Today is going to be one of those posts that in the end is probably more informative to me than it is to anyone else but I feel compelled to communicate my thoughts to the world right now.

I feel rather sad and heavy but at the same time question why that is.  I actually don’t feel justified feeling this way.  My Mom has always seemed so strong and forceful to me.  Sadly, she is experiencing cognitive demise, due to dementia and we are floundering.  After attending a doctor’s appointment with her and my Dad yesterday it became even more apparent to me just how much her cognitive abilities have declined.

Tomorrow is my birthday and my son’s as well.  Add to that my niece and my aunt and I think it is safe to say that it is a big day in our family.  A day a mother would always remember, right?  I realized yesterday that this is not always true, so as this special day looms closely over me this morning, I find myself processing a couple of hard truths.  Mom’s disease is now causing significant memory loss and I will not have her presence in the way I am used to, nor will I be with my son anytime soon. Having said that, I still feeling a little unjustified in my self-pity.

A situation that arose after the doctor appointment has  brought me up short and caused me to reflect on my feelings of sadness and aloneness because my Mom can’t remember some things, such as the birthday.

After our appointment with the doctor Mom and I were leaving the building and someone quietly called out my name as we passed the waiting room.  At first I could not register who it was that had called me, but then a woman stood up and I was so glad to see that it was a friend, the one whose father just passed away and whose son is my son’s absolute best friend. Our brief encounter lifted my spirits and brought me encouragement when I needed it.

Here I was standing in front of a woman who’s father has just passed away and whose children both live half way across the globe from her; her daughter in Australia and her son in Germany. I was feeling pretty low after seeing the Dr., as was my mother and yet this woman who had much to feel sorry for was encouraging me.

Unlike my friend, I am the one whose parents are both still alive and whose children are away but much more accessible than my friend’s children are, and yet she was happy, even joyful. When I asked her how she dealt with everything, her children so far away and all, she smiled and spoke with such enthusiasm.  She told us how proud she was of her son playing hockey in Germany and of her daughter, married with two young boys and becoming an Australian citizen.  What I considered to be more than I could take, seemed to be cause for such celebration to her.

She shared with us how she gets to witness her grandson crawling and all the special moments of being a grandmother through FaceTime and Skype and when I thought about it, I  imagined that this would be so much more manageable than when her parents came to Canada from Germany and had only letter writing and the occasional expensive phone call to keep in touch with their family and friends.

Add to that, her response when my Mom asked her how her Mother was coping after her father’s death, which was great, and I felt ashamed of my inability to rise above my wallowing over my Mother’s illness.   Her Mom is back at their family home, on her own, doing well, only weeks after her husband’s death.

This woman stood there in front of us sharing the good things about her situation; how she is happy to have been off work while her father succumbed to his illness and her mother grieved the imminent loss of her life partner.  She told us how her mother is back home doing well as she wades through the transitions and legalities of going from ‘married’ to ‘widowed.’

So again, I wonder, how does she do it?  Why do I feel such sadness when I have so much to celebrate?  Perhaps it is time for me to realize that life does not reward those who wallow in sadness of what used to be.  Today is the day before my birthday and my son’s birthday, which has always been cause for my parents and immediate family to celebrate. Just because one of us can’t remember the date and another one of us is too far away to celebrate with us physically does not mean that there is not cause for joy and celebration.

Perhaps the lesson here is that there is an opportunity for me to act on the inspiration of my friend and her family and choose a similar path. Rather than focussing on what we no longer have or what used to be, perhaps this is an opportunity to celebrate what we do have.

I no longer have a young son who lives with me and is always there for our special day and my parents are not as young and able as they once were but no matter. Today I choose to celebrate my creative, hard-working, intelligent, loving, handsome son and my parents whose undying support and physical presence are still with us. Happy Birthday to me and my son!

Nutty Treats

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Sunday was a slushy, snowy day.  The perfect kind of day for being in the kitchen.  I felt like baking but I also felt like eating so I decided to try a somewhat ‘healthy’ recipe I found on one of my favourite blogs, Joy The Baker.   Among the delicious looking pictures and recipes I saw one for Honey Chai Roasted Almonds.  I just happened to have a lot of hazelnuts from my fall gathering and some other mixed nuts so I decided to give the recipes a try, substituting a variety of nuts instead of just using almonds.

unnamed The recipe was simple and filled the house with an exotic aroma; cardamom, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg.  The whole process took about a half an hour and was well worth it.  I have stored the nuts away in little jars for a treat now and then.

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I also used the hazelnuts to make nut bark.  I have some Belgian Chocolate left in the pantry from my truffle making at Christmas.  I melted some milk chocolate, tempered it and then mixed in some roasted hazelnuts.  It made a mighty fine sweet treat after dinner.

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Today is another rainy day and so as well as puttering in the kitchen I am going to try to focus on creating with the fibre I am trying to use up from my ‘stash.’

New Experiences…even after 50 years

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Over the past days I have been out and about in nature and had the privilege to  experience some things for the first time.

My first new experience came when I headed out for my ‘walk,’ which is usually a sort of shuffle jog alternating with a fast walk.  Since there was so much snow on the ground this day, my walk was more like a steady trudge in mud.  Every step required that I plunge my heavy boot into the snow, wait for the sink and then lug my leg back up over the snow’s surface to plant the next step.  I felt sort of like a soldier with a really bad marching gait.  Needless, to say the exercise was great as was the scenery.  For the first time in my life I walked on an ocean beach that was covered in snow.  The sun was shining and it was beautiful to see the snow in lumps over the beach rocks and sitting atop the upright logs meant to help hold the beach sand in place.  I marvelled that I could be seeing something for the first time.

Another day when it was really snowing we thought we would head out to the marsh and leave some bird seed for all the birds that find sanctuary and make their homes there. We stood and sprinkled seed but I also held some in my hand and within seconds a chickadee landed on my hand and at right from it.  I squealed with shock from the feeling of its little feet on my hand as well as delight in the fact that this little wild creature was actually feeding out of my hand.   I felt so excited to see this little creature up close and to notice the distinct markings of its feathers and its little eyes and beak.

Finally, yesterday I got to see an elusive creature that I have heard but never seen; a Roosevelt elk.  I saw it in Cathedral Grove by the side of the road eating Salaal. I was so thrilled that I neglected to stop and take a picture.  Imagine my shock when several hours later I drove back past that same spot and the elk was still there.  This time we pulled over and I got out, crossed the road and approached the majestic animal.  I could see that it was clearly sick, as it was thin and tired looking.  Even in its fragile state, I still marvelled at the stateliness of this giant, quiet creature.  I was no more than 15 feet away from the elk when it looked straight in my eyes and gently laid down in the underbrush as if to say to me, I’m tired and I have to rest now, please don’t hurt me.  I snapped some photos and got back in the truck to process what I had just seen.

After calling the conservation office I later learned that the elk was sick and was not able to be rescued.  It was put down and although I was sad, in a way it was a relief to know that the elk was not poached by a passerby or abused in any way.

Knowing that even after 50 years there are still so many things I have not seen or done gives me hope for the future and causes me to be willing to hang onto my sense of wonder and curiosity. Just as I know there will be bumps in the road ahead I can also rest in the knowledge that each day there are new wonders to experience, people to encounter and form bonds with, and always…….. nature to sustain and astound us.

Settling Into the Snow

Just three days ago the weather was promising an early spring here on the island.  We had friends over Friday night and had planned to watch the eagles soaring overhead in the early morning while we sipped our coffee.  We were excited to share this with our friends from another part of the island.

 

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After an evening of wining and dining we woke up to the yard blanketed in snow and the white stuff steadily falling.  I guess eagles don’t care for flying in the snow, as the sky was void of any birds and all we could see was falling snow. We moved to plan B and walked the woods and the beach in the snowstorm.

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Three days later it is still snowing.  Schools are closed, I have sewn two blankets, unravelled a lot of salvaged, felted skeins of wool and done a whole lot of baking.  I am heading out to trudge through the snow to the marsh to feed the birds who will be struggling to find food today.  Since my larder is bursting with baked goods prepared to stave off cabin fever and starvation it seems, I figure I should share the wealth with nature when food is a little sparse because of the snow.

We have devoured some fine meals and I have some bread laden with our  own dried fruit and roasted nuts in the freezer now.  I also have Health Cookies, Gluten-free Shortbread, Carrot Muffins and Homemade Pizza in the freezer.  It seems I am ready to host a large Coffee Klatch.  If only my friends and family could get here in all this snow.

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Miso Roasted Vegetables

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Prawns Masala and Salad

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Fruit and Nut Bread

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Early Spring, Late Winter? I Suppose it Doesn’t Matter.

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Last week we discovered why maple syrup is so expensive.  My son left his maple tree tapping equipment for us to use this winter while he is away playing hockey.  We have a big  Broad Leaf Maple in our backyard and so just before I knew it was getting cold we drilled 4 holes in the tree, inserted the spigots, attached the lines and led them into a cannister to be caught.  We went away for a few days during the cold snap and when we got back we were so excited to see some clear fluid filling about  1/3 of the contatiner.

After bringing it inside and straining it, I set about ‘sugaring off.’ The dutch oven was  2/3 full when I started and after a couple of hours of simmering  I was left with the ‘golden’ syrup, (gold might be more appropriate to indicate the value of the viscous liquid). I think I can honestly say we got about 4 Tablespoons of delicious maple syrup.  I felt like such a pioneer woman.

Needless to say the coveted syrup is being often admired through the glass dish and seldom sampled.  I am not sure what the ‘sacred’ occasion will be that is worthy of consuming the prize but, I am waiting for it.

Another sure sign that Spring is on its way is that we just celebrated Valentines Day(or not).  A friend asked me to create a special take-away treat for her dinner guests and I quickly agreed.  As the date drew near I wondered what to make.  I chose one of my favourite decadent bars and my daughter came up with the idea of cutting them in heart shapes.  I ended up making the Barefoot Contessa’s Pecan Bars and customized them by using various size heart shape cookie cutters and then Belgian chocolate to garnish the edges of the hearts.  I didn’t take pictures of the finished product unfortunately, but here they are sans the chocolate and cellophane packaging.

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Weekend Reflections

Over the last week I was fortunate enough to be able to spend a few days in the Okanagan with my youngest daughter and my partner. While we were there the weather was anything but spring.  The temperature was -13C and we had snow twice.  The beautiful thing about the Okanagan is the snow is dry so it just blows around and looks pretty.

The cold snap that gripped most of Canada last week brought a special gift that we don’t often receive here in southern BC; frozen lakes and ponds and outdoor skating.  We were staying on Skaha Lake and the whole lake froze.  With a little coaxing from my daughter we ventured onto the frozen lake with our boots on.  I only wish we had had some skates with us. I had such a good time walking, reading, chatting and enjoying uninterrupted time with my young adult daughter.

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Overlooking frozen Skaha Lake

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Hanna on frozen Skaha Lake

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Richard on the frozen lake

Meanwhile, my hockey player son left frigid, snowy Michigan to go to a major event in Las Vegas to promote his off season job, guiding hunting trips. While we were bundling up and donning down coats, boots, hats and gloves he was enjoying t-shirt weather.  He sent pictures and it was so nice to rest with the comfortable feeling that my children are growing up and becoming independent adults pursuing their passions and making a life for themselves.

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Guy at the Hunting Show

I don’t think I could be more content as a parent, really. We often put so much energy into worrying about our children or trying to tell them what we think is best for them.  Upon contemplation and reflection, as well as a whole lot of reading and intense discussion with other parents I can see that it really is none of my business anymore what my children choose. I want to encourage them to be confident and courageous enough to pursue what they think they want and to not be afraid of mistakes or changing their mind.  After all, isn’t that what a life is?  A set of experiences that allows  us to grow and learn.  Some of the growth is pleasurable, some is painful but all is worthwhile and valuable.

Moving on to Spring

hurrying the buds along

hurrying the buds along

As January turned into February I  found myself changing not only my psychological outlook but my physical surroundings as well. I noticed that I am clearing out winter in the house and getting ready for spring.

On the weekend I observed that the trees are all starting to slowly release their tight grip on new life.  The buds are tight but swelling ever so slightly, signifying their preparations for spring.  It is as if the trees are saying, “the winter slumber is nearing an end and we are ready to wake up.”  I am feeling the same way and as I prepare for the day I notice signs of spring everywhere.

I notice that the creams and greys of my table decor are disappearing and being replaced by greens and yellows along with bursts of purple and blue here and there.  It is like I too am saying, “slumber and wallow in winter darkness and comfort no longer; it is time to wake up and put the months of slowness aside and welcome a new, quicker, lighter pace.”

the hand painted runner

the hand painted runner

I noticed that my dark coloured table runner is now the one my children bought for me many Mother’s Days ago.  It is a hand painted cotton runner in greens, yellows and beiges.  Upon the runner stands a vase with two Hellebores stems that I clipped from the garden and brought in to force early blooms.

The buffet is no longer home to bowls of pine cones, burlap and twinkly lights but is instead clothed with a handwoven linen table runner woven by my good friend, and a vase of clipped tree branches bursting with bright green buds.

the spring blanket

the spring blanket

The blanket I just wove is made of bright colours of green, yellow, blue, pink and purple. In addition, I have already put away some winter clothes and taken out a few brighter, lighter items to replace the black and grey standard palette of the passing winter.

I have upped my goal of total steps in a day another 5000 steps and am spending more time outside each day. The maple tree has been tapped and I walk out each morning in anticipation of seeing the clear liquid running to signify yet another sign of spring on its way.

As nature readies itself for another year of growth, so too do I.  As much as I know there will be struggles and hard work ahead of me, I also know the fruit of those will be further personal growth, and movement toward becoming the person I am meant to be, before I leave this earth.  Just as the trees and garden require pruning and weeding to be able to grow into their full potential and beauty, so  do I require the same.

I anticipate many beautiful encounters with nature and people in this upcoming season of growth. I am determined to be mindful that whatever I encounter, I am willing to continue to move through the seasons of my life, just as nature moves effortlessly through her seasons,  with an acceptance of my place in my environment  and among the people I choose or chance to encounter along the way.

Here’s to Spring!

Coasting on the Coast

Quinoa with yoghurt and blackberries

Quinoa with yoghurt and blackberries

I have just returned from a week in the Maritimes.  Safe to say that although I loved the adventure and the taste of winter, (-23, snow, rain and flash freeze) I much prefer our mild, west coast weather.  To celebrate being back I wore a 3/4 length sleeve jacket and rode my cruiser bike to town in the glorious sun to do errands.

Upon my return I noticed that the visit to winter has allowed me to shake the slow, winter, solitary state I was feeling and I am ready for spring.

This means, different decor, different clothes and best of all …. different food.

I started today with quinoa, strained yoghurt and blackberries. I think lunch will be a salad loaded with organic lettuce, kale, avocado, pears and cranberries and for dinner I am going to conjure something up with Flank Steak.

I am going to braise the flank in some sort of rich sauce with leftover beer I have in the fridge as well as some poblano chillies and lime juice.  I am not sure of the recipe yet but I will post it after I create it.  As well, I saw a recipe for warm lentil and potato salad on one of my favourite blogs, Smitten Kitchen and I thought I would give it a try. I am craving real, food and the combination of potatoes and lentils with all those herbs looks delicious.

To round the meal out I will make another salad because after a week of dining out in the Maritimes I am craving green and fresh.

I am not sure what I will do for dessert yet but I think it may include limes as I have a whole bag of them.  Perhaps a lime frozen yoghurt or lime, ginger shortbread.  Hmmm, must get cooking.

Why Fear Death?

 

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Sproat Lake, where we have many fond memories with the Zundorf and Johnson Families.

Why are we so afraid of a dying person?  After all, we will all be that person one day.  I know death is painful for those left alive and that watching a loved one die is excruciating.  The thing is, there are many things in life that are excruciating but we get through them.  Why do we try to avoid this natural part of life?  Death is  as much a part of life as birth, which can be extremely painful and does not always turn out joyous, yet we go through it.  We take the risk hoping for the possibility of joy.  So why cant we do the same in death?

At this time a neighbor from my childhood is in the last stages of this journey we call life I feel compelled to visit the family or at least make contact and yet I am afraid.  What am I afraid of I wonder.  Is it that I do not feel I have earned the privilege to share this family’s grief?

In an interesting series of circumstances the grandson of this man became my son’s closest friend.  I feel so privileged that this man and his family became part of my family through my father and then through my son. 

The elderly man is a German immigrant and one of my fondest childhood memories is of visiting their home at Christmas.  They were simple living folks who knew and appreciated what was important in life.  They did no live in an ostentatious home filled with elaborate furnishings.  They had functional, simple décor but if felt good.  When we would go there at Christmas to visit they would always have cookies and treats that had been sent to them from Germany and I marveled at the different shapes and flavors of the cookies I was allowed to sample.  It was at their house that I tasted my first liqueur filled chocolate.  I also remember how beautiful their tree was. It was the only tree I had ever seen with candles rather than electric lights on it, a tradition I now know is very German. 

            I also recall how my parents went out for a Christmas ‘drink’ one year when I was a teen and did not return home that evening. I was shocked (but somewhat proud) to know that my parents would drink so much that they were not able to get themselves home, especially my Dad; he never got drunk. 

That is the great thing about this man.  He is so accepting that he allows others feel able to let down their guard and lose some of their inhibitions, while enjoying the moments in his company.

Much later when I had my own children and they were entering their teen years my son became friends with a very good-humored boy from his hockey team.  They ended up in the same class in middle school and the rest is history.  At 22, these boys are still the best of friends.  My son’s friend is the grandson of this wonderful man.

My son has also had the privilege of experiencing the openness and love of this dying man’s family.  He taught my son lessons that he could never learn in his own family because of our different backgrounds. (Like smoking cigars, haha) From this man my son learned, that life is not meant to be all toil and hardship.  Sure there are times when we are not comfortable and there are things we must do but really, we must be true to ourselves, and indulge in simple pleasures, or it is all for naught.

This man had first hand experience with this as he immigrated to Canada from Germany and married the love of his life, which his family did not approve of.  He had the courage of his convictions and lived as he saw fit and I admire him for that. His family learned the importance of love and acceptance and I saw that in them as my son became welcomed and included in their lives.

I am so glad that we were fortunate enough to cross paths with this man from Colgne, Germany. I cannot think it is an accident that a man coming so far from my birthplace and settling in our small town on Vancouver Island should have such an influence on our family.  There were long stretches of time where we were distant from each other but none of us has forgotten what an amazing soul this man is.

I feel honored to hold in my soul, great memories of the kindness and generosity of this man and his family. I am also lucky enough to be blessed with a material piece of evidence of our connection, in the form of a gorgeous amber necklace that belonged to Sigrid his wife. 

I was at one of my son’s and her grandson’s hockey game several years ago and she said, “Lauraleah, I have something for you.  I am going to give it to you at the next game.”  I was taken aback and wondered what it was that she would want to give me.

 As promised, at the next game she showed up with a beautiful string of various sizes of amber.  I loved it instantly but questioned her as to why she would be parting with such a beautiful piece and why to me?  She told me that her brother had given it to her when she still lived in Germany but she had never worn it much because they were too big.  She said I was the only person she knew that could pull them off and I took that as a compliment. (Even though it meant I too was big.) I love that necklace and I wear it all the time.  I get compliments on it every time I wear it and I get to tell the story of how I came to be wearing such a beautiful piece to anyone who asks about it. In this small way I feel I will pass on a piece of this man’s story and again I say, what a privilege and an honor.

So, back to my initial question, why are we so afraid to reach out to a dying person or their family? In writing this I believe I have answered that for myself.  We are afraid we are not worthy of communicating with the family because they are grieving.  We are scared that we may offend them or cause ourselves to look foolish.  We are afraid that we will cry or lose our composure.  At the risk of doing all of the above, I am going to face my fear and offer this story to this man and his family.  I pray they will accept it in the spirit of compassion and honor, it was written in.

 

 

 

Rejuvenating the Soul

After a full week’s work last week and plans to be busy working next week as well, I felt a need to do something to recharge my batteries, so to speak. As I reflect back on what I filled my days with this past weekend, I see evidence that I am living authentically; that is, the the things I did on the weekend can be found on my list of ‘what brings me joy.’ This in itself, brings me more joy.

Sometimes I get so busy trying to do what I didn’t get done during the week, that the weekend turns into another ‘workfest.’  In our busy, accomplishment driven society I feel it necessary to be mindful of what makes me feel that I am honouring my authenticity and not just measuring up to the somewhat misguided ethos of our society.

So this past weekend I spent time with my parents Saturday morning.  We went to the Swale Rock for breakfast and I indulged not only in their company but also in a giant slab of Fisherman’s Bread complete with poached eggs and melted butter.

After breakfast we met up with friends and headed out on the logging roads to get to Nahmint Lake, where we took in the old growth forest and had a shore lunch on the beach.  We roasted moose sausage made by our friend  while enjoying  the great conversation and standing in awe of the natural beauty of the lake, mountains and forest all about.

Saturday evening was spent by our home fire sipping tea and knitting while watching a movie.

Sunday we were up early after a great night’s sleep and headed out for walk/jog by headlamp light.  It was amazing to be outside witnessing daylight dawn over the ocean.  We had two cups of coffee while relaxing on our porch and then headed out to do errands.  Within an hour we were back home to enjoy the rest of the day doing whatever we pleased.

I filled my day with knitting, weaving baking, cooking and a little reading. By the evening I had made a delicious steak and salad dinner, with a recipe I used from the Donna Hay magazine ( from local library). It was the 2013 black and white issue and I used the recipe for Garlic, Anchovy and Rosemary Beef Rib Roast, and adapted it for the  rib eye steaks we had.

winter salad with kale, carrots, dried apples, cranberries and sunflower seeds

winter salad with kale, carrots, dried apples, cranberries and sunflower seeds

From the same magazine I made Ginger and Blackberry slice and I will send some to my daughter who is away at university and give some to my parents.

Ginger Blackberry Slice (Donna Hay)

Ginger Blackberry Slice (Donna Hay)

For part of the remainder of the day I started knitting a vest for myself finally.  I chose a bright variegated wool so that I could add a blast of colour to my black and grey winter wardrobe.

starting the vest

starting the vest

With the help of my partner, I finally got the last of the warp threads tied on my loom and wound it on.  I am still using material from my stash and this project is going to be a wool rug made from the many small balls of wool I have in my cabinet, as well as a box of wool skeins that my friend accidentally partially felted while trying to wash some old yarn.

box of partially felted yarn

carpet warp wound on

I also finished another knitted headband and I will send them to my daughters in the mail so they can have a little something from their Mom and be fashionable at the same time.

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headbands for the girls

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For the third recipe from the Donna Hay magazine, I will have Bircher and Berries for breakfast this morning.  This is a lovely combination of oatmeal, chia seeds, berries, almond milk and yoghurt.

All in all, I would have to say that I had a fantastic weekend and am well charged and ready for another week.  Happy Monday!