Vacation in the Pages

Time is the greatest and most valuable commodity of our century, yet we have lost the moment to pause and to marvel.”

– Jo  Denbury

I went on a little vacation last night. It involved no packing or planning, budget or travel to any place other than the comfort of a chair in a corner in my own living room.  Yet the moments spent enjoying a number of books harbouring fantasy getaways was time well spent, and as relaxing as any vacation. One could argue it was even more relaxing as it took little effort.
Jo Denbury was the author of one such book called “haven and hideaways”. She, along with photographer Chris Tubbs took me on a journey from sailing barges and  summer houses, to tree houses and the mountains, gardens and a whitewashed beach hut. 
The introduction to the book features a full page with two simple white Adirondack chairs in a setting of green: green lawn, green trees, and green foliage. If you look closely, you see a small cabin set among the trees—a true picture of tranquility. Denbury believes we do not have enough tranquility in our lives. She says that  “it is the very high tech jungle we have created for ourselves that prevents us finding the answers.”  She believes we are “born explorers and questers after the unknown” but we spend a lot of time “pacing the perimeter of life searching for the answers.”

Many of the hideaways featured in the book, are those of people, she says, who need “solitude, escape, contrast, quiet, emptiness; to be closer to the earth, the weather and the sky, and to feel time.” To feel time—such a poetic term, but one that is much needed. Vacation getaways, the best ones, are those where we feel time—and don’t have it regimented and restricted by out of control schedules. My summer this year is based on schedules—it is a busy time of year for the members of my family, who are all working long hours with very few days off. There is no time in our schedules right now for a vacation, so we must reach for little vacations of the mind, until we can take some time for a physical getaway. Denbury believes that in the future we will no longer be subject to what she calls “wage slavery” when we realize “its futility and the importance of balance in our lives and in our homes.” Not all of us are free of “wage slavery” at times in our lives, yet we can still pause and marvel though caught up in the hurly burly of the everyday.
Paging through her book quiets the mind, giving it something to land on that does not entail busyness. Vignettes of canoes docked willy nilly, picnic tables in overgrown groves, faded wood furniture coupled with more modern and architecturally defined cottages expands the possibilities. We can vacation wherever we want—in a rustic and primal way with barely running water and only a tiny corner of a kitchen, or in a more refined way with plush furnishings and all the comforts of home without having to diligently manage time.

And that is really what a vacation is all about. Unmanaged time. Time to realize the rituals of life. Denbury defines her rituals as making fires, growing vegetables, bathing outdoors, and being able to see the stars. We all have our own self-defined rituals—and it is on vacation (whether real or in our mind) that we can realize these rituals, and perhaps incorporate some of them into our workaday lives.

Some of the other books I vacationed with last night (all are from the library) were “Waterside Cottages” by Barbara Jacksier,  photographed by Dan Mayers.  In these books the photographer is as important as the author in making dreams come true. Jacksier talks about what draws us to land’s end—the edge of the water so intrinsically. Humans never tire of the “pleasures of hearing the rhythm of waves or watching the sunset over the water”. In looking through these books and the various forms of housing our vacations, I am always drawn to white palettes—so fresh, so summery, so my idea of a vacation place.
“Coastal Living beach house style”  edited by Katherine Cobbs is a feast for the arm chair vacationer. It is a beautiful “how-to” book of design choices for do-it-yourselfers.  “Getaways” by Chris Casson Madden, offers “retreats for all seasons”. Madden defines retreat as  “a special place that offers a sense of sanctuary”. ( Pages 184 – 191 in this book would be my “died and gone to heaven” retreat—it is called “literary meditations”).

I can think of a no better vacation then one among a myriad of bookshelves, or as I experienced last night, within the pages of the books themselves.

Published in: on September 19, 2011 at 2:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Garlic on Your Feet?

Image of a container of Vicks VapoRub

Image of a container of Vicks VapoRub (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Did you know that if you rub garlic on your feet that within 20 minutes you can taste it? This I learned from an email sent by a friend who passes on all kinds of vital and indispensable information to me. In the same email, she shared some very interesting information regarding  VICKS Vapo Rub. I remember Vicks being applied to my neck and chest area quite generously by my mom when I  had a cold and cough as a  kid. Then she would put a warm towel on the area, and I would fall into a blissful sleep (giving her some much needed rest too.)

Little did I know that the Vicks should have been applied to the soles of my feet for the utmost relief. At least that is what this fellow who attended a lecture on Essential Oils claims (and then posted it on the Internet for all to see). Apparently our soles absorb oils. (Makes you want to be careful about walking barefoot doesn’t it?)

The fellow who wrote up this “essential” advice, (let’s call him Sam so we do not have to keep calling him “fellow”) says that you can stop night time coughing by applying Vicks Vapo Rub to the soles of your feet, then cover them with socks, and within about five minutes the coughing stops.  Sam swears by this and says it works 100% of the time. And the bonus is you get soft feet.  A medicine that multi-tasks—who knew? The dual promise of no coughing and soft feet is just something I cannot resist. I do refuse to put garlic on my feet though, unless there is word of a vampire breakout (which may not be all that far-fetched, given all the books and movies dedicated to the fanged warriors.)

Sam says that his wife tried this when she had a deep and persistent cough and it worked. He learned of this method himself after listening to a radio morning talk show, which featured a chap talking about cough medicines and why they often do more harm to children than good because of all the chemicals in them. Sam does not say who the “chap” was, but for the sake of argument, let us believe he was doctor (and not just one who played a doctor on TV.)

While I am dispensing a little advice on colds, I will share with you a little recipe guaranteed to soothe a cold that I ran across in the book, “How to Sew a Button and Other Nifty Things Your Grandmother Knew” by Erin Bried. (I just cannot resist a book that has the word nifty in the title.) It is called “How to Make a Hot Tea Toddy”, and the Grandma who came up with it obviously had a bit of a sense of humour.

Step 1: Brew a cup of tea by pouring boiling water over a tea bag, preferably decaffeinated so you don’t get jittery. Let steep for a few minutes. (I have it on good authority that you should steep it for exactly three minutes.)

Step 2: Add a swirl of honey to taste. (Not a dollop, not a teaspoon, a swirl—this is very important). Honey apparently not only tastes good but coats your throat and relieves soreness and coughing.

Step 3: Quarter a lemon and squeeze over your cup to add “lip-smacking tartness” (you can’t make this stuff up). 

Okay, Step 4 gets to the heart of the matter: Add a shot of whiskey or bourbon to the tea. Depending on how bad you feel, add a shot of whiskey or bourbon to your mouth too (there’s that sense of humour I was talking about).

Step 5: Hold cup to your face, breathing in the hot steam to clear up your schnoz.

Step 6: Climb under your covers, and sip until you get drowsy.

Step 7: Set the cup down first. Very important! Then fall asleep.

Step 8: Dream good dreams. Snoring is optional.

Now, I am betting that if you don’t drink alcohol, the honey and lemon by themselves will probably do the trick, but I would put a little Vapo-rub on the soles of your feet if you want to leave out the whiskey. In the book, Grandma adds three more “nifty” tips for nursing a cold: Sit by the fireside to stay toasty as feeling chilled can suppress your immune system; gargle with warm water three times a day to wash away germs; and wash your hands often with soap, and “for goodness sake keep them away from your face.”

So with Sam and Grandma’s advice under your belt, you have a few more ways to combat any cold that invades your personal space. Just remember don’t tea toddy and drive.

Published in: on September 12, 2011 at 12:14 am  Comments (20)  
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I Learn Therefore I Am

“A genius! For thirty-seven years I’ve practiced fourteen hours a day, and now they call me a genius!” ~ Pablo Sarasate, Spanish composer and violinist

Picked up a book on the weekend called “Study Smarter, Not Harder” by Kevin Paul.  Now, I was not really looking for a book of this genre—but it sort of made itself known to me while I was looking through a stack of books in the reference section of the bookstore I was “visiting”. (I don’t just go to bookstores or the library, I visit them—I feel at home among books).  

My youngest son is entering second year at college, and he has asked me the same question on numerous occasions: “how do I study?” Now, of course you are thinking, the kid got to second year in college—he must know how to study. And he does, but he does not feel his methods are totally effective. He thinks that there must be a better way—a way where he learns, not painlessly (though true learning should not be painful), but in a better and more effectual way. (Yes, I have told him to turn off his music when he studies). This book kind of “popped out” at me (ever notice things have a habit of doing that—sometimes life just hands you what you need, even if you did not know you needed it) so I sat down and looked through it to see if it was worth buying.

As I was flipping through it, I came to a section called, “You Can Learn Anything”. Well, I don’t know about you, but I am pretty sure there are a few doors shut (and locked) to me, such as quantum physics and brain surgery—but I was willing to give this chapter a chance. After all, if it didn’t convince me, would it convince my son? The author made a rather outrageous statement. Unequivocally he stated: “You are a genius”. According to Paul, “Acquiring a language and walking are two of the most complex activities in which humans engage.” (This is good news—I can talk and walk–sometimes at the same time!) He goes on to say that “it is not yet possible to get enough computing power to synthesize these basic human achievements. It takes a very sophisticated learning capability to achieve language and walking”. Research also shows that “even driving a car takes more brain power than piloting the lunar excursion modual that landed on the moon.”

Spanish composer and violinist of note, Pablo Sarasate made an astute observation in his statement that his genius took “practice”, which illustrates that untapped, genius is undiscovered. Paul believes that we need tap into our genius, and he provides some pretty good information about our three brains: the reptilian or most primitive part of our brain and home to our famous “fight or flight” response to danger—which is our safety and survival instinct, to the limbic brain, which is where our emotions live. Then there is the cortical brain—or our “thinking” brain, where we reason, set goals, make plans, develop language and “conceive abstractly”.
Paul is convinced that we all have “the same brain capacity and potential as Einstein or da Vinci” and geniuses can be “made.” I don’t know about you, but I find this all very comforting. And although I picked this book up for my son, I am going to give it a thorough read through (as opposed to my original thought of just perusing it superficially and handing it over with the simple instruction: Read It).
The author says that if spending countless hours in front of the television can lower your IQ, then it just follows that by heeding his advice, your IQ can be “coached into the positive.” He answers the question of “why should I bother” by saying that “being a successful learner is no longer a matter of choice or mere preference. It is a necessity in order to survive and thrive in the ‘information age’.” And he says “it is never too late to increase your intelligence”. That is good news for those of us no longer in school, but still involved in the process of never ending learning.

“Common sense is genius dressed up in working clothes.”
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

What Is In A Word?


Words (Photo credit: sirwiseowl)

“What word would you like banned from the English language” was the topic of conversation on a radio morning show recently.  My early morning companions from local radio station CKLW in Windsor, Lisa and Mike put the call out to their listeners to let them know what word was ‘bugging them’.  The listeners called, emailed and facebooked to provide words, phrases, and even some short forms they were not fond of, or in some cases, downright hated.  Lisa let it be known that while it was acceptable to text message lol (laugh out loud) and bff (best friends forever), it was not okay to use the short forms in conversation. Her advice: “Use real words when talking.” She also did not like the word “sagging”.  I must say, as a woman of a certain age, I agree.  Sagging is neither a friendly or pleasant word (even when it is accurate).

Mike’s least favourite word? “Outfit” when it pertains to a man’s wardrobe. He said that men do not wear “outfits”—they wear suits, and they wear pants and shirts, but they do not wear “outfits”.  He also mentioned that his mom always called Kool-Aid by the word Freshie, and wondered what was up with that. I must be part of his mom’s generation, because I remember drinking Freshie long before I remember Kool-Aid. To this day I still call it Freshie, and receive rather blank stares from my kids when I refer to the magic elixir in such a manner.  

Some of the callers least favourite words were “buck” rather than dollar, monies instead of money, loads (as in loads of fun), kudos, and sexting (this was a hated word).  Phrases that were mentioned were: back in the day, from the get go, at the end of the day, and, when it is all said and done.  Many of these words and phrases do not bother me a bit, but here are few that do: grab (seems impolite), authentic (overused), organic (good word but overused), literally (irritating word), slash (violent), push (a pushy word), puce (unpleasant sounding) and distant (when someone is cold or lacking warmth).
As an exercise one day, I listed words I like and do not like. The words I didn’t like (mentioned above) were far fewer in number than the words I do like. Here is a partial list  of  words I  like: still, mist, silhouette, joy, blessed, grace, vintage, sacred, charming, umber, intuition, Fall and Autumn, pumpkin, magic, cozy, warm, soft, jasmine, texture, linen, cashmere, dishevelled, memory, delicate, shimmer, wisdom, creative, ephemera, sharing, harvest, butter, home, cottage, quiet, silence, crazy and chaos.

There are a multitude of reasons why I like these words—some seem friendly, or simply suggest something pleasant. While dishevelled, crazy, and chaos are not necessarily comforting words, they do describe a part (hopefully miniscule) of our lives, and I like that the very sound of those words are descriptive of what they mean.  A number my favourite words, if found in the title of a book or magazine article, instantly attract me. Home is a word I just love, and almost any book with the word home in it, is a book I will pick up. Fall is my favourite time of year, and quite befitting to the season is three of my other favourites: autumn, harvest and pumpkins. I am sure if you think about it there are words that you find attractive, and words you find off putting (such as off putting).

Language is a lovely and malleable thing—but it can also be crude and harsh. I have a number of words that I hate—but I cannot give you examples as they are not words that are family friendly.  I imagine you know what many of them are—and a lot of them are used in mainstream conversations, and have become part of our everyday language—which is a pity. I think I will keep that wonderful wag, Mark Twain’s words in mind: “Actions speak louder than words but not nearly as often,” when I choose how to express myself.

Published in: on September 2, 2011 at 12:29 am  Comments (2)  
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Kitty Bob’s Excellent Adventure

tiger boy

tiger boy (Photo credit: torbakhopper)

Here is a Jeopardy answer for you:  A house cat. So what is the question?

What is one of the forms many people would like to live out their next life as? I read somewhere that if people were given a choice of how to come back in their next life they would come back as a house cat. I understand. This answer did not mystify me at all. As the owner of a house cat, I too would love to be fed on a regular basis without having to cook; given treats just because I am cute; curl up wherever I want and have a nap whenever I want; and have as many adventures as I desire, knowing I have a home to come back to where people love me and bask in my very presence.

Our family cat is named Kitty Bob, or as I like to call him the ‘luckiest cat on earth’.  The footprints of his muddy little paws are adored by at least three quarters of my family. He can do no wrong in their eyes.  Talk about unconditional love. Now, I have to admit, as the fourth quarter of this family, my  love for the cat is a bit conditional—he is not in my good books when, for whatever reason, he sometimes does the unmentionable on my mentionables.  Thankfully his indiscretions are fairly few and far between.

There is a bit of a controversy going on right now about whether cat owners should not allow their cats to roam at will outside. Some people want them to have a licence like a dog. I tried to keep Kitty Bob in the house, and not let him see the light of day from anywhere but a window, but he was not satisfied—he needed his adventures. I think it would be easier to keep a cat in the house or on a leash if that cat had never known free roaming freedom—but as a small kitten, Kitty Bob was somehow left to fend for himself and find his own home. He wandered the streets on Halloween night in 2006 following trick treaters, and the next day, found me on my early morning walk.

I don’t know why, but Kitty Bob adopted me. He had no way of knowing I am not innately an “animal person”.  I have never disliked animals, and I did have a pet cat about twenty some years ago (named Kitty—I am not really great in the business of cat naming).  They say things come into your life when you need them. I am not so sure I needed a cat, but the rest of my family certainly took to the idea. My husband is a bone fide “animal person”. In fact a friend of his asks him to come over and visit the family cat when they go on vacation. No kidding. He does not ask John to feed or take care of the cat as they have that covered by a neighbour. John did some work at this friend’s house and befriended their cat, who was not really friendly to strangers. Known in the small circle of our family as a “cat whisperer”—his reputation is now ever widening.

I am curious as to what our cat does and where he goes when he leaves the house. He is smart enough to come in out of the rain, and when he sticks his nose out the door, he kind of tests the waters—and if it is too cold, or the snow too high, he turns tail and decides that the warmth of the house is where he wants to be. But those other times–where does he go? We think that since night time is his favourite time to be outside, he parties hardy somewhere. Every once in a while, in his innocence, and true to his nature (as has been explained to me when I have reacted in disgust) he does bring us home an occasional “treasure”. Fortunately this does not happen too often, and many times when he sets his cargo free, it (in the form of a bunny) runs off (or in the form of a bird) flies away.  Mice have not been so fortunate though—although when we had a little problem with the critters in our basement a year ago, we think he made friends with them. I guess house mice are different than outside mice.

Kitty Bob does not talk much about his adventures. He lets us know when he is hungry or when he wants a snack.  He lets us know when he wants to go upstairs to the bathroom for a drink of running water from a tap (which John will readily run up and turn on for him), and he “tells” us when he wants to go outside. But he does not “kiss and tell” or ruminate about his adventures—he just goes out and does his rendition of “Indiana Jones”, then comes home to us, finds one of his favourite resting places and naps. Oh, the life!

Published in: on September 1, 2011 at 12:36 am  Leave a Comment  
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