Archive for May, 2010


There’s a lot to be said for living in the south.  Since moving from Canada 11 years to marry my husband, I have been extremely happy, and felt fortunate to be in a location that offered me many benefits – a wonderful church home, happiness with my husband,  a varied and comfortable climate, a culturally rich history, and access to great shopping!  Occasionally someone will ask if I find much a difference between people here and people where I grew up. Initially, I would have said no, but the longer I am here, the more differences become apparent.

 I joke that the South is like finishing school. In the olden days, girls would be trained in the nursery, tutored by a governess, then sent to finishing school where they learned manners, deportment, dancing, and the like. They were then considered “finished” and were ready for the European tour that would complete their education.

I learned a lot from growing up in Canada. Many would argue that the things I learned there could be learned anywhere. This blog entry is not meant for that argument. Here I am focusing on the parts of my education that are distinctly southern.

So, here in finishing school, I’ve learned that:

  • It’s okay to be a little ornamental.

It’s okay to be there just to look pretty. A little tongue in cheek, I call this the “Southern Belle” mentality. Girls here are deliberately taught to look pretty. While my mom was encouraging me to spend as little time in front of the mirror as possible, Southern mamas were booking tanning appointments, pedicures, and eyebrow waxings for their daughters. As I had “poodle” tendencies that were a little squelched, living in the south has given me an opportunity to primp acceptably with the best of them!

  • Homes are supposed to be Beautiful.                                                                                                                     

Growing up, our home was always the nicest of anyone that I knew. My mom enjoyed decorating. I had an aunt who also loved decorating, and between us, we always had nice homes that were tastefully decorated. But it wasn’t until I moved to the south that I really saw what homes COULD look like – not that they had to be huge, grand showcases of wealth, but places where every aspect of a room was carefully considered and planned. I’m sorry, my dear Canadians, but the Southerners have got you beat in this one. Even the most well-planned Canadian homes just don’t come close. This doesn’t mean for one second that every southern home is well done. No, not by a long stretch. But the ones that are…I’ve never seen Canadian homes to equal them.

  • Think before you speak.

It seems as though I SHOULD have learned this in Canada. However, I’ve decided that Canadians as a nation have thicker skins.  Most southerners do not want the truth. They want compliments. Be careful, too, for even something that you mean in a complimentary way can be easily misconstrued as an insult and you will find yourself being politely shunned when you have no idea what you’ve done. It is most unlikely that someone will come tell you, either, for Southerners remain polite and sweet as cream no matter how they’re offended – at least to your face. Watch your phrasology, and watch your tongue! Mo matter what the motivation, this was a good lesson for me to learn (although I do occasionally still offend). I have learned to make my words sweet, in case I am forced to eat them.

  • Biscuits are to be eaten for breakfast.

I grew up eating biscuits with soup. Ummm, biscuits are apparently breakfast food. I must confess that it took me every bit of ten years (I gave up for about a five year stretch in the middle) to learn how to make a proper southern biscuit. These do not fall into the category of health food – the minute you start adding fresh ground flour, they lose their biscuitness and start becoming something else entirely. Biscuits made with white flour are my weekly concession to Southern cooking (although I use aluminum-free baking powder and organic milk). I refuse to overcook my veggies, have yet to eat “soup beans and cornbread,” but I make southern biscuits once a week. If I view them as a conduit for local honey, then they aren’t so bad, right? Yum! (and great thanks to the dearest of friends who taught me how to make them!)

  • Tea is supposed to be sweet.

And cold. I grew up on hot tea. I still drink a lot of hot tea. But I drink a lot of cold, sweet tea, too! Remembering a few friends who came  from Louisiana to Newfoundland for my sister’s wedding – they tried to find some sweet tea in local restaraunts, and were appalled by the Nestea drink crystal concoction they were offered. At the time (not having yet lived in the south), I didn’t understand what the big deal was. Now I know. Tea runs in southerners’ veins. They need regular transfusions!

Some people are offended by the “Southern by the grace of God” attitude. I don’t understand that. I think it’s wonderful that Southerners think that the South is the best place in the world to be. Really, would you have it any other way? The amount of pride southerners have in their homeland is almost unrivaled, in my opinion. Have you ever met anyone, say, from Michigan, that had half the amount of pride in their geographical origins? I doubt it!

So, as I sit in my beautiful home, looking pretty, thinking before I speak, drinking my tea, and eating a biscuit, I ponder living in the South. Yes, it has been very good for me.


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Gardening 2010


        Worked on putting in my garden today. I had done some weeding and minor soil prep a few weeks ago (before our family was bombarded with terrible cases of strep throat and poison ivy). We are going on a little vacation, and I felt the urgency to get the plants in the ground prior to our departure so that they can get a strong foothold, and not lose valuable weeks of the growing season.
          This year’s garden is similar to last’s in that it is comprised of two raised beds measuring 4’x 8′ and one circular herb garden that is about 5′ in diameter.
        So far, I have six heirloom tomato plants (a yellow, a cherry, a black, and three red), three pepper plants (a green, a red, and an orange), several crookneck squash plants, and about 8 cucumber plants (for eating and perhaps pickling). I do square foot gardening, so I have two squares planted in carrots, one in radishes (that I will harvest and replant), and two in beets. New attempts for me this year include two rows of leeks (I’m reading French Women for All Seasons, so leeks are a must!), two rows of red onions, and three squares of peas.
        I am still looking for some butternut squash plants as these are a garden staple for me. I harvest and bake them in the fall, puree them in my Vita-Mix, freeze them in muffin tins in 1/2 cup servings, and add them to soups and casseroles all winter and my family is none the wiser. One must often be sneaky about these things!

        My favorite plants are my herbs. Not only do I cook with most of them, but I derive SUCH pleasure out of wandering outside once a day to go smell them! This year, I have oregano (a perennial which came up beautifully), dill and cilantro (which graciously re-seeded themselves for me last year negating the need to buy new plants or seeds), a spicy greek basil, a Serrata basil, sweet basil (my favorite for pesto!), rosemary, parsley, chives, and my two most favorite for smelling: pineapple sage and lemon verbena. These also have lovely blooms that are adored by butterflies.
        Today for lunch, I cut up a summer squash, sauteed it in a little olive oil, added some chives and fresh dill, topped them with a little parmesan and low-moisture  part skim mozzarella cheese. It was wonderful! Who’d have thought that a squash could make one of the best lunches I’ve ever had!

         I have decided that I need more garden. The first year, I only did one raised bed. Last year, I did two. This year, I find I’m ready for three as I have more plants that I’d like to grow, and more little hands that are happy to help! Putting produce up for the winter and sharing with friends and family are both so gratifying. Knowing that I’m including my children in the growing process, teaching them about healthy eating and the rewards of honest work are just the icing on the cake!

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I’m learning something about myself. I like gritty fiction. I don’t mean that I love gore or graphic sex, but I like a book that impales you and holds you captive until it’s over…and beyond. Tim Willocks’ stunning historical novel, The Religion,   is an epic based on the Siege of Malta. A glowing endorsement by Jacqueline Carey (a great favorite of mine who also writes incredible fiction) sold me on this book (and the fact that it was $2 at the used book store). Sucked in from the first sentence, I waded through gore, starved, loved, and fought for 613 pages of history.

 In May 1565, Suleiman the Magnificent laid siege to the island of Malta, occupied by the Knights of St. John the Baptist, who call themselves “The Religion.” The book follows the adventures of Mattias Tannhauser, a Saxon who through tragic circumstances had been raised by the janissaries (the Sultan’s personal guard who obeyed his slightest whim without question or scruples).  His characters are fantastically developed – you love, hate, and hurt  along with them. The images are captivating – a cell called an “oubliette” is something you won’t forget (incidentally, the name means “forgotten”). This book is not for the faint of heart – or stomach…but it will leave you wanting to go to Malta and see where these things happened. You’ll crave more fiction of its kind, if you can find it. I couldn’t put it down.

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A Rule

Do all the good you can,

By all the means you can,

In all the ways you can,

In all the places you can,

At all the times you can,

To all the people you can,

As long as ever you can.

John Wesley

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The Balance

You know, when you start to change how you eat, you must maintain some common sense. It was well put by Paula Spencer in her article “Me, a Foodie?” in the February 2010 issue of Women’s Day. She says, “All I want to suggest is that there’s a middle ground between stick-your-head-in-the-chemical-sand willful ignorance and stick-your-nose-in-everybody-else’s-pantry nutrition piety.”

This is the balance that I strive to maintain. I don’t talk a whole lot about the changes that our family has made – most people don’t want to hear about it. If people ask, I’m happy to answer. Mostly, I quietly eat the way we do and try not to look aghast at other people’s shopping buggies when I’m at the store (you know, the ones with sodas hanging on every side, stuffed full of potato chips, donuts, white bread, and canned ravioli.)

Spencer’s article is a very well-written one, and I would strongly recommend that you read it if you are considering some dietary changes. Read it here: http://www.womansday.com/Articles/Food/Momfidence-Me-a-Foodie.html

Her advice is solid. Start low, go slow. My personal experience is that making small changes over time has helped me to stick with them. Don’t change everything drastically all at once (Spencer calls this going “free-range cold turkey”); for one thing, your family will rebel and you will lose all credibility with them – all other attempts to make changes will be viewed with suspicion and hostility.

Occasionally I mourn the inability to make a certain change (right now I’d like chickens, but it’s not feasible for us at this time) but am always grateful when circumstances make something possible (I found a convenient and affordable source of free-range eggs). Each year I make more changes, and because they are gradual, they aren’t shocking to our family dynamic or life. We’re easing into better eating. Yes, sometimes my kids spend the day at my in-laws and eat Skittles, Little Debbies, and Sugar Smacks. But I don’t stress about it anymore. I know that the next morning they’ll be eating fresh bread made with home-ground organic grain, natural peanut butter, and local honey.

What you eat 25% of the time is not what is going to kill you. What you eat 75% of the time, that makes the difference.

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Ellen DeGeneres said “I really don’t think I need buns of steel. I’d be happy with buns of cinnamon.”

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Saw some runners on my way home from work today. It was 7:15 on a Saturday morning, when people who could be really should be in bed, if for no other reason than that they should do it for those of us who couldn’t. But I digress.

I got to thinking about our society’s obsession with exercise. Most of the people I know work out, go to the gym, run ,or walk. Why are we having to do this? It’s because our jobs are so sedentary that we don’t move enough. Then we have to take valuable hours to get the exercise that our bodies desperately need so that we don’t get metabolic syndromes.

It is easy to get sucked into this culture craze. Often, I have found myself regretting that I have no time to exercise. But what if you have a constant level of moderate activity? Do you need to exercise then? I know several women (off the top of my head) who are busy enough at home that they have no difficulty maintaining  a healthy weight and metabolic level without committing further time to exercise. Do I need to exercise if I am up and down the 14 stairs in my house 30 times at top speed (I do everything at top speed). I am rarely still. My level of activity is constant. When you are cooking, gardening, cleaning, teaching, landscaping, working (did you know that the average nurse walks 4-5 miles per shift?), do you really need to exercise?

My belief is that it depends on your motivation. Even though I’m exhausted, there are evenings when I would love to go for a walk so that I could have some time to think and enjoy the invigorating air and exercise that is not chore-related. But there are few opportunities in a life as busy as mine. I did try working out with my husband (who has a fairly sedentary job) a few times, but after putting in 80+ hours per week with moderate activity (36+ hours at my job +50 or so at home), there just isn’t much energy for extraneous movement. What I need more of in my life is sitting still. So, when I see runners from now on, I am not going to feel guilty because I don’t perform deliberate exercise. There may be years when I need that and have the opportunity. Not right now, though…I’m too busy moving!

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