Christmas time down under

We had a load of visitors throughout January, and I have a raft of half-written posts to catch up on. This will be the first of six catch-up posts that I hope to get out in February.

We’re used to being far away during the holidays. Ever since we first got married we’ve been on a three year rotating cycle: one year away, one year home with my mom, and one year with Sarah’s folks. This is the third winter now that we’ve spent away, and by far the warmest (metaphorically and physically speaking) to date.

Our first year away from home was also our first Christmas together as a married couple. We spent it living in the basement of a friend’s Dad’s house half way across the country in Waterloo. We weren’t alone – our friends family went out of their way to make us feel welcome during the holidays, but we were certainly lonely. It was the first time that either of us had been away for the holidays, and home sickness was a big factor. It was also exceptionally cold — more cold than I ever remember being. We spent a lot of our evenings huddled up on the bathroom floor (heated tiles) with a blanket, a cat, and a laptop.

The following foreign cycle we spent in Paris. We’d arrived in France a month earlier, and had just moved into our new apartment on rue de Marignan, just off the Champs Elysees. That year, in addition to being cold (our apartment was very poorly insulated), and even further away from family, we were also sufferingly poor. I’d missed three pay periods as part of the transfer fiasco, and we spent what amounted to our life savings on the move-in costs for the new place. The gifts we exchanged that year included such items as chocolate bars bought from a vending machine, wrapped in an envelope with hand drawn decorations. Christmas dinner was a peanut butter sandwich. On the up side though, we did attend the best Christmas service ever, and met several people on Christmas eve who would become lifelong friends.

This year we were in Australia, and things were completely different.

The most obvious change was in the temperature. Christmas time in Australia is synonymous with summer. As the local carol, ‘Christmas where the Gumtrees grow’ notes:

Christmas Where the Gumtrees Grow,
there is no frost and there is no snow,
Christmas in Australia’s hot,
cold and frosty’s what it’s not,
when the bloom of the jacaranda tree is here,
Christmas time is near.

It’s so very, very weird to be driving around listening to Christmas carols in the heat of summer. But, it’s the sort of weird you can get used to. 🙂

The other amazing difference was that we had the good fortune to be invited into a super tight familial circle just prior to the holidays. It may actually have been Xavier who introduced us by making friends with the couple’s three year old boy, but the entire group — all of whom are employed as bakers, chefs, cooks, and so on — really welcomed us into their lives for the holidays. We were invited to share in their Christmas day celebrations which included telling jokes, playing board games, opening presents, eating proper Turkey dinner (not the traditional Aussie dinner of prawns and cold ham), and watching National Lampoons Christmas vacation.

And finally, this year, instead of feeling removed from family, we were able to connect via technology. We actually opened our gifts with our family via Facetime this Christmas. It’s not quite the  same as being there, but so much better than making a rushed four minute long distance call from a stolen internet connection as we’ve done in years past. There’s been a lot of resistance in Australia to a government program to bring faster, and more reliable internet into Australian homes. This kind of thing – being able to spend Christmas in three different cities at once – is all the justification I need.

It’s been a lovely holiday season down under – as good as we could hope for and much better than we’d expected. But, still, we are definitely looking forward to a more traditional Christmas with family in 2013.

MasterChef Cookalong

This past Thursday, Sarah took cooking class to learn how to make deep fried wonton.

The really cool thing is that she didn’t even have to leave the apartment — it was a virtual class, hosted by semi-celebrity chef Mindy Woods via Google+.

Non-Australian viewers may not know that name: Mindy was a Top-5 Finalist on this years MasterChef Australia. I understand that MasterChef runs in other countries, but it might be a bit different here. This show is huge, capturing about 10% of  australian television viewers, six nights a week for two months.

And so, through the magic of the internets, Mindy came into three kitchens around Australia and offered direct guidance (I want to say hands on, but it wasn’t really) to some amateur cooks. We also had family and friends in at least four different North American cities following along live.

We did have to make a few modifications to our kitchen:

You can see some of the finished product there on the left. It was deep fried wonton with prawn and rougette (I don’t know the English name for that fish). Sarah also learned to make a sweet chili sauce, which you can see in the ramekin.

In case you missed it, and want to watch Sarah’s online cooking debut, it was recorded for YouTube.

Geoblocking

There’s an excellent post over on the CBC that talks about the practice of Geoblocking, what it is, and why broadcasters insist on doing it. For those that don’t know, Geoblocking is a way for a company to limit access to particular parts of their website based upon the physical location of the person coming to the site. For example, I can’t watch re-runs of Star Trek on the CBS site because I’m not in the USA (which is annoying; but understandable), and Sarah can’t look at Jeans on the Canadian guess website (which is just dumb), presumably because they charge more if you live in Europe.

Without a doubt, my favourite part of the article was this gem from the comments section.

There’s a simple way to get around any geoblocking fence. It’s called reverse urling. if you are being denied access to a site, just type the url backwards, character for character, eventually ending with :ptth.

What this does is tell the server to come to you rather than you go to it. The only danger is if the website is huge, by inviting it into your computer you stand a chance of overloading your machine, and, under rare circumstances, this can cause the cpu the short out and catch fire.

The best thing to do, should that happen, is to quickly type the url again but forwards. The sudden reversal in direction in the flow of electrons from your computer to the server should bring things back into equilibrium.

Should you find it impossible to type due to electric shocks from the keyboard, very common in pre 2004 keyboards which are not properly grounded against reverse urling, you should try to cut power to the computer. Electrical problems from the short have been known to spread within a house, or sometimes even to a whole neighbourhood., depending on whether the houses are connected serially or not in the powergrid (I never remember which one is bad).

Note to readers, I’m pretty sure this won’t work, although I’m not will to test on my laptop for fear of damage to my pants (and the contents thereof).

Gigantic Turkey Roast in Abbotsford.

CBC is reporting that the cull of 60,000 turkeys at B.C. farm may begin Monday.

So what do you do with 60,000 Turkeys?
The answer’s obvious: Turn that old barn you weren’t using into a giant crockpot.

CFIA officials were preparing to euthanize the birds by sealing the barns and flooding them with carbon dioxide. Workers will then mix the carcasses with organic material in the barn to raise the temperature as high as 50 C during decomposition.

It’s a good thing they are near Cranberry country. Just sayin’.