Saturday, January 11, 2014

Best Books of 2013

I've picked out the best books I read in 2013 to share with you. They weren't necessarily published in 2013, but that's when I enjoyed reading them.

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

I received a free copy of this Australian novel at a conference, and now that I've read it, it's firmly on my keeper shelf. Excuse me while I pinch content I wrote somewhere else.

One of 2012′s 50 Books You Can’t Put Down, M.L. Stedman’s debut novel draws us in to the lives of Tom Sherbourne and his new wife Isabel. It’s 1926 and Tom is a lighthouse keeper on a remote island off Western Australia. The logbook is supposed to keep a record Tom’s daily activities, but Isabel convinces him to leave out the entry that should read: Boat washed ashore with two occupants: father, deceased; and infant.

Isabel can’t bring herself to give up the baby girl, and Tom can’t bear to see his wife childless and unhappy. The consequences of their decision are not made clear until years later. A delicately balanced story of right and wrong, and the fog in between.

Spin by Charles Robert Wilson

Spin won the Hugo award for best sci-fi novel in 2006 but it is so much more than sci-fi. It touches on science, religion, romance, Martians and the end of the world. It's a long book, and dense. This is more of an observation than a criticism.  It’s excellent, but a bit heavy – like another favourite, Hugh Howey’s Wool – and I find I need to step away and let my mind absorb the themes.

10-year-old Tyler Dupree and his wealthy neighbours, Diane and Jason Lawton, are in the backyard together when the stars go out.  This would be Tyler's story, except that his life is so bound up with the Lawtons' he can't quite separate himself from them. The novel follows Tyler, Jason and Diane through adulthood and makes some very uncomfortable conclusions about the nature of humankind.

We learn that there is a protective barrier around the earth, keeping it from ageing as quickly as it should under the persistent heat of the sun. Earth's scientists dub the makers of the barrier, the Hypotheticals - but who are they, where are they from, and what are their motivations?

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Wifesaver

Without fail, my family prepares our Christmas morning breakfast before snuggling into our beds on Christmas Eve. It's one of the few traditions I've been able to continue while living in Australia. It's delicious, and because all you have left to do is melt butter and crush up some cornflakes, it makes for a less stressful Christmas morning. It's a wifesaver, ha ha ha.

Christmas Wifesaver

16 slices white bread with crusts removed
5 Eggs
½ tsp Salt
½ tsp Pepper
11/2 tsp dry mustard (e.g. Keens)
¼ cup minced onion
¼ cup green peppers, finely chopped
½ tsp Worcestershire sauce
3 cups whole milk
¼ lb butter
1-2 cups Corn Flakes or Special K cereal
2-3 cups grated cheese (Cheddar or Marble)
200 grams shaved Black forest ham

  1. In a 9x13 buttered baking dish, put the 8 pieces of bread. Add pieces to cover dish entirely. Cover bread with ham. Sprinkle cheese on top.
  2. In a bowl, beat eggs, salt, and pepper. To the egg mixture add dry mustard, green pepper, Worcestershire sauce and milk.
  3. Pour over the bread, ham and cheese, then cover with cling film and let stand overnight in fridge.
  4. In the morning melt ¼ lb butter, pour over top. Cover with crushed cereal.
  5. Bake uncovered @ 180*C for about one hour. Serve with fruit.

I make a smaller version when it's just me and Jody because our Pyrex dish is smaller than 9x13 and fits 6 slices of bread. (Don't be tempted to replace the white bread with healthy bread.) It's just out of the oven now. Yum!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Welcome Home

To many, she was Sister Debra, but she's always been my Auntie Deb. Today my family is saying farewell to their " 'dopted one," until we see her again in Heaven. Debbie became part of our family soon after she and my mother met as roomies in nursing school. She's belonged with us ever since, as my mother's kindred spirit and a beloved aunt to my sister and me. She was always praying for us, encouraging us, and giving of herself and her beautiful smile.

Barely a week has gone by since she passed away, and it's hard to write about her in the past tense. Knowing her time was near doesn't make it easier. Knowing she'd given everything to fight cancer three times in nine years, I wanted her to find peace. Through everything, she retained her considerable faith in God, and wanted to live each day she was given.  Seeing her decline over the past several months, we are grateful she has been released from pain, but that relief is mingled with loss.

And so we grieve. We use a word that is stronger than sadness and deeper than sorrow. We grieve for those left behind - for her mother, sister and brother in law, and nieces. For my Mom, who has lost the sister of her heart. For me and for my sister. For the other nuns. For those who were touched by Deb's kindness and spiritual conviction. Thank you to those of you who have prayed for Deb, and for your support in this difficult time.

When I visited Canada in May - praying for weeks beforehand that Auntie Deb would hold on just a little longer - it was hard not to hug her with my customary exuberance. She was so brittle on the outside. The drugs and accompanying nausea made it difficult for her to be herself. Yet inside, she was filled with God's love and strength. She was making plans and asking my mom to help her do things for others.

One day, she mentioned a bird's-nest pendant she had seen on someone, and wished she could find one like it. I happened to have seen a YouTube tutorial on a beading channel, so I agreed to make her one. The next thing I knew, Deb amended her request to one pendant per Sister - 50! - and I had to recruit and teach several others to create bird's-nests from three robin's-egg-blue beads and wire. With God all things are possible. She wanted each Sister of St. Ann to have one, but wasn't up to making them herself. 

Auntie Deb's occupations included nurse, nun, palliative chaplain, and artist. Her talent for watercolours was recognised by art critic Robert Amos in a recent Times Colonist article. A visit to the exhibit of the Sisters of St. Ann's artwork, which included a selection of her florals, was Debbie's last outing. She was able to speak with Amos, who happened to be there at the same time.

Deb was reading a book by Lorna Byrne called Angels in My Hair. Someone was always in the room as her time drew near, and I think there may have been an angel present, too. As a final blessing, my mom was with her when Debbie was welcomed home by her Heavenly Father. I love this song from Michael W. Smith, which comforts those who have lost a loved one. It speaks of angels, a place with no more pain, and the welcome that awaits those who love Him.

I can't believe that I'm here
Having to say goodbye.
And I can barely see you through
These tears I cry.
I close my eyes.

I can hear the sound

As angels gather 'round
Saying this is where you belong
Welcome Home!

There are the days when my heart aches
Wishing you were here.
But I know where you are
The hurt and the pain disappear.
There's no more tears.


Welcome Home!

What a lovely sound
Angels all around
Saying this is where you belong
Welcome Home!
Welcome Home!
Welcome Home!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

To market, to market

One of the things I love about big cities in Australia is the way in which they try to mimic that village feel. Sydney is so big it can feel isolating - and the shopping centres, big-box department stores (whether budget or high-end) and generic supermarkets are much the same in Sydney, Brisbane, or Melbourne. It all feels very metropolitan. On weekends, the local market is the place to be.

 What if you forgot to bring cash? No worries, mate - just use the mobile ATM!

Some markets sell mainly consumables: fresh produce, eggs, meat, fish, jams and sauces, coffee, cheese, ready-made pies, bread and pastries. Flowers, herbs, spices, organic and gluten-free food stalls are commonly found in markets, too. Other markets focus on used books, locally made and/or used clothing, bric-a-brac, dog toys, crafts, sunglasses, socks and hats. We've gotten tremendous deals on steak, sausages and in-season fruit and veggies.  From memory, the market Mr J and I used to frequent in Brisbane's West End is less expensive than the two within walking distance in Sydney. This may vary according to the neighbourhood.

The jazz musicians were playing My Funny Valentine - one of my favourites. I put some money in their donation box and got a smile. Mr J and I danced for a little while.

The sounds of the market are far from the clinical announcements and radio that pervade the grocery stores. You'll hear musicians busking and stall owners hawking their wares. The various pop-up eateries will tempt you as soon as you're within sniffing distance. Turkish gozleme, egg & bacon rolls, falafel, paella, coffee, tea, pastries, yogurt, dumplings, or something from the BBQ.

This morning Mr J and I opted for bacon & egg rolls! They're not a health food but once in a while - yum! There's quite an assembly line that gets these together. Then you add your choice of sauce (I picked barbecue.) The roll part is quite forgettable, the bacon crispy and still sizzling in its own fat, the fresh egg fried just right.

Chowing down on a nearby park bench

We bought veggies: zucchini, butternut squash, leek, a bag of mixed salad leaves. Little bundles of mint, rosemary, and coriander/cilantro. A loaf of sourdough. And a little something for later...