May 28, 2010

Bridges and Tunnels

Lately, various family crises have kept my mind off my work, off my creative pursuits, and have succeeded in casting me down into a place where hope seems, if not lost, awfully delayed. But, just when life is particularly challenging, little, graceful things seem to arrive to pick me up and carry me along.
With a mind so occupied and a heart so full, much grunt work was accomplished in the garden this past weekend, with the action of pushing the shovel into the bed of weeds to transform it into an ordered thing of beauty as some blessed kind of remedy. Hostas and impatiens in the shade garden, and violets under the red maple tree. Herbs, tomatoes, cucumbers and flowers ready to grow in pots on the hot, sheltered, south-facing deck. The garlic bed weeded and scapes soon ready to be harvested, chopped and tossed into stir-fries and frittatas. The raspberry bushes showing a great crop of hard, little green berries after my husband's restaking them in the fall.

In Canada, we celebrate Victoria Day on the fourth Monday of May, to honor the birthday of Queen Victoria - so Monday was a holiday. After we worked in the garden half of the day, we decided to take a drive to one of our favourite spots, taking three of our kids with us. The fourth was working with the horses that afternoon. Our eldest thought about staying home for some rare time alone in the house with his instruments, but decided in the end, to come with us. We gathered bottles of water and my new camera and drove east to the Othello Tunnels on the Coquihalla River.

The Othello Tunnels were blasted, starting in the late 1800's using the extremely dangerous methods of that time, out of solid rock faces which were impeding the track of the Kettle Valley Railway, and are linked by wooden trestles that span the narrowed, rushing river far below. The landscape of British Columbia is the result of a hugely dramatic geological history. I am no scientist, but it thrills me to think of how the pioneers set out with necessary optimism to carve settlements and the links between them this side of the Rockies. We almost didn't become a part of Canada due to the rows and rows of mountain ranges running north to south in our province, which cut us off for generations from the rest of the country. The Othello Tunnels, a prime example of what drastic measures were taken to tame the wilderness in this part of the world, are now a part of the cyclable Kettle Valley Trail (the train tracks were removed long ago), and are an historic site, visited by thousands of people every year. The day we visited, eight tour buses arrived filled with students representing a myriad of nations; cigarette smoke and heady perfume mingled with the scent of cottonwood and fern.

When we visit the tunnels we always spend some time down by the river, and if it is warm enough, we sit with our feet dipped in the icy water. We reaquaint ourselves with climbing down the embankment and rediscover the joy of hopping from boulder to boulder to achieve the best views. Our small one gets a little braver and stronger every year and soon we will be able to take her on longer hikes. Our older kids usually start the adventure with, "The Tunnels AGAIN?" but after the first ten minutes, they are trying to outdo each other rock climbing up the faces along the trail and breathing in the beauty and freshness around them. After our walk we treated ourselves to ice cream at the Hope Dairy Queen and on the drive home we passed around the camera so everyone could see the photos I had taken.

Today, family concerns weighing on me still, though somewhat eased, I am thinking about those tunnels, dark, cool and dripping with moisture. I am also thinking of those wooden bridges that link them together, their railings warm in the sun with a view of the wild waters below and the open sky above. There are times when we have to enter tunnels of a sort in life, too, temporarily blinded and groping our way carefully along until we reach the next opening. We linger on the bridges between the tunnels, resting in the comforting warmth of the sun, enjoying the solidity of the trestle beneath our feet, knowing there will be another dark cave ahead, but also, another bridge in the light to follow.

May 22, 2010

This Diet Will Save you Money!

I'll be the first to admit that the title of this post sounds like one of those late-night infomercials - the kind that tries to lure you to 'just pick up the phone, it's that easy. And wait..there's more!' Really, though, if I had the initiative (which I don't) to market my new eating plan, I think I could make a lot of money. Because quite simply, it works.

I grew up in the mountains without a car for most of my childhood, so weight gain was never an issue for me. I lived like a mountain goat, 'hill training' and 'taking the stairs' just a regular part of life. In fact, my friend Marilee and her husband recently went for a ski trip to my old stomping grounds and remarked about the super-healthy kids they saw everywhere and the eighty year olds skiing with no sign of slowing down anytime soon. When I moved to the Island I was in my late twenties, was slender and became very fit living the outdoor education lodge lifestyle - hiking, canoeing, swimming, etc. When I moved here, to the flat Fraser Valley, and after I'd weaned my fourth child, I noticed that I was beginning to gain weight, slowly, but oh so steadily, and before I knew it, I was fifteen pounds heavier than when we first moved here, with no sign of decrease. I knew my weight gain was in part due to aging and a slowing metabolism, but heck! I am a runner and I do yoga, too, so I found my middle-age spread pretty frustrating. I had also read an article about belly fat contributing to disease later in life, and I wanted none of that if I could help it. I wanted to grow old healthily like those eighty year old skiers!

When I expressed my concerns to a friend, she said, just eat your big meal in the middle of the day. That will help. In addition to eating a good, healthy breakfast every morning, I began to make myself main meal-sized lunches full of protein, vegetables, carbohydrates, and fruit. No weight loss occurred. I had been 'slightly' addicted to pretzels and would eat them before bedtime. When the salt from the pretzels began to bother my tongue, and the carbs were causing bloating in my stomach, I decided to cut those out - and then I decided to cut out all after supper snacking for the most part. Only slight weight loss occurred. A few months ago I appealed to the same knowledgable friend and she suggested not only eating a main meal lunch, but also eating a tiny dinner. Oh! I thought. So that's what my problem was. I was eating a main meal lunch, followed by a main meal supper, and that was simply more calories than I, and my forty year old body needed to consume. I finally got it.

Before Easter this year I began to taper my eating from after lunch until bedtime. I would have a good snack, and maybe even some chocolate or some home baking mid-afternoon with my tea, and then I would drink glass after glass of water followed by a tiny supper with little or no carbohydrates, and no nightime snack. In the beginning I felt a bit hungry, but my friend told me to fill my stomach with water. I lost two pounds the first week. There were, and are exceptions: If I had an evening yoga class, I would eat a little protein afterwards because that one and a half hour workout makes me very hungry! I also decided this was a weekday diet only. Weekend dinner parties with wine and such were allowed, but I did notice that over the weeks, even my dinner party portion sizes decreased naturally with my shrinking stomach.

I have since lost around six pounds and a couple of inches off my waist and hips and I don't ever feel deprived. If I make potatoes for supper, I can heat my portion up for the next day's lunch. My metabolism slows in the afternoon, so if I don't feed it too much, it can do it's job properly. If I make a supper that I particularly like, I help myself to my small portion and eat it slowly, savouring every bite the French way. I am not sure how much weight I will lose in all. I am quite happy with how my clothes are fitting now, and I also appreciate how my digestive system has reacted to my new tapered diet. I heard a report announced on the radio recently: 'We would all be a lot healthier if we ate a lot less,' said a doctor, and he went on to talk about overwhelmed interior 'plumbing'. I believe that to be true now. I have proof! But wait...there's more! Less food means less groceries consumed. This diet really will save you money!
I just liked the above vintage ad...and thought you would too.

May 18, 2010

The Upside of Murder

Late last week little things were getting to me. Maybe it was because I had been incredibly tired and dragging myself around, or maybe because it had been a bit hot and my feet and hands were doing their seasonal swelling, which irritates me, too. At any rate, I almost broke down when my husband went to take the lawn mower out on Saturday and discovered a little pink bicycle in our shed in the back yard.

"Whose bike is this?" he called out.

"What bike?" I called back from inside the house.

"There is a pink bicycle in our shed and it looks like someone rode it who was way too big for it, and now the wheels are completely warped."

We asked our kids and none of them knew anything about it, so it appears as though someone, probably some kid that knows we have a shed in our backyard, ruined the bike and then stashed it in our shed. First of all, the fact that some little girl is now without her bike, which is ruined, bothers me, and second, the fact that someone was prowling around our house in the dead of night or when we were not at home bothers me. Thoughts as to whom was the culprit are pointless. We have no way of knowing. Any town has its teenage marauders, bored enough to cruise around at night looking for a mail box to push over or a bike to steal off a lawn and use as a BMX. I try not to take these things personally, but on Saturday, it seemed much more difficult. I was already teetering uncomfortably close to the edge of an emotional precipice.

So, what to do in a state of mind such as this? After brooding and muttering to myself for awhile: these days...feel violated...police won't do anything about it, got bigger fish to fry...not enjoying feeling like a cranky old bag...mutter, mutter.................try to enjoy a wonderful dinner and a couple of glasses of nice wine. (My husband and I celebrated our 18th wedding anniversary this past weekend and so we treated ourselves, and our kids, to a nice dinner at home.) And after dinner and cleanup, go for a good walk with my husband to hash out my feelings on the matter without the 'little pitchers with big ears' around to absorb my negativity. Then, once back home, sit down with the older members of the family to watch an episode of Midsomer Murders, a show with a warm, fatherly detective named Barnaby and his endearing young sidekick, Jones (Barnaby's had a few sidekicks, but Jones is my favourite). Not very cheerful subject matter, some may think, but I disagree. There is nothing like a good murder mystery to calm me down.

I've been a fan of murder mysteries for quite some time. I especially like the British ones like Inspector Morse, which I watched regularly with my parents when I was still living at home, Miss Marpole and the unfortunately short-lived The Last Detective. I have been on again, off again with Midsomer Murders - some of the plotlines border on the ridiculous, and if this show goes on much longer, there won't be any miserable residents of Midsomer County, England left to kill off. On Saturday night's episode, only two murders occured and one attempted murder, but in other episodes, up to five or six are often knocked off in a matter of hours. Of course, things are nicely solved and wrapped up in an hour and a half on Midsomer Murders, and therein lies its campy charm; the bad guys are always caught, after a few twists and turns of course, and sweet justice is served. I can't help wishing that real life were more like that sometimes.

The other attraction I have to murder mysteries is the reminder they give me at times when I am feeling small, vulnerable, upset by life's injustices, etc.: no matter what happens to upset my usual cheerful state, or no matter what I do to irritate those around me, I am still loved and no one (at least I hope there is no one) is trying to kill me or my loved ones. Not so for poor, beautiful Caroline Armitage, on Saturday night's episode, whose husband first drugged her, then tried to drown her for knowing too much about the crooked scheme he was involved in.

It also doesn't hurt that these murder mysteries are often filmed in gorgeous locations surrounded by stunning architecture ie. Oxford - the home of Inspector Morse, and I heard on a documentary that Americans especially, like their murders with a beautiful backdrop. I can relate. I certainly don't mean to romanticise murder - God forbid - but I do like a good puzzle and intelligently crafted, brilliant, humourous characters to solve them.
Saturday night, after the show, I went to bed and slept well, better than I had in days. Barnaby and Jones had done their good work, and after the culprits were charged, Barnaby even arrived in time to see his wife's choir finally win the Midsomer Choir Competition, which was held in a gorgeous, ancient church made of grey stone and filled with glorious stained glass windows - 'all's well that ends well,' as my mother used to say. In the morning I went for a long run in the not-yet-hot sunshine to work off the calories of the night before and to clear out the remaining cobwebs of my mind, and as the day progressed I began to feel more like my old self.
And today? It's raining. Yes! (I'm not sure if I'll be that cheerful after a few days of it, though.)

May 13, 2010

The Good Grains of Farmer Jim

When our very good friends, Jim and Diane (they have allowed me to use their first names) arrived at our home for Easter dinner, they presented us with a four litre ice cream bucket of flour freshly ground from their own wheat. I, like the kid I sometimes am, clapped my hands and received the bucket with glee. If that seems strange, then perhaps I am alone in my excitement over locally grown food, but really, it is the best. So fresh, so delicious and I know exactly where and how it was grown, which makes me happy to the core.

I realize that the prairie provinces - 'The Bread Basket' - Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, not British Columbia, are the traditional farming territory for wheat and other grains in Canada, but our friend Jim is one of a handful of farmers proving that grains can be successfully grown in the mountainous regions of our fair country, or rather, in the valleys of the mountainous regions, and he is doing it organically as well. He grows winter wheat, spring wheat, oats and, I believe, triticale, which is a hybrid of wheat and rye. Jim also raises Angus beef cattle and chickens and Diane is a superior veggie gardener (as well as my daughter's grade three teacher). They live on a beautiful farm, which was bought by Jim's parents in the early 1970's and we love to go and visit as often as we can.

Last year, the Food Network put out a six episode television series called 'The Hundred Mile Diet'. The series was based on a book by the same title that has been making waves all over the world with its somewhat radical concept of challenging people to rethink the sources of their food, and the global impact therein. In the series a variety of families took on a hundred day challenge to eat only what they could access within a hundred miles of their homes in Mission, BC. Each episode featured various local farmers such as beekeepers, hazelnut growers, a vineyard, a garden on Vancouver Island where the gardener has managed to grow citrus fruits, a field-to-table cheesemaker, etc. Jim and Diane and their two children were featured in one of the later episodes as a source of locally grown wheat, which the 'contestants' on the show were finding it very hard to live without. Jim and Diane don't have cable television so asked us to tape the episodes for them to watch, and we were glad to oblige. It certainly was interesting to follow the families as they learned to live without coffee, cane sugar, baking powder, salt (which one family actually took a day to aquire after cooking off the salt sea water), oils, and refined wheat flour, not to mention the beer and hard liquor. Some of the participants did well, especially the creative gourmet cook, and some, like the well-fed, well-sauced politician and his wife barely made it, even with some cheating along the way. Boooo!

Watching the show with my husband and kids was a fun exercise. Each week's episode led to lively discussions among us and they all thought, if challenged, we might possibly survive on The Hundred Mile Diet. After all, with access to Jim and Diane's grains, beef, and eggs, local berries, apples, pears, and veggies, dairy products, honey, as well as our own herbs and tomatoes, we do quite well already - this is farm country after all. There is a part of me, however, that feels a connection to other parts of the globe through my Sri Lankan tea (Fair Trade), my South American coffee (organic and Fair Trade), my Carribean sugar (organic but I'm not sure how it's traded), and my Irish Guinness, and I'm not sure I'd like to give that up completely, but it's a relatively small part. Of course, I also use salt, cane sugar, baking powder, canned pineapple, tuna, etc; I don't think the concept of the Hundred Mile Diet is to go without the foods that make us happy and fill in the gaps in our diets, but more to enlighten and encourage us to consider the social ethics and environmental impact of the global food economy, and to support our home-grown food sources.

Jim called me and left a message the other day: he was out on the fields, on his tractor planting, and had taken a break to eat his picnic lunch, which included the last slices from a loaf of bread I had made in my bread machine and given him and Diane (I had been raving about the wonderful bread I had been making in my bread machine with their wheat flour, and had given them a loaf to try). He said he thought it was great that here he was, planting his hard red spring wheat and enjoying my bread made from last year's good crop with some cheese and an apple, and he said "You should put that recipe on your blog". So I will.

Bread Machine 'Fraser Valley Hundred-ish Mile Diet' Whole Grain Wheat Bread. Makes 1 loaf

Put into your bread machine in the following order:

11 ounces of water
2 Tablespoons milk powder
2 teaspoons salt (from your nearest salt mine or sea water)
1 Tablespoon honey
1 Tablespoon molasses (or another of honey, if I prefer to be a 100 mile purist)
2 Tablespoons butter
3 1/4 cups of whole grain wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons granular yeast

Set to 'grain' setting on your machine, and 1.5 lb loaf size (if you have that setting) and wait...then enjoy!
The photo is of Jim, on his tractor, pulling the elementary school children's float in our annual fall fair parade.

May 8, 2010

May You Stay Forever Young

My son, Ian needed a photo for a bio so he and my photographer daughter went out in the garden for a photo shoot. He picked a different photo for the bio, but I liked this one the best.

Seventeen sounds so much older than sixteen. Seventeen sounds almost adult-like, and rings of moving on, moving up, and moving out. Our eldest son, Ian, turned seventeen earlier this week. He has one more year of high school, and if his plans work out he and his guitars will head to a college in Vancouver that has a renowned jazz program. He can't wait to get to the city where he was born.

He wasn't raised in the city, though - far from it. When he was but a week old, we bundled Ian up in his car seat and moved to Cranbrook in the East Kootenays, where my husband had landed a job with BC Parks. Ian was a chubby, bald little fellow, generally happy and mild mannered, a little mischevious with a stubborn streak. All of that still holds except for the chubby and bald part, and the mischeviousness has grown into a great sense of humour. I was 23 when he was born and I used to tell people, jokingly, "This is my son, Ian. We grew up together." While I took to motherhood like a fish to water, I found that, like most younger moms, I still had a lot of my own growing up to do, too.

Ian has been what I have termed a 'serial passionist'. It started with trucks and tractors, moved on to dinosaurs, then wild animals. With each new passion he would read and study everything there was to know about the subject exclusively. After the wild animal phase was done with he decided that hockey was 'it', but we put him in soccer - a game much better suited to his lanky frame (and our sensibilities as parents). He still plays competitively and enjoys the game very much in general, but once he had his hands on a guitar, music completely took over unlike any other passion he has ever had. I had decided even before I had children that they would take music lessons. Ian was not interested in the piano so he picked the other instrument we owned - an acoustic guitar. He took lessons for a few years but soon branched out on his own. His second music teacher taught him how to read tabulature (a number system for guitar, instead of music notes) and, thanks to the internet, which is chock full of 'tab', Ian has taught himself, by practising for hours and hours, how to be an accomplished guitarist. When he was starting to show real promise, at about age twelve, I played him Dire Straits' 'Sultans of Swing', to show him the famous Mark Knopfler guitar solo. "I'm going to learn that," he said in his firm, decided way. And he did. We began to share a real interest in music and it's so (I can't think of any other word to describe it) neat when he calls me into his room or over to the computer to show me a new artist he has discovered. In turn, I sometimes will be heard saying things like, "You should really hear Nina Simone sing that song," or "Can I borrow your Miles Davis album?"

Ian plays percussion for the wind ensemble in his school, and guitar for the jazz ensemble. He's already an experienced performer, with some coaching from his dad on how to conduct oneself in front of an audience, and has a rock/folk/alternative band that practises in our garage. Thanks to one musical cousin in particular (professional musician James Lamb) he is making connections in the music world already. He was invited to audition for the Youth Ignite Arts Festival in Vancouver, was accepted, and will perform in a couple of weeks. There's nothing lazy about Ian when it comes to music (and a lot lazy when it comes to cleaning his room), and I am so excited for him.

Accomplishments aside, I have come to trust the judgement of my level-headed steel-blue eyed first born. We have good talks in the kitchen when I'm cooking supper, about teenagers, about art and music, about how life is going to be when he leaves us. On Tuesday, about four in the afternoon I got inspired to make Ian a birthday card. I looked through a box of old photos and found one of him, at age eight, climbing one of the many wooden ladders on the West Coast Trail, and I immediately thought of Bob Dylan's song, 'Forever Young'. While I pasted the photo on the front of the card, I wiped away a few bittersweet tears pricking the corners of my eyes. Underneath the photo I wrote, "May you build a ladder to the stars, and climb on every rung." Inside the card I pasted another photo of Ian at age seven, perched atop a large tree stump at the lodge where we used to live (in both photos he is wearing a hat, just like now), and under that I wrote, "and may you stay forever young". I printed out the words to the song and pasted them in the card, too.

Later, when we were eating the coconut cake with chocolate ganache that he had requested I make for his birthday, we all gave him his presents. When he read my card, he looked at me with those wonderful eyes and said, "Mom, thank you. I really like the card. It's the best." Inside, fireworks of happiness were going off in my heart, but I didn't let it show too much - Ian doesn't like fuss. But I think, somewhere inside him, he knew how I felt, and he was grateful for my love, and for the love of his dad, and for all our hope and belief in him.

"Forever Young" by Bob Dylan

May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you
may you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
And may you stay forever young.

May you grow up to be righteous
May you grow up to be true
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you
May you always be courageous
Stand upright and be strong
may you stay forever young

May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift
May your heart always be joyful
And may your song always be sung
May you stay forever young.