Monday, December 14, 2009

Happy Quarter Century





I'm so lucky to have the kind of friends in my programme who will set aside piles of reading, hours of practice time, and a very pressing hymnal analysis project (about which more presently) to come celebrate my birthday with me. I don't think my parents' planning was very great, what with me being born in the busiest month for graduate students... but I was a month premature, so I guess I can't lay all the blame on them.

We had a great evening out at Desperados, which my friend Henry recommended - because if you're going to turn twenty-five in Dallas you should celebrate by eating Tex-Mex.

It's been a very happy 25 years - I'm sure there will be lots of excitement in the year to come. Here's to having great friends to grow up/grow old with!




Breaking News from the Boulevard

It is Saturday morning, and the end of term looms. My sleepy weekend morning was coming to a close and I meandered out of our rez building on my way to Bridwell Library (as per usual). And what did I come upon on the street that borders campus but a full marching band walking down the street. (And I do mean the street - they were walking on the road in traffic!) I called David on the intercom to open the window and have a look. He said "oh yeah, that's the homecoming parade - if you have half an hour to spare you can go watch them on the boulevard." SMU Boulevard is the main U-shaped street that runs through campus. When there is a football game, we don't tailgate, we "boulevard" (well, come to think of it, David and I don't tend to do either, but you get the idea.)

Sure enough, as I carried on to the library I saw the whole group cut through the parking lot of Highland Park UMC. By this time, I probably don't need to tell you that homecoming is a. big. deal. Well, how could I not provide up-to-the-minute coverage of this occasion?


Here, for your viewing pleasure, is the first few minutes of the 2009 Homecoming Parade. Note that the pony is Peruna, the mascot for the SMU Mustangs. And, the seem to be recruiting cheerleaders pretty young these days.... !


Enjoy!



Happy Hallowe'en!




Pretty good likeness, no?

(P.S., please don't report us to Residence Life and Student Housing - that was a bike light, not a real candle in there.)

2 Years - with apologies in advance for the Khalil Gibran




On October 13, David and I celebrated our second wedding anniversary. I can't believe it's been two years since our amazing wedding day.

We had a beautiful dinner at Stephan Pyles restaurant in Downtown Dallas, which is kind of a Jamie Kennedy style place with lost of Texan touches (read: jalapeño-flavoured everything). It was delicious.


I hope that David and I can continue to build a healthy and supportive relationship. We look to our parents as steadfast models of the kind of partners we want to be for each other. There is also a reading that resonates with both of us, that we have on our fridge. I think it speaks to how we view each other and our partnership. It also, I'm told, was read at every single wedding in the seventies - so, sorry if it has a schmaltz factor for many of you.


On Marriage - Khalil Gibran

You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.

You shall be together when white wings of death scatter your days.

Aye, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.

But let there be spaces in your togetherness,

And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.

Love one another but make not a bond of love:

Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.

Fill each other's cup but drink not from one cup.

Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.

Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,

Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.

Give your hearts, but not into each other's keeping.

For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.

And stand together, yet not too near together:

For the pillars of the temple stand apart,

And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow.

(However, as David has pointed out, it can be hard not to drink from the same cup when you only have four of them and three are already dirty.)

I love you, David. Thank you for coming on the Great Texan Adventure with me.

Thanksgiving 2009

As we continue to come upon our "seconds" of things in Dallas, I can't quite believe how fast the time has gone. As I write this, we are coming up on our second Christmas in Texas, and we've also celebrated my second birthday (well, my 25th birthday actually, but my second one here... you know...)

In October, we celebrated our second Canadian Thanksgiving in Dallas. Last year, if you remember, I roasted a chicken and we ate it at our kitchen counter. This year, I had grandiose plans to convert our bedroom into a temporary dining room and serve turkey and stuffing to eight people on a table which we could borrow from the common room. In the end David, ever the pragmatist, talked me out of this plan, by pointing out a few setbacks, including but not limited to the following:

- Our oven is tiny and could barely fit a turkey, let alone anything else that might need to be in there at the same time.

- We have four of everything, not eight. And certainly not, say, twenty, once you get into using forks for cooking and cutting and serving and all this.

- There are no chairs in the building to go with the table I was thinking of stealing. I said we could steal chairs from the Prothro building. David pointed out that school chairs are not the same height as dining room chairs. This became moot when:

- It turns out that the table I was thinking of disappeared from the common room some time last year.

- We don't have nearly enough cookware to make a Thanksgiving dinner. We have barely enough to make a Wednesday night dinner.

Well, alright. So I gave up on that idea. But our good friends Chelsea and Chris very kindly offered to let us host our Thanksgiving dinner at their lovely apartment. Chelsea even got out all the lovely things they were given for their wedding to make the dinner and serve the guests.

It was a really fun day. Chelsea and I went to Central Market, which is a fabulous grocery store chain that is like Pusateri's meets Ikea. Pusateri's in the sense that it is an upscale, foodie heaven – Ikea in the sense that you are contrived to wander through its carefully laid out displays and are subsequently tempted to buy half the store. This was my first-ever turkey I cooked myself, and Chelsea has never cooked a turkey. So, she was excited to see how it's done and I was hoping I actually knew how it's done. We bought a twelvish-pound fresh turkey. I had bought some groceries previously that were already in the car, so we mostly got some fun things like apple cider, pretty decorative branches, and a container of Love Dip, which is an addictive sour cream dip for corn chips that Chelsea and I both love. Absolutely essential for cooking the dinner. Oh, and we bought the requisite can of cranberry sauce, which Chelsea says her Grandma always serves still perfectly in the shape of the can. I told Chelsea she could handle that part – and she did!

So, we brought the turkey back to their place. Chelsea put Chris to work shining the silverware – what a husband! I washed the turkey and proceeded to take out the giblet bag and neck (the neck for crying out loud – have you had that before??) Chelsea didn't know that this was part of the turkey process, and was mildly perturbed. I probably would have been too - but I had a job to do, people. With the stuffing made, I got ready to stuff the turkey. Now, I am realizing that Texans don't tend to actually stuff their turkeys. They make stuffing, but they bake it in a baking dish and just serve it – hence the term "dressing". So Chelsea had never seen someone stuff a turkey before. By this time, she was telling me I was "fierce".

So, we got the turkey into the oven. I set about making the cabbage salad. This is the purple cabbage coleslaw with dill that my family makes at Thanksgiving and Christmas. My mother and I both have a complex that we have to try and get the cabbage "as fine as Grandma used to do it." Which I'm increasingly convinced is a mythical prospect. However, I can try. The thing about this recipe is you need a good deal of diced cabbage, not to mention onion and celery, and (the catch) you can't use a food processor, because it beats all the water out of the cabbage and the salad is very... well, watery. So you have to use a knife (besides, GRANDMA would never have used a food processor). So, the afternoon went like this – I would stand at the cutting board chopping cabbage. Chelsea would walk in from setting the table and go "this salad is taking you a while." I would keep chopping. Chris walked in from finishing the silverware. "Wow, are you still chopping that cabbage? What is this for, anyway?" "Grandma's salad. Has to be like Grandma did it. Ooh, look at that pretty piece of cabbage – isn't cabbage pretty? Hey, come back..." David arrives, having walked from campus. "Wow, you WALKED here? Hilary has been chopping cabbage ALL DAY!"

You get the idea.

Tyler, our MSM friend, came over after a while to hang out. He was coming to the dinner, and is a video game buddy of Chris's. They play FIFA soccer together. So, peeling the carrots was punctuated by occasional yelling from the living room. Then Chelsea sent the boys into the kitchen to peel the potatoes for me, and I sat down with Tyler to watch "Big Rigs". Random, I know, but the episode was set in Saskatchewan, so that was kind of appropriate.

Boys helping with the dinner.

Then I went back into the kitchen to keep things going and Ulston arrived. He is our MSM friend from Antigua, an international student like me. At this point, everybody ended up in the kitchen. Why does that happen?? So I kicked everyone out and started basting the turkey. This was another thing that Chelsea and Chris had not experienced before (I even had to remember to bring my own baster) so I made them try basting. Isn't basting a satisfying activity? I think it's my favourite part of making the dinner.

As that chaotic half-hour of the cooking arrived, when everything needs to be in the oven or on the stove or going into a dish all at once, Kristen arrived, who is a first-year MSM. She lives in Hawk Hall with us. As I was looking at the pot of carrots thinking maybe I hadn't made enough, she got a call from T-Wes, another first year MSM, asking what she was doing. Could T-Wes come to the dinner? Oh sure – there's always room for one more at Canadian Thanksgiving. (T-Wes is actually Thomas Wesley, but apparently his friends in undergrad called him T-Wes, and that's what he told us to call him. It really invites things like T-to-the-Wes or T-Dawg, and I had trouble calling him that for about a month. But I got over it).

My next task was to give a pep talk to my turkey wranglers. I asked Chris and Tyler to get the turkey from the pan onto the cutting board, "without flipping it over or it ending up on the floor." This is a bit of a heart attack-inducing moment for me – I mean, turkeys are pretty heavy and kind of awkward! But they did a good job, and Chris carved the bird, a job I was very happy to delegate.

So, finally the whole meal got on the table. We were eight people and I was having silent anxiety that there was not enough food. However, there was of course lots and plenty to spare, and everyone got to enjoy everything.

Here was the menu of my first real Thanksgiving turkey dinner:

Turkey (of course!)

Stuffing (bona fide)

Corn

Carrots (we always called these "cooked carrots" when I was growing up. Not "boiled carrots" or "steamed carrots" but "cooked carrots" – is that weird?)

Cabbage Salad (almost as fine as Grandma used to do)

Mashed Potatoes

Gravy (I made gravy! For reals!)

Apple and Turnip Casserole

Cranberry Sauce (can-shaped)

and for dessert:

Pumpkin Pie (Aunt Jane's recipe, but dairy-free for David's benefit. This entails two hours of cooking down plain soy milk to make your own evaporated milk. I'm not a martyr though.)

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We jokingly started to say that different things in the dinner were outrageous Canadian delicacies, like moose meat and beaver giblets. Only, T-Wes really believed me about the moose meat for a minute. Then we told them a fake history of the founding of Canada, when the first Prime Minister, Seamus McGee, conquered the wilderness with naught but his canoe and a caribou antler... or something. (Minor cultural observation: I notice that people down here pronounce it "THANKSgiving". As in, "so, are you going home for THANKSgiving?")

The really fun thing was, the meal really tasted like home. Somehow, magically, the turkey especially tasted just like my parents make it. It was a wonderful meal and a great evening with friends. We are happy to be where we are.

The State Fair of Texas


Well, we finally did it – at the end of October David and I spent a day at the State Fair of Texas. Just for good measure, we brought a pair of native Texans with us – our friends Chelsea and Chris. Chelsea is in the MSM programme with me, and her husband Chris is a nurse and sings with us in the Seminary Singers (I think participation in the Seminary Singers should be mandatory for MSM spouses.... but I'm sure that's just me).

So yes, we know that everything is bigger in Texas – you hear that so often that you don't even hear it anymore (what? Oh well, I'll leave it). HOWEVER. The State Fair is HUGE. It would be impossible to see everything, and even more impossible to *eat* everything. Nevertheless, we did our best!

It was a chilly day, so we bundled up. David and I bundled up in Canadian fashion, with jackets, scarves, mitts and hats. Chelsea and Chris bundled up in Texan fashion – jeans, sneakers and sweatshirts. Guess who was cold?? ;)

We started the day by indulging in our first of many fried treats (yes, most things at the State Fair are fried) – corn dogs. David and I had never had a corn dog before. Only down here, they call them "corny dogs" – doesn't that make you think of Yosemite Sam?

"What in tarnation? That dadgum rabbit done stole my corny dog!"


Apparently *the* way to enjoy a corn(y) dog is with yellow mustard. David and I did so and they were very tasty indeed, and ironically, very warming on a chilly day, nevermind that most Texans would prefer to eat these heavy fried foods in 90-degree weather. (I am being worn down to using the Fahrenheit system, at least for the hot temperatures of Dallas summers. Every now and then I say something about temperatures being "in the thirties" and people think I'm in an alternate universe of perpetual deep-freeze. But I digress.) Fuelled by our tasty corn dogs, we wandered around and took in some of the bizarre sights of the Fair, not the least of which being the live alligator on display for a mere six tickets. Poor thing – being gawked at all day while stuck in a tiny wire cage. I hope there's a special place in heaven for carnival animals. Is that bad theology? Uh-oh, better get back to classes....


Next we made for the livestock pens. On the way there we ogled some majorly huge John Deere farming equipment. We were all over the photo op, but it did occur to me that it was something of a feat to even get onto this equipment, so I don't know how well I would do if I ever had to manoeuvre one of them! Yikes – thank you, farmers.

We went into the pig pavilion, which turned out not to be pigs at all but mostly sheep and goats – go figure. Some of them had just been shorn, apparently.

Then we saw a whole lot of cows. Seeing the cows, especially the array of prized bulls, made me realize how out of touch I am with nature. I mean, now and then when you drink milk you think about cows, but man – cows are BIG! They are seriously substantial creatures. They stand there all calm but they are seriously intimidating, at least to a Toronto/Montreal/Dallas city slicker like me. I was especially taken by a mildly exotic "Brahman" bull which is massive (and I mean MASSIVE) and a kind of mottled grey colour, with a big hump on its back kind of like a camel. Very Indian-looking. I didn't get a picture of the actual one that we saw but I do feel compelled to include a picture:

We also saw our first-ever real-live Longhorn. Again, the picture does not do justice to how huge and imposing this thing was. I don't really know that those little enclosures would do much if these guys decided they didn't care to stay in them any longer.

We also saw several milk-cows, of the smaller and gentler-looking female persuasion, but we unfortunately missed the milking demonstration by a few minutes. That would have been fun, and might have assuaged my sudden guilty feeling of being completely out of touch with nature. Ah well.

After that we wandered through the arts and crafts pavilion, and saw an array of weird and wonderful items from vintage Elvis dolls to beautiful hand-made quilts and – this is for you, Susan – smocked dresses. We also saw the butter sculpture, an annual fixture at the fair, which was an entire room of a saloon made totally out of like twelve hundred pounds of butter. This pic is only a part of the whole sculpture. They're not even kidding down here.

A real treat came when we went to see the bird show. This is a very popular show that showcases natural behaviours of birds and has a keen (but not heavy-handed) interest in education and conservation. They started by showing a video about condor repopulation (randomly enough, with an Alanis Morissette sing in the background – CanCon!) Then they showed a series of birds large and small. One funny bird with a long neck has a behaviour of picking up its food in its beak (clams or some kind of shelled bug, maybe) and slamming it down on a rock – kapow! The trainer had it doing it with this little toy alligator, and then as the alligator hit the ground the trainer would toss down a treat – I guess that's how they get the bird to keep doing it. Pretty funny. There were a few birds that they had fly out into the audience, including one whose looong legs grazed the tops of peoples' heads as it flew back! Talk about audience participation.


The highlight of the show, though, comes with an amazing feat of organization involving the Texas Star. That's the enormous Ferris wheel at the park, which is a good half a kilometre away from the site of the bird show. At 65 metres tall, it is the largest Ferris wheel in North America. At one point in the show, the presenter directs your attention to a gold cage which has (by some crazy feat of organization, see above) stopped just at this moment at the very top of the wheel. He signals, and the door opens, and a hawk flies out of the cage, over the fair ground and straight down over your heads onto his outstretched arm. Sweet.

Next up was a foray into the games and rides area, where David and Chelsea faced off on the bumper cars. They each got each other pretty good a couple of times, but I think Chris and I were the winners because the two of them were so hilarious to watch. Next, Chelsea tried to launch rubber chickens into a pot and David tried to win me a giant banana at the Scooby Doo game, but we were unlucky, apparently. Then, we went for a thrilling ride on the aforementioned Texas Star. Chelsea was apparently a little freaked out. We could see the whole Fair from up there – huge! It was also quite chilly up high – thank goodness for our Canadian mittens.




Next we headed toward the auto show, and happened to see the Navy marching band on the way. They played the national anthem, and "America the Beautiful," we think, or possibly it was some other patriotic song. I think I may have mentioned before that marching bands are A Big Deal here, and what more so than a military band? So that was pretty cool to see. It was later afternoon, and they lowered and folded the flags as they played (I'm sure there is a more official term for this ceremony that I don't know).

After taking in many shiny new cars at the car show (and some very cool retro cars from the fifties, sixties and seventies), we headed for our last event of the day. Something you can't go to a State Fair without seeing. Try to guess what it was. Just guess. Give up?

...



PIG RACES!!

It was very hokey, an essentially five-minute event drawn out into half an hour. The first thing they did was to trot out (hah!) a former racing pig, who is now all grown up and weighs something like 900 pounds. Okay that number might be way off, but this was a huge, huge pig, and LOUD! Grunt, grunt, grunt... they put the microphone up so she could "talk" to us, and the sound was deafening. I didn't get a picture unfortunately, but this was an impressive pig.

Next came the races. The different sections of the room were supposed to cheer for different pigs. Our pig came dead last the first two races. On the last race, the guy talked up this one darker brown pig they had loaded into the gate, saying it was a superfast pig and you'd have to watch carefully or you'd miss the race completely. Well, here's a video of what happened when they opened the start gate:

Okay, so it was actually not a racing pig at all in the end but a pot-bellied pig from the petting zoo.

It seemed pretty hilarious at the time.

(Also note that the "bump" in the middle of my video is David gleefully elbowing me because our pig finally won!)

Well, after that we went home, exhausted but very happy. It was a great day spent with great friends, and best of all, Chelsea and I weren't holed up in the library doing homework. Ahh, the sweet smell of denial.

Speaking of sweet smells (like that segue? Hm?) I thought I would save all the amazing foodstuffs at the Fair until the end. They ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous. First, here is the Fair fare that we enjoyed:

FUNNEL CAKE

I have only ever heard of these in American books and movies, but here they were for real. Funnel cakes are made from squeezing batter through a pastry bag straight into deep-fry oil, in a squiggly webby pattern. I've always pictured them being funnel shaped (like, hence the name, right?) but they are more like those rosettes you used to be able to get at Griffith's, which is now Grumbels... do they still make those?? Anyways, the pastry bag is the funnel part. You can YouTube "funnel cake" and see how they make them; it's pretty cool. Then they douse them with icing sugar and away you go. So bad for you... but SO good.



FRITO PIE

This is a Texas favourite comfort food that I had never heard of before moving here. It's exactly what you're thinking of, Fritos like the Frito-Lay corn chips in a yellow and red bag. They put a handful of them in the bottom of a bowl and pour chilli on top, then sprinkle it with shredded cheese. Here is Chelsea not enjoying hers very much.


FRIED GREEN TOMATOES

I finally saw the movie named for these last year – Chelsea lent it to me. I'm glad I lived in the South before seeing this movie (though Southerners would tell you that Texas isn't the South... but what do I know??) Fried green tomatoes, I can report, are very tasty. Because they're green they are crisper and hold their shape when fried. The ones we had had a bit of spicy kick in the batter – I don't know if that's always how it's done or if it was just these. This being Dallas, they came with a creamy ranch dipping sauce. Most things in Dallas come with a creamy ranch dipping sauce. Mmm... coronary.


SWEET JALAPEÑO CORNDOG SHRIMP

Okay, so I didn't actually eat this, but Chris did. This was one of the Fair creations for this year – I think it won a prize in the "creativity" category. I had wanted Chris to eat a chocolate-dipped jalapeño, which was apparently in a booth somewhere else. He would have done it apparently (ew) but we couldn't find it. So he went for this. The name mosty says it all, and the picture says the rest. Apparently it was tasty.

I also had a Pokey-O's cookie-and-ice cream sandwich, but I didn't get a pic of that. You get to pick whatever fresh baked cookie and whatever ice cream flavour and they make a sandwich out of it. It appealed to every sweet gooey impulse in me. Mmm.

Here also are the pics I got of the myriad bizarre food creations at the Fair that our sense of self-preservation kept us from trying:








And that was the State Fair! Now back to the pile of homework....... dang.