Monday, 28 November 2011

Of Cabbages and Kings

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings."
                                    From The Walrus and the Carpenter, Lewis Carroll.
Well, its time to talk about cabbages anyway.  Cabbage seems to have taken over my kitchen, and in an effort to be frugal I have been eating a lot of cabbage lately.  Last night, I finally finished the harvest stir fry, featuring chicken, hoisin sauce and, you guessed it, lots of cabbage.
            Tonight, it will be cabbage roll casserole--its title gives away one of its main components.  And there is still cabbage in the fridge.
            Not that I mind cabbage.  I actually like it a lot.  I go through bags of coleslaw mix, adding sliced almonds, sunflower seeds and sesame-ginger salad dressing.  I rarely tire of the combination.  I think I have a vegetable grain soup that may use up the remaining cabbage in my crisper.  Suddenly I have remembered also a stove-top casserole of my Auntie Eileen’s which would also use some of the bounty. Mmm… I’m always amazed when I discover people who don’t like cabbage.  Mind you, I’m sure a lot of folks don’t understand my distaste for onions.  I do cook with them, but I chop them very finely and effectively hide them from myself.
            Several years ago, while traveling in Cuba, our pre-dinner salads were usually some chopped cabbage, a slice of tomato and, if we were really fortunate, a bit of green pepper.  A retired oncologist in my tour group remarked that he had never eaten so much cabbage in his life.  That seemed strange to me, since it is one of the very healthy cruciferous vegetables and an excellent source of fibre.  You would think that a cancer specialist would be eating all the possible cancer-preventing foods that he could find. 
            Some of my acquaintances would tell me that cabbage is cheap and that I could discard that last large chunk and not feel bad about it.  After all, I probably have used my money’s work from that head.  But since I have decided to start saving in earnest for retirement, I have found myself becoming increasingly frugal.  Menus are being devised around ingredients that need to be used and I am trying not to let any of my food purchases go to waste.  It has actually been an interesting exercise and has cut down on my grocery bill quite nicely.  I enjoy cooking, although it can get tiresome cooking for one.  I try to make a couple of recipes per week and then alternate leftovers to give myself a bit of variety.  This self-imposed challenge has brought back some creativity to the routine of cooking dinner and so far, I’m enjoying myself.
            Uneasy lies the head [of cabbage] in my kitchen.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Getting out of Dodge

I know when the time has come, when I can no longer stand to stay within city limits and I have to get out of Dodge (or Calgary as the case may be).  I need a nature fix and this weekend looks like the weather will be delightful, something that a person cannot count on in November in Alberta.  Soon, we will be hip deep in snow and travel will not be recommended.
            On Remembrance Day, my youngest sister and I ran out to Banff for a quick visit.  I think we had both forgotten how impressive the Rocky Mountains are and we had also become hazy about how close we are to them.  I found myself wondering, why don’t I come out here more often?  I guess I’m a prairie girl, born and raised, and when I think about getting out of town, I’m magnetically drawn east to the grasslands and badlands that featured in my childhood.
Once in Banff, my sister & I soaked ourselves in the hot springs until we resembled albino prunes.  Happily, the facility was not crowded and everyone was just about as mellow as we were.  It was just cold enough outdoors that being immersed in hot water was perfect.  Summer is really not the season for visiting the hot springs, is it?  At least not for middle-aged women—we can overheat just from drinking a cup of coffee!  It was a perfect way to relax, after several months of high stress for both of us.  Once we had dried off and found our way back to the town site, we stopped at a great Greek restaurant for lunch.  When we emerged, properly calorified, there was snow falling, although it was melting as it hit the pavement.  It was magical.  The mountains are always majestic, but so much more mysterious in the snow. 
            This weekend requires a less rushed itinerary, with more time spent observing and appreciating the spectacular scenery.  For me, the flick of a bird’s wing, the call of a raven, weasel tracks in snow or even impressive cloud formations are spiritual reminders.  They help me to appreciate this amazing planet that we call home and all its exquisite details.  I’ve already enlisted one of my friends to go on this excursion with me—whether we go east or west, I know it will be a fine escape from the city and refreshment for the soul.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Life without Television

This year has been a year of sorting the wheat from the chaff.  What’s important in my life?  What am I doing that I could happily give up?  What can I do to move more quickly towards retirement?  What do I want to do once I’m retired?  These are all questions that deserve consideration.
            In keeping with my desire to economize and save towards retirement, I decided to cancel my cable television.  Simple decision, yes?  Although I cancelled at the end of August, the cable company didn’t get around to cutting me off until part way through the Thanksgiving weekend in October.  Then the craziness started.  I felt cut off from the world.  No news.  I used to watch 2-3 versions of the news each evening.  Oh, how I missed Peter Mansbridge!
            My Friday evening routine was disrupted as well.  I used to come home, pour a glass of wine, make a leisurely dinner and watch mindless telly until bedtime.  What was I going to do now?
            I’ve been practicing life without television for a month now.  I can’t say that I never long for the easy entertainment of that medium—I still feel twinges of desire from time to time.  But I’m discovering that I get much more done around my home now.  I’ve read more than 30 books in the last month.  I’ve cleaned and purged and organized formerly dingy corners of the house.  I eat supper at the dining room table, not on the chesterfield.  I’ve written letters and made phone calls.  I’m getting more sleep (once you can’t hold your attention on the page, it becomes obvious that it’s time to go to bed—quite unlike the mindlessness of TV).  I still have more projects to get to—and without television I think I will have time to conquer them.
            I’m unsure if this is a permanent way of life, at this point.  My poor old telly is incompatible with DVD or Blu-ray players.  Nor is it digital, so I can’t even watch local programming.  It does seem ironic that in order to watch DVDs, I will have to buy a new TV.  It’s kind of a counterintuitive purchase for someone who is trying to give up the boob tube.  When the end-of-the-year sales happen, I will assess what the new technology will cost me.  And who knows, maybe my cable company will miss my monthly payments and offer me a deal?
            But I have to say, I hope I can stay TV-free.  I’m starting to enjoy my new routines.  I love the reading, the cooking, the time to think and plan, the music that I’m listening to and the improved sleep.  Perhaps, when I reorganize the living room to accommodate the Christmas tree, it will be time for the television to be banished to a recycling centre.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Reading = Happiness

For me, reading has always been one the chief pleasures of life.  However, my reading habits have changed over the years.  I recently found myself reading almost exclusively non-fiction—not that there’s anything wrong with that.  I also included a few mysteries and police procedurals on the side, almost as a guilty pleasure.
            I’ve had some time to think about why this is so.  I think I can trace it to 15 years ago, when my parents were killed in a car accident.  My mother & I loved to discuss fiction, particularly Canadian fiction, and shared books regularly as part of our relationship.  When I lost Mom, I also lost the desire to read fiction.  What was the point if I had no one to discuss it with?  None of this was deliberate; I just drifted into the non-fiction habit without thinking about it.  It makes sense, as both my work and volunteer duties require a lot of factual knowledge.
            I also used to read science fiction during my teen and young adult years and even had certain authors whose works I collected.  I thoroughly enjoyed the genre, but once again, had wandered away from it.  This summer, events conspired to bring me back to the fiction and the science fictions folds.  I signed up for a writers’ conference (which had evolved from a science fiction writers’ conference) and decided that I would like to read some of the works by the guest authors before I attended.  That led to some research about the current state of the sci-fi genre and the discovery of a website.  On it was a list of many titles, urging readers to vote for their top 100 science fiction & fantasy novels of all time.  I recognized some old friends on the list, but there was so much more material that was new to me.  “Why not read through the list?” I thought. 
            Now, people like me need a plan, an organized way of tackling a project of this size.  The works were listed alphabetically by title.  Should I read through them in that order?  Or should I organize them by author?  What to do?  The conference helped me find my way to organize the reading list.  Two authors talked about the canon of SF literature and how many reviewers did not appreciate it.  Suddenly I had my framework:  I would start with the oldest books and work my way forward in time.  I would treat it like a literature course, where one begins with Beowulf, Chaucer & Shakespeare and works toward present day.  Then began the task of putting all the titles into order on a spreadsheet—while doing this, I discovered that many of the entries were not just single novels, but represented series.  Gulp!  Close to 600 titles appeared on my document.  I had certainly bitten off a big bite! 
            I’m enjoying the process immensely.  It has spurred me to read some classics that I would never have looked at without this impetus and I have revisited a number of titles that I read as a much younger person.  How my perspective on them has changed!  Now, when I babble about books, you may have some idea was has inspired me to read them and maybe some desire to read them yourself.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Today is the first day of the rest of my life....

Finally, I have taken the blog has begun.

Probably I will be talking to myself, but I'm okay with that.  Writing is a happiness-creating activity for me, which is why I'm here.  As I turned 50 this fall, I realized that my life consists of a lot of work and not enough fun.  This blog is one way of changing that.

I don't plan to have a consistent topic--I will write about whatever is obsessing me at that particular moment.  With that said, I have started a Science Fiction/Fantasy book reading project which I hope to talk about, as well as my own little happiness projects as they come along.

 Please join me during my next 50 years.