Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Movies at the Aurora Theatre

I grew up in Lac La Biche, Alberta.  It’s a fairly small town, but has had a movie theatre for as long as I can remember.  Every Saturday afternoon my younger brother (whom I shall refer to as “Shieky” from here on out) and I would take our wagon (a classic little red jobbie) and collect as many glass pop bottles as we could find in the neighbourhood.  We’d count the empty bottles carefully, making sure we’d be able to make enough money from the returns to cover our admission and treats.  Then we’d take them clinking away down the sidewalk to the local confectionary where we would trade them in for cash.  Once we concluded our business with the shopkeeper it was on to the Aurora Theatre.   

Walking in to the theatre was always a special thing for me.  For as long as I can remember, the theatre was operated by a wonderful family from town.  The Mom, Dad, and all their children each had their tasks and as regular theatre-goers we got to know them all well.  The ticket booth was directly in front of the entryway doors with a small lobby leading to the washrooms on the right and importantly, the snack area to the left.  Once we’d handed over our hard-earned bottle money and paid for our tickets, on we went to the snack area to pick out our treats.  Even now I can hear the machine in the corner erupting with fresh hot popcorn, filling the whole building with its wonderful aroma.  The trick was always to find the perfect snack – it had to be within our budget and had to last for as much of the movie as possible.  As delicious as the popcorn might have been to eat, it would have been a rookie mistake to buy – there was no way we would risk filling up on it before scarfing down something with sugar.  Row upon row of chocolate bars and candy to choose from - a Pep bar was okay, but a Crunchie could last for quite a bit longer.  The ultimate for me was usually a box of Mackintosh’s Toffee.  Sweet and chewy enough to yank the fillings directly out of my teeth – perfect!

With our refreshments in hand we would walk through the open curtains separating the lobby from the theatre and make our way down the steeply slanted wooden floors to our seats.  Being the shortest two kids in town, the only way Shieky and I could be sure to see the movie was to sit in the first and second seat of the very front row.  We had to crane our necks the whole time and couldn’t really see the entire screen that close up, but it was totally worth it. 

We always arrived early (a by-product of our upbringing that I will no doubt regale you about in another blog), and took some time to look around and get comfortable before the show started.  Each seat was made of a dark coloured wood with armrests and cloth covered cushions.  The ceiling was very high with a large ornate medallion surrounding the main light fixture.  The walls had been renovated in the mid 70’s and sported sections of green shag carpet and wooden accents painted orange.  In front there was a stage, like you might see in a school gymnasium, and a set of very heavy dark green velvet curtains.  I’m not sure, but I think there was music playing softly in the background while the seats filled.  Suddenly the lights would dim, one of the theatre family members would close the lobby curtains, and a hush would come over everyone as the heavy curtains would gracefully retract revealing the screen.  The opening cartoon would start and Shieky and I were definitely in our happy place. 

Going to the movies in a small local theatre has its own charm.  If you listened during a quiet part of the movie, you could hear the film clicking through the projector in the booth upstairs.  And if you looked up you could see the beam of light from the projector streaming down to the screen.  On the rare occasion when the picture was out of focus, or the reel had emptied, someone from the audience would call out the family member’s name to let him know it was time to switch the reels or make an adjustment.  Every year for Christmas that wonderfully generous family would show a selected movie to all the school children in the area for free.  Not only did I get to enjoy this lovely gift, but 20+ years later, so did my children. 

I think I saw every Saturday matinee shown at the Aurora theatre in the 70’s, instilling in me a lifelong love of movies.  To this day watching movies is still a special thing.  My husband and I have visited and enjoyed movie theatres all over the world and we usually watch one or two movies a week at home.  It’s a long way from selling bottles to pay for our admission and treats, but it’s been and continues to be one of my favourite things.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Change is Good, Dollar Bills are Better

For the last eight months or so, my husband and I have been working on paring down the amount of stuff we have in our household.  We’ve never been at the hoarder level, but we are certainly, let’s go with “efficient”, in how we store items throughout our home.  Slowly, methodically, we’ve been going through each and every closet and cupboard, donating some items and selling others via online garage sales (the experience of which has enough stories and material for an entire other blog).  We have finally purged enough extraneous things that it’s starting to make a real difference in our living space. 

Today we had an interesting breakthrough.  In looking at ways to replace a set of plastic drawers with something nicer and more in line with our current d├ęcor, we realized we would be able to completely revamp our entire dining room/office area.  We checked things out online, looked at various types of furniture and talked about how we would institute our plan over a period of months.  The more we talked about what was possible now that we had more space, the more excited we became about the incredible opportunity to make sweeping changes to make our home more streamlined, effective, and attractive.

There’s something so satisfying about seeing the results of the work we’ve put into reducing our possessions.  At first there was so much stuff to sort through that I couldn’t really envision an end result – I had a hazy idea of what I would like to (eventually) see, but that was all – like seeing a distant streetlamp in a dense fog – the glowing ghost of light struggling to shine through the mist.  But now, I have a very clear picture of what is possible and what our goal is.  What started as the replacement of a simple set of drawers has turned into a renovation sized project that has us chomping at the bit to get started. 

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Filing is Fun

So I spent the better part of this afternoon doing filing.  I like to think I’m pretty well organized, but I must admit that I have a drawer into which I throw all incoming documents, mail, receipts, and basically anything I don’t want to read or deal with.  My goal is to handle and/or file everything in that drawer about once a month.  In reality I sometimes (and I emphasize the word “sometimes”) manage to go through it at the end of each year – just in time to fill out the tax forms.  For some reason today I simply started collecting up all the tools I needed for the task – you know:  file sorter, blank legal sized folders in different colours, sharpie, clips, and stapler (of course I have all those things handy, why do you ask?), and decided to tackle the entire stack of filing.  Not only did I get it all sorted and put away within a couple of hours, but I found some things I had missing from before and got those items sorted properly too.

There’s something very satisfying about seeing all the folders with neatly printed labels standing straight and upright in the cabinet.  And it’s really nice to look over and see that big old drawer completely empty.  I feel like I could take on any task right now and accomplish it with almost no effort.  The best part is that now I get to take my blue highlighter and cross that item off my To Do list.  There’s nothing that motivates me to get more done than being able to cross something off my To Do list!  I’m a happy camper.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

A Yarn About Healing

Last year I had the opportunity to spend some quality time on the sofa recovering from major surgery.  I say “opportunity”, because having the surgery was a good thing and resulted in a much healthier me.  The first week or two were really all about the basics – resting, taking medication, going for very slow walks, and learning how to laugh or cough without using any muscles so my stitches would stay intact.  My adoring (and adorable) husband took excellent care of me during my recuperation and kept me fed, watered, and comfortable.  It didn’t take very long before I was feeling better and I started to get antsy.  I needed something I could do with my hands while sitting on the couch. 

Now, I am renowned for my lack of ability with a needle and thread.  In particular, I have never been able to crochet, knit, or sew things well.  My Mom is a whiz at all needlework and quilting – and has won awards for some of her beautiful pieces.  Try as Mom might to teach me how to knit and crochet, it never took.  I never got the hang of it – my tension was uneven, I dropped stitches, I just didn’t have the manual dexterity for it.  And sewing…let’s just say it’s better for everyone involved if I pay someone else to take that on.

So here I was, staring down several more weeks of enforced relaxation and in dire need of something to keep my hands and mind occupied.  For some reason, I decided to give needlework another try.  After some research and a few phone calls I picked up a needlepoint kit – think paint-by-number with big chunky yarn – from a local stitchers' shop.  I eagerly opened the packages, sorted the brightly coloured strands of yarn, read the instructions (about 100 times), and started making my project.  After several stops and starts, I completed the first kit and it looked quite good.  So I did another, and another – each one turning out a little nicer than the last.  Before long, I had done all the needlework kits available in town, but I still had time I needed to fill. 

By now several weeks had passed and I was quite mobile and much stronger, so I went to a local craft shop to find some other yarn crafts to do.  I remember as a child taking an empty wooden spool and tapping a few finishing nails into it along one end.  We would tie some yarn around it and using another nail would wind it round and round until a long knitted tail would grow out of the other end.  These long tails could then be wound into a large circle and sewn together to create an area rug.  In the craft shop I noticed something very similar, but on a much larger scale called a circular loom.  Thinking back to how much fun I had as a child playing with the little homemade wooden spool, I didn’t hesitate to pick up a set of these plastic circular looms, some yarn and a few small instructional books.  In a very short period of time and with a few online videos to guide me, I was making a wide variety of toques, mittens, slippers, blankets, scarves, purses, and myriad other projects.

I couldn’t believe how much I enjoyed making these items.  Of course, once I started I couldn’t stop – everyone got several loom knitted items for Christmas that year.  I even made and donated about 50 toques to the local men’s shelter in town.  A few months ago I attended several
stitchers’ meetings (I was looking for a group of other individuals as crazy for loom knitting as I am).  I sat with the other ladies in the group, working on our projects and chatting comfortably.  Time and again someone in the group would tell the story of how she came to learn and love doing the very craft she was enjoying at that moment.  And more often than not, the story began with “I was at home recovering from surgery…”

Going through a major medical issue really brought home my most basic needs and instincts – at the beginning of my recovery I was weak and helpless as an infant.  So maybe it makes sense that in that time of healing when I was growing stronger and healthier and back to myself, I embraced something that harkened back to a more basic time, something as simple as knitting a pair of slippers, or some cute little hats like in the photo.  As my health improved, so did my ability with the loom and yarn.  I traded one kind of stitch for another – both of which helped me to mend and be healthy.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Pajama Day

I’ve been feeling a little under the weather the last couple days - nothing serious, just a little achy and tired with a dollop of the weak and dizzies.  There’s not a lot to like about feeling sick except for one small thing – Pajama Day!  There’s something so comforting about spending the day in my frumpiest miss-matched stretchy snowflake print pants, extremely oversized MIT t-shirt, and floppy slippers.  It’s pure luxury to walk around the condo with unbrushed hair, no socks and a cozy housecoat to keep warm.   Spending the day curled up on the couch with my teapot and cup next to me, reading yet another of the Outlander series is a guilty pleasure for which I shamelessly feel no guilt at all.  I know I’ll feel better in a day or two – but why rush it.  I’m going to take my time and enjoy what I can – take naps, drink ginger mint tea, eat toast with honey – all those things that keep my soul feeling nourished and happy while my body recovers. 
If you need me, I’ll be under the covers with my book.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Merry Ukrainian Christmas

z Rizdvom Khrystovym (Merry Christmas) to all my Ukrainian friends, family, and blog readers.  I love Ukrainian food.  Although my Mom is of French and German heritage, she is fluent in a variety of cooking styles, and very fortunately for our family, that includes Ukrainian food.  In fact, her cabbage rolls are legendary.  A couple years ago Mom and I made over 500 cabbage rolls for her and Dad’s 50th wedding anniversary party.  By the end of the day’s festivities, there wasn’t even one cabbage roll to take home for leftovers the next day.  Perogies, perishke (my personal favourite – a small bun filled with cottage cheese and baked with dill cream *drool*), nalisnyky, borscht, nachinka – Mom makes it all and it’s amazing. 

So to celebrate Ukrainian Christmas here is Mom’s recipe for perogies.  You will notice the recipe is a bit vague – basically you have to rely on your sense of taste and preference to get the amounts just right.  For example, if you don’t like onions, don’t add onions.  You get the idea.  Enjoy! 


1 Recipe perogy dough (recipe follows)


Mashed potatoes

Onions, finely chopped

Cheez Whiz or cottage cheese

Mix together the ingredients and fill rounds of rolled dough to form perogies.  To fill the perogies, hold the round of dough in one hand, put a bit of the mashed potato mix in the centre, fold the dough in half and pinch the edges together.  To cook, boil fresh or frozen perogies in boiling water, or deep fry in a bit of oil in a frying pan.  Serve with fried bacon, onions, sour cream, fresh cream, or butter.

Perogy Dough

5 Cups flour


2 eggs

½ Cup oil

1 ¾ Cups warm potato water (from the potatoes you boiled for the filling)

Mix to make a soft dough.  Let rest for one hour.  Roll out to make perogies.  There are many different ways to cut the perogy shapes – one idea is to use a drinking glass with the edge lightly dipped in flour.  Be sure to invite Angelle for dinner to make sure you got the recipe just right.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Playing Tai Chi

Like a lot of people, now that the holiday season is over, I have renewed my vow to go to the gym and pool more often.  Whenever I swim or go workout, my mind wanders.  To be honest, this is where a lot of my blog ideas are born – maybe all the activity gets my creative juices flowing and helps to fill my brain with the next profound thing about which to write.  Or maybe (probably?) it’s simply a desperate attempt at focussing on anything other than the chore of exercise.  At any rate, yesterday while treading water in the deep end of the wave pool, something I remembered caused me to see the task at hand in a new light, something I think maybe we could all benefit from. 

My husband and I love to travel.  In 2006 on our honeymoon, we were on a bus tour driving through Beijing.  Our lovely and ever-cheerful guide, Mily, pointed out a group of people standing together in a plaza next to a large office building.  With their briefcases or shopping bags on the ground next to them, all the people were standing with a similar pose.  Their feet were apart, knees slightly bent, arms outstretched in front of them as though holding a large round imaginary ball.  In unison, they moved as though in slow motion.  “They are playing Tai Chi”, explained Mily.  The people were on their way to work or going home from shopping and they just stopped to congregate and start a game of Tai Chi.  When they were done they carried on to whatever it was they were doing before. 

So here I was yesterday, floating around and thinking about the concept of “playing” my exercise.  What if, instead of “working” out, I chose to “play” in the pool or “play” while riding the recumbent bike?  What if I applied that same feeling of joy and exuberance I had as a child on the playground, to swimming or jogging or doing bench presses for that matter?  If I change the mindset and the terminology perhaps I will feel more enthusiastic about achieving and maintaining good health.  When we watched those people playing Tai Chi, they were all very engaged in what they were doing.  No-one was grimacing, wearing headphones, watching a screen, or focussing on anything other than the fluid movement of their play.

I’m going to give this a try – to bring along a positive and playful attitude when I go to the gym or pool.  I will smile and remember to enjoy what I am doing, to focus on the pleasure of it and allow myself to experience it as joy.  Hopefully over time I will improve not only my physical health, but my mental and emotional health as well.  At the very least, I will enjoy the experiment.

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Toolboxes and Cookbooks

Buying graduation gifts for the young men and women in my life was something I puzzled over for a long time.  I love it when I can give just the right gift - something that is not only appreciated, but is useful, and meaningful.  But what sort of present could convey that sentiment?  I had an idea. 

For the girls, I gave them a toolbox with a hammer, screwdriver set, tape measure, mini-level, a picture hanging kit, carpenter’s pencil, some nails and screws, a glue gun, pliers, a roll of duct tape, and some WD-40 (these last two items alone can repair about 90% of all issues with the adage:  if it moves and shouldn’t use duct tape, if it should move and doesn’t use WD-40).  Inside the toolbox was a card explaining that we each have our own toolbox for life - a place where we keep our talents, abilities, drive, and passions ready to use whenever we need them.  With continued knowledge and experience, they could add valuable tools to their toolbox throughout their lives.  Besides, girls aren’t usually given toolboxes and what could be more practical for someone who is going to live on their own for the first time?

For the boys, I put together a large laundry hamper filled with a few pots, a couple non-stick frying pans, cooking utensils, dishcloths and dishtowels, oven mitts, an apron, an egg timer, and some storage containers.  I topped off the whole stack with the cookbook “The Bachelor’s Guide to Ward Off Starvation” by Clarence Culinary Culpepper.  It has some of the tried and true basics like “how to make a cheese sandwich”.  Of course, included in the basket was a card explaining how important it is for them to continue to nurture themselves.  That the key to a full and satisfying life is to feed not only their body, but their mind and soul with a steady diet of knowledge and experiences.   As with the girls, no one usually thinks to give boys kitchen wares.  But what could be more fitting than the gift of nourishment and health?

For the most part, the gifts were very well received.  Even years later, one of the young women told me she still had some of the tools that she received.  And at least one of the young men still has that cookbook.  They may not have been the most prestigious gifts, but I think they were certainly very thoughtful and useful.