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Showing posts from 2013

Busha's Recipe Book

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Every family has their own nickname for Grandma- Gran, Nana, Mimaw, Noni.  They're influenced by culture and tradition, not to mention what little tongues are capable of saying clearly.  My mother's grandmother was Busha, short for "Babushka", a word meaning either a grandmother, an elderly woman, or a headscarf in Russia or Poland.  I never knew her personally because she passed away when my mom was still in grade school, but Busha, my Great Grandma Sobey, was still a part of my life.  I grew up with stories about her life, saw her picture on the shelf, thumbed through the handwritten cookbook she left behind, and every year as Christmas neared, her soft gingerbread cookies were part of the pantheon of treats we made with Mom.

     So, this year, as I have been sharing favourite holiday recipes in various places on the internet (see our Facebook page or the Wordpress blog I've started as a place for that kind of thing) I naturally thought of Busha's gin…

Thankful Memories

The pot of horrors would be bubbling on the stove all morning, neck and giblets, looking like a witches' cauldron leftover from Halloween.  Giblets.  It was a comical, almost friendly name, no doubt invented to deceive us into thinking they might not be as terrible a concept for food.  That bubbling pot meant gravy would be eaten at your own risk, but it would be made as Grandma always had, and her mother before her, and before that, in the days when no food was wasted however unappetizing.

     There was a table full of vegetables to chop for stuffing, mashed potatoes, and other side dishes, not to mention a tray to snack on that we didn't bother to call crudité.  Thanksgiving was bigger than everyday, more special, but it was humble, too.  We always helped in the kitchen.  Before the meal preparation was more fun than dish washing after.  I suppose it always is, but when the holiday means more than the usual eight diners and all the specialty dishes brought out of the c…

Inheritance

I had my first chest x-ray recently.  Although they found none of the heart issues the doctor was screening for, they did discover mild signs of emphysema.  My doctor assumed the damage had been done before I quit smoking and seemed unconcerned that it would get any worse.

      Only, I have never smoked.
     Not even a puff...of anything.

     So, the conclusion is that I was affected by second hand smoke, assumedly because I grew up in a house with smokers.  It's a stunning fact, especially because I haven't really spent any significant time in a smoky environment since I was 18.  That I could still be damaged by it decades later puts some weight into the arguments against smoking in public places.

     I suppose I could be angry at my parents.  Given the availability of information, they probably knew smoking was bad for you when they started.  However, the news about potential harm in second hand smoke didn't start reaching people until they were both addicted.  …

Gold

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In Autumn, the green chlorophyll in leaves fades away, revealing the yellow carotenoids underneath.  That's the scientific explanation of the colour change we see.  Another way of looking at it is that the gold was inside all along.

What's Cooking

I was going to be a baker.  That was my sensible, practical plan for keeping myself fed while I wrote.  I was well aware that authors who could support themselves with their craft were rarer than authors with talent, and if I was going to build a life where I could write all I wanted, then I would have to have another skill people would pay for.  Since I always liked cooking and baking, it seemed like an ideal solution.  It was all still art, but it was practical art, everyday art with immediate use.  People would always need to eat.

     Of course, I learned all I could in our own kitchen and read scores of cook books in our collection and the library's.  I would experiment whenever I could, took all the classes the school offered, and added two years of more focused vocational training.  The typical teenage jobs flipping burgers and making pizzas were serious business for me.

     Starting a family derailed me from that plan, but I still found myself returning to those culi…

Wheel of Inspiration

Writing tends to be a solitary activity.  We may be able to perform it in crowded places if we're lucky enough to have the focus while riding the train or sitting in some common space.  When you come down to it, though, the actual act of stitching the words together into meaningful patterns is all done alone in your head.  With that basic fact established, I will also say that writing is more social than most other things you do alone.  For one thing, writers of fiction tend to walk around with all sorts of people in their heads.  Even when we are alone, our minds are often working in social ways.  But the aspect I wanted to examine in this post was the camaraderie among those who practice this solitary art.

     While it could be said that authors are in competition with each other, you rarely see them behave as if they were.  There is a realistic limit on how many books may be published in the world, and anyone who has submitted work to a publishing house that's overwhe…

Rest

I dreamt I was in bed one morning, lying awake, trying to get the last few minutes of rest before the alarm would ring.  Lists of what I would do for the day came rushing up.  They compiled themselves in steady ticks like an old printer spitting out one line, then another.  Still, I determined to stay prone, squeezing out every moment to which I was entitled.  I planned to hit the snooze alarm when the clock would blare.  I calculated the number of minutes that would buy me, the number it would leave me on the other side of the morning- how long I would have to get ready for work, and what I could do to compress the necessary tasks into the new timeframe.  I knew I wouldn't sleep anymore, but I was stubborn and wouldn't compromise the sleep time even if I wasn't using it for the intended purpose.  But I was.  Sleeping.  Sleeping and dreaming of not sleeping and wishing I was sleeping.

     Sleep deprivation can do funny things to a person.  I had observed it in my hus…

Quietly for Good

Libraries are often thought of as quiet places.  They are quiet places where gentle people work quietly for the good of the community.  It's almost a sacred image.  For this reason, when someone finds and challenges a perceived threat to public decency among the stacks, they often expect the librarian to be as shocked as they are.  They assume the librarian will be mortified that such pestilence would have crept into their carefully tended garden while they weren't looking.  A concerned complainer rarely expects the library to defend what they had hoped to eradicate.  Yet, libraries generally stand squarely opposed to censorship of any kind.

     One might think that this is some misplaced affection for all books.  While it's true most library professionals and paraprofessionals do love books, I have seen ruthless weeding operations when room had to be cleared for new acquisitions.  It's no place to be squeamish or overly sentimental.

     One might then conclude …

Castles

Everything washes away.  Entropy is worked into the fabric of the universe.  That's not just a philosophical concept, either, but a scientific fact.  Physicists tell us that there will not only be a day when everything we know of the world is gone, but the universe itself will dissolve into aimless, drifting particles.  The good news is that before that day, we may have entropy pulling things apart, but we also have a tendency for things to come together.  There are forces at work that take up disassembled bits and reconstruct new things from them, recycling the world over and over.  Today's mountaintop may one day be part of the ocean floor, or the other way around.  Last year's flowers may feed this year's sprouts- if they weren't converted to butter by some helpful cow.

     It goes without saying that humans play a role in this continual reshuffling of the deck.  We all have an urge to build.  Putting things together, literally and figuratively, is what br…

Vacation for Two

Vacation, a time of rest- meaning a time to do the rest of the things you never get around to in a normal work week.  A certain amount of the vacation I'm allotted must be used before the end of the year, or it melts away.  Since I'm often busy with the next big project, anticipating a meeting, or adapting to changes, the scheduling of those days gets pushed toward the end of the year when the pressure is on to use it or lose it.  Generally, my first significant vacation of the year ends up being in late August.  It works out because that's generally when there's more going on in my personal life that I'd like the time to enjoy- the GenCon gaming convention, our (my husband and I) wedding anniversary, my husband's family reunion (followed in September by my family's annual camping trip.)  I started a week off on Wednesday, spending the day on the deck in the sun, but not as you may think.  Vacation, as I've said, is usually a time when I can get th…

Wild Tomatoes

I knew when I planted them that these would probably be the last tomatoes I would be able to grow in the back yard garden.  Our trees have been getting steadily bigger, their flourishing foliage increasing the shade there year after year.  From one crop to the next, I've moved their position in the plot to maximize their time in the sun.  Vegetables in general tend not to be shade plants, but some require more sunshine than others to do well.  Tomatoes and peppers, two of the most requested vegetables each time I ask my family what I should plant, are particularly sun-hungry.  So, when spring buds unfurled into summer leaves, and the canopy began to block out the sun, I wondered if we would get any fruit at all from these plants.  They started out looking weak and spindly, so I've worried over them all along.  While I'm generous with the compost, I don't use chemical fertilizers in our garden to give things an artificial boost.  Still, I've tried to give them …

A Lesson on Taxes

NOBODY likes to pay taxes.  Even the least materialistic left-leaning person would rather hang on to  the money they've earned and spend it as they choose.  If you recognize the need to make money in order to take care of the practical stuff in life, you tend to want to keep those gains without having to hand over any more than you have to.  The instinct to take care of number one is a pretty basic one.  So, why do we have taxes that everybody would rather not pay?  Is it because the evil government just wants to waste more of your money on programs and projects you don't use?  The question really becomes why do we have government, and what is it before we can even get to the matter of taxes.

     That basic selfish instinct I spoke of takes on an interesting form in social animals.  There is recognition that we're much more likely to survive in groups, which leads us to form families, communities and countries. It leads us to create laws and express ideals that impro…

When I Am A Yak

In the time between the last post and this one, I've been back and forth on what its subject should be.  One day, I'll think a particular topic is important to speak on, but before I can start putting words on the page, life comes along and distracts me.  Things happen that draw me away from my intention to write, or else my mind is drawn to another topic of equal importance.  New ideas or interests occur to me, and they too are shuffled to the bottom of a list that includes more pressing ways to eat up my day.  At the end of it, or rather at the point where I can see breathing room to actually put a post together, I'm faced with all sorts of possibilities.  There are half a dozen things I might expound on, some merely interesting and frivolous, some with weight and purpose, and some I know would have been perfect if only I remembered what they were.  Where to start?  and What to leave behind?

     Those two questions, I find, are more and more common as I grow older,…

Hello, My Name Is _____

Cielle is not the name my mother gave me, at least not directly.  What's more, nobody calls me by that name when speaking to me, and it's not even my outgrown childhood nickname.  It does link back to those times, however.  My sisters and I were all given names that start with "C", and since our last names were all the same, the only difference in our initials came with the middle names.  When we needed them for property marking or to distinguish our scores for a game, we were always C.A, C.L, C.B, C.F, and C.M.  Mine was just the only combination that sounded like a name of it's own, a sort of feminized version of the French word for heavens, le ciel.  Ever since that time, it has been my all-purpose nom-de-plume and secret identity; so, when I had to establish a user name for this blog years ago, it seemed a natural choice.  This was to be a collection of personal meditations and a way to reach out beyond street-level interactions.  It wasn't about making m…

Var.

We had a big dictionary when I was a child.  It was a magnificent book full of words I hadn't learned yet, with a glossy section in the centre that displayed various bits of interesting categorical information - planets, birthstones, zodiac signs.  This hefty tome was just one of a small reference library we kept.  My parents loved books as much as I do.  The ones I remember best were the mythology, the series on plant, animal and mineral identification, and a heavily illustrated book of World War I airplanes (Snoopy's Sopwith Camel and the Red Baron's Fokker were in there.)  And of course, the set of encyclopedias was a particular treasure.  Everything you wanted to know about was in there, at least to some degree, and we used them often.  Whenever we asked Mom a question she couldn't answer, she'd take us to the encyclopedia and look it up with us.  It was like Mom's spare brain.  I suppose that habit empowered us to become better learners.  There will b…

Still Here

It's approaching a month since I last posted on this blog.  There are reasons.  As I've mentioned before, where there is silence, there is still activity you're not seeing...yet.

     Among all of the usual summer things to do, I've been working at building the website that will display some of the short stories we (my husband and I) have been writing.  It's slow going, and every little piece is a puzzle I have to solve.  There has been frustration and discovery, and enormous satisfaction in the simplest accomplishments like getting the title to show up or getting a menu to work right.  I still feel a little like a fraud, not really knowing what I'm doing, but jumping in and making it work anyway.  The good news is that it shouldn't be much longer before I have the framework ready and can start managing the site instead of just building it.  So, please be patient while my attention is elsewhere.  I'm hoping it will all be worth the wait.

Downhill

I haven't really ridden a bicycle in almost twenty years.  The qualifier is in that statement because there have been a couple of opportunities to spend some insignificant time pedalling.  A few years ago, my husband joined me on some long walks in the state park, me on foot and him on his bicycle.  The bike was gentler on feet and joints, and I did take a turn in order to demonstrate that I am too short to use his bicycle. But that sort of thing is not what I would consider really riding.

     Despite the lull, there was a time when being on a bike was as much a part of my life as swimming, running barefoot up and down the lakeshore, or sitting in the branches of a mulberry tree.  Before that phase, there are memories of learning to ride, of standing in the driveway with tear-streaked cheeks, kicking my bike.  My knees and palms were bloody and crusted with dirt and tiny stones.  Our home at that time offered only grass, dirt and gravel for riding surfaces, and none of them …

Mouichido

When I applied to be an exchange student, it was at the suggestion of my French teacher.  Mme. LaFrancis (and with that name, how could she have been anything but a French teacher) was one of the people in my life who believed in me enough to make me think that the world could be open for me in spite of the hurdles.  I was in my third year of French at the time.  The first year had been a normal classroom experience, but the second and third were independent study.  Mme. LaFrancis saw enough promise in me that she arranged for me to continue in French despite schedule conflicts.  We would meet for 15 minutes of each 30 minute lunch period for me to turn in assignments, ask questions or take tests.  The rest was all on my own time.  I was no expert, but I was comfortable with the language at that point.  I wrote to a pen pal in French, entertained myself by taking notes for other classes in French, and even read an untranslated Balzac novel.  So when I was assigned to a non-French…

You Are Here

a short trip...

     In the course of planning and designing a website, I've started to wonder how the internet became a place.  It's a fairly new concept as a whole, and somewhere along the way as it has grown, we gradually decided to think of it as a place.  We chose terminology appropriate to that idea.  There are sites you find at an address.  You can go into a chat room or go to a page.  You can view a gallery or library.  You start out  and return to a home.  Every mailbox has a place it's @.  Yet all this real estate is in your head.  It's imaginary.  Of course, the information that makes up this imaginary landscape is kept somewhere.  Even the airy "cloud" you picture is a heavy, earthbound mass of silicon and wiring somewhere in the physical world, or rather several masses.  But that information is what constitutes the internet, not the machines it's stored on.  The internet is really an idea.  It's a thought or the collected thoughts of its …

Growing to Love Green

Mom's favourite colour is green.  It has been for as long as I can remember.  There was never a question about which colour to pick when choosing or making a gift for her or which sheet of construction paper to transform into her birthday card.  It was very helpful for us kids when we wanted to make something special even more so.  Grandma was more of a mystery.  When asked to declare it, she'd say her favourite was "sky blue-pink with purple polka dots."  Although that sounds a lot like lavender to someone learning to mix colours, I'm sure it was just her way of saying any colour we chose would be just right.  I still have no idea if she really preferred one colour over another or if, like me, she tended to love what suited the moment.  Then again, her car, the one she had for the 17 years I knew her, was a deep forest green.

     Mom's love of green was sometimes puzzling to me as a child.  It seemed like such a plain colour, lacking the warmth or exci…

Nearly Caught Naked

You may not know this, but a library workroom can get a little noisy sometimes.  With meeting room noise leaking in through the walls and the friendly chatter of employees, it can get difficult to concentrate.  Since much of my job requires focus, attention to details, and clear thought, I've developed strategies to deal with the occasional hubub.  Counting in another language can help me keep from being derailed by random numbers in nearby conversations, provided the language is different from those likely to crop up in the area.  Systematic double-checks and lists can help to make sure nothing gets missed.  Music is a great tool in that effort, too.  When things are getting hectic and the noise level is rising, I can find an oasis in my headphones.  I still have to keep one ear partially free in order to catch a ringing phone or answer questions for coworkers, but a little music can effectively cancel most of the distractions and allow me to do my work more efficiently.

   …

Saturday Night Alone at Home

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The smell of old canvas in my car was comforting in the last few work days of the week.  I started packing on Wednesday for the trip I planned to make on the weekend.  It wouldn't be far, just a few miles from home, and it wouldn't be long, only a single night, but I would be ready.  This was to be my first solo camping trip in about a year.  Various health issues and scheduling conflicts had kept me from the experience, and now that I was feeling mostly better and could stake out a Saturday, I was eager to go.  Eager and a little nervous.  The past year has been busy pointing out that I'm older and less invincible than I used to be.  Could my skills have deteriorated while I waited to be strong again?  Those same health issues had impacted my daily walking routine and kept me from taking the longer weekend hikes I liked as well.  I could see the difference in my leg muscles.
     Then there's the matter of packing for the trip.  A single night alone requires a di…

Truth in Dreaming

The perfect thing to write about struck me suddenly the other morning.  It was a bolt of inspiration, like opening a door into Springtime.  The subject was one of those new truths that bubbles up from time to time, distilled out of suffering and experience left to simmer quietly over time.  Like many such revelations, it was profound, yet simple, a shift of thought that welcomed peace and happiness into the soul.

     All was there in that quiet moment.  This one harmonious chord was accompanied by the phrasing and ideal words to be able to share the secret with any who were open to the idea.  I determined immediately that I would put it all down on paper the minute I woke up.

Yes.
It came to me in a dream.
     Cliché, certainly, but cliché for a reason.  There isn't a culture on this earth that hasn't placed some importance on what goes on behind our eyelids when we go to sleep.  Even beyond the concept of prophetic dreams or magical significance, we may consider the ps…

Significance of Numbers

It's a recurring debate we have, my husband and I.  He argues that the universe is built of numbers and math, and I tell him that's nonsense.  Like most of our conflicts, this one is just for fun.  We both know what's up, that the real answers are somewhere beneath all the words, and we actually agree more than the debate would indicate.  Still, we take opposite sides for the sake of the game.

     There is plenty of "proof" out there for his scientific view.  Significant numbers and ratios seem to be all around us when we examine our physical world.  For me, it proves nothing.  The universe is.  Numbers and math were just invented to help us understand what is.  There's really no more significance to any given number than any other.  They have no power of their own.  They are only footholds in a greater comprehension.  The relationships are really the key.  Their pattern is the base of the universe, and math is the expression of that pattern.  Acknowled…

Resolutions

I've never been one to make New Year's resolutions.  It's not that I don't believe in self-reflection or the power of declaring your intent to make positive changes in your life.  I don't think I'm perfect or that I don't need those little adjustments.  We're all capable of honing ourselves by whittling away the bad habits and starting new healthy ones.  It's just always felt a bit artificial to make some grand pronouncement about how you will change just because the old calendar is going in the trash can. (And if you're going to make a change, how about putting it in the recycling bin or investigating ideas for turning it into something new?)  When it's timely to change my ways, I will.  I won't wait for January 1, and I won't doom myself to failure by trying changes I'm not ready for just because I feel new year pressure.

     Nevertheless, I do make Chinese New Year resolutions.  Not logical.  I know.  But, there it is.

 …

New Tricks

They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks.  It is true that the older you get, the more daunting it is to pick up a new skill.  You've become comfortable with what you can do, and you're pretty good at that stuff. Considering going back to where you're no longer on top of things can be frightening.  You'd be facing a feeling of incompetence and a mountain of new data to absorb, armed only with learning skills you probably haven't exercised in a while.  Insecurity could prevent and old dog from even starting down that road.  But if you've been at anything long enough, you know it always changes.  What you learned at the start doesn't always apply when the years go by.  Adaptation is necessary to keep up with anything.  So, if you're going to be an old dog, you're going to have to learn some new tricks.  In fact, old dogs have more practice than anyone at learning new tricks.

     Way back when I was a pup in early grade school, I only h…

That Yellow Brick

Legos are perfect training for the creative process.  We didn't have a bunch around the house when I was young.  There were a few among the hand-me-downs and garage sale toys we played with, though, and I used them at houses of friends or relatives.  I remember that regardless of how big the supply or how small the project, there was a good chance you'd be one short of the right size and colour for the job.  No matter.  That was good for teaching how to improvise a solution.  Standard blocks and other building toys were good practice, too, and the habit of reusing materials in our house gave me plenty of opportunity to stretch my creative muscles.  My Barbie drove around the house in a tissue box convertible, wore designer handkerchief dresses and ate from acorn cap plates.  Seeing things in new ways was standard procedure.  I only mention the Legos because playing with them is a common experience for many; so it's an easily digested metaphor.

     Those interlocking …