Sparkling bright silver
The colour of November
Not doomsday dull grey.
It is time to put our optimism on and wear it gladly and gaily.
Sparkling bright silver
The colour of November
Not doomsday dull grey.
It is time to put our optimism on and wear it gladly and gaily.
Thrown into winter
Windy, snowy, freezing cold
Shiver me timbers
The Santa Claus Parade and Festival of Lights have started the holiday season in my little town, and this is my weekly newspaper column dedicated in part to that tradition and my own traditions which are, if I do say so myself, a bit quirky:
The strains of holiday cheer fill the air. In my mind’s eye I can see the Christmas parade replete with bands in their regalia, floats full of red cheeked faces, drummers drumming, and the festive evening’s darkness cut by glowing lights. I imagine the jolly old elf punctuating the night air with “ho ho ho”; his lovely wife loyally by his side waving and smiling at the crowd. And I see the children full of hope as the magic of the holiday season begins in our fair town.
I see these things clearly. But this year I participate from the warmth of my home. The thought did cross my mind to leave the toasty confines of my little red chair in the corner of my living room, but it was fleeting. No one wanted to accompany me the half a block walk to the corner of my street to watch the annual parade and I did not want to bundle up and venture out on this cold cold night by myself. I noticed on Facebook the day after the parade that several of my friends tempted the cold and watched the parade, but their conclusion was the same—the parade was wonderful, but it was “freakin’” (a term I am convinced was coined by Regis Philbin) cold.
Nevertheless, I did participate in a way that has become somewhat of a tradition that I have donned since my kids have grown up and are no longer interested in standing out in the cold with me. I left my chair and the glow of the TV and climbed the stairs to my upstairs bathroom. From that vantage point I could see the fireworks that both noisily and colourfully ushered in the “most wonderful time of the year.” I corralled my youngest son to join me, and we gazed out the window together, warm and cozy in that little utilitarian room. He got a little agitated at one point, wanting to get back to whatever he was doing before I asked him to join me, but I prevailed upon him with that most poignant of tools a mother has in her arsenal—guilt—so he stayed until the bitter end. Which was not bitter at all.
From our perch on the bathroom counter we had a view most others could not replicate. There was no straining of necks, no chill up our spines, no jockeying for position in the crowd. We could just enjoy the display and hear the oohs and awes of the crowd a mere few blocks away. I actually oohed and awed a few times just for good measure and ironic pleasure—but to be honest, there were some undeniable wows in the display. It was a fitting way to begin the season. I have quietly been introducing a few decorations into my home décor—a “real” evergreen wreath on the front door, a festive planter on my coffee table, some red and green ribbon waiting patiently to festoon its way through the house.
As I write this there is freshly fallen snow outside, forming crests on our bushes and adding newness to our surroundings. According to the weather men and women we are in for a November week that rivals mid-winter. And that is okay. We have to make the transition and if it is early this year, so be it. I will be taking on decorating with fervour in the next couple of weeks, my motto being “if it takes a day or so to put up and a day or so to take down, I need to enjoy it for a few weeks”. I am someone who is no stranger to hard work (and don’t let anyone tell you that decorating is not hard work) but I like the fruit of my labours to last for a while.
This year, as in others, I will start out determined to simplify Christmas, and get it down to an art. But Christmas is not an art. It is not perfect. I have come to the conclusion that it is a craft; one that is original every year yet has aspects of its forebears. A favourite little ditty that I love and brings to mind all that is simple and good (and unattainable) follows. It is called “Simple Gifts” and is attributed as an American Shaker hymn. On the surface it sums up how I would like life to be in general, and Christmas in particular: “ ‘Tis the gift to be simple, /‘Tis the gift to be free/‘Tis the gift to come down/Where we ought to be/And when we find ourselves/In the place just right, /Twill be in the valley/Of love and delight……………..”
Here is hoping that in this Christmas season, we all land “in the place just right.”
Where is your Christmas “place just right”?
A Little of This, A Bit of That, and The Other: Hickory Nuts is the original title of this, my weekly column. I am getting a little tired of having to thank David for his inspiration once again, but David, once again, thank you.
As a self-proclaimed wordsmith, I found a term which I bequeath the “Word of the Year” award. The word is one I have never come across before—but both its spelling and meaning are soothing. Susurrus, pronounced “soo-sur-uhs” is defined as a soft, murmuring sound.
A favourite blogger of mine is a Canadian living the American dream. His blog, Live and Learn is one where I find the most charming quotes and astute observations. It is where I discovered my new favourite word, its definition, and subsequent context. Described as one of the most beautiful words in the English language, it “resembles the rustling symphony of the fallen leaves moving across pavement or the whispers created by the branches of the trees on a windy autumn day.” The vivid picture painted by such a description is one that I would like to be water coloured into.
The definition goes on to say that “uttering susurrus also stimulates the acoustics of nature’s effect” and is “one of those rare words where it’s aesthetic, sound, and feel coincide beautifully.”
I was watching Jamie Oliver’s Food Channel program “15 Minute Meals” early this morning, and while I really like the chef, I have a bone or two to pick with him. The secret to his 15 Minutes Meals is all in the preparation. He has all his utensils out, the food processor at the ready, and the water boiling for his pasta or potatoes or whatever culinary delight he is preparing that needs some boiling. This is cheating. Everyone knows that to get a decent boil going for a pan of water takes some time—yet this is not part of his 15 minutes. Nor is the time that it takes to set up the meal—getting everything out and half-prepping it (washed greens, unwrapped cheeses, and unscrewed lids).
I am not particularly fond of spending time in the kitchen on a daily basis. On occasion I like to cook, but the daily grind is just not something I look forward to. So when I am promised a 15 Minute Meal, I want to only spend 15 minutes. Any more than that, and I feel cheated. Seriously, Jamie’s meals would take most of us at least 40 minutes—and that is still not too long to spend on fixing a meal if we are told the reality of the situation. But to advertise something as 15 minutes and it to turn out to be 40 is not a good thing (I asked Martha and she said I could use her tagline).
So, Jamie, while I still love your show—quit trying to pull the wool over my eyes.
The Other: Hickory Nuts
I am pleased as punch. Now, how pleased that really is, is a complete mystery to me—but I am using this phrase to tell you how happy a mystery benefactor has made me. Someone, who will remain unnamed at this point (mainly because I do not know their name), left me a bag of hickory nuts after reading my columns nostaligizing the lovely nuts.Their note read “I enjoy your columns, particularly the one on hickory nuts” or something to that effect (the note has been lost in the plethora of papers that surround my desk—but I did not misplace the little nuggets of goodness).
So, to that person I have two things to say: 1. Who are you? 2. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Your writing looks somewhat familiar, but I could just be fooling myself into thinking that I recognize it. I must tell you that I am enjoying the hickory nuts immensely.
In the old days, I used a hammer on my parent’s brick outdoor fireplace to break into the little fellows, and capture their nutty goodness (some of which I had to forego as we were tasked with getting the meat of the nuts for a cake my mom would make). Instead of getting the hammer out, I found my nutcracker (until this point only used at Christmas) and a little utensil that comes with it to dig the tiny pieces from the crevices of the shell. Now, this is no easy task, but once a morsel is successfully unattached the reward is a gustatory delight. You may think I am overstating it, but the hickory nuts have brought back wonderful childhood memories. They taste of the woods, autumn, and times past. Again, I say thank you.
Hopping on my steed
I would wheel out of the driveway
And up the road
To destinations not unknown:
the creek, the corner store, a friend’s house ~
Warm summer breezes teasing my long hair
Into tangles that no comb could unravel
My arms and legs tanned where shorts and top ended.
I would ride by fields of corn and wheat
And feeling a little silly, talk to cows as they munched in the meadows
Their big brown eyes somehow understanding.
Sometimes I would have to pump and strain with wild delight
Chased by big dogs which had no chance of catching of me
As my fear made me strong, fast, invincible
I long for the days when freedom was as easy
As riding my red bike.
My weekly column for your reading pleasure. Some of you will recognize it as a longer version of a blog I did a few days ago:
“I do not understand how a poem can be better than a peppermint plant.” ~ thich nhat hanh
Perspective is that illusive entity that helps us make sense out of the events of our lives, or, at the very least, gives us a proportion by which to measure those things. thich nhat hanh puts life so in perspective for me. Sometimes I do not appreciate the beauty in everyday things and tasks—okay, most of the time, I do not appreciate the beauty in the everyday—but his thoughts in this poem, found in a short chapter in his book “moments of mindfulness” help me to see tasks as more than necessary evils, and value the things in life I take so for granted:
Planting a seed
washing a dish,
and cutting the grass
are as eternal,
as writing a poem.
I do not understand
how a poem can be better
than a peppermint plant.
I do agree with him wholeheartedly about the “planting a seed” thing, and even the “cutting the grass” thing, but I will need more convincing on the “washing a dish thing”. I have to admit that I do not embrace the beauty of everyday tasks, and need a little “mindfulness” to convince me. I find the term “mindfulness” somewhat annoying in that it has become somewhat of a clichéd watchword, but if you define it as awareness or thoughtful consciousness then it becomes a clearer destination, rather than a muddy journey.
Everyday tasks are an inevitable part of the human condition. Taking a page out of thich nhat hanh’s book and giving those tasks the same weight as the things we deign as more “important” is one way of gaining a new perspective or way of looking at things.
Hanh evaluates the seemingly unimportant as significant, and heightens trivial chores to a loftier plane. So the washing of dishes becomes just as important, just as beautiful in its own way as something considered more creative.
We label things, and put them in columns or charts and graphs—quantifying them, thereby taking away their essence. I have always found labels wanting, never quite a good fit, just as hanh finds it difficult to see why writing a poem is better than a peppermint plant. I guess it all comes down to the fact that you cannot compare apples and oranges—each is distinct and unique in colour and flavour, in shape and size. Even comparing apples to apples is a dangerous thing—there are so many different kinds, shapes, sizes and colours that grouping them as one entity misidentifies their individuality. We do this with people too—we group them together by colour, language, economics, and heritage, without looking below the surface and seeing each person’s singularity. I am not my white skin, my English language, my age, my job, or IQ score. I am a bundle of all these things—a supersized combo (with pickles) if you will.
Zen Master, teacher, advocate of peace, human rights and justice, nhan sums us up accurately in the last tiny chapter in his book by writing:
We are the children of the Earth
and not separate from the soil,
and the sky,
we share the same destiny.
And that, dear readers, puts it all in perspective for me. Even when we are relegated to cutting the lawn, doing the dishes, or writing a poem.
Charmed by a cool breeze
She pulled her sweater tightly
Around her tanned arms.
Those siblings, July 1st and July 4th, Canada Day and Independence Day are coming up–and because I work for a weekly I celebrate things a bit ahead of time in my column. So Happy Canada Day and July 4th!
What better way to celebrate our national heritage and bring to the fore our pride and allegiance and stand on guardedness than profuse usage of the interjection “eh”? I think the title of our national anthem should be changed to Eh Canada, as it embodies us so much better than O, which merely hails our great country as something to be praised and honoured but does not pay particular tribute to it. “Eh” acknowledges our Canadianess and accords accolades to our uniqueness.
Wikipedia partially defines “eh” as “ascertaining the comprehension, continued interest….and agreement of a subject”, and I think we can all agree that Canada is pretty great. Eh Canada would draw attention to the fact that we are all in this together and we have a consuming interest in our home and native land. By nature, Canadians are generally agreeable, polite and proud of our heritage—past and present.
Sometimes I will rattle off my heritage to my youngest son—English, French, Scottish, Irish, with a bit of Pennsylvania Dutch thrown into the mix and he will look at me somewhat bemusedly and declare, “I am a Canadian”. And he is right—we were both born here and though we have a lot of ancestral baggage—we are Canadian “through and through”.
As a proud Canadian, I do use “eh” on a regular basis. It is second nature. The way I usually use it is to find concurrence with my opinion, as in “Those flowers are pretty, eh?” I am not looking for discord when I use it, and that is another reason why we should change O Canada to Eh Canada—as in “isn’t Canada great?” or “Aren’t you glad you are Canadian?
The Urban Dictionary defines “eh” as the equivalent to the American “huh?” or “right”. A friend of mine (yes, you Dave) was wearing a T-shirt last week which put “eh” in its rightful place. A large “Eh” was emblazoned on his T-shirt, and underneath it was the statement: “so much more polite than huh.” And I think that is what largely defines us, at least when we put on our party faces. Admit it, sometimes we are not as polite as we are made out to be, but when you look at the whole picture, and compare us to most of the others tromping around on this earth, at least we keep our impoliteness under wraps, and put our best faces forward.
One of the best things I like about “eh” is that it makes us less stuffy while still drawing attention to the subject at hand. At times we are mocked for using “eh”, but it is generally in good humour and as a strong and happy and patriotic Canadian, I can take it. I find that I can go days without using the lovely interpolation (yes I looked up interjection in my thesaurus and came up with this) and then it is sprinkled in almost everything I say. I guess some days I am just looking for a little understanding and concurrence—and what is being a Canadian if not understanding and agreeable (for the most part)?
Wikipedia, with its wisdom, coyness and wittiness says that “eh” is part our national identity and that sometimes our Canadian national teams are referred to as “the Eh team”. The “people’s dictionary” also cites this as a classic joke:—“How did they name Canada? The letters were thrown in a bag, and the first one to be picked was a “C eh?” then “N eh?” and finally “D eh?”. If a classic joke is one that is common or standard or typical, then I have been hiding under my bed a bit too much, as I had never heard it—but hey, it is Wikipedia—sometimes they are a little long on explanation, and maybe a little short on accuracy.
So, next Tuesday in honour of our July 1st. Canada Day, throw around our little Canadian word “eh” with abandon and maybe hum a little “Eh Canada” while you are at it.
How do you celebrate Canada Day or July 4th?
My weekly column:
I am not Arsenio Hall. I do not drive from Cleveland to LA pondering things that make you go hmmm. (According to Wik E. Pedia, a frequent joke in Hall’s opening monologue was that he still lived in Cleveland and drove to Los Angeles every day to host his (now defunct) show, and on these alleged long drives he pondered life and came up with “things that make you go hmm,….”) His running gag also inspired a 1991 song by the same title which climbed to #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. This trivia is brought to your attention today as a way of introducing a few of the things that make me go hmmm…..:
1. In the Books & Writers section of the National Post on Saturday, Maryak Siddiqi did a book review of “The Tastemakers: Why We Are Crazy for Cupcakes But Fed Up With Fondue” by David Sax. I am going to read this book for one reason, and one reason only, and it is this quote from Sax, which makes me go hmmm… Siddiqi says that Sax “crafts an excellent and extremely fun takedown of health trends. It’s a giant paragraph-long rant that begins, ‘Eat more fibre, but be sure to eat less carbs. Drink three glasses of milk a day, so long as you avoid lactose and dairy. Beef is filled with much-needed iron and protein, but you should steer clear of red meat entirely….’. Now does this not make you go hmmmm? No wonder we are so confused as to what to put into our mouths—one day coffee is bad for you, the next day it is the best thing since sliced bread—and don’t get me started on sliced bread which is now at the top of many people’s don’t ever eat list.
2. A certain brand of barbeque sauce which I favour but never buy unless it is on sale is on sale this week at one of the grocery stores. It is usually about $4 a bottle but is on for a buck a bottle for a few short days. So I picked up three. Two are called Original Bold and the other is Chicken and Rib Renegade . Curious as to what the content difference between the two is, I read the ingredient label, thinking that something that was Bold would be much different than something touted for chicken and ribs (which come to think of it is another thing that makes me go hmmmm… as chicken is fairly delicate in flavour and ribs are, dare I say it…much bolder). So here is the ingredient list for the Bold Original flavour: sugar, water, tomato paste, cooking molasses, vinegar, salt, modified corn starch, natural hickory smoke flavour, mustard, dried onions, spices and garlic with a note in bold letters that says Contains Mustard.
The other barbeque sauce for renegade (not complacent) chicken and ribs is made up of—wait for it, wait for it: sugar, water, tomato paste, cooking molasses, vinegar, salt, modified corn starch, natural hickory smoke flavour, dried onions, mustard, spices and dried garlic. It also has the warning in bold letters Contains Mustard.
Now just in case you did not notice the difference, the Bold Original has mustard listed before the dried onions. That is it. That is the only difference—which may mean that the Bold has a little more mustard than the Chicken and Rib Renegade and fewer dried onions. This makes me seriously go hmmm…
And the bold letters seeming to warn us that there is mustard in both concoctions has me slightly concerned. Is there a subgroup of people made up of the mustard police out there? Is mustard really that significant that it must be pointed out so audaciously? This mustard thing makes me go hmmm…. with some trepidation. Why is the mustard being pointed out here? Should we be worried? Hmmmm…..
3. Cupcakes. Why are they so popular? Sure they are cute and made of cake and sometimes decorated beautifully. But I do not get it. Most are too big to bite into without ending up with an icing moustache, and who enjoys having to wipe off their mouth after every bite? I understand kids loving cupcakes—the messier the better. But someone who suffers from TMJ does not have a prayer of eating a cupcake neatly unless employing a fork, which seems to cancel out the whole raison d’etre for consuming a cupcake. This one may not make you go hmmm…but it does me. So I give it a personal Hmmm………….
Life is full of things that make us go hmmm…..these are only the tip of the proverbial iceberg (one of those big guys that are melting, causing us angst, and making us go hmmm…with some alarm.)
What makes you go hmmmm…..?
She cut her long hair
Wet strands fell to the floor
After they dried she gathered up the auburn tresses
unceremoniously dumped them in the garbage.
She stuck her tongue out at her reflection in the mirror
Turned on her heels
And fled the bathroom
With its hair dryer, hair curlers, curling iron, and hair brush ~
All she needed was a comb now.