Harvest Bounty

Just sitting here, letting the cooling breeze of a mild October evening roll over me, as I survey the rows and rows of jars headed for the basement where they will live until needed through the next several months.  It is a little exhausting but mostly exhilarating to look at them, knowing that I did this.  I did this!  Well, with some help from Jeff who provided a much needed third hand at time, and lots of muscle at others, for the heavy canning pots I’m still not permitted to lift and/or carry.  This to me is the bliss of autumn.

I am not a fan of August heat.  One can only take off so much clothing before one is arrested, whereas in autumn one can slip on another sweater, or even wear shoes and be comfortable in every way.  Plus, in the fall, there is something special about the blue sky, a much more vibrant colour than summer skies, or so I think anyway.

What I do love about the end of summer and beginning of fall is farmers markets, overflowing with fruits and vegetables, overflowing with the chance to make great jams and pickles, chutneys and relishes.

canning pot

I didn’t have the chance to make much last year, being ‘hors de combat’ as it were.  I am grateful to my sister-in-law, Karen, for sharing a little peach jam with us, as well as several containers of peach slices for the freezer.  Can you say peach cobbler with ice cream??

This year, however, I went to town!  Or rather, the farmer’s market quite a few times.  I made bread & butter pickles (dear lord, but why would anyone buy them in jars from a supermarket when these are easy-peasy and soooo delicious??) and dill pickles.  Many thanks to the farm couple who told me about using dill weed instead of fresh dill; there was NONE to be found at market that Thursday morning but there must have been 20 tonnes of pickling cucumbers for sale.  She said she only used dill weed now, instead of fresh dill, and loved the results.  So, I gave it a try.  I mean, if you can’t trust your farmer, who can you trust, eh?

They were right.  The pickles are firm and crunchy, and exactly the right amount of dill-ness, combined with two or three cloves of garlic for some great eating pickles.

Earlier in the summer, I make strawberry jam with fresh pineapple.  Perhaps because it was fresh pineapple, and not tinned, the jam has turned out to be more jelly-like than expected but it tastes really, really good.  Definitely a keeper recipe.

strawberries

I also took advantage of cherry season to make fresh cherry jam with pear.  The idea of combining those two fruits sort of surprised me, but as I like both, decided to give it a try.  Oooh, so good.  A little runnier than expected (natural pectin is a challenge for sure!) but so wonderful.  And, with the ‘gift’ of a $2 4 quart basket of apricots, I made an apricot & golden sultana conserve, which is not sweet and makes a great glaze (when judiciously thinned with a little juice or rum) for pork or chicken, as well as a kickass jam for crumpets.

A conserve, if you didn’t know as I didn’t know either, is a jam with either nuts or raisins added.  I prefer raisins.  I can hear my mother from here hollering “Nuts!  Go with nuts!” She hated raisins.

One of the other two jams I made were a repeat from 2015 which Jeff & I both loved – pear with ginger and creme de cacao.  The ginger really gives it a snap, not sweet at all, and the creme de cacao is a nice way to drink in the morning.

The second late summer jam was new to me.  Deliciously ripe and juicy peaches and pears run into each other at the end of summer, if you’re lucky.  I got lucky this year, so made some peach and pear jam.  The thing about this one is that it’s nothing but fruit so you get great flavours, some running down your chin off the English muffins.  Mmm.

As for more savoury choices, I made plum & apple & raisin chutney with lots of spices – cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice.  The plum-only version is thicker and darker, but this one is wonderful with ham.  Oh, so wonderful with ham.  Breakfast tomorrow for Jeff will be a Croque Monsieur sandwich with this chutney, a blatant attempt to get a couple of pairs of new shoes… and I think it’s going to work, that’s how good this stuff is.

I forwent making Governor’s Sauce this year (Governor’s Lumps my father used to call it), which I suspect I’m going to regret later this winter, but I did make chili sauce and that’s all yummy goodness.  I have to say that my chili sauce turns out different every single year, and sometimes quite dramatically different, even though I use the same recipe — my mother’s, of course — every year.  This batch is different because I used Roma tomatoes because that’s what was ripe in Jeff’s garden in quantities large enough for cooking.  I like it but I think I’ll go back to “regular” tomatoes next summer.

And, especially for my dear Uncle Bruce, mustard relish.  He loved my mother’s mustard relish, and it’s taken me a long, long time to balance the ingredients out just so, so to make a batch that’s as good as hers.  Well, maybe I should say ‘almost as good as hers’.  He has a BIG birthday coming up later this year, and our gift to him is several jars of mustard relish, some pickles, some chili sauce, some jams… Gifts from the pot and the heart.

I still have pickled beets to make but having learned a very important trick from my mother later in her life, I can do those any time.  I used to spend hours trying to make balls of beets from fresh beets every year and they never turned out the way hers did – they were lumpy and too big and basically ugly.  We were at the table at the cottage when I told her my tale of woe and she started laughing so hard, she started to cough and choke, and then started to laugh again.  “I used tinned beets, you dumpfkof!”  She loved me most when she called me that.

So pickled beets and citrus onion marmalade (which I love but which my bestie Lynn also loves, by the quart jar) are still to come.

Harvest Bounty

 

Bags of veggies frozen, some pureed strawberries for trifle at Christmas (and other trifling moments), and some containers of soup, and that, I think covers it.  I feel so accomplished for doing this, but more importantly, I feel connected.  I feel like my mother and grandmothers are watching out over me, keeping on eye no the pots with bubbling goodness inside, the canning pot with boiling water to help preserve everything safely.  I feel their hearts and minds, and especially their hands, lightening the work, sharing the stories and joy.

Come by sometime for toast and jam, or apricot glazed pork loin, or chili sauce and mustard relish on your bratwurst.  I’ll be glad to open up a jar for you.

 

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Bliss

As summer rolls to a close and I’m starting to think warm and cozy thoughts about sweaters and mohair throws on the chesterfield, I also started thinking about how summer feels different in this fourth quarter of my life.

When I was a kid, summer was all about the cottage, swimming and playing Red Rover on the beach.  It was about riding bikes down the winding gravel road to McKenzie’s for an ice cream cone (and a couple of hours’ peace and quiet for my mother).  It was about fishing on the weekends with my father so that we could have fresh-caught bass, fried in butter, served with hash browns and scrambled eggs, crispy bacon and about a loaf of bread, toasted and slathered in peanut butter.  It was about catching frogs and trying to catch lightning bugs.  It was about lazy hot afternoons lying in the shade of the birch tree reading “A Boys Own” that once belonged to my father.  It was about endless games of “May I” and Sorry, and trying to avoid playing Monopoly with my capitalist brothers.  It was about finding a snake in my underwear drawer, a bat in our sleeping cabin, and the dog discovering skunks are not great playmates.  It was about roasting wienies and marshmallows until burnt and then promptly burning the roof of your mouth, on each one!  It was about being blissful, even if you didn’t know what bliss was then.

I didn’t really have a summer last year, or not much of one any way, so I had looked forward to this one quite a bit.  In many ways, it didn’t disappoint – we spent several weekends at the lake and to my joy, Jeff caught a very large bass which we shared with family for breakfast one morning.  And I did the summer things I used to do with my mother – strawberry jam in June, pickles in August, with mustard relish and chili sauce to come this week.  But it all felt… different.

For one thing, there’s the matter of “other things to do”.  We had to re-arrange schedules a little bit for one weekend visit.  Nieces and nephews are busy with jobs and not at the lake all the time.  Nor are my two brothers and sisters-in-law, and even my aunt & uncle have moved into ‘town’ from the lakeside.

For another, instead of the utter peace and calm of almost every day and evening of my childhood – other than the noise of children playing and fighting and doing other non-mechanized childish things – our summer visits this year were filled with noises of motors and fireworks and raucous, drunken laughter into the early morning hours.

I’m not turning into a cantankerous old lady (I hope!) when I say this but there is much to be cherished about the unfrenzied, unplanned, mostly unplugged summers of my childhood.  I think it’s rather sad to see today that there are so few long, lazy days of summer for children.  Or adults for that matter.  I think we would all do well out of having many more long bike rides down winding gravel roads for maple walnut ice cream cones, putting a few fireflies in a jar, roasting a few marshmallows on pointy sticks around a small bonfire, watching the sun set.

We could all do with a little more bliss.

So Many Candles, Matches All The Love

Today is my birthday. It’s also one day short of the anniversary of “when things went wrong”.  Let’s focus on the birthday for a moment.

I love birthdays, I always have.  A birthday in summer, away from the city and school friends, meant I never had a kids’ birthday party except for the year I turned 8.  That was the year I decide to invite all the kids along the beach where our cottage is.  Mostly that was family or my “summer” cousins, and all but three of them were boys, but I wanted a party!  It wasn’t until my aunt called my mother and asked if she “could help with Dia’s party, there were going to be so many children there!” that my mother knew anything about it.

Won’t lie to you… Mum was mad.  But she was also actually kind of cool about it.  I don’t think she’d ever understood that out of all of us, I was the one who didn’t get that kid birthday event, or even birthday gifts (other than, and thank goodness for, grandparents’).  Our summers were tied up in swimming and games on the beach and just having the usual kid fun, that my birthday, MY special day, just sort of… slipped away.  Aside, of course, from always having hamburgers and angel food cake with my grandparents; god, I love angel food cake, especially with whipped cream and bananas, like Gram used to make every year.

So, going back to the party, the kids all showed up, we ate copiously of corn and potato salad and hot dogs, and there was watermelon, and a chocolate cake (knowing that angel food cake was coming on the weekend with my grandparents and father).  We played silly games I didn’t know my mother knew, we went swimming (of course!), and I got real life birthday presents from kids.  That was so important to me.  None of them were big or expensive, but they were fun or silly or sweet (Cam, I still have the elephant!).

I have had other lovely birthday parties and surprises since, and I’ve enjoyed every one of them immensely.  And I’m looking forward to a whole lot more – I hope!  But last year… not so celebratory because I couldn’t drink and wanted to eat very lightly before going into hospital the next morning.

I was facing surgery (hysterectomy) for suspected uterine cancer.  Two uterine biopsies were inconclusive (bloody painful but inconclusive), although an ultrasound did show a couple of polyps/lumps.  Combined with a few months of bleeding, my age, and the ‘best by’ date having expired some years since on my uterus, my gyns and oncologist and I decided surgery was the best choice.

Oy veh.

Good news first.  Although I did have cancer, I do not now.  The operation removed the tumour, and other than a Pap smear every six months for four years, and an annual chest x-ray (when uterine cancer does metastisize, it is almost invariably in the chest; this is how my angel food cake baking grandmother died) for the next four years, I’m not living with a fear or shadow of cancer.

I am however, living with what happened during and after the hysterectomy.  First my bladder and/or kidneys were nicked in the surgery, which meant 24 hours after the first surgery, I went back under general anaesthesia to have stents put into my kidneys, where they stayed for just over a month, four weeks of which time I was catheretised. Having the stents removed was my fourth experience in the O.R.; the third one was the scary one.

Number three is when I almost died.  Not going into all the details, but if I say that basically my abdominal muscles blew up, no one noticed for maybe 36 hours, and the fact that I was septic (dangerously infected) when they finally did, will you understand some of what was going on? What was supposed to have been four or five days in hospital turned four rounds of surgery, three of them in four days, one of them in the middle of night because I was so injured/ill.  I was in ICU for four days, hospital for three weeks (lying immobile for most of that time, post surgery three) and prison for a month.

The facility prefers I call it rehab; I don’t.  I was so angry, so distraught at being sent there rather than home after so long in hospital, I thought I was going to cry myself to death that first night.  Except I couldn’t really weep hard because of the wound.  The surgery that was done to save my life didn’t leave enough of me to suture close so a “wound vac” was used, and that gizmo was part of my life from August 23rd to the end of December.  With it, amongst other challenges, I couldn’t bend over – and I still can’t, really.  The damage to the muscles was so severe my doctor says I cannot lift or push anything more than 5 – 10 pounds (less than 5 kilos) forever.

In hindsight, and albeit still grudgingly, I understand I needed some time to learn how to move with Giz (as he was fondly referred to in our house) and to re-gain some of my completely depleted strength.  I also know that Jeff also needed time to figure out how to take care of me at home, because when I was finally! released at the end of September, I really needed care.  Three times a week, wonderful nurses came to the house and change the dressing in the wound, keeping Giz doing his job of “sucking” me closed.  As a result, my scar isn’t an “outie”, it’s an “innie”, making my abdomen look like my butt.  Seriously.  Cover up the other bits and you can’t tell the difference.

It was early this spring that I finally felt I was getting my mind back.  The body healed a whole faster than my head did, although I don’t consider five months so fast!  A combination of some 10 hours of general anaesthesia, shock from having so much go wrong, discombobulation at being away from home for so long, and a near-complete lack of remembering what had happened to me, has given me a form of PTS.  Mild but disconcerting, and it lead to some severe sleep problems (once I was off the meds – those kept me sleeping a lot!), and most disconcertingly, kept me from reading books.  I could manage magazines (over a few days) and newspaper (slowly, through the entire day) while I was in prison, but I couldn’t do books again until November.  Me, without books. It’s just so… wrong.

I live a belly button free life now, but I’m living.  I’m cancer free.  I’m getting, slowly slowly, back to who I was and, with the continuing help of my docs, and a huge amount of love and support from Jeff and extended family, not to mention a wonderful and surprisingly large group of friends, I’m working on being even better than that.

Birthdays are about celebrating life.  This birthday is going to be especially celebratory. Here’s hoping I can blow out all the candles!!

 

Ever look at someone, waiting for them to say something intriguing or informative, and all you can think is, “I know what her favourite hobby is – sucking lemons!”  Or maybe you’ve endured lunch with the friend of a friend who will not stop talking about something that is so wrong, so untruthful you just want to stick your fork in their tongue, pay the bill, and leave for Costa Rica (assuming you’re not already IN Costa Rica, in which case you leave for Singapore).  Perhaps you decided to get together with friends you haven’t seen in five years or more, haven’t had much contact with them at all, and over drinks you start to wonder if you hadn’t been drinking enough before when you all hung out or are you not drinking enough now to get through the evening.

I’m asking these questions because of The New York Times and their second most stupid act ever.  They started a column called “Say Something Nice” in which people are supposed to say something nice about 45.  I sometimes call him “Buttercup”; former Mexican President Vincente Fox calls him ‘the President of the Electoral College of the United States’; now that he’s begun to refer to himself as – and this just slays me ‘ ‘T’, that may be another choice for me.  In any case I will not ever use his name or his supposed title (although I might go with President Fox’s choice, if forced).

And I cannot find anything nice to say about him.  I can’t.  One should respect the office, and one does.  One cannot, and does not, and cannot see a time when one would,  respect the man.

The previous occupant had many, many faults and while I think he did some amazing things, he also made some real blunders in doing the job.  Don’t we all??  However, he never once made me feel that his blunders or mistakes were about greed and avarice, about denigration and disrespect, about lying to save his ass.  And never once did he make me feel the whole world was going to hell in a hand basket.  He made it easy to respect the office and the man.

So when I heard about The New York Times wanting us to say something nice about 45, I laughed derisively.  Then I thought about that lemon-sucking woman, and the lying lunch companion, and the friends who seem to be drunk when I am not, and I realized I’m not saying nice things about them either.  And maybe that’s what I should be focusing on. Finding something nice to be saying about those people who seem honestly to be giving a crap.

The fact that it’s about a crappy man, or some of his crappy programs, shouldn’t be the point, or at least not the entire point.  They’re doing things, working on thing, promoting things that I believe they believe.  And what they believe (aside from the terrible lies they’ve heard and re-told about both 44 and 45’s opponent, and on which I call them out every time) is not… well, it’s not what I believe at all, but it’s also maybe not so completely wrong either.

There is a true disconnect in the western world right now.  It’s happening in the U.S., in Canada, in Australia, and through pretty much all of Europe.  If you’ve read any history at all, you know it’s nothing we haven’t endured before, although this time it’s with 24 hour media, fake or not, and with some really ugly weapons of destruction.  Is it possible that if we really worked at it honestly, this time is nothing we can’t move beyond?

Not fix.  We can’t “fix” this.  Some of us believe in a living minimum income, universal health care, universal family leave & child care, a shattered glass ceiling, that black lives matter, that industrial agriculture is slowly killing the earth & that processed cheese slices are not actually food, and that both table manners and cursive writing are essential to reasonable public discourse and subsequent follow-up.  Some of us believe 180 degrees differently.

What we seem to be unable to do is work beyond those disagreements, to find ways to support human beings and not throw them on the trash heap.  And, personally, as I’m not prepared to throw too much more on the trash heap, I’m going to try to say something nice about my 180 degrees people.

Don’t ask me what right now.  I’m trying to be nice, not saintly.  But maybe, just maybe, if more of us can take a deep breath and be nice, for just a moment, the moments will come easier to us, and maybe those moments will start coming to those who are at 180 degrees from us.  Fewer sucked lemons, and fewer ugly lies, and fewer nice people being pulled into ideas not thought through would be very nice indeed.

And if all that happens, maybe I can quit my over-consumption of solacing butter tarts cold turkey.

 

 

Light the Candles, Feel the Love

It wasn’t my plan to take so much time off blogging.  Some time, yes.  This much time, no.  I have reasons – no excuses, but pretty good reasons – but they’re for another blog.  This one is about family, and specifically two members of my family who are celebrating birthdays today!

Let’s start with the oldest my sister Andrea — although she will quickly point out in her comment that she is younger than me.  In this context, she is the older of the two birthday celebrants.  Andy Pandy.  Andrea Joy.  Andrea with the string of last names we won’t go into here.  She’s also known as Mom by three amazing kids, grown up kids now, who adore the hell of her, as they should.  To me, she’s my hero.

The hands she’s been dealt in the past couple of years, the work she’s done to try to get back on her feet, the support she continues to give other people even as she needs a lot for herself… that’s a kind of bravery I’m not sure I have.  Not without a lot of things being thrown at walls and a lot of single malt being consumed anyway.

Andy made a great attempt at living and working out a dream, and it turned into a bit of a nightmare through no fault of her own.  This forced her to make other decisions that I think she’s been happy with, but have also put her back at the starting line again.  The cool thing is, she’s up for the race.  She relishes having challenges and takes them on like nobody’s business.  But she would be great for somebody’s business (Hello, Calgary!!  Are you paying attention??) and I want things to work out for her.

But in the meanwhile, I hope she is having a great, happy, delicious birthday.  I hope she knows that she is loved and admired.  I hope she knows that some art thief is going to lose his balls someday for what he did.

Love you, sis, for all 60 years and I hope many more.

As for the other birthday… my daughter (who has a mother but who lets me share).  Durita and Andy never met, which is sad, but perhaps also good, because I think they might have stories to share I’m not sure I want shared!  They would like each other though, having the same sort of “yes, I’m going to do this!” attitude.

My Darling Girl is in law school in Copenhagen, living with her “man” Toki (I’m still not prepared for this), surrounded by a circle of wonderful friends (two of whom, Maria and Gunn, we were thrilled to meet last summer), and still and always loved by her ‘original’ family in the Faeroes.  And by me.

We met on my birthday, which makes  her the best gift I ever received, and there’s not a day that goes by when I don’t think about her and how she’s filled my life and heart.  Of course, the fact I have a photo of her in every room in the house probably helps me keep track of that but still…

The sun sets very late in Copenhagen this time of the year, and I hope she & Toki and all their friends are taking advantage of a summer birthday eve.  I hope she knows I would love to spend a birthday with her again.  I hope she knows how valued and missed she is by Jeff, and by me.

Happiest Day, Darling Girl.  And many, many more.

 

 

 

Being A Little Overwhelmed by Achieving a Goal

I am an author.

I have been saying for several years now, when asked what I do, “I’m a writer”.  It’s an easy phrase to toss off, until the inevitable follow-up question arrives.  “Oh, what do you write? Would I have read anything of yours?”  Fortunately for my ego, I can respond by saying I have been a magazine writer and editor, I wrote opinion pieces for my local newspaper, I was a radio journalist for a while, but now I’m trying my hand at both fiction and a memoir.

It is the memoir that was finished first, and it is the memoir that will be published and launched in just a couple of days. I chose October 1st because it would have been my parents’ 61st wedding anniversary and this book is so much about them.  And about my siblings and their families, and my extended, and so many friends, so many meals.  It was a work of love in very many ways to write.  Now it’s a work of faith to present it to the public and see what they have to say.

Oh, my friends and my family have been supportive in ways I truly was not expecting.  And that is both gratifying and humbling. What will be interesting is to see who else buys the book, who are the people I don’t know who might want to read my stories, cook my food.

Given the tiny sliver of success this first book has provided me, I am already considering how to follow up the experience, how to broaden the experience, so that not only do I continue to tell stories and share food, but create opportunities that will lead to stories and meals I cannot even imagine right now.

I have begun the process with the tentative step of a new blog (not that I’m giving up this one — that would be silly. And I need it!) and we’ll see how things develop over the next few weeks.

I’ll be back after the weekend after the launch (what a full first four days of October we have!!) with photos and stories and I expect a great deal more gratitude.  And somewhat calmer nerves.

The illustration commissioned for the front cover of GOOF, CARPETBAG STEAK & DIVINITY: A Memoir With Recipes.  The artist is named Kaoru Shimada or KART.

The illustration commissioned for the front cover of GOOF, CARPETBAG STEAK & DIVINITY: A Memoir With Recipes. The artist is named Kaoru Shimada or KART.

Summer Wanes…

This summer has been filled with so much and yet at the same time, I feel as if nothing has happened except the rush of time.  Can both things be true?  Perhaps.

I have been so fortunate to have had time with family and friends this summer.  It started in May, really, with a work reunion of sorts.  How wonderful to see so many people with whom I had enjoyed working at the radio station, and meeting so people who still remembered me!  That was a shock – pleasant, but still a shock.  That same weekend, we were entertained by someone who really didn’t know me, only in a few passing meetings of a book club I helped organize several years ago and of which i was a member just a year.  That was a lovely afternoon and early evening, drinks and nibbles and lots of “remember??”.  I treasure time spent with old friends, re-inforcing bonds with new ones.

Time at the “cottage-on-wheels”, at Oliphant, followed over several weekends. So wonderful to see all my brothers, never together sadly, but one by one, sharing food and drink and much laughter, all in pretty much equal measure I think.  I love my brothers who could not be more dissimilar in so many ways and yet they are all fierce in their family ties.  They show it differently and they may sometimes resent it, but the bonds are there.

Labour Day weekend, still more family.  My cousin Judith and her husband Ross, her brother Stewart and his wife Mary — family I hadn’t seen in so long I am embarrassed.  All of them were exactly as they have always been — do I seem so to them? I’m not sure if I want it to be so or not!  We were at Michael & Rita’s cottage, “The Point”, the cabin that once was our grandparents, and then our parents, and now belongs to them (and Michael’s siblings’ hearts too, I think).  It was the first time Judith had been back there since our father’s death and she was a little teary, a lifetime’s worth of memories of that place flooding her heart.  I so understand.

This place is magic.  Judith and Stewart’s cottage is just up the beach from The Point, and From WhiteCaps, brother Max’s place, and a little further away from Belle Mer, which will be our cottage name when we finish building.  We were children together who had golden summers of sunshine and fun.  We were let loose onto the beach and into the water from sunrise to sunset and we flourished in it.  I know bad things happened then, accidents and illnesses, difficulties for our parents, periods of boredom for us when the sun would give way to rain, but I don’t remember those things, not the way I do the joy.

And once more we were at The Point for a couple of days, invited by Michael & Rita to enjoy a couple of days quiet and work, a place to stay that had running water (not the cottage-on-wheels, that’s for sure!) while Jeff worked out taking out trees and putting in more gravel.  It was so perfect… so… well there are no other words.  In the afternoons, I sat on the dock and I listened to the water and I let some tears flow in both remembrance and pleasure.  In the evenings, we drank wine with supper and watched the moon dance on the waves.  I lived again a whole lifetime of summers these past few days, as a very full, very sweet, summer rushed to a close.

The last afternoon of summer... the clear blue of sky and lake, the warmth of sunshine, the call of... childhood one more time.

The last afternoon of summer… the clear blue of sky and lake, the warmth of sunshine, the call of… childhood one more time.

Reflected light reflected back on the gently dancing waves... Such peace...

Reflected light reflected back on the gently dancing waves… Such peace…

DWTS – or – how to use a box of tissue in one evening

I do not watch reality television as a general rule.  I’m a writer.  I like my television (and movies) to have story lines that are performed into something interesting, not edited into highly manipulative states.

That being said, I am addicted to Dancing With The Stars most seasons.  I add “most” because there have been two or three celebrity contestants who simply by breathing made me crazy-itchy-nutso and I couldn’t watch for fear I’d see them or, in one instance, hear her speak.  With that contestant, as bad as her so-called dancing was, her speaking voice was worse. Blech.

Sometimes, the complete opposite happens and every one of the contestants thrills me with their background stories and their hard work, the bond they develop with their pro- partner, even how the goofiness of Tom Bergeron plays off them.  This season, DWTS’ 20th season, is one of those ‘must-watch’ ones for me.

Tonight, one of the four semi-finalists will be eliminated.  This after a show last night that brought out great dancing (even a two-left footed bumbling boob like me could see the dancing was superior) and more heartfelt, heartwarming stories, not to mention a very simple and sweet marriage proposal!  The four celebrities remaining are Nastia (a former Olympic gymnast), a pop singer named Riker, a war veteran-model-motivational speaker named Noah and Rumer Willis, the daughter of Demi Moore & Bruce Willis.  Rumer, Ryker and Nastia came into the competition with performance backgrounds of one sort or another, an understanding of how to create an atmosphere, a story in the dancing.  They also started out a pretty good amateur dancers and have become much, much better as the weeks have gone by.

Noah is a different story because he’s not just a war veteran, he’s a double-amputee.

He lost is left arm from just below the shoulder and his left leg above the knee in an IED explosion.  He wears a prosthetic leg and foot, but not an arm.  His partner, Sharna Burgess, has had to choreograph to his skills, his desires, his challenges and still make us think, make us see that Noah is a dancer.  That Noah deserves to be a semi-finalist in this competition. Honestly, I’m not sure who is the braver one of this partnership — Noah for exposing himself to a world he never knew before his injuries and then needing to work around and with them to succeed in that world, or Sharna for going into a whole new place in dance to make it work.

Carrie Ann Inaba, who is one of the judges, said the first week, amongst her tears after watching him dance, that Noah had helped her see beyond her own images, her ideas of what dance is, what dance should be.  Not that she marked  him that way often but at least she was moving forward.

Without a knee, Noah cannot be as fluid in his movements as he might like, indeed as he should be, in dance.  It’s bloody close to impossible for him to do “rounded” floor movements although the choreography in both routines he did last night were so mesmerizing, so true to his strengths, so close to ’round’, they were brilliant.  There was one moment, at the end of one of the routines, I hoped everyone who was watching noted and remembered as they were voting — Sharna and Noah walked up the stairs together using his gait, where his left leg swings out a little to compensate for not having a bendable knee.  Matching his step in every way, from exactly how high his left leg swings up to how much bounce gets from his “good” leg, Sharna made that could-have-been-awkward walk up the stairs completely, utterly beautiful.  They made it a dance….

If I’m honest, Noah probably shouldn’t win this competition because he is not, yet, the dancer that Riker and Rumer and Nastia are, but I still gave him every one of my votes last night (and he’ll get them next week if he moves on). I gave him those votes not because I feel sorry for him, and not because he proposed to his girlfriend (who said ‘yes’, btw), and not because he’s a drop-dead gorgeous war hero.

I voted for Noah Galloway because he really has opened up the world of what dance is and should be.  He is a walking, breathing, strong reminder of why we all need dance and music and art and theatre in our lives.  We are enriched by the arts.  We are humbled, stretched, encouraged, enlightened, saved by the arts.  We are better for dancing, we are smarter for music, we are more aware for theatre, we are educated by art.

Thank you Sharna, for helping to make that happen with such brilliant routines.

Good luck Noah. I hope the journey continues in the world of dance for you forever…

Happy Birthday

Today is my husband’s birthday.

(I would like to say it’s also our niece, Betsy’s birthday.  She’s celebrating with her husband, children and mother this evening and I know they’ll have a wonderful time.  Happiest Day Betsy!!  But this is another story…)

This is not one of the “big” birthdays, ending in a zero or a five but it’s still significant.  It’s his birthday! and that, to me, means a little celebration and a little contemplation.

The celebrating comes this evening when we go out for dinner at a restaurant we’re both keen to try… a little red meat, a little seafood, a little wine, it’s going to be nice.  And it’s going to be romantic.  ’cause he’s still a very romantic man.

He’s also a very dependable man.  He does what he says he’s going to do and he does it to the best of his ability.  He’s accomplished around the house; he’s a very good musician and music teacher; he loves to ski and play golf and fish for trout; he loves The Grey Cat and me in pretty equal measure; and every day, at least once a day, he makes me laugh and that is priceless.

He’s a wonderful son and a very good brother, a fun uncle, a great friend, and the best kind of partner in crime for me.  (Almost) all the things I am not, he is.  (Almost) all the things I wish I knew or understood, he does.  Goodness knows he has his quirks and more than a few things that he does or says that drive me nuts… but I have more than my share of peculiarities which make him just as crazy so we’re probably even on that.

What makes me know that he is very special is that we married on faith.  We didn’t date, really, before we were married.  In the five years we knew each other before we married, we spent 16 days together… including the day (night) of our wedding rehearsal.  The day part, I should say, was for me a mess (although not nearly as much so as the day of our evening wedding; now that was a mess!!)  We married knowing each other through letters and stories exchanged and stolen time spent alone amongst my younger brothers and his recovery from an airplane crash.  He surprised me, surprised me very very much, when he asked me to marry him but he had faith we could make it work.  I believed him. I said yes.

So celebrating the moments and days in our lives which should be celebrated — his birthday and mine, our anniversary, Family Day, getting good news about work projects, and so on — all of those things are even sweeter because I’m celebrating with him

Tomorrow, he celebrates with friends and a couple of my brothers, his brother, with the annual poker game, pool tournament and pork fest.  Tonight, it’s just us.  Marking another milestone, grateful for our time together, growing older together, looking forward to saying, many more times:

 

chocolate_cakeLove you Bunky…

A Moment on Appreciation

You will notice I did not title this “A Moment FOR Appreciation”.  No, this is about appreciation itself. Because I believe we do not, generally speaking, appreciate enough.

We don’t appreciate the things, the experiences, the tastes and textures which all enrich our lives.  And for sure we don’t appreciate the people in our lives – certainly not as we should, on a regular, warm, expressed basis.

I bring this up because I stuck another note in my (sort of) daily appreciation jar this morning – two days late – about the platform Jeff built for me, for the front-loading washer and dryer.  He bought a couple of sheets of plywood, scrounged around the workshop for still more leftovers from his dad, put in a few hours, and ta-da… the machines are up off the floor and doing laundry is just that much easier. I mean, I giggled pulling clothes and towels in and out of the machines, that’s how much easier it was.

I appreciate the time and love that went into building the platform and how such a simple thing has made one of my chores almost fun to do.  And I have told Jeff so.

But I haven’t always told him how much appreciate the little things he does.  The big things, yes, always, but the  little things? Not so much.  For example, he always brings me coffee in the morning.  Wherever I’m standing, trying to break through the haze of the first of the day, there’s coffee in hand. And he’s the one who remembers to put the winter-time washer fluid in the car.  And he’s always there to help me put on my left boot.  (Yes, just the left boot. The right one slips right on but apparently I have a vastly different left than right foot.  Sigh.)  I appreciate all those things and more, and I’m making an effort to keep the memory of them alive in my jar.

So what else do I appreciate and need to express?

I appreciate the family I married and the family into which I was born.  They’re quite different from each other in many ways but there are essentials which are alike.  They are fierce in their love for each other, quick to point out the others’ flaws but willing to live with them, keen to spend what precious time can be carved out of busy individual lives for a few hours’ family companionship. I must tell them all, tell them each, I appreciate their love, time and support.

Just a few days ago I was reminded of why I appreciate my sister-in-law Karen who makes her own greeting cards for all occasions and skews them for the recipients.  Our Valentine’s card had symbols of Paris on it because she knows I’m stalking Paris.  I must tell her I appreciate that thoughtfulness.

I appreciate my writers’ group because they are helping me keep my nose to the grindstone, more than they might think, although perhaps not as much as it should be kept.  They’re smart, funny, good writers, and I appreciate their support, their critiques, their writing and their friendship.  I must tell them that.

I appreciate my Facebook friends.  Of course, I appreciate all my friendships, but when one is far from home, or where home used to be, and far from many of the circles of friends made over the years, having Facebook as another way – a quick, witty, silly way – to keep the friendships warm, that must be appreciated.

One of my friends – on fb but also in real life – posted something the other day that made me feel just so much… warmth.  We had worked together briefly, gotten to know each other fairly well in just a few months, and when I left our place of employment, I wasn’t sure that anything I had done there would be remembered well.  He told me at least one thing was, so now I need to tell him I appreciate that remembrance.

I appreciate the kindness of strangers.  I was leaving the library last Tuesday night and felt a back cramp start.  I bent over, holding on to a tiny tree in the tiny front plaza of the building and this kind man stopped and asked me if I was alright.  I told him I had gotten up from two hours sitting at a desk and moved too quickly out into the cold without doing any stretching and my back was reminding me it wasn’t as young as once we were, but I was fine.  He asked again, just to be sure, and then went on.  I should have told him I appreciated his stopping to ask; I will next time a stranger is kind.

On a physical level, I appreciate the smell of fresh spring flowers, especially lilacs, because they are smell of renewal; I appreciate the bittersweet taste of a really fine dark chocolate for the pure pleasure it offers; I appreciate the sparky bubbles of an ice cold champagne for delight of tickles in my nose; I appreciate the infinite soft warmth of a mohair blanket on my naked toes; I appreciate the beauty and skill in the painting hanging in my house (and try not to envy the artists’ talent) because they enrich me every time I stop to really see them; I appreciate hearing Jeff practise violin because it gives him pleasure and makes me feel “homey” inside; I appreciate the memories of past loves because they helped me become who I am at heart.

hearts

 

I think my Appreciation Jar will fill up faster now.  And I can appreciate that, too.