Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Precious Memories Recovered

And the older you get, the more important the photograph albums become. Little images on paper. Precious memories. You will look at the photographs again and again and again. They are the visual evidence of place and time and relationships. Ritual talismans for the treasure chest of the heart.
Robert Fulghum, American author in From Beginning to End: The Rituals of Our Lives (1995)

"Writing Your Life Story" is great fun -- even when pressed to complete homework exercises in time for class. (I was writing tonight's assignment in the hairdresser's chair this afternoon.) Some of my classmates write for their families, preserving key moments of their lives that their children and grandchildren will cherish for its insight into the person who was thought of as 'dad', 'mom', 'grandpa' or 'grandma' rather than as 'Ari', 'Kathy' or 'Lynda'. Others write for themselves for the pleasure of remembering the good, and understanding the difficult times. All of us are enjoying the experience.

Remembering the wonderful little Egyptian vignettes that added so much to my life has been made much easier thanks to Mom, who collected every email I ever wrote from the Middle East in 11 thick binders, and Dad, who purchased a USB floppy disk drive to transfer to newer technology the long forgotten (and probably lost) images that he had saved more than a decade ago. The photos unlock treasured memories of friends and family, places worked and places lived. How very fortunate am I? My heart is full of gratefulness.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Mom's Nine Patch

Life is like a patchwork quilt
And each little patch is a day,
Some patches are rosy, happy and bright,
And some are dark and gray.

But each little patch as it's fitted in
And sewn to keep it together
Makes a finished block in this life of ours
Filled with sun, and with rainy weather.

So let me work on Life's patchwork quilt
Through the rainy days and the sun --
Trusting that when I have finished my block
The master may say: "Well done."
Elizabeth Ryan DeCoursey in The Romance of the Patchwork Quilt in America (1935)

As Hurricane Sandy began blustering around us, the quilting group gathered round Mom's completed nine-patch quilt and marveled at her achievement. All of her points line up! And it's stunning to behold! It's a nine patch masterpiece! Well done Mom!!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Therapeutic Quilts

Sewing mends the soul.
Author Unknown

Every quilt has a story stitched into it. The Stratford Perth Museum uncovers the stories of some twenty quilts exhibited in "A Common Thread: Quilts of Perth County". Each of the stories fascinates but since I had only 20 minutes to take in a little of the exhibition before closing time, I can only relate one story for today and hope to return to the museum to ponder the other works of hearts and hands.

Particularly interesting are quilts made by soldiers — not a group that I would think of as quilters. A painting by Thomas Wood captures the convalescence of Private Thomas Walker at the Fort Pitt Military Hospital in 1855 following his injury during the Crimean War and provides visual insight into the history of these quilts. As the injured soldier is comforted by one military quilt spread over the foot of his bed, he sews another with "military precision". Military quilts are made from the red, black, cream and grey wool fabric of soldiers' uniforms. Most of them were made between 1850 and 1900.

Military quilts were made throughout the British Empire and the Stratford Perth Museum has a large one in its collection, said to have been quilted by a local soldier in 1866. It seems that the soldier who sewed these tiny squares of fabric together with very limited seam allowances, spent a lot of time convalescing after injuries sustained defending the empire against the Fenian Raids in Niagara, when the Irish American Fenian Brotherhood was intent upon capturing Canada to hold it for ransom in a bid for Irish independence. Research into the quilt is still ongoing so its story has yet to be completely uncovered.

For more stories, visit the Stratford Perth Museum before May 2013. Just visiting the 1870 home of Thomas Holliday is worth the trip. Since Thomas and his wife Mary raised 10 children here, I suspect that the house has long been home to a stash of comforting quilts.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Coloured Carpets

Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.
Albert Camus, French author and philosopher (1913-1960)

City lawns are draped in lovely colours after the recent rains and yesterday's winds. Squinting with eyes just slightly out of focus they look like carpets of wildflowers. Life's beauty is all in your perspective.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

♬ Look at the World ♬

Sabbath is more than the absence of work; it is not just a day off, when we catch up on television or errands. It is the presence of something that arises when we consecrate a period of time to listen to what is most deeply beautiful, nourishing, or true. It is a time consecrated with our attention, our mindfulness, honoring those quiet forces of grace of spirit that sustain and heal us.
Wayne Muller, American author, in Sabbath: Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest (1999)

On hearing the choir's anthem I vowed to set aside all the 'to-dos' on my list and to go out and "Look at the World". I took a quiet drive along back roads where the 40km/hr speed limit mandates people to slow the whirl of busyness that most of us get caught up in. Autumn colours lined the road and sunlight illumined the spectrum gloriously. Every curve and hill in the road evoked an expression of awe as a new spectacular vista appeared before the windshield.

I walked along Spencer Creek, watching a Red-Tailed Hawk soar, breathing in the fresh air scented with Autumn, and picking burrs off my sweater. I laughed. I sought out a waterfall. When I found it, after making a kilometer-long detour on the wrong trail, it wasn't much more than a trickle; but I wasn't disappointed. The journey's purpose was to look at the world with a thankful heart. My mission was accomplished with the flying colours of red and gold leaves!

Here is a beautiful presentation set to John Rutter's composition, "Look at the World", sung by The Cambridge Singers:

Look at the World

Look at the world, everything all around us
Look at the world and marvel every day.
Look at the world: so many joys and wonders,
So many miracles along our way.

Praise to Thee, O Lord for all creation.
Give us thankful hearts that we may see
All the gifts we share, and every blessing,
All things come of Thee.
Look at the earth bringing forth fruit and flower,
Look at the sky the sunshine and the rain.
Look at the hills, look at the trees and mountains,
Valley and flowing river, field and plain.

(Repeat Chorus)

Think of the spring, think of the warmth of summer,
Bringing the harvest before winter's cold.
Everything grows, everything has a season,
Till it is gathered to the Father's fold:

(Repeat Chorus)

Every good gift, all that we need and cherish,
Comes from the Lord in token of His love.
We are His hands, stewards of all His bounty
His is the earth and His the heavens above.

(Repeat Chorus)

All things come of Thee!

Friday, October 19, 2012


We live immersed in narrative, recounting and reassessing the meaning of our past actions, anticipating the outcome of our future projects, situating ourselves at the intersection of several stories not yet completed.
Peter Brooks, American writer in Reading for the Plot (1984)

This evening I settled into the rocking chair, adjusted the light, and concentrated my attention on a small sampler cushion cover that I'm working on to learn the trapunto quilting technique. Having chosen a Celtic interlace pattern for my project, I have to pay close attention to the intersections of the complex design.

My mind wandered, as it's apt to do, from the cloth to life. I thought about how my path has intersected with those of so many others. It's these intersections that have added so much texture to my life. I'm thinking a lot about this as I do my creative writing homework, narrating little life stories.

But this evening I was reminded that even the briefest crossings leave a mark in the warp and weft of the tapestries we all are weaving. Little interactions plant seeds. And so, without any conscious forethought but following a conversation months ago that just touched on Celtic quilting, I find myself doing just that. Wow. Would I be doing this sampler not having had the conversation? Who knows? But I'm certainly thankful for that little intersection.

I'll keep you posted on how the project turns out.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Artful Alliteration (or not)

Who often, but without success, have prayed for apt Alliteration's artful aid.
Charles Churchill, English poet and satirist (1732-1764)

Off to the bulk barn, Mom and I beat, to buy bits for baking a brimming bequest. A bounty of biscuits we must briskly bring about, to later bestow upon the boards blocked in banks for the bethel bazaar befalling next month. Between the bins we beheld bitty beans black, bonny no doubt. but bearing a bizarre brand. "How do the bonbon and the bailiwick bind?," I bandied about with a bend in my brow. The answer, it would seem, lies in the bewitchery of a bright business brain. Some big cheese of "Teenee Beanee" band must have believed that the balance of 'Luxor' and 'licorice' brilliantly blends to beget a beautiful buzz, or perhaps a benign bong, from the bell at the cashier's bartering berth. Beyond doubt the branding bears out beneficial for it brought me to brake before the box and now I bethink Beanee's bonbon beside my beloved bygone bearings.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Happy Feral Cat Day!

After dark all cats are leopards.
Native American proverb

It's Cat's day! Hurray for Cat! She's queen today because it's International Feral Cat Day.

In truth, she's the Queen, the Exalted, and the Divine One, every day but today we honour her particularly for her feral-ness. The Alleycat Allies initiated International Feral Cat Day in 2001 to raise awareness of our streetwise friends. Many communities are hosting programmes to humanely trap feral cats, neuter or spay and vaccinate them and then release them back into their communities where they are cared for by volunteers.

For her part, Cat spent the day on her throne basking in the Sun's rays. And she's probably been commending herself for her brilliant cunning in following the Big Guy home. After three years, she wears a look of domesticity, but that's just subterfuge. Beneath the calm exterior smolders a wild thing.

On that note I can't pass up a chance to sing along with the Troggs:

Happy Feral Cat Day!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Turn, Turn, Turn

1There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:

2a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,

3a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,

4a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,

5a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,

6a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,

7a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,

8a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

9What does the worker gain from his toil?

10I have seen the burden God has laid on men.

11He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

12I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live.

13That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil—this is the gift of God.

14I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him.
Ecclesiastes 3, New International Version

Where were you in November 1965? Although I was but a wee one at the time, a favourite song then (as now) was/is "Turn, Turn, Turn" by the Byrds. The tune always comes to mind this time of year as Mother Nature paints my world with vibrant colours and the leaves turn, turn, turn in the Autumn breeze. So for old times' sake, here are the Byrds:

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The First Frost

O, it sets my heart a-clickin'
like the tickin' of a clock,
when the frost is on the pumkin
and the fodder's in the shock.
James Whitcomb Riley, American author and poet (1849-1916)

The weekend dawned frosty, Fall's first frost and it's ffffrigid outside!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Quilts on the Catwalk

Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.
Coco Chanel, French fashion designer (1883-1971)

The sisters (plus one) made their annual trek to the big city for the CreativFestival. Judging by the appearance of quilts on the catwalk and the increased number of vendors selling beautiful fabrics, patterns and funky little must-have gadgets, quilts and quilting are haute couture. It was a great day of demonstrations and inspiration and, yes, a little shopping.

Exiting the convention centre, the CN Tower was behind us and before us. It might not be Paris and its Eiffel, but the Toronto skyline is pretty impressive all the same.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Best Rx

Laugh at yourself and at life. Not in the spirit of derision or whining self-pity, but as a remedy, a miracle drug, that will ease your pain, cure your depression, and help you to put in perspective that seemingly terrible defeat and worry with laughter at your predicaments, thus freeing your mind to think clearly toward the solution that is certain to come.
Never take yourself too seriously.
Og Mandino, American essayist and psychologist (1923-1996)

I spotted this "vanity plate" in a medical centre parking lot. I haven't had the pleasure of meeting the urologist but I think I'd like him. I would certainly thank him for my day's chuckle. Laughter is the best medicine -- especially when you laugh at yourself.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Helping Hands

What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.
Albert Pike, American poet (1809-1891)

Helen Norris told this evening's audience of church ladies that she's an ordinary person with no particular talent except for the gift of gab. I'd say she's rather exceptional having risen up from pretty dreadful conditions to create the "Helping Hands" street mission in our inner city. She began by following behind the Salvation Army's soup truck and handing out clothes and blankets from her closet to the needy. Nine years later, her mostly volunteer and donation-based organization runs an impressive programme for people who don't have to prove they're needy. Helen was once in their shoes and her motto is, "Reaching out, one hand at a time, with love and respect." I was moved by her story and thankful for the chance to hear her mission. What an inspiration it is to learn of ordinary people doing amazing things for the benefit of others!

In fact, I was so moved by Helen and Helping Hands that I neglected to think about taking a photo for the Chocolate Box. So today's photo is of the Caramelized Pear Gingerbread that Mom and I made for the potluck. Since a couple of people this evening asked me for the recipe, I figured it was something I should share on the blog. It's easy and perfect for fall gatherings.

Caramelized Pear Gingerbread

2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons unsalted butter, divided
3 large, firm-ripe pears, such as Bosc, peeled, cored, and sliced into 1/2-inch wedges
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped pecans
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (we used 1/4 teaspoon each of nutmeg and allspice)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup cane syrup or molasses (we used molasses -- I love molasses!)
3/4 cup boiling water
5 tablespoons minced crystallized ginger (located with the candied fruits in your grocery store)

1. In a large skillet, melt the butter over high heat. Add the pears and cook until the pears are tender and slightly caramelized, but still retain their shape, 2 to 3 minutes on each side. (You may need to cook the pears in 2 batches so as not to overcrowd the pan.) When the pears begin to have a nice color on both sides, add the brown sugar and pecans and cook, stirring gently, to coat the pears with the sugar. Remove from the heat and cool slightly. Note: don't let the mixture cool too much because it solidifies like toffee.

2. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F, and using the 2 teaspoons of butter, lightly grease a 10-inch round cake pan with 2-inch sides. Arrange the slightly cooled pears and pecans in a single layer in the bottom of the cake pan. Pour any syrup from caramelizing into the cake pan as well.

3. Into a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, pumpkin pie spice (nutmeg and allspice), and cinnamon. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, eggs, vegetable oil, molasses, and boiling water. Add sugar mixture to the flour mixture, blending just until combined. Fold the crystallized ginger into the batter and pour into the prepared pan over the pears.

4. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake portion comes out clean. Allow cake to cool on a wire rack for 5 to 7 minutes. Place a large plate or cake stand on top of the cake and carefully invert the cake. Cool slightly and serve with Molasses Ice Cream (recipe on FoodNetwork.com) or whipped cream (which is very fine).

Source: An Emeril Lagasse recipe provided on the FoodNetwork website.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Sugar and Spice + All Things Nice

Sugar + Spice + Raisins = Love

Comforting aromas of sugar and cinnamon wafted from the kitchen as Mom commenced her baking for the upcoming Christmas bazaar. Is there anything that epitomizes the love of hearth and home more than a warm oatmeal raisin cookie shared fresh from the oven? Not for me. Grandma baked love into each one of her cookies and Mom continues the tradition.

Surprisingly, I couldn't find a quotation extolling the wholesome pleasure and goodness of oatmeal, sugar, cinnamon and raisins. I did, however come across this thoughtful poem to share:

The Cookie Thief
by Valerie Cox in “A Matter of Perspective”

A woman was waiting at an airport one night,
With several long hours before her flight.
She hunted for a book in the airport shops.
Bought a bag of cookies and found a place to drop.

She was engrossed in her book but happened to see,
That the man sitting beside her, as bold as could be,
Grabbed a cookie or two from the bag in between,
Which she tried to ignore to avoid a scene.

So she munched the cookies and watched the clock,
As the gutsy cookie thief diminished her stock.
She was getting more irritated as the minutes ticked by,
Thinking, "If I wasn't so nice, I would blacken his eye."

With each cookie she took, he took one too,
When only one was left, she wondered what he would do.
With a smile on his face, and a nervous laugh,
He took the last cookie and broke it in half.

He offered her half, as he ate the other,
She snatched it from him and thought... oooh, brother.
This guy has some nerve and he's also rude,
Why he didn't even show any gratitude!

She had never known when she had been so galled,
And sighed with relief when her flight was called.
She gathered her belongings and headed to the gate,
Refusing to look back at the thieving ingrate.

She boarded the plane, and sank in her seat,
Then she sought her book, which was almost complete.
As she reached in her baggage, she gasped with surprise,
There was her bag of cookies, in front of her eyes.

If mine are here, she moaned in despair,
The others were his, and he tried to share.
Too late to apologize, she realized with grief,
That she was the rude one, the ingrate, the thief.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Count Your Blessings

Count your blessings and your problems.
If your problems outnumber your blessings, count again . . .
Chances are the things that you take for granted were not added up.

Rishika Jain, Indian poet

Since the feast days of my childhood, I have loved pulling out Mom's china and silver, putting the extra leaves in the table, and spreading out a long tablecloth. Today we gathered around the special table setting for Thanksgiving lunch. Blessed with abundant good food and good family we caught up on recent happenings and reminisced about all kinds of things: generations of babies in "Jolly Jumpers", road trips, babysitters and teachers, and loved ones who are with us in spirit. We have so much to be thankful for.

Yesterday a young soloist gifted the congregation with moving song "Thankful", composed by D. Foster, R. Page and C.B. Sager and here performed by Josh Groban:

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!