Category Archives: thoughts and observations

FREE BOOKS

My part of Victoria must have an enormous amount of book lovers. No matter which walking route I randomly choose, there are usually one or two free-lending libraries tucked in a corner of someone’s drive-way or on the edge of someone’s property. These are libraries that encourages people to leave a book and/or take a book. And, in my neighbourhood, there are many readers who enjoy a good story and don’t mind searching for one.

In my walking jaunts I’ve noticed that some free libraries are set up in certain areas by a local organization. But there are many others that were crafted by interested neighbours who want to share their love of books. I like the unique libraries that are entertaining and eye-catching such as the Snoopy above.

Other free lending libraries are colourful, may be a replica of the Owner’s house or simply an inviting book cupboard filled with possible “treasures” for browsing readers.

These are a few examples of more free libraries to entice book-lovers to stop and browse for a minute or two.

THE GOLDEN YEARS

Harry Goldman and Walter Young carefully carried their big mugs of dark roasted coffee to Charlie Swanson’s corner table, already covered with sections of the daily newspapers. Charlie hastily pushed the newspapers into a wobbly pile to make room for his coffee-mates.

“Well, you two are early today,” he greeted them with a smile.

“I just came from a visit to my doctor and decided I needed a large cup of caffeine,” declared Henry.

“Uh-oh,” Charlie commiserated. “Was this the visit where you found out you had to stop eating whatever it was you enjoyed and eat more of whatever it was you detested?”

“Not quite, Charlie, but very close,” Henry sighed.

“I noticed you only got coffee this morning and skipped your Apple Danish,” Walter added sympathetically.

“Is that why you refrained from getting your Almond Croissant?” Henry smiled. At that moment, Muriel Long and Charlotte Pickles plonked their cups of cappuccino along with a side plate containing two dark chocolate fudge brownies beside Henry. The ladies each pulled up a chair from an empty adjacent table and made themselves comfortable.

“Would anyone like a piece of our fudge brownies?” Muriel offered. Henry reluctantly shook his head. Walter sipped his coffee and eyed the brownies, then slowly shook his head as well.

“Charlotte and I just finished our energetic class of Golden Zumba at the rec centre. Our instructor is someone my granddaughter’s age and very good at getting all the senior ladies revved up and moving!”

“That’s why Muriel and I are building up our sugar reserve since we danced it all off in the class!” Charlotte laughed as she took a bite of her brownie. “More for us to enjoy since all of you refused our generous offer.

“Henry was telling us about his doctor’s appointment this morning,” Charlie explained.

“Oh no,” the ladies chorused in sympathy. “Is this where you get that dreaded news that you have to stop eating. . .” Muriel began, but was interrupted by Henry’s huge sigh.

“I always thought that ‘retirement’ was our Golden Years, you know, like those cheezy commercials we use to see when we were still working,” Walter commented.

“I know what you mean Walter,” Charlotte agreed. “I bet far too many retirees end up with health problems that takes care of the rosy picture of a carefree retirement life.”

“So, my friend, what joys do you have to cut to prolong your life?” Walter bluntly asked. Before Henry could spew forth the list, Muriel interrupted.

“Is this a low salt/no-salt diet? Or is it no red meat and no breads and no. . . .”

“Oh my god,” Charlotte exclaimed, “what’s left to eat that’s palatable?”

“Not much” Henry said glumly.

“Now, it’s not that bad,” Charlie pointed out. “The best thing to happen would be you’d lose a few pounds which is always good for the heart. A visit to a reputable dietician would set you on the right path with the kind of herbs and seasoning you can use that’s not salt and other sources of protein that doesn’t have to be red meat. But you have to remember one thing. Cutting back on certain foods doesn’t mean never eating them again. It just means you eat it occasionally like once a week instead of every day. You’ll probably notice a drop in your grocery bill as well as a boost in energy but you’ll be too busy to worry about snacks and bad eating habits.”

“Even I can live with that,” Muriel murmured. Charlotte and Walter both nodded their heads in agreement. Henry thought about Charlie’s wise words and voiced his opinion. “It’s the thought of giving up so much of what I enjoy, but small amounts rather than an excess is a good start. I like the idea of consulting with a dietician as that would steer me along the right food paths.”

“Nikki can walk you three times a day,” Walter grinned mischievously–Nikki being the Goldman’s energetic cockapoo.

“Oh my, Henry–you’ll be a healthier, thinner person in a few months,” Muriel encouraged cheerfully.

“I read this article in the Huffington Post about all these people who switched to a healthier lifestyle and after six months were able to reduce the amount of meds they had to take daily. That alone would be a great incentive to live healthier,” Charlotte reported to her coffee-mates.

“Well, we’re all here to cheer you on, Henry.” All his coffee friends lifted their cups in a toasting motion, sipped the last drops of their coffee and made moves to gather their things to leave. Charlie packed up the sections of his newspapers he wanted to keep and bundled them into his shopping bag. He paused and spoke, “Retirement is still fun but who said it would be easy? Life moves along its own mysterious path with its usual bumps and pitfalls. I suspect it’s to ensure a person enjoys what he/she has and not get too complacent about it.”

Giving them a jaunty wave, he gave his usual parting, “Enjoy your day, my friends,” then added impishly, “remember to ease up on the red meat, the salt, the pastries and all the other good stuff. . . . .”

                            ” Good coffee is a pleasure.  Good friends are a treasure.”—-Anonymous

New Beginnings

Retirement is not a word in my dictionary–that is, if I ever had to create my own word dictionary–retirement would never find its way in there.

There is something very final in the word retirement. Perhaps, it’s the connotations in today’s world. After all, if a person has been happy enjoying their work/profession for decades, then suddenly thrust into leaving a job they love because of their age or because of circumstances that forces an early retirement or just an excuse to make room for a younger, less expensive workforce,  retirement must seem like the end of a useful life.

I like to think of retirement as a graduation–a graduation to a life of freedom to do what you have always wanted to do. There is no reason or excuse not to become that full-time artist or writer or craftsman because we did finish school, got a real job and made something of ourselves. We have left behind our footprints and hopefully helped create a responsible world–at least, a teeny-tiny portion of a world where we have helped people and made a difference in someone’s life.

Now it’s your turn. You can seek your rainbow with an adventurous spirit. You can satisfy your insatiable curiosity for knowledge in matters unrelated to your previous working life. This is your time to fully leap into your part-time hobbies or activities that you always thought would be your full-time job when you retire.

Sound familiar? We have all said this at some time or other while we toiled away at our jobs. Now it’s official. You can do all the things you had thought about and regretfully put aside because other things like family responsibilities and life’s crisis made it impossible back then.

And hey, you know that age thing that got you retired in the first place? Don’t listen to those nagging voices telling you that you are too old to climb that mountain or fly that plane. You are too young not to aim for the moon, the stars and the rainbows.

Go ahead. Graduation is for everyone–not just the young. The world is really your oyster now because you have earned the right to grab your dreams and make them come true. After all, you have the battle-scars to prove it. So let’s raise that glass of bubbly to a New Life and New Beginnings–it’s waiting for you.

(This is dedicated to two good friends who recently retired after working a total of 82 years between them.)

 

It’s Good For You

Some people thrive on exercise. You know, the hard physical sweat of toting those bales and lifting those sacks. Being the 21st century, this is equivalent to the various metal monster gym machines that tests your physical abilities to the max.  Me? I’m the gal that loves anything stimulating the mind. If I can find an exercise that’s fun, stimulates the mind and gives a good work-out, you’ll find me there.

I’ve signed up for Jazzercise, Line-dancing, Golden Zumba, Burlesque-fit, Hawaiian dancing, Taoist tai-chi and the latest dance trend, Nuline dancing. All of these choices were fun and not at all like a dreaded exercise class.  I really enjoyed my “work-outs” as it also tested your memory in remembering the sequence of moves. They were all challenging and entertaining.

Recently, I signed up for the Yang style of tai-chi—learning 22 moves in 6 sessions. The lady registering me typed the last digit wrong and I found myself in a Qui Gong class instead. The brochure described Qui Gong as “These gentle, flowing movements combine breathing, movement and concentration to increase strength, flexibility and endurance while relieving stress.” Participants were further informed that Qui Gong was similar to tai chi, but easier to master as the movements were simpler. Well, here I was and I decided to give it my best efforts.

Glancing around the room, I noted there were 30 adults/seniors ranging anywhere from 55-80 years. I decided to stand near the oldest person in the room. This strategy would supposedly make me look more co-ordinated, especially if the elderly senior looked as if a puff of wind would knock him over. We chatted and his name was Ben. Ben was 82 and loved Qui Gong.

At first, the breathing exercises, movement of the arms and shifting of body weight did feel like tai-chi, even reminiscent of a hint of Hawaiian dancing. As the simple moves and holds progressed to more serious moves, Qui Gong felt like isometric core exercises with a dash of yoga thrown in.  If done correctly, it was like a “stretching” workout. Ben was doing it fluidly and effortlessly.

The instructor came over to assist me.

“I’ll support your arms above your head while you relax your body.”

Sighing, I stood straight. raised my arms above my head, bent my knees into a comfortable “sitting” position, relaxed my midriff by breathing through my belly button, tucked my chin onto my chest while fiercely concentrating on remaining loose and pliable. Then still gently supporting my arms straight above my head, the instructor whispered in my ear, “And don’t fall on me.”

Well  for goodness sakes, who can  hold that pose without laughing? I went home and glumly told my Hubby, “I will never make it as a monk.”

And he replied, “I hate to tell you this but women can’t be.”  Thank goodness. . .

 

Another Birthday

Birthdays are like jelly-beans—they’re colourful, fun, numerous and tasty. When we were younger, birthdays meant a happy day filled with laughter, family, friends and food–especially cake. Being young, we would anxiously count the years to 16 and our driver’s license; 19 and a chance to cast a vote; 21 and finally considered an “adult.”

Being older, we begin to look at birthdays a little differently. There’s a bit of tension when the 30s, 40s and 50s pass. Suddenly, you find yourself in the 60s and 70s. Where did the years go?

I have a different perspective. My mantra is “You’re only as old as you feel.” And, I feel like I’m still in my 40s–well, okay, maybe some days early 50s. It really depends whether I had a good night’s sleep and my nibble of dark chocolate.

Birthdays are an event that comes around every 365 days; 366 days if it’s a leap year and this year happens to be one. Who decided that we are older each 365/366 days? Why are we supposed to age? Whatever happened to being “young at heart?”  Hey, as long as one has good health, financially stable, a happy outlook and knowing you can do anything you want, (as long as it’s legal)–what more can a person need or want?

There’s so many things to tackle and not enough years to do it all. So far I have tried Jazzercise, Hawaiian Dancing. Burlesque-Fit, Line Dancing, Zumba, Nuline Dancing, Ukulele and Guitar–all of which trains the memory as one moves to music or play the music. It’s been fun and still is as a number the dance classes are social events as well as fun classes.

I firmly believe that we reach a stage in our life where you must enjoy what you have while you can. But one thing for sure, you have to keep moving, no matter what. I intend to keep exercising my body and mind; enjoying my family and friends; relishing every moment of being alive and knowing there’s more good stuff around the next bend. Remember birthdays are only a number and if you’re feeling younger than what the number says, then for goodness sakes, celebrate and enjoy!

It’s been a blast for me the last two weeks as I embrace another birthday and thankful I have family and friends to share the moment. Happy Birthday to all my January friends–keep moving and dive into that bucket list now!

 

Peanut Butter Cookie Challenge

I had this sudden yen for peanut butter cookies—a plain, simple, home-made peanut butter cookie.

So I dug out my collection of cookie cookbooks and did some quick research. Some books didn’t even have a plain, old-fashion peanut butter cookie, but they did have the cookie dressed up with chocolate chips, orange peel, extra roasted peanuts and all other combinations using chocolate, dried fruit and crunchy nuts.

The first recipe used up most of the jar of Adams Natural Crunchy Peanut Butter. It was a jar I bought by mistake as  I had reached for the Adams Creamy. The drawback with Adams peanut butter is that it requires mixing the peanut oil back into the peanut butter before it can be used. The recipe also called for 2 cups of all-purpose flour, but I decided to mix some whole-wheat, ground flax and wheat germ into the mixture as well. I was able to scoop spoonfuls of dough into a ball and flatten with a fork. When this batch of cookies cooled enough to sample, I noted it was a solid cookie that would travel well in a deep pocket, along with a bag of trail mix—perfect for a few hours of hiking or a power walk. It also needed more peanut butter as it barely tasted like a peanut had rolled through.

After looking over more recipes, I decided to add a bit here, omit a bit there and increase the peanut butter. Hubby doesn’t eat this kind of cookie and I had to eat whatever I made so it had to be super tasty.

The next recipe I found had fine coconut and dried cranberries which I omitted. I also generously increased the amount of peanut butter from its original 1/2 cup to a full cup. The results were a slightly softer cookie, tasted like it had peanut butter in it and was addictive–not because it was tasty, which it was, but because the size and shape felt good in my hand and with a glass of milk or a cup of coffee, it was almost perfect.

Today, I tried one more recipe and this is the one I’ll return to next time I get the urge for a good peanut butter cookie. These cookies spread big, were crispy on the edges and slightly soft in the centre. There was a distinctive taste of peanut butter and when these cookies were baking, the kitchen smelled like roasting peanuts. And the amazing thing was there were no dark chocolate chips or chunky chocolate in these cookies—simply a generous addition of a creamy-style peanut butter.  To burn off those darn calories and the extra five pounds of “research”, I now power walk twice a day but it was worth every single bite of those 50+ peanut butter cookies.  What we must do to scratch a yen. . . . .’til the next time.

 

Those After Christmas Sales

I sympathize with my California friend, Eva S, who lost a sock  somewhere in the stratosphere (www.notesfromthecupcakerescueleague.wordpress.com/). My loss has been much greater—I lost 3 giant rolls of silver and gold  embossed Christmas wrapping paper plus 2 boxes of sparkling-snow-scene-with-cute-puppies Christmas cards. I know I have them because I fell for that after Christmas sales of wrapping paper, bags and cards that were 75% off at the store. I felt I was a giant step ahead for next Christmas when I had my supply of cards and  gift wraps. And yes, I did put them away in a safe place so I could put my hands on them as soon as the month of December loomed into sight. It was tucked in such a safe place I couldn’t find it when I needed it.

After Christmas sales, also known as Boxing Day Specials—can be a boon to some but disastrous to others. First of all, there is no such thing as a “bargain”–not unless it’s in the technological field and at least 80% off, if they want me inside their store. I remember my friends camping out overnight just to be the first through the door when the electronics store opened on Boxing Day. Back then, there were some great bargains.

My dilemma with the missing wrapping paper and cards came to the fore-front when Hubby and I walked past the card-shop. Yep, there were boxes and boxes of cards plus stacks of glittery, Christmas-y wrapping paper AND all for 70% off the regular price. I’m not falling for that this year–besides  it was a bit more reduced last year. Hubby and I walked on by.

I know I have at least 3 past post-Christmas sales of wraps and cards tucked somewhere in a secret hidey-hole. AND I just know that when I need some special occasion wrapping paper, my Christmas ones will fall out of the closet instead.

So Eva S–don’t worry about your missing sock. It’s probably with my missing wrapping paper and cards. Somewhere, they are commiserating with other misplaced items until their owners  finally reunite with them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Chocolate Cherry Christmas

At my house, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas unless there was something under the tree that held dark chocolate tucked inside its wrapped package. This Christmas, Hubby and I hit the jackpot.

A few years ago, we received a box of dark chocolate covered cherries with such a deliciously appealing picture on the box, that our brain had already signalled our mouths there was a treat heading its way. And, it didn’t disappoint—that distinctive taste of dark chocolate; that spurt of liqueur bathing a plump cherry; that satisfying melding of dark chocolate, liqueur and a juicy cherry was absolutely heavenly.

After that, when we saw a box of chocolate covered cherries, we treated ourselves to it. But the disappointment was too painful to describe. Let me just say that the dark chocolate was bland and waxy; the syrup was too icky sweet and not a liqueur AND the cherry was a pitiful wizened piece of dubious fruit. After those disappointments, whenever we spotted a potential box of cherry treats, we stayed away—mentally kicking ourselves that we never made note of the brand of chocolate cherries  given to us, way back when.

Last week, I saw an unpretentious sealed foil bag with a clear window, showing the supposedly extra-dark chocolate cherries in liqueur, wrapped in its red and silver foil. I grabbed a bag. On Christmas, Hubby opened the sealed bag and immediately our noses sighed with pleasure as the dark chocolate scent of liqueur wafted out. Immediately,  our brains zinged the message to our mouths that something great would be coming. And this time, it didn’t disappoint.

Our mouths bit into a decadent piece of extra-dark chocolate that immediately squirted a shot of liqueur that had soaked a plump, juicy cherry. This is how a dark chocolate cherry should be always. And yes, I have made note of the brand. Thank you, Witor’s IL Boero–may you always prosper and keep making these wonderful Italian chocolate cherries. It made our Christmas even more special. . . .

Pretzels

My first introduction to a pretzel was the cracker-like, snack-food kind—tiny, crispy. slightly salted and perfect with beer or a glass of wine.  I didn’t know they also came the size of a dinner plate; a twisty bread hot out of the oven with a slightly salty, crispy outside and a soft inside. My cousin demonstrated how to eat it slathered with hot mustard, but I preferred mine unadorned, tearing pieces of it and savouring the warm dough. Being young and skinny, both of us enjoyed our hot pretzels without any guilty thoughts of bread control.

So, it was a revelation to see that food trends had taken a new twist–pardon the pun. I always enjoy seeing “something old becoming new again,” but who would have put the lowly pretzel in the retro box?

I now think  of pretzels as the “perfect” food. You know, like a pizza that has your carbs, proteins and veggies, pretzels can be dressed up or down the same way.  There is a new pretzel cart in town. When I saw the pretzel cart, I dashed over to check it out. I love to nibble on the plain, hot twisty dough, but now I can add my choice of melted cheese, tiny cocktail sausages, teriyaki baby prawns, crispy bacon and a scoop of tangy salsa—see, carbs, proteins and veggies on a dinner plate size pretzel!

And, for all you chocolate lovers out there, there were also chocolate dipped mini-pretzels for dessert.  Heavens, what next?  Oh wait—I just spotted something new at my supermarket—chocolate dipped potato chips. . . Pul–leez tell me that’s not so!

When Words Don’t Flow

Louis L’Amour, one of my favourite writers for Westerns—as in cowboys and the Wild West—was asked the secret of his prolific stories. He simply shrugged and said, “Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”

I always loved that quote. I have it typed in big block letters besides my computer. But I realized that sometimes the water can be turned off, for whatever reason, and nothing flows from the faucet. When that happens, I follow Rule Number 17 from my archaic writers’ guidebook. I turn off the computer and head for the great outdoors. I realized long ago that if the page stays blank for more than 20-minutes and the mind is totally devoid of any rational or irrational thoughts, it’s best to take a break—and that’s what I did.

For me, the break-away from the keyboard, is a method for me to get re-energized and re-inspired. Hubby and I put on our rain-gear to do a morning stroll through the Village and around our neighbourhood. We strolled past Cobb’s where the scent of their freshly baked mince tarts and cinnamon bread logs wafted into the street. We paused at Nicholas Randall’s Gift Shop window to admire their lavish display of possible Christmas gifts, but what caught our eyes, tucked in the far corner, were a tiny trio of mischievous camels, decorated in tiny beads and Middle Eastern costumes. Beside them, regally waving a teeny-tiny gloved hand stood the tiny figure of the British Queen. Next store, The Gallery on the Avenue always has a striking window. That day a spectacular abstract with its bold colours of golds, greens and blues dominated. Placed to the right of the painting were two vases of a turquoise hue, one slightly taller than the other, complementing the abstract perfectly. Moving along, we paused at Ivy’s Bookstore with its display of children’s books in the window and a huge bin of greatly reduced books outside. Of course, we had to sort through the books to see if anything was worthy of our wallets. Starbucks was doing a brisk business when we passed by. A group of carollers were singing “a cappella” in front of the bank and pedestrians dropped change, for the homeless, into their pot. The sounds of “O Holy Night” followed us down the street, past the Pennyfarthing Pub, Roger’s Chocolates, shoe store, barber shop, two boutiques, the Side Street Gallery with its many locally crafted jewellery, soaps, wood-work, paintings, weaving, pottery and much more.

Crossing the street, we made a dash through the Library to see if we could find any new movies for us to watch that evening. We then continued our walk down residential Monterey Avenue eventually turning onto the path through Bowker Creek Park. Bowker Creek’s lively inhabitants of ducks were busily attacking duck feed tossed out by some kindly neighbour. As the Creek winds along, Hubby and I followed the peaceful path through trees, ornamental bushes, parkland and over a small stone bridge.  More ducks, joined by cawing crows and seagulls, all made their presence known as we passed. We listened intently for our favourite duck we had named the “Laughing Duck” because he had this amazingly deep belly-laugh when he quacked. Often, he would do this just as we passed by, but that day, no belly quackle herald his presence. Over the last stone bridge and following a path that cut through the High School’s parking lot, past the School Track, the Rec Centre’s covered indoor tennis courts, around the outside of the Municipality’s Work-yard and finally the street leading home.

Returning to the computer, I could feel the logjam of frozen words sporadically tumbling on the page. It wasn’t an easy flow, but for now at least, the faucet dripped. . . . . .