Monday, May 31, 2010

Keeping hope alive in a culture of death

Tonight I had the distinct pleasure and privilege to hear Mr. Raymond Arroyo (journalist, producer, and host of EWTN's "The World Over Live") talk about how to marshall true hope in today's troubled and troubling times, with particular reference to the pro-life movement.

He observed how beautiful and at the same how tragic it is to celebrate and exalt something so basic as human life: a battle for which so many people from so many walks of life need to fortify themselves.

"Upholding the culture of life draws people together from all cultures and points them to something greater than we all are," he said.

Something very interesting - and, I think, quite true - that he said was that culture should be given more weight than politics.

"Music, art, literature, and media are what can transform the hearts of people."

He also said that what's on TV is a good barometer of what's on people's minds and in their hearts. I thought about shows like King of the Hill, Sex and the City, and Jersey Shore, and said to myself, "Then God help us all." But as if he had read my mind, Arroyo then pointed out new shows and movies that, surprisingly enough, value and celebrate life: Sixteen and Pregnant, Bella, Juno, Up - even the ultrasound images in the movie Knocked Up didn't escape his keen attention.

We shouldn't underestimate, he said, the power of images in today's tv and internet age.

"Many people simply don't realize what abortion really means, what's involved, what it does," he said. Hence the need for education and public discussion. "It's up to us to point to a better way."

So to uphold life, there are several key principles we need to have firmly in place, that we ourselves need to be convinced of before we can hope to convince others.

First, Arroyo quoted Mother Theresa, who directly and fearlessly told world leaders that the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion. "We can't tell people to stop killing each other if we accept abortion," she said. "A country must be judged on how it loves and protects life."

Second, someone's personhood does not depend on others' recognition of it. "It's God who confers personhood on us, not other people."

Third, Arroyo said that we need to challenge "slippery" words - words like "reproductive choice", "tubal ligation", "pregnancy termination", "emergency contraception." These are words that attempt to mask and sanitize serious wrongs. Kind of like using "air freshener."

Fourth, "abortion is the decline of human significance," as Father Richard John Neuhaus once said. Once consented to, the disregard of human life does not stop at embryos or fetuses. The battle lines in Canada are now drawn on the euthanasia front as well.

Fifth, we don't know God's plan for each child lost - or saved. Case in point: decades ago in a Michigan town, a mother of three girls was talked out of her decision to abort her fourth child by a doctor friend of the family. The baby girl grew up to become Judy Garland.

Lastly, the culture of death is literally dying. One day it will most assuredly destroy itself. On the other hand, cherishing children means ensuring a hope-filled future. "Life is the call," Arroyo concluded. "It is also the gift within the call."

Raymond Arroyo made these remarks at the annual Focus on Life gala dinner, which raises funds for advertising a help line for women in crisis pregnancies or suffering from post-abortion trauma. For more information please visit 


Debunking the Myth of the Medieval Ages

It always irks me when people use the term "medieval" to describe anything out of date, obsolete, crude, or unenlightened.

The medieval period was none of those things. It was not merely a long dark tunnel out of which mankind emerged, blinking, into the light of the Renaissance. Au contraire. It was during this period that learning flourished, man had a clear idea of his place in the world and in relation to his God, and women were more emancipated than they ever were before - and quite possibly after.

For those who want to disabuse themselves of any prejudices they may be harbouring against this much maligned, under-appreciated, and misunderstood period of history, historian Regine Pernoud wrote two excellent books: Those Terrible Middle Ages and Women in the Days of the Cathedrals. I used both, among many others, in my research for the commentary that appears below. It's my own small effort to help debunk the myth of the Medieval Ages.

Wonder Women of the Medieval Ages

The most powerful and prevalent image of woman in the Middle Ages was that of Mary, the Mother of Jesus Christ. Her image is reverently depicted and her praises sung in every art form of that period.

In you are mercy, tenderness, compassion;
In you is generosity sublime;
In you all creatures’ goodness has been fashioned. (Dante’s Paradiso)

Not only the poetry but also the liturgy of the period extols her as “…the beautiful chamber from which the worthy spouse comes forth, the light of the gentiles, the hope of the faithful…” The Rosary was developed as a popular substitute for the Liturgy of the Hours. At the same time, numberless churches and cathedrals were erected in to her honour. So began the practice of going on pilgrimage, a devotion still practiced today, which involves reciting the Rosary while visiting a shrine dedicated to Mary.

In the visual arts, the depiction of Mary reached its golden age in the Middle Ages. The Virgin was celebrated in illustrated manuscripts, enamel and gemstone inlays, and church sculpture. The tradition of the coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven began at this time, and abundant use of gold and lush colours enhances her image that is often “larger-than-life.” (Jacqueline Orsini, Mary: Images of the Holy Mother)

Mary therefore was a constant presence in medieval life – in sculpture or painting in every church, in daily prayer, in the many feast days dedicated to her. There can be no doubt that Mary served as a model on whom many medieval women patterned themselves. Inspired by their devotion to Mary, medieval people had a reverence for womanhood, and particularly for motherhood, considering it something very sacred and precious. Women were the center of their families and of their homes, “the nucleus without which the framework could not exist…the cornerstone of the whole structure.” (Regine Pernoud, Women in the Days of the Cathedrals)

Certainly queens and noblewomen such as Eleanor of Aquitaine and Blanche of Castile dominated their respective spheres. They exercised power when the king was absent, ill or dead; they had their chancellery, their dower, their field of personal activity. (Regine Pernoud, Those Terrible Middle Ages)

Ordinary women also had their own circle of influence. Historians contend that instead of viewing them as mere “women of the hearth,” it would be more appropriate to insist that the hearth belonged to the woman. Women’s work was not denigrated or considered less than men’s work, just different; and marriage was considered a partnership, from both an economic and an emotional perspective.

In addition to keeping house, many women also assisted their husbands in their livelihoods. For example, The Householder of Paris, a handbook on housewifery written by a Paris burgher, shows that he was training his fifteen-year-old bride not only to run his household but to be his business manager as well.
Not all women of the time became wives and mothers. During the Middle Ages a new way of life opened up for women: that of the religious. “Christianity initiated a new era not only in the history of monasticism but also in the history of feminism. Accepted as fully equal to men in their spiritual potential, Christian women could transcend biological and sexual roles and seek fulfillment in religious life.” (Suzanne Fonay Wemple, “The Search for Spiritual Perfection and Freedom,” in Women in Frankish Society: Marriage and the Cloister, 500 to 900)

The religious of that time were for the most part extremely well-educated women whose knowledge could have rivaled that of the most learned monks of the same period. In fact, according to Pernoud, entering a convent was a normal path for those who wanted to develop their knowledge beyond the usual level.

Prioresses in charge of convents had a formidable job description. Paul A. Olson describes the skills of a successful fourteenth-century prioress: “She had to have the administrative skills of a baron and the spiritual authority of a parson. She had the authority to see the liturgical services properly said, to oversee all management of the convent property, to supervise the education of convent novices, children, and youths, to supervise convent arts, crafts, and eleemonsynary work, and to provide for the disciplining of sisters violating humility, continence, voluntary poverty, or worship and work disciplines.” (Maureen Hourigan,“There Was Also A Nonne, A Prioress,” Chaucer’s Pilgrims: An Historical Guide to the Pilgrims in The Canterbury Tales)

Besides figures of power, influence and knowledge, medieval women can count among their ranks models of remarkable character and virtue. Such women existed in both the lay and religious spheres. Two of the many well-known examples are Bridget of Sweden, a wife and mother of eight, and Catherine of Siena, a mystic, each of whom played a decisive role during the sixty-year exile of the Church papacy in Avignon.

We women of today would do well to learn from the lives of our medieval sisters who, with Mary as their model, lived their lives with simplicity, generosity, and courage, in the service of God and others. 


Thursday, May 27, 2010

....continuing the Urban Jungle series....

Another lovely fountain. This one's in Yaletown.


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Wilted Spinach Salad and Roasted Red Pepper Bruschetta

Try this salad for an easy weeknight meal this summer. Serve with roasted red pepper bruschetta on the side.

4 cups chopped fresh spinach, washed and drained very well (better yet, use a salad spinner)
6 slices thick bacon, cut into bits (Most grocery stores sell packages of bacon ends, which are cheaper than those nicely sliced breakfast rashers; it doesn't matter if they don't look pretty, because you will be cutting them up anyway.)
2 boiled eggs, chopped
ranch dressing (see below for homemade recipe)

In a large skillet, fry the bacon until crisp. Pour off oil. Add the spinach and mix with the bacon. Cook until just wilted.

Sprinkle the chopped egg on top and drizzle with ranch dressing. Serves 2.

Homemade Ranch Dressing

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 sour cream
1 tbsp each of chopped dill, parsley, and chives
1 clove of garlic, finely minced
salt and pepper to taste
4-6 tablespoons buttermilk

Mix the mayo, sour cream, and herbs together in a small bowl. Use the buttermilk to thin the dressing to desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper.

Roasted Red Pepper Bruschetta

1/2 baguette, sliced in half lengthwise
roasted red pepper slices with olive oil
baby arugula leaves
1 clove of garlic

Slice the garlic clove in two and rub over the surface of the baguette halves. Spread the olive oil from the roasted red peppers over the baguettes. Layer the arugula leaves and red pepper slices on top. Toast in the oven until the edges of the baguette slices are golden brown and crisp. Serve immediately. 


Friday, May 21, 2010

Ye Olde Pen Shoppe

Writer Adam Hochschild talks about “travel close to home.” You don’t have to go very far, he says, to enter into worlds other than your own.

So lately I’ve been exploring routes off my beaten track, trying to enlarge the map of my everyday world, and just as Hochschild promised, I’ve been making some marvelous discoveries.

Here’s one of them.

On West Hastings Street, directly opposite the Simon Fraser University Harbour Centre campus, there stands the Vancouver Pen Shop. I stumbled upon it during one of my lunch-break wanderings. I stood outside it for a few moments, looking in, not quite believing my eyes. It’s a long, narrow store, lined on both sides with shelves and counters containing fountain pens, calligraphy pens, inks of all colours, nibs of all sizes, notebooks, and other such artefacts.

I felt like a person who, not knowing there is such a place as heaven, suddenly finds herself at the pearly gates.

In a world of computers, digital organizers, “smart” phones, and the like, we may find ourselves tempted to question the need for pen and paper. And yet, human beings I believe are still largely tactile creatures. We need to touch and smell and taste things, not just see and hear them, in order to fully appreciate them.

I myself have always loved the feel and smell of paper and ink. I love to go to bookstores and stationery stores and walk up and down the aisles just running my hand over the merchandise. On opening a new book or journal, before I start reading it or writing in it, I literally put my nose into it—and sniff.

I remember spending hours poring over the Griffin and Sabine books, admiring the beautifully illustrated pages, taking the letters out of their envelopes, reading the backs of the postcards—and reflecting that we are in a sad state indeed, if we have been reduced to reading someone else’s mail—fictional mail, at that.

Handwritten letters are something I still send to family and friends, but rarely ever receive. Emails are unbeatable for keeping in touch, but no email will ever be able to impart the same pleasure as seeing a loved one’s handwriting on an envelope in your mailbox, drawing out the pages and knowing a beloved hand has touched them too, and finally reading the letter and knowing that for as long as it had taken to compose it, to hold the pen in hand and form the words, the thought of you had also been lovingly held in the writer’s mind.

And so, the Pen Shop. If such a place still exists, then it must be because there are still letter-writers and diary-keepers out there, and I am glad. Now I know that instead of throwing in my lot completely with modern technology, part of me – specifically, my writing hand – can still hold out, hold fast to a pen, let a drop of ink draw my thoughts out in ribbons of words that spin over the clean and blank expanse of paper.

On this particular journey in my travels “close to home”, maybe I didn’t quite discover a whole new world. But I did find out that there are some worlds which – in spite of us –continue to survive. And what’s more, they will always welcome us in. All we need to do is remember the way back. 


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Snapshots from my Spring album

Dogwood. A funny name for such a pretty flower.

The dogwood trees in front of our house are frothy with bloom at the moment.

Up close and personal with a dogwood flower. The coronet in the middle kind of reminds me of an artichoke.

I think I like spring so much because
it's the season when things that seem dead come alive again.

The world bursts forth with a million promises.

The impossible suddenly becomes possible.

It's so much easier to hope for things in the spring. Maybe that's why God invented it. Let's take full advantage of it as training season to grow in hopefulness.


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Red Pepper Candy

This weekend I found some gorgeous red bell peppers at my local greengrocer's.

Roasting red peppers brings out their smokey sweetness - that's why I call it candy. I bet you'll find yourself eating them as fast as you can peel them.

Keep them packed in olive oil in the fridge and add them to sandwiches, pasta, salads, or have them on their own, sliced and drizzled with balsamic vinegar and chopped basil.

Roasted Red Peppers
(Enough for a one-litre jar)
Following the method prescribed in The Best Recipe

6 large red peppers
2 cookie sheets lined with foil
1 large glass bowl
Plastic wrap
1 1L glass jar with lid, sterilized

Cut the tops and bottoms off the peppers. Twist the stems and cores out.

Slit each pepper down one side and "unroll" the pepper, pressing it down with your palm to flatten, so that it ends up in one long strip. Lay it out on your cutting board, skin side down. Holding your knife parallel to the cutting board, run it along the pepper to remove the ribs. You may have to trim the insides of the tops, too.

Lay each pepper, skin side up, on the cookie sheet, along with the tops and bottoms. A cookie sheet will hold about 3 peppers.

Move your oven rack to the topmost level. If it is more than 3.5 inches from the heat element, use a cookie pan with sides, turned upside down, to bring the peppers within 2.5 - 3 inches of the element.

Slide in the peppers and turn on your oven at its broil setting. Depending on the size of your oven and cookie sheets, you may have to do one sheet at a time.

Roast the peppers until the skins are blackened in spots. This doesn't take very long, about 3-5 minutes.

When the peppers are done, pop them into your large bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let it steam away for 15 minutes. This cooks the peppers a little bit more and makes them easier to peel.

When they are cool enough to handle with your fingers, peel the peppers. You can eat them immediately or pack them in a jar with olive oil. They will last a couple of weeks stored in the fridge. 


Friday, May 14, 2010

Using Beauty for a Purpose

WONDER Woman: Nazanin Afshin-Jam

When God gives you great gifts, he also gives you great opportunities to use them.

This is especially evident in the life of Nazanin Afshin-Jam.

An international human rights activist, singer/songwriter, actor, former Miss World Canada, President and co-founder of the Stop Child Executions organization, Nazanin was born in Iran in 1979, the same year that the Shāh Pahlavi was exiled and the Ayatollah Khomeini came into power. At the time, Nazanin’s father was manager of the Sheraton Hotel in Tehran. In 1981, he was sentenced to death simply for conducting business as usual at the hotel, which was contrary to the Ayatollah’s oppressive theocratic and anti-Western regime.

Providentially, however, the man sent to carry out her father’s sentence got involved in a car accident, which bought her mother enough time to get her father out of the country and safely to Spain. Nazanin and her mother were able to join him shortly thereafter, and eventually the family settled in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Even as a child, Nazanin says she never took freedom for granted. From an early age she also possessed a deep empathy for other people’s pain.

Once, after volunteering at a soup kitchen, Nazanin says she cried herself to sleep, overwhelmed by a sense of helplessness, unable to understand why some of the people in her affluent neighbourhood had four cars while others didn’t even have enough to eat.

It was in high school, Nazanin says, when she started to see that individuals can make a real difference. She formed a global issues club at her school, and went on to study International Relations and Political Science at the University of British Columbia, and later at the Sciences Po in Paris and at the International Study Center Herstmonceux Castle in England.

After graduation Nazanin worked as a Red Cross Global Youth Educator on the landmine crisis and children affected by war. However, she soon decided that she wanted to reach more than one “pocket of people” at a time. Observing that celebrities and sports stars wield more influence than politicians in today’s world, she decided it was time to “get a title” for herself.

The Miss World competition, whose motto is precisely “Beauty with a purpose”, seemed the most logical place for her to get recognized.

“At first, I resisted the idea of becoming part of the whole beauty pageant culture,” Nazanin admits. “But then I realized that beauty doesn’t have to be a dirty word. It is one of God’s blessings that can be used to advance humanity.” She also points out that the Miss World competition is not about finding the most beautiful woman, but the most well-rounded.

Nazanin won the title of Miss Canada in 2003 and went on to compete for the Miss World title in Sanya, China. She finished second after Miss Ireland, Rosanna Davison.

Winning second place in the Miss World competition gave Nazanin the platform she had been seeking to start promoting global issues. She traveled to various trouble spots around the world, helping victims of the tsunami in India and Sri Lanka, raising funds for the earthquake victims of Bam, and supporting fistula patients in Ethiopia, just to name a few.

Another of Nazanin’s gifts is a talent for singing and songwriting. “Music has no borders,” she says. "So I started setting some of my poems to music."

While recording her debut album, Nazanin learned of a seventeen year old Iranian girl, also named Nazanin, who had been sentenced to death by hanging for killing a man in self-defense. Nazanin immediately started lobbying to save this girl’s life. A petition of more than three hundred thousand signatures led the United Nations to put pressure on the Iranian government to grant a stay of execution. Nazanin Fatehi was eventually exhonerated of murder charges and was released on January 31, 2007.

While working to save her namesake, Nazanin discovered that no organization yet existed to lobby against child executions, a practice contrary to international law but still done in a handful of countries. This led her to found Stop Child Executions, which lobbies world governments to put pressure on those countries where minors can still be sentenced and put to death.

“Activism can come in many different forms,” Afshin-Jam says. “You don’t have to be a politician or a hippie to change the world and work for peace.”

We should also be careful to avoid stereotypes and not let other people’s opinions or actions dictate our own behaviour, she says. As an example, she brings up the recent controversy over the provocative Miss USA photos. “Those photos were the idea of (owner) Donald Trump,” Nazanin says. “They profit nobody but him.

“What you wear should be a reflection of what’s inside. It shouldn’t be anybody’s choice but yours.”

When asked about her biggest challenges and fears, and how she overcomes them, Nazanin says, “My biggest challenge has been people telling me I couldn’t. What helps me overcome this is the encouragement and love of my family, especially my mother.” She urges all mothers to support their daughters and foster their talents. “As for overcoming fear, I just think of the courage of the people being oppressed in Iran. If I don’t stand up, the person next to me won’t stand up.” She says this thought spurs her to take action instead of giving in to a defeatist attitude.

Nazanin has this advice for educators who want to help students become aware of world issues: “Help them make connections with young people in other countries. Use technology: the internet, social media, Skype, you name it. Make cross cultural exchange part of the curriculum.”

A young girl asks Nazanin wistfully, “When you were younger, did you know you were going to do all these things?”

This is Nazanin’s reply to her and to young women everywhere: “I honestly didn’t know I was going to be Miss Canada, travel around the world and form a group called Stop Child Executions. After volunteering at that soup kitchen, I just knew I wanted to help people for the rest of my life. But I have strong faith in God and pray a lot for guidance. I believe that he has guided me all along. So if you have a dream, make it a goal. I think that when you are doing something you are passionate about, you are always led to the next step.”


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Taking stock

This past winter I came down with my annual cold. It was bad enough to keep me at home for a day or two, but not so deadly as to keep me in bed. This is the worst kind of illness, because instead of being able to pass the day in a state of unconsciousness, I soon found myself bored out of my mind.

That is - until I had a brilliant idea. I would take a kitchen inventory, so that once and for all I would know the exact contents of our fridge, pantry, and the mini-general store in the basement.

In order for you to fully understand the necessity of such an inventory, you would have to come to our home and see these three areas yourself. Everyone who has seen them so far have had the same reaction: "Wow. That's a lot of food for two people."

My roommate and I have one of those ideal relationships. She's quiet, and I'm happy to do the talking. She's neat as a pin, while I'm - well, I'm working on it. But when it comes to certain important things, we are exactly the same. For example, we would both rather shop for pretty dishes than for clothes. And we both enjoy good food.

So, when I moved in with her a couple of years ago, I brought a dowry of sorts: enough tableware and a batterie de cuisine to prepare dinner for a dozen people, if and when we were so inclined; and enough groceries to set up shop. Miraculously, she made space for it all in her already well-stocked kitchen. The overflow went into the basement storage.

However, after two years it was time to get organized. I hadn't taken the time to fully acquaint myself with what we already had, so I would buy things like cinnamon sticks or sesame seeds only to find some tucked away on one of the kitchen shelves. If I had a list of everything, I reasoned, I could keep a copy of the list on my Blackberry as a handy reference for those times I found myself at the market wondering what to make for dinner, and whether or not we already had any bay leaves, soba noodles, or dried mushrooms.

So I rolled up my sleeves and went to work. I have to say that this was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. And oh boy, was it a lot of fun. I got so many ideas for future meals just by taking stock of all the different ingredients we have on hand, ready to be used.

So if you're curious to know what Maria has in her kitchen, click here. 


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Book Review: Three Cups of Tea

Three Cups of Tea
By Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

Lost in the mountains of northern Pakistan, Greg Mortenson somehow found his way to a tiny Pakistani village where he was able to heal and recover his strength. One day he noticed the village “school” – a ring of children sitting on bare ground, in the open, winter mountain air. Moved by compassion for the villagers and by gratitude for their help, Mortenson promised to come back to build them a school.

The ensuing story is about Mortenson’s heroic struggle to overcome public indifference as well as his own personal limitations and difficulties in order to follow through on his promise to his Pakistani friends and raise enough funds to purchase building supplies. It is also about the generosity of many different people from all walks of life, from Wisconsin schoolchildren who donated $623.40 in pennies, to an anonymous donor who attended one of Mortenson’s presentations and contributed thousands.

Two years after leaving Pakistan, Mortenson was able to return with the money he had raised – only to find out that before building a school, he would first have to build a bridge for easier access to the village. Accordingly, the Braldu Bridge was completed in 1995, and the next year, Korphe School opened its doors.

Since then, “Mortenson has established or significantly supports 131 schools in rural and often volatile regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan, which provide education to over 58,000 children, including 44,000 girls, where few education opportunities existed before.”

Operating on the philosophy that change in a society begins with its women, Mortenson’s schools focus mainly on educating girls. Many of the schools’ alumnae have gone on to become professionals and respected members and leaders of their communities.

What started out as a gesture of gratitude has become a full-blown “mission to promote peace…one school at a time.”

The book’s title refers to the Pakistani custom of hospitality: it takes three cups of tea to pass from stranger, to friend, to family. Mortenson’s dealings with the people he is trying to help have not always been easy, to say the least. But he has proven that many obstacles and even dangers can be overcome by honesty, trustworthiness, the willingness to understand other cultures, and a sincere desire to serve. 


Monday, May 10, 2010

A stellar spring dessert

A recipe for no-bake cheesecake came through my Twitter feed this week. I hardly ever make cheesecake because every recipe I've come across seems to be so complicated and expensive. This particular recipe, however, is nice and small, calling for only one 250-gram block of cream cheese and yielding 4 individual-sized cheesecakes.

You will need a hand-mixer to whip the cream cheese and cream. The whipped cream adds lightness to the mixture, and a dash of lemon juice adds a bright note. Once properly chilled, the resulting cheesecake is sweet-tart, with a full, rich bite.

The original recipe suggested blueberries for the topping, but you can use any fruit you like. I thought I'd use strawberries. I was at my friendly neighbourhood Asian market and actually had a container of strawberries in my hand when I spotted this beauty: the star fruit.

Not only is this fruit good-looking and exotic, it is also rich in vitamin C, fiber, antioxidants and flavonoids. Eat it (minus the cheesecake) if you want to lose weight. Or eat it with the cheesecake but with a little less guilt, because each whole fruit contains only 30 calories.

If you want an extra shot of sweetness, glaze the star fruit slices with a little sugar syrup, or drizzle the tops of the cheesecakes with honey or balsamic vinegar syrup before serving.

As for the crust, I added ground-up macadamia nuts and wildflower honey to the usual graham cracker crumbs, to make this an extra-special dessert from top to bottom. (You could also use almonds or hazelnuts.)

For the crust:

1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup ground nuts
1/4 cup melted butter
2 tablespoons honey

Mix in a small bowl with a fork until evenly moist and sticky. Press evenly into the bottoms of four small, clear dessert cups.

For the cheesecake:

1 250-g block of cream cheese
1/4 cup white sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice

Whip together until smooth, then fold in:
1/2 cup heavy cream, whipped

Scoop the cream cheese mixture into the dessert cups, pressing down lightly to ensure there are no air pockets.

Chill for at least 3 hours or overnight.

Decorate tops with slices of star fruit (or your fruit of choice) before serving.


Friday, May 07, 2010


Serendipity: the faculty of making fortunate discoveries by accident. I planned to take a long walk yesterday after work, completely forgetting I had made plans to meet a friend for dinner. (Luckily she caught up with me!) After dinner, it was still light, so I decided to go for a walk anyway. I passed the Vancouver Art Gallery, the fountain was on, and the sun was hitting it at the most amazing angle. If I had walked by any earlier, it wouldn't have been so spectacular. Serendipity. Gotta love it. 


Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Tales out of school

Michael Cook, editor of, tells this story about learning grammar under his Year 8 teacher, Sister Margaret Louise.

"She was an elderly lady with a big heart, a ferocious temper and a passion for grammar. We knew our way around past and present participles, subjunctive and indicative moods and split infinitives. We had to. There was hell to pay if we didn’t."

Boy does this story ever bring back memories of my own school days. We too had an English teacher - I'll call her Miz E - who terrorized us. She used to pick out words in sentences in our textbooks, then randomly call on us students to name the parts of speech the words belonged to.

One word was "port" - as in, any port in a storm. My luckless classmate, when called upon, answered that it was a verb. Miz E fixed her with the steely-eyed glare that invariably made us feel like butterflies being pinned to cork.

"A verb? Tell me, how do you port? Come up here in front and show us how to port."

If you have ever found yourself torn between laughter and horror, you will know how my class felt that day.

As we grew older and less awestruck by Miz E, we got used to her, and she in turn got used to our foibles. By the time we graduated we were good buddies. I think we won her heart one March 15th, when we remembered that it was the Ides of March - years after we had studied Julius Caesar with her in freshman English Lit.

And I will never forget learning how to diagram sentences in her Composition class - the sheer pleasure of laying bare the beautiful bones of language, and knowing that each part has a name and a purpose, and works with the other parts to give meaning to the whole. I think the lessons we learn at school go far beyond what we expect or realize. 


Saturday, May 01, 2010

My mother's hands

In honour of Mother’s Day (coming up this Sunday!) this month’s story is about the most Wonderful Woman in my life and yours: Mom.


Before they moved to Montreal two years ago, my parents spent their last night in Vancouver in a hotel. I shared one of the double beds with my mother. I’d been coughing badly that week, and it always seemed to get worse at night. I remember my mother stroking and patting my back as I lay there coughing. Eventually I fell asleep with her hand in mine.

My mother’s hands are part of my earliest and dearest memories.

I remember lying together in her bed on hot sticky afternoons, the room made cool by the tangled jasmine vines screening her bedroom window, and her hands turning the pages of story books as she read aloud.

I remember watching, fascinated, as she put on her make-up in the morning. Afterwards she would brush my hair and do my pigtails. Once, my father suggested that I learn how to do my own hair, to save time in the morning. We both ignored him and went on contentedly watching each other in the mirror as she made a perfectly straight part in my hair and fastened the pigtails with hair elastics that had shiny pink balls on them. This was our special ritual and we weren’t about to give it up.

Another ritual was giving me my Vitamin C. She would take a tablet of ascorbic acid, fold it into a napkin, and crush it with a table knife. Then she’d scoop the white powder into a spoon with some water and put it in my mouth.

I remember her hands tying my shoelaces…typing letters and marking papers…covering my schoolbooks with plastic…wrapping gifts…crocheting doilies…arranging our pictures in photo albums and punching out labels with her little Dymo machine…sewing my party dresses…putting make-up on my face for the first time…changing diapers on my siblings, bathing them and giving them their bottles…baking bread and stirring soup…digging out weeds and planting roses…replacing light bulbs, unclogging sinks, and painting walls…constantly occupied in the countless acts of loving service that mothers all over the world perform day after day, often without being asked, or thanked, or praised.

My mother doesn’t think her hands are very pretty. But she has used them well, and while they are not exactly the soft white hands of a lady of leisure, they are the hands that raised me, and they are the hands that hold me together. I think that next to her heart, her hands are the most beautiful part of her. 

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