Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Walking Dead: See you in the fall

"Luck runs out."
-Rick Grimes, The Walking Dead

And so does time.

On Sunday, the 90 minute finale closed yet another great season of The Walking Dead. This was my first time being all caught up knowing there is no next season episode I can just jump right into.  I only started watching The Walking Dead back in November 2014 and spent the next couple of months catching up, watching 2-3 episodes a day. Even though I don't like watching anything for hours on end, I really enjoyed myself this time. I fell in love with the show, the theme and the characters and I literally lived the show for a while.  Those were good times.

As I said it in my previous posts, to me this show is special and different from most other shows because it makes me reflect on life and death in a way that no others ever did. It is terribly ignorant to pretend that our world will always continue the way it is right now and that nothing will ever threaten our relatively safe existence. Our society is not invincible, we are not invincible and bad things can happen to good people. Civilizations have collapsed in the past and will collapse in the future. There is no way to tell for sure if it will happen during our lifetime although the signs could be there if we pay attention.

I watched the finale last night instead of Sunday because no matter how much I wanted to be in the middle of the action with other 14 million fans, I refused to be put through the torture of commercials. A great show like that is best watched uninterrupted.

All on its own without commercials the finale was just over an hour long and it was packed full of action. I sat at the edge of my seat several times throughout the show hoping for a good outcome and thank goodness I was not disappointed. I shudder to think what would happen if I was. Some of my dearest favourites dangled at the edge between life and death as it should be expected in the show like this. In the end the finale ended with a real bang and a nice cliff hanger, something that I think many Walking Dead fans hoped for and appreciated.

And how about my favourites?

At the end of the fifth season I have three strong favourites. Although I enjoy all the major characters,
some I like more than others.

 Daryl has been my favourite from season one and that has never changed. I love his persona and how he carries himself (and his crossbow, he he). He is a complex and emotionally intense character in a very intense and unforgiving world.

During the third season I began liking Carol quite a bit and during season 4 she emerged as my second favourite. A strong woman who stops at nothing to protect those that she loves, at the same time harbouring a dark side which she hides pretty well.  Carol and Daryl scenes are usually my favourite when they happen.

In season four, Rick has finally began shinning for me. Although undoubtedly the major character in the show, Rick Grimes has never been my favourite until recently. He was always brave and good but also a little soft and weak, especially in the earlier seasons. In season five he has finally become something I was waiting for. Some people say he is falling apart, I say he is undergoing a transformation.  I just hope he grows some of that beard back.  I looked good on him.

Rick, Daryl and Carol, these are my dearest favourites and let spoiler be a spoiler, they've all made it to season six. Thank AMC for that.


Monday, March 30, 2015

The Stand by Stephen King

“Show me a man or a woman alone and I'll show you a saint. Give me two and they'll fall in love. Give me three and they'll invent the charming thing we call 'society'. Give me four and they'll build a pyramid. Give me five and they'll make one an outcast. Give me six and they'll reinvent prejudice. Give me seven and in seven years they'll reinvent warfare. Man may have been made in the image of God, but human society was made in the image of His opposite number, and is always trying to get back home.” 
- Stephen King, The Stand

Another adventure with the product of Stephen King's brilliant mind has come to an end.  It took me nearly a month to read The Stand cover to cover, the complete and uncut edition, all 1141 pages of it.  It was the longest book I have ever read by far but undoubtedly a reading worth every minute of it. 

I've amassed quite a collection of Stephen King's books. I can't help it, I am drawn to this man's genius and his hidden darkness.  Some I have bought new in the bookstore, many come from the thrift stores and some others are gifts from family members who know King is my favourite author.  I've read most of them but not all.  That will come with time.

The Stand has been sitting on my shelf for few years now, begging to be read.  I picked it up several times in the past but each time I put it away after about 100 pages or so.  There was something I was getting stuck on, a slow section if you may, and I kept losing interest in exactly the same spot.  It was quite frustrating because I really wanted to read this novel but it wouldn't be the first time that something like that happened to me.  I've read other excellent books that for some reason or another were slow to start, but once they took off I didn't know what was happening around me until I was finished reading. 

When I picked up The Stand again at the end of February, I promised myself that this time no matter what, I'll keep plugging on. I had to get past the point of no return.

For those that maybe haven't read the book or have not seen the movie, The Stand is a  post-apocalyptic horror/fantasy novel, written by Stephen King and set in 20th century US of A.  At a remote US army base, a weaponized strain of influenza is accidentally released and it triggers the plague which eventually kills 99.4% of world's population.  It also kills all the dogs and horses and other animals but spares the cats (as a kitty lover I had to put that in here).   Those "lucky" that survive the apocalypse, soon realize that the fight is far from over.  In fact, it has only just begun.

Overall the book was an excellent read.  Despite the speed bump near the start, (just my opinion, but I'm sure not everyone will feel this way), the story eventually picked up and developed into something incredibly captivating.  Each one of my days for the past month ended with this book in my hand and sometimes it resulted in a lost sleep because no matter how late it was I had to read few pages before heading off into the dreamland.

King's character development was superb as usual.  Some characters were adorable, some drew respect, some were annoying and some down right evil but they were all full of depth and held my attention when my attention was supposed to be held.  That means at all times.  The characters that ended up being my favourite were Fran Goldsmith, Stu Redman and Larry Underwood.

And then of course there was Randall Flagg.

I was quite surprised when I heard the name Randall Flagg mentioned because I remembered that name from the Dark Tower series.  Intrigued, I rushed to my bookshelf and grabbed one of the novels I've already read (I'm up to Wizard and Glass in this series) and sure enough, there was Randall Flagg just like I remembered.  I went back to the computer to google this and found out right there and then that Randall Flagg is the dark character that appears in King's nine different novels and The Stand was the the novel where Flagg has made his first appearance.  How awesome was that!  I absolutely love when the authors stick the same characters into seemingly unrelated novels.  Doing that connects the novels in a very special way and in addition gives the characters extra depth and intrigue.

I have to admit, now that I'm done with The Stand I already miss it.  For the past month it's been my loyal companion and I find it hard letting it go.  I've been picking it up and re-reading various parts of the book finding gems I have missed the first time around.  Just like a complicated movie masterpiece which has to be watched several times to pick up every single detail, this book has to be read over again to understand and capture everything it has to offer.

Now the only other thing left is to watch the movie.  I was thrilled to find out that a new adaptation of the novel is in the works and deservingly so it will be a four film series.  To make things even better Matthew McConaughey is the first pick for the Randall Flagg role which I think it's an excellent choice.  Can't wait for this to come out.


Sunday, March 29, 2015

Sunday Scrambled Ramblings

“There is something in the nature of tea that leads us into a world of quiet contemplation of life.”
- Lin Yutang, The Importance Of Living

This weekend is going way too fast if you ask me.  Wasn't it Friday night just few hours ago?

Oh well, I'll go with the flow I guess and I'll have myself a pyjama day.  I ran all my errands yesterday and don't have anywhere to go today so right in my pyjama I'll stay and start my day with a cup of delicious tea.

Yesterday I went to my mailbox and found something wonderful in it.  My latest order of tea from Teavivre in China!  I've been waiting for this shipment for a while.  I ordered it in the middle of February and it usually takes 3 weeks for it to get here.  This time it was taking a little longer and I was beginning to get a little anxious.  Not to worry though, the tea arrived at last.

I ordered a pack of my all time favourite Dragonwell green tea and a brick of 2005 Fengqing Zhuan Cha Raw Pu'erh Brick tea which I tried a sample of few weeks back and loved it enough to order a whole brick.  This tea ages like a good wine, the longer the better.

There were two free samples that came with the order as well and it's no time like the present to try one of them out.  I decided to try Jasmine Raw Pu'erh Mini Toucha.  It's a raw pu'erh tea pressed into cute little cakes.  Quite adorable, really.

I steeped it at 86°C for 1 minute and 45 sec for my first steep and I will get more out of that without a doubt.  I'll have another cup after lunch.

The tea was delicious, smooth with a touch of astringency ever so present at the back of my tongue. Not too much but enough to let me know I'm drinking a tea.  I like that.  Surprisingly though, I found not enough jasmine notes for it to be called jasmine tea.  Either I'm used to stronger jasmine flavours or something was off with my senses today.  I'm inclined to think it's the first one.  Too bad really because I love jasmine in tea.

Tonight is the finale of the 5th season of the Walking Dead.  It's a 1.5 hours finale which adds a little sweet to the bitter flavour of having to part with this wonderful show for few months.  I won't be watching it tonight though, because I have no patience for commercials or even fast forwarding through them, so I'll be watching it tomorrow night once it's up on the internet.  I want no interruptions.

Image taken from comicspodcasts.com
I love this show.  It makes me reflect on life in a way that no other show ever did.  Here in the West we are living in a fairytale land and most people have no idea how fast it could end.  I'm not saying zombies will come but you know, we are not invincible.


Saturday, March 28, 2015

Of chilly mornings and window garden progress

"Gardening is cheaper than therapy and you get tomatoes." 
~Author Unknown

Oh, the glorious Saturday morning, how much I love thee!

Good morning friends, I hope this day finds you in great health and spirit and you're enjoying your weekend.

From my vantage point where I'm sitting right now, this Saturday morning is amazing.  The sun has finally come out after three days of absence and graced us with its beautiful rays.  If I was to step outside though, my enthusiasm would quickly freeze to death in my chest.  It's a mind boggling -11°C right now feeling more like -20°C with the wind chill.  All I can do is scratch my head, wonder what happened to spring and stay inside.

My seedlings are doing great and will be enjoying the much needed sunshine throughout today. They have no sneaking suspicion of what is actually happening outside right now. Mother Nature better stop her trickery soon because the seedlings are growing fast and will want to enjoy the great outdoors eventually.  I made a quick video about my little babies couple of days ago and last night while reviewing the video I can already see the difference in growth.  Some true leaves are already making an appearance.  I will update again once the true leaves fully come out which will be at the end of next week probably.

Today I found an evidence that my kitty cats have been sneaking in nibbles on the kale seedlings behind my back.  I don't blame them, kale sprouts are very delicious but this cannot continue.  There is one kale seedling that had one of the first leaves chewed off.  I'm not exactly sure which kitty cat did that but I'll have to make sure my seedlings are never left alone with the cats again.  I never left them alone in the office for long periods of time, just few minutes here and there.  I guess the moment I'm out those little rascals get right to the work.

Planting a garden brings a lot of joy but the moment the seedlings are out they are in danger of being eaten.  First inside the house by the cats, then outside the house by all kinds of critters.  It's never a dull moment, I swear.


Friday, March 27, 2015

Friday Kitty Corner

Cats seem to go on the principle that it never does any harm to ask for what you want. 
~Joseph Wood Krutch

Good morning my friends and happy Friday!  I am sure looking forward to the weekend and the glorious sleep in time.  Tonight I can stay up as long as I feel like it and tomorrow I can sleep in as long as I feel like it. There is nothing better than that. Freedom on both ends.

I'm even more excited about the prospect of Saturday sleep in because for the last few days the weather has not been cooperating. Today it's a third consecutive morning without sun which makes getting up that much more difficult.  It's dark and gloomy and big clouds hang in the air threatening us with something.   We've had rain for the past two days and this morning we are told to expect flurries. There are even some on the ground already, I guess they have fallen during the night.  The temperature, we are told, will hold steady below freezing today.  Lovely.

With the weather being the way it's been this week, the kitty cats have not been having a very good time.  They already got used to us being outside and them being able to explore the yard, sniff around and nibble on some leftover growth from last year.  Last week we were outside almost every day, planting first seedlings and basking in the sun.  This week we got none of that.  The temperature has been hovering just below the freezing mark and when it went up a little bit two days ago, the rain came.

And the kitty cats just don't understand.

Everyday after their breakfast they run to the back door and expect me to open it and let them outside
and let myself outside so that we can enjoy the wonderful outdoors together.

But the door stays closed.

Unless I'm going outside as well and it's warm enough to leave the back door open, I prefer for them to stay indoors. I like knowing where they are and what they are doing because we are close to our neighbours and some of them don't want to have strange cats in their backyards.  Oliver never wanders off of our property but Hercules, although pretty good at staying mostly on our property, does like to wander off sometimes and I like to be able to be outside and call him from time to time to make sure he doesn't go too far. Cats are cats and will go off on their pursuits but it doesn't mean they can roam completely free and do whatever they want.  Maybe one day when we move deeper into the country and have larger property, they'll have more freedom.

For now and at least another couple of days, the kitty cats and I will be destined for the indoors. There is really not much to do in the yard right now because snow and ice still cover large parts of it and the ground have frozen again in the past few days.  Maybe on Sunday when it warms up to a balmy 2°C and the sun comes out, we'll go out into the yard and have a little fun.  My hands are itching to get things going in the yard, do a clean up and have a first big spring fire.


Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Insight Timer

“We carry about us the burden of what thousands of people have said and the memories of all our misfortunes. To abandon all that is to be alone, and the mind that is alone is not only innocent but young -- not in time or age, but young, innocent, alive at whatever age -- and only such a mind can see that which is truth and that which is not measurable by words.” 
- Jiddu Krishnamurti

Two week ago I wrote a post about a neat app that I found called Bell of Mindfulness.  It's a great app for those with hectic lives who would love to take few seconds to themselves throughout the day if they only could remember to do it.  I love this app and I still use it every day even though I've gotten into a good habit of being mindful throughout my days already.  I really appreciate when the bell rings to remind me it's my time now to take several deep breaths and focus on the present.

Today I want to talk about a smart phone app that I found pretty much at the same time as I discovered Bell of Mindfulness.  It's called the Insight Timer and it is geared for those of us that meditate or would like to meditate but find it hard finding motivation.  The basic Insight Timer is free but some of its best features become unlocked only after a $3.49 upgrade.  Like I said before, I seldom buy any apps but I know a good one when I see it.  This one provides a lot of value for the price.

One of the most basic features of the app is the timer which is used to time the meditation sessions. I can choose how long or short I want to meditate and the bell will ring when the time is up. The free version has only one kind if bell, if I remember correctly, but the full upgrade has variety of bells to choose from.  These are all genuine sounds that have been recorded at a prominent meditation centre.  It's great to know that these sounds are actual real bell sounds instead of electronic replicas. The sounds are very soothing and instantly make me feel like I've been transported to a monastery somewhere in Tibet.

The app keeps logs of all the meditation sessions together with charts and milestones.  I hit my 20 day milestone today.  I find that this is a great way to keep my motivation up.  I like to see how many consecutive days elapsed with at least one meditation session and being the committed and stubborn individual that I am, I don't want to break the streak.  Eventually I know I will but hopefully not any time soon.

Another great benefit the app provides is the Journal.  After each session the box pops up asking me if I want to record a journal entry.  Once again, a great feature.  It's very convenient to record the thoughts that the meditation brought on right there and then before, like dreams, I forget them.  If I don't want to record a journal entry at that moment, I can always do it later.  The journal can also be exported into the email and printed.

And then there are guided meditations.  A lot of them.  The app provides free guided meditations with some well known names such as Eckhart Tolle and others. I don't normally use guided meditations and I haven't used this feature so I cannot say much more about it.

The last but not least if not the greatest thing about this app is the community.  The app provides spiritual link to the worldwide community of like minded meditators who I can connect with but don't have to.  I can participate or I can simply read and get inspired.  After each session I can see who meditated at the same time with me and how many people overall.  There are many groups to join and I joined few of them.  My favourite is the Daily Gratitude group where people record their thoughts of thanks and gratitude every day.  There is something so wonderfully peaceful about waking up in the morning, meditating for few minutes and then reading positive thoughts of all the things people are grateful for. I find it very inspiring.  Another great group is Rumi, where people post poems and quotes written by Rumi, Persian poet and mystic who lived in 13th century.  I always find a lot of great read there.

Sometimes I think it's ironic that I have found a peace and tranquillity within a smart phone app but that appears to be so.  It's true that many of the benefits the app provides can already be found somewhere else.  I can use my phone's notepad or a physical journal to record my meditation thoughts and I can use my phone's timer to time my meditation sessions (although without the beautiful bells).  The reason that I prefer this app instead of other separate tools, is that everything is together in a nice bundle, and when I connect with it, I feel like I'm in a virtual monastery.  It does something wonderful for my soul.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

I'm not buying it

“We seldom consider how much of our lives we must render in return for some object we barely want, seldom need, buy only because it was put before us...And this is understandable given the workings of our system where without a job we perish, where if we don't want a job and are happy to get by we are labelled irresponsible, non-contributing leeches on society. But if we hire a fleet of bulldozers, tear up half the countryside and build some monstrous factory, casino or mall, we are called entrepreneurs, job-creators, stalwarts of the community. Maybe we should all be shut away on some planet for the insane. Then again, maybe that is where we are.” 

-Ferenc Mate, A Reasonable Life: Toward a Simpler, Secure, More Humane Existence

Image from Walmart Stores /Flickr
I've been done with buying useless, redundant stuff for quite some time now. It's a journey I've embarked on about a year ago.  After disposing of years worth of old clothes, useless trinkets, extra mugs and many other not needed but overvalued items, I realized that none of my efforts to de-clutter are going to matter if I continue dragging new items into the house.  I wanted more space and more peace, I didn't want to replace the old chaos with the new one.

Here in the West, we are living in a very materialistic world, a world that is consumed by consuming. There are advertisements everywhere.  TV, magazines, radio, newspapers, junk mail and computers, all scream in unison: buy, buy, buy. When we walk into the stores we are greeted by aisles upon aisles of colourful products all trying to convince us that we need one more than the other.

But do we really?  Do we rally need them?

Probably not.  Upon impulse it might seem like we do, but if we only give ourselves a moment to ponder, we will probably come to realization that we can do without it.  We don't need it.  We want it and that is a big difference.

Sometimes I walk into the store, see an item and get consumed by an impulse to buy it.  It's only few dollars, I say.   In the past I would probably not give it much thought but today I think long and hard if I really need the said item or is there another way to get what I want without buying it.  What I found out is that in 99% of instances, there is.  There is almost always another way.  Our store shelves are overpopulated with redundancy.

Thrift stores are not any better and if one's efforts are to de-clutter, they might be even worse.  Things are cheaper in thrift stores so it's easier to buy there. I learned that the hard way.  I love thrift stores but these days I only go there when I really need something.

My journey has taught me many valuable lessons.  It taught me that while my eyes want something, my life doesn't necessarily need it.  It taught me that there is a lot of junk in our stores. It taught me that no matter if this junk is expensive or cheap, it will still take the same amount of space in my home.  It taught me that the space in my home is more valuable than the junk I try to cram in it because cluttered home is less peaceful.  It taught me the value of restraint, conservation and the value of re-purposing old items before opting for something new.  It taught me that if I don't spend my money on useless junk, I'll have more money to spend on really important things.

And some of the most important things in life are not physical things.

I'm trying to pass this wisdom on to my kids.  I hope they are paying attention.


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Cleaning out the closet

“I've found that the less stuff I own, the less my stuff owns me.” 
- Nathan W. Morris

It's usually around this time of the year when I get the cleaning bug.  I think the spring fever comes and some natural instinct to clean house takes over.  All of a sudden I just feel like getting personal with dusty corners, messy closets and bringing order out of the chaos again.

On Sunday I tackled my personal closet.  It's been a year since the last clean up and the said chaos was very well established.  It took me about couple of hours but by the time I was done, there was a lot more light in my closet and whole lot of unneeded clothes and junk in the big black garbage bag.  Taking into account that I have not added anything to my closet since the last time I cleaned it out, that was surely an accomplishment.

Out with the old, in with ... nothing.

That's right.  This is not about cleaning and reorganizing, this is de-cluttering.  Every year before last year I simply moved stuff around.  I organized, put away, folded what needed to be folded and hanged what needed to be hanged.  I got rid of some stuff, but never enough.  Somehow I always needed more hangers and I didn't even question why that would be.  Until last year.

Last year something different happened.  As usual I wanted to reorganize my personal space as well as the storage rooms in the basement but I realized that in order to do that I needed not only more hangers but also more storage bins. There was just too many lose things hanging around everywhere. I even went to the department store to purchase these bins.

And it was at the department store that it hit me.

I didn't need more storage bins.  I needed to get rid of useless stuff.

This set me off on a rampage throughout the house and by the time I was done, not only everything was organized, but I had extra two empty storage bins and many garbage bags full of items we didn't need, all destined for local Goodwill.

I was on to something and I didn't even know if it had a name.  I looked it up and it turned out it did.
It was called minimalism.  Whatever minimalism was, I wanted to do it or at least get darn close to it.

I watched several videos about people's personal journeys and the one that moved me the most was the story about Peter Lawrence.  I was shocked that some people lived like that and I was instantly inspired.  I knew that this is an example of extreme minimalism and I knew that there is no way my family would go for living like this but it made a serious impression on me and after I was done watching this video, I parted with whole bunch of dishes in the kitchen.  Go figure.  There is only four of us living here but for some reason we had about 100 mugs.  Why?

It's an ongoing process to learn to get rid of useless material possessions, things that don't serve any real purpose now nor will they ever in the future.  It's not always easy.  Sometimes sentiments are attached to these said possessions and giving them away feels like giving away part of my heart.  It's okay though.  It's good to break through this barrier and keep plugging on.  In the end I realize that material things don't define me, they only clutter my space and collect dust.  I feel lighter after getting rid of unwanted junk, almost like a weight has been lifted off of my shoulders.

Today I still can't say that minimalism took hold in my house.   No matter how much I try and get rid of things, other people keep dragging stuff in.  It's a two step forward, one step back process, but overall, I think I manage to get rid of more stuff than we all bring in.  There is a light at the end of this tunnel.


Monday, March 23, 2015

Back to school and early rising

“Alarm clocks were going off in the city now. One after another, sometimes two or three together, they drove their small silver knives into the body of the great dream that sprawled naked on the housetops. Sensual, amiable, and defenseless as it was, it would still take a little while to die.” 
- Peter S. Beagle, A Fine and Private Place

Just like that, the March break is over and it's back to early mornings for everyone in our cozy abode.  Even though it is not easy for a night owl like myself to wake up before 7 am it is not all doom and gloom any more.  The sun is rising a little earlier now so my wake up time is once again at dawn instead of in complete darkness. Also, waking up at this time gives me an opportunity to witness a beautiful sunrise and that is enough to get me out of bed.  There is something about the sunny spring mornings that I find irresistible. They make me all warm and fuzzy inside and fill me with loads of wonderful energy.

This week of March break really made a difference for me. One wouldn't think that nine days period would matter all that much but it did.  It gave me an opportunity to catch up on some sleep lost due to the spring time change and the sun now rises 15 minutes earlier than it did before the March break. 15 minutes makes a big difference in the morning.  Unfortunately same thing cannot be said for my daughter Angelina who loves to sleep in until noon when she can.  Getting her off to school was not an easy task this morning.

Despite the beautiful sunshine, it is not as nice as it looks. We are in the midst of an arctic blast again with temperatures plunging to below freezing for the last couple of days. It is actually -10°C right now with the windchill of -17°C.  It is not the kind of weather where you would want to tear yourself away from a warm bed and head outside. Hopefully this freeze will come to an end tomorrow as it is forecasted. We've had time to adjust to warmer temperatures already and biting bitter cold like this is not a welcome visitor.

I surely hope this chill is a temporary one and the temperatures continue their rise upward.  The
whole garden is waiting to be planted and I sure hope that happens on time.  All the seedlings I planted last week are now out, including the tomatoes I was waiting for.  They broke through the soil last night which means it took them only five days to sprout.  I guess the temperature in my office was toasty enough for them.  Words cannot describe my happiness right now. I keep going and looking at my little babies. That's what they are to me... my little babies.


Sunday, March 22, 2015

Sunday Scrambled Ramblings

“I'd love to see a new form of social security ... everyone taught how to grow their own; fruit and nut trees planted along every street, parks planted out to edibles, every high rise with a roof garden, every school with at least one fruit tree for every kid enrolled.” 
- Jackie French, New Plants from Old

Russian kale seedling
Where did the time go?  I can't believe it's already Sunday and the March break is over.  It was a great week though, full of restful nights, wonderful slow mornings, outdoor activities and first seeds planting.  I am grateful for every single moment.

The seeds that I have planted earlier in the week have been making some wonderful progress. Most of the seeds broke the ground yesterday.  Russian kale, dinosaur kale, romaine lettuce and red lettuce are all out.  The first seed to spring to life was Russian kale and that happened on Friday night, the first day of spring and only three days after planting.  It was a happy moment in the house upon discovery.

Tomato seeds will be taking a little longer, they need on average 5-7 days or even more depending on the conditions.  The temperature in the office is on the lower end of the scale for germination at most times so I wouldn't be surprised if they took a full week or little more to come out. 

I mentioned yesterday that to honour the International Day of Forests I've set up some apple seeds for germination in my fridge.  It turns out that was not all I did.  As I was cutting an apple yesterday afternoon, some seeds fell out and two of them were already in the process of sprouting. I decided to put together a short video about apple seeds planting and involved Angelina in the process. She helped me plant the already sprouting seeds and was very happy to take part in this short video. Check it out.

As I'm writing this I'm enjoying my Sunday tea.  Today I'm having Dark Roast 10 Year Aged Tieguanyin from Verdant Tea.  It's a roasted oolong that has been aged for 10 years and it's one of my favourite special teas. Its fragrant roasty aroma and mild full bodied flavour with a hint of caramel always makes me crave for more.  There is only a little bit left on the bottom of the package which tells me it's time to restock soon. And that I shall do.  Namaste.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Hug a tree today, it's their special day

The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a
green thing that stands in the way. Some see Nature all ridicule and
deformity, and some scarce see Nature at all. But to the eyes of the
man of imagination, Nature is Imagination itself.
- William Blake, 1799, The Letters

Happy Saturday my dear friends.  I hope today finds you in great health and spirit and you are enjoying the weekend.

Today is an International Day of Forests and I have to say I didn't know about it until yesterday.  I'm not surprised though because it is a relatively new invention.  It was established on November 28, 2012 by the resolution of United Nations General Assembly.  All countries are encouraged on this day to celebrate forests and all the trees outside of forests.  I would say one day is not enough, we should celebrate them every day of the year.

I love trees.  To me they are solemn, old and wise beings, standing over us, providing us with the very thing we need to survive.  They are the keepers of all secrets, both above and below the ground, with extensive root systems penetrating Earth's diverse crust.  I love to walk through forests and watch the trees around me.  I love to draw them, paint them and photograph them.  I love to hug them and smell their earthy scent.  The trees in my backyard receive hugs from me on regular basis.  

Go out today and hug a tree.  I already did.  Plant one if you can.  I had whole bunch of apple seeds that I saved and dried for few weeks.  I put them on the wet paper towel and into the plastic bag which I sealed and put in the fridge.  In four weeks or so I should have some apple tree seedlings. They are not guaranteed to produce same apples like the parent tree did but they will produce some apple variety nevertheless.  

The trees deserve our love.


Friday, March 20, 2015

Celebrating Spring at the Maple Syrup Festival

Spring is when you feel like whistling even with a shoe full of slush. 
~Doug Larson

Happy first day of Spring everyone!  It also happens to be Friday so it's a two for one happiness for a lot of people.

Even though there is still snow and ice on the ground and the temperatures are not always that warm, the spring is very much present in the air already.  The sun is brighter, warmer and its travels through the sky are noticeably longer.  Some birds have returned to our yard and are taking advantage of the seeds I've put out for them and the squirrels are busily running their errands.  I've even seen a chipmunk this week for the first time in months.

For the last couple of nights Angel and I have heard owls hooting at night.  It's such an eerie and wonderful sound.  It also happens to be sign of spring.  When the owls begin their nightly mating calls, it's a sign that the winter is waning and spring it's on its way.  It's comforting to know that.

Yesterday, to celebrate the coming of spring I took Angel to the Maple Syrup Festival in the nearby town.  The air was still cool and crisp but the sun was out and there were no clouds in the sky.  It looked a like wonderful day for some outdoor fun.

The Maple Syrup Festival we went to is held at a lovely place called the Westfield Heritage Village. It was built and opened to the public in 1964 to educate people on how the early settlers live and how they worked.  The Village has about 30 different buildings, all wooden structures.  There is an Inn, Shoe Maker Shop, Printing Shop, Spinner and Weaver Shop, Alchemist Shop, General Store, Church, School House and Tailor Shop among many others.  There is also a train station with a big locomotive parked nearby.

All the people employed at the village were dressed like early settlers and knew how to work the equipment they were presenting.  In every building there was a pile of wood too keep the wooden stoves and fireplaces busy. You could smell the wood burning and the fire cracking.

We started our adventure in front of the Inn where a lovely lady worked the cauldrons and explained how the early settlers produced the maple syrup. 

After that we toured the rest of the village and had a lot of fun learning all about how people lived and worked back then.  There was so much skill that went into everything that people were doing. Everything took time, patience and dedication.  Every item produced was unique and had a lot of character.  We can't say that about most things produced today.

I was quite surprised at how much Angelina was enjoying herself.  She loved to hear the history and to see the process involved in producing items of those times.  I think her favourite was the Printing Shop where she even got to work the pedal to make the printing press run.  I have to say it was one of my favourites too.  I also loved the Spinner and Weaver shop where thread was being produced and weaved into different fabrics.  I was so excited to see all that that I forgot to take the picture there, but I did take few pictures at the Printing Shop.

Besides touring the buildings we also went on two horse buggy rides.  Angelina named the horses Marshmallow and Midnight.  They were beautiful.

And last but not the least, the pancake lunch.  The pancakes were delicious and only a $1 per pancake with fresh maple syrup straight out of the Sugar Shack.  We visited the Sugar Shack as well and watched the maple syrup being made.  We washed the pancakes down with hot and also delicious apple cider.  

It was an amazing afternoon and an amazing way to celebrate the spring coming.  Namaste.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The first seeds have been planted

It was such a pleasure to sink one's hands into the warm earth, to feel at one's fingertips the possibilities of the new season. 
~Kate Morton, The Forgotten Garden

Happy Thursday everyone, I hope you're all enjoying a beautiful and peaceful start to the day.  I woke up earlier this morning just in time to witness a breathtaking sunrise which I am very grateful for.  I love watching the sun slowly travel through the morning sky and rise the world from its slumber. 

On Tuesday I went ahead and planted some of my first seeds.  It was fairly warm and sunny outside so I took the soil and my seeds and ventured out onto the deck to play in the dirt.  I brought the soil in from the garden several days ago and kept it inside to defrost and warm up.  Now everything was ready to go.

I planted three types of tomatoes, two types of kale and two types of lettuce.  It felt wonderful to sink my hands into the soil and feel its energy once again.  It made me realize how much I miss my garden, the life, the chatter and everything that comes with it.  I am completely down with the spring fever.

Kitty cats were of course there with us, enjoying the sun and the warmer weather.  Hercules was still very dissatisfied with the snow and tried finding a way to get to some of his favourite spots in the garden without getting his paws wet.  He was not very successful and so he spent most of the time on the deck.

I put the planted seeds in my office for now.  It's nice and warm there which is important especially for the tomatoes which need temperature over 21°C to germinate.  My office is an ideal spot for them. Kale and lettuce are not as demanding as they are both cool weather crops but do appreciate temperature of 20°C or slightly over.  In the afternoon my office fills with a wonderful sun which brings the temperature up and the tomatoes will love it.  Now the wait begins. 

I decided to keep a detailed journal of my planting activities this year.  I did that two years ago and it was quite helpful but for some reason I abandoned the idea last year.  Now I wish I haven't.  There are some things I wish I remembered from last year's gardening that I don't and a journal would come in very handy.  Oh well, what's done is done but at least I will have one to assist me next spring. 

I still consider myself a beginner to food growing because lets face it, few years is hardly enough to learn everything inside and out.  Every year I try something new, grow a new crop, find a new spot in the garden to plant and I think it's very important to record all these activities and the results.  It leaves much less space for guesswork.


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Of Book Delivery and Enjoying the Moment

“In a good bookroom you feel in some mysterious way that you are absorbing the wisdom contained in all the books through your skin, without even opening them.” 
- Mark Twain

Book delivery days are special.  A cardboard package which my hubby brought into the house was waiting for me to be opened on the kitchen island.  Within it, three books to be read, devoured, loved and read again.  Thousands of words eager for my soul to absorb.  My heart jumped with joy and my fingertips started tingling eager to touch the new arrivals.  I tore the box open and here there were: The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts, Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry and Messenger also by Lois Lowry.  

I wanted these books for a long while now and I even wrote a post about it.  I'm not quick to order things, I usually wait a while, even with books, to prevent the heat of the moment purchases.  I have to be this way because if I ordered everything I want to read RIGHT NOW, I would probably go broke.  I have to be selective and buy only those books that are of utmost value to me.  These books fit the category well.  I knew I would want them even a year from now because they are of the kind that contain a wealth of food for the soul.  All books do of course but some are wealthier than others.  Some are read and put away but others can be read and then re-read over and over again, loved and then passed on to the younglings.

When I get new books I like to touch them, leaf through them and smell them.  I find the smell of a book intoxicating, it's almost like some of the wisdom contained within is absorbed through my skin and my lungs.  I can almost feel the words rushing in and touching my heart.

I began reading The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts right away.  It's a great book and Alan Watts does a great job at communicating the urgent need for society to stop living for the future and start living in the present.  We are all guilty of that in one way or another, but more so when we're not aware we are doing it.  Some people spend their entire lives never enjoying the present, always working towards the future and when that future arrives, when it becomes the present moment, the can't enjoy it because they are already worrying about the new future.  His example of a successful working man is brilliant:

"This kind of living in the fantasy of expectation rather than the reality of the present is the special trouble of those businessmen who live entirely to make money.  So many people of wealth understand much more about making and saving money than about using and enjoying it.  They fail to live because they are always preparing to live.  Instead of earning a living they are mostly earning an earning, and thus when the time comes to relax they are unable to do so.  Many a "successful" man is bored and miserable when he retires, and returns to his work only to prevent a younger man from taking his place."

Each one of us should examine ourselves carefully and find out how much time do we spend truly living and how much of it do we spend catapulted into the future worrying about events that haven't happened yet and events we can do nothing about.  Quite a bit probably.

The other two books in the package are part of a quartet which starts with The Giver.  I already read The Giver and so the next one in the series is Gathering Blue but it will have to wait until I have finished reading The Stand by Stephen King.  The Stand is almost like three books in one, over 1100 pages and I'm almost done.  It's been quite a journey and I loved every moment of it.

A day spent with a book is a day well spent.  I don't think there was ever a time that I regretted it.


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Happy St. Patrick's to those that celebrate

"May your blessings outnumber the shamrocks that grow, and may trouble avoid you wherever you go." 

Happy St. Patrick's Day to all that celebrate.  I hope this day finds you in great health and spirit and fills your existence with joy and happiness.

I have to admit, I do not celebrate St. Patrick's Day but I do enjoy all things green since lime green is one of my favourite colours and I see plenty of this wonderful shade on St. Patty's Day.  As to drinking, going out and all that other celebratory stuff, no thank you, I think I will pass.  My hubby will be celebrating with his buddies though, they have that festive blood running through their veins. He is feverishly running through the house looking for a green hat that he usually sports on St. Patrick's Day.  Darn thing probably grew legs and escaped.

I think the closest I came to celebrating St. Patrick's Day was back in 2007 and 2008 when I was a runner.  There was a local St. Patrick's 5 km race put on every year (and still is) and I was its enthusiastic participant during these two years.  I have two medals to prove it.  First year I came third and the second year I came first in my age group.  I remember the pain and the celebration afterwards.  These were some good times.

In 2007 I ran with two of my daughters and after the race we went into the pub to celebrate.  I had a green beer and my girls had something green as well.  I think it might have been a Gatorade.  Can you believe that these two girls in the picture below are now fully grown adults?  It blows my mind every time.

I always knew that St. Patrick's Day was an Irish holiday marked with drinking, celebrations and all things green but I never really looked into what this holiday stands for and how it started.

As it turns out, St. Patrick's Day is a day commemorating the death of St. Patrick, a person credited with spreading Christianity in Ireland.  Back in 17th century it was a sombre religious holiday, when people showed their respect by going to mass and all the pubs were closed.  It were the Irish immigrants to the US that changed the St. Patrick's Day from quiet commemoration to festive celebration in the 18th century and spread the fever throughout the world.

As for me I will stay here in my cozy abode enjoying my favourite green tea in my green tea cup which I pulled out especially for this occasion.  It's an organic Dragonwell green tea from Teavivre, it's delicious and it soothes my soul.  Namaste.

Monday, March 16, 2015

I'm growing sprouts again!

“Learn to do common things uncommonly well; we must always keep in mind that anything that helps full the dinner pail is valuable.” 
- George Washington Carver

This is the time of the year when I start craving fresh green edibles.  It's almost like my body knows the spring is coming, the earth is waking and it's time to change the diet somewhat.  I eat mostly plant diet throughout the year, but in the winter my greens are usually of the frozen and then cooked variety.  As the spring approaches I crave the fresh greens; the greens full of life and energy, greens that smell of earth and life giving sun.

Since can't grow much in my garden yet and whatever I'll start growing now will take a while to mature, I've taken to growing sprouts.  Sprouts are incredibly easy to grow, do not need much light and can be grown all year round.  I grew sprouts all through last spring, summer and part of fall but then got tired of them and needed a break.  I've noticed that my body goes through some sort of cycle where the diet is concerned.  When winter comes I crave comfort foods: potatoes, cooked veggies and more animal products although I still keep my diet very rich in fresh fruit.  I have to say that most of my cravings are very seasonal and that is a good thing I suppose.

To grow the sprouts all I need are the seeds and some sort of shallow container.  I use the Chinese take out container which I saved a while back, it's round and shallow and plays its role quite well.

I use two tablespoons of seeds, place them in the container and cover them with water.  I soak them in the water for six hours initially.  Only one initial soaking is needed.  After the six hours, I strain the seeds and put the container in dark and warm place for the seeds to sprout.  

They usually sprout very quickly, within the first 24 hours. After the initial soaking and straining, I rinse the seeds twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening.  I continue this until the sprouts are fully grown.  When I see a sea of green seedling heads in my container I know they are ready to eat.

I love having my sprouts in the salads or in the sandwich.  My favourite is rye bread with some avocado on top, sprinkled with Himalayan salt and topped with fresh sprouts.  Yum!  You can add a tomato to that as well for an additional burst of flavour.

I made a short video of my sprout growing efforts.  Check it out, I hope you enjoy it.  Namaste.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Sunday Scrambled Ramblings

“Everything in the universe is within you. Ask all from yourself.” 
- Rumi

Happy Sunday beautiful friends, I hope everyone is having a great start to their day. 

It feels wonderful to wake up all on your own instead being startled by an alarm clock.  It really does make a lot of difference and this week has been my best proof of that.  I don't get much more sleep on the weekends than during the week but for some reason I feel million times better regardless.  It's clear to me that my body has not adjusted to the time change from last weekend.  I still prefer waking with the rising sun.  I guess nature knows better than silly humans.

Today I'll be making pancakes from scratch for Angelina I when she wakes up.  It's been a long while since we had pancakes and a little one has been craving them.  I guess I stirred up the desire when I mentioned going to the Maple Syrup Festival during the March break.  There is a community close by that throws a great festival every March and kids have have a lot of fun there: they visit with farm animals including horses, play in the barn, ride horse buggy and have an awesome pancake lunch. 

We'll pick a day to go there, maybe even tomorrow since it looks like the only warm day this coming week.

As the temperatures outside remains above freezing, things in the yard are slowly being released from the grip of the ice and snow.  I went into my yard this week to get a pot of soil which I will need to get my seedlings started.  It was still stuck in ice but somehow I loosened it up.  I brought the pot into the house and it's been slowly defrosting and warming up to the room temperature. Now I really have everything I need to get my tomato and kale seedlings started. I'll be doing that either today or on Tuesday. Exciting times indeed.

And now it's time to go and enjoy my Sunday morning tea.  Today I am having a 2012 Wild Monk Sheng from Mandala Tea.  It's delicious.  Tea is my refuge, my little piece of paradise.  


Saturday, March 14, 2015

It's all about Pi today

“But in my opinion, all things in nature occur mathematically.” 
- Rene Descartes

Image taken from Wikipedia
No matter what I wanted to write about today it will have to wait. Today the whole world acknowledges the extraordinary Pi Day and I have to say it's an event interesting enough to give it a mention.  In the process we can learn a thing or two and I'm always a game for learning.

Today at precisely 9:26:53 am (which already passed) and again in the evening we will be suspended in the Pi moment.  Today's date and time taken together represent the actual first 10 digits of the Pi number: 3.141592653.  This will not happen again for a hundred years.

Pi is a mathematical symbol and it stands for the ratio of circle's circumference to its diameter.  It is an irrational number which means it can't be represented by a common fraction.  It never ends and its digits never settle into permanent repeating pattern.

William Jones, a self taught mathematician, is thought to be the first to notice the characteristics of this bizarre number and he published his findings in 1706 in his work Synopsis palmariorum matheseos.  He wrote:

“The exact proportion between the diameter and the circumference can never be expressed in numbers”

He is also the one who picked the Greek letter π to represent the number. 

Internationally the Pi number is celebrated every year on March 14 at 1:59:26 pm (3.1415926) but this year we go two steps (or numbers) further.  Last year the entire March was celebrated (3.14).  I never realized the extent of the Pi fever until today.

That is probably so because I've never been in love with Pi.  I remember this pesky number from my school years and the headaches that it caused.  To tell you the truth, mathematics was never my favourite subject.  I knew the importance of it, I got to be good at it and earned excellent marks, but I never really enjoyed it.  Especially the geometry, which I love in itself but not as mathematical representations.

And now that I've acknowledged this special day it's time to go and make myself some Pi Day tea. And maybe something to eat.  Looking at the pie in the picture made me hungry, real hungry, but although I think it would be fitting to have a piece of pie, I don't think I have any in the house.


Friday, March 13, 2015

On March break, slumber time and kitty love

“What's your name,' Coraline asked the cat. 'Look, I'm Coraline. Okay?'
'Cats don't have names,' it said.
'No?' said Coraline.
'No,' said the cat. 'Now you people have names. That's because you don't know who you are. We know who we are, so we don't need names.” 
- Neil Gaiman, Coraline

Good morning my friends and happy Friday!  I hope this day finds you in great health and spirit.

Today's Friday is extra special because it's a start of something wonderful: the March break. For the next nine glorious days I won't have to wake up Angelina for school and I am very grateful for that. This week was especially difficult because of the spring time change. Both Angel and I have not completely adjusted yet and so this break in routine couldn't have come at a better time.  We all need a little extra slumber.

I'm sure our kitty cats will notice the change in pace around the house this coming week but I am also sure that they will happily snooze in with us in the mornings.  I've heard stories of cats waking people up demanding breakfast but our kitties have never been like that.  Hercules patiently lies on the bed beside me until I open my eyes.  When I'm up, then he is up and the breakfast party can begin.

Speaking of kitties, I've noticed that the bond between Hercules and Oliver continues to improve.  It is absolutely delightful to watch them both together, grooming each other or snoozing together on the soft blanket.  Before my son moved in, Hercules and Oliver knew each other and visited every couple weeks or so but were not very close.  They were mostly just doing their own thing.  Now I see them together a lot, behaving more like two brothers instead of distant cousins.

Sometimes I watch them and ponder.  Why do we love cats so much?  They don't greet us with the same enthusiasm the dog would, they don't play fetch (although I'm sure if we looked we would find one that does just that) and they don't always come when we call them.  They know what they want or need and sometimes (gasp) it is not us.  And they have enough guts to let us know that simple fact.

There are things about cats that only cat lovers can understand.   Cat's love and affection is an intimate and tightly guarded treasure divulged only at the right moment and not for the whole world to see.  Unless of course you happen to have a camera in hand.


Hercules snuggling with me on the bed

Thursday, March 12, 2015

A trip to the beach

"Oh, Spring is surely coming,
Her couriers fill the air;
Each morn are new arrivals,
Each night her ways prepare;
I scent her fragrant garments,
Her foot is on the stair."
~John Burroughs, A March Glee

According to the nifty spring countdown widget on my blog page, it is now seven days and five hours until the coming of spring.  That is only a week away!

Yesterday we had one of the nicest days in a long, long while.  The temperature rose to 9°C and there was not even one cloud in the sky.  The sun shone bright and strong.

With such an amazing day happening, I couldn't just stay indoors.  I took my camera and ventured into our local beach.  I haven't been there all winter long and I realized how much I've missed it.  I was raised in the port city, ten minutes away from the seashore and being near big bodies of water brings me tranquillity and peace.  Lake Ontario is not quite the Baltic Sea but it does its job for me. 

The lake was mostly free of ice except for the shore areas.  I haven't been here during the February deep freeze so I don't know the extent  to which the lake froze but I can imagine a lot of ice has receded through several days of warmer weather.  Still the beach appeared triple the size of what it should have been.  The shallow end near the shore is all frozen and covered with snow.  Since it was so warm and not a first day to be this way, I didn't want to tempt the fate by going far into the ice so I stayed close to where I thought the shore was.  I could barely see the water from there though.

There was a bench nearby where I sat down and had lunch. It was so warm and wonderful that I spent nearly 45 minutes there just basking in the heat.  I even squeezed in a short mediation session.  I've never meditated on the beach and I think this is something I should do more often.  Not just the beach but nature in general.  I have visions of sitting by the creek in the middle of forest meditating.  The birds are singing, the water is flowing and I am there, one with the nature, one with it all.  Definitely something I should do.

On the way back I stopped by Smokey Hollow trail to see if the waterfalls have been freed.  Indeed they have been.  I could hear the water flowing the moment I got out of the car.  It was like a music to my ears.  The spring is indeed coming my friends.  Get ready.  Namaste.