All posts by sammee44

Warm and Cuddly or. . .?

Looks are everything. Don’t let anyone tell you different. If a slender red-headed female, with long curly hair, big blue eyes and a warm, friendly smile, stopped you for directions, what red-blooded, healthy male would rush by without stopping? Would this hold true if a short, plump senior lady stopped for directions? I hope so, but I would team with the skinny red-head for faster action.

Looks really are everything in some situations and let’s face it, certain images conjures up certain expectations. If a respectable male approached for directions who had that air of dignity, wore a dark suit and classy tie and looked like your mental image of a banker or corporate lawyer, then yes, I think I would stop and help. He may well be a terrorist or a mass murderer, but hey, I’m going on what I think is a picture of respectability. On the other hand, someone with a thin ferret face and squinty eyes, wearing a worn jogging outfit, with a suspicious smear of red on his sleeve—-will be the one I’d run from. After all, he looks like my mental image of an unsavory character ready to rob us or worse. It doesn’t matter that he’s probably the reputable lawyer on his day off, who had accidently brushed his sleeve in the ketchup. But, he would definitely be someone to run away from.

On a recent 90-minute ferry ride between Vancouver and Victoria BC, I had ample time to do my favorite past-time of “people-watching.” We are a very diverse group of humans and when you mix in cultural differences, it is a fascinating subject for “research.” I like to pick certain people who would make great characters in my forever-on-going book. I carry a small notebook in my coat pocket and jot down the details that initially caught my eye.  One time, it was this brilliant plaid scarf—red, green and mauve colors—wrapped several times around the scrawny neck of a tall, gawky male, who carried a black cane with a falcon’s head carved in the top of the handle. Heading for the buffet lunch on the top deck, I was pleased to be seated next to the “scarf.” The owner had left his scarf and  papers there to mark his seat.

Returning with my laden tray, the scarf was again securely  wrapped around his owner’s neck as he perused his newspapers and enjoyed his buffet. Glancing over at my tray, he remarked, “Desserts are not good for you, especially macarons.” Beaming back at him, I replied, “The ferry’s macarons are fabulous and I love the way they do the chocolate trifle. But I did take a bit of that mish-mash stuff with the veggies and the chicken pasta with the cherry tomatoes.” I looked over at his tray. Yep, healthy. A generous helping of mixed greens, a large scoop of broccoli/cauliflower/ zucchini mix, a serving of the salmon in dill sauce, a heaping portion of the fresh fruit salad—no real dessert. Since I had 6 macarons on my side plate, I offered my neighbor one. “Thank you, but not for me. You do realize macarons are nothing but egg-whites and sugar. Probably white sugar which is very bad for you.”

I looked at him and asked, “Are you a food writer or a health-food expert?” He replied, “I have just been to Vancouver to discuss a book I have written called “Eating Badly.” Nodding that I was listening, I dived into the mish-mash veggie thing which was surprisingly tasty. I proceeded to mix the remains into my chicken pasta which made it even better. Then I poked out all the cherry tomatoes because it wasn’t acceptable to do this back at the buffet table. He watched fascinated  but refrained from any comments.By this time, we were on first-names.  His name was Kenneth, not Ken or Kenny, but “Kenneth.”  Before I tackled my macarons, I offered again. “No, thank you,” and unabashedly watched me nibble my way through 2, then carefully placed the remaining 4 into my handy-dandy zip-locked bag. As he tackled his fruit salad, I dived into my chocolate trifle, which was superb.

I asked about his unique cane with the falcon’s head. Pleased, he told me that this was his grandfather’s cane. When Grandfather was a young boy, he had gotten lost in the woods surrounding his family’s estate. It was a falcon that had swooped down, circled around him and got him to follow. The search party found him just as he emerged from the woods. His father commissioned a wood-carver to craft an ebony cane with a carved  falcon head’s head on the handle. The cane was passed to the first-born son in each generation.  Kenneth had inherited it a decade ago.

Remember what I said at the beginning? Looks are everything. Well, I really must stop thinking that.  My curiosity got the best of me with the colorful plaid scarf and the falcon head cane. The ferry trip was not a long one but for me, it had been a fascinating one.  Before we docked, Kenneth confessed that not many people would carry on a conversation with him as he was often too blunt in his opinions. However, he felt comfortable with me since I ignored all his food opinions and carried on enjoying my   selections. I shook his hand and wished him well with his book. Kenneth held my hand and wished me healthier choices at my next buffet.

I can hardly wait to take another ferry trip. . . . .

 

 

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Holiday Fever

There is definitely something wrong when a flu-bug hits after or over the Holidays. I’m never sure if it’s because we were all so busy doing this and that, that our bodies got neglected and tired-out. And, since the body was now in a state of weakness, bam, a sneak virus attack. Flu-bugs should be labeled as weapons of mass destruction. Flu shots should come with this warning as well since these preventive inoculations doesn’t stop you from getting the flu, just prevents you from getting it worse. . . .or so they claim.

January, for me, has always been celebrating New Year’s day, then my birthday and finally, Chinese New Year. However, this year Chinese New Year doesn’t appear until February 16th.  My birthday arrived as it always does and Hubby made it a special day. By evening, my poor guy was feeling ill and by the next day, we knew it would be a bad one. I held out a bit longer but one day later, it was my turn. My one positive thought was, “Goody, I can now lose a few pounds without exercising. . .”   Mother Nature had other ideas because when the worst was over, I hadn’t lost one single pound which just goes to show that I’d be the ideal person to land on a deserted island.

My good intentions of joining a gym and being active with my two gym buddies fell by the wayside. They, too, were victims to the onslaught of the insidious flu-bug. So we all agreed by email that we would meet after the bug attack was over. Well, by mid-January, no one had moved a step. That gung-ho-let’s-do-it attitude seems to have left the building, along with the bug.

I sent out another email suggesting we meet at the local coffee bar, closest to all of us. It turned out “Timmy’s” was our favourite place for coffee because there were doughnuts and chocolate croissants and healthy muffins.  Needless to say, we managed to grab a table, settle in with our coffee, doughnuts and chocolate croissants.  No healthy muffins for us as we were needing sugar for our brain-storming our exercise strategy. Comparing symptoms, we discovered none of us had lost any weight despite not eating for 3 days. Mazie impishly remarked, “If we meet like this every time we do a gym session, none of us will lose anything!” Jan and I laughed as we both chorused, “”We have to keep our strength up!”

By the end of our meeting, we decided to try “walk-and-talks.” This was our favourite way to exercise. We would meet at various sites and do a 5-8 kilometer walk, eventually increasing to at least a 10-kilometer walk. So far, this has worked  well. Each of us have set a route and we have all enjoyed our walks and conversations. Besides choosing a route that is scenic and interesting, there has to be a coffee-bar and/or cafe at the end. Next Wednesday will be our 4th walk and we are discovering different local neighbourhoods and experiencing new eateries. Best of all, walking is a form of exercise that keeps us out of a stuffy gym and into the fresh air. Dressed for the West Coast Winter weather, we have all stuck to this exercise strategy despite the sometimes freezing temperatures, cold winds and always relentless rain.  Our positive mantra is “Spring is just around the corner and we’ll have the best-looking legs in our Summer shorts!”   Amen to that thought. . . . .

 

PEACE, NOT WAR

The other day, Hubby and I were talking about how having siblings and best friends taught us more on dealing with different personalities and working on our fledgling communication skills. My older brother was a natural leader and always looked out for his sisters. This was later reflected in his job which involved dealing with the higher echelons of management and looking out for his men. My sister, being the youngest, was feisty, independent and also a born leader and team player. She did both equally well. Both my sibs were well-liked as they were “bosses” without being bossy and gained the respect of their people because both knew what the job entailed as they had previously done it themselves.

Being the middle kid in the family, I opted for peace, not war because most times, I could plainly see both sides of the problem. It didn’t mean I was a  pushover but, I disliked conflicts and tried to search for more peaceful means to settle disputes. In my early working years, this was difficult at times as I naively believed there were solutions to most personality and/or management differences. The final persuasion would have been a thump on the stubborn, argumentative head followed by a good swift kick to the butt. However, that was strongly against management’s mandate.  I have worked with Alpha males who would yell louder and thump the table harder to get their points across. Most times, it was so intimidating that it actually worked, but for all the wrong reasons. Today, we recognize this ploy  as a form of adult bullying.

I know that theoretically peaceful negotiations are the best, but not everyone around the peace table will feel the same. There will always be an aggressor or two—a dominant mind-set—who does not see the grey areas for any compromise; but only the right or wrong sides; the distinctive black and starkly white sides. Hopefully, the more reasonable minds gathered will predominate. Unfortunately, when it comes down to the final vote, the main issue gets lost in the mind-game of consequences. If A votes against B, then B will launch trouble against A’s supporter, C. C wants to continue business with D, but D doesn’t want to support A just to get C’s support. Humans can make life so complicated that what started as peace talks ends up going nowhere. And that’s why Earth is in big trouble—Money, Oil, Power. . . .and big Egos.

The World today  can be a scary place. It needs strong leaders—men who knows what needs to be done and to have faith in those who can make it happen. Strong, wise leaders who have strong, wise advisors; leaders who will listen, gather together all the facts and then decide knowledgeably. What a challenge. If the World had more such leaders, there wouldn’t be so much unrest, conflicts and wars. Life does move on with younger brilliant minds and strategists coming through the ranks, learning from the experiences of their elders. Earth may be battered and weary, but Doves and Hawks may yet learn to peacefully co-exist better by then. We can only hope. . . .

 

HELLO, HOW ARE YOU?

I love getting letters, even though emails and texting seems to be the 21st Century mode of written communication. Of course, the letters I’m referring to are the  slow-as-molasses-snail-mail means of keeping in touch by actually applying pen to paper.

My Mom was a great letter-writer. My Mom’s sister and my maternal grandmother also wrote newsy, folksy letters. Back in those days, long-distance phone calls were considered a luxury. When an out-of-town family member called, it was usually with sad news that someone had died. There was no email back then.

Today we seem to phone whenever we wanted to share any news or to merely keep in touch—no one had to die first. The other alternative is texting or email—quick, fast written words that we can read instantly. Hardly anyone likes to take the time to sit down and write a newsy letter to be savoured again and again.

I like to think written letters can be a piece of history—not only is family news documented but events happening at the time is also recorded, especially if it affects the family in some way. The politics of the times, events that made headlines, the unusual weather, newly implemented government policies and so much more—how can a person not comment and confide how it affected us?

A century and more ago, letters had a long, perilous journey to get to its final destination. It’s probably why the women of those times saved every precious letter they received. When I was doing some research on Victoria’s early start as Fort Victoria, the period I was interested in produced a box of historical treasures. The first movers and shakers, the political leaders, had a vison on building a great city. These men and their wives were also prolific letter writers, recording not only family news but also the political atmosphere, strict social life and local gossip of their times.

No matter how deeply in the past one searches, men and women had the same concerns;  the health of their men-folk/women-folk; education, safety and acceptable behaviour of their children; the high cost of living; the need for more culture in such a wilderness; rough, wild fur-trappers in drunken brawls who set bad examples for impressionable young boys; the lack of decent marriageable partners for their off-springs. Packets of written letters with its beautiful penmanship, revealed so much about the past.  History books can teach about events but old letters tells how people truly coped.

Emails and texting are not permanent records of life today—a written letter, filled with our thoughts and immediate impressions are still the best. The slow-as-molasses-snail-mail is well worth waiting for and fast becoming a lost art.  Oops, gotta go—here comes my mailman. . . . .

LOST AND. . . . .

I enjoy getting behind the wheel of our family car and just driving. It’s nice when there is a definite destination, but the best fun is going somewhere you’ve never been. . . and actually getting there. I don’t have GPS in my older Volvo, so I rely mainly on a good road map and my pocket-size book of street directions. My tiny book of street directions works on streets that existed in 1997; after that, all bets are off and a detailed but current road map works.

Hubby doesn’t like aimless driving. He wants to know where we’re going. He doesn’t want to hear “Oops,” ( when I made a left turn instead of a right), “Damn,” “Phooey”, or “Yikes” (when the paved road became a dirt road with a big hole), while searching for our destination. Sometimes we are provided with street directions supplemented by landmarks. I guess that makes me a visual person who seeks the gas-station on the left or an old derelict building on the right, before I notice that’s the street I should turn onto. Being the wise man that he is and married to me as long as he has, Hubby usually opts out of any destination that we have to search for, unless I can drive directly from Point A to Point B without any detours.  In other words, I’m totally on my own, armed with my old book of street directions and my big, fat up-to-date road map.

Usually, I know what general direction I want to explore and approximately how far I have to drive. When I was writing for the local magazine and had to do interviews in places I was vaguely aware of, I always did test drives the day before. That way, on the actual day of the interview, I would appear on time, relaxed and looking forward to a fascinating hour. I wouldn’t be wearing my frazzled look—that’s the same look I get when I’m deprived of my caffeine and/or dark chocolates.

Victoria has numerous places to drive and eventually you arrive at some destination. I’ve discovered that you can’t really get lost because, even though housing and shopping developments have extended far beyond city limits—eventually, everything circles back. There may be numerous  new roads, streets and avenues, but they all connect to a major street, road or avenue, that in turn, connects to a major highway.

It got me thinking how Life can be a series of destinations too. We’re all driving along, stopping here and there; occasionally detouring onto some tiny road that’s not even on the map, but eventually returning to the main highway. We all hit speed-bumps and we do extricate ourselves from the occasional pot-holes—some much bigger than others. Sometimes, too many pot-holes can be the bane of our existence, but we are all determined to get to wherever we were going. After all, we humans can be tenacious as well as strong-minded. No matter what, Life moves along and so do we.

For me, as long as there is a decent eating place, coffee bar and/or bakery in the maze of unfamiliar streets, there are people. I know where I’m going, I’m doing okay and I’m not lost.

HAPPINESS

Happiness is the smell of roasted coffee beans, freshly ground—and sharing the pure pleasure of that first pot.

Happiness is that spontaneous hug from your spouse, a good friend, the grandkids and tiny toddlers.

Happiness is the fragrance of your favourite flower, carried on a Summer breeze—mine are roses.

Happiness is baking cookies, any kind and sharing them.

Happiness is family, friends and good health.

Happiness is finding that perfect dress, sweater, blouse, shoes, or. . .without any searching.

Happiness is the warmth from a crackling fire, wrapped in the arms of your “special” someone.

Happiness is watching your furry, 4-legged buddy, running joyfully along a quiet stretch of beach, enjoying his “no-leash” freedom.

Happiness is cooking a recipe for the first time, making a few alterations and substitutions, yet still reaping heaps of compliments.

Happiness is sharing that cup of perfect coffee and stuffing  on freshly baked, warmed-from-the-oven banana chocolate chip muffins.  Did I mention that the chocolate chips are still warm and melting?

Happiness is enjoying a long, leisurely walk, in the crisp morning air with the promise of Spring, just around the corner.

Happiness is merging flawlessly onto a 6-lane highway, perfectly capturing the rhythm and flow of the traffic.

Happiness is meeting an old friend and picking up the threads of friendship as if the woven pattern had never been interrupted.

Happiness is a laughing baby, a cuddly teddy bear, a lovable puppy, dark chocolate cherries, warm mini-doughnuts dipped in cinnamon-sugar. . . . . . . . .and much, much more.

 

The Dreaded “D” Word and the Hated “E” Word

Yep—here we are at a brand-new year. The pages are nice and clean and ready for whatever good deeds or questionable deeds to be recorded. With all the wonderful holiday foods and desserts, I am faced with the dreaded “D” word and even the hateful “E” word.  Oops, guess you’re maybe skinny and slender and hate desserts, so you’re not familiar with “Diet” and “Exercise.”

I know there are lots of us out there because the gyms are suddenly filled with guilt-stricken people like me. I will be walking and doing the stairs more now that my wonky knee is better. I think all us newcomers to the gym, lean on each other for support, because we tend to glance over at a chubbier person and think, “Not me, Buster–I’m that lean, skinny thing, wearing the spandex and pedalling away on the bicycle.”  Well, okay—we can dream while we sweat off those extra pounds with the weights and pulleys and ellipticals and treadmills.

I don’t make New Years resolutions, but I will be curtailing the doughnuts, biscottis and dark chocolates for the next month or more. I figure that’s how long this enforced “D&E” will last. All those batches of butter cookies, mince tarts and almond cherry biscottis will be a faint memory–and darn it all, this was the Christmas I excelled at making them.

I always thought that to make this plan work, I would have to have a “gym buddy” to suffer along with me. Lucky me—I have two and we are all early-risers. So, no excuses not to meet at the gym because you always have 2 gym buddies to move you along. I’m hoping we will all last the month or more, at least, until we get into the routine of  gym workouts on our own.

One positive thought is that Chinese New Year will be much later this year—not until February 16th. In my foodie books, that means I have a month and a half before I can celebrate with the tasty pastries and feasts of the “Year of the Dog.”

Happy New Year, Everyone—I’ll be thinking of all of you as I’m rowing away at my rowing machine, strolling along on the treadmill, doing the elliptical thing. . . .  BUT, come February 16th, I will be indulging a little bit again. . . . .