Tired of Winter

Want to trade humidity for cold?

Winter in Canada began with an ice storm in December, and has just not let up at all! While we did not lose our electricity in the ice storm, this unremitting cold is ensuring that we suffer in a uniquely Canadian winter fashion.

Aside from Bob fighting off a head cold, on Friday, the blower motor in the furnace had a bearing fail. Following a grinding sound, the furnace just shut off. Needless to say, our service guy did not have that exact Lennox motor on hand. As one may expect, there is no way of getting one before Monday. And so, the house just got colder and colder.

Oh, did we mention that for more than two months, the temperature has stayed below freezing, and a mass of frigid Arctic air has gripped eastern Canada for most of that time, going nowhere in a hurry. The masses of January and February snow have frozen and compacted into everybody’s lawn-glaciers, and we are way behind in the annual thaw.

So we have the electric heaters, and the gas fireplace doing their best to replace the central heating and keep the house above freezing at the coldest time of the year. Outside, it is about -15 degrees Celsius, with the wind-chill equivalent being in the -20 to -30 range.

The cats have developed an affinity to the fireplace, and we are wearing our windbreakers in a house that is between 10 and 15 degrees, depending on the room you are in. For all of you in Florida and Guyana, before you complain about heat and humidity, you might want to try a month of winter in Canada. If there is just one saving grace about this extended period of Canadian cold, it is that the creepy crawlies that live in tropical climates cannot survive even one Canadian winter. We hope to see our family in Canada once the weather warms up. You might want to skip the Toronto area until Easter.

Spring and summer simply cannot come a moment too soon for all of us heat-starved Canadians. Post a comment below.

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Goodbye, Christmas 2013

The 2013-14 Christmas Holiday Season is now officially in the history books. Over the January 11-12 weekend, we carefully dismantled the decorations and adornments in the house, labelled everything in its box, stored it back downstairs, and then cleaned and vacuumed. All traces of Christmas 2013 are now in storage. As always, the Christmas tree was last to go, its lights signalling the festive season until the very last minute as the Christmas music CDs get one last play while the takedown tasks are done.

Christmas Tree at Larisa Grove

With plenty of presents for friends, family and even cats, our trusty Christmas tree came out of storage for its 14th season helping us celebrate the Christmas Season. It is always the last thing to come down and go back into storage.

We had a lovely Christmas tree, and a warm and festive Holiday Season this year. Mom was at our home for almost two weeks. Zach brought Jenny for Christmas and for my New Year’s Eve birthday. The turkey came out just right.

Despite the ice storm start to the Christmas Season, the holidays were warm and pleasant. We never lost electricity, and even throughout Mississauga, everyone’s electricity was restored within hours for those few who were affected.

On the 23rd, we had Bob’s office staff over to get their presents and celebrate with us, and then for two days, Bob and I cooked and prepared for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. We had a house full of family and guests on Christmas Day, including Bob’s Constituency Assistant Humaira, who is recovering from cancer treatment very well, and came with her husband Hamayun and one-year old baby Jibran. As well, Mississauga East Cooksville MPP Dipika Damerla came with her daughter for Christmas dinner.

As is our custom, right after Christmas, we went into our cocoon and enjoyed some private time, doing little more than reading, watching movies and puttering around the house. It is one of two times each year where Bob gets to read up on what is new in web and software development, and try and keep his code-writing skills somewhere near what the state-of-the-art is at the time.

It takes the better part of a few days to decorate the house between late November and the first week of December, and two very full days of work to take everything down, and meticulously box and label it all so that we can find it next year. Christmas, for us, is contained in about 25 very full boxes lovingly organized downstairs. It works. There have been few frustrations as we carry everything upstairs and put it all back together 11 months later, and the extra effort is really worth it.

A new recipe

This year, we enjoyed some of our time in the ‘great indoors’ doing more than the usual bread-making. We do bread the traditional way, with traditional yeast, and two bread risings before baking it in the oven. No bread-makers and instant yeast in this house! I’ve published one of the recipes we enjoy from time to time, but had never shared prior to this year: our buttermilk bread. Click the link to see how to make it, and enjoy it. As the caption notes, we photographed those two loaves just a few minutes after they had come out lof the oven, and we had tasted them. Yummy!

Have a happy and healthy 2014, everyone…

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Winter 13-14

A harsh start to the winter of 2013-14

We were all looking forward to a relaxing Christmas this year. Bob had a very long autumn sitting at Queen’s Park, with more than the usual amount of travel and committee work. My EduNational business picked up smartly toward the end of the year, and it finished on a high note.

Bob’s big personal thrill of the year came when he was not only the starting goaltender in a hockey game against the Toronto Maple Leaf Old-Timers, but also delivered the Province’s greetings at the same time. Read his blog on the event.

Ice Storm 2013

Freezing rain coated tree branches with a layer of heavy ice. We did not lose any trees on our lot, but countless millions of Ontario trees were not as fortunate.

And then came the big ice storm of December 2013. A major weather system carried a huge mass of wet air up from the Gulf of Mexico through the heart of North America before colliding with a mass of cold air coming down from the arctic, and Toronto was frozen solid. Quite literally. Power lines accumulated ice and the weight snapped many of them. More often, tree limbs were coated with ice, and snapped off with the weight, bringing down power lines as the limbs or trees fell. The devastation of southern Ontario’s tree canopy will take a decade to repair.

Here in Mississauga, we did not lose our electricity at home, though some 50,000 homes were without power for periods of between a few hours and upwards of a day. Fortunately, it was not too cold at the time. As this is written, the ice storm was followed by a few days of relatively mild winter weather, which managed to let the ice melt and fall off many of the trees. But in early January, Ontario went into its first prolonged deep freeze, with temperatures of -25 degrees Celsius and a fierce wind that made it seem like -40 degrees.

Icy Gazebo at Larisa Grove

Our gazebo normally shines in summer sunlight, and here it is in bleak and grey December, coated with ice from the great ice storm of December 2013. Does not look like an inviting place to enjoy a cup of tea in the evening, as it was just three months ago, and will be again in April.

Toronto was not as lucky. Hundreds of thousands of residents went days without power. People went into city-operated ‘warming centres’ to stay comfortable. Toronto’s power was restored before the deep freeze hit, fortunately. The Ontario government put together a program to help compensate low-income people who may have lost food due to spoilage, with grocery chains scouring the country for gift cards, whose cost was shared among the various private sector sponsors and the government. As Bob says about some aspects of politics, it may not have been pretty, but it did work.

Then it snowed, and we shoveled and shoveled. Now the snow banks mean you really have to heave that snow to clear the driveway. Winter has come charging in like a hungry lion this year. One only hopes it will ease off, and we can have an early spring in time for what is expected to be an April or May election in Ontario for Bob, who will be seeking his 4th term in the Ontario Legislature.

Yes, Christmas did come!

Andrea at her desk

Sometimes Bebe comes to keep me company while I am working at the computer in the study. I wonder if she is reading over my shoulder.

But Christmas did come, and with it a few hectic days of cooking to have the family all over to the house on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Mom was staying with us through the holidays, an it was nice to have her around. After Christmas Day, we generally tuned out the world, and enjoyed a few days of sleeping in, reading books, watching TV, puttering around the house and going to bed early. It was lovely.

We did a nice Christmas turkey with all the traditional trimmings for Christmas Day. Zach brought over his girl friend Jenny. One of Bob’s fellow MPPs, Dipika Damerla, joined us with her daughter for Christmas dinner as well.

And we did some bread-baking, revisiting two of our very favourite bread recipes: buttermilk white, and corn bread. There is nothing quite like coming in on a cold day to a house aromatic with the scent of fresh baking bread.

Andrea and her birthday cake.

Zach brought over my birthday cake. There are still not so many candles that we need a fire permit to light them. I managed to blow them all out with a single breath.

On New Year’s Eve, everyone once again gathered to celebrate my birthday. It turned out to be a pleasant end to a year full of challenges, and a year that saw everyone here progress a bit. Both cats remain healthy. Obi-Wan turned 14 in September, and Bebe will be 9 years old in April. Obi-Wan’s diabetes was well under control in 2013. Bob and I remain healthy as well. For that, we have a lot to be thankful.

In 2014, we look forward to progress on EduNational for me, and a successful re-election of Bob, and of the government should an election be called. Happy New Year to all our friends and family, and we wish everyone a healthy and fulfilling year from our Churchill Meadows home in Mississauga. May we have the pleasure of entertaining more of our friends at home, especially once the weather turned warm again, and the garden flowers once more.

 

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Happy Thanksgiving

Fond goodbye to warm weather

Obi-Wan by the front door

Obi-Wan is practicing his Halloween scary cat stare as he poses with our autumn greeters by the front door. Obi-Wan and Bebe join us to say Happy (Canadian) Thanksgiving to everyone!

Our autumn greeters have been at the door since the third week of September. There is a distinct chill in the air as daylight settles into darkness a few minutes earlier each day. The pussycats come in at dusk earlier and earlier. And in September, Bebe came eyeball to eyeball with one of the young raccoons that lives in the neighbourhood. It was just past dusk, and the screen door was closed, with the brick up to block the cat port. Our territorial cats keep a close watch through the window to see if any of the nocturnal creatures prowl through their yard in search of food. On this day, Bebe wander over to look outside, only to come face-to-face with a young raccoon on the other side of the screen door curiously looking inside, perhaps wondering how life is for the furry creatures who get to go inside the house.

Bob has been back at Queen’s Park for about a month, making his days long ones: out of the house at dawn and scarcely back before dusk. Our trees are turning colour, and starting to shed their leaves. On Thanksgiving Saturday, the lawn sprinkler maintenance team came over to shut off the sprinklers, and blow out the lines with compressed air. As Bob said, “We know the good weather is starting when they show up to turn the spirinklers on, and the cold weather is set to arrive when they come to turn them off.” Now we have our own shutdown routine to do: cover the air conditioner; turn off the water taps; box up the yard ornaments; take in the many tropical plants that make the back yard such a warm weather delight, and generally close down the Larisa Grove botanical gardens for the long Canadian winter ahead.

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Kitchen Garden 2013

Trying a new web site theme

When Bob helped me first set this web site up, not many themes were available for tablet and handheld devices. Nowadays, perhaps the majority of web views are not coming to users on their laptops or their desktop computers, but on such handheld devices as tablets and cell phones. This is a new “look-and-feel” of my web site. It should render properly on a handheld phone, or on a tablet. If it seems to work, I will customize it, and bring back the photo headers. Make sure you leave a comment and tell me how you like the site both before and after the change.

We eat what we grow in the back yard

Garlic harvest 2013

This summer, as with most years in our home, our dinner guests will dine on ingredients grown steps from the dinner table, and often harvested and prepared just for that one meal. Today, I harvested my first lot of garlic, shown in the picture opposite. I will have to let them dry out a bit, and then we are ready to cook with our very own garlic. This is a species of locally-grown and harvested garlic. It will take a few weeks for the garlic to cure, however.

The tomatoes are steadily progressing, and this year’s crop of strawberries were terrific, but nearly done now. I have a special sack for growing potatoes that Auntie Ione gave me merrily producing what seems to be a nice autumn harvest for some Thanksgiving dining. Dinners and lunches here are regularly seasoned with dill; thyme, chives, basil, tarragon and oregano grown outside in my kitchen garden. There is nothing quite like some fresh salmon seasoned with even fresher dill from our garden.

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Mississauga RibFest 2013

Perfect summer night, good food, nice music and just the right company at the right time for a memorable and warm summer evening.

Andrea and Gabriella at RibFest 2013

With EduNational colleague Gabriella Herrero at RibFest 2013 listening to the band Blackboard Blues. They certainly looked like retired teachers to us.

Sometimes, time pauses and for an evening, something perfect happens. The annual RibFest at Celebration Square in Mississauga was just such a mid-July event. The oppressive heat and humidity had lifted with a Friday thunderstorm that washed the air clear. The weekend weather was sunny, warm and dry. And what better event to take in with Bob and my EduNational colleague Gabriella Herrero than the annual RibFest that the different Rotary Clubs in Mississauga host at Celebration Square, the recently-built gathering place for special events in Mississauga. The artificial grass at Celebration Square has turned out to be a great place to hear a concert, as it does not bake in the sun, or turn to a sea of muddy ooze if the weather has been wet.

Other than a somewhat long line to get in (which moved much more quickly than any of us anticipated), and a pretty packed Celebration Square, the rest was an idyllic summer event. The ribs were not too salty, and I picked out the vendor. The beans and coleslaw were, well… beans and coleslaw. What else did you have in mind?

The ribs were just terrific. Gabriella enjoyed the barbecue chicken, and we all took in some of the music. Bob took a few photos, and you will find one here, and a few more on my Facebook site. After staying until about halfway through the evening’s final performance, we left ahead of the exodus, and had a relaxing cup of Blueberry Tea in the candlelit gazebo at home.

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