…..and thou

“Nothing is better than a picnic.” ~ Zooey Deschanel

Picnics. Does the reality of an actual picnic live up to its hype? I love picnics—at least the concept of them. Eating out in the fresh air. A blanket spread on vast greenness. A bottle of wine, a loaf of bread, a chunk of good cheese, some fine chocolate……………okay now for the not so romantic reality. The reality of most picnics is that they are a lot of work. Time and planning and a great deal of preparation go into something which is supposed to be simple fun with convivial friends and good food.

The first step is deciding where to have the picnic. At the local park? At the beach? In your backyard? And how will you eat–at a picnic table, in lawn chairs eating off your lap, or on a blanket spread on the ground? How many people will be invited and what will be on the menu? Is it going to be potluck, a wiener roast, or a steak barbeque (which these days seems to be limited to millionaires with the price of beef and lack of sales on the more expensive bovine cuts). And most importantly–what about dessert?

The picnics of my youth were wonderful affairs. And do you know why? Because all I was expected to do was show up. Maybe help carry a few things from the car to the picnic site—but all the other variables—who was coming, what was being served, where we were having the picnic were planned by someone else. And that someone else always turned out to my mom.

I never once heard her complain. Not while she was frying up mounds of chicken (she made the best fried chicken in the world). Or while she was making copious amounts of potato salad, fourteen pies (I may be exaggerating a bit here—but only a bit)and all the other fixings that went with a good picnic. She did not complain while she was packing it all up in coolers or wrapping the hot stuff in newspapers to keep them hot.

I have planned a few picnics. I have complained as I made a few salads to go with the inevitable bucket or three of the Colonel’s chicken. I have not been a particularly happy camper in figuring out all the logistics—the who, what, where, when and how of the picnic, nor have I been particularly gracious when it came time to clean up.

I love the idea of a picnic. I love the idea of eating outside. But I do not like heat and humidity. Or bugs of either the flying or crawling variety. I like the picnics that I see the fictional characters of Downton Abbey partake in. But they had servants and cooks. And I believe they may have used crystal and china and silverware at their picnics. Not Styrofoam plates, plastic knives and forks, or paper cups. According to Alice Walker, “Tea to the English is really a picnic indoors” so they are well versed in the practices of the picnic even when picnic weather is not forecast.

I have wonderful memories of picnics when I was a kid. Particularly the one we would have every year to celebrate the Crawford Reunion. (My mom was a Crawford.) It was usually the second Sunday in July—and in the latter years that it was held, it was at Lakeside Park (in Kingsville, Ontario for my blog friends).Tables upon tables had to be corralled so there would be enough to seat the families of my grandpa and all his brothers and sisters and their families. (I cannot readily remember how many but there were at least ten).

We always had a banner affixed with a badge proudly bearing the Crawford tartan announcing our reunion to one and all (and woe betide anyone who tried to take one of the tables under the banner). The reunion itself, for a kid was lots of fun. It was the granddaddy of picnics with lots of people who you were related to in some manner or other, games, and of course, food galore. And when you shared what you brought with the others sitting around you, and they shared what they brought— it was a true feast.

I leave you with a rather romantic view of picnicking from Omar Khayyam who penned this in the 12th century with no mention of fuss and bother, bug spray and sunscreen, or mess and logistics:

A book of verse beneath the bough,
A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness –
Ah, wilderness were paradise enow!

What are your best picnic memories?

Published in: on July 28, 2015 at 1:44 pm  Comments (5)  
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Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

perfect way to greet the week,……………

Live & Learn


Source: mennyfox55

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Published in: on July 27, 2015 at 11:08 am  Comments (12)  

In Defence of the Weather

“Nobody wants to talk about the weather,” declares a flashing blurb for a TED talk online. I love TED talks or at least some of the less technical talks (which do not include the words mathematics, satellites, or brain tissue). If you do not know what a TED talk is, here is a definition from WhatIs.com derived from the TEDx website: “A TED talk is a video created from a presentation at the main TED (technology, entertainment, design) conference or one of its many satellite events around the world.” The first TED talk was held in 1984 and it became an annual event in 1990. I discovered TED a couple of years ago. No one can ever fault me for being on the cutting edge.

TED talks usually range from about two minutes to twenty and can be on any topic under the sun (or moon depending on the time of day you tune in). How are the talks selected? According to WhatIs.com, “TED looks for engaging, charismatic speakers whose talks expose new ideas that are supported by concrete evidence and are relevant to a broad, international audience.” Some of the talks have included such diverse topics as the anatomy of a New Yorker cartoon, why we should build wooden skyscrapers, and why we sleep.

The talks that I find most fascinating usually deal with the human psyche in all its convoluted glory and the quirks of the human condition. But I must admit I have never run across a TED talk that dwells on the mundane everyday event of the weather. Sure, hurricanes and tornadoes and floods are great food for talk, but never the everyday weather that affects our everyday routines.

I think the assessment that people do not really want to talk about the weather is wrong. Asserting that “nobody really wants to talk about the weather” is meant to draw us in to talks that are deemed more interesting—but if you get to the root of the matter, weather is really one of the most interesting phenomena we have to deal with on a day to day basis.

Talking about the weather can be a warm-up for a more in-depth conversation. But on its own it is something we all have in common. If it rains, we get wet. If it is humid, our hair goes frizzy. If it is cold, we all sport coats and hats and boots. And if the weather is perfect then we love to comment on it. If it is not, then we get to complain about it. It is a common element in all our lives. So, to say that people do not really want to talk about the weather is just wrong-headed on so many different levels.

Often, the weather dictates our activities. Too much rain and the farmers cannot get their fields planted. Too little rain and our green earth turns brown. We invite snow into our lives happily for the first, and maybe the second snowfall. Then we are tired of it. And we do not like too much cold, especially in this area as it affects our grapes and fruit trees and all manner of horticultural activity.

We all have our own opinion as to what makes up the perfect weather. I particularly enjoy the fall when it is at first still warm and sunny, then cool and crisp. But the weather I love the most is when you cannot really feel it. You are neither too warm nor too cold. You can go outside in shirt sleeves and be perfectly comfortable. You need neither to shed your garments nor shield yourself from the elements.

I have often wondered what it would be like to live in a climate that does not change significantly from season to season. Would it become boring? Would I miss the snow and the cold? Would I miss seeing the bare branches of the trees flourish again in the spring? Would I miss the fall colours? Would I miss snow? I have always lived in a climate that changes sometimes on a daily basis, but more radically on a seasonal basis, and I love the variation our climate affords us.

Weather is our common language. And as such, it opens the doors to further conversation, or just the important acknowledgment that “we are all in this together”.

Published in: on July 21, 2015 at 5:43 pm  Comments (16)  
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A Beautiful Life

I do not need plot. Or suspense. Or mystery. I love reading about the minutiae of life. The way someone enjoys doing the dishes by hand in a sink full of hot soapy water. Or the description of laundry hanging on the line, with the underwear on a back line hidden from sight. It does not matter that I do not particularly like to do the dishes by hand; or that laundry hanging on the line is not as soft as that that comes out of the dryer. The mechanics of a dishwasher and dryer are much less romantic than the hands-on versions of the same tasks. Mind you I would not want to give up either my (hard won) dishwasher or dryer—but life can be lived without these machines.

I just finished reading a book that had no specific plot, manufactured suspense, or made-up mystery because it was about a real life. Written by Rebecca Barry, “Recipes for a Beautiful Life”, and subtitled “A Memoir in Stories” traces her life lived taking care of two children, managing a marriage (and anyone who has ever been married, knows the institution needs constant management), while trying to plug the leaks in the roof of her new old home. And, oh yeah, she is trying to write a book at the same time.

This book is the result of a journal she kept from October 27, 2008 to January 2, 2012, with an epilogue dated Mother’s Day 2012. The book she was writing while she was keeping this journal was shelved. She thought it had no soul and took it out of the running to be published—much to her publisher’s relief. This book, a memoir of a few short years of her life is full of soul.

On the back of the edition I have are several testimonials—each one giving Barry a glowing and much deserved review. I am only going to quote one, for it sums the book up precisely and beautifully. Elizabeth Gilbert, author of “Eat, Pray, Love” says: “Barry’s prose is a delicate, beautiful balance of wit and yearning. She is an artist of the everyday heartbreak.” My only quibble with Gilbert’s assessment is that the book not only presents the “everyday heartbreak”, it also offers everyday joys. We all need joy to break up the sorrows, and Barry provides us with this reality check. Life is not just a vale of tears; it is also full of delights. We often forget that.

I could overwhelmingly relate to this book and to Barry’s essence, which says a lot because it represents a stage in my life that took place two decades ago. I enjoyed reading about her struggles, her disappointments, the things she was grateful for, and her successes. And she made me realize that we do not give our successes the accolades they deserve. We take them for granted, as if they do not take a lot of hard work and heartache to achieve. It is both similar to and the opposite of labour when you are having a baby—you forget the pain when you see the wonderful outcome, and instead count fingers and toes. (Personally I do not think anyone ever forgets the pain, but who wants to stay mired in that memory?)

Barry gave voice to the most profound statement I have ever read and something I can totally relate to. She said: “….in spite of the fact that I love the idea of self-improvement, I get a little annoyed by the notion that I should actually change any of my behaviour to make it happen.” (This is so me!)

She also makes a wonderful case for finally giving up on something, though it took her a long time to come to that realization. There are some things that are not meant to be. We can be as stubborn as we want about them, but they are in the end, not destined to see the light of day. She came to the conclusion that the book she had put so much stolen time and effort into was not the book that she wanted to put her name to. So many of us are afraid of giving up on something (fill in your own blank) but failure is not giving up; failure is not seeing the truth in a situation.

At the end of her memoir, looking over her life, she closes the book with these words: “This, I thought, is heaven.” Heaven is a slippery thing. Your definition of heaven is probably not the same as mine, but any rendition of heaven has to include bliss, and is there anything more wonderful than feeling blissful?

Do you agree that sometimes we have to give up on something in order to achieve something else?

Published in: on July 14, 2015 at 3:11 pm  Comments (8)  

Two Peas in A Pod

“Maybe, although in spite of the fact that I love the idea of self-improvement, I tend to get a little annoyed by the notion I should actually change any of my behaviour to make it happen.” ~ Rebecca Barry

This is so me! I just finished reading Rebecca Barry’s book, “Recipes for a Beautiful Life” and I think she climbed inside my life (twenty years ago). I loved this book. I love Rebecca’s “voice”. I love her honesty, forthrightness, and absolutely heartbreaking wit.

This is one of my favourite books–ever. Keep in mind though, that every good book I read is my favourite book ever.

So what is your favourite book–ever? The one you are reading now, or one in particular.

Published in: on July 10, 2015 at 1:15 pm  Comments (11)  
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Yellow, pure, and flawless

sometimes it is the simple things that are best…………..

Live & Learn


There are few perfect things in this world, and one of them is your common everyday pound of butter, cool in its box, printed in blues and greens with pleasant images – a farm, a farmer, a cow at a fence – and divided into quarters wrapped in immaculate paper as neatly tucked and folded as a soldier’s bunk, each section as easy to slide in and out as if riding on soundless rollers, like drawers in a filing cabinet, two two-drawer cabinets placed side by side, the files packed in manila, clean and fresh, with evenly spaced dividers arranged by a tablespoon. To press it to your cheek and then, with a fingernail, to carefully lift the triangular folds at each end, one end at a time, and then, without tearing the paper, to open the final flap and find there butter, yellow, pure, and flawless, too good to…

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Published in: on July 8, 2015 at 1:25 pm  Comments (1)  

Cupcakes and Cashmere

My column for week of July 6th:

“Having things to look forward to throughout the year, whether centred around a holiday or not, is what life is about.” So says Emily Schuman, author of “Cupcakes and Cashmere” and “Cupcakes and Cashmere at home”. She is a girl after my own heart. She is not as perfectionistic as Martha Stewart (though my plan for retirement is to be awarded for a white collar crime I have committed and be incarcerated in luxury like she was for whatever it was she did—had something to do with stocks, right?). Nor is she too basic and simplistic—throwing on a gunny sack to entertain guests while stirring up a pot of vegetarian chili (not, in a Seinfeldian aside, that there is anything wrong with either jute burlap or vegetables.)

Schumann is all for relaxed elegance, comfortable sophistication, and cosy casualness. After all, if you write two books with “cupcakes “ in the title, you must be somewhat relaxed. Have you ever tried to eat a cupcake without getting an icing moustache? I have tried to eat the little critters with a fork but that just seems ostentatious and a little bit paranoid. Admittedly you can eat a cupcake neatly, but that means not getting both cake and icing in one bite, and what is the point of that?

Schumann is much like me in that she finds preparing for and looking forward to a holiday or event is just as exciting as the actual soiree. She says that it is always “the preparations beforehand” that she loves the most, whether it is picking “out my pumpkin for the perfect jack o’lantern in the middle of October or stringing up heart lights for Valentine’s Day–those are the memories I treasure most.”

Like me, she loves looking forward to things. Having something on your calendar that is just a little bit “special” is living and reliving the event even before it occurs. Many times I have a fantastic event all planned out in my mind, with the perfect décor and food and outfit all picked out. The fact that by the time the event arrives I can barely get the dusting done, the food fixed, and don my jeans instead of the lovely dress I was planning on does not diminish my dreams at all. And there are times that I have pulled off an event dressed just right, with a killer recipe or two, and candles accompanying just the right décor for the event.

Schuman admits to being a little “corny and cliché” and anyone who has ever read this column (or blog or FB post) knows these two adjectives describe me to a T. I love corny and cliché, with the belief that anything corny (tried and true with heart) and cliché (something that always has some truth at its heart) are two of life’s most pleasant elements. Like Schuman I believe that “what goes on the table—from the food to the flowers—is really only as important as who is around it.”

For her celebration of “ Friendsgiving” Schumann says she sends a “proper card” as an invite to the event. The Fare is Thanksgiving in nature featuring ye olde turkey and all the fixings and whipped cream for the pumpkin and pecan pies. I mention the whipped cream because she has an exclamation point behind it on her menu. None of the other foods warranted an exclamation point.

She has many unique ideas for all kinds of events, but two in particular caught my attention. The first is her “Tuesday night dinner party” which she says “doesn’t have to be that much more than a lift”. I am all for this kind of party—its gets you through that first part of the week with something to look forward to, and helps get you over “hump day” with the glow of a pleasant evening past. She suggests keeping the menu simple. I suggest that no matter what you decide to serve it should not be accompanied with Styrofoam plates and plastic wine glasses. Crystal and china with flowers on a beautifully set table make Tuesday into something to remember.

The second party that really caught my imagination is the “Summer nostalgia party”. She centres her parties around “board games and treats” and suggests Kool-Aid with tequila and High-C with vodka. Hamburgers and hot dogs accompanied by other “old school treats” including S’mores are on her go-to menu. She says that “a game of Twister will help set the mood” while playing old summer hits. I say that a game of Twister will set the mood for a trip to the emergency department for me, so I may settle for a more sedate set of croquet (though I will probably catch my toe on a cage and quite possibly break my neck). My brother Jim did not nickname me “Grace” for nothing.

Can you eat a cupcake elegantly? Or still play a game of Twister?


My column this week:

I am now driving a green minivan. How is that for an opening line that just grabs you? Well, my vehicle (not particularly of choice but of necessity) is just as I guessed, first cousin to the vehicle deemed to be at the top of the heap of “bland” vehicles. This was so declared by Mike Schlee at AutoGuide.com. He unabashedly chose the Kia Sedona Van as his choice to be at top of “bland mountain”. (Picture me wiping sweat off my brow in relief because my van was not named specifically–although he did say that “minivans are as indiscreet as it comes in the automotive world.” I think he meant to say discreet, but who am I to nitpick when it comes to blandness?) By the way, my van is a vintage Dodge Caravan that just barely makes it into the 21st century.

I am driving a green minivan because some kid ran into my car in November of 2013. At the corner of Queen Street and Mill Street West. He hit me so hard that my car almost 360ed. I found myself on the opposite side of the intersection, turned almost completely around. With my right foot hard on the brake. So hard, that my right knee is now paying the price—but that is another story. Thank God we were in town, and speeds were not excessive—or I may not be telling you my merry story right now.

Just before my car was hit, I saw the surprised look on the driver’s face as the fact that he was going to run into me registered. I can only imagine the look he saw on mine. Surprise tinged with terror is my best guess. The sound of the impact was sickening. Metal hitting metal is not a good sound. I was so relieved to find myself safe and fairly sound that the fact of the accident did not fully hit me at the time. It has since, and my knee seems to be a daily reminder.

Was he texting? I don’t know—though my husband has put forth that theory. His explanation for not seeing the stop sign at the four way stop was that his attention was being taken away from the road by the passengers in the car. So who knows? The end result is that my car was totalled. Not crushed up in a tiny ball—but totalled so far as it could not be driven.

The policeman who showed up at the scene was compassionate. I think he thought I was a little nuts as I was worried about the kid who hit me. He, in essence, put the blame where it should be and explained to me that I was not at fault and how the accident likely happened.

Of course there was a little trouble getting what we thought we deserved from the insurance company, (which was not much considering the age of my car) but the local agent was great and helped us through. And we finally got close to what we thought we deserved….just enough to buy an older, used van with great mileage.

Regret and Contentment
I loved the little car I was driving and had inherited from my father-in-law at the time of the accident. It was a champagne coloured Aurora. I know you are not supposed to call a vehicle “cute” so I will call it “sporty” and “classy” instead. But really, I think it was cute. And it went fast. Like lightning. Not that I would know—except the few times I let her go on the McCain Sideroad. I really, really liked that car, even though by today’s standards it was ancient.

When I cranked up the radio and rock and rolled around town I did not look ridiculous (okay, maybe a little), but cranking up the radio in a minivan and bopping to the music does look ridiculous. But I don’t care. I still do it.
And if truth be told, I kind of like the van. It is the ultimate in incognito. Looks like I have nothing to prove. No red convertible with the top down for me (though in my heart of hearts I really do want a red convertible). Now, all I have to do is remember where I park it—because quite literally, everyone and their dog have a green van. I am ashamed to say I have climbed in the driver’s seat of a couple (people don’t you lock your doors?) before I realized it was not mine.

Published in: on July 4, 2015 at 8:06 pm  Comments (14)  

T.G.I.F.: It’s been a long (very) week!

This says (shows) it all………..

Live & Learn


Source: themetapicture.com.  (Thank you Susan for sharing the sleepy little elephant)

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Published in: on July 3, 2015 at 3:29 pm  Comments (7)