Saturday, December 31, 2011

Word for the Year

I recently read that best-selling author Debbie Macomber often chooses a word to reflect her goal for the new year. In fact, an upcoming book of hers talks about it.

As the new year approaches, I have been wondering if I, too, would be helped by choosing a word to reflect my hopes for the year ahead. Would it help me focus on some of the things I want to do? I'm giving it some thought. Perhaps GROWTH should be my word for 2012. It's too easy to continue on in the same path without challenging myself to GROW...

(I may try it - then I'll have to read her book to get more ideas about how this practice has helped her!)

Friday, December 30, 2011

Fun in the Snow

We are lucky. A nearby park - a favorite of dog-walkers - has gentle slopes...

... for cross-country skiing.

It's fun - especially when the snow is fresh and soft...

... Before crusty ruts have formed!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Wanting Change

I was recently discussing work options with a young friend. After a year or two working in the same field - where opportunity for advancement was limited - she was in a rut and wanted to make some career changes.

What's holding you back from doing what you think you want to do? I probed. You want change - but do you want it enough? (... And if you don't, that's okay!) But your action - or inaction - is telling you something. Perhaps it's saying you don't want change enough.

I suggested she ask herself where she wanted to be in five years, what she wanted to be doing - and then figure out what steps she needed to take to get there...

And if you don't take these steps, I cautioned, maybe you simply don't want it enough...

Reflecting on my own life - on changes I had (or hadn't) made over the years, I conclude that my instincts served me well. I became a teacher because it was something I knew I could do... (As a child, using my mother's old text books to "play school" with my younger brother and other neighborhood kids, I had always been the teacher, never the student! I had organized assignments for "my students" and marked their work.) Teaching was always very natural for me!

But teaching wasn't the job of my dreams: I wanted to be a writer - writing novels set in exotic places where I would live for a while, learn about new cultures and places... and then move on.

The travel happened - but I didn't write. I always felt I wasn't ready: I didn't know enough. I also struggled with being brutally honest, the way I knew good novelists must be. So I settled for studying literature, critiquing other writers. But when looking for work, I returned to teaching, my comfortable niche.

Looking back over my teaching career, I recall several turning points when I seriously considered switching to journalism. But each time, instead, I returned to teaching. I kept returning to the career that was natural for me.

And now, in retirement, new opportunities present themselves. I have the luxury of deciding how I want to spend my time. A year after retiring, I began to write this blog. In a totally unexpected way, my writing dream is finally being fulfilled!

But there are other things I've long wanted to do. Like learning to play the drums and the banjo. Like drawing and painting. What's holding me back?

Nothing, really...

But maybe my inaction is telling me something. Maybe the time is wrong... That's possible. Or maybe I simply don't want them enough!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Lesson Learned!

I recently washed two pairs of my hand-knit socks. (The yarn is 75% wool.) I don't usually put them into the dryer, but somehow, one from each pair ended up there...

... and shrunk!

My solution? I'm going to pretend this didn't happen and simply put them in the sock drawer, hoping no one will notice. If they are uncomfortably different, I will probably wash them again and make sure the larger ones end up in the dryer this time. (I don't dare put the smaller ones into the dryer again! They might shrink even more!)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The World's Coldest Capital?

Years ago we had a neighbor who worked in the embassy of a certain European country which I will not name...

To my amazement, she commented one day that embassy workers at her embassy got bonus hardship pay when they were posted to Ottawa because it was the world's coldest capital city.

Really?! I excl
aimed... What about Moscow?

No, it's warmer, she replied.

So as I reflect on her words, wondering about other cold places... such as Tibet, I discover (from Wikipedia) that its capital - Lhasa - isn't that cold :"the valley location protects the city from intense cold or heat and strong winds. The city enjoys nearly 3,000 hours of sunlight annually and is thus sometimes called the "sunlit city" by Tibetans. The coldest month is January with an average temperature of −1.6 °C (29.1 °F)"

What about Lapland? Its capital - Rovaniemi - seems to have average
winter temperatures similar to Ottawa's. But then I see that Lapland is
actually a province of Finland, and its capital - Helsinki - has milder
winter temperatures!

Maybe we are the world's coldest capital!

(But is living here really such a hardship that people deserve bonus

Monday, December 26, 2011

Cinnamon Buns

One of our family traditions is eating homemade cinnamon buns on Christmas morning! This year, I decided to look for a whole wheat cinnamon bun recipe. I could always make a second batch using white flour if my family didn't like the whole wheat variety.

I hunted for a recipe online, and found this one for sticky cinnamon buns on The Fresh Loaf.

The recipe assumes some bread baking knowledge (how to let the dough rise, etc.) But the buns were delicious!

I highly recommend it!

The cinnamon buns turned out so well, I could hardly tell the difference! (No need to make a second batch - though I may have to if they disappear too quickly!)

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

My wish for this Christmas: COMFORT and JOY... for all!

May we spend our day counting - not our presents - but our BLESSINGS!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Making Christmas

Not long ago, my daughter called from Toronto to discuss her Christmas plans.

Is the tree up yet? she asked wistfully. This evening, walking down the street, I noticed trees lit up inside houses. It made me want to be home.

The tree will be up when you get home, I promised her.

Her words reminded me that - just as Christmas is a date, it is also a spirit... a spirit of love and well-being. The lights of the tree in a home make me think of comfort and coziness, being loved and surprised by family and friends - and blessed by God.

I aspire to make my home a comfortable, loving place all year long.

But the lights of the Christmas tree - that I carefully set up before my daughter arrives home - remind me that even peace and love - comfort and light - don't just "happen."

Sometimes they require a little extra work!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Chocolate Sugar Cookies

My mother used to do a lot of Christmas baking, starting (in November) with two Christmas fruit cakes - light and dark, which had to sit for several weeks before we ate them. Then there were the many varieties of Christmas cookies, like shortbread and thumbprint cookies, traditional in many homes at that time.

Years ago, I made all these treats... But I eventually stopped. Experience taught me that I would end up eating most of them, as my family doesn't eat raisins or nuts - which are essential in a lot of those traditional recipes!

This year, I decided to make one batch of cookies: sugar cookies. And while I was at it, perhaps they could be CHOCOLATE sugar cookies, if there was such a thing, as I love chocolate... So I did an online search and found this amazing recipe at the Joy of Baking website.

Perhaps I should have used the dough hook on my new mixer...

I say they were "amazing" because the unbaked dough is absolutely delicious... (I know you're not supposed to eat it... But I couldn't resist.)

The baked cookies are delicious, too! I would definitely make them again. I don't plan to ice them. Cute and delicious with a cup of tea... or as an accompaniment to ice cream and chocolate sauce. (My family doesn't like traditional Christmas pudding either!)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Drummer Boy... In Winnipeg

Little Drummer Boy, one of my favorite Christmas songs, was composed in the 1950s. I recently came across this Canadian rendition - a You Tube video sent out by a drummer from Winnipeg to wish his friends Merry Christmas... and it has "gone viral"! (More than a million views!) Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Pinwheel Quilt... Done!

Surprisingly, a day after finishing my scrappy socks, I finished my pinwheel quilt.

I say "surprisingly" because I had planned to add a wider border to the blue border - which would have necessitated hours (if not days) of additional work. But when I added the small blue border, my immediate reaction was: That's enough! Anything more might detract from the central design... the pinwheels. So I simply added binding and it was... done!

I usually have extra fabric left over from every quilt - but I used up all the blue (border and binding) fabric, and - in fact - had to improvise with the last strip, adding another fabric to make the last strip wide enough. The dark blue is hidden inside the binding.

This tiny piece, about an inch square, is all of the blue fabric that is left.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

GREAT Latte Art

On a recent trip to Toronto, we stopped at Crema for morning coffee...

Now they have amazing latte art!

Each cup had a different design...


(Now, why didn't I simply turn the cup around to do it justice?!)

Monday, December 19, 2011

Scrappy Socks Done!

The first of my many unfinished craft projects is now done.

I couldn't resist working on these almost identical socks made with leftover yarn from 6 other pairs of socks...

There are only subtle hints of some yarns...

Now on to other projects... I wonder which one I'll be inspired to finish next!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Unloved? Disrespected?

Terry and I (in our 35th year of marriage) recently attended a Love and Respect Conference sponsored by a number of city churches...

Would it be interesting for "old-marrieds" like us? we asked our minister, one of the sponsoring clergy.

He replied that the conference had made him and his wife more aware of how they were speaking to each other...

That was enough bait to lure us in!

We were not disappointed. Without going into details, I will only say that the realization (based on research) that - after a spousal disagreement, most women feel unloved - while most men, on the other hand, feel disrespected...

That realization alone has had a profound impact on both of us.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Outdoor Skating at "Ottawa Share"

Walking beside the Centerpoint library and theatre early yesterday, I discovered the outdoor rink was already in operation! Not only that - a fundraiser had just begun - Ottawa Share, an event to raise money for one of my favorite local charities: Operation Come Home.

Two skaters were already trying out the ice...

(One in short sleeves)

A Zamboni was parked in readiness (beside the green grass)...

The change huts were operational. And food was available...

It was a picture-perfect day...skating without snow!

Friday, December 16, 2011

I'm RICH! (In Things To Do)

I sit in my favorite chair, surrounded by unfinished craft projects, and I'm struck by the thought: I AM RICH: I have so many FUN things to do.

(I mention FUN because there is also housework - dishes and laundry - tasks that don't seem as ENRICHING!)

On the chair in front of me are two quilts I hope to finish.... SOON.

One has only a few squares to quilt (I've marked the unfinished squares with safety pins.) I gave this quilt to my daughter last Christmas as a gift - but it still isn't quite finished...

Then there's my pinwheel quilt that needs a border. I've finally decided on the fabrics - they are sitting on the piano bench.

Then (next to them on the piano bench) there's a patchwork duvet cover I've just begun.

I don't lack for knitting projects either. I'm in the middle of knitting not one, but TWO pairs of socks...

And a shawl... or maybe it will be a blanket...

And, when I need a change, I can turn to "Anna's" afghan, which isn't knit - it's crocheted...

Or I could mend a pair of socks. (I only mend special ones, like these made of alpaca yarn.)

Or finish the beehive pin cushion I started a while back...

I'm sure I could find a few more unfinished projects if I looked in other parts of the house. But these are around my chair - where I can see them every day, a sign that I'm intent on finishing them soon.

People like my husband, who have tidier hobbies (who read and watch TV sports for fun) might mistake these piles of projects for "clutter" (not "riches"). But I'm sure that there are a few crafters out there who understand!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

December Walks

Our mild December days - with all the snow melted - seem like BONUS fall days. Every day I go out for a walk.

My 5-km walk to and from my Curves location takes me through the best a city can offer:

.. pedestrian passageways to avoid traffic...

... and across a park where I can enjoy nature.

One December day - a few years ago - I slipped on some ice in this park, fracturing my wrist.

I've learned my lesson. Once ice and/or snow return, my walking days will end!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Knitting Trick

Whenever I knit socks, I knit both at the same time...

I don't do them on the same needles, as some people do... but on two sets of double pointed needles, knitting them stage by stage, first the leg part on one, then the leg part on the other; next the heel flap on one, then the heel flap on the other... (as in the picture above) And so on.

The problem with double-pointed needles is that it's easy to knock the stitches off the needle, especially when they are put aside while working on the second sock.

This problem is not a new one for knitters. Stitches often fall off when knitting is being transported - and there are solutions out there, like plastic tips...

... which often fall off when I use them! (Winding an elastic band tightly around each tip works better for me. )

But I discovered another trick that I have been using as I knit the socks pictured above. When I leave one sock to work on the other, I temporarily replace the double pointed knitting needles with needles a slightly larger size. (The right sock, which I am putting aside, now has slightly larger needles than the left one, which I am again beginning to work on. When I go back to working on it, I will again switch needles, putting the larger needles on the sock I am not working on.)

Larger needles practically guarantee that the knitting will not move.

I started doing this as I didn't have enough small double pointed needles. Then I discovered the second benefit: Stitches don't fall off!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Checking Out the New Algonquin College Bridge

A little over a year ago, we watched the installation of a pedestrian bridge over a busy street in our part of town. The event occurred overnight - to minimize traffic disruption. Dozens of people stood for hours watching the painstakingly slow installation... To be truthful, after a while, I left - before the installation was complete. (The slow, meticulous operation was a little - as they say - like watching paint dry...) But the next day, I was back and took some pictures in the daylight...

Not long ago we heard that the bridge had opened to pedestrian traffic. It leads from the Algonquin College administration building, on the east side of Woodroofe Avenue to a new "Construction Excellence" building on the west side. Eventually there will be a large bus stop in the basement of the new building...

As we walked across the campus...

...from one building to another - indoors,

....then stepped onto the new footbridge...

...I realized how much easier it will make crossing the campus in winter.

The new "Construction Excellence" building is very impressive...

... with its glass elevators...

...its wall of plants...

... small suspended study pods (with space for perhaps 6 people) that hang in the air in the foyer...

We walked outside to check out the bus stop, just outside the door. The indoor bus stop is not yet completed.