Monday, November 12, 2018

A Moment For Comfort On A Monday

anita austvika |

Grant me, Oh Lord, a sunny mind—

~Emily Dickinson
a line from her poem, Besides the Autumn Poets Sing

When I listen to the news of these past few days, clouds threaten to cover any sunny spots I might have in my mind. Fires, shootings, even a homemade bomb going off in our local library parkade this past week -- strange goings on seem to be everywhere. It's a world gone mad, and we wonder how to carry on, and our hearts ache for those whose lives are devastated and changed forever.

For today, I am well. My family is well. We are all reasonably happy and at peace going about the business of living our lives. Sometimes I think to myself, selfishly, what if I could just enclose myself in my own little world and shut myself off from the pain out there. Then maybe we'd get through it. But, of course, we can't disappear down our own rabbit holes and hope for things to go away -- we need each other to help share the load. Sometimes we're the ones with the bad stuff, other times it's happening to someone else. It makes me glad we're not alone -- as humans, we are in it together, and together, we can garner some measure of comfort.

"To console does not mean to take away the pain but rather to be there
and say, 'You are not alone, I am with you. Together we can carry
the burden. Don't be afraid. I am here.' That is consolation.
We all need to give it as well as to receive it."

~ Henri Nouwen


So, what do we do on a Monday morning? For many of us, including myself, life carries on with the usual routines, including various pleasant pursuits even. I sit here at my desk where I hear the chatter of the birds and am so glad that they keep singing regardless of what is going on. Maybe they are God's little messengers of hope that all is not lost.

Did you happen to see that poignant recording that came out over Remembrance Day weekend? They captured that moment where the guns were stilled on November 11, 1918 and WW1 was over. In that moment of silence after the deafening roar of guns and bombs, near the end of that beautiful sixty seconds of silence came a sweet, sweet sound -- the birds were singing. Amazing. Marvellous. I played it over and over just to hear that last bit again.

So we must keep the faith. We must share the light and pass along the antidote (other antidote thoughts in an earlier POST). Who knows, perhaps in some future decade or century someone will be reading the comforting words you have composed today for someone in a note, blog post, or book. And, there in that future place a woman will sit with that book or 'famous' quote in her lap, reading it aloud so her heart can hear the words, ever grateful they were preserved over the decades and could bring fresh comfort to her then and there.

I get a shiver up and down my spine to even imagine it!

annie spratt |

While thinking about what I wanted to share today, I realized that, first of all, I wanted to invite you to visit Sandra @ Where Inspiration Blooms, to take joy in one particular POST from a few weeks ago. Sandra is a very special online friend, a light in a dark world, and she offers her posts each week with the hope that her words will cheer, console, and gently challenge readers to keep looking for the good and beautiful in this world. I've been cheered more than once from her gracious writing.

If you do find yourself fretting or looking at this coming week with any anxiousness, let me share a word that I have often found a comfort in troubled times. These words that have come down through the centuries offer the same solace they offered past generations. It's encouraging to me, personally, to hear about people who lived through their own dark times and are still able to write down such hopeful thoughts. Surely then it's also possible for me, for us, in our world today to take heart ... and carry on.
"Do not look forward to what may happen tomorrow; the same everlasting Father who cares for you today will take care of you tomorrow and every day. Either He will shield you from suffering, or God will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace, then, put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations."
~ St. Francis de Sales (1567 - 1622)

Recently my dear niece was feeling the pressure of her studies at college -- it all seemed overwhelming. Even though my own college days are ancient history now, I vividly remember that angst of studies and homework piling up, wondering how on God's green earth I was ever going to get through it all. Thinking about what I could offer that might give her courage, I was suddenly reminded of something attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt (she'd certainly gone through her share of hardships). It's a quote that has been pinned to my bulletin board for decades now. I quickly texted Becca the words, and a moment later I heard the familiar ping, her reply telling me that those words meant more to her than I'd ever know...
"Every time you meet a situation, though you think at the time it is an impossibility and you go through the tortures of the damned, once you have met it and lived through it you find that forever after you are freer than you were before."
~ Eleanor Roosevelt, former US First Lady

There are those who are grieving for something. A loss of a loved one or something precious to them, like their home or job. I am always drawn to these words that were spoken to the grieving widower, Oscar Blundell, in Rosamunde Pilcher's well-loved novel Winter Solstice. Sometimes words aren't enough to help someone through the grief, but once in a while they make it bearable for the moment. That's exactly what Oscar found when his friend tried to comfort him with these words:
"Life is sweet. Beyond the pain, life continues to be sweet. The basics are still there. Beauty, food, and friendship, reservoirs of love and understanding. Later, possibly not yet, you are going to need others who will encourage you to make new beginnings. Welcome them. They will help you move on, to cherish happy memories and confront the painful ones with more than bitterness and anger."

paola nicolello |

Never be in a hurry; do everything quietly and in a calm spirit.
Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever,
even if your whole world seems upset.
St. Francis de Sales

I'm leaving you with these last words, also by St. Francis de Sales. It's my heart prayer that you will experience a peace of mind and heart no matter what's going on this week. I'm also wishing you glimpses of heaven in unexpected places. And don't forget to listen for the birds.

With love and a gentle kiss atop thy head,

Monday, November 05, 2018

Four Books And A Feast

"When life has difficult times,
fight back with normal life."
~ Unknown

Today I have four favourite books on my desk -- put them together and they are a reading feast. As we come into the season of drawing nearer the cozy corners in our own homes and maybe dusting off books we haven't thought of in a while, I'm delighted to share these titles with you. Three are memoirs, the fourth is a novel, and they each have a common element where food plays a supportive role in each of these gorgeously crafted and courageous stories.

In our upside-down world, we look around for those things that can help give us some measure of normalcy and comfort -- simple things like chopping vegetables for a hearty soup, setting a pot on the stove to boil pasta, or turning on the kettle for tea and then sharing it with others. Even taking solace in the normal routine of washing up the plates and cups later in hot, sudsy water -- these are essential ingredients that go a long way to making our lives feel less shaky, more normal. After all, we must eat in good times, and we still need to eat when it's not so good. Our souls, not only our bodies, continue to draw sustenance from the eating and sharing of food.

And, even when all is well in our lives? I ask you, who amongst us doesn't cherish and enjoy our creature comforts? As C.S. Lewis once said, "Eating and reading are two pleasures that combine admirably." So I offer these four beautiful books that have food as a main character, or should I say, main ingredient, and whatever you are in the middle of this week, I hope they provide a feast for you.

Keeping the Feast (Memoir)
One Couple's Story of Love, Food, and Healing
by Paula Butturini, 2010

This is one of my favourite books. I took it out of the library so many times when I first found it that I finally went in search of my own copy. It's a beautifully written story of food and love, trauma and depression, healing and hope.

It's the story of Paula Butturini and her husband, John, who were both journalists during the chaotic uprisings against Communism in the late 1980s. John had been shot and nearly killed in Romania, which led to months of recovery and eventually a debilitating depression. Paula, faced with taking care of John during this time, began to see how the daily routines of shopping, preparing, and sharing food for the two of them became not just a physical nourishment, but a sustaining comfort during that difficult season.

Opening Lines:  "Two ghosts. That was how a friend later described us when we returned to Rome in 1992. John and I had been away five years, and though neither of us knew it at the time, we returned, I think, because Rome seemed the most likely place to recuperate and cast out the demons we had picked up in our absence.

We moved into a small apartment near the Tiber on one of those golden October days so perfect that you could never imagine willingly leaving the city again. Every morning I would walk down our narrow street toward the hubbub of Campo dei Fiori, where the flower sellers, the fruit vendors, the vegetable sellers, the fishmongers, the mushroom lady, the bread shop, the lamb and chicken lady...the olive and herb vendors, the newspaper kiosk, the housewares stand, and the roving garlic salesmen...were always open for business no matter how early I awakened."

by Erica Bauermeister, 2009

The author once said that she always wanted to write and when she read Tillie Olsen's I Stand Here Ironing, she finally knew she wanted to "write books that took what many considered to be unimportant bits of life and gave them beauty, shone light upon their meaning." Oh yes, I totally understood that. I could see this author was kindred spirit -- someone who also loved to find the beauty in life, even in ordinary rituals, like eating and cooking.

I loved, loved this novel from the first page to the last. It was so rich with sensory details that I was right there inside the story, living it as it unfolded. When I finished the last page, I turned around and started it all over again, this time reading it aloud to my hubby who also loved it. It was so evocative and sensual to read out loud -- to hear words that somehow created a deep, rich, satisfying savour inside our souls.

The story, in a nutshell, is about a young woman, Lillian, who teaches a cooking class once a month at her restaurant. The students come to learn about cooking 'soulful' dishes, but in truth they each come looking for something beyond the kitchen. Little did they realize that meeting Lillian and taking her class would be a turning point in their lives. 

Opening Lines: "Lillian loved best the moment before she turned on the lights. She would stand in the restaurant kitchen doorway, rain-soaked air behind her, and let the smells come to her -- ripe sourdough yeast, sweet-dirt coffee, and garlic, mellowing as it lingered. Under them, more elusive, stirred the faint essence of fresh meat, raw tomatoes, cantaloupe, water on lettuce. Lillian breathed in, feeling the smells move about and through her, even as she searched out those that might suggest a rotting orange at the bottom of a pile, or whether the new assistant chef was still doubling-dosing the curry dishes. ..."

If you've never read the book, run and find it, I guarantee you will be so glad you did. Here's a quote from the book I think need pondering: "Sometimes, Nina, our greatest gifts grow from what we are not given."

Making Toast (Memoir)
A Family Story
by Roger Rosenblatt, 2010

I found this book at the library book sale some years ago now. I was drawn to it because it was a story of loss and a family trying to find their way through this awful, strange period. I remember when my dad passed away and how odd it all felt, how huge the loss of his presence in our family's life. I was interested to know how, or if, this family got through it. 

This painfully beautiful story is a tribute to the author's daughter Amy -- a gifted doctor, mother, and wife -- who collapsed and died from an asymptomatic heart condition. It's a story of how people die out of order, and grandparents are suddenly parents again. It's about trying to help a family heal through the day-to-day routines as life goes on. 

Lines from Page 16-17:  "I wake up earlier than the others, usually around 5 a.m. to perform the one household duty I have mastered...I prepare toast. I take out the butter to allow it to soften, and put three slices of Pepperidge Farm Hearty White in the toaster oven. Bubbies (one-year-old grandson) and I like plain buttered toast; Sammy prefers it with cinnamon, with the crusts cut off. When the bell rings, I shift the slices from the toaster to plates, and butter them."

Maman's Homesick Pie (Memoir)
A Persian Heart in an American Kitchen
by Donia Bijan, 2011

This is a wonderfully written memoir. It's both beautiful and heartbreaking, emotional and entertaining, all the while giving the reader a rich glimpse of the author's former life in Iran and her new life in the United States.

The author, a chef, tells her heartfelt family story 'through the prism of food'. Her family fled to California when the revolution in Iran threatened their safety in 1978. Looking back, she sees how the 'familiar flavors of her mother's cooking formed a bridge to the life they left behind'. Years later, Donia Bijan studied at Le Cordon Blue in Paris and came back to the US where she opened her own celebrated bistro. This book is peppered with delicious-sounding recipes and anecdotes of how they came about and why they are meaningful to the author, e.g. Roast Duck Legs with Dates and Warm Lentil Salad, Purple Plum Skillet Tart, Madame's Cocoa Pound Cake, Orange Cardamom Cookies, Cinnamon Date Bars, to name a few). I had the pleasure of making the Orange Cardamom Cookies -- oh my, they were lovely. You will find the recipe HERE.

Opening Lines: "My mother had been dead eight days when I showed up in her kitchen. There I was, on a gray January afternoon, with empty boxes and grocery bags, determined to cope with my colossal loss by salvaging a head of lettuce, a quart of milk, a pint of plain yogurt, and jar after jar of homemade pickle vegetables.

Walking down the hallway to her front door, I was no longer greeted by the familiar aroma of sweet Persian spices, nor could I hear the faint notes of the classical music station my mother tuned in to from morning until the evening news. I half expected her to open the door and pull me to her chest--Here you are, darling, here you are--and tell me it had been a huge mistake...that the mangled body we buried just a few days ago was not her. Not her."

* * *

I have taken comfort and joy from these stories, because in our troubled times, where rough stuff happens, it really comes back to remembering some of the simple ingredients of life: love, family, food ... not to forget, the books and words of wise people who remind us to hope and not to give up.  

Can you recommend a book you've enjoyed reading where food plays a key role in the story?

Wishing you a week of goodness, kindness, and beauty.