Thursday, August 30, 2012

Simple Suggestion #135...Try canning

I'm a latecomer to the world of preserving food. It's only since I've had a decent-sized garden that I've taken a real interest in it.

Wait a sec, that's not true. I bought the odd box of peaches or plums before that, and wished I knew how to can things because it would be so nice to taste peaches in mid-winter!

Eventually, my mother-in-law gave me her canner, and my mom donated a few jars to my cause. My girlfriend sent me her Best Batch Salsa recipe, and I trepidatiously embarked upon my career as a canner by making one batch of salsa. It was tastier than storebought, had no MSG or preservatives, was made mostly of things I grew myself, and made me feel proud of my achievement. I was hooked!

Since then, I've inherited a barrel full of gem jars from back alley Ruby, who is now almost 102 and in a retirement home. I blessed Ruby this week as I was canning spaghetti sauce, and I blessed the women who figured out canning in the first place. I bless my grandmother and my mother for being canners before me. I bless my neighbour Mary and my Auntie Cathy for sharing their dill pickle recipes with me. I bless my friend Cathy for being the first person my age who canned her own salsa, for inspiring me to try it myself.

There's no shortage of information on the internet, or at most libraries, about how to go about preserving food. Sure, it requires more effort than going to the grocery store and picking a jar off a shelf, but if everyone on the planet were living more simply and sustainably, we'd all be taking part in trying to produce and preserve at least a little bit of what we eat. Better than having it jacked up with chemicals and shipped thousands of miles from canning plants in faraway places with strange-sounding names. Tuesday, a few hours' work gave me 13 jars of very yummy spaghetti sauce that we'll enjoy throughout the year, no chemicals or grocery stores required.

You may be thinking, "Easy for her to say. She has a garden." But farmer's markets have great deals on produce this time of year, and Canadian Tire has all sorts of canning supplies (I know -- my hubby had to go get me some more snap lids last night). Yes, there are original outlay costs for a canner and jars, but remember, they're reused dozens of times at very little cost! There are also "canning clubs" in some places, like 'The Fruits of Sherbrooke' that came from a group of women in the Sherbrooke Community League here in Edmonton.

Canning is just one of many small, self-reliant things we can do for ourselves that is also good for our planet.

And if I can do it, anyone can! Pun intended.

Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Try here.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The tent

Our youngest daughter and her neighbour friend had a sleepover last night. When I went down to check on them before bed, this is the sight that met my eyes:

It's a tent, attached to our dropped ceiling with orange duct tape,

walls made of blankets 
held together with clothespins
and supported by chairs, 

covering the futon on the floor,

and allowing full view of the TV.

Unfortunately, the duct tape ceiling support system didn't hold and everything had to be modified. But it was really nice while it lasted! I love how creative kids can be!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

"I missed you!"

Last week I set foot in the L'Arche Community Centre for the first time in August. When our community leader is away, as she has been for much of the summer, there's less for me to do, and I can do much of it from home. As I'm only a part-time administrative assistant, it's easy to feel disconnected from the community at times, especially since many things happen and faces often change when I'm not around.

That's why I was so delighted with Thomas' greeting last week. "You're back!" he said, coming over and giving me a completely spontaneous big bear hug for the first time in recorded history. "I missed you!"

Usually, I have to coax an admission like that from Thomas by asking leading questions, but not this time. I hadn't realized that I had been away long enough for him to actually note my absence. His welcome made all the difference to my day. Not skipping a beat, he proceeded to give me his daily report about where everyone was and what he had been doing.

We all need to feel loved and valued, even if our role in the lives of others is a small one. It seems to me, often, that our people with disabilities don't take presence for granted, but have a special gift when it comes to reminding us that we're all important to the community because we're loved, valued... and missed when we're absent.

Who have you missed over the summer? Have you told them you missed them?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Guest Moodler: Sermon on the Bread of Life

My friend Cathy, the parish nurse for her United Church community, gave the reflection at her church again last Sunday. I liked it so much, I asked her if I could share it with you. A little background information: being a prairie girl, Cathy is thrilled to have a producing peach tree in her yard (on Vancouver Island) for the first time this year. Hence the peach references. Happy Sunday!

Reflection on Bread of Life
August 19, 2012

I told a few people I was going to talk about food today. I’ve been itching to talk about food and when I saw that the reading for today was about eating and drinking flesh and blood, I thought, “Close enough!” Then I had the idea of sharing one of my miraculous peaches with the children and my thoughts turned to miracles.
          “Wine from water is not so small,
but an even better magic trick is that anything is here at all.
          So the challenging thing becomes, not to look for miracles,
 but finding where there isn’t one.”
That’s from a song by Peter Mayer talking about everything being holy and seeing miracles every day.
          Thinking about miracles reminded me of when I was 21. I was desperately seeking to relate to God in a way that made sense to me, to live a faith that made sense to me. And I found help in a book I was reading at the time called “The Colour Purple” by Alice Walker. One character explains to another what God is like and then says this line that I’ll never forget. It goes like this: “It pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it.” The other woman asks her “Are you saying God is vain?” and the first woman says, “No, God just wants to be loved.”  When I read that, I thought “That is something I can do.” I was able to let go of a lot of the confusion I felt about religion and just get on with the business of loving God. It was a transformative moment for me and from time to time I like to remind myself that God doesn’t like it if I walk by the colour purple in a field and don’t notice it.
          When we notice the miracles right in front of us…the colour purple, a ripe peach, the children… that is a moment when we notice God, and in that moment transformation happens. That’s why all the great spiritual teachers encourage us to live in the present moment, to notice the now. That’s where God is and that’s where God works. As much as we fool ourselves that we can control things and self-improve ourselves, real and lasting transformation is God’s work, moment by moment by moment.
          And so what about my food sermon?  My big chance to lay down my manifesto about healthy eating? I have lots of opinions about what we should eat and not eat. The thing is, so does everybody else. There was a patient where I work in my other job. She was 109 years old. She ate mostly white bread, arrowroot cookies and tea. Well, I say if you’re in your tenth or eleventh decade, keep on doing what you’re doing! Who am I to mess with success?
I will try to sneak some healthy eating awareness into the Health Corner in the church newsletter, and maybe some other initiatives. “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” That’s a pretty good place to start a discussion.  And we can fuss about the specifics but I suspect that healthy eating has as much to do with how we eat as what we eat.
          How we eat, how we do anything, is an indication of how we live. Do we eat, and live, with a sense of gratitude or a sense of entitlement? Do we eat, and live, noticing the miracles…the colour purple, the taste of peach…or with a distracted mind and heart, focusing on our worries, our plans, our frustrations, our past or our future, but not the present moment? Do we eat, and live, aware of abundance or taking it all for granted?
          Two years ago I became a vegetarian. I’d been thinking about it for a long time.  I was worried (I am worried) about the environment and wanted to do something personally significant, even if the impact was small. I came across a book on cd in the library, one of those books that talks about where our food comes from and the impact of the food industry on animals and the environment. I listened to it as I drove back and forth to work in Victoria. None of the information should have been surprising but at that time I heard it with a new awareness. This book talked about those mega factory farms in the USA, the conditions under which chickens are raised with the space of a size of a piece of paper per chicken, beaks being cut short, and desensitized workers in the slaughter house treating the live chickens horrifically. Pigs living in a cage or box without enough space to even stand up, absolutely imprisoned. Those are the stories that touched something deep in me. I had never been a particularly strong animal advocate. I grew up on a farm and knew where food came from. But that book made me feel terrible, and guilty, not so much as an individual, but as a people.
          I’m not against meat, or farmers. I don’t need anyone else to become a vegetarian. I think my point is that we are guilty as a people of taking our food for granted. Roast chicken used to be a special treat. I have a friend whose family still has chicken for Christmas dinner. I used to think, “How ordinary!” until I realized that it wasn’t always ordinary. Now we eat chicken every day. That huge amount of chicken has to come from somewhere and the factory farms supply the demand. And creatures suffer to supply it. Same with other foods and creatures when as a society we just want more, more, more.
          My point is to be aware. Be grateful. If you have the ability and means to choose food from environmentally and ethically sound options, it’s soul satisfying to do so.  If you’re in a situation where you have less choice, bless the MacDonald’s burger or whatever it is that’s nourishing you and bless and give thanks to the creature or part of creation that it came from. And enjoy it!
          Jesus calls himself the bread of life. He goes further to say we must eat his flesh and drink his blood to have life. What does this mean? Well, I’m not sure.  But I wonder if it has something to do with opening our awareness to the miracle of the moment that allows Jesus some space in our hearts and souls and minds to do his transforming, life giving work in us and ultimately through us. We become aware that we are part of this miracle, part of creation, connected to all that is and then we want to treat all that is with reverence. That is healing. That is health. That is the life that lives fully in the now and eternally.
          So go forth and look for miracles, “God’s footprints” a friend of mine calls them. And miracles will be sure to find you.
          Let us pray.
          Loving God,
Thank you for the miracle of this day, for the colour purple, the taste of a peach, the face of a child, the love of a friend. Help us to notice creation, to love and care for creation, to love and care for ourselves and each other and in so doing, love you.      

(If by chance you've missed the Peter Mayer song the other two times I've posted it, here it is again, for your enjoyment.)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Simple Suggestion #134... Consider alternative therapies

I had a sore left shoulder for about ten years. When Julia was almost three, we were running errands, and I had a bag of heavy library books and some groceries to carry. Julia was dawdling along like toddlers do, and I had a time limit, so I picked her up too, and something in my shoulder gave way, very painfully.

After that, my shoulder didn't work very well for a while. My doctor sent me to a physiotherapist who gave me some elastic band exercises that only made it hurt more, so I didn't follow that program very long. Over several months, my shoulder slowly improved to the point that it was usable, but got tired and sore very easily. I couldn't sleep on it for a few years, and even up until this past spring, if I did sleep on my left side, it was only for short durations before I'd have to shift.

In February, I sought out my friend Viet, who is a wonderful acupuncturist. He had impressed me a few years ago by helping a friend of mine with back pain, and I thought perhaps he could help me with my unexplained dizziness. So I filled in his "intake form" and he actually picked me up and drove me to his office, where he gave me my first of a dozen acupuncture treatments.

Looking back on it now, I can honestly say that it was wonderful, and more relaxing than I could imagine having needles stuck into my body could ever be. It didn't hurt as much as I'd imagined -- in fact, I didn't know where the needles were, even when I was full of them. Viet is a professional, and while his work didn't make my dizziness go away, it did me a lot of good in other ways: one afternoon, he asked me to flip onto my left side, and I made a comment about my gimpy shoulder. "Shoulder? You didn't say anything about your shoulder on the intake form! What's wrong with your shoulder?" he asked.

I guess I didn't comment about my shoulder on the form because I was so used to it being sore and achy. Viet listened to my explanation, said, "I think I can fix that," and put three needles into my right leg: ankle, mid calf and the side of my knee... and my shoulder has been NORMAL ever since!!

Which makes me wonder -- why did I wait so long to try acupuncture?

Probably because we Westerners have been brainwashed with the idea that Western medicine is the logical answer, not considering that there are older practices that are more wholistic than popping pills. Viet's intake form was the most complete personal physical inventory I've ever completed, and acupuncture treats the whole person, taking into account not only my dizzy head, but my carpal tunnel and my cold feet! (I can report having nice toasty toes for the duration of my treatments with him.)

There are many therapies out there besides acupuncture that have a lot to offer human health. I don't know a lot about many of them, but I have friends who swear by different alternative therapies. While I still haven't found the answer to my dizziness, I'm happy to say that my shoulder hasn't felt better in ten years!

I tell this story to encourage others to gather their courage and try something new if popping pills isn't working for you. What have you got to lose? Especially when you consider what you might gain. 

All I know is that I'm glad I've got my shoulder back in top shape.

Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Try here.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Explaining Voluntary Simplicity

Last night, I was invited to give a ten-minute presentation on Voluntary Simplicity to a community league group on the northside. Talk about a challenge! It's not easy to explain it in a day-long workshop, because it's a philosophy that touches every corner of a person's life. But I did my best. My only regret is that I forgot to mention the importance of being MINDFUL of the impact our choices have on the world and each other. In case you're interested, the presentation is below.

What is Voluntary Simplicity? Well, it’s a way of life that goes back into every human culture throughout history. Chances are, if you’re at this meeting, you might be living it yourself, but just didn’t have the fancy title for it – that was the case with my husband Lee and me. It was only when we attended a Voluntary Simplicity workshop led by Mark Burch, a Winnipeg Voluntary Simplicity expert, that we realized that it was what we were doing and wanted to do more seriously.
Voluntary Simplicity is “a deliberate organization of life for a purpose,” requiring “an avoidance of clutter,” and of “things that are irrelevant to the chief purpose of life.” (Duane Elgin, quoting Richard Gregg, follower of Mahatma Ghandi in Voluntary Simplicity: Toward a Way of Life that is Outwardly Simple, Inwardly Rich. William Morrow 1993, ISBN 0-688-12119-5, p. 23.)
When you think about it, that’s a pretty counter-cultural way to live in this millennium. The last several generations of human beings have grown up bombarded by billions of commercial messages telling us that if we want to live the so-called Good Life, we are what we own, and we can buy happiness... on credit if we need to, 0% financing, no GST.
But what’s interesting is that even as our homes and lives have filled up with all the products money can buy and all the activities we can fit into 24 hours, our happiness quotient in North America has been declining ever since our basic needs were met in the mid-1950s. It’s also interesting to note that since then, both our relationships and our leisure time have taken a back seat to the drive to own more so-called time-saving or luxury items. We’ve also become less capable of providing for ourselves than our homesteading ancestors.
While I agree that owning enough to get by is necessary for life and happiness, I would argue that having excess is making our whole planet poorer and sicker. Unfortunately, marketers tend to ignore the fact that the Earth’s resources are finite, so it’s up to us as consumers to call a halt to the excessive human greed that is taking a toll on many ecosystems and human populations across the globe, often without our knowledge.
So, how do we stop the relentless degradation caused by an excessive North American lifestyle that demands we keep up with the Joneses? By ignoring the Joneses and choosing to live simply so that others can simply live. In my books, living simply means
--less obsession with making a living vs. more leisure,
--less debt vs. more freedom,
--less pollution and noise vs. more harmony with nature,
--less hurry and clutter and stress vs. a more mindful, self-reliant and appreciative approach to living.
For my husband and me, it has meant taking a serious look at how we want to live, and what we value. In choosing Voluntary Simplicity:

--We decided that I should work in the home to provide sanity, stability and sanctuary for our family.
--We’ve chosen to become urban homesteaders (of sorts) growing and preserving as much of our own food as we can, because we know that homegrown and home-cooked meals are healthier than any food-like substances you can buy in packages or fast food places.
--We’ve learned to repair things and to avoid getting caught up in home or fashion trends, cutting consumer culture out of our lives as much as we can.
--We’ve gotten to know our neighbours better, so that we can trade tools and expertise and become more self-reliant rather than seeking store-bought solutions. 
--We try to rely less on personal vehicles to get around because we want future generations to live on a planet that isn’t clogged up by fossil fuel emissions. We are a single vehicle family.
--We’ve found ways to make significant cuts in our energy and water use in over the last ten years, and we support thrift stores.
--Finally, I’ve become a Simplicity Educator of sorts, doing workshops and presentations and organizing Simplicity Study Circles wherever people are looking for better alternatives.

What is wonderful about practicing Voluntary Simplicity is that we’re noticing that there are a lot more people jumping on the bandwagon. The environmental movement has made the population more aware of the impact of human beings on our planet and its inhabitants. The alternate energy people and folks like our bicycle commuters have shown us that there are healthier solutions to our energy needs than burning all our fossil fuel deposits. The Slow Food people have woken us up to more organic food choices, while the Locavores have made the idea of homegrown and local food, and hence, farmer’s markets and community gardens more popular. And people involved in social justice endeavors have made us realize that if we can control our purchasing power and live in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the developing world, there can be sufficiency for all.
The problem is that governments of every sort seem to be of the mindset that the economy is the bottom line, rather than the people within it. Politicians want to keep their positions, and quite often they do that by sticking with the status quo. But our present status quo, the one based on consumer culture and the overuse of the earth’s resources, is going to make it hard for us to live happily as human beings long term. So rather than sit tight with things as they are, we need a grassroots movement that starts with ordinary citizens like you and me, and ordinary communities, like yours, to start thinking outside the status quo box.
Voluntary Simplicity is one approach to making the kinds of changes that will help us become happier, healthier human beings. By choosing to live more simply, we cut down on the clutter in our lives... and in our world, and focus on the important things in life – community, relationship, and good health for us and our planet. We make choices for the common good of all rather than for greed, and we become active participants in making the world a better place, rather than being passive consumers of what’s left of the planet’s resources.
In my efforts to share Voluntary Simplicity with others since Lee and I discovered our place in it seven years ago, I’ve discovered some wonderful resources that I’ve used with friends, neighbours, different church communities and other folks who are interested in leaving the Good Life behind for the Better Life. If the Better Life is really what we want, our communities need to become a place where neighbours know and help one another, where cars give way to more walkable and bikeable environments, where there are supports for young families and the elderly and everyone in between, and where sun, air, water and soil are cared for and contribute to everyone’s health.
I realize that I’ve been talking too many generalizations, but my time is about up. I can assure you that everything I’ve been saying has been backed up by personal study and experience in the last several years. If you’re interested in learning more, there are many resources available. Perhaps you’d like to start your own Simplicity Circles or hold a workshop to explore the many possibilities. In any case, I’m cheering for you, because I think this meeting shows that you have great potential to be one of the flagship sustainable communities in Edmonton. If anything I’ve said has struck a chord with you, I’m open to questions... I wish you luck in building a Better Life in your community.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

When you don't have matches... do like the farmer

Who would ever even think about lighting the candles on a birthday cake with a blowtorch? My old farm friend (who is the same age as me) Aaron, that's who. He's now a city boy. We had supper with him and Angie, his lovely wife, on Sunday evening... and when it came time to light my mom's birthday candles, Aaron disappeared to find some matches, and returned with a blowtorch because matches were nowhere to be found. I must say that he was quite skillful with the torch... but the candles were quite a bit shorter than usual by the time we dished out the cake. At least the marshmallows weren't roasted...

If you're looking for a simple, cute way to decorate a cake, here's one that my sister shared with me. Ice the cake as usual, then cut marshmallows diagonally, press the cut edge into coloured sugar, and set them up on their bottoms to form flowers. See how pretty?

There's one more birthday to celebrate this week. Our middle girl turns sweet 16 tomorrow! And she is very sweet!

Speaking of farmers, today I feel like one! Here's a picture of the garden produce I picked this morning, and Chloe, our neighbourhood cat girl. I should take a few cukes with me to a Voluntary Simplicity presentation I'm giving tonight. More about that tomorrow...

Sunday, August 19, 2012

A visit from an old friend

Actually, Tom Lips isn't an old friend, but I feel like he is. He was the songwriting partner of Joan MacIsaac, one of my favourite folksingers in my teen years, and he recently stumbled onto my song moodlings while looking for Joan's music online. He left me a kind message, and told me that he's still making music in the Ottawa area. So I looked him up and found this video ... and ordered his CDs, too. With dandelions on my lawn and in my mind this week, "This Love is a Weed" seems a perfect Sunday song. Enjoy!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Another pretty garden spot

This week I hacked back my tomato plant jungle... and found more fruit than I know how to use. Isn't this a pretty box? The tomatoes are Yellow Heritage, an heirloom variety that's not quite so acidic. I picked a full pail of them yesterday. My friend, Cathy, sent me a nice pasta recipe so we can have them for supper... and canning season starts as soon as I finish painting the kitchen... almost this yellow!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Simple Suggestion #133... Write something

On a shelf in my basement sit two precious boxes. They're precious only to me, because they contain my life as I've written it. Dozens of journals, duotangs, notebooks and one diary -- see the small one with blue flowers on a black background? One of my classmates gave it to me in grade two. It's mostly empty, but it was the start of my written life.

I've been paying return visits to these boxes throughout the summer, because of a few anniversaries of different events in my past. Some of them were happy events, some quite painful... but they're all there, because I had an inexplicable need to write them down at the time. Sometimes I was just bursting with happiness, other times I was in depression, and there were many moments when I was just plain confused about something or other. There's a thick green one that's full of my thoughts and crushes as a teen. The turquoise book was my journal during my three years as an elementary school teacher. My romance with Lee is in a Hilroy Scribbler tucked in one of the fatter books. The one with the flowered still life contains a lot of my first year as a mother.

Some of them contain a me I'd rather forget, but a dear friend taught me a lesson when she tossed her journals into a fire pit, and now sometimes rues the day. Some of the entries among my writings are downright embarrassing now... those I'd gladly toss into a fire!... but others give me insight into the person I've become, or amaze me with their poetry, or their wisdom.

This has been a summer of dandelions -- those annoyingly tenacious plants that have taken over the front boulevarde of our yard -- so I was delighted to rediscover a poem I'd written for a friend who was going through his own rough patch:

Be like the dandelion, my friend,

Send roots deep into the 
earth of wisdom

Show the sunny colours 
of a smile to those you meet

Spread seeds of friendship
and understanding to all corners

Stake a tenacious claim
on the truths of life and love

Remember: There will always be dandelions. 
God loves all of creation.

It's not a masterpiece, I know, but I still like it. Dandelions are a force of nature, and so are we, especially when we can get past the frustrations and struggles in our own lives and still have a hand to lend to those around us who might need it.

I'm so glad that I recorded the dandelion poem in one of my journals before I gave it to my friend. I wonder, what other forgotten gems are in my two writing boxes? Perhaps this winter I'll take the time to read, and embrace once again the person I've been up til now, embarrassing or not.

Henri Nouwen wrote many journals and reflections that, fortunately for us, have been published (I wouldn't want mine to be!) and I particularly like the one below, that I saved for this occasion:
The word must become flesh, but the flesh also must become word.  It is not enough for us, as human beings, just to live. We also must give words to what we are living.  If we do not speak what we are living, our lives lose their vitality and creativity. When we see a beautiful view, we search for words to express what we are seeing. When we meet a caring person, we want to speak about that meeting.  When we are sorrowful or in great pain, we need to talk about it. When we are surprised by joy, we want to announce it! 
Through the word, we appropriate and internalize what we are living.  The word makes our experience truly human.
-- Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey, June 24
This week's Simple Suggestion is one that anyone can do, any time. Even those who don't think of themselves as writers can express what they think, or pen a line about a special person they met, or record their joys for a rainy day.

What will you write today?

Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Try here.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Old Strathcona Streetcar

On Saturday, with our eldest daughter at the Edmonton Folk Festival, the rest of us decided to take a little staycation on the Old Stratchona Streetcar, run by the wonderful fellows of the Edmonton Radial Rail Society (ERRS). The streetcar runs from between the Farmer's Market and the Cosmopolitan Music Society's Headquarters on 103rd Street (at about 84th Ave, just north of Whyte)

all the way to Jasper Avenue. We caught the three o'clock car, and enjoyed a sunny ride across the High Level Bridge with a bunch of international students from the U of A. The conductor gave a little spiel on the history of the tram, and the views from the High Level Bridge were great:

With the Night of the Living Fringe revving up this Thursday, click here for the streetcar schedule if you're interested in hitching a $5 ride to one of the better views in the city. Enjoy your ride, and happy Fringing if that's in your plans!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

An a cappella Sunday song

My daughter has been enjoying the Edmonton Folk Fest these last few days, and Blue Highway gave her goosebumps with this old song on Friday night. "Christ laid aside his crown for my soul.... and through eternity I'll sing on..." Enjoy!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

A sunny spot

Here's my favourite part of our yard these days...
which isn't even IN our yard. It's the patch beside our
back alley driveway, and it's the sunniest spot in the mornings.

This is the companion planting I spoke of back in mid-July... Sunflowers, scarlet runner beans, and spaghetti squash, all doing really well. There's also a few daylilies, bachelor buttons and some borage to give a little contrast to all the yellows and greens. But what I really love is the way the sun backlights the view when I'm in my yard picking cucumbers.

Speaking of which... harvest officially began yesterday...

Beans, golden heirloom cherry tomatoes, beets, zucchini, carrots, cukes, 
enough Windsor broad beans to make my favourite quinoa salad,
and lots of regular red and golden tomatoes.
Come feast with us!

Happy Summer!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Simple Suggestion #132... Take a hike

In case you're wondering, this suggestion has appeared because we've been away for the last few days... went to Radium Hotsprings, B.C., and got in a couple of absolutely lovely hikes. There's nothing like a good walk in the wilderness, mountainous or not. In fact, some of my favourite hiking has been here in Edmonton in our own river valley. I'm not one for strenuous hikes these days (I decided not to go on the Kimpton Creek hike below because of my dizzy head). Lee took those pictures, while I managed to take the ones above (including that cool shelf fungus) on the hike to Cobb Lake. Both days were warm, but no one overheated in the shady forests.

Hiking is another simple pleasure that I'd like to indulge in more than I do. Most North Americans live in cities and don't get enough of nature's sights, sounds and scents to keep us healthy, body, mind and soul. So, this week's mission: no matter where you live, see if you can't take a wonderful, de-stressing hike/walk to a natural spot... leaving only footprints and taking only memories.

P.S. Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Try here.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Happy dancing on a Sunday

I don't know if you've run into Matt and his around the world dancing videos in the last six years, but here's his most recent. It's nice to see how his videos have evolved, and that he's now learning the dances of others rather than having everyone do his strange little solitary dance from years gone by. And there's a sweet surprise on his shoulders at the end! Thanks once again to Charleen for sharing this one!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Book Review: Captain Corelli's Mandolin

No, I'm not talking about the movie with Nicholas Cage and Penelope Cruz. Honestly, I never saw it, but from what I've read about it after reading the book, there is no way that the movie can be as good as the book, because it completely misses some important characters, and tells only a part of the story, and that not very well. Hollywood could never do justice to a book like this one.

I had the pleasure of reading Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis De Bernieres (Vintage 1994, ISBN 0-09-9288028) during the week we spent in Waterton at the beginning of July. The fact that scenes from the book are still playing in my head now, at the beginning of August, tells me that it is one of those wonderful, rare books with plenty of food for thought. I just wish the cover of mine didn't have the movie marquee on it, because in my mind, it's not so much a romance as a story of the deep integrity of people in the midst of war.

Most of the story takes place during the brief Italian occupation of Greece during World War II. It tells the story of the burgeoning relationship between a Greek family and the Italian mandolin virtuoso captain of the squadron that is put in charge of the Greek island of Cephallonia. De Bernieres evokes the beauty of Greece and the historical ambience of the time with both witty and heartbreaking narrative involving many complex characters and plot turns that stir not only the mind, but the heart and soul as well.

From the opening episode of Doctor Iannis' housecall to remove a pea from the ear of an old man to the concluding motorcycle ride, I found myself in love with the densely satisfying language De Bernieres used to tell his story. It felt as though I was reading a classic novel but for the fact that its subject matter was so recent. It opened my eyes to a part of history of which I had been unaware. It evoked the joy of first love and the horrors of war equally well, and it held several characters that I will remember and mull over for a long time, in particular, Carlo Guercio, Captain Antonio Corelli, Doctor Iannis, and Pelagia, the doctor's spirited daughter.

I was joking with friends at the beginning of summer that it was time to read some "fluff," but this does not fall into that category at all. As a lover of historical fiction, I can't recommend Captain Corelli's Mandolin enough, and wish I had suggested it to my book club rather than the one I did (which shall not be named).

Have you read anything good this summer?