. After World War II the pottery introduced many new lines in giftware and fancies which are now collectable.These include figures and statuettes, toyware, animal models such as Zookies, dwarfs, Toby jugs and offbeat series such as Gonks and Dalek patterns.

During the 1950s, a number of companies began manufacturing ranges of animals, hoping that people would go on to collect several in a set. Wade introduced their exceedingly popular Whimsies - delicate, realistically-modeled porcelain miniature animals and birds - and a company called J. H. Weatherby & Sons Ltd. in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, decided to do the complete opposite, producing a series of sturdy comical animals which they called Zookies. An advertising leaflet from 1957 read, ` People who buy one, buy another and another and buy them for their friends too!'

Unfortunately the high costs of producing pottery in England compared to mass production elsewhere in the world forced the company into receivership.


So it is obvious that Great Grandmother did not get, bring or otherwise receive the dishes as a wedding present in 1874. From as near as I can figure, this set is probably from their early years, probably 1892-95. 
The surviving dishes that I have, include the following of what was undoubtedly a full set of twelve originally:
  • 9 large dinner plates
  • 11 salad plates
  • 12 bread and butter plates
  • 10 large soup bowls
  • 10 saucers
  • 9 cups
  • 6 fruit nappies
  • gravy boat and receiving tray
  • large sugar bowl and lit
  • cream pitcher
  • 2 oval tureens with lids (one with broken handle)
  • 1 medium serving platter
  • 1 large serving platter
I can only surmise that the full set may also have included a tea pot, salt and pepper shakers.

For years I have attempted to add to the set. I have watched Ebay since its infancy. We have visited every antique shop ever spotted on our travels. Not a single shard of Regal, JHW & Sons has ever come to light. And yet other similar patterns, of the same vintage and maker, appear with maddening regularity on Ebay and other such internet auctions. 
Do we have a unique set; I can hardly imagine it! Several collectors who have examined them, pronounce them average quality, serviceable semi-porcelain. In other words, china that would have been mass produced, for use by the middle class.  After all it is just a single colour (olive green) transferware pattern.

So Great Grandmother's dishes repose serenely in our china cabinet. Two or three times a year we lovingly pull them out to serve guests on (well there is a dangerous dangling participle if ever I've seen one). I always like to offer a brief history, prior to eating. It is immensely fascinating to see the flit of fear cross a face, when it is mentioned that they are dining upon irreplaceable, 117 year old china.

That brings me to the second part of this story. For many years Mom had an large old, oval, convex portrait of my great grandfather stored up on the top shelf of a closet. When we tidied up the farm house a few years back, the frame belonging to the picture mysteriously appeared as well. However there was no matching glass. So back to my favourite on-line auction site, Ebay. I was able to procure a reproduction glass and have it shipped. As well, amid all the old family photos there was a photocard,  from the turn of the century,  of Great Grandfather and Great Grandmother. It was obviously taken the same day and within minutes of the large single portrait, as Great Grandfather's pose and clothing is the same. Was a large oval one of Great Grandmother made at the same time? And if so, why was it separated from Great Grandfather's, and where did it go?

Two years ago an idea crossed my mind to reunite the two again and have them survey our dining room. Back to Ebay. This time I was able to get a complete, vintage frame and glass from the same manufacturer, as the original one I had for Great Grandfather. There was also an old charcoal portrait of an unknown couple included. Since the portrait was damaged, unidentified and from somewhere in the deep south, it did not survive. Then it was off to a local printer with the antique photo card to see what they could do about reproducing and enlarging Great Grandmother's rather stern features. Needless to say, the results are amazing. The fact that the print is a flat one, as opposed to the convex one of her husband, is not detectable at all, to anyone coming in the room. And it is somehow comforting to have the Greats watching over us as we partake of a holiday meal off their cherished dishes.  I think they would give their approval.

 Left: reproduced and enlarged photo of Great Grandmother, Sarah Taylor Patterson
          purchased vintage frame and glass
Right: original, oval, convex photo of Great Grandfather, John Mark Patterson(notice tear, upper left)
           original frame, purchased reproduction, oval, convex glass

And that is all I have to say for today

Musings and Meanderings from the Musical Gardener.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Musical Gardener Cooks

 Well I'm not at all sure I had envisioned my second blog after my introductory session to be on the topic of cooking, but since there's not much going on in the garden, and school is out for two weeks, food it is.  Besides that, we have two holiday suppers on the agenda this week.  The first was a family get-together (the guinea pig warm-up to the second, but let's keep that to ourselves) that occurred last night.  The second is a four couple, silent auction charity event, tonight.  We usually offer a seven course meal as a bidding item once or twice a year to chosen charities.  These always seem to generate some active bidding and some sizeable donation monies.  What to serve as desert - has to be festive, homemade and something out of the ordinary, and well, memorable would be a bonus.

I mentioned in my first entry about Christmas pudding.  My mother used to make a carrot plum pudding every year at Christmas time and it was good.  However in the last twenty odd years of serving Christmas dinners, it was not something I/we had ever really thought about adding to my/our repertoire.  Too much bother!

Christmas day brings about the annual family phone calls with relatives who cannot make our yearly feast (imagine the cheek of those who would dare to enjoy their own cooking).  My eldest brother mentioned having spent the day cooking for his son and daughter-in-law.  Among his creations he listed one of Mom's old recipes: Carrot pudding.  Enter nostalgia and a bit of competitiveness (hum tune from Annie Get Your Gun -- Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better).  I would venture to Youtube and see what was suggested there.  There are lots of (I'm sure) wonderful selections offered, but one in particular caught my eye, or at least frenzied my taste buds and tickled my general sense of laziness. What I liked about this recipe was the fact that it is cooked in ten minutes, as opposed to the more traditional methods of steaming for four plus hours.

I'm certain it is a simple operation to directly import a video from Youtube to your blog, but yours truly has yet to master the concept.  So I will tell you what to type in when you hit the Youtube website:  How To Make The Perfect Christmas Pudding, by Marguarite Patten.  A delightful little British lady leads you step by step through her process.

Here is her list of ingredients:

Christmas Pudding Recipe from ANCHOR® Butter

Serves 4-6

Pudding ingredients:

•50g ANCHOR® Butter
•50g plain flour
•Half a teaspoon of mixed spice ( I used cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves)
•75g breadcrumbs
•100g soft dark brown sugar
•150g sultanas
•75g Raisins
•50g Dates
•50g Candied Cherries
•125g currants (see note below)
•25g coarsely chopped peel
•grated rind and juice of half lemon
•2 eggs
•2 tablespoon treacle
•1 tablespoon golden/corn syrup
•50ml Orange Juice
•50ml Apple Juice

Sieve all the dry ingredients together and mix well. Stir in all remaining ingredients until completely mixed. Lightly grease a half litre (1 pint) pudding basin and fill with the mixture. Cover with cling film and make a slit in the top to allow steam to escape. Cook on microwave high for 10 minutes. Allow to stand for 10 minutes after cooking.

Pretty simple eh?  Of course, never one to leave well enough alone, I chose to tweak and renovate so to speak.   No currants in the pantry, by choice.

Rabbit path, here ever after to be referred to as RP.  I have two fine black currant bushes that produce loads of berries each year, that the birds seem to thoroughly enjoy.  I always have great, grandiose schemes of beating the birds to the crop, and making some sort of currant compote to serve with pork, but it hasn't happened yet.

However I digress, back to no dried currants in the pantry.  Mom's recipe was a carrot pudding -- no carrots in dear little Ms. Patten's concoction.  Simple substitution; just grate up the same amount of carrots and micromave them for thirty seconds.  I also am not a fan of dates (except as the filling for oatmeal cookies or matrimonial cake), so you can also substitute carrots there, if you so wish.

I have an ancient set of Pyrex nesting bowls.  I took the red one (about 1 liter/quart), lined it with plastic wrap (whilst humming the tune to Mr. Cellophane of course, and ignoring that nagging little voice,  "should I be microwaving plastic?")  Then I dumped the mixed glop into the bowl and put it in the microwave for 10 minutes.  Just for good measure I gave it an extra two minutes afterward - didn't seem to hurt!

The pudding dropped out ceremoniously onto a waiting plate and was covered overnight with a clear cake carrier.  I know traditional puddings are cheeseclothed, saturated with rum, and hung in the summer kitchen to age for several moons.  Ours.....needed for supper!

My missus, upon inspection (of the pudding not herself), pronounced it "kinda hard". An hour prior to serving, we opted to put the pud in the steamer - probably a wise choice, as a further microwaving would have dried and toughened the little brute.  So while Ms. Patten says nothing of steaming I would opt for an hour long sauna session in the double broiler.  It warms, softens and moistens.

Sauce, I suppose, is optional, after all, Ms. Patten did not even mention such a condiment.

However the addition of sauce did add a certain rich, sinfully, caloric element to our otherwise heavenly ambrosia.  So here is my sauce recipe, which I've used often on apple dumplings and traditional bread pudding.

1 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup butter or margarine
1/2 teaspoon of rum flavouring(or the real stuff if you prefer)
1 tablespoon of water

Mix together in a sauce pan, bring to a boil, while stirring constantly.  Remove from heat and spoon onto the sliced and waiting pudding.

And thus is reborn a somewhat revised family tradition. So since attempt number one was successful, we are going to try attempt two today for tonight's supper.  If the pudding turns out, the camera works, and the stars all align in the heavens, I will try and post a photo of our efforts.

And that's about all I have to say for today.

Musings and Meanderings from the Musical Gardener.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Musical Gardener

    "That's how it worked for me.  My blog gave me a new identity, new skills, a new set of colleagues, and  a way to connect with people who shared my interest.  I'd expanded my vision of the kind of writer I could be.  I had become a blogger."  Gretchen Rubin, Happiness Project


There it is, one of those ah ha moments.  I picked up the Happiness Project just prior to Christmas at our local library; thought it might be an inspiration for making 2011 the best year yet. 

Chapter one dealt with decluttering your life.  Three days after Christmas: kitchen is reorganized, bedroom completely dunged out (love that verb -- I was a farmer in a past life) and my workroom downstairs shivers in anticipation of the fate about to befall it.  

Chapter two discusses relationships with our loved ones, and how to improve upon that.  That is not an area I feel compelled to dramatically improve.  My wife and I have a very close, loving relationship, and my two daughters worship the ground I trod.... oh alright, they tolerate my eccentricities and refer to me lovingly as a 'silly little man.' 

Chapter three - start a blog!   I can't wait to see what the next chapters suggest.

I've been contemplating blogging for a while now.  But as always,  I do what I do best - talk myself out of my good ideas.  I don't have the time (but I can youtube regularly), I don't have anything interesting to say (well that one remains to be seen), nobody will read it (so what, nobody currently reads my journal either!) I'll say something controversial and everyone will send hate mail (sticks and stones......), I'll say something stupid (that's inevitable, not if, but when)...........and on an on.

So I've defined carefully why I shouldn't blog.   But I haven't quite talked myself out of it either.

Why must I blog?  Aren't there enough concise, pithy, witty, beautiful, educational, inspiring musings out there in cyberspace already? be the judge.

1.  I'm a record keeper -  I have kept a daily journal ( I hate to use the word diary - sound a little too much like testosterone antidote) for 35 years.  I am the keeper of the family history - 15,000 names in my family tree file, and several boxes of photo albums.

2.  I like to write - I've never had anything published.  My thoughts just seem to coalesce much better on paper than if I verbalize them.

3.  I enjoy meeting like-minded people. 

4.  I like and need a challenge.  I thrive on change.  Well at least I've survived the many changes thrust upon me over the years. 

5.  I need a growth venue.  Let me explain.  I have a lot of interests and hobbies, but most are at a somewhat mature state (doubles for stagnant).  My gardens are pretty well established - just basic maintenance from here on (I know I'm laughing at that myself - of course there will be new gardens on the property by next fall).  My genealogical research has pretty much exhausted the available resources in Canada, and my budget does not foresee a trip to Great Britain to traipse the cemeteries and peruse musty archives in the near future.

6.  I'm at a watershed point in life. I will hit the not-so-highly-nor-much-anticipated big five ohhhhh in 2011. As well we are within a year or so of empty nest syndrome, another nshnma event (see above sentence for a somewhat rational explanation of that acronym).

So what am I going to blog about?  Well I am a man of eclectic and unusual ideas and interests.  Initially I have chosen several areas that interest me and hopefully will generate a modicum of interest amongst potential readers.

Gardening-- I love digging in the dirt, propagating plants, mixing and matching for aesthetics and continuous colour, designing and seeing a project turn out well.  I am also a constant renovator - whatever looks good this year, can always be tweaked to look better next year.

Music -- I am a self taught performer (and proud of it).  I play piano and compose material for piano and vocal arrangements.  I also sing in several different venues.

Supply Teaching -- I am a veteran of four short years of occasional teaching in the elementary and secondary classroom.  That makes me by no means an expert, but every day brings its challenges and funny anecdotes ("Mr H., did your hair just stop growing?" Finn, kindergarten student, commenting on my follically challenged state).

Genealogy -- I love researching our family's heritage.  Currently I am collecting all the available photographs, scanning, reproducing them, and cataloguing and archiving them for future generations.  This one however, tends to be a bit in fits and spells, as I will find something new, research it to an early grave.  There may then be nothing for a few months, until something else finds me.

Cooking -- my daughter suggests this one.  I'm not sure if I have much wisdom to share, but I did just concoct my first plum pudding last night, and as they say - the proof is in the pudding - quite literally!  Let's see how our guests react tonight.  Actually my cooking has become somewhat limited of late, because most of the family (not yours truly) are all in degrowth mode.  However they have also pretty much reached their goal weights, so dad may be able to slide the odd stick of butter, or lick of cream back into supper once more.

Meanderings -- This will be the catch-all, kitchen sink sort of thing where anything else that comes to mind will be discussed, dissected, desiccated or otherwise dealt with.

And that about says what I want to say for today.

        Meanderings and Musings from the Musical Gardener