Peru from the perspective of my iPhone


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2-year anniversary and marriage management practices


J and I recently marked our 2 year wedding anniversary.  Actually, it was in May, but we ended up celebrating in September.  If year one of marriage could be described by the word “adjustment”, I would say that year 2 would be described with the word “comfort”.  It was during year two where I felt that J and I were actually a family unit as opposed to two people playing house and it was during year two that our year 1 newly formed routines started to feel like old habits and just our regular way of life.

It was also in year two that I learned the joys of managing my marriage the way I would manage a business.  Although it sounds a bit silly, when you consider the fact that we live in a society in which over 50% of marriages end in divorce, taking pro-active and intentional measures towards managing one’s marriage doesn’t seem so silly after all.  Think about it: we spend so much time in our work lives managing, projects, clients, and resources, and yet, we often expect our marriages to work naturally without a hitch.

So, with that in mind, here are some practices that J and I have instituted over the past couple of years:

1) Family meetings

When I got married, I quickly learned that as un-romantic as it sounds,  a family is in many ways an entity that requires a lot of administration.  Events need to be organized, gifts need to be bought, meals need to be planned, rsvps need to go out, finances need to be tracked, etc, etc.  It all seems like so much more when there are two people involved than when it was just me.  I can only imagine how much more this must be when kids are involved! In any case, after a while of feeling like I was chasing J with papers and questions, I decided to create what we now know as “Debs’ family meetings”.  The initial idea was to have these once a week or once a month, but realistically, they only happen when one of us calls one.  I take these meetings very seriously, creating a list of agenda items to be discussed (which is sent to all family members).  I also take notes at the meetings, and then, I send out the meeting minutes afterwards.  I realise this is a bit extreme, and that you may be laughing at me, but say what you will, these tactics keep us organized!  These little meetings allow us to  plan our vacations ahead of time, buy all of our gifts months before the holidays and generally keep life stresses at a minimum!

2) Year in Reviews

Another thing we (well, me, but J plays along) like to do is to do a “year in review” at the end of the year.  This little review allows us to reflect on our year – our achievements (both personal and as a couple), highlights from the year (this could be anything from favorite dinners to trips to funny moments), as well as areas in our marriage where we feel we are doing well, and areas in which we feel that we could improve.  It is also an opportunity for us to have open and honest communication, and allow for any conversations that should have been had, but for whatever reason, have not.

Although I do not do so as formally, I also view my close friendships as needing to be managed.  I have learned over the years that investing in good friendships is so worth it, and that in order for friendships to grow, they need to be managed and maintained. I often encourage my close friends to communicate their expectations of our friendship and to allow me to communicate mine, to ensure that we are both on the same page, and that one of us isn’t disappointing the other.
How about you? Do you “manage” your relationships (if so, how?)? Or does this seem completely control freakish to you?

Teachable moment


The other day, I had a teachable moment. J and I were preparing for a dinner party that we were hosting. I was making stuffed butternut squash (more on that in another post) and J was helping me by grating the carrots. When he got close to the end of the carrot, he accidentally slipped and sort of grated his finger. His finger bled and he was in pain. When he came back from cleaning it up, I told him not to worry about the rest, and that besides, it was just the stump of the carrot that was left anyway. J insisted on continuing and finishing what he started. He said something like “if you don’t finish what you’ve started when it’s not important, you won’t finish what you’ve started when it is important”.

He was totally right, and it’s so true. If it were me, I would have totally felt sorry for myself for my bleeding finger and I would have been content to eat the stump of the carrot and move on with my life. And maybe that would have been ok. But nonetheless, J got me thinking about my habits and my patterns, and about how the small and unimportant events are really what help shape our character for the more important events. I know that he is right, because I have seen J in some pretty difficult situations, and he invariably stays strong and does the right thing even if it is much harder to do. Though I think his strong character comes from much more than being able to grate a carrot after hurting himself, I do think there is so much value in that lesson.

I leave you with this quote on habits and character that comes from an American text on the use of character evidence in court cases:

“Character may be thought of as the sum of one’s habits though doubtless it is more than this. But unquestionably the uniformity of one’s response to habit is far greater than the consistency with which one’s conduct conforms to character or disposition. Even though character comes in only exceptionally as evidence of an act, surely any sensible man in investigating whether X did a particular act would be greatly helped in his inquiry by evidence as to whether he was in the habit of doing it.” (McCormick, 1954).

Thanksgiving & Pumpkin Pie


Happy Thanksgiving everyone! How was your week-end? J and I had a lovely couple of days relaxing here in Halifax. This was probably the first time ever that we spent a long week-end and home, so it was definitely different for us, but really nice. It felt like all of a sudden, time was nicely wrapped up and handed to me as a gift – it made me realise how much of our long week-ends we normally spend on the plane or in the car. So, with our nicely wrapped time, we did a hot yoga class together on Friday (J’s first! He survived and loved it!), and we also went shopping and out for dinner here on Saturday. On Sunday, we combined our efforts to make our first ever pumpkin pie and it turned out delicious!

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I was going to just share the pictures with you, but then I thought it wouldn’t be very nice to do that without sharing the recipe, so here you go!

Martha Stewart’s Pumpkin Pie

The original recipe said that this recipe would yield one 9-inch pie, but we were able to make 2.
Ingredients:

1 cup packed light-brown sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 cups fresh Pumpkin Puree Pumpkin Puree, or canned
3 large eggs, lightly beaten, plus 1 egg for glaze
1 1/2 cups evaporated milk
Pie Dough (we used this recipe)
1 tablespoon heavy cream

Directions

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside. In a large bowl, combine sugar, cornstarch, salt, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, pumpkin puree, and 3 eggs. Beat well. Add evaporated milk, and combine. Set aside.

Between two pieces of plastic wrap, roll the pie dough into a 12-inch circle. Fit pastry into a 9-inch glass pie plate; trim dough evenly along edge, leaving about a 1/2-inch overhang. Pinch to form a decorative edge. If the dough begins to soften, chill for 15 minutes.

Make the glaze: Beat the remaining egg, and combine with heavy cream. Brush glaze very lightly on edges of pie shell. Fill pie shell with pumpkin mixture. Transfer to prepared baking sheet.

Bake for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and continue baking for 30 minutes more. Cool on a wire rack.

Source: Martha Stewart Living, November 2000

Mom’s lentil soup (also known as ‘Ads’)


My non Middle-Eastern friends often ask me how to make typical Middle-Eastern dishes.  While I am no expert at this, I am slowly picking up the art of Middle Eastern cooking, and I am always happy to share what I learn.  This recipe come straight from my Mama.  Growing up, we would often eat ‘Ads’ (pronounced ‘Atz’) during Coptic fasting season (in which we were to abstain from all animal products, and basically become vegan for a certain period of time).  While I still associate ‘ads’ with fasting, I have come to make this soup often simply because it is healthy, tasty, filling and easy to make. Hope you enjoy as much as I do!

Mom’s Lentil Soup (adz):

Ingredients:

1 cup red (which are really orange) lentils

3 cups water

1 small yellow onion (cut in quarters)

2 cloves of garlic

1 carrot cut into small pieces

A few sticks of celery cut into small pieces (optional)

Salt, pepper and cumin to taste

1/2 – 1 lemon

Combine all ingredients (except for the lemon) together in a large stock pot.  Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for about 45 minutes (or until carrots are soft).
Using a blender, or food processor, purée the mixture to desired consistency (you can add water if you find the soup to be too thick).  Add freshly squeezed lemon juice to taste and enjoy.

Picture of the week – Back from a Hiatus


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I’m not gonna beat around the bush. It’s been a long time and I didn’t really do it on purpose. I hope you’re still there (leave a comment to tell me you are!). I have been away from my home and a little out of my element for the last four months, but I am happy to happy to be back home and back to B&B!

Today’s picture is one I shot from the car when J and I were driving back into Nova Scotia – you can see these windmills as soon as you cross the border from New Brunswick. Once we saw them, we knew we were almost home. More on that soon!

Happy Birthday B&B!


Though things have been extremely hectic on my end lately, I wanted to make sure that B&B’s first birthday didn’t go by unnoticed.  Over the last year, B&B has been a place for me to share my thoughts, stories, recipes  — and most recently, my sorrows.  Thank you so much lovely readers for being there with me on this journey, and for supporting B&B with your comments and emails!

Funnily enough, a couple of days before B&B’s birthday, I received a text message from my friend Dina saying “I am making baklava tomorrow, want to come over and babble?”.  I could not help but laugh to myself, but also thought – what better way to celebrate B&B’s birthday! So..off to Dina’s I went, and babble and baklava we did.  In honour of this very special occasion, I have a tried and tested baklava recipe for you.  Make sure to make it in the company of good friends so that you too can babble & baklava! Special thanks to Dina over at thispassinglife and to Step by Step Baking (Caroline Bretherton) from whom the recipe was adapted.

Ingredients:

Unsalted pistachios (ground) – as much as you would like
Walnuts (ground) – as much as you would like
1 cup sugar
3 tsp cinnamon
1 package of phyllo pastry
18 tbsp of unsalted butter
juice of 1 lemon
1 cup of honey
1. Preheat oven to 350 F
2. Mix together the pistachios, walnuts, cinnamon and 1/4 cup of the sugar
3. Melt the butter – brush the baking sheet with butter and lay down 1/3 of the phyllo sheets. To do this, alternate between 1 sheet of phyllo, and 1 layer of brushed butter until you have completed 1/3 of the sheets.
4. Scatter 1/2 of the nut mixture over top of the phyllo.
5. Lay down another third of the phyllo sheets as before and cover with the remaining half of the nut mixture.
6. Lay down the final third of the phyllo sheets as before.
7. Cut diagonals into the baklava, making your cuts half deep.
8. Bake on the low shelf for 1 1/4 hours – 1 1/2 hours
9.  Now prepare the honey:  Heat the remaining sugar with 1 cup of water, stirring occasionally. Pour in the honey and stir to mix. Allow the mixture to boil for 25 minutes (take care that it does not boil over). Test the heat of the mixture using a sugar thermometer (you want it to reach 239 F)
10. Remove the heat and let it reach a lukewarm temperature.
11. When the baklava is finished, remove from the oven and immediately pour the syrup over the entire pan.
12. Cut through the marked lines almost to the bottom to allow the syrup to seep through.

Enjoy!

Picture of the week: Spring has Sprung


I took this picture last week while out for a run. A few days later I passed by the same plant again and noticed that someone had chopped off all the branches! I guess they didn’t find it as pretty as I did!

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Community


Shortly after my mom passed away, I came across this blog post that someone I knew had written about my mom – and about my broader community in Toronto.  Since that time, I have been wanting to share it with you.  I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of community in the past few years.  I haven’t looked into it, but I bet there are a million studies out there discussing the popular idea and oft quoted proverb that it takes “a village to raise a child”.  I know it is true because I am a product of it.  As I’ve mentioned before, I always find it so difficult to decide what city to live in. Each one I’ve lived has its own unique features that I love.  I must say though that one thing that constantly draws me back to where I grew up, is the wonderful extended family that has developed around me over the years.  I was reminded of this the week my mom passed away when my family and I were so blessed to have been surrounded by so much love.  Anyhow, please enjoy your read, written by a lovely woman who a few months before me lost her wonderful mom as well.

mothers

I am sure some of you will be able to relate to the kind of extended family i am about to describe. My parents immigrated from Egypt in the late 60s with a handful of other Coptic Egyptians. It was not long after that they along with a priest from Egypt formed the first Coptic Orthodox Church in North America…meeting in a small chapel on the second floor of a church that is still nestled behind the Eaton Center in downtown Toronto. Slowly more friends and families immigrated and congregated…and so, by the time I was born in the late 70s I was born into a community that was tightly knit by its roots of the home they left, the experience of immigration to North America and by their deep faith.

I was born into an extended family that knew me from the moment i came to be until this moment today. Going to church every Sunday throughout my upbringing i would see the same familiar faces, bond with the same friends i had since before i was consciousness of my own being and sense the many people loving me and watching over me and caring for me. Although i have been absent from Toronto throughout much of my 20s and into my 30s these connections were always there and this family would always care for me in my absence. They knew when i was overseas teaching in Southeast Asia, they knew when i was working in Yemen, they knew when I was living out East and through conversation with my parents were always thinking of and loving me.
The gift of this community and family is that it meant there were so many mother mothering each child. So many caring, smart, intuitive, passionate, warm mothers looking out for this flock of Egyptian youth making their way through an upbringing quite different than their own. We were all so lucky to have these moms lovings us in all directions…innately enveloping us.

And so, another such mother, just like my mom, passed away this weekend. It is not that i spoke with her very often but i knew she loved me and cared for me and always asked about me. She visited us in the hospital frequently when mom was sick. And she too has daughters who adore her because there is nothing not to adore. And she too has a congregation of children who grew up with her love wrapped round them.

It is the nature of life. It is inevitable. Our mothers are being taken. And it is juxtaposed by new mothers being given. Many of my Egyptian friends have children but it is only in the past couple of years and particularly this last year and in the coming months that so many of my dear friends from all different nooks of my life have become or are to become mothers. It is such an amazing time to see these sisters of mine become transformed…to see them born as moms.

And so, as always it is strange to feel as though i am watching something unfold beyond myself, beyond any of us. To see this great shift in life take form, where it feels as though changes are being made in order for new spaces to be created, where one things is making room for another without particular question or reason or qualifying manner as good or bad but rather simply being.

And so, much gratitude to mothers for all they have done and all they will do. To the moms that have mothered for so long and to those that are in their first moments. What a precious gift to be a mom and to be mothered be it by one or many.

8 minutes


I recently checked out the movie “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”.  Have you seen it?  It is about a little boy who loses his dad on 9/11 and his journey through the grief that follows.  Near the beginning of the movie, he made what I thought to be an excellent analogy.  He said that if the sun were to explode, it would take us 8 minutes to notice because that is how long it would take for the light and heat to go away (based on the speed at which light travels).  The boy in the movie says that after his dad passed away, he still felt as though he was in that 8 minute period in which he still felt his dad’s light and heat so to speak.  He finds a key that belonged to his dad and spends most of the movie searching for the lock for the key.  He says that he feels that finding this lock would help him to extend his eight minutes with his dad.

This analogy really helps put into words a lot of what I have been feeling since my mom’s passing.  A few weeks ago I wrote about how I still feel her presence in our home through all the little touches that she left behind.  Now that I think about it, I realise that this is me in my 8 minutes.  Like the little boy in the movie, I fear what comes after 8 minutes and I find myself trying to elongate it as much as I can.  There are a few things in my mother’s belongings that I have wanted to go through and look at, but have decided instead to “save” them for later, because I feel as though that will draw out my 8 minutes with her a little longer.

Without spoiling the movie for you, the boy does end off by saying that he never thought that he would be able to live without his father, and that making it to the end of the 8 minutes taught him that he could and would survive.  Though I don’t think I have quite reached the end of my 8 minutes, this experience has indeed been life changing for me.  There are people who say that life can be described as “life before losing a parent” and “life after losing a parent”.  I think that is such an accurate description.  Life will never be the same, but life will continue.  This I now know.