Tuesday, June 30, 2009

St. Jacobs Farners' Market

In summer, we often drive to farmers markets in small towns around Ottawa.

On a recent trip to Toronto, we decided to do the same, and visit St. Jacobs Farmers Market, about an hour south-west of Toronto, near the city of Waterloo.

We enjoyed browsing in the market buildings and the outlet mall across the road. (Not in the picture.)

But our favorite place to sit and relax was the outdoor food court...

...where we ate sausages, perogies, ...

... (Opps! They disappeared quickly!)

... cheese curds.

And the local specialty...

...freshly fried apple fritters.

There is always a line up at this stand and the staff are always busy...

But it's well worth the wait!

Monday, June 29, 2009

My (Personal) Secret for Finding Things

I am constantly losing things (or, rather, misplacing them...) In any event, I am often running around looking for things I can't find. A favorite used to be my keys... I was always trying to hunt them down.

Over the years, I have developed a strategy or two to help me find my misplaced items.

After a few minutes of fruitless panic, rushing around, I eventually stop and ask myself, If I were to put them away now, where would I put them?

And surprisingly I usually go straight to where they are.

But as for my keys - looking for them became frustrating and time-consuming - as I'd drop them unconsciously somewhere in the house. And I'd begin looking for them just as I was rushing out the door. So I found an almost fool-proof strategy to avoid losing my keys: I now tie them to my purse with a lanyard or string! And fortunately, I rarely misplace my large purse.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Soft Food

I was recently put on a soft food diet for several weeks - dentist's orders... Until then, I had never realized how much texture (as well as taste) adds to eating pleasure.

I went online for food ideas... (Some people have to eat soft food for much longer than me, I discovered - so I stopped feeling sorry for myself!)

But what could I eat?!! Well, there's cottage cheese and yogurt, foods I do like. But not for EVERY meal EVERY day!

Here is a selection of some of the foods I've been enjoying...

Lots of blended fruit drinks - banana, berries, cocoa powder, milk, soy beverage, ground almonds and crushed flax seed. These drinks taste good but they don't keep me full for long.

My two most "normal" meals are:
1. cheese and tomato omlette - nice with a glass of V8.
2. several tablespoons of liver sausage, tomatoes cut into TINY pieces, and chopped up pasta.

I also haven been eating rice pudding... (I'm not sure if the raisins were necessary - I really can't taste them unless I bite them!)

One surprise food "invention" was broken up pieces of cranberry bran muffin - covered with milk. This breakfast "pudding" tasted better than most dry cereals! (Graham wafers softened in a dish of milk also taste good...)

And of course, there's apple sauce (in different flavors) ...

And chocolate pudding.

Also baby food... which is pretty bland - not to mention expensive, for very little food!

I haven't cooked mashed potatoes, yet - it's been too hot - but if it cools down, I'll make some mashed or blended cooked vegetables.

One of the "problems" of this soft-food diet is that some people tend to lose weight on it... If that "problem" happens to me - I'll embrace it as a fair pay-off for all the tasty meals I've been missing!

Oh yes, and there are soft food ideas online too - I found some at this site.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Flowers Abound

It's a wonderful time for gardening. New flowers are blooming indoors and out.

Indoors I was surprised to see these African Violets finally flower. They didn't bloom with the others in February. I guess some are just late bloomers...

Outdoors the clematis is doing well....

I thought it had died, as it looked dry and lifeless all spring. But here it is!

I added plants to my front garden bed last fall, and two are already blooming... I just wish I could remember where I got them or what they are called... I must have marked it down somewhere...

So in the meantime, I call them the NEW ORANGE and the NEW RED!

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Power of Appreciation

We all love to be appreciated... but some of us forget to take the next step and show appreciation for the people and events that fill our lives, enriching us day by day. I know I tend to focus on the empty half of the glass half-FULL. (That's why I'm THANKFUL for a husband who reminds me to BE THANKFUL!)

There is power in appreciation - given, received or shared. Appreciation lifts our spirits - which is probably why a blog written by a 29-year-old Toronto man has become so popular. I first read about it in the Ottawa Citizen, after it had won a Webby Award. Called 1000 Awesome Things, this blog attracts hundreds (if not thousands) of readers daily because it talks about the pleasure of ordinary things we often overlook. Yesterday's blog, for example, focused on the smell of Play-Doh!

Appreciation changes us - and has the power to change relationships. I know an older couple whose struggling marriage was totally turned around after they were challenged (by a Readers' Digest article!) to replace criticism with compliments. Before long, they were both living in the joy of being loved and appreciated by the person closest to them.

For me (their daughter) it was hard to comprehend the change I could see and feel whenever I visited them. Their love for each other, previously hidden by a litany of complaints, was now shining through.

Appreciation has the power to do that - and make the world a happier place!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Highway of Heroes

On a recent trip to Toronto, on Highway 401, we experienced the meaning of the highway's other name: the Highway of Heroes.

Whenever a Canadian soldier is killed overseas in conflict, an army entourage - together with family and friends - brings the body from the military airport in Trenton, Ontario to Toronto.

As we passed through Trenton, we realized that we must be behind one such cavalcade. Supporters waving flags were standing on all the bridges, paying their respects.

Police were blocking highway entry ramps until the procession had passed.

As we approached Toronto, we f0und ourselves closer and closer to the back of the cavalcade. Finally, as we drove down the Don Valley Parkway in the rain, we found ourselves directly behind the police escort.

It was a moving experience - remembering a family's tremendous loss, and seeing this public sign of respect - as inadequate as any public display of support can ever be to grieving family and friends.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

More Tea?!!

One of the risks of posting my plans online is that sometimes people remember what I've said!

So, when I told my daughter that I had discovered the best green tea I've had in a long time, she said: More tea?! I thought you posted on your blog that you weren't going to buy any more tea until you used up what you had.

Well, yes, I had said that. But then - while looking through the ethnic aisle for imported tea in a neighborhood supermarket - I saw this interesting green LEMON tea (green tea with lemon zest) from Austria.

I bought a box - and liked it so much that I went back to get a few more boxes. (I had never seen it before and didn't know if I'd ever see it again.)

I discovered that a number of other teas packaged by this Austrian company were all on sale for 99 cents each! So I bought one of each, plus 5 boxes of the Lemon Green Tea...

I haven't tried the others yet... but I highly recommend the GREEN TEA LEMON.

(So that's why I have so many packages of tea in my cupboard: When I find something I really like, ... I fear running out!!)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Of all the things I've ever lost, I miss ... the most.

Of all the things I've ever lost, I miss my mind the most.
I was thinking of this line - a Mark Twain original, later quoted and made famous by Ozzy Osborne - as I lay down for a nap today at noon. Only what flashed through my mind was - Of all the things I've ever lost, I miss my youthful energy the most!

When I look back on what I managed to accomplish in my younger days, I really wonder how I did it. As a university student, I usually had a part-time job. Then, while teaching full-time (in my 20s), I regularly took university courses as well. At one time, I had a part-time job in addition to my full-time teaching. And I don't remember being tired (sleepy, maybe) or feeling I was doing too much.

In my 30s, parenting began - an ever-increasing responsibility as three children claimed more of my time and energy. THAT was the beginning of my tiredness as I know it today. It eased off for a while when they were all in school, but after I resumed my full-time teaching, bringing home marking and lesson prep every evening, tiredness began to creep back into my bones.

I have read that fatigue is the first sign of type 2 diabetes, so it may have been my rising blood sugar levels that increased my sense of exhaustion. I was eventually told that I did have diabetes, and was taught the importance of watching what I eat and of exercising more.

I have managed to hold the diabetes at bay through exercise and diet for several years now, but have never reclaimed my youthful energy. (Could it be because I'm quite a few years away from youthful?!)

So I'm hoping to find the secret - not of youth, but of YOUTHFUL ENERGY... because that is what I really miss the most!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

I've got a cold...

I've been fighting off a cold for the past week or so, and it finally got the best of me. So I have succumbed and am slowing down and letting my body mend.

May was so busy, so hectic - and now, in June, the pressure is off... and instead of being energized, I get sick... Strange!

It makes me think of a conversation I once had with a student from Bosnia a few months after the civil war there had ended. He came to class to inform me that he would be away for a while. He was going back to his country for a few weeks to see his mother who'd had a heart attack.

Throughout the war she had lived alone, he said, cut off from her children who lived in the same city, but in the opposite side of town. They couldn't see each other - war was raging in the center of the city - and they couldn't pass. So she was there alone. Now that the war was over, they were re-united again, but ironically now she is sick in the hospital.

Imagine how hard it would have been if she'd had a heart attack during the fighting, I said. She would have been totally alone.

That's the strange part, he replied. During the war, people didn't seem to get sick. They were strong. But now since the fighting has ended, there have been so many heart attacks, especially among older people.

During the war, they were tough. But now that the pressure is off, the stress they lived under before is taking its toll.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Life Evolves - Careers Evolve

The goal of parenting is... to set kids free with skills that enable them to survive in the world. (Another goal might be to remain friends with them for the rest of your lives, but that's another story!)

I remember when my brother and I were finishing high school, my father was miserable. He was afraid that we would never make it on our own because - in his eyes - we hadn't struggled enough. He had seen children of rich parents squander their family's wealth as adults and end up with nothing. He, on the other hand, had lost his father at age 4 during World War I and had started working at age of 5, herding geese in Poland, to help his mother feed the family. He had never been given anything - and worried that we had been given too much.

Later in life, as a parent, I could identify with some of my father's feelings. I remember how happy I was when my own three children had all completed a reasonable amount of education, found reasonable jobs, and set out on their own .

Your job is done! My youngest son confidently assured me when he finished university. Enjoy the rest of your life and don't worry about us!

(He is all too aware of my tendency to worry - a trait I may have inherited from my father!)

And so I didn't worry - for a while. But now, after a few years, when I talk to them about work, they smile and say that everything is fine... but they're getting restless... Maybe they need a change. This isn't the job I want to do for the rest of my life, they have all told me at least once.

After my initial panic (why do I always think it's my problem?!) I try to remember that many of us who are older have struggled for many years to discover our "calling" - or at least, interesting work we feel happy doing for more than a few years.

One of my co-workers, for example, had studied to be a dietitian, working in the field for a few years before taking a job as a teacher, teaching foods courses in a college in Northern Canada. There she also started teaching English as a second language - and realized that this was the job she really loved.

I think of Terry, my husband. who studied to be a teacher, but discovered (while working as a church youth leader) that he preferred helping kids with their problems. So he went back to school to become a counsellor. And even within the field of counselling, he has felt the need to move around from time to time.

Or my brother, who started out as a sports instructor but ended up a businessman, creating a number of successful businesses...

All these people - in their 20s - were trying to figure out what they really wanted to do. They followed their instincts and tried new things - eventually finding work that satisfied them.

So sometimes I have to remind myself - as I remind my children - that life evolves and careers evolve.

Sometimes I have to step back and let them work it out (even though my natural instinct as a mother is to step in and try to help). Because, whatever they do with their lives, they will do it as themselves, with their own personalities, their own skills... and dreams - and not as ME! (Just as I will never be - in fact, never can be - them.)

Saturday, June 13, 2009

My Mother's Spinning Wheel

I have recently "inherited" (for lack of a better word) my mother's spinning wheel. It is a lovely piece of wooden art, created by my grandfather, Hugo Bartz, in the 1970's, when my mother was a teacher of crafts at the Kelowna Secondary School in British Columbia. At the time, schools offered optional courses geared to creating hobbies and lifelong interests. One fitness course, for example, taught golf and tennis - sports that students could pursue throughout their lives.

At the time, there was a renewal of interest in traditional crafts - candle-making, pottery, knitting, crocheting - and also spinning and weaving. My mother loved learning some of these skills her own mother had known, but which she had never bothered to learn - skills that many thought were gone forever.

My grandfather, remembering his own mother's spinning wheel, offered to make one for my mother. My mother, in turn, used it to spin yarn - some of which she dyed by hand, teaching her students those skills as well.

My mother had a big weaving loom in the back porch of her Lawrence Avenue home in Kelowna. I recently came across a table cloth she wove on it, though I think this is made of cotton, not wool.

Her name is sewn on a label in the corner.

I preferred knitting and crocheting to weaving - but my daughter is now interested in the art of dyeing fabric ...

So perhaps spinning will also be practiced in our family by another generation.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Creativity has to be a labor of love!

One of my mother's sisters, Lydia, decided to make an afghan for each of her nieces, which is how I happened to have this cozy blanket:

It is used daily, except in hottest summer weather, by anyone lying on the couch, watching TV.

Aunt Lydia didn't ask what color I wanted it - she chose the colors and design herself - because, as she said, if she didn't enjoy making it, it wasn't really a labor of love.

She had apparently once tried to make an afghan in colors chosen by someone else and had a hard time finishing it - the colors didn't resonate well with her.

I smiled and nodded when she told me this, but I didn't know what she meant. I had never experienced "negative-color-emotion" in any creative project up to that point. (Yes, I'm making up this term - I really don't know what else to call it!)

But I've discovered recently how hard it is to work with colors and designs that don't excite me. Creativity has to give the artist/creator joy. When the element of joy is missing, it's hard to keep going.

I have been having a hard time finishing a certain quilt I started about a year ago. Here are the blocks laid out on the floor. I'm really trying to finish it.

The fabric designs and colors just aren't ME - they are someone else's choice. Perhaps in the end, I'll like it - maybe even love it!

But for now, it's a chore, not a labor of love...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

I used to be WITH IT but then they changed what IT was...

"I used to be WITH IT, but then they changed what IT was..." (my favorite quote from the Simpsons) describes how I often feel these days when talking to my 20-something-year-old kids. Their reality and my reality are so very different.

My online-poker-playing son recently showed me a poker web site where players look like characters in 3D video games... As I watched my son's 3D character play poker at my son's bidding, the thought crossed my mind: Is it easier to play (winning - but more often losing money) when it it a video game character doing it? But I didn't ask...

Another of my kids recently told me of a sermon he had heard in church (though he called it a speech, not a sermon) where he could finally relate to what was being said. The young minister had apparently used a baseball game, a recent movie and a video game to illustrate a passage of scripture. Would I have understood his main point? I wondered...

When I was younger, I definitely didn't think my parents and grandparents were WITH IT! Did it bother them, as it sometimes bothers me now?

I remember at 15 talking to my grandmother about lipstick and nail polish - GOOD GIRLS didn't wear either, in her opinion. In fact, she confided to me - if anyone wore face powder, back in her youth, the women in the community gossiped about her! I remember laughing - and feeling sorry for any girl who had wanted to hide her acne. Did my laughter bother my grandmother? Did she feel sad that she was no longer WITH IT? Or was she glad things had been different back in her day?

I have a friend who will soon be 91 years old - and she still works one day a week in the same office (for the same boss) she has worked for, for the past 40 or so years. They are both slowing down - and there is a younger girl in the office who works on the computer - but my friend still takes dictation and types letters for her boss to sign... My friend loves to keep active - and her hair style and clothing are as WITH IT as any young office worker's!

What does it take to remain WITH IT? I suspect it involves keeping active and not taking it personally when life as we know it (and, let's face it, as we love it) does change.

I guess that's one thing I appreciate about having kids - they keep me informed of the ways in which I'm no longer WITH IT.

But I really hope I will remain open-minded enough to value life as they know it, even when it bears no resemblance to anything I have ever experienced or known ...

Monday, June 8, 2009

It always tastes better outdoors...

Now that warm, sunny weather is here, I have begun to eat my breakfast outdoors. The street is peaceful and quiet early in the morning - and I enjoy the fresh air...

But one "danger" lurks in my little paradise - squirrels. They won't come near if I'm sitting on the deck, but should I go in to refill my coffee cup, they would quickly jump up on the table and dig into my food.

That is what happened one summer when I put a fresh-from-the-oven birthday cake on the picnic table to cool. (I was trying to avoid heating up the house on a hot day.)

I thought it would be safe - too hot for the squirrels to touch - but I was wrong! A minute or two later, I looked out again and the still-warm cake was a quarter gone. A squirrel had his tiny hands in the pan - even though the cake was still steaming!

That taught a lesson: Now if I want to avoid heating up the house, I cool cakes by putting them in the car - with the windows rolled up and the doors shut!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

A House Full of Books is Not a Lonely Place...

Our house is full of books - as I have a hard time giving any away. Books, to me, are a little like food - my cupboards would seem bare if I didn't have a few shelves of books in sight.

I remember once, as a child, visiting relatives on a rainy weekend. I scoured the house for something to do, and discovered a shelf of books. I began to read one by Emil Zola, an author I had never heard of. The memory of that cozy afternoon, spent reading in an upstairs bedroom, is with me still.

Reading was a pleasure that was encouraged in our home - though sometimes visiting relatives saw my love of reading as "laziness." I probably avoided a lot of housework by reading, but I didn't read (I don't think) to avoid doing housework! Every weekend, I would read two novels: one on Saturday, one on Sunday. It may have been a kind of imaginative escapism - but it also served to broaden my world.

I don't lie on the bed reading for hours anymore, like I did as a child. (My back would probably give out if I tried!) And I rarely read novels anymore either. The last time I got caught up in one was last fall when I started to read Water For Elephants, a fascinating story about an old man in a nursing home reliving his life as a circus veterinarian. I highly recommend it!

The kinds of books I enjoy now are memoirs - where people share stories of their lives. These days, I find fact more fascinating than fiction. The Crosswicks Journals of Madeleine L'Engle are an example, or the memoirs of Anne Lamott. It usually takes me a few months to finish one of those books, and I'm always sad when the book comes to an end (which may be why I have so many unfinished books on my bedside table.) The memoirs I enjoy reading give me the feeling that I'm having a little visit with the author, who is telling me about some of the things he or she has done. My world is a richer, happier place after the "visit."

Books I read nowadays usually have the potential to change me, or at least to make me see life in a slightly different way. And I find it easier to read books with short chapters - with a few thoughts that I can later reflect on.

When I look back, I can only remember one time when books weren't part of my life. For about 4 months after my first year at university, I didn't even want to look at a book! Then about five months later, I walked into a public library - I was ready to read again!

(I don't remember what I did in my free time that summer -I think I kept busy knitting.)

Reading is probably one of the greatest pleasures of my life - I have visited so many interesting places and met so many fascinating people ... through their books!

Friday, June 5, 2009

10 fruits and veggies every day?!

I read the other day - in the Ottawa Citizen newspaper - that we should be eating 10 servings of fruit and vegetables a day...

A day?!!

Is that the goal I should be striving for?

Several years ago, after being told that my blood sugar was too high and my good cholesterol too low, I asked my doctor - What can I do to improve things?

His immediate reply was: Eat more vegetables!

It was then that I started to notice how much I preferred carbs to veggies, how often I reached for a few cookies or a piece of cake - and not for carrots or an apple - when I wanted a snack.

So I am trying to mend my ways...

This morning I added an apple to my normal breakfast of bread, jam and cheddar cheese.

My lunch? Cottage cheese with cucumber, tiny tomatoes, blueberries mixed into yogurt on top of a bowl of sliced pears. That makes 3 1/2 servings, plus my breakfast apple - a total of 4 1/2 servings!

What can I eat to get another 5 1/2 servings into my day?!!

I'm not sure, but I'm going to try... Maybe, like my mother, I'll have to carry around a score card and keep track. Only she writes down how many steps she takes (aiming for 10,000 a day) plus how much water she drinks. (Here she tries for 8 to 12 glasses!)

Her goal is to become one of the few dozen 100-year-old retired teachers in the country.

My goal is a little different: I would be happy just to have "normal" blood-sugar and cholesterol again...

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Feels like summer is here...

Today - for the first time - it has felt like summer...

Flowers are beginning to bloom - here are some small irises in my front garden bed.

I love hostas! They look so elegant. Mine have now opened their leaves.

Open windows bring in sunshine and a warm June breeze.

Sitting indoors, looking past the potted flowers to the green grass outside - I am reminded of those lazy days of my childhood when I had nothing better to do than to read and relax... and dream!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Hello June!

The month of May was stressful for me... I had to empty my mother's apartment by the end of the month - and there were heavy items I didn't know what to do with, things I have no room for - or use for - in my own home. I wanted them to go to people who would appreciate them.

So my blood sugar went up (stress does that, I guess) and I woke up nights in a panic... (I'm the worrying type when things are beyond my control.)

Eventually my frantic prayers were answered! Last week, I found a young lover of music who was delighted to have my parents' organ. Another friend needed a micro-wave oven...

Eventually the whole place was cleared on time, before midnight May 31.

Yesterday I handed in the keys, marking the end of an era in my mother's life - an era of almost 7 years when she lived in this apartment building, her first in Ottawa, before downsizing into active retirement-home living, where she is so busy, it's hard to find her in her room. She signs up for almost every activity going!

Yesterday's rain, for example, postponed a planned picnic till today - so she was looking forward to that. She also loves the daily exercise class and musical singalongs in the lounge.

So life has, in many respects, improved for her: no more housework or meal preparation. She has new friends, more activities, fewer aches and pains.

And for me, the burden of emptying her apartment has lifted.

So GOOD-BYE, May - and HELLO June. I'm looking forward to getting my life back to normal again!