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Monday, December 25, 2006

A very Family Christmas

It really has been six years since my family all sat down to have a meal at Christmas. My sister now lives in France with her husband and my parents until two years ago lived in Singapore. Hence, geography was not in our favour for the holidays. That all changed last evening with a grand Christmas even dinner prepared by my sister.

Turkey is NOT on our family Christmas menu. This is most unfortunate for my sister's husband and my boyfriend, Mr. Hippo who both simply adore it. In fact, Mr. Hippo cheekly remarked that he was returning home to Winnipeg on Christmas day for the sole purpose for eating this bird. A very expensive meal indeed.

The meal was mostly inspired by french cuisine with a little Singapore side addition. Nardac, my sister, prepared an excellent meal of Roast Duck with a lovely citrus sauce. She then rounded off the menu with beans and asparagus in garlic and butter, wild rice with chanterelle mushrooms, fresh orange wedges and fried bean sprouts favoured with salted dried fish (more singaporean than french of course). The real surprise for me was the apple, potato and leek puree with a hint of Guiness. Yum Yum. Mr. Hippo was slightly appalled to discover the half drunk can in the fridge later.

This was washed down with French Champagne, French Red Wine, Italian Chanti and English Guiness. After the Anglo-French summit was concluded, other strange and bizarre photos were found. Merry Christmas everyone....*hic

Sunday, December 17, 2006

VOIP evolution: Skype to Freecall

I may be a late comer to this game but let me express my absolute delight at discovering the joys of voice over the internet phone access. First there was Skype to which my sister introduced me and then Mr. Hippo re-introduced me. To date, computer to landline calls within Canada and USA through Skype have been free but in the new year, a charge of $15 per year will apply in January 2007. Again, this is no big expense considering what long distance companies have been charging for years. Overseas calling of computer to landline or mobile through Skype is quite low at 1-2 cents per minute.

As torrents have overtaken Kazaa/Limewire/Napster, a new kid on the block has appeared in VOIP called Freecall. Free calls from computer to landlines to many countries throughout the world from the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, France, etc. I tried it out last night and called my grandmother in Singapore. Wow, the clarity was amazing and she certainly couldn't tell the difference. A whole hour (that was the limit) free long distance why are we still paying for long distance with Vonage, Rogers, Primus, Bell, etc. With Freecall, you can even choose to take the long distance calls on your home phone (no added technology required).

Google FreeCall and check it out yourself.

The Smells, Sounds and Sights of the Season

Nothing says it better with food. So I must begin my holiday season with a kitchen party. A small gathering of friends with a twist. In place of cooking for them, I decided to hold a cooking party. After all, everyone is always wondering where the recipe for this or that is. On this holiday menu was no ordinary, run of the mill standard fare. No turkey or roasted ham or stuffing or cranberry sauce....none of which I have any liking for.

Instead, a spread of mee siam, rojak, chicken cacciatore and ayam prawns (many thanks to Ms. Crowded House for getting these from Loblaws) was prepared with a little help from my friends. These celebrations also allow me to catch up with their lives. Desi assured us that no other misfortunes visited her on her dive trip to Palau. Despite a hard week with her two sons, Ms. Jane Austen enjoyed the party as did her husband. Can't wait to see their new BMW SUV! Desi is getting a little something of this deal too. Not just a new car but an Audi A4. My little Jetta is going strong after the repair work from the accident was done. The party was such a success that I think another session will be planned soon for Chinese New Year.

The sounds of the seaon were brought in by the annual reading of a Christmas Carol. This event is sponsored by the CBC each year with ticket sales being donated to literacy groups across Canada. This is my third year of attendance.
It all started with an invitation from my pals in Hamilton, Juventus and his wife Limerick. Last year, I introduced Mr. Hippo to this Christmas tradition of mine. We went to Oakville and for this year's reading, it was off to Georgetown. Ken Sylvester was the CBC reader present. Although his recitation of the Ghost of Christmas Present was very boisterous, jovial and entertaining, it was Vera MacDonald who stole the show while she read the staves on the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. Carols were sung between the chapters and I was not surprised to learn that Dickens himself had started this Christmas tradition of public readings of this truncated version of his tale.

It is nearly here now, one week before Christmas eve. I am a big fan of Christmas despite not being a devout Catholic. I also love the decorations and get started early on the trimmings of the season.

The sights of the season begin with the Christmas tree. This year, it is a Douglas Fir and more appropriate in size for the living room. Yesteryear's tree was nearly eight feet where this one is closer to seven feet. This tree also sheds a lot less needles but provides sufficient room for the cat to slumber beneath its branches.

The smell of the tree is great too. Imagine walking in a forest beneath the bright moonlight crunching on a blanket of fresh snow to stimulate those scents in your brain. This year, a simple theme of Red and Gold in ribbons, balls and lights.

This year's celebrations will be made even more special with the arrival of my sister Nardac and her husband, Mr. Moustache. In fact, this is the first Christmas when we will all be together since I don't remember when. Very exciting as Nardac and Mr. Moustache will meet Mr. Hippo too. I hope there'll be a some snow too. Can hardly wait!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

After the Credits

After having watching over 10 movies on the flights to and from Singapore to Toronto, I made a little observation regarding a new trend in movie making. I am referring to that little extra teaser or perhaps reward for those few who have sat through the last 5 minutes of the movie watching the credits. This little 1-2 minute film strip can be just a fun tid bit or a meaningful link to a sequel. I cite these films:

First, in animated film Cars, the end film strip is of the "typical" american couple (depicted as cars of course) still lost somewhere in America. The "wife" car pleading with her "husband" to please stop and ask someone for directions. The scene ends with a "fly" car hitting the screen.

Second, in Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Men's Chest, the extra scene is of the dog on Cannibal island is seated on the throne of bones with (yes, you guessed it) a long bone in its mouth. The natives of the island are celebrating the coronation of their new canine lord.

Thirdly, in You, Me and Dupree, the last few minutes belong to Lance Armstrong who makes yet another cameo appearance in this movie. He lies on the grass reading a motivational book written by the Dupree charater speaking the words: Lance-ness, Lanceness.

Fourthly, in X-men 3, this last film's extra post-credit scene was so important, the ushers at the theatre were actively instructing movie patrons to stay and see it. The voice of Xavier arises from his hospital bed. The audience learns that he didn't really die in the film. Then again, it is a comic book and does anyone really die in the comics. Jean Grey already did it once. However, the movie foretells the return of the Professor in likely the 4th X-men movie.

I still puzzled as to the reason for this trend in movie making. Is this to force us to stay through the credits and read who the Gaffer was or who the Personal assistant to Mr. B. Pitt was? Aside from the X-men 3 scene, most of these film scenes add nothing to the main body of the film. Most of the audience at these movies have actually begin to review the movie as they wait for that "after credits" scene. But, in the advent of DVD, most of us will probably just fast forward to the end... the "after credits" end that is.