Sunday, January 31, 2016

Life is a Garden

It's nice to tidy the house - or rake the lawn - and have it stay that way for a while...

But that's not the way life is! All too soon the house - or garden - need attention again. I've come to the conclusion that I could work outdoors - or tidy the house - every day, and never run out of things to do.

Life is like that, too, I find. New situations that require my attention sprout up every day. I'm never totally "caught up"!

But it does make life interesting. How boring it would be just to sit, with nothing to do, day after day!

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Escaping Snow in Toronto

A week ago I took the train to Toronto, partly to escape Ottawa's snow and ice-covered streets. It felt good to switch from winter boots to shoes...

Toronto temperatures are usually a little warmer than Ottawa's - not a lot. But I was thrilled to find almost no snow on the ground.

Getting out and walking was one of my priorities, since sidewalks were safe and bare.

As I wandered around, I was surprised to see that rental bikes hadn't been put away for the winter. This stand was near Ryerson University.

I didn't see a lot of cyclists though - only one, with a toque and white beard, weaving in and out of traffic on a busy downtown street. (I wonder if he was riding for work or for pleasure...)

I can walk again! I feel like I'm in Honolulu, I said to my daughter, thinking of mid-winter escapes in previous years.

Mom, it's not that warm!

Friday, January 29, 2016

Hot Chocolate My Way

Years ago I came across an article that claimed a cup of hot chocolate at bedtime was a better choice for people with high blood pressure than a cup of tea... I gave the article to my mother - who at the time lived on her own in an apartment nearby. She had just begun taking blood pressure medication. (Here is a reference to that research.)

(While hunting for that information online, I came across a Harvard study that indicated that cocoa could be good for the brain as well! (Here's the link to that 2015 article!)

I don't know if my mother's blood pressure went down or if subsequent studies have proven this to be true, but I do find that a cup of warm milk or hot chocolate at bedtime sometimes helps me sleep longer in the night before I inevitably wake up. (I say sometimes because I recently tried to test it out, and after a few nights, I woke up earlier than ever!)

But sometimes in the evening - especially in winter - I find that hot chocolate hits the spot! The problem is that I now find the hot chocolate powder I've used for years tastes too sweet. Have my taste buds changed?!

My solution? To create my own flavor of hot chocolate powder by adding heaping tablespoons of cocoa to the powdered hot chocolate in the container and mixing it well, in order to break up the cocoa powder, which tends to clump.

More cocoa and less sugar - hot chocolate my way!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Skateboard Park in Winter

There is a popular outdoor skateboarding park near our public library...

As I recently passed it on my way to borrow books, I wondered if the skateboarders who normally come here would soon be bringing shovels to clear the snow...

Or if any had tried skateboarding in the snow... (There were tracks to be seen...)

Or if they would patiently wait for spring...

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Did I Miss My Vocational Calling?

My father was a thinker. In my mind, I can still see him sitting at the breakfast table, coffee cup in hand, reflecting on his life. I have inherited his tendency to reflect. One of the things I often wonder about is whether I missed my vocational calling. All my life, I wanted to be a writer, but, instead, I followed my mother's footsteps and became a teacher. Teaching had been her passion... She never wanted to do anything else. Strangely enough, my longing to write encouraged one of my children to pursue a writing career.

"Work is not primarily a thing one does to live, but the thing one lives to do, wrote British novelist Dorothy L. Sayers. It is, or should be, the full expression of the worker's faculties, the thing in which he finds spiritual, mental, and bodily satisfaction."

Reading her words, I wonder if she followed her passion. An early feminist, Sayers was already a young woman when my 96-year-old mother was born. She studied at university before women were allowed to obtain degrees. All her life she worked, supporting herself by writing advertisements, while in her spare time, she wrote the detective novels for which she gained fame. A free thinker in her student years, she later returned to her Christian faith and was active in her church.

What did she live to do? I wonder...
What do I live to do?

I think about the essays I wrote in school that made me want to be a writer. Over the years I was also drawn to knitting, quilting, gardening, art, travel... Also religious study, exploring my Christian faith.

All these things have given me - and continue to give me - "spiritual, mental and bodily satisfaction."

Is there one word that would encompass them all?! But then, does a vocation need to be only one thing?!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Up and Down the Slippery Slope of Change

One of the things I remember about babies and toddlers is that they have their own time-table for change. They don't ask parents' permission to do something new. Helpless babes silently become strong. One day they shock us by rolling over on their own. Suddenly they are at risk of falling off a bed.

Children don't wait for permission to climb a ladder - as one of our sons did at age 2, surprising Terry when he joined him on the carport roof.

Sudden changes like this can be stressful for parents. What will the child be up to next!?

At the other end of life's spectrum, changes occur, too - some slow, others shockingly sudden.

When I visit my mother in her nursing home these days, I often notice some change - a loss... She can no longer do something she could six months before. Last time I visited, she fell asleep in the middle of our conversation - and it was only 10 am!

I struggle... It's hard to watch someone near you go downhill. She takes these changes more or less in stride. I stand by and watch. For some reason, if I talk about it, I often find myself in tears.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Seafood? See Food?

When one of my uncles was asked if he liked seafood, he would always reply with a smile: Yes, I love seafood! See food, eat food!

His little joke held a lot of truth in it, it appears... Studies have shown that we are more tempted to eat if we see food around us.

The solution for those of us who want to eat less food? To keep food out of sight!

I have been trying to make changes in the house so that I won't see food unless I'm actively looking for it... I no longer keep food in see-through containers on the counter. One of the changes I'd like to implement now is to keep dishes of food off the table at mealtime. That would mean modifying a family tradition we've held for more than 30 years!

When Terry and I were first married, we disagreed on how food should be served at mealtime. I had been raised in a home where serving dishes were placed on the table and people could take as much or as little as they wanted. In Terry's family, parents had served the food and handed full plates out to members of the family. I hated to have anyone but me decide what and how much I would eat - and Terry didn't want to give up his family tradition.

We eventually switched to my family's way of doing mealtime after we mentioned our disagreement to an older (and wiser) friend, who suggested that letting people serve themselves was more democratic, less dictatorial...

But now - more than thirty years after determining how we would do meal time - I have been reading that studies show we eat less if we don't see serving bowls heaped with food in front of us...

Now I want to move our serving dishes into the kitchen where we would serve ourselves, buffet style. This would necessitate getting up and walking into the next room if we wanted seconds. Most importantly, it would mean that we wouldn't be looking at so much food.

Would we eat less?! I'd like to give it a try to find out!

Sunday, January 24, 2016


I am reading through the Bible chronologically again, for the second time, slowly, a chapter - or sometimes less - a day.

Sometimes - as in the 26th chapter of the Old Testament book of Leviticus - the words are so rich, I return to them a second day to reflect on the amazing promises God makes to those who serve Him:

"I am the Lord your God... Observe my Sabbaths and have reverence for my sanctuary... If you follow my decrees and obey my commandments, I will send you rain in due season... you will eat all the food you want and live safely in your land.

"I will grant peace in the land... and no one will make you afraid...

"I will look on you with favor and make you fruitful and increase your numbers..."

These are words to return to and re-read whenever I feel discouraged!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Whole Wheat Bread Bowls

One of my sons recently suggested that bread bowls would be a nice addition to my usual stew... Time to give it a try!

I went online to look for a bread bowl recipe...The word "easy" led me to try this one: "Easy Homemade Whole Wheat Bread Bowls" on the "How Sweet It Is" website...

The recipe was easy!

I used all whole wheat flour, as I didn't have any white flour on hand. (The recipe calls for both whole wheat and white.)

I would definitely make them again!

Friday, January 22, 2016

Back to Pottery

After a six-month break, I headed back to the pottery studio last week.

I quickly discovered that I wasn't as adept using the wheel as I had been when I stopped last June. I'll have to go slowly, reminding myself what I should be doing step by step. The pots I made - using brown clay this time - were small.

I find hand building easier. In my hand-building studio time, I made a bowl and a squirrel...(I hope its tail doesn't fall off. It's fragile, especially when the clay is wet.)

I also glazed some leaf-shaped plates I made last spring.

There was also a milestone birthday - with cake... Lots of fun in the studio... It was nice to be back!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Will a Facial Brush Work For Me?

I recently bought a battery operated brush to gently wash my face with a circular motion... (Would it work as well as the electric toothbrush I have used for years...?)

I tried it... After wetting my face and applying a non-foaming liquid facial cleanser that I sometimes used, I let the brush massage my face for the allotted time - until it automatically stopped.

Then I rinsed my face with water. My forehead and cheeks were a little red. Was this normal? Or was I applying too much pressure?

The following day I used the brush again...This time my forehead was irritated and my cheeks had red patches, as if I were breaking out. Was I doing something wrong?

I waited a week, until my face had returned to normal...

This time I used the foaming cleanser sample that had come with the brush. After rinsing it off, I applied an overnight moisturizing cream. I didn't want to take any more chances and irritate my skin again...

For me, the brush would definitely not be suitable for daily use.
The recommended time (on the timer) is definitely too long for my skin - I would be better off with a simpler brush that had no timer.
If I wanted to exfoliate my face on a regular basis, a simple facecloth would probably do the job.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

One Thing Leads to Another!

For Christmas I gave my daughter a book entitled, Lessons From Madame Chic, telling her I wanted to read it, too, when she was done... (I mean, I want to learn to be chic as well!!)

The book recounts an American girl's six-month stay in France, where she lived with a French family. I thought my daughter might find some commonality, as she had spent part of a summer in France when she was 17.

On Boxing Day, my daughter and I went shopping. We had just entered the cosmetics section of a department store, when she pointed to a display.

Those are facial brushes, like the one Madame Chic uses, she said. We went over to check them out.

Well, if Madame Chic likes them, maybe I should get one for myself, I commented.

You usually lose interest in beauty products very quickly, my daughter replied. But if you try it and don't like it, I'd like to give it a try...

What was there to lose?! I bought one.

While the brush was doing its initial charge (for 24 hours) I went online to read up on these facial brushes. Some people seemed to love them and used them twice a day. Others complained that their skin began to break out after they used the brush.

How is that possible? I wondered. The bristles are very soft.

One person online commented that the brush should be viewed as an exfoliator, so it shouldn't be used too often - and never with exfoliating products. The brush and the products together would be too harsh.

Hmmm. This was beginning to sound complicated!! So it was with some trepidation that I used the brush for the first time!

[Continued tomorrow!]

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Thinking About Knitting

I have been thinking about knitting a sweater for myself. I haven't knit one in years... ever since I bought my first L.L. Bean fleece jacket. Light fleece jackets are so warm... Perfect for everyday wear in our coolish house. In addition, they are machine washable and dry-able, unlike most sweaters.

But recently I saw some tweed yarn I liked and began looking for a pattern...

I found one... but the sleeves are wider than I want. Could I trust myself to modify the pattern to make them narrower? Or would I end up ruining the whole fit?

These questions led me to the public library and a knitting book on modifying sweater sizes. First you determine the size of the garment you want, then you modify the basic pattern...

There are charts to fill out and, of course, calculations about stitch sizes... All this sounds very complicated. It occurs to me, as I read this, that one of the reasons my knit garments often didn't fit the way I had hoped in the past was exactly because of this! I didn't like to make the extra effort to work all this out...

On the other hand, it might be fun to try to actually design a sweater that fits perfectly!

(The one in this pattern is knit side to side... I've never done that!)

The woman who wrote this book - and the group of women who contributed patterns and samples (the "twisted sisters") - are women who spin and dye their own yarn before knitting it - so their yarn isn't a standard machine-made size...

Browsing through this book - and another the author wrote on knitting socks with hand spun yarn - I think of my mother's spinning and dyeing days.

(We still have one of her spinning wheels in the basement as well as some un-spun wool.)

I don't know if she made any sweaters out of yarn she spun, but she would have found this book interesting, I'm sure.

Monday, January 18, 2016

How Many Afghans DO We Need?!

Whenever I start a new afghan, Terry comments: We don't need any more!

We do have a sizable pile in our TV room...

He doesn't understand that I make them for the pleasure of making them - not necessarily to fill a need.)

But there are days when I see that Terry has used so many of them to create a comfortable nest on the sofa to watch TV (and occasionally snooze) - I realize that we probably need them all!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Indoor Ice Day

Last Sunday was an indoor ice day for me. Mild temperatures and rain that froze had made the roads slippery. Even Terry didn't recommend leaving the house.

I no longer take chances walking on slippery surfaces. A sprained wrist several years ago reminded me that even a small slip on the ice can have dire consequences. It's all part of winter!

Winter makes me appreciate my exercise bike next to a stack of CDs and DVDs, my books, and all the other ways I can enjoy a day indoors.


Saturday, January 16, 2016

Problem of the Week? Or of the Season?

The problem of the week in our neighborhood was...

... community mailboxes frozen shut!

The ones installed in Ottawa the past year weren't made for Canadian weather. 

Our problem made the local news - in print and on TV.

As one resident said: They'd probably be fine in Florida or Alabama... But not here! Winter has just begun... I expect this to happen again and again! 

(I tend to agree. We aren't even halfway through Terry's 100 days of winter!)

Friday, January 15, 2016

Inspiration... Everywhere I Look!

I keep my camera near me at all times!

I never know when I'll see inspiring ideas... Like this quilt design on the cover of a magazine on a drugstore shelf...

... or this article about a retired police officer who sews quilts for charity - that a friend shared on Facebook...

Or this log-cabin-inspired knit afghan design on Pinterest!

So many great ideas! (I wish I could find enough time to make them all!)

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Adding Spinach to Soup

Now that winter is here, I eat a lot of vegetables in the form of soup or stew.

I prepare a big pot of soup from a dry bean mix that comes together with spices. To this I add broth and veggies left over from other meals.

Each time I warm up an individual portion of the soup, I have begun adding a handful or two of fresh spinach.

Spinach also adds freshness. It cooks up quickly, too.


Wednesday, January 13, 2016


I never studied theology, but I do like to read about the history of the Christian faith.

I am slowly reading through a handbook to the Bible - and the other day, in a section about plants mentioned in the Bible, I came across the plant (and spice) "coriander."

I know it's used in Indian food. I even have some that came in a spice rack I bought. But I don't think I've ever used it.

I googled coriander and discovered it is sold in two forms - as seeds and as fresh leaves called cilantro, which I've never bought. I also noticed that coriander was traditionally thought to have medicinal benefits in helping control blood sugar and blood pressure.

Hmmm, time to give it a try...

I've started adding a few coriander seeds to soup - which I'm eating a lot of these days. It has a mild, flowery flavor.

I plan to try cilantro as well. If my blood sugar or blood pressure suddenly improve, that will be another blog post!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Children's Sleds - Then and Now

I was recently reminded of my childhood...

I was out shopping when I saw this little wooden sled for sale...

So similar to one I had as a baby... in Hay Lakes, Alberta ...according to this 1947 picture!

Some things never go out of style... though I notice mine had metal runners, which would make it easier to pull.

Lighter still was this plastic sled we used to pull our kids around in!

(So many memories of snowy Canadian winters!)

Monday, January 11, 2016

Winter Garden

In Germany, my relatives (my mother's cousins) had a sun-room filled with plants that they referred to as their "winter garden." It was their favorite place to eat breakfast, or have mid-afternoon coffee and cake.

I often think of my sunny sitting area as my "winter garden" - it has so many plants. I really appreciate the life and color they add, especially when the world outdoors is white...

I wish there were enough room to set up a little eating area! I'd have to totally rethink (and re-plan) this space to do that. My "winter garden" is full of books... and electronic devices... not to mention a desk and piano! (Theirs wasn't!) I do all my blogging, knitting and reading here... I don't want to lose that!
It's cluttered - but I do manage to find a tiny spot to put a cup of coffee!

Maybe I should just appreciate it as it is!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

When the time is right...

I'm by nature an impatient person: I like to get things done quickly and move on. Others in my family don't share this trait, so I'm trying to develop patience, to use when needed! That may be why I found a comment by Joyce Meyer so interesting when I read it this past week.

In the Biblical book of Leviticus, God promises: "I will give you rain in due season." Rain, in the Bible, often symbolizes God's blessing:  We need it - but there's nothing we can do, in a drought, to make it rain (except to pray that God will do something!) Like the snow outside these days, rain is a gift from God. Nothing we do can start... or stop it! 

When is due season? Joyce asks. I believe it is when God knows we are ready, when everyone else is ready, and when it fits into God's corporate plan. God has an individual plan for our individual lives, but He also has a corporate plan for the entire world...

God does not push, shove, demand, manipulate, or force people. He leads, guides, prompts, and suggests. Then, each individual is responsible to give his or her will over to Him for His purpose. Sometimes this takes longer for one person than for another...

Our wait is easier to endure when we believe God's timing is perfect, and He is never late, not one single day...

There is a right time for all things in our lives, and there is safety in being in God's perfect timing...

I also want to remind you to enjoy where you are while you are on the way to where you are going... Enjoy today, because right now it's all you have!

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Cob Popcorn

I sometimes buy popcorn on the cob from a farmer that grows it. I bought these dry cobs at the last farmers market of the season

The package included a paper bag and instructions for popping a cob: Two minutes on high...

I noticed that the paper bag he had included this year was thinner than other years. And it did make a difference!

The hot cob burned a hole in the paper and popcorn started flying out! Fortunately there was no fire!

 The popcorn still tasted very good!

I'll have to mention this little problem to the farmer next time I see him - so that he'll upgrade his bags to a batter quality paper next year.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Enjoying the Sun

I read recently that there are health benefits to walking outdoors on a sunny day, even in winter when the sun's rays are weaker...

I don't walk outdoors a lot these days - for fear of slipping on ice. But I do try to sit in a sunny window whenever the sun shines through.

For half an hour or so in the morning, I sit in my south-facing study. It's a good opportunity to sort through things that accumulate on my desk or read a newspaper and at the same time bask in the sunlight.

In the afternoon, I sit beside a west-facing window to read or knit.

I don't know how many healthful rays get through to my skin - but even if I'm not producing a lot of vitamin D, the sun's brightness and warmth do cheer me up!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

"Coming Up For Air"

I retired so that my life wouldn't be so hectic - but, paradoxically, I like to keep busy, especially in winter. It keeps me from thinking too much about the cold weather outdoors. I no longer enjoy playing outdoors in winter, like I did as a child.

So this week - as I take down Christmas decorations - I am also rushing around doing a few things that need to be done before I get busy again next week: health card renewal, passport renewal, car license renewal... Not to mention an overdue haircut...

Next week my "winter schedule" begins. From mid-January to early April, I plan to do pottery twice a week in a nearby studio. "Playing in mud" - as some potters describe it - is a lot of fun!

This week - as I rush around running errands done before "diving" into my winter schedule, I feel as if I've briefly "come up for air" to re-orient my focus ... 

(And to think that I retired to have more time to relax!)

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Finishing My Acrylic Flower Painting

My first attempt at painting a larger-than-life flower in acrylics was a little disappointing...

After layering on color for several days, the whole painting was dark!

What to do?!

I consulted botanical painting books and pictures... Dark colors, like purple, need light contrasting highlights...

I should probably use a narrow brush, to bring out the fine texture of the daisies. After studying all these samples, I was afraid to start! Too much pressure! Gone was the enthusiasm of my early painting sessions - I was now paralyzed with apprehension...

I reminded myself that perfection is over-rated (a comment that encouraged me a while back). Every painting is a learning experience!

Eventually I mustered enough courage to give it a try! After I was done, my son commented: I liked the darker one better! Hmmm... I think I did too! But the problem with painting is that you can't go back!