Saturday, 31 January 2015

Just Ten Minutes

I have enrolled in a course about end of life issues. This is good, but it involves homework. Groan.

Our instructor, however, is a great motivator. And she’s smart. She gave us each a little card which reads, “Can I do this for 10 minutes?” which we are supposed to attach to our workbook.

The theory is, we’re to look at the card and even though we aren’t too excited about doing homework, we tell ourselves we’ll just do ten minutes worth. Surely we can devote 10 minutes of energy to deal with issues of eternity and beyond. 

You can do a lot in ten minutes. Just to satisfy my curiosity, and also for your edification, I decided to take ten minutes to Google what you might be able to do in ten minutes. (For your part, can you spend just 10 minutes reading this info?)

In just 10 minutes a day, your face can look 20 years younger if you use Eva Fraser’s facial exercises. Look at this woman: born in 1928! Can you believe it? I too could look 20 years younger by following her example. The fine print, however, says results will be seen after about 6 months of regular practices, each of which is preceded by warm-ups. That’s a lot of effort I would need to put in so people will think I’m 46. And that’s only my face, mind you. What about the rest of the bod? A 46 year old face on a 66 year old body? No thanks.

Hula-hooping for just ten minutes a day – 5 in the morning, and 5 at night, will shave 2 inches off your waist in just 5 days, says Kelly Osbourne of E! fame. Hmm. If you start with a 26 inch waist (ha ha), and lose 2 inches every 5 days, how long would it take you to disappear altogether? Sounds like math, and it will take me longer than 10 minutes to solve that problem.

On one business website, a keener wanting to get ahead of the crowd asked, “What can I learn in just 10 minutes?” The best answer: “You can learn that you can learn something in ten minutes. Twenty minutes later, you will learn that you just learned that you can learn something in ten minutes. Thirty minutes later...”

“There are just 7 steps to making your own ice cream, and seriously, it only takes ten minutes,” says one website. I stopped reading. If I made ice cream, I’d need to take up the hula-hoop, too, which means 20 minutes of my day would be spoken for. Actually more, since I’d need to take the time to eat the ice cream. I’m sure I could eat lots in ten minutes.

Then there’s how to completely relax in just ten minutes: a meditation exercise. I can’t tell whether it works, however. If I had done this exercise I would not be able to finish this blog.

And just how many hot dogs (including the buns) could you eat in 10 minutes? Sixty-eight if you are competetive eater Joey Chestnut.  And just  how long would that take to work off, afterwards? Well, a hot dog is 450 calories, and 10 minutes of working at the computer, which is what I’m doing now, only burns 17 calories. You do the math. It may take you longer than 10 minutes.

As must be becoming clear to you, it took me way longer than 10 minutes to assemble this information. One thing leads to another, and before you know it, 10 minutes has become 45 minutes.

It took me a little while longer than 10 minutes to figure out that our instructor had tricked us. Each “just 10 minute” session has stretched out way past that, of course. Still, it’s a good trick, and helpful.

For instance, I had a project that I’d been avoiding: making a lap quilt out of my brother-in-law’s shirts. I promised his widow, my sister-in-law, that I’d do that, but I was avoiding it because I didn’t like the shirts, the colours, the smell of them...but with the “Just 10 Minutes” principle in mind, I pulled the box out of the closet. Surely, I could spend just ten minutes cutting them apart and getting started.

And then another ten minutes cutting them into strips. And another ten minutes sewing them into squares. The ten minute increments stretched, but it was no longer a project I avoided.

So I’ll say, “Thanks for the tip, teacher. At least I got my homework done.”  In just ten minutes... and then some.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Join the Club

I don’t think of myself as “old woman” much, even though I am. I have blogged about the aging process, and I’ve accepted this reality. That’s a big step. But another step might be, how do we who are older present ourselves to the world?

Check the thesaurus, and you will find a host of titles for old women: dame, matron, old bag, queen bee, granny, biddy, old bat, old girl, dearie, old trout, dowager, matriarch, hag, crone... (If you’re a male reader –  I know I have a few – there are titles for old guys, too: veteran, relic, old poop, old fart, codger, duffer, geezer, gaffer, old goat, old timer, back number, old fogy, fuddy duddy...) Listing them like that, it makes me think they’d be great in a chorus of a song.  Stompin Tom would have a field day...and if you remember him, then yes, you are probably one of “those”. But I don’t much like any of those titles. This is not how I view myself. Old women should just wear beige and shut up? I think not!

I was thinking about this because I’d been invited (again) to celebrate a milestone birthday with a friend by going out for lunch. Yes, seems to be happening with some frequency. Hanging out publicly with grey-haired friends over lunch  probably reinforces the common stereotype of older women gossiping away the hours, putting in time till the hands wind down. The blue rinse set, taking up valuable table space, moving seamlessly on from lunch to afternoon tea, giggling hilariously over ... well what on earth do the old dears have to laugh about, anyway? Oh, if only they knew!

So I looked for a card for my friend. This is what I found:

The Resident Sweetie, seeing this picture, asked, "Holy Crow, is that what you call a murder?"
"Voices of the Southwest" photography by Elzbieta Kaleta

That card inspired me. Four crows having fun/ four friends having lunch – there was a certain symmetry to the two.  I decided right then and there to form an Old Crows Club.  Oh, I had fun in the studio that week, creating personalized membership cards that reflected the personalities and interests of my Old Crow Club Charter members.

The back side of the card identifies the bearer as a member of the Old Crows Club, entitled to all the benefits thereof, namely wisdom, friendship, laughter, respect and support.
Fun, yes, but it was serious fun. Being an Old Crow is, I decided, a much better and more honorable title than any of those I’ve listed above. Think of the characteristics of old crows:

Old crows are wise crows (at least most of them are.) They have lived long, and they know much. They pass their wisdom on to younger crows, and because they do, the crow family thrives.

Old crows are adaptable. They have seen change coming, and their motto has been: Adapt or Disappear. They have survived because they have been flexible and have not been afraid.

Old crows are beautiful. No matter how old they are, their feathers still have an irridescent sheen and their eyes a bright shine that marks them as ageless.

Old crows are valuable members of society. They teach youngsters, they clean up garbage, they shout out warnings, and they protect the vulnerable.

Old crows are intelligent. They solve problems, and use the tools that are at hand to achieve their purposes. They are able to take small steps in order to achieve a larger goal.

Old crows dare. They can be fearless and audacious when they need to be. If you see a mad old crow, you’d better run!

Old crows are social. They belong to a group and enjoy hanging out with them. They are not afraid of being alone, but they know that there is strength and support to be had in a circle of crows.

Old crows like to play. They’re never too old to swing from a branch, take a sunbath, tweak a dog’s tail, play hide and seek, or canoodle with a partner.

Many people fear old crows, thinking of them as harbingers of death. Old crows know that death is part of the life circle. They make their peace with it. They love life, and they mean to live, and live well, until they die.

Young crows have many of these characteristics, it’s true – and there are many younger folk who are honorary old crows. But old crows have had the traits for longer, and have achieved mastery of many skills that young crows still need to learn. Old crows are happy to contribute to this learning. They know that what’s good for the young will be good for the old, as well. Old crows are vital to the well-being of the crow world.

The Old Crows Club: it’s quite a club. Old Crows can hold their heads up high and look the rest of the flock straight in the eye. If you belong, caw it to the world.  Wanna join? You’re welcome!

Our motto: Look 'em in the eye and stand proud! (and don't forget to laugh a lot.)

Saturday, 10 January 2015

No Resolutions

This year, I am not making resolutions.

Instead, I’m making predictions. I will have the comfort of knowing that my predictions are much more likely to come true than any resolutions I might make. So here they are:

1. I predict that this is the year that I finally get a hearing aid. It’s not nice for my friends and family to have to repeat everything two or three times before my face lights up in understanding. I must say this, though: they shouldn’t be speaking so softly, or at such a high pitch, and they should never mumble. I don’t know why this is so difficult for them, but they don’t seem to be able to change. So I will have to accommodate them and be the change I want to see.

Something to look forward to? There are actually a huge amount of cartoons on the subject of hearing aids. This was one of the tamer ones.

2. This is the year I will be doing battle with my girth. Several years ago, I lost 30 pounds and it stayed off. But about a month ago I stepped on the scales and noticed just the teeniest, weeniest upward creep. I have not stepped on the scale again. Who wants to do that at Christmas time, anyway? But now it’s a new year. My prediction is that when I next step on the scale, the upward creep will have taken bolder, bigger steps. Sigh. I will make no predictions as to who will win this battle, me or my girth. But I will give it my best shot. Yes!

3. This is an easy one, like shooting fish in a barrel: I will start projects that never get finished. In defense of myself, this is not a unique problem amongst creative people. The most creative people I know are the ones who aren’t afraid to step up to the plate to act on a new idea. If it doesn’t work out, well, so what? You can’t go wrong with new ideas: either you create something unique, or you learn something about yourself and your abilities. So bring it on!

4. The Resident Sweetie and I will have differences of opinion, and no matter how much we resolve that we will do better the next time some controversial – or should I say adversarial? – subject arises, we probably won’t. We will huff and puff and steam silently, we’ll have imaginary conversations in our heads that always leave ourselves as the winners of the debate, we’ll stomp around for a while, and then we’ll make up. That’s life. Well, anyway, that’s our life. I hear some people have serene relationships that purr along like a well-oiled motor.  Our marital engine has been known to backfire and blow a gasket, but it’s a well-loved engine and we’re quite fond of its idiosyncracies. We’ll keep it.

5. The house will always need cleaning before company comes. Always.

6. I will have library fines to pay. The RS will say to me, “The Library called. They want their pound of flesh.” (If only I could pay my fines with a pound of flesh ... but no, it's money they want.) I will pay them, gladly. It is the price of having a wonderful world of wonder at my fingertips.  And speaking of books, I predict that many, many times this year, I will start a good book, and stay up till way past my bedtime because I need to find out what happened. This is even though I know how it ends, because I couldn’t resist peeking. Gasp! Yes, I’m one of those horrible people who often checks out the ending half-way through. And no, it doesn’t spoil the book for me at all. Honest.

Current reads. Guess where we hope to go this summer? Holland ... and France.

7. Tough but true: I will make many mistakes, mess up, do things and say things I shouldn’t have, and not do things that I should have done. That’s the bad news. The good news is that there is forgiveness: divine forgiveness, self-forgiveness, and forgiveness from the injured party. I love that, and I love the relief that it brings.

8. I predict that I will hear the angels sing. Meredith at Fabricland told me that if I bought a certain pair of very expensive scissors, I would hear the angels sing when I used them. So I did (with the gift certificate the RS thoughtfully and obediently gave me for Christmas), and she’s right. I heard the Hallelujah chorus loud and clear. I predict I’ll hear the angels sing lots this year.

New scissors and new project. What more could I want? (Hearing aids? Don't need them to hear the angels sing! )

9. I predict that life will be a fine balancing act between good times and dull, between hard work and blessed rest, between solitude and companionship, between illness and health, between joy and sorrow, and so much more. That’s life, in all its glory. And as the “auld Scots” at church remind me, “Och, aye, dearie, we’re still on the richt side of the sod, so there’s no need to blubber.” (Make sure you gargle the “ch” sounds and roll your rrrrrs when you read that.)

10. And because we can predict all we want, but only Who knows what will happen, I predict that often I -- and you, too -- will be surprised by the unexpected. (Maybe I'll step on the scale, and my girth will be no girthier. Maybe you'll drop in unexpectedly and our house will be clean ... enough. Maybe after I take the hearing test, they'll say, "Nope! You don't need hearing aids." Hee-hee!) 

I'm hoping your year -- and mine too -- will be full of delightful surprises.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Here's Wishing you the Fat of the Land

I’ve been blogging now for 18 months, and have never posted a recipe. Never. Some of you may be thankful for that. If so, I’m warning you now: this post ends with a recipe.

This blog is not about cooking. But when I posted a picture on Facebook of my gluten-free oliebollen, a Dutch New Year’s traditional food,  I got a ton of requests for the recipe – well, okay, three or four, but that’s a lot, for me. Apparently, some of you are more interested in gluten-free recipes than in crows. Who knew?

The whole subject of food and New Year’s Eve traditions is fascinating. Check out this link, published by NPR, and you’ll find that traditional food for the year’s changeover range from lentils to pig trotters stuffed with sausage. The foods are often symbolic: round things like lentils, raisins, and beans symbolize coins and wealth, the fat speaks of an abundant life, and other foods betoken good health and good luck.

Traditional Italian New Year's Eve dinner. (Photo: Arcangelo Clemente, iStockphoto)

And then there are oliebollen. Literally translated, the word means Oil Buns. They are a sort of fritter studded with raisins, currants and apples, deep-fried like a donut. Growing up in a Dutch immigrant community, my childhood memories of New Year’s Eve are sitting in church with my family. The scent of incense that surrounded us was the distinctive smell of deep-fat frying. We could hardly wait for the service to be over so we could dig in to the goodies waiting at home. Eat too many of them, and yes, they live up to their name: you will have "fat buns."

This year, for the first year in our memory, all our grown kids, plus the 6 grandchildren, were going to be here for New Year’s Eve, and it was time to introduce the non-Dutch in-laws to this delicacy. Better than dried salted cod boiled with kale, don’t you think?

The problem, however, is that some of us are GF: gluten-free. What to do? We had my mom’s recipe for oliebollen, similar to many which you can find on the internet if you google “oliebollen.” Sons #1 and #3 began stirring up Oma’s recipe, while I opened up my favorite GF recipe book, Sweet Surprise, locally published. With a few changes, perhaps the focaccia bread recipe would do. And if it didn’t, well, who needed all those extra calories, anyway? But it worked! And a great time was had by all, as we ushered in the New Year while gobbling down oliebollen dipped in icing sugar, licking off our greasy fingers afterwards. While they’re best fresh from the fryer, oliebollen are good warmed up for breakfast on New Year’s Day, and then as a snack with the morning coffee, and if there are still some left over, a nibble to accompany afternoon tea. In the Bible it says “Weeping will last for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” Our family’s new motto is,  “Feasting will last for a night, but fasting will wait till morning – or maybe next week.”

Our Dutch-rooted daughter-in-law says that in her family, the women mixed the dough and the men did the frying. In our house, the sons did both. So traditions, as well as recipes, change, but the sentiment is the same: good food eaten together with people you love is a great way to start a year.  Happy New Year to all of you!

Sons #1 and 3 frying oliebollen at their dad's workbench in the garage.

Waiting for the countdown to midnight to begin...

If you’d like to try making oliebollen, here’s what you do:

First, make a gluten-free flour mix of equal parts tapioca starch, potato starch, white rice flour, brown rice flour, and sorghum flour. This is a basic mix I always have on hand for recipes that call for flour, and it’s the one recommended by Sweet Surprise. You may have your own GF mix, and you can try making oliebollen with that. No guarantees, though.

The dough is as follows:
Proof the yeast by stirring 1 tbsp. Yeast into  ½ cup warm water and 2 tsp. Sugar. While it is dissolving, stir together

3 cups gf flour
2 tsp. gelatin (e.g. Knox unflavoured gelatin)
1 tbsp. Xanthan gum
1 ½ tsp. Salt
1/3  cup sugar

In a 2nd large bowl, beat together 1 cup very warm water, 1/4 cup olive oil, 2 tsp. Cider vinegar, and 4 eggs. Now add the dry ingredients and the yeast mixture and beat well for five minutes.

Lastly add about 2 cups of mixed goodies, like raisins, dried currants, dried cranberries, and finely diced peeled apples to the dough, stirring to distribute evenly. Let rise for about an hour, then drop by heaping tablespoons into oil heated to 355 degrees in a deep fat fryer. When they're nicely browned all around, lay them on a paper towel, then eat while still warm. If you wish to prevent your house from smelling like a french fry factory, do this in the garage or outside. (Makes several dozen.)

If you’re interested in more GF goodies, you can’t go wrong with the Sweet Surprise bakery here in Courtenay, or buy the recipe book. You can find it at