These past couple of weeks I have been involved in an experiment. One of my teachers, Shelagh Smith, a horticultural therapist, had us take pictures of nature scenes that evoked strong emotions in us. Why? Based on this study, she told us that “what we pay attention to in our environment impacts how we feel”. What made a significant difference to feelings of well being? Paying attention to nature.
Here are some of the pictures I have taken recently that have brought me joy:
Why not give the experiment a try and see how you feel.
Today I’m going to celebrate one of my favourite seasons, fall!
Here are my five favourite things about fall.
Whether you love them coloured or crunchy, leaves are fall’s version of flowers. I love walking and admiring the vibrant yellows, oranges, and reds at this time of year.
Squashes and Pumpkins
This a great time of year whether you are eating them or carving them. My favourite squash is sweet potato squash, also called delicata, and I cannot get enough of them.
Fall always reminds me of the one wild mushroom my parents picked called “shaggy mane”. Alas, we have lost our source, but now I am learning about other mushrooms in an effort to expand my culinary horizons.
I have loved corn mazes ever since the craze first started, and I enjoy puzzling through one at least once a year.
’Tis the season for sunshiny sunflowers. Another thing I cannot get enough of, I visit as many fields as I can. I wish I could grow them, but alas the squirrels love them as much as I do.
Growing up, my mom’s cooking and baking was influenced by Dr. Oetker, as he founded his company in Bielefeld, my mother’s home town. Every time I visit Bielefeld, we drive by the Oetker-Halle, and I am always reminded of the Backpulver or Backin (baking powder) and Vanille Zucker (vanilla sugar) my mom used all the time. One of my brothers has my mom’s original Dr. Oetker cookbook.
So I will start with the English language cookbook that most reminds me of my mom, which is “Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book”. When I lived in China, newly married, I brought along my own copy, not realizing that most of the recipes didn’t suit the environment. The ingredients and style of cooking are totally different. I think I only made one recipe out of the book while I was there (and it was a flop). Oh well, it was a good memento from home.
Chinese Almond Cookies (Ironically never baked in China as I had no oven)
After my mom passed away, I branched out into a totally different style of cooking, influenced by growing up eating my best friend’s mom’s cooking when I wasn’t eating at home. The first cookbook I ever bought was “Madhur Jaffrey’s World-of-the-East Vegetarian Cooking”. As you can see in the picture, my copy has been well loved.
Chickpea and Tomato Stew
Lentils with Garlic and Tomatoes
“Diet for a New World” by John Robbins really opened up my eyes to some of the problems of the ways we were and are eating, eg., factory farming.
Janet & Greta Podleski’s “Looneyspoons” became a favourite soon after it was published. The first in a series of three books, it is the best. I know that they updated their information with a new book many years later, but I still prefer this one.
Unrolled Cabbage Rolls
Starvin’ Guy Chicken Pie
There used to be an awesome Indian grocery store in downtown Kitchener called “Spice of India”, and I would go there to buy spices and their homemade samosas. I bought the cookbook of the same name written by the owner, Bharti Vibhakar, which has some amazing recipes.
Aloo Ful Gobi
Cauliflower Kofta Curry
These days I’m like as not to just google a recipe in order to find something suitable with the ingredients on hand. I really haven’t bought a new cookbook in years. But looking through these ones brings back fond memories, and makes me want to cook all my favourite recipes again.
It’s time again for the monthly “Six Degrees” challenge.
This month we are starting with “The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James.
“A very young woman’s first job: governess for two weirdly beautiful, strangely distant, oddly silent children, Miles and Flora, at a forlorn estate…An estate haunted by a beckoning evil.”
Even reading what this book is about left me shivering. I don’t read books like this (anymore) because the older I get the less I like to be freaked out by books. I guess the events of real life freak me out so much that I prefer to read something more soothing. This book though did immediately remind me of one book I read a couple of years back that also made me shiver and that is:
“Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” by Ransom Riggs
I regretted beginning this book, but I so wanted to find out what happened—it’s really well written—that I persisted despite shivering a lot. When I was near the end of the book I realized that it was setting up to be a sequel. Well anyway suffice to say the words that came out of my mouth I will not repeat here. And no I have never read the sequels or seen the movie.
“A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of very curious photographs. It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience.”
“Cujo” by Stephen King
This is another book that made me shiver and that I read a long time ago before I gave up reading books that freak me out. I made the mistake of reading this late at night in a hotel room while by myself. After I turned the lights out…Well anyway, don’t make that mistake.
“Cujo is a two-hundred-pound Saint Bernard, the best friend Brett Camber has ever had. One day Cujo chases a rabbit into a bolt-hole—a cave inhabited by sick bats. What happens to Cujo, how he becomes a horrifying vortex inexorably drawing in all the people around him makes for one of the most heart-stopping novels Stephen King has written.”
“On Writing” by Stephen King
Let’s get a less shivery now and link with the writer of Cujo and his memoir and craft book, which I really enjoyed, especially as a lot of his advice is similar to what I believe. Huh. Who knew?
One of my favourite quotes:
“Your schedule—in at about the same time every day, out when your thousand words are on paper or disk—exists in order to habituate yourself, to make yourself ready to dream just as you make yourself ready to sleep by going to bed at roughly the same time each night and following the same ritual as you go. In both writing and sleeping, we learn to be physically still at the same time we are encouraging our minds to unlock from the humdrum rational thinking of our daytime lives.”
“The Art of Memoir” by Mary Karr
I have been studying memoir and personal essay writing, and this is one book that is said to be a “must read”. I do highly recommend it.
Karr writes “hearing each other’s stories actually raises our levels of the feel-good oxytocin”. No wonder memoirs are so popular. She also writes “Each great memoir lives or dies based 100 percent on voice”. Not sure how to tackle that often elusive voice issue? Karr does a good job of it in this book.
“Smitten by Giraffe: My Life as a Citizen Scientist” by Anne Innis Dagg
Speaking of memoir, I didn’t manage to mention one zoologist whom I admire in last month’s list and whom is worth mentioning, a Canadian zoologist called Anne Innis Dagg who studied giraffes. I have actually met and interviewed Anne Innis Dagg, as she is a former professor at University of Waterloo. So glad that she is finally getting her due after the documentary about her life called “The Woman Who Loves Giraffes” debuted.
“When Anne Innis saw her first giraffe at the age of three, she was smitten. She knew she had to learn more about this marvelous animal. Twenty years later, now a trained zoologist, she set off alone to Africa to study the behaviour of giraffe in the wild…Dagg was continually frustrated in her efforts to secure a position as a tenured professor despite her many publications and exemplary teaching record. Finally she opted instead to pursue her research as an independent “citizen scientist,” while working part-time as an academic advisor.”
“Anne of Green Gables” by L.M. Montgomery
I’m linking the author’s first name to the first name of one of my favourite characters from one of my favourite childhood books. I love this book so much that I actually did the Anne of Green Gables tour on PEI with my bestie for my 50th birthday.
I always assume everyone knows and loves this book as much as I do, but for those who don’t here’s an introduction from Goodreads:
“As soon as Anne Shirley arrives at the snug white farmhouse called Green Gables, she is sure she wants to stay forever . . . but will the Cuthberts send her back to to the orphanage?”
So what’s the connection with the first and last book? The last book isn’t really shivery—not like the first book shivery—except maybe for Anne when she lets her imagination run away from her during her walk in the “haunted wood”. We walked through the inspiration for the haunted wood on our tour, but it wasn’t at all scary—actually really pleasant—but perhaps that would be a different case at night.
My critique partner Bev pointed out that the first and last books are both classics. Thanks Bev! Don’t know how I let that slip by.
So there you have it, my rather eclectic list for this month’s Six Degrees challenge.
Do you want to participate? Click here for the specifics. Next month is wild card month!
“Personally, I am going to try to initiate the hard conversations when racist undercurrents are felt and be OK with being uncomfortable. Because if we have those dialogues, we can move forward. We all have biases to break, so let’s help one another do that.”
My daughter isn’t in a full time gifted program, as the principal of her school did not believe in sending any of her students to that program, and when I read this essay it makes me reconsider if the principal wasn’t wise in keeping her in the part time program. For example, I am shocked to read that the students would compete with each other to be the unhealthiest in order to achieve the highest grades.
Wise words from Blosser: “Positive growth doesn’t focus on running back, on obsessing over what could have been. It’s about growing and moving forward, accepting what happened and learning how to fix it. Well-being doesn’t always mean making the right decisions, it’s about realizing a pattern of unhealthy behaviour and lovingly helping yourself change. It’s a learning curve I’ll master some day, but a class I’ll never graduate from.”
This is a powerful and moving essay you can listen to as read by Blackstock about how her mentally ill mother was treated including being given the label of lunatic and a series of medications, the effects on the family, and the eventual deadly consequences.
“Through enduring painful experiences – whether it be sepsis or other physical or mental-health challenges – you gain a new perspective. You realize that you can, in fact, be stopped in your tracks. That you don’t have a say in everything. And with the treatment and tapering of excruciating pain comes the realization that idleness and existing in a state of neutral calm can be a beautiful thing. We don’t need to always be numbing the in-between moments with distractions.”
Ferencz stops baking—and doing a lot of other things—after being made to felt that she must be perfect at it, but then one day realizes that her baking—and other things in life—doesn’t have to be perfect
One of my journalling books called “Journal Sparks” by Emily K. Neuburger has an awesome challenge called “Weekly Treasure Challenge”. The idea is to discover at least one treasure per week. But what exactly does she mean by “treasure”? Neuburger writes “The treasure does not have to be tangible…It could be a…discovery, a conversation, a song.”
I do this on an informal basis, often finding more than one treasure a week, but I think it’s good to remind myself to find at least one treasure a week, because I may forget if I am having a rough week, and those are the most important weeks to do so. It’s important for mental health to keep wonder in our lives no matter what’s going on.
My first weekly treasure that I am going to share with you is the 10 week University of Pennsylvania course Modern & Contemporary American Poetry (“ModPo”). Yes, a poetry course. I’m not a big fan of poetry analysis, but I’ve been entranced by how it’s done in this course. Part philosophy, part history, I’ve already learned a lot, and I’m only in the first unit. I have become more convinced how important poetry is in our lives.
The course is free on Coursera and you can join in when it’s actually being run “live” (September through November) or do it on your own time.
What treasure have you discovered this week?
Bonus treasures: This morning I allowed myself to wander, which I don’t let myself to do often enough. When I returned home, I wrote a list poem called “10 Treasures on my Walk Today”. One treasure was the squirrel I found “chilling” (as my daughter would say) in a newly discovered oak tree, and I spotted the creature only because I took the time to slow down and really look at the tree, which included looking up into its branches.
One of my favourite quotes comes from the third article:
“What happens to me when I’m asked to write about a species of trees — I’ll go out to that species and ask the tree to help me,” says Beresford-Kroeger.
“Invariably, I will sit down by the tree in total silence and go and enter into the silence of the tree. That is kind of like a prayer, and the tree understands that you are making that prayer.
“And then you come back inside, and you’d be surprised what kind of extraordinary language you can muster to describe that tree. It is like the tree gives you a box of paints, and, somewhat like Georgia O’Keefe or Emily Carr, you paint the colour of the words the way the tree has directed you to do.”
2. Documentary: Judi Dench: My Passion for Trees
Here’s another thing to love about Judi Dench: she’s passionate about trees. Watch her over a course of a year discover a lot of things about the trees she loves including being able to listen to the inner workings of one via a tree “stethoscope”. Every time a close friend or relative dies, she plants a tree in their memory, and we get to visit that grove of trees.
I received three of the series: land animals, sea animals, and birds. The photographs are stunning and the word play is beautiful. There is a section at the beginning of the book on how best to use the books (before and after reading) as well as back matter with questions. Definitions are scattered throughout.
Not only did I learn which creatures were the fastest but also I discovered some creatures I had never heard of before. My favourite of the three books is the birds volume.
The other three books are about the fastest machines: boats, cars, and planes.
4. Writing Craft Book: “The Art of Memoir” by Mary Karr
If you are thinking about writing a memoir, then reach for this book first.
Written by the author of “The Liars’ Club” who also is an award winning teacher of the subject, this book is full of awesome tips as well as a quiz as to whether or not you should be writing a one. Memoirs are popular right now, and Karr shares that “hearing each other’s stories actually raises our levels of the feel-good oxytocin”.
I like this book, because it’s more than an instructive text on memoir. I picked up a lot I can use in real life, such as “…blame makes deep compassion impossible, and in spiritual terms…only compassion can bring about deep healing” and “getting used to who you are is a lifelong spiritual struggle”.
Whether or not you are looking for a fun break from your writing or are actually needing some help with, for example, a name, this site has you covered. It’s a bit like “Mad Libs” where it will write a tongue in cheek blurb for your latest book idea or create a fairy tale plot for you or even write you a poem.
“On the first Saturday of every month, a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. Readers and bloggers are invited to join in by creating their own ‘chain’ leading from the selected book.”
“Join in by posting your own six degrees chain on your blog and adding the link in the Linky section (or comments) of each month’s post. If you don’t have a blog, you can share your chain in the comments section. You can also check out links to posts on Twitter using the hashtag #6Degrees.”
This week the starting point is “Rodham: A Novel” by Curtis Sittenfield
So what would have happened had Hillary Rodham not married Bill Clinton? I haven’t read this novel, but the premise is intriguing.
“In the real world, Hillary followed Bill back to Arkansas, and he proposed several times; although she said no more than once, as we all know, she eventually accepted and became Hillary Clinton.
But in Curtis Sittenfeld’s powerfully imagined tour-de-force of fiction, Hillary takes a different road. Feeling doubt about the prospective marriage, she endures their devastating breakup and leaves Arkansas. Over the next four decades, she blazes her own trail—one that unfolds in public as well as in private, that involves crossing paths again (and again) with Bill Clinton, that raises questions about the tradeoffs all of us must make in building a life.”
I don’t tend to read books that challenge you to think about “what ifs” of past events. Perhaps this is because when I think about the own “what ifs” of my life, it brings about a lot of regrets.
Anyway, I decided that I would instead connect books written about and by women whom I admire, more specifically women scientists, those who did end up following one of the paths that I could have taken, had I studied biology in university as I originally had intended. I can live vicariously through them.
Here’s my list:
“Jane Goodall: The Woman who Redefined Man” by Dale Peterson
Growing up, there were few people I admired. I wasn’t the typical teen who went gaga over the latest movie stars or rock groups. When I discovered Jane Goodall though, well here was someone I could look up to. She was doing something I had always wanted to do, going to Africa to study wild animals, in her case chimpanzees.
“Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey” by Jane Goodall with Phillip Berman
Going from a book written about her to one written by her, this is one of my favourites, as it describes much of her spirituality and also her reasons for hope for the future. It is an older book, and there’s even an addendum written after 9/11. I’d love to see a reprint of what she would add after the pandemic.
“An African Love Story: Love, Life, and Elephants” by Daphne Sheldrick
I continue with an African connection. Conservationist Sheldrick writes about her love for Africa, her love for her husband, and her love for the orphaned elephants that she has raised and reintegrated into the wild.
“The Whale by Moonlight: And Other Adventures Among Bats, Penguins, Crocodilians, and Whales” by Diane Ackerman
Elephants connect to other animals. I started to read this when I was on my last trip overseas, as lacking a good connection to the internet, I could really immerse myself in the book. Naturalist Ackerman is better known for some of her other books (“The Zookeepers Wife”, for example), but it is her nonfiction writing that draws me more. This book is from 1992, but her poetic descriptions of her scientific adventures among these four animals still capture the imagination.
“Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants” by Robin Wall Kimmerer
Now on to someone who champions the wisdom of both animals and plants. This is a book I am currently slowly savouring in bite sized pieces. Wall Kimmerer is an indigenous botanist, and in this book she shares how other living beings—the plants and animals—have much to teach us, although we’ve forgotten how to hear their voices.
“To Speak for the Trees: My Life’s Journey from Ancient Celtic Wisdom to a Healing Vision of the Forest” by Diana Beresford-Kroeger
From one botanist to another. An Irish born and now Canadian botanist and biochemist, Beresford-Kroeger has a unique perspective on trees and forests, as she studied not only the ancient Celtic ways, but also modern scientific ways. I have admired her since I saw the movie “Call of the Forest”, and this book is an autobiography of her life. This is the only book on my list I don’t own—I borrowed it from the library—but I do own some of her other books.
I completed one book for the Mount TBR challenge. Click here to read about it.
I read one memoir:
“Dear Current Occupant” by Chelene Knight
This memoir about home and belonging is set in the 80s and 90s of Vancouver. Knight writes a series of letters to the current occupants of the homes she lived in as a child. Click here to read more about the book.
Click here to see a book trailer with pictures of some of the former places she lived in.
I wrote over 250 words five days a week.
I limited my social media time.
I read 5 creative nonfiction essays per week. Here are my favourites:
Chiu writes about racism from different angles: racism against her as an Asian and racism as an Asian targeting others.
“I was taught to brush off racism as a kind of flattery — that it stemmed from people being “jealous” of Asians’ high rate of university admission and higher-than-average salary level in North America.
Last year, I was working downtown and people would give me dirty looks or yell slurs at me on the street. Online, I was regularly getting a litany of abuse. My dad tried to comfort me by saying it was because I looked like “an executive” with my new job. It was a sign of success.
This wishful thinking made sense to me, but now I see why it’s illogical in the face of hate crimes happening around the world against people of Asian appearance.”
Dwivedi, an Indian professor, reflects how her father introduced her to school and the possibility of racism and how she handled it then and now.
“Today, we are all too familiar with the term “unconscious bias.” Today, we know that, unfortunately, my dad was not entirely wrong. Still, I’m glad I didn’t take his words to heart. If I had, I might have, or would have, or could have seen racism (and its close cousin, sexism) everywhere I went.”
Petrucelli uses the image of a tennis ball to tie her story together, peppering it with facts about tennis balls but also writing about her recovery from back surgery and how tennis balls played a role.
I read 5 picture books per week. Here are my favourites:
“The Word for Friend” by Aidan Cassie
Kemala loves talking but the kids at her new school speak a different language. She struggles but then when a goal appears—a puppet show—she starts to talk. I love how Esperanto is introduced in the book.
”Outside In” by Deborah Underwood; illustrated by Cindy Derby
Despite the fact that we spend most of our time indoors, the outside still sends reminders that it’s there, e.g., through shadows.
“Everybody’s Different on Everybody Street” by Sheree Fitch; illustrated by Emma Fitzgerald
This book with its delicious word play is a tribute to mental health.
“Some of us wear hats of worry
Seven stories high”
“Grandmother School” by Rina Singh; illustrated by Ellen Rooney
Based on a true story of a real school just for grandmothers in India, the main character’s grandmother goes to a special school just for grandmothers and finally learns how to read and write. Click here to watch the trailer.
“The Train” by Jodie Callaghan; illustrated by Georgia Lesley
Ashley’s uncle sits by the old train tracks to commemorate the past, and then he tells Ashley the story of him and his siblings going to residential school.
This story won the Mi’gmaq Writers Award in 2010.
I attended several online writer’s events.
“Telling Someone Else’s Story” with Dakshana Bascaramurty (EMWF mini workshop)
Bascaramurty gives several tips on how to build trust.
Last week I wrote about some of the (socially distanced) day trips I had been taking this summer. This week I am going to focus on the trip I took to Lochland Botanicals in Milton.
I am a firm believer in the healing power of nature and of gardening. Lochland Botanicals combines both for a unique experience.
The flower farm boasts a wide variety of flowers including calendula, bachelor’s buttons, asters, love lies bleeding, and baby’s breath. There are an impressive amount of herbs—including winter savoury, cilantro, stevia, thyme, and a whole whack of mint varieties—that you can actually sample while you are browsing the offerings. There is also a distillery, where hydrosols instead of essential oils were being distilled. Much as I love essential oils, I am concerned about the viability of our essential oil habit in North America, and so I am intrigued about the use of hydrosols instead. This is a subject I am going to delve into more deeply.
There is an option to “build a bouquet” and take home some of the flowers and/or herbs you admire while you are there. Right now the sunflowers are one of the stars, and I spent a long time in the field.
What trekking have you been up to? I’d love to hear about it.