Blind date with a book

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To celebrate Valentines Day, the Killam Municipal Library, just up the road from us, decided to play matchmaker. “Going out on a blind date is a lot like opening up a new book – you never know what kind of experience you are going to have!” announced the library website.

I’ve never been on a blind date, but I decided to give this one a try. After all, it fit rather well with my New Year’s resolution. I stopped by the library during the first week of February and chose this one from a selection of similarly wrapped packages.

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Filled with anticipation, I hastened home and I quickly unwrapped my “date”. It definitely wasn’t love at first sight! In fact, my initial response was disappointment. Kind of like imagining someone tall, dark and handsome, then opening the door to find a date who, at first glance, isn’t really attractive at all.

Escape to Havana, Nick Wilkshire

The idea of escaping to an exotic locale intrigued me, of course, but a quick look at the cover told me that the book was a mystery, not a genre that I’m particularly fond of. In fairness, though, I felt that I had to give my blind date a chance and so I began to read.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but the message on the outside of my package was a clue to what was inside. “Start a new chapter in your life,” it said. Main character, Charlie Hillier, is a Canadian bureaucrat whose marriage has just fallen apart in a very public way. When the chance to start over by accepting a posting to the Canadian embassy in Havana comes up, he jumps at the opportunity to escape the embarrassment and get as far away from his ex-wife and his dead end job at Foreign Affairs headquarters in Ottawa as he can.

Originally from St. John’s, Newfoundland, Nick Wilkshire is a lawyer living in Ottawa. Escape to Havana, published in 2016 is the first book in his Foreign Affairs Mystery series.

In spite of my initial apprehension, my date turned out to be fun. Escape to Havana is a light, but entertaining read. I’m not sure that an avid mystery fan would find it very satisfying, especially the rather far-fetched ending, but I enjoyed Wilkshire’s easy writing style and his sense of humour. He did a masterful job of bringing Havana to life. From the oppressive heat and humidity to the dilapidated buildings and ancient vehicles to the wonderful food, he gives his reader a real sense of modern day Cuba.

Would I go on another “blind date with a book”? As in real life, I would prefer to know who I’m going out with, but this was a fun experience, so yes, I probably would. For those who are really keen about the idea, there’s Blind Date with a Book.com. Subscribers receive a “blind date” once a month for six months based their favourite styles and genres. Me, I’ll just wait to see if the Killam Library does this again in the future.

Along with my “date”, there was a Rate Your Date form included in my packet. Everyone who returns the form with their book before February 28 will be entered in a draw. My “date” has gone back to the library and my fingers are crossed!

 

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Garbage soup

What do you do with your vegetable scraps? If you’re a gardener, perhaps you compost them and make good use of the nutrients that way. If not, this post is for you!

Food waste is an enormous problem worldwide. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 1.3 tonnes of food is thrown out each year. Here in Canada, according to a 2014 report, $31 billion worth of food ends up in landfills or composters every year. I’m terrible at math, but if I’ve done my calculating correctly, that’s over $870 per person! Shockingly, 47% of that waste comes from private homes, not restaurants. Fruits and vegetables account for the highest amount of food wasted. Instead of adding to this global problem, why not use your vegetable scraps to make broth that can be used in a wide variety of ways. It’s really very simple:

Think potatoes, carrots, celery, cabbage, lettuce, cucumber, onions, mushrooms, bell peppers, beets, tomatoes, cauliflower, pea pods, zucchini and other squash. The possibilities are almost endless! Since you’re going to make use of the outer layers instead of throwing them out, make sure you wash all vegetables thoroughly to get rid of dirt and/or pesticide residue. Remove the tops, bottoms, skins, and stems and toss them into a large Ziploc bag.

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Keep the bag in the freezer and add to it until it’s full. I also add bits of leftover vegetables after a meal is over. Frozen, the scraps will keep for 6 months or more, but I find that I can easily fill a bag in 2 or 3 weeks.

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Once the bag is full, dump it into a large pot and add enough water for the scraps to begin to float.

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Bring it to a boil and simmer for several hours.

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Strain the liquid off and discard rest.

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Your scraps can even do double duty if you choose to compost what remains.

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Every batch of broth is a little bit different depending on the composition of the scrap mix. Some are mild; others more robust in colour and flavour. I always do a taste test before using or freezing the broth. So far, I haven’t had to throw any away, but my daughter did have one batch that reminded her of stinky pond water!

The broth will keep for 3 or 4 days in the refrigerator or 4 to 6 months in the freezer. If I don’t plan to use it within a day or two, I freeze mine in containers of approximately 2 cups each.

Looks like I’d better defrost that freezer soon!

There are many recipes that call for vegetable broth, of course, but it has plenty of other uses as well. You can add extra flavour and nutrition to stews, curries, and even rice by using broth instead of water. Sometimes I turn a whole batch into a big pot of hearty vegetable soup by simply adding chopped onion, celery, an assortment of fresh or frozen vegetables, some barley or rice, salt, pepper, and other herbs or spices to taste. There’s something weirdly satisfying about turning your garbage into soup!

With script in hand

Community theatre has been an important part of my life for a very long time. I first took to the stage in the late 1970s playing Bob Cratchit in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol followed by the Empress in a stage play of Hans Christian Anderson’s tale, The Emperor’s New Clothes. Then came many years of raising a family and being too busy to perform.

The stage called my name again in 2002. My children were grown and I was going through a low spot in my own life. I needed to do something that was just for me, so I auditioned for a part in the old Christmas classic, It’s a Wonderful Life. Returning to the stage after such a long hiatus, I expected a bit part, but instead I was cast in one of the lead roles! I played Mary Bailey, wife of the main character, George.

My love of acting returned full force and I was completely hooked! Over the ensuing years, I’ve played many and varied roles in local theatre productions. In 2003, I was Vera in a female version of The Odd Couple and in 2005, Doris in The Cemetery Club. The story of three Jewish widows in their 50s who meet once a month for tea before going to visit their husbands’ graves, this was definitely one of my favourites. The picture quality is terrible, but that’s me (aka Doris) on the left. The guy with the beard is my husband, Richard. We’ve always had difficulty finding enough men to fill the male roles, so we roped him in and he’s been in several plays with me.

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The following year, the role that I was least happy to be cast in probably became my most memorable! I was Vonga, the jungle girl, in Jack Sharkey’s hilarious comedy, One Toe in the Grave. Even though it wasn’t the role I wanted, I decided to have fun with it. I made my own costume and still have it hidden away.

Vonga - One Toe in the Grave

In 2007, I was acting as assistant director for Arsenic and Old Lace, a classic comedy, when at close to the last minute, the actress cast in one of the lead roles wasn’t able to perform. With little time to learn the lines, I stepped in and became Abby Brewster, one of the somewhat eccentric but seemingly genteel elderly sisters who made it their mission to help lonely bachelors die happy by serving them elderberry wine spiked with arsenic! Here I am sharing the stage with two of my former students. Again, that’s me on the left.

Arsenic and Old Lace

In 2009, we brought A Christmas Carol back to the local stage. This time I played a couple of small parts. Then in 2012, just before leaving to spend a semester teaching English in China, I had a bit part in W.O. Mitchell’s The Black Bonspiel of Wullie MacCrimmon. Again, here I am sharing the stage with two of my former students!

The Black Bonspiel of Wullie MacCrimmon

Acting with former students, some who I taught drama to when they were in junior high, has definitely been one of the joys of participating in small town theatre!

Over the past few years, I’ve intensely missed performing. Though I’ve helped out behind the scenes on a couple of productions, travel and health restrictions have kept me off the stage. Once again, though, I’m at a point where I feel like I need to do something just for me and this time, the timing is perfect! We’ve just begun to prepare for four performances of Auntie Mame in early April. Life has been stressful lately and it’s been a few years since I’ve had to learn a lot of lines. I’m not sure how well that would go, so I’m delighted with my role as servant, Norah Muldoon. With many entrances and exits, I appear off and on throughout the play, but I don’t have any lengthy scenes or long speeches to memorize. Even so, I’ll be spending lots of time over the coming weeks with my script in hand!

So why am I so passionate about the theatre? We thespians are an interesting breed and it’s always a privilege to work with such a creative, talented and fun group of people! It takes many people working behind the scenes to put a production together and in a small town amateur group like ours, people often fill many different roles. Actors can often be found working on set construction, sewing costumes or setting up tables and chairs for the dinner theatre performances. Putting on a play is a lot of work but it’s worth it all when the lights go up, the play begins and we feel the audience respond. What a rush! I’m essentially a very shy person but when I’m onstage, I get to be someone else and it is so much fun! After all, where else would I dare appear in a teeny tiny jungle girl costume?

One word for 2018

A year ago, as part of a ministry that I was involved in, I was asked to choose one word to inspire or guide me in the coming year and to choose a scripture verse to go along with it. As a lover of words, this was a perfect assignment for me! I have since learned that there’s a whole #OneWord365 movement on the internet urging members to choose just one word to focus on every day, all year long; a word that sums up who they want to be or how they want to live.

Last year, my one word was still and the Bible verse I chose to accompany it was Psalm 46:10. “Be still and know that I am God.”

This year, I decided to repeat the exercise with a new word for 2018. After much consideration, I chose the word grace. I would like to be known and remembered as a woman of grace. The scripture passage that has become my life guide in recent times is Colossians 3:12. Though it doesn’t actually use the word, I think it epitomizes grace. “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”

There are, of course, many Bible verses that do include the word grace. One that comes quickly to mind, especially so close on the heels of the Christmas season, is John 1:14. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Christ was full of grace! I want this to be a year when I become a little more like Him; a little more compassionate, kind, humble, gentle and patient. This year, I want to be intentional (that’s another word I considered as my one word for 2018) about offering grace to other people in practical ways.

In order to do that, I also need to look at what grace is not. Grace is not simply being nice. It’s not a peace at all costs, everything’s okay, and who am I to judge mentality. Sometimes grace includes confronting difficult issues and not shying away from controversial subjects. Sometimes it means talking honestly about the ugly, painful, and sordid struggles in our lives. It is honouring the dignity of others even when I don’t agree with them or their choices. Thankfully, offering this kind of grace is not something that I have to figure out how to do on my own.

When C.S. Lewis was asked to identify the one thing about Christianity that sets it apart from all other religions, he responded, ″Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.″ Biblical grace is the unmerited favour of God bestowed freely on all who choose to access it by accepting Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour. This year and every year, I can rest in God’s gentle, extravagant, audacious grace, knowing that He is God Almighty and I am His beloved daughter. It is He who enables me to offer grace to others.

“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”  Hebrews 4:16

One Word 2018

What about you? Can you think of one word to inspire or guide you in this new year?

I resolved…

I quit making New Years resolutions many years ago because I found that by doing so I was simply setting myself up for failure. Last year, however, I resolved to read at least two books every month because I knew that I was wasting too much time online. I felt that reading, which I’ve always thoroughly enjoyed, would be a valuable and measurable alternative.

So, how did I do?

In order to monitor my success, I kept a month by month list of all the books I read in 2017. While I marginally exceeded my goal for the year by reading 26 books in all, there were some months when I read more than two and others where I finished none or only one.

More importantly, did reading cut down on my online time?  

I’m really not sure. I use the internet for a wide variety of purposes including reading the news, communicating with friends and family around the world, editing, and of course, writing my blog. I consider all of those to be valuable ways to use my time, but it’s the time that I was spending repeatedly checking my email accounts, Facebook and my blog stats that I wanted to cut down on. Unfortunately, that’s difficult to measure and I still find myself doing it more often than I feel I ought to.

What am I going to do about it?

Once again, I resolve to read a minimum of two books EVERY month in 2018. I’m also going to try some new authors and different genres. Any suggestions? What do you enjoy reading?

I read a good mix of novels, non-fiction, and autobiographical books in 2017 and I would like to do that again. Australian novelist, Kate Morton, is the only author that I read more than one book by (The Distant Hours, The Secret Keeper, and The Lake House). I’ve always enjoyed memoirs and autobiographies. Over the past year, I thoroughly enjoyed The Last Foundling by Tom H. Mackenzie and My Secret Sister by Helen Edwards and Jenny Lee Smith, but the one that surprised me most was Changing My Mind by Margaret Trudeau. I clearly remember the day in March 1971 when she surprised the world by marrying our popular prime minister, Pierre Ellliott Trudeau, who was 29 years her senior, and the years of turmoil that followed. The book is an honest and courageous telling of her lifelong battle with mental illness and gave me a greater understanding of bipolar disorder.

Have you read any good books lately?

Ten years of blogging!

Ten years ago today I published my very first blog post! It was also the shortest post I’ve ever written and the message was very simple:

Richard and I have just accepted positions teaching conversational English in Japan. This is a one year commitment and we’ll be leaving in mid March. The main purpose of this blog is to share our adventure with friends, family and anyone else who’s interested.

Little did I expect to still be blogging ten years later! I anticipated that Following Augustine would only exist for the year that we would be in Asia. In fact, that’s why I chose the title. Augustine BeArce, a Romany Gypsy, was the first of my ancestors to cross the Atlantic Ocean from Europe and make his home in North America. 370 years later when I crossed the Pacific Ocean and settled for a time on the far side of the sea, it only seemed right to give credit to Augustine and the Gypsy blood that I inherited from him!

I’ve always been passionate about writing though and by the time our year in Japan came to an end, I knew that blogging was something I would continue to do indefinitely. What I didn’t know was what it would look like once I was no longer living in a foreign land. For lack of a better definition, I now refer to Following Augustine as a lifestyle, travel, and fashion blog, but one of my readers once called it a great advertisement for retirement!

Over the past decade, life has taken many unusual turns, some delightful and others deeply distressing. Following Augustine has been there through all the ups and downs.

We love to travel and the blog has recorded trips across Canada, into the United States, and to numerous other countries. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever expect to live in the People’s Republic of China though, but our five months there gave me plenty to write about. China’s internet censorship made it a bit more challenging to post from there, but thankfully, with the help of WordPress, I discovered a way to successfully break through or over the “Great Firewall” and continue blogging.

Cancer was never part of my plan either, but when it struck, the blog became a good way to process what was happening and to share it with friends and family. I’ve also used it as a way to raise awareness of NETS (neuroendocrine tumours), the little-known and often misdiagnosed cancer that I continue to deal with. My life is not all about my health, however, so neither is the blog. It’s about living life to the fullest in spite of all its challenges.

A couple of years ago, I became interested in fashion blogging and so the weekly Fashion Friday feature was born, not as a “look what I’m wearing today” narcissistic sort of thing, but as a way to connect with other women and to explore how the ways in which we present ourselves affect our lives. It has had the added benefit of ensuring that I write something at least once a week.

I am a Christ follower and I have fairly strong and not always popular or politically correct opinions on certain issues. I haven’t shied away from sharing those on the blog, but I’m committed to doing so with as much wisdom as God allows me, with integrity and with respect for those whose opinions differ from mine.

When I published that first post ten years ago, our daughter was expecting our first grandchild, so over the years five little people have appeared on the blog from time to time. I’m off to visit three of them this weekend and the other two for Christmas, so it’s possible that they might show up again soon!

What does the future hold for Following Augustine? I have no idea, but I’ve now written 882 posts and I don’t see them coming to an end anytime soon!

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Pray for the persecuted church

As President of our local church’s Missions Council, one of the things that I do is present a short Missions Moment during the worship service every Sunday morning. These 3 or 4 minute messages are meant to give our congregation a global perspective and a feeling of connection to what’s happening on the mission field around the world. Though the response to these messages is always positive, one occasionally resonates particularly strongly with my listeners. This morning’s message was one of those and so I decided that perhaps I should share it more widely.

This seems especially timely considering the fact that as we joined Christians around the world in praying for the persecuted church this morning, 27 of our brothers and sisters lost their lives and more than two dozen others were injured in a horrific church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

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November 5 and 12 have been set aside as International Days of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.

At least 200 million Christians worldwide are being persecuted for their faith. Christian persecution is any hostility experienced as a result of one’s identification as a Christian. From verbal harassment to hostile feelings, attitudes and actions, Christians in areas with severe religious restrictions pay a heavy price for their faith. Beatings, physical torture, confinement, isolation, rape, severe punishment, imprisonment, slavery, discrimination in education and employment, and even death are just a few examples of the persecution they experience on a daily basis.

Every month an average of 322 Christians are killed for their faith and 214 churches and Christian properties are destroyed.

The number one thing that persecuted Christians ask for is prayer.

The Bible calls us to be a voice for the voiceless. Psalm 82:3-4 says, “Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”

As Christians, we are called to take a stand for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ. Hebrews 13:3 says, “Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”

Praying for Christians who are being persecuted for their faith may be the easy part of what I’m asking of you today. I also want to suggest that we pray for the perpetrators; the ones who are doing the persecuting. The Bible tells us to pray for our enemies. They need to experience the unconditional love of Jesus every bit as much as we do. Remember that the apostle Paul was once the greatest persecutor of Christians. He was on his way to bring violence against believers when Jesus showed up on the Damascus Road. God used this man, known for his hatred of Christians, in mighty ways to spread His gospel and plant His church. He can still do that today, so let’s pray and ask Him to radically show up in the lives and hearts of the persecutors. Pray against the evil but for those who commit it. Pray that they would come to know God and His forgiveness.

Throughout this week, let’s focus on praying for both those who are persecuted and those who persecute them. 

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For more information and resources pertaining to the persecuted church, visit https://www.opendoorsusa.org/.