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The Garden of Your Soul

Wanted to share Annette Laine’s beautiful words from her “In Transition” post.

In Transition

Tend your garden well~

till the soil of your soul,

plant what brings you joy,

water regularly,

with quiet reflection,

remove the weeds

of negative thoughts,

and your garden will thrive.


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Beer and Brownies

Hubby and I were enjoying our leisurely cup of morning coffee and half listening to CBC radio. The man on the air was interviewing the brew-master of one of the local micro-breweries. The expert brew-master was talking about the many species of trees used in flavoring and storing  beer. He especially mentioned the many micro-breweries he had researched up and down Vancouver Island, sampling the many different flavors of beers using oak, spruce, birch and other species of local trees. After the interview was over, Hubby looked over at me and suggested, “If he can do an interview talking about beer and trees, you can do one too.”

“But,” I replied. “What would I talk about? I don’t drink beer.”

“You can talk about brownies,” he said with a grin. “Think about all the research you can do. After all, the best research is the sampling part.”

I had to laugh, but then again, that tantalizing thought streaked across my brain cells. I had already done my terrific research on mini-doughnuts, locally crafted chocolates and outstanding Ploughman lunches at Victoria’s pubs. I discovered that 21st century pub lunches definitely included all the food groups and were deliciously healthy to boot!. Why not a search and snack of Victoria’s brownies? I would have to do extra elliptical work and a lot more walking up hills and. . . .heck yes, I was off and running to my first brownie.

My first stop was “2% Jazz,” my newest favourite coffee bar. We needed a new supply of coffee and what better place to choose a brownie to go.  There was only one kind of brownie in their showcase. It was vegan, was a decent size, looked moist and deliciously dark chocolate with a light layer of chocolate frosting. Driving home, I couldn’t resist and pinched off a small piece. My mouth was disappointed as it was a tad dry, had a crumbly texture and though it looked good, disappointed my taste buds.

A few days later, I stopped at “Bubby Rose,” a bakery with the most tantalizing smells wafting into the street. The smell of butter, chocolate, vanilla and cinnamon buns enticed innocent strollers off the sidewalk and into the bakery. I spied the perfect brownie. It was a generous size, sharable, had a crinkly chocolate top instead of any icing, was dark chocolate, moist, made with butter and decadently mouth-watering delicious. It was my favourite brownie so far. Although they weren’t brownies, I also purchased 2 mounds of dark chocolate macaroons–dense, moist and very chocolatey. The macaroons had the mouth and tummy calling for more as this was enjoyable gluttony, not part of the great brownie search, but merely the lure of dark chocolate and fine coconut.

Lunch the following week at “Moxie’s on Yates,” left hardly any room for dessert, but I managed with my choice of a “Bite of White Chocolate Brownie,” served warm and surrounded with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a smaller scoop of genuine whipped cream. Despite it being a “white” brownie with chocolate bits embedded in it, it was still tasty. And, because it was listed as a “brownie,” it was included in my research data.

A few nights later, we had a spectacular Italian dinner at “Il Covo Trattoria,” and what self-respecting brownie researcher would dare miss her chocolate fix.  Again, it wasn’t a chocolate brownie, but it was the best darn chocolate dessert ever–“Torta Al Cioccolato” which is described in the menu as “layers of chocolate cake and caramel reduction.” It came as a sinfully rich and moist, dark chocolate cake, with an artistic rendering of caramel reduction on the plate. This was generously shared with my two best “foodie” buddies, who love chocolate as much as I do.

I haven’t stopped my research yet, but I thought I’d post my preliminary findings . After all, dark chocolate brownies takes time to find and needs time to savour. At the moment, the elliptical machine, walking and line-dancing works off some of the calories, allowing the hunt for a perfect dark chocolate brownie to continue. Sigh–what we must do for “research.”


Young Adventures

When I was a little kid, parents seldom worried that their children would be accosted by strange people or that their children would suddenly disappear, never to be seen again. Parents just knew that kids would dawdle and explore stuff along their route home. Kids were just being kids. Times were simpler and safer then.

I was never that child who traveled straight home from school. At that time, school was a 6-block walk from my home and there was a lot of stuff between home and school to explore. For instance, a block from school, my best friend and I would go rock-climbing. This was a small empty lot with a “huge” rocky mini-mountain right smack-dab in the middle. It was probably why nothing was ever built on that tiny lot because it would take an enormous amount of blasting to remove the rocks and blasting would cost a great deal of money. My parents could never figure out why I always came home with scuffed shoes and scraped knees. To reach the top of our secret mountain, it took plenty of stretching our short legs, reaching for finger holds and lots of giggling while clinging to the rocky surface. We were only six years old and so determined to reach the top that we never thought about how to get back down. That was one more mystery for my parents to figure out—how the back of my coat got this distressed look because Irene and I were too scared to climb back down, so we sat on our bottoms and bumped our way to the ground,

About 3 blocks from home, there was a corner store called “Gems” that sold penny candy. Whenever either of us had a nickel, we would head directly there and share in the bounty.  For 5-cents, we would have a nice bagful of strawberries made of chewy marshmallows, jaw-breakers, fat waxy red lips that were worn briefly, then broken apart and chewed; licorice whips, chocolate chews and so much more. I always thought that besides satisfying our sweet tooth, this was our earliest exposure to economics and the value of a penny.

A long block later, Irene would turn onto the short lane leading to her house. I had another block to go. On this final block, I would pass by a bright yellow house with the most spectacular garden. The lady who lived there was a thin, grouchy woman who devoted her energy to her flowers and each season rewarded her with a field of colours. When she was tending her flowers, I would always pause to admire her garden and say “Hello.” She would always ignore me, but one day she turned around and said “Hello” back. I was so astonished that I offered her my bag with the last of the penny candies. I had been saving the fat waxy red lips for last. With a small smile, she reached over to clip three dahlias in trade for the red lips and told me her name. It was Mrs. Spiggott and we became friends. Two years later, I moved to another school, closer to home. Mrs. Spiggott also moved away that same year. To this day, I often wondered what she thought of those fat waxy red lips and did she know what a treat it was to a six year old.

Years later, Irene and I took a stroll down our old primary school route. Our rocky “mountain” was still there and another group of little six year olds were climbing to the top. We both smiled as our mountain had shrunk considerably, but it still provided a lot of after-school entertainment. As for Gems, it was still on the same corner and still sold its immense choices of penny candy. Mrs. Spiggott’s house, with its beautiful garden as well as the houses on either side of her was now the site of a small apartment building.

The neighbourhood had changed but we had too. And that’s what life is all about—to feel the joy, accept the changes, acknowledge the progress and enjoy the adventures–lots and lots of adventures, both big and small.  After all, Life’s a series of challenges and goals, problems and puzzles, sorrow and joy. There will always be  spontaneous and wonderful moments that make you love and laugh—moments that will keep you happy, curious and eager for more. . . .adventures.


A Short Tale

The latest newsworthy bit on cute little Prince George of England was, how he favoured a pair of navy shorts with pockets during his family’s trip to Poland and Germany. Georgie wore his favourite shorts four of the seven touring days. Don’t you just love this trivia?  But I’m completely in full support of the tiny tot’s wardrobe choice. After all, even adults have their favourites and we’re not likely to leave it in the suitcase either.

I, too, have a favourite pair of shorts and yet to find a suitable replacement.  My shorts began summers as a hot, vivid pink, but numerous washes over the years, faded it to a less vibrant rosy pink. I love the way it drapes with its loose, casual style. It has a wide comfy, elasticized waistband and very deep pockets that holds my cell-phone, tiny flashlite, small change purse, energy bar and bag of trail-mix—and oh yes, my keys.  Watching me coming, a person cannot detect any bulges or bulk in any of my short’s deep side pockets. When I embark on my power walks, I also wear my outdoor, trekking vest with  a dozen pockets–one cavernous one holds my bottled water.

The reason I’m mentioning shorts at all is that I quite understand Georgie’s preference wearing that particular pair of navy shorts. I’m sure it’s the pockets as his little fist–at least the left one–is always tucked securely into his left pocket.

I’m the same way.  I have to have pockets and they have to be deep enough to carry all the stuff I need to have on me. And, that’s the big problem I’m having right now. Ladies shorts are trim and form-fitting with no pockets.  If the designer stooped to add a pocket, it would be more decorative rather than functional.  I want my new shorts to be the same material  as my old ones–wash, dry and wear immediately with no wrinkles or crinkles. Any shade of blue, purple or rose-pink would be nice. I don’t want proper walking shorts that end below the knees–my shorts end slightly above and loose-fitting.  I’m not asking for much–just a decent, comfy pair of shorts with deep pockets.  With all the summer sales going on, I have yet to find my perfect you-know-what. Until I get another pair like the one I’m wearing now, I’m not giving up—I’ll keep on searching.

And like the Royal tot, I’m going to keep wearing my fave too. . . . .


My Driving Teacher

My Dad taught me how to drive.  That was many decades ago. He had taught my big brother first and a few years later, he taught my younger sister. I was the last to learn. After my first Sunday afternoon, in the empty Woodward’s parking lot, Dad silently drove us home and told my Mom, “The next kid will have to go to a real driving school.”  To which my mother replied, “We don’t have any more kids. You’ve got the last one.”  And, Dad gave a huge sigh of relief and muttered something in Cantonese.

I didn’t think I was that bad, but long after I got my driver’s license, I realized that a parent and his offspring didn’t make good teacher/pupil relations. I do remember several Sundays where I drove the perimeters of the empty mall lot, parked in the diagonal parking spaces and parallel-parked along the curbs. That’s when I figured out Dad’s foot-tapping. When I got too confident and drove faster, Dad’s foot would move as if he was pumping the brakes. If I parked too close to the curb and scraped the tires or if I backed in too sharply and hit the curb, Dad’s foot would start tapping rhythmically. Finally, one Sunday Dad decided I was road-worthy to share a real road and drive with other cars.

I took the exit out of the lot and very carefully moved into the right lane of the then 4-lane highway of Blanshard Street–2 lanes heading into town and two lanes heading out. At that time, Sundays in Victoria were very quiet with hardly any traffic. Checking all my mirrors including the over-the-shoulder checks, I signaled and inched over to the centre lane. Dad didn’t say anything but his left foot began tapping. Getting braver, I signaled, checked and finally moved into the left turn lane. Dad’s foot stopped tapping. The light changed in my favour and I turned onto Finlayson where I kept driving until I was directed to move into another left turn lane.

This left turn lane landed me on Shelbourne Street, where I cautiously moved into the only lane heading north. Dad had me driving several miles, encouraging me to bump my speed up from 20 mph. to 30 mph. It was exhilarating. Soon signs popped up to indicate a turn into Mt. Douglas Park, a popular local spot for hikes, picnics and communing with Nature. There was only one narrow winding road in and one narrow winding road out. Belatedly glancing at my left side-view mirror, I realized I was leading a parade of 30 cars, all inching along as I was because no one could pass me. Horrified I asked Dad what I should do as there was no place to safely pull over. Dad calmly advised, “Keep moving, don’t stop and don’t let them make you nervous.”  Suddenly, a flashing red light loomed in my rear-view mirror and a loud-speaker blared, “Will the young lady in the red Corvair please move along a little faster. The ice-cream is melting in several picnic coolers.”

Mortified, I stepped on the gas and drove a bit faster until I finally reached the parking lot, pulled perfectly into a space and turned the car off. Good thing I was short and didn’t have to duck out of sight. Dad told me, “Only the couple of cars behind us knew you were the “hold-up” into the park. The other 27 cars don’t know and are just relieved the line started to move quickly. You did okay. Drive at the speed that feels comfortable to you. Maybe next time, boot the speed up to 40 mph. When you start driving on your own. you’ll know to keep up with the traffic. Right now, this was your first time on the road and you did good. We’ll park here for a few minutes and then you can drive us home.”

Fast forward a few decades later and I’m sitting in the passenger seat of my neighbour’s Toyota Highlander. Her daughter Lisa needed an hour of road practice and I was elected to be her legal driver. Approaching her driveway, seventy minutes later, I marveled at my Dad, who was able to sit in the car with all three of his off-springs on numerous Sundays, teaching us the nuances and safety of the road. My one road experience with Lisa reminded me of Dad’s unspoken wisdom: “Be calm, be patient and don’t yell.”

And in case you’re wondering, my foot did begin to tap, just like Dad’s. . . . . . .


Trail Mixes

I have a new research project–a project similar to the ones I did on Ploughman Lunches around Victoria and Mini-Doughnuts at Farmers’ Markets . My new research involves “Trail Mixes”–you know, that ubiquitous mixture of peanuts, raisins and other cut-up bits of dried fruit. It can be called by various names, depending upon what it is composed of. I’ve seen mixtures called “Dragon Boat,” “Sweet and Savory,” “Black Forest,” “Hikers’ Delight,” and many other names, but always, with the peanuts and raisins as its starting point. It has also been called “Mountain Man’s Mix,” but I’m not sure real mountain men would ever consider munching on a handful of nuts and bits of dried fruit while hunting bears.

I’m not sure how I got immersed in this project as I’m not a dedicated hiker, kayaker or mountain climber, but I do enjoy munching my way through my trail mix while I do my urban power walks. However, in my search for the perfect mix, I have definitely developed some likes and dislikes in the mixture’s composition.  Peanuts are fine but not in great numbers as some  mixes are 3/4 peanuts and the rest bits of dried fruit. However, I have discovered that of all the nuts, peanuts stay the crunchiest when mixed with dried fruit.  Raisins are okay but only the big, plump dark ones and definitely not those small, hard, dried ones. Dark chocolate is a must-have but not those teeny-tiny mini-chips, but those large, dark buttons that are worth at least a bite and a half when they pop up in the mix. And, especially none of those dinky pieces of white chocolate since we all know white chocolate is not real chocolate. Chunks of dried fruit such as dates, mangoes, apricots and cherries are excellent–large enough to know what kind of fruit you are eating but not so miniscule that it leaves you wondering what kind of crumb you just sent down your gullet. Bite-size pieces of coconut, not the flakes, plus a handful of roasted pumpkin seeds tossed throughout. That’s my ideal trail mix.

There are mixes that have some, but not the others. So far, I have yet to find a mix that has all these ingredients. The other day I decided to scoop up one of the  mixes that looked promising. The cut-up dried apricots and big plump raisins were mingled with roasted almonds and a few peanuts. I then scooped up small separate bags of roasted pecans, dried cherries and chopped dates to later add to my original trail mix. The barrel of Callebaut dark chocolate pieces had just been refilled so a small scoop of the chunky chocolate was also added to my grocery cart.

I had taken my neighbor’s little 4 year old with me and when I told her about my “project”, her big brown eyes got bigger as she decided to make her own trail mix too. Twenty-seven dollars later, Trisha and I were walking along the beach–each of us clutching our bags of original trail mix. Mine had most of the nuts, fruit and chocolate I had been searching for. But my “apprentice” decided to strike out on her own and made her unique mix of chocolate-dipped raisins, mini-marshmallows, gummi-bears and M&M’s.

In my defence, I can only say we did have a healthy lunch and Trish’s “trail mix” did have fruit–chocolate covered or not, raisins count as fruit.

Trivia and Gems of Wisdom

Besides writing stuff, I’m a reader—actually a voracious reader. I enjoy most genres in books since good writers can make the driest subjects appealing and fascinating. The reason I’m talking about my passion for the written pages–which means a real book with a cover and pages you actually turn–is because I am not fond of devices that gives you digital pages. With digital pages, not everything is converted from the original source.

I enjoy the bits of trivia and wisdom unexpectedly sprinkled in the pages of books, magazines and daily newspapers. In magazines and newspapers, I suspect these are “fillers” that are sometimes gems to be unearthed, treasures to be noticed. I have collected a few of these gems that I particularly admire and often leave the readers with a smile.

As a chocolate lover, this is one of my favourites: “Chocolate comes from cacao which comes from a tree. That makes chocolate a plant. Therefore, chocolate counts as a salad.” Great logic when it comes to chocolate! And who said it had to be accurate ?

I’ve always wanted to use this old Russian proverb in one of my stories: “Better to be slapped with the Truth than kissed with a Lie.”  So true.

I have this quotation from Louis L’Amour–a legendary writer of tales from the Old West—prominently displayed in my den. “Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”  Yep–keep writing, no matter what; eventually something will pop out and stick–those are the “keeper” bits.

Apparently the late Andy Rooney of “60 Minutes” fame was quoted as saying, “I’ve learned that opportunities are never lost. Someone will take the ones you miss.”  But, I often wondered, what if no one took the ones you missed? Does that mean it will come back to you?

Winston Churchill’s encouraging words often demonstrated his philosophy and positive hopes for the future, a future that seemed to cast a dim light of hope.  “Success is not final; failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.”  Another bit of Churchill wisdom:  “A Pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity. An Optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

Mark Twain has been credited with saying, “A Lie can travel halfway around the world while the Truth is putting on its shoes”  So true, especially if one lives in a small community or neighbourhood, where everyone is your neighbour!

And Lily Tomlin, comedian, has been quoted saying, “The road to success is always under construction.” Hmm-mm–all writers can testify to that!

Winnie-the-Pooh’s creator, A. A. Milne said: “You’re braver than you believe; stronger than you seem and smarter than you think.” I bet Winne-the-Pooh Bear told this to Eeyore, the Donkey. . . . .

A very wise, but unknown author stated: “Knowledge is free, but you have to bring your own container.”

I’ve always enjoyed the late Ann Landers, the advice columnist. This is one of her quotes: “The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.”

And the one I truly treasure, credited to a wise lady named Susan Gale. “The only things you can take with you when you leave this world are the things you’ve packed inside your heart.”

Hope this makes everyone run out to find that magazine and to check the daily newspapers for these nifty bits of wisdom and quotes wherever fillable space is needed. Plus, don’t forget to check your books because there are writers who will slip in a quote or bit of trivia to tickle your brain cells and to make sure you are paying attention to their printed words. . . . . .