Friday, September 28, 2018

Food And Happy Spouses


I came across an article I wrote some years ago as a Guest Blogger for a friend who was doing a series on "Happy Spouses". I always meant to post it here at some point, but as I found it lingering in my draft file, I assume I never did. So, rather than let it linger any longer, today's the day it gets another chance to shine. I hope you enjoy it.

Here's wishing you a wonderful weekend,

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Kissing don't last! Cookery do.
~ George Meredith

Do you know what makes your partner's eyes light up when it comes to food? What causes those wonderful laugh lines around his eyes to show up because he's grinning so wide? For my husband, it's not salmon or roast beef or turkey dinner. Sure, he really enjoys those dishes, but his hands down favourite meal is pasta. Every time. Any time. I don’t think I know anyone else who loves spaghetti as much as he does, and I don't think he’s ever met a pasta dish he didn’t like.

But it took me a while after we were married to recognize that it wasn't just a favourite, but the preferred choice most often, which meant for me, I really didn't have to wrack my brain trying to dream up other kinds of menus -- online pasta recipes seemed endless. How easy it would be to make my hubby happy if we had pasta on a regular basis.

Growing up in my family, we didn't know it as pasta -- we knew it as macaroni or spaghetti. We also knew the emergency boxes of Kraft Dinner; those were a family treat, at least for us kids. But, it was more of a standby meal when the larder got low or a quick meal was needed. My dad, along with all the men I knew in our farming community, was a meat and potatoes kind of guy, so I assumed my dear hubbs was the same. 

That's why, when a discussion came up about favourite meals, I was taken aback to learn that for Rick a great pasta meal with a homemade sauce that had simmered for hours even upstaged Christmas turkey dinner, my own personal favourite. In fact, he told me not long after we were married that he used to make himself pasta several times a week – not as a cop-out for cooking something more elaborate, but because he really, really, really liked it. That was a light bulb day for me. Pasta became a more regular part of our menu planning, but it was still something I had to consciously remember to include more often. Even to this day. Yes, I like pasta. I love some of the recipes we've had over the years. But it's never been, and probably never will be, my top favourite meal.

"One of the very nicest things about life is the way
we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing
and devote our attention to eating."
~ Luciano Pavarotti

The summer I wrote this article, we had a fine crop of cherry tomatoes. Picked early in September to avoid being frozen on their stems like Popsicles, dozens of tiny red and yellow orbs had been ripening in a big paper box in the garage. One day I peered in to find not just a handful but dozens ready for eating. There was no way we could consume that many in a salad or bruschetta for two, so we Googled recipes on what to do with cherry tomatoes.

One recipe said to roast them on cookie sheets with garlic, basil, and olive oil, and use them later in pasta sauce. So, that's what we did. Imagine it. That September day, I had just pulled the pans from the oven. Rick came into the kitchen which smelled heavenly -- we both felt transported to Italy right then and there. He bent his face and breathed in the garlic-y, tomato-y fragrance and uttered a happy "YUUUU-MEE!"

Suddenly I caught a glimpse of the eager little lad he must have been a long time ago in his own mother's kitchen. Who knows, I never asked him, maybe he used to wander in when she was preparing supper and lift the lids from pots, giving an appreciative sniff, often reaching for the wooden spoon to give things a stir, just as he does today. A little hands-on anticipation. 

I saw something else that day we roasted those tomatoes. Rick's spontaneous 'yummy' really was a clue to one thing that truly makes him happy. And, if I paid closer attention to those little clues that seem to arrive so airily that they're easy to miss, I had the opportunity and privilege to show this dear man I loved him and wanted him to be happy ... and I could do it one pasta dish at a time.

"People who love to eat are always the best people."
~ Julia Child

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Friday, September 21, 2018

Friday Offerings of This and That

The week flew by and the time I meant to spend creating a new post was used elsewhere -- now it's Friday morning and my draft sits empty of words. I'm sorry for it, but at the same time, I am happy to say that spots in the garden are tidied up after that unexpected snow we had last week, my house is clean and ready for guests arriving on the weekend, and the refrigerator is standing by with a big pot of homemade beef and barley soup for lunch when they arrive. It feels good.

An empty draft means at this moment I having nothing to offer you. Which makes me feel a little sad. But as I stop to consider that an empty space can be open to all sorts of possibilities, I feel a glimmer of excitement instead. Just a glimmer, mind you. It's a little like when unexpected company arrives at your house. As the hostess, you frantically thinks about what you might have in your nearly empty pantry or freezer that could turn a dining table into something warm and welcoming. My youngest sister confided recently that she actually enjoys those unexpected occasions, where she has learned to turn those first moments of panic into the challenge of looking around to see what she can make from the little she may have on hand. She's amazed at how creative she becomes: A tin of this and a plate of that, along with a quick recipe of biscuits or muffins, and suddenly a simple bite to eat becomes a feast.

None of us really minds what's set in front of us at times like that -- it's about being in the company of others, whether friends, family, neighbours, even complete strangers. The spur of the moment creates a sense of release from expectation -- we must take it as it is. We can probably all relate to the giddy relief of offering what we have and not fretting about what we don't have.   

So, I look around this morning to see what little things I might have at the ready that might make a satisfying repast -- a little of this and a little of that to create something nice for you to read and, hopefully, make you glad you stopped by.

Let's start with the photo above. I took it a few days ago when I rearranged the nook in the bay window. I no longer have my little fig tree with the twinkle lights to brighten a dull day, and I wondered how to make it feel cozy as the days start to grow shorter and darker. I love how it creates an ambience of peacefulness, comfort, and cheer. I love to know it's there waiting for me when I come into the room. It'll be perfect for the season ahead.

"And all at once summer collapsed into fall."
~ Oscar Wilde

It was storybook autumn yesterday. I went for my walk in the neighbourhood. It was so gorgeous. Cool crispness to the air. Leaves falling overhead. Squirrels chattering in the trees. Streets strewn with leaves that were just so much fun to crunch through. My friend said he caught the nuthatches yesterday stuffing seeds into the brick siding of his house. What fun!

I live in the middle of the city, but there is a tiny corner patch of woods just up the street. It creates a feeling of being out in nature's wilderness -- that patch of trees in the left photo was taken while I was standing on the city sidewalk. I'm so blessed to have such beauty so close at hand.  

"Winter is fighting to hang on to its first grip of the season.
Yet you can see the beauty of summer struggling to hold on.
Life in its fullness!"
~ Cindy W., Facebook friend

Then, there was this. I woke up early this morning to find a storybook winter wonderland. Except it's not winter and so it didn't really feel fairy tale. In our yard it's still very much summer. Although autumn is definitely in the air and many trees in the neighbourhood have been turning red and gold, ours are still green, full, and leafy. The weight of the heavy snows weighs on my own shoulders as I fret that tree boughs will break if it keeps this up before the leaves have a chance to drop.

The weather is acting strangely, but we remind ourselves that we've had snow in September other years, with Autumn often returning. I do remember, though, as a girl the very first time I experienced snow arriving in September. A queer oddity. My young dad hadn't even harvested the crops off the fields. It felt troublesome to my young heart. What a sight to see the unharvested swathes laying like bodies under the snow in the fields. That year winter set in with a vengeance and we missed autumn entirely.

This afternoon, we drove past a school yard just as kids were getting out of school. Such a flurry of activity. You should have seen the snow balls flying. It was perfect for snowmen and kids were having great fun on their way home. It made me smile for the joy of it.

Photo: ben white |
Have you heard? The long awaited Downton Abbey movie is being filmed at Highclere Castle, and now there are actual release dates: September 2019 . . . first in UK cinemas and then in USA. And, no, it won't be on television but it's coming out in the theatres. You can read more HERE. I'm sure hoping it shows in Canada.

Photo: nordwood themes |

My favourite quote this week

"Gratitude turns what we have into enough."
~ as seen on Sew Me Something Good

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My Christmas book wish list is growing. Several books haven't been released yet -- they will be coming out this fall. As you are probably wondering what's on my list, here it is so far:

by Sarah McCoy (novel)
To be released October 23, 2018

"... an entertaining and moving historical novel, set in rural Prince Edward Island in the nineteenth century, that imagines the young life of spinster Marilla Cuthbert, and the choices that will open her life to the possibility of heartbreak—and unimaginable greatness."  I'm definitely interested.

by Louise Penny (novel)
To be released November 27, 2018

"When a peculiar letter arrives inviting Armand Gamache to an abandoned farmhouse, the former head of the Sûreté du Québec discovers that a complete stranger has named him one of the executors of her will. Still on suspension, and frankly curious, Gamache accepts and soon learns that the other two executors are Myrna Landers, the bookseller from Three Pines, and a young builder. ..."

by Sarah Clarkson
Was released in September 2018

"Books were always Sarah Clarkson’s delight. Raised in the company of the lively Anne of Green Gables, the brave Pevensie children of Narnia, and the wise Austen heroines, she discovered reading early on as a daily gift, a way of encountering the world in all its wonder. But what she came to realize as an adult was just how powerfully books had shaped her as a woman to live a story within that world, to be a lifelong learner, to grasp hope in struggle, and to create and act with courage."

Any true book girl is going to want to read this book. Maybe this book girl won't be able to wait till Christmas to get a copy.

by Lucy Worsley
To be released November 6, 2018

"As well as a queen, Victoria was a daughter, a wife, a mother and a widow, and at each of these steps along life's journey she was expected to conform to what society demanded of a woman. On the face of it, she was deeply conservative. But if you look at her actions rather than her words, she was in fact tearing up the rule book for how to be female. // By looking at the detail of twenty-four days of her life, through diaries, letters and more, we can see Victoria up close and personal. Examining her face-to-face, as she lived hour to hour, allows us to see, and to celebrate, the contradictions at the heart of British history's most recognisable woman."

I really enjoy Lucy Worsley as a presenter of history programs for the BBC. She's a lot of fun to listen to as she shares her wealth of knowledge. She is the Chief Curator at the charity Historic Royal Palaces. I'm looking forward to reading this new book of hers. 

by Atticus (poems)
Was released September 2018

"From the internationally bestselling author of Love Her Wild comes The Dark Between Stars, a new illustrated collection of heartfelt, whimsical, and romantic poems from Instagram poetry sensation, Atticus."

I loved his book Love Her Wild. Although he is a 20-something author and I'm someone who hasn't seen the backside of 20 for several decades now, there was something in his writing that made me vividly remember being 20 again. He put into poetry some things I haven't thought of in years. As a writer of memoir, I was amazed at how vivid they were. I look forward to his new book.

* * * * *

I hope you enjoyed your visit. Let the weekend begin.
Wishing you grace and mercy for all that you need these days.

Blowing a kiss,

Friday, September 14, 2018

It Would Be His 89th Birthday

My dad, about age 20

I came early to my study on this grey and wintry morning, and as I wrote the date into my journal I realized today would have been my dear dad's 89th birthday. Rather than chat about weather and how weird it feels to see my corner of the world well-covered in snow this morning, and how I'm sad about my snow-laden flowers splayed across the garden, I'm eager to share a personal essay with you.

This piece was written as a tribute to my dad shortly after he passed away. It was my way of grieving, gathering cherished memories, and bringing closure to what I couldn't see clearly when it was right in front of my nose. Closing the chapter of his life with us -- with me -- here on earth.

On that note, I'm wishing you all a beautiful weekend.


A Tribute to My Dad
by Brenda his daughter 2004 

A father doesn’t tell you that he loves you. He shows you.
~ Demitri The Stoneheart

When we want to convey our affection and esteem to someone, gifts, flowers, and Hallmark cards have become accepted (even expected) tokens of our love. Like many, I avail myself of these most agreeable traditions, and I admit my eyes light up with pleasure at the sight of a parcel, florist bundle, or card addressed to me. But, I am the daughter of a man who did not express his love in these traditional ways. My dad was quiet and reserved, and for reasons only he knew, he kept his emotions and counsel close to himself all his life. It was not easy for him to initiate a hug or say words of love or commendation, even when he was proud of us; he wasn’t one who stood by the card counter to pick out the special occasion greetings for the family. 

Still, growing up I somehow knew my dad loved me. All my material needs and many of my wants were provided for in ample measure, and when I think about it in retrospect, his hands (in tandem with his heart) articulated a love that no store-bought gift or card could have done more eloquently than by the countless acts of service and lovingly-made offerings he presented to me and my family over his lifetime. 

Dad had strong and brawny hands, with freckles on them. Sometimes dirty with soil or machinery grease, they were always industrious and resourceful. They were the hands of a farmer, a builder, a gardener. On occasion, I would take hold of his hand for a moment. I marvelled at how small my own hand looked in his, and I could feel its strength. It was nothing for him to open a stubborn jar of pickles or haul a couple of five-gallon pails filled with grain or potatoes. 

Dad’s hands seemed to enjoy making surprises for us when we were kids: wooden tops, whistles carved from tree branches, little knitting devices created from Mom’s leftover cotton thread spools. In the days before mega-toy stores, it was nothing for my dad to fashion scraps of metal and lumber into some great play things. I don’t remember asking for a swing, sandbox, or seesaw, but there they were one day. And, oh, the countless hours of fun we had. There was also the time we came home from school to find a newly-assembled desk, just our size, sitting in our bedroom. Too small for adult legs to fit comfortably under now, it still has a place in our family, that little red-hued mahogany desk Dad lovingly built for me and my sister. 

Yes, Papa’s hands could rummage through junk piles and find the neatest treasures at an auction or garage sale. They were hands clever enough to recycle bits and pieces into a ‘brand new’ bicycle, strong enough to dig fence post holes with a hand auger, and, in later years, coordinated enough to use a small needle to hand stitch the family quilts Mom sewed. Whether he designed a go-cart with his young son or birdhouses with his grandsons; wood-worked oak shelves for Mom or doll cradles for his granddaughters; whether he refurbished and fortified work-worn wheelbarrows for kids who now had gardens of their own (painting them in his favourite jolly red or John Deere green), these deeds all represented Dad’s own brand of I love you. 

Dad’s hard-working hands also knew how to be kind, and they never struck us in anger. They were safe hands. As a young father, he cheerfully changed wet diapers and crawled on his hands and knees, so my little sister and I could play hairdresser with his reddish blonde hair. Later, as a grandpa, his hands would joyfully reach out for toddling grandbabies, settling them on his knee and planting big fat kisses on their chubby cheeks. Dad never felt nervous or shy around the little ones. Perhaps small children posed no threat; they made no demands for conversation, happy just to play with his reading glasses and sit on his quiet lap. He never grabbed out to them when they weren’t quite ready for his bear-hugs, but often you’d find a youngster tucked in the crook of Grandpa’s arm as they both snoozed in the big La-Z-Boy recliner. 

As a girl, I accepted my dad’s quiet and unassuming manner and was comfortable with it. However, as I matured into teen- and young adult-hood, my own secret desire, even need, for more affirming words and physical expressions made me long for something less restrained, maybe even more ‘traditional’ from him. Then, a few years ago, I came across a book by author Gary Chapman entitled, The Five Love Languages. Based on his own research, Chapman explained that people tend to express their love in five basic ways: words of affirmation, physical touch, quality time, gifts, and acts of service.

I suddenly saw it! Dad had always been telling me he loved me, every time he filled my pantry with sacks of potatoes and vegetables he had grown in his garden; every time he responded so willingly, almost eagerly, to my requests for something from his workshop or help with building a new fence at our new house. His gifts and acts of service took on a whole new meaning for me. This was how he said, “I love you”. 

I finally understood. Gifts of love don’t come only in the shape of flower bouquets, greeting cards, or beribboned packages from fancy department stores; they come to us in as many creative ways as there are people in this world. I began to truly appreciate and understand more fully the kind gestures, generous deeds, and quiet ways my dad chose, maybe even dared, to show his affection. Once again, as a grown woman with expectations, the eyes of my heart clearly saw that my dad loved me. I could let go of an expectation to look for something Dad could not give and to receive with joy what he could.

Maybe Dad would have echoed the sentiment of a fellow in a movie I once saw, who in response to a comment made to him that he wasn’t good with words, replied, “Sometimes words aren’t good enough”. 

Almost a year has passed since those busy and loving hands were stilled. No more carpentry in the workshop, no more picking apples for pies and applesauce, and no more inquiries about whether I need some freshly-dug potatoes.

Despite the dreadfulness of my dad’s illness, something quite wonderful happened during the last couple of years of his life, and especially the last few months of Dad’s life here on earth. Some of the barriers and reservations with which Dad had guarded his inner life began to fall away, and we began to catch glimpses of the man behind all that reserve. Oh, he still didn’t say much when we visited, but there was less restraint, a new easiness between us. He liked it when I read a favorite Bible verse aloud as I sat by his bed. His hand was content to rest in mine when I’d reach out to hold it. Hugs were eagerly received and given. It was good. 

Jesus once said that people will know we are His disciples by our love. Surely Dad’s crown will shine brightly for all the ways, seen and unseen, he loved me and my family. Those strong, beautiful hands … they spoke of a love I shall always cherish and of a man I shall never forget. 


Saturday, September 08, 2018

Belated Five on Friday


We went on a road trip to visit Rick's family in British Columbia this past week. Although a short visit, we filled the hours with catch up visiting, not to mention sitting in kitchens filled with good food and laughter.

Our trip itself was a delight of varying scenery. From north to south first through urban centers, past fields of hay, grain and corn ready for harvesting, to traveling past the flat, open prairies with the long horizon just a brushstroke between sky and land. From the rolling foothills, hazy in the distance, to large mountain passes, the Crowsnest Pass to be specific. Along straight ribbons of highway to winding roads that ran beside flowing mountain streams, climbing high into the hills and cliffs where the valley was a long way down, especially on the passenger's side and you sure hoped the driver was paying attention.

Such a feast of variety and vastness and magnificence. A camera certainly could never truly capture the shifting vistas but our eyes certainly feasted. They will never quite forget those moments now pressed into memory banks.

Question: Do you feel enlivened in your soul when you are on a road trip? I sure do. My soul always come back more alive and alert and in love with life.


"Flowers have an expression of countenance as much as men or animals.
Some seem to smile; some have a sad expression; some are pensive
and diffident; others again are plain, honest and upright,
like, the broad-faced sunflower. and the hollyhock."

~ Henry Ward Beecher

As always, my camera and I were on the lookout for something I could share with you when I got back home. These hollyhocks were a vision of loveliness in my sis-in-law's garden. She told me they have grown in the garden for many decades now and were there when they moved years ago.

Makes a person wonder about the woman (or man) who planted the first seeds, and now here we are enjoying the fruit of their labour all these many years later. I feel something on that. Maybe it's the universal human connection that helps me feel that sense of belonging in this world. And that connection between generations. I think I might have to ponder that further.


“We can stop waiting for life to become perfect and
start working with what we’ve got to make it as
satisfying as we can. We can accept, bless, give thanks,
and get going. Today, we can begin to call forth the riches
from our everyday life. Today we can move from lack to abundance.”

~ Sarah Ban Breathnach, Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy


“Be joyful today with a good dose of pretty flowers.” 
~ Emilie Barnes

Such delicate petals. Like tissue paper. Notice how the tightly furled petals of the top bud are a soft peachy pink, yet when the petals open they are a pale buttery yellow. I love nature's creative streak. A glimpse of the Divine Garden-Artist at work. Hollyhocks are an old garden favourite. Yours?


“You simply will not be the same person two months from now
after consciously giving thanks each day for the abundance that
exists in your life. And you will have set in motion an ancient spiritual law:
the more you have and are grateful for, the more will be given you.”

~ Sarah Ban Breathnach, Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy


I feel like I've been given so much this past week. My heart is full. From spending time with Rick's open-hearted and hospitable family to wandering around gardens and art shows and just seeing the world go by through the windows of our vehicle ... it's been a little bit of paradise. Yes, people may ask about the smoke from forest fires, sure, the smoke was there, but we didn't focus on it. There was so much else to see.

On that note, I'm wishing you a beautiful weekend.