This, That, and the Other

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.

Published in: on November 12, 2014 at 12:38 pm  Comments (21)  
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Ideas and What To Do With Them

Tomato Juice in a glas, decorated with tomato ...

Tomato Juice in a glass, decorated with tomato slice and sprig (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is my weekly column–now you will know what I was busy doing on Saturday. There is some local lore here–Richard Scarsbrook is from Toronto now; the Workshop was held in my hometown of Kingsville;  Coopers Hawk is a Winery just a few miles away; the Mettawas is a local restaurant in our refurbished train station, and Merli’s is a quaint eatery just down the street from the library:

            A gathering of like-minded people met last Saturday to form a community for a day. A community we all recognized—creative people assembled to learn something new, to gain inspiration, and to add to our body of knowledge. We attended a Short Story Writing Workshop led by a local boy “made good” author Richard Scarsbrook, originally from Olinda. He opened the workshop with these words: “I want you to walk away with two things today: ideas, and what to do with them.”

            Before the workshop I wrote a few articles about it for the paper, and described Richard as dynamic—but only because I had gleaned the information second-hand. On Saturday I experienced the truth of the word dynamic: energetic, active, lively, vibrant, and full of life. All those words described our leader for the day, who took his cue from us in how he structured the workshop. He had a handout that he used for part of the day, but abandoned it somewhat in the afternoon after hearing what we wanted to concentrate on.

            The venue was provided by the Essex County Library Board. We used the activity room in the beautiful Kingsville Library as our “classroom”. Organized by volunteers for “Wine, Writers and Words”—it was in this volunteer’s eyes an unmitigated success. Personally I loved every minute of it—from the workshop itself to the lunch at the Mettawas Restaurant, a wine tasting put on by the affable and knowledgeable owner of Coopers Hawk Vineyard, Tom O’ Brien to an open mike session followed by the fellowship at Merli’s just down the street. It was a full day of my favourite things: writing, reading, eating, conversation, and a little wine.

            Admittedly, I have been writing this column for years so I must try and come  up with new ideas on a weekly basis—but a workshop of this sort really helps the creative juices run afresh. One of the exercises Richard provided us with was the prompts provided by  six words that he said were guaranteed to get us writing. And right he was. Apparently the words he chose are psychologically proven to get our minds in gear and our fingers working. I was surprised how each of the words brought up strong memories. The first word was childhood, which evoked in me a memory that has obviously been lurking in the background for a long time. The subject is kind of quirky, the memory not life changing, yet there it was. I will give you a taste of what the word evoked during the workshop:

            “The whole family was invited. Grandparents. Aunts and uncles. Cousins. And of course mom and dad and my brothers and sister. Even Tippy, our dog, was excited.

            We had set up the dining room table in the living room. It was joined by sundry and other tables to make it long enough to seat twenty-two people.

            I was in charge of setting the table, a job I enjoyed even as a kid. Lining up the silverware just so. Placing the glasses between the tip of the knife and corner of the plate. And since we were having company we used our tiny glasses placed in the middle of the plate to hold tomato juice. That was always the sign that we were having either a special meal or holiday dinner—we had tomato juice to start the meal.”

            That was as far as I got as the exercise was timed and we had to stop writing—but Richard said that the whole idea behind the prompt was to give us something to start and a place to go with it. So here is the rest of the story—be forewarned, it is a little….well, I will let you be the judge of it:

            “After setting the table, I found a glass of what I thought was tomato juice poured into a lovely container. To this day I do not know why I did what I did next—but I took a drink from it. It was not tomato juice at all! It was my mom’s homemade chili sauce. And she was none too pleased that I took a sip from it. Many times during my life I have asked myself “what was I thinking?” and I believe this was the first time I had this thought. How could I not have recognized that the lumpy chili sauce was not juice? I was mortified by my mistake and skulked away to my room. I think I remember this so well because I was deeply embarrassed about my stupid mistake—and it ruined the special meal for me.” I understand that this is no piece of writing genius but it is a vivid memory drawn from the word “childhood”.

            The workshop happened through the hard work of Nancy Belgue, Tara Hewitt, Brian Sweet, Joan Cope, Arleen Sinasac and to some extent me. A lot of thought and rethought, planning and replanning went into the day, and speaking for myself (and hopefully the other participants) “a good time was had by all.”

For Whom Does The Bell Toll?

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(Photo credit: The hills are alive (back for a bit….)

Michelle asks: Is it easy for you to ask for help when you need it, or do you prefer to rely only on yourself? Why?

No, Michelle, it is not easy to ask for help when I need it. Yes, I do like to rely on myself. But how was that working for me? Not great.

I have learned to ask for help, and have been met almost exclusively with success. Life hands us some pretty tricky situations sometimes and I have found I needed (and still need) help getting through them.  My family and friends have reached out in my times of need—and without question have helped me in so many ways—emotionally, financially, and spiritually. Sometimes I have had to ask. And it was hard.

I have also found that sometimes I put something out to the blog world and receive such support – it is wonderful to have this new venue to call on. I try not to do it often, but whenever I do, I have been rewarded a hundred fold.

I once thought I was an “island” but have since come to the realization that no man or woman is an island (sorry Mr. Donne, for the bastardization of that phrase). We cannot survive happily and successfully without each other. I was interested to note that “No Man is an Island” also had wrapped within its clever words, another phrase we use often—take a look see:

        No Man is an Island ~ John Donne

No man is an island entire of itself; every man

is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;

if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe

is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as

well as any manner of thy friends or of thine

own were; any man’s death diminishes me,

because I am involved in mankind.

And therefore never send to know for whom

the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

John Donne, one of the most famous Metaphysica...

John Donne, one of the most famous Metaphysical Poets. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


So do you find it hard to ask for help? And when you did—were you rewarded?


On the Banks of the River

English: Village stream Avening stream close t...

Village stream Avening close to bursting its banks  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Civilization is a stream with banks. The stream is sometimes filled with blood from people killing, stealing, shouting, and doing the things historians usually record; while on the banks, unnoticed, people build homes, make love, raise children, sing songs, write poetry, and even whittle statues. The story of civilization is the story of what happens on the banks. Historians are pessimists because they ignore the banks for the river.” ~ Will Durant

I opened a favourite book of mine, Storycraft, by Jack Hart, and by pure chance found this quote on page 142 of Chapter 9. Now you can open a book at random and not find anything of consequence. This time I opened a book at random and found a quote that pretty well sums up all of the important things that need to be summed up.

It is the everyday, the lives that we live, the families we make (and family is a big word–you do not have to be related by blood to be family), and the things we do and create that are important. Like a headline ripped from the paper–civilization is given short shrift if you only look at the extremes.

The “story of civilization is what happens on the banks” in our everyday lives. That is the interesting stuff. Leave the other stuff to historians and the headlines. (Not all historians keep account of the killing, stealing, and shouting–Will Durant is himself a historian).

Bliss is what happens on the banks–what do you think?

Too Normal

William Blake's "The Tyger," publish...

William Blake’s “The Tyger,” published in his Songs of Innocence and of Experience is a work of Romanticism (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Just because you haven’t seen something—doesn’t mean it’s not there.” ~ Narrator from movie “Epic”

One would think I would not go near the genre of poetry after last month’s demand of one a day, but this “poem” is one I wrote a few years ago and it reflects the fact that I want to live a more fanciful and magical life.

 I am a believer, I have faith, and I have hope, but none of these things come easily—hence the poem. I think by now you recognize me as a prose poet rather than one who follows rules, or writes pretty verse (though I would like to make that rise).

Here is the preamble I wrote to the poem “Too Normal”. Note to readers: you will not recognize this type of poetry. It is from the school of fractured thoughts, lack of discipline, metreless cadence, and incandescent whimsy:


Too Normal

My feet

are planted solidly on the ground

mired in the mud of

my own disbelief


My brain

will not accept

what it cannot explain ~

and it cannot explain a lot


I say I am open to the

spirits, the muses

the fairies

and the hobgoblins


But I am only of this physical world

Aware of what I can see,

feel, smell, hear

or taste.


Blind to anything I cannot see

Oblivious to everything but the obvious

I still have hope

that something will sway me

Move me

Make me believe

beyond a shadow of a doubt.


I want to believe

there is something



I do.


Bliss is being sure of what you believe—I have not achieved this totally yet—have you?

Published in: on May 14, 2013 at 12:22 pm  Comments (50)  
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Magic ~ Bliss or a Dark Art?

Do You Believe in Magic (album)

Do You Believe in Magic (album) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Everything you read has a kernel of truth. Or something that takes you by surprise.  The book I am reading right now is “A Discovery of Witches” by Deborah Harkness, and though it is a work of fiction, I think there are kernels of truth scattered throughout, and definitely surprises.

This book challenges many of my firmly rooted opinions. And it is these sentences, on page 72 that are responsible:

“I wanted to know how humans came up with a view of the world that had so little magic in it….I needed to understand how they convinced themselves that magic wasn’t important.”

These statements were in response to a vampire asking a witch why she was interested in the history of science. The witch is the main character or protagonist in the book, Diana Bishop. The vampire is Matthew Clairmont. I am far enough into the book to be intrigued—and I found Diana’s statements very telling: why do we think there is so little magic in the world?

This is not a book I would generally pick up—I am not a real vampire fan, but the story introduces the readers to an intelligent, alternate world that many of us may not be familiar with. I am finding it difficult to parse fact from fiction, but that is what makes it so interesting.

Magic is a word that conjures wonder. I must say that I agree with Diana ~ why do we live in a world where we are not believers in magic?

Is there bliss in magic, or do you think of it as a dark art?


Published in: on February 7, 2013 at 5:35 pm  Comments (50)  
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A Big Hug

Granny (Looney Tunes)

Granny (Looney Tunes) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am as guilty as anyone else. I love the idea of “community” and love living in a small town, but do I really contribute to the feeling of “community”? To me, the term is not geographical, but emotional —and can be, at its best (pardon the sentiment) “like a big hug”. Author, Ferenc Matte reminded me of the importance of “community”, in his book, “The Wisdom of Tuscany”. Fortunately, we do not have to travel so far afield to attain the close-knit feeling of belonging.

At its core community has the word commune, which  in essence means connect. I do not think I do enough to “connect” to my neighbours, or to the community at large. Matte makes the point that:

“If we all love such small towns—and surveys say that seven out of ten of us would live there if we could—why then are they ever more difficult to find? The demand is there, so where is the supply? When all it takes is a few good-natured people—a couple to teach school, a few to run the stores, some to farm the land, some to mend the sick and a bar to tend the healthy—then why isn’t there such a town behind every tree?” He ends his tiny diatribe by saying “How did it happen that things no one wants are burying us all, while the simple town we dream of we can seldom find.”

Matte, of course simplifies what a small town is all about, but he has a point. If we want a sense of community, then we should strive to achieve that goal. He mourns the loss of neighbourhood saying that its death “snuck up on us slowly”, with a little “thoughtlessness here, a tiny neglect there, a bit too much ambition, a little too much greed.” He misses Granny on the front porch reminding us of “simpler times, better days.”

About a week and a half ago, I attended an event which felt a bit like a “big hug”. I was there, not as a reporter, but someone enjoying an evening of books, wine, music, and food. It was called En Vino Novellus, which translated means “in wine there are stories”.  It featured four local authors, some local musicians, wine paired to the books that were featured by a local sommelier, and an appetizer presented by a local butcher shop. Note the word local—they were all a part of our community, and came together to present an evening enjoyed by an overflowing crowd of like-minded people.

My husband said that the evening personified what community is all about. He said that he wants to live in a place that can provide wonderful cultural events. Events that the community can get behind.

Me too.

On Trend for 2012

You can thank me later. Flowers and chocolates are also acceptable rewards. To keep you up to date and on trend, I am providing for you “What is In and What is Out” for 2012. Of course I am not savvy enough or sustainably “with it” enough to come in with what is in and what is out by myself, so I turn to Detroit News Design Writer, Sue Pollack, who either has the audacity or expertise or the audacious expertise to predict what will be trending for 2012, and what is to be left by the wayside.

I do not in any way agree with all her predictions, and saying that people are out of fashion is not something I approve of, but I do love 2012’s new colour of the year: Tangerine Tango. I love orange in all of its flashy glory, from yellow oranges to this year’s tangy “high energy hue” which Pollack says is turning up in everything from “appliances and ottomans to pillows and throw rugs.” She says that it is “the perfect antidote to winter blues and all the recent doom and gloom.” (I think the Mayan prediction that the world is going to end in December is the doom and gloom she is referring to.)

Unfortunately if Tangerine Tango is the new colour, then there must be an old colour—and its demise is not one I will miss. Honeysuckle pink is apparently no longer the reigning queen of colours. Now pink is not at the top of my list of favourite colours, but if it is one of yours, I give you permission to ignore tangerine tango, or unite the two in a burst of colour combination and co-ordination henceforth unknown. Will pink and orange be the new black and white? Not in my world, but if it is in your world, the more power to you.

It just figures when I finally get a pair of Uggs (mine are fake Uggs) they are out. Supposedly L.L. Bean duck boots are in. But are they made of doe coloured suede with a plush lining? I think not. I will save duck boots for the spring thank-you and cuddle into my fake Uggs for the rest of this thus far mild winter.

I have a few bones to pick with Pollack (besides the one that has now labelled me a foot fashion has-been.)  She says Nate Berkus is out and the new program “The Chew” is in. Have you ever watched “The Chew”? The high level of enthusiasm is over the top and sometimes frenetic—I think some of the people featured on that program (Carla) could give you a seizure. I like Nate’s calm, cool, and collected demeanour—by no means would I replace him.

Susan Boyle, Charlie Sheen, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver are out, replaced by Michael Buble, Ryan Goslisng and William and Kate.

Lost (Michael Bublé song)

Lost (Michael Bublé song) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Live With Regis and Kelly” is out and Dr. Oz is in. I would like to know how you get to make these pronouncements.  Has anyone told Susan or Regis that they are out? I can just imagine that call—“Hello, I am calling to inform you that you may as well roll up the rug of your life, as you are no longer “in”. You are out of favour, out of style, and may as well turn in your keys.”

As you have probably gathered, I read these lists out of interest, but not because they are a guide to running your life in 2012. If you like ski masks and small brim fedoras, recessed lighting, frozen Yogurt, country crafts, pop-tarts, Craig Ferguson, clogs, and fast-food drive-thrus, then stay true to you and do not replace them with critter caps and trapper hats with mega earflaps, hanging light fixtures, Greek yogurt, kids’ art projects, steel cut oats, Jimmy Fallon, moccasins, or food trucks.

Myself, I will mix and match my “ins” and “outs” but probably not replace them, with one rather pointed exception. For some reason, bullying was on the 2011 list and has been replaced by acceptance for 2012. I would like to know when “bullying” was ever in. It was not “in” in 2011. I imagine it was put on the list to foster acceptance—but to ever put it on a list as “de rigeur”, even in the past, is just wrong.

These lists are valuable in that they predict the trends, but better than that, they make us think about what we hold near and dear, and what we are willing to let go. I do not mind if honeysuckle pink is no longer “in”, but it may be your favourite colour, and I respect that. I am happy my favourite colour is going to enjoy the spotlight, but when it is out of favour next year, I will not abandon tangerine tango.

Published in: on January 11, 2012 at 6:57 pm  Comments (2)  
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