Thursday, February 24, 2011

Bonne Chance Marite!

I have always regretted not speaking more than one language. Last fall I mentioned to a friend that I was planning a trip to Paris and wanted to learn some conversational French. I had borrowed some CD's from the library and was listening to French music, especially Edith Piaf, but was longing to find some conversation partners, somewhere to immerse myself in the language. She knew of a local French Club and gave me the contact information. I called the day of the meeting and had by telephone my first encounter with the human dynamo named Marite!


She was welcoming and encouraging and insisted I come to the meeting that very day. I felt that deep recognition in my body, that thrill when you know something perfectly wonderful is about to begin. Do you know the feeling I am talking about, when a surge of energy pulses through you?

French Club is exactly what I had been wishing for, a group of lively, funny, bright people who gather weekly to speak all things French. At that first meeting, they very kindly introduced themselves in English so I had some context about each person's life. Then the rapid fire French began! By the end of an hour my head was spinning. Quelle surprise!

Members bring items to share or a story from their life. Sometimes Marite will have a question she poses to each of us or will suggest we question one another. Sometimes folks just have something to share and we talk about that. For instance, we discussed a newspaper article one woman brought to class about bilingual people faring better when struck with Alzheimer's. Or if someone has recently traveled they will share their vacation pictures and experiences. This is great fun! The French skills of the members are varied. Several are fluent, some are easily able to comprehend and to make themselves understood. As a beginner, my comprehension skills have taken a huge leap forward and I am taking tentative steps into speaking.

Marite is the spark for the group. She has razor sharp wit and a joyful take on life that keeps the energy of the session high. As her husband has just retired and they will be traveling frequently, she is handing over the club to another member. Today was our farewell luncheon for her.

The French Club

I know people come into our lives for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. The reason she was in my life was to encourage me to pursue my dream of becoming bilingual. While she was present for barely more than a season, what she began will be with me for a lifetime. Merci et au revoir Marite!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Star Blogger Award

Since 2006 I have been privileged to be a member of the Story Circle Network. Mystery author and memoirist Susan Wittig Albert founded SCN in 1997 as an organization dedicated to helping women share the stories of their lives and to raising public awareness of the importance of women's personal histories. SCN's website, publications, classes, and reading and writing circles connect and encourage women writers world wide. Click here to check out all SCN has to offer. 

I began blogging on November 1, 2010, my sixtieth birthday. I was shy about my efforts. I know some of the finest bloggers on the Internet. I was also insecure about my technology skills. I did not share my blog until January of this year so I am still very much a novice. You can imagine my delight when SCN, an organization of talented creative women, recognized my work with their Star Blogger award. 

There is no need to worry that I will get the "big head" over this. It took me two weeks to figure out how to get the badge, above in today's post and forever on the right side bar, imported onto my site! As is often the case for me, the solution was simple once I knew what it was... ah technology!

I was concerned that blogging would detract from my memoir writing. Not so, blogging is such a pleasure that it gives me added zest and inspiration. It has also led me back to a long dormant interest in photography. 

The most rewarding aspect of blogging is membership in another Internet community to support and encourage my creativity. 

Thanks Story Circle Network for the cyber home, for connecting me with amazing women writers, for inspiration, for encouragement, and for my Star Blogger recognition!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Breathe in Serenity

Valentine's Day can be strange when one is not half of a couple. So many of the advertisements are about giving her the perfect diamond, gold heart, lingerie, or box of chocolates. The implication is that Valentine's Day is for lovers. And I agree. But I have a much expanded notion of love these days. Post betrayal and divorce and post cancer, I find myself a lover of life. And a lover of experiencing life sensuously. My senses are more acute, including my sense of smell. So, I am aware of aromas that enhance my sense of well being.

This Valentine's Day I decided to try my hand at making aromatic mists. My favorite scents are lavender and a combination of eucalyptus and spearmint, so I began with those. This was amazingly easy to do. I purchased four ounce bottles and atomizer sprays on line. I bought the three essential oils and googled scent recipes.

For lavender, I used 20-30 drops per four ounces of distilled water. The number is not exact because I kept losing count of the drops. No matter, I just did test sprays until it smelled good to me. Combining the eucalyptus and spearmint was a bit trickier. I thought the eucalyptus would overpower the mint but the reverse was true. I ended up using about a 2/3 eucalyptus, 1/3 spearmint mix. Again, for each bottle I just mixed and spritzed until my nose approved.

To customize the bottle I created my own labels. I arranged some stones into a heart shape in the snow and then took a dozen or so pictures, playing with shadows and distance. I chose two of the photos, one for each scent. I added the word serenity because I am going to suggest my friends keep them in their cars and spritz when they feeling rushed or stressed... instant serenity.  After printing the photos at the local drugstore kiosk, I trimmed them to label size, used spray adhesive to attach them to the bottle, and voila!

I'm really pleased with the final product. I'm giving them to the people who put love in my life. And I am wishing you a sensuously perfect Valentine's Day!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Spice Shopping

I have a cupboard full of spices.

Interesting organizational system!

From my reading, I now know that spices have a shelf life. When I checked these, I was amazed at how long I had some of them. I got this tin of whole nutmeg from my dear friend Jeanette when she was moving from Ohio to Florida in 1978! I know it was hers because I recognize her handwriting on the top.


Some sources say that after a year a spice has lost its potency and should be replaced. Those are probably mostly folks who sell spices! The other rule of thumb is to check for aroma. If the spice still smells, well... spicy, it should be usable. But I think that is the technique when using spice to flavor food. I'm not sure how to gage the potency of spice for health and healing purposes. If any of you have any information or thoughts about that, please share.
Most supermarkets have a good selection of the commonly used spices. There are excellent Internet resources as well. Many of my friends recommend Penzeys but I have never tried them. I wanted to buy fresh spice in small quantities because I am experimenting with new flavors and different heats that I may or may not like. And if I am going to err on the side of freshness, small amounts are better.

I found a perfectly wonderful source right here in Dayton. One of the Five Rivers MetroParks' Urban Parks is the Second Street Market. The market operates in an historic block-long 1911 former B&O railroad building.  It was saved from demolition and renovated in 2001and houses an assortment of vendors for prepared foods, meat and produce, fresh flowers, and arts and crafts. One of the shops is The Spice Rack.

The Spice Rack has a wide assortment of spices in small containers with larger amounts readily available. They also sell organic flours and grains, Amish butter and cheeses, beautiful colored sugars, and honey. I'd stopped here many times to buy local honey to help ward off seasonal allergies but am now a confirmed spice shopper as well. 

I was interested in turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom, and cumin. The shop owner, Homer, and his lovely assistant Shannon helped me find everything I needed. This is definitely my new go-to place for spices!

The atmosphere on Saturdays at Second Street Market is festive and relaxed. I had a delicious Thai omelet for lunch, saw many friends and acquaintances, and in addition to my spices got beautiful artisan bread, fresh kale, and a green plant to take home for a promise of spring.

My next task is to purge my spice cupboard and label my spices with date of purchase. In the meantime, because they are so pretty, my fresh spices are residing on a shelf in my kitchen. They are tucked among some plants and some favorite things, reminding me of the beauty of life and the joy of treating my body well.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Spice of Life

 I am interested in spices and how they can promote health and assist healing. Spice as seasoning is familiar ground but currently the health aspect is a talking point everywhere. Magazines, cooking shows, even Dr. Oz is talking about spices to use to reduce your risk of cancer or high blood pressure or to improve cardiac health. Post cancer, I'm eating foods high in antioxidants to ward off those nasty free radicals. I've  upped my vegetable and fruit intake, switched to whole grains, and eat organic whenever possible. I seek out antibiotic and hormone free meat and poultry. Now I am exploring how using the right spices can further enhance health and healing. Which spices for which reasons and in what amount?

Sterling Publishing 2011

This book was featured in a display at my local library. The sub title, How to Use 50 Everyday and Exotic Spices to Boost Health and Beat Disease promised the information I was seeking.
And it delivered. After eleven pages giving the history of spice use and how to purchase and store spices, the next two hundred and forty five pages are devoted to the fifty spices. Information on each spice begins with the healing and health properties, then history and culture in "getting to know ___," then a "how to buy ___," and finishes with "in the kitchen with ____."  Each spice description includes an ink drawing of the plant, a "use and pairs with" chart, and a recipe.
The book concludes with how to make spice rubs and mixes and a resource list. Especially useful is a fifteen page A-Z list of health conditions, appropriate healing spices, and where available, research-tested therapeutic use dosages.
As a bonus, the book is printed on cream colored paper with sepia ink and sepia and green charts that are easy on the eyes. I love it when I find exactly the right book at exactly the right time.
In tomorrow's post, I'll take you with me on a spice buying excursion to one of my favorite foodie places!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Time In a Bottle

I’m very fond of massage. When several different friends recommended a particular massage therapist, I called and made a Saturday morning appointment. A sense of place is very important to me, as is beauty. When I look for a massage therapist, I seek someone who is centered, fully present, and whose studio space is serene with an underlying sense of peace and joy.

When I parked in front of her home and studio, I spotted some very interesting trees.

 These whimsical bottle trees tickled my fancy and provided a visual treat as I stopped to admire the wide assortment of artistic labels. I have a friend with a bottle tree who has removed all the labels and focused on the colors of the bottles to provide the "fruit." As I tend to pick my wine by the art on the label I enjoyed that this one had the labels intact.

Post massage and in a mellow mood, I lingered to look again at the bottles. Maybe they are a bit like women. We start out with people being attracted to us by our label or our reputation but eventually the bottle is opened and what's inside becomes important. The wine is then consumed. Much like life sometimes turns us upside down and empties us out. But the glass, the vessel, remains. Some bottles are simply discarded. But others are recycled, reborn into something new, perhaps differently beautiful, perhaps more enduring.

These metal branches and glass fruit don't seem to take themselves quite as seriously as a fine bottle of wine in a wine rack waiting to be decanted. They are living life in the now, with a wink and a smile.

Here’s a recent wine I chose by the label. I go cycling and this woman, holding on for a ride in the sky on her winged bicycle, looks like she is at home in her body, experiencing life with joyful abandon. If the wine is half as good as the label, I’ll enjoy it!

Cycles Gladiator Syrah California 2008