Thursday, March 31, 2011

An Evening with David Sedaris

I was introduced to the David Sedaris book, Me Talk Pretty One Day by my daughter, who read me his account of trying to learn French as an adult...

The language teacher in me (who spent years teaching English to immigrants) could identify - and I went on to read the entire book. My personal favorite story tells of his attempts to teach writing to college students - another experience I can identify with!

She also showed us to this YouTube reading from the David Letterman show.

Knowing we enjoyed his humor, my youngest son gave Terry and me tickets to see him in person as a birthday present this year.

I expected a handful of people (Do people attend readings by authors?)... But was surprised to discover the largest National Arts Centre auditorium full of mostly younger people - hundreds of well-mannered fans. David read several still-unpublished stories (hastily making notes if our response wasn't quite what he wanted!) He then read some short diary entries - and a few jokes told to him by fans...

Then he opened the auditorium up for questions... Do his siblings and his father still talk to him after he writes about them? (Yes, he shows them all stories before he publishes them. And he doesn't reveal any family secrets...) Does he plan to write about England, the country he now calls home? (When he lived in France, nobody knew he was a writer and no one read his work... But in Britain it would be harder to write about his neighbors without possibly offending them.)

The evening was enjoyable - perhaps a little too short. (Terry was hoping for a reading of the "Stadium Pal" story shown on the Letterman show...)

I found a few things he said about writing very interesting. When asked about his journals (the source of much of his writing material) he said he started a new one every season - and added a colorful cover to each volume.

I thought of my own journals... I am not that organized. In fact, I revel in randomly writing in a variety of notebooks, started at different times, perhaps on different holidays or in different moods, years before. I find it interesting to look back and see what I concerns I had at different times, juxtaposing my current stories with those... No chronological writing here! Just a mish-mash of memories.

But I could identify with his love of travel, of spending time in different countries. That had been my childhood dream - one I wrote about not long ago.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Left Brain? Right Brain?

A good friend recently revealed that for Lent she was giving up - not her favorite food - but her favorite puzzle: sudoku, a logical left brain activity. Instead, in her free time, she was trying to develop her right brain by coloring circles with her non-dominant hand. (And she was finding it boring!)

I have never given a lot of thought to whether I was left-brain dominant or right-brain dominant, but I would guess that I lean to the right... as I'm impulsive, rather than logical, more intuitive and random than rational, characteristics described in this online explanation. (Though I, too, enjoy sudoku puzzles! How then can this be?)

Perhaps I should do an online test to make sure...

After doing the test, I see that yes - I am more artistic than logical... though the difference is small. On the test, it was only two points. (Which may explain why I like sudoku. But I am definitely right-brain dominant: I'd much rather take a trip tomorrow - impulsively - than plan one a few months down the road.)

Why did my friend decide to try to exercise her right brain for Lent? Because she had come to an impasse: She was finding it hard to follow her heart when her logical left brain kept blocking her plans!

I have undertaken no lenten disciplines... Is it because my right brain abhors rules? I don't know, but my excuse is that I view in Lent its original meaning... "lent" (meaning SLOW in French). So I have decided to simply slow down, and see where that takes me!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Afghan Progress

I have been working on the rippled afghan inspired by one I saw in The Gentle Art of Domesticity.

My color selection was becoming rather limited, as I was using up scraps of yarn. Fortunately I discovered some more. (These skeins may have been my mother's... Or perhaps I bought them a few years ago and forgot about them!)

My goal is to use them all up...

I'm probably about half way done....

Today I'm taking a little break... My wrist is sore and I don't want to aggravate it.

(Maybe I should call it - not "TENNIS ELBOW" but "CROCHETER'S WRIST"!)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Would You Believe It?!

A few people reading my blog have done so faithfully from the very beginning, over two years ago. These are mostly family members, checking - no doubt - to see if I'm misrepresenting them in any way!

Which posts (of the almost 700 that I have written) have been the most helpful? I sometimes wonder... (hoping that someone somewhere has been helped or entertained by what I write.)

That I don't know. But I recently did discover a tool that tells me which posts have been read by the most people... And frankly, I was very surprised by the results!

So here they are, Dave Letterman style, counting down from five to one... My most read posts, according to a google counter...

Number 5... A Smooth Sea Never Made a Skilled Sailor, posted on January 20, 2010.

Number 4... What To Do With Indoor Trees, posted on February 25, 2011.

Number 3... My favorite marble cake recipe, posted on February 13, 2009.

Number 2...
Posted on June 10, 2009, a blog entitled I Used to Be WITH IT, and Then They Changed What IT Was... a quote from the TV program, the Simpsons.

And finally, Number 1... my most turned to post by far... (read by more than three times as many readers as any other post has!)

Gardening in October, posted on October 15, 2009.

(I mean, would you believe it?! I know I surely wouldn't have!)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Not a Metaphor

I am thankful for songs (written thousands of years ago) that remind me that - even in the midst of terrifying situations like earthquakes and tsunamis - God is there:

God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear,
Even though the earth be removed,
And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;
Though its waters roar and be troubled,
Though the mountains shake with its swelling.

Reading Psalm 46 (quoted above), I wonder if the songwriter is describing a personal experience... If the shaking mountains and roaring water are not merely a metaphor...

Saturday, March 26, 2011

1000 Things to Do...?

I've noticed a book entitled 1000 Places to See Before You Die... It appears to be popular. But I have never opened the cover...

My reason? I don't want another "to do" list in my life! (Or maybe I'm afraid I'll discover more places I'll want to visit. I already have too many!)

It reminds me of a young man who asked me to take his picture in front of the Western Wall in Jerusalem. He was traveling around the world and he wanted a picture of himself in front of every landmark.

Was it to remind himself of what he had seen? Or to "prove" he had been there? I wondered, as he hurried off to be photographed in front of his next predetermined location.

He had been there, but what had he seen?

My goal - when I was younger - was to travel the world, live in various places for a year or so, to absorb the sights and sounds and to try to understand the culture of the people. Then I hoped to write a novel or two set in each location.

Part of that dream did come true. I have lived and lingered in four cities: Jerusalem (for 10 years), Montreal (for 3 years), Toronto (for almost a year), and Ottawa (for more than 30)... The novels never happened, though I have learned a lot about people along the way!

I still love to travel. And my desire to linger hasn't disappeared either!

So today I'll linger over my coffee...

...enjoying the sights and sounds around me...

 the place I find myself today.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Discovering a Great New Snack: Mission Figs

I often snack on dried fruit, especially apricots and dates. But I've never really been a fan of figs.

All that changed recently when I decided to try figs of a darker color: Mission figs from California...

Attracted by their soft (rather than leathery) texture, I decided to give them a try... And I loved them!

Wondering if this was due to the processing, I tried some pale colored Calimyrna figs packaged by the same company. (I had no idea there were so many different varieties of figs!)

Hmmm... Lots of seeds! Soft, but not as good...

No, it's the Mission figs I love!... My new snack favorite!

(It's always fun to discover new edible treats - especially healthy ones!)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Few Thoughts On Aging

I recently came across a quote on aging that I could heartily agree with...

"To me, old... is fifteen years older than I am."

When I did a google search to find out more about the author of that quote, it became apparent that he (Bernard Baruch) took aging in stride! Here are a few more things Bernard Baruch said about getting older...

"We grow neither better or worse as we get old, but more like ourselves."

And then the ultimate challenge:

"One of the secrets of a long and fruitful life is to forgive everybody everything every night before you go to bed."

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Sharing the (Breadmaking) PASSION

I have been reading Tartine Bread, a book about a young baker's quest for "his" ideal loaf.

This quest led him to baking internships in the US, France and Switzerland, stories he shares in the book.

Now I've come to the part where Chad gives instructions on how to make his wonderful bread...

As I see it, my first step is to create a personal sourdough starter using flour and water. After a week or so of "feeding," it would be ready to use...

Then I need to find a suitable container for baking the bread in. He suggests a pan with a lid, so that the bread bakes in a steamy environment, in order to create a crusty loaf.

Traditional wood-fired ovens, he writes, are full of steam. (I didn't know that!)

I'm anxious to begin... Yet I'm holding back - a sourdough starter (like a family pet) requires daily attention... and I'm not sure I'm ready for a commitment like that!

But someday I'll be ready! Until then, the book makes excellent reading!

And a thought I'm taking away is that everyone can create his or her own "unique" loaf of bread - an exciting prospect!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

What To Do?

I have been reflecting on a quote I recently came across, by Thomas Carlyle:

Our main business is not to see
What lies dimly at a distance, but
To do what lies clearly at hand."

There are so many things I would like to do that it is easy to get caught up in wishful thinking and, in the end accomplish, very little!

How should I spend my day? I often ask myself...

"Do what lies clearly at hand" keeps the dreamer in me grounded in the here and now!

Monday, March 21, 2011

English Idioms

I envy the many people in Ottawa who speak English and French equally well. I know how hard it is to develop that kind of fluency.

Problem areas (if any) occur in the realm of idioms or expressions. Not only do they have to be accurate, they must be used in the right circumstances...

When one of my sons gave me this book on the origins of English expressions, the cover (Flying by the Seat of Your Pants) reminded me of a man I once worked with in a government office, during one of my non-teaching stints.

He was a very pleasant middle-aged manager whose first language was French, though he spoke English impeccably. A stickler for details, he would often prowl around, looking over secretaries' shoulders, checking that everything was just right.

I don't want to get caught with my pants down, he'd explain... and those of us whose first language was English tried hard not to laugh. Once one of the English secretaries replied: We really don't want that to happen either... (While the rest of us suppressed a giggle. )

Certain expressions may not be wrong - they just conjure up the wrong image for the circumstance!

No wonder it is hard to really master a new language!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Difference Between Joy and Happiness

I'm not sure how we started talking about JOY and HAPPINESS... It was one of those meandering conversations between friends...

Later she passed on this quote from the book, The Hungering Dark, by Frederick Boechner - and I thought his wise words needed to be shared:

We need to be reminded that at its heart, Christianity is joy and that laughter and freedom and the reaching out of arms are the essence of it.

We need to be reminded too that joy is not the same as happiness. Happiness is man-made - a happy home, a happy marriage, a happy relationship with our friends and within our jobs. We work for these things, and if we are careful and wise and lucky, we can usually achieve them.

Happiness is one of the highest achievements of which we are capable and when it is ours, we take credit for it, and properly so. But we never take credit for our moments of joy because we know they are not man-made and that we are never really responsible for them. They come when they come. They are always sudden and quick and unrepeatable.

The unspeakable joy of just being alive. The miracle sometimes of just being who we are with the blue sky and the green grass, the faces of our friends and the waves of the ocean, just being what they are. The joy of release, of being suddenly well when before we were sick, of being forgiven when before we were ashamed and afraid, of finding ourselves loved when we were lost and alone. The joy of love, which is a joy of the flesh as well as the spirit...

Joy is always all encompassing. There is nothing of us left over to hate with or be afraid with, to feel guilty with or to be selfish about. Joy is where the whole being is pointed in one direction, and it is something that by its nature, a man never hoards but always wants to share. The second thing is that joy is a mystery because it can happen anywhere, anytime, even under the most unpromising circumstances, even in the midst of suffering, with tears in its eyes...

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Almost Spring

When I started this post, I tentatively named it: "Suddenly Spring." The weather was supposed to warm up quickly... and of course, wouldn't that mean a dramatic end to our snow?! That's what I hoped to capture with my pictures!

After a major snow storm in early March...

...the weatherman was promising spring...

This last Monday it started to warm up: +1 Celsius (or 34 degrees Fahrenheit)...

Tuesday reached +5 degrees Celsius (or 41 degrees Fahrenheit) ...but the snow isn't disappearing as quickly as I'd like! (Perhaps I'm being a bit impatient!)

Wednesday: rainy but the same temperature as Tuesday. (And my neighbor's garage roof is still covered with snow.)

Thursday: Not a lot of improvement!

Finally Friday, the last of the roof snow is gone! The temperature has at times reached 10 degrees Celsius (50 Fahrenheit)... so I can't complain!

But the front view only tells part of the story...

There are bare patches all over the yard...

And puddles under the hedge.

Not as dramatic as I had hoped! But still a welcome change!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Did I Already Say That?!

Mom, I think you're starting to repeat yourself on your blog, one of my kids remarked the other day...

I wasn't entirely surprised to hear that - as, after several years of sharing my life on this blog, I occasionally wonder if I have already told a certain story before...

I hope not, I replied...

But then, to be on the safe side, I hunted for a search tool that would search my blog posts... And I placed it at the bottom of the page. (It's not all that easy to notice... You have to look for it to see it...)

(And I have begun to use it regularly, too, to try to avoid repeating myself!)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Enjoying the Flowers

The flowers outside are buried in snow...

But indoors I'm enjoying this lovely bouquet...

I received it more than a week ago... for my birthday... but each flower is still so beautiful!

Together they look so lovely that it is easy to overlook each one's unique beauty...

... each perfect in its own way.

Different shapes, different colors... The variety is amazing!

Each one is such a beauty!

Thank God for flowers! They fill our world with color... and joy.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Learning to Listen

Confession time: I'm not a good listener.

I don't always hear people when they talk to me. If I am reading or writing, spoken words become background noises. If they do stir me out of my mind space, my thoughts evaporate like a dream. And I find that annoying.

But, more disturbing to me - I've discovered that I'm also a poor listener when I want to listen well, when I want to empathize with what people are saying.

Recently, for example, I told a friend about the problem my kids were having with mice in their apartments.

I would move immediately, I told my friend. I couldn't spend one night in an apartment where there were mice.

But how do they feel? my friend replied. Does it bother them?

Well, it would bother me.

Yes, but does it bother them...?

I had to admit, I hadn't bothered asking!

So I went back and asked, and discovered - to my amazement - it was really no big deal. The situation was annoying, of course, but not serious enough to make them move.

So, how can I learn to listen - and really hear - what people are saying? I ask Terry, who, for many years was a "professional listener" in his social work job.

Well, first, you have to put your own feelings and reactions aside and find out how the other person is feeling, he replied. People will sense it if your own feelings are preventing you from hearing what they are trying to say.

Hmmm. After so many years of telling students what to do as a teacher, I now have to learn to listen!

So I have a new goal! When people share what is happening in their lives, I'm going to try to discover (in my friend's words) How they feel... (Not how I would feel!)

I know it won't be easy. (Old habits are hard to break.) But I may - in the process - end up saving myself wasted worry... about situations that would bother me far more than they apparently are bothering someone else.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Anna's Afghan

My mother's favorite afghan was a gift from an old friend, Anna Lofgren.

One of these days, I hope to copy her pattern, as it would work well for leftover yarn.

Two rows are crocheted in each color - then the yarn is changed.

In the first row of the new color, every 8th stitch goes down over the previous row. Each time the color changes, the large stitches are made in the middle of the previous gap, creating an alternating design. (Leaving a gap of 9 stitches, rather than 8, would create a more balanced pattern...)

The design is simple but the effect is lovely.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Japanese Earthquake: A Young Mother's Blog

Blogging allows us to share our lives...

My daughter reads blogs from all over the world - including one from a sewing and knitting enthusiast in Japan. She forwarded me two posts "very purple person" posted the day of the earthquake... giving details of how this catastrophic event affected an ordinary young family in the very first hours.

When she went to pick up her child from school...

And then when her husband finally arrived home from work...

One family's story in the midst of a natural disaster. I'm waiting to read her next post!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Jesus... Censored by the Church?

For a number of years now, I have been reading my way through the 17-volume Daily Study Bible, a translation of the New Testament (plus commentary) by William Barclay, a well-known Scottish theologian in the 1960s and 1970s. A student of classical Greek and Hebrew, Barclay provides interesting background understanding of the New Testament texts.

I started by reading his translation and commentary of the gospel of Matthew about the life of Jesus, jumped to the volume on the early church (the Acts of the Apostles). Then, after reading about the travels of Paul, I read through the volumes on Paul's letters to the early church - in the order in which they were written - so as to get a sense of the progression of his thought. I later read Barclay's commentaries on the gospels of Mark and Luke, as well as the book of Hebrews. I have left for last the writings of John, the disciple of Jesus. Currently, I am halfway through his gospel, at the story of the woman caught in adultery, the woman brought to Jesus by the religious authorities of his day, to test Jesus theology. What punishment should she receive? they asked. The law of Moses required she be stoned to death. But if he advocated that, they could complain to the Roman authorities that he advocated capital punishment - and under Roman law, only a Roman court could sentence a person to death.

Jesus bent down and wrote on the ground... what he wrote is not mentioned. Then he stood up and asked those questioning him: What does the law of Moses require?

That she be stoned to death, they quickly replied.

Jesus looked at them and said: Let him who is without sin cast the first stone...

Then, Jesus bent down to write on the ground again, while those questioning him quietly walked away.

Standing up, Jesus turned to the woman and said: Neither do I accuse you. Go and sin no more.

The story is rich with the teaching of Jesus: to refrain from judging others, to offer forgiveness and a second chance.

But what I found interesting was Barclay's comments on the history of this particular story. Papias, who lived 100 years after Jesus, apparently referred to it - indicating that the story was known from the earliest days of Christianity. Yet many of the oldest handwritten manuscripts of the New Testament leave it out out.


Barclay writes: "Augustine gives us a hint. He says that this story was removed from the text of the gospel because "some were of slight faith" and "to avoid scandal."

Amazing! Even early Christians found this teaching so revolutionary that they didn't know what to do with it... so they quietly censored it out.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Scottish Oat Cakes

I found this recipe for Scottish Oat Cakes in a newspaper a few years ago, and it has since become one of my favorites.

Scottish Oat Cakes

1. Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit (or 230 degrees Celsius)

2. Mix together:
  • 1 cup (or 250 mL) of rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup (or 125 mL) of flour (all purpose, whole wheat or spelt)
  • 2 tablespoons (or 25 mL) of sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon (or 2 mL) of baking powder
3. Blend in 1/3 cup (or 75 mL) of soft butter, cutting it with a pastry cutter, knife or fork.

4. Toss in 1/4 cup (or 50 mL) of raisins or chocolate chips

5. Stir in 3 tablespoons (or 50 mL) of cold water. Add more if necessary... till all the dough sticks together. (I always have to add more.)

6. Pat dough onto a greased cookie sheet (or ungreased silpat sheet), making a circle of dough. Aluminium pie plates work well, too. Score 6 or 8 wedges on the dough.

7. Bake for 12 - 15 minutes. Good warm or cold.

This is one of my favorite breakfasts...

Scottish oat cakes, Canadian cheddar cheese and Florida strawberries...

Friday, March 11, 2011

Does This Look Like Spring?!

I'm losing faith in our local groundhogs! On Groundhog Day, we had a snowstorm, so they couldn't have seen their shadows. According to folk lore, that means that spring is here...

But it's the second week of March, and we are having our second large snowfall in four days... (And it isn't over yet.)

I tried to shovel off the driveway, but this moist snow is too heavy to lift...

Time to haul out the big guns...

... a.k.a. the snowblower.

Man and snowblower - the image of a Canadian winter!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Real Men... Knit

I have only known two men who knit. One, about my age, knits sweaters for himself. Though I've known him for years, and I've admired sweaters he has made, I have never actually seen him knit. (In fact, I've never seen any man knit in public...)

The other male knitter was my grade 9 gym teacher. He and his daughter (who was my mother's student) would share the knitting of handmade sweaters - she would knit the smaller sections, like the sleeves - and, to help her, he would knit the back. He also knit stuffed animals. My mother treasures this bear he made, pictured above. Wondering if I could find photos of his knitting online, I did a google search. But, sadly, it only produced his obituary notice. An active family man, he had many interests, But his knitting is not mentioned...

For some reason, knitting is often viewed as a pastime for women. (Even I taught my daughter to knit, but I didn't teach my sons!)

But some male knitters would like that image to change. Fabric designer Kaffe Fassett, who quilts, knits, and creates other fabric and yarn art, has created a documentary entitled Real Men Knit.

This trailer can be found on his website. (You may have to scroll down slightly to see it. It's under the ad for the DVD.)

I'm all for it! In this age of equality of the sexes, why shouldn't knitting be a hobby for all?! (Maybe I finally need to teach my sons how to knit as well!)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

That's Not the Way I See It

As a university student, I shared an apartment with a Arab woman who was studying to become a lawyer. (She eventually went on to become a judge - but that's another story!)

One of my favorite movies is on TV this afternoon, she told me one day when neither of us had a class. Come watch it with me - it really is a great movie!

Is it in Arabic? I asked.

She nodded.

Well, I won't understand it...

Don't worry. I'll explain everything to you.

So we sat down to watch the only Arabic movie I have ever seen...

The setting was a large modern city, perhaps Cairo or Beirut; the characters, a happy young couple dressed like any North Americans or Europeans. I don't remember all the details, but at some point early on, the wife's younger sister appeared in the story. Before long, she became ill with a mysterious illness. Nobody could understand why she was getting sicker and sicker every day.

Everyone, of course, was very concerned... Doctors were called. But the young woman didn't improve.

But (as movies can't go on forever), eventually the mystery was revealed. The girl was lovesick: She was in love with her sister's husband!

At this point, I threw up my hands in disbelief.

That girl is a spoiled brat! I exclaimed. She needs to grow up...

My friend looked horrified... Wait, and you'll see what happens. It has a happy ending.

So I waited...

After thoughtful consideration, the older sister told her husband to divorce her - and marry her sister.

Isn't it wonderful how much she loves her sister? my friend commented as the movie ended. She even gave up her husband so that her sister would get better...

I didn't know what to say. I think I muttered something like.. That would not be a happy ending in any North American movie I know!

The experience taught me an important lesson: It showed me that people from different cultural backgrounds viewing the same series of events may well see them in a totally different light - and in the end, come up with radically different conclusions.

We can't assume that everyone sees things the way we do!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

It's All About Color

I was drawn to the extravagant colors of these quilts by Kaffe Fassett, a designer of yarn and fabrics.

Bright colors have the power to energize! (That's what I'm lacking these snowy days of winter... Exuberant energy!)

I hope to replicate some of his designs in future quilts...

(Like this 16 patch...)

But I'm not sure I have the courage and skill...

... to use color so boldly!