Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Ring Out, Wild Bells

As we approach a new year, reflecting on the the old, making plans (resolutions?!) for the new, here is a 100-year-old poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson that talks about church bells "ringing out" the old year with all its problems - and "ringing in" the new with hope. This poem is popular in Sweden where it is recited (in its Swedish translation) on New Year's Eve.
Ring Out, Wild Bells by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.
Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.
Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.
Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.
Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out thy mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.
Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.
Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.
Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Clearing Off Counter Tops? Mission Impossible!

I noticed an article on de-cluttering in a recent Good Housekeeping magazine. Entitled "Organizing Made Easy," it lists clearing off the kitchen counter as a quick and easy way to give a sense of order to a home..

Maybe that's what I need to do....

Only I shouldn't stop there! Perhaps my goal for the week should be to clear off every chair, counter, table top and desk in the house...

Then I looked around...

It would be nice, but...

How long it would it take to do it?! Am I willing to have the whole family angry at me because they can't find things where they left them?!
(And... after all that annoyance and effort... how long would the house remain clutter-free!)

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Statio: A Holy Pause

Since discovering St. Benedict a few years ago, I have read a number of Benedictine books - and learned a number of Latin expressions associated with the Benedictine way of life. There is lauds - early morning praise... I think of it as appreciating the beauty of a new day. There's lectio divina, slow meditative reading. But recently I came across an expression - and concept - that I hadn't heard before: statio. The glossary in the book where I first read it describes it as "The practice of gathering in silence outside of the monastic chapel in order to achieve a spirit of recollection before the community enters ... for choral prayer."

But elsewhere in the book, it is explained further: "Statio is the practice of stopping one thing before we begin another. It is the time between times... The practice of statio is meant to center us and make us conscious of what we're about to do... Statio sets out to get our attention before life goes by in one great blur..."

Instant realization hits: Statio is what I have been seeking in my quest for a quieter, more attentive life, enjoying every moment of every day.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

How Should I Spend My Time This Winter?!

My current dilemma - one that I am thinking about a lot these days - is: How many courses do I want to take from January to April?

I want to take another pottery class and improve in that. What about extra practice time in the studio? I have to sign up for that, too...

What about art? Should I take one class... or two...?

(Perhaps something other than botanical?)

Maybe I should simply paint (and quilt) at home?

I do love to learn new things. Taking a course does challenge me to improve, as I see what others in the class are doing...

I don't enjoy winter sports and even avoid walking - for fear of slipping on icy roads. I don't want to stay at home indoors all the time either...

But how much do I want to be out?! 

Friday, December 27, 2013

Spa Day

Sometime last spring - either on my birthday or Mother's Day - one of my sons presented me with a gift certificate for a Swedish massage at a nearby spa. I was a little hesitant - I had never had a massage before.

But the expiry date was fast approaching - and he reminded me of his gift. That's it! I'll make an appointment!

A few days ago I went.

I felt very pampered as I entered the change room and exchanged my warm winter clothes for a bath robe!

The whole experience was a luxurious treat! Soft music played in the background as I lay on the massage table between two sheets. Unlike my dentist or hairdresser, the young masseuse didn't try to engage me in conversation. Towards the end of the hour, we did talk a bit. I asked her about her training and why she had chosen this career. (The teacher in me is still interested in details like this!)

All in all, it was a relaxing experience - one I would definitely repeat. A lovely way to spend an afternoon. But my big surprise was that I felt a little stiff the following day! As if I had done a workout! The massage had apparently stretched muscles I don't use much. (Is that why some people get regular massages? For regular stretching "workouts"?!) That would be a luxury indeed!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Back to Quilting

With my art and pottery classes over till the new year, I have a bit more time for quilting.

I would really like to get this "jewel box" quilt done!

As I take the smaller pieces and sew them together, the design begins to take shape!

This is the inspiring stage! Seeing the pieces of the picture puzzle come together motivates me to keep going!

Once the quilt top is finished, that's the end of Stage 1. Next come the batting and the underside of the quilt. And of course, the quilting! (There is still a lot of work to be done!)

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Poem Fragment

... the eyes of your heart
being darkened,
by tinsel and neon
to the star
which has risen
in the east
and points the way toward dawn.

across the vast
expanse of eternity,
you can glimpse it
even here.
But you must close
your inner eye
to this world's
false twinkling,
and step outside
your little self
into the shining darkness
of world without end.

(Part of a poem by Bonnie Thurston, quoted in Lost in Wonder, p. 72)

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Concert

A few days ago I attended a Christmas concert at my mother's nursing home. It brought back memories of concerts past - when I was a child and my mother, the adult who came to see me perform. Later, going to my own children's programs...

The nursing home choir (holding blue song folders) performed for residents and visitors, but we were all invited to participate.

It was a full house! Wheelchairs and walkers filled the dining room to overflowing.

My mother enjoyed singing the timeless favorites she knew by heart. Her eyes are bad, so she couldn't read the words, but she remembered them all! I thought I'd upload a video of her energetically singing "Jingle Bells." Oops! That didn't work! The file was apparently too big. So I'm trying "Away in a Manger." It will definitely give you a sense of the dynamics of the occasion. The lady leading the singing is the music therapist - and the young man to her right is her intern.

(I've never uploaded a video before - I hope it works!)

I had to open a You Tube account to show the video of Jingle Bells. Here it is!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Where Should the Tree Go?

Every year Terry and I confront the same dilemma: Where should the Christmas tree go?! (We tend to fill every corner of every room with our things!)

For several years we had it in front of the window, but I don't think it would work this year.

In front of the fireplace (which we never use) would block the TV. The only solution is to move the lazy-boy - something Terry hates to do...

In fact, he has a real aversion to moving any furniture to a different location. When I was single, I rearranged the furniture in my apartment every few months - but, for some reason, he hates change!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

What We Eat, Wear, Own

In a recent sermon, our minister remarked that if all we care about is what we eat, what we wear and what we own, we will never be interested in Jesus. I remember smiling and thinking - Benedict's rule (written 1600 years ago) deals precisely with all those things!

What we eat? His guideline was that there should be two dishes on the table so that everyone would find something they liked. No tyrannical sense of: Eat it, whether you like it or not...

His guideline on clothing was that it should be clean, comfortable, in good condition and fit well... (Using his guideline has helped me weed out my closet.)

What we own... nothing! In Benedict's monastery, rich and poor came to live - and all gave up their personal possessions.

So - although these issues -what we eat, what we wear, what we own - shouldn't be all we care about, they definitely form an important part of our faith life.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Cake for Breakfast?!

Terry sometimes reminds me that when we first met, I regularly ate cake for breakfast... (implying that marriage has improved my eating habits)!

True. Plain chocolate cake (with no icing) plus a dish of plain unsweetened yogurt was my normal breakfast for many, many years.

I have tried to eat "more healthily" over the years, partly to be an example to my children. But, perusing at the 2014 "milk calendar," prepared by the Dairy Board of Ontario, promoting recipes using dairy products, I ask myself: Has eliminating cake for breakfast really improved my eating habits?!

These days, as a type 2 diabetic, I try to limit my carb intake. My blood sugar rises when I eat carbs, found in starchy foods like potatoes, rice, bread (yes, and cake!) - or in sugary foods (not only cookies and desserts, but also in fruit, milk and other food that tastes sweet).

As I examine this calendar of recipes and compare the Three-seed Yogurt Muffins and the Chocolate Orange Cheesecake Swirl Brownies, it would appear, at first glance, that the muffins would be a better breakfast choice...

Then I look at the nutritional information at the bottom of each recipe.

Carbs: A muffin has 35 grams of carb; a brownie serving has only 29.
What about calories? A muffin has 269, whereas a brownie has 219.
The fat content of both are about the same, though here again the brownie comes out ahead: 12 grams for the muffin, 11 grams for the brownie.
The only two areas where the muffin ingredients are "healthier" are in protein content and in fiber: the muffin has 8 grams of protein and 3.3 grams of fiber, whereas the brownie has 4 grams of protein and 1.5 grams of fiber.

Really now, overall, which one is a healthier breakfast choice?!!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Seven-veggie Stew

Most of us should be eating more vegetables. I remember reading somewhere that we should all have 10 servings of fruit and vegetables a day!

Over time, I have been adding more vegetables to meals the family enjoys...

One family favorite - beef stew - recently became a 7-veggie stew. To the usual potatoes, onions, garlic, tomatoes and carrots, I added mushrooms, as well as red and yellow sweet peppers.

It did taste good, Terry admitted - though his first question was: Where's the beef?!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Easy "Belle" Scarf

Now that winter has arrived and my art courses are over for a while, I have turned to my winter passions, quilting, knitting and crocheting. I have several projects on the go and I move from one to another, depending on my mood. But one crochet project that I started - and actually finished the same day - was this "Belle Scarf" I saw in a Lion Yarn pattern book...

It can be found free online - by going to their website and searching for "Belle Scarf."

I don't usually wear frilly clothing, but if I did, I would make several in various colors, the pattern is so easy and fun to make.

There aren't many projects that can be finished in a day or an afternoon!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Shopping... For a Clothes Dryer

The snow is here...

Glad my Christmas shopping was done, I didn't expect to go out and be part of the shopping crowd again. Then suddenly our dryer "died" with a bang, halfway through a load.

Here it is on the right. We had bought it new when we purchased the house 32 years ago. (December31 will mark our 32nd anniversary of moving in.) It used to be in the basement, but we moved it upstairs into a new laundry corner when we built an addition 13 years ago. It survived the move and went on to serve us well - without a repair - for almost 32 years. We bought it - an Inglis Liberator - together with a washing machine and stove, both of which have been replaced.

Don't expect that kind of service from a new dryer, salespeople have been telling us. Thirty years ago, dryers were made of steel. Now they are made of aluminum and plastic.

So Terry and I are out in snowy weather, traipsing around stores, shopping for a new dryer. There are several we like...

We prefer white - colored appliances are trendy, but then the color goes out of style.

We have discovered that our biggest problem is finding one the same size as our old Inglis. Dryers are bigger these days.

Ours will have to fit behind the doors of our laundry area - with additional venting space near the wall. We have also been checking reviews online. Good Housekeeping has a useful checklist of things to consider when shopping for a dryer. Thanks to it, we took our tape measure along shopping with us.

Although we live in a metropolitan area of a million people, when we find one we like - and that fits our space - it will probably have to be delivered from Toronto. And Christmas (with its holidays) is fast arriving. To be prepared, I'm looking up addresses of laundromats in the area... in case I need to do laundry before a new dryer arrives!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Attitudes About Laziness... In Other Places

When I was teaching newcomers to Canada, I was fascinated by cultural differences regarding work. I remember talking to a student from Hong Kong, a woman who was upgrading her computer skills while gaining Canadian work experience at a half-day internship at a local school office. In Hong Kong she had been a teacher and a school administrator. She was a hard worker. The only complaint the Canadian school had about her was that she didn't walk around the office - she jogged.

When told that her running made her co-workers uncomfortable, she was surprised. In Hong Kong, only lazy people walk, she replied. Running shows I'm a hard worker.

In Canada, nobody runs, I reassured her. Well, maybe firefighters... (Did she conclude that we are all lazy? I didn't ask!)

I thought of this student when someone I know mentioned that she was expecting a friend from Japan to arrive for a short visit. She's only coming for 3 days, she told me. It's hardly worth it because it takes her two days to get here and two days to go back.

Do people only get one week's vacation a year in Japan? I asked.

No, they get two - but apparently if they ask for the second week, they are considered lazy. Nobody asks for their second week off! 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Snow Day!

Yesterday was a "snow day." They don't happen very often - but heavy overnight snowfall made our street impassible until the city snow plow came to clear it. They arrived late in the afternoon. I guess they have a priority list - and we aren't on it!

We usually go to a 10 am Sunday service, but we didn't venture out to church. The last time I tried to drive in snow this high, I got stuck at the foot of our driveway and neighbors had to push me back in!

Nothing to do but make the best of it - by baking one of my favorite muffin loaves (recipe posted here) and preparing warm soup for lunch.

It's hard to believe, but the habit of clearing heavy snowfall off streets developed only in the past 90 to 100 years, as cars became more common. I remember reading that the city of Montreal began to clear their streets in the 1920s. I don't know about Ottawa. This online history of snow removal indicates that they began removing heavy snowfall from New York City streets in the 1920s as well. Prior to that, people wealthy enough to own cars put them away for the winter and took out the horse and sleigh! I guess people kept horses in backyard stables at that time!

As I look out at the backyard snow, I try to imagine a little stable in the back. About 30 years ago, I remember one of my neighbors saying she had seen a horse in a garage somewhere in the neighborhood. She had talked to the people who lived there and apparently it wasn't against city by-law at the time, as long as there was no mess. They must have done a really good job, as I looked for the garage with the horse, but never found it. Thirty years later, I wonder if the city bylaw regarding horses has changed!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Power of Appreciation

St. Benedict was very hard on grumblers. In his rule for community living, he wrote:

First and foremost, there must be no word or sign of the evil of grumbling, no manifestation of it for any reason at all.

I think I know why: Complaining can bring us down. We begin feeling sorry for ourselves... and nothing improves! Morale definitely takes a nosedive. (Though - paradoxically - it's sometimes good to share!)

Appreciation, on the other hand, encourages and strengthens us! I remember learning that lesson when my daughter was two or three and going through the frustrating stage of not wanting to go to bed. Bedtime would come. We would go through our whole bedtime routine: I would read her a story and tuck her in. Then - the moment I would be looking for - a few minutes of peace and quiet to put my feet up and relax. Just as I would sit down, there she would be, standing at the door: I need a drink of water. I can't sleep.

And the whole bedtime routine would have to begin again! After four or five reruns of this scenario, I would be at the end of my rope!

Fortunately, I had a neighbor with a daughter the same age. When I mentioned how frustrating bedtimes had become, she replied: Yes, sometimes when my daughter finally falls asleep, I'm so tired and angry that I have to sit down and force myself to think about all her good qualities - so that I don't go to bed mad at her - and wake up still mad at her the next morning!

Force myself to think about the good... a powerful strategy that restores a calm sense of perspective to any trying situation.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Low-Carb Crepes For One

Crepes - thin pancakes that are rolled around a filling - are an interesting way to eat eggs. They traditionally contain eggs, milk and flour. I've started to make a low-carb version for myself, replacing wheat flour with a mix of soy flour and ground almonds.

Here is my recipe for crepes for one person.

Mix one egg. Add 1/3 cup (80 ml) of a blend of soy flour and ground almonds... approximately 40 ml of each - half and half.

Add 1/3 cup (80 ml) milk. Mix well. Then let stand for 10 or 15 minutes before frying in a small amount of butter or oil. Sometimes I make it in the evening for the next day. If it thickens too much overnight to spread thinly in the pan, add a tablespoon or two of water, till it's the right consistency.

Spread with cottage cheese or - my personal favorite - crunchy peanut butter.

Roll up ... and ENJOY!

Friday, December 13, 2013

So Much to Learn!

I recently picked up the last five pots I made in my pottery class.

I had again tried new glazes... new colors.

Some of the results were disappointing...

I hadn't mixed one of the glazes enough, so the color came out blotchy, with bare clay visible in places. This means the bowl isn't safe for food.

Fortunately pottery has other uses as well - like holding paperclips or other odds and ends!

(And perhaps, instead of focusing on my errors, I should remember how far I've come!)

Thursday, December 12, 2013

'Tis the Season...

Christmas is that time of year when people remember old friends they haven't seen in a while!

Not long ago, several of us - who all worked together a dozen years ago, teaching English to immigrants - met for lunch at a new restaurant.

The decor was minimalist but elegant...

The food delicious!

It's always fun to catch up with old friends - who know each other well enough to sample each other's desserts!

And being former teachers, we didn't run out of things to say!