Thursday, April 30, 2009

Of Marzipan and Memories

I first encountered marzipan art on a trip to Europe. I remember standing outside a little shop, admiring the miniature pink pigs displayed in the window. They looked like plastic toys. But they weren't. Nearby a simple folded cardboard sign said: Marzipan. They were edible marzipan art!

How do they do that? I wondered. And how could you bear to eat those beautiful creations?

I recently encountered another example of marzipan art, thanks to my daughter, an avid blog-reader who passes on links to many amazing, artistic blogs. Here is one called Vegan Yum Yum. These "knit" cupcake decorations are edible marzipan art of another sort. If you want to see how it's done, play the short video clip at the end to watch the creator of these wonderfully artistic creations show Martha Stewart how to make them.

Now that is one thing I really want to try!

If you feel inspired as well, here is an online recipe for marzipan.

A picture of marzipan pigs can be found on Slashfood. I only now discovered - while looking for an online picture of a marzipan pig - that they are considered symbols of good luck in many parts of Europe, so people would buy or make them for a New Year's celebration - or any other celebration, I suppose, where you wanted to wish someone "good luck"!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Joy of Forgetfulness...

Every year from August on, I begin to pick up Christmas gifts for my family. I wrap them, tag them, and hide them away in my closet. When Christmas time approaches, I count how many gifts I have for each person in my family, and try to even out the numbers - I don't want anyone to feel left out!

On Christmas morning, I am as surprised as the ones opening the gifts - as I have totally forgotten what I bought them!

Me saying - in all sincerity - What did I get you? has become an old family joke!

But I'm forgetful at other times too. My worst "forgetful" experience involves a skateboard I hid one winter, so that the kids wouldn't practice on the hard basement floor (though I'm not sure it is any harder than pavement). Maybe I felt they'd be crashing into walls and doorways. In any event, I hid the brand-new birthday-gift skateboard, my daughter's pride and joy. I remember thinking, the kids will find it here. I'd better find a better place... So I moved it to a "better place" and it has never been found since! I eventually paid my daughter for the skateboard that I had "lost." Years later, renovators had to remove walls after our basement flooded.

Let me know if you find a skateboard, I told the builders, but they never did.

The closest I may have gotten was once when a group of kids was playing hide and seek in the basement. After a while, I came downstairs and said, By the way, if any of you find a skateboard, let me know. I lost one.

I saw one, one little girl said.

Where? I asked.

Er, I don't remember, was her reply.

The reason I'm mentioning all this is that I have discovered that my blog site allows me to prepare blogs days ahead of time - and set the date I want them to pop up. Ideas come to me in bunches, so I work on several at a time. Sometimes I have 3 and 4 ready at a time - so I set the dates they are to appear, and move on.

And of course, when I do that, I forget what I wrote about... so those prepared-in-advance blogs are always a surprise to me too!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

April Flowers

Welcome to my April garden!

Amid the shoots of summer flowers, the first spring flowers are already in bloom. These are a kind of tulip called tarda.

It's amazing that they can grow so quickly - and bloom mere weeks after the last snow!

The scilla are blooming in various parts of the yard.

Even the ivy that has taken over my rock garden is in bloom! (You may have to click on the picture to see its tiny blue flowers.)

These "appetizers" are just a taste of the feast of flowers to come!

In other parts of the yard...

the rhubarb is also growing...

... while a watchful rabbit waits.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Inspired Eating

First you eat with your eyes - then with your mouth...

I often think of this Middle Eastern proverb which a former student taught me, especially when I see blogs like Simply Breakast, which my daughter told me about...

So I am trying my hand at photographing this morning's breakfast from above. (Not an easy feat - the photographer in Simply Breakfast must be standing on a chair or a ladder and hovering over the table!) I'm standing on the dining room chair and could easily topple over onto my breakfast!

So here is my own inspired eating today - fruit salad (with yogurt) - multi-grain toast and coffee.

And for those who enjoy recipes, I'll tell you how I made the fruit salad. It was a standard dessert in the days when my kids were young - and I was trying to feel them only "healthy food."
  • 1 apple
  • 1 pear
  • 1 banana
  • some frozen blueberries or other berries- about 1/2 cup or 250 ml
  • plain yogurt -about 2 cups or 750 ml
  • granola - a few tablespoons

How to do it:
  • Wash or peel - then slice - the fruit . I like to put it in a glass bowl because the fruit is colorful.
  • Add the yogurt, mix and sprinkle with granola.
  • For a slightly sweeter taste, add a tablespoon of maple syrup or jam to the fruit and yogurt before sprinkling the granola on top.
  • Cover and let sit in the fridge for at least an hour.

This will make 4 or 5 servings. It makes a healthy, yummy breakfast, snack or dessert!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sometimes It Gets Worse Before It Gets Better!

We must all have maximum mess threshold levels. I thrive with "comfortable clutter" that my husband would rather not see. I enjoy having books, knitting and sewing around so that I don't have to waste time looking when I feel like reading, knitting or sewing.

I like it all in plain view... where some people would view it as messy!

So is is somewhat ironical that I - who am constantly struggling with a tight balance between "comfortable clutter" and out-of-control messiness (created by me!) - should suddenly find myself inundated with even more stuff, as I empty out my mother's apartment. She has moved into a room in a retirement residence, and does not want to deal with organizing much stuff - so my home has become a holding area for a lot of things that will eventually go to her, or to my kids in Toronto - or as far away as Texas. While we sort through who wants what, it's sitting in piles and boxes in the hallways, bedrooms and basement of my house!

Even I am getting fed up! Day by day, as I clean and organize (my stuff and hers), my house seems to be getting worse! When will it end?

It makes me think of a Jewish folk tale about a farmer who was unhappy about his small home - there wasn't enough room for everything and everyone. Seeking an answer to his dilemma, he went went to ask his rabbi for advice.

My house is too small, he told the rabbi. My six children, my wife and I live in a small one-room house. The children are noisy - it's always disorganized - there isn't enough room for us all. What can I do?

Do you have any animals on your farm? the rabbi asked him.

Yes, a cow, two ducks, and three chickens, he replied.

My advice to you is: Bring the chickens into the house to live with you, the rabbi told him.

The farmer followed his rabbi's advice and brought the chickens into the house. A few days later, he returned to the rabbi in a panic: Rather than make the house better, the chickens have made it worse, he told him. They run around, leaving feathers and a mess everywhere. It's much worse than before.

Then my advice now is: bring the ducks into the house, too, the rabbi replied.

The farmer again followed his rabbi's advice and brought the ducks into the house. A few days later he again went to see his rabbi: Oh sir, the house is even more noisy and disorganized now than before, he told him. Now the ducks are all running around too. You have to help me. I don't know what to do.

There is only one thing to do, the rabbi said. Bring your cow into the house, too.

I don''t know how this will help, the farmer replied, but I'll give it a try.

The next day he rushed back to the rabbi's house.

Sir, the cow is knocking everything over - the chickens and ducks are running around - the house is a disaster. Your idea isn't working. I don't know what to do.

Go home, the rabbi advised, and put the chickens, the ducks and the cow back into the barn. Then come back in a few days and tell me how everything is going.

The farmer hurried home and removed the animals. Then he and his family cleaned his house. A few days later he again saw the rabbi.

How is everything going? the rabbi asked.

Oh, everything is wonderful, the farmer replied. The house is clean and quiet again. Everything is just perfect.

At times I feel just like that poor farmer! But with no end - yet - in sight!

Saturday, April 25, 2009


My mother made these pillows in the 70's - when shag carpets (so why not pillows?) were in vogue. Newly cleaned, they look as free-spirited as they did when they were first made. I'm not sure what to do with them... Perhaps store them until the "shag" looks comes back...

Has retro returned to shag yet?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Our Dirty Snow Mound = a "Green" Solution??!

It's been about 5 days since I showed you our neighborhood "snow mountain" - that ugly pile of dirty snow beside a parking lot near my home. In this picture you will have to click on it to see the pile in the distance.

I have often wondered how mounds of snow like this (and larger ones in some parts of the city) affect our weather - all that cold snow beside warm black pavement, which absorbs heat. After all, lakes and oceans next to land create breezes since the sun heats both differently. So I sometimes wonder: is it cooler in our neighborhood, or breezier, because we have this mound of ice and snow?

But to tell you the truth, I never thought that these piles could be viewed as "green solutions" - energy savers. Apparently in Sweden and Japan, snow piles like this are carefully protected from melting - covered with wood chips and a shelter - and then used for air-conditioning in the summer!

If you don't believe me, here is the article from the Ottawa Citizen.

I think it's a wonderful idea!

Now what about our snow pile? I wandered over last night and took pictures of it. It is definitely melting. We've had coolish weather and rain for the past few days, but this afternoon the temperature is supposed to go up to 20 degrees Celsius (or 68 degrees Fahrenheit) - so that means it will probably go down faster these next few days.

You can see that the path is almost clear on this side. Next time, I'll no doubt have to stand closer to the bigger part of the snow pile, as this side will have melted. When do I plan to photograph it again? When I suggested a contest, I promised to take pictures of the snow pile on all the dates people guessed at - in our snow pile contest. (It's not too late to make a guess...)

So far, I've had guesses for May 3, May 12, May 17 - and May 30. So I plan to show it to you again on May 3.

Next year, if they decide to follow Sweden's and Japan's example and use the winter snow pile for air-conditioning, it might last all summer!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

They live among us!

I sometimes feel that here in eastern Ontario, we live on the edge of a great forest. We have scraped away small tracts of land to build our cities and our houses on. But the trees are constantly trying to take back our yards and gardens!

I have to rake up pine cones quickly - to prevent my lawn from becoming a mini-forest.

Animals are still part of this habitat:

Here is one of the rabbits that lives in the neighborhood. One of my neighbors used to complain that they ate all the lettuce in his garden - but now he has made peace with the situation by planting enough for the rabbits and himself... He has even given up putting little plastic wire fences around his garden like he used to do. The rabbits just chew holes in the plastic and hop through anyway!

I'm not sure how these rabbits survive in winter, or where they make their homes, but we still see them hopping around outside on cold, snowy days. I'm not sure if they are a wild species, native to these parts, or someone's pets that escaped ... but they are wild now and manage to survive outdoors.

The most noticeable wildlife around our homes are squirrels...

Some are black.

Others are brownish-gray. I'm not sure if they are different species, or if they are part of the same family with differing fur. The brown ones have bushier tails.

The animals and birds usually ignore each other - though I've seen a crow sit patiently for hours near the nest of a squirrel that had a string caught on its leg. I never did see what happened to the poor squirrel... whether he got the string off or whether the crow eventually got him.

I once watched in amazement as a baby crow and a baby squirrel played together: they would get really close to each other, then each would pretend to attack the other, who would then run away. They took turns running away! It looked like they were having fun... (Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera with me.)

We also have lots of birds, like blue jays, robins, cardinals, and numerous smaller birds that I don't know the names of. I recently bought a bird book to help me identify them.

Crows are easiest to photograph, because they're large and they walk around.

Two summers ago we saw a hawk drop down and grab a robin in mid-flight, and fly off with him, so there must be a hawk's nest nearby.

Last winter my husband watched in horror and fascination as a hawk - possibly the same one - sat on a low branch near our living room window devouring an animal - possibly a squirrel or a mouse.

The skunks and raccoons that live in our neighborhood are harder for me to photograph, as they generally come out at night. But we know they are there. The telltale smell a skunk sometimes lingers in the early morning air. Raccoons are most often visible on garbage collections days - as they like to tear open garbage bags that have been set out on the curb- especially if they can smell barbecued chicken bones. We also have groundhogs and mice in the field nearby.

Sometimes the groundhogs, squirrels and rabbits end up being hit by a car. But if they do, they don't usually stay on the road long - scavenger birds (like crows) usually eat them up quickly.

All these animals live in our midst. They live among us - or is this really their home - and we live among them?!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Rhubarb Crisp

Rhubarb time is almost here again. Rhubarb - the first fruit of the year's harvest - is usually ready to be picked in late May or June. Today I noticed it was beginning to sprout...

Once it starts, it moves quickly! Yesterday there were no sprouts visible.

Just the other day I was going through my freezer, looking for frozen fruit I may have tucked away last summer. I came across a container of frozen rhubarb... and some frozen strawberries from last summer's harvest...

I decided to make rhubarb crisp. I keep a container of crumb topping in my fridge - so that fruit crisp is never a lot of extra work.

I see the orange container is almost empty. When I make my next batch, I should write down what I put into my crisp topping and share it. I never make it exactly the same way twice!

Rather than use the yummy strawberries in the crisp, I added half a cup of freezer strawberry jam. No need to add sugar to the rhubarb now.

I warmed the fruit in the microwave, sprinkled the crumb topping over it all - and baked it at 350 degrees Fahrenheit (175 degrees Celsius) for 45 minutes in a conventional oven ... till it looked brown on top and smelled wonderful.

Here it is - my fresh, warm rhubarb-strawberry crisp...

It probably won't last long!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Walking the Narrow Path

Many of us - perhaps all of us - walk the narrow path between the life our our dreams and the life we need to live in order to survive (which often involves a job we would rather not get up and go to every day). Many of us want a little more - and some even a lot more - than to merely survive!

When I was working full time as a teacher, marking papers in the evenings, I used to envy those who walked away from their job at 5 - or even more, those with the courage to step out of the workaday world - to become artists, writers or actors - jobs that usually don't have a regular salary.

I read how Stephen King, for example, worked as an English teacher to support his family, even though he wanted to be a writer (He tells his fascinating life story in his book, On Writing). He saw sadly that after teaching all day, marking till 9 or 10, attending parent-teacher conferences, staff meetings - and other events that gobbled up his after-school hours, he had no energy left for the writing. His dream of being a writer would be over if he continued to teach.

Fortunately one of the novels he had written before his teaching job sold - and he could get back to the career of his dreams.

But not all wannabe-writers succeed as spectacularly as Stephen King did. I met one who had left her government job to write full time. She spoke in glowing terms about the dream that had driven her to leave her routine day-job - but then she commented bitterly that she would be earning a lot more if she were still there. There are no guarantees when you step out to "live the dream."

I have been playing the song "I HOPE YOU DANCE" recently - as I dance around the room folding laundry or vacuuming! It is my inner prayer for myself - for my children - and for all who crave a career that satisfies.

As I look back at my own writing dream, I see that it was one of several dreams that were all important to me. My writing dream shared my life with the dreams of being a parent and putting down roots in a home surrounded by trees.

Discovering my dream - my numerous dreams, in fact - and then trying to live them - has been a narrow path with many twists and turns, and moments of self-doubt: who do I think I am that I can actually achieve this? What are my chances of success?

But we dreamers keep plugging along... The alternative - a sense of missing out on life's larger purpose - would be denying who we really are.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Bring On the Coffee!

I have two "addictions" - chocolate and coffee.

Every morning begins with a few cups of hot coffee with lots of warm milk.

This mug is my current favorite. It's comfortable to hold, and doesn't tip easily since the base is larger than the rim. I bought it last summer from a potter at the Carp Farmers' Market - an indoor and outdoor market where craftspeople, bakers and farmers sell their wares Saturday mornings from May through October.

I often get coffee as a gift.

Two of my kids happened to be in New York City in January, on the Presidential Inauguration Day of the 44th US president (Barack Obama) - so they brought me back this special blend, named 44.

I usually create my own blend, mixing medium decaffeinated coffee with a strong-tasting regular coffee (like these Life Brand and Nabob dark roasts.)

My taste for strong coffee dates back to when a student from Colombia gave me some Colombian coffee as a gift. It had a wonderful almost-burnt taste.

A few cups later, I was hooked! Since then, I've tried - in vain - to find coffee that tastes exactly the same!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Anyone up for a contest?!!

What - you may wonder - is this ugly black pile?

Why dirty snow, of course!

All winter long, snow-plows have to clear the parking lot, so they pile it here beside the pavement, where it becomes a small mountain of snow. In time it gets dirty like this. And in time it also melts. How quickly it melts depends on the temperature, wind and rain.

Here you can see the pool of water formed by the melting snow.

Last year the pile was even larger - we had had record amounts of snowfall.

This year's pile is sort of U-shaped - it crosses over the walking / cycling path twice, which is quite annoying!

Last year, my husband and I looked at the larger pile of snow and predicted: It will still be there in July! But it wasn't... it disappeared in June.

So, my question is - How long do you think this snow pile will last?

So I propose a little contest! To win, you have to be closest to the date (that it completely disappears) without going past the date. I will post a picture of the pile taken on all the dates submitted. If you win, ... there is no prize, but you will be acknowledged - on this blog!

I will "tell the world" that you won. (Or at least everyone in the world who reads this blog!)

I've never done anything like this before, so I hope it works... So, how long do you think this little snow-mountain will last?

Now I'll let you see the pile from a few different angles!

From a distance (a few hundred meters or yards) across the parking lot... Sorry, I'm not much good at estimating distance! You can see the picture more clearly by clicking on it and enlarging it...

From a little closer...

And a bit closer...

Now you can see the two parts of the pile more closely - and the parking lot beside it.

Why don't I start the guessing by saying the all this snow will be gone by May 30? My husband has not visited the pile this year - and from the pictures guesses May 12...

If you want to participate, you can post your guess in the comments - or email your guess to and I will transfer the information.

Good luck!

Saturday, April 18, 2009


(Yes, English is confusing!)

You don't teach us real English,
a student complained one day in class.

What do you mean?
I asked.

Well you taught us to say, "May I leave the room" (to go to the bathroom) but people don't really say that!

No? What do they say?

Well, at work, they just say: "I gotta go,"
he replied.

He had a point. There are so many ways to say the same thing. In class one expression might be appropriate, while at work it might be something else.

Another confusing problem - for students learning English - are expressions that don't really mean what they say. Once in class after a test was over, a student came up to me.

Can I do the test again?
she asked.

I'm afraid not, I replied.

A look of confusion crossed her face, so I explained: It wouldn't be fair to your classmates if you did the test again now that you have already seen the questions...

Yes, I understand, she replied. But I don't understand why you are afraid ... or not afraid.

Not afraid?! - "I'm afraid not" doesn't mean "I'm not afraid," I tried to explain. "I'm afraid" in this sentence means: I'm going to give you bad news! It's the same as saying"I'm sorry but no"...I guess "I'm afraid" prepares you for hearing bad news!


Another time a student came to class with a puzzled look on his face.

Why does the cashier in the supermarket tell me to go when I buy something? he asked.

He tells you to go?! Really? That doesn't sound right. What does he say?

I think he says: "Go you go," he replied. He gives me my money and he says, "Go you go..."

He gives you your money?

Yes, my change, after I buy something.

Is he angry?

No - he is smiling.

After racking my brain for a minute, it occurred to me that the cashier might be saying: There you go!

What does that mean? my student asked.

Well, it doesn't really mean anything... It just means he is finished serving you.

Different ways of saying the same thing - but in different settings? Expressions that convey feeling or closure rather than literal meaning?!

No wonder English language learners feel alienated from the "real" language they hear outside the classroom!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Maple Syrup

Spring is maple syrup time here in eastern Canada. We have a maple tree - but don't tap it for syrup. But we do buy syrup. We usually buy big containers and transfer the syrup into glass jars. The metal containers can leave a gray residue on the syrup in the bottom - and I don't want to throw any of it away! So I quickly transfer it to jars and freeze it.

We eat maple syrup all year long - on pancakes and waffles, but also on ice cream and in plain yogurt! I also mix a little into crumb toppings for fruit crisp to add a special flavor...

It also makes a delicious glaze on baked squash!

What day is it today...?

This morning I woke up wondering what day of the week it is. I really didn't know!

First I began to panic: Was I becoming "forgetful"? Was old age creeping up and ravaging my memory?

Or did it really matter? I have always enjoyed a schedule-free life with lots of impulsive surprises, a sense of freedom to do whatever I want at any given moment.

And this morning I want to be outdoors. Early spring flowers are blooming in a corner where I could easily not even see them. And tiger lilies are beginning to sprout under the pine tree.

Whatever day it is, it's spring! And that's all that really matters!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Raking season has begun ...

Raking season is here! Yesterday I raked a zillion pine cones into a long pile in the ditch - today I have to "bag" them.

(Actually I put them into old plastic garbage bins, as I don't like to waste bags.) We have yard waste pick-up every two weeks from late April till early fall. (In late fall, yard waste pick up is weekly.)

We used to have to rake a lot of leaves, but a very big ice storm 11 years ago damaged a lot of trees in our yard, and they had to be removed. I don't miss the leaf raking, but I do miss the shade in summer when the sun is very hot.

It really doesn't take that long - an hour or so...

There! All done (till a strong wind blows the next batch down!)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

My War with Nature!

I love trees - in fact, we chose this neighborhood because it has so many...

But the trees want to take over!

Every spring and summer, I have to move quickly to stop them from re-seeding themselves all over the yard:

In early spring, I have to rake up the pine cones before little pine trees take root.

Then later, there are maple leaves (fun to play with as they spin around when dropping to the ground like little parachutes.

Again I try to rake them up before they take root!

It keeps me busy trying to keep the garden for flowers!

More Signs of Spring

Tulips are beginning to poke their leaves out of the soil. (I have to put rocks around the tulip bulbs to prevent squirrels from digging them up and eating them!)

Another sign of spring (to my surprise!) was a black and yellow butterfly that landed on a white mat that I had accidentally flipped onto the grass while I was shaking it. (You may have to click on the picture to see the butterfly clearly.)

I had once been told that butterflies were originally called "flutterbys" but discovered (online) that this is not true. My online source (Yahoo! Answers) mentions that they were called butterflies because they liked to land in milk... So maybe the whiteness of the mat attracted this one!

I need to get out and rake pine cones that have fallen from our large trees over the winter months. Every strong wind brings dozens of pine cones down. It's no wonder we have so many happy squirrels running around the yard. They find pine cones to nibble on, even in coldest weather.

I love these outdoor days - not too hot, not cool anymore (especially once you begin to rake!) My goal - to spend as much time outdoors as possible!

Monday, April 13, 2009

What Would I Do Without Stairs?!

What would I do without stairs?!

I don't mean for walking on (I'm not sure I could do that today...). But they're perfect for sorting through piles of papers I've brought home from my mother's apartment.

(Yes, she likes to keep books and papers too!)

Sunday, April 12, 2009

It's Easter Sunday!

Not long ago I visited the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem - where some believe that Jesus was buried. (Another possible site had a church built around it - the Church of the Holy Sepulcer.) The tomb was empty - there was no body inside (only a large group of tourist-pilgrims).

As my Russian Christian friend would say:
He is risen!
He's risen indeed!

The tomb is right behind the bus station. You have to look hard for it to find it.

I'm not sure if faith is like that too - you have to be seeking to find it - or if, in fact, faith finds you.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

If you want to write...

When I was younger, I thought that writing ability was innate - you either had it or you didn't. And I felt (regretfully) that I had more desire to write than talent.

I don't see writing like that anymore. I think that we all can have different levels of writing ability and still succeed in writing. We need to ask ourselves : What do we want to write? And does our writing clearly convey what we are trying to say to readers?

And, of course, there are things we can do to get better.

The first is READ. By reading, we absorb style - the rhythm of sentences in other people's writing, the way they say things. Style should (I think) be effortless. In other words, we shouldn't worry too much about it. We talk the way we talk, we say things the way we think about them, we write the way we express ourselves. That's fine. There is no right or wrong. But there is appropriate style. For example, if you are communicating with a child or with someone who speaks limited English, you would talk (or write) differently than you would to a friend your own age and experience. If you were writing a letter of application for a job, you would express yourself differently than if you were writing to a friend. That's style.

But the most important thing that will help you write better is PRACTICE EVERY DAY... Okay, maybe not every day, but most days. Make it a habit. Two books were very helpful when I wanted to get back into writing. Both encouraged daily writing in a writing notebook.

I first encountered the idea of daily notebook writing (writing random entries, capturing whatever you are thinking about) in the book Writing Down the Bones, by Nathalie Goldberg. This gifted writing teacher likes to sit in cafes and write. She even wrote at least one book sitting in her car! (I think the idea was that she wouldn't let herself drive home until she had accomplished a certain amount every day!) So I sometimes try to do the same. Last Monday I spent several hours at Costco having new tires put on our van. For part of that time, I sat in the cafeteria and read - and wrote in my writing notebook.

Another writing teacher who encourages a Writer's Notebook is Julia Cameron, whose book, The Artist's Way, got me writing again every day. (Last spring, shortly after retiring from teaching, I began her 12-week series of exercises.) She also encourages a weekly "artist's date" - where you go by yourself to a place that INSPIRES YOU. You do that every week to enrich your creativity. She suggests simple things like visiting a garden or going to buy stickers and pretty pens in a dollar store - whatever inspires you on any given day. I went to a vegetarian restaurant alone once or twice, wandered through Michael's craft store... Just ask yourself, what would give you pleasure and peace. You will think of something - then make a date with yourself and JUST DO IT!! It will enrich your life.

If you want to begin to write, both books are wonderful resources and will inspire you. But the most important thing is to take the time to DO IT!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

I Have a Hard Time with Easter

Today is Good Friday - an important day in the Christian year. It's the day after the Last Supper, which Jesus celebrated in the upper room of a home somewhere in Jerusalem. Some believe that the Last Supper took place on Mount Zion, just left of the wall-enclosed Old City in this view of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives - just right of center in the horizon in this picture.

I have a hard time with Easter, even though (in my mind) it is the most important holy season Christians observe. (To me, Christmas is an add-on.) Good Friday, Easter Sunday - and of course, the Day of Pentecost - fifty days later - mark the three events that created Christianity.

The eve of Good Friday - with its Passover Seder - was Jesus' final meal with his main group of 12, the ones he was preparing to lead when he was gone. He knew he was going to die - he had told them so on numerous occasions - though they didn't understand what he meant, and even rebuked him for talking about it. So this was a kind of farewell meal. At the end of the meal, he served the last cup of wine (some say the cup for Elijah) and matza (unleavened bread or crackers) - and said: Do this and remember me. This act is the origin of Holy Communion, which Christians of all traditions practice.

At this same meal, Jesus also washed the feet of the 12, although they were uncomfortable with their leader humbling himself this way. This act was visual reminder of something he had told them many times: namely, that his followers are to lead by serving, even in the most menial ways.

Knowing he was going to die on the cross was a struggle for Jesus. He loved being with them, but his purpose in coming to earth was to die.

Easter is also a struggle for me. Sin and death are never pleasant topics to reflect on. Yet Easter, especially Good Friday, forces me to think about them.

It's all about sin... Some people I know don't believe in sin, but to me sin is very real. For me, sin is synonymous with evil, not just out there - but in myself as well. There is a malicious selfishness and anger that rears its ugly head from time to time within me. I see that as sin in me... anger ready to pounce, regardless of repercussions. I know it's there.

I especially feel sad that Jesus had to die - as a sacrifice, so that I wouldn't be punished for my sin. (A kind of lamb on the alter.) His death replaced mine ... That is the basis of Christianity. This idea should make me happy - and it does - but it also makes me sad... sad that it had to happen. God evidently views sin very seriously, and loves us very much... That too is part of Christian belief.

Joy comes 3 days later on Easter Sunday, after Jesus's amazed followers (who had come to embalm him with spices) discovered that his tomb was empty. Their first thought was that the body had been stolen - a final desecration. Observant Jews do not tamper with a dead body - and even today many oppose autopsies from a religious point of view. The dead, they believe, should rest in peace.

The resurrection - Jesus coming to life again - is another part of Easter that some people have a hard time believing. I don't find Jesus' resurrection hard to believe. I mean, I believe that God created the universe and everything in it. Once I believe that, nothing else (in my opinion) is hard to accept: resurrection, healing (God fixing what He made), God inspiring people close to him to write his words - nothing is impossible to a God who can create it all!

Some Christian traditions celebrate the Easter Sunday resurrection with great joy. One Russian lady I knew greeted everyone on Easter Sunday with the the joyful words: Christ is risen! Those of us unfamiliar with this Russian tradition were told to reply: He is risen indeed!

North American Christians tend to hide Easter behind rituals of another sort: Easter egg hunts and chocolate Easter bunnies, traditions that probably originated in a cultural celebration of spring.

I used to ask my multi-cultural students if they had eaten any Easter eggs. They would usually say: No, it's not part of my religion.

To which I would reply: It's not part of my Christian religion either - it's a tradition that celebrates spring.

But back to Good Friday - today. As uncomfortable as I always find meditating on Jesus suffering, death and resurrection, to avoid it, for me, is to miss the true meaning of Easter.

A Free-flow Kind of Day

I love days that have no appointments, no schedule - and I can do whatever comes to mind at any given moment. I call this a free-flow kind of day.

I may start the day with a laundry - but if it doesn't get into the dryer for a while, that's okay. I just move from one thing to another, not obsessed with accomplishing anything in particular. At some point I may go for a walk or I may go to Curves (to do a half-hour exercise routine)... I may work outside, shoveling snow in the winter or raking in the summer.

At the end of the day, I have a peacefully content feeling, knowing I've lived life to the fullest for that one beautiful day.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Would you read it... again?

For me the ultimate test of a book is: Would I read it again?

My bookshelves are full of books I intend to read, books I have started to read, and books I have loved - and plan to re-read...

Here is the pile of books that I am currently reading... I often "nibble" at books - rather than sit down for a full meal. The only "re-read" here is Before You Call, I Will Answer - an unusual book on prayer by David A. Redding.

Most of the books I read these days are autobiographical rather than fiction. I have always been fascinated by interesting life stories of thoughtful people. By "thoughtful" I mean people who give their lives and the meaning of their lives some serious thought. For me, truth (well-written) is much more interesting than fiction. (Though some fiction is truth disguised.) So I enjoy autobiographical memoirs.

Some favorites that spring to mind are:
Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
The Color of Water by James McBride
Dreams From My Father by Barak Obama
The Crosswicks Journals of Madeleine L'Engle, which include
  • A Circle of Quiet
  • The Summer of the Great-grandmother
  • The Irrational Season
  • Two-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage
Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott
All books by James Herriot
All books by Catherine Marshall, especially Adventures in Prayer
All books by Laurie Beth Jones, especially Jesus in Blue Jeans
Poustinia: Encountering God in Silence, Solitude and Prayer by Catherine Doherty
My Russian Yesterdays
by Catherine Doherty

I also enjoy books that need to be slowly digested - as they have so much to teach. Two of my favorites are:
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey which I read in the '90s and plan to read again soon, and
The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron, which I read last year and I plan to re-read soon

I tend to read a lot about writing. Some favorites are
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
On Writing by Stephen King
Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

Oh yes, and the one novel I read in the past 6 months was written by a young Canadian woman living in the USA. It's called Water for Elephants (by Sara Gruen). I'm not sure I'd re-read it in its entirety, but if I ever thought of writing a novel, I'd study it - as it is very well written. At the end of a fascinating story comes a delightful surprise ending!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Listening to God

I pray a lot - asking God for wisdom and health, good jobs for my children, and whatever concerns happen to be on my mind at any given time. Sometimes I pray for for friends - or even strangers, people I read about in the news, or see on TV.

For quite a few years ago now, I have been writing my prayers down in a journal. I look back on these pages from time to time. Often I am amazed at how quickly a certain prayer has been answered - but at other times I sadly wonder why - in spite of my prayers - nothing seems to change.

One thing I don't do enough is sit quietly and listen to God. (This, I think, is the heart of Christian meditation.)

Which is why sometimes God has had to step in and just talk to me to make me listen...

When I say "talk to me," I don't mean in an audible voice - but put a thought into my heart. (By "heart" I mean my emotions and my mind.)

Let me give an example:

We bought the house we live in 27 years ago when we had one small baby, so at the time, the house seemed very large. Eventually our family grew to three children with lots of toys (as well as two parents with lots of books). Soon our home was overflowing with stuff... So I began to look around the neighborhood for a bigger house. I loved our current one, but it just seemed too small.

Please, please God - show us a bigger house that we can afford - so that everyone will have enough room, was my prayer.

But nothing seemed to happen... Then one day I was sitting at my desk, writing down this prayer, wondering why God - who had provided us with this lovely home, hadn't shown us a bigger one. I may even have been a little frustrated and asked, God, what are You waiting for?!

When a thought dropped gently into my mind - Simplify your life...

What? Is that your answer? You're not going to provide another house...?!

Simplify your life... The message was clear.

Are you saying that this house is big enough?!

Why do I think it was God speaking to me, instead of my own imagination? Because it was the last thing I wanted to hear... yet in my heart it felt absolutely right.

Monday, April 6, 2009

April Showers Bring...MORE SNOW?!

"April showers may bring May flowers" in England, but in the part of Canada where I live they sometimes bring MORE SNOW!!

This is the way my yard looks this morning.

The weather had been so nice that we really thought that spring was here. Oh well, this mini-winter won't last long... hopefully...

I'm ready for the warm breezes of spring!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Who are these people?

A few years ago, when my husband's grandmother (Ruth Smith Hutchins) died, we inherited... a large box of photos.

Terry opened the box and examined the pictures ...

I have absolutely no idea who any of these people are
, he said sadly.

There were no names or dates printed on the backs of the photos. They are just old black and white photos of ..... we really don't know. The only one who looks familiar is Terry's grandmother in her older years. I also recognize a blurry photo of Queen Elizabeth's mother as a young Queen, no doubt on a visit to Canada.

Terry doesn't recognize his grandmother - or his parents - in any of the older pictures. And he has no idea who the other people are. Maybe he knew some of them when he was a child, but now he has no recollection. A large number of the photos were probably taken before he was born...

The moral of all this?

It's really important to print first and last names clearly on the backs of all photos - a date and location would be helpful too. You never know who will inherit your pictures in 60 or 70 years!