Wednesday 30 May 2012

A Good Book on an Important Topic

I've just finished reading the recently published book Like Any Normal Day: A Story of Devotion by Mark Kram, Jr. It's the true story of Buddy Miley and his family. In 1973, Buddy was the star quarterback of his high school football team. A tragic accident during a football game rendered him quadriplegic. This book explores the lifetime consequences of that accident for Buddy, his mother Rosemarie, his girlfriend Karen and his faithful younger brother Jimmy.

The book is also a thoughtful exploration of physician-assisted suicide. After 24 years of chronic pain, depression and dependency, Buddy chose to end his life in 1997 with the assistance of Dr. Jack Kevorkian. No matter where you stand regarding this controversial area, this book will help you see the human dimensions of the issue.

This is a beautifully written book that is a pleasure to read. It's very easy to get involved with Buddy and his family's lives. Clearly, the author conducted exhaustive interviews with all the main people involved. Mark Kram, Jr. is an award-winning sportswriter and journalist with The Philadelphia Daily News. His wife Anne blogs over at The Gods Are Bored and that's where I learned of this book's publication. If you'd like to read it too, it's available at Amazon.

Tuesday 29 May 2012

Japanese Fake Food Displays

Near the entrance of many Japanese restaurants, there are often elaborate displays showing plastic replicas of menu items. We were a little bemused by all this fake food. Personally, I didn't find anything tempting or appetizing about these displays.

But according to Wikipedia, fake food displays have a long history in Japanese culture and are a real art form. They are called sampuru, which comes from the English word "sample." Such displays first started appearing in the 1800s and were made out of wax. Now they're hand-molded out of plastic vinyl and cost big bucks to manufacture. Custom-made for each restaurant, replicas of a complete menu can cost over a million yen to produce.

[Photo by My Rare One]

Monday 28 May 2012

Another Japanese Treat: Momiji Cookies

Momiji means "maple leaf" in Japanese. Momiji cookies are a local delicacy in southern Japan around Hiroshima. They are a soft cookie with a choice of three fillings: Nutella-like chocolate, Boston creme or red bean paste. They are absolutely delicious when warm and freshly made but quickly lose their charm once cold. We bought warm chocolate and creme ones to try:

What a treat! And of course, as Canadians, we felt a special affinity to their maple leaf shape.

The shop where we got them opened onto a beautiful tiny Japanese garden that boasted a shrine, a concrete lantern, bonsai trees and a koi pond. So we sat and contemplated this peaceful scene while we ate our momiji cookies.

The next morning, our hotel breakfast buffet served some cold momiji cookies with red bean paste centres. Red bean paste is the traditional Japanese idea of a sweet filling. It's certainly not sweet to our North American palate. Or particularly tasty. We each tried a bite of the cookie but left the rest of it.

[Photos by Debra She Who Seeks]

Friday 25 May 2012

Being an Artist's Muse

Twice this year, I have been deeply honoured to be an artist's muse to someone in the Blogosphere!

First, I was immortalized in ink by Francie of A North End Journal. She draws very clever cartoon strips featuring two stick-figure gals named Butterbrains and Smarty Pants. And here I am, making a guest appearance!

Didn't Francie do a marvelous job of capturing my likeness? You can see the full cartoon here.

My second experience as an artist's muse resulted in a work of art that is . . . well . . .  for adult eyes only! Barfly of SSS Porch Party decided to start a new Boob Calendar blog called Barfly F'art and recently portrayed me as the boob connoisseur that I am. Who knew that Barfly possessed such exquisite artistic talent?

Of course, Her Royal Highness is terribly jealous of me getting all this attention instead of her. She's quite shameless about wanting to break into the artist's muse biz herself.

Thursday 24 May 2012

HRH's New Boyfriend

Long-time readers of this blog know that my cat, Her Royal Highness, has a real weakness for bad boy kitties and sexy French toms.

Well, she's at it again.

This time she's fallen for an angst-ridden francophone poet named Henri. So does this emo-cat have any talent? Watch his latest effort and judge for yourself:

Personally, I think Henri is a bit of a poseur. Of course, HRH is head-over-heels in love with him so there's no reasoning with her. But as long as she doesn't take up smoking those stinky French cigarettes, I guess I can't really complain.

Wednesday 23 May 2012

Another Japanese Treat: Pickles on a Stick

The Japanese have a different idea than we do about what constitutes a yummy fast-food snack. Anyone up for a pickle on a stick? The vats in this kiosk are full of slender cucumbers impaled on wooden sticks and marinating in salt water. My Rare One bought one and enjoyed it tremendously. In fact, now that we're home, she's making her own pickles on a stick in the refrigerator!

[Photo by My Rare One]

Tuesday 22 May 2012

A Japanese Treat: Tofu Donuts

Our tour guide recommended that we try some tofu donuts from this little shop. They were so delicious! You would never know they were made of tofu.

The funniest thing is that the cooking process is exactly the same as for those little mini-donuts that are sold at fairs and carnivals here in Canada. The donut machine automatically dispenses little rings of tofu batter into the hot fat. The rings ride along in the fat stream, get turned over, ride the fat stream a little longer and ultimately get tossed into the bin all golden and puffy. (Hmmm, that description doesn't sound all that appetizing, does it?)

Not only are these donuts made of protein instead of carbohydrates, they are not drowned in sugar as the final step. You eat them plain and they are yummy indeed.

Monday 21 May 2012

It's Victoria Day in Canada

Happy Birthday, Queen Victoria! Thanks for the paid day off work. I'll gladly celebrate anyone or anything in order to get a long weekend.

Friday 18 May 2012

Some Spectacular Japanese Meals

One of the reasons I enjoy Japanese food so much is because we get to eat it using all these wonderful tiny little dishes. It makes me feel like I'm five years old again and playing with my tea set, LOL! Look at this place setting, for example. Nearly a dozen charming plates and bowls! I also love how all the dishes are not matchy-matchy. Each one is unique. This set dinner was prepared for us at a hot springs resort in the Japan Alps.

The next photo is of a restaurant where we had some tempura, miso soup and cold noodles for lunch. It was a standard lunch by Japanese standards but not by North American standards. When asked later if he enjoyed lunch, one of the men on our tour grumbled, "I didn't have lunch. I had an appetizer."

Beef is not a staple in Japanese cuisine like it is in Canada. So about a week into our tour, everyone was seriously jonesing for some beef (except the vegetarians and vegans, of course). Then our prayers were answered! At a Japanese BBQ restaurant, we were given several plates of thin raw beef to cook right at the table. You can see our round inset grill on the left of the photo.

There were various cuts of beef on the plates, including (as I learned after the fact) tongue. As a dedicated picky eater, I would not ordinarily have touched tongue with a ten foot pole. But ignorance is bliss, as they say, so I wolfed it right down. And how truly delicious it was! *yum yum*

Thursday 17 May 2012

Eating in Japan

Because we were on a bus tour with over 60 people, we ate at a LOT of buffets -- it's the most efficient way to get large groups fed and watered quickly. The buffets usually featured both Japanese and Western food. The food was okay although it often suffered from being lukewarm/cold, which is a common problem with buffets. But we also had some set meals prepared for us at various restaurants and banquet facilities and those meals were usually much better.

The meals frequently featured fish, seafood, sushi, sashimi, etc. which everyone enjoyed a lot. I'm not a fish or seafood fancier so I often ate with the vegetarians, vegans and allergic people. We had some interesting tofu dishes, like tofu squares topped with a sweetish miso paste that I liked very much.

My Rare One and I eat at a lot of Japanese restaurants here at home, so we were pretty familiar with most of what we were served in Japan. But even so, there were a few new things to try -- usually involving strange vegetables, seaweed and odd flavours.

Stay tuned for a few posts about some of the best things that we ate in Japan.

Wednesday 16 May 2012

Tuesday 15 May 2012


Look carefully at the middle rock on this beach in O'ahu.

Surprise! Yes, it's a sea turtle. I guess this honu came to the beach for a bit of sun, sand and surf just like the rest of us.

Although these photos don't show them, there were actually lots of people on the beach who were all looking at the turtle and snapping photos, just like me. But everyone was very respectful of the honu and did not try to touch or interfere with it at all.

Seeing a real sea turtle in its natural habitat was quite a thrill for a land-locked prairie girl like me!

Monday 14 May 2012

Flashing me bum!

I'm having a minor procedure done at the hospital today so you know what I'll have to wear. Can't expect modesty or privacy in this situation, right?

Her Royal Highness sympathizes with me. For once, LOL!

Sunday 13 May 2012

For Mother's Day: "The Lanyard"

One of my favourite contemporary poets is Billy Collins, Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001-2003. His poetry is always simple, direct and often very funny. Yet he also captures profound truths about human nature and life.

His poem "The Lanyard" is perfect for Mother's Day. In this video, following a very short voice-over intro by Garrison Keillor, Billy Collins reads his poem aloud at a poetry festival.

Happy Mother's Day to all Moms everywhere!

Friday 11 May 2012

Incense Burners at Buddhist Temples

One of the things I really enjoyed about visiting Japanese Buddhist temples was offering incense in the large outdoor burners that were always available for that purpose. The burner in the following photos is located at the Todai-ji Temple in Nara near Kyoto. The wooden box in front holds the incense and donations.

You throw a small coin into the wooden box through the slats on top and then take a stick of incense from the side. At some temples, they don't rely on the honour system though. You have to pay a set price (usually 100 yen -- about $1) to an attendant who then hands over a little bundle of incense.

Once the transaction is complete, you light your incense at the open flame provided and stick it in the fine white sand of the burner. People say a little prayer and presumably rely on the smoke to carry their words up to the Buddha or Bodhisattvas. As you can see, a lot of sweet-smelling smoke emanates from the incense burner. I'm sure there must be a purification aspect as well of both the sacred space and the people.

[Photos by Debra She Who Seeks]

Thursday 10 May 2012

Buddhist/Shinto Purification Rituals

At the entrance of every large Buddhist temple and Shinto shrine in Japan, there is a special fountain that people can use for purification. Our tour guide told us how to do the ritual.

Fill a long-handled metal cup with cold clear water from one of the spouts. Pour a little over your left hand and then over your right hand. Finally, take some of the cup's water in your hand and rinse out your mouth. (For reasons of hygiene, no one drinks directly from the cup).

Now you are ready to enter!

I took these photos at the Asakusa Sensoji Temple in Tokyo. Dragon-shaped water spouts are quite common on these purification fountains.

When the purification ritual is complete, place the long-handled cup upside down on the railing for the next person to use.

Another type of purification ritual involves "lightning wands." White hemp fibre paper is folded into a zig-zag shape, attached to a wooden stick and waved around your head. This seems to constitute purification by air or energy rather than by water. Sometimes these zig-zag shapes are simply hung up in entrance ways to purify everyone who passes beneath them.

I took this photo of lightning wands at Itsukushima Shrine on the island of Miyajima near Hiroshima.

[Photos by Debra She Who Seeks]

Wednesday 9 May 2012

HRH's Favourite Music Video

Wait for it . . . .

Who says cats don't have good taste in music?

Tuesday 8 May 2012

Riverdale School Labyrinth

Riverdale is a charming neighbourhood down in Edmonton's river valley. Originally a working class part of the city, it has been undergoing gentrification for the past few years. On the playground of Riverdale Elementary School, some of its creative citizens have installed a Cretan-style labyrinth made out of inlaid turf stones.

The labyrinth was first constructed in 2006 using only natural plants and grasses for the unicursal walls. But by 2009, it had become overgrown with vegetation and was difficult to use. So the labyrinth walls were switched to more permanent turf stones. The stones are flush to the ground for easy mowing. A large rock marks the centre of the labyrinth.

I visited this labyrinth in the autumn of 2011 when it had just been freshly mowed. The foliage of its nearby little tree was a glorious yellow.

While I was walking the labyrinth, a large vee of Canada geese flew by overhead, honking as they headed south for the winter.

This labyrinth was designed by Sheryl Ackerman, the woman who helped create my favourite Edmonton labyrinth as well as the first labyrinth I ever walked in Manitoba. A team of dedicated community volunteers built and maintain the labyrinth. Well done, everyone!

Monday 7 May 2012

Diamond Head Kitty

When we were in Hawai'i last November, I didn't just investigate the feral cat population on Maui, oh no. Your intrepid blogger also monitored the cat situation on the island of O'ahu.

Relax on Waikiki Beach in Honolulu? Not when there are cats to be found! See Diamond Head volcano in the distance? My Rare One and I listened to our intuition and took a tourist trolley to the top of it. Guess what we found?

Yes, a small black kitty patrolling the top of Diamond Head crater, supervising the tourists in a very dignified fashion.

Despite our diligence, however, this was the only feral or stray cat that we saw on O'ahu. But what a cutie!

[First photo from Wikipedia. Second photo by My Rare One.]

Friday 4 May 2012

Hockey Luuuuv!

Woohoo! My favourite part of the NHL hockey season is here -- the Stanley Cup playoffs! I always try to cheer for a Canadian team but unfortunately, the Vancouver Canucks and the Ottawa Senators were both defeated in the first round. So I don't know who I'll cheer for now. I'll wait until the last two teams are contending for the Cup and then pick one.

All fans know the special pain that comes when your team is eliminated:

I especially like this ad's nod to the recently returned Winnipeg Jets by having that poor heartbroken little bastard wear their jersey. Jets fans are the most die-hard true blue fans in the league, that's a fact!

Thursday 3 May 2012

Earth Day: Better Late Than Never

So while I was taking my April hiatus from blogging, I missed Earth Day. Rats! But like they say, shouldn't every day be Earth Day? Of course! So here are the environmental funnies that I was saving for that post. Remember -- love your Mother!

Wednesday 2 May 2012

Our April Adventure

My Rare One and I just got back from Japan. Yes, JAPAN!! We were originally supposed to go last year in the spring of 2011 but a couple of weeks before our departure date, Japan suffered its horrible earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown. So our trip was postponed for a year and we went in the spring of 2012 instead. Probably no other nation on earth could have bounced back as quickly or as completely as Japan but the Japanese people have coped and moved forward with their usual dedication and efficiency.

This was truly a dream trip for us. Both My Rare One and I have long been enamored of the Japanese aesthetic principles of simplicity/minimalism, reverence for nature and wabi sabi (the beauty of age, imperfection and transience), whether in art, spirituality, poetry or gardening. I can still hardly believe we saw Japan first hand! Loved it, absolutely LOVED it!

Our guided tour took us to Tokyo and then south to Mount Fuji, Matsumoto, Takayama, Kyoto, Nara, Hiroshima and Miyajima. We saw many wonderful Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines, art galleries, museums and Japanese gardens. I'll share some of the highlights with you over the coming months.

The first photo is of Matsumoto Castle, a feudal samurai stronghold built over 400 years ago. Often called "Crow Castle" because of its black walls, it is Japan's oldest surviving castle. The second photo is of cherry blossoms and lanterns on the island of Miyajima which is near Hiroshima.

[Photos by Debra She Who Seeks]

Tuesday 1 May 2012

Happy Beltane!

Hey, what the hell are you doing here reading this post? Shouldn't you be out somewhere nekkid in a field encouraging the fertility of nature? It's Beltane, for Goddess's sake! Get going, you crazy pagan!