Saturday, May 29, 2010

Stories from Miss Shirley

Hustle and bustle, laughing blue eyes, flashing gold jewelry and capris:  that's Miss Shirley.  You have to be quick if you want to catch her--she's a moving target, always on the go.  Nine times out of ten, you will find her bending over in the garden, putting her green thumb to work, filling the compost box, adding a little something sparkly here or there to add interest, pizzazz, or plain old mystery to the haven in her backyard.

I have wanted to get to know this lady for years.  People talk in the neighbourhood about how she came to live here, about the tree in her front yard, about her gardens, her children, her grandchildren.  Well, people talk about anything, but in this case, there is a story to tell.  Actually, many stories.

Let's start with the one about how Miss Shirley and her husband Paul came to live in our neighbourhood.

Gallivanting on holiday in Florida 14 years ago,  Miss Shirley suddenly came face-to-face with Cancer.  It was a dismal situation which got terribly worse when a heart attack hit her the day before emergency surgery.  The handsome "Doctor Kildaire" in charge fought tooth and nail with the Ontario Health Insurance Plan to keep our heroine in his care until she could have her surgery, recover enough to begin chemo and safely travel home to Canada.  No small feat: OHIP does everything in its power to keep from paying for expensive, out-of-province health care.  They get defensive and downright nasty when challenged.

At home near Peterborough, Miss Shirley began the long struggle to recover and survive the modern plague.  Things were not going well.  The pre-existing Multiple Sclerosis became activated by the new drugs in her system.  She progressed from walking unassisted, to using canes, to languishing in a wheelchair.

-How are you doing, Mum?
-Just fine, thanks, the indomitable Miss Shirley would reply.

Miss Shirley's three little darlings had grown into strong young men, in business and raising families in Our Town.

-Mum, we want to see the whites of your eyes when we ask you how you are.  We picked out three houses in Our Town that we like and which we think you could be comfortable in.  Move!  Now!!

Shirley and Paul chose the delightful cottage in my neighbourhood, overlooking the Henley Pond.  This story has a happy ending, as most of Miss Shirley's stories do.  It's been 14 years with no recurrence of the disease.  Her MS abated over time and she is hot to trot, keeping Paul, her children and grandchildren on their toes. 

This week, I printed out a "business card" for myself and walked over to formally introduce myself.  Mr. Paul came out making sure it was a kosher visitor who had invaded the backyard sitting area, and then left us to it.   We talked for over 2 hors.  I took  notes.  I fell in love with this lovely woman of 80 years worth of stories to tell.  In the coming weeks, I will practice my story writing by relating Miss Shirley Stories.  Stay tuned for The Ladybug Story, The Tree Story, The Mirror in the Wall Story, and others.  You too will want to meet this laughing dynamo of a woman.  She's one in a million.

What interesting people live around your neighbourhood?  Are you brave/silly enough to go and meet them?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Hot, Hot, Hot

Suddenly it's summer. 

The radio is announcing heat advisories and the dog is flaked out like a wet noodle.  Nobody wants to move.  The internal temperature in the house is soaring.  I've been running around closing windows, drawing blinds and turning on fans.  Does it help to just move the same old air around inside the house, without bringing anything new in?  The "anything new" would come as a package:

Noise and dust from construction next door
Humidity and

My friend Linda, assures me that it is an old wives tale one should never, ever touch a bird's nest or the eggs therein.  She says our mothers told us that so we would leave the fragile things alone, and I suspect, like Linda's mother, they did not want us bringing home the wilds of nature together with the dirt and bugs that are so often associated with them.  She regales me with tales of hatching robin's eggs on a heat register, of catching and bringing home snakes, only to loose them in the house and of being forbidden to smuggle "creepy crawlies" home.  If I'd been Linda's mother, I would have moved out.  I do not consider it civilized to cohabit with slitherers.

Nest Condos

Mother Robin


Who is nesting in your back yard?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Victoria Day Weekend

In honour of my birthday, Canada has inaugurated a special long weekend.  Every year as I turn another year older, I get to have a holiday to celebrate.  Actually, being part of the British Commonwealth, Canada celebrates the Late, Great, Queen Victoria on HER birthday and I get to go along for the ride.  Hey--I'll take whatever I can get--it's free.

Today, the official day, it is pouring down rain, but on Wednesday, when hubby took me to the big city for an overnight, it was a glorious 30 degrees and sunny.  We left our home at 4:30pm, just in time for rush hour and spent the next 2 hours in stop-and-go traffic.  I was at the wheel.  By the time we got to our destination, my leg muscles felt like I had bicycled all the way instead of driving.  Note to self:  leave the standard at home and take the truck next time there's traffic.

Our first stop was the Library Bar where I ordered a gin martini, straight up, with olives, thank you very much.  My hungry stomach was growling by this time, a dangerous omen.  When the waiter asked if I would like seconds and my eyes lit up at the very thought, hubby quickly said no thank you on my behalf.

We found that our bags had miraculously appeared in our room on the 17th floor, the coats hung in the closet and the windows opened to the Toronto Harbour view.  Almost faint from hunger, and a little buzzed from the gin, I metamorphosized into a glamour queen, dressed for dinner. 

Even in high heels, the walk to supper was an easy one.  I found myself seated across from the love of my life in Jump, a New York style bistro.  This is not my favorite style for dinner--noisy, crowded, busy, but I have to say, it was worth it all.  The service was excellent and the food......   Well, I almost swooned at every bite.  The very last morsel was as amazingly delicious as the first.  Grand Marnier Creme Brule was for dessert.  I waddled home.

The Fairmont at the Royal York was our home-away-from-home for the night.  Luxury and elegance at every turn.  Staff were friendly, courteous and service-oriented, going out of their way to greet us and wish us well.  They have just cleaned house and earned their new 5 star rating.  It shows.

Back home again, our local beach is in summer party mode already.  The first long-weekend of the year.  Off limits for Nelson now, the sand and water are claimed by the body-beautifuls, tanning, picnicking, volley the balls and swimming.  Dogs have to wait until it's raining or too cold for sunbathing to visit these days.

Instead of the beach this weekend, Nelson and I are touring the neighbourhood and practicing our manners in public.  I thought you might like to see what one lady has done with a dead tree.  It has been fashioned into a playhouse and so she dresses her little dolly for the weather, and positions her like she is shy or playing hide and seek.  She is the one counting with her eyes covered.

I did some photoshop editing here in keeping with the whimsy.

Do you have plans for the long weekend?  Will Mother Nature co-operate with sunshine and balmy temperatures for you?  Have you found your favourite sun hat yet from last summer?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Red and Black

Today's post is in response to the Red and Black Challenge from Natasha.  Check out her site and see the fun interpretations of the Ladybug theme.

Lady Bug! Lady Bug!
Fly away home.
Your house is on fire
Your children are gone.
All except one
And that's little Ann,
For she crept under
The frying pan.

I grew  up singing this little rhyme.  What's not to love about the endearing red and black cuties?  Bright, bold colours that attract even infants.  Harmless, quiet, not scary in the least.  How well I remember marching down the block when I was five, clutching my clean pickle jar with holes punched in the tin lid.  The mission was to collect as many Ladybugs as possible in the allotted time away from home.  Mrs. Brown had the best hedge for Ladybugs.  There was never a shortage of easily-bottled bugs.  Over the years, I have lost the vision of what happened when I got them home, but it seems the jar was always empty the following morning.

Childhood is long past.  Life has taken a turn from idyllic nursery rhymes and harmless pursuits.  In North America, the beloved Ladybug of old has been overtaken by the Asian Ladybird Beetle.  Unlike their predecessors, these Ladybirds are not red and black, but orange or yellow and black.  Not content to be invited inside in clean jars, the Ladybird swarms into domiciles, taking up residence and refusing to leave.  And for the unsuspecting, the Ladybird will give a nasty surprise...she bites.  She is NOT the harmless, friendly Ladybug of our youth.

So, let's talk about Red and Black.

I have decided it's time to confess:
Nelson and I failed puppy school.


she admits sheepishlky, with her face truning red, and redder and even more red.  It is embarrassing that this two  year old dog, who should have better manners by now,  jumps on visitors, barks at the neighbours, refused to come when called and in general, is running our lives like he is the one in charge.  It is humiliating when others discipline my dog.  This is an unacceptable state of affairs, and needs remedy immediately.

We are now enrolled in a new school, in a new place, with a new teacher, with a new, determined-not-to-fail attitude.

As far as black goes, that is the smirch on our record.  We are out to expunge our Black name in doggy school ledgers.  We are planning to clean up our act, polish our tarnished manners and learn decorum as befitting good citizens.  We want to win the gold medal in obedience training, shining examples of achievement.

Red and Black are good colours.  I am wonderfully fond of Red.  I love my red shoes.  Black clothes, they say, are slimming, but bulges still bulge, whether they are clad in black pants or blue.  I use black mascara.  I have six pairs of black shoes, 4 little black dresses, and 5 black purses.  Checkers come in red and black, as does licorice.   Cherries are red Black olive tampenade is delicious with crackers or as a basting on salmon.

So even though the adorable red and black Ladybug is no more, we soldier on, taking our reds and blacks where we can get them,  relishing the richness they add to life.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Mother Goose

There are birds everywhere these days.  I have feeders outside my front porch which attract lots of song birds and little pretties, much to the dismay of my "car-proud" son. 

"Why do you feed those #%&#!# birds?  They poop all over my car!"

I feed them so they will come close and I can get a good look at them, take pictures and see more of the beauty of nature. 

I love the birds.  I love waking to hear them singing in the trees.

 I love watching them interact with each other, and I really love the babies. 

Who can resist babies?

While I was intently taking pictures, a lady came up to me and pointed out that I was standing not three feet from a mother goose sitting on her nest.  She was a silent and still as a painted post.  She didn't even blink when I took her picture.  If I hadn't been told, I would have missed her altogether.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Lessons for Life

Have you ever noticed what a fabulous blogger you can be in the middle of the night?  How the words just flow, eloquent, to the point, whole paragraphs evolving effortlessly?  And have you ever sat at your computer, come the cold light of day, stymied by the blank screen, with complete and utter writer's block,  the words lacking punch, the sentences contrived and stilted?  Ah well, pictures help...sometimes.

Today it's about life lessons learned from Nature.

30 degrees Celsius (86 F. for those who want to convert) vanished in a flash as Mother Nature turned her capricious mood back to winter.  3 degrees Celsius (37 F.) overnight.  Close the windows.  Leave the newly stretched screen in the garage.  Bring in the pansy pots.  Wear your down coat to church.  Cold is bad enough, but when it comes with 90 mph winds, thunder and lightning for 28 hours !! it's another thing altogether.  Okay, Mother Nature, what got your goose?

Our neighborhood is resplendent with hardwood trees--a veritable forest.  Because they were newly in leaf, tenderly green and delicious-looking, they were ravaged by the cutting edge of the gale. 

Some trees heavily laden with their fresh green mantles were no match for the whip lashing  they received.  We woke to debris littering our yards, driveways and sidewalks.    Leaves, limbs and branches and whole trees downed.  The trees that split in two, broke or just plain fell over were diseased at their cores. 

They were like whitewashed tombs that gleam in the sun, beautiful on the outside, but on the inside, full of dead bones and rotting, stinking decay.

The heart's disease, left long enough, permeates completely to the roots.

Sick, compromised, fallen, gone forever.

But not without inflicting pain on innocent bystanders.

A Japanese Maple now scared and misshapen for the rest of its life because it was caught up in the whirlwind of some other's fallout.

Blockages and no-go zones have been created.  Life has been disrupted. 

In the day to day of living, there comes a time to examine our hearts.  Is there something impure there?  Something that is unhealthy?  Some thing that should be dealt with sooner than later?  As people, we so often focus on the outward appearance, giving no thought to what lies beneath the surface.  Not until there is a cataclysmic event do we register a problem...too late.  Pain, destruction, loss. Others get hurt, sometimes irreparably. 

Create within me a pure heart, O Lord.  Psalm 51

God will put a new spirit within us.  He will take the heart of stone out of us and give us a new heart of flesh so that we may walk in His statutes and keep His commandments.  We will be His people and He will be our God.  Ezek. 11:19

Friday, May 7, 2010

My Latest Kitchen Adventure

Veronica who writes Of Mice and  Ramen talked to us about Rendang two weeks ago and I thought it looked really good.  I promised to try it myself and to tell you the results. 

It was fun shopping for the recipe ingredients, but unfortunately, I am not in Malaysia and could not find certain things.  Neither me, nor my grocer, had ever heard of "Galangal".  I do not know anything about curries and "curry leaves" are not sold in my grocery store either.  Coconuts were there.  I bought two.

Now I have to say, when preparing a meal for my family begins in the garage, working with electric drills, hammers and chisels, I already begin to wonder how things are going to work out.

I collected the coconut water after the holes were drilled into the top of the tough nuts, only because it was there.  In the end, it was a good thing I did, as you will soon read.  Did you know that according to recent magazine articles, coconut water is the newest, hottest dietary aid?  It is high is potassium, is good for bowel cleansing among other things, and can even be used as an isotonic solution to replenish fluids intravenously if needed in emergencies.  Surprise!

Back in the kitchen, the hard work began.  Would my paring knife snap in half as I determined to extricate the pulp from the stone-like shell?  How was I supposed to grate the small, broken pulp pieces without grating my fingers too?  Two coconuts gave me almost enough pulp to grate into the 1 1/2 cups called for in the recipe.

Next, I attempted to make "coconut milk" from the gratings.  A futile attempt.  This is when I was happy to have saved the coconut water from the garage.  Who would know the difference????

Those who have watched me in the kitchen know all too well my philosophy on recipes--almost the same as the one that goes:  "Rules were made to be broken."

For potatoes, I substituted Acorn Squash.  It's a pretty orange colour and has a nice flavor, and I really do not like mushy potatoes.

Instead of tomato sauce, I used ketchup.  It was open, and besides, who wants to only use 2 Tbsp. of tomato sauce out of a 28 ounce jar?

By the time I had the finished product in the oven in its bean pot/aka: clay pot, I was sweating.  This recipe is hard work.  Maybe Veronica's mother taught her the correct ways to deal with coconuts.  Maybe she has designated tools for the task.  I can't imagine she has as much trouble as I did with this, because she says she makes it all the time.

What an amazingly flavourful meal this recipe (with my few omissions and additions) made.  I really loved the lemon grass and ginger, together with the chili paste and scallions. 

Remember the picture of my husband's face when I gave him the beats?  Well, this time he tried hard to look positive, but.....    We do not live in Malaysia and we do not eat hot, spicy foods.  Veronica would have probably thought my version was very bland, but for our palates, this meal was a challenge.

Thank you, Veronica, for the kitchen adventure.  It was fun, it was good to eat, but it is one I will not do again anytime soon.

Here it is Friday again and the Friday Follow Blog Hop sponsored by our hostesses from Hearts Make Families, Midday Escapades and One 2 Try.  Come along and join the fun.

Monday, May 3, 2010

I Would Have Missed It All

As March was ending, and April began, you heard/read my wailings about having to leave the Bahamas, the ocean, the boat, the life of a sailor.  I did not want to come  home.  I did not want to face yet another month of terrible Canadian winter.  Thank you all for putting up with my rants and my spoiled-child syndrome.  I got over it.  It takes time, but I usually do.

Everyone says that it was the best winter they ever had here.  They say things like,

"If all winters were all like that one, who would ever go south again?"  

Still, I did see, feel, hate the snow when I got back.  But to be fair, that was when I travelled out west to see the grandkids, while here at home things have been unbelievably lovely.  Yesterday, as I was weeding the front garden, my neighbor strolled by and said,

"It's not even May 24th and already we are at the gardens!  Unheard of."

I live in southern Ontario, on the little spit of land between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie.  This is the tender fruit area:  grapes, cherries, peaches, apples.  This means I am surrounded by orchards and fresh fruit all the time.  At this time of year, it means blossoms.  Blossoms like you would not believe, which is why I have to show you pictures so you will go:
"oooooo"  and  "awwww"

The lilacs and iris are in bud.  The birds are back in force, singing to the dawn and cooing in the dusk.Life is bursting out all over.

Just think:  I could have missed it all if I'd stayed in the Bahamas.  It is good to be home for spring.

Rowing the Henley

T'is the season. 

Rowing season has begun.  Early Bird Regatta last weekend, Mother's Day Regatta coming up fast and for high school athletes, pressure is building towards Schoolboy Regatta the first week of June. 

Those of us living in Port see the teams out running their required endurance-building laps around the neighbourhood at all hours, their smaller versions (cox) bringing up the rear.  Seasoned coaches say it's the legs that make a winning team in the long haul.  And here I thought it was all about the arms plying the oars.

Every dawn, crew members wake with the birds and assemble on the island for drills and rigging, getting on the water by 6.  Come rain, sleet or snow, they're at it.  Good Grandmas knit special rowing mittens that fit over oar handles to keep fingers from freezing on cold days.  Good Mums provide iced water bottles for the hot days and breakfast before she even has her eyes open.  Good Dads are up with their kids, driving the daily route to the course and back.  It's an 8 - 10 week exercise in endurance for the whole family. 

The 1986 movie, staring Nicholas Cage, "The Boy in Blue" gives a good history of this Canadian sport, filmed right here in Port Dalhousie. 

First thing on the agenda for Mum when her teen joins a crew, is to go shopping.    Specialized shopping at that.  Dad's get a sharp pain in that back pocket where they keep their wallets.  Leggings, all manner of fleece garaments (with school crest), crew jacket (in school colours and design, no other will do), flip flops (the ones that all the guys are wearing, not just any old flip flops please), rowing shorts, rowing shirts, and the all-time-Mummy's-favourite: the sex suit.  Camel toe, anyone?

Looking cool waiting for Dad to pick them up.

"Shells" is what these boats are called. Long sheds house dozens and dozens of them.  Each school has their own, named after special people in the history of rowing,  or from the history of their schools, or in the name of the benefactors that made their purchase possible.  A good quality single costs upwards of $10,000.  Eights are proportionately more expensive.
After a good boat, which would be one that doesn't leak too badly and pulls mostly in a straight line, the next most important thing is a good oar.  They're enormous.  There are currently two of the monsters in the rafters of my son's old room.  Cool, but monsters just the same.

Coaches come in all stripes.

  Everyone has their favorite and their least favorite.   Enough said.  I live here, you know.

Learning the lingo is important.  It's a whole new language and it takes time and practice to master it.  Good thing I had three kids in the sport for over 8 years.  I'm still not sure about which is which between a Double and a Pair.  I think the double has 4 oars and a pair has 2, but don't quote me on that one.

There's  the light weights, who's parents worry as they faint crossing the finish line.  There's the heavy weights that carbo-load, shovelling in pasta with impunity. 

 I've never met a teenage middle they actually exist????

There are straight fours, quads, coxed fours.  Eights, heavy eights, who usually carry the last heat of the show.  Singles are in a class of their own.  We are personally aquainted with a male single, who has never, ever won a medal.  He battles his weight to stay in the  light-weight class, travels from regatta to regatta, begs for places to sleep over on race nights and has yet to get a medal of any kind.  What keeps him at it?  There is the tee shirt that boasts the slogan,

"Rowing is life.  Everything else is details."

Look at these faces.  Do you see a single one that gives the impression of joy? 

Pain, yes.

Hard work, yes. 

Dedication, yes. 

Determination, yes.

Wait until the medal ceremonies, and then the pure joy and wild abandon of bliss is evident.

At the end of the day, there must be some personal satisfaction that keeps these kids coming back for more.   Early mornings, sleep deprivation, dietary issues for many, time management challenges, peer pressures, these kids are champions even for being there.