Sunday, June 28, 2009

The other George

Viewers of Nashville Star 2 (2004) will remember George Canyon, the Canadian contestant who placed second to Alabaman Brad Cotter. While he didn't win that particular competition, George has gone on to achieve stardom among Canada's country music circle and has even honed his acting skills along the way (Heartland, among others).

To put it mildly, he's become Canada's non-smoking-but-smokin'-hot version of the Marlboro Man. (Oh, and he can really sing, too!)

Our lucky streak continued last night, as I recently won a contest put on by Empire Theatres and was fortunate enough to attend George's private show from his "The Sky's Not the Limit Tour".

It was an intimate, acoustic performance with just George and his guitar, and it really showcased just how solid and pure his voice really is. Frankly, I would love it if all concerts were performed as such!

The neatest part of the whole experience is that George has been using this tour to meet families across Canada and talk to them about an insulin pump used to treat Type 1 Diabetes, something he has lived with since his early teens.

Tickets weren't available for purchase to this show; it was strictly a free performance for people living with diabetes (and, of course, lucky contest winners like us!), so there was really no monetary profit to be made by George himself.

No high-priced concert seats and no overpriced t-shirts and souvenirs. And the proceeds from all items that were available for purchase went entirely into the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation of Canada.

(As my husband repeatedly asked last night, would Kenny Chesney ever do something like this??)

After the show, we all got the chance to meet with George and pose for photos with him, and I'm a little embarrassed to say that I was so star struck that I couldn't think of anything to say beyond the standard 'Nice to meet you... it was an excellent show' type of thing. Doh.

But I did put my arm around him for the photo.... does that count for anything??

To his credit, George was incredibly gracious and polite and -- as my husband pointed out -- so very real.

It's funny, but I think my husband now has a little bit of a man-crush on George Canyon, haha.

Maybe he'll now be more open to naming one of our yet-to-be-conceived daughters Georgia. (Seriously, that's one name-battle that I've been losing for years....).

Friday, June 26, 2009

Recipes galore, as heard on CFCW

Listeners to 790 CFCW's radio morning show are familiar with the Recipe of the Morning contest, in which on-air personalities Sharon Mallon and Danny Hooper share a tasty-sounding submission from one lucky fan. 

And for the second time in less than a year, my husband sent in a recipe that was selected as the must-try meal of the day. Whoot!

Below are each of his winning submissions......

June 26, 2009 - 
2 1/4 c. flour
1 1/4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 c. mashed very ripe bananas
1 c. buttermilk, room temperature
2/3 c. shortening, room temperature
1 1/2 c. sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla

1 (8 oz.) pkg. cream cheese, softened
1/2 c. light corn syrup
1/2 c. chunky peanut butter

- Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

- In separate bowl, combine bananas and buttermilk. Set aside.

- Cream shortening and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs. Beat in vanilla alternately.

- Add flour and banana mixture, beginning and ending with flour.

- Spread in greased and floured 13 x 9 x 2 inch pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes. Cool and frost.  Serves 20.

October 31, 2008 - 
Shepherd's Pie with Sweet Potato Crust (originally from a Reader's Digest magazine)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 rib of celery, sliced
2 lbs lean ground chicken, beef, or lamb
1 cup chicken or beef stock
1 tin (796ml) plum tomatoes, pureed with juices
2 tbsp Worchestershire sauce
dash of Tabasco
1 cup frozen peas
1 cup frozen corn
salt and pepper to taste

Sweet Potato Topping:

2 1/2 lbs sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
2 tbsp orange or apple juice
1 tbsp honey or maple syrup
2 tbsp butter (optional)
1 tsp salt (or more!) to taste
1 tsp paprika

- Cook sweet potatoes in a large pot of boiling water for 15-20 minutes or until very tender. Drain well, then mash with orange or apple juice, honey, and butter. Add salt and pepper. Let cool.

- Meanwhile, heat oil in a large, deep skillet and add onions and garlic. Cook 5 minutes until tender and fragrant. Add carrot and celery and cook a few more minutes until tender.

- Add ground meat, breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Cook well, and then add stock, tomatoes, Worchestershire, and Tabasco for 20 minutes until thick.

- Remove from heat, and add peas, corn, and salt and pepper to taste.

- Spread meat mixture in the bottom of a 9x13 inch baking dish. Spread sweet potato mixture on top. Dust top with paprika.

- Place pan on a larger baking dish (to catch any spills) and bake in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 30-40 minutes or until brown and bubbling.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Escort duty, military style

I first read Christie Blatchford's Fifteen Days in spring 2008, and I was so moved by it that I had to own a copy for myself and then harass encourage everyone I know to read it too. 

It offered a behind-the-scenes and outside-the-wire look at a Canadian Armed Forces deployment in Afghanistan
and it certainly opened my eyes to some of the events that take place when one of our soldiers is KIA.


For example, following one soldier’s death, another soldier volunteered for escort duty and later described how he recalled the sound of the melted ice moving in the casket each time their vehicle came to a start or a stop.

I don’t know why, but this detail fascinated me.


It makes perfect sense that the bodies would be packed with bags of ice before their long trip home from overseas, but it never occurred to me that the ice would melt along the way. Or that it could be heard with every turn of the hearse.


Such a small detail, and yet it’s interesting that this is one of the things the escort remembered from his service.


HBO recently released Taking Chance, which is based on the real-life events of Lt. Col. Michael Strobl, a marine who volunteered to escort home the remains of Lance Cpl. Chance Phelps after he was KIA in Iraq.

From the ramp ceremony overseas to the preparation of the body at Dover Air Force Base, it is a sombre and deeply moving account of the entire process required to bring these soldiers home.


Like with Fifteen Days, the scenes in Taking Chance reveal details that many of us would ordinarily never actualize, but that’s precisely what makes this film so special. It makes us aware of how real death is and of how many people have to face it each time another soldier is lost.


In researching this topic, I stumbled upon a blog entry by a Vietnam war veteran who also volunteered for escort duty. His account is no less interesting, and it’s certainly worth the read: 

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Salute your troops

I admit I have a little bit of a girl-crush on Robin Meade, the anchor from CNN's Morning Express.

All right, so it's not so much a crush, really. Truth be known, I just want to look like her, but I digress.
My husband and I have gotten into the habit of tuning in to Morning Express each day over breakfast and the daily paper, and one of my favourite features is Salute to Troops.
The stories are all fairly standard: wife / kids / husband / parents miss their soldier / marine / airman / sailor while he / she is deployed, and a myriad of photos or video footage flashes across the screen during their brief tribute.
Very cool.

My childhood friend Juliana is married to a U.S. Marine and currently lives in North Carolina, but she manages to come home a couple times a year. With her husband currently on a year-long deployment and not scheduled to return until January, she's been juggling a business and two kids on her own -- until now, that is.

Juliana was back in town this week to drop off her kids for a two-month stay with their grandparents until she returns in late August. Which means she'll now have all the time in the world to submit her own Salute to Troops tribute, right??
Heh, I'm trying to convince her to do it, but we'll see what happens.
At the very least, I think it'd be really cool to have Robin Meade say their names.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Old too soon, smart too late

The above title is a play on Dr. Gordon Livingston's acclaimed self-help book, Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart: Thirty True Things You Need to Know Now.

Although I haven't yet read this piece in its entirety, it strikes me as offering several common sense pieces of advice that are so simple and yet seem to evade so many of us.

I know that we all have regrets and wish that we could turn back time for a do-over of certain events, but of course that just isn't possible.

Naturally, this saddens me. I do believe that life is a test in which we're forced to continually learn new things thoughout the journey, but it just doesn't seem fair sometimes.

If only we could have been born knowing some of the lessons we do know now.... because sometimes, for some people, now is just too late.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Milk studs and ball diamonds

I had been feeling a little sluggish during a brief stop in Detroit last month – partly because of the traveling, but mostly because of all the processed / convenience foods I’d consumed in the previous week – and so I bypassed the fast-food kiosks in the airport and instead opted to purchase a fresh salad.

But what beverage options did I have to go with my good-for-me meal?

It seemed counter-productive to order a sugar-laced soda with my greens, plus I knew that it would only perpetuate my sluggishness and do nothing to get me out of my funk. So instead I bought an individual container of milk. (It was actually a partly-skimmed chocolate milk, but still. It was the healthiest alternative next to water.)

As I stood in the middle of the airport in an exhausted haze, mindlessly employing the use of a straw to slurp back my chocolate milk, I was surprised when a cute, young (read: 35-ish) blonde gentleman began speaking to me.

Thank you for drinking milk,” he politely commented in his mid-western drawl.

Huh? Still in a haze, I wasn’t exactly at my most articulate best.

I’m a milk producer – so thank you for drinking milk.”

Oh, umm, yeah,” began my slow decent into a self-inflicted episode of humiliation. “I normally don’t drink enough milk, so this was a nice alternative because we’ve been traveling and… and… Oh dear God, he was starting to walk away. Umm…… CALL ME!”

Heh, okay, so that last part didn’t really happen, but that’s not to say I didn’t think it.

My random encounter with the cute milk producer got me thinking about the fact that other people – complete strangers, no less – really do sometimes pay attention to what we consume when we’re out in public.

Which brings me to my next anecdote. Yesterday was a beautiful day that turned into an even more pleasant evening, so my husband and I grabbed a bat and some tennis balls and made our way to a nearby ball diamond where we could attempt to re-enact the winning escapades of the ’86 Mets.

We picked up some friends along the way and played until the sun began to set, which, when you live as far north as we do, was around 10:15 p.m. when we finally packed it in. It was an utterly fantastic evening, and it had an innocence about it that was reminiscent of The Sandlot.

(Note: I’m the pudgy one in the middle.)

Semperfi_Dani was with us, and in a spirited attempt to rally the troops, she made up songs for each of us while we were at bat.

In true pick-up-baseball fashion, many of the song lyrics rhymed with our names. (Example: “Garry, Garry, he’s so hairy…”)

Naturally, the song she made up for me went a little something like this: “Let’s go, Jo, the hefty ho!”

At least that’s what I thought she said.

I didn’t think twice about it until we were talking later, and she clarified that she hadn’t called me hefty but instead had referred to me as happy.

As in, “Let’s go, Jo, the HAPPY ho!”

(Shwaah? I come across as happy to you? Whoot!)

It’s funny that we sometimes hear what we THINK someone else might say about us, rather than what was actually said.

So what lessons did I learn from these two unrelated incidents?

1. It’s important to always eat healthy when you’re in public because you never know when someone else is watching. The same also applies to tequila body shots and table dancing.

2. Even though you may be feeling particularly fat, provided you’re enjoying yourself and have a smile on your face, people will only see that you’re happy. And not fat.

(Okay, okay, so maybe the first lesson I actually learned was that it’s important for us to support our local North American milk producers. )

(… because you might one day end up marrying into the family business… ahem)

Friday, June 12, 2009

Too late to be at my thrifty best

So you know how I was lamenting that anyone who pays more than $50 for a concert ticket is getting ripped off? And then I went and blew an entire month's grocery budget on a pair of Kenny Chesney tickets? Well guess what...?!? There was a limitted-time offer on his concert tickets today: all seats were selling for $25 each. Which means that my husband and I could have attended for a grand total of -- wait for it -- $50. Doh. I caved in during a moment of weakness, and now I'm paying the consequences. If only I'd held out for a few more days....... (then we could still afford to eat during the month of July, lol.) Live and learn.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Slumdog filmmakers

An article in today's Edmonton Sun states that the filmmakers of the Oscar-winning movie Slumdog Millionaire have purchased a new home for one of the child stars they pulled from the slums of Mumbai, India.


And by new home, I mean a $55,000, 23-square-metre, one-bedroom apartment for him and his family. (Frankly, I'm pretty sure these filmmakers spent at least that much when catering one of their staff lunches, but I digress.)

I don't mean to sound so bitter -- granted, the filmmakers did set up a trust fund for these kids to claim when they're 18 and have completed their education -- but what took the filmmakers so long to remove them from living in complete poverty?

Had Mumbai officials not demolished the shanty homes where the kids were living, would these filmmakers have even stepped in at all?

Those kids were the true stars of that film, which earned over $160 million at the box office, and yet they were simply sent back to live in poverty once Hollywood wasn't watching.

Total shame.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Summer sunshine

Last night my friend Carla and I went to see Up, the latest Pixar film in theatres, and it was so fantastic that I've already told my husband he's seeing it with me next week. Honestly, it's the best movie I've been to in a long time, and I feel compelled to pressure treat him to a delightful night at the movies.
But the other thing that made last night so cool was that I was wearing sunglasses as I drove home at 9:45 p.m.!

The endless hours of sunshine this time of year are the only thing I truly love about Edmonton, and it almost makes the cold, miserable, dark winter forgivable.

Okay, not even close. Winter sucks, and I still want out.

But at least this is enough to temporarily help me feel alive again.

Monday, June 8, 2009

"Free at last, free at last. Good God, almighty, he's free at last..."

Conversation overheard between my husband and I while he was playing Madden football on his Playstation:

Me:     "Aww, how sweet. You're player #29... which is the age you were on the happiest day of your life: our wedding day!"

Him:   [insert awkward silence]    "Uhhhhh, I wasn't 29 when we got married.... was I?"

Me:     [insert audible gasp]    "Are you kidding me?!?"

Him:   "Ummm, I picked 29 because that's the age I was when I first started playing this Madden game."

Me:     [shaking my head and giving him the stink-eye]

Him:  [deep gulp] "Ummm..... but I still love you!"

Me:    "Jack ass."

My husband.............

Getting his geek on and reliving the happiest day of his life.

Occasionally stealing sharing the gifts The Wise Men intended for Jesus.

Tolerating it when I force him to pose with various Americana artifacts.

Retaliating by forcing me to pose while strategically taking a photo of the guy behind me, AKA: the supposed-twin of Don Rickles.

Grinning ' n ' bearing it while I force him to pose for self portrait #702.

Humouring my wildlife obsession and occasionally pretending to emerge from sea turtle shells.

And today, taking a bite out of his degree and graduating from University.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The harshest critic

I could never be hired to review music for a magazine or newspaper. I'm far too harsh in my opinions.

Case in point: The only way you could persuade me to attend a Keith Urban concert is if you paid me. (Wait... reviewers DO get paid for this.... !)

Further to my point: The only way you could get me to enjoy a Keith Urban concert is if he only played his hits from spring 2005 and earlier.

All of his music from late 2005 to present day only serves to make my ears bleed.

Ahem. I can already envision my inbox being flooded with the predictable stream of teenybopper hate mail....

"Keith Urban is HOT, HOT, HOT! Who are you to judge him??"

"How can you be so mean?!?!? What did he ever do to you?!?!"

"Millions of fans all over the world can't be wrong about how amazing he is. How many fans do YOU have?"

"He's singing those songs to ME, you know. One day I know we'll be together...."

Oh dear lawd.

In my defense, I do believe that Keith Urban is a gifted songwriter and a talented musician, which is exactly why I expect so much more out of his albums.

I hate to say it, but the quality of his writing was far superior when his personal life was in a bit of turmoil.

Seriously, he went from such brilliance in Raining on Sunday and You'll Think of Me (the ULTIMATE break-up song).... to the lame, teenybopper-esque sounds of Kiss a Girl.

Now I know this isn't always the case, since one of our wedding songs was Keith Urban's very happy and touching Making Memories of Us .... but that was also the very last song of his that I actually liked. Everything since then has only resulted in a mad dash to change the radio station.

But there is some accuracy in suggesting that many of us are at our most creative during times of personal darkness. (Umm, hello, van Gogh, anyone?)  

Jamey Johnson -- another extremely gifted songwriter and musician who not only has his own hits but has also penned winners for George Strait and Trace Adkins -- has this note written on the inside of his CD jacket for his second album, That Lonesome Song:

"I woke up in my truck one morning after a hard night out on the town. With divorce on the horizon and my record deal taken away, I set out for relief by getting out of my head for a while. Instead of risking the drive home (I was staggering drunk) I just threw my keys in the bed of my truck and went to sleep in the passenger seat. It was over a year later, after receiving Song of the Year at the ACM awards in Las Vegas, before I'd have another drink. That Lonesome Song is a collection of my observations of my life as I saw it during that time."

And, in my opinion, this album is terrific.

It is, at times, painfully honest (High Cost of Living), and at other times just a beautiful reflection of the people around him (In Color). 

He's bad ass, and his music and voice make me melt.

Which is why I was so appalled when my husband announced yesterday that he didn't much care for Jamey Johnson.

In fact, I believe his exact words were, "No offence, but I don't really like his voice."

That's it. Stop the car. He doesn't like his voice. 

I should have expected as much from someone who worships The Beatles.

And had a Beatles haircut in high school.

In 1995.

Now I know that not everyone will be able to relate to or appreciate Jamey Johnson's brand of country music, and that's okay. But his voice is solid gold! What's not to love?

I felt like hollering to him: "How can you be so mean?!?!? What did he ever do to you?!?!"

Not to be outdone by: "Millions of fans all over the world can't be wrong about how amazing he is. How many fans do YOU have?"

*sigh* It's true. I am a thirty-something teenybopper fan of Jamey Johnson.

So should I be proud or ashamed? I guess that's a matter of opinion, like with everything else.

Monday, June 1, 2009

It pains me to do this, but...

This song by The Trashmen has cracked me up for years, and though it pains me that I have to now relate it to a Family Guy episode, I guess I am thankful that they've made it popular again for another generation to enjoy.