Category Archives: family

Let’s just say it’s been a heckuva week

I’m dog-tired.

This week has been a bit of a blur and I haven’t felt up to blogging.  Sunday, Michael had back-to-back rehearsals so while he was at his first one, I helped my brother out at his place as he moves into the rest of his four-plex en route to converting it into a single-family-home.  I drove Michael out to his second rehearsal (way out west at Humber College) and then returned home.  We went out to Seoul House for dinner after picking him up, where I forgot my cellphone and had to drive back to get it.

Monday night was his first ever gig with the Youth Big Band. I took him out to the subway around 3 and then Z and I headed down to the Old MIll on the subway around 5:30. The band was backing Bucky Pizzarelli and I was bowled over by how great they sounded.  I have a lot of wonderful memories from my youth playing in a big band, and I just knew how great the kids were all feeling.  The house was packed, sold out, and it was a great, if late night.  On the way home on the subway, we realised that there had been a mixup with Michael’s trombone lesson and he had been expected that evening. He had also just broken up with his girlfriend. I had too much wine along with my terrific dinner which resulted in a migraine the next day.

Tuesday was a relatively normal day (apart from the headache), although Z didn’t make it home for dinner due to work.  Michael and I had a “snack supper” which usually means grilled sandwiches or cheese and crackers or popcorn or cereal.   I wasn’t up to preparing anything else and Michael is good-natured about all this.

On Wednesday, I had a Catholic Women’s League meeting for which I was asked to prepare a reflection just an hour before-hand.  I probably should have realised that I was on the hook for that, but didn’t, so I pulled something Advent-y together while making dinner.  We had a very good speaker from Aid to Women at the meeting, although the turnout was quite small.

Last night I had tickets to an advance screening of The Next Three Days courtesy of The National Post and there was a surprise Q&A with director and screenwriter Paul Haggis afterwards. We both very much enjoyed the movie but didn’t get home until well after 10, which is late (for me).  

Today, Z had a big presentation at 11 am and pretty much everything went wrong.  We were supposed to meet with our financial planner at 8:30 this morning, but after receiving input from his people for the presentation in the middle of the night, Z realised that he had to cancel.  He was on the phone until 10:30 and asked me to drive him downtown for his meeting.  At 10:45, stuck in the hell that is Avenue Road these days, we turned around and he took the call from home, and then raced off downtown after the call to something else that couldn’t be done remotely.  On top of all this, he had a call early this morning to learn that his aunt had passed away.  She was his mother’s sister and was in the advanced stages of Parkinson’s disease.  It was in some ways shocking when his mother passed this summer before his aunt.

Oh, and it’s his birthday today.  

On the bright side, Alex turned 19 today (he shares his birthday with his father), which is “legal” in Ontario.  I queried as to whether he hit a bar after midnight and received an affirmative reply.  He sounds good and has been calling regularly, which makes me very happy. 

So, what CAN he eat? The post-kidney-stone diet.

My dear one had his follow-up appointment with his surgeon yesterday following the removal of his stone.  Analysis suggests that it was a calcium oxalate stone, with some magnesium as well, which is the standard type.  He was given a sheet of dietary guidelines to help prevent future stones.

First, remember how I mentioned that he was getting so much sleep now that he didn’t have pain?  Well, with the amount of fluid he’s to be getting every day (3 litres), he’s up at night for other reasons. 

On the diet front….

Calcium:  post-surgery, he realized that he was not bothered by what he thought was lactose intolerance anymore and had been enjoying café au lait in the mornings and ice cream after dinner.  Hah!  He has to keep his calcium intake to 500 mg per day, or about 1.5 cups of milk-equivalent.  He could switch back to soy milk, but….oops….soy in on the verboten list (see below).  Knowing Z, he’ll stick to cheese and drop all other forms of calcium.

Oxalate rich foods:  this is so funny.  I mean, all the things that he’s been eating as part of the Mediterranean diet seem to be limited.  For example, he takes 3/4 cup greek-style yogurt with a handful of walnuts and raisins in his lunch every day.  Yogurt?  calcium =>limited.  Walnuts (in fact, all nuts)?  oxalate =>limited.

What else is on the oxalate list?  beets, beans (he heats up cans of mixed beans for lunch), parsley (tabouleh????), celery, okra, sweet potato, dark greens (spinach, kale, chard, endive, etc), strawberries, tea (TEA????), marmalade, chocoate, cocoa, nuts, wheat germ, cola, tofu.  

Animal protein: He is to eat less meat, poultry and fish, with special emphasis on avoiding the following foods that increase uric acid: organ meats, goose and partridge, anchovies & fish roe, game meats, rabbit, sardines, herring, mussels, scallops.  This is so depressing.  We eat anchovies.  We love sardines and mussels, and had been eating lots of the former for fish oils.

Sodium:  reduce it.

Fibre:  increase it, particularly using rice bran and wheat bran as they bind to calcium.

Supplements:  NO Vitamin D, Calcium, or Vitamin C supplements, or fish oil.

It’s going to take me a while to figure out some new meal plans to avoid or reduce our intake of oxalates.  I’m already a fairly low sodium cook, and now that he’s giving up nuts, that will be reduced even further.  But I’ll have to re-evaluate our vegetable purchases, and forget about anchovies on pizza, those great packs of mussels from Costco, and the multi-can packs of sardines we go through every month.  We’ll have to keep tabs on the amount of protein he consumes because so many good sources are limited due to either calcium, oxalate, or uric acid issues.  Pleasures?  I don’t see coffee, beer, wine or other alcohol on the list.  Most fruit seems okay.  

Thinking about Josephine: All Souls edition

This morning, news of the bombing of a Syriac Catholic church in Baghdad hit my feed reader via the Archdiocese of Toronto blog.  I directed me to the BBC report of the incident, where I read with horror of this targetted attack on the Eve of the Feast of All Saints.

My first reaction was to call my mother-in-law Josephine to see if she knew anyone in that parish.  She had contacts world-wide in the Syrian-Catholic community and elsewhere.  And then I remembered her passing almost three months ago.  It’s funny…Zouheir says that he keeps going to pick up the phone to call her and then remembers that he can’t.  Josephine made friends wherever she went, and even in the months before she died, she kept in contact with friends and family by phone.  She was also introduced to Skype in her final year and enjoyed seeing her grandchildren that way, even if she couldn’t see them in person.  And she was a prayer warrior, keeping us all close to her heart and the heart of Jesus.

Today, she would have been praying for the church in Baghdad, and I ask for her intercession for the repose of the souls of the dead, and peace to the injured and bereaved.

The sounds of home.


I've mentioned before that Michael likes to fill the kitchen (and his room) with classic jazz covers.  Between downloading stuff from iTunes and transferring my father's old LPs to digital format, he's got a ton of stuff.  This morning we enjoyed Jack Teagarden, “Father of the Jazz Trombone”, during breakfast.  All this is hugely reminiscent of my childhood years.  Whenever my father was home, jazz streamed from the record player in the living room or from various cassette decks he had around the house.  Even our trips to the cottage in the 60s and early 70s included tunes coming from a cassette player that he kept in the front seat of the car.  The only exception to this was Sunday mornings, when the music tended to be Bach.  

When my mother was here last week, Michael put on some Louis Armstrong.  She put her arm around him and told him that he was making her very emotional (in a good way) and that she almost felt like crying.  I feel that way sometimes too.



My men-folk. Zouheir, Alex, Michael.

Warm nights and cool days

Books. And time to read.

Friends, old and new.

Wine that gladdens the heart.

Time to myself. Time with others.

The Church and her sacraments.

Mobility:  my car, public transit, my feet.

Family, near and far.

Plenty.  More than we need.

Music in my life and in the lives of those I love.

Voting, even when then choices are sub-optimal.

Communication:  touch, talk, written, electronic.

Fresh.  Water, food, air, ideas.

Access:  sustenance, information, association.

Love. From and to.  God.  Others.  Self.


A last minute Thanksgiving.

As I do pretty much all the cooking these days (well, for the past few years), holidays really just felt like more of the same.  With teenagers who have an attention span of about 12 minutes at the dinner table, I REALLY didn’t want to cook all day for a meal that lasted 20 minutes, the last 10 of which was just Z and I talking to each other.  So Thanksgiving meals have either been done really casually, or at a restaurant.  No pressure on anyone (meaning me).

Up until yesterday, I hadn’t given Thanksgiving a thought.  I was planning to just kind of ad lib my way through.  Maybe we’d order in or go out for Korean Barbeque or something.  Alex was arriving home Friday night and Z and I had been busy most nights this week, and I just didn’t want to plan.

I was picking up something at the pharmacy next to our local Bruno’s and so I popped in to see what they had.  I spotted some beautiful stuffed and rolled turkey breasts and suddenly I felt like planning a meal.  Maybe it was taking the big bird and turning it into an elegant and easy to prepare roast, but I grabbed one of those guys and headed over to Loblaws to get the rest of the meal.

So, in half an hour, we’ll be eating said stuffed turkey breast, Pioneer Woman’s creamy mashed potatoes (made with 3/4 sweet potatoes), gravy, homemade cranberry sauce (how easy is THAT?), roasted asparagus, and assorted pickles, followed by a cheese plate.  For dessert, I made two pies:  an apple from fruit picked by my brother and his family, and a pumpkin made from cooked, pureed pumpkin that I froze last fall.  

We have much to be thankful, and that will be tomorrow’s post.

Weekend Update

This weekend has felt incredibly long, probably because we stuffed too much in to it.

Zouheir took Michael and a band-mate up to band camp this weekend, so that pretty much ate up Friday night.  On Saturday, we relaxed in our empty nest in the morning, and then headed to Bloor West mid-afternoon to pick up our TPFF tickets at Beit Zatoun and grab dinner before the opening film.  We had some time to kill, so we wandered around Bloor/Bathurst area, dropping in to the By the Way Cafe for tea, and then Sarah’s Shawarma and Falafel for a satisfactory (but not great) dinner.  Our film last night was The Time That Remains, directed by Elia Suleiman, a kind of memoir of living as a “present absentee” in Nazareth.  It was a packed house at the Bloor, and it was interesting to see it again with a mainly Palestinian audience, as opposed to the TIFF audience last year.  There were some definite cheers from last night’s audience at certain points in the film that didn’t raise a peep a year ago.

After the film, we walked over to Yorkville and took in some of the Nuit Blanche sights.  There were long lineups for some of the venues and we decided not to wait.  We got in to the RCM and the Gardiner, the former an exciting installation and the latter somewhat disappointing.  We walked down Bloor and back along Cumberland, streets closed off for the event, but by 10:30, we were kind of cold and tired and decided to head back to the subway and home.

This morning, we had tickets for a Palestinian breakfast, part of TPFF, but I needed to head out to pick up Michael around 12:30, so Zouheir took a cousin and I went to choir and mass.  This morning’s music was entirely sung in unison, including hymns, which was not much of a work out.  We did Viadana’s Fratres, ego enim accepi a Domino and Accipite et manducate during the Offertory and Ralph Vaughn Williams setting of a George Herbert poem The Call.  The text of this song is beautiful:

Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:
Such a Way, as gives us breath:
Such a Truth, as ends all strife:
Such a Life, as killeth death.

Come, My Light, my Feast, my Strength:
Such a Light, as shows a feast:
Such a Feast, as mends in length:
Such a Strength, as makes his guest.

Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart:
Such a Joy, as none can move:
Such a Love, as none can part:
Such a Heart, as joys in love.

Right after mass, I hopped in the car and headed up to Lake Simcoe (Jackson’s Point) to pick up Michael from band camp.  He had a great time, and parents and other visitors were treated to a brief concert before everyone left.  The sound was terrific, and the students clearly enjoy the ensemble.  It is something of a stretch for Michael, but he’s loving it and learning a lot.  As soon as we got home, he crashed in his bed for an hour, and then came down and started practicing!  This, after a weekend full of rehearsals and clinics. He’s certainly got the bug.

I spent the rest of the afternoon lying on the couch trying to finish In the Woods by Tana French, an engrossing mystery that I’ve been too busy or tired to spend much time on the past few days.  But it’s a great story, and I just want to get it done before I have to get it back to the library.  I predict a significant plot twist shortly, so I’m desperate to get it done!

Thoughts on conflict.


Part of life, it’s how we handle them that separate the girls from the women, viz:

  1. Michael’s school band camp is this weekend, and he signed up a couple of weeks ago to attend this four-day music-fest with his buddies from high school.  Then he got accepted into the Hannaford Youth Band and they have a camp scheduled at the same time.  He was very conflicted about which one to attend, and spoke with this HS music teacher last week who said “I want you at the school camp.”.  So he declined the invite to the Hannaford camp.  On Monday, his school music teacher pulled him out a vocal music class and asked him how his first Hannaford rehearsal went, and how he had decided on which camp to attend.  The teacher then told him that he’d learn more at the Hannaford camp, and that while he wanted Michael at school camp, that he’d grow more with the university-aged kids and the higher level of performance.  

    Michael called the Hannaford leaders as soon as he got home from school and was slipped onto the roster at the last minute.  They’ll have lots of playing and a chance to improve on the Eb tuba.  He’ll also have a clinic with Glen Gould School tubist Sasha Johnson which should be terrific. Plus getting to know his new bandmates.  It means I’ll have to drive him up Friday evening and pick him up on Sunday, but I’ll also get a chance to hear them play Sunday afternoon which will be great.

    I am proud of the way he handled this conflict.  That he was loyal to his initial commitment, and able to make a good choice when released from it. 

  2. I wrote a letter resigning from a local choir.  I decided to be direct about my reasons because I really believe in the choir’s mission, was leaving with some regret, and thought that my comments might be helpful.  I received a long note from the director outlining his frustrations, mitigating circumstances, and historical issues.  I was unaware of all of these things.

    I have reflected at some length on whether I was correct in sending the original letter.  My concerns still stand.  I might have been more gracious.  I’m not sure, at this point, but I replied with my heartfelt thoughts on the matter, with encouragement, and best wishes. 

I grew up in a family that didn’t (doesn’t) do conflict.  I married into one that does it loud and proud (and usually well).  As I get older, I am more able to express strong opinions and speak from my heart.  I am firm with my children, a reasonably good negotiator with my spouse, and consider myself to be straightforward with my friends and peers.  I’m past the age of caring what others think of me.  I hope that I ask questions that others are too shy to ask. My older son has inherited my (former) reticence, and my younger son is more like his father in that regard.   I have learned that it’s important to be heard, but that grace and charity (in the Catholic sense) need to be present.


QOTD: Is music an important part of your day?

From Motherhood Your Way, a little questionnaire:

Do you listen to music all day, or just during certain activities?

I don’t listen to music for much of the day.  If I’m not listening to an audiobook in the car, I have Jazz.FM playing, or a classic rock station.  However, my fifteen-year-old son loves to have music on, and it’s usually trad jazz from his iPod through speakers, or classical. Sometimes alt-folk, or whatever The Tallest Man on Earth and the like would be, which is great because we have similar tastes and he has introduced me to a number of new artists. While I don’t listen a lot, I love singing in choirs, listening to music in bars and cafe’s, going to concerts of pretty much any kind including opera, and am very opinionated about music.  I just prefer a lot of silence. It may be an introvert thing.

What is your favorite type of music?

Classic rock (70s), jazz (leaning toward traditional but open to new experiences), choral (all types), renaissance/baroque, movie scores, Celtic, opera.  I’m eclectic. 

Do you find music distracting or soothing?

I despise music played in most malls and outside (I don’t mean outdoor concerts here – I’m thinking of the outdoor mall near where I lived in Georgia).  When I have a headache, am down, or ill, and I can choose my own selections, it’s great.  Singing choral music is incredibly soothing….kinda like tai chi or meditation. I find live music incredibly energizing.  If it’s music that is forced on me or unpleasant, I either leave or use the mom-card to have it turned off.

Do your kids like music?

Older son (18) plays the guitar and listens to a ton of music that I am unable to describe other that with the tag “alt-“.  Younger son (15) is considering music as a career. He plays tuba and bass trombone in numerous school and community ensembles and sings in two choirs. My father and brother were/are both brass-players and jazz-lovers, so it must be at least partly genetic, particularly since Michael never knew his grandfather and didn’t grow up with a lot of jazz around him.

Do you keep music playing while you sleep?

The thought of music playing all night is appalling to me.  However, when I have had periods of insomnia in the past, I found that playing meditation music while falling asleep helped me sleep through the night.  But I always set my CD player to turn off after a set period of time.  I also used to enjoy waking up to music rather than an alarm.  Sadly, I have no more issues waking up in the morning and do not require an alert of any kind!


Weekend Update.

‘Twas a fun-filled (for the most part) couple of days this weekend. I’m realizing that my schedule remains too full and some things are going to have to drop, but I may feel differently after Z goes back to work next week.

On Saturday, one of my choirs had a gig singing at a wedding.  It was at a downtown church, my first time in that beautiful space.  The wedding was lovely, small, orthodox, with a wonderful homily and terrific organist.  Sadly, for reasons unknown to me, we had a very poor turnout in the soprano section of the choir.  One showed up, on time, an hour before the wedding was scheduled to start, but she is not a strong singer and wasn’t able to carry the section.  Our warm-up run-through of the music were not great, and this was exacerbated by a leader who gets, to put it kindly, anxious under pressure.   The other soprano showed up 10 minutes AFTER the wedding started, which was one hour and twenty minutes after call time.  No excuses.  Well, traffic, or something.  The anxiety at the top left me and some of my fellow singers jumping between annoyance and amusement.  At age 50 (it still seems weird to say that), I have no patience for this kind of lealdership, particularly in a volunteer activity where our work is to the glory of God. 

We ended up not singing before the wedding, which we had been contracted to do.  The rest of the mass went smoothly, particularly since someone stepped up to cantor at the last minute, and we had a chance to run through the Psalm before it started.  But it was an experience that left me with a very sour taste in my mouth.

On a happier note, my Mom arrived from Ottawa for a visit.  Z picked her up at the train station after dropping Michael off at his Jazz.FM band practice.  We had a nice visit Saturday evening, with a quickly whipped together meal based on a delicious Beretta Farms BBQ chicken picked up at my local Loblaw Great Food, and I introduced my mom to Republic of Doyle, one of our fave shows from CBC that’s returning this season.

Sunday dawned cool and bright, with a full day ahead.  It was our parish choir’s first Sunday back in the new year and we had a great turn-out!  Easing in to things, our director pulled out some familiar work.  We Mendelssohn’s Grant Us Thy Peace during the offertory and Sing My Soul by Ned Rorem, a gorgeous a cappella piece with sophisticated harmonies.  Our space is so beautiful for singing; we’re in a loft at the back of a large neo-gothic church and the sound just rings.  It’s my third year at this parish and I’m still stunned by the difference in sound between our rehearsal space and the church itself.  

Right after mass, Z drove Michael and I to the subway where we headed downtown.  I accompanied him to his first Hannaford Youth Band rehearsal and I spent the next couple of hours at the big book love-in at Queen’s Park, Word on the Street.  I picked up a copy of Stroll: Psychogeographic Walking Tours of Toronto by Shawn Micallef and tracked him down to have it autographed, ’cause I missed his time in the signing tent.  I’ve been following his tweets (@shawnmicallef and @strollcity) and have the mag he edits (Spacing) in my feedreader, but I’d also wanted to subscribe to the hard copy and got in on the WOTS deal this year.  It was a great festival once again, and I enjoyed being there on my own, able to wander around and look at things that interested me without worried about whether my companion(s) were getting bored!

Michael was done at 4 and we headed home on the subway with his new-to-him Eb tuba.  I whipped in to party mode and at 5 pm, welcomed my brother and his family, and my two aunts (and mom) over to celebrate the birthdays of my niece Emily (1) and nephew (and godson) Will (3).  Most of the food had been prepped and Z had done a lot of work laying things out.  We had maple-orange glazed salmon, lemon-celery rice, a green salad, plus cold appetizers and cheese, fruit, and cake.  It was lovely to see everyone, but I was pretty wiped from being on my feet for a good part of the day!

This morning, my mom headed north to visit a friend for the day, and I’m making a batch of applesauce with some of the apples my brother gifted me with from an apple picking excursion he went on with his family.  He gave us Spartans (great for applesauce), Cortlands (baking, eating), and McGowan’s (eating) so I see some pies and crisps in my future (although given my diet, I won’t be eating them!)

A busy week ahead.  More to come.