Archive for October 2004

All the joy she could squeeze into living

One of the hardest things right now is realizing that it’s not such a bad thing that my Nana was ill for only a wee bit of time. Looking back on pictures from this summer (here July 30th), it’s easy to get mad. “Why did this happen when she was so full of life? Why couldn’t she have lived longer since she was so happy?” Mad is an easy emotion to nuture.

But really, we should be thankful that just two months before she died we were out on the town, and after this she had a wonderful two weeks entertaining family from Ireland. We should be relieved that her life was, up until the very last bit, wonderful and full of joy. And we should realize that part of why it seems like this happened so fast is she refused to let her failing body slow down the amount of joy she could squeeze into living. Makes me think of how she’d squeeze grapefruits to get the juice for breakfast. It was not in her nature to let anything good escape.

My Nana went through a lot when she was visiting us and yet just two days later she was back to enjoying life. She had lost sight in one eye, had a small stroke, had ongoing heart troubles, and a hernia that bothered her. And she never let on that any of these things were getting her down. Recently, she’d been having “dizzy spells” where her heart would stop beating for extended periods of time, which is why she needed the pacemaker. As much as we’d like to believe that she could have been with us longer, the truth is that she was wearing out.

I’m starting to be able to accept that she had squeezed out all the joy she could from life, and that living longer would have only meant increasing discomfort for her. It doesn’t really help me when I’m missing her, but it does help to realize that if there is a time for everything, maybe this was the time to say goodbye. It’s a good philosophy on life, to aim to get as much happiness as we can from every day so that our lives are as rich as possible.
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Bompa’s Beef Stroganoff

I forgot to tell everyone I was going home to Toronto for a week. I’m back now though. Bompa and I spent five great, but still sad, days together and created culinary masterpieces. This is significant for us, as the last time we cooked dinner together was in the late 80s when my Nana had broken her ankle and the meal was a complete disaster. We’d not had the courage to try since, but with two excellent meals under our belts (see below, and we made Nana’s Shepherd’s Pie last night), I have more faith in our kitchen skills.

We also went to church on Sunday at my grandfather’s church (another United Church of Canada congregation). I’d forgotten why I love my church so much – armchairs! There is nothing so uncomfortable as a hard wooden pew and I spent too much time squirming, which detracts from the experience. My church here in Vancouver has padded chairs with armrests and it’s so comfy.

After that we had very cool experience. Tom (Vera’s son) had worked at Fort York, a Toronto historic site, in various capacities for many years. His collegues and friends from there organized an event in his memory, and we were invited. They presented everyone with a book of stories they’d collected about Tom and then over the next two hours, each of them would get up and tell a story and share some laughs. It was fabulous, and a fitting tribute to a man who really cared about others. We were all pleased to able to hear these stories about Tom (since many were about him in his late teens and early twenties, they weren’t the kind of stories you’d otherwise tell your uncle (my Bompa) or your older cousin (my mom)) and I know Auntie Vera would have been very very proud.

These past few months have not been easy, but it’s nice to know that my family’s the type to pull together and support one another. I’m very proud of my grandfather, for many more reasons than his new-found culinary abilities, and it was special for me to spend all this time with him.

Bompa’s Beef Stroganoff

1 lb beef sirloin sliced 1/4″ thick (the best quality you can find)
dash paprika
2 tbsp butter
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 – 1 cup of red wine
1 can beef broth
huge (stuff that paper bag 1/2 full) amount of sliced fresh mushrooms
a little bit of sour cream

1. Cook the beef in butter over medium low heat until outsides are brown, then add onions and paprika and mushrooms and cook until onions are translucent and the mushrooms have shrunk down to almost nothing.

2. Add red wine and soup. If you pour too much red wine into your measuring vessel, solve the problem by having a few sips along with your assistant chef (it helps if your measuring vessel is a wine glass).

3. Simmer on medium-low heat for 20 minutes

4. Take off heat and stir in sour cream slowly. Serve over rice.

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learning to cook Nana’s way

It’s not easy to come up with entries for the site right now. Along with a core of sadness somewhere in my gut, I feel like I need to say something meaningful about my Nana. But how much is there to say about a personal loss in a public forum?

My Nana was not an overly serious person, although she loved politics and was looking forward to the presidential debates this fall. She was positive, making a conscious decision to focus on all the lovely parts of her life. We’ve so many memories of family meals with wine and good food (cooked by her). Memories of cookies and games, of her teaching my brother and I how to swim, of love and listening. There’s so many happy memories that I find myself smiling in spite of myself, which makes the sad parts much easier to bear.

Long time readers of this site will know that she’s the person responsible for many of my culinary successes (1, 2, 3, and 4) and was known for her ability to keep my grandfather well fed (except in cases of power failure). I like that my hubby’s favourite meals are often the ones she taught me to make for him, and I like her recipes, which often include steps like “have at least three glasses of wine while cooking”. Nana, I promise you, I’m following all the steps exactly and trying to be as good a wife as you were.
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Manhattan Thursdays

After the funeral yesterday, I was sitting with Mrs. Sayer who was my grandmother’s best friend for 54 years. Once a week they would go out for lunch, have their customary manhattans, and share confidences. 54 years of family troubles, family triumphs, and a deep friendship. We all knew how important they were to each other, and her statement that she didn’t know what she was going to do now that she can’t phone my grandmother and tell her everything made me cry (again). I’d feel lost without Jen to tell my secrets to, and that’s after only 11 years, not twice my lifetime.

It felt good to sit with Mrs. Sayer and get a hug and hear her tell stories of back when they started drinking manhattans together (when my mother was in school) and how they continued the tradition throughout the years. She said she’s decided that she’s going to continue and have a manhattan every Thursday to toast my Nana, and hearing that was a bright shining moment in a rather sad day. My Nana would be so happy to hear it, and I know she’ll be there in spirit, now that she can’t be there in person.
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Dorothy Evelyn Duncan

My grandmother passed away tonight, after weeks of being ill. I’d like to remember her in happier times, like last may, at their 60th wedding anniversary.

We are travelling to Toronto today to be with family. At this point, I’m not able to write more, except to say that I loved her completely. She was a loving, wonderful, caring Nana who was part of every part of my life. Her marriage to my Bompa was one of those love stories most people can only dream about. Prayers sent his way would be greatly appreciated.
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Porteau Cove (again)

We went back to Porteau Cove to camp Saturday night, repeating the only other camping trip we’ve had this summer. There is something important about spending a night outside, sleeping to the sound of waves lapping the shore just meters from our tent. I think that’s the most important part of camping for me, not the great adventures getting there, but the night itself.

This trip was fabulous! It was busier than in June and pretty much every single one of the walk in sites was full. The walk-in portion of the campground has shared firepits (which is a wonderful idea for both environmental and social reasons) and we had a great evening getting to know three other groups of campers; trading stories, roasting marshmallows, and sharing experiences. Sometimes it feels strange to be camping and pretending to ignore your neighbours, to foster the feeling that we’re getting away from the crowds. This was far less awkward, and had the added bonus of shared s’mores[1], which neither of us had eaten for ages.

During the night I managed to convince myself that the sun was rising, so I got up out of bed and walked down to the water. It wasn’t the sun that was shining through the tent though, but the moon, and in the middle of the night it was possible to sit on a log facing the inlet and watch the waves and the stars. After a couple minutes I got cold, so I snuggled into my sleeping bag and went back to sleep, feeling like I was caught somewhere far more beautiful than my ordinary life [2].

Last night, after unpacking all our gear we ran away from a living room that smells like scout camp and went to Ron and Cath’s 5th wheel for dinner. They’re in the middle of a cross-continent adventure and are spending two weeks in Vancouver visiting Michelle [3]. The’ve set up a website,, to post photos and stories of their trip and are perfect candidates for a blog. We’re meeting Thursday to see about setting them up on blogspot. More converts?

[1] s’mores are roasted marshmallow, chocolate, and graham cracker concoctions.
[2] of course 8am felt a lot more like normal, we both had stiff shoulders from sleeping on the ground.
[3] Ron and Cath are Cory’s aunt and uncle, Michelle is his cousin who started a Masters program at UBC in Sept. We like having family in town.
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