Sunday, January 26, 2014


Here it is, 2014, and I just took my first online continuing education course. It's for my Emergency Social Services work. I took "Introduction to Disaster Psychosocial Services," an online learning course developed by the North Carolina Disaster Response Network.

I have talked to friends and family members who have done online courses, so I understand that the course I took was a real lightweight as far as online learning goes. It was made up of eight 30-minute modules. There were no written assignments or discussion board exercises. The only coursework was a module pre-test (6 questions, multiple choice) and a test to take after completing the module (same 6 questions, multiple choice). Marking was automated and immediate, and I ended up with a perfect score on every module. YAY me!

I appreciated the way the course was put together. It was logically organized and professionally presented with good slides and narration. Each module was narrated by a different professional in the field of disaster psychosocial services. Every one of the instructors was knowledgeable and an engaging presenter, even online. Concepts and principles were brought to life with examples from real disaster situations in which the presenters had participated as relief and support workers in the area of psychosocial services. I was impressed with the insights they shared about how natural and man-made disasters can have profound and varied effects on the people who experience them. I was especially interested in the discussions about resiliency - that's how well a person takes unexpected events in stride and finds a way to restored thinking and functioning after a catastrophe. I'm grateful to know the many ways that psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers contribute to the emotional and mental health care of disaster survivors and relief workers. I learned a lot, and I am inspired to learn more.

All that said, I have also learned that e-learning is not my preferred mode of learning. I really like interaction, and taking a course online is definitely not interactive. As interesting as the presentations were, I caught myself peeking at the little progress bar to find out how many minutes remained before the end of the current module. I also took a couple of brain breaks while listening and watching the slides. Luckily, I could back the presentation up to the place where I lost track, and re-listen with better attention. It helped to take notes as the presentation went along. That kept me engaged and responsible for noticing what I thought was most important about what was being said.

I don't think I would have had the opportunity to take this course if it wasn't for an online option. I am sure I will do more online learning. I'll also make sure to get out to the real-life courses too, with in-person presenters and other students in the class. Sharing experiences and networking with other people involved in emergency services is really interesting. Either online or in-person, I'm glad for the opportunity to continue learning more.

question: have you taken an online course? what was it, and how did you like it?

mompoet - I like to see the whites of their eye (and have them see mine)

Sunday, January 19, 2014

learning music by ear, and brain, and heart and gut

I started singing in a community choir near my work, about 18 months ago. This fall I switched to a new choir that has just started up in my neighbourhood. I have discovered that learning to sing in a group is exhilarating, challenging and life-affirming. I have no formal music training, don't read music, and have never thought of myself as musical, so I am interested in discovering how it is that a person can learn to sing a song. It's complicated and fascinating in my experience so far.

The choir that I sing with now is made up of about 28 men and women. We rehearse weekly for two hours. In between rehearsals, I practice at home. I suppose learning to sing is like learning to play an instrument, you have to repeat and repeat and repeat your work, in order to gain confidence and proficiency. There's more to it than that, though. The repetition somehow unlocks something in the body and brain that makes the music make sense. My Dad explained this to me when I was taking the advanced math course in high school. He said that math was like music: Repeated practice would help the concepts sink in and be connected in a logical and intuitive way in my brain. At the time I was dubious, but I wanted to get a good grade, so I tried solving the math problems again and again, until I saw the beauty of the math, and it fit together so I knew what would work. Learning to sing is like that.

Right now, our choir is preparing for a concert that will take place mid-February. We have just a few rehearsals before the concert, and we have a lot of work to do. There's this one song that is complicated and beautiful, and I am doing my best to learn my part so that when I am in rehearsal, I am keeping up with the other singers in the choir (most of whom are more experienced than I am). Here's a YouTube of a student recital at the Manhattan School of Music. The students are singing the song that we are learning:

Beautiful huh?

To learn my part, I begin by recording each choir rehearsal on my iPod. We spend about 30 minutes maximum on any given song, learning passages in our separate singing parts, then putting them together. Our choir leader is remarkable in his ability to help us know how to be a choir together, and sing beautifully. My recording catches all of his instructions and remarks. In rehearsal, I listen and practice my part, and also attend to the other parts, following along in our sheet music and hearing what they are singing, because all of those parts have to fit together and make sense. We have to know every bit, not just our own, in order to find the beauty of the choral piece.

Then I go home and listen to the rehearsal and sing along. I follow in my sheet music, and use my iPad piano program to check any notes of which I am not sure. I don't read music, but I do know how to plunk those notes on the keyboard, using what I must have learned in elementary school: Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge, and FACE. I also have figured out sharp and flat, which generally can be found on the black piano keys. (People who read music, please don't laugh too hard at that. It is an epiphany for me.) Sharp and flat in singing all comes out of the same place that the regular notes (which are called natural) come, although it does not always feel natural.

I also practice when I am driving in my car. I can plug my iPod in to my car stereo. I try to find time to practice everyday. When I am working on a song like this one, it's hard not to sneak practice time in, because I am intrigued about learning it, and wanting almost desperately to sing well when I get to the next rehearsal. I had to talk myself into posting my blog today, instead of just singing. Oh well, I thought, I can blog about singing and embed a youtube of the song, so I can listen to it while I blog. Okay, my brain works like that.

It's usually easy to learn my part by itself. It's harder to sing it along with the other parts. I am discovering that the best thing to do is to sing it quietly, and as well as possible, listening carefully to the other singers in my section, but also to the the singers in the other sections. If I am stuck I just drop out for a bar or two and listen to the sounds of all of the singers together, then join back in. If I do this over and over again, suddenly it makes sense, and I could cry with happiness at how it fits and works together. It is beautiful.

Slowly, but surely, I am unlocking the mystery of learning how to sing. The notes on the page are beginning to have sounds attached, and when I plunk the piano key at the end of a passage, I find myself still on the right note. TAH-DAH!

I am happy to have found this activity, this choir, and my own affinity for singing.

question: do you like to sing?

mompoet - tra la la-ah-ah-ah

Friday, January 17, 2014

what makes you laugh out loud?

At work today, my friend was watching a video online about laughter yoga. She told me that she is organizing a laughter yoga session for employees during Mental Health Week. Another friend mentioned that she was chatting with a relative who expressed a desire to laugh so hard he cried, or almost cried. He told her that he had not done this in a long, long, time. We three friends looked at each other and said simultaneously, "I do that all the time!"

To laugh so deeply and loudly and for so long that your belly reverberates with it, and your face feels like it could split open, and tears stream down your face, now that feels good. We talked them about what makes us laugh.

One friend likes to listen to comedy on the radio. CBC Radio has some brilliantly funny shows: The Debaters,  This is That, and The Irrelevant Show are all hilarious. I like to listen to the stories on The Vinyl Cafe too. It's not knock-down-drag-out funny like the others, but most of Stuart McLean's stories have a climax that causes me to shout with laughter, even if I am driving by myself in the car, or walking along, listening to my iPod.

We talked about funny films too. I think Charlie Chaplin and the Marx Brothers are very very funny. There are lots of modern, funny movies, but the old timey stuff is just so absurdly funny, I find it irresistable.

Then there's the category of funny mistakes, conveniently collected and posted online for your enjoyment. Try looking at Damn You Autocorrect without chortling. I somehow manage to forget about this site until I am in an airport. That woman in the boarding gate lounge falling off of her seat? That's me, maximizing the laughs available from my 15 minutes of free airport internet. Cake Wrecks is pretty funny too. Oh my, Andy just came downstairs to see why I was laughing so loudly, so I showed him Cake Wrecks. I think it's funny. He isn't so sure.

I once got caught in a laughing fit at a funeral. Luckily we were not in the chapel yet, just outside in the parking lot. I had to duck behind a car so that nobody would see me and be offended or hurt. I did not think it was funny that a friend's parent had died, but some small funny thing set me off. I think it was nervous energy that caused me to experience a moment of entirely inappropriate hysterical laughter.

Of course, when we were kids we always laughed fully, loudly, deeply and convulsively. One kid would laugh, then the others would join, and just when the laughter was dying down, somebody would hoot, or gasp or snort, and we'd be off again. This type of laughing felt so good, and it was almost impossible to stop laughing. I remember this especially from sleepover parties. We would all be crazy with tired silliness and we could not stop laughing even when the host kid's Mom or Dad spoke very sternly to us: "It is midnight now, and time to be quiet and sleep!" "OK...BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!"

When adults laugh for silly or immature reasons, or make up silly or immature ways to provoke laughter, I have to love it. This playfulness is something that we should practice whenever we can. So here's a list of a few things you can do to make yourself (or other silly people around you) laugh:
  • Sing "My Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music with a lisp. "Raindropth on rotheth, and whithkerth on kittenth..." Go ahead, I dare you to do this (er thith) with a straight face.
  • Wear your underwear on the outside of your clothing.
  • Find a bunch of things in your house: books, ornaments, coffee cups, whatever, and line them up down your hallway or across your living room. When someone asks you what it is, make up an answer that amazes them and amuses you.
  • Play with silly putty or throw one of those sticky octopus toys at the wall. 
  • Borrow a pair of shoes much too big for you, and wear them out in public. 
  • Ask a small child to tell you a funny story. Warn the child that you are not allowed to laugh. The child will make it his or her mission to MAKE YOU LAUGH.
You get the idea. Just be silly and find out how it feels. The worst thing that might happen is someone will laugh. Maybe you will laugh. Even if you are the only one who thinks you are funny, that's okay! You will have fun. You will be well. If you do it right, your face will ache and your belly will hurt, all in a good way.

question: what makes you laugh?

mompoet - I hope you laugh

Saturday, January 11, 2014

a new blog

I have started a new blog just for my cooking posts. It's called the big bowl. I hope you like it.

I'll post my recipes and cooking adventures there, and everything else here.

question: how many blogs is too many for one person?

mompoet - I think 2 will be okay for me.

Friday, January 10, 2014

the best gift

This is the best thing that I could ever ask for. That is all for today.

question: what is your heart's desire?

mompoet - blessed beyond imagination

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

two part supper OR when you have lemons in the fridge...

I had a busy day Tuesday, but I wanted to make a nice supper for my family. I knew that I would be home for a short time between work and choir practice, so I prepped up a meal early in the day, then finished it up, with a little help from my family.

Lemons were on sale five for $2 at the produce store on the weekend, so I have lots of lemons in my fridge. I used a couple of them to make a Greek-style marinade for some chicken breasts:

I used lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, oregano, garlic and pepper. I would have like to have added paprika, but I have only smoked paprika, and that was not what I was going for. By the way, do you like my new grater? I got that at Home Hardware. The grating teeth on it are suspiciously similar to the ones on my pedi-egg, but this one is meant for fruits and vegetables, not for feet. I put the chicken in the fridge for the day to soak in the marinade.

Then I prepped some potatoes and some yams, because some of us like potatoes, and some like yams, and some like both, so everyone would be happy.

I simply washed, sliced/chopped and treated them with olive oil and Montreal Chicken Spice, which is meant for chicken, but also good for potatoes or yams, as it turns out.


I covered them tightly with cling wrap so they wouldn't get all brown and yukky. I think the olive oil protected them too.

I finished up with my afternoon meeting at 4, at which time I phoned home and asked my loved ones to heat up the oven and put in the potatoes. When I got home at 5, I quickly prepped the veggies, and added them to the hot oven, along with the yams (which cook up more quickly than potatoes). Then, while those things baked, I grilled the chicken on the George Foreman (which is a kitchen appliance, not a person). Very shortly I had supper ready.

It was so good, I almost forgot to photograph it. In fact, this plateful has already been tasted.
Everyone loved it, and had time left over to relax with the family before I left for choir practice.

question: what do you like to cook when you don't have much time, but still want something yummy?

mompoet - home cooking R us

where I ate breakfast on tuesday

Alex and I went out for breakfast on Tuesday. When we go out for meals, we take turns treating. This time I picked the spot, and Alex paid the bill. I think we both won.

One of the sweetest places in New Westminster to eat breakfast or lunch is the Greens and Beans Deli on Columbia Street in Sapperton. I first found out about it when I was volunteering on election campaign. The coffee shop was just up the street from the campaign office, and the workers in the office recommended it as a great place to go for a break. I have also visited Greens and Beans when I have been visiting at Royal Columbian Hospital. It's a great alternative to the Tim Horton's inside the hospital, and just a short walk down the street from the Emergency Room entrance.

Greens and Beans serves the most delicious sandwiches you could imagine. I have witnessed a loved one eating "The Big Nasty." It was an awesome sandwich for a spice-loving carnivore. I prefer the soups. They are made from scratch, and there are always 4 or more varieties from which to choose. On Tuesday, Alex and I enjoyed the lovely and inexpensive breakfast sandwiches made with our choices of breads and fillings.

Greens and Beans is a family-owned and operated restaurant. You won't find another like it anywhere. It's friendly, cheap, funky, and nourishing. It's worth stopping by, even if you aren't working on an election campaign or visiting the hospital.

question: do you know of a special little one-of-a-kind place?

mompoet - liking "mom and pop" eateries

Monday, January 06, 2014

just write about cooking, mom!

So says our daughter, who has been encouraging me about writing again, who has always been enthusiastic about cooking. She is a fine cook herself.

My Mom subscribes to Fine Cooking Magazine. She gives me the copies that she has read. I love to read them for inspiration and entertainment. There's lots of good information, and many recipes that I would like to try. I copy the ones I like and put them into my Canadian Living Recipe Box online.

Last night, for supper, I made a recipe that I found in Fine Cooking: Panang Beef  Curry with Basil, with a few revisions. I was in a hurry, and this was quick and perfect. I didn't have any beef, so I used a couple of pork chops, sliced up thin. I think the recipe would work with chicken as well, or tofu. I will try it with beef soon! I couldn't find panang curry paste while I was at the grocery, but I always have red and green curry paste in the house. The red curry paste worked well. And I forgot to buy basil! This would not have been a problem in the summer, when I could just pick some, but I had to leave it out. Thinking back, I could have put in some lime leaves or lemon grass for an alternate herbal flavour, but it turned out fine without the basil, or any reasonable facsimile. The peppers and peas and onions were perfect, and I added some fresh spinach leaves for the green colour that was missing with the omission of the basil.

It was yummy! I ate some for supper before Fiona and I left for the movie. Alex heated some up when he got home from work a bit later. Andy had some when he got home from work late at night. That's the nice thing about a curry, it tastes just as good or better when you reheat it. I confirmed this, by enjoying some for breakfast this morning.

For dessert, Fiona and I saw Philomena. It was a great movie.

question: what do you like to cook?

mompoet - enjoying all of the flavours

Sunday, January 05, 2014

looking ahead

At church today we celebrated the first Communion of 2014, and our minister talked about the road ahead of us. We gave thanks for the old year, and expressed hope for the new year. Our minister said, "Life is good."

There are some years I would be happy to live all over again. Last year was not one. Sure, there were lots of happy days, and I wouldn't ask for a do-over on any of the things I did, but it was a hard year. The stories are not ones I want to share here, but suffice to say, I had lots of experiences. I have felt challenged to pull out all of my energy and love and faith and to be more brave than I think I have ever been. And it has all turned out okay...better than okay in some cases.

I have learned a lot this year. I appreciate more than ever the love, support and down-to-earth goodness of those closest to my heart. I have people who love me more than I can explain or understand, and I love them with a depth and passion that is indelible and infinite.

My regrets this year: I have stopped writing and reading almost entirely, and have seen few plays, movies and concerts. It's like I am so full up with other people's stories that I have set my own aside, and barely have energy to consider stories in literature or performance. Real life drama has a way of eclipsing creativity and appreciation of creativity, at least for me. I have been distracted, forgetful and impatient. I have been called upon to be kind, patient and generous, and I think I have lived up to all that has been required, but I feel depleted and distant, going through the motions sometimes.

My hopes for this year: I have been treating myself with tenderness this fall, resting more and being conscious of my own limitations and needs. I am hoping to move into a time of greater energy. I want to rekindle my creative spark. During the past year, I have deepened my relationships with close friends and relatives. I am looking forward to continuing my engagement with those who I love. I want to see the fruit of these connections in good times together and shared enjoyment of the blessings of everyday life.

Everyday life is what I crave the most. Ordinary days. It's coming soon in the church calendar, and hopefully also in real life. For now, I am uncurling, stretching and blinking in the sunlight, wiggling my toes. I want to write poems about pigeons and sandwiches and mud puddles. I want to wake up completely curious about what will happen next. I want to read novels and cry through the last 3 pages as I leave a delicious, imaginary world of someone else's creation.

Through it all, I know that I am the same me who galloped into 2013. I am depleted but not diminished. Everything that I know myself to be is still right here. Coming soon, to a theatre near you, mompoet, the continuation of a long and mostly happy story.

question: did you ever have a year that kicked you in the butt?

mompoet - alive and kicking, and grateful to be here

Saturday, January 04, 2014

soup and pajamas and friend and family

I felt self-conscious today, showing up at the party wearing jeans and a sweater. Everyone else was wearing pajamas - mostly footie pajamas. I couldn't wait to change and join the fun.

We met this afternoon for our annual pajama lunch. Due to scheduling considerations, it happened at 3pm, and so was dubbed a "drunch," which is all about being partway between lunch and supper, but still being related to brunch.

Louise hosted this year. Robin and Emma came. Fiona and my Mom came. Unfortunately Maia was working. We hope she'll be with us when we drunch in pajamas next year. Louise decided it should be a soup drunch. This was an idea with which we all heartily concurred. Robin and Emma brought pea soup. Louise made beef and bean soup. Fiona and I brought curried carrot soup. Mom made home-made crackers and guacamole, which is what an avocado would be if it could be soup. We sat for nearly 3 hours, drunching and chatting and enjoying one another's company. It was a fine pajama drunch.

I am blessed to know these friends and family members who think it is a good thing that we wear our pajamas and make soup for one another.

question: do you have any traditions that involve pajamas? or soup? or other nice things that other people don't necessarily do?

mompoet - loving the drunching and the pajamaing with friends and family members who do so too

Thursday, January 02, 2014

the peculiar etiquette of spin class

I returned to work this morning, after the final blast eating and drinking that is New Year's Eve, followed by New Year's Day which is pretty much like New Year's Eve, except that you eat and drink too much while you are wearing pajamas. I packed a nourishing and fibrous lunch of alfalfa and corn husks (actually slaw salad, carrots and green beans), and made sure to bring my exercise clothing. I was afraid I might talk myself out of exercising, so I changed into my workout clothing 40 minutes before the spin class began, and told myself, "If you don't want to go to spin class, you can change back into your work clothes in 40 minutes." HAH! I went to spin class.

If you have never been to spin class, you will think that it is peculiar. This impression would be most accurate. You have a room full of sweaty people on exercise bikes, being urged on by a sweaty teacher with a headset microphone. There's loud music and some shouting involved, and everybody pedaling hard and fast and standing up on the pedals to go up imaginary hills, and having imaginary races with one another. Some of the people wear heart rate monitors that talk to little boxes on their bikes called "pilots." The pilot takes your age, weight, and maximum and resting heart rates and estimates how far you are pedaling, how fast you are pedaling, what your heart rate is, and how many calories you have burned on your imaginary ride. Speaking of burning, people who are new to the class often complain that the saddle of the bike makes their seat burn. That is a short-lived phenomenon. After about 6 classes, you get calluses on your seat and it doesn't bug you any more.

There is some etiquette to spin class:

  1. Greet your neighbours then look away. Don't watch and compare to find out who is pedaling fastest (or at least pretend not to look).
  2. Drink lots of water, but not out of a wheezy squeeze bottle. Do not belch.
  3. When the instructor says to the class, "I want your bums hanging over the back of your seats," resist asking "How many of my bums do you want me to do this with?"
  4. Cheer other riders on during the drills, but don't be too noisy. Try to hoot and holler a little bit less than the hootiest person in the class. That person may be irritating someone.
  5. Tell the instructor when you like a song that she has chosen for her workout. Just shout "Good song!"
  6. If you are wearing a short top and low cut pants, pedal in the back row. Nobody wants to sit behind you and see that.
  7. Do not engage in side conversations. Spinning is a team/community activity. Do not talk on a cell phone or text during spin class.
  8. Do not freestyle. It's weird and distracting. Or at least go to the back row to freestyle, especially if you are in the outfit described in rule #6.
  9. Have fun! The hour will go by quickly if you are laughing and smiling.
  10. Wipe your bike! And share the towels and spray bottle. If you want to be a model spin class citizen, spray up a couple of extra wiping towels after the class, and hand them to people coming up to the towel station. That's classy.
Guess what? At the end of the class I felt GREAT! I can't wait to go again.

question: have you tried it?

mompoet - callused and hooting (moderately)

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

third practice

nope, bye!

practice number 2

eeeee! blogging! scary!

practice #1

my toe hurts

dipping my toe into the water

I used to swim several times a week. Swimming is not easy. You have to change into a tight, skimpy, chilly outfit, walk (nearsighted in my case) across a noisy, grippy-slippy floor, then plunge into the water and get moving. The worst part about swimming for me was actually showing up. I could tell myself stories every time about why I should not go swimming: I was too busy, I had a cold, my toe hurt. So, I developed a technique to psych myself into swimming: I told myself to just drive to the pool and park the car. Once I had arrived, if I did not feel like swimming, I could start the car and drive home. Of course, once I had arrived at the pool I thought that I might as well swim, and I did, and it wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it might be, and I still had time for all of the other things I needed to do. And I felt good for most of the swim, and great afterwards.

I think it's the same about blogging. I have fallen out of the rhythm of posting my blog. Most days I think I will go and do it, then I tell myself a story about why I can't post my blog: I am too busy. There are other things I need to do. My toe hurts.

So I am going to try the same technique that I used to get myself to swim. I will drive my car to the computer. Well, actually, I will sit down at the computer. If I still don't feel like posting a blog I will get up and do something else. The best part is that I do not have to change into a tight, skimpy, chilly outfit. I can keep my glasses on, and I will usually be wearing nice warm cozy slippers for the walk over to the computer. The plunge, in this case, will be opening my heart and mind and sharing my thoughts and experiences once again. I have a feeling it won't be nearly as bad as I think it might be. I will still have time for all of the other things I need to do. I will feel good when I blog, and great afterwards.

And, if I don't feel like blogging, I will leave a very short post. Just so you know I did show up. See the sample short posts that I will leave above this one. They are just for practice and fun. I'm pretty sure that I won't have to turn around and walk away from the computer very often. After all, once I got to that swimming pool, I took the plunge every time, and was glad for it.

Thank you for checking my blog after all of these months. Come back soon. The water is fine.

question: Have you ever talked yourself out of something, then talked yourself back into doing it?

mompoet - dipping my toe