Collecting Stories

I’m in the middle of a 14 day work shift.  I’m having the kind of month that I just know I won’t survive without my daily attitude adjustment, double shots of Emergen-C and quick intervals of yoga stretches (if I drank coffee I’d be on a caffeine drip).

I had to participate in a 4 day trade show and if you’ve ever exhibited at one of these long 12 hour day trade shows you have an idea of how I’m feeling.  Knackered.

Of course my way of getting through any event or function is to connect with people because not only do I like people but I also like their stories.  Stories energize me.

How do you stay energized in stressful situations?  

photo 1 (1)

I have never had a problem with getting people to tell me their stories.  Of course whether their stories are true or false I wouldn’t know and I’m not sure it actually matters.  I don’t intend to write biographies but I do intend to steal elements of their stories.

Does that make me a bad person? :D

Which makes me wonder.  What is the purpose or intention behind the story-writing?  Do we write because we are collectors and memory-keepers or futurists and mirrors?  Perhaps, all of these?

Over the course of the last few days I have met a man who survived a grizzly bear attack and wears a bear claw to prove it; another man whose father saved a few hundred Polish Jews from Hitler’s invading army (in such an ingenious manner that I can’t believe more decent people didn’t think of it); a young woman who raised all five of her younger siblings on her own and a man who while out hunting for deer was himself hunted by a pack of wolves.

You can imagine how all this has the writer in me buzzing with excitement.  I can’t wait to get a day or two off so I can start planning another batch of short stories despite having to work on two others that require extensive ‘tweaking’.

How do stories wing their way to you?

As if…And Thoughts On Thanksgiving

It’s Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada and I am looking forward to many things not least the feast that I am to prepare (because no one else volunteered).  This year will be the first time – ever – that I’ll be attempting apple pie. So if you have any advice or tips (like which are the best apples for pie?) please leave me a comment.  Much appreciated :-)

via Penguin Books

Image: Penguin Canada

It will also be the first year we’ll be celebrating without the Mr.  because he’s away on business. It is also why there will be apple pie – Mr. hates apple pie as much as he does anything with coconut which is to say he hates it  A Lot.  He doesn’t even believe in using it as a beauty aid which is a pity really, I love coconut.

So anyway, the boys and I have decided we will end up celebrating again in November with our American neighbours.  I have no complaints.  Life is always cause for celebration.

Our family has been celebrating Thanksgiving for eleven years now despite only living in Canada for seven years.  We started celebrating in South Africa before we knew we had been accepted into Canada and I think this act of faith or practical magic definitely helped pave the way to our new home.    I am a firm believer in ‘acting as if…’  are you?

Of course what made this extra special and powerful is that we started giving thanks BEFORE we got what we wanted.  That’s the secret you see, give thanks not only for what you have (and we all have a lot – don’t believe me? use the bathroom or open a tap) but also give thanks for what you hope to attain as if you have already received it.

We went to a whole lot of trouble to find a turkey in South Africa in November (we didn’t realize Canadians celebrate in October).  We went to various (very expensive) speciality stores and got presented with game meat like grouse, quail and the obligatory South African ostrich but no turkey.  We drove out of the city and into the smaller towns and asked around and found butchers (and farm hands) selling crocodile and wildebeest, which the Mr insisted on sampling.  I tried the crocodile and I’d like to say it tasted like chicken but really it tasted of silt and muddy banks.

We found a turkey in the most unlikely of places.  Or maybe it was likely but we were nevertheless pleasantly surprised. When venturing far and beyond city limits we always stopped at our favourite ‘country restaurant’ for brunch or dinner or anything in between.  That day, we chose a table by the window with a view of the duck pond and the rolling green mountains and – yes you guessed it! – spotted a gobble of turkeys.

The Mr wasted no time in ordering one to the waiter’s amazement.   I hate to think we claimed for ourselves one of those tame ‘petting zoo’ types though I have a hard time imagining a turkey subjecting itself to a few childish pats on the head.

A lot has changed since then.   We noticed when we visited South Africa last year that turkey is sold in most stores.  In fact I got the distinct impression that more people were celebrating their own version of Thanksgiving which makes my heart smile.

To my Canadian friends Happy Thanksgiving! and if you live in a country where they don’t recognize Thanksgiving as a holiday don’t let that stop you from celebrating the harvest and the many blessings in your life <3

The Visitor – A Poem

It’s her breasts and not so much her eyes that draw him in

though if he were a better man  – he reasons -

he would lose himself in those shimmery amber orbs

and not linger on those pale rising breasts

or the autumnal hair

cascading over her left shoulder like a living thing

a possessive sable coveting one perfect pink nipple.

She looks peaceful almost content in that thick skirted

aubergine dress.

She reminds him of an exotic flower – resplendent -

on a hard chair the colour of walnuts.

A warm light lingers in the background

a little fogged but nevertheless encompassing.

He knows little if anything about her

although it is said, she was the artist’s first wife

taken by a plague before reaching adulthood.

He’ll keep returning until he feels he sees her

but in truth she is hiding in that ambient room

under layers of pigment.

Trail Magic

This past weekend the Mr and I went adventuring in new terrain.  Mt Seymour is covered in forest and has as many as forty trails that are popular all year round.

Once you reach the top you find yourself gazing on the magnificent Mt Baker in Washington State.  My cellphone camera did not do it justice but I wanted to share something of the view with you.  I hope you like it as much as I do :-)

Mt Baker

We reached the top via a series of dedicated and winding trails and if you’re ever in this part of the world I highly recommend you visit the North Shore mountains which are part of the Cascades Range.   We weren’t long on Old Buck trail when we came across scraps of cloth tied to a single tree trunk.  What made this particularly interesting was that this ‘marker’ (if indeed it is a marker) is bright and colourful.  There is purple, red and white cloth and for some reason I felt that it was somehow symbolic but of what?  Did it have something to do with tree identification? or did someone fall here or worse?

Mr. was having none of my ‘theorizing’ and so I wasn’t allowed to linger but no worries…I know why I walk in the woods.  It’s for the vital stimulation of my imaginative membrane and not as the Mr. says for ‘peace and quiet’.

A little further along I spotted a purple cloak hanging from a low branch of a tree a short distance from the trail.  It was hanging in such a way that if you are not observant as opposed to attentive you would have walked past it with nary a care. This purple cloak is like one of those velvety cloaks worn by magicians or wizards or deathly-afraid-of-the-cold unicorns. Yes, I know.  You’re thinking I am making this up.  I’m not.  if you haven’t already, read earlier posts to see how I am confronted with intrigue at almost every turn.

I want to add here that I despise litterbugs and that for the most part hikers in our part of the world are decent human beings with a respect for the environment, so it probably goes without saying that I don’t like finding items of clothing (or condoms and beer cans).

Pointing to the tree from which hung The Offending Article, I asked the Mr if he thought Harry Potter was visiting.

“What?”

“Harry Potter? There’s a cape hanging from that tree.” I said pointing.

On seeing the cape Mr. shook his head.

‘Let’s keep moving.”

“Why? you scared of magic?” I think I pulled one of those ‘you’re- a- scaredy-cat – and- I’m -going-to-blog-about-it’ faces.

Mr felt the need to remind that he has ‘years’ of military experience.  Something about ‘reconnaissance’ experience in the field.

“Yeah.  Whatever.  I’m going to look at the cape.”  Off I trudged.

The cloak looks new and clean and is a mystery as is the circle of painted rocks (purple, yellow, red, blue) a few metres from the cloak.   I did take my cellphone out to take a picture but something stopped me.  Was it fear of reprisal from the faeries or a circle of wizards?

“Teenagers.”

When faced with the unknown or the inscrutable and confusing Mr. sums it up to ‘the work of teenagers’.

‘Teenagers, then.” I said, leaving the mystery behind me.creek

Do you have a theory?  I would love to hear from you.

A Not-So-Chewy Tale or Two

When my eldest son was a toddler he had a habit of inhaling critters and swallowing food, so I became an expert at the Heimlich maneuver.  I must have saved his life maybe, seven or eight times.  Once at a birthday party he slid a hotdog down his throat and of course it got stuck.   As every parent knows you can’t keep a beady eye on your children All The Time – it’s just not possible.  You try of course and risk being called a ‘mother hen’ or worse, ‘clingy’ and ‘obsessive’.    That particular day he ran towards me with his mouth open and his eyes wide and I just knew he had done it again.  So I swung him up and turned him face down (that is how you do the heimlich on babies and small children – you don’t crush their ribcages) and slapped his back until the hotdog popped out.  You would think he learned his lesson after that.  Not so.  In fact it got so bad I didn’t cook a sausage or wiener again until he was in middle school (and I still didn’t trust he would actually chew it).

670px-Make-Chewy-Chocolate-Chip-Cookies-Step-11image: wikihow chewy chocolate cookies

Another time I was in the kitchen preparing supper while he was supposed to be paging through his favourite picture book in the sitting room.  He has always been a very vocal child so hearing him sing or talk to himself (or his imaginary friends) while paging through his books was a sign of good behaviour :-)  but silence meant he was up to no good.  So when silence fell like a mantle I stopped what I was doing and caught him stuffing his nostrils with those tiny lead cartridges (or whatever they’re called) for clutch pencils.

I have been very open of the fact that as a child I used to eat well, anything that looked reasonably chewy and harmless.

I ate ants and mud and soapstone (very rich in magnesium by the way) and grass (yum!) and I know this is going to turn your stomach but you may as well know, I ate a couple of garden snails.  My sister and I boiled them first of course.  They were terrible. But we ate them.  We also ate a lot of other ordinary stuff of course.  Like our unfriendly neighbour’s peaches.

The thing is I think I was born with a problem. And my eldest son somehow inherited it.  When I was two I ate three nails.

My grandfather was a carpenter and had one day inadvertently left out a couple of nails on the table in the sunroom where I spent most of my time with my grandmother while my mother was at work.   I never got the answer to the question ‘how did you know I swallowed those nails? did you see me do it?’ but I am glad my gran somehow figured out I had.  I was rushed to hospital in an ambulance with a rosary around my neck and my gran kneeling beside me.

The remarkable thing (my gran called it a miracle, I call it faith) is I didn’t need surgery and the nails ‘passed’ through me without any internal damage.  A year later I went on to swallow a handful of headache tablets (paracetamol) that I discovered in one of my mother’s bedroom drawers.  I had to have my stomach pumped.

Were you a curious and ‘terrible’ toddler? 

Summer Spotlight: Yolanda McAdam

Yolanda M.:

I was absolutely delighted to be included in Jill Weatherholt’s awesome Spotlight Series. Here is a little more about myself and my answers to 5 of Jill’s great questions.

Originally posted on Jill Weatherholt:

I feel very privileged indeed to be part of Jill’s wonderful Summer Spotlight Series! I have enjoyed getting to know you all.

Ok so a little about me…

Hi I’m Yolanda and I was born and raised in South Africa to Portuguese immigrants. My parents’ marriage was spectacularly unsuccessful (no adjective can truly describe how awful it was). One of my earliest memories is of my dad arriving home from a night out on the town (he was a notorious gambler and womaniser) to a barrage of verbal insults and flying plates. The trouble you see is they were both far too young and too tempestuous for a serious commitment like marriage. When eventually they parted ways (in very dramatic fashion – locks changed, suitcases left outside, father hammering on windows, police intervention) my father moved to another city and my mother went on to live the life of a…

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A Great Gastronomical Mystery

I love cooking not only because I love food and could spend my days cow-like grazing on edibles but also because I love experimenting with flavour and fragrance.   A few years back I discovered there was something called fusion cuisine and I have been inspired by it ever since.  In fact I can’t remember the last time I made something clearly identifiable as ‘Italian’ or ‘Burmese’.  Neither can the Mr.  He says I’m ‘innovative’. Which doesn’t mean he doesn’t think I’m a great cook.   I make a mean roast lamb after all, inspired by Greek cuisine but mostly marinaded in Moroccan spices.

lamb

Source:  Wikipedia

So it probably goes without saying that I love the Food Network but sadly don’t get to watch it as much as I would like to, which brings me to this week’s topic:  Great Mysteries.

Now you’re probably wondering what has food got to do with the unravelling of deep existential questions like  ‘What is the meaning of life?’ or ‘What came first, the chicken or the egg?’

Probably nothing.  Maybe everything.  But because I’m shallow and pretentious I have never spent more than a nanosecond pondering those questions, instead I allow other mysteries like the one I am about to share with you to tumble about in the laundromat of my mind.

There is something called Peranakan cuisine.  Maybe you’ve been lucky enough to sample it on your adventures or in Indonesia.  Peranakan cuisine is the product of an intermarriage between Chinese, Malaysian and Indonesian cuisines and the basis of it usually contains ingredients like coconut milk and lemon grass.   There is a nut – much prized – in Indonesia called Buah keluak.  Should you stumble upon one on your wanderings through untamed regions of Indonesia you should not under any circumstances eat it.  It will kill you unless you boil it first and then bury it for 40 days under ash and soak it in water for three days to soften the shell before eating it.  Apparently it tastes like chocolate.

My question is this: who were those first men and/or women? 39 brave volunteers (whose names are not recorded on stone tablets; no statues built in their honour) that consumed this nut and died in order for future generations to consume this chocolatey delight?

Why oh why is there no honour roll for these gastronomic heroes?   I want to write songs about them.

Do you find yourself wondering how certain foods got on the menu?