Archive for December, 2010

Bye Bye 2010

2010 is drawing to a close and what can I say?

I still have my job, for a while it was touch and go as the powers that be re-structured the entire department. While I can celebrate keeping my job it was bitter-sweet as two of my co-workers lost theirs.

For the first time we got a real tree at Christmas, overall it was a good thing and an interesting experience.

I’ve averaged two posts a week for my blog which was my goal.

I got on twitter, I have 9 followers and I am following 17, granted I really don’t keep up with tweeting.

We did not add another pet to our menagerie, which is a good thing because we are out of room.

 We did have successful release of possums and squirrels and a few mice that we caught in our live trap.  However other mice that avoided the trap fell victim to our cats.

We got a good start to some home renovations and we have plans for more.

We have made some new friends that we have enjoyed spending time with and we have kept up with old friends.

We have had profound learning experiences mainly that no matter how devastating certain situations seem there is always a positive side.

When you get knocked down, you just have to stand up, and when you stand up, you have to help out those that are still down.

While we have our health issues, we are all alive and kicking.

Sequoia’s (our Husky) health issues were really trying but thanks to some great advice from two great vets (both here and away) she seems to be her old self.  One of our older cats has some ongoing issues but she seems to have leveled out a little bit so we will just have to wait and see.

We actually went to a Penn State Football game, it was my first, and if I have anything to say about, my last.

It seems like this was a big year with many ups and downs.  But as I sit here with 2 and half hours left of the year I really can’t think of everything that transpired, which reminds of something a friend of mine once said.  “I am not sure what I do all day, but I’m always tired at the end of it”

Have a wonderful new year.

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Back in the day (1979 – 1998) my father hosted an annual magic convention with Vim Vermeys.  One of the features that we always looked forward to was the after party. This party was always at our house and it was a time when the dealers, performers and lecturers could sit back and enjoy each other’s company without the magic monkey looming over our shoulders

The only rule was there was absolutely no magic at these parties.  I remember one time when my father and Dick Zimmerman of magic and Ragtime fame sat at the piano while a few of the magicians and their wives sang along.  The parties always amazed me, so many egos, so many personalities all crammed into such a small place and everyone had a great time.  To me, these parties seemed to be reminiscent of scenes played out in movies based around the 1920’s. Our house was the speakeasy only with no gangsters, flappers, illegal liquor, cigarettes, prostitution, the only contraband was magic.  Okay not exactly a party like the roaring 20’s but you gets the idea.

There was one magician, Bob Little from Hat borough Pa who attended all 19 conventions in the Magie Montreal series.  Bob was a magic dealer, a lecturer, and a performer.  

Jump ahead many years.

 When I first arrived in Pennsylvania I got together with a few of the local magicians and started a magic club.  As the club took root my wife and I decided to throw a party and invite the magicians along with some other more civilized guests.  

The party which was a BBQ at our house quickly snowballed out of control.  My wife and I learned that not only were the local magicians attending, so were the Penn State Performers which included magicians, jugglers and clowns.  

 I used to work at a bank downtown,  I happen to be sitting in the lunchroom of the bank looking down the street and much to my disbelief I saw Bob Little walking down the road.  I had not seen him since the last convention, a good 5 years earlier.  I ran out of the bank and caught up with Bob.

Me: “Bob, remember me?”

He looked at me for a moment and said;

“Phil’s son?”

“Yes, how are you doing?”

“Aren’t you in the music business in Montreal?”

“No, I’m the other son”

“Don’t you have a magic shop in British Columbia?”

“I did, but I don’t anymore. I live here now.”

“Here? As in Pennsylvania?”

“Yup, I met a woman who attended Penn State and works for the university.  We got married and now I live up in the mountains.”

Bob at this point looked very confused but we chatted for a bit.  I found out he was in State College because as an alumni of Penn State he was being given some sort of an award and was asked to make a speech.  Also there was some party the next night that the magicians were taking him too.

“Ahh, that would probably be my party” Again he looked a little confused.  I shrugged and went back to work.

Saturday afternoon guests began to arrive.  There were jugglers juggling, magicians showing each other tricks, people were talking eating and being very noisy.  At one point I slipped inside to take a breather, and there was Bob all alone sitting on the couch. He looked at me a little confused by my presence.  I knew he was still trying to process me being here and not in Canada.   

Bob; “This is a really nice place”


“No really it is so nice up here.  I went for a walk in the woods the path is covered in moss and is shaded by trees you should really check it out.  I was told the owners have 11 acres.  Do you know who the owners are? “

“Bob, remember yesterday when I said I lived in the mountains and that the party you were invited to was mine?  Well here we are my party, my house.”

We sat for a moment, looking through the window two of the jugglers were juggling torches, magicians were in little groups showing one another card tricks,  a fire was going in the fire pit, the grill was fired up and spewing hamburgers and hotdogs.

“You know” Bob said, “The last time I was at a party that was anything close to this was at your father’s convention I miss those days”

As I sit back during this holiday season and think about all the twists and turns my life has taken me I find myself wondering where it all went, when did I do all that stuff? Where has the time gone?  How can my friends have grown children? How can my little sister have two kids? Where did it go? When did it all happen?  I don’t understand the difference between a 3G and a 4G network!  Did an inner city Jewish Canadian really go get a live Christmas tree from a tree farm in Central Pa?  Was it really 25 years ago that my best friend and I were riding our bikes through the town of Hampstead?  Do I seriously get out the blow torch to fix the copper pipes in my own home? Did my wife seriously buy me the greatest winter boots and gloves so I could be comfortable while I am out SNOWBLOWING my driveway?  Are there not other people who are supposed to do that sort of work? 

Bob, I too miss those days.  But I love my days now.  I love my wife, my family, my life.  I hope in another 25yrs I’ll be sitting with my wife missing the ‘old’ days and still loving the current ones.

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Two recent events brought me to the writing of this post.  The first was that somebody asked me if I had any children.  For the last year or so I have responded to that question by saying, “Well, we did have a boy but he was allergic to the dog so we had to adopt him out.”  I really enjoy it when the response is a look of horror, in which case I add, “Well we had the dog first!”

As to why we don’t have children? There are a multitude of reasons and be aware I have gathered the following information from years of observation and the list is in no particular order:

1)      I am cheap, kids are expensive.

2)      They really don’t make good listeners

3)      They make noise, sometimes they make a lot of noise

4)      Poop, pee, puke, yes the three P’s.  I’m not fond of cleaning up after myself why would I commit to years of cleaning somebody else’s.

5)      Confrontation, I try to avoid confrontation at all costs, why would I want something living under my roof that almost by definition is going to be confrontational? 

6)      I’m tired.

7)      At a certain age they ask, “why” all the time.  The only answer I have to “Why?” is “Because” don’t believe me? Ask my wife.  I know it is annoying, I know it is not always an appropriate answer, but seriously it is usually the only answer I have.  Why? You ask? Because!

8)      Both my wife and I hate repeating ourselves, it is bad enough when we have to for each other because one or the other is mumbling while in a different room with our back turned while the television is blasting away and the washing machine is on. But to repeat ourselves because the little monster just doesn’t want to do what is being asked?  That would not bode well. 

9)    When they eat, they are rather messy.  For some reason people think it is cute to carry around a picture with the child’s face covered in food.  For me it is just disgusting.  

10)  While in a drug store my wife thought it would be funny to show me a snot-sucker.  I felt sick for a week.

The second event which brought me to write this post concerns a friend of ours.  They went to a pizza joint where they give the kids some pizza dough, and with that pizza dough the kids can make any shape they want and the restaurant then makes a pizza out of the child’s creation.  I was informed this is supposed to be a mushroom.  A mushroom was not my first guess.

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 My wife, who is non-Jewish decided that we should, for a change, get a real Christmas tree.  “Sure.” I responded as if I had a choice in the matter.  A few years ago we did spend a gazillion dollars and thirty-seven cents on a fake pre lit Christmas tree.  We spent a gazillion dollars and thirty-seven cents on the fake tree because they last forever, in theory we would never have to buy another tree again.

So off we went to Tannenbaum farms to get our first real live Christmas tree.   It turns out Tannenbaum farms is a pretty big deal.  Being a rather nice day the snow was melting creating a horrid mess of the ground. We were directed to a parking spot, my wife and I, (both in running shoes) parked the car in the mud, looked at each other, took a breath and the adventure began.

The scene was frightful, Children running around screaming, fathers grunting and mumbling under their breath while trying to negotiate the muddy rutted road with their freshly cut tree hanging off the rickety dolly, I was worried about the orange hack saws they wielded, were the hack saws for the trees, or the rest of the family?   Mothers were trying to coral their over excited children,  dogs were slopping around, I can only imagine our woolly coated husky covered head to toe in mud, although she would have enjoyed the chaos I am glad we decided not to bring her.

My next thought was, ‘now what?’  Everyone seemed to know where they were going and what they were doing, but to me it looked like a chaotic free-for-all.  My wife managed to find the little office and explained to the man who looked like he wanted to be anywhere else than where he was, (he was wearing a paper crown that his daughter had made for him) that we had no idea what we were doing.  “And you are asking me?” he replied.  He did do his best to put some order to the chaos.  He took us to the door and pointed towards the mud and told us that down near the road were some sample trees.  All you have to do is find one you like and ask one of the guys in overalls where that type of tree is located.  The overall guy will then direct you to the part of the forest where that type of tree is grown.  Then you get yourself one of those little saws and a rickety cart.  Cut down your tree and bring it back here where we will wrap it up for you.  All trees regardless of size were $35.00.  I had a horrific vision of walking for miles in the mud deciding on a tree then getting down on my knees with this little saw to cut down a five foot tree.  I really wanted my chain saw and I really didn’t want to crawl under the branches in this muck to get to the trunk and cut down a tree.  What I wanted was to go into my garage and get our gazillion dollar and thirty-seven cent pre-lit fake Christmas tree.  But it was far too late for that.

“Or” the man continued you can go over to that fence over there and choose one of our pre cut trees.  He explained that because they cut them they would be a little more expensive but they were all freshly cut that morning.  My wife and I glanced at each other, two souls one thought.  Expense be damned!  Show us to this wonderful magic fence!

At the fence there was another man, okay a man-child who asked us if we needed help. “Yes 5 foot, narrow yet full.”  He showed us a really beautiful tree but it was a little wide.  The next one was perfect.  He looked at the tag and told us it would be $55.00.  I didn’t care!  My wife went to pay for the tree while the nice man-child hefted the tree into the air and walked it to the office (no rickety little cart through the muddy rutted road for this Jew).  Behind the office were two large machines one was a box like thing that he stuck the base of the tree into when he flipped a switch the entire tree started to vibrate like mad.  All the loose debris came flying off the tree, along with any bugs, birds, rodents, hawks and a nest of children in a tree houses.  Nothing could survive that shaking.  Once my man-child was satisfied he took the tree and put it through this other machine which ‘folded’ for lack of a better word, the branches and contained them in twine turning my full tree into a large manageable toothpick.  He then offered to put the tree into our SUV.  While I desperately wanted him to lug the toothpick across the muddy road to the car, (all of 20 feet) I thought it would be best to keep a little dignity and handle it myself.   Twenty minutes after we got out of the car and $60.00 later (yes my wife wisely spent an extra five on a watering tube that has made life easier, did you know that a live Christmas tree drinks about a gallon a day?) we were heading home.

What we didn’t think about was the sap.  I got out my chainsaw and cut a ‘cookie’ off the bottom of the tree as directed by my wife who looked up ‘care and maintenance of a Christmas Tree’ online.  We hefted the tree placed it in the tree holder clamped it down so it was plum and cut the twine. Our beautiful tree unfolded to its former glory.  The aroma of pine enveloped our house, we sat back and admired our tree, yes we have 11 wooded acres, yes we planted three fir trees in our front yard but we have never had a live tree inside.  And even I, the Grinch of all things holiday (except Halloween) was very pleased with our tree. 

My hands were sticky.  My wife’s hands were sticky.  My wife went to wash hers.  Five minutes at the sink and panic started to set in.  My wife who doesn’t mind handling all sorts of unmentionable and gross stuff at her work, my wife who has a degree in meat science, my wife who has worked on a kill floor skinning and eviscerating carcasses doesn’t like sticky stuff that doesn’t come off, meaning…sap! 

“Brian!” I heard the panic in her voice. “It won’t come off, do something!”  I searched the cabinet and found Goo-gone.  Thankfully that worked and a full blown panic attack was narrowly avoided.  Hands all nice and clean and protected behind latex gloves the decorating of the already beautiful tree began.

Earlier, months earlier my wife said, “I want a real tree this year”.

“Okay” I said, as if I had a choice.

“What colour lights would you like on the tree?” She asked.

“Don’t care, I’m Jewish.”  I replied.

“I want you to be part of this so you have to choose, coloured lights or white lights?”


Long pause, a bit of laughter from us both.

As you can see the tree is not yet fully loaded, but you get the idea.

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This is akin to things that annoy me, only they really don’t annoy me, they just make me roll my eyes:

The term ‘Ink Pen’

Them: “May I borrow your ink pen?”

Me: “Sure would you like some pulp paper as well?”

The Phrase, ‘In my life’ as in:

Them :”Never in my life as I seen such a thing!”

Me: “Really have you seen it in somebody elses life?”

3-6 of  ‘Angry Birds’ 

Oh, I not only beat it, but I conquered it.  But it took way to long to accomplish something so utterly stupid.

Phrase, ‘It doesn’t take a rocket scientists’ 

Why do we even have rocket science?  It seems nothing takes rocket science.  I am beginning to wonder if rocket science actually takes rocket scientist.

Long Story Short:

unfortunately I am guilty of saying this as well.  But seriously if you are using the statement, ‘long story short’ your story is already 3 words too long.

I was recently reminded that you can’t have a light without a dark to stick it in.   So to keep things balanced the following is something I enjoy. 

Troy Craig is one of my favourite bloggers.  I would love to be able to write the way that he does.  I first learned of Troy while he was working as a DJ on a local radio program, ‘Qwik Rock’.  Now he has taken some time to go and teach English as a second language in Korea, but he keeps us informed on his wonderful blog.  Today the title of his latest post has quickly risen to the top of my favourite phrase list, Hurricane of Stupid.  

Troy, although I’ve never met him personally, fits in with my, small town life theme.  A friend of mine Kevin Nelson is a long time DJ (Kevin and Pat in the morning). who works for the same company that owned both ‘Kevin and Pat in the Morning’ and ‘Qwick Rock’.  The marketing Director where I work, used to be the marketer for Troy’s show and is also friends with both Troy and Kevin.  It really is a small town.

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When I was in University a friend asked me if it was true that Jews created Chanukka because they were jealous of Christmas.  Yup, was my reply, 500(ish) years before the first Christmas we Jews knew that Christ was going to be born and the Christians, (who didn’t exist yet) were going to make a huge deal out of his birthday. Right there and then we decided that we were going to compete with that future holiday and have our own eight-day festival of light! We even created Chanukka Harry who would visit the kids and give them gifts of chocolate coins and the really good Jewish kids often got socks! To push it over the top we would play games with a dreidel.  Talk about raising the roof!

Living where I do I realize there is a lot of people who don’t really know the story of Chanukka.  Some of you may find this surprising, (others, not so much)  but I don’t know a lot about the holiday myself.  But, as a good Jew I have decided to take what little knowledge I have and fill you, my readers, with the story of Channuka…so put on your yarmulke.

Antiochus, (which rhymes with tuchas) IV Epiphanes, the King of Syria desecrated King Solomon’s temple.  Naturally this upset us Jews.  Truth be told Antituchas didn’t desecrate Solomon’s temple.  Antituchas desecrated the replacement temple built by Cyrus the Great.  Solomon’s temple was destroyed years earlier by the Babylonians but that story is for another time.  Cyrus did a great job and the Temple was dedicated in 515 BC. (see?  I know stuff). In modern times (20BC) Harod the Great renovated Cyrus’s via Solomon’s temple.  Word is the temple developed a nasty leak, in any case Harod did such a good job the temple became known as Harod’s temple.  I often never wonder what King Solomon thought about all the transformations, but alas, we have wandered off topic.

Where were we? Oh yes.  Antituchas desecrated Cryus’s temple which seriously pissed off the Maccabees.  Everyone knows you don’t piss of a Maccabee, after all they were a fearsome rebel army who took back and ruled Judea.  They founded the Hasmonean Dynasty, reasserting the Jewish religion and ruled from 164 to 63BC. 

Sorry I keep getting side-tracked.

So, Channuka is the rededication of this ‘second’ temple, the problem is that the Maccabees ran out of Olive oil.  Their wives must have been very upset.  I know my wife gets upset with me when I use the last of the evoo (extra virgin olive oil for you non-followers of Rachel Ray) and don’t let her know.  And I can only imagine how upset Rachel Ray gets.  Oy Vey!

I’m thinking the grocery stores didn’t have any evoo on hand because this shortage created more problems than one would think possible.   However all was not lost because we are, ‘The Chosen People’ and although there was only enough olive oil to keep the eternal flame alight for one night a miracle transpired and the oil burned for eight, yes count them eight days!  As it happens, eight days is the exact time that was needed to consecrate more oil!  And that my friends was how the festival of light began. 

Personally I like to take a moment or two each Chanukka to remember what it means to be a Jew.  You see there is another story linked to Chanukka.  The story of Hannah and her seven sons.  Hannah was a serious Jew, not Jew-ish like me.  It is because of people like Hannah and her sons that make the Jews the sturdy proud people that they/we are:

Shortly before the revolt of the Maccabees,  Antituchas arrested Hannah and her seven sons and tried to make them eat pork.  Being good Jews and putting their faith in the Lord they refused to eat the pork.  Jews don’t eat Pork, not even bacon!  Hannah watched as her sons were brutally tortured and eventually killed all because they took a stand to protect their beliefs.  They refused to give up all that they were just because another wanted them too.  It is for them that I put on my yarmulke.

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Just some items I found on the old camera. In the photo of the two grey cats.  The kitten (Trouble) is now three times the size of the other cat (Deirdre).  Trouble is our largest cat at the moment and earns every letter of his name. 

Many a nights this spring I went looking for this frog.  Sequoia and I just could not find it.  Finally I found the culprit who just sounded like a frog, it was a really odd bug.  If anyone knows what type it is please let me know. It is the one on the leaf, it is smaller than a penny

The box of possum was not dinner, it was from our possum release not too long ago.

The stick bug is just that.  We get quite a few of them around here.  They are always fun to watch.

The two night shots of the snow were taken tonight.

And of course the last is Sequoia eating her Frosty Paw, ice cream for dogs.

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My mother-in-law got herself ensnared in a cookie exchange at work… for the 3rd year in a row.  For many this is not a huge deal, but for others, including my mother-in-law this is a cause for some anxiety.

Last year I suggested she make some Mandel Bread.  No it is not bread, it is a cookie, it is made like biscotti and looks the same only it is of Jewish origin and has the benefit of flavor.  Everyone, including non-Jews love them.   There are several good reasons to use this recipe in a cookie exchange.  First, they are so easy to make it borders on ridiculous. Second, not many people in these parts have tasted them. Third, as previously stated they are always a hit.  Fourth, you can create a wonderful story when handing them out.  For example my Mother-out-law can explain how her son-in-laws family created these as a tasty treat when they were crossing the desert over 2000 yrs ago.  For 40 years they slaved over this recipe getting it just right.  It was perfected when they camped out at the Red sea waiting for Moses to ask God to part the sea so the Jews could get to the other side rather than be slaughtered by the Egyptians that were hot on their trail.  To be truthful if the Egyptians had been a little nicer my son-in-laws family would have been happy to share some of the cookies, (we are very generous that way) but no!  They approached with horses and chariots and swords just waving away, heck if they were going to get any Mandel Bread!  God came through parted the sea and the family passed through safely, once they got to the other side they munched on the cookies as they watched their enslavers’  get swallowed by the sea. Lastly it is pareve. (you can eat them with meat or dairy, a bonus to us Jews).

So I was touched when my Mother-in-law asked me for the hard-earned recipe.  I handed over the cook book to the right page and told her to just follow the directions.  Please understand, I’ve made this countless times and each time I follow the instructions exactly as they are in the cookbook.  Every time my Mother-out-law raves about them. 

A few days later mominlaw asks me if I use almond extract or vanilla extract?  This is a legit question because the cookbook was given to me by the author at my first wedding.  Before it was given the author opened the book to that specific recipe and where it said ‘1/4 tsp almond extract’ she wrote ‘I use vanilla extract instead’.    I proceeded to tell my mother-in-law (complete with four part harmony) the entire story about the Jews crossing the desert ahead of the Egyptians with their precious cargo of Mandel… and in two thousand years the only change that has been made is substituting almond with vanilla extract and I use the new updated version, or as I like to call it Mandel Bread 2.0!  Short answer?  I use the vanilla.

My Mother-in-law still seemed agitated.  “But how does that work?” She asked.  I was confused, so I replied, “I’m not sure what you mean.”

Mom-in-law: “I mean, how does it work adding that tiny amount of liquid to all the dry ingredients?”

Me: “Oh that, well yeah, you take a measuring spoon measure out a ¼ table spoon of the extract add it to the dry ingredients and stir, just as says in the instructions”

“That just doesn’t seem right to me, I’ll add the extract to the liquid ingredients and probably screw it up.”

“Or you could follow the directions like I do, you’ve always saying how great the cookies are”

I knew that all of this had nothing to do with the ingredients and how they work or go together.  My mother-in-law is an intelligent woman and can easily read and follow directions. Rest assured I knew that she was going to make the cookies and I also know she wasn’t trying to ask me to make them.  She was  just trying to throw up these self defeating walls to explain away her perceived eventual failure.

The stress of the cookie got the best of us and in the end I am making the cookies and mom-out-law agreed to not participate in the cookie exchange again next year.

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