Thursday, September 30, 2010

Shattering Records

Today was another record breaking day at the Hammond house. The record that was broken was in the medical category, and you know it has to be spectacular if it is going to surpass any of our previous medical highs (or lows, depending on your point of view). In fact, before today I would have thought this particular record was unbeatable. I clearly underestimated the abilities of my daughter Alexandra. I should know better by now!

On Christmas Eve of 2000 Alexandra managed to get sick. Make that very sick. While the turkey was roasting in the oven, Alexandra was baking on the couch. When her temperature hit 105F (40.5C) I knew she was in trouble and I rushed her into emergency. I will spare you the details of that less than memorable night. The point is it was the highest I had ever seen that thermometer register, and I assumed I would never see it reach that mark again. I held that assumption right up until last night, when she managed to tie her own previous best in the "personally baked" category of illnesses.

Never one to shrink from a challenge, this afternoon she managed to shatter the previous record and come sizzling in at a toasty 105.8F (41C). After a couple of hours of IV fluids at the local hospital emergency department she started to become coherent again and asked what can happen if your temperature gets too high. I pointed out that if it had gone any higher she could have ended up like our cat Emily, who spent an expensive 5 days at the vet hospital last spring with a high fever and some sort of infection. Ever since that illness she has been acting strangely, clearing having toasted a few neurons. For instance, she will go up to the screen door and make horrible yeowing noises for hours at a time. I am not exaggerating- hours of yeowing. If you were going to pick a cat sound to invoke the same response as a fingernail on a chalkboard this would be the front runner.

Alexandra is home now, feeling somewhat better, and because she is feeling better that means I am too. That's how it works when you are a mom. So now I am headed to bed, thankful on many fronts, not the least of which is that I live in a country where I don't have to worry about what this evening cost, or how much my insurance might cover. The sum total of my bill was a $3.50 charge for parking. Which is exactly $959.50 less than it cost me to treat the cat.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Irrational Fears

Today's walk provided a bit more excitement than I would have liked. I headed out of our residential area and into the nearby bush, enjoying the summer-like warmth and blue sky, with an awareness that these days of Indian summer are numbered. It will soon be October, a month that often has us experiencing our first snowfall of the year.

So what was it that had my heart racing and a scream escape my lips? (Please keep in mind that I am not, generally speaking, a screaming type of person.) I know you are guessing it was a bear. Wrong. I am not saying I enjoy bear encounters, but for the most part when we do cross paths the bear goes his/her way and I go mine. So today when I came across this specimen I felt no sense of alarm. Most days when I walk on this trail I come across at least one pile of fresh bear scat. In fact, my record this summer was the day I came across four extremely fresh, extraordinarily large piles of bear poop. The sad thing about that incident is the fact that it wasn't until the fourth pile that I realized the obvious- that the bear was clearly walking just ahead of me and had been for some time. So no, it wasn't a bear that had my knickers in a knot today.


Nor was it one of the resident coyotes or cougars. I'm not saying an encounter with one of them wouldn't have made my heart beat a little bit faster, but I am quite sure I wouldn't have screamed!

No, today's encounter occupies the #1 spot on my list of All Time Worst Fears. It has some pretty stiff competition from the #2 and #3 spots, held respectively by flying and dentists. The whole "fear of flying" thing is annoying since I love traveling, especially internationally. It sort of takes the edge off the whole trip anticipation factor. And dentists, well, I guess they are a necessary evil, but still, that doesn't mean I have to like them. Oral surgeons would be excluded from the dentist category since they give you great drugs so you aren't aware of the torture being inflicted on your mouth. Orthodontists, however, are included with the dentists simply because of the fear they induce when they tell you how much it is going to cost to straighten your child's teeth. I digress.

So here it is, the source of my rapid heart beat and wimpy screaming episode today. My #1 fear.

Ick. Ick. Ick. This was at the beginning of my walk, which meant that for the remainder of the time I was totally and completely paranoid. I jumped at every stick and piece of debris on the trail, and when a leaf blew in front of me I might possibly have shrieked. I'm not sure what was up with that- in my state of terror I must have temporarily forgotten that snakes don't fly.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Cookbook Confessions

I have to confess I am feeling a bit guilty about a purchase I made yesterday at Costco. Yes, I know only too well the dangers that lurk on those skyscraper high shelves of badly displayed items, and have fallen into temptation on more than one occasion. For those of you card carrying Costco members you know the drill all too well. You enter the store with a list in hand, having made a pre-entrance vow to not purchase one single item that isn't on that list. You start working your way up and down the aisles, discouraged to find that several items on your list have done the "Costco vanishing" act. The problem is, for each item that poofed since the last time you were in the store, three new items of even more interest have been added. By the time the cashier adds it all up you have $350 more in purchases than you had planned. Oops.

So it is with some pride that I can say yesterday's purchase was actually planned. I love each and every Canadian Living cookbook I own, and the latest issue of the Costco magazine said this fall they would be stocking a new Canadian Living cookbook called The Vegetarian Collection. I was a happy shopper when I saw it had made an appearance amongst the stacks of books in my favorite Costco aisle.



In the afternoon I sat down with a cup of tea and some just-baked oatmeal cookies and perused its pages. I was not disappointed! Who could be with delicious offerings like this?















So why was I feeling a bit guilty over this purchase? After all, this new cookbook has great recipes and the price was very reasonable. Well, the problem is I already own several cookbooks. Actually, more than several. Here is a peak into one of the oversized cupboards in my kitchen.



Please note what this picture does not show. This is only the front row of cookbooks. Crammed in behind is another row of cookbooks that have currently fallen out of favor. If that was all it might not be so bad, but there is also this drawer.



And this one. Keep in mind these books are the top of stacks that sit four deep!


Clearly an intervention of some kind is needed, so this fall I am forcing myself to undergo the "Two Weeks, Two Cookbooks" treatment. Under the strict guidelines of the plan every two weeks I will choose two cookbooks to use. Any recipes I make can only come out of those cookbooks, or be something I make up myself. I am hoping this will keep me from going back to the same "favored few", and force me to get to know what's inside the pages of all those stacks and rows of culinary possibilities I have taking up valuable kitchen space. Exemptions will be allowed for birthday and Thanksgiving cooking, and for desserts. The thought of choosing the first two seems overwhelming, but hopefully as I move forward in my recovery it will get easier.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Fridge Fright

Our family lives in an unmitigated appliance hell. Looking back, I should have realized what was in store for us on my wedding day when the blow dryer I was using tried to speed things up by shooting flames at my head. I have since shorted out many other blow dryers, but none have ever matched that first flame-out in terms of drama.

The list of sick appliances we have owned over the years is extensive. For a long time we seemed to be stuck in a defective furnace phase. In a brand new house with a brand new electric furnace we managed to have it break down several different times. The worst was the time we came home from a trip to Vancouver to discover that somehow the furnace had turned on and had never shut itself back off. By the time we got home it was over 30C (close to 90F) inside our house and that baby was still going strong. At least we didn't have a fire. No, the fire would have been in the gas furnace when we lived in Richmond. Okay, technically it wasn't due to a defect in the furnace, unless you count the fact that there was an open space at the bottom where too much cat hair accumulated as a design fault. Before this event I had no idea that burning cat hair could result in such huge flames.

Hot water heaters have also given us some grief over the years, starting early on while we were living in Fort St. John and continuing to challenge us right through our Nelson years. Oddly, it was also at our new house that we had the worst bout of hot water woes. Two different times we had a burner go out, and by the time we moved I suspected that burner number three had just bit the dust. If, after one of your teens runs the hot water out, it takes four hours to get hot again I don't think I was just being paranoid.

I fondly look back on Richmond as our appliance purgatory phase . Yes, there was that incident with the furnace, but for the most part our problems were transitioning to the kitchen. Unbeknownst to me, a whole new appliance terror was just around the corner. This was the transitional stage where some of our appliances now had digital circuitry. That fancy new stove we purchased for our kitchen? The one with the digital key pad and display? All I can say is I am glad when it died it at least had the decency to do so while still under warranty.

The thing about purgatory is you still don't know which way things are going to go. So I remained optimistic that things would be better in Kamloops. After all, the house we were moving into was only three years old, the appliances were all new and name brand, and many were still under warranty. Yes, you are allowed to laugh.

Like clockwork, just as each warranty expired, so did the appliance. It is as if some guru pre-programed them with a Hindu worldview. We pay huge sums of money to get them fixed, they live a new life for awhile, then die again. It is like they are all striving to be reborn as something better and are caught in an endless cycle of life, death and rebirth, which, sadly, leaves us in an endless cycle of spending.

Our front loading washing machine had the drum break off its attachments to the machine in an event our repairman described as "highly unusual." Then there is our dishwasher. It has resulted in the repairman visiting us several times, each one to replace digital components that have fried themselves. What I had hoped was a one-off incident with the stove in Richmond actually proved to be the portent of doom for our appliance malfunctions here in Kamloops. The computer components are all made in China, and to put it bluntly they are junk. Not only are they all designed to self-destruct, much like those messages in the old TV show Mission Impossible, they apparently don't even keep these components in stock in Canada. I have a theory that it is because they are afraid of contaminating their warehouses with these sub-standard products. And yes, I might be a bit bitter. This means that when your dishwasher dies you pay to have the guy come tell you its dead. Then you wait six long weeks for your part to come over on the slow boat from China. Then you pay for the repairman to come back and fix your dishwasher. We repeated this process three times, and by the time we were finished could have more than paid for a new dishwasher.

We are now entering a stove phase again. It started during the Christmas season of 2008. Should I ever reach a point of deep enough healing I might someday blog about that total holiday fail, but for now I will restrict myself to our dead oven, the one with the 25 pound Christmas turkey sitting in it. This was when I discovered that it just wasn't dishwasher parts that come on that boat from China. Now I am not saying that everything that is made in China is horrible. After all, my daughter-in-law Diana was made in China, and I think she is terrific. (However, if she had any computer chips or digital circuitry boards in her I might be forced to downgrade my opinion.)

Our recent stove episodes have, surprisingly, not involved circuitry. When the burner on my ceramic top died back in July I felt oddly relieved. After all, it was just a burner, right? In the good old days of those open ring burners you could easily change it yourself. Not so with the ceramic tops. So we paid for the initial call for the repairman to diagnose the problem, then waited four weeks for the new burner to arrive, then paid for him to come replace it. Not only did this cost over $300 by the time we were finished, I was starting to worry the neighbors might be wondering if I am having an affair with the appliance guy his truck is here so often. It would have been much nicer having the burner fixed had it been possible to have it on anything but high heat. No matter what setting I turned it to the burner remained red hot. Clearly this was not a good sign. I once again called the repair place, whose number I now have memorized, thankful that at least the burner was under a 30 day warranty. Which, of course, turned out to be totally worthless because it wasn't the burner that was the problem it was the switch.

I am sure by now you will understand when I tell you that before the repairman came yesterday I left the house. I went for a long walk through the brush near our home, deciding that a potential bear encounter was preferable to one with the appliance guy, leaving my husband to deal with this latest appliance failure. And just so you know we don't discriminate against small appliances, during the time period between the burner fix and the switch fix our rice maker died. It was rice maker number six, not that I'm counting or anything. Oh- and the reason for the title of this post "Fridge Fright?" Simple. It is the one major appliance in this house that hasn't broken down. Yet.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

I Can Explain...Really, I Can

Today I found myself in an unusual situation. I was explaining my actions to someone. You see, I am quirky enough that I pretty much gave up explaining myself to other people a couple of decades ago. I discovered early on that there is just so much weird most people can cope with, and I exceed those limits. So, for example, if you ask me what I had for breakfast this morning I am simply going to say oatmeal. I will leave off the bit about having rolled my own oats and topped my cereal with hemp hearts, a handful of cranberries I dried myself, and a spoonful of maple syrup I have shipped to me every spring from a small producer in Ontario. I accept that while completely normal in my life, this type of behavior might strike other people as being a bit odd, so I try to limit the information I supply.

Well, not this morning. I was stumbling all over myself to explain to the cashier why I was making this purchase. I should have remained silent. The look on her face clearly said, "Lady, you would be better off with a drinking problem."





So in case anyone from our community saw me slinking out of the Valleyview Liquor store at approximately 10:00 this morning, I am going to blatantly ignore the first rule of holes (when you are in one, stop digging) and repeat what I told the cashier. Only this will be better because you get pictures and she didn't!

First up is the bottle of Glenlivet Scotch Whiskey. (Does the word whiskey get capitalized when used with the brand name? Hopefully my ignorance in this matter should offer up some proof that I don't usually imbibe.) You see, I make my own vanilla, and my supply was getting low. I bought some vanilla beans at Costco last week but still needed to get some whiskey before I could proceed. Now you are beginning to see why the cashier was giving me a strange look. Anyway, making vanilla is actually quite simple. You take a couple of vanilla beans and slit them lengthwise, then cut them into thirds and plunk into the bottle of liquor. I have a master bottle that I keep refilling, keeping the old beans in to add to the flavor. I add the whiskey, give the bottle a gentle shake, write the date on the label on the front, then set it on my kitchen cupboard to remind me to shake it every day for the next couple of months. I will have a new batch of delicious vanilla just in time for Christmas baking!






















Now about that Guinness Stout. I am a huge Jamie Oliver fan, and his latest cookbook is Jamie's Food Revolution (highly recommended). It has a basic stew recipe with variations, and my favorite happens to be the beef and ale. Thus, the purchase of the Guinness. Guinness is highly prized by another member of my family for something other than its culinary possibilities, so I clearly label the top of the box "Only For Cooking Jamie Oliver Recipes." I'm not sure if that warning had been heeded, because when I went to check my supply ahead of today's cooking a box of empty bottles greeted me. (These things probably wouldn't happen at your home, but they do at ours.) Oh well, no problem since I had to go to the liquor store to get that whiskey. The stew is now simmering in the oven and I wish there was a way for smells to be transmitted over the Internet. You would all be rushing out to buy a copy of Jamie's book and a 6-pack of Guinness before the day was out.





And I'm sure there's a good reason for the wine. While I sit and relax with a glass I will see if I can come up with one.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

More Language Lessons

My efforts to learn Chinese are continuing, but progress is excruciatingly slow. In ideal circumstances, meaning the speaker is going so slow as to almost not be saying anything at all, and I have visual hints to help my comprehension, I can now understand words such as girl, boy, car, blue, green, red, bicycle, rice, milk and eggs. This vocabulary equips me with the ability to utter all kinds of useful sentences such as "the blue boy rode the green bike to buy red eggs." Wait- forget that. I don't know the words for rode and buy yet. Oh well, if ever I am standing on a street in Beijing and witness such an event at least I can point and say "blue boy."

However, my spoken Chinese is brilliant compared to my Chinese character reading. So far I can confidently read just two characters. However, I would argue that if you could only ever be equipped with just two, these are the ones you want to have in your language arsenal. I realized with no small sense of accomplishment that I actually knew these Chinese characters when I was in Korea. I went to use a public washroom (that would be bathroom for all you Americans) at a ferry terminal. The ferry was bound for Jeju Island, a popular destination for both Japanese and Chinese tourists. There, posted on the door, was a sign with the Chinese symbol for "women." I looked over at the other door, and sure enough, I could read the character for "men." It was a breakthrough moment.

In case you are wondering why these would be such important characters to know, all I can say is you clearly have never been in a public washroom in China. I am operating on the assumption that, just like in North America, the guys washroom is way more disgusting than the girls. So when the girls washrooms look like this, I definitely do not want to accidentally wander into the wrong one because I have misread a sign on the door. Please note this picture was picked to be safe for all viewers. There was worse. Much worse.


So, yesterday as I was struggling through another Chinese lesson it suddenly occurred to me that hey- I am actually already bilingual. Sort of. After all, I speak both Canadian and American English. For instance, when I was in the US visiting my parents last week my brother took us out to eat at a place near Coeur d'Alene called the Wolf Lodge Inn. http://www.wolflodgerestaurants.com/coeurdalene.php The place was steeped in what I refer to as "North Idaho charm." There was a rabbit's warren of little rooms and spaces, each containing as many tables as could be squeezed in. The walls were covered in cedar shakes, and you could walk over and watch the chef grilling your steak over an open fire.


It appeared the combination of cedar shakes and open pit fire wasn't contributing enough in the way of making this place the biggest fire trap I have ever been in. There was also a roaring fire in an open fire place. (I am quite sure the local fire inspector was being bribed on a regular basis with one of the Wolf Lodge's famous 16 ounce, aged in bacon fat, steaks.) And sitting next to the fireplace at a cozy table for two we had another serving of North Idaho charm.



At the same time my brother and parents looked over and said, "Look at the Indians," out of my mouth came the words "I'm getting a picture of those Natives." In the USA it is still perfectly acceptable to use the term Indian. Not in Canada. Even the term Native is a bit of a stretch. First Nations or Aboriginals would be preferable. (Lest someone accuse us of being crass, please note these are mannequins, not real people.)

While south of the 49th I also made a trade with my brother, and I have to say I definitely got the better deal. I went to the local yarn store and picked up some wool to knit John a toque. Drawing once again on my bilingual skills I will translate this for my American readers. Toque=hat. I madly knit away while we visited and played card games together, and by the end of the visit John had this toque to take back to Chicago.




For my end of the deal I was given a gallon of huckleberries that were promptly made into this jam, which happens to be the same no matter which of my two official languages I am speaking- delicious!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Roots

Growing up on a grain farm in northern Idaho, I experienced a near perfect childhood. My parents had an enduring love for each other and to this day are each other's best friends. We were raised with a mixture of love and common sense, sprinkled with a fine balance of work and play. My grandparents on my dad's side lived nearby and played a huge role in our growing up years. We saw them several times a week, and I have fond memories of my grandpa, whom I loved dearly, driving up our gravel lane in his old green Chevy truck to pick me up for one of my regular sleepovers. My grandma would give me sherbet for dessert, and I always got to stay up way past my bedtime. My grandma on my mom's side was a school teacher in San Diego, and even though I only got to see her once or twice a year she was a huge influence in my life. The trips our family took to California to see my grandma exposed us to a world very different than the one we inhabited, and I contribute the love of travel and adventure I now have to those visits.

My parents are now retired, and due to health concerns have moved off the farm to the nearby city of Spokane. I have just returned from visiting them, and while I was there my brother John, who lives in Chicago, was able to join us for a few days. On Saturday we drove down to the farm and visited with neighbors I hadn't seen for years. We had a great time sharing stories and memories from years gone by. I have to confess though that in the midst of the laughter and reminiscing I felt a sense of sadness and loss. You see, to me the word home will always be defined by what you see in this picture.

Taken from a neighboring farm, the cluster of trees in the distance, surrounded by acres and acres of recently harvested wheat fields, is the home of both my youth and my heart. Not only is it the place where I grew up, it is the place where my dad was born. And it is the place my grandpa, recently immigrated from Denmark, established the beginnings of his new life as a farmer almost a century ago.

There is a beauty to the gently rolling hills of the Palouse that soothes my soul, and this is the time of the year that it is at its finest. By day the freshly cut wheat fields resemble carpets of gold. As nightfall settles in the smell of the stubble fields sweetens the surrounding air. Then, as darkness takes over the countryside, and with a hint of the harvest smell still lingering in the air, the stars scatter themselves across the open skies in a display that inspires both humility and awe. Truly, there is no place like home...

Friday, September 10, 2010

Attention America

Note to all Americans:

I hope you slept better last night knowing that you were kept safe thanks to the brave act performed by one of your border guard heroes yesterday afternoon.

Note to the border guard:

I hope you and your family enjoyed the 5 pounds of organic garden tomatoes I was bringing down to give to my elderly parents. I find myself regretting the fact I didn't use chemicals on the crop.

Questions for the US government:

1. Are tomatoes your definition of the "new red menace?"
2. Why, after years of being allowed safe passage across the border, did you suddenly decide 6 weeks ago to stop the transportation of tomatoes across the 49th parallel?
3. If a tomato is grown by a US citizen in a foreign country, shouldn't the tomato hold dual citizenship in the same way the tomato owner's children do?

Note to self:

Thank you for totally forgetting about the container of cherry tomatoes in the cooler until after you entered the US.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Sockeye Season

Every four years an amazing event takes place at the nearby Adams River. And if this activity involves fish and still has the ability to impress the Hammond family you know you are on to something special! This would be due to the fact that for 20 years my husband Jay was a regional fisheries biologist in our province, and let's just say that gave new meaning to the expression "fished out." While my kids can never blame me for letting them watch too much television or play too many video or computer games when they were young, they might have a legitimate complaint if they accused us of taking them to Kootenay Lake see the kokanee spawn about a dozen times too many. And there would be some truth to the accusation that fish was served up as a dinner conversation topic way more than it ever made an appearance as an entree.

This past weekend Kellen, Anita, Rebekah, Anton and I drove out to the Adams River to see the early and unexpectedly large return of sockeye salmon. Initial estimates of 10 to 15 million salmon were quickly revised over the past couple of weeks as some 35 million salmon ended up making their way up the mouth of the Fraser River to start the long journey to their spawning grounds. Rebekah wrote a story about it for the Richmond Review http://www.bclocalnews.com/richmond_southdelta/richmondreview/news/101677748.html.





This picture is just a tiny slice of what was a river filled with sockeye in their bright red spawning colors. Some were still in good shape like the ones in this photo, swimming against the current to make their way to the spot they where they would make their redd (the space at the bottom of a stream that a spawning salmon makes for its eggs; also a good word to know for Scrabble). Others were not looking so good, basically meaning if they weren't dead yet they soon would be. I thought this couple was especially poignant.


After observing the sockeye we decided to take a hike along the Adams River. It was one of those perfect fall days- the sun was warm on our backs, the air was crisp and fresh, and the scenery was spectacular.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Home Grown

The tomatoes in my garden are slowly starting to ripen. Over the past several days I have picked the ones that looked ready, placed them on the counter, and then totally ignored them. That is until yesterday morning, when, sipping my early morning tea (as opposed to my late morning or mid-afternoon cuppa) I was somewhat alarmed to glance over and be greeted by this. Clearly action needed to be taken.

It was definitely time to pull out some cookbooks. Due to the fact that I have a weakness for collecting cookbooks it wasn't hard to find some that I thought might have the answer to my tomato proliferation problem.




I spent a happy half hour perusing the pages, but in the end didn't feel like I had happened upon exactly what I was looking for. My qualifications for a perfect recipe?
-obviously it needed to strongly feature tomatoes
-it needed to call for other items I had in my garden

-if it was going to include meat it had to be something I already had in my freezer

-it had to be fairly easy as I was having a low energy cooking day

My next resource was Google, where I came up with http://www.twosisterstwosuppers.com/2010/08/thyme-roasted-sausage-and-heirloom.html. I immediately took some locally made sausage I had purchased earlier in the week out of the freezer, then headed out to the garden to harvest the required herbs.




Here is where the recipe got rather annoying. As I came back into the house grasping a handful of parsley, rosemary and thyme the song Scarborough Fair started going through my head and I couldn't get it back out for the rest of the day. Those of you that are my age or older (that would be above 49) will know exactly what I am talking about. For those of you too young to have a clue this is what I am referring to.





It couldn't have been easier to put together. I cut the sausage into bite size pieces, halved the tomatoes, added the herbs and whole unpeeled garlic cloves (I left them roast in the pan, then squeezed the garlicky goodness out and mixed in just before serving), added a few glugs of olive oil and stirred. Then I popped the roasting pan in the oven for an hour at 300F. Ten minutes before it was done I cooked some linguine. Just before serving I topped it with fresh Parmesan and basil.


An hour later we enjoyed the first of our 2010 garden tomato dinners.


Here are a few shots of what awaits us in the garden. Clearly this won't be our last tomato supper!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Never Too Early

Several weeks ago Rebekah made a suggestion about this year's Christmas gift giving. Now I realize that as soon as you read the word Christmas some of you are going to be recoiling in horror. After all, it is only the very first day of September! If that was your reaction you would be the same "holiday personality type" as my oldest son. No matter how early we do our annual drawing of names for our family gift exchange, he does not seem to be able to find time to go shop until the week before Christmas. And that shopping excursion doesn't happen until after he has made a frantic call to confirm whose name he drew, in spite of the fact I will have reminded him a number of times in the weeks leading up to the holiday.

His most egregious season of procrastination occurred several years ago when he had drawn my niece's name. I had heard through the grapevine that she wanted the boxed set of the Harry Potter series. That news came my way in early November and I immediately passed it on to son #1. The week before Christmas I phoned to ask if he had picked up the gift yet. Normally I wouldn't do a rescue like this, but the thought of my niece ending up with no package on Christmas morning was just too much to handle. Karsten covered up his surprise at the news he was to be purchasing the book set by quickly assuring me he would be getting it the next day. It wasn't until after the gift exchange was over and we were left with a pile of discarded wrapping paper littering the floor that the whole story came out. Apparently there had been some confusion over who was going to pick up the books. He though his wife was buying them, but hadn't actually communicated this to her. They were coming out on separate flights due to different work schedules, and it wasn't until a few hours before Karsten took off that he discovered that Diana hadn't bought the books and she was already en route. So instead of heading to the airport he found himself detouring to the closest Chapters. The day before Christmas. With his flight due to take off in under 2 hours. Obviously he did make the flight since he was there telling us the story, but he literally only made it by minutes.

Then there are the plan-aheaders like Rebekah. If you found yourself reading the opening sentence of this post and saying to yourself something along the lines of "Oh right- I better start thinking about this," you most likely fall into this category. With a large family we have found it works best if we each pull a name out of a hat and buy for that specific person. With 5 kids, 2 daughters-in-law and 2 parents it is simply too much to exchange with everyone. Besides, and this would be another post for another day, for a number of reasons we jumped off the Christmas crazy wagon a number of years ago, meaning we have tried to simplify and focus on a family-driven model of Christmas rather than a consumer-driven one.

Here is the part Rebekah wants to change. Her proposal is that we still do the name draw, but tighten up the gift $ limit. Then we would have everyone contribute to a charitable organization. She suggested we do it as a group effort. We would decide ahead of time what organization we want to focus on and pool our money. Her thinking was that would enable us to purchase something substantial like a farm animal for a family in a third world country. I like this idea!

I had planned to do some research over the next month to see what the possibilities are for giving. Then, this morning, I happened upon http://www.charitywater.org/. I learned about this amazing work through a blog I read. Check out http://blog.beliefnet.com/omeoflittlefaith/ to see what this blogger and 29 others are doing during the month of September. There are many things to like about this particular organization, and if you go to their website you can see video clips and hear stories about the difference that access to clean water can make in people's lives. I was also impressed by the fact that 100% of donations go toward the work. How, you may ask, is that possible? The following is taken from their FAQ page:

1. The 100% model: How it works. From the very beginning, restoring people's faith in charity was an important part of our mission. This is why we direct 100% of donors' money straight to on-the-ground project costs. In fact, we're so passionate about giving 100% that we pay the PayPal and credit card transaction fees each time you donate online. Each time someone gives, a true 100% goes straight to the field.So how do we keep our lights on? A group of private donors, foundations and sponsors help pay for the everyday costs of running the organization. Our flights to the field, our staff, our office, even paperclips and ink toner, are sponsored so every penny of your donation goes straight to water projects.

This will certainly be a front runner for potential organizations our family could donate to this upcoming (or far away, depending on your personaltiy type!) holiday season. I am sure many more will come to my attention over the next few months.