Why Dad liked black walnut trees

these are the black walnut trees that dad planted

the green husked black walnut fruitI have a memory from my youth where my dad took a paper bag of black walnuts and we went down to the workbench in the basement and left the bag there for them to dry out. Later on (months?) we might have used the bench vise, though I’m not sure we had one of those in my childhood years, so, more likely we used a hammer, and cracked those hard nuts open to get at the nut meats. That was my first taste of a nut that my dad knew from his childhood.  The Isaiah Dettweiler house had a large, impressive specimen of a black walnut tree between the house and the road.

In the nut world, the walnut that most of us have tasted is known more specifically as a Persian walnut. An ordinary nutcracker like the ones we used in our house to crack open walnuts, brazil nuts and hazel nuts around Christmas time is an adequate tool with which to get at the nutmeats in these nuts. But don’t think for a moment of using that nutcracker on a black walnut (“you daresn’t do that” as Dad might say).  This is a nut that is so solidly encased in its shell that you will break your nutcracker very quickly rather than break into the nut.Black walnuts with the hammer

And yet my dad must have liked black walnuts for he knew the work involved to get at that nutmeats and he showed me how it was done. Later on, when I must have been a teenager, he planted at least two black walnut trees on his own property even though I have doubts that he ever came to enjoy the fruits of this labour.

To me now, in the 21st century, I pull out the hammer and crack into this hard-won treat every once-in-a-while as a remembrance of my dad. Unlike my dad, I can enjoy the unique taste that the black walnut holds without doing all the work involved. (This is a nut with an outer husk as well, and truth be told, I know nothing about how to get past this level except I think I remember dad (or mom) saying how these husks can stain your hands in the process of removing them). I have a sausage customer in Niagara-on-the-Lake that has a nut nursery and in the garage on their property they sell nuts that they grow, including the black walnut. I remember that when I broke into the plastic bag of pre-shelled black walnuts which I had just purchased ($14 per lb.) on the first delivery of sausage that I made to Ernie Grimo, the taste took me immediately back to my childhood when my dad had me share in this favourite nut of his.

If I come at this memory on a Sunday, it is not to say the obvious truth that everything is easier “nowadays”. There are some things that I think must be harder to accomplish today, like having families that give the children the sense of security in the world that my parents produced in their children. My grandfather, Isaiah, who I never really knew very much as he died when I was only a boy, was known, I’ve heard say, for his work ethic. Hardly a theoretical thing, to him, the farm demanded work. I’ve heard one of my aunts or uncles relating that when he sat at the table for lunch his one leg wasn’t with the other, in front of his chair or bench. He kept that one leg ready to pull off for a quick exit from the table as soon as he was done eating. Dad knew a somewhat easier life than this constant work and Dad’s favourite thing was to sit around the table with his family (after a hard day’s work) and to enjoy Mom’s cooking all together with his family.

Enhanced_dads_blackwalnut_treeDad liked black walnut trees and planted some on his own property because they were a symbol to him of something he wanted to pass on to his children. That was the tree that held prominence at the house where Dad grew up and I can only believe that Dad valued his upbringing and would want to remember it. The work involved to get at the nutmeats said that there is something very good at the end of working hard especially if it is something that you can share with the others in your family. Dad knew what he was doing when he put away that bag of walnuts for a future time and he wanted his children to know this valuable truth too.

Reverend Toussaint

My last blog spoke of a busy birthday weekend for me with both a Jireh concert and a Montreal Gospel Choir performance as part of an event marking black history in Burlington, Vermont.  In this blog I want to highlight an unexpected pleasure for me on my birthday – something that happened quite by surprise and was the perfect way to mark my 55th birthday.

I made the remark to a couple of my fellow MGC members in the weeks leading up to our choir’s second career performance in the United States that if there were any border troubles and for some reason, or perhaps some unwelcome choir member we were refused entry at the Quebec – Vermont border, it actually might turn out to be more interesting  that way than performing at the scheduled event.MGC  And I, who really do love performing anywhere, love especially performing to the people of Vermont.  This is a people as mellow as the Green Mountain Coffee that they serve, but you can count on them to raise their hands and participate actively in a  gospel concert. In the earliest years of Jireh, and before that with Union Gospel Choir, I had the pleasure of being before an audience who not only loved my Lord Jesus but outwardly indicated the same in the way that they responded to his music.  Rarely seen in Canada, this gospel fervour, I must admit.

The building of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Burlington was what my ideal church building would look like – simple, but infused with light with windows on both sides of the sanctuary on the main floor and the balcony floor.  My own chosen church in Montreal does not possess such easy access to light.  We are a multi-campus church that has a goal of having a location in each borough of Montreal.  I may just drive across town to some foreign borough should we ever find a location with the quality of light that the Unitarian Universalists of Burlington possess!

The choir performed, and I must say we performed just a little better than usual because we were actively encouraged by the greater part of the black audience and even those of the whiter solidarity set.  My wife, Carol, as director is world class.  I love watching her lead – she has all the skills on and offstage to excel in her chosen field.  Then came my birthday surprise as Reverend Toussaint King Hill from Atlanta, Georgia was introduced as the speaker at this black history month event.

Carol and I went to see a civil rights era movie recently.  “Hidden Figures” is set in the very early 1960’s in the state of Virginia and follows the story of 3 black “computers”, women who used their dexterity with adding machines and sometimes, when given the opportunity, their math abilities to enable NASA to send men and spaceships into orbit and to bring them back to earth again.  Civil rights history in the United States is so close at hand to us as Canadians and is so troubling because my privileged class of whiter peoples in all their institutions were so slow at bringing equal rights and access to education to their neighbours who didn’t share the same ancestry.  It is striking to Carol and I, this injustice, as we can testify as a married couple that there are far more things that we share in common than there are things that would divide us.

Faith in Jesus Christ is perhaps the greatest unifying element that Carol and I share.  Carol loves hearing preaching even more than I do as she continues daily to hear the word of God set forth (through means of the internet) while I get my preaching fix but once per week at church.  This was my once per week prescription that the introduced Reverend Hill was bringing today and for Carol, it was a sampling of something too rare for our northern breed – African American preaching in the tradition of the great Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.

Reverend Hill is a distinguished alumnus of Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, without doubt one of the greatest colleges among all the outstanding educational institutions in United States.  He prepared there, as Martin Luther King Jr. himself did, to be the pastor of a church.  Reverend Hill received his present call as pastor in 2006, to West Hunter Street Baptist Church in Atlanta.  This was the church that Ralph Albernathy also pastored for many years, another renowned civil rights leader, colleague and friend of Martin Luther King.  Could there be a better speaker possible for a black history month event in Burlington, Vermont on a sunny day in February?

The sermon, for our speaker did not shy away from his gifting even in this Unitarian setting, started slowly, a cadence well-known in the southern states.  As the sermon developed, Reverend Hill added different “tracks” – biblical, historical, musical, mythical, inspirational, political and educational.  Instead of going serially from one track to another as a less-gifted speaker might, he wove the traps into a tapestry – one theme appearing for a minute before it stepped behind another track.  There was a large white handkerchief ready next to the pulpit for Reverend King’s use.  By midway through the sermon, it was obvious that our speaker would be needing the handkerchief even in these northern climes.  He was working the tapestry which was meant to both honour and inspire a people.  You certainly didn’t have to be black to be inspired and moved by his words.  You didn’t need to be a believer to have a great appreciation for his subject of the afternoon, but for those of us who were of the faith in Jesus, he rallied us to proclaim it and to acknowledge Jesus with him.

Carol could not have hoped for a speaker who better represented the preaching style that is native to the churches that birthed the gospel music that Montreal Gospel Choir sings.  His connection with American Civil rights history  and his practice as a preacher to continue in that tradition along with his obvious faith in God and love of Jesus made him the perfect person for us as a choir to back in this event.  Sometimes pastors are accused of “preaching to the choir”.  Because of the willingness of Reverend Toussaint King Hill to come north at the invitation of Patrick Brown, sponsor and organizer of this event, he had the opportunity to preach to a choir very different than the gospel choir that he has in his home church.  As Montreal Gospel Choir continues to develop in its unique way, Reverend Hill’s sermon on February 26, 2017 will no doubt provide a frame of reference to us in faith and in singing.  Preach it, brother!IMG_0763

Some excellent reading & music

Texture magazines

This morning, in my long run which effectively completes my training for the half marathon in Montreal on September 25, I ran with my Eers earbuds in playing this week’s Discover Weekly playlist put together by Spotify.  This is exceptional for me to run with music but since I needed to stretch my distance out and I would be running alone for two hours without a companion, I thought that doing this to jazz music would help “diminuer les ennuies”.  And so it did – I finished 16 km of running with 8 songs left still unplayed in the 30 song playlist.  If you use Spotify, clicking on the previous link will open up the playlist that I enjoyed this morning.

After returning home and being greeted as a hero by Carol for accomplishing such a distance (my training for this major run next Sunday has been, admittedly, spotty, I showered, brunched (oh, how I love running for the way that it makes everything taste better) and then rested my weary bones with some reading.  In a similar manner that I use Spotify to find any and all music that I want to listen to, just this week, I signed up for the magazine service put out by Rogers which gives me unlimited access to a whole panoply of magazines.  My iPad is the ideal device to read on.  I have these magazines listed as My Favourites: Bicycling; Canadian Business; Canadian Cycling; Canadian Running; Consumer Reports; L’actualité; National Geographic plus these from same publisher – History, & Traveller. Continuing: New York Magazine; Popular Mechanics; Québec Science; Popular Science; Rolling Stone; Smithsonian; The Atlantic; Travel & Leisure; Vanity Fair; Vélo Mag; Wired; The Official Program of the World Cup of Hockey 2016 and, finally, Zoomer.  Missing from this list are weekly or bi-weekly magazines like Time, Newsweek, McLeans, The New Yorker, Billboard and People.  I opted for the Basic $9.99 per month subscription that includes only the monthly magazines.  From a point of view of costs, I simply cancelled my New York Times digital subscription (too much of the American election) which cost me $14.99 per month.  I am quite happy that the $10 per month gives me access to a fair slate of Canadian content including magazines en français that will help me expand my vocabulary.

Am I reading?  Yes!  Besides the reading from the library, much of this also coming across my iPad as e-books from the Montreal Library, the Bibliotheque et Archives Nationales du Québec, and the Ontario Public Library system.  Thank you Baysville Library for access to the e-book wealth of an entire province.  My Goodreads links to my updated reading list with very short reviews for my completed books.

Now back to Québec Science magazine’s fascinating article on the history of the Saint Lawrence river.


Reading through the alphabet

This is year 2 of reading through the alphabet.  In 2013 I decided that instead of looking through all of the fiction bookshelves it would be more efficient to limit my search to one letter at a time.  So I started with A and would look through all the A authors.  Invariably I discovered authors that were new to me through this technique and putting on the blinkers in this way had me spending less time in the library searching for that “one best book”.

In 2014 I took a break from this technique and decided I would read history and biography – something that wasn’t excluded in the “reading through the alphabet series” but often came about by browsing the new books – you don’t find history (except for historical fiction) and biography in the fiction book racks.

I’ll try to fill in here by memory the authors that I read this way and give a few comments:

A – hmm let me go browse at the BANQ and I may remember

B – same – let’s sign into my Goodreads account on the internet – they should be listed there

With help from my Goodreads abcdefgh shelf

A is for Sherwood Anderson, “Winesburg, Ohio”.  I bet you can find this for free on your e-book reader.  Don’t rule out books because  they were written in 1919.

B is for Anita Rau Badami, a Vancouver writer, whose first novel was “Tamarind Mem”

C is for Michael Crumney, a Newfoundland writer who has a book of Newfoundland-based short stories “Flesh & Blood: Stories”.  Thanks to Paulette Cake who (I think) encouraged me to read this writer.

C is also for Ann Cummins, “Red Ant House: Stories” and for Roch Carrier, “La Guerre, Yes Sir! which I had the pleasure of reading “en francais”.  Carrier has also written some good history.  In June 2015 I finished “Montcalm & Wolfe”.  Found myself cheering for the English on this one.  Now I’m ready to explore the Plains of Abraham on my next Quebec (City) visit.

DanticatD is waiting for me to write a book, apparently, as I got bogged down in Stig Dalager’s “Journey in Blue: A Novel about Hans Christian Andersen” and did not finish it. At the beginning of 2016 I went to the super-library with the intention of filling in the two or three small gaps in completing the alphabet. Edwidge Danticat, an author of the Haitian diaspora (writing in English, however) filled my ‘D’ gap with ‘The Dew Breaker’, a collection of short stories connected in one way or another with the Tonton Macoutes, who terrorized Haiti under the reign of Baby Doc Duvallier.

E is for Louise Erdrich who hooked me with a title: “The Master Butchers Singing Club” and then another, “The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse”

F is for a classic “As I Lay Dying” by William Faulkner begun at Parc Lafontaine, overlooking the lake.

G is for Richard Gwyn, “John A: The Man Who Made Us”.  If you have to ask who John A is, this book might not be for you.  It was definitely for me.  I also found Volume II on his later years and thoroughly appreciated this biography of our first prime minister

H is for Louis Hémon’s “Maria Chapdelaine”.  Every Quebec student had this on the reading list, like it or not.  I chose to read it (et, en français, bien sûr)

I is a Canadian author, Frances Itani “Leaning, Leaning Over Water”.  Liked it and added this author to my go-to list.

J is Pete Jordan, “In the City of Bikes: The Story of the Amsterdam Cyclist”.  Learned some things, but this book was too long.  Skimmed the last chapters so that I could say I completed it.

K is for Ivan Klima “No Saints or Angels” fiction about a Czech dentist.  I note that this author’s “My Crazy Century” a non-fiction memoir won the Czech literary prize in non-fiction in 2010.  I can’t get enough from Eastern European writers, especially in history or historical-based fiction.

L is for C. S. Lewis “‘Till We Have Faces” and in 2015 I read “The Great Divorce” as well.

M is for Alister E. McGrath “C.S. Lewis: A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet”.  This is, no doubt, the biography to read on C. S. Lewis.

N is for Fae Myenne Ng “Bone”.  About three Chinese American daughters growing up in the author’s real childhood hometown of San Francisco Chinatown.

O is for Yury Olesha “Envy”.  Though I was drawn to this thin volume I ended up skimming it to finish.  Find another O author, is my advice.  Ondaatje is an obvious one, but he doesn’t click with me.

P is for M. Scott Peck “In Heaven as on Earth: A Vision of the Afterlife”.  Some of Peck’s images stayed with me.  The Mad Men final episode at times brought to mind Peck’s Amalgamated Systems souls working in the bottom of a garbage can.

Q is for Qiu Xiaolong “Years of Red Dust”. Short stories and history from the author’s native Shanghai.

R is for David Adams Richards whose “Mercy Among the Children” I am reading again.  I picked it up in Toronto for $1 recently and was part way into it  when I realized that I had already read this.  Reading  it again with greater attention – I couldn’t believe that I didn’t recognize the characters earlier in the book.  I like David Adams Richards a whole lot.  Writes fiction set in the Miramichi and non-fiction set there as well.  He has new books coming out to add to the 8 to 10 that I’ve already read.

R is for Mordecai Richler as well.  If I was watching the movie of “Joshua Then and Now” I might not finish it.  In the midst of the book this weekend.  Entertaining, yes, but if I don’t finish this novel it will be because it doesn’t rise above that.

S is for J. D. Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye”.  I did not have to read this for high school English.  Kept me entertained.  Perhaps it was considered profane or racey for 1951.  Stylistically interesting.

T is for William Makepeace Thackeray.  “Vanity Fair” is a big chunk to read, a tome of 883 pages.  I left unfinished an equally weighty Solzhenitsyn – part of his Red Wheel cycle of novels on the history of the Russian Revolution.  Will I succeed in “Vanity” where I failed in history?  Will see.  I recall seeing a movie based on “Vanity Fair” as the initial scene with Rebecca throwing the dictionary out of the carriage window is rather memorable. Vanity Fair

Done! And quite enjoyable. Laughed a lot. Though author thought of as cynical by some of his peers. he may have had more insight on his world than many. Much biting satire, but all quite believable, even though the characters are exaggerated. There was never a point in the 800 plus pages when I thought of abandoning my read.

U is for John Updike – returning to the consummate pro of short stories for “Pigeon Feathers and other stories” a collection published in 1962 (which is one of my birth years). U is also for Thrity Umrigar “The Space Between Us”. An accomplished author, this is my first read of any of her books.

V is for M. G. Vassanji, though I must confess, I don’t think I have read a novel by this writer, resident of Canada,VilaMatas since “The In-Between World of Vikram Lall” (in 2011).  New Year’s 2016 resolution to read another Vassanji as, with X, this is my only missing letter of the alphabet.  As of January 2016, I am reading an English translation of Enrique Vila Matos, called ‘Dublinesque’.  I also read  Miklós Vámos, “The Book of Fathers” which I picked up at the Word Bookshop on Milton Street.  This author is Hungarian, so he nicely rounds out my portfolio of international authors.  “The Book of Fathers” traces a family history (only interesting characters, as it is fiction) from the beginning of the 18th century until the debut of the 21st century.

W is for Andy Weir, “The Martian” (see my comments on Goodreads) and Rudy Wiebe, “Come Back”. The Rudy Wiebe is a heavy read, but it prepares you for life.  I appreciate this author’s honesty about his Mennonite roots.

X –  I thought I had an X author with Qiu Xiaolong, but Chinese list the family name first, so add X to my resolution found above (under V).  When I finished my first reading through the alphabet I found an author who writes about girls in China.  I read ‘Miss Chopsticks’ by Xinran.

Y is for Yu Hua – a Chinese author, so family name first.  I read “The Seventh Day” which is about the first seven days after a Chinese man dies.  It is really a review of this man’s life as he searches out those people with whom he has had meaningful relations with prior to his death.  The author through this book makes satirical comments on how the Chinese culture understands death and relates the story of the life of Yang Fei.  I’ve made note that Yu Hua is an acclaimed Chinese author and is known for “Brothers” and “To Live”, so I will let the benefits of discovering new authors by reading through the alphabet continue by investigating these books which seem to have established Yu Hua’s fame.

Z is for Rafia Zakaria “The Upstairs Wife: An Intimate History of Pakistan”.  You have to take your more obscure letters of the alphabet when they present themselves. An intimate history of Pakistan written by a woman – reads like a novel.  Excellent.

As of January 1st, 2016, I’ve now finished this project of reading through the alphabet.  I’ve greatly benefited from my self-imposed program as it has introduced me to authors that were entirely new to me (Badami, Crumney, Cummins, Erdrich, Itani, Klima, Ng, Qiu, Thackeray, Yu and Zakaria).  Almost all of these authors are accomplished writers with other books just waiting on the shelves at my library.  The reading project has more than doubled my list of “go to” authors.  Now when I enter my gi-enormous local library, le Bibliothèque et Archives Nationales du Québec I have many new friends waiting to spend time with me within.

Pain ressusciter

Ce matin pour ma fête, j’ai voulu commencer avec un petitPain_ressuscite_vector déjeuner fabriqué des aliments que j’ai déjà en main. Donc, s’il me reste un pain italien bien sec, des oeufs et du lait avec la date d’expiration demain, c’est bien evident l’affaire que je peux facilement confectionner. Le pain perdu!

J’ai cherché mon blogue avec le tag ‘breakfast’ parce que j’ai déjà une simple recette pour pain perdu (French toast) écrite dans la série “17 Favourite breakfasts” (mes dix-sept petits déjeuners préférés).  Après avoir fouetté un oeuf dans un quart de tasse de lait, j’ai gratté (rapé?) dedans un petit peu de noix de muscade et j’ai saupoudré légèrement mon affaire de la cannelle.

Il me reste du gras d’un rôti de porc cuisiné hier.  J’ai eu peur que le pain va goûter de l’ail mais, finalement ce n’était pas le cas.  Le pain bien sec a ‘gobber’ le mélange oeuf-lait comme un éponge. Le pain perdu n’était pas cause perdu (lost cause?) mais un réussite total!

Donc, je suggère humblement que les Larousse et les Roberts du monde francophone ajoutent au lexique ‘pain ressusciter’.

Pure 2015

There are two blogs that I’ve subscribed to so that each time these talented bloggers write something, I get it in my email inbox.  One of those blogs is called Obscure CanLit Mama and this blog’s writer, who is also a published fiction and short story writer, chooses a word of the year for each year.  These are words that have the quality of being meditatable (not a word, I’m most sure), like a mantra, and words that empower life.

After Obscure CanLit Mama opened up her comments so that her readers could share their words-of-the-year, I posted a comment, choosing a word of the year for 2015 and sharing it in that forum.  My post was more than a paragraph, before I edited it back, so I cut and paste the superfluous paragraphs not appropriate to the comment section and am posting them here as today’s blog post:

Instead of just being a spectator on this blog (as I am most days) I, too, am going to choose a word of the year for 2015. Can’t say I’ve reflected on this for the probably necessary days, but the very first word of the song “Real Love” on Jireh Gospel Choir’s new album “Get Up” is pure. [Full disclosure, I am a singer in Jireh and am married to Carol Bernard, the director]. That’s my word for 2015 that I want to explore and that I want God to work into my life. Funny that ‘pure’ is set prominently as first word in a song that was perhaps gospel song writer extraordinaire Stephen Lewis’ first foray into writing radio-friendly lyrics.

The lyrics go ‘Pure, kind, something I have inside of me, joy, unspeakable each time I think of everything, you’ve done in my life…’ Somehow those beginning words set Real Love off on a good track. Like the list of the fruits of the spirit it makes me want this in my life.

On my next trip to the library I’ll start by exploring the etymology (I hope that’s the word) of ‘pure’. How was the word first used? What’s its history? But the all-important part of this exercise, my first time having a word of the year, is, “What will the concept of ‘pure’ produce in my life?”. Only good things, I’m sure.

Stay tuned throughout 2015 as I reflect on ‘pure’.


Vector traces

StainGlassManTedIpody of my blog images are vector traces of photos accomplished in Coreldraw and then exported as jpg, gif or png to illustrate my blog.  This is something that I have learned to do over many years use of Coreldraw. It’s quite simple to do and I find the results to be more pleasing than the original photo.

There are technical advantages to creating a vector image from your original bitmap image:

  • Much smaller size – the original of the stained glass image on the right was 1.36 meg for a 884 X 2386 pixel image.  This trace represents that same image in png format using only 220k – about 1/6 the size.  Many of the traces that I use on this blog are only 10 or 20k in size.
  • When printing with the image stored in a vector format (.cdr, .ai, svg) the image is infinitely resizable with no loss of quality.

After creating my vector image in Coreldraw I use the “Export for Web” command to turn it back into a bitmap.  I saw that the size of the image of me, to the right, was much larger than necessary so I reduced it to 242 pixels wide.  The result is perfect for my blog and the jpg is a mere 5k in size.

If your data plan is skimpy like mine, you can still look at this blog as the photos, when vector-processed won’t break anyone’s data plan.

This link helps you with doing traces in Adobe Illustrator: http://helpx.adobe.com/illustrator/using/image-trace.html