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Me and my Arrow…

Ninteen years ago today, I got up with my best pal and went for a coffee. It was a big day, and she knew it. After all, she had been a big reason for the day being so important. If it hadn’t been for her, I might not have embarked on one of the best decisions of my life.

We had a glorious walk in Stanley Park to start the day, and later she sat beside me as I wrote my vows. That afternoon she was there too, all decked out, as I set out to form a new life. I’m so glad she was there. One always wants one’s best friends to be a part of momentuous occasions as well as everyday life.

You see, my best friend enabled me to get a first date with the man who would be my husband. We did a double date, us two girls with him and his best friend. I knew right then there was something special between us. We all stayed close and became a kind of family for many years.

Today I have another best pal, as the one from all those years ago is gone now, but her spirit lives on. We walk every morning, and most evenings too. She reminds me every day to stop and smell the flowers, take in the moments that make life special. She listens to my ramblings and supports me through thick and thin.

Can you guess who I’m speaking about? It’s my Chocolate Labrador Retrievers. The one from nineteen years ago was named Satchmo, as she was a great singer of the blues and a lover of life. Her successor is Ella, the queen of jazz (and a friend of Satchmo’s in another life). Both of them have been the best companions anyone could ask for, and they helped me to be a better person.

Satchmo & I at Lake Louise in 2001

Ella & me selfie Knox Mtn 2014

  Ella & I on a morning walk

Satchmo was the dog I had when I met my hubbie. He had a wonderful Doberman Pinscher named Paul (after Paul Simon – do you see a theme with our pet names?)

Our first date was to take our dogs for a walk, something that immediately endeared me to this man who seemed an unlikely candidate to hook up with for the long term.

His dog was very well-trained, as they both went to school to learn about training assistance dogs for people in wheelchairs. I was told to hold a chestnut in my hand for a while on the walk and then Hubbie threw it in the bushes down the slope to the beach. “Find it!”, he said to his Dobie.

Paul leaped over the edge of the slope and crashed his way through the brush. When we reached the bottom of the hill we saw his trotting back towards us, looking very proud. He sat ramrod straight in front of us. “Thank you”, said Hubbie, with his hand out. Paul spit out the chestnut, which had been marked with an x for verification. How impressed was I?!

 

It took almost 3 years for us to tie the knot, going through the trials and tribulations of life along the way. But our dogs were there with us – I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

When Satchmo went blind from a congenital defect at age 8, Paul helped her walk straight by nudging her on the sidewalk and he protected her in the park when we saw other dogs. They became soulmates just like Hubbie and me.

And now, almost 22 years after that first afternoon walk, having shared memories across the country and back with two more dogs and a little girl who is now married, we are still going.

I am so fortunate to have experienced so much love. Even more fortunate to have found my soulmate with whom to share all that love. But more than anything, I am grateful for the Brown Girls in my life – they have taught me how to love and live well, and given me more love (and laughter) than I could ever have imagined.

There is an old Harry Nillson song called “Me and my Arrow”, from a movie called The Point. I remember the tale and the song, every morning as I walk. I try to cherish those friendships appropriately.

Here’s to living the life your dog expects of you.

Press the Reset Button

Do you ever feel like your get up and go for up and went? Like there isn’t enough coffee to get you up to speed? That’s when I need to press the Reset Button. 

I have a to-do list a mile long. Every morning when I water the garden I see weeds to pull and bushes to trim. The pile of books on my bedside table hasn’t changed in months and I haven’t read more than a few pages of any of them. The recipes I have marked to try just gets bigger as I scan through blog posts and newsletters with seasonal treats. And I keep meaning to sit on the deck and enjoy the sun…

This morning  my Chocolate Lab Ella looked   at me and I swear she was sending me a telepathic message with those bright eyes and smiling face. It said, “Let’s take our time today. Let’s smell the air. ”  

How can I resist that smile?

So we did. I’m typing this while sitting in a lawn chair sipping on a latte at the neighbourhood farm market. We just wandered through the local farmers market and had a cookie (yup, they had dog  cookies too). Now we’re in the shade, just soaking up the good vibes. 

A friend of mine sent me a meme this morning. We hadn’t talked in a while, even though we keep up on general news via Facebook. She didn’t know I’d had a tough day yesterday – you know, one of those days when you start by stubbing your toe and then it goes downhill from there? I had tried to be positive but in the end I was worn out from my seemingly futile battle with the universe. Her message was like a warm hug, a teddy bear and a pat on the head saying everything would be alright. How could she know that I needed just that?


I remember a wise author once said that we glimpse the true meaning of the universe when we stand still. I watched the Tony Robbins documentary, “I Am Not Your Guru” this week and he talked about focusing on the big things. One can only do that when the interference from all the little things isn’t so loud one can’t think. 

It’s great to have goals, but they have to be realistic. Even if you have the budget, I don’t think it would make sense to have caviar and champagne every day. I’m going forward finally learning how to use the knowledge from this lesson in life. 

Some days one just needs to breathe the air and take in the colour of the sky and enjoy the company of kindred spirits. Today is one of those days. Feeling guilty for not doing the laundry or baking cookies instead defeats that goal. 

Thank you to the friends who taught me something valuable today. 

One a Penny, Two a Penny…

Did you have hot cross buns for breakfast today? I did. Do you know why we have them at Easter? I remember the rhyme from childhood, but I must admit that not having a religious upbringing I didn’t know the history of this seasonal sweet bun. As I sat munching and sipping my tea this morning I did some research, and I figured I can’t be the only one who didn’t know all the tidbits I found. So, here you go – new knowledge for your brain.

Let’s start at the beginning: Easter Sunday is the celebration at the end of Lent, commemorating the resurrection of Jesus. Lent is the period before Easter, starting on or about Ash Wednesday  (depending on your religion),  and ending just before Easter. It signifies the 40 days that Jesus wandered in the desert, and those observing Lent solemnly honour his sacrifice by many activities that seek to bring them closer to God. Fasting as Jesus did, or giving up luxuries in life is usual for the faithful during Lent; prayer, penance and repentance are also common. Hence the common expression, “giving up (something) for Lent”.

The Lenten fast of ancient times was much more broad and strict than it is today, in some places allowing only bread in one’s diet, but for most removing all animal products and allowing no meals until later in the day or the evening. Nowadays, a fast usually involves a full meal and up to two “collations” – sustenance to keep one going, but not so much as to count for a full meal. Some people do not fast but do remove meat from their diets, either for all of Lent or at least on Ash Wednesday and on all Fridays and Saturdays in Lent. Lent ends either on Good Friday, or at midday on Easter Saturday, depending on your faith.

Since no animal products were allowed during Lent, sweet breads (containing milk, eggs and/or butter) would not be on the menu. Therefore, hot cross buns would be eaten at the end of Lent. They are not just a random treat, either – the cross on the top signifies the crucifixion of Jesus, and the spices represent those used to embalm him for his funeral. The first hot cross bun was apparently baked by a monk in medieval times.

The solemn nature of hot cross buns is not to be taken lightly – in 1592, Queen Elizabeth I actually forbid their sale on any day but holy days (Good Friday, Christmas, or for funerals). The punishment for selling them was to have all your product donated to the poor. James I of England did the same thing in the 1600’s; for many years you could not find a hot cross bun recipe, as the buns were only made in secret by home bakers. The first modern record of them is a written account of street sellers hawking them in the 1700’s, the source of the nursery rhyme I remember:

Hot cross buns!
Hot cross buns!
One a penny, two a penny.
Hot cross buns!

If you have no daughters,
Give them to your sons!
One a penny, two a penny.
Hot cross buns!

Of course, as with most things that carry such significance there are many bits of folklore attached to hot cross buns. Did you know…

  • hot cross buns are said to have healing powers? If you give one to someone who is sick, it can help make them better (perhaps this comes from sharing them with those less fortunate?)
  • hot cross buns don’t go bad? If you hang one in your kitchen on Good Friday, it will bode for good breads all year long, and keep your house safe from fire and bad spirits. (the preserved fruit would help keep the bun fresher, but I’m not sure I would keep it up for a full year.)
  • hot cross buns are full of luck? Taking one on a sea voyage will prevent a shipwreck, and it is said that friends sharing a bun will have a strong bond of friendship in the coming year. (Any hope against shipwreck was probably worth trying; as for friendships, well who wouldn’t want a pal that shared their treat?)

Although I don’t observe any traditional religion, I do certainly believe that sharing oneself with loved ones and in the community is important. I also believe that to be a good person requires thoughtfulness and focus. As such, I can understand the importance of Easter and appreciate its solemn history.

So, in honour of Easter, may you enjoy every moment. Whether you celebrate a feast day that is at the centre of your faith, or your family, or both, I wish you well this Easter weekend.

Peace be with you.

Food Tastes Better with Friends

Yesterday I spoke of comfort food, and how the company that shares the food sometimes has a lot to do with the comfort we get. I am often singing the praises of sharing a meal to bring people together. But what about the times when we eat alone?

You stand out as a solo diner.

I don’t want to say that eating alone can’t be enjoyable; sometimes people want to have quiet time to themselves. What I am referring to are the times when we yearn for company but don’t have any. Then food can taste bland and one can feel much less than nourished after the meal.

Having been a person that didn’t fit in to a group most of my life, I can relate to the loneliness of not being popular as a kid and I remember feeling afraid that I wouldn’t make any friends at school. I was lucky, and found some great companions. I never ate lunch alone.

Sometimes it is the food that heals, and other times it is the company who helps us move forward. In a world of reality TV that promotes singling people out, where the pressure to fit in is even stronger than in generations past, we need to have friends with whom we can feel nourished. Who says that can’t start by “paying it forward” and making a new friend?

Perhaps my teenage memories are why I was so struck by a piece I saw on CBS Sunday Morning today. This show of mostly heartwarming news is always inspiring, and I especially love the stories from Steve Hartman. Mr. Hartman took over for the delightful Bill Geist in delivering tales of everyday heroes that offer hope and inspiration, and today’s entry was no different. #WeDineTogether is a wonderful group of young people… see for yourself:

http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/starved-for-company/

I’d like to think this idea can spread, just like peanut butter and jelly in a sandwich. As Steve Hartman says, maybe the grown ups can learn just as the kids do. Perhaps we could extend the camaraderie from around the table to a philosophy of life. It’s just an idea.

 

 

Edible Chain Letters

recipe exchange old fashioned

There are many traditions of food with friendship. In today’s age of emails and the Internet, it seems that recipes are shared via Pinterest boards and chat rooms more often than by handwritten recipe cards or passed-on magazine articles. Even recipes can go viral though, especially if there is a good story attached. Have you had one of those emails? Not the prince looking for money, the friend who says they are sharing a famous recipe! What foodie could resist such a claim? Not me 🙂

One email chain out there was for the infamous Neiman Marcus cookie: as the story goes a simple oatmeal chocolate chip cookie rose to fame because a woman who ordered the recipe for it after tasting it at a Neiman Marcus department store café was charged $250. As revenge, she sent the recipe to all of her friends. I think this was one of the first e-mails I ever received. This story has been around for a number of years and when I looked into it as an urban legend I discovered variations of it have been floating around for about 50 years, using different recipes and different companies. (There was one published in a cookbook in the 1950’s that told of someone being charged the exorbitant fee of $25 for a fudge cake recipe!) Neiman-Marcus-Chocolate-Chip-CookiesThe attraction of course, is that we get to stick up for the little guy and manage to “stick it to the man” at the same time, not to mention eating cookies. The Neiman Marcus story is not true, by the way. There is a recipe though. If you’re interested, the Neiman Marcus cookie is not all that unique, but feel free to try a batch – you can eat for free nowadays.

 

I felt privileged when a person chose me as one of the friends who would receive this prized recipe. I became part of an inner circle, and then I could share the wealth with other friends too. It’s amazing that food can be a symbol of such status, even just with a recipe.

There is another chain, about a friendship cake. This too, is a long legend. It is a yeast bread recipe that takes 10 days to make, and then a loaf recipe is  made with 1 of the 4 cups of the dough. You keep one cup  of the “starter” aside and then pass along a cup to two friends, with the recipe for the cake. There are many variations on the history of it, but the one I liked the most was in the oft-used name of Amish Friendship Bread (this recipe tells how to make the starter and the loaf, with raisins and cinnamon). Amish friendship breadAn elder and authority on Amish history was asked about the origin of this recipe and she replied that the tradition was simply to share bread or sourdough starter with those less fortunate or sick. It seems the idea of passing it to a friend simply to honour the friendship was just an extension of that gesture.

I know that many people in this day and age don’t have time 10 days in a row to make a sourdough starter. Many people don’t eat certain things so likely they wouldn’t be able to enjoy the cake recipe. But that doesn’t mean we can’t share. The fact that we take the time to send the e-mail says something, doesn’t it? People used to send “care packages” of food by snail mail but you can’t send food through the internet waves. I guess this is just the latest iteration of us trying to still be friends. You can live without friends, but who would want to? One of my favourite childhood authors said it best:

Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art… It has no survival value; rather is one of those things that give value to survival.
– C. S. Lewis

Whether you use one of these edible chain letters or you just drop by with a bit of something, I think the gesture of sharing something homemade does retain a certain special quality. Friendship is about sharing; it is a necessary ingredient in the recipe of life. (The best part is, your friends will still sit by you, even if what you cook is not that great!)

 

 

 

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