Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Shaking the Trees

I'm interested to see who else is lurking here besides me, and so I have a Lovely Easter Offer for You. Last night I took on a creative project in a new medium. If you send me an email at, I will send you a short PowerPoint presentation that pulls together some of the things I've been thinking about. I hope it will give you food for thought and that it will give me some response to this blog.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Kindness and Mercy

When we were in Italy, we experienced kindness and mercy from people and from God - sometimes in the same moment. I see this in the photos of the earthquake in L'Aquila and the stories too: hoteliers have spontaneously donated thousands of beds for the suddenly homeless people, firefighters are embracing devastated people, aid workers are handing out bread. It is Holy Week and the kingdom of God is among us. May we have the eyes to see it, in the midst of whatever degree of chaos we find ourselves in.

better late than never: Meg on Quebec

The top 10 things I loved about Quebec!
1.scrumptious Beaver Tails!
2.Yummy Caribou!
3.Dog sledding very cold!
4.totally awesome Carnaval de Quebec!!!!
5.BIG FOOS BALL GAME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
6.Funny lumber jacks!!
7.Very slippery ice slides!!!
8.playing with my friend!
9.playing Wii sports
10.VERY VERY YUMMY POUTINE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Notice the Fresh Travellin' Groove Look Here?

I am also thinking about getting my hair dyed red. Because I'm taking a totally different journey in the next five weeks: into my 40s. And because I've always always wanted red hair. I suspect the novelty will wear off very quickly, but it's either now or when I look like one of those scary clown old ladies.

Monday, April 6, 2009

ok, one more funny thing

my mother keeps calling me, pretending to be one of the nuns from our convent. This started April 1. The giveaway was when her accent turned Irish.

ps I am the person on the right in this photo. The woman at left is not my mother.

and one funny thing

I think I mentioned before that there are guys like these ones, at left, whose job is to dress up like Roman guards so that tourists can pay to have their photos taken standing beside them.

Disclaimer 1: I did not pay for this photograph.
Disclaimer 2: Dave panicked when he saw me snapping this photo, thinking we would have to pay.
Disclaimer 3: The reason I took this photo is not quite clear in the photo itself - I missed the angle just slightly. These Roman guards were checking for messages on their Blackberries. This cracked me right up. I probably would have paid for the shot.

Shaken and Stirred

A month ago we landed in Italy. Today Italy is scrambling to find survivors after two earthquakes. We wouldn't have been in either one, but there's something about having been somewhere that brings the news closer to home. Praying.

PS The photo above was taken on the train to Rome, probably just west of L'Aquila.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Place Where I'm From

One of the finest meals we had on our trip to Italy took place in a ordinary-looking house at a t-intersection in Reggia-Emillia, parmesan cheese country. We had asked our host for a suggestion for a restaurant. He warned us the proprietor spoke no English – that he was nervous of us even because we were English. The place was ablaze with florescent light in the dark early spring night. The proprietor shyly he led us to a table. The waitress appeared and a torrent of what we assumed to be daily specials poured forth from her mouth. We nodded – understanding one word in three – and took the menus to decipher them. She came back, apologizing, trying again in the simplest broken English. Between her English and our Italian, we ordered the most delicious home-made ravioli, steak on beds of radicchio and arugula, and an alcohol-soaked pudding. Mama was the cook – and she had found her vocation. We watched the proprietor and waitress listen intently to each guest, sit down to talk while a man with intellectual disabilities searched his wallet to pay, maintain grace and dignity while delivering plate after plate of delicious food. At the end of our meal, we managed to get the shy owner to talk to us. It turned out he had been to Canada, briefly to Niagara Falls and then to the St. Lawrence to see whales.

I’ve thought a lot about this man since. It is likely he is setting tables today while his wife cooks meals. They probably cooked yesterday and they likely will again tomorrow. Mama’s recipes could be from the ‘Net, but I bet they were handed down from her nonna, her grandmother. For us, this was a holiday, but especially in this little trattoria, this was also someone’s daily life.

My favourite part of the play Our Town is the scene when Emily comes back to earth for one day after she has died. No one can see her but she sees all the normal things of life going on around her and she cries out, “ I can’t look at everything hard enough. It goes so fast. We don’t have time to look at one another ” As she leaves, she says: “Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you ” Then she asks, “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?—every, every minute?”

It is easy to find holidays exotic and charming. It’s not hard to see regular life as mundane and ordinary. I wonder about the man in the restaurant. If he longed too much for Niagara Falls, if he decided to change his restaurant to serve Thai food, if he decided that regular life was too dull - what would be lost?

At the end of the wonderful movie Stranger than Fiction, the narrator says,

“As Harold took a bite of Bavarian sugar cookie, he finally felt as if everything was going to be ok. Sometimes, when we lose ourselves in fear and despair, in routine and constancy, in hopelessness and tragedy, we can thank God for Bavarian sugar cookies. And, fortunately, when there aren't any cookies, we can still find reassurance in a familiar hand on our skin, or a kind and loving gesture, or subtle encouragement, or a loving embrace, or an offer of comfort, not to mention hospital gurneys and nose plugs, an uneaten Danish, soft-spoken secrets, and Fender Stratocasters, and maybe the occasional piece of fiction. And we must remember that all these things, the nuances, the anomalies, the subtleties, which we assume only accessorize our days, are effective for a much larger and nobler cause. They are here to save our lives. I know the idea seems strange, but I also know that it just so happens to be true.”

You don’t need to know the movie to understand what she is saying. Like her, I believe God uses the simple, ordinary things of life to teach and rescue us. I believe God comes to be with us in our everyday life, as well as in significant moments of pain and joy. I believe the best thing I can do is to “Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. “ (Romans 12:1, The Message)

I need to learn to have eyes like Emily does in the play – before I’m dead, if possible. Sure, traveling to new places and discovering new restaurants and new vistas is lovely, but my task is the same as the man in the restaurant: to set the table that is before me, to serve those who come into my corner of the world, to travel occasionally but to live, rooted, in the place where I’m from.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Apparently there are readers out there - armchair travelers - who are reading this blog. I know it's nearly impossible to comment - my apologies for that. It's nice to know that these thoughts aren't just going off into the ether though, so thank you for stopping by.

We are knee-deep in plans for our next trip - to BC and Alberta next month with the kids. I have to say that I'm slightly reluctant to get planning another trip so soon. We normally don't travel often and so I have the opportunity to both anticipate and to savour a trip. I like that a lot. It reminds me of the contrast between a beautifully presented meal on an enormous white plate, where the exquisiteness of the food can be savoured slowly, and going to an all-you-can-eat buffet. Now, don't get me wrong - buffets can be wonderful - but Italy was definitely something you savour for a long time.

A friend asked me this week what "best practices" I had brought home from Italy with me - rituals or new habits that had stuck with us. I was kind of stumped at first. I bought Cabbage Rosewater from the perfumeria in Florence and I use it nearly every day on my face. I also bought a bar of violet soap and stuck it in my underwear drawer. The other day, I was working and I could smell this wonderful candy-like smell - and I suddenly realized it was me. (Have you ever noticed how much real violets smell just as sweet as candy? Or apparently how much I do?) I've been making Italian food a lot - I've given up on all prepared salad dressings and now I simply drizzle lettuce with red wine vinegar and olive oil, separately, and then sprinkle it liberally with salt. Delicious! I've also been baking what we are calling Nun's Cake. Everyone loves it. I found the recipe on the Internet (under Tuscan cakes) but it tastes exactly like the cake the nuns at our convent served us. Here's the recipe:

Nun's Cake
1/2 cup butter
almost 1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup buttermilk (I use 1/2 cup regular milk with a splash of lemon juice)
1-1/2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder

Mix it all together. The eggs make it look sunny and yellow. Pour it into a pan - I use an 8" round pan. Bake at 375 degrees F for about 40 minutes or until it's just golden. Take it out. Thump it out of the pan and onto a plate. Let it cool a bit or completely and serve.

It tastes like a cross between pound cake and angel food cake. Simple and delicious.

What else? Dave and I are enjoying hanging out together more than usual. We kind of got used to it, I guess, when we were away together.

And, I wish. I'd like to go back to Italy some day and I have no idea whether I will. That's not what I wish though. My wish is for something like the Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day: I'd like to be stuck for a good long while in the midst of the trip we had. I don't want to try to recreate or relive it - I'd like to still be living it. This is not to say I'm unhappy with my life. I'm very happy. It's just that it was kind of magical. A gift.

Sweeter than violets even.