Monthly Archives: November 2010

Book Review: The Meaning of Wife

Dear Ms. Kingston,

I don’t read a lot of non-fiction. When I was a child, I consumed books about the Holocaust at a slightly alarming rate, but since those simplistic, dumbed-down, glossy books, I’ve only finished one other work of non-fiction from cover-to-cover. I’m not sure if this means I’m discovering the genre. All I know is that, every day for the past two weeks, your book grabbed my attention from the moment I sat down in my seat on the bus until the moment I had to pull the string.

What grabbed me the most and what I am most thankful to you for, is that you didn’t tell me what to think. In fact, until the end of the book, you kept me guessing about what your thesis actually is. You presented marriage in such a way that it is both good and bad, it both strengthens and weakens, benefits and destroys. You made me proud, hesitant, nervous, worried, excited, and confident about being a wife. Most importantly, you made me actively think about being a wife.

And then, after you had made me think about everything, you finally hit me with a thesis that resonates so strongly, that just seems right, that makes sense. It’s a thesis that validates, affirms, even frees my marriage, in a way. It’s a thesis that reveals a world of possibility, of hope, a world in which I can stand up for my marriage. It’s a world I always knew was there but could never define.

I wish every new wife, male or female, would read your book. And every old wife. And every unwife. And every woman contemplating become a wife. It may become my go-to shower gift. I’ll probably start sneaking it onto gift tables at weddings. Christmases and birthdays. Gifts for no reason.

Now, someone just needs to write about this topic in such a sensible, true way from a religious perspective. Anyone?

Anyway, Anne, thank you. Thank you for saying what I thought I knew but wasn’t sure how to articulate. Thank you for acknowledging marriage as complicated, for stomping on the cookie cutter. Thank you for recognizing me as me and M as M and our marriage as our marriage and no one else’s. Thank you for throwing out the models, the models of divorce, of sticking it out through years of abuse, of standing quietly in the shadow, of first-wives clubs and of trophy wives and husbands.

Most of all, thank you for believing in marriage.

A wife

There is no singular meaning of wife. That is the point. That is its meaning. To see the wife fully through a multi-faceted lens is one of the central challenges facing society in the twenty-first century.

– Anne Kingston, p. 289

 

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Blog Update

Hello my wonderful readers!

Some of you may have noticed that my blog looks a little different these days. It has been experiencing some growth. Not much, granted — it is still the humble everything-about-me-even-if-you-don’t-care blog that it started as and I know that most of you, my readers, are people who know me in some way. I am excited about the growth I have seen though. After all, I’m a writer; what writer doesn’t want to be read?

So, I’ve done some updating around here. There’s a new, minimalist template that will hopefully make my blog more enjoyable to read. There’s also a new page of recipes for the times you think back to my cheesy chicken enchiladas, but you can’t seem to find the post about it. They’re all there, sorted by course. If you can’t find a post there, you could try my new search bar. Just type anything in and see if I’ve written about it.

I’ve added a few features to help you read and share my blog too. Some of you may be interested in the new Subscribe button. If you click it and type in your email address, you won’t have to remember to check back here every so often to see if I’ve posted: all my new posts will land right in your inbox the moment I hit the Publish button. If you like a post after you read it, you can share it on Twitter or Facebook by clicking the buttons at the bottom of the post, or email it to a friend (or yourself), or print it to keep for later (especially useful if you plan to try out a recipe).

I like to hear from you guys. It’s always nice to know that people are reading and enjoying my posts. To help you talk to me, I’ve added a rating system so you can let me know what posts you like, which ones you thought were just OK and which ones you think I really shouldn’t have written. (Don’t worry… it’s anonymous!) You can find that at the top of each post. And, of course, I love your comments, emails, Facebook messages, and tweets the most. Let me know if you try a recipe out or think it would be just a touch better with the addition of vegetables, for example.

You guys are awesome. Thanks for reading!

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Portion Controlled Coffee Cake

I don’t bake enough. I’m a bit of a reluctant baker. When I cook, I use splashes and glugs, the occasional soup spoon, the occasional measuring cup. But I don’t like the rigidity of exact measurements. I like to be able to choose my ingredients based on what is in my fridge as opposed to what a specific recipe requires.

My relationship with baking is probably an OK thing for my diet. But I see the cakes and cookies other bloggers make and drool. So, I have decided it’s time to do some more baking.

This recipe is from the Company’s Coming Muffin book. The descriptions in those books are hilarious, but Jean Pare happens to be right — Good.

Coffee Cake Muffins

1.5 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
3/4 cup milk
1/2 tsp vanilla

Crumble

1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp cinnamon

Mix flour, baking powder, and salt.

In another bowl, cream together softened butter and sugar. Add the egg. Beat well. Add milk and vanilla.

Create a ‘well’ in the centre of the the dry mixture. Pour the wet into the dry and stir until just moistened.

Grease a 12 cup muffin tin. Drop muffin batter into muffin cups until the cup is approximately a third full.

Mix together the three ingredients for the crumble mix. Sprinkle it on top of the muffin butter. Drop the rest of the batter on top of the crumble mix.

Bake the muffins at 400*F for 20 to 25 minutes or until the muffins are a light golden brown.

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J(2), November 20, 2010

On Saturday, my beautiful best friend was drop-dead gorgeous.

I can’t really write a proper recap because their wedding story is not my wedding story. So, I’m not even going to bother. I will, however, share a few of the words I said to J(2) on Saturday night at the reception.

I have known you for 22 years and we’ve been friends for almost as many. Very few people can say they have had such a friendship. It has grown with us as we have changed. We used to play Barbies, or dress up in the clothes from your tickle trunk and giggled until our faces hurt. We felt like sisters. A number of times our lives have taken very different directions and a number of times, that bond formed when we were giggling girls was threatened by distance, by changing values, by new people in our lives.

But somehow, something always led us back. With you, I never feel awkward, even when we haven’t seen each other for months. We can always pick up right where we left off, interested in each other’s lives, there to provide a shoulder to cry on, memories to laugh about, a friend to share with. You are one of the first phone calls I make when something big happens: You have been one of the first to know about break ups, job offers, my engagement, our new apartment. You have been excited with me when my life went through a lot of change. And now, I am so happy to be excited with you.

I don’t have much experience on you: 6 months married does not make me an expert in any way, so I’m not going to give you any advice. But this is what I hope and pray for your marriage: I pray you love each other in every way you can. I pray you will hold dear the traditions your families have passed down to you, but at the same time discover what marriage means for yourselves. Most of all, I pray you will build your lives up around each other and around God allowing him to strengthen your relationship through unconditional love.

J, even though you have a new shoulder to lean on, know that I will always be here for you, always ready to give advice if I can give it, always ready to create some new memories. I love you both and I am so happy that you have chosen to dedicate yourselves so completely to each other.

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A Wedding Weekend

In less than 1 hour, I’ll be on the road, headed toward my best friend’s rehearsal.

Tomorrow, she’s getting married and I’ll be right there beside her to throw in my support.

I have the same hopes for her marriage that I still have for my own, 6 months in. But those probably need a post of their own to do them justice.

Congratulations J and J! I know the day will be beautiful and I can’t wait to sign my name as a witness to your vows to each other and to God!

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Martha Lets Me Down: Bacon, Onion and Cheese Pasta

I’ve been feeling like I don’t make enough pasta. After all, it’s cheap, filling, and often delicious. My problem with pasta, though, is that it’s boring. I grew up on spaghetti and, while delicious, not exactly a cooking challenge.

So, I went looking for new recipes. Martha Stewart has a whole gallery of pasta dishes. Some of them were of no appeal at all, but most of them I dismissed simply because I didn’t have the ingredients in my cupboard and didn’t feel like going to a grocery store after work. So, I settled on this one. With a few substitutions, it seemed straightforward enough.

Guys, for the first time since I started using her recipes, Martha let me down. Sure, it was edible. I even didn’t mind taking it to work the next day. But unless you know for sure you like the flavour of thyme, I wouldn’t recommend trying this without some kind of substitution.

But, here’s the recipe anyway. If you have any brilliant ideas to make this recipe better, please share!

Bacon, Onion, and Cheese Pasta

1/2 package of short pasta, whichever kind you prefer

A whole bunch of thinly sliced back bacon

1 red onion, thinly sliced

1 garlic cloves, minced

1 tbs thyme

1/2 package of cream cheese

Cook your pasta. This might seem a little weird, but when you drain it, reserve some of the water in which you cooked it, about 1 cup.

Cook your bacon. Cut into bite sized pieces and set aside.

Since it’s back bacon, there’s not nearly as much fat as regular bacon, so add a bit of oil to the skillet, just a splash. Add the onions, garlic, and thyme and cook, stirring occasionally, over medium heat until the onions are golden brown.

Add the cream cheese and the cup of pasta water to the onion mixture and allow the cream cheese to melt, stirring constantly. Add the pasta to the skillet and mix until coated. Add the bacon.

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    Unleashed: Let her run!

    Mocha is going to be exhausted for a week. This morning, as I was getting ready for work, she followed me from room to room, curling up as close to me as she could. While I showered, she slept on the bath mat. While I blow-dried my hair, she slept just outside the bathroom door. While I dressed, she leaned against the wall and stared at me. While I got my breakfast and lunch together, she flopped on the tiles of the kitchen.

    Why so tired Mocha?

    Is it because you had your first subway ride?

    A romp in the park?

    A second romp, in a second park?

    There are a few dog park in this city. Unfortunately, there are none within walking distance from us. And, besides that, when I started asking around about dog parks after we had just gotten her, I got a lot of faces from other dog owners.

    “I would never take my dog to a dog park,” one said. The big dogs, according to these helicopter dog owners, drag their owners to dog parks with one intention and one intention only: world domination. After a few stories, I got a little freaked by the concept of a dog park, especially after Mocha’s first snarly interaction with a pit bull outside our building.

    But, then she got older. A little bit bigger. And I relaxed a little more.

    So, this weekend, we took her on the subway and went southwest to the biggest park in the city. We wound our way through the trails until we found ourselves in a clearing filled with dogs. All types of dogs. Little, yappy ones. Big, beautiful ones. Dominating Dobermans, pouncing pugs.

    Mocha, at first excited about being off her leash, stopped dead when she saw the mass of dogs. She cowered by our feet for a long time. The three of us, together, felt like the new kid on the playground, watching all the other kids shyly and just hoping someone will come and ask us to play Four-Square. And then she made her first new friend. Then her second. She came running back to us pretty quick whenever a dog that was just a bit too big, just a bit too rough, a bit too scary, came standing over her.

    Here’s the truth about dog parks: yes, you need to be on guard. Yes, things can happen when dogs are off-leash, and yes, they can happen fast. But the benefits far, far outweigh the risks. Mocha had fun and so did we. We’re not going to squash that just because she might get hurt.

    If you’re a little squeamish about the off-leash thing still, try a dog park that’s composed of trails instead of open spaces. Sunday, we visited our second dog park, composed completely of fenced in trails. There were far fewer dogs, most too intent on their walk to play.

    We’re going to try to take her out again sometime this week, daylight permitting. The city certainly needs more, especially one closer to us.

     

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    Book Review: Three Cups of Tea

    Before I launch into a proper review of this book, I need to discuss a few things:

    First of all, a warning: I am the worst possible book borrower in the world. I still have a book I borrowed from a friend about, oh, four months ago, a book I promised to return before the end of the summer. In case you hadn’t noticed, it is definitely not summer anymore. And this one? I borrowed it from a friend at work and, two days after I took it home, informed her that I owe her a book. My precious little girl got a hold of it and two seconds later, had the back cover dangling from her little teeth. So, a warning to all you people who think I would love your favourite book on your shelf, the one you read once a year just to be reminded: send me to the library. Seriously.

    Secondly, I’d like to acknowledge that I’m really not very good at keeping up with new literature. I know this book came out a few years ago. If I were a proper reviewer, I would have picked it up and read it the week it came out, and had a review up the next week. Or, even better, I would have got my hands on an advanced copy and had a review out before all of you could even think about reading it. But I don’t have nearly enough clout to draw the attention of any publishers who might care about my reviews.

    So, here I am, writing about this book 4 years after it swept through all the best selling lists.

    But that’s OK. The thing about North America is that we forget really easily. We read books like these, allow them to touch us, then put them on the shelf and leave them there, their sharp messages dulling over time until we’ve mostly forgotten the way they inspired us. So, maybe a review a few years too late isn’t such a bad thing.

    This book was beautiful.

    Yes, the writing is clunky. Actually, if you were to analyze it for its literary value alone, it would score pretty low. It takes a while to get used to the style that seems to be a cross between over-blown prose and dry, journalistic reporting. When I first started reading, I was certain I wouldn’t make it to the end: non-fiction and I don’t have a great track record to begin with.

    But then, about a quarter of the way into the book as Greg Mortenson’s first school project got under way and hit road block after road block, I found myself sitting on the bus frantically blinking back tears, desperately hoping none of my fellow travelers noticed my struggle for control. It wasn’t the language that got to me. It wasn’t the writing. It wasn’t the descriptions of the struggling, but happy, hospitable people of Pakistan. It was the words that came directly from Greg Mortenson, Haji Ali, Twaha, his daughter, and countless others involved with the project’s evolution.

    Until I read this book, I didn’t realize how important education truly is. Since finishing university, I’ve run more and more often into an ideology that believes we are uselessly over-educated, that education is squashing our potential. I have friends who believe they have wasted 5 years of their life studying. I don’t know how to respond to their beliefs because I can’t say for sure I don’t share them. How did reading a ridiculous number of books in a short time and writing increasingly complicated papers prepare me for writing repetitive help files and proposals in the IT industry? How did it prepare me for whatever is going to come after this? When am I ever going to get paid for writing essays?

    Of course, there are the boilerplate answers: “School taught you how to think.” “Writing papers taught you how to write.” “Your classes taught you how to interact confidently with teachers and classmates.” All fair answers. But couldn’t I have learned all that elsewhere?

    “A degree gives you more money.”

    Bingo.

    In Pakistan, education means so much more. It’s more than getting a good job and making a decent paycheque so you can live in a decent apartment, have a decent dog, buy some decent clothes, and maybe one day, own a decent house. Education means a better life, a better town, a better country. Education means a chance to discover dreams and, if you’re really lucky, pursue them. Education means being able to recognize the extremism around you and respond to it in a responsible, thoughtful way. Education means peace. If the troops were in Afghanistan specifically to bring building materials to the towns and villages there, specifically to listen to, recognize, and help to fix the needs of the people, I could stand behind the Canadian presence there.

    Reading this book made me wish I could have the gumption of Greg Mortenson to discover a need in the world and, instead of just throwing a few measly dollars at it, actually do something about it. Can we do as much from the comfort of our homes? I doubt it. But wait. If we all picked up and went to places like Pakistan, who would support us as Mortenson was supported? And, even worse, would we be running all over the people of those places who might rise to the challenge of addressing their own needs, thereby making them stronger? And, even worse than that, would we invent needs in peoples that live in such an alien, foreign way to us, place our North American values over top a culture in which they don’t fit and squash out the beauty of diversity in the world?

    We need more Greg Mortensons, yes. But we also need more encouragers and donors to support the Greg Mortensons of the world, the people who can recognize the beauty of other places and other people and encourage them, help them along. I do believe we can do as much good as long as we recognize our own privilege, our own wealth, our own excess and open up our hearts, our hands, our eyes, not to an undeveloped world that needs molding, but to a world that needs to discover its own development.

    While I strive to discover a generosity that can help to change the world, I’m going to hold on to my education with as much gratitude as I can muster. It’s the least I can do.

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    Partying Single (when you’re not)

    This past Sunday while we were recovering from our respective nights of partying (I at a bachelorette party, M at the respective bachelor party), M told me about a very intoxicated girl at the bar and admitted to feeling slightly guilty about the attentions she had directed toward him. I laughed in response. But it brought up an interesting question. Should M have felt guilty because a girl threw herself at him in a little bit of a – ahem – risqué manner? And, if not, where’s the line at which he should start feeling guilty? On the other hand, should I have felt guilty about talking for five minutes with a Nanotech 2nd-year baby who was trying really hard to be flirtatious? How do you party and interact with other partiers, especially of the kind of the opposite sex, when your significant other is absent for one reason or another?

    Of course, if we had been together, there would be no question. My alternate personality would have finally reared her ugly head and punched said drunk chick out. And then get kicked out of the bar. More likely, said drunk chick would never have come to dirty dance all over my husband to begin with. No issue.

    But we aren’t always together. And even though we never take off our rings, our bling isn’t big enough to attract that much attention. (I had a drunk guy with a bachelor party scold me once for not having big enough bling.) When we aren’t together, there’s nothing about us that, on first glance, blares MARRIED. (Even when we are together, people think M is my boyfriend. Maybe my bling really isn’t big enough…) So how should we handle it when we’re having a night out on the town without the other person and attract a little drunken attention? Is it enough that I’m the one he comes home to at night? Is it enough that he’s the one I text before falling asleep tipsy at a grown-up girls’-night slumber party?

    I don’t think so.

    There is a line. There is definitely a line. At the conclusion of M’s story, I laughed because he didn’t cross it. I laughed because he felt guilty. I laughed because he told me the story to begin with. I laughed because his reaction to the situation affirmed the trust I have in him to be careful with our relationship.

    The next time this kind of thing happens to him or to me, I don’t think guilt needs to be involved. We just need to remember where that line is drawn and send the drunkards packing before even a toe touches it. And then, we need to go home and tell each other about it so that we can laugh. And maybe, just maybe, redraw the line.

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    The Anatomy of a Bachelorette Party

    This past weekend was jam-packed with some responsible partying. With maybe a smidge or two of irresponsible partying. In a week and a half (!), my best friend of 22 years is getting married and, as her maid of honour* it was, of course, my responsibility to gather all her closest girlfriends together for one helluva girl’s night.

    I have never been to a bachelorette party, let alone plan one. And the Internet is pretty useless. I was not about to hire fake cops to waggle their hips in our faces and the expense of a limo to take us on a tour of the town was pretty much out of the question. So, I turned to what I’m familiar with: food.

    Instead of a meal, I put together a spread of appetizers for the girls to load up on. I asked them to bring what they could, but without certain numbers of how many girls were bringing food, I went all out and made sure I had enough for everyone. Which means, of course, there was way too much food. But too much, is always better than too little, right?

    On the menu for the night?

    Savory shortbread cookies.

    Spinach dip and pumpernickel bread.

    Hummus and pita bread.

    Stuffed mushrooms. That’s right. These stuffed mushrooms.

    Lots of cheese and crackers. Lots of veggies.

    Apple tart. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a picture of it because it never even got out of the freezer, into the oven and onto the table. There was no space left anywhere on that table. But M and I pulled a second one I made out of the freezer on Sunday, baked it up and ate it straight from the pan. Holy crap delicious.

    No one went hungry. Because I had focused so much on food, I forgot to really think too much about what to actually do while eating, but the thing about hanging out with a group of girls is that it doesn’t matter: conversation ticks along, jumps from one thing to the next and by 9, everyone was happily talked out and ready to get gorgeous for a night of dancing.

    Oh. And did I mention our drinks for the night? Pornstars, White Freezies, Polar Bears… Proper girly drinks which we sweated out on the dance floor before they could reach our head.

    (* I know that, since I’m married, technically, I’m a ‘matron of honour’. But seriously. Who wants to be known as a matron?)

    Because I like to share,

    Quick Apple Tart

    Completely made up by me. On the fly. When I decided I didn’t want to make apple dumplings after all.

    1 pie shell, store-bought or homemade if you’re patient and talented.
    Approximately 4 apples, peeled, cored, and sliced.
    1/4 cup white sugar
    2 tbs all purpose flour
    A couple spoonfuls of cinnamon, depending on how much you like cinnamon.

    Mix together sugar, flour and cinnamon. Toss apples in the dry mixture. Arrange apple slices in a swirl, starting in the centre of the pie shell and working outwards in a circle, overlapping each apple slice. Or, just dump all the apples in and hope for the best.

    You could also arrange the apple slices and then sift the dry mixture over top. I didn’t get to taste it using this method though. Probably worked just as well.

    Carefully peel the edges of the pie shell away from the pie pan and over the apples along the edge. Pinch the pastry down into the apples to remove any bunching in the pasty edge. Try not to rip the pastry. If you’re using a cheap pie shell as I was, it’s really hard to get it to stick back together again.

    Bake in an 375* oven for approximately 40 minutes, or until the folded over edge is a beautiful golden brown and the apples are tender.

    Consume directly from the pan, sharing forkfuls with your husband.

    It was a little runny, possibly because I didn’t want to let it sit before eating it after it came out of the oven. But I think it probably needs a little more flour, or maybe even some corn starch. I should probably beg my grandmother for her apple pie recipe and just adapt it to this. It was delicious. Which is partially why there are no pictures. Just trust me. Delicious.

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