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Confession time: I’ll be turning 50 in a couple of months, and as that number looms so does the realization that I’ve long since passed my physical “best before” date. It truly is all downhill from here. The best I can hope for is to slow the inevitable decline.
I want to slow it. I’ve had the blessing of knowing what it feels like to be in great physical condition – I was a passionate runner throughout high school – and I also know what it feels like when my body gets soft, squishy and lazy. I much prefer the former feeling; unfortunately it takes work – hard work – as well as time, and plenty of it.
But an approaching milestone birthday can be an incentive-generating thing, and so a few weeks ago, when a friend invited me to consider joining her at Boot Camp I didn’t have to think long about it.
It’s been brutal. Honestly. Now in our sixth week of a ten-week camp, there hasn’t been a single workout I haven’t dreaded beforehand, groaned throughout, collapsed after, or, felt thoroughly proud of myself for completing.
Last night, as I was plodding along on the longest run I’ve run in years, my breathing fell into a lovely rhythm and I surprised myself by feeling better than I thought I had the right to. And then I remembered the feelings of elation that came the last time I worked so hard to get my body into shape, when I trained for and ran a half-marathon.
That was 8 years ago. It was a life-changing experience. I loved every kilometre. But after completing it I vowed one was enough and I’d never do another. So the day after the event, I sat down and penned 25 things I had learned from the experience.
If you’re thinking about getting your body into shape, perhaps some of the thoughts below will help to inspire you!
25 Things I Have Learned From Training For A Half-Marathon
- I can do something significant that mere months ago I would have thought impossible.
- The sound of snail shells crackling underfoot as I run on a spring morning can induce guilt – but not enough to make me stop running.
- It’s more fun to run with someone to talk to.
- I can talk while I run!
- As spring turns to summer, snails disappear only to be replaced by leaping grasshoppers.
- Having strangers cheer for you at a finish line feels astonishingly good. Having family and friends there to cheer feels even better.
- My coach and Woody Allen are right – 80% of success is just “showing up.”
- When sweat drips into your eyes, it stings.
- It’s easier to get out of bed for my morning run if I’ve laid out my running clothes the night before.
- My husband’s admiring glances and compliments at my newly toned runner’s body make all the miles and sweat and pain worthwhile.
- A foot massage never feels as good as it does after a 15K run, except maybe after a 20K run.
- Gatorade can taste delicious!
- Nothing can compare to the feeling of running 21K in middle age – and passing a teenager as I approach the finish line.
- I am happier, healthier, less stressed and more positive about life in general when I’m physically active than when I’m a couch potato.
- When my skin feels like sandpaper after a long run – it’s because of the salt left behind after the perspiration has evaporated! Amazing!
- Stars never looked so beautiful as during a 6 a.m. run on a crisp, clear October morning.
- My husband and kids are not only supportive, they’re proud of me!
- It really is important to drink lots of water.
- Running on trails – along meandering paths, through leafy forests and alongside graceful streams – is like candy for the soul.
- Endorphins are one of God’s better ideas.
- I can run in the heat without fainting, in the rain without shrinking, in the cold without freezing and for (at least) 13 miles without keeling over!
- There really are enough hours in the day! I can accomplish more when I’m fit than I ever would have had the energy to accomplish when I’m not.
- Completing a race in my 40s can be just as exhilarating as winning a race at 17.
- Runners are nice people.
- I can run! When I consider all those in the world who physically cannot, I recognize that I am blessed. And I find myself praying, “thank you God!” with every step.
Creamy Pumpkin Pie Squares
It’s something generations of moms have known; when home is a nice place to be, then people want to be there!
I had the wonderful blessing of growing up in a home that was a nice place to be. I’ve tried to replicate that for my own husband and kids. And a big part of my strategy for creating that kind of a home has involved food; always having plenty of good, nutritious, home-cooked food on hand, and filling the house with delicious aromas whenever possible.
As Thanksgiving weekend approached – and I looked ahead to my kids coming home – it was bothering me (ever so slightly) that our weekend plans meant I wouldn’t be cooking a traditional turkey dinner. So in order that the house would still feel like Thanksgiving, I threw together a batch of this scrumptious pumpkin-pie-like dessert in time for the kids’ home-coming.
If you’re not up to baking pies this weekend – for whatever reason – I highly recommend this recipe. I’m not kidding when I say I “threw it together.” It tastes like a lot more work than it is. A cousin first shared the recipe with me years ago, when she served it cold, cut in tiny squares at a fall shower. It’s fast and easy to make – (takes about 20 minutes from start to popping it in the oven), and it fills the house with that luscious-spicy-pumpkiny-scent that will have everyone wandering through the kitchen asking “What smells so good?!” Be prepared to smack away a few fingers, because everyone will try to talk you into snitching a nibble now.
1.5 c. all purpose flour
1 c. finely chopped nuts (I like pecans best)
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar, packed
2 tsp. ground cinnamon, divided
3/4 c. butter
15 oz (approx. 450 mL) canned pumpkin
1 tin Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp. ground allspice (I used pumpkin pie spice)
1/4 tsp. salt
1 T. all purpose flour
1/2 c. shredded coconut
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In medium bowl, combine 1.5 cups flour, nuts, sugars and 1 tsp. cinnamon. Add butter. Mix until crumbly. Reserve 1 1/4 c. of the mixture. Pat remaining mixture on bottom of ungreased 9 X 13″ baking pan.
2. Meanwhile, in large mixing bowl, combine pumpkin, milk, eggs, remaining 1 tsp of cinnamon, allspice and salt. Mix well. Pour evenly over crust. Mix reserved crumbs with 1 T. flour and 1/2 c. shredded coconut. Sprinkle evenly over pumpkin mixture.
3. Bake 30 – 35 minutes or until set. Cool 10 minutes. Serve warm. Refrigerate leftovers. (But if you invite friends and cut the pieces large – I can almost guarantee there won’t be any!)
“If the Divine Creator has taken pains to give us delicious and exquisite things to eat, the least we can do is prepare them well and serve them with ceremony.”
- Fernand Point
It was a good night. A great night. A night I’ll always remember, not for its smiles but for its tears.
Yes, its tears. They belonged to my husband Doug, pictured below surrounded by his kids.
I snapped this photo later the same evening – precisely because I wanted to remember “the” moment that I saw those tears – forever. And since I didn’t have a camera on me at “the” moment, I settled for snapping this shot a couple of hours after the moment had passed.
I could probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen my husband shed tears in the quarter of a century we’ve been married. It’s not that he’s not in touch with his emotions. It’s just that he is, typically, a pretty even-keeled fellow. It takes a lot to make him emotional to the point of welling up. But well up he did on September 17.
September 16 is his birthday. And while Jenna (our youngest) and I did our best to make it special this year – and Doug put on a brave face – we all knew it just didn’t feel like a birthday because almost half of our family of five was missing. With Stephanie and Mark – our two oldest kids – both out of town at different universities – he wasn’t expecting to see them until Thanksgiving.
But unbeknownst to Doug, the kids had cooked up a special surprise, and on the following night – a Friday – our two university students both managed to get into town without their dad knowing it. They’d reserved a private booth at his favourite restaurant (Japanese), and they waited there for our arrival.
When Doug got home from work, Jenna and I told him we’d planned some fun after a long hard week and he was not to ask questions. So we piled into the car, and drove to the restaurant. He was clearly charmed at being thus ‘kidnapped’ – and when we pulled into the parking lot he exclaimed, “Sukiyaki?!” with obvious delight.
But it wasn’t until we stepped into our private booth – and he saw Stephanie and Mark there, and heard their exclamations of “Surprise!” that shock yielded to those silent, joyful tears now etched permanently on my memory.
The three kids paid for dinner that night, a sacrificial gift for poor students. It was a wonderful evening, topped off with birthday cake and stories and laughter back home.
Why did their thoughtful present mean so much?
Because it was their presence that was the real gift. My husband loves our kids. He’s proud of them. And there’s little that brings him greater joy than to spend time in their company, hearing their news and telling them his.
I’ve been reflecting on that fatherly love ever since. And in the midst of my reflections, it occurred to me that maybe that’s just how it is with God.
The Bible tells us He loves us. It gives Him great joy when we spend time with Him.
And ultimately, what He wants more than anything is for all of His kids to simply come home.
Luke 15:20 “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and … he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”
- The Parable of the Prodigal Son, as told by Jesus to illustrate God’s amazing love for us
This oil painting has hung on the wall in the hallway of our home – in fact, on the walls of the hallways of every home my husband and I have shared – for 24 years. It was a gift from a former co-worker who painted it for us. His name was Joern.
Joern was a lovely man, quiet and soft-spoken, small and stooped of stature, with thin grey hair. He worked as a court artist for the same Toronto television newsroom I worked for in my 20s. Court artists are needed in Canada, because cameras aren’t allowed in courtrooms. So newspapers and television newscasts rely on these gifted folks to sketch the faces and profiles of the accused and their counsel, victims and Crown lawyers, to help tell the stories of the legal battles that rage on – far from the eyes and ears of the general public.
I remember the day, shortly after returning from my honeymoon, when Joern approached me. He said he wanted to paint my wedding portrait. “I like to paint,” he explained almost apologetically. “It’s good practice for me. Just bring in a photograph and I’ll make a painting for you.”
It was a generous offer – one that took me completely by surprise. But I told Doug – my new husband – excitedly of Jorn’s kindness and he helped me select a few photos that we thought might be appropriate for Joern’s work.
This is the photo I first offered to Joern. Our wedding album isn’t huge. Wedding photos were costly in those days – (are they still?) – and for budgetary reasons our selection was limited to the 20 or so photos that made it into our final album. But this photo has always been one of my favourites. There’s something about the moment it captures – on September 21, 1985 – which even today, can set my heart to soaring with a mere glance at it.
We’re laughing – obviously – over some long since forgotten joke – but there’s a warmth, a tenderness and an intimacy captured by the photographer that I’ve always loved.
But Joern didn’t love it. “No. This is not good,” he said when I offered the photo to him. “Twenty-five years from now, you will look at this painting and it will make you sad,” he said. “You will say to each other – you don’t ever look at me like that any more. We need a photograph of the two of you looking straight out at the camera.”
So I offered him this shot. It’s obviously a formal, posed photograph, and I loved the way the photographer had arranged my dress – and the fact that the flowers in the background were at their peak that September afternoon.
But “no,” said Joern. That photo wouldn’t do either. The shot was simply too wide. He preferred something closer – a shot that would be formal, and yet one that would capture our expressions. He needed practice, he explained, on painting faces. Our wedding portrait would help him to practice.
So of course, we gave him what he asked for. He was the expert – after all – and it was an incredible gift he was offering to us.
The portrait took Joern a year to paint. Throughout that year, he seemed to delight in giving me little updates as to its progress – and once, as if to tantalize me, brought in a photo of the painting – sitting half-finished – on his easel.
He presented his masterpiece to us as a gift – for our first anniversary. I remember having him and his wife to dinner at our little townhouse – when he brought the finished painting along.
A fascinating fellow – Joern had served as Rommel’s photographer in the Afrikakorps during the Second World War. My husband is a military buff and so enjoyed Joern’s company and stories enormously. We had a lovely evening.
I lost touch with Joern when I left the newsroom to take a job with another media company. But often, as I’ve passed by our portrait, I’ve thought of him and wondered what became of him.
If I could convey a message to my old friend? It would be this: “Thank you for your labor of love and friendship, Joern. It’s held a place of honour in our home from the day you gifted it to us, and we cherish it still.
“But you were wrong about one thing: it’s been 25 years, and we still look at one another with smiles on our faces and love in our eyes. And we can still set one another to laughing.”
It’s been a busy, glorious summer. A summer that held time and fun with family and friends, long lazy beach days and book days, BBQ’s and gardening, excursions and work. Now our two oldest kids (yes, two!) are settled at university and our youngest has begun high school. And I’ve started to think about posting occasional thoughts here once more.
As a way of “getting back into the swing of things,” I thought I’d share another favourite recipe. This is one my daughter Stephanie asked me to be sure to send her, when she headed back to her “second home” to prepare for the start of her third year of university.
Every year, my small backyard garden seems to outdo itself in producing one certain thing. There are years that are great for tomatoes. Other years will be outstanding for peppers, egg plant or cucumbers. But this year was definitely the year of the zucchini!
The whopper at left – held aloft by my daughter Jenna – greeted us in the garden after a two-week vacation. I promise – we were only gone two weeks – and I’m positive there were only fingerlings on the plants when we left for our holiday.
Over the past month, I’ve harvested at least eight mega-zucchinis and countless smaller ones besides. We’ve enjoyed them grilled, battered and stir fried, in soups and sauces, breads and cakes. I’ve also given several of the moderately sized vegetables to friends, and tucked away 21 cups of the stuff grated in the freezer for winter baking.
But I think our favourite way to eat zucchini has been whipped up in this recipe for zucchini muffins. Try them warm, slathered with thick, deli cream cheese. Heaven!
- 3 cups grated, fresh zucchini
- 2/3 cup melted, unsalted butter
- 1 1/3 cups sugar
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- pinch salt
- 3 cups all-purpose flour (I like to substitute half the all-purpose flour for whole wheat)
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 cup walnuts (optional – but we enjoy them)
- 1 cup raisins or dried cranberries (again – optional, but the cranberries make these muffins prettier and seem a special treat)
Method: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, combine the sugar, eggs and vanilla. Stir in the grated zucchini and then the melted butter. Sprinkle the baking soda and salt over the zucchini mixture and mix in. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, nutmeg and cinnamon. Stir these dry ingredients into the zucchini mixture. Stir in walnuts, raisins or cranberries if using.
Coat each muffin cup in your muffin pan with a little vegetable spray or line with papers. Use a spoon to distribute the batter equally among the cups, filling the cups completely. Bake on a middle rack until muffins are golden brown, and the top of the muffins bounce back when you press on them, about 25 to 30 minutes. Set on a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes, then remove muffins from the tin and let cool for another 20 minutes.
You might want to make a double batch as they’ll vanish quickly!
This blog has been lying fallow, a consequence of the fact that I’ve temporarily stepped into a rather consuming full time role for one of my clients. At the end of a long, full day of writing and thinking and organizing, I find I have little creative energy left over for anything but home and family.
But it’s also a consequence of the reality that eldest daughter has moved home for the summer, and as I considered her my primary audience, the need to share stories and news via this venue seems almost redundant.
If you’ve visited over the last few weeks hoping for up-dates, thank you for your time, interest and loyalty, and my apologies for letting you down.
I expect to blog sporadically over the coming months, and hope to pick up the publishing pace here once again, in the fall.
“I shall live badly if I do not write, and I shall write badly if I do not live.”
- Francoise Sagan
Beautiful, aren’t they? The magnolia bush in our front garden recently burst into bloom and the sight is one that can keep me lingering at our front door – absorbing its splendour – on the busiest of days.
I’ve always loved magnolias, in spite of the fact that their extravagant beauty is so short-lived. But we didn’t plant a bush of our own until several years ago, when my youngest daughter gave me a whole new reason to appreciate the lavish pink blossoms.
It was Mother’s Day – when Jenna was only three – that magnolias took on – once and for all time – a special significance for me.
One house in our neighbourhood had three large magnolia trees on the front lawn, and that spring, as Jenna and I walked her older siblings to and from school, I told the kids they were my favourite. I remember walking past that house every day, and pointing out the buds as they became swollen and bloomed, then rained their petals onto the lawn in a carpet of candy floss pink.
A couple of weeks later, on Mother’s Day morning, the kids prepared breakfast in bed for me then clambered up on the bed to shower me with gifts. Jenna offered hers last. It was a special secret she said – one she’d obviously taken pains to wrap herself. I remember the look of eager anticipation on her face as I gingerly opened the tiny package.
There, nestled in the wrappings, was a brown, shrivelled, dead-looking thing. I admit I was surprised – and couldn’t quite figure out what it was. Some kind of flat worm? A long-since expired, dried out caterpillar? I didn’t know what to say or how to react – so, confused – I remember looking at Jenna hoping for a clue. Her expression had changed from one of excitement and hope to shock, disbelief and confusion.
“Honey! What’s wrong?” I remember asking, searching for understanding. “What is this?”
“It was a magnolia petal,” she said, her words coming out in sobs. “I picked it up for you when you weren’t looking. I know you love them. So I wanted you to have one of your own.”
Of all the Mother’s Day gifts I have ever received, that dead magnolia petal is one of my most cherished. I saved it, of course, tucked away in a tiny little decorative box. It’s disintegrated into not much more than crumbs now. But I still can’t bring myself to throw it away.
For every time I see that crumpled brown petal, and every year when our magnolia bush springs into bloom, I am reminded, again, of how very much I am loved.
Breakfast has always been my favourite meal of the day. I was raised in a home where sit-down family breakfast was the rule – not the exception – so I suppose it was inevitable that I would adopt the rule for my own household as well.
Around here, weekday breakfasts are fairly simple with hot or cold cereal, toast and eggs, or yoghurt and fruit – you get the picture. Sundays normally feature homemade muffins. And every once in a while, our Saturday breakfast table will offer up pancakes or French Toast. I say “every once in a while” because, truth be told, I find both pancakes and French Toast require more effort than I’m normally willing to muster at the start of a busy Saturday, and it seems Saturdays are always busy. So while my family loves them, such concoctions made from batter have definitely been a treat rather than a regular offering.
But several months ago – when I was looking for some fresh breakfast inspiration, I stumbled across a new recipe that’s so wonderful I wish I’d known about it when my kids were small. I’ve made it almost every Saturday since. Not only is it absolutely delicious, but it’s versatile, easy-peasy – even fun – to make, and doesn’t involve standing over a hot frying pan or griddle flipping things. It’s a sort of pancake that’s baked in the oven, called Dutch Baby. And it’s as easy as this:
Once your oven is up to temperature, place one tablespoon of butter into each of two, 9″ round metal cake pans. Stick the pans into the oven for a minute or so, until the butter is melted and sizzling.
Meanwhile, combine 4 eggs, 1 cup milk and 1 cup all purpose flour in a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth.
Leaving the pans in the oven (so they stay sizzling hot), pour the batter into the pans and close your oven door. Bake for 15 minutes.
As the Dutch Babies cook, they’ll puff up and turn golden. When finished, turn out onto a plate. They’ll flatten almost as soon as they come out of the oven.
Dutch Baby is typically served sprinkled with icing sugar and fresh lemon juice, and I love it that way. But my husband likes it with sliced bananas and maple syrup, and the kids have been enjoying it with blueberry syrup. (I’d never even heard of blueberry syrup until recently when my sister and her family brought back a bottle of it as a souvenir for us, from a visit to Alberta, where fruit syrups are apparently common. It’s silky smooth and lusciously sweet with just the right note of tartness.)
On a hungry day, my teenaged son can eat two of the baked pancakes all by himself. If served with ham or bacon, he and his dad are content to split one Dutch Baby between them, leaving the second one for Jenna and me to share. So yummy, we eat every morsel.
“‘When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,’ said Piglet at last, ‘what’s the first thing you say to yourself?’
‘What’s for breakfast?’ said Pooh. ‘What do you say, Piglet?’
‘I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?’ said Piglet.
Pooh nodded thoughtfully. ‘It’s the same thing,’ he said.”
- A. A. Milne
The little guy with the “big” fish? It’s my son, Mark, at about age 5. He was on a fishing excursion with his dad and his uncles at the time, and happy to be just “one of the guys.” He’s holding his first catch.
This photo has long been one of my favourites.
That look says it all. There’s something about the tousled hair, the crooked grin and the set of his jaw that betrays his thoughts: “If I can conquer this fish, there’s nothing I can’t do. So look out world, cause I’ll be coming after you next!”
He’ll be setting off to do exactly that soon.
In two weeks, that little blonde boy will turn 18. And suddenly, I’m realizing – because I’ve been through it once before – that our time with him is short.
This September, Mark will follow in his older sister’s footsteps as he, too, heads off to university.
So lately, I’ve found myself relishing all the little things I know I’m going to miss once he’s no longer around day-to-day: the sight of those enormous sneakers kicked off in the front hall, pages of scrawled math equations – homework practice – left scattered on the dining room table, the sounds of his exertion as he does those endless chin-ups or hand-clapping push-ups at night before bed.
I’ll miss the sheer joy of satisfying the almost bottomless appetites of a teenage boy and his friends. I’ll miss the magic of seeing a bad day made better simply by topping it off with a bacon double cheeseburger. I’ll miss having him come home after school brimming with excitement (at, of all things Physics!) eager to share his newfound expertise about “time dilation” or Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity.
I’ll miss the delight of watching him play his bass guitar in church, and the astonishment that never fails to surface at the power, grace and swiftness of his moves when he spars with his dad – now that they’re both working toward their black belt in karate.
I hope – like his older sister who left before him – he manages to come home often.
“A child enters your home and for the next twenty years makes so much noise you can hardly stand it. The child departs, leaving the house so silent you think you are going mad.”
- John Andrew Holmes