Monday, January 30, 2012

Sculpture I Can Get Behind

Sculpture by Matteo Pugliese.

I would have this on my wall.

To see it, go here.

Die and Be Again

"As long as you are not aware of the continual law of
Die and Be Again,
you are merely a vague guest on a dark Earth."
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

First of all, a big thank you for all your kind wishes and heartfelt sympathy over the loss of our sweet, cantankerous, old Boris. I've had emails and letters and even lovely gifts of flowers, chocolates and cards dropped off at the house from friends who understand how devastated one can feel after the loss of a pet. Or as one of them reiterated, "love is love is love."

Thank you, one and all. It really did help. As did this...

Today, as I began my walk with Buddy and picked my way carefully over the rutted ice on the road, I chose to cross to a side street I don't use very often. But it was cold and a bit breezy, and this road was one of the few that was dry and clear of ice, so off we went in the sunshine. At the bottom of the street, we ran into Adrian The Farmer, just pulling into his driveway. He was Adrian who supplied me with the willow I used to build my large bent-willow chair, oh, probably a dozen or so years ago.

He is an odd fit in this suburban neighbourhood, being both a rustic, no-nonsense bachelor and a full-time farmer, albeit one who commutes to his job. With his long red beard, straggly hair and well used clothes, he looks like he might have just stepped out of an east coast fishing village after a long jaunt at sea.

His tiny bungalow is nestled defiantly between new mansions, which have slowly replaced all the tiny war widow cottages torn down with ruthless efficiency, many of which Adrian's grandfather built. I'm sure his hoity-toity new neighbours are not enamoured of Adrian's rustic shed leaning to one side, his many woodpiles or his pickup truck in the driveway, but I get a kick out of talking to him. He always has something interesting to say, and he's not shy about sharing an opinion or two.

It's been years since we've seen each other. Last time was when he stopped by the house with some fresh asparagus he'd grown at his farm. But Buddy bounded up to him as though it was yesterday.

As we chatted at the end of his driveway, our faces warmed by the sun on this bitter cold day, Adrian's cat sauntered down the driveway to greet us, unfazed by Buddy's jumping around. I stopped talking and stared.

There before me, was Boris's doppelganger, right down to the wide flat head, golden eyes and thick tail. And attitude, from the looks of him.

"Oh, that's Sparky," says Adrian. "I've had him for, oh, ten years or so. Someone abandoned him on the farm and I tried to give him away but after a week with him, well, that was that."

I handed Buddy's leash to Adrian so I could get closer.

"He won't go near you. He's pretty standoffish with folks he doesn't know."

I walked up to him anyway, and to Adrian's amazement and mine, Sparky came right up to me and wound himself in and around my legs, rubbing his head and his whole body against me as I stroked him and rubbed his neck, just as I used to do for Boris.

"Well, I've never seen him do that before. I guess he likes you."

I don't know if you had a moment today that made you feel warm right down to your toes, but I sure had one.

Thanks, Sparky. May you dream of sardines and gimpy mice tonight.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Build your own tardis.

Not sure what this says about me, but I love this video.

LOVE it.

If you have to ask what a tardis is, we can no longer be friends. Sorry.

thank you kc dyer for the link!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Alternatives to Toxic Cleaning Products

This is for you, gentle readers.

But mostly for me, so I can find this list again before it's lost to the internet ether.

A most excellent article on alternatives to some of the harsh, toxic cleaning products we've all grown accustomed to using in our homes. I've already swapped some of them for safer alternatives, for example, vinegar for cleaning windows and a bio laundry detergent I found that cleans better and actually smells nicer than my old brand.

Read more HERE.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Boris, R.I.P.

To many, he was just a cat. To most of my neighbours, he was a holy terror, but that was a bad rap mostly based on his tough guy name. Sure, he'd often sit on the window ledge across the street and taunt the two male cats trapped inside. They would hurl themselves at the glass in furious impotence while Boris licked his foot and yawned. He wasn't doing anything wrong because his cat logic dictated he owned that property long before they all moved in so in fact, they were the interlopers, not him. It was simple feline logic, as far as he was concerned. He was confused, almost offended, when the owner would emerge and throw buckets of water at him, but he learned to sidestep quickly. And it didn't stop him from doing it again and again, usually the minute she stepped back inside.

Another neighbour, a street gossip universally loathed for her no-holds-barred approach to spreading rumours, pulled me over one day and gravely reported that Boris hissed at her whenever she went up to him. I wanted to say "well, don't go up to him" but I nodded and tried, unsuccessfully, to stifle a smile. He was a cat with the gift of sentience and could see straight into people's souls, I reckoned.

I watched him move about the neighbourhood for years, and I know he was never the aggressor. Our little white cat Kicia, yes. She will take on animals several times her size, but not Boris. However, while he didn't actively seek out fights with other cats, he was stubborn in his refusal to back down when a fight presented itself.

As for humans, when Boris was outside, he pretty much ignored or hissed at you, depending on his mood. My next-door neighbour put it best; after she shooed him away from her porch, Boris turned as he sauntered away and gave her what she described as a "fuck you glance" over his shoulder. "That's exactly what it was, a giant 'fuck you' right to my face!" She laughed and added, "But I have to say, I really like the old bugger. He's got attitude, that one."

He was my boy, devoted, and deeply loved in return. And now he's gone. He lost weight for months, and in the past two weeks refused all food, even his favourites like raw salmon and roast chicken. Then he stopped drinking water, grew weak, and we knew it was time.

I miss him most in the evenings. During the day, he did his own thing, but at night he craved affection, purring loudly beside me while I read or watched TV. He was a solid cat in his day, huge, a mass of tightly wound muscle and soft fur with a thick tail the size of a stove pipe. He'd sit on my lap like a Buddha while I rubbed his belly, and tolerated the clipping of his claws without a struggle. When he slept it was deeply, usually sprawled on his back, back feet propped up on the back of a comfy chair, his front feet curled up like an otter's. He snored soft squeaks of pleasure, no doubt dreaming of bountiful fields of lame mice and hobbled squirrels.

When I came upstairs to bed, no matter what time it was, he'd bound up behind me, and enter the bathroom like royalty. He'd flop on the bathmat, always on that thin bathmat even when it was wet, I think because it held the whole family's scent. Sometimes I'd wiggle my finger underneath it and he'd get wild-eyed, then pounce. I could feel the strength in those massive paws, but he kept his claws withdrawn. Then he'd flop on one side as if saying, "I could kill you with one blow, but I won't. Because I love you. And I need you and your damned opposable thumbs to turn on the tap for me."

He'd wait until I was finished brushing my teeth then he'd jump up for a drink and watch the dripping water with the same fascination it has held for countless years. And every night, as I closed my bedroom door, he'd sprawl at the top of the stairs with a view to the front door, consumed with the very important job of guarding the family from intruders.

The hallway is empty now. And I feel it keenly.

Boris was a gentle lion. I know I shall miss him my whole life. The pain will get easier to bear, it always does, but for now my heart aches for my loss. Silly, to mourn so deeply for a cat so old his black coat was threaded with silver, and so slow and weak he sometimes leaned into a wall for support. I have close friends who have suffered worse, much worse, losing husbands and children, but they have written to say they understand, because they too know the exquisite pain of losing a cherished pet.

I am bereft. But I will endure.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Tomato Sauce To Ease My Heart's Pain

My old tomcat Boris is not well. It may indeed be his time and I'm so distraught I've been wandering around the house looking for ways to distract myself from what appears to be the inevitable.

I turn to comfort food in times like these. Not necessarily to eat, but I'll often cook just to keep myself occupied. The stirring and chopping are soothing, and whatever is cooking makes the house smell good. And so I have a pot of tomato sauce simmering on the stove destined for pasta or maybe some Shirataki noodles.

If you would like the recipe, it's one of the easiest pasta sauces to make and it's also the most delicious. If you've ever had a simple pasta pomodoro in a restaurant and you can't figure out what makes it so exquisitely toothsome, well the answer is butter. That, and a slow simmer, plus a dash of baking soda to cut the acidity. It's unbelievably good considering how simple it is. You could add some 35% cream and cooked shrimp if you wanted to go all out.

Best Tomato Sauce

1 28 oz (796ml) can whole tomatoes (use San Marzano if you can find them)
5 TBSP unsalted butter
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 whole yellow onion, peeled and cut in half
1 tsp dried basil
splash of white wine (optional)
salt to taste

Place all the ingredients in a wide saucepan and heat until it's just boiling and the butter is melted.

Cover, and turn down the sauce to a slow, steady simmer. Set the timer for 45 minutes.

When the timer goes, remove and discard the onion halves. Squish the whole tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon against the sides of the pan. Add salt to taste.

Serve over pasta with lots of grated parmesano-reggiano (not that pre-grated stuff that comes in a can. Buy yourself to a big wedge like they sell at Costco and you'll never go back to the cheap stuff.)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Oatmeal Scones

I used to make these quite often because they were a big hit with my kids. They're delicious warm from the oven with a bit of butter and cherry jam for breakfast, but more often than not I serve these alongside a good homemade soup.

I use organic rolled oats for these scones, but any old-fashioned, slow cook type oats will do.

(That being said, don't use steel cut oats unless you want to crack a tooth. Bad for you, good for my husband's business. Ditto eating sticky toffee when your mouth is full of old fillings, opening beer bottles with your molars, and playing hockey without a mouth guard, all of which we've seen. But I digress...)

Oatmeal Scones

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup rolled oats
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup cold butter (salted or unsalted)
3/4 cup buttermilk*

In large mixing bowl, combine flour, oats, baking soda, and salt. Cut in cold butter with a pastry blender until the butter is the size of peas. Stir in the buttermilk just until mixed. (You might need a tad more buttermilk if the mixture looks too dry to hold together.) Divide the dough in half. On a floured surface, pat into 2 circles 1/2 inch thick. Score into quarters. Place on parchment paper or a greased pan and bake at 400F for 12-15 minutes, or until they are lightly browned at the edges.

*If you don't have buttermilk you can sour milk but putting 1 tsp of vinegar or lemon juice in a measuring cup and then adding milk. Let sit for 10 minutes to sour. But really, buttermilk is the best because it adds so much flavour, so use it if you can.


Do you, gentle readers, want me to publish more recipes?

Often? Occasionally? Don't care either way?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Embrace Your Mistakes

Texas artist Qiang Huang writes a blog about painting. He paints every day and many of his paintings are experiments, since he sets about to test colours and values. Sometimes a painting will work, often it doesn't. He says of these so-called failures that that it isn't the painting that's not working, but the theory. "Having wrong theories is very common in research. That is why experiments are so important."

So instead of beating himself up about what isn't working, he looks at it this way.

"You should congratulate yourself if you see problems in your painting, because you have caught the problem, it is no longer hiding, so you are half way to success already."

The same could be said of your writing.

Or your relationships.

Actually, it's a good lesson for life.

Thus endeth the lesson.

I could expound.

But I'm going to make oatmeal scones and tea instead.

And there is nothing you can do to stop me.

Friday, January 13, 2012

An intriguing new fabric

For those of you who are constantly wondering "what can I possibly get Pam for her birthday?" have a gander at this.

It's a cloth cape, covered in embroidery, and made entirely out of spider silk. The yellow, almost egg-yolk shade is its natural colour, and it took millions of spiders (and 80 human workers) over four years to make it.

What kind of spiders would these be, I hear you asking. Spiders the size of your hand, I reply with an involuntary shudder.

It is to go on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London if you want to have a closer look. That is to say the fabric, not the spiders, who are now back to cavorting and gorging on flies and small children in Madagascar.

Listen to an interview here.

Watch a slide show here.

And there's a longer article here.

Maybe next time I'm tempted to smack one of the little devils with a rolled up magazine I'll capture it and put it to work for me.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Can you do this with a Kindle?

My eldest daughter and I have been debating the merits of Kindles vs books, actual, made with paper and hold in your hands books. My father printed books for a living so I have a deep-seated love for real books. I remember he used to bring home "dummies," the prototypes for the hardcover books before they went to print. I used to fill the blank pages with my own stories.

There is nothing quite like holding a brand new book, opening it and feeling the spine crack slightly. I always admire the cover art, read the front inside flap to read the synopsis and the back inside flap to check out the author photo, examine the binding, feel the quality of the paper, scrutinize the typeface, smell the fresh ink....oh, that new book smell is intoxicating for someone who loves books. Even that musty old book smell is exciting because it means a good story and a new adventure might be hiding in those pages.

However, that being said, I love my Kindle. I carry it everywhere. In fact, I want a second one because the one I bought for my husband at Christmas is much smaller and lighter than mine and now I covet it. I'm also into instant gratification, so to own a device that let's me read a chapter then order the rest of the book instantly, wherever I am and whenever I want, well...that's also intoxicating.

On the other hand, I want to support small bookstores. They are struggling to survive these days against not only the big box stores but Amazon which is, well, an Amazon when it comes to book sales.

So to strengthen her argument, Eldest sent this video made by a couple in a tiny Toronto bookstore.

It came with the note "can your Kindle do this?"

Alas, no, it cannot.

I do not concede defeat, but I do admit that no, my Kindle cannot do this.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Battle of Wits

If you play a battle of wits with a toddler, prepare to lose.

Every time.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

When your camera is set on video

And you're trying to take a photo.

It turns out like this.

And this. These two are adorable. I hope we're like this when we're this couple's age. Still playful and sweet. Wait until the end, the things he says to her under his breath.

From I Think It's On Video where there are a few more.

Have you ever done this?