Essay

Nibbles of Chocolate

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“Never trust anyone who tells you they don’t eat desserts. You know, those people who look at you smugly when you offer your pièce de résistance and say, ‘Oh, I couldn’t; this dessert is too rich!’ We simply respond with, ‘We don’t understand the concept of ‘too rich’ — or ‘too chocolaty’ for that matter.” Susan Mendelson and  Deborah Roitberg, Nuts About Chocolate

Amen to that! There is nothing on earth too chocolaty.

“This book is about obsession.

Once The Trellis opened, I enlisted the pastry chefs to create some devastating concoctions from chocolate, chocolate, and more chocolate. Customers oooo-ed over The Trellis’ Caramel Banana Chocolate Chip Ice Cream….But then came the dessert that broke the chocolate barrier — Death By Chocolate.

I discovered then that I was not alone in my obsession.” Marcel  Desaulniers, Death by Chocolate

No, you’re not alone Marcel! My obsession began the day a local shop-owner leaned over and gave my too-young self a small, plain-looking, dark piece of chocolate. I took it warily from his hand, gingerly put it in my mouth, sucked, and hit heaven. Like any right-minded kid, I wanted more. I’ve been addicted ever since.

Later, as an adult, when gorging on chocolate truffles, I used to say it was good for me just so I could legitimize my addiction. And then I heard that it actually may be good for you. Without hesitation, I looked into it. And then I wrote a three-part series on it, titled A Nibble of Chocolate (Parts One, Two, and Three). I invite you to check it out. Click on each of the pix below and enjoy!

Essay

The Soft Light of Christ(mas)

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The woman stands at the tall lobby window, staring out into the night, waiting. The car races down the darkened road. The crosswalk lights sway erratically in the black wind, casting shifting shadows onto the melting snow. People jostle strangers in the light-bright mall, un-noticing. The mother cooks in the kitchen. The father sits on the phone. The older kids wrap presents, each in their own room; while the younger kids jump and run, watching the clock, watching their gifts, watching the clock, eager for Santa Claus.

Into this lonely night’s sky, a distant star grows, its rays pointing to a soft, silent light that never dies, never blows out, never expires.

The word made flesh.

That light shines and reaches out into the dark, to anyone, to everyone, asking them to reach back to him. The woman standing alone in the artificial light, waiting for her ride, keeps her hands firmly in her pockets. The driver pushing on the accelerator with his impatient foot keeps hands on wheel. The people struggling with bags and coats and money have their hands full. The mother stirring the soup reaches with her free hand for the salt. The father gripping the telephone receiver uses his free hand to write notes on his conversation. The older kids wrapping never still their hands as they fold, crease, tape, cut, curl ribbon. The younger kids flying back and forth through the house, caught up in their desires, flap their hands eagerly, almost touching that soft light they barely sense.

But Jesus waits. Always there, his soft light reaches out to anyone, to everyone, even the lonely who affear to take hands out of comfortable pockets, to separate arm from safe side and reach back to accept that light.

Personal

CN Tower Over the Valley Inspires a CafePress Calendar

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CN Tower from across the Don Valley
The CN Tower from across the Don Valley

I’ve discovered two things this week: I really need an audiovisual entrainment session to get me writing on my blogs; and creating images for CafePress is awfully addictive.

I called up the ADD Centre a few days ago to catch them up on my brain’s healing — especially the recent jump in writing skills — and to get some advice on how to bring my chronic stress under control. The medical profession is about as effective in stress management as they are in weight loss. Here, take a pill and go away. The Director Dr. Lynda Thompson listened and suggested I come in for a session; the next thing I knew, I was hooked up to that familiar computer with a whack of sensors attached to me, undergoing a stress evaluation and then a reduce busy brain session. Busy brain is when your mind goes round and round and is not conducive to relaxed attention and can cause anxiety. And then we went over my little machine I use at home. They suggested a new session. I think I’d used it before, years ago (hard to believe I first went to the ADD Centre 3 years ago), but I had been using other sessions the last couple of years. Well, I tried it at home yesterday, and wow, what an effect. The neatest thing about some of these sessions is that you have instant visual improvement. Amazing how sharp everything looks when you take the shades off. I wrote an awful lot after that  26-minute session, which stimulated SMR brain waves (relaxed, focussed attention) in my right hemisphere and alpha and beta waves (creative and thinking waves) in my left hemisphere. I have a lot of problems with reading that are related to issues in the posterior area of the brain, the section near my left ear, and the left frontal cortex. Unfortunately, I don’t think this session did anything for my reading. On the bright side, my reading is much better than when I first attended brain biofeedback at the centre.

Anyway, that session also started a flurry of creating CafePress shop products from my photos. I just finished creating two very big ones: the wall calendar and the vertical wall calendar. It was lucky I hauled out my Nikon D80 early October as some of those shots came in very handy when creating these calendars.

I took this photo of the CN Tower just last week from the Viaduct with my D80. I’d tried this shot a year or two ago, but this time I was far more successful. I knew it would be perfect for the front cover of the vertical wall calendar. I invite you to check it out. I’ve also added other typical Christmas gifts — ornaments, greeting cards, T-Shirts, etc. — to my CafePress shop. I have lots more products to add, but I’m going to take a break for a day or two! I think I’ve earned it!!

Personal

Getting Acquainted with my CafePress Shop, Points North Studio

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Just under a week ago, I joined CafePress as a shopkeeper. I’d thought about doing it a few months ago, researched it and its competitors, sunk into a quagmire of indecision, and then the Olympics started. Last week, a friend of mine reminded me of CafePress, and I started up the shop.

It’s been an adventure figuring out the image requirements, how to use the templates, which photopaint software is the best one to use (still working on that one), discovering the plethora of products to create images for, and playing with which images work best on which products. I’m finally starting to feel like I know what I’m doing, and it’s getting rather addictive adding new products. And unlike writing, it’s a totally different and less effort-full thinking process. Populating my CafePress shop provides a nice break from writing and thinking about writing (half of writing is thinking, mulling, pondering ideas), yet it still makes me feel productive, so important after too many years of rehab being my “job.”

I started my shop with a bunch of dark T-shirts, added on Christmas greeting cards — my favourite is the beach photo with the dog in Lake Ontario. The kicker is that it’s February, there’s a thick dock of ice along the shoreline that I watched the dog carefully navigate when deciding where he’d enter the water, and his equally slow-moving human companion is standing on the snow-covered sand wrapped up in toque and winter coat. But I digress. CafePress helped me get my Flip Mino loaded into my shop. I have a CN Tower journal, and just added a variety of mugs. I’m currently mulling over which photo to use on the throw pillow. I’m leaning towards one of my zoo shots, but don’t think the Hippo Butt shot would make for a good pillow adornment, even though it’s my favourite. My CafePress adventure continues!

Marketing

My New CafePress Shop: Points North Studio

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I write to create, expose, think out loud, tell a story, keep me sane. But I photograph flowers, animals, cityscapes for fun. I see a scene, a flower, and as long as my camera is nearby, I shoot. No thinking involved, like with writing, well, usually not. I lost this hobby of mine for several years after my closed head injury. And then one day, almost three years ago, when I thought the hobby was gone for good, with the strong encouragement of a friend, I bought a digital point and shoot. I had been using SLRs (single lens reflex) cameras for 20 years at the time of my injury, complete with a supply of filters and lenses, and considered myself a decent photographer, one who wasn’t interested in point and shoots with their limited abilities. But by late 2005, I no longer cared about point and shoots’ limitations. Simply pointing at a flower and shooting was a big leap forward for me. A year and a bit later, fate intervened again, and I got my second lifetime SLR. This time it was a digital one; I exchanged in my old film one, the one that had remained idle for 6 years, at the same time. Me and my Nikon D80 are still learning about each other, and me and my Nikon Coolpix S2 are now old friends. Together, we’ve enjoyed the pleasure of a beautiful rose, the fun of following a butterfly, the impressiveness of Toronto’s buildings. But what I never expected was that my Nikon buddies would lead me to an income-earning opportunity.

Today, I’m pleased to announce the opening of my new CafePress.com shop at CafePress.com/ShireenJ. I call my shop Points North Studio, after my Flickr name. I’ve created a few products to begin with: T-shirts featuring my popular morning rose, a journal with the CN Tower soaring up its cover, and a birthday card featuring a jaunty yellow crocus. Other products and shop features will follow regularly as I familiarize myself with creating them. Also CafePress provides the ability to open up more than one shop; if, for example, people want to see more greeting cards, I’ll open up new shops to showcase new card designs.

I invite you to check it out, e-mail me your comments, and shop!

Personal

Dr. Homi Feroze Jeejeebhoy, 5 July 1930 to 17 February 2008

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I lost my Uncle Homi yesterday. “How do you mean you lost me?” I can hear him asking, as he quickly picks up on the many meanings of that statement. He was always an admirer of the more formal English of India rather than the more casual and sloppy English of Canada and the US and would not be too impressed with that first sentence of mine. So I shall amend.

Yesterday, after several months of believing that his end was near and a month after he suffered his first stroke and was admitted to a Québec hospital and then transferred to the more competent Ottawa General, my Uncle Homi, more precisely my father’s older cousin on his father’s side, died.

A big man, like his father and his father’s father, my Uncle Homi had told me back in early January that at his age he feared catching pneumonia the most. Of all the ways to die, that scared him because he had seen his patients suffer terribly from that infection. I am amazed at how many people treat pneumonia as if it was the common cold — trundling out and about, shedding bacteria or virii willy nilly, putting more stress on their labouring lungs — rather than the deadly respiratory infection that it can be. Well, unfortunately his fears were realised, but he was stronger than the invading pathogens, and he won that battle. I wonder though if he was like my Grandma, who back in 1981 wasn’t too thrilled to discover that she had survived her quadruple operation when she awoke and who then went on to die of unknown causes (and presumably to join my Grandpa in the afterlife). Uncle Homi… (“Why do you still call me Uncle Homi? I told you to call me Homi!” I hear him averring.) As I was saying, Uncle Homi didn’t die mysteriously like she did, but like Grandma (and in a way, like Judy Taylor at the very end of her life) he was ready to pass on and was none too pleased to discover he was still here on earth.

Actually, he didn’t believe he would “pass on.” Let’s just say he didn’t believe “in all that nonsense.” He was eight when he told his mother and father that he would not wear the sudreh and kusti. Apparently, they didn’t say anything because they just didn’t. He stopped wearing the Zoroastrian ritual garments — except when it was expedient for him to do so, as for instance, when the Muslims and Hindus were warring in India in the 1940s or ’50s and he didn’t want to be caught in the middle and so found it useful to put on the visible protection of Zoroastrian ritual garments — because he literally couldn’t understand the prayers. He didn’t speak Gujrati, and I assume his mother, who did, taught him the prayers in that language. He found it all a bunch of mumbo jumbo anyway.

He told me some time ago that he had made funeral arrangements with a local funeral home in Ottawa both for himself and his wife Addi. He didn’t want a lot of fuss or any of that nonsense, referring to the Zoroastrian prayers. Like most religions, Zoroastrianism has funeral rituals. They are designed to assist the soul in its journey to heaven, and I think, to help the living accept the fact of the death. Priests come to conduct the prayers for three days (Zoroastrian priests are volunteers), at the end of which time the body is buried. It’s important for the body to be buried as Zoroastrians believe in the resurrection of the body. That’s why traditionally, vultures pick the bones clean on the Tower of Silence in Bombay. God then uses the bones to knit together the body in the resurrection. Of course, that was a surefire reason why Uncle Homi told the funeral home that he and Addi were to be cremated. His soul didn’t need assisting — was there even a soul? Nope, none of this resurrection nonsense for him, no matter what his parents had taught him. Rebellious to the end, he further instructed no funeral, no memorial, not even an obit. He was to pass into oblivion unobserved. Sigh. Stronger creatures than I am could not have budged him on this decision of his, no matter how much they would have argued for the needs of the living.

But having that same rebellious streak, in smaller measure, I am writing this remembrance to Uncle Homi (“Homi! Not Uncle Homi!” Yet he smiles broadly as he remonstrates me, again), writing out my feelings of loss, writing my way to coping with an earthly life without him. I may not have been able to say good-bye in the traditional, time-honoured way that tells the heart “he is gone,” but I can say good-bye in this way, in a way that lets me know with finality that he is gone, for at the end of this post is a gallery of his photos. I would not be posting these — I would not even have possession of his photos — if Homi was still alive. If he was still alive, I’d still be looking forward to receiving one of his autographed photos for my birthday or Christmas. But I’m not.

Homi was a passionate amateur photographer. He was first and foremost a physician, and being easily bored, he switched specialties and homes a few times, finally settling down to the community life of a well-loved GP in Ottawa. (Apocryphal but true: He had to take an IQ test for medical school. As he couldn’t believe anyone wanted this as a measure of his competence, he doodled along in his boredom until test time was up. His mark was so low, it was, as he told me, at the “level of a moron.” That was technically an IQ of 51-70 at that time. The “moron” relied on his excellent memory to always come first in medical school.) But he also loved photography. I saw his cameras today: Comtrax and Zeiss Ikon. Three. With very different lenses. And very heavy too, for they were of a well-constructed vintage I haven’t seen since I was a child. These three were his current cameras; I didn’t see his other ones.

A few years ago, he closed up his dark room, metaphorically speaking, and moved it onto the computer. Now being Homi, he held no truck for these new-fangled computers. He liked the original Corel Ventura just fine, the version that Corel produced after buying Ventura and its utilities from Xerox. I liked it too, but being the computer geek that I was before Y2K, I really, really liked buying a new computer built to my specs every couple of years or so. That meant, of course, new software. Not always, but sometimes. All that newness and challenge of learning kept me happy for awhile. But the very idea of upgrading horrified Homi. Win98 suited him just fine. Dial-up was good enough. And the old Corel Photo-Paint gave him the control of fixing his photographs bit by bit, or occasionally pixel by pixel. I used to work on graphics with Corel Photo-Paint at the pixel level in my old pre-injury days, and I know what concentrated and skilled work that is. Retirement a couple of years ago meant he could devote more hours to that sort of work…when he wasn’t writing his newest book, that is. He was writing about water. I wonder now what will happen to all his research… But I shall not mull on that, instead I present to you my favourite flowers of Homi’s and a farewell nod to his three beloveds in life.

Two Daisies Gerbera Sunflower Lilies Orchids Three Icelandic Poppy Three Autumn Leaves Babe Cottage Addi at School Yard