A Post about Toast

Two perfect toasted pieces of toast on a plateThey say that in life, you need goals, right?

It’s not that I lack ambition, but some days, just getting the perfect piece of toast is a major achievement.

It’s like a duel between me and the toaster. It’s like Wile E. Coyote versus the Road Runner… and this is from someone who doesn’t really have a competitive streak.

It really boils down to choosing the correct setting number on the toaster, based on the type of bread that I am using on that particular day. Given the variables involved, some days I feel like I am playing the “Safe Cracker” game on The Price is Right.

When I correctly choose the setting number and out comes a perfect piece of toast, I feel like Rocky in that scene when he successfully runs up that staircase at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

When I don’t get the right setting, the overcooked, petrified toast makes me feel defeated like Charlie Brown, after Lucy takes away the football just as he is about to kick it across the field.

Wouldn’t it be a wonderful world if we could just put bread into the slot, pull down the lever and walk away, knowing that a perfect piece of toast will be ready moments later?

I imagine that some of you might be asking, “Is your toaster broken? Mine comes out fine.”

I am pretty sure that my toaster works fine too. The problem is that my bread choices are constantly evolving. If I stuck to the same kind of bread every day, a perfect piece of toast could indeed be feasible. Continue reading

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In Pursuit of the Perfect Pillow

A picture of a cat in a pile of bedsheets and pillowcases.

Ivy the cat “helping” with the laundry of the bedsheets and pillowcases

While I wouldn’t consider myself to be particularly picky, it would seem that for all of the comparison shopping I do, I am perhaps very “discerning”. How is that for a positive spin?

And frankly, why would I buy something that isn’t exactly what I am looking for especially when health and comfort are part of the equation?

The head-scratcher is how fortunate we are to have as many shopping options as we do, yet it often feels like we are looking for a needle in a haystack.

This particular hunt holds similarities to a Goldilocks-style tale given that we have elements of “too hard”, “too soft” and “just right”. Although in my case it seems like it’s never hard enough… I’m talking about pillows.

As far back as I can remember, I have preferred firm mattresses. Over the years, I discovered that I felt the same way about pillows.

It used to be that I could buy a pillow and it would last for years. Lately, that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore and a firm pillow tends not to stay firm for very long.

I wonder to myself if it’s the weight distribution of my body. Could it be because of my huge, round, beach ball of a Charlie Brown head? Is it possible that I am wearing them out faster than most people? Continue reading

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The Origins of My “50 Reasons” Blog Posts

An overhead shot of a writing desk, containing a pen, a pad of paper and a cup of coffee. Those who follow my blog regularly may have noticed that some of my blog posts have had titles starting with the number “50” and contained a list of fifty thoughts on a given topic.

For example, you might have read:

50 Reasons Why I Love Baking;
50 Reasons Why I Love Writing;
50 Reasons Why I Enjoy Running;
50 Reasons to Love Travel;
50 Reasons to Love Music;
50 Reasons to Love a Good Book;

How did this series of posts start?

There are some mornings when despite the best of intentions, I might be having a hard time getting into the flow of writing. When that happens, getting into a wrestling match with words before the coffee has properly kicked in sometimes feels like I am setting myself up for a struggle.

Starting with a more gentle writing activity where ideas can flow freely is one way that I can offset that struggle. Once the creative energy is flowing and momentum is building, I can then tackle more challenging writing tasks.

Coming up with fifty ideas on a given theme was the challenge I presented to myself to get the creative juices flowing. Continue reading

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A Love of Writing or Storytelling?

A close up shot of a computer keyboardOn the approach to retirement, when I was asked what my future plans were, without really thinking about it, I always answered “writing”.

For as long as I can remember, with every passing year, I became increasingly aware that writing was my life’s purpose.

I was the kid whose bedroom was referred to as a “firetrap” due to the abundance of paper “masterpieces” scattered everywhere. I was the budding (but bad) poet in university. I was also the employee who raised his hand when management was looking for volunteers for challenging writing assignments.

Over the course of producing and editing thousands of pages of material for different executives and for different target audiences, I always felt more energized when completing writing assignments than with any other tasks. To me, that was a clear sign.

But it was only recently, during a drive to the city, that I realized that I might not have accurately articulated my retirement plans. Someone on the radio mentioned the word “storyteller”. This was a mind blowing moment for me, as it offered an important distinction I was missing.

In retirement, the suggestion comes up from time to time that if I love writing so much, why don’t I offer my services as a writer, either as a consultant or for community work. When that happens, in my head, I hear tires screeching to a sudden stop. Why is that? Continue reading

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Music for Writing

A close up shot of piano keys. When I look back on my high school and university years, I am astounded that I was able to get my homework done with the radio, the stereo or the television on.

I remember that the music helped me keep the neurons firing, especially after a full day of classes. The background noise also helped keep me company through a lonely night of homework, keeping the borderline extrovert in me happy.

While I don’t seem to have a vivid recollection of the homework process in itself (and truly, who would?) I seem to remember that for most tasks, I could multi-task with music playing in the background.

Did I have music on to study for tests? My memory is a little fuzzy on that question, but I would be inclined to think that I didn’t. I can’t imagine that I could successfully memorize if I had lyrics or radio chatter playing interference with the words on the written page. Today, I definitely can’t.

But did I have music on for writing essays? I am pretty sure that the answer is yes, as this is a habit that still holds true today for my writing projects. However, the music that forms the soundtrack of my writing is very carefully chosen.

Finding the perfect writing tunes has been a fascinating and fun journey in itself. As an all-around music lover, I have thoroughly enjoyed the process of listening to different artists and trying different genres of music to see what works best. Continue reading

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With Every Christmas Card I Write

A red envelope addressed to Santa ClausI first started sending Christmas cards during my university years. To me, not only was it a welcomed break from studying for my December exams, but it was also a way for the borderline extrovert in me to stay in touch with friends and family back in the dark ages before social media was invented.

I viewed the tradition of exchanging Christmas cards as an opportunity to reach out to the extended family and friends I would not have a chance to see over the holidays, to say “I’m thinking about you and I hope that you are doing well!”

I also sent cards to the people and businesses that made my life a little easier throughout the year, who helped me along life’s journey. They were an opportunity to express my gratitude and my professional respect.

Exchanging Christmas cards was also a way to keep up with friends who moved away or who were equally busy with their careers or new families.

I am pleased to say that no matter how busy I got over the years, I maintained the tradition. Taking the time to send a card to acknowledge long standing friendships or to say hello over the miles was something that I held near and dear to my heart. Continue reading

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The Joys and Pitfalls of Napping

A cute cat in the middle of a napI truly envy people who can survive on a few hours of sleep and for whom “nap” is a four letter word.

I envy them because I am sure that the items on their to-do lists are crossed out more quickly than folks like me who need their minimum seven hours each night and for whom naps are a precious weekend indulgence (or sometimes necessity, as the case may be).

It’s not a question of laziness, nor do I suffer from depression. I just happen to enjoy that feeling of fading out for a bit and waking up renewed and refreshed with the energy of a four-year-old on a sugar rush. It’s like having two opportunities in the same day to jump out of bed and yell “yippee!!” (yes, I admit that I am a bit of a morning person).

Interestingly enough, I really wasn’t a fan of naps in my pre-school years. But as an adult, I yearn for them and I enjoy them.

When I hear that “older” people don’t need as much sleep, I conclude that at 56, I mustn’t be “older” yet since a cozy nap with the cat (who uses my right arm as a body pillow) is a fairly regular occurrence. When that happens, I savour every moment.

The big questions: when a nap is imminent, do I set the alarm or do I let the nap go as long as I need? And if I do, will it adversely affect my bedtime?
There seems to be an algorithm for that: Continue reading

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The Trouble with Walnut Trees

When we moved to our country property, I really had no idea what a non-stop learning experience I would be encountering.

With a fascinating collection of trees growing throughout our little lot, technology became my best friend for identifying and researching each type’s unique characteristics and needs for proper care.

The first time I heard of black walnut trees was when we contacted an expert to examine a couple of trees that looked like they were having near-death experiences. He suggested that the reason for their illness was the black walnut trees that send a poison through their root system to kill off neighbouring trees, thereby hoarding water and nutrients for itself. It’s mean but that is the way that species of tree operates in the spirit of self-preservation.

I have to admit, I was such a novice in the gardening department, I was surprised that our cold weather and relatively short growing season would support any kind of nut tree. I thought that they only grew in warmer climates. You learn something new every day!

The first growing season after we moved in, we experienced a drought that seemed to put all of our trees in survival mode, as we didn’t see much action from the apple trees nor the black walnut trees.

The second year was a completely different story. One of our apple trees was beyond generous, as I described in my posts, My First Apple Tree (Part 1) and (Part 2).

When fall rolled around, it was the black walnut trees’ turn to deliver. And wow, did they deliver! It was a nutty time.

While I could just leave the nuts for the squirrels and chipmunks to stash away as their winter food, or leave the nuts there to decompose, the reality is that there were just so many of them. Plus, I assumed that we likely wanted to avoid having them take root in the lawn and risk killing off other beautiful plants and shrubs. We started moving them to a temporary pile, to gradually incorporate them into the garbage or in preparation for the dump.

I discovered that there was no use in putting them in paper yard waste bags until the day we were ready to dispose of them. Our badass chipmunks completely destroy the bags to get to the nuts. That being the case, I didn’t want to risk putting bags in the garage either for fear of attracting them and causing collateral damage.

At first, the walnuts fell at a pretty manageable rate. I could scoop them up with a great tool I picked up at a local hardware store, without straining my old back. But given the sheer magnitude of the trees, after a few weeks, it became a losing battle as the slightest breeze could knock the nuts out by the dozens.

They were falling so quickly, I tried to keep the cat away from the trees during our supervised walks, but you know what happens when you say no…

As she stood under one of the trees, sniffing away at the raw nuts that smell like a stronger version of Ivory soap, I often found myself sheltering her little head with my hands, to protect her from falling nuts. Next year I may need to invest in a cat crash helmet, just in case.

Given the consistently heavy downpour of nuts, it was time to revert to the wheelbarrow to collect them up and transport them to the temporary pile.

The sad part is that our neighbouring petting zoos aren’t interested in these nuts in the same way that we were able to unload our excess apples to be happily enjoyed by their pigs and goats.

As for human consumption, I checked a few online videos describing the process to take a raw black walnut and to prepare it for cooking and baking. Let’s just say that I did not retire from a full-time job to take on the full-time job of processing and drying nuts.

Unfortunately, when collecting and transferring a heavy bucket of nuts into a garbage bag, I sent my back into a level of distress I haven’t experienced in many years. The backache was not fun, but thankfully it sorted itself out within a couple of weeks with a series of gentle stretching exercises.

As much as I love the beautiful canopy of our black walnut trees, providing wonderful shade on the hottest of summer days, there is a price to pay for these natural beauties.

Keeping up with the avalanche of nuts this year was a lot of work, far more than I envisioned. However, looking on the bright side, I have to count my blessings that this tree operates on a different timeline than our abundant apple trees, offering us a break between both harvests.

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Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,
André

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Filed under 50+, Cats, food, home, stories

My Guilt Trips over Books

The guilt… oh, the overwhelming guilt I feel when I place a book on the back burner and don’t get back to it for weeks or months at a time. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, I feel awful.

I think it would be safe to say that I have always been an avid reader. In high school, when a novel was assigned to us for a book report, a presentation or a test, I would usually devour the book cover to cover on the Sunday, to ensure the information remained closely in my subconscious for the coming week.

It wasn’t that I was procrastinating, but with my brain processing so much new material from all of my classes, it was the most efficient way for me to ensure I was prepared to answer questions about the story.

The pace at which I learned to read (and to retain) became a wonderful life skill not only for my personal reading pleasure but also for my career, where I often needed to process great amounts of information to generate reports, recommendations, solutions or combinations of all three.

If I had to express a preference, I like to read at a more casual, relaxed pace, where I can truly savour every word, especially when the author’s masterpiece is a tour-de-force in brilliant writing. Savouring a book on a rainy or snowy Sunday, in my favourite chair, sipping a wonderful cup of tea, with the cat snoring next to me is paradise on earth. Still, there are times when regardless of how quickly or how slowly I may start a book, the words just don’t seem to sink in. Why is that?

Over the years, I became aware of the difference between a “light read” and a “heavy read” and how that affects the appropriate timing for introducing a book in one’s life.

During stressful times at work, heavy reads just would not sink in. In most cases, a light read was all that my brain could handle. Still, there were some abundantly stressful times when light reads were a challenge too, as you could likely see glimmers of “no vacancy” signs in my eyes. Continue reading

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The Writer’s Studio

I have always envied artists when they made reference to their “studio”.

When a recording artist referred to “time in the studio”, it always inspired me as that special place where the magic of creativity happened. It was the incubator where ideas were hatched and where new sounds were created. It was the place where the collective creativity of songwriters, producers, engineers, musicians and singers culminated in the birth of new musical material.

Similarly, when seeing visual artists working in their studio, it struck me as a sacred place that gave them a chance to play, to experiment and to work in their chosen medium, to translate vision, imagination and creativity into physical form.

It didn’t matter whether actors, photographers or fashion designers mentioned “studio”, the word itself was to me like an incantation invoking the spirit of the creative masters of the centuries. The term “studio” always gave me palpitations.

But I have often asked myself, “Do writers have studios too?”

Why shouldn’t they?

While on the one hand, I could refer to my writing room as an “office”, I just concluded a 33 year administrative career, working in offices. To me, the term office doesn’t necessarily associate itself to a space for deep creativity, but that’s just me and my baggage talking. Continue reading

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