Sunday, March 29, 2015

When You Reach Me

When You Reach Me

I've always been a huge fan of kid-lit and YA Lit. I think a good story, well-told, has a multi-generational appeal. When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead is a good example.

When I learned the other day that 10-year old Kate, one of my six awesome grand-kids, was reading tearing through this award-winning novel, I immediately headed for the library, high-fived myself for finding it on the shelf and brought it home. Although I was in the middle of reading other slightly larger novels, I set them aside to dive into this one. Pure pleasure!

Inspired by A Wrinkle in Time and other related YA novels by Madeleine L'Engle, Stead has created an exciting time travel adventure. The main character, 12-year old Miranda, does not, herself, travel in time, but she figures out a mind-bending time travel mystery through the course of this intricately-crafted novel. 

Set in 1979 NYC the book touches on themes of friendships and loyalties, family dynamics, sacrifice, mental illness, homelessness and even racism while probing a riveting mystery that requires us to stretch our brains and imaginations. 

If you loved A Wrinkle in Time, you certainly are also going to love When You Reach Me. Published in 2009, When You Reach Me is, like its inspiration, A Wrinkle in Time, a Newbery Medal winner. In fact, if you are looking for an awesome read for your youngster (and/or yourself) be sure  to visit the Newbery Medal Homepage for plenty of great suggestions for all ages.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

They Left Us Everything

They Left Us Everything

There's a stretch of Lakeshore Boulevard along the north shore of Lake Ontario that I've always particularly enjoyed. When my mom was a resident at a retirement home in Burlington we regularly went out for the day together, going to appointments, shopping, taking in lunch and often going for a drive. That part of Lakeshore Boulevard winding through Oakville and Burlington, with ancient trees and beautiful old homes on either side was always a favourite. Some homes are quite modest, but with lovely curb appeal, some look very old, some are hidden behind tall hedges, some immense houses sit on gigantic estates. 

Who, we often wondered, lives here and what are those magnificent homes like inside? What sort of families come and go from these beautiful places? Are they happy?

Mum would have loved Plum Johnson's memoir, They Left Us Everything.

Johnson's family was one of those living in a lakeside home in Oakville. She and her four brothers spent most of their growing-up years there. One of her brothers and both of her parents died there. This home is filled with memories.

Maybe one of the reasons this book resonated with me is that Plum Johnson is within a year of my own age, so in a way, her life parallels my own, though of course, our experiences were completely different. That is such a subjective way to think, though, isn't it? It is really Johnson's unobtrusive skill in bringing her family to life through the pages that will appeal to every reader.

After Johnson's mother passes away, Plum and her three remaining brothers (Sandy died of cancer in 1992 at the age of 42) are faced with the prospect of settling the estate. Two of her brothers live out of town and they all decide that the best way to deal with the situation is to divvy up the jobs. Chris looks after hiring some painters to refresh the exterior of the house, Robin agrees to catalogue the vast number of books, some, very old first editions. Victor deals with the finances and Plum is asked, and agrees, to move into the house for 6 weeks in order to organize, and have evaluated, all the furnishings to get them ready for dispersal among family members and ultimately to prepare the property for the real estate market.

As you can imagine, an old house with 23 rooms and the legacy of a large family living there, to say nothing of the families that preceded them in this same house, has a great deal of clutter. Closets overflow and memories overwhelm. 6 weeks becomes more than a year throughout which, Johnson carefully deals with the detritus of the house and the memories therein.

Family stories abound in this wonderful memoir. Johnson's parents both have fascinating back stories which influence the way they raise their children and the siblings all have childhood memories that influence their present lives. It all comes together in this account.

 Most of us have dealt, or will, at some point, deal with elderly parents and having to empty out a home. It's not fun to think about, a task most of us dread. Johnson's account of her own experience touches the reader deeply and though our own experiences will all be different, hopefully when it's our turn, we will remember that we are not alone. And hopefully we will get through it with as much dignity, love and humour as the Johnson family.

Award-Winning Book!

I almost forgot the most important thing about They Left Us Everything. It is the winner of the 2015 RBC Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction! Above is Plum Johnson, on the left, receiving the award from Noreen Taylor, founder of the Prize on March 2. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Wisdom of Donkeys

After my newly-found interest in donkeys (Donkey Business and A Few More Donkeys)
whoever would have thought I would find a book called The Wisdom of Donkeys! At the local library! How amazing is that? I love serendipity.

Written in 2008, Andy Merrifield, who is, according to Wikipedia, a British Marxist urban theorist with other more scholarly tomes under his belt, based this philosophical reflection on his walk though the Haute-Auvergne of France in partnership with Gribouille, a friend's donkey who carries his pack on the dusty mountain pathways.

In tending to Gribouille's needs and observing his behaviour, Merrifield learns to become more observant of his surroundings, less concerned about that which is outside of the present moment and he comes to understand the simple life and inherent wisdom of his donkey.

A pre-walk visit to the The Donkey Sanctuary in Sidmouth, Devon, England has prepared Merrifield well for spending days on end with his donkey. The account of his journey, slow and plodding, at the leisurely pace of Gribouille, helps us too to remember to take the time to notice the small details and little surprises along the ways of our own journeys.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Fixing Over-Whipped Cream

Here's a valuable kitchen hint. Just remember to save a little heavy cream when you are making whipped cream so you can use it to recover.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Happy Pi Day


As you likely remember, there are an infinite number of digits to the right of the decimal point of Pi. In this composition the first 140 of them have been used in sequence.

Another fact that came to my attention is that Pi Day 2015 is special. At 9:26:54 both am and pm.

Because Pi = 3.1415926536.....

Do you want to enjoy a special piece of pie this year? Here's Smitten Kitchen's Pi Day offering: Black Bottom Oatmeal Pie (If only I could make pie crust. I'm the world's worst pie crust maker!)

black bottom oatmeal pie

Deb Perelman's yummy concoction of oatmeal and chocolate. Like a butter tart or pecan pie, only better. Click on Black Bottom Oatmeal Pie for the recipe. Follow the Smitten Kitchen blog for more yummy recipes.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Magic of Owls

You've probably heard that owls are the silent predator. Here are a couple of short videos that explain why.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Sleeping Children Around the World

There are many good charities to consider. Here is one that I'm especially fond of.

Sleeping Children Around the World
is one of the greatest charities based in Canada. Founded by Dr. Murray and Margaret Dryden (parents of the hockey-playing Drydens) more than 40 years ago, the charity, through donations, provides bedkits to children of any race or religion in underdeveloped or developing countries around the world.

No portion of a bedkit donation is used for administration. When you donate $35 for a bedkit, 100% of that donation pays for a bedkit containing a mat or mattress, pillow, sheet, blanket, mosquito net where needed, clothing and school supplies. Contents of the bedkit vary per country and are purchased within that country to help boost the local economy.

Canadian volunteers, paying their own ways, travel to the country to facilitate distribution of the bedkits. and a photograph of each child with a bedkit is mailed to the donor.

This new 3 minute promotional video is short but inspiring.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Frozen Hair Contest

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This is an activity for a hot tub, for sure. Or, even better, a hot spring. In the Yukon. And only if you're a bit crazy and possibly inebriated. 

In Whitehorse, Yukon, there is an interesting and popular resort, the Takhini Hot Springs. The actual hot springs, in operation for more than 100 years, are a comfortable 40C and at night, a wonderful place to view the northern lights. The resort offers a variety of year-round activities.

Takhini Hot Springs' 2015 International Hair Freezing Contest in Whitehorse, Yukon

Who wouldn't want to spend time here!

Every February Takhini Hot Springs has a Hair Freezing Contest, open to anybody who wants to expose their hair to -30C for a few minutes. Participants post pictures on the Takhini Springs Facebook Page, then at the end of the month, a winner is chosen and awarded $150.00 The pictures, all great, are used for marketing purposes.

The winning photo of three brave contestants from France, is at the top of this page. Here's a video about it.

Here are a few more photos:

Takhini Hot Springs' 2015 International Hair Freezing Contest in Whitehorse, Yukon

Takhini Hot Springs' 2015 International Hair Freezing Contest in Whitehorse, Yukon

Takhini Hot Springs' 2015 International Hair Freezing Contest in Whitehorse, Yukon

Takhini Hot Springs' 2015 International Hair Freezing Contest in Whitehorse, Yukon


Thursday, March 5, 2015

A Week in Winter

People sometimes ask me what I've been doing. It's winter, it's cold and I'm not getting out much. But I am keeping busy. Here's one project I've been working on over the last week.

A couple years ago, when we had the bedrooms painted (and yes. you're not mistaken - that is an electric apple green: smile), I bought a light fixture for the second bedroom. It was perfect: a pleasing shape, uncomplicated and inexpensive: plastic wrapped around a globe-shaped wire frame.

Unfortunately, the plastic started to give way, possibly helped along by feisty grand-kids using it as target practice tossing stuffed animals, but probably it would have disintegrated anyway since it was so cheap. For a while it was just ripped and hardly noticeable, but lately the plastic started to really come apart and when it started to look like the fixture was going through a time-lapse explosion, it was clear that I had to either fix or replace it.

Of course I opted for fixing and if that didn't work then I'd go out to find something else (a new light fixture, I mean).

After dismantling the fixture from the ceiling (full disclosure: Dad did that), I removed all the plastic wrapped around the globe to expose its full naked beauty.

Deciding that plastic had no future in this project, I had to guess at how much fabric to buy. I estimated a metre, then upped it to 2 metres, just to be safe and then when I was standing in front of the cutting table at the fabric store, my mouth said, " Three metres, please" !

That was an entirely fortunate misspeak because this was not the quick and easy fix I originally thought it would be. It was both time- and material-consuming!

First I had to cut some strips off the length of the extremely slippery sheer fabric I chose. Then each strip had to be folded so that the rough edges were inside and ironed flat.

Then it was a matter of winding the prepared strips around the frame. They had to be overlapped closely together at the top so as to leave no gaps in the middle. The 3-metre strips I had prepared were quickly used up and more were needed. Of course, each new strip had to be joined to the last one. (In case you're interested, I sewed them on the bias,but neglected to take a photo)

I glued the strips top and bottom to prevent slipping.

The whole project was extremely tedious. I could only work on it for a short time before needing to do something more interesting. It just wasn't fun wrestling those long strips into the folded pieces that were needed. I was lucky to have the luxury of time. Today, 6 days later, the project was finished - yaaay!

There was a bit of fabric left at the end, but I'm sure I used more than 2 metres and I think it was good to have longer strips and fewer joins. One of the annoying downsides of the project was the clean-up. Every time I worked on it, I came away covered with small threads cast off by the rough edges. The floor and table and inside of my sewing machine were littered. Thank heavens the vacuum cleaner made short work of it today.

On another subject altogether, 

I have been following the debate about the new sex ed. curricula in Ontario schools. There are two curricula: one for primary grades, the other for high school. Before last week the sex ed. curriculum being used dated from 1998 and it was time to bring it in line with today's realities, namely, kids reaching sexual maturity earlier than ever, changing lifestyles and internet and texting pitfalls. The Ontario Government believes that forewarned is forearmed, but there are certainly a lot of parents out there who disagree and have many concerns, especially parents of younger children. In fact, when the last Liberal Government (Dalton McGuinty) tried to introduce an updated sex ed. program in the schools in 2010, the agitated parents were so noisy and raucous that the government backed down. This time, in spite of energetic opposition, the change is going forward.

Catherine Porter, a Toronto Star journalist and mom of two primary-age kids, wrote a column on Feb. 24 that I wish I could reproduce (hee hee) here. Have you ever looked at a child's report card and wondered at the comments made by the teacher? What on earth is she/he saying about the child? Porter gives quite a few hilarious examples of this non-speak that Ontario teachers are required to use in their report card communications to the parents. Possibly they want the parents but not the kids to understand? Who knows! Possibly nobody understands, especially not immigrant parents whose English is still new to them.

At the end of her column, Porter says, "It all makes me wonder: If teachers can't find the courage and words to tell parents how their kids are really doing in school, however will they teach Grade 7 students about **** and **** sex.

I encourage you to read the article for yourself, especially if you have kids in the Ontario school system. Click HERE for the link.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

A Few More Donkeys

After last week's post about Donkey Sanctuaries, I just can't resist a few more photos of these beauties.

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Some of the older/recovering donkeys require medicine and it can be a chore to get their compliance, so the smart folks at the Sanctuary whip up some donkey sandwich treats to hold the required dosage.
Ginger biscuits (top right) for the donkeys who turn noses up at sandwiches and hold out for something better.

Above is Spice. When Spice was rescued in Cornwall about 1 year ago she looked like this:

Spice rescued in Cornwall

She was weak from starvation and had sores all over her body. Her hooves had not been trimmed in so long, she could barely walk. The story about her rescue and recovery is told in three installments, starting here. Click through on the links provided for the other two installments.

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