27 December 2010


May I introduce Yorick? Everyone, Yorick; Yorick, Everyone. My youngest son gave him to me for my birthday, and my oldest son, when contemplating the naming of this new addition to my menagerie, said "You should call him Yorick!" Of course, he was absolutely correct. So now that you've been introduced, when someone mentions the name Yorick, you can say: "Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio." But that's only if you have a friend named Horatio, and he happens to be around at that moment.

It's the third Day of Christmas as I write this, and I can't remember what my true love is meant to have given me to go with the partridge in the pear tree and whatever-it-is that comes on Day Two, neither of which I received in my stocking. But that's okay. He probably wouldn't like roast partridge, anyway, and while a pear tree would be really neat to have, around here, we'd have to spray it for codling moth, which is inconvenient. (I just found out that where I live, if you have fruit trees and you're not certified as an organic grower, you're legally obligated to spray your trees. If you don't, the fruit tree police can come and chop them down and send you the bill. Ugh. I guess it makes sense, in a way- but it still rather destroys the illusion of the healthy and natural country life.) Oh, and no, I wouldn't keep the partridge as a pet, either; I believe they're about as intelligent as quail. And I have a hard enough time keeping the cats under control in the house as is; one is trying to climb on my keyboard as I type - a partridge added to the mix doesn't bear thinking of.

So now that the Christmas festivities are past, and we're all laying about, groaning from having overeaten turkey, and still overeating chocolate and brownies and cookies and pie, it's time to start thinking of the new year. I have this fantasy that I'm going to do all kinds of fascinating and productive activities in 2011 - more gardening, say. I long ago learned that most of the green-thumb genes that came from my grandmothers went to my sister, with not much left for me (another illusion down the drains). But I still enjoy grubbing around in the dirt, even if the resulting harvest is less than spectacular. And my favourites are my herbs. There is something incredibly satisfying in running out the back door while the spaghetti sauce bubbles on the stove and quickly grabbing a few sprigs of oregano, thyme, parsley and chives to add to the blend; the flavour of fresh herbs is incomparable. The turkey stuffing this year contained fresh-picked sage, and the parsley I had to dig out from under the snow where it was nicely pre-frozen.

Life, the Universe, Yorick and Parsley. Enjoy the twelve days of Christmas!

23 November 2010

2:00 AM

It's 2:00 AM, and I just downloaded Eat, Pray, Love for my ebook reader. No, really, I did. I needed that book today. Especially the part where Liz is up at 2:00 AM, making life-changing decisions. No, I'm not going to walk out on my husband- it took me far too long to get used to him, and get him used to me. A good thing shouldn't be given up that easily, especially if it continues being a good thing (and this one is an excellent one).

But there are parts of my life that need to be given up at 2:00 AM. Namely, my library job. It's taken a year-and-a-half of my life. I've loved this job; it was perfect. To start with. Then I learned how to do it, and the perfection wore off. And the last few months have been, well, to put it bluntly, mostly a drag. I loved the parts where I got to deal with the customers. I especially loved it when my job was the venue for meeting my neighbours- the people who've lived on my street for as long as I have, and I'd never talked to before. I've also loved the parts when I got to deal with kids, got to read storybooks to preschoolers, be silly with puppets (I do that well, even if I say so myself), bring my guitar and sing "Puff the Magic Dragon" to them, or booktalk "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" and leave the school kids with a cliff hanger just as the sea serpent is about to crush the ship. I've loved recommending Miss Read to the lady who likes gentle romantic fiction, and Ngaio Marsh to the one who prefers Golden Age mysteries. I've thoroughly enjoyed talking about watercolour painting with the art gallery organizer, and about reading skills with the dad who brings in his young boy to encourage his learning.

But then it got lonely. I'm by myself for most of the time. Handing out internet passes to the fruit pickers who came swarming in in the summer got boring; shelving and re-shelving books got tedious; getting stressed about finding the time to reorganize the Junior Fiction became a pain. Even thinking of themes for displays lost its charm, and became yet another "have-to".

So I think it's time to move on. There are other fish to fry- or sauté, boil, bake, or barbeque. And other fish-fryers who could do a better job than I, I think. My customers can do without me. And, what's more important, my kids cannot. The job was wonderful for the time being, but it took me away from my family. When I enjoyed it, it actually benefitted all of us. I was a happier mother, more capable of doing what I needed to do. But now, it's making me a cranky mother, an unavailable mother. I snap at the kids when I come home from work because I'm so tired. I drink too much in order to relax, so when I go to bed I can actually drop off to sleep. I've put on weight from eating too many empty carbohydrates, because I don't have time to cook and eat a proper dinner every night. It's time for a change.

And, just like Elizabeth Gilbert experienced, there's the voice that speaks, clearly and unequivocally:
Go back to bed.

12 November 2010

Batwing Returns

Have you ever noticed that Life has no sense of appropriateness? It mixes the deadly serious with the absurd without even an attempt at apology. Well, I figure if Life can do it, perhaps I could get away with it, as well.

You know the saying that "History Repeats Itself"? It does, oh boy, does it ever. Hence Remembrance Day, because if we remember, perhaps there are certain aspects of history, the ones that really matter, we might not be doomed to live over again. At least that is our hope and prayer.

But then there are other aspects that we seem to be unable to get away from. I was looking at the Sears catalogue this morning, and noticed that the batwing sleeve is making a comeback. (What can I say; that's where I get my fashion info. I'm a geek.) Wow, a style I recognize! And then the realization burst on me that, just for once, I'm already ahead of the game! I hotfooted it to the basement, crawled into the storage space under the stairs (something smells down there. A dead mouse, perhaps?), and pulled out the box labelled "handmade sweaters". And sure enough, it was in there: the batwing sweater that my grandmother knitted for me about twenty-five years ago, the last time batwings were in style. Yes, I know this dates me; but if you haven't figured out yet what the "1967" in my blog address means, anyway, I'm not going to spell it out for you.

And yes, this was the very grandmother I mentioned in my last post. By the time I knew her, her black hair had gone all grey. She was an inveterate knitter, but only ever on weekdays- knitting was work, and so not to be done on Sundays. I don't know how many sweaters she made for me and her seven other grandchildren; I can think of at least five for me during my teen years alone. One of them had a gorgeous fair isle pattern around the neck and shoulders and cuffs. My sister got the same one, the colours in reverse of mine; hers had a white body with the pattern in navy blue and burgundy; mine was the dark navy in the body with the white and burgundy on the pattern. Oma said she'd never knit with a yarn that dark again; trying to see the stitches was really hard on her eyes. I remember feeling vaguely guilty about that, as it was my sweater... It was a beautiful sweater; I wore it a lot. I believe I wore it out or outgrew it, which is why I no longer have it.

But I kept the batwing one. And now I'll be in style again for a little while. Or maybe my daughter might wear it, if she wants; she's the same age now as I was when Oma made it for me. History repeats itself, and sometimes, that's a good thing. But please- please!- let's not bring back the mullet. It was a bad hairstyle in the 80's, and wouldn't be any better today. That's one case where history had best be forgotten.

Oh, and one more thing: I did still get a poppy to wear this year, for the first time. And I was glad to wear it.

09 November 2010

Poppy Conflict

Here it is again, the week of Poppy Conflict. Every year, this happens. Most people around me are wearing the red poppy to keep Remembrance Day. And I- I avert my eyes from the young cadets with their poppy trays in front of the drugstore, and sidle by, trying not to be noticed. Why? Because the language that goes with wearing the poppy says that "Let us remember those who fought for our freedom!" Well, according to that statement, my family fought against freedom. My uncle fell on the Russian front (aged 22), my grandfather was killed by an allied bomber (leaving a widow with four children under nine years old, the youngest a newborn), my uncle-in-law was left on the fields of Normandy (he wasn't even 20). Lest we forget. If wearing the poppy means honouring the veterans who "fought for freedom", then would it not also mean dishonouring those who fought against them- whether they wanted to or not?

To be honest, it's the language that gets me. The rhetoric of honouring the sacrifice of the allied soldiers of World War II. Don't get me wrong- PLEASE don't get me wrong. I honour the men and women who fought in the wars, who sacrificed their lives- if not literally by dying, then by spending years of their lives separated from their families, having to endure the horrors of combat and the pain and tedium of Prisoner-of-War camp. That, too, is a sacrifice of one's life.

No, it is not that that which, up to now, has kept me from wearing the poppy. It's that the language of heroism still permeates Remembrance Day. They "fought for our freedom". Yes, they did. But they hardly had a choice. Their country went to war, and so they marched. As did those on the other side. Do you think my grandfather wanted to leave his pregnant wife and three small children to look after the farm alone? He died because he was a farmer who could not swim. In an air raid on his army base, he tried to run for shelter and drowned in a pond he had not seen in the dark. The bomber pilot- American, English, perhaps even Canadian- who flew the raid, was he any more of a hero, any more of a freedom fighter than this man who had no interest in politics, who just wanted to be left alone to live his life- but was on that army base because he had no other choice? The pilot, too, had no choice. Both of them lost their lives, in one way or another, to forces greater than themselves.

Yes, there was much heroic action on both sides of the war. And some of that action was on the part of a woman who, on Christmas Eve 1944, was confronted by two army officers delivering the news of her husband's death, and who kept the news to herself for another day so as not to spoil her young children's Christmas celebration. Countless acts of heroism, by countless humans all over the globe, caught up in forces beyond themselves. Remembrance Day, for me, is about remembering what happened, reminding ourselves of what still is happening, so that we never again allow those forces to build to such a point.

The fight for freedom is not the fight for the political supremacy of any one country, of any one ideological system. It is the fight for freedom from those forces that catch up all of us, and compel us to lay down our lives; the fight for the freedom of the human race.

I might be able to wear the poppy, after all. Lest We Forget.

28 October 2010


Some of you might have noticed that the pauses between my posts are getting longer and longer. (If you didn't notice, please don't tell me; it'll destroy my illusion that people are actually reading this blog.) I could come up with all kinds of excuses: I'm too busy because I have papers to write, it's cloudy outside, my cocker spaniel just died... But, in the case of the cocker spaniel, that would be a flat-out fabrication, because I've never owned a cocker spaniel in my life, and likely never will. (Completely beside the point and entirely parenthetical, the cocker spaniel reminds me of that extremely annoying passage from Midsummer Night's Dream: "I am your spaniel; and, Demetrius, / The more you beat me, I will fawn on you..." If you think Taming of the Shrew is misogynistic, try this on for size. It makes me want to smack Helena- show some self-respect, girl!)

The plain fact is that I haven't been writing because, well, I haven't been writing. Perhaps that is due to my wish of increasing your interest by suspense, according to the usual practise of elegant females. But, actually, like Lizzie Bennet, I don't have any pretensions to that kind of elegance. (Incidentally, Helena, you could stand to take a few lessons from Lizzie!) It's just that I've had other things on my mind than random ramblings in blogs. And sometimes it's a good thing to pause from what you're doing- pause, and take a deep breath (several weeks long, in this case), inhale some oxygen, exhale it again, and let your whole body go limp. Aaaah. (flop, bang! No, I didn't say go so limp as to drop on the floor! Sheesh.) Sometimes we don't notice how tense we are until we pause, and make ourselves purposely sit still and let go.

And sometimes, we just pause for no particular reason. Or because we're done with whatever it was we were doing. Or because we need to reevaluate. Or because the break-time bell just rang (sorry, that's the vestiges of public-school attendance and a five-month stint as a factory worker when I was twenty). And then, when the pause is over, we can start again. Or not. Sometimes pausing makes us realize that the frenzy of the foregone activity was really not all that necessary, and just as much can be accomplished at a calmer pace. Or, the pause gives us the energy to tackle the task with renewed vigour. Which, I'm hoping, is what's happening with my writing. Or not.

Life, the universe, and spaniels. Get a grip, Helena.

19 October 2010

Electronic Dog Polisher

I got myself an ebook reader the other day. Now, I need more reading material like I need a hole in the head. No, I do not intend to go to this company's designated website and download "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" for $9.95 (or whatever they're asking- I haven't actually checked). Firstly, I don't intend to read TGWTDT, because it's a fat book and I've got other stuff on the go, and secondly, if I did, I've got ready access to a hardcopy; I'd just have to pluck it off the shelf and bear it home for some gratuitous page-flipping.

No, the reason I got this electronic dog polisher is to polish electronic dogs. Oh, pardon me- you don't know what an electronic dog polisher is? It's an electronic device that does one specific job and nothing else, preferably a job that you wouldn't need or want to do in the first place if you didn't have the item (like polishing dogs). We've used that term in this family for a long time - and then, one day on TV, I actually saw an electronic dog polisher advertised! Well, it was a special vaccum cleaner attachment for vaccuming your dog or cat, but the principle was the same. The hilarity was considerable.

So, back to my electronic dog polisher - um, ebook reader. I got it because there are times when I need to read ebooks, and reading them on a computer screen is a pain in the you-know-what. (Have you ever wondered if You Know Who ever gets a pain in the you-know-what? No, me neither.) Turns out that most of the ebooks I need to read actually won't download onto my reader, because their publishers are holding onto them for dear life and won't let Jane Average download them; you have to look at them on the proprietary e-library website. Ah well. That's okay. I still have stuff to read on my reader, because it came pre-loaded with 100 free ebooks- ooh, aah, wow! Never mind the fact that they've swiped all those books from Project Gutenberg, where the world's classics happily sit in the public domain. I can now read Jane Austen on an electronic screen, instead of picking up the hardbound gold-edged copies I've got on my bookshelf. Oh, the wonders...

But honestly, it is fun. And I do enjoy the fact that I can carry around Austen, Dickens, and Carroll in one lightweight slim package to access whenever I feel like it. I've even got The Communist Manifesto and The History Of The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire on there. I'm sure they'll come in handy next time my dentist's appointment is running really late. I'll let you know what they're like.

10 October 2010


Inquiring minds have inquired - no, wait, the mouths associated with the inquiring minds have inquired - no, actually, it was the fingers attached to the hands associated with the inquiring minds... Aw, heck. Some folks 'as wanted to know what's with this "Teaist" thing down there in my side bar. Let me enlighten you.

Teaism is a religious persuasion not unlike Theism or Deism. The most basic tenet of its beliefs is that "A Good Cuppa Cures All Ills." But actually, because tea-drinking encourages moderation and tolerance, we don't insist on our members subscribing to this doctrine verbatim. If you are more comfortable with stating that "A Good Cuppa Is a Fair Beginning to Making One Feel Somewhat Better About a Considerable Number Of Ills," that's good enough. You're in. As long as you appreciate a cuppa, we welcome you to our ranks.

Teaism is a religion of diversity. Of course it began with the common tea plant, Camellia Sinensis, sipped as good ol' English Breakfast, Orange Pekoe (which, incidentally, has nothing more to do with the citrus fruit than that they're both named for the Dutch Royal house of Oranje- or maybe the house for the fruit, and the tea after the house, or the other way round), or any other number of "plain blacks". But there the diversity begins. There are so many varieties of even just black tea (ever tried Darjeeling, the "champagne of teas"?), never mind the ways to drink it. With sugar or without, with milk, with cream, with lemon (though not all at once- my brother tried that once when we were kids; he got banned to the next room while finishing up the resulting revoltingly curdled mess, rather like slimy, stringy cottage cheese floating in the tea. Not pretty.). Then there's green tea, white tea, oolong- all of those still from the same plant, just different processing techniques. All delicious brewed up in the cup. And then we get into what Hercule Poirot calls "tisane", which roughly translates into any tea that's not made from the camellia sinensis plant. My favourite would be peppermint, homegrown if I can get it- it's got more bite that way than the stuff in the tea bags. Chamomile is a lovely soother. Rosehip has a great tang, almost like fruit juice. And I won't even begin to list the varieties that are purely medicinal; we'd still be here tomorrow.

Incidentally, my daily brew of choice, gunpowder green, does not, in spite of its name, encourage violence. In vino veritas, in camelliam sinensis pacem. May the brew be with you.

30 September 2010


Today's sunrise, brought to you by:
GLOBAL ROTATION- It Makes the World Go 'Round!

28 September 2010


I was feeling seriously frazzle-brained this morning. My mind was obsessing on one of the issues in my life, and just wouldn't let go. After spinning around in circles for a good hour and wringing my hands (metaphorically speaking), I decided this was stupid. So I stuck my feet into my running shoes, headed out the door and marched up the hill. I walked to the end of the road, skirted around the big gate that closes up the end (it's okay, the owner doesn't mind), and walked up the path into the woods. All the way to the lookout that gives such an amazing view over the lake.

And looking down the steep hillside towards the lake, I saw a bald eagle. Sitting on a branch of a tall dead tree towering over the woods, he was just looking around as if he owned the world. And then he took wing, and soared away, southwards.

What a magnificent creature. "They shall rise up on wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint; they shall renew their strength." I was comforted.

Then there's the cartoon I saw in Reader's Digest yesterday, while I was waiting at the doctor's office. It's showing two eagles, sitting in the nest. One of them is wearing a wig, sort of a comb-over job, and the other one says to him: "When are you going to accept that you're a bald eagle?"

On the way back home from the woods I saw some very weird mushrooms by the side of the road. And they had nothing to say to me, whatsoever.

17 September 2010


"Quail: verb (intr.)- draw back in fear, as at the approach of a vehicle, then heedlessly run back into the road, repeating this action approximately a dozen times."

Okay, fine, I made up the last bit- but that's what the word should mean. Quail have got to be the stupidest birds on the face of the planet. I'm quite sure their internal dialogue goes something like this: "Oh, oh, oh, a car! Oh, let's run to the side of the road! Oh, no, let's run to the other side of the road! Oh, that's not a good idea, is it, is it, is it? Let's run to the side of the road! Oh, the other side! This side! That side! Oh..." Multiply that by three dozen, and that's about the only explanation I can come up with for the behaviour of those fearsomely, perhaps even frivolously, foolish fowl. That I didn't leave a number of quail pancakes in the road by my house yesterday is due to sheer luck, or perhaps my exaggerated sense of not-wanting-to-flatten-something-alive-under-the-wheels-of-my-car, so I step on the break rather than run over them. It's quite likely I frustrated at least one of the flock in a suicide attempt. Chicken-with-its-head-cut-off is nothing to Quail-in-its-perfectly-healthy-state. Maybe we should invent a few new phrases for the English language: "I was so startled I ran around like a quail by the side of the road," or "He's just quailing around in that job."

Rumour has it that those birds are quite tasty, though. Perhaps next time I shouldn't step on the break, and try a new dish for dinner? Oh, that's evil. Especially as the little baby quail (are they called chicks? Probably.) are so darn cute, quailing around after their momma ("Queenie, no, dear, don't go calmly walking to the side of the road and stay there! What if car comes by? Quentin, back into the road, off you go! Shoo! Another three times, that's a good boy!"). I couldn't, I just couldn't. But if someone wants to serve me up some roast quail sometime, I wouldn't be averse to trying a bite or two (or three, or...). There has got to be a good reason why the People of Israel nearly got themselves wiped out in the desert for the sake of those plump little critters in their roasted state. And I'm not thinking Quail McBuckets, and made by no colonel, neither.

Ah well. I probably won't get to taste the flesh pots of Egypt any time soon. I'll have to stick with the leeks and onions, they don't go quailing around by the side of the road when I come driving by.

14 September 2010

Fruit Fly Season

Fruit fly season has arrived. It follows hard on the heels of peach season, carries right through plum, pear, apple and grape season, and sometimes lasts right until Christmas (depending on how well we keep our compost pail covered). The fact that it's the season was just borne home to me by a glass of red wine, which I had left sitting on the counter while I was quickly checking a few e-mails. When I returned to my bibulous pleasure, I found about a dozen drosophilidae swimming around in my beverage. ("Waiter, what is that fly doing in my drink?" "I believe, sir, the breast stroke.") They were probably trying to drown their sorrows (I mean, how much fun can it be to be a fruit fly?), and inadvertently drowned themselves. Poor things. Okay, I lie- I didn't feel sorry for them at all, actually. They had a lovely end.

What is fruit fly season, you ask? Well, it's when fruit flies proliferate, and of course we make the most of it, being the frugal sort. Fruit fly jam, canned fruit flies, fruit fly pie... The latter is somewhat like shoo fly pie, but smaller. That's because it's Canadian; it's colder up here than in the places where they make shoo fly pie. Our produce doesn't get quite as lush, but the flavour is more concentrated. There are fruit fly breeders who select for best qualities and processability (really! Check any good science text book on genetics, it'll have a section on fruit fly breeding).

Life, the universe, and drowned drosophilae. Alcohol is believed to have been a factor.

12 September 2010

On the Need To Be Profound

When I started out writing this blog, it was just meant to be for fun. Silly. Not very deep. Then I found myself writing a few entries in which I ended up waxing rather philosophical. I mean, I do that. I go from silly to philosophical and back in a few nanoseconds. Someone once said that the measure of a person's intelligence is how many different and conflicting ideas they can hold in their head and believe in at the same time. By the same token, I wonder if a measure of a person's emotional intelligence is how many different and conflicting emotions they can feel at the same time. Boy, I'd be an emotional genius at that rate.

But the thing about being profound is that it sets up this standard. You've done it once, you feel you have to do it again. Repeatedly. And before you know it, you're stuck in this trap of profundity (is that a word?). Out the door goes all nonsense and silliness; you can never just be lame, dorky or uninteresting any more.

Piffle, I say! I refuse to be locked down into seriousness. I claim the right to be as silly or as dull as I darn well please. Well, perhaps, I can promise that if I say things very dull indeed, I'll say at least three of them, like Miss Bates on Box Hill (and if Emma wants to criticise me for it, I know I'll have Mr Knightley to protect me).

On that note, did you know that September 28th is "Ask a Stupid Question Day"? It is, truly. It's an international holiday. Comes not much more than a week after "Talk Like a Pirate Day", which is on September 19th. And in between is "Hobbit Day", on September 22nd, but that goes without saying (it being Bilbo's and Frodo's birthday).

Now aren't you glad you know that?

08 September 2010


I got myself a "new" breadmaker at the second-hand store. I was suddenly overcome by a craving for homemade bread that I won't have to babysit- you know, knead, let rise, be there to punch down, be there to shape, be there to let rise again for the exactly right amount of time, be there to take out of the oven at the exactly right time... Sure, that kind of bread is better than those weird cubical loaves you get from a bread machine; it's prettier, for one. But convenience has its definite advantages. So I hit the store, and struck pay dirt. Or paid for dirt, or whatever. Actually, it was very clean, the machine I got. Which is why I picked it. And paid for it.

So I'm trying it out now, the machine. I actually don't have the manual for it with the "correct" recipes. I tried to find it online, but so far no luck. We did have a bread maker before, so I still vaguely remember how to do it, and I did find some recipes on the web. (And yes, of course I've requested a bunch of breakmaker books from the library- was there any question about that?)

Now, as the bread machine is squeaking and rattling its way through its first cycle, I sit here contemplating.

Might talk more on the subject of "Lost Instructions": this time, I don't operate on hope, like with the knitting, but just wing it and see what comes out. Not always having to do things "correctly", just sort of approximately- it's a skill I could stand to learn more of. I think I'm making progress.

Then there's also the subject of "Getting Rid of Things": as I said, I did have a breadmaker before, and cookbooks to go with it, but I gave them away. Now I'm re-acquiring them. So was it a waste to have gotten rid of them? Should I have hung on to that machine, and the books, and saved myself twenty bucks and the time it took to shop for the machine? No, I don't think so. I'm glad I got rid of the other one, and saved all that storage space, and time it would have taken to move the thing from one storage spot to another. My life was a bit lighter in the meantime. And besides, I would not now have had a topic to waffle on about to you. So there's value, right there.

If you come to my house sometime in the next while, you just might be able to get a bowl of slowcookered stew with fresh breadmachined bread to go with it. Sound good? Yes, I thought so, too.

Postscript: here's the finished product. Told ya it'd be funny-looking. But the smell- aaah... Give it a try: just stick your nose right up to it and inhale... Bless you! Not my fault you haven't dusted your screen, is it?

29 August 2010

Loose Ends

I did it! The link that Nicola found for me worked. Even though the pattern on that website is slightly different than the one I was using, the pictures helped me figure out how to fold the pieces I'd made to get them into proper slipper-ness. I'm sure there would be some interesting musings in that alone: using a pattern that's different from the one I lost to finish the work I hadn't expected to complete any more. And the value of friends who help you find your lost pattern. And having toasty toes on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

So here are my feet in their new toastiness. Top view and side view. I can report to you that those slippers are quite lovely and comfortable. Incidentally, does the word "slipper" refer to what you do to get them on your feet, or what happens to you when you wear them on a polished hardwood floor? (I did try out the latter once, when I was about eight or nine, and ended up in bed with a concussion for at least a week. I wouldn't recommend it.)

Finishing those slippers meant sewing up a million loose ends. Okay, perhaps not a million- but there are eight different squares in each, in three different colours, and each square has a beginning and end piece of yarn. You do the math. I don't like tying up loose ends. It's tedious, and somewhat messy, and not very zen-like, because you still have to pay some attention to it. You can't just zone out on it like on the stitch-click-stitch-click of the knitting itself. But it's got to be done. Actually, there is one thing I do like about it: when you're at the stage of tying up loose ends, it means you're nearly finished. That's what keeps me doing it, that inspiring feeling that the end is not only in sight, but right there squashed up against your nose. I like finishing, even if I don't like finishing- if you know what I mean.

Now, the only issue I have is that I don't actually need another pair of slippers. I've got some great moccasins which I got for Christmas last year, and which serve me quite well, thank you very much. Slippers, anyone?

27 August 2010

Lost Pattern

It's raining today. And I've got a rotten head cold. So, instead of doing the headless-chicken impression that I had planned on for today (a.k.a. cleaning the house), I'm just going to do not-much-of-anything. I pulled out my knitting again, because to me, knitting is a bit of a not-much-of-anything activity. Stitch after stitch after stitch, bit by bit- it's a very inefficient way to produce clothing. But as a meditation technique it has a lot going for it.

Here's a project I've had on the needles for some time. It's meant to be a pair of slippers when it's finished. A number of simple squares in garter stitch, attached to each other, rather like a scarf with a couple of extra pieces sticking out the sides. Then there's supposed to be some rather complicated bit of folding-and-sewing trickery, attaching the corner of square number one to the edge of square number three-and-a-half and so on, and you're meant to end up with something that keeps your toes toasty.

The only problem is that I've lost the pattern. I found it in a library book, and copied it out by hand on a piece of paper- I even drew the picture of how it's supposed to look, and coloured it in with felt pens. I returned the book, knitted the first slipper (but didn't sew it together yet)- and then lost the paper. It just went AWOL. And for the life of me I can't remember what the book was called. So I know how to knit the piece- I can just follow the pattern of the first one- but I have no idea how it's meant to be finished any more.

A lost pattern. But the project is still going. And working on it like that, without knowing if I'll ever be able to really finish it, rather emphasises the zen aspect of the whole experience. I'm knitting for the sake of knitting, not for the sake of having finished slippers to wear at the end. It's quite a useful discipline.

Isn't it also rather like life, in some ways? We're doing things a certain way because once, we had a pattern for it, we had a goal. Now the pattern is lost, but we still carry on doing it the same way, because now the aim of doing it has changed. Now I knit because I enjoy the sensation of the yarn sliding through my fingers, the slow rhythm of the needles poking, looping, clicking, poking again.

Actually, in the back of my mind, I still hope, faintly, that I'll find that book again. Or that someone will know the pattern, and can tell me. Or that, in experimenting with the finished pieces, I'll remember how it was supposed to go. So in working on that piece of knitting, I work on hope. Not anticipation- just a vague thought that maybe I'll be able to finish this after all. But I won't worry about it now. For now, I'll just stitch. Bit by bit. Whenever I feel like it, or I have a head cold.

Life, the universe, lost patterns, and hope. I'll let you know if the slippers ever get finished.

25 August 2010


Well, I was going to blog this morning about The Backpack. I was going to wax eloquent about the wonders of this piece of equipment, which allows you to carry any number of items around with you, whether you need them or not. And I was going to illustrate it with this lovely photo of my backpack, with Steve peeking out of it (he does that; he likes to travel. Our last trip was going camping).

But, oh infernal frustration, the photo refused, absolutely refused, to be flipped upright. I flipped it one way, and it stayed sideways. I flipped it the other way, and it did a double-flip to lie sideways the other way. Needless to say, eventually I pretty much flipped myself. (Yes, I'm afraid I said a bad word or two. Actually, I'm not afraid- I quite courageously admit it: I said bad words. And it did help relieve my feelings; I highly recommend it.)

So then I got to thinking: I've got this picture. It won't go the way I want it to, to illustrate what I want to say. So perhaps I need to say something different? Because that's often the way it is in life. We think things are one way, but then they end up permanently flipped sideways. And we can rant and rave, say bad words, and bash our heads against the computer for an hour, leaving greasy-forehead prints on the screen, but it's not going to make things flip the way we think they should be. Or we can just take them in their sideways-flipped state, and work with them as they are.

It's not going to be the same. And it's not second-best, either. You're not going to get an eloquent article about backpacks with a sideways-flipped picture; it just doesn't cut it. But perhaps you can get some thoughts about the whole issue of things being flipped sideways when you don't want them that way. About things being entirely different than you had expected them to be. There is an excellent article out there called "Welcome to Holland", by Emily Perl Kingsley, which expresses it better than I could- or perhaps just differently.

Because different is good. It's not better, it's not worse- it's just different.

And even so: if, today, you prefer to think about backpacks, instead of differentness, you can just tip your head sideways, and look at the photo that way. Steve won't mind.

22 August 2010


On the third day, God created plants. And I'm quite sure that at the very end, when he'd made all the other stuff, he said "Now, for the crowning achievement: The Peach!" And he created it round and fuzzy, juicy, yellow-and-pink and delectably sweet. And God saw that it was good. And the evening and morning were the third day.

I didn't make any canned peaches last year, so we were reduced to buying the ones from the grocery store. The kids weren't impressed; it's just not the same, they said. And they are right, of course. Now, the thing is that when I was a kid myself, back in Germany, tinned peaches were one of my favourite things, a high treat that we didn't get very often (there's a fun recipe called "Falsche Spiegeleier", Fake Fried Eggs, with is half a canned peach in a flat dish with vanilla custard poured around it. It does look like a fried egg, and is quite a yummy dessert.). I thought they were wonderful. But then that was before I came to Canada, and experienced the marvel of real, fully-ripe, still-warm-from-the-sun peaches picked right off the tree. In fact, perhaps it was the peaches that lured me over the Atlantic to permanently settle here? (No, don't tell my husband. It had nothing to do with marrying him at all. I only married him for his guitar, anyway.)

One of the things I like best about summer is bringing home a box of peaches from the farmer's market or the orchard down the street, and having them sit on the kitchen counter for a few days, getting ever more ripe and tender; and then, while leaning over to get something from one of the upper cupboards, getting a big nose-full of that incomparable scent of soft sweetness. It's beyond me why the makers of fake foods think they can reproduce that aroma with "peach flavouring". Hah! I scorn their attempts, I laugh in their faces- hahahah!

Now to put all that goodness into jars for winter, when the snow flies and the scent the house is filled with is cinnamon simmering in the potpourri burner on the windowsill.

Life, the universe, and peach season. I love it.

17 August 2010

The Value of Nothing

First of all, apologies to Mr Raj Patel for stealing the title of his excellent book, which is on my to-read list, and which has nothing whatever to do with this post. It's just that it's too good a title to not use it for what I want to say.

We went camping on the weekend. There's nothing like a good camping trip for doing Nothing. Just sitting in a chair, with a cup of tea in hand, perhaps looking at the not-lit fire, listening to the chipmunk chattering in the underbrush, smelling that wonderfully spicy scent of the forest floor baking in the hot afternoon sun, like nature is preparing a batch of cinnamon buns. Watching said chipmunk scurrying out from said underbrush, rushing across the campsite, surreptitiously hopping on your picnic table and trying to steal a marshmallow from the bag where it is awaiting the evening's S'mores Toasting Feast. Doing Nothing. Why don't we do that more often?

Because, truth be told, there's no such thing as Nothing. We always do Something, even if it's watching little furry thieves snatch their overdose of sugar for the year (I wonder if the SPCA could get you for that? Luring with marshmallows. I can just see Chippy, once he's hooked, flogging his wares in the nearest dark forest alley: "Hey, you, want some snow? Three acorns, jus' for you!").

Doing Something. The question is just what that Something is. In our product-oriented society, sitting and listening to the forest is considered Nothing. And because it's Nothing, we feel guilty doing it, unless we're on a camping trip.

And that, really, is silly. The Nothing of this kind, it is Something. It feeds your soul. There are so many starving souls around, dying from lack of Nothing. Because you can't measure, weigh or count it, we don't realize we're missing it. Until we stop, and inhale the cinnamon scent of the forest floor, and feel it filling up the hollow in our soul.

Incidentally, if, on your next camping trip, you see a crazed chipmunk racing around the campsite desperately searching for something, with little flecks of white in the corners of his mouth, don't give in to him. He's already had more marshmallow this year than is good for him.

08 August 2010


So there I was, standing in my kitchen, weeping as I was contemplating the beauty of poetry. (I was also chopping several large onions at the time, but that's entirely beside the point). So I thought I would share some with you (poetry, not onions). How about something by The Bard, say, Sonnet 116?

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds...

And then, a few hundred years later, there's this:

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure dome decree
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea...

If you think that the guy who wrote that must have been on drugs, you are, of course, entirely correct (if somewhat of a philistine). Coleridge was addicted to laudanum, a mixture of opium and alcohol, the 19th-century painkiller of choice. But you don't need to be high to appreciate lines like this:

Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran...

I haven't got the faintest notion what "mazy" might be, but it sure sounds lovely, doesn't it? Truth be told, I really don't "get" Kubla Khan, actually, but that's perfectly alright. I love it anyway. It's rather like a semi-abstract painting: there are recognizable shapes in it, weaving in and out of the colour-motion on the canvas; it's beautiful, even if (or perhaps because) you can't tell "what it's supposed to be".

There's just one thing I wonder about: Why Alph? Why not, say, Bert? "Where Bert, the sacred river, ran..." Has a certain ring to it, don't you think? No, actually, me neither.

06 August 2010

Coffee that doesn't taste like coffee?

As my friend Wade so eloquently says, this article is an example of everything that's wrong with the world. Coffee that doesn't taste like coffee? Uh, why?!? Perhaps, because you still want the caffeine, but don't like the flavour? But, no. This stuff hasn't got the caffeine, either. So it doesn't taste like coffee, and doesn't do what coffee does- so what are the coffee beans doing in it in the first place?

On behalf of all my coffee-loving friends, I'm offended. I don't drink coffee, myself, because I don't like the taste (sorry). Occasionally, I'll have some if the only alternative is using matchsticks to prop open my eyelids. But I don't enjoy it. I wish I did; I wish I liked coffee. It smells great, especially the fresh grounds; there are so many delicious-sounding varieties of it; it blends much better with chocolate than, say, tea. And then there's the social aspect of it - everybody's drinking it; there's coffee bars and coffee houses all over the place, and whenever somebody hands out "refreshments", they usually involve the bean brew.

So, no, sorry, Starbucks, this really isn't going to cut it for me, either. It covers none of the aforementioned uses for coffee. In fact, I'm still utterly puzzled as to the purpose of this new stuff.

Oh, and just by the way, people, let me give you a little hint: if you want something that's a) not roasted, b) doesn't taste like coffee, c) has small amounts of caffeine in it, d) blends well with fruit flavours, e) tastes great iced, and f) is very refreshing, there's this stuff called - here, let me whisper it to you: psspsspss. That's right. Spelled T-E-A. Rumour has it, you can even get it at Starbucks.

Life, the universe, and coffee-that-doesn't-taste-like-coffee. What next?

04 August 2010


One of the things my blogging teacher said was that one way to increase traffic on your blog is to say something controversial. Well, I ain't doing that. But that's just because I'm writing in English; if I was writing in German, it would be a foregone conclusion. There's always another German out there who disagrees with what you're saying, no matter what it is. They'd be out there in now time flat, going "So ein Quatsch!" (Incidentally, I'm allowed to make categorically derogatory statements about Germans, because I is one. If you're not, don't try. We'd jump on you and flatten you in no time; Germans drink in debating skills with their mother's milk- or their Alete Infant Formula, as it were.)

What is Quatsch, you ask? It's a wonderfully expressive word which is pronounced just as it looks. And means about that, too. Note, I'm not talking about Quark, which is a slightly tart soft white cheese, and which I miss so much over here in Canada that I'm willing to fork out $10/kg for the stuff when I can get it ("it" being the ten bucks, or the Quark, either one). Put on toast, with jam on top- aah, cheesecake for breakfast! And it's healthy as all-get-out, too.

And here, just for your delectation, is today's completely random picture. They're a bunch of Pet Rocks, and they've all got names, too. But I can't remember what they all are. The one on the right is Rudolph, I remember that much. And the back left is Rob.

Life, the universe, and Quark. Quite tasty.

03 August 2010

why this is a bad blog

I feel a distinct need to outline to you why this here blog of mine is, in fact, a bad blog. That (the need, not the blog) is because I'm a good student, yes indeedy, and I did pay attention in the blogging course I just took. I'm disregarding the teacher's advice with full intentionality, but would like to point out where and how I'm doing so (the why... that's left up to you to decide, gentle reader).

Firstly, this is a bad blog because it's not about anything in particular. It's stuffed full of random rambles and rants on just about anything- well, anything that comes across my mind. A really good blog, my teacher says, solves a problem, or answers a question, or in some other way fulfills a need in the reader. Well, unless you have a need to read some random and nonsensical drivel on a regular basis, I'm afraid you're out of luck here.

Secondly, this is a bad blog because it's going to be updated with great irregularity. Right now, I'm into blogging; but, as anyone who knows me will tell you, my crazes come and go. One day, I'll lose interest, and there you will be, with a blog going progressively more stale and growing bits of fuzzy blue mould on it. That's bad blogging. Bad blog, bad! (Except that fuzzy blue mould is actually quite interesting from a scientific point of view. I once grew some on the windowsill that looked like it had tiny dandelion heads on it. Quite Seussian in appearance; you know, like the Truffula trees from The Lorax.)

But if you don't care, or you would like to study the mould-growing habit of the spotted or herbaceous blog, or make some statistical observations on just how random my thought patterns can be and draw some parallels to the weather patterns in the Northern hemisphere, then, by all means, stick around.

Life, the universe, and blog mould. Could be interesting.

02 August 2010

high-tech produce

It rained last night, and as soon as morning rolled around, out came the choppers. Whapwhapwhapwhapwhap, buzzing over my house, off to blow-dry the cherries in the orchard down the street. I kid you not. Rain means wet cherries; wet cherries split; and split cherries rot very fast. So rain means a ruined crop for cherry orchardists, or it used to, until some smart cookie came up with the helicopter idea.

And when the helicopter was gone, the music started up. No, it's not meant to make the cherries happy- you know, how some people talk to their house plants to make them grow better? Nope, not like that. (And it wouldn't work anyways, because, weren't we taught in no uncertain terms back in the '80's that crops that have rock music played to them wither and die, unlike the classical- or christian-music-listening turnips, thereby proving conclusively that rock music is of the devil? Or something.) And it's not even meant to make the itinerant fruit pickers happy while they pluck those little parcels of black-red juicy goodness off the trees. No, this music is, literally, for the birds. Apparently, so the orchardist tells me, the ravenous beasts have got so used to the orchard cannons that the whizzzz-bang doesn't scare them off any more. But the local radio station seems to still do the trick. The birdies probably just don't like the DJ's taste in music- can't say I blame them, personally. But I have much greater tolerance for the music, now that I know it means I get more cherries to munch, without peck holes courtesy of that feathered thief up there.

Life, the universe, and high-tech cherries. It's all good.

01 August 2010

Joyful Eating

I'm reading Julie and Julia, which is surely required reading for any new-baked hopeful blogger (book contract, here I come? Uh... never mind).

Apart from the fact that Julie Powell is a whole lot more foul-mouthed, albeit also funnier, in her writing than Amy Adams portrays her in the movie, what strikes me about the book is the sheer pleasure Julie gets from her cooking. She cooks not from a vague sense of "shoulds", from a desire to follow the latest tenet in the religion of "thou shalt/shalt not eat this-n-that", but because it's sheer, unadulterated pleasure. Well, the eating is, anyway; the cooking, not always so much (the story of her first extraction of marrow from a beef bone is rather entertaining. Even if she didn't find it so at the moment).

Here, listen to this:
"Julia taught me what it takes to find your way in the world. It's not what I thought it was. ... It's joy. [...] I didn't understand for a long time, but what attracted me to MtAoFC [Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julia Child's book] was the deeply buried aroma of hope and discovery of fulfillment in it. I thought I was using the book to learn to cook French food, but really I was learning to sniff out the secret doors of possibility." (page 356 in the paperback edition).
She's talking about a cookbook here, people.

In fact, that last quote reminds me of nothing so much as my favourite un-diet book, French Women Don't Get Fat (Mireille Guiliano). It's all about that: eat delicious food, in portions small enough so you can enjoy it, because it's just so dang good. Because it's all about life. Not about calories, not about "thou shalt". The joy of eating, eating for joy.

Life, the universe, and a grilled steak with greek salad, pita bread and hummus. Oh yeah.

Here we are

I took a blogging course yesterday. Yes, a course, in a classroom, with a teacher. Well, excuuuse me- some of us prefer learning from real people to just getting information from a book, or worse yet, a website. And a good course it was, too. I learned lots of interesting stuff. For example: never publish a post without a picture. So here goes:
That's Steve. He's better-looking than me, not to mention more photogenic, so he gets to have his picture in the blog first.

Did I mention I learned lots of useful stuff in the course? Yes. One of them was that a blog is supposed to have a focus, you know, be about something. Well, this one isn't. Or doesn't. Whichever. It's also not going to have any favicons on it, you know, those little annoying pop-up buttons that allow you to tell all your friends on Facebook how fabulous my blog is, and how it's the latest thing in useless information (sorry).

Speaking of which, there's a great book out there: "The Ultimate Book of Useless Information". It imparts to you such earth-shatteringly important bits of knowledge as the fact that it's illegal in Alaska to intoxicate a moose. Oh good, I'm so glad I know that. My holiday plans included going to Alaska and getting the first moose I meet snockered. Seeing as that would be the first moose I'd have met in my life, period, it really would be a shame to get fined for it, too.

So there you have it: life, the universe, Steve, and a snockered moose.
Do not look for any updates too terribly soon, you might get very thirsty in the meantime.

Cheerio! amo