Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Unattached? Ten Things To Do On Saint Valentines Day

Did you know that more red roses are sold on Saint Valentine’s Day than any other day of the year?  It is also one of the biggest days of the year for chocolate shops and jewellers.  The three most popular days of the year to receive an engagement ring are Christmas, New Years and Saint Valentines Day.

Rather than griping about being single, or how commercial holidays have become, let’s remember how the holiday came about and celebrate the love Saint Valentine believed in.

It’s a holiday for young lovers, to be sure, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t enjoy ourselves too.  Here are ten things to do this Saint Valentine’s Day to spread the love a little farther.

Buy a dozen red roses and 12 small packages of old fashioned candies, like licorice all sorts and lemon drops.  Take your goodies to your local retirement home and hand out the roses to the ladies and the sweets to the men.  This will make you feel all warm inside, guaranteed!

 Visit the Amnesty International website to find the address for a prisoner of conscience.  Write a letter of support to the person of your choice.  Saint Valentine was a prisoner before he was executed.

Support peace activists world-wide.  Emperor Claudius II banned marriage because he needed more soldiers for his Army.  He sentenced Valentine to death for performing marriages in secret.

Tell your parents you love them and ask them to tell you how they met. All lovers were young once.

Get outdoors and go for a walk, take a dog, the sunlight and fresh air will lift your mood.  

 Indulge yourself with a little chocolate, sharing is good. Chocolate contains chemicals that enhance your mood, lift depression and besides, it just tastes so good.

Enjoy a romantic movie starring your favourite actor or actress of the moment. A little fantasy can be a good thing.

 Read a romantic novel, try Jane Austen’s Persuasion or your favourite Harlequin Romance author.  

Light some candles, order your favourite take-out and eat in your jammies. 

Be loving to yourself, have a spa night, take a bubble bath, manicure your nails, deep condition your hair and get some extra sleep. February 14th was originally the festival day of Juno, patron saint of Roman women.

Who Was Valentine?

Valentine was a Christian priest in ancient Rome. He lived during the reign of Emperor Claudius II Gothica, who ruled Rome for two short years from 268 to 270 AD.

In Rome, and the Empire, February 14th was a public holiday which honoured Juno, wife of Jupiter. She was called Regina (which means queen) and was the patron saint of Rome and the Roman Empire. On February 14th she was worshipped on the Capitol in Rome.  Juno was also the protector of the women of Rome.

One of the Roman customs of that time was to write the names of young women on slips of paper and place them in pottery jars.  Young men of the same age then chose a slip of paper from the jar and the girl whose name was drawn would accompany the young man throughout the Festival of Juno celebrations.

Under Roman law there were strict rules about young men and women meeting, and this ceremony gave young people a chance to get to know one another and possibly develop a romantic relationship that might lead to marriage.

Emperor Claudius II was involved in numerous military campaigns and needed soldiers. During his brief reign he banned all engagements and marriages because he felt young men were reluctant to leave their sweethearts and join the army. 

Emperor Claudius II

Brother Valentine began to perform marriages in secret but an informer advised the Emperor of his activities and he was arrested and thrown in prison.   

 While he awaited sentencing the young people of Rome threw flowers and notes of encouragement through his cell window.   He was eventually sentenced to be executed and beheaded after death.

A popular story says that the jailer’s blind daughter visited Brother Valentine in prison regularly and through his prayers her vision was restored.  On the eve of his execution Brother Valentine allegedly wrote a note to this young woman thanking her for her friendship and kindness.  Some say the note was signed, ‘Love from your Valentine’. 

The following day, 14 February 270 AD, Brother Valentine was put to death.  Not long after February the 14th became known as Saint Valentine’s Day for Christians. He is known as the patron saint of love and happy marriage.

Emperor Claudius II did not outlive Saint Valentine by long, he died of the plague in the same year.

In 1836 Pope Gregory XVI gave the Carmelite Church on Whitefriar Street in Dublin, Ireland a gold-bound wooden casket containing the remains of Saint Valentine.  In 1960 the church was renovated and a shrine was constructed to house the casket.  Underneath a statute of Saint Valentine there is the following inscription:

‘This shrine contains the sacred body of Saint Valentinus the Martyr, together with a small vessel tinged with his blood.’
Shrine of Saint Valentine, Dublin

Loves Has Many Faces, Celebrate In Your Own Way and Be Grateful!

Monday, 11 February 2013

Take a Snow Day: Knit, Sew, Bead, Eat Chocolate

Midwinter, not just a wonderful adventure story by John Buchan, but a wonderful time of year.   I don't like shovelling snow anymore more than the next person, but I do like a snow day now and then.

A snow day means a little extra time for knitting, quilting, reading and cooking (usually something with chocolate).

Here are a few projects I'm working on this midwinter.

1.    I love this big comfy cowl from Zilalila.  I am knitting one for myself right now.

2.    I love quilting.  I'm using these silly fabrics (the series is called The Ghastlies) to make a simple throw for my sister.


If I was more talented I'd try something like this lovely 2nd place winner 'Ribbit' by Diana Hensley.

Maybe some day in the future, the far future.

3.    I'm also working on a few beaded necklaces.  Here are a couple that have inspired me.

Harvest Moon Maiden by Rebeccas Well

4.    Cold days call for treats.  Here are two recipes. The first is a simple chocolate cake from More Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin (who wrote for Gourmet magazine back in the day). Here's what Laurie had to say about the cake: "...whoever thought the recipe up ought to get the Nobel Prize. It is awesomely simple, contains no eggs, can be made in one bowl, and calls for only 1/2 cup of vegetable oil (cheaters can use melted butter)...It is hard to encapsulate the virtues of this cake. It is fast, easy, and scrumptious. It has a velvety, powdery feel--the result of all that cocoa. It is not so horribly bad for you, because you use buttermilk, which is relatively low in fat, and cocoa powder is defatted anyway. Furthermore, it keeps like a dream and tastes even better after a few days."

Laurie calls the recipe "Karen Edward's Version of Buttermilk Cocoa Cake".  You can find the recipe here at The Chocolate Gazette.

The second is a recipe for hot chocolate with a hint of chili and spice, which adds a little bit of heat in the back of your throat when you drink it.  This recipe uses Mexican chocolate disks, which can be found in gourmet chocolate shops or online.

 A thermos full of hot chocolate with chili is just the thing to take along to a toboggan hill, a skating party or a long walk in the winter woods. Find the complete recipe at The Chocolate Gazette.

Whatever you choose to do with your Snow Day, make sure you take time to just relax and enjoy yourself.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Make Your Own Valentines Chocolate...Super Easy

You Can Even Make This With Kids

Everyone loves a bit of chocolate for Valentine's Day.  Here's an easy and fun idea for you.  Chocolate bark is super easy to make, you just melt your chocolate and add whatever takes your fancy to make the 'bark'. 

Does your family like dark chocolate, milk chocolate or white or a combination?   No matter what your tastes you can whip up a batch in less than an hour.  If it's a gift for your sweetheart, that gives you plenty of time to find a box or pretty bag and wrap it up too!

Here's the recipe:

Chop Your Chocolate:
Take 1 pound of good quality chocolate.  This is for your loved ones, so splurge on something wonderful like Lindt Excellence 50% Cacao or Valronha Grands Crus.

If you want to use white chocolate be sure to choose one that lists cocoa butter in the ingredients list.  If the product does not contain cocoa butter it won't melt properly and could burn.  I like Ghirardelli's white chocolate.

Chop up your chocolate into small pieces. This will make it easier to melt.  Make sure all your utensils are clean and dry. Water, even a drop or two, can cause chocolate to seize.

Prepare Your Tray:
Line rimmed cookie sheet with waxed paper. Parchment paper will work too.

Prepare Your Bark:
You will add your bark ingredients to the melted chocolate as it cools. How much will you need?  I'd start with 1 1/2 to 2 cups of bark ingredients.  Traditionally chocolatiers use whole toasted almonds, but the options are endless.  To get your imagination working here are a few ideas:

Nuts: chopped toasted hazelnuts, pistaschios, walnuts, pine nuts, cashews, honey roasted peanuts, macadamia nuts, fresh shelled peanuts

Dried Fruit: cranberries, cherries, pineapple, apricots, figs, apples, blueberries, kiwi, mango, raisins, currants

Seeds: pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, hemp, chia

Peel:  candied orange peel, candied grapefruit peel, candied lemon peel, candied lime peel

Candy: toffee pieces, ice cream sprinkles, chopped licorice, candied ginger,  miniature marshmallow, peanut butter chips, crushed cookies, jelly beans, crushed peppermint

Melt your chocolate:
 My preferred method is to put the chocolate pieces into a small glass bowl and melt in the microwave on medium heat.  Start with small bursts of 15 to 20 seconds. In between bursts stir the chocolate. When it is almost completely melted take it out of the microwave and stir it until it is smooth and completely melted.

If you don't have a microwave (yes, there are lots of folks who don't own them) you can melt your chocolate in a double boiler, or in a heat-proof bowl over a pot of simmering water. Be extra careful you don't get any water on your chopped chocolate. Place it over the simmering water and stir it from time to time as it melts. When it is almost completely melted take it off the heat and continue to stir until it is smooth and lump free.

Pour the melted chocolate onto the prepared pan.  Tap the pan on the counter to level the melted chocolate. If necessary tilt the pan from side to side to spread and level the chocolate.

While the chocolate is still warm sprinkle your choice of toppings over the surface.  Set your pan aside and allow it to cool completely. Once the chocolate is completely set break it into pieces and wrap it up.  This IS a gift for your sweetheart isn't it?

Start to finish: 20 minutes
Cooling time:     1 to 2 hours
Servings: 8 to 12

Give it a try, easy, fun and delicious!

Thursday, 7 February 2013

The Missing Question

If you have ever taken a nonfiction writing class, especially one in journalism, you'll be familiar with the five W's:  Who, What, Where, When, Why and, of course, good old How tacked onto the end.  There's even a Canadian news program called W5, a northern version of 60 Minutes.

Even fiction writers make use of the five W's:  Who is my character? What is the plot? Where is my story situated? When does this story take place? Why are my characters motivated to move through this story.  How do they resolve their crisis, fall in love, solve the murder?

But I think there's a W question missing.  Who Cares?

For the fiction writer this means making their characters human. We have to be able to empathise and relate to them. If we don't care what happens, why finish the story?  And of course motivation also helps us to care.  Why are our characters behaving as they do?  If their motivation is weak we risk the reader asking 'why are they doing this at all'?  Who cares?

I recently read a popular novel that was a virtual chase scene from beginning to end. It was quickly paced, the hero raced from one crisis to another from beginning to end.  But I kept being taken out the story because I couldn't understand his motivation. He was supposed to be a journalist on the track of a hot story, but why risk life and limb and the lives of his friends and family?  The story he was after, an interview with a washed up athlete, didn't justify all the dangerous shenanigans. We were never given enough information about the washed-up athlete to care.

When writing nonfiction, of course, the five W's are considered the holy grail.  If you are a reporter, you'd better get all those questions answered. The role of the editor is to ask, "Who cares?" Is this story interesting enough to deserve valuable column inches?

I try to keep this in mind as I research travel pieces, and web articles.  I was asked to write a piece not long ago about how to network successfully.  All the research I read covered the same ground: have a business card, go to seminars, attend meetings, ask questions, practise your small talk.  It all seemed rather obvious and I confess a bit boring.

I didn't get a handle on how I would write the piece until I asked myself, who cares?  Then it occurred to me that networking would be particularly difficult for natural introverts, and those who are shy.  This gave me the point of view I needed to write something slightly different and, I hope, more useful, than the standard article. Although I covered the basics, I slanted my ideas towards those who are shy, and made suggestions as to how they could overcome their natural tendencies to withdraw in social situations.

Since I've added Who Cares to my five W's list my writing has become a little tighter and more interesting, definitely a step in the right direction.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Allowing for Life's Interruptions

I've been busy researching and writing while a good friend does some proofreading and minor edits for me. Thank God for friends. I'm a whiz at proofing other people's work but my eyes begin to cross when I have to proofread my own.  This is one of the wonderful benefits of a writer's group, not just the feedback on your tone, your voice, etc., but the nitty gritty of proofreading and friendly comments about too many commas and sentences that go on and on, like this one.

It can be hard to stay on track with visitors, appointments, travel arrangements and the day-to-day chores that keep you away from the desk.  I've been trying for 2000 words a day, but yesterday 200 was all I managed.  Friends stopped by who are going to babysit the farm while we're away in Europe for a month. We had to walk them through the daily chores and then we sat and visited for two hours. I felt a little guilty, because I was thinking of what I wanted to write during the visit, and was secretly making notes on the pad by the phone so I wouldn't forget certain thoughts.

Today I thought I had a clear run for the afternoon, so I spent an hour in the morning with Portuguese lessons. Estou com fome. Estou com sede.  Meu cinta esta cor de rosa.  It turns out my Dad had a doctor's appointment I'd forgotten about, and after that we went out for lunch because I hadn't prepared anything.  We got home around 4:00. This would have been okay, but I had a glass of wine with lunch. I am not a big drinker and the wine combined with a large lunch made me sleepy.  A nap was a necessity.

Now it's after 9:00 and I'm finally reading my research and taking notes. Life does get in the way, for all of us. All we can do is regroup and get back to work.
 In spite of delays I feel in tune with the universe.  This weekend papers had an article saying that the world economy is slowly moving forward, but it will be a few years before we see the results in our investment accounts. Another piece reported on the recent election in Jordan, which was pro-government and boycotted by The Muslim Brotherhood.  A good sign for stability in the Middle East.  The Russian prime minister said that Syria's Bashar al-Assad is finished in Syria, it's just a matter of time.

So, perhaps I am in tune with the current state of affairs, moving forward, but slowly. I used to become anxious when I didn't meet my self-imposed deadlines, but I am learning to take a different approach. I still write 4 hours a day as a minimum but if the output isn't what I'd hoped for, at least I worked.  I am learning to embrace the tortoise and let the hare run past.