Sunday, 27 February 2011

Babies and their pure unadulterated delight in life

Lily (Tamarak's granddaughter and Jesse's daughter) had just rolled off her mom's breast as I snapped this ... doesn't she look delighted with herself?  And Chelsea (Deb's grand daughter and Lindsay's daughter) is just as happy in her bath.

Babies have it right ... they live completely in the moment.

Jumble Post

Today is Sunday and I am planning to take Kenya for a good long walk, water the plants, continue work on my little table and chair set, and continue reading The Brain that Changes Itself.

This last is a highly readable book about the plasticity of the brain written as a series of stories about the research and the people who have been helped by this relatively new understanding of the brain.

I just finished reading Cutting for Stone and recommend it.  The novelist is a medical doctor, the story is set in Ethiopia and the USA, the characterization is very good and the plotting is flawless.  It also allows us to learn a great deal about surgery and obstetrics that I found interesting.  I like books that give me new knowledge as well as entertain me.  And this novel is also beautifully written.

The table and chairs have been primed and painted and the table top is just about finished ... four plates, each sporting an African animal.  My favourite is the zebra.  I wish I were good enough to produce consistently pleasing drawings and paintings ... but I am not ... so we have an dull little hippo, a dainty giraffe and a cute lion ... and a zebra with whom I am satisfied.  Today I want to get the legs and trim parts completed. Usually I start with the trim work and do the pictures last.  I am not sure why I didn't do that this time ... but the effect is that I really want to finish it now that the tough part has been completed.  These pieces have so many stages ... everything from the ugly work of cleaning up the pieces to doing the boring work of priming to choosing colours and applying them to designing and executing the main images ... and then the really fun part of playing with the rest of the piece -- lots of colours and shapes ... lots of experimentation goes on ... and I enjoy myself.  I am best at trying and seeing and building bit by bit.  The chair is going to be a suggestion of a teddy bear  ... so the whole set will be my version of the teddy bears' picnic.  I hope the little boy and his family like it.

My eye is almost completely healed.  I won't get any results till the end of the month so I am still a bit nervous ... but what can we do, eh?

Kenya met two golden retrievers yesterday ... and scared the owner, a friend of Peter's.  She and the male, Toby, sniffed each other and were okay but the little female, Molly, jumped on top of her and Kenya reacted nastily.  She never bites but she snaps nearby and gets the fur wet with slobber ... and sounds as if she is going to murder the other dog.  We all decided to leave it for now. 

Kenya was terribly unhappy when they all disappeared and I said, "Well, you were too damned stupid to see that you could have had a couple of playmates if you hadn't been so damned bitchy."  She hung her head, and I headed over to deliver Peter's food without her.  I played with both dogs and had a good time ... I think they could all have managed to enjoy each other eventually ... but we are going to have to figure out how to facilitate that.   I am thinking of approaching a dog trainer and seeing if  s/he can help me train Kenya out of this kind of initial nastiness when she meets a new dog.

Not much else is new ... I have spent the last week doing what I always do (teaching ...  preparing meals ... etc) but basically taking it easy recuperating from that flu bug and the small surgery ... more when I have something to say ...

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Reverse Roller Coaster Ride

February 19, 2011
Roller Coaster Riding

Well, this week has not been filled with my finest hours! Taking the roller coaster ride backwards as a retrospective trip, here it is:

TODAY I have a black eye that hurts and doesn't see too well.

YESTERDAY:    This is the result of the surgical procedure I had yesterday morning, during which the surgeon removed my eyelashes and then excised the lesion and sent it for a biopsy, and said he thought it might not be skin cancer.

I almost didn't make it to have that surgery done because at about 7 a.m. my car refused to climb the hill of  water-covered ice leading out to the public road.  I tried backing down, but driving in reverse has never been my forte and so I landed in huge piles of snow precipitously close to the place where the run-off stream comes down through a concrete pipe with a diameter of about three feet under the road. 

I crawled out the passenger side and called Peter for help. But I got a wrong number and some very kind old man told me how sorry he was that I was in trouble but he couldn't help.  By the time I got hold of Peter I was smiling at my good fortune that I had disturbed a kindly soul.

Then I called Peter and he came over immediately and told me that he could not come down the hill either because of the conditions, and he couldn't get me out without help.And his truck was in really bad shape and he doubted whether it would make it to Tammy's and back.  We solved the problem by having Tammy (also rousted out of bed and unshowered, coffee-ed or fed) meet us in Chelsea.

Tammy and I headed in to the General's Eye Institute and had a breakfast that made me feel a little queasy.

Then I had the procedure done.  I came out of it feeling decidedly light headed, but the pain didn't begin for another while.  I was awfully glad that Tammy was driving me because I could not have driven myself.

Tammy got ready for an afternoon job and Carlos drove me back home stopping enroute to get the things I needed from the pharmacy, and, now that things were mushy enough back at the culvert, shoveling enough snow away to back my car into its parking spot so that the road could be sanded.

Kenya and I spent the rest of the day following doctor's orders and taking it easy.

THURSDAY: That is also how we spent Thursday ... all day ... recuperating.  Nothing to say.  I slept all day.

WEDNESDAY: Wednesday started out beautifully.  I went skiing with Mary, a friend I met through snow shoeing.  We had a great morning and then had lunch afterwards at Molo's.

I called Tammy around 2:40 and learned that a terrible flu had raged like some kind of manic cyclone  through their entire household.  It hit suddenly without warning, tossed their digestive systems into chaos for 24 hours and then left them with no energy at all for the next day.  I had visited them on Monday.  We both hoped that I had not contracted it.

It was no longer than fifteen minutes later that the first wave of nausea hit me.  I spent the next 24 hours making love to a stainless steel bowl which received first the contents of my stomach ... the wine and clam chowder I'd eaten in Wakefield a few hours before, and then wave after wave of intestinal contents.  That terrified me because I seldom vomit, and never vomit up what looks, smells, and tastes like feces.  Yes, yes, how would I know what feces taste like, right?  Well, now I know.  You don't want to have the first hand experience necessary to find out what it tastes likes, believe me.

SO ... back to the PRESENT:

Now I wait for 6 weeks to find out what the biopsy revealed.  In the meantime I find out why there seemed to be a blockage preventing those fecal contents from taking their usual route.  And I take it easy until I feel like my old self again.  The antibiotics that I have to put in my eye four times a day cause blurring vision so I suspect I will not be reading or writing too much for a while.  Bear with me once again, please.

In other news this week  ... I read Eat, Pray, Love and watched the movie again as I did so.  They are both wonderful experiences, not identical, but definitely complementary.  And now I have started a book about orphaned twin boys born in Ethiopia to an Indian nun and the British doctor at the hospital where she assisted him.  The little I have read makes me sorry I may have to postpone reading for a while.  last night I watched Dangerous Beauty again ... about the Venetian courtesan ... a movie about love of all kinds ... and I started to watch Passchendaele.  That will be on the agenda for today.

Kenya cried all last night because the wind howled and whistled in at the corners of the house making her feel threatened and uneasy.The only thing that seemed to calm her was having her tummy and throat stroked while she lay in my arms.  I hope that we will both get more sleep tonight.

I also hope that this return to winter weather will allow all of you to enjoy Winterlude or whatever February activities you enjoy when it is cold and blustery.  Me ... I plan to watch the end of Passchendaele and take it easy this next few days.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Chicken Pot Pies and Hedgehogs

After almost no sleep ...

I got up at 8:30 or so ... fell asleep at about 4:30 ... and begged off snow shoeing.

Then I made a chicken pot pie ... cooked chicken, chicken gravy, freshly cooked potatoes, carrots and onions under a tea biscuit crust.  It looks lovely but I am not overjoyed with the flavour.  I may pop Peter's portion in as an extra with the instructions to re-heat in the oven and apply spices liberally ... and eat as soon as he receives it.  Or I may play it safe and not damage my reputation by giving him any even as a gift!

I finished my first reading of The Elegance of the Hedgehog ... and now want to read it again soon ... savouring it.  But first I want to finish reading Eat, Pray, Love which I started last night.

Hedgehog is a story about two protagonists caught in the world where materialism reigns. One has given up on love; the other on life.  They hide their real identities and pretend to be dullards, but they are found out by a Japanese man with exquisite taste and no pretensions.  The book is about more than that simple plot line.  It is about life, beauty and transience and how they are linked.

I think I wrote in an earlier post that this book is really philosophy masquerading as fiction, and so what remains after this first reading is the ideas and insights which, like the spirits of the newly dead, hover around the body for a while after the light goes out..

Here are some of the quotes that stayed with me and made me think ...

"I was in the back room, euphoric, my eyes filling with tears, in the miraculous presence of Art."

"Why do two short, unexplained scenes, not driven by anything in the plot, arouse in us such a powerful emotion, containing the entire film between their ineffable parentheses?"

"True novelty is that which does not grow old. despite the passage of time."

"The contemplation of eternity within the very movement of life."

"If you forget the future, you lose the present."

"When movement has been banished from a nature that seeks its continuity, when it becomes renegade and remarkable by virtue of its very discontinuity, it attains the level of esthetic creation.  Because art is life, playing to other rhythms."

"... pity the poor in spirit who know neither the enchantment nor the beauty of language."

"Perhaps the Japanese have learned that you can only savor a pleasure when you know it is ephemeral and unique; armed with this knowledge, they are yet able to weave their lives."

"Birch trees/ teach me that I am nothing/And that I am deserving of life"

"I suddenly felt my spirit expand, for I was capable of grasping the utter beauty of the trees."

"For art is an emotion without desire."

"Eternity: for all its invisibility, we gaze at it."

"... beauty consists of its own passing, just as we reach for it.  it is the ephemeral configuration of things in the moment, when you can see both their beauty and their death .... does this mean that this is how we must live our lives? Constantly poised between beauty and death, between movement and its disappearance?  Maybe that is what being alive is all about: so we can track down those moments that are dying."

The last few words of the novel: "Don't worry, Renee.  I won't commit suicide and I won't burn a thing.  Because from now on, for you, I'll be searching for those moments of always within never.  Beauty in this world."

It is a book that made me want to escape the demands of the world, seek out the spare tranquility of a Zen garden, and meditate. 

Monday, 7 February 2011

O Mein Papa

Do you remember the Eddie Fisher song from the fifties?  Likely not ...

But I was a kid being raised  (or not) by mein papa ... and the song has remained with me all these years.

My dad was very imperfect ... he had been raised without a father himself and he really didn't know how to be a good father.  But he loved me and I loved him.  And the older I get the more I realize that that is really all that is important now.

Anyway ... I have been looking up recipes to use as I feed Peter every week ... and so I am seeking out old sources.

I keep coming across recipes that my dad left me.  Some of them are in his handwriting ... and all those feelings of love and regret that he is no  longer part of my life well up every time I see that handwriting.

It has nothing to do with whether or not he was a good cook or a good father ... it is all about love ... all about family.

And that is what the Eddie Fisher song was all about too.

Found it!

A Very Good Meat Loaf

Combine and place in loaf pan:

                 *  1 1/2 lb. ground beef
                 *  1 slice bread chopped or broken finely
                 *  1 egg
                 *  1 small onion finely chopped (sweet is nice)
                 *  1 t. salt
                 *  1/4 t. pepper
                 *  4 T. ketchup (the best you can find)
                 *  1/2 - 2/3 c. milk or half and half
                 *  1-2 t. Worcestershire Sauce

Sauce to be poured over and on sides of meat loaf:

                *  4 T. apple cider vinegar
                *  2-4 T. brown sugar
                *  1/2 c. ketchup

Bake at 350 degrees for about 75 minutes till done.

Enjoy!  This is my favourite comfort food ... served with creamy mashed potatoes and a veggie ... either my Oma's spinach puree with chopped green onions or garlicky green beans or carrots slathered in butter.


Bereft ... well ... sort of ...

I can't find the recipe I used to make the meat loaf that Peter loves.  It was soft and had bread, milk and egg in it ... but it was tomatoey sweet and spicy as well with a lovely glazey saucy topping.

I have hunted everywhere in my own cookbooks and have now gone on-line. There are lots of recipes but I can't be sure I have found the right one.

This is important because there is only one mini-loaf left in the freezer and when I ask Peter what he wants me to make, he says he likes everything but especially the meat loaf.

This is one  that kids would love. 

Do you have a favourite recipe that you always make ... or do you just play it by ear/eye/aroma  & taste buds, putting everything but the kitchen sink in?

Since starting this cooking for Peter, I am cooking smarter than I used to.  Some of my favourite tricks are ways to deal with fresh veggies.  I buy peas and green beans  in bulk at Costco, and blanch/freeze the ones I don't use immediately so that I can pull them out of the freezer on Saturday morning and quickly stir fry them with olive oil, butter, and garlic or shallots to add to the meals.  With asparagus, I keep it as dry and cold as possible in an open plastic bag and when I am ready to cook it,  I stir fry it quickly and dress it with grated orange peel or tarragon.  As soon as tomatoes no longer tempt me to eat them raw, I oven roast them with garlic, onion, and olive oil, then buzz them in the blender and freeze them for sauces.  I no longer have leftover veggies that rot in my fridge ... one of the dangers of living alone.

I am also losing weight.  I am not sure whether it is because I am always surrounded by food or whether it is because I feel no compunction to eat up the left overs, or because I don't cook Peter's carbohydrates till Saturday morning so I am tending to eat lots of veggies with a little protein rather than a lot of rice or potato or pasta with veggies and protein.  Maybe it has to do with when I eat ... earlier in the day.  I hope it is not because the food is terrible!

Our LONG lesson on Saturday afternoon was fun.  We had enchiladas, salad and wine and then went out snow shoeing.  Diane took us up hill  and down dale through the woods, and told us how to avoid problems with bears.  On one of the particularly steep places I kept slipping.  i finally got up with help.  Diane pulled me up by my ski pole and Pauline pushed on my fanny!  Afterwards we had cocoa with a ginger, lemon, oatmeal cake.  Then we began our lesson.  We were all so tired and full we decided against our original plan of having dinner in Wakefield.  Six hours with three great women.   Nice way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Oma's Big Day in Town ...

I decided to stop in the village yesterday and treat myself to lunch and a glass of wine.  Big mistake.

But to backtrack a little.  It was Friday.  My car had been boosted twice in just over a week and I was pretty sure the battery was on its last legs.  Five years ago I had bought it at Canadian Tire with an extended warranty.  I checked out the paperwork and headed in to town to get the work done free.

Yes, indeed, it was dead.  Yes, they would replace it ... almost free.

The waiting room at the Carling location is large and open concept. A television whirrs in the background making it difficult to do much more than watch it or the people around you.  If the show was representative of CTV programming I fear for the future of the nation.  Several cooks were preparing food for the Super Bowl.  I had just read a couple of articles in The Citizen about the fact that Canadians have nearly reached the BMI of their SuperSize cousins in the States.  Watching the food preparation on-screen, I understood why.

The first two cooks were preparing ENORMOUS sandwiches in which they stuffed mounds of sauerkraut, smoked meat, and french fries ... yes ... french fries. I guess the idea was to produce a dish that could be hand held and complete.  The problem was that the top piece of bread kept falling off.

The larger of the cooks settled it back on and then licked her fingers.  When it fell off again she used the same fingers to settle it back on its precarious perch.

I thought about the 500 pound woman I had just read about who is encouraging us all to embrace obesity, about restaurant meal preparation, about germs, and turned away from the tv.

I concentrated on the people in the room, none of whom weighed 500 pounds or seemed inclined to reach that goal by eating 10,000 calorie sandwiches while slouching about on a couch this weekend.

One was telling the service personnel that he was bringing a suit against someone because so many unnecessary repairs had been done on his vehicle.  He had long lists and photos. The staff seemed nervous and exceedingly polite.

An older man was told told that he needed to have something done to his vehicle instead of just having over $900 worth of tires installed because his old tires had worn unevenly.  He refused.

One young and very pregnant woman made several trips to the washroom and then sat sniffling and playing with her I-phone.

A young couple teased one another and romped on their chairs like frisky puppies.

The service manager announced that my car was ready and I headed home, stopping to visit Tammy who is recovering from very painful surgery and is not a happy camper. 

By the time I got to Wakefield I was hungry and wanted a nice glass of wine. 

I remembered reading the following in the Wakefield News:


We've all had a good break and have re-opened with a new menu (and still some old favorites). Hope to see you out -- we missed our village.

I decided to stop at Le Hibou. I talked to the owner, sat down and she brought me the new menu.  I made my choice ... and then waited.  For half an hour, I waited.  The owner seemed distracted and there were no waiters in sight, just a young man peeling potatoes or something in the kitchen.  Finally I left and went over to Rutherford's and sat down there.

The waiter arrived promptly and I decided I had made the right decision, even though there would be no glass of wine as they are not licenced.  The food, however, is excellent ... local, reasonable and tasty.

There was a family of five sitting at the next table of those families that somehow take over a restaurant.  You know, the ones who make it impossible for other customers to carry on conversations because their presence is so insistent.  Oh well, I thought, I will read.  Even that wasn't easy because the noise level escalated and the two younger children (about 10 and 12) got into an argument. The parents made no real attempt to de-escalate things.  They just got louder themselves. Patient and accepting ... but louder.  Now I was listening to loud kids arguing and even louder parents showing just what good parents they were by maintaining their calm.

Suddenly the little girl screeched, first at her parents, then at her brother,  and then she  threw a piece of chicken breast at him.

It did not hit him, however; it hit me.

"Hey!" I yelled in my best old teacher voice.

The parents finally began to act as they should have from the beginning.  They took control.

The first thing they did was send the two younger children from the table to cool off, and told them to apologize to me.

The boy dashed past my table smirking.

The girl followed him muttering "excuse me" as she rushed past.

The mother insisted that she pick up the chicken and apologize properly.

She hunted for it.  I pointed to it now sitting on the chair beside me.  She muttered, "I'm sorry," and ran after her brother.  I said to her retreating back, "I hope you don't usually act this way in restaurants."

Everything became very quiet and I returned to my book.

Five minutes later the rest of their food had arrived (enough to feed a Haitian village) and the father went out to search for the kids.  He brought them back and the entire family began to behave the the way one expects people to behave in a restaurant ... quietly ... not disturbing the peace ... having respect for other diners. 

Too bad it took a flying piece of chicken and a grumpy old woman to make them realize that a restaurant is a public place and people ought to do their best to ensure that they and their children do not intrude on the enjoyment of others.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Snow Day !

Snow days are gifts from the gods.    Kids understand that ... and so do teachers.

They are the holidays which fall into our laps unexpectedly.  We awaken to the news on CBC or we get a chain phone call at 6 a.m., or, as was the case this time, we are given a couple of days warning that we are going to be in for a big dump of snow.

Snow days mean that we can't, simply can't, get on with our normal pursuits.  We are forced to take a day off from life.

The undone homework is no longer a problem.  The  pile of essays that has been weighing heavily on my conscience can now be marked because I have been given an uninterrupted period of time in which to mark.  And ... if we are not burdened by such guilty concerns ... we can simply go out and play on our snow day.

Yesterday I canceled my Wednesday class and arranged to extend the Saturday class to include lunch, snow shoeing and a restaurant visit.

Now I am free!

This morning I got up at 6:30 as usual, filled some buckets with water "just in case", settled in at the computer with my tea, and, as the light began to dawn was able to watch the snow fall outside my window.

One window faces west into the darkness of the woods, and there the snow just filters steadily down against the darker backdrop.  The other looks out on the lake to the north, and there the view is much foggier, a grey expanse against which the white snow is visible only because of its motion.  I already feel as if I am snowed in ... trapped ... happily ... in my cozy nest.

I am going to make marmalade chicken breasts, bake banana cake, put the primer coat on the little table and chair, and start reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog which arrived yesterday with three other books and the DVD, Secretariat.

I watched the dvd immediately ... what a lovely break after the last two movies  I endured, both about unpleasant dedicated people who left their mark on the world.  I seem to prefer a horse who gives his all ... a horse that is all heart ... to people who are all head and no heart.

And maybe I will also go out and play with Kenya ... can't let a snow day be all about work ... even pleasant work like painting and cooking. And Kenya quite literally bounces when I take her out to play these days, and her enthusiasm is infectious.

How are you going to spend your snow day?  I hope it will be a special day.