Saturday, October 27, 2012

for anyone experiencing an early winter blast

have heart, there are a few good things about fierce weather:

question: cold outside?

mompoet - that's okay, really

Friday, October 26, 2012

how to make an 80th birthday crisp

Just to be clear, this is about making a "crisp" which is a noun when it is the name of a baked fruit dessert. It is not about how to make an 80th birthday crisp as in the adjective for crunchy, fresh, neat or lively.

I realised I have not posted a "how to cook something" blog in a little while. When I baked a fruit crisp for my mom's 80th birthday recently, I photographed the process. So here we go...

Mom had a delicious home-made layer cake on her actual birthday, at my sister's house in Cranbrook. A week later we celebrated with Mom at home. She wanted a lighter dessert, so I made an apple blueberry cranberry crisp. I got some gorgeous Norther Spy apples at the Coquitlam Farmers' Market. I sliced these into an oiled casserole, then added some frozen blueberries from the big batch that Andy and I picked this summer. Then I used up the leftover fresh cranberries from our Thanksgiving dinner. Notice how I partially sliced each cranberry before adding them? Cranberries are prone to bursting as they heat, and I didn't want mini dessert explosions disrupting my baking effort.

Next, I mixed one cup of sugar with 2 tablespoons of cornstarch and a teaspoon of cinnamon, then I stirred the mixture into the apples and berries in the casserole. If I was a neatnik, I would have done this in a large bowl rather than in (and out of) the crowded casserole. But a neatnik I am not, so it was a bit messy. Don't worry, it's not essential to have it completely combined. The bubbling juices will move the sugar and cornstarch around as the crisp bakes.

For the topping, I mixed 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup flour, 1 cup old fashioned rolled oats, and 1/2 cup cooking oil. You can use butter or margarine instead of the oil but then it's not vegan-friendly. Too much of the world is not vegan-friendly, so I used the oil, which makes just as nice a topping as any alternative. (Are you thinking "What? Isn't margarine vegan-friendly?" Please read up. Most regular margarine is not.)

You may have noticed that the fruit and topping are mounded up pretty high. I always think this when I am building a crisp. It won't stay that way, however. As the fruit cooks it will collapse, as the water leaves the cells and turns into the yummy juice that will rise up in the casserole. That's why we use cornstarch after all, to thicken up the juice, so the finished dessert is yummy and gooey, not yummy and drippy.

Bake the whole thing for 45 minutes to an hour at 350. If the top browns before you can see the gooey bubbles all through the dessert, cover the top loosely (tight wrapping will trap the steam and defeat the crispiness of the topping) with a piece of aluminum foil and continue baking.

Here's how it should look when it's ready.

Here's how Mom looked when we sang happy birthday to her. I know we're not using crisp as an adjective here, but don't you think my mom looks crisp (in a good way)?

question: what does crisp mean to you?

mompoet - happy birthday to mompoet's mom

winter is coming

and yes, it makes me very happy, indeed. This is a view of the north shore mountains from Clark Street in Port Moody.

question: do you like the winter?

mompoet - don't hate me because I'm weird

Sunday, October 21, 2012

pantless in port moody

Do you ever dream that you are a student at high school or university, and you discover you have showed up to school without your clothing and/or you have not prepared for an important exam or presentation? I think this is a classic "I am unprepared, unqualified, and in danger of being humiliated" dream. I dream it from time to time. The other version of this dream for me takes place at a floor hockey tournament. I find myself in the final game of the tournament, with absolutely no skills, stamina or understanding of the game. Often I am playing without a hockey stick. (Did I mention I have a life long aversion to participating in team sports?)

Yesterday, I thought that I was going to live that dream. Fortunately, it turned out to be not so bad after all. A few months ago, Barb Buxton, the Adult Services Librarian at the Port Moody Library, phoned me and invited me to participate in a panel discussion about how to get published. I told her that I thought she was asking the wrong person because none of my stories or poetry have been commercially published, not even one poem in a literary journal, let alone a book. I do have a recipe for B-Bars that was published in the CBC Squares and Bars Cookbook about 10 years ago, but I don't think that counts. I also have work in the 11 (soon 12) chapbooks published by the Shoreline Writers' Society, and my own self-published poetry collection, Swirl. Barb told me this would be okay. She was looking for someone local, and they needed a poet on the panel. I offered to help track down a local, published poet. She said she wanted me. I said yes.

The intervening months went by, and I heard from Irene Jakse, the Program and Services Coordinator at the library. Irene put me in touch with the panel moderator, Julie Ferguson. Julie introduced all 5 panelists to one-another via email, and an exchange of biographies. So I knew my fellow panelists: Joyce Gram is a lawyer, a contract writer for non-profits and a professional editor. Lois Peterson is a children's librarian who has published 7 books for young readers with Orca Press. Gaetan Royer is the former City Manager for Port Moody, now a Senior Planner for Metro Vancouver Region. He has published Time for Cities: Canadian Towns and Cities are Going Broke! Strategies for a Sustainable Future, and is working on his next book. He is also the recipient of the Governor General's Meritorious Service Medal in recognition of his humanitarian work in the restoration of war-torn Sarajevo and Bosnia. David Russell is an actor, screen-writer and free-lance writer for newspaper and magazines. he has published two detective novels with Dundurn Publishers, and is working on his third. Our panel moderator was similarly accomplished. Julie Ferguson has published 15 non-fiction books in the past 17 years, writes travel articles, and coaches authors on their way to getting published. To say I was intimidated would be an understatement.

I emailed Julie and told her that I felt that I was significantly under-qualified to be on the panel. I write mostly for the joy of it, and to facilitate my performance as a spoken word artist. I am not a book-maker like these other real authors! Audience members, seeking wisdom about how to get published, will surely be disappointed by anything I can tell them. Julie reassured me, it would be okay. I could bring my perspective, and it would be welcome and helpful. Okay, I said, if you say so. Still, I had grave doubts.

Thursday evening before the Saturday panel, I shared the stage with Rosemary Nowicki, performing poetry and stories for the Elizabeth Bagshaw Women's Clinic fundraising evening. I was in my element, performing the pieces I had written and rehearsed. I was confident in my preparation and my ability to convey my message using the skills I have developed over many years of practising spoken word performance. The audience was appreciative, Friends and relatives were there too. I felt in my element, doing something that I felt confident doing. I knew why I said, "yes," to this.

But why, oh why? Why did I say "yes," to the library panel? When I woke up Saturday I thought, "I'm going to sit up there like a dumb nobody, and someone's going to ask me a question about submitting poetry for publication, and I'm going to say, "Well, I don't know. I have never done that!"

I got to the library early and met Julie and the other panelists. Barb and Irene were there too. Everyone was very kind and friendly. Two o'clock rolled around, and we began. And you know what? I did have something to say! The other authors answered the questions about literary agents, submitting queries to publishers, copyright issues, professional editing, etc. I talked about the importance of community, and the benefits of being part of a writing and critiquing group. I talked about Shoreline's process of collaborative chapbook writing, which is different from most anthology-making, I think. I encouraged writers to remember get out and meet and work with other writers in their community. I told them not to wait 3 years, like I did before I got the courage to attend a meeting of the Shoreline Writers. For 3 years, I told myself I was not a good enough writer to show my work to anybody but my children. Those were three years wasted!

Partway through the panel discussion, the light went on for me. I did have a role to play here, and I did have something to say. After the formal discussion, we had coffee and mingled for a while. I actually had a lineup of people waiting to speak to me about their own writing practice, and to ask me questions about how to become part of a writing group, and what happens at writing group meetings. I encouraged half a dozen people to come to our Shoreline meetings and also talked with some about other writing groups around the region, and online resources for finding groups and events.

I am glad that I trusted Barb and Julie, and had faith in myself. I feel like I was able to contribute something that helped the event and some of the people who attended. I am proud of myself for not hiding for another 3 years. I am getting better at jumping in. Before the panel began, I was chatting with Joyce Gram. We discovered that we have both recently joined choirs, something for which we both feel unqualified. I reflected that it took me 3 years to work up the courage to join a writing group, and one year to embolden myself to join a choir. I'm glad when Barb called I just said, "yes."

question: for what do you currently feel under-qualified?

mompoet - please consider saying, "yes!"

Saturday, October 13, 2012

now that the rain has begun in earnest

July, August, September, and early October have been unnaturally bright and dry here. On Friday morning the rain began. All day we were surrounded by a fine mist that seemed to come from every direction and move in every direction, like a fine, cool swarm of very wet insects. I walked to work in my Gore-Tex rain gear, noticing how the mist got up inside the cuffs of my jacket and under the peak of my cap and onto my glasses despite the fact that I was wearing a cap. After an hour walking in this mist, everything about me was wet on the outside. Thanks to my good gear, my inner layers stayed warm and dry.

Today, the air is thick with fat bumblebee raindrops all propelling themselves straight to the ground where they splash-land in puddles and little rivers on the road and sidewalk. I am at home, warm and dry in non-waterproof flannel, procrastinating and enjoying the fact that I don't have to go anywhere or do anything.

I like the rain. Rain is the way it is around here, for most of the fall, winter and spring. We should embrace it. In the spirit of embracing rain, here are a few positive thoughts about rain:

  • Rain is good for fish. The salmon need the streams to fill up now, so they will have an easy journey up to their spawning grounds. I hear that the Chum salmon are thick in the Coquitlam River now. Andy and I will go look at them this weekend.
  • Rain is calming. I woke up during a break in the rain this morning, to hear 2 happy boys next door bouncing on a trampoline in the back yard. But it began to rain again and the boys went inside. The sound of the rain on the roof soothed me back to sleep for another delicious 45 minutes of rest.
  • Rain gives us a soundscape of our outdoor space. We know when it is raining lightly, and when it is pounding down. We can tell when a car or bicycle goes by. We can hear wet footsteps. The sounds of animal and human voices are amplified by the wet air.
  • Rain makes temporary evidence of our presence. I can see wet footprints in the dry concrete leading up to our sheltered front door. I can follow an umbrella's drip trail through the lobby of the building where I work, to find out who has recently arrived. At home, I can follow the damp clumps of coats, socks and other gear to know who has recently come in from outdoors.
  • Rain reassures us that there are cycles and seasons. What goes up must come down. Everything goes around and around. Rain is the most persistent and obvious reassurance of continuity that we have in our world.
question: how's the weather where you are?

mompoet - I hope that you can find a reason to love rain today

Monday, October 08, 2012

before the rain begins to fall

Things are looking better for people who live in the Tri-Cities area (Port Moody, Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam). For people who have no home, the annual cold wet weather shelter program has opened up, a month earlier this year than last year. For people who have homes and jobs and food on the table, the opportunity to really share and help is so readily available. Life is really wonderful.

This year, our shelter is called "The Bridge Shelter," not because it's on or under a bridge, but because it has changed shape a bit to bridge the two years between our old shelter (which rotated from church to church from November to March) and the new one which will have a permanent address at 3030 Gordon Street in Coquitlam. The Bridge Shelter is open now at Northside Church in Port Coquitlam. The plan is to run it at that location for this winter and next, then to move to a permanent location at 3030 Gordon Street in Coquitlam in 2014.

So here's where it becomes apparent that it's things are really looking better for people who live in the Tri-Cities. Here are just a few examples:

  • If you know someone who is homeless, tell them about the shelter. It's lower barrier this year than it has been in the past. There's secure parking for guests' carts and walk-up guests are welcome. Inside there's a safe, warm place to sleep, free clothing and toiletries, a home-cooked supper, hot breakfast, and a bag lunch. Plus, there are workers from Hope For Freedom Society who can help with referrals to housing and addiction  and health services, if that's what you want.
  • If you want to help, you can volunteer to work a shift at the shelter. Morning volunteers make breakfast and eat with the guests, then put the beds away after they leave. Evening volunteers set up the beds, share supper with the guests and help with clothing and toiletries.
  • If you want to help, but don't want to work on site at the shelter, you can donate. Right now, the shelter needs new or gently used men's clothing (everything from socks to jeans to winter coats), small toiletries, feminine hygiene supplies, and groceries. Work boots are especially welcome, even used, with some life still in them.
  • Another way to help: sign up to cook supper for the guests for one night. (This is a good family or friends and neighbours project.) You just need to cook it and bring it in by about 9pm. The volunteers on site will serve it and do the dishes. You can stay if you like. It will change how you see things. I promise.
  • For information about all of the options listed above, call Hope For Freedom at 604-729-4972
  • Finally, you can learn more about the permanent shelter planned for 3030 Gordon Street in Coquitlam. There will be an open house at the Evergreen Cultural Centre, 1205 Pinetree Way in Coquitlam on Tuesday, October 16, 5-8pm. You can meet the people from Raincity Housing (the society that is building and will be operating the permanent shelter) and have input to the plans. Info about the open house: Sean Spear at 604.215.3048
We are all neighbours here. The Tri-Cities shelter program has had some awesome success stories in its 5 years of operation. It's a pretty special program in the way it enlists hands-on help from people in the neighbourhood to be hosts. It has been a life-changing experience for me to be involved. I understand so much more than I did before I began, and I have a lot more courage to step up and offer help when I see someone who looks like they need it. I also know that I have been helped by being allowed to help. You can too.

question: what do you know about this?

mompoet - please come find out more - you will be glad

thanksgiving haiku movie review

the best thing about
The Master? Joaquin Phoenix's
wings akimbo

question: did you see any movies this weekend?

mompoet - marveling at the intersection of turkey roasting and film-making

Saturday, October 06, 2012

is this the party to whom I am speaking?

My family tells me that I should change the way I say "hello" when I make an outgoing phone call. This is the way I like to do it:

1. I dial the number.
2. The phone rings.
3. Voice on the other end: "Hello?"
4. Me: "Hi Mary-Lou! It's Sue!"
5. Voice on the other end: "Um...this isn't Mary-Lou, it's her son Edward."
6. Me: "Oh, sorry Edward! Can I talk to your Mom."
7. My family members, overhearing this: "Groan!" "Mom! Don't do that!"

So today I phoned the home of my sister Barb and her husband Kim, in Cranbrook. A deep male voice answered. I said, "Hello Kim!" but of course I was wrong. It was Adem, the young man who lives with my sister and her family. Adem sounds a lot like Kim when all he says is, "Hello." Most people sound very much alike when all they say is hello. So I had a nice short chat with Adem, who was home studying while the rest of the family was out for Saturday breakfast at BJ's Restaurant in Kimberley. (loaded hashbrowns - yeah!) I told him I would call back later.

I think it's friendly to greet the person who answers the phone by name, even if the greeting is somewhat less than accurate. After all, what are the alternatives?

1. Phone rings.
2. Voice: Hello?
3. Me: Hello, this is Sue, may I please speak to Mary-Lou?
4. Voice: This is Mary-Lou!
5. Now that was awkward!

Besides, this sounds like I am a stranger. If I know Mary-Lou and her family, I think this approach is just too formal.

Here's one our friend Bill uses. It works for him:

1. Phone rings.
2. Me: Hello?
3. Bill: THIS IS BILL!
4. Me: Oh hi, Bill, this is Sue, how are you?

But I'm afraid that it would work like this for me.

1. Phone rings.
2. Voice: Hello?
4. Voice: Hello Sue!
5. Me: Who is this?
6. Voice: NOT SUE!
7. Me: Oh. Sorry. Can I speak to Mary-Lou please?


1. Phone rings.
2. Voice: Hello?
4. Voice: SO WHAT! (hangs up the phone)
5. Me: Now what?

I could just ask at the outset:

1. Phone rings.
2. Voice: Hello?
3. Me: Who's this?
4. Voice: What do you want? (hangs up)

No. that wouldn't work. Maybe, "This is Sue. Who's this?" would work better? But if I'm going to be all inquisitive, why not go for the gold?

1. Phone rings.
2. Voice: Hello?
3. Me: THIS IS SUE! Who's this? Do you like my hat? Do you like the tin man? Did you floss your teeth last night? What time is it? Where are you? How do you like me so far?
4. Voice: (hangs up the phone).

I think, for now, I'll stick with the way I am currently greeting the person who picks up the phone. Most of my friends know I do that, and will forgive me when I guess wrong.

question: Who's this?

mompoet - THIS IS SUE! Do you like loaded hashbrowns?

Thursday, October 04, 2012

learning how to be an alto (again)

I have joined a choir. It's a group of people who work for the City where I work, plus a few friends. The choir started a year ago, and I wanted to join, but I was too afraid. Then I reminded myself how it took me three years to get the courage to go to a Shoreline Writers' meeting, and how positive that was once I finally went. So I decided not to waste any more time.

I had to audition, but it was easy. I sang Happy Birthday, then held a note while someone else sang other notes with me not losing track of my note, then the leader, Cecile, told me I was "trainable," and I can join the choir. Hooray!

I joined the low alto group. It's a fun group of women. Coincidentally, three of us are named Susan. Two are Susan Elizabeth. One is Elizabeth. That is more than weird, and I like it. We meet once a week to learn and practice for 2 hours. I record most of our sessions and listen to them through the week, and peck out our alto parts on the keyboard in our basement and practise singing them. It sounds like when Alex was learning to play the alto saxophone: All by itself, what I sing doesn't sound like a song. It's so full of pauses and starts and stops with silent gaps, and the notes are un-melodic, but put it together with the other parts and it's quite lovely. Well, potentially quite lovely. Right now it sounds like the back half of a barn. MOOOO! Hee-Hawwww! Squawk!

Which brings me to self-doubt. How dare I presume to try to sing with these good singers who sing well? (I have not sung outside of home and at church on Sunday since I was about 18 years old.) Are my notes sour? Am I sliding into the beginning of my part until I hear the others singing around me? Am I singing something totally different and nobody is telling me? Does my breath smell? Do I have body odor? How's my driving? Does this dress make me look fat? Ahem.

When I listen to my recordings of our practices, I can hear the odd sour notes in our section. But the voice doesn't sound like my voice. When I can hear my voice I think it's okay. And I know that I'm not really supposed to hear my voice. I'm supposed to blend with the other voices in my section and in the rest of the choir. So as long as I am actually singing, and I don't hear HEE HAWW! MOOO! Squawww-awwwk, that things are going well. Getting better at singing will require getting better at listening so I can hear everyone, singing all the parts and know that the part I am singing fits well.

Our teacher, Cecile, is lovely. She is dynamic and encouraging and gives us lots of exercises and direction and she is working with what she has in her choir group to tweak the arrangements to be fun and challenging and not sound like the back of a barn so much. We have a good mix of voices, I think, including one teenage daughter and a 10 year old girl who just joined with her mom, which is very cool. She can be in our section, even if her name is not Susan.

Our first performance will be on December 2. Just a little less than 2 months away. I have some work to do, partly on my singing, partly on my confidence level. I can do it. I'm glad I did not wait any longer to show up and give it a try.

question: what's new for you?

mompoet - HEEE HAWWW!

Monday, October 01, 2012

art + nature + people = community

Sunday afternoon, Andy and I drove out to the Silk Purse Gallery in West Vancouver to see a show of our friend Diane Moran's paintings, sculptures and photographs.  Diane's work is expressive, whimsical and intense. We enjoyed seeing it exhibited in this beautiful little cottage turned into a gallery, on north shore across from Stanley Park.

Diane is the most community-minded artist I know. She travels to different parts of the world, arranging art exchanges between school children. She visited the survivors in one parish after Hurricane Katrina and created connections and art through that experience. At home, she has worked on banner and tile mosaic projects in many local neighbourhoods. So it was no surprise when Diane got a show at the Silk Purse, she invited the West Vancouver Shoreline Preservation Society to collaborate.

So there was Diane's beautiful art and a collage station that she set up, to encourage visitors to make art to connect with their experiences of the remarkable shoreline environment. The Shoreline Preservation Society people conducted walking tours to showcase their work restoring the shore to its natural state. They have brought back rocks and logs to the water's edge, re-built natural reefs, taken down seawall, freed stream outflows from their culverts, and worked with the city to allow more natural sediment to come down to the waterfront from the many streams that run to the shore. The result is a beach that is re-creating itself the way nature wants it to, simply because people are consciously allowing it to do so. It's really beautiful. And it's not just nicer and more natural. This beach will do a better job of protecting shoreline properties from extreme weather and rising sea level than any seawall ever could.

All in all, it was a splendid, inspiring day. We are proud and happy for Diane, and grateful for the power of caring communities.

question: did you move any rocks today? on your own or with friends?

mompoet - remembering that every rock moved has an impact on more rocks downstream