My column for this week–once again a bit ahead of time:
Here it comes again. Like clockwork. Every October 31st. The most loved and hated of all holidays: Halloween. I Googled “Halloween in Canada” and this is what I came up with–a simple and straightforward explanation of the holiday if I ever came across one:
“Halloween is celebrated in Canada on or around October 31. It is a day to mark the single night in the year when, according to old Celtic beliefs, spirits and the dead can cross over into the world of the living. Some people hold parties and children may trick-or-treat in their neighbourhood.”
This seeming innocuous explanation was from timeanddate.com. Such a humble and unassuming explanation of the celebration. It makes me want to scream: “What do you mean it is the single night of the year when the dead cross into the world of the living? And we celebrate by throwing parties, dressing up, and giving out candy?” Is no one else rather perplexed at this? Outraged? What about the dead who come back—are they not put off by our merry making and candy gnashing?
Apparently our carved pumpkins are supposed to keep the dead at bay—they are afraid to come to our front door (or part the veil between worlds and enter our fray) because we put holes in a round orange fruit and illuminate it. Personally, if I were a spirit I would not be deterred by a plant, but maybe I am missing something here. Originally the plant that was used was a turnip. I must concede that I would probably be scared away by a turnip, but not the friendly pumpkin. I guess we turned to the pumpkin in North American because large turnips were scarce. I am not sure we made the right choice though. Perhaps a gnarly squash or large zucchini. Pumpkins are just not scary.
When my kids were little, I decorated two pumpkins like Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street. I was much more creative back then. I made sure that Bert was fashioned from an elongated pumpkin and Ernie from a round one. I cut their eyes, nose, hair, mouth and ears from construction paper, drew on features, and used black magic markers to colour their hair. I taped their features on the pumpkins (with rounded pieces of tape that could be easily removed) and used my “art” to produce Bert and Ernie year after year on Halloween. Once the kids reached 20 and 25 they told me that it was time to retire the Sesame Street characters. I am only exaggerating a bit here—but I think from this little insight into my life you get the gist that I celebrate the “lighter” rather than the “darker” side of Halloween.
Lately I have been consulting my inner witch for the Halloween season, though I like to think of my alter ego as more Sabrina or Samantha-like than Shakespearean or Wicked Witch of the West. You have to agree that Macbeth’s “Double, double toil and trouble” witches are not as endearing as a nose twitch witch.
Never found Macbeth all that uplifting but as it is the season, there is no better time for an unsettling (somewhat edited) poem from the Bard (you can commence the hand washing now):
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and caldron bubble.
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the caldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg and howlet’s wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and caldron bubble.
Cool it with a baboon’s blood,
Then the charm is firm and good.
Hmmm, hell-broth—sounds a little like my cooking. Happy Halloween to all, and to all a spooky night!
home, comfort,magic,sugar plums…..
A mind fed on words such as heaven, earth, dew, essence, cinnabar, moonlight, stillness, jade, pearl, cedar, and winter plum is likely to have a serenity not to be found in minds ringing with the vocabulary of the present age–computer, tractor, jumbo jet, speedball, pop, dollar, liquidation, napalm, overkill! Who would thrill at the prospect of rocketing to the moon in a billion-dollar spacecraft if he knew how to summon a shimmering gold and scarlet dragon at any time of the day or night and soar among the stars?
A little Context–I am not only a columnist but also a municipal reporter–hence the Council comments:
In my ongoing effort to prove my intelligence (a loser’s game if there ever was one) I picked up a book called “The Doodle Revolution” in the sale bin at Chapters. Written by Sunni Brown, the book cover urges me to “Unlock the Power to Think Differently.” Okay, I will settle for different even if intelligence was my initial motivation, as I am a doodler of the highest degree. I love to doodle—in fact it is the saving factor when I attend council meetings—which are generally quite scintillating, but on occasion a discussion about drains or sewers goes on a little bit longer than its newsworthiness for the paper.
The inside cover of the book names Einstein, JFK, Edison, Marie Curie, and Henry Ford as inveterate doodlers and claims “that these powerhouse minds knew instinctively that doodling is deep thinking in disguise….” I have to say that when applied to my doodling the “deep thinking” is in total, complete and absolute disguise—but I do not mind the company I join—Einstein and Marie Curie are no small potatoes. It is odd that I would put myself in their category as I find myself entering a room and wondering what it was that I wanted.
I blame it on “doorway syndrome”. According to a researcher from the University of Notre Dame on the website LiveScience “Entering or exiting through a doorway serves as an ‘event boundary’ in the mind, which separates episodes of activity and files them away….Recalling the decision or activity that was made in a different room is difficult because it has been compartmentalized.” The article was written by Natalie Wolchoter, who says that architects may consider doorway placement when planning rooms in a building. Open concept anyone?
Back to the Original Topic with no discernable segue:
I doodle because I cannot draw. But according to this book I can draw, I just think I can’t. Words and numbers seemingly have gotten in my way. Brown calls doodling “visual language” and that we are “genetically capable of—generating visual language.” Suffice to say that visual language or literacy is a bit like *Pictionary, a drawing word guessing game, that I am guessing was invented by a doodler. (I have no verification for this other than the fact that it makes perfect sense to me.)
The author says that “to doodle” is NOT to dawdle, to dillydally, to monkey around, to make meaningless marks, to do something of little value, substance or consequence. Nor is it to do nothing. She defines doodling as making “spontaneous marks to help yourself think.” So if you ever catch me at an event doodling when I should be making notes, now you know that I am merely ‘helping myself think’. Doodling is “engaging in deep and necessary information processing.”
Doodling is also, according to Brown, “the arch nemesis of doing nothing.” So doodling makes me a superhero of sorts. I am the enemy of doing nothing, which in this world of super achievers is a good thing. I have never been referred to as a super achiever, so I think I will take a minute and bask in my superheroiness. (yes, I made that word up)
So what can doodling do for you once you have taken off your cape and mask? Apparently it provides you with The Three P’s: Power, Performance, and Pleasure. It extends your mind; helps you with information retention and recall; and not only gives you increased insight and elevated creativity– it makes you more efficient, focused, and relaxed.
Who knew that the 3D boxes I draw, the flowers built pedal upon pedal, the never-ending vines and leaves, the occasional stick figure, and funny faces I spend my time doodling make me smarter, more creative, and relaxed?
Brown is interested in starting a Doodling Revolution and changing the meaning of “art”.
While I am not totally convinced I do believe in one of her “self-evident truths”: “That doodling lives outside of elite realms of high art and design and is a form of expression free and accessible to all.”
I shall now don my cape and mask, and with magic wand in hand, continue to doodle to my heart’s content. And maybe, just maybe, creativity will rear its lovely head….
*1985 game invented by Robert Angel with graphic design by Gary Everson.
A chill in the air
Gives way to sunshine; light warmth
My weekly column for your reading pleasure (hopefully):
What do you think of when you hear the words “French cooking?” Complicated sauces? Elaborate cuisine? The Queen Bee of cooking—Julia Child—who, if given her rightful place, brought French cooking to the masses? French cooking, according to an article on the Real Simple website by Sara Gauchat is not “fancy or snobby. It’s all about layering flavours, mastering basic techniques, and savouring every bite.”
Gauchat says that while French cooking “may seem sophisticated…it’s not rocket science.” It is, she says, “a way of life” and the typical meal consists of three courses—a simple starter (soup perhaps), a main dish (which could be as basic as a quick chicken recipe), and then cheese and fruit for dessert. Admittedly this is the “simple” version of French cooking, where “it’s about the pleasure of sitting down, enjoying family, company, and food” and you “put your elbows on the table and let the meal flow.”
This leads me to the real subject at hand— the “crappy dinner party”. This type of entertainment was introduced to writer Lauren Rothman and is something she waxed colloquially about in her article “What France Taught Me About Dinner Parties.” Rothman says that she “likes to host dinner parties as often as I can” but that in France she learned “that there is only one way for me to hold true to being a frequent hostess” and that is to adhere to the rules of the “crappy dinner party”.
I embrace this philosophy as I am reluctant to host dinner parties for a myriad of reasons:
- I was taught that if you invited people over, the house should be immaculate (my house has not been immaculate since I had children—the first of which was born over 30 years ago).
- I am not a confident cook. I generally turn out pretty good meals—but I always think that disaster is right around the corner.
Okay, maybe only two reasons, but they are two big reasons. I like it when people just drop by because then if my house is a mess they cannot take as an affront to their sensibilities that I was too lazy to clean up for them. And if it is near mealtime and I have enough food, I am happy to share it. There are no expectations. Crappy dining has few expectations and thus is something I think we should all support. Unless you can afford a caterer or have hired help, then you can just ignore this and go on your happy way. But, if you are like me, I suggest that you sort of plan on having some crappy dinner parties. They do not take a lot of planning other than having something to eat and drink, and being willing to share it with your friends and family.
So here are Rothman’s (somewhat edited) rules for a crappy dinner party:
- Embrace the one pot meal.
- Buy your dessert.
- Go on the premise that everyone loves cheap wine, or if that is not in your budget…
- Drink iced water.
- Keep clean-up easy and use paper plates.
- Be casual with your seating. This means you do not necessarily have to sit at a table or as Rothman advises: “…let your pals plop where they will.”
- Tablescape? What tablescape? Only things allowed—a bright bouquet or colourful napkins.
- Accept all offers to assist from setting the table, to pouring the wine, to divvying up the dessert. (My addition: help cleaning up)
I have a few more rules to add:
- Make sure your house is wade worthy—at least make a path to the food.
- Spray the air with Pledge.
- Fold a towel by the bathroom sink for guests—preferably not a torn or bleach spotted one.
- Take pleasure in the food and people at the table or on the floor or perched on your couch. After all—these are the most important elements in any get-together.
- Laugh. A lot.
For health and strength and daily food, we give thee Thanks, oh Lord. Amen
This is the short and sweet grace we say before our Thanksgiving dinner. It has to be said fast before the first folk goes into the food.
As many of you know, Canadian Thanksgiving is next Monday and since the paper I write for only comes out on Tuesdays, I wrote this column for this week so I would not miss the holiday. It is a bit local in flavour, but still translates into general thanksgivingness”
“Winter is an etching, spring a watercolour, summer an oil painting and autumn a mosaic of them all.” – Stanley Horowitz
To my mind, it is only fitting that Thanksgiving is an autumnal holiday. It seems like the celebration of gratefulness is smack dab in the middle of what I consider the best time of the year. It is true that winter is starkly beautiful, that spring brings us renewal, and that summer seems to ripen fully, but it is autumn where it all comes together—it can be breathtakingly beautiful, heralds in a renewal of a different sort, and provides us with a harvest of the summer’s ripening.
An article that appeared in the online issue of “The Hub” by Eva Antonel states that gratitude (which is after all what Thanksgiving is all about) can “help you have a healthier heart, allows you to have a more restful sleep, makes you more optimistic, helps you make more friends, boosts confidence, decreases anxiety, improves your likeability and …. your overall health.”
Alrighty then, gratitude wins hands down, making Thanksgiving not just a holiday of copious amounts of food (which in itself is not such a bad thing) but a time to stop and reflect and give thanks for all those things that we often take for granted.
“It’s easy to be grateful when the sun is shining” says Antonel, but she was not so sure that people could overcome their tears, anger, resignation and doubt when it came to the devastation caused by the deluge of rain last week in Tecumseh and Windsor. But in the end the people she spoke to were grateful “that the things they had lost could be replaced and no lives were lost in the melee.”
Antonel gave us some insight into what she is grateful for, and her gratefulness takes a rather local turn. A resident of LaSalle, she says she is grateful for: “Several good bakeries, excellent independent new and used bookstores, a thriving arts community, our proximity to the Detroit River, Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie and the views they provide, our geographical location and climate, our multicultural makeup, our ethnic restaurants, Ojibway and Sandwich Town, local farmers markets and fresh produce roadside stands.”
I share many of the things she is thankful for—but taking a cue from her local outlook I have a few to add coming from our fair town. I love that we live in a community that is starting to make cultural activities not just a footnote, but a prime area of concern. Witness the Cultural Days held last Saturday—the intrepid artists and musicians and other talented folks added some whimsical colour to our streets. But this is not just a one weekend affair—these people are part of the backbone of our town (and environs) and should be recognized. I love Lakeside Park. I love the fact that the new Mettawas Park is taking shape. I love that our trails and pathways are being extended. I love all the wineries within just a few steps and miles from and within our municipality. I am glad to have Lake Erie on our doorstep. We have a plethora of wonderful restaurants to suit any palate and pocket, and the nightlife is starting to take off. Migration Hall and its offerings is a wonderful asset. This list is incomplete—I could add so much more—but I will leave you to think about some of the things you are grateful for.
Harkening back to Antonel’s article, I found the response of another LaSalle resident, Bonnie Baessette resonating—partly because I lived in Windsor for a few years, and the fact that she was thankful for both the large and small things in her life. What is she thankful for? In her (edited by me) words:
“Opening a tap and having an unlimited supply of clean drinking water. Going to bed at night and not worrying about being blown to bits as a war casualty (do we realize just how lucky we are?); enjoying a low crime rate thanks to good policing and gun-control….Access to fresh local food…cultural diversity, a thriving arts community. Lucky to have a university as well as a community college…Biblioasis (and) easy access to Detroit culture and arts.”
I love Thanksgiving—the food, the family get-togethers, the time spent with friends. I wish all of you the best of the day, and leave you with this quote which should raise the coziness quotient of the season and help alleviate the angst felt by those of you unwilling to say goodbye to summer:
“Listen! The wind is rising and the air is wild with leaves, we have had our summer evenings, now for October Eves.” ~ Humbert Wolfe
“Winter is an etching, spring is a watercolour, summer is an oil painting and autumn a mosaic of them all.” ~ Stanley Horowitz