small art 1.17.2017

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tidings on the eve of a new year

Saturday, the last day of this year. I sit on the living room couch, waiting for the kettle to boil for my second cup of coffee. As I look outside, I see a dense snowfall curtain of various sized flakes. There is a calm that settles upon the world when it snows. I don’t know whether it’s the ions in the air that provide the shift or whether it is the flight of the flakes of snow as they travel through the air that elicits a mesmerizing effect.

Gabriel is in the bathroom, showering and getting ready for work. The sound of rap music permeates the otherwise silent house. I wonder how this music, so foreign to anything that I or his father would have introduced him to, is his music of choice. Perhaps it is my lack of providing him with enough cultural influence that created the void that he chose to fill with it. Obviously Loreena McKennitt and Sarah McLaughlin, the two whose music I most often listened to at home while I was working on my art projects, would not become his music of choice. In any case, he is preparing to start work at 1PM and I will have the house to myself for the rest of the night since he plans to go out after work to ring in the new year.

I will spend the rest of the year, as I do most of my free time, alone. I’m not sure how to change this hermit-like existence that I lead. In some ways I wish that I had a more active social life, one in which I am surrounded by friends and family that care to include and embrace me into their fold, and another part of me finds the whole prospect tiring. The enforced interaction, while I warm to it once engaged in it, still requires an effort on my part that is oftentimes overcome by my lack of interest in the effort required to get to that place.

I wanted to do a reading for myself on this final day of the year, to get a glimpse of the overview of what the new year has to bring. Again, I wanted to engage with it with some fanfare, ritualize the process, but the same part of me that skirts the effort required for human interactions also determines that the fanfare is unnecessary. I have stripped my life down to bare bones, and it feels more real this way, devoid of pretense or posturing. The effort it takes to maintain that extra veil of being human often feels like a waste of time and energy. We eventually get to the nitty gritty and find that had we gotten there in the first place, so much of the side-effects of the delayed revelations could have been avoided altogether.

Life in this middle age of my life is proving even more dumbfounding to navigate. I can see how people come into a crisis of sorts at this point in time. Everything is the same on the surface yet so much is shifting. Mortality becomes obvious – people around us start to die, our idols and icons, friends, relatives – and we come to a place where we feel compelled to take stock of our own lives, if we haven’t already been forced to do so before. In whatever disarray it appears to be, I must make peace with where it is now, and more importantly find within myself the will to carry on and make new goals, goals that are in alignment to where I now find myself. The challenge is to find within myself the motivation to carry them out despite the proven failure or questionable success of those that I had previously set or envisioned. What is success, anyway? Does it matter in the end?

I am trying to determine what, if anything, will encourage me to take a step forward, in any direction, to determine what will ignite within me the impetus for a desire for movement of any kind. Perhaps it is the wrong time of year, for me, to be exploring this. Perhaps now I should simply sit with the influx of various possibilities, let them fill my belly and, as the French say, let the whole thing mijotte (which is so much nicer than its English equivalent, “stew”).

I was considering getting dressed and going to the store to pick up a few things, items for a meal that I wanted to prepare for dinner. Chicken paprikas sounded good, with elbow macaroni dolloped with sour cream (since making nokedli is just too much work for the likes of me). I have not made a Hungarian dish in so long that I wonder if I still know how to do it. Anyu has been gone for thirteen years and I’m pretty sure I haven’t made anything Hungarian in going on two decades, maybe longer. Perhaps today will be spent pouring over her cookbooks.

Somehow our common appreciation for food has united us past the grave, despite time passing, despite our differences, despite taking so very long to come to terms with all that had transpired during our shared time together, as a family, as individuals. So much of everything that she was, that we were, leaves me with the impression that I really didn’t know about anything, and what was divulged was too inadequate to really grasp the whole of a picture. It leaves me sitting here, on this winter day, watching the snowflakes fall outside my window, with a hunger to understand more and the certitude that it will be buried in a past that can never be recovered.

My curiosity for good (and different from what I was eating daily) food led me to seek out the food of many different cultures for the sake of variety, while her staunch disinterest in anything but traditional Hungarian cuisine and her proficiency and excellence at the execution of the meals she prepared instilled in me an understanding of how a great cook cooks. I can finally say, now in my midlife, that I am edging closer to culinary proficiency when I stand before ingredients and stove, when I have some inkling to the flavour that the recipe is intent on eliciting from the fusion of its parts and process.

More exciting still is that I now also am often inspired by an inkling in my palate that I seek to reproduce by virtue of bringing ingredients and flavours together in the execution of a meal. This atout (once again borrowed from the French language, a word that hints at a sort of innate skill or gift that puts one ahead of the game) was something my mother already possessed when I began observing her in the kitchen. She always insisted that I observe and taste, touch. I know what a dough is supposed to feel like when it’s ready to be rolled out for beigli and how it’s supposed to taste. The flavour of it lingers in my palate’s memory. I haven’t attempted to replicate it, but it sits there as part of my collective history.

The snowfall is heavier now, falling faster – as I observe it, it has the effect of the static hiss of the after hours station identification when television stations would go off the air for the night. This again reminds me of how things have changed in the span of my lifetime, for better in some ways, and not so much in others. It leaves me to ponder the dissonance between the experiences of each generation in relation to each other, and the inability to communicate them adequately in order to allow for cross-generational learning to occur.

I wonder whether humanity has evolved enough to wield the power that it does technologically, whether we are capable of making humane choices or whether our base nature will always lead us toward disaster. I’m sure people from every generation that have seen history unfold itself over a segment of time feel this way.. having seen what had come before and the choices that were being made on a global scale, were left to wonder whether the best or the worst of human nature will rise to the surface.

We forget too soon the horrors that we inflict upon each other, the unnecessary suffering that we allow others to endure at our hand or at the hands of others that we do nothing to allay. Daily I see preached at me that we must be the change that we desire to see in the world, that we are empowered to make the changes, and that our sovereignty has always been our own and doesn’t need to be wrested from another’s hands. In one breath I am told that love is the key to all interactions (when I know that this is not the case – sometimes steps must be taken to protect oneself, because not everyone is motivated by that precept; rather its opposite) while another suggests that I already have everything that I need within me to manifest all that I desire, and that I should wield that power, that I am a fatalist if I don’t perceive that I have the capacity to change my lot.

I don’t know what affects, or how it does, the scales in either direction. I believe that the universe comprises of a controlled chaos held in balance. I don’t think it picks favourites or that one is innately lucky or unlucky. I think that it’s perhaps a numbers game, a likelihood of outcome simply by how many times something happens within a pattern. Perhaps the pattern can somehow be affected by virtue of will and observation .. that much has been shown in the study of quantum physics at a macro scale, but to what purpose? May the odds fall ever in our favour?

As a young adult, I set out on this life to find love; I wanted so much to feel a part of something safe and something greater than myself. I found it time and again, in so many different varieties. It has taught me much about myself and others, but mostly that love, while it gives me a sense of belonging and comfort, and empowerment, even, is never a static force – it changes, unpredictably, and if I lean on it too much, I will always find that it will eventually cave in and I will be left to pick up the pieces of the thing that I have structured my safety around. There is no structure that can sustainably do that. The sooner I can free myself of this expectation of perpetuity, the sooner I can live as a free person. Perhaps even to love again in a much more powerful way than I have ever before.

In the meantime, I ponder my relevance – and everyone else’s. To what purpose have we come into being? Surely our journeys must be as unique as each of the snowflakes that fall outside my window, and only in retrospect will the whole of the picture become clear.. or perhaps there really isn’t any other purpose than to have the experience of living this life, encased in flesh, within the limitations of this third dimension. Perhaps its purpose is for us to breach its limitations and to gain mastery over it, or to concede that chaos reigns, despite our best efforts. Perhaps purpose, too, is as individual to each of us as the snowflakes are.

I’m off to draw some cards, and then to the store to pick up some chicken and sour cream.

May the odds fall ever in your favour.
May your journey take you exactly where you have determined that it must go, ever with your highest good in mind.
May the journey be as gentle as it can be, and may love surround and embolden you so that you can shine your brightest throughout it all.

xo

from my kitchen .. pomegranate and wine


I was very much in the mood for some mulled wine today when I got home from work. When I left this morning just before 9AM, the grass in the centre divider was crispy with frost – not anywhere near as cold as it might be elsewhere in North America at the moment, but the temperatures are definitely dropping around here. They’ve eventhreatened snow this coming week.

In a pan on medium heat: a cheap bottle of red wine, a sliced navel orange, two sticks of cinnamon, a half dozen cloves, about the same amount of allspice brought to a simmer, then some cane sugar and a splash of brandy was added – it simmered some more until it was reduced and sweet. Delicious!


Meanwhile, I was researching recipes in which to incorporate pomegranate. I’m plotting my dinner menu for a mid-December meal that I will host at my home and pomegranate has been speaking to me to be incorporated, though I haven’t cooked much with it.

I went to the Christmas Market at Jack London Square after work one evening last week and discovered Provence en Couleur‘s booth. They had wonderful sachets of herbes de Provence so I decided to incorporate some into today’s experiment.

I deseeded a pomegranate (which was much easier to do than I thought – check out this video) and after saving a handful of seeds for later, I expressed the juice from the rest by placing them all in a sieve and pressing down on them with a spoon.

I cleaned, peeled and sliced 4 small yams and placed them in a large ceramic baking dish. I added peeled and quartered shallots and a half dozen garlic cloves (still in their skin but crushed with the broad side of a kitchen knife). A little grape seed oil was drizzled over the top and the whole thing was tossed and spread out evenly in the dish. A layer of fresh poultry herb mix was laid over the top of the veggies in wait for the chicken.


Next I spatchcocked the chicken. Essentially, you flip the chicken on its breast and cut along either side of the spine with kitchen shears so that you can open up and flatten out the chicken. I rubbed a bit of grape seed oil on it and sprinkled it with some grey sea salt.


Then came the making of the pomegranate sauce. I used the expressed pomegranate juice and squeezed a navel orange (it came to 1 cup liquid) and put it into a sauce pan on medium to bring to a simmer. I let it simmer for about 10-15 minutes and then added 1/4 cup cane sugar and a tablespoon of black treacle. Once that incorporated, I gave it a splash of chocolate raspberry port and added 1 cup of chicken broth. I let this reduce a bit and then added a spice mixture: grey sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, smoked paprika, ground cinnamon and cloves, and finally Eric’s lovely herbes de Provence, simmering it all together until all of the flavours melded. I added the reserved pomegranate seeds to the mixture.

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Once the sauce cooled a bit, I poured it over the chicken and veggies and put the dish into the preheated 400F oven for an hour. It was basted several times throughout the roasting time.

The dish was served with some pearl couscous. Yum!

from my kitchen .. criss-cross applesauce


About 7 peeled and cored Spartans cubed small and covered with water just barely with a squeeze of a half lemon, a whole long cinnamon stick snapped in half, some sugar, a quarter vanilla bean, two whole cloves simmered until .. well, it’s a sauce

Add a capful of brandy and stir in with a bit more cane sugar until the alcohol evaporates and .. ::swoon::!

Walking, remembering, the footsteps of those that came before us

One of the cats, Leia, awoke me at the crack of dawn this morning. She didn’t know that today should be treated as a weekend day, and was up at the same time as usual, protesting about her food bowl not being filled with enough food, quickly enough. I shushed her and tried to get back to sleep, but to no avail.

I was up a little after 7, shuffled out to the kitchen to make some coffee and toast some slices of bread, rub them with garlic and smear them with a bit of butter. I sat in on a teleconference call with Jill Badonsky at 9:30 this morning, who mobilized on the tail end of the US election.

I don’t even want to write about that here. I’m still in shock at the amount of prejudice of all kinds streaming out in the aftermath. I have no words for how it makes me feel. In many respects, I am grateful to be living up here rather than there, but there is so much work to do, work that was previously done and accepted as de facto, but clearly there has been as much erosion to it as there has been to the California coastline and the arctic icecaps.

Anyway, back to Jill. My aches and pains are physical in nature, rather than emotional, so even though the push for the work was different, the result benefitted me equally well. My right shoulder has been hurting me since my fall at the end end of July. Another fall last month (on October 20th) reinjured the area that hadn’t yet fully healed (and perhaps created new injuries) and so the pain is once again keeping me from sleeping well, from moving fully, from being strong on my right side. I’m not sure whether one of the medications (a branch of statins that I’m taking for high cholesterol) is contributing to the pain or whether it really is just a question of those injured ligaments taking long to heal properly.

All I know is that I’m growing weary of the pain that I’m in, constantly, and frustrated by the constraints in mobility that these injuries have caused. This body, that I expected to have full and perpetual mastery over, and faith in its resilience to heal itself forevermore, is beginning to show me that my haphazard treatment of it over the years is now biting me in the ass (figuratively, and literally – if only you could have seen the size of the badass bruise on my right butt cheek from my fall on the 20th – it was impressive).

Changes in diet and exercise (though the exercise mostly consists of walking and working a till at my second job, thus standing and moving for hours on end during the evenings and the Sundays that I work there rather than sitting in front of a computer monitor, which is what I typically do when I have some free time – to write) have let me drop a handful of pounds, but I have so much more to go. I fear that it will be quite some time before I have the time and energy to integrate more of it into my daily habit.

I have to believe that there is still lots of time.

Upon waking this morning, I read an announcement that Leonard Cohen has passed. I am saddened by the loss of his creative genius even as I realize that we have our inevitable mortality to contend with. He was 82, still young by many respects. Younger than my mother was when she died, though she was perhaps a few years more frail that she might have wanted to be. She watched me struggle through most of my life throughout most of hers, and in some ways I am grateful that she didn’t have to witness the wave after wave of challenges that continued to lap at my door (and do, even now).

I’ve come to make peace with the fact that life will continue to provide those waves, whether or not I want them. They will come in all forms, and I have no control over them. All I have control over is how I tend to the results they produce within the small scope of my life. All I have control over is what I put out into the world. I say that loosely, because on some days I don’t have any control at all. My reptile brain kicks in and reacts to things in less than favourable ways and I then spend days, weeks, even, regretting what I’ve put out there. However, I can’t take those things back; I can only learn from them going forward.

I got paid yesterday and then paid some bills, picked up some medication. All said, I currently have fifty dollars and change until my next pay check next Thursday. This is my life. But yesterday, on my way home from a doctor’s appointment (at which I received the prescription renewals for the medicines that I would pick up later in the evening), I stopped at A&W at the train station to pick up a burger. I’d been craving one all week but since I paid rent recently, I really didn’t have a lot of money to go around for extra expenditures. I was standing in line waiting my turn when a man that I used to see regularly panhandling downtown stood beside me and asked me if I would buy him something to eat. I was silent for a few moments, and then said “Alright. What do you want?” He told me and walked up to the counter with me to place his request alongside mine.

I am always torn when I do this. I’m sure he’s probably as broke as I am, on any given day, except that I work a full time job and another part time one so that I can continue living in a nice home, to be able to buy good food and provide for some of life’s creature comforts to myself and my son, things like high speed internet and cable, and cell phone service, and in my case, books. I got my new cell phone bill yesterday and it’s in the neighbourhood of $208. I bought a book at the Book Warehouse on Broadway, too, but I’m glad I picked it up because I felt the need to escape into a fictional world after the goings on of last week, and this one happens to be one created by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter (entitled The Long War). I read in the doctors’ offices, on the train. It’s good medicine.

Today I plan to write some more on The Story Wrangler. I have a scene in mind, and want to flesh out more of the plot before forging further into the story. I wish I had the discipline to write to an outline. In some respects, I’d like to see how others have constructed them, be shown visual pictorials of their processes, so that I can better grasp what their process looks like. I tend to let the characters take the reins, for better or for ill.

I have this underlying sense of what the story is to be – how it feels in my body as it’s coming into its own – but I don’t yet have the words or the thought forms to articulate them. This is actually really difficult to explain, but maybe it will make sense to other writers. In many ways writing a story is for me like walking through a lucid dream with a video camera. I know that I’m recording what I am seeing, ostensibly outside of myself, but also that I am in control of what is unfolding before me. Somehow the two are not mutually exclusive.

Time to make another chai tea and get writing. Peace to all of you. xo

The only constant is change

 

bee-kindI’m on vacation today – sort of. I have a 1:45PM follow up appointment with the cardiologist and then start work at the grocery store at 6PM. Tomorrow is a stat holiday so I won’t have to wake up early (though I probably will anyway, because of last weekend’s time change and the cats waking me).

Yesterday I got a text from Gabriel just after 2PM letting me know that Vader had brought in a bird. He’d mangled it quite a bit by the time it arrived indoors, and the bird got loose in my room. He warned me that there was blood on the netting on my window (which he had opened to free the poor thing) and that he’d cleaned the blood off of the window. I braced myself for where else I would find the poor little creatures remnants. Sure enough, there were tiny little droplets on my headboard, on my quilt and one at the very top of my flannel sheet. I found more on the top book of the stack that sits on my night stand (which is right below the window opening). There were a few matted feathers on the floor next to the night stand, and another one by my mirrored dresser, which apparently was the first thing that it tried to fly into (thinking that it was a window). It flew behind the dresser, and Gabriel needed to usher it out (with my besom, no less).

Minutes before, I had just been ruminating on a post that I’d read about letting the sacrifices begin (it had been a tongue-in-cheek remark about virgins, sacrifices and the election). I thought that perhaps we needed to make more of them, and was thinking on what constituted a sacrifice. For Catholics (which I am by baptism but not by adherence, except that I think Mary is the bomb), Lent provides a way to perform a sacrifice by giving something up that is beloved. I thought further that perhaps we have become so comfortable in our affluence (because really, when compared to even a century ago, many of us in the western world are incredibly affluent in comparison) that we have a great aversion to experiencing discomfort of any kind.

I know this because I’ve experienced discomfort many times, and each time it required making an adjustment to what was rather than what my expectations were. It made me all the more grateful for the little that came my way, and forced me to focus on the good that surrounded me rather than on the things that dissatisfied me. This is not to say that I wasn’t focused on improving my circumstances, but that while in the thick of unpleasant experience, the only way to surmount the pull of its darkness is to reframe it in some way, and to focus on the steps that can be taken to make them better.

I realized, when I was having a bad go of things, how crucial the people that surrounded me (near and far) were, that without their help I would have been so much worse off. I learned how to reach out and ask for help, and receive it graciously. Not everyone in my circle was willing or able to help, either, but even knowing that they were supportive in spirit helped.

There will be suck in every person’s life, sometimes worse than others. Many years ago, when I went to a weekend workshop put on by Carolyn Gross (Staying Calm in the Midst of Chaos), I pulled a bumper sticker (she was offering them the way you would a blind card pull) that read “The only constant is change”. The truth of this struck me at the time, and I carry it with me today. The changes may feel minute but they happen, whether we want them to or not. It is our responsibility to work toward building the sorts of change we wish to come about, tiny step by tiny step, if that is all we are capable of.

I think that this human embodiment is an incredible gift. We develop strengths and weaknesses over the course of our lives and have an opportunity, if we so choose, to build on the former and weed out the latter. Fortunately, this is not a one mistake sport. Sometimes the results are disastrous, because we don’t have the needed skills at the time to overcome the obstacles, but they always provide a learning experience, if we choose to sift though the debris and find them. It doesn’t even mean that we will be exempt from making the same ones over again… sometimes it takes several goes before the necessary adjustments are made.

So I leave you with that thought, and wish you all strength, love and hope. xo