Oh, oh. I think this may be an unusual day.

This morning, I flipped the page of my digital edition of the Toronto Star, and read the following sentence, set in bold type on a completely blank background. "We are sorry. This page is not available from the publisher."

Normally, this highly irregular occurrence wouldn't cause most readers to be concerned, but for me it meant something much more unsettling.

It meant I couldn't read my horoscope.

You see, I've been following my fate in the stars for more than 50 years, and even though the skeptic in me knows that horoscopes are just a bunch of hooey, my romantic side never likes to discount the idea that maybe, just maybe, we should pay attention to that which cannot be explained. It's kind of like a faith -- perhaps no tangible proof, but a feeling that hedging one's bets couldn't hurt.

My mom introduced me to "the scopies", as she liked to call them. She was a firm believer. She bought those little horoscope books they used to sell at the checkout in the grocery store and swore that Tauruses shouldn't be married to Scorpios.

I'm a Leo. My husband is a Leo. Leos are supposed to be  headstrong and proud, fierce in their convictions, energetic, loving, magnetic "people people". Somewhere I read an article about liaisons between certain signs that said two Leos weren't a perfect fit but it could work. It did.

I remember one astrologer who used to assign a "star count" (pun intended, I'm sure) to your day, much like a movie review. You could be facing a full-on, super successful, five star day. On the other hand, you didn't much like to read your day would unfold to a measly one star rating.

Yesterday my horoscope said the moon is moving into my sign. Exactly what that means I don't really know, but maybe something's going to happen. Cue the mystery!

The best part of the daily horoscopes, though, is the day's prediction. I love it when I find out that Leo will solve a long-standing problem, or gain a clearer understanding of an issue. At the end of the day I find myself reflecting on whether or not certain predictions had actually come true.

Just how much does our birthdate affect our destinies? Is it science or superstition, fact or fiction? Do I really believe? Nah. Well ... maybe.

The answer to that question could be in the stars.





A Jam Buttie

Children of parents who emigrated from the United Kingdom become familiar with the quirky words  of the British dialect.

My three brothers and I were such children. Our parents and their families came from the U.K. Our mother was born in Dundee, Scotland. Our father's family came from Bristol, England.

So it was not uncommon in our household to regularly use odd sounding words like "fusty" (pronounced "foosty") meaning stale or mouldy, and lugs (ears), glumish (sad looking, awkward person), dighted (clueless), kip (a nap) and midden (a mess).

One such word was buttie. Officially, a buttie is a jam sandwich, but in our house a buttie was a piece of something, and a wee buttie was often used to mean a small piece of food.

For instance, conversations often went like this:

"Would you like a piece of cake?"
"Yes please, but just a wee buttie."

Consequently, I always associated "wee" with "buttie". Recently, I found out just how my love for those strange words could trip me up.

It was George's birthday, and for a treat, I decided to take him out for lunch to the St. George Arms, a British style pub located in St. George, Ontario. This lovely little pub was built in the nineteenth century and originally served as a carriage house. The house specialties are British favourites like bangers and mash, fish and chips, shepherd's pie, and yorkshire pudding.

Until that day, I had never witnessed the word "buttie" on any menu, even in restuarants which offered typical English fare. But there it was. Under "Sweets" was "Jam Buttie".

My eyes locked on the word "buttie". I knew I HAD to order it. It was my destiny. It was a siren call from my past and a nod to the funny words we threw around our house that made other people wrinkle up their noses and say, "What??".

Call it whatever you like, but the thrill of the moment eclipsed my common sense. I threw caution to the winds and put in my order. I was going to have a Jam Buttie strictly on Scottish principle. I didn't even care what exactly it was.

The only mistake I made was in associating it with "wee". It was not wee. Not even close.

The waitress put a dinner plate down in front of me filled with four huge wedges of a deep-fried jam sandwich with an ice cream filling, topped with whipped cream and drizzled with chocolate. I gulped. This buttie was huge. I looked over at George, but he just smiled. He knew nostalgia had swept me off my feet again. There was no way I could eat it all myself.

In my own defense, though, that Jam Buttie was a thing of beauty. I savoured every bite, ate half of it and took the rest home. My curiosity was satisfied. I had gaily skipped down memory lane and literally tasted my British roots.

Later that evening, George asked, "Where's that take-out container you brought home? I thought I'd just have a wee buttie."

He grinned wickedly and I had to admit I felt just a wee bit dighted.




We have too much stuff, and it bugs me.

Stuff is just stuff. Some of it is meaningful. Some of it is useful. And some of it is neither.

One thing is certain. Stuff occupies every nook and cranny of our lives. I swear it grows in dusty corners and dark closets, kind of like fungus. It takes on a life of its own and can even crowd the car out of our garage.

In fact, minimalists say that stuff just stands in the way of our freedom and even our happiness. We spend too much time, money and energy paying for, accumulating, maintaining, storing and cleaning stuff.

And I have the proof.

After a call from one of the charities who regularly ask me to donate "gently used household items" to their regular pick-up campaign, I stuck my head in a few closets and was astonished at what I store but don't actually use.

Take, for instance, the coonskin cap I bought for my son on a trip to B.C.. It's been in the closet since 1989. Lodged in behind the dress that one of my bridesmaids wore at my wedding in 1976 was a red feather boa I bought in New Orleans in 2005. I have a mohair blanket that my parents gave me in 1971 when I graduated from high school, and right beside that I have two quilts I made my kids when THEY graduated from high school around the turn of the century.

I always figure that I should keep stuff because of its sentimental value. Somehow that argument falls flat when I realize some of my sentimental stuff is in a box that hasn't been opened since the last ice age.  Even the sentiment that makes me hang on to it is dusty.

So I bite the bullet and decide to get rid of some things. Ahhh, that's the ticket! A nice clean space with no useless stuff. Somehow, though, within days I regret taking action. It must be some kind of a "Murphy's Law" that the day after you throw out stuff you hadn't used in years, you suddenly have a use for that item again.

My son introduced me to one of many websites detailing a lifestyle trend wherein people live in "tiny houses" -- no more than 800 square feet, but fully functional and stuff-free. The idea is to live a simpler life in order to focus on what is most important to us, and waste less time on stuff that is not.

In Oprah's world, this was called my "aha moment".

If I get rid of some of our stuff, not only will I moan less about all the junk we have, but I'll have solved a problem my daughter identified when she was last home. Looking around the house, she asked, "What am I going to do with all this stuff when you two aren't around?" to which I replied, "Ask your brother to put it on Kijiji."

So here's the rub. Can I screw up some courage and get rid of things that bring back a fond memory? Ummmm .... I can't commit.

I think I still need my stuff.


Rural Roots

Small town life is top drawer.

Even though philosophers and psychologists alike will tell us that our circumstances are what we make of them, I'm really, really glad that by luck or by design I plopped into a small town.

I was only five when my dad was transferred by his employer from Regina, Saskatchewan to this little 'burg in Southern Ontario. The town's population hovered around the 6,000 mark in the late 1950's, and it took the next 50 years to swell to 15,000.

When the moving van pulled up to the old brick two-storey house we had rented, the kindly driver took pity on the little girl who stood at the curb, and unpacked my tricycle first. I remember feeling thrilled as I pedalled it up and down the block meeting the other little kiddies who lived on the street. Looking back, this was my first taste of what I call "the small town advantage."

Fifty-five years later, I can report that I am still here, and there are reasons for that.

It has been a joy to live in affordable housing within walking distance of an elementary school, a secondary school, a grocery store, the municipal library, a farmer's market and the town's downtown core, featuring as many shops, services and restaurants as we've ever required. We drive less than 10 miles to reach the shoreline of Lake Erie, with all its natural beauty, beaches, waterfront villages and provincial parks. It only takes a couple of minutes to get out of town. It was incredibly convenient to leave home ten minutes before we were supposed to be at work. We came home for lunch every day.

George and I like going to the movie theatre downtown. We decide to go at the last minute and still arrive in time for the lights to go down. We park the car right across the street -- for free. We pay 25 percent less for admission than in the city, saving even more if we go on Tuesdays. There are only 50 people in the theatre and we have our pick of seats any night.

We feel so lucky to be ordinary fish in a little pond. We always knew and trusted the people we did business with -- those who cut our hair, delivered our paper or taught our kids. It's wonderful that we can count on our neighbours to look out for us and to look in on us.

Now that I think about it, counting our blessings is one thing. Really feeling blessed is golden.

Laundry Lunacy

I'm nuts about hanging out laundry.

Forget about automatic dryers and the convenience they afford busy people. Give me a sunny day, a little breeze, a line, some clothespins and a pile of wet clothes and watch me grin. My neighbours think I'm "a bit off", but the way I see it, if time is not an issue, the pure satisfaction of hanging laundry is one of the oldest pleasures in my book.

Socks are pinned toes up. Shirts are pinned sleeves and collars down. Wrinkles are shaken out, the sun does its marvellous trick keeping whites white. Best of all, the clean, fresh outdoor air invades every fibre of every garment.

In case you haven't tried it, bed linens are heavenly when laundered and hung out to dry. They seem to absorb, then give back, that priceless scent when you slip lazily between the sheets at night. There is nothing finer than to fall asleep to the world's most delightful bouquet.

Detergent manufacturers are savvy enough to tap into the smell factor. They name their products "Mountain Breeze" and "After the Rain". They know laundry lunatics like me are nutty about the outdoor smell. We'll line up for any product that enhances it.

On the other hand, I suppose that wrinkles can be off-putting for some people and wrinkles are part and parcel of line drying. Personally, I'm not really that anal about them. I figure our casual clothes can pass muster with a wrinkle or two, and I can always press out anything more dressy.

So my challenge to you is this. Whenever you have the time, try to save a few pennies by using solar power to dry your clothes and indulge in one of life's extraordinary sensory pleasures -- the power of smell.

I guarantee you, the next time you slip on a freshly laundered top, dried outdoors, you will revel in the essence of nature. Clean, crisp and fragrant beyond any human description.

And what's that sound? Raindrops? Oops, gotta go get my laundry off the line...





"Mince and Tatties"

As comfort foods go, I fell in love with an old Scottish dish when I was a kid. It was called "mince and tatties".

Nothing was better than mince and tatties. It was so simple, really. The "mince" was ground beef, sauteed with onions, simmered in a beef broth, and thickened later into gravy. The "tatties" were mounds of fluffy mashed potatoes. Together -- the gravied beef ladled over the mashed potatoes, with a few peas thrown on top, plus a dollop of butter -- they made the most economical, flavourful, filling supper a little kid could ask for.

With three teenaged brothers (all older than me) fighting for first crack at the big bowls we passed around the table, I was really grateful my mom peeled at least half of a ten pound bag of potatoes, while she cooked up little more than one pound of ground beef. As a Scot, she knew it was the best way her kids could fill up on the inexpensive potatoes while savouring a bit of pricey beef in every bite.

What she didn't know was how much we would love it to this day.

"What's for supper?" George asked me the other night. I responded, "Mince and tatties." He smiled and nodded his head.

It was just fine with him too.

Dinner for One

He did it again. Waldo, the wonder dog, one-upped us.

This time, we were headed on our long road trip south. After putting in ten hours of driving, and with dusk coming on, we pulled off to check in at a motel and get a bite to eat.

One thing you should know about Waldo -- his nerves get pretty shot on car trips. Although he's good as gold in the car, I'd bet dollars to doughnuts that he suspects we're going to leave him somewhere and his little life will suddenly fall apart. And so, of course, he refuses to eat for the three days it takes us to reach our destination. Somehow he manages that time on a few laps of water and the crust of our sandwiches.

Which brings me to the sandwiches. I always pack a couple of days worth of peanut butter sandwiches into our zippered, insulated tote bag, along with a few cans of Coke and some bottles of water. That way we don't have to stop for lunch along the way.

At day's end, George pulled the car up to the front door of the restaurant. This gives Waldo a bird's eye view of us and where we went. He normally watches the door like a hawk waiting to spot us coming out exactly where we went in. Usually, we find him sitting in the driver's seat, peering over the steering wheel.

But this time was different. He wasn't visible through the windshield.

We opened the car door to see a sheepish-looking dog with bread crumbs in his whiskers, down on the floor in the backseat. He hung his head. His eyes drooped. He knew he was in trouble.

The zipper on the lunch bag was neatly pulled back. Not a tooth mark to be found. There was Saran wrap on the floor, a little mangled, but still intact. The sandwiches had disappeared.

Doggone it.

"Quilting 101"

I had a classic case of beginner's jitters.

I decided to sign up for a quilting class taught by four talented ladies who know their stuff and have been doing it for years.  They've made more quilts than they can count and each one is a kaleidoscope of contrasting colours and swirling patterns. 

I've made a couple of quilts before, but I could never match up the points properly, so this was going to be a challenge.   I was relying on the teachers --Suzie, Nancy, Patsy and Eleanor -- to give me the insider tips on piecing.

First up was a class on rotary cutting.  That's where you turn a big piece of fabric into tiny precise squares of varying sizes.  Cutting tool in one hand, ruler in the other, I was ready.  "Cut two strips two and a half inches wide, and three strips two and seven eighths inches wide", the pattern said.  Easy, right?  Zip, zip, zip -- I was on a roll. 

Except for a couple of things.

My cutter wobbled off track.  I pressed a little too hard on the ruler.  I had a "dip" in the cut.   Every time I goofed up, Eleanor would say "No problem, that happens all the time", or "Don't worry about that.  Here's what you do".  She fixed my mistakes and calmed my jittery nerves.

All of the teachers were wonderful -- extremely patient and cheerfully helpful.  Suzie, with her droll sense of humour, was cracking us up with one-liners while she checked on our progress.   You can't help but love Suzie.  She says a good sewing machine is like a husband.  When you get a good one, it's a lot of fun.  But when you get a bad one, it's a pain in the butt. 

What each of these ladies are teaching, really, is the power of patience, taking the time to prepare, assemble, stitch and finish.  In our electronic, "click of the mouse" world, quilters are paragons of patience.  Their work is art and a testament to an era when a good thing was well worth the time it took to create it.

I'm excited to see how my project turns out.  It may take some time, but that's okay.

It'll be worth the wait.

(Photo:  "Summer Breeze" pattern crafted by Suzie.)