Friday, May 8, 2015

The Poisonwood Bible

I just finish reading The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. It was recommended to me by a fellow teacher when I was working in Bangladesh. My colleague, a former hairdresser from British Columbia, had lived in Chad when she was growing up, as her parents worked for the American Embassy. While Chad was a tough and sometimes dangerous place to be, I believe that she had bitter - sweet memories of her time there. I can see why she would connect to Kingsolver's book. The Poisonwood Bible is the story of an American missionary who takes his family to the Belgian Congo in 1959.

Another friend of mine, an avid reader who enjoys both fiction and nonfiction, says that with each book she reads she hopes to learn at least one new thing. In my recent read about the missionary family trying to survive in the Congo during a time of political turbulence, I learned more than one "new thing".

The Democratic Republic of the Congo

In regard to the history and countries of Africa, I have to admit that I am very ignorant. I was in Morocco years ago and met a few people from South Africa, but that's about it. I was surprised to learn (which again shows my ignorance), about the effects of colonization in African countries like the Congo and the involvement of the US and Russia who were interested only in taking resources and gaining control. I was especially disappointed to learn about the role of the US in ousting one Congolese leader in favor of one who proved to have a devastating effect on the people and country. I may have to give up reading anything historical if I don't want hear any more "bad news"!

Aside from learning about African hardships like, lack of food, ant invasions, malaria and hookworms, Kingsolver's novel had some comic relief. For example, a woman called Mama Tataba was helping the mother of the family find and cook local meat options:

"She was handy at cooking anything living or dead, but heaven be praised, Mother rejected the Monkey, with its little dead grin. She told Mama Tataba we could get by on things that looked less like kinfolk."

I also realized that I must have been asleep during elementary science class. Apparently in order for most plants to produce fruit or vegetables, pollination is required. .... ah I knew that! In the book the Kentucky Wonder Beans that they brought with them,(hoping to feed the masses of Africa) produced great stocks and lush leaves but no beans! The Congolese insects had no idea what to do with a Kentucky Wonder Bean! I wish that was the case for the deer in my backyard!

The book follows the lives of the family, including five daughters over several decades. It is a fascinating tale!  
......... now the quest for a new "good read"!

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Remembering Kathmandu

I fondly remember a Nepalese shop keeper's unique (and sales oriented) way of asking us where we were from when he said, "And what country is suffering without you?" It was terrible to hear this week of the disastrous earthquake that hit Nepal. Hard to believe that the ancient buildings and sites that we visited are now a pile of rubble. 

me in Durbar Square
The streets of Kathmandu
Besides the architecture and haunting musical chants being played in the streets, was the sight of hundreds of tourists from all over the world outfitted in trekking gear.
I hope this sight was not destroyed in the earthquake!
Nilah and I "shopping" in Kathmandu

a photo I took at the Monkey Temple in Kathmandu

photo of Monkey Temple -

I took this photo when we were "trekking". The white in the sky is actually the peaks of the Himalayas!

a Nepalese family that we met while hiking near the Himalayas 

I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to see the sights of Nepal, especially the ones that are no longer there. We were also fortunate that our week long vacation was not interrupted by a major disaster like the one that took place recently. Below is an article from the Toronto Star about a young woman who encountered the recent earthquake in Nepal. Jessica Adach, the subject of the article, just happens to be the daughter of a friend of mine! I was amazed to hear of her story and happy that she was able to leave safely.

The drone video in the article shows the devastation of the city and you can see the sight of the  Monkey Temple.

Toronto Star Article about Jessica Adach

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Wild Life Central

April seems to be wildlife month here on Cornelius Drive! Ducks, moles, raccoons, (and let's not forget the deer) are all alive and well in our back yard, front yard and even the attic!


 Yes! The attic! The other evening I was sitting quietly in the kitchen and heard the pitter patter of something "above". Since the birds had gone to bed and the sound was too heavy for a squirrel, I figured it must be a raccoon. One had gotten up there years ago but there had been no sign of one since. This morning hubby also heard the sounds of life over head!

Now that the snow is starting to disappear and expose the much longed for sight of grass, we've noticed an unusual sight on the lawn. Mounds of dirt are piled everywhere! My "farm boy" husband immediately identified the sight as the work of moles. Great!

They say that April showers bring May flowers, but so far they've only brought ducks! The cute couple in the photo above don't seem to be too worried about on coming traffic. We may as well put up a sign that says "Wildlife Sanctuary"!

piles of soil on the lawn thanks to our "friend" the mole

So, Mr Raccoon ..... this is for you! Ducks on the road, and moles on the grass are one thing, but you, my friend are not welcome! I hope to be seeing your cute little bandit face tomorrow ..... BEHIND BARS!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015


Along with burning calories, I tend to pick up tidbits of information from the multitude of TV channels at the gym. The other day, Canada AM was interviewing a chef associated with a Toronto Icelandic cultural group who was promoting a festival called "Thorrablot". Thorrablot is a winter festival that originated with the Vikings during which food, that was preserved throughout the winter, is eaten up to make way for the bounty of spring. While I had never heard of it before, and had never eaten any of the Scandinavian "delicacies" they were displaying, it did remind me of a pleasant childhood memory.

After my father passed away, my mother and I were on our own living in Timmins, Ontario. We rented an apartment from an elderly Finnish couple who lived upstairs. While my memory of them is not vivid enough to remember what they looked like, a few things do stand out.

Finnish bead just like Mrs. Latasalo's (photo from
 Finnish braided bread with a shinny glaze was sometimes sitting on the kitchen counter when I came home from school. My mom would inform me that Mrs. Latasalo (not sure if the spelling is correct) had sent down a homemade loaf of her Finnish style bread. It was soooo good! My mom did not make homemade bread so it was a real treat. I also recall being invited to their apartment on special occasions (perhaps Christmas or Easter) to enjoy a spread of traditional Finnish treats of which I particularly enjoyed the cheese. I'm not sure if was truly from Finland, but it was squeeky, like Swiss but much milder .... delicious!
 I also recall, while living near the Latasalos, being thrilled to get a brand new bicycle from my Mom for my birthday which I kept in a shed in the yard. One day I went to get my bike and discovered that Mr. Latasalo had installed a shiny new bell on it! What a lovely old couple they were.

So ... I'm not sure if any of the food our landlords served was similar to the kind served at "Thorrablot" ..... after watching the video below I doubt that I would have indulged in much of it! It was nice, however, to be reminded of these nice neighbors and their Nordic traditions and kindness.

There's More to Thorrablot than Rotten Shark - Chicago Reader

Entertaining Video Explaining Thorrablot

Friday, April 3, 2015

If it ain't broke....

It's Easter! While we still have a *#^* load of snow, the weather is mild and it is starting to melt. We might not see the grass until the end of May, but at least it's starting to happen.

We are anticipating the arrival of  our son and his "fiance" for the holiday weekend, and of course, I am baking up a storm. (Never used to do that when I was working!) Since Alicia can not tolerate dairy, I always try to look for "dairy free" desserts. I don't need to worry about main dishes because hubby takes care of that. Anyway, I've discovered that sometimes you can find what you're looking for right under your nose! Google will give you all kinds of recipes that are gluten free, dairy free or what ever, but sometimes it pays off to look through your good old recipe books to see if there is one that fits the bill!

My good old, falling apart, Purity cookbook!

My Purity Cookbook came through for me! The regular peanut butter cookies that I've made for years just happen to have no dairy. Who knew! I also found a great recipe for orange cake (that can be made as cupcakes) in the Purity book. I really believe that it is best to try to find a recipe that simply does not have the ingredient that you are allergic to before to try to find one that uses substitutions. Some substitutions are great, but others just don't cut it.

My cupcakes look great, and all's well that end's well .... but it was not without a few frustrations..... batter overflowing, oven getting over heated ...... I guess it's wrong to use the "F" word when making cupcakes .... perhaps not when making chili or beef jerky, but cupcakes deserve a more "feminine" expletive!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Well Traveled, Creative and Whimsical

Suitcase and Heels
Today I was organizing my "bookmarks" and I rediscovered a few sites that I had saved because they were created by people that I know, or friends of / relatives of people that I know. I am in awe of how informative and professional these sites are! They inspire me and I would love to learn more about web design.

Suitcase and Heels 

Suitcase and Heels is a travel site created by Melissa Hogan (in the photo above). Her dad is a friend of ours. She loves traveling and everything to do with traveling and her sight has some great tips for those who are up for an adventure!

Two Stitch Knits

Two Stitch Knits
Two Stitch Knits is a site created by the niece of a friend of mine. While I have never met this young woman, I admire her creativity. She is relatively new to the art of knitting, but has embraced it enthusiastically. Her blog is full of great ideas and inspiration!

Sunshine and Whimsy

I love reading this blog! Sunshine and Whimsy is created by Amanda, the girlfriend of a guy, Tony, who is a FB friend of mine. He is a technician in the IT department at the school where I worked in Beijing. Amanda and Tony are engaged (she is Canadian, a Maritimer and he is Chinese) and she sometimes writes about the cultural differences that come up in their relationship. Also, as the title suggests, a common theme in her blog is living life in a positive upbeat way.

This week she posted a photo (below) that makes her happy. I can see why! It is a sure sign of spring in the "jing"! And it speaks to me as I see that the building in the background is the "middle - high" section of the school where I worked, which brings back fond memories.

I will definitely be checking out Amanda's blog as her wedding with Tony approaches. She has already made arrangements for her "bachelorette" weekend in Hong Kong!
Sunshine and Whimsy

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Coping Strategies

The end of March and this is what greets us when we open our front door! While I have vowed not to dwell on the miserable, depressing, isolating, unrelenting, horrible winter we have had, and apparently continue to have, I deserve at least one rant. It's my party and I'll cry if I want to!
Falling short of playing "The Glad Game", I will attempt to put a positive spin on things and share my coping strategies - NETFLIX! I've read a few good books this winter, signed up for a winter course (which got cancelled) and even embraced the beauty of winter by visiting some ice caves, but my true savior has been Netflix. 
Since the arrival of streaming and PVR-ing, I can't seem to be bothered with viewing something once a week at a specific time. I want it - when I want it - as much as I want - or as little -  and without any annoying commercials! The CRTC has recently forced service providers to offer "pick and pay" type packages so that consumers are not paying for bundles that include programs that they don't want. Our viewing options seem to be looking up. It will be interesting to see where the industry is in a few years.
In the meantime, as I mentioned, my new best friend Netflix has filled many a housebound winter day or evening with viewing pleasure that I will share with you. 

So, here are some recommendations:
  • House of Cards
  • Orange is the New Black
  • The Hour 
  • The Bletchley Circle (same era as The Imitation Game)
  • Call the Midwife
  • Rake (very entertaining)
  • Mr. Selfridge
  • Damages
  • The Fall
  • Kingdom
  • Suits
  • The Good Wife
  • Last Tango in Halifax 
  • Bates Motel (hokey but somewhat entertaining)
  • Scott and Bailey (quite good)
Yes! I have actually spent all that time viewing! Imagine if I had put that time into reading classics, or history ..... how smart would I be? Like my mother used to say .... "Lynn, if you knew your school work as well as you know the words to all the songs on the radio, you'd be an A student." I guess somethings never change!

Personally, I enjoy the British shows. The characters are more realistic without the superficial Hollywood glam ...... plus they have cool accents! If you have the US Netflix, MI5 and Peaky Blinders are both good.

So ..... now, hopefully, as the days grow longer and weather improves I will pursue more worthwhile activities and interests that take me out of the house more often.