musings from Canadian author Cheryl Cooke Harrington ... home of The Write Spot

Sunday, December 31, 2006

fun with books (a meme)

This is a quick and easy meme but the results can be surprising. Seemed like an interesting way to wind up the year.

1. Take five books off your bookshelf.
2. Book #1 -- first sentence
3. Book #2 -- last sentence on page fifty
4. Book #3 -- second sentence on page one hundred
5. Book #4 -- next to the last sentence on page one hundred fifty
6. Book #5 -- final sentence of the book
7. Make the five sentences into a paragraph.

Here's the compilation from my five choices...

The pull of clay is a mystery, until you have its gritty substance in your hands, feel it move, feel the lure of the red earth, the danger. "So how bad is this going to be?" I asked, gesturing toward Vivian's back as she scrambled up the stairs, the clasp on her giant handbag already open. "She delivered the baby all by herself." What had made him think that? He was willing to concede that Koko was not seeing stars when he gazed at the sky; he was seeing fuzzy green blobs.

Weird how they all flow together. Almost makes sense ... in a fuzzy green kinda way.

My five books were:

The Allegra Series by Barbara Lambert
Killer Insight by Victoria Laurie
The Featherbed by John Miller
Pilgrim by Timothy Findley
The Cat Who Saw Stars by Lilian Jackson Braun

What's on your book shelf?

Thanks to Joshilyn Jackson for passing this one on from The Daily Meme.

Friday, December 29, 2006

what's this I see?

What's this I see?
What's this I see?
A mouse? For me?
A mouse? For me?
Oh, joy!
Oh joy, oh bliss!
Oh, bliss!
Best present ever!
Best present ever!

Happy New Year!

Visit more happy cats at the Friday Ark, at Sunday's Carnival of the Cats (hosted this week by Watermark), and with the Weekend Cat Blogging Crew at Champaign Taste.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

comfort food: salmon loaf

This is an old recipe—passed down from Grandma, to Mom, to me—and is such an unforgettable part of my childhood that just thinking about it conjures up a vision of Grandma's kitchen, complete with the rich aroma of salmon and onions baking in the oven. Small wonder it tops my list of winter comfort foods. In fact, a few years ago when J and I were the only two members of our extended family not felled by a dreadful stomach flu on Christmas Day (and our turkey was far away, surrounded by sickies) we made this salmon loaf for dinner. Not exactly traditional fare but it was delicious. So, with the caveat that my kitchen talent runs more to the style of 'I Love Lucy' than 'Julia Child', let's cook!

Grandma's Salmon LoafGrandma's Salmon Loaf

1 tin (213 g) red salmon (use the juice, skin, bones and all)
1 egg, lightly beaten
milk (add enough to the beaten egg to make 1 cup of liquid, total)
1 small onion, finely minced (use more or less to taste)
soda crackers (about 20)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper

• in a mixing bowl, mash the salmon with a fork to break up the bones
• stir in the egg and milk
• add onion, salt and pepper and mix well
• crush soda crackers and add the crumbs to the salmon mixture until it is thick but not too dry
• transfer mixture to a greased loaf pan and dust the top with paprika
• bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until the loaf 'bounces' back when touched lightly in the centre
This recipe can be doubled to make a thicker loaf (and feed more people)—just increase the cooking time to around 60 minutes or until the centre passes the bounce-back test.

Serve with a salad or green veggies and for an added special touch, scalloped potatoes. Yum!

What's your favourite comfort food?

Friday, December 22, 2006

wishes & fishes: a cat's Christmas

Beware the eyes of Sam!Sam watched me wrap Christmas gifts last night, his concentration so intense he seemed almost in a trance. I'm pretty sure he was polishing his 'mind control' act because soon after snapping this picture I found myself granting his every wish. First I handed over a nearly-new roll of red ribbon, you know, just in case he might want to play or tear it to shreds or...something. Then I felt strangely compelled to go looking for catnip in the kitchen cupboard...

bagged (too much catnip) 'Twas the nip that proved his downfall. A little too much and Sam was ...well... bagged, leaving me to get on with my gift wrapping.

Norbert the Betta splendens - visiting for the holidaysOur holiday houseguest is another frequent recipient of Sam's mighty stare. Norbert the splendid blue Betta splendens is our office mascot at the Day Job. We're in charge of keeping him warm and well-fed next week while the rest of the staff are vacationing.

Sam is particularly fond of Bettas. When he first joined our little tribe, I had a red Betta keeping me company on my computer desk. Sam would press his nose against the aquarium glass and Redfish would display his neck ruff and attack with gusto. That fish was much missed by both of us after his passing. (Natural causes, not cat-related. Redfish was a white-bearded old man by the time he died.) Sam seems quite delighted to have a new fishy friend on the premises. I wonder what he'll think when it's time for Norbert to go back to work?

Santa Sam - You'd better watch out!

Sam will be decking the halls at the Friday Ark, at Sunday's Carnival of the Cats (hosted this week by IMAO), and with the Weekend Cat Blogging Crew at Tiggy The Tiny Tiger.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Christmas ... present?

After yesterday's sentimental 'Christmas past...' post, I'm in the mood for something a little more "here and now". What could possibly be better than this?

Tim Hortons Coming Soon!

If you're a coffee drinking Canadian, you'll understand my excitement at seeing this announcement, brand new today on the sign at the corner plaza. But there's more to my unbridled glee than just handy coffee. I look at that sign and see a bright and shiny New Year's Resolution. Come January, I'll be walking across the park and back instead of hopping in the car to get my morning coffee. That'll add at least six kilometers every week to my exercise program. Sounds like a pretty good Christmas present to me. Thank you, Tim Hortons! I feel fitter and slimmer already.

(Donuts? What donuts?)

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Christmas past...

Grandma's Tree
Last week, while pondering my post about Dad, I spent some time looking through the cache of photos he and Mom collected over more than 50 years together. A few are displayed in albums, carefully captioned and dated, but many more were just tucked into folders, boxes, and envelopes and eventually forgotten. Smiling strangers, caught in the act of...?
If only they could talk!

Some of the unlabelled pictures called up vivid memories for me —laughing neighbours; newborn puppies; graduation day. Others, like this old Christmas tree, stirred something more indefinable.

Not exactly a memory but a feeling... a knowing.

This photo might have been taken the year I was born but I'm guessing it was a few years before. The tree stands in my Grandparents' house on Norway Avenue in Toronto. I don't remember ever having Christmas trees at Grandma and Grandpa's house but, oh, I remember that room: warm, sweet smells from the kitchen; dust motes dancing in sunbeams; squashy sofa cushions and my feet not touching the floor. The piney smell in my memory isn't a tree, though. It's the green felt tail on the 'Airwick' cat Grandma always kept on the windowsill.

Funny how a faded black-and-white image can hold so much life.

Friday, December 15, 2006

remembering Dad in 101 ways

Dad came into the world on January 24, 1920, in Toronto.

He loved the city and lived here all his life.

His parents emigrated from England in 1913.

When Dad was a baby, his father disappeared.

His mother died a short time later.

Dad was raised by his older sister and their aunt
in a house on Maughan Crescent.
Dad, circa 1923, at Maughan Crescent, TorontoPhilip Cooke, age 3

I think he always believed his father would show up again, someday.

Dad was intelligent, well-read and perceptive.

He was self-taught.

Dad's first job was "in advertising".

The job involved wearing a sandwich-board sign while walking up and down Yonge Street in Toronto.

He never would tell me what his sandwich board was advertising.

He joined a church youth group to get to know my Mom, but she had her eye on his younger brother and told Dad he was "much too old" for her.

Dad looked great in a kilt. He always claimed Mom changed her mind about him once she saw those knees.

Dad was a member of the Canadian Irish Regiment.

He always loved bagpipe music. (Mom didn't. It reminded her too much of watching her man march off to war.)

During basic training at Camp Borden in the 40's, Dad volunteered to teach new recruits how to ski.

Dad had absolutely no idea how to ski. (Wish I could have seen him teach that 'lesson'!)

While overseas during WWII, he grew a luxurious handlebar mustache.

The moustache was red (which must have looked a little odd, since his hair was blond).

When he came home, Mom refused to kiss him until he'd shaved the handlebar off. (It was gone within the hour.)

He made a record (vinyl, 78 rpm) in New York City in 1948. "Hello everybody, this is Phil Cooke talking to you from New York. My wife's here with me but she won't talk. [Mom's voice, faintly, in the background: "Oh, Phil!]

He passed the Civil Service exam and went to work for Canada Post, first as a letter carrier and later as a mail sorter — this in the days when the mail was sorted by hand. Dad knew the name and postal station for every tiny town and hamlet in Ontario and could fire an envelope into its proper slot quicker than my eyes could focus on the address.

Dad's co-workers called him "Cookie".

Dad started working the night shift when I was in grade six. From then until he retired, we rarely saw each other except on weekends.

Sunday nights, Dad and I would walk to the corner store to buy something sweet—usually a Coffee Crisp chocolate bar. Then we'd share it with Mom while the three of us watched the Ed Sullivan Show on our old black-and-white TV.

Dad called me "Cookie".

He was passionate about his cars. Washing and polishing were his idea of the perfect Saturday morning.

Dad's first car was a '53 Chevy, two-tone blue.

Next came a green Nash Rambler with reclining seats. And clear plastic seat covers that stuck to your legs in hot weather. (Ugh!)

There's a lemon in every crowd. Dad's was a yellow Buick. Nothing about that car was right.

The replacement: a white Buick Skylark convertible. Best car ever! (I was 16 that summer.)

The muscle car: a Dodge Charger. I can still feel the rumble of that engine. I think it was his favourite.

Another white Buick; a black Buick; a burgundy Buick.

Dad's burgundy Buick is mine now.

He would not be impressed by my (lack of) washing, polishing, and vacuuming abilities. Or by the scuff mark on the front bumper where I misjudged the wall in the parking garage. Sigh.

He enjoyed driving fast. On the 401. (But only when Mom wasn't looking.)

Dad was house proud.

He enjoyed gardening.

He grew spectacular peonies, roses, and gladiolas.

He liked stylish clothes and "interesting" ties.

He wore size 12 shoes.

Sometimes with a matching belt.

He polished his shoes almost as diligently as he polished his cars, and always used shoe trees.

When I was a very little girl, Dad would buy MacDonald's tobacco in tins and roll his own cigarettes. He'd let me "help". I still have one of those old 'Export' tins. The smell of tobacco will always remind me of him.

Walking on the beach was one of our favourite things to do together.
Dad on the beach in FloridaDad on the beach in Florida (1996).
Golf was Dad's sport of choice.

He got a hole in one! Twice!!

He tried valiantly to teach me how to play golf.

If he was disappointed by all my divots and hook shots into the rough, he never let on. But after a while, he took me mini-golfing instead.

He liked fishing because Mom liked fishing.

The night before fishing trips, we'd wait until after dark, then take flashlights out onto the front lawn and collect worms. Dad put them in cardboard takeout food containers and stored them in our refrigerator. Beside the jam. Gross.

Dad loved to travel. Especially if it was snowing in Toronto and the destination was warm!

Dad was the proud Grandpa of three boys.

He was with me when I brought baby J home from the hospital. From that day on, the two of them shared a special bond. J called his Grandpa "Poppy".
Dad with J and 'Bob' the Cabbage Patch Kid'Poppy' with 3-year old J and 'Bob' the Cabbage Patch Kid (1983).

Dad was a kind and gentle man.

He was a true gentleman.

Laurel and Hardy and The Three Stooges could always make him laugh. N'yuk, n'yuk, n'yuk.

He was slow to anger but explosive when his temper got the better of him.

I don't remember ever hearing him swear. (Although I'm very sure he knew how!)

In his 70's, Dad learned to paint with watercolours.

He liked taking photos and almost always had his camera with him.

Most of his photo subjects were missing the tops of their heads.

He liked shopping.

He liked his roast beef well done and his potatoes mashed, with gravy.

He liked his coffee with cream and sugar.

His favourite dessert was Mom's apple pie with a slice of old cheddar on top.

Dad baked the yummiest, lightest, fluffiest tea biscuits I've ever tasted. Sometimes with cheese in them. Mmmm.

He sang in a choir. Tenor.

I never saw him drink beer but he enjoyed a good rum and Coke.

He lost most of his hair at an early age but was very proud of his remaining snow-white fringes.

I'm pretty sure he polished his pate.

He had freckles. A lot of freckles!

And a thumb-print birthmark on his right calf.

Dad quit smoking, cold turkey, after nearly 50 years.

He survived two serious heart attacks.

He took care of an elderly neighbour for years because she had nobody else to rely on.

He held hands with my Mom every day.

He volunteered at Meals on Wheels.

He called butterflies, "flutterbys".

He loved dogs.

Dad had great patience...until it wore out.

He had a keen sense of humour.

He understood that little boys don't really appreciate being teased.

He teased them anyway.

He loved Christmas.

After he retired, Dad volunteered as one of Santa's Postal Helpers, answering some of the thousands of letters mailed each year to "Santa, North Pole, Canada, H0H 0H0".

He made a lot of children smile.

Dad thoroughly enjoyed being retired.

He looked forward to being a Great-Grandpa.

He would have been a great Great-Grandpa.

His first great-grandchild was born nine and-a-half months after Dad died.

Dad loved his family above all else.

Dad was greatly loved in return.

In January 2000, Dad thought he had a stubborn head cold that wouldn't go away.

Over the course of the summer, he consulted medical specialists, endured multiple tests and medications, but nothing helped.

Dad was hospitalized in November 2000, by that time so weakened he was unable to walk.

Finally, a diagnosis: Wegener's granulomatosis. The knowledge came too late.

In early December, his kidneys failed. For the next two weeks, he spent most of every day hooked up to a dialysis machine. Another machine helped him breathe.

Dad passed away six years ago today on December 15, 2000.

We sure do miss you, Poppy.


Love you, Daddy. G'night.

a cat and his bird

Sam the cat,watching his bird.
Sam isn't the only animal companion here at stillpoint but he certainly has been hogging the spotlight lately. Today he's spending some 'quality time' watching his best buddy, Jazz the Lineolated Parakeet.

Jazz celebrated his 6th birthday this week. We marked the occasion by installing a new cuttlebone in his cage and serving up a juicy salad of apples, grapes, and cantaloupe. Sam enjoyed a slice of cantaloupe, too.

When the birthday feast was over, Jazz looked at Sam and said, "Hello baby. Up! Up!"

Sam obliged.

Jazz the Lineolated Parakeet with his cat, Sam

This feline-avian odd couple spends a lot of time socializing and entertaining each other— but only with bars to keep them safely separated. (In this photo, that white fuzzball beyond the bars is Sam, perched on the back of my favourite easy chair.) Jazz likes to bite Sam's Softpaws® and I think Mr. Macho Cat fears for his safety. Whenever the bird comes out to sit on my shoulder, Sam has a sudden attack of the sleepies and disappears under the bed.

Sam will be meowing 'happy birthday' at the , at Sunday's (hosted this week by House of Chaos), and with the Weekend Cat Blogging Crew at Kitchen Mage.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

and feet, too!

spirit of the season
These happy Christmas feet go with this post.

I'm coming to you live from The Day Job today, where we're all feeling the Christmas spirit, thanks to an assortment of delicious homemade cookies baked and shared by my festive-sock-wearing co-worker.

No fancy socks for me. Instead, I've got silver snowflakes dangling from my ears. :-) And, breaking news on bah, humbug?— we'll be going here for our office Christmas celebration. Fancy-schmancy! :-)

And now, back to work!

Friday, December 08, 2006

it's hungry out there

Warm bed, full tummy.His Royal Sam-ness contemplates the shivery mysteries of winter.

We woke again this morning to find a world of frosty white beyond the windows - an icing sugar dusting of snow on asphalt, trees, and grass. So pretty, but so cold. Between trips to his always well-stocked kibble dish, Sam has been spending his days asleep on the heat vent. What could possibly be better than a warm bed and a full tummy?

Please give to your local food bank this holiday season.
Daily Bread Food Bank - please give!

Sam and his full tummy will be snoozing on hearth rugs at the , at Sunday's (hosted this week by Hot(M)BC), and with the Weekend Cat Blogging Crew at Belly Timber.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Answer: halls, trees, & ears

And the questions is: What are three things I'll be decking this jolly season.

J and I took care of decking the halls and one tree yesterday. Somehow we got ourselves volunteered to be the official tree-putter-uppers for the 4th floor. It's a festive tradition here at the condo — every floor has a tree, and every one is different. Makes for a few slow elevator days as people cruise from floor to floor to check out the competition. Here on 4, we have a spiffy new tree this year. Its predecessor was forced to retire after developing a truly disgusting aroma, reminiscent of extremely sour gym socks. Not exactly a holiday bouquet! The new tree is a six-foot faux spruce. It's all decked out in red and gold and sits flush against a big mirror that serves to double our sparkle-factor. So much sparkle, in fact, that I haven't been able to snap a decent photo of it. You'll just have to imagine it looking all shiny and lovely.

Our personal tree is much, much smaller. Sort of a pocket-tree if you will. At 18 inches, it's just big enough to hold my collection of hand-made decorations, gathered over a five-year period when we did an annual decoration exchange at the day job — everything from painted eggshells to origami to tiny scenes nestled in nutshells. It sits up high in one of Samcat's no-go zones. (At least, I hope it's still a no-go zone this year!)

Speaking of Sam, I just caught him trying to steal one of my Christmas earrings. Seems he's partial to green and red jingle-bells. I caught him mid-leap as he made his getaway with the ribbon clasped daintily in his teeth. I should have known better than to leave shiny pretties unguarded on the table.

Christmas earring collection

I've been collecting Christmas earrings for quite a few years now and always start 'decking my ears' on December 1st. This year I won't have to start repeating until the 14th...which gives me 10 more days to find another pair or two!

One of my co-workers has a collection of Christmas socks (not related to the aforementioned stinky Christmas tree). She wears a different pair every day, too. Some of them are even musical! Makes for entertaining moments around the coffee maker every morning as we do the daily show and tell.

What's your craziest Christmas or Hanukkah or Solstice or other winter tradition?

Friday, December 01, 2006

World AIDS Day

Red Ribbon - World AIDS Day

The Stephen Lewis Foundation (videos)



what'd ya bring me?

Yesterday afternoon, I slipped away from work early and met up with a friend and her daughter to do the annual One of a Kind Christmas Show in Toronto. Much later (and much wearier) I trudged home with an armload of good giftie stuff — none of it for Sam. At least, none that I planned on letting him see. His handmade catnip Christmas mouse was carefully double bagged and stashed away at the bottom of my purse. Until ...

Hmmm...what's that I smell?

Hmmm...what's that I smell?

What's that I smell?

Can't ... quite ... reach ...

Caught in the act! And he wasn't even apologetic!

Sam's Christmas mouse is now safely hidden in the freezer. (He'll be surprised all over again on Christmas morning.) I tried giving him a treat to take his mind off the confiscated treasure, but now he's fixated on my purse. That mouse must be stuffed with some good 'nip, eh? I might have to have the purse drycleaned!

Sam will be seeking hidden presents at the , at Sunday's (hosted this week by Catymology), and with the Weekend Cat Blogging Crew at The Hidden Paw.