A Royal Wedding Breakfast

royal wedding

I distinctly remember the summer of 1981. My grandmother and great-grandmother were visiting us in Vancouver from their home in Montreal. I was 11 and I didn’t understand why every woman in our house was all a flutter for the Royal Wedding of Charles and Diana.

Truth be told, I still don’t understand all the hype. Sure, I love Say Yes To The Dress, Rich Bride Poor Bride, 4 Weddings, Bulging Brides and every other matrimonial show marathon that seems to dominate the chick channels on the weekend, but I don’t get the royal thing.

Nonetheless, my wife is thrilled with the wedding. Giddy like a little girl. 2 weeks ago I hit up one of those British importer stores you see in strip malls and picked out a royal teacup for her featuring Will and Kate. She loved it – and then asked why I didnt get her a tea towel too.

Friday morning she’ll get up early and watch the highlights of the wedding and I’ll make her my grandmother and great-grandmother’s scone to have with a jar of jam a friend brought us from Harrod’s.

Getting that recipe in a book was one of the greatest gifts I ever gave myself. If you’re wondering about the perfect Mother’s Day gift, spend some time with your mom or grandmother and get their secret recipes and publish them in a recipe book. It’s cheap, easy and eternally memorable.

I may not ‘get’ the royal wedding thing, but after a few bites on Friday morning it will be 1981 all over again.

Bring Your Kids To The Ballot Box

Just vote

Election day is coming quickly. While apathy may have set in with our 4th election in 7 years, I’m still doing my best to try and instill the habit of voting in my son.

Zacharie has been “lucky,” if you will. With so many minority governments in succession, he’s been to the ballot box more than I ever did when I grew up.

I became politically aware in the late 70s, the era of Trudeaumania. Ask me the worst day of my life and I’ll tell you of a day in May 1980 when I went to bed crying, terrified I would wake up the next morning and my grandparents would live in a foreign country.

So the political process stuck with me, and I’m trying to do the same for my son.

I didnt have a voters card when I went to the polling station. I just brought some picture ID with a bill that had my name and address. They wrote my name down on the voter registry, I filled out a form and swore that I was a Canadian citizen and wouldnt vote anywhere else. That’s it. I just said “Yeah, I’m legal” and I was good to go.

No background check, no fingerprint. I just said “I want to vote” and they let me.

As an aside, filling out the form was frustrating. In this keyboard era, I’m getting more and more pained when I have to put pen to paper. My penmanship is failing, I cramp quickly when I have to write and I’m sure someone will eventually have to type my personal info into a database – so why not skip the paper and just let me type it in right off the hop?

VoteRegardless, I voted today. Living in Calgary means my riding is a “guarantee” for the Conservatives. My MP didnt attend any of the candidate forums, there are few signs in the riding jostling for views. In nearly 40 years only Conservative or Reform candidates have won in Calgary (which puzzles me because our Mayor, Naheed Nenshi, was elected on a common sense approach that featured none of the “talking points” type approach coming from Ottawa).

My vote likely “won’t matter,” the incumbent will win whether I offer him support or oppose him – but still I crossed my X on the paper next to my candidate of choice. I brought my sons with me to, once again, create the habit in them that voting is something you “do” – like brushing your teeth.

It doesnt matter who you support, it matters that you’re counted. So just vote – and bring your kids with you.

When I Was Homeless (For A Night)

Keep a roof

I spent nearly an hour huddled in a corner of the parkade with my hood pull down tight, not looking at anyone. At first it was comfortable, my sleeping bag a decent cushion, but after 30 minutes the cold started to creep in and I got cramps. I was waiting to get into shelter for the night. It was supposed to be open at 630, but as often is the case with these things, it didn’t open on time. No matter, I had nothing but time.

As a radio host, a very small ‘c’ celebrity in town, we are asked to pitch in and highlight charitable efforts. I’ve run races, emceed events, decorated Easter Eggs, eaten pies and starred in fashion shows. However one of the most difficult things I’ve ever been asked to participate in was the YWCA‘s Keep a Roof Over Their Head. A night where we would experience a typical night in the life of someone on the streets of Calgary.

That started with waiting in line for the shelter. Then we shuffle inside and are given a mat to toss on the floor. Nothing more than the sort of thing you’d use for gymnastics in elementary school. A meagre soup and coffee would follow. There were more than 100 of us who signed up for the experience. A chance to spend 13 hours in someone else’s shoes and have a deeper understanding of how the other half lives.

Honestly? I was a skeptic. I bristle at the notion of “affordable housing” noting my family has to find something affordable to us and we work hard to make ends meet. Then again, I have a job that doesn’t pay minimum wage. Then again, I’m not fleeing a violent or abusive situation. Then again, I speak the language. Then again, my wife and I work together to make things work.

There are various organizations in Calgary who actively seek out buildings they can buy, then fund raise to pay off the mortgage and then donate the rooms to organizations like the YWCA. With no debt, they can keep the rents for the tenants affordable in perpetuity. That’s what affordable housing means – these are people in need getting the most basic of necessities.

Minimum wage in Alberta is $8.80 an hour. I pay my 15 year old babysitter $10. Alberta Works (welfare) for a mother and child is $550 (ish) a month. They’re to spend $300 (ish) on accommodation and then use the rest to pay the bills, clothe themselves and eat. That’s a complicated piece of budgeting to make those ends meet.

I am a firm believer in personal responsibility, but sometimes the circumstances one gets backed into have dire consequences. Even single mothers with decent jobs can be a car repair or dubious landlord away from being out on the streets.

The YWCA’s Mary Dover House in Calgary offers a transition, a place for women to escape and find support and the resources they need to get back on their own. They have 86 beds that each cost $20 000 a year to run. The math on that means they need $1.7M in operating expenses to keep things going. That’s half of Matt Stajan‘s annual salary for the Calgary Flames. If former Mayor Dave Bronconnier had decided to be more frugal with his furniture, he could have funded the society for more than a decade.

I chatted with Pam before we settled in for the night. She fled to Mary Dover House in January 2010, escaping a violent situation. She was 9 months pregnant. 4 days after she arrived she gave birth to her son. A son born into homelessness. Pam is now back on her feet, ready to take some schooling and get a job in Alberta’s lucrative oil and gas industry. She says without the YWCA she would have likely had to have given her son up to social services, unable to cope with the situation.

Back in the gym, the lights were turned out at 11pm and we all huddled on our mats and crawled into our sleeping bags. The lights didn’t ‘really’ turn out though, it was a big gym and needed to have ‘running lights’ on at all time. It was barely dim.

I had chosen a spot right by the door complete with a mid spring blast of arctic air breathing on me all night. I had 4 layers on and could never get comfortable.

I had more than 100 roommates that night, not all of them the lightest of sleepers. To say they snored was an understatement. The echo of buzz saws called back and forth. First a lady on my right, then a man on my left, then a choir of a few more all at the same time. I woke up every 90 minutes or so, unable to get comfortable or completely fall asleep. At least there were no fights or swearing or assaults, the sort of things that keep even the hardiest of the homeless away from some drop-in shelters. It was just loud snoring, still I didn’t sleep. I couldn’t sleep.

The clock said 1:40am. Then 3:15. Then 4:25. I couldn’t wait for 6am to finally arrive when we would all be handed a coffee and muffin.

At 730, we all quietly packed up our bags, stacked our mats and humbly shuffled back into the grey parkade and a late spring snow. I couldn’t wait to get home.

If I was truly homeless, I’d have 12 hours to find ‘something to do’ before I would huddle in a corner again and wait for the shelter to re-open. 12 hours to try and recover the rest I didn’t have the night before. 12 hours to try and keep warm, clean and entertained before the entire aching cycle would begin again.

When I got home, I spent an hour in my own bed relishing each cushiony coil. I hugged my kids and gave thanks for what we have. I had a long, long shower.

We raised more than $100 000 for the YWCA that night, enough to give 5 rooms the chance to help a woman and her family make a positive change. We had walked in someone else’s shoes, our perspective forever changed.

How To Do Extreme Couponing In Canada

I do the grocery shopping in our house. I find it relaxing, peaceful and I take the art of the deal very very seriously. I bring along my son, Zacharie, and it’s a blissful 90mins of Father/Son time each week.

I’ve taught him his colours grocery shopping (bananas are yellow, cucumbers are green etc). I’m teaching him numbers with the prices and now I’m letting him run the aisles in a scavenger hunt for his favourite pasta. We even have regular routines: when I’m at the deli counter, he runs and gets his block of marble cheese and at the end of the meat section he insists I go over to the fish tanks and say “hi” to the lobsters. Seriously.

Now that Extreme Couponing from TLC is up and running and tales of people saving 94% on their grocery bill are on each week, I’m captivated. I’m trying to figure out how I can do that.

I interviewed Nathan, Mr Coupon, from WeUseCoupons this week and asked him how he does it and how we can do it too.

Coupon matchups is the big thing Nathan says you should do, but the end of the interview is stinging. Things are different in Canada when it comes to couponing as Money Saving Canadian Mom points out:

Why? In the USA they have much more competition because they have more grocery stores than you can shake a stick at. All of these stores are in competition with one another to get YOUR money. So in short, we can get some great deals but not like the US can.

One of the key ways the Extreme Couponing fiends find the deals in the states is by stacking their coupons and then hitting double or triple coupon days at the store. With so many stores in Canada offering the rewards club card system to hit sale prices, they don’t do the coupon muliplying – so that’s out. There is, however, one store in the country where you can stack coupons – London Drugs. (Stacking is using multiple coupons from different sources on one item – we try to do it on diapers all the time).

Her site is a great resource for tips and she points to many places where you can go and subscribe and print off coupons. BrandSaver, Save.ca, CouponClick.ca, Websaver.ca, GroceryAlerts.ca, ThinkCoupons.ca are all places you should visit regularly or subscribe to.

For new parents, filling out information with the companies directly will get you loyalty coupons. My wife joined both Pampers and Huggies clubs for our boys where she was regularly mailed coupons for the products and collected points from the UPC codes to use online for books and toys. Both our boys had to go on formula earlier than we would have liked and Similac had a great coupon program where we would get $5 – $10 in single use coupons which were awesome.

For me, it boils down to scanning the flyers each weekend over breakfast and knowing my base prices so when I see a deal I can jump on it and take advantage – regardless of coupon. I’m not extreme – yet, but I do love a deal.

What are your tips for Extreme Couponing in Canada?

How To Make A Deep Fried Cadbury Easter Creme Egg At Home

Deep fried easter creme egg

Swing by a fair in the summer and you will see everything wrapped in batter and dipped in hot oil. Butter, ice cream, cheese, pizza, mars bars and even coke gets the treatment.

Next up? Seasonal treats. The internets were bursting this week with the news that a shop in the UK is serving customers a deep fried Cadbury’s Easter Creme Egg.

I had to try it. Had to.

I scoped out the recipe for Deep Fried Mars Bars and figured it was just a matter of substituting the chocolate and it worked just fine.

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup corn starch
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup milk
1/2 cup club soda / water

(You could easily cut this in half or quarter it if you’re only doing a few eggs)

Mix up the batter, dip in the egg and then toss it into a vat of bubbling canola. Let it roll around for a few minutes and then pop it in your mouth.

I do admit I was a little hasty with the video and there are some errors, the recipe printed above is correct.

Chocolatey pancakey goodness. The deep fried Cadbury Easter Creme Egg is awesome.

Can’t wait until Christmas – anyone up for a deep fried candy cane?

Great Spot For Train Watching In Calgary

20110410 trains grumps - 13

My grandfather is a bona fide train nut. One of my earliest memories of our time together was heading down to the Dorval station in Montreal to just hang around the tracks.

Grumps, as we call him, would just hang around and gab with his buddies about nothing in particular. Each would hold a scrap of paper between their fingers with the scribblings of the digits of engines that had seen the past week. Just as birdwatchers jot notes of each species they spy, so do train watchers. Each engine spotted brings with it a story of where it was built and the routes it has taken across the country.

In the summer of 1985 we drove across Canada with my grandparents and he would scribble down each engine we passed on the prairies so he could rifle through his reference material when we reached a rest stop.

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Finding a great spot for watching trains in Calgary is easy. A ribbon of track runs right through the centre of the city. He loved the view from the top of Calgary Tower, tracing the path of the engines and their cargo through downtown. The main Alyth train yard in Calgary is just south east of downtown and is home to dozens of spurs as the CP and CN lines twist east and west and north and south.

One of the best spots, however, is in the west of the city near Baker Park alongside Bearspaw Dam Rd NW. There are a couple of sidings where trains can rest before heading east into Calgary or west into the Rockies. There’s always something lurking and this morning we hit the perfect score as a crew was being dropped off to take a train into the yard. We saw them do their checks up and down the line, remove the derailer and flip the switches before turning the ignition and heading out.

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My grandfather counted each grouping of cars on the train and scribbled down the 4 engine numbers as he balanced a scanner to his ear to listen in on the crew chatting about their schedule. When he gets back home he’ll look the engine numbers up online and send an email to his train buddies back in Montreal. After more than 40 years of hanging around the tracks, the method has changed, the madness has remained.

[pictures taken with iPhone 4. processing done with Camera+ app]

Zidane at Glenbow Museum in Calgary

20110407 zidane glenbow

Chasing Zinedine Zidane has turned into a special past time for me. I first became a fan when he raised the World Cup for France in 1998. 8 years later my (future) wife and I would make a pilgrimmage to watch his swan song in the 2006 World Cup Finals in Montreal. A year later our son would be born with the nickname Zizou and then, Zidane would return the favour to chase us by playing an exhibition in Vancouver.

2009-07-12 zidane vancouverI met him underneath the stands of Swangard Stadium where he signed a full France kit for my son and scribbled his signature on a photo for his room. Zacharie knows who Zidane is, mostly because his name has a lot of “Z for Zacharie” in it.

Zidane is back in my life with an interesting art installation at the Glenbow Museum in Calgary.

The exhibit is a series of iso shots of Zizou playing in a 2005 match for Real Madrid against Villareal. 17 cameras were trained on Zidane to watch him from every angle for the full 90 minutes. The artistry and efficiency of movement he displays during the match gives you an idea why passionate fans call it “the beautiful game.”

It is meant to be a modern take on portraiture, instead of one 2 dimensional photo, we get a 3 dimensional look at one of the greatest figures in football history.

The exhibit alongside Zidane is one of Yousuf Karsh. The stories of his iconic portraits are stunning. The tale of stealing a cigar from Churchill‘s iron grip or discussing the depths of artistry with Pablo Picasso are fascinating.

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