Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Cluttering - Decluttering Continues

This month has been amazing - the amount of stuff that has come in and gone out of our home. And it isn't over yet. We continue to be a holding area for my mother's possessions that we daily move out of her apartment. Some of it goes almost immediately to her new home, some of it will stay here - so shelves have to be emptied to make way for it! Some dishes and towels will find their way to Toronto in the next month or two - and some of it will end up at St. Richard's Nearly New Store, a place where we regularly drop off bags of clothing and books - for them to sell - to raise money for the church and the poor in the community.

Every Tuesday morning, a group of men and women (many retired) gather to sort through things that have been donated. Then on Thursdays and Fridays the shop is open. This tiny second-hand store in the basement of a church serves as a great equalizer - those who have more than they need can contribute, and those who need something can purchase bargains at "garage-sale" prices.

A week ago yesterday, I announced that I hoped to give away or get rid of 100 items in my home that I no longer need. It has taken me a little over a week to reach my 100, but this morning, going through a large stack of old Sports Illustrated Magazines, I went over the 100 mark! (Not counting my mother's things that have moved in and then out.)

So the final tally is:
2 containers of dead batteries
8 tapes
18 toys
18 cups and dishes
6 blouses
1 bike helmet
5 computer games
34 books and magazines
10 costume jewelery containers - some empty
2 (diabetic) glucose testing meters I no longer use (I prefer another brand)
104 items

But the hunt isn't over. Our cupboards are still hiding at least 100 more items we no longer need - I plan to hunt them down!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

We're all different ...

Yesterday I was cleaning out closets and cupboards in my mother's apartment. She has moved into a smaller living space - a one-room "bed-sitter" with no kitchen - in a friendly retirement residence.

I feel sorry for you, my mother commented the last time she was there. Surveying the half-empty closet and kitchen cupboards, she sighed: It's so much work.

Don't feel sorry - I'm not complaining,
I told her.

And I'm not. In some ways, I'm actually enjoying it. It's a little like going through an old treasure chest. Occasionally I discover something that brings back memories.

Today I noticed a paper affixed to my mother's fridge with magnets. It has been there for years. So I decided to share it here. For me, it is a reminder to enjoy her and appreciate her, even though we are so very different... (I copied and pasted it from Yahoo! Answers , saving me the effort of typing it all over again.)

I'm Special

I'm special. In all the world there is nobody like me.

Since the beginning of time there has never been another person like me. Nobody has my smile. Nobody has my eyes, my nose, my hair, my voice. I'm special.

No one can be found who has my handwriting. Nobody anywhere has my tastes - for food or music or art. No one sees things just as I do.

In all of time, there has been no one who laughs like me, no one who cries like me. And what makes me laugh and cry will never provoke identical laughter and tears from anybody else, ever. No one reacts to any situation just as I would react. I'm special.

I'm the only one in all creation who has my set of abilities. Oh, there will always be somebody who is better at one of the things I am good at, but no one in the universe can reach the quality of my combination of talents, ideas, abilities and feelings. Like a full room of musical instruments, some may excel alone, but no one can match the symphony sound when all played together. I am a symphony.

Through all eternity no one will ever look, talk, walk, think, or do like me. I'm special.

I'm rare. And, as in all rarity, there is great value. Because of my great rare value, I need not attempt to imitate others. I will accept - yes, celebrate - my differences. I'm special. And I'm beginning to realize its no accident that I'm special. I'm beginning to see that God made me special for a very special purpose. He must have a job for me that no one else can do as well as I. Out of the billions of applicants, only one is qualified, only one has the right combination of what it takes.

That one is me. Because... I'm special.

-Author Unknown

Saturday, March 28, 2009

An Interesting, Puzzling SIN...

The word "sin" conjures up lots of images in my mind: being cruel to people, murdering, stealing - in short, being really bad. Or maybe the "7 deadly sins" (lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, pride).

One sin I rarely think about - but which makes me feel uncomfortable - is COMPLAINING... Some translations of the Bible call it "murmuring." (which makes me think of muttering under your breath.) But this sin was apparently serious: it kept God's people wandering in the desert for 40 years.

I came across the sin of complaining recently in the New Testament, in one of the letters written to the young church in Corinth. In it Paul told Christians not to test God or grumble...

GRUMBLE? But... I grumble every day ... or most days:
Why me....?
Why don't I have....?
Why do I have to ....?
I really hate to....

Is THAT really so bad?!

Why is grumbling a sin? Is it because we have been given so much - and when we grumble we tend to forget that - and look only at what we think we are lacking?

I know that - as a parent - I used to hate it when my kids complained that someone else had more - or when they weren't thankful for what they were given. They had so much, but didn't seem to see it.

On a day-to-day level, grumbling and complaining can be very debilitating for everyone within earshot.

I remember a co-worker who complained a lot. She wasn't a BAD person, but it was hard to be with her. She was always angry about administration, family, students or life in general.

I avoid her, one co-worker told me, because she always brings me down.

So grumbling poisons the air. And we all want (we all need) hope... and optimism.

The antidote for grumbling seems to be thankfulness....

When I feel bad, my husband reminds me: You have a lot to be thankful for! And he goes on to list some of the good things in my life that I forget when I'm feeling blue...

There is a lot to be said for the old notion of COUNTING YOUR BLESSINGS!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Stubborn or Determined?

Our young son is very strong-willed, a friend confides to my husband. I don't know what to do about it. Can you suggest anything?

My husband, who has worked in family counseling for years, smiles and replies: If your son is strong-willed, be happy! A strong-willed child won't be manipulated and led astray by friends when he is a teenager! It's the compliant kids you have to worry about!

I sit there and listen: Is it true? We are who we are - for life?!

My husband's words come to mind recently - after I try (unsuccessfully) to persuade my 89-year-old mother to let the nurse in the retirement residence take charge of her daily medication.

I mention that two doctors and a pharmacist have all told me that she seems confused at times about her medication. I remind her that she got the instructions wrong the last time she had antibiotics - she remembered the opposite of what the pharmacist had said. But she stubbornly denies it - even though I was with her at the time. For me it was the wake-up call that the doctors were right: her medication needs to be monitored more carefully.

But she refuses to listen.

They don't know what they're talking about, she replies, indignant.

You have too many pills now. It's easy to get confused.

I don't get confused, she insists. I have it all written down.

As I drive home, exasperated, I wonder: When did this stubbornness start?

But looking back I see - not blind stubbornness, but stubborn determination: My mother, as a young girl, determined to be a teacher, even though nobody in her family had completed high school, let alone Teacher's College or "Normal School," as it was then called. But she persisted in her dream, boarding with a family in the city, so she could attend high school, paying for her room and board by working as a housekeeper and babysitter, doing her homework when all her other tasks are done.

And after completing high school, she still needed $300 for tuition for Normal School. It was a lot of money in those days: the equivalent of a year's salary for a teacher starting out. Her mother told her that her dream was impossible: they couldn't afford the tuition. She would need to get a job like her two older siblings.

She decided to work as a maid for a year and save her money. She sent her earnings home, for her mother to keep until she needed the money to pay her fees.

But when a year was over and she asked her mother for the tuition funds that she had entrusted to her, her mother sadly told her that she didn't have it. It was all gone - used to help feed and clothe their large family.

My mother burst into tears. Her mother, saddened that she had unintentionally betrayed her daughter's trust, came up with a plan. She drove into Edmonton to ask friends for a loan. Fortunately, they agreed, and my mother had the tuition money she needed for the first day of Normal School. Later she would pay the money back in full from her salary as a teacher.

Again I see her determination when, after graduating from Normal School, at the age of 20, she headed north, alone, by train, to a one-room country schoolhouse in the isolated Peace River Country. She did not return home for almost a year - until the following June, when the school year was over. Then in August, she returned North again for her second year. In those days, you had to teach up North for two years before being allowed to teach in the city.

Time and time again, determination marked her life.

Only now that she is 89, I - her daughter - see it as stubbornness!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Declutter Countdown - Day 4

In my quest to de-clutter my living space, this week I am attempting to eliminate 100 things I no longer use - we won't talk about need...

The thought: "I might need this sometime" is what makes it hard to let go!

So this morning I tallied up things that I have gotten rid of since Monday -
2 containers of dead batteries
13 books and magazines
10 costume jewelery containers - some empty
2 (diabetic) blood testing meters I no longer use (I prefer another brand)
GRAND TOTAL: 27 items so far...

So the count goes on...
Will I make my goal of 100?
I'm feeling doubtful ... But I'll persist...

It's ironic that I'm counting small items that I'm getting rid of - while at the same time I am carting boxes of my mother's stuff into our basement! She is downsizing from a 1-bedroom apartment to one room in a senior's residence. She no longer wants to cook - and a cleaning lady comes into her room at the residence every day. The daily exercise class is what made her want to move. She also loves the almost-daily singalongs and weekly discussion group...

My mother has (fortunately) downsized a few times since I was young - or the job would be much larger. My youngest son is moving into a new apartment in about a month - and will happily take Grandma's towels and dishes... So the timing is perfect. But we are a temporary holding area until he moves.

Among my mother's kitchenware are two items I will probably never use (and I doubt that my son will either).

There is this well-used food mill, useful for making tomato sauce from fresh tomatoes.

Another is a bun warmer that predates microwave ovens. I'm not sure how to use it - does one put water in the bottom and heat it, steaming the buns to warm them? I'll have to ask my mother.

I think I'll take these to the church bazaar, I tell my daughter. Maybe someone can use them.

No, they're cute. Keep them
, she replies.

That is the first hint I've had that the clutter-gene has moved down to the next generation! As my daughter reminds me at moments like these: The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Did it! ... Almost

After keeping these old yogurt containers as storage bins for my used alkaline batteries (and 2 rechargeable ones) for more months (perhaps years?) than I remember...

And after creating yet another storage container for a new twirly CF light bulb that died prematurely and now needs to be recycled to avoid polluting the environment...

I happily discovered that my neighborhood Home Depot store now recycles batteries and energy-efficient CF light bulbs.

So this morning I wandered over with my containers in my re-usable shopping bag - to dispose of my toxic waste! (As some of you may know, I'm trying to get rid of 100 things I no longer need in my house this week...)

They had a place for recycling the light bulb (I had to bag it first) - and for the alkaline batteries...

But I had to bring my rechargeable batteries back home with me... Mmmmmm

I do appreciate your recycling efforts, Home Depot... so I don't mean to complain when I say, Why does recycling have to be so hard?!

When I first posted on recycling on March 15, 2009, I had touched a nerve that a lot of us respond to. Thank you, readers, for commenting on recycling...

There seems to be uncertainty as to whether or not alkaline batteries pose a threat to landfills - though rechargeable ones certainly do. I have no special knowledge on the topic, but I found an interesting discussion on this website:

From what I read there - (and I'm no scientist!) - my understanding is that there is less danger in alkaline batteries now, since they no longer contain mercury - but they do still contain "heavy metals" and this poses a danger to the environment.

What are "heavy metals"? you may wonder - as I did. (All metals seem pretty heavy to me.)

I chose this US Government website to help me understand.

So I think I should continue recycling alkaline batteries.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Getting Rid of 100 Things!

I read recently that most of us have 100 things we never use in our homes that we could easily get rid of. My immediate thought was -I probably have 100 excess objects in every room of my house!

So today - Monday - I begin my week with the goal of trying to get rid of 100 things this week - not sure what or how - but it seems like a pleasant purging - especially since I ordered half a dozen books from Chapters and they arrived on Friday.

Here are my new books! Now I need to get rid of at least 6 books to make room for them on my overflowing bookshelves!

Here are some I may be able to part with... I often use an online dictionary and thesaurus these days.

Magazines are easier to deal with. I read recently that an efficient way of dealing with magazine clutter is simply to tear out anything you want to keep, file it, and get rid of the magazine. I suppose that if the magazine is too mangled, recycling it as paper would be best. But if it is relatively intact, taking it to a hospital or a clinic would be a good idea. I always appreciate having magazines to read there.

Another obvious way to get rid of extras is to use up the free samples that collect in the bathroom cupboard. I've moved these shampoo samples to a basket so that I'll remember to use them. But it will take months (not days) to use them up!

Clothing might be another area where I could try to downsize... But I do hate to get rid of clothes!! Come to think of it, I hate to get rid of anything! I love my stuff! (Well, maybe not the shampoo samples!)

I'll try my best to get rid of 100 things this week. If I don't mention it again, you'll know I failed!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Early Signs of Spring

Spring is almost here in the part of Canada where I live.

Snow is melting...

Squirrels are already digging holes in the grass (I'm not sure why...)

Pine cones litter the lawn. When the ground is less mushy, it will be time to rake...

I'm always amazed at how green some plants are, even as they emerge from the ice and snow.

There is lots of work ahead: raking up pine cones, pine needles, dead grass and garbage that has accumulated under the snow. But, in spite of all the work ahead, this time of year is, for me, a time of hope and joy. It's refreshing to spend time outdoors again!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

My Mother's Guardian Angels

Ever since my mother has gotten older (she will be 90 in a few months) she finds new situations very stressful. An avid airline passenger, she no longer wants to fly alone. It isn't the plane but the terminal that frightens her. Airports are too big and too confusing: What if I don't know where to go? What if I miss the plane? What if I can't find you?

Well, you can always ask, I try to reassure her. But don't worry, I'll find you. Just sit down and wait. I'll come and get you.

But she is still stressed...

The last time she flew alone I saw her coming out of the arrivals gate on the arm of a young man who was carrying her suitcase. They were heading for the information desk.

Here I am, Mom, I called out to her. She thanked the young man, and turned to me.

Well, I prayed, and God sent me his Guardian Angel to look after me, she said.

That looked like a nice young man who was helping you, not an angel, I replied. There are nice young people around, you know.

Yes, when I thanked him, I told him: You were my Guardian Angel, she said with a smile.

I decided not to argue with her.

The next time the topic of Guardian Angels came up was a year or so later when we were going to the doctor's office together to find out whether a lump on her breast was cancerous or not. I had a feeling it was - the technician in the hospital where the biopsy had been done had come over to me in the waiting room and said: I'm not a doctor, but I think your mother's lump is malignant. I see enough of these to have a feeling about it. Make sure they do everything they can to help her - she is still so mentally strong.

I thanked him. His remarks - so unexpected - were strangely calming, preparing me for the worst.

So when the call came that the doctor wanted to talk to both of us, I was pretty sure that my mother did have breast cancer. My only thoughts were how she would handle being told.

As we came into the doctor's waiting room, my mother quickly scanned the area to find someone to sit beside that she could talk to. Her eyes zeroed in on a woman about my age who was sitting alone. I followed behind and sat nearby.

What are you here for? my mother asked the woman sitting next to her. She then added: I'm here because I might have breast cancer.

There was a momentary stirring as everyone in the room glanced up at my mother and then looked back down in embarrassment.

The woman glanced at me, then turned to my mother and said: I had breast cancer surgery 6 months ago. It went very well. The doctors are wonderful. Now I'm feeling great...

You had breast cancer too? my mother replied, astonished. You look... normal... healthy.

I do feel well, the woman replied, and went on to tell my mother what to expect, while I listened in on the conversation. The woman ended by offering my mother her telephone number in case she had any questions, or needed someone to talk to.

When the doctor finally called us in to tell us that my mother's lump was indeed malignant and would have to be removed, both she and I nodded as though the news were no surprise...

Did you know already? the doctor asked, puzzled.

The technician at the hospital told me he thought it was, I replied.

And I just talked to a lady who had breast cancer, my mother said. And she looks normal.

When we were leaving the doctor's office with our list of pre-op appointments, my mother turned to me and said: I was so scared, but God sent me a Guardian Angel to help me with my breast cancer.

This time I didn't disagree with her - I just nodded.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Don't be discouraged!

A few years ago, when I discovered that I had Type 2 Diabetes, I attended a workshop on how to live with this new health concern.

The workshop focused on three aspects of dealing with Type 2 Diabetes: food, exercise, and medication.

A dietitian told us how to eat to minimize the amount of sugar in our blood - eat more vegetables, fruit and fiber - less refined (white) sugar and flour - more whole wheat flour and whole grains. Suddenly I became super-conscious of everything that went into my mouth...! Did it fit the diabetic guidelines?

The second thing we new type-2-ers were told was that exercise plays a significant role, not only in using up sugar in our blood (energy) but also in stimulating the production of insulin, so that our bodies control excess sugar more effectively. We were told to try to walk 45 minutes a day.

Then a pharmacist explained how to monitor our blood sugar daily by pricking a finger and testing a drop of blood for sugar levels with a meter. He also discussed various medications used to help type 2 diabetics produce more insulin. Fortunately, I didn't have to use any medication as I was able to control my blood sugar by modifying my diet and exercising more.

This is good - and every day I am thankful that I have managed to get my blood sugar down into the "high blood sugar" range - from the "diabetic" range - and keep it there.

But every day I have to pay attention to what I eat and notice how it affects my blood sugar (which I still monitor with daily blood tests). And I have to try to exercise every day...

So I'm thankful for all that medical professionals know about diabetes control these days, so that I can help myself instead of feeling a victim of this disease. But I sometimes also get discouraged. If I fail (and my blood sugar goes up), I blame myself. Often I feel like a slave to this lifestyle that, I must admit, isn't me... I would much rather knit or quilt than go out for a walk - or eat chocolate cake for a snack instead of a pear...

And sometimes I do...

I wish I had the self-control of one diabetic who said that every time he passes a bakery and smells fresh bread, he doesn't go in and get some (as I probably would) but instead is thankful that he is still alive to smell the fresh bread!!

But what I really want to say is, when I get down on myself, I have to remind myself - you can only fight so many battles at once... Chose the most important ones for today and focus on them ... and leave the rest for tomorrow...

So if the roads are too icy for me to go walking, or I have a lot to do and I'm feeling stressed (so I eat a handful of chocolate chips) ... That's okay...

Don't be discouraged! I tell myself. You can only fight so many battles on any given day! Don't even try to do it all!

Monday, March 16, 2009

A GREEN Solution: Winter - and Year Long - Composting

One of the easiest ways to "go green" is to practice composting, summer and winter. It's easy if you have even a small bit of land around your home.

I try to compost all plant and vegetable waste from the yard and the kitchen, everything. in fact, except meat (or fat) and bones - which have to be buried or they will smell foul.

Our compost container, a pail from Lee Valley Tools, sits covered on our kitchen counter.

When we first moved into our house with a yard, I read up on composting. I wanted to grow a natural garden, recycling all I could back into the soil. I read that you really need to have 3 compost heaps beside each other, each in a screened bin about a meter wide. As the dead plants or vegetable peelings decompose, they are moved from one pile to the next. The first pile is for stuff that is new, the second is partly decomposed (large unrecognizable pieces) and the third is for crumbly soil-like compost that you can take out and use.

This method is fine for professional gardeners or for people who love to work in the garden, watering and turning their compost a lot, so that it will decompose more quickly. (Actually all compost should be watered a lot or it may become a haven for wasps nests or squirrels... But keeping it damp will deter critters from making a home in this cozy pile.)

I prefer a simpler composting method. I have several different piles for composting throughout our yard - a large one in my back yard where I put a large amount of plant cuttings and dead leaves in the fall. It usually takes a few years for this to turn into compost. When it does, I dig it into the soil or spread it around garden plants as a fertilizer.

But I also have a few smaller compost piles in open plastic compost containers nearer the house so I don't have to go far to put my kitchen scraps into them. When they're ready to use in the garden, I don't have to take them far either.

I just moved this small container beside the fence, near where I have a partially decomposed heap from a year ago.

When these containers are full, I top them up with dirt and take away the plastic container - which I then move to a new location and begin again. Eventually these little mounds of dirt and compost turn into rich soil - which I then haul away with a wheelbarrow into my garden. I compost summer and winter. In winter the snow covers the compost heap - and I never throw peelings in the garbage.

Composting doesn't need to be complicated. My method - of having several small compost piles throughout the yard - works well for me. But the easiest system I ever encountered was at the home of friends in Montreal who had a small yard surrounded by flower beds and bushes.

Don't you compost? I asked John, when I didn't see a compost heap anywhere.

Of course, I do, John replied.

Then where do you keep your compost pile? I asked

Oh, I don't have a pile - I just dig a little hole behind one of the bushes. When it gets full, I cover it with soil and dig another. I never have to move the compost - it just turns into garden fertilizer where it is.

His method reminded me of how my father fertilized his hazelnut tree in our backyard on De Hart Avenue in Kelowna, BC. An avid fisherman, my father would clean the fish he caught outside on the picnic table, as he prepared to cook the fish. But instead of putting the scraps into the garbage, he would dig a hole beside the tree and bury them there.

The tree, on its part, rewarded him with bountiful harvests of nuts year after year!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Going GREEN ?

Disposable alkaline batteries are one of the most dangerous household pollutants in garbage dumps, yet we nonchalantly toss them away everyday. I can't count how many of these handy little batteries inhabit my home - in flash lights, remote controls, watches, and smoke detectors. Yet they will all end up polluting the soil, air and the ground water, unless they are taken to a toxic waste depot and properly disposed of.

But that all takes effort! Nonetheless - in an attempt to be more environmentally responsible - I am not throwing them away. Instead, in my study, I have an old plastic yogurt container full of them. I plan to take it to the waste depot when I have enough batteries to make the trip worth while. (Is it any wonder my study is so cluttered!!)

Now, if I had small children around, I would probably throw them away quickly - as they are toxic for children to play with ... especially young ones, who put everything into their mouths...

I would hardly call those batteries environmentally friendly or "green." (I also wonder about the rechargeable batteries I have in my cell phone and camera... they also need to be disposed of in a special way.)

So here is what I don't understand: There is a lot of talk these days about going green by using those twirly new low-energy light bulbs. In fact, in our home we have replaced most of our old light bulbs with these new energy-efficient ones. Once you get used to the way they take a few minutes to light up, they are fine.

But recently one of these new bulbs in our house burned out. (I know they are supposed to last 10 or more years, but this one didn't.) It was then that I was informed that, like batteries, these new bulbs shouldn't be simply thrown into the garbage. They also need to be taken to a toxic waste dump to be properly disposed of.

I'm not sure how this can be called going green - if they are too dangerous to just throw out. If I need to drive to a special disposal depot, does the energy they will save me surpass the energy I need to use to dispose of them? Are they worth the contamination they will create in garbage dumps, where - let's face it - most of them will end up?

For us to really "go green," these bulbs shouldn't be a hazard. Neither should toxic waste depots be so hard to get to. Why not put them in all shopping centers, for example - so that I could drop off my old batteries and light bulbs when I go to buy new ones?

One Swiss student told me that supermarkets in his country have recycling stations for used cooking oil. When people come to buy new cooking oil, they drop off their old, used oil. That makes sense. If we make recycling easy, most of us will actually be able to do it.

Now back to my burnt-out twirly light bulb... I really do want to be responsible in disposing of it, so instead of putting it in the garbage, I have taken another old plastic yogurt container and put it in there - to keep until I go to the toxic waste depot...

When I think about it, my study is now a toxic waste holding station! I'm not sure how comfortable that makes me feel!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Two Stork Stories

My grandfather, Hugo Bartz was a great storyteller, often sharing stories of his childhood. Two stork stories stand out in my memory.

Hugo was a middle child in a large German family living in the Ukraine. They were farmers, but his father had also built a flour mill where he spent much of his time, often taking the older children along to help.

On this particular day Hugo was the oldest child at home. Suddenly his mother called him and said: Take the other children outside and watch them while they play. Then she closed the door.

A while later, as he was entertaining his younger siblings, he thought he heard a baby crying inside the house.

That's strange - we don't have a baby, he thought.

A few minutes later his mother came to the door.

Come and see what the stork just brought, she called to them. They came running and saw a newborn baby all washed and wrapped in a blanket. She had given birth alone without a midwife! With her husband and her older children away, she had no one to send for help. So she had managed to deliver the baby completely on her own.

She was strong, Hugo commented. Short - and wide - but strong. And, of course, it wasn't her first child either, so she knew what to do.

The second stork story may have taken place a few years later, when Hugo was a little older. The sky looked threatening, so his mother sent him to bring the cows from the pasture and put them in the barn.

As he was returning with the cows, his mother came out and shouted in a panic: Hurry up! Get them in the barn and come into the house. There is going to be a bad storm. That tree over there is going to be hit by lightning and burn up!

She pointed at an old dead tree not far from the barn.

How do you know all that is going to happen? he asked in amazement.

I saw the stork that has a nest in that tree leave the nest and take her young with her, she replied.

Hugo rushed to do what his mother told him. Soon the cows were locked in the barn and he was back in the house. True to his mother's prediction, lightning flashed around them until the storm passed.

When it was over, he went out to check on the tree - to see if his mother had been correct in her prediction. Sure enough, it had been struck by lightning, splitting it in two. But it hadn't burned up.

It was probably too wet to burn, he concluded.

The practical wisdom of that generation leaves me in awe.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Tea Aprons: Extinct Kitchen Essentials

I recently came across a drawer full of aprons - they used to be an essential part of any woman's wardrobe. Before the advent of instant food, kitchens were equipped with an apron drawer (after all, like tea towels, aprons did get dirty).

Little girls also had aprons, just like their mothers.

This one was hand-made and embroidered for me by my Aunt Elsie. I probably wore it at tea parties with my dolls. Like many of the dresses at the time, it had pleats along the bottom that could be let out when you grew!

I remember when Chef Boyardee pizza first came on the market. I was so excited. Even a child like me could follow the easy instructions! But I had to wear an apron so as not to get dirty mixing the dough. In those days, you wouldn't think of doing housework without wearing an apron.

You even wore a dainty one to serve afternoon tea. I think this one was also made by my Aunt Elsie.

The aprons I use in my kitchen nowadays don't resemble those dainty ones. They are meant to cover as much of my clothing as possible on the rare occasion that I bake bread or cinnamon buns or fry food that splatters.

I made this one with a quilted bib and a Christmas motif. (I admit, I do most of my baking for Christmas...)

I also have a collection of my mother's aprons.

Though they were all well-used, the embroidery and lace details show how much pride women of their generation took in their aprons.

Eventually aprons became less frilly and more practical. Pockets were added to make them more useful. The white one has a plastic waist hugger instead of ties - which are annoying to iron. I think I bought the yellow one in Germany.

As I look at all these aprons now, I wonder how we ever thought that these tiny things would help us keep our clothing clean when we did serious cooking or housework. Maybe they reflected our hope that the new machines that were being created to revolutionize home and kitchen (washing machines, electric stoves, vacuum cleaners, mixers) would require us to only get symbolically dirty!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

That's the Way ESL Teachers Think!

When Terry read my last blog entry, his comment was: You're losing it! That's nuts! "Times they are a-changing" means exactly that - times they are a-changing...!

To which I replied: But what does that mean? What does the AH / EH / A / UH add?

And he looked at me in disbelief - as if I were crazy!

Then I realized it: Of course, he's not an ESL teacher... He isn't used to looking at English and asking himself: What does this mean?... so as to be able to logically explain it to someone else.

I remember very clearly the first time I ever thought about language this way. I was in a teacher-training class at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and the instructor asked us: What does "I'm eating" mean? How does it differ in meaning from "I eat" or "I have eaten"?

I was dumbfounded - I had a degree in English - but I had never looked at the English language that way.

Eventually I learned to explain to students that "I'm eating" usually means right now, as in "Don't bother me - I'm eating." "I eat" usually means habitually or often, such as "I eat my lunch in the cafeteria." And "I have eaten" is actually a past tense used when the time of the action is not mentioned; in other words, when I say, "I've eaten" - I usually mean I'm not hungry but I'm not telling you when I ate.

I have explained verbs to hundreds of English language learners - but I have never taught them the expression, "times they are a-changin'"?! Is this a verb tense? I asked myself, or merely a random expression? Do I use this form in any other expressions?

Well, I might say, I'm a-walkin.' But when would I say it? And what would it mean?

After reflecting on it a while, I can only surmise that it's a variation of "I'm walking [right now]" - and would only be said in a relaxed, spoken situation. It has the feeling of country about it... But I probably wouldn't use it in the negative form (He's not a-walkin'. or Times aren't a-changin'.) And I probably wouldn't pose the question: Are you a-talking to him right now? (Or would I... if I lived in the country?)

Yes, I've been a-thinkin' about it and that's the best I could come up with...

If you have any further insights, about this strange - but lovely - verb form, I'd be delighted to hear them.

And if you love a-thinkin' about language that way, you might enjoy teaching English to immigrants and foreign students!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Achanging? Eh changing? Uh changing? Ah changing?

I just returned from teaching a homonym workshop to students learning English here in Canada, and as I looked at the title of my latest blog entry, it occurred to me that I didn't know what "a changing" meant....

When Bob Dylan penned his song: "...times they are a-changin'," does he mean:

1. "achanging [as in awaking]?"

2. "eh [pause] changing"?

3. "uh [surprise] changing"?

4. "ah [contentment] changing"?

Mmmmmm, maybe we need a vote?!

Times... they are a changing...

I don't handle change well, most of the time. The only exception I can think of was moving into retirement a year ago. That went extremely smoothly - I took to it like a baby duck takes to water. It felt natural, bringing a sense freedom and joy...

Other changes in my life were not so easy. I remember how I hated my first year of university - the sense of bewilderment. (What am I doing here?!) Vancouver's rain didn't make things any easier... Later, when I went to Israel as an exchange student, I discovered that I thrive in sunshine - so I didn't want to leave! (And I ended up staying for 10 years!)

Other changes come to mind. The first year of marriage was challenging - I had lived alone so long that I found it hard to share my life (and my living space) with someone, even someone I loved. It took me a while, but I adjusted. Parenting was also a stretching experience. I always wanted to have children, and loved the baby years. But I remember being tired a lot - tired and stretched to the limits of my patience. After the babies grew into intesting people, I hated to see them leave, but I'm slowly adjusting to that too.

Now I'm at a new plateau in life - another challenging change. I say "plateau" because it has been going on for a while, and probably will continue for a while to come: the challenge of helping my mother walk through her own changes in life.

She moved to Ottawa from Kelowna, BC at the age of 83 so that I could help her - and, apart from medical appointments I have had to take her to, she has managed pretty well on her own. In the six years she has been here, she has carved out a niche for herself - making friends, living happily in her apartment next to a shopping center, where she became an early morning "mall-walker, " setting herself a goal of talking to at least five people a day, mostly older women like herself, who seemed alone.

She has recently decided to move into a retirement residence where meals are provided and there are daily exercises classes. She is delighted to be there. But she doesn't want to give up medicating herself, even though her doctors think she needs to be supervised. She doesn't always see the big picture and tends to fixate on details.

What should I do? I forgot to take my Thursday pill, she asked me one Friday. Do I wait till next Thursday?

No, take it tomorrow, and from now on it will be your Saturday pill, I tell her. Take it every Saturday from now on.

It's logic like that that escapes her.

So she has moved into her new residence, as I empty drawers and cupboards in her apartment and grieve the changes that inevitably occur as people age.

Look at the bright side of life, my husband reminds me. She wants to be in the residence. She is happy there. Count your blessings!

This morning I found a brochure I picked up a while ago ... probably when I was thinking of the changes retirement would bring. It is entitled: Coping With Change (Copyright Performance Resource Press, Inc.) It suggests 3 ways to deal with the stress of change: 1. exercise a lot (exercise, exercise, exercise - to help the body's natural stress fighters become more effective) 2. relax - while you visualize the stress leaving your body 3. focus on "events, people and things in life that make us feel good and renew our sense of hope during difficult times." I guess that's a cross between counting our blessings and doing things we enjoy.

Maybe I should go for a walk, then listen to some music while I quilt...

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Just a Tiny Shred of Regret

Regret is a wasted emotion - I've heard say. There is nothing we can do about the past ... but learn from it.

On my recent Hawaiian vacation, I felt a tinge of regret. Sitting on the beach, I watched families with young children playing in the sand. One family in particular caught my eye: they had three active children, among them a daughter about 10 years old, in a wheelchair.

How hard was it for you to make this trip to Hawaii? I wondered. Bringing a child in a wheelchair must have been a challenge.

It reminded me of my father and one of his dreams. He had never been to Hawaii, but several times suggested - in a vague way: We should have a family reunion in Hawaii. It would be great to have everyone - all the grandchildren - there together.

I remember thinking: That would be hard. How would we pull that off? We all had different jobs, different responsibilities, different timetables. It sounded nice - but impossible - to me.

My father mentioned it several times, but it never happened. Perhaps none of us showed enough enthusiasm. Perhaps it seemed too hard at the time. In any event, it never moved beyond his "Wouldn't it be nice if..." comment.

Sitting on the beach, I thought of him and how he would have enjoyed the blue ocean, the palm trees, the balmy air, and his five grandchildren playing on a golden sand.

How often we are inspired to do something out of the ordinary - but hold back. Is it fear? Or simply too much effort?

My father's grandchildren are all grown now, and my father is no longer with us. There is no point regretting what we didn't do - but instead remember all the times we did and could enjoy each other.

But it did remind me how important it is not to wait for the right time, the perfect opportunity, to follow my heart - but to step out and embrace every crazy impossible dream and just do it: have fun with those I hold dear.

Life's journey is short, and we will not pass this way again...

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Ring Around O'ahu

Before planning my trip to Hawaii, I didn't realize that there were eight main islands that one can visit, among more than a hundred islands in the chain called the Hawaiian Ridge. This chain is also the site of more than 80 volcanoes.

My plan was to visit O'ahu, the island where Honolulu, Pearl Harbor and Waikiki Beach are found.

Eighty percent of Hawaii's population lives on this island.

The royal family of Hawaii used to live on O'ahu. Here is the Iolani Palace.

Though I spent most of my time in the city of Honolulu and Waikiki Beach, I did tour the island one day on a small tour bus, with a dozen other tourists.

Half of us were Canadian - there was a strong Canadian presence among the tourists I encountered.

From Honolulu, located on the south side of the island, we headed north, to the side of the island favored by surfers, to the town of Hale'iwa and the beautiful beach at Waimea Bay.

Surfing is serious business here - there is even a daily surfing forecast available to surfers.

The water was dotted with surfers waiting for the right wave. If you click on the picture below, you can see them more clearly.

Our guide informed us that cloudy, muddy water is to be avoided - it indicates the presence of sharks!

As we drove north, we traveled through two mountain ridges - the Ko'olau Mountains on the east and the Wai'anae Mountains on the west. I was fascinated to see some of the plants I grow indoors thriving here in nature.

We stopped at the Dole Plantation ...

... where we tasted fresh pineapple and pineapple juice.

They served large dishes of pineapple ice cream topped with fresh pineapple!

Later we lunched at a roadside shrimp shack.

Then we visited Kualoa Ranch on the east side of the island, taking a boat ride on their natural lagoon where Koi fish are raised. The ranch property has been the setting of a number of movies, among them Jurassic Park and You, Me and Dupree. Episodes of Lost were being filmed while we were there, though we didn't see any of the action!

As we made our "ring around the island," we were never far from the beach - and even caught sight of whales jumping in the ocean.

Our circle tour was one of the highlights of our week in Hawaii. Another time I would like to visit an active volcano, perhaps on the Big Island of Hawai'i or Maui.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Delicious Sponge Cake

Often a Sabbath Cake (Ugat Shabbat) is a simple sponge cake. My favorite sponge cake recipe was given to me by Terry's grandmother, "Nan" (Ruth) Hutchins. It contains no oil or milk and uses only 3 eggs.

Here it is with a dish of blueberries... It is delicious!

Nan Hutchins' Sponge Cake Recipe

  1. Take 3 eggs out of the refrigerator and let them sit at room temperature for at least an hour. They will whip up better if they aren't cold. When ready, separate the eggs, putting the whites in one bowl and the yolks in another.
  2. First beat the whites until they are stiff and will stand in little peaks if you lift the beater. Once they are beaten, leave them until they are added to the batter at the end, just before baking.
  3. Using the same beaters, beat the egg yolks together with 3/4 of a cup of cold water for 7 minutes, gradually adding 1 1/4 cups of sugar to the yolk-water mixture.
  4. Gradually add: 1 teaspoon of baking powder and 1 1/2 cups of flour* to this batter. Make sure to scrape the sides of the bowl from time to time. You can also add a few drops of flavoring at this time if you wish (vanilla, almond, rum, etc.) though I rarely do. The mixture will look yellowish and creamy.
  5. Now fold in the beaten egg whites.
  6. Pour it into a greased angel cake pan and bake for 40 - 50 minutes at 325 degrees Fahrenheit (170 degrees Celsius).
  7. The cake is done when the sides pull away from the pan. Cool upside down, supporting the pan on a cup if possible, so that the cake can cool evenly on all sides.
  8. When the cake is cool, pry it loose using a knife to pull the cake away from the pan on all sides.
  9. Turn the cake pan upside down over a plate. If pried loose, the cake should fall away from the pan.
  10. Enjoy the cake as is or with fruit on the side.
The Visual Recipe:

Separate the eggs.
Beat the egg whites

The egg yolk - sugar - water - flour batter will be yellowish.

Cool upside-down.

*I have, in the past, "enriched" the cake flour in this cake by using 1 cup of white flour and 1/2 a cup of whole wheat flour (instead of 1 1/2 cups of white flour). The cake was also delicious.
This time, I used unbleached white flour, but replaced 2 tablespoons of the flour with 1 tablespoon of psyllium and 1 tablespoon of wheat germ.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Bugs: A Sure Sign of Spring

Today alone I have caught 4 creepy-crawlers moving around indoors. To me that is a sure sign of spring!

How do I deal with these little critters, you might ask...

Well, we have a bug-wand... the handiest little invention around.

Bug wands are small plastic vacuum cleaners - with long clear tubes (or wands). They run on a 9-volt battery, sucking up spiders, flies and bugs - which you can then toss outdoors by removing the plastic tube or the cover that fits on the open end. No need to squish or kill! No mess!

Unfortunately, bug wands are hard to find where we live. We happened to find this one a few years ago and bought it, not knowing how great this little invention was. We've looked for them ever since, wanting to buy a few more, but haven't seen any.

I have seen them online, and may go that route if this one ever breaks. But I'm hoping to come across one again. If I do, I will buy one for every floor of the house... and a few for gifts.

We all love this little bug wand... and can't imagine bug-season without it!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Life's Basics

Aliza, my Israeli neighbor, was born into a wealthy family in Europe. Her parents led an active social life and were often away, leaving her in the care of a trusted, beloved housekeeper, who was a second mother to her.

She hadn't been neglected - but she had felt deprived - deprived of her parents' love. A poor little rich girl, she had everything she craved, everything except her parents' time and attention.

Later in life, as a mother and grandmother, she would wistfully look back on her childhood and comment...

Money - what's it worth? How many beds can you sleep on? How many meals can you eat?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Quilting in Hawaii

One of the last things I expected to find in Hawaii was quilts - the weather didn't seem cold enough for people to even need them!

But walking near Waikiki Beach, I discovered a quilt shop. Then I noticed a quilting workshop on the list of recreational activities offered at our hotel. The class was given by Carol Kamaile, a master quilter who designs and creates Hawaiian-style quilts.

Intrigued, I attended - and bought one of her applique pillow kits.

Many of the Hawaiian quilts I saw incorporate designs of tropical leaves, sea turtles, flowers, or pineapples.

This blue quilt incorporates Samoan symbols.

All the quilts shown here were designed and created by Carol Kamaile and photographed by Ayalah Hutchins.

A summary of Hawaii's long quilting history can be found in an online article entitled Quilt Makers Guide to Hawaii.

Although quilting isn't as old as surfing in Hawaii, it has been around for hundreds of years.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Escape from the Ice and Cold...

For the first time ever, I have taken a holiday to get away from winter.... And it was well worth the effort!

Sun, beaches, warmth.

It seemed strange to be in buildings where windows and doors weren't necessary. They complained that it was cool - but I loved the unwavering 24 degrees Celsius (75 degrees Fahrenheit) day and night.

It is usually 85 degrees Fahrenheit
(or 30 degrees Celsius) someone told us.

When someone complained about the cold, I replied: This isn't cold! In Canada, where I live, it is -15 degrees Celsius (5 degrees Fahrenheit) today.

I can't imagine weather that cold
, the person told me.

How could I describe it? When I walked out of the Ottawa airport last night- after seven days in warm, balmy weather - I knew what I could campare it to. It was like walking into the large freezer room of a butcher shop on a hot day...