Monday, December 17, 2012

The gap

(from a previous dog walk, a channel to a power dam near town)

I read something on the internet yesterday to the effect that at this time of year the gap between what we want and what we have seems the greatest. I thought that was pretty spot on. The rest of the year we take that gap for granted but now, it just seems hard. We want the picture-perfect Christmas and we get reality.

Not that I am complaining, I just thought it was a good observation.

Today was a do-nothing day after a series of hectic days. I got sidetracked cleaning up some computer files, in no time at all it was 2pm and I still had not taken the dog for a walk. So we walked downtown and stood in line at the post office, myself for a package and Hapi for a dogtreat. We went home and I made tea and read a bit of my new book from the post office. I brought in some firewood from the shed and made supper.

Yesterday I had a whole bunch of things lined up to do, I was kind of dreading it all week. Knew I would have to leap out of bed and hit the ground running if I was to get it all done. I had church, walk the dog and three overlapping entertainment-slash-social occasions in the afternoon and evening. Also some prep work to do for two of those occasions.

At choir practice one of the choir members invited me to the lighting of the last Hanukah candle that evening.

I said, You celebrate Hanukah?
He said, Yes, I'm Jewish.
I said, I didn't know you were Jewish!
He grins and says, Yes, will wonders never cease!

Anyway, it was smack dab in the middle of my overlapping entertainment-slash-social occasion run for it so most reluctantly I had to turn it down. Damn. That would have been a good thing.

Then I go home and start getting ready for the quick dog walk in between and my neighbour comes out to invite me for supper and an inspection of their newly renovated kitchen and bathroom, an invite I have been secretly hoping and waiting for these last couple of months. Again, damn, can't do it, and her Christmas social calendar is so socked in that the next available opportunity won't be until sometime in 2013.

Unfortunately the three overlapping entertainment-slash-social occasions require missing supper, I thought I could manage it but turned out I couldn't. I grabbed a couple of leftover Hallowe'en candies to tide me over but they didn't. So I ended up missing the middle occasion and going home to eat instead. To the dog's great delight. However she was quite dismayed when I took off again less than an hour later.

The final social occasion was one I was actually kind of dreading, would have dropped it I could have, but it turned out not to be nearly as bad as I thought it might be. And I got to eat some very good food. I was greeted at the door with hot-from-the-oven lobster cakes and it got better after that. And I met a couple of bakers who I have admired from a distance, they sell their wares at the Farmers' Market and they are really good. Turns out one of them stood behind me in the Christmas Cantata last week and is a former opera singer! I did not recognize her until she told me. And, we have the same first and second names, but she uses her first name and I my second.

Aside: I have always gone by my second name, I don't really know why. My parents' decision.

Her husband bakes bread and we had a lively, if a little esoteric, discussion of locally available flours.

The event was a Greed and Avarice party, in which we all pick gifts from a pile and take coveted gifts from each other. This year the coveted gifts included a lard bucket full of high quality home baked cookies, a couple of bottles of wine, a large box of truffles, and tickets to the local cinema. Last year I ended up with a gift I quite disliked and went home and stowed it in a trunk in the basement. This year I rewrapped it and stuck it in the pile as my contribution. Turns out the person who pulled it from the pile made a huge joke of it, everyone rolling on the floor laughing, and then reluctantly gave it up to someone who actually wanted it. Wow.

My new opera singer friend ended up with a gift that she didn't like at all, and quietly said to me that she had contributed one of the much coveted gifts and felt a little cheated ending up with this terrible thing that she quite disliked. I told her what I had done with my gift from last year and she brightened up.

That's exactly what I am going to do! she said.

I did not end up with any of the sweets, wine or tickets, but did briefly get my hands on a couple of those items. My gift consists of two items, one of which I may keep and the other I may regift at an upcoming opportunity involving a completely different group of people. Or they may get both, I haven't decided.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Standing ovation

Last Sunday my church choir performed its annual Christmas Cantata. I joined the choir this fall and for the previous week we were intense practice for this upcoming performance. We have several "Music Scholars", university music students, in addition to some very talented singers. I don't count myself as any of the above, and there were moments when I only mouthed the words for fear of getting the tune wrong.


It was a full church and at the end of our half hour performance we got a standing ovation.

I think it might be unusual for a congregation to give their choir a standing ovation, but they did.

I have never in my life received a standing ovation, and I have to say it was absolutely thrilling. I now understand what talented performers, whether musical or theatrical, must feel and why they find their work fulfilling. I still can't get over it. A standing ovation. All those people standing and clapping for us, for our performance.

One of our musical scholars, a tenor, sang a solo (after the standing ovation) of "O Holy Night" and I can't imagine there was a dry eye or a throat without a lump in it for that. The acoustics of that church are quite amazing and his performance was right up there with any famous tenor you want to name. Powerful. Moving.

I know he hopes to pursue further studies at a top school in the USA and his ultimate life goal is opera. If anyone deserves it he does. And I will be able to say, "I knew him when..."

Oh yes, and today is 12-12-12. As Rain over at Rainy Day Thoughts points out, this is the last time such a dateline will appear in this century.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Too much to do at this time of year

(This faded drawing under a bridge shows the artist's face and what she is looking at. If you stand in front of it and face in the same direction as the artist's face, you can see the view that she painted. But it is faded now and hard to make out in this photo)

At this time of year I try to send out a few Christmas cards in hopes of receiving some back, but so far I can't say with much luck. I went to a friend's place yesterday for dinner and a board game and she had a bunch of cards on display that she had already received (I have none). She showed me an example of a Christmas card she makes herself and sends out. It is gorgeous, she has great talent. I oohed and aahed over it but I doubt that will have any effect. And this is a woman who is a devout atheist, who was hesitant to go to see the movie Life of Pi because she had heard there was too much talk of G** in it. She did go, her review was too much g**--talk but great cinematography, however not worth the extra bucks to see in 3D.

Nevertheless she has totally decorated her small apartment in handmade Christmas ornaments, some she made herself, some made by her daughters. She has a crappy low-paid call centre job that entails shiftwork and no holiday time, so she pretty much assumes no time off at Christmas. she was hoping to save some sick time to take off this year, but she got pneumonia and that was that. Instead one of her daughters celebrated Christmas early with her while she was still sick, and our dinner consisted of leftover turkey soup. It was good and it made her apartment smell very Christmas-y. She showed me the lovely ring her daughters got her for Christmas. She picked it out at a craft fair and told them that was what she wanted, they put together the money and bought it for her. What a clever lady, what nice daughters.

The board game we play I always win and I did again yesterday afternoon. I don't know why. Sometimes I wonder if she lets me win because she says I am a poor loser. Hmph. I thought she was going to win yesterday, but she didn't. It was close though.

After dinner she went to the movie and I went to choir practice.

Choir practice was long and I was tired. I am a second soprano but I sit in front of some very good first sopranos and at times I cannot hear the other second sopranos so I sing along with the first sopranos in my not very good second soprano voice. I try to be quiet so as not to be noticed at those times. We have some extra singers joining us for the Cantata and of course they are all very good. They will sing some solo and duet parts while the rest of us rest. This Cantata was written for a Celtic band including a penny whistle. Our choirmaster was shaking her head over that because the score requires several key changes for the penny whistle and she says what composer in his right mind requires a penny whistle to make key changes?

After practice one of the tenors told me about his heart surgery earlier in the week. He had to go into the city for it and his wife didn't come with him because she was sick. He said it was very painful and despite complaints they gave him no pain relief. Until a male nurse took pity on him in the middle of the night. He said, Don't go to the city for surgery without an advocate, it is terrible! He seems OK now, he came to practice at any rate, but holy cow what a thing. 

I got home very tired and had to make a few phone calls before it got late, the last one to my son in Toronto. About half an hour into that call I had to beg off because I couldn't stay focused any more. I had made my dog come indoors for a bit but allowed her to go out to sleep. She doesn't like coming indoors but I make her just to have her company for an hour or two. When the temperature dips below zero at night she far prefers to be sleeping out, she loves the cold. I prefer sleeping indoors.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

December 6...

Today is the anniversary of the Montreal Massacre in 1989. You can look it up on Wikipedia if you need the details. A horrible event. I lived in Ottawa at the time, a two hour drive from Montreal and it was as if everything came to a grinding halt, the enormity of the evil and the fact that it was aimed specifically at women, all women. Well, he said only the feminists but apparently his definition of feminist pretty much covered all women. So I mark this day every year.

OK, moving on.

A friend of mine is going through some marital difficulty which is leaving her pretty devastated. She and her partner are in counselling, but as far as I can make out the only thing they've accomplished so far is to delineate the full extent of the disaster. It kind of came out of the blue for my friend, she had thought that they were fine. I try to be supportive but there is really not much I can do other than listen when she calls me, which is not all that frequent really. I am busy these days but try to remember to call her too, not all that frequently either.

Sometimes being single is lonely, but not very often at all. I like being alone and right now my need for affection is quite well filled by my big fluffy and affectionate dog. I like spending time with friends, I like spending time alone, I am grateful for my turmoil-free life. Especially when I watch friends going through it. There are a few things that would be easier or more enjoyable with a partner, but you could say that about anything one lacks in life, and I think that most of us lack something or other and one way or another we live with it. There are plenty of things I would like to change in my life, but then I'd need a whole other lifetime to accomplish it all and sadly, that is just not an option. If only I was immortal...

My friend commented recently that her current situation is good for her weight, her appetite has disappeared and she has to force herself to eat. I remember going through a period like that, I remember that feeling of a permanently clenched stomach and I don't miss it at all. But I did lose a significant amount of weight that I was happy to lose. Hopefully my friend will too, as a small compensation for the rest of the unpleasantness. Not a weight loss plan that I recommend, but it does work for some of us.

I went to the physiotherapist yesterday. I have pain in both arms which I attributed to either tendinitis or tendinosis (look it up) in or around my elbows. The physiotherapist had me run through a bunch of exercises and poses and extensive questioning to figure out exactly what was going on. She found it confusing as apparently what I am experiencing does not fit the definition for either condition. She found that the pulse in my wrist changes when she puts my arm in different positions, indicating that the blood flow may be blocked somewhere along the line when I am in certain positions. And there's a vertebra in my neck that does not move along with the vertebrae on either side of it. So her theory is that that vertebra is somehow pinching both the blood vessels and the nerves to my arms in certain positions and that may be what is causing the pain. But she's not absolutely sure of that, it is just the only explanation she can come up with right now. Sounds good to me though. She asked me to perform certain exercises over the next few days and we'd see how it goes next week. The idea is to get that vertebra moving properly by stimulating weak muscles on either side of it. I believe there is arthritis involved, so I don't know how much improvement is reasonable to expect.

Some of the tests she performed involved me lying on my back while she manipulated the back of my neck. If she had just stopped talking I would have been out like a light, it felt so good. I hope there is more of that prescribed for my recalcitrant vertebra.

On the sidebar of my blog there are some links that I check fairly frequently. One of them a couple of days ago was to an article about bubble wrap as window insulation. That sounded really interesting to me. So today I am off to the store to buy some bubble wrap to try it out. Also I need tape for wrapping packages for mailing, my old roll of tape has become permanently glued to itself and I cannot extract any more from the roll. And conveniently, I have a dinner date with a friend who happens to live near the stationery store. We are going to play a board game and eat dinner together, then I will be off to choir practice. Hapi will be all alone for the afternoon and evening so I must try to take her for a good long walk this morning. Which means I should get a move on now.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The approach of winter

This picture of Hapi was drawn on a smartphone by a young woman standing behind me in line for the local ATM. I can't believe she did this so quickly and on a cell phone! She texted me the picture. Amazing, eh?

Coming 'round to Christmas and it has been a while since I last posted.

Pottering around doing this 'n' that, nothing so time-consuming as to justify leaving off the blog, on the other hand nothing so exciting as to inspire a new post.

I've been going to an exercise class, Triple-A (Acadia Active Aging), which is OK but I can't say that I notice any kind of physical improvement. I had a student trainer who was supposed to be training me on the various machines and tracking my "improvement". Mostly we chatted about dogs and her life in northern Ontario, where she is from. And I got tendinitis in my arms. Not sure what caused that, could be coincidental or it could be the Triple-A stuff. In any case I am back on the waitlist for physiotherapy and after a month and a half I have my first appointment coming up. In the meantime the tendinitis is subsiding.

I also started skating with a friend in Triple-A. We try to go once a week but it is kind of boring as it is just a windowless indoor rink with no music and hardly any people. At times we have the entire rink of clean ice to ourselves. If I was a great skater I would be tickled pink at the opportunity to have all that ice to practice my skills on, but I am not. I am one step removed from hugging the boards for balance. I can sort of skate backwards and in circles but that is the limit of my amazing skills on ice.

I joined the Baptist Church choir. Mostly because a friend of mine is the choirmaster and every time she sees me she mentions that I can join any time and the last time she did that she caught me at a weak moment and I agreed. Her enticement was that the annual Christmas Cantata was going to be a medley of Celtic carols, complete with Celtic band. My choirmaster friend has her doctorate in music and teaches music therapy at the university, as well as numerous students in her home. So working with her is a bit of a privilege, but seeing as how organized church religion is never going to be my thing and this is the Baptist church no less, it does feel a bit strange to be hying myself off to church every Sunday. However to my surprise the singing part is actually sufficiently pleasurable that it makes up for the churchy part. There are some Acadia music students in the choir with amazing voices and it is good to be singing along with them. I can sing in tune if I am singing along with someone else who manages to be in tune, otherwise I am quite hopeless.

To round out my musical career and as somewhat of an antidote to the churchy Sundays, I also joined a ukulele group that meets on Sunday evenings in each other's homes. We bring along snacks and "something to drink", sit in a circle and strum our ukes and sing silly songs. The "something to drink" is usually a mason jar of some anonymous alcoholic beverage, so the songs get sillier as the evening progresses. There is some talk of going out carolling, with our ukuleles, in a couple of weeks. We are torn between announcing our plans in advance and not. On the one hand neighbours are likely to turn out their lights and lock their doors when they hear our ukes coming, on the other hand there might be "something to drink" on offer.

Last week I went to PEI. The grandboys were spending a couple of weeks there as their parents were overwhelmingly busy with work. I took a couple of early Christmas presents and the dog. The resident dog Fiona was not thrilled with Hapi's arrival so there was a bit of tension in the house over that. The climax was a grand dog fight over food that sent dogfood and water bowls flying all over the living room. The fight was over in a matter of seconds but the cleanup took a little longer. The dogs were sent outdoors to have it out, and they did. After that no more fighting. the occasional warning growl, but they appeared to have settled the main issues.

We have had our first snows here. Locally they forecasted snow flurries and we got a blizzard instead. Kerthump and there was a blanket of snow everywhere. While I was in PEI another snowfall to the delight of the boys. In addition there were a couple Canada World Youth fellows in the house, one of whom hailed from Indonesia. It was his first snow ever. He said that in his home town, they considered +20C (68F) cold, +40C was normal. His counterpart was from Calgary so he was pleased to see the snow and insisted on dragging the Indonesian youth outdoors for a snowball fight. The grandboys started to build a snowman but got distracted by the snow-covered trampoline.

I took the boys and the dogs to the beach where we found a patch of thin ice on the sand with no water underneath. They had great fun sliding on it and throwing sticks for the dogs. The dogs skittered and slid over the ice after the sticks. Only feet away great white-capped waves crashed on the shore.

My truck is now ready for winter. It has been painted and waterproofed and snowtires put on. My neighbour found two rims for the snowtires, he says he will keep an eye out for two more. That way I don't have to keep having the tires removed from the rims and replaced with whatever tire is suitable for the season. The waterproofing was largely successful but one leak remains that we don't know the exact location of. Nothing a small towel can't catch though.

I still have carrots, kale and mustard greens in the garden. I worried about the carrots the entire time I was in PEI because the temperature dropped below -10C at night. But I had left them covered in snow and plastic and apparently snow is almost as good an insulator as the pink fibreglass stuff. In any case even the mustard greens held up under the snow and plastic. I also have some green onions that are going on two years old and are huge. I had left them out because I didn't know what to do with them, the green parts are way too tough to use in salad. But it turns out the that the white part is very usable and since that part is now as big as leeks, I have a tonne of "green onions". And since they grew through last winter I hardly worry about them this winter. A fellow "Newcomer" gave me a recipe for kale mashed potatoes that calls for a large quantity of onion, so I have a good use for all the kale and onion still in the garden and the potatoes now stored in the basement.

Speaking of potatoes. I read a while ago about the nutritious value of potatoes. When potatoes were first brought into Europe, the Irish went for them in a big way. In fact they became the diet staple which ultimately led to the infamous Potato Famine. But before the famine, poor Irish peasants subsisted on a diet largely consisting of potatoes and a bit of milk, while poor peasants elsewhere in Europe had diets based on grains. And apparently the Irish peasants were far healthier than their counterparts anywhere else, because the potato is almost a complete food. In combination with milk it covers all the nutritional bases.

In my hippy days we eschewed anything white as being bad for you: white flour, white rice, homogenized milk, potatoes and such. To this day I associate the colour white with poor nutrition, and I even have trouble with cauliflour. But this is just wrong. White doesn't mean anything. And potatoes are actually a very healthy food. Which is good because I have always loved potatoes and felt terribly guilty eating them. No more.

Another thing about the Irish, this is about Irish Soda Bread. Back in the day firewood was at a premium in most of Europe because the nobility controlled all the forests and common people couldn't access them for fuel. Except in Ireland where the laws were different and everyone could go into the forest to gather firewood. As a result, most European villages had community bake ovens to conserve fuel and most people ate yeast-leavened bread because that was most suitable for a community bake oven. But in Ireland, common people could bake at home, they had the fuel for it, so community bake ovens were not so common. And soda bread is a quick bread that wouldn't do so well if you had to wait your turn at the community oven but is just fine if you have your very own oven for baking on your own schedule. So the Irish made soda bread while the rest of Europe made yeast or sourdough bread.

Reading. Well I just read another really great book, Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. Very long book, over 600 pages. I found it a bit overwhelming at first, the pace was, to my way of thinking, extremely slow. I'd say the first 150 pages are about the birth of the story's narrator. But once I settled into the pace I found the book extremely interesting and thoughtful. And along the way learned a bit of Ethiopian history.

Ethiopia is the one African country that did not succumb to European imperialism until the 1930s when Mussolini came along. But for the centuries and millenia before that it was an independent land never warped by colonialism. It also is home to some of the oldest Jewish and Christian communities. The Queen of Sheba was thought to have come from there, although that is disputed now.

Anyway, the book is set in modern times and the story is set against the Ethiopia of Haile Selassie but it is not about that. The story's narrator is a conjoined twin separated shortly after birth and raised by adoptive Indian parents. He becomes a surgeon and ultimately practices in New York. That is the bare bones of the story, there is of course much more to it which you will discover if you decide to take on this giant of a book. Along the way you will learn a bit of history of a very interesting country. And since the author is a surgeon himself, you will learn a bit about surgery as well. But Mr Verghese is a very thoughtful surgeon with a lot to say about life in general and the practice of medicine in particular. Very satisfying read.

OK, sorry about the long wait, if in fact you have been waiting for my next post. And I imagine some people who might have waited have given it up so my audience is no doubt considerably smaller. Although I have always assumed that it was small to begin with, now it is probably just that much smaller. Eventually it will dwindle to nothing, I will stop writing altogether and nobody will notice.