Jan 30, 2023

Something to Stew Over

Making a stew is like life itself: You gather together the resources you have available to you, toss them together, add in your own ideas, and let it simmer. But the 'make it or break it' part is the extra flavors you add. The seasonings of life are the moments of joy and laughter, the times you persevere, the giving and receiving of gifts and talents, the surprises that make you re-evaluate, all those special times that keep life bright and daring.
― Runa Pigden

Too often life is like a pot of stew that we made without a recipe. A lot of things got in there that shouldn’t have, a lot of things that should have didn’t, and everyone around the table would rather starve than eat it.
― Craig D. Lounsbrough

A wise man invented beer. A smart man drinks it. But a genius drinks Guinness.
— Guinness

I don’t know about you, but there’s nothing I like better on a cold winter’s day, than a big bowl of piping hot stew. As far as I’m concerned, it’s one of the perks of winter.

I usually make my stew in a slow cooker. I throw everything in the pot in the morning, and it can simmer away all day, filling the house with its delicious aroma.

Wednesdays the hubby goes bowling out of town, so he needs to eat early. One of the advantages of doing something in the slow cooker is we don’t have to eat at the same time – he can eat early and I can eat whenever I’m hungry.

And just an FYI, we don’t always have stew on Wednesdays, sometimes we have soup or a casserole or something else that saves me from having to make two meals, one right after another.

But back to the stew.

Every time I read a book set in Ireland and someone makes or eats Guinness stew, I think, “I really want to try that some time.” Well, last week was that time.

I checked several different recipes online before settling on one that was created for a slow cooker. I peeled and chopped the veggies. I dredged the beef in flour and sautéed it, then added tomato paste and beef broth to the pan (as per the instructions), stirring until it thickened. Then into the slow cooker it went, over top of the veggies. Last, I added a can of Guinness stout, stirring well.

Now all that was left was to wait.

Mid-afternoon the stew was starting to smell pretty good. Different, but good. And then I thought, why not make it a real Irish supper and do some soda bread to go with it?

The daughter and I used to make Irish soda bread a lot when she was a teenager. We even got fancy by adding various herbs to it. But do you think I could find the recipe we used? Of course not. No matter, I turned to my good friend Google.

The snow started coming down, making the perfect back drop, and the hubby didn’t go bowling after all so we got to eat together. The stew was beautiful to look at – rich and thick . . . And the soda bread had a nice, golden brown crust.

Now, first of all, you should know that I’m not a beer drinker. I tried a couple of times in my early years, but never liked the taste of it. Maybe there’s one of those fancy craft beers out there with my name on it, but I’m in no hurry to find out.

I filled my bowl with the fragrant stew that I’d anticipated trying for so long, and . . . it was the most disgusting thing I’ve ever tasted. Gross, gross, gross! The stew itself looked so beautiful, but it had this horrible after taste that I just couldn’t stomach.

And my soda bread? The crust was so hard to saw through I almost had the hubby get out a hack saw for me. Inside the hard outer shell it wasn’t so bad, but seriously, I would have done better to make a loaf of bread in the bread machine.

But believe it or not, I’m saving the recipe (for the stew) anyway. I really liked the way the meat was dredged in flour (spiced up flour) and the sauce thickened in the frying pan before being added to the rest of the stew. However, when I make it again I will not be adding Guinness or any other beer to it.

Instead, I’ll substitute more beef broth, or maybe a nice red wine. And maybe add some button mushrooms as well.

Maybe I’ll just create my own recipe for stew. :-)

Jan 25, 2023

Burtonelle Verse

This week’s poetry offering is more a style of poetry writing than an actual poetry form. The Burtonelle was introduced by Wilma W. Burton, who wrote a poem a day in this form in 1976 for the American Bicentennial. She ascribed to the belief that all aspiring poets, and established poets for that matter, should write a poem a day for good poetic exercise and practice.

This is a free verse poem, written in two columns with a pause (caesura), in the form of a uniform space, between the columns. It’s read horizontally, with a slight pause between the columns. Punctuation, capitalization, and meter are up to the poet, and if there is a title, it should also have the space in it.

I'd like to add that while I enjoyed writing my example poem, I did NOT enjoy formatting it to show the spaces in this post!

Fleeting                      Words

They come to me     the words
catching me              unprepared –
they dip                     and swirl,
bob and                      weave,
distracting me            from whatever
I’m doing,                  teasing me
into believing             a poem is
in the offing               and so
I write them               in invisible ink
in my head                 in an attempt
at keeping them         from escaping.
But the ink                 of my mind
is not indelible          and too often
I am left                     with nothing
but the faint               echo of
what might                 have been.

Jan 23, 2023

Something Fishy’s Going On. . .

It was the granddaughter’s 8th birthday on the weekend, and to celebrate we took a trip to Ripley’s Aquarium, in Toronto. Being the smart people we are, we bought our tickets earlier in the week. And even though it tacked extra time onto the trip, we only drove as far as Oshawa and took the GO train into Toronto. It’s only a short walk from Union Station to the Aquarium.

There’s an amazing variety of fish, a lot of them quite ugly:

There were also some delicious looking crabs and lobsters:

One of my favorites was the sea anemones:

The aquarium features a moving walkway in a tunnel that winds its way through the heart of the giant tank where you have fish in front of you:

And stingrays above you:

And sharks all around you:

Unfortunately, I was unable to get a decent picture of my favorite sea creature, the seadragon. The plants in their habitat were too similar to them in appearance. Good for camouflage, I’m sure, but not so good for taking pictures. However, I was able to get some shots of their cousins, the seahorses:

The habitat for the jellyfish was floor to ceiling, and back lit by a colour changing light. It was really hard to get a decent picture of them though, because they tended to congregate at the bottom of their enclosure, and people were standing right up to the glass.

We finished up our tour at the shoreline, where you can belly up to the edge of the water and pat a ray. I’m not sure what the granddaughter’s favorite was, but I’m sure that ranked right up there. :-)

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that it was a fun day. The only thing that would have made it better is if we’d been able to go on a weekday, when it would be less crowded.

Jan 18, 2023

Sestina Poetry Form

The first time I ever heard of this form was during the Writer’s Digest PAD (poem a day) challenge back in April 2006 and anyone who was reading my blog back then will remember how much I loved it (not!). It’s not really as bad as it looks, in fact the form can be kind of fun.

The Sestina, created by French troubadour Arnaut Daniel, consists of 39 lines divided into 6 sestets and one triplet, called the envoi. It is normally unrhymed - instead, the six end-words of the first stanza are picked up and reused as the end-words of the following stanzas in a specific order. In the envoi, one end-word is buried in each line, and one is at the end of each line.

Lines may be of any length, although their length is usually consistent in a single poem. The six words that end each of the lines of the first stanza are repeated in a different order at the end of lines in each of the subsequent five stanzas.

Since there is no rhyme scheme or syllable count, there’s no point in a schematic, but the pattern of word-repetition is as follows, where the words that end the lines of the first sestet are represented by the numbers "1 2 3 4 5 6":

1 2 3 4 5 6 - End words of lines in first sestet.
6 1 5 2 4 3 - End words of lines in second sestet.
3 6 4 1 2 5 - End words of lines in third sestet.
5 3 2 6 1 4 - End words of lines in fourth sestet.
4 5 1 3 6 2 - End words of lines in fifth sestet.
2 4 6 5 3 1 - End words of lines in sixth sestet.
2 end words - Middle and end words of lines in envoi

Possible formats for the envoi are: 1-2, 3-4, 5-6; 1-4, 2-5, 3-6; 6-2, 1-4, 5-3; or 6-5, 2-4, 3-1

It might be easier to follow along with an example. The six words I used were:

1 truth, 2 grave, 3 life, 4 night, 5 death, 6 stone.

Night Dweller’s Truth

In every breath there is a truth
that overshadows every grave,
a truth not found within a life
that shines its beacon into night,
a knowledge brought about by death
and graven into hardest stone.

A thought that’s carved in precious stone
contains what we perceive as truth,
unsuppressed by certain death,
as cold and alien as the grave,
deep and dark as empty night
just before it bursts to life.

If I’d but know how sweet is life,
not just a pathway strewn with stone,
perhaps I’d not embraced the night
that fills me with its awful truth
and takes me far beyond the grave
out of reach of even death.

And what is that which we call death?
Perhaps another way of life,
the end is more than just the grave,
a fresh turned mound that’s capped with stone.
Perhaps we’ll never know the truth
before we pass into the night.

Come and share this sweetest night
where we can stand abreast of death,
and we will seek the perfect truth
of what is that which we call life
that gathers round us like a stone
and leads us blindly to the grave.

You look at me with visage grave -
accept my words, accept the night,
accept that fate’s not carved in stone.
Turn away from Lady Death,
her promise of the after life,
and know what’s in my heart is truth.

We’ll find our truth without the grave
and make our life within the night,
then vanquish death with shattered stone.

Jan 11, 2023

Cento Poetry Form

According to my research, the Cento, a type of found poem, originated in the 3rd or 4th century A.D. The name is a Latin word meaning patchwork, and like a patchwork quilt, the poem is made up from lines taken from other poems.

In other words, to create a Cento you take lines and phrases from the poems of other poets, and patchwork them together into a whole new poem. The pieces can be taken solely from one poet, or can be taken from several different poets.

There is no rhyme, unless you’re a glutton for punishment and ferret out lines that rhyme, and the rhythm depends on the lines you’re borrowing. You can use this form to showcase a particular poet, to make a statement, or to create a satire. The fragments used should be no longer than a line and a half, and no shorter than a half-line.

I found this example on Wikipedia, and couldn’t resist sharing it because there’s no way I can pull off a rhyming example myself. This one is by Dave Morice:

I only know she came and went, (Lowell)
Like troutlets in a pool; (Hood)
She was a phantom of delight, (Wordsworth)
And I was like a fool. (Eastman)

No, you do not have to cite the poet on each line, that’s just the way it appeared on Wikipedia. But you should keep track of your sources, giving credit where credit is due. For my first example, I used multiple sources, a line from each of the poems featured on the Writer’s Digest article, 10 Best Love Poems Ever! The second example I used only works from William Wordsworth.

How do I love thee,
when you are old?
Love alters not
whatever a sun will sing,
the sunbeam flaring.
Having looked too long upon the sun,
it will blind you with tears
in age after age, forever.
How softly Eros walked –
this place could be beautiful.

A sight so touching in its majesty
beside the lake, beneath the trees,
the elements of feeling and of thought,
have forfeited their ancient English dower
felt in the blood, and felt along the heart.
My heart leaps up when I behold
travellers in some shady haunt
apparelled in celestial light.
Old, unhappy, far-off things,
surprised by joy.

Jan 9, 2023

Kittens and Trees

Owners of dogs will have noticed that, if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they will think you are god. Whereas owners of cats are compelled to realize that, if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they draw the conclusion that they are gods.
― Christopher Hitchens

Throw a stick, and the servile dog wheezes and pants and stumbles to bring it to you. Do the same before a cat, and he will eye you with coolly polite and somewhat bored amusement.
― H.P. Lovecraft

Cats can work out mathematically the exact place to sit that will cause most inconvenience.
― Pam Brown

I was going to try not to do a kitten post more than once a month, but on the weekend we finally put together the kittens’ Christmas present – the cat tree I ordered them from Amazon.

It actually arrived on the one day we weren’t home, but the daughter kindly stopped by our house to check and put it inside for us. When I saw the box, I was worried that parts would be missing or broken:

But everything appeared to be there, and intact:

The instructions, however, were a little sketchy:

The first task was to put together the cubby holes, and Khaos was happy to offer to check the first one out:

I guess they figured because the tree was for them, they had a vested interest in helping.

In spite of their help, it didn’t take long to get it together. To be honest, I was really surprised how easy it was to put together, especially considering you had to use an allen key on it. And of course, Khaos was the first one to try it out.

But it didn’t take long before Dinsdale joined her. And please note the addition of heavy plastic to the bookcase beside it. Khaos learned that she could easily jump over to the bookcase beside the cat tree to knock stuff over on the shelves.

Not to be out done, of course, a couple of days later, Dinsdale discovered he could reach the valance over the vertical blinds behind the tree from the top platform. I was surprised it would support his weight. I had to use the step ladder to get him down again.

They’ve been having a blast ever since, though. They can race up and down it, use the scratching posts, have a nap, wake up and go back to sleep on a different level, and even curl up together on one of the platforms.

Honestly? It was time and money well spent.

Jan 4, 2023

Dizain Poetry Form

Let’s start the new year off right with a brand new poetry form.

The Dizain comes to us from 15th century France, becoming popular later with the English poets. In Old French, the word dizain means tenth part, so as might be suspected, this is a ten line verse. It’s usually written in iambic pentameter and the ten lines are rhymed ababbccdcd.

Here’s the schematic:


An accepted variation of this verse is written with eight lines, written in iambic tetrameter (8 syllable lines), with a rhyme scheme of ababcdcd.

Though never as popular in the way that sonnets or ballads were, several well-known English poets, such as Philip Sidney and John Keats have used the traditional form. I have to admit, a few of the lines in my example have 11 syllables, but this is acceptable in iambic pentameter and it was necessary for the rhythm.

Hope Renewed

The New Year has started all fresh and clean –
new slate to write on and plans to be made
with pledges to fill and new dreams to dream –
the good and the bad have been carefully weighed,
the stress of the old year has started to fade.
We look to tomorrow with hope that is pure,
the New Year beckons to us with a lure
unsullied by failure, no sign of distress –
we choose our path wisely, feeling secure,
we inhale our hope and exhale the stress.

Jan 2, 2023

Welcome 2023

An optimist stays up until midnight to see the new year in. A pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves.
— William E. Vaughan

Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right.
— Oprah Winfrey

I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You're doing things you've never done before, and more importantly, you're doing something.
— Neil Gaiman

What better way to start the New Year than with a kitten update?

As you might imagine, the kittens have been both active and entertaining. And they LOVE when the granddaughter comes over to visit. She plays with them, and makes caves for them, and creates unique beds for them.

Dinsdale especially loves the granddaughter. He’ll run to meet her at the door and lets her carry him around. She’ll pick up an empty basket and he’ll jump right in so she can carry him. It’s really cute. One day she was curled up in my chair watching a movie on Netflix and he stopped biting his sister to go over and cuddle with “his” kid instead.

They really loved their new Christmas toy – the fibre optic tree we bought to replace our old one. They especially loved hiding under it to jump out at each other, and having epic battles through the branches.

And please note it’s Dinsdale, the hubby’s kitten, who liked to climb it, not my sweet little Khaos.

Fortunately, the novelty of the tree wore off pretty quickly, and other than fighting under it (where the lower branches would end up being casualties of battle), they pretty much left it alone.

Khaos learned a new trick. She decided we needed more light in the living room, so she taught herself how to open the curtains.

She’s also appointed herself my editor. Or maybe it’s my censor.

And apparently they don’t trust me to go to the bathroom by myself, but at least they prefer to keep to the sink. Khaos especially likes it if I turn the tap on for her.

Every day is a new adventure for these two, and it’s only going to get better once I put their Christmas present together – a cat tree for the dining room.