Saturday, December 31, 2011

Aging as a Spiritual Practice

So, another year slips past and a new unsullied calendar hangs on the wall. When I was five I thought New Year meant all the stars fell out of the sky and the whole cosmos changed. I begged to stay up to see it. My father carried me outside from the warmth of the room where the family was singing Auld Lang Syne and held me as I reared back and watched the midnight sky overhead. I heard the cheering that meant the year had turned and I waited for the shower of stars that never came.

Having seen my fair share of skies which never rained a shower of stars at midnight on any New Year's Eve, I've come to see New Year's as one day in a string of days. Like Mala beads that slip, one by one through your fingers. You look up from your keyboard at 5:30 and ask, "Where'd the day go?" Where did the week, month, year - all those yesterdays of my life go?

Recently I saw the title of a book I want to read, about aging as a spiritual practice. It's something we talk about. We both struggle with significant health issues which bring with them muscle weakness, pain and serious physical limitations. At times the frustration of not being able to reliably (or spontaneously) do the most basic of tasks is almost overwhelming. We snap and growl like a couple of bears arguing over the same den.

It's not something we like doing. It brings us both to tears sometimes, not from what has been said, but because we cannot bear to be cross with each other. This is what we've been talking about, how do we use this process of illness and aging as catalyst for growth? How do we incorporate the realities of aging into spiritual practice?

Monday, December 26, 2011

Joy to the World!

While we are unable to dispense very much joy , we can help lift the burden of poverty just a bit for one or two others who are not as fortunate as we are.

Through KIVA we are able to reach far beyond the four walls of our little condo here in Calgary to people around the world.

Are we deluded into believing we are great benefactors of mankind, and those we loan our pittance to feel some undying gratitude? Certainly not. We have been small business people ourselves, and know that a loan is both a blessing and a burden. It can enable, but it lays anxiety on your back at the same time.

But the key word is enable. Without that small lift up, there is no possibility of growth, no digging yourself out of the hole you are in, no matter how hard you work. So this month our KIVA loan, our 33rd, goes to a farmer in Armenia, a married man who supports his elderly father. Karen raises cattle and is a beekeeper. Karen asked for a loan because he needs to purchase calves and additional beehives. This expansion of the farm will help Karen to increase his income and support his household.

Ian gave me a KIVA gift card for Christmas, which I have already invested - loan number 34 has been extended to a group of farmers in Kenya. This group is part of an innovative farming support program called One Acre Fund which acts as a sort of farmer's cooperative . One Acre Fund has an integrated agriculture package, which includes training, procuring and offering quality supplies (fertilizer and seeds), credit and insurance. Clients enroll between July and October for the following planting season, which begins in February. By purchasing the needed supplies between July and October One Acre Fund is able to take advantage of the low seasonal prices for supplies.

Julius is the facilitator of the Mukunduzi B farmer's group which also includes Francis, Elias, Mellab, Neriah, Sachini, Tom. In the photograph, Julius is pictured with his group members and standing on the far left is the field officer.

Julius and his group joined One Acre Fund in the year 2011 and will re-enroll in the 2012 program. In 2012, the members of Mukunduzi B group will each plant maize plots between ½ and 1 acre of land.

Julius takes care of five children at home. He joined One Acre Fund to increase his yield of maize (corn). He works hard to produce enough income through growing corn to provide nutritious food for his children and send them to school. In the recent 2011 season, Julius had an excellent yield, harvesting eight bags on corn from his ½ acre of land. Before joining One Acre Fund, Julius was only able to harvest four bags of maize on ½ acre of land.
Julius plans to continue educating his children and hopes to expand into raising livestock in the future.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Catmus!



This has happened more than once in our house.
Cats really know how to celebrate.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

December Strikes Again

I've grown to dread December. There's a strong December tradition in our family - a pact of sorts. It's unstated but understood. Called "Die in December", you can also get credit for carrying on the tradition if you die in the last half of November. However if you linger until the stroke of midnight January 1st, you obviously haven't felt the burden of familial duty.

This year it was my cousin Mack who carried the familial tradition forward by passing away on the 5th of December. Mack was a stellar guy. We shared a childhood a lifetime ago when summers were ten years long and the Oklahoma twilights were filled with fireflies.

Mac was several years older than I, big for his age (he topped out at 6'5") while I was still wearing child's size three dresses at age seven. He was red-headed, blue-eyed, freckled, the perfect model for a Norman Rockwell painting of the All-American boy of the late 40's and 50's. But he was as a child, and as a man, a gentle giant.

He grew up to be a career military man, and for many years we had no contact. But about a decade ago I tracked him down on the web and we began writing back and forth. It was as if the years between hadn't happened.

He was laid to rest with full military honors on Sunday. He will be missed by his wife, seven children, many grandchildren and a cousin who remembers how he carried her on his shoulders and ran, laughing with each bounding step, through the long long memories of yesterday.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

How Do You Eat a Tutu?

Many years ago on my way out of the library I stopped to browse the "books for sale" table and bought for the princely sum of 50 cents The Book of Latin American Cooking by Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz. The fact that this cookbook was first published in 1969 and is still in print and for sale today should give you some idea of how wonderful it is.

Its only flaw is that it has no tamale recipes, but then, as my mother-in-law was fond of saying, there's no perfection in this world. What it does have is 338 pages of recipes drawn from countries all over Latin America. For dinner last night I made one of my favorites, the Brazilian dish, Black Beans Minas Gerais style or Tutu a Mineira. Over the years I've adapted this recipe a bit. It's a simpler version of Feijoada Completa, Black Beans with Mixed Meats, which has oranges as a garnish or side dish. I added the oranges and limes from that recipe to the Tutu recipe.

Now I'm hungry. I'm sitting here wishing we hadn't been such pigs and eaten every last scrap of it last night, because I'd sure like some more right now. (Note to self: Do not invite a guest next time you make Tutu - you fool!)

The traditional way to serve Tutu is in a large flat casserole, but as I seem to be missing my large flat casserole I used a round pie dish instead. I piled the egg/bacon mixture in the middle and placed the orange slices around the edges, with the lime slices in the middle for colour. The kale had to go in a bowl on the side. It didn't look quite as spectacular, but it didn't deter any appetites. Everyone dove in for thirds and then Tony made some lame excuse about it being a shame to put such a small amount in a container in the fridge and finished what I might have had for lunch today!

Anyway, here's the recipe, should you be inclined to try this Tutu for yourself:

Black Beans Minas Gerais style, Tutu a Mineira

Casserole base:
6 cups cooked black beans
1 medium onion diced
2 cloves garlic
1 tbs dried red/green pepper flakes
1 tsp tabasco sauce
1 tsp salt
1 tbs olive oil

Toppings:
3 eggs
6 slices bacon
2 naval oranges
1/2 of a lime
1 bunch kale
1 tsp tabasco
1 tbs oil (divided)
1 tsp red wine vinegar
----

Method:
Mash cooked beans, adding water if needed to make consistency of mashed potatoes. Saute onions and garlic in oil until transparent, add to beans, along with other seasonings. Place seasoned beans in flat casserole, put in 300 degree oven until hot through.

While beans are heating fry bacon, drain and crumble. Fry the eggs and cut into strips. Cut kale into strips and cook until just wilted. Slice oranges into thin slices, slice limes into half slices. Mix 1 tsp of oil, tsp of vinegar and tsp of hot sauce together.

Mix egg strips and bacon together and lay a strip down center of casserole on top of beans, lay kale down one side, dress with oil/vinegar/hot sauce, put orange and lime slices down the other side.

Stand back....

Monday, December 12, 2011

What Did You Eat This Week?

As Christmas approaches I have begun to prepare our traditional Christmas dinner, which is a far cry from the turkey and dressing which will grace many a North American table in ten days time. Anyone who's suffered through this blog for more than a year or two know that Christmas dinner in our house is Tex-Mex, that blend of indigenous Indian, Spanish food with an Anglo twist found along the Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California borders with Mexico.

But as I looked at the food bulging from pantry and fridge I was reminded of a photo essay I'd seen earlier by Photojournalist Peter Menzel called, What the World Eats.

In 16 photos Menzel moves across the globe, from Japan to North Carolina, from an African refugee camp to a mountain village in Peru and a dozen places in between. In each photo Menzel shows a family in their home, with the week's food arrayed around them. The weekly food budget is given, and the families favorite foods are listed.

It's a fascinating look at global cultures, and at how ubiquitous some items are. Some families eat almost nothing except processed, packaged foods, some eat no packaged or processed food at all. There are very few families who do not have at least one or two bottles of Coca Cola among the week's provender, and sometimes there's a pyramid of the stuff.

As I make my tamales, mole negro and carne adovada, preparing dishes for loved ones who gather at our table, I will think of other families around the globe, and the foods on their tables as we bring this tumultuous year to an end.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Yorn in Cambodia - KIVA Loan for Dec

Yorn, on the far left in this picture, is 43 years old, and lives in Cambodia. She has three children who work for other people grinding corn. Yorn's family doesn't have an easy life. For more than ten years, Yorn's main income source has been growing corn. In order to feed her children she must sometimes also work for others.

Yorn leads a group of four female members applying for their first loan from KIVA. She will use her loan to buy agricultural tools such as hoes and a plow for her farm work. Having sufficient tools will allow her to increase the amount of corn she is able to grow. Through increased production she hopes to be able to better feed her children.

This is our 32nd KIVA loan, and our small fund of about $150.00 spent over two and a half years has enabled 32 people in disadvantaged circumstances to invest in themselves and their businesses. In those 32 loans only one has not been repaid, and that was because a typhoon wiped out the village where our borrower lived.

As the loans are repaid, on a regular schedule, the money is available to reinvest, or to withdraw if you decide to leave the program. We follow our borrowers each month, and it's always good to read a report that their goal of increasing their income and improving their families lives has been reached, in part because we shared our pensioner's mite.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Who's Paying You to Be Here?

Gurdjieff was a late 19th century teacher. Students came to study and live with him on his estate near Paris. There was one man in the community no one could stand because he was impossible to get along with. He complained constantly and had such a short fuse that you never knew when he was going to explode over nothing. He made everyone's life a misery and the other students just wished that he would go away.

Gurdjieff taught by making his students do things that were completely meaningless - with the purpose of making them pay attention to their reactions and learn from them. It wasn't the useless tasks that were important, it was the students' inner experience that mattered.

One day the students had been told to dig up an area of lawn growing on one side of a path and replace it with lawn growing on the other side. This was too much for the man that everyone disliked. He screamed that he was fed up with Gurdjieff's useless chores, threw down his shovel, stormed to his room and got his suitcase, got in his car and drove away, swearing never to return. The rest of the community was delighted to see him go, and cheered as he drove away. But when they told Gurdjieff what happened, he said “Oh, no!” and went after him.

Three days later they both came back. That night, when he was serving Gurdjieff his supper, his attendant asked, “Sir, why did you bring him back? It was so much more pleasant with him gone.” and Gurdjieff answered very quietly, “Between you and me; you must tell no one. I pay that man to stay here.”

This annoying person, and people and experiences like him, are life's therapeutic irritations. They exist to wake us up. Like the sand in the oyster that is the seed of the pearl, therapeutic irritations stir a reaction in us. We can choose to resist them, or we can use them as chances to awaken. They teach us what it is not possible to learn when surrounded by ease and harmony.

Though it's not easy and I frequently fail, I try to let these therapeutic irritations show me where I need to pay attention, areas like developing patience and controlling my angry temper. [Usually they show me exactly how impatient and ill-tempered I really am, but that in itself is a lesson.]

Obviously I need the practice because someone is paying several people to be in my life right now. So far so good, but I'm beginning to get a headache.

Story from Pema Chodron, Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living, Shambhala, 1994

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Winter in Calgary

Calgary's forecast for tomorrow is -25 C. Looking for ways to keep warm from the experts? Here ya go, the tips Calgarians tweeted to the CPO when they asked how you keep warm when the temperature dives in Calgary.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

----------NOV 25 IS BUY NOTHING DAY -------



Buy Nothing Day!

Take yourself for a walk in the park instead of the mall.

Stay home and have a bubble bath.

Let the credit card cool down.

Think about what it would feel like to be

DEBT-FREE

Or conversely, you could enjoy the "holiday experience"
Andy Borowitz describes in his column today.



November 25, 2011

In Positive Economic Sign, Walmart Customers Killing Each Other to Buy Shit

Pepper Spraying, Homicide Bullish Indicators, Economists Say


MINNEAPOLIS (The Borowitz Report) – In what economists are hailing as a clear sign of economic recovery, Walmart customers across the USA jammed into stores on Black Friday, sometimes killing each other to buy useless shit.

“We have been looking for evidence that the economy is on the mend,” said Davis Logsdon, chairman of the economics department at the University of Minnesota. “When people resort to homicide to buy a Blu-ray player, that is very, very good news indeed.”

Mr. Logsdon said he was “impressed” by the lengths to which some Walmart customers were going to grab coveted sale items: “They’re using tactics we usually associate with the UC-Davis police.”

With many customers using pepper spray and other weapons to get a shopping advantage, however, Mr. Logsdon advised Americans not to enter a Walmart unarmed.

“If you want to get your hands on a doorbuster, you’d better have a firearm,” he said. “Fortunately, Walmart is offering several great doorbusters on firearms.”

Walmart and other retailers’ decision to commence their Black Friday sales a day early carries with it an added benefit for consumers, he noted: “Now, Americans will be able to declare bankruptcy one day earlier.”

All in all, Dr. Logsdon said that the increased violence and mayhem at retail outlets across the country was “a testament to the greatness of the American consumer.”

“Egyptians risk their lives for new government,” he said. “Americans bravely do the same for new flat screens.”

GOD HELP US!

Monday, November 14, 2011

No Need to Worry



“If you have fear of some pain or suffering, you should examine whether there is anything you can do about it. If you can, there is no need to worry about it; if you cannot do anything, then there is also no need to worry.” ~ Dalai Lama


And closer to home, a reassuring word from the light of my life, "We've gone through this before. We can't let it scare us. We may very well feel better tomorrow."

Paradise is having someone who understands.


A Postcard from Paradise and Recuerda mi Corazon

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Marigolds in March

Dame Judi Dench is by far my favorite actress. She just gets more beautiful as the years roll by, which gives me hope. And finally a movie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which has a cast with some character and dare I say depth?

Though I haven't been in a movie theatre since my youngest child was a teenager I'm setting my clock for March (when this movie will be released) and have told my husband that we have a date night coming up.

Reposted from As Time Goes By

I'LL WATCH ANY MOVIE WITH THESE TWO DAMES
(...of the British Empire, that is). Lilalia of Yum Yum Cafe reminded me of an upcoming film starring Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. According to an online synopsis, the movie ”...follows a group of British retirees who decide to 'outsource their retirement to less expensive and seemingly exotic India. Enticed by advertisements for the newly restored Marigold Hotel and bolstered with visions of a life of leisure, they arrive to find the palace a shell of its former self.

“Though the new environment is less luxurious than imagined, they are forever transformed by their shared experiences, discovering that life and love can begin again when you let go of the past.”

“Marigold” is not due in theaters until next March. Meanwhile, here is a trailer.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Red Hibiscus


Red hibiscus blooms
In winter window glowing
Scarlet borealis


Haiku My Heart Friday

recuerda mi corazon

Thursday, November 10, 2011

"We Do"

Let me see. Last time I checked my own marriage of 46 years hadn't dissolved, crumbled, teetered, tottered or turned toes up because a same sex couple looked upon each other with the same love, tenderness and commitment that my dear sweet husband and I feel for each other.

I think it's time we grew up and let families live their lives in peace. Or as my old Mum would have said when someone got a little too interested in telling her how she should conduct her affairs, "You, you go tend to your own knittin' and I'll tend to mine."

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Family Story Told and Retold...

My parents had three small children when the Great Depression hit. Their household also included my elderly grandfather and my uncle Lonnie, who was only nine years old when my grandmother died. Lonnie had come to live with mother and dad when they were newlyweds. The household shrank and expanded like a bellows as different relatives would come to stay for a month or year, or more. For a while the household included my Aunt Eva, her husband Paul and their two babies, Eddie and Pauline. This story from that time was told and retold as I was growing up in the 40s and 50s.

Paul had a job driving an ice wagon back in the days before electric refrigeration, when food was kept cold in an ice box, an insulated wooden cupboard - which held a large block of ice in one of the compartments. This ice was delivered door-to-door by the ice-man. The horse-drawn wagon was packed with 50 pound blocks of ice separated by layers of sawdust. The horse knew which houses bought ice and which ones didn't, Paul didn't even have to hold the reins.

When the horse stopped Paul would jump off the wagon seat, run to the back of the wagon, open the door, get a firm grip on a block of ice with a set of huge tongs, heft the block out, haul it around to the back porch and into the kitchen where he'd put it in the ice-box. Sometimes he'd have to chisel away the irregular edges with the ice pick he carried in his belt so the block would fit in the box. 50 pound blocks. Over and over. All day long. It was back-breaking work.

One day he slipped and hurt his back and couldn't lift the blocks. But jobs were scarce and he couldn't risk taking a day off. School had just let out for summer so Paul begged Lonnie to help him with the route. Little Lonnie, who at 14 years old, was five foot nothin' tall and still weighed only 85 lbs.

They struggled the blocks into the houses together for most of the day, but by the last hour Paul could barely crawl off the wagon. Lonnie was left to deal with blocks of ice that weighed 3/4s as much as he did - alone.

As they approached one of the last houses Paul said, "Lon, make sure you get a big block. This woman has a scale on her back porch, and if the block isn't 50 lbs she'll make you bring it back and get another one."

Lonnie surveyed the remaining blocks carefully and picked what looked like a big one. He grappled at it with the tongs and using every ounce of strength drug it out of the wagon.

"Did you get a big 'un?" Paul asked, from the front of the wagon.

Lonnie wiped his brow and picked the block up off the tailgate. "Oh, it's a big 'un all right!" Then he began the slow, stiff-legged walk toward the back of the house, with the ice-block in the only position he could manage, swinging on the tongs between his knees like a cross-wise pendulum, threatening to overbalance him at every step.

"Ice-man!" he yelled as he struggled up the steps, just as Paul had taught him.

"You ain't my rag'lar," the woman said, eyeing him suspiciously.

"No, Ma'm, he's in the wagon a 'cause he hurt his back."

"Well, I hope he told you I won't be cheated! Here - you sling that block on these scales. And don't you be a laying your dirty thumb on that scale or I'll slap you sideways to Satan!"

The dial gyrated wildly and gradually settled - at 49 lbs. Lonnie's heart sank.

"Do I LOOK like a fool?" She narrowed her eyes. "I pay for 50 lbs of ice, and by gum I'm gonna GIT 50 lbs of ice. You ain't cheating me! Git me a bigger block!"

He had no choice. He hauled the block down, wrestled it back to the truck, opened the door and shoved it back in.

"Not big enough?" Paul asked in dismay.

"Only 49 pounds." Lonnie wheezed.

Paul crept off the wagon seat groaning and holding his back. Together they searched through the blocks until they found one Paul was certain was big enough. He sweated as he helped Lonnie pull it out and leaned panting on the tailgate as Lonnie traversed the long path around the house again.

The block went on the scale. He held his breath. The woman watched the dial the way a hungry cat watches a mouse who is just one step from being too far from its burrow. The dial settled - 49.5 lbs.

"I do believe you take me for a fool! I will go to the office tomorrow and report you to your superiors! I PAY for 50 lbs of ice and I am going to GIT 50 lbs of ice!"

"No Ma'm, no Ma'm!" Lonnie was at the edge of panic. "It ain't no trouble a'tall. I'll get another block," and he started back to the wagon, with the tonged iceberg trying to tear his scrawny little arms out of their sockets.

"Not big enough," he gasped as he swung it up on the tailgate. "God Damn," he was nigh in tears, "Not God Damn big enough."

Paul didn't even scold Lonnie for swearing. "Get inside," he said. "Let's make sure we get the biggest one in the wagon."

Several minutes later they had separated out a massive block, and Lonnie was once more on his difficult journey to the back porch of this very particular customer.

He saw a gleam of satisfaction in the woman's eyes as she saw the block, and sure enough, when the dial settled down it read an astonishing 54 pounds. "Well that's more like it!" she crowed.

Lonnie felt a wave of righteous indignation come over him. He reached for the ice pick tucked into his belt and attacked the ice block.

"Here! Here! What do you think you're doing?" she shrieked, dodging flying ice.

Lonnie paused briefly to look at the dial and started chiseling again. Finally his pick fell silent. The dial read exactly 50 lbs. He grinned for the first time that afternoon.

"Lady," he said, holding out a trembling hand for his nickle payment. "You're paying for 50 pounds of ice, and 50 pounds of ice is ALL you're gonna GET!"

Saturday, November 5, 2011

A Morning's Conversation

A One Act Play:

Characters: Him and Her

Curtain rises on a living room in an urban condo. Him and Her are slumped in their respective easy chair/rockers. The floor needs sweeping. The dust is thick. There's a tumbleweed of cat hair rolling across the floor. The digital clock says Saturday Nov 5. It is apparent from their demeanor that they have been unable to do much of anything in days.

There's a white board on the wall with a list:

Wednesday Nov 2:

Doctor's appt
Pharmacy
Grocery shopping


Thursday:
Laundry
Sweep and mop


Friday:
Clean bathroom
Cook for weekend


Him: That housekeeper didn't show up again this morning.

Her: She's not very reliable. I'm thinking of firing her.

Him: I know we said we hated having a housekeeper underfoot and the agency promised to find someone we'd hardly notice, but this is ridiculous.

Her: I can never tell she's been here.

Him: Has she ever been here? It's so hard to get good help anymore. (sighs)

Her: Well, even if we don't fire her, I'm seriously considering cutting her wages, or at least reducing her benefits.

Him: It's probably union interference. Maybe she's working to rule?

Her: I'll bet she's downtown with that "Occupy" crowd, sleeping in a tent, protesting against the 1%.

Him: I'm so upset about it I'm taking to my unmade bed.

Her: I'll sit here and have the vapours. I haven't had a good fit of the vapours in ever so long and it's something I can do without leaving my chair.

Him: Shuffles out of room.

Her: Rock, rock, rock.

Curtain falls

Friday, November 4, 2011

Our 31st KIVA Loan

This month we are pleased to be able to extend a small loan to Elizabeth Onyabidi of Kitale, Kenya through KIVA.org.

Elizabeth is 40 years old, married, and has five children between the ages of 8 and 17. She has been in farming for 11 years, producing and selling vegetables, tomatoes and bananas at the local market.

Since you all know that I have chicken envy I wanted to support Elizabeth, who has requested a loan of 40,000 KES ($422.00 Canadian dollars) to purchase poultry birds so she can venture into poultry farming. She has big plans to have a farm running with 2000 birds in two years. She says there is a ready market for both birds and eggs, and the business will generate more income to help provide for her family’s basic needs.

She is aware of the main pitfall of the business – animal diseases – but despite this challenge, she remains focused on achieving success and repaying the loan.

I hope she also keeps an eye on the poultry farmers other challenges, neighbourhood dogs, cats, snakes and various wildlife. In the south it was skunks and raccoons, I'm sure a poultry farmer in Kenya has similar poultry thieves. :)

Good luck Elizabeth, I'll enjoy getting your monthly reports and wish you all the best!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Leaf Treader

I have been treading on leaves all day until I am autumn-tired
God knows all the color and form of leaves I have trodden on and mired.
Perhaps I have put forth too much strength or been too fierce from fear.
I have safely trodden underfoot the leaves of another year.

All summer long they were over head, more lifted up than I.
To come to their final place in earth they had to pass me by.
All summer long I thought I heard them whispering under their breath.
And when they came it seemed with a will to carry me with them to death.

They spoke to the fugitive in my heart as if it were leaf to leaf.
They tapped at my eyelids and touched my lips with an invitation to grief.
But it was no reason I had to go because they had to go.
Now up to my knee to keep on top another year of snow.

~ Robert Frost
-------------

The weatherman predicts our first "sticking" snow will begin in the night. It may have already begun, I haven't gone to the big set of patio doors in the dining room and looked out across the lawn and parking area, where falling snow would be visible in the glow of the street lights.

Having grown up in the southern US, where snow was a distinct oddity, and "winter" was six weeks of sweater weather, Calgary's snow and interminable winters filled me with dismay the first several years I lived here. I've grown more sanguine about it over the past 40+ years. Calgary wears a mantle of snow comfortably, as easily as a shawl tossed around the shoulders as you nip outside for the morning paper.

But there's something else. The years are so much more compact than they once were. When you are six it's 100 years between Christmases, by the time you're drawing a pension the seasons fly past so quickly it's easy to blink and miss one entirely. You look at the leaves swirling and gathering in drifts and you understand what they have been saying all summer. It's not a threat, but a promise, "You're one of us. Watch and learn."

I wonder how old Robert Frost was when he wrote A Leaf Treader? It's the work of a man who was old enough to recognize that our existence is as the cycling of leaves. We can resist all we like, but no amount of force or fierceness of fear will keep us from the same cycle of nature that the leaves endure season after season. They fall and, if left undisturbed, sink deep and deeper becoming fodder for new generations of leaves, or for grass or mushrooms. Not such a bad thing, once you get over the fear.

The snow has started. I have safely trodden underfoot the leaves of this year. It will be a long time until spring, but not as long as it once was.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Occupy the Daily News

I've been watching the "Occupy Wall Street" and its hundreds of spin-off demonstrations with great interest.

We watch two channels for news, the CBC for national and international News and Global TV (for local and national news). The CBC usually has a fair and balanced approach to almost any story on the national level. Global TV in Calgary has an ethnically diverse news team and fair coverage regardless of race, economic status or the usual factors which news channels often use to drum up controversy.

So it's been interesting to see the coverage of the "Occupy" movement and compare it to the many YouTube clips coming from the different protest sites. Global TV visited the "Occupy Calgary" site several days before the protest was scheduled to begin and focused on the fact that it was not protesters, but street people, in particular trouble-makers who have been expelled from the shelters who had set up camp.

Most news clips of "Occupiers" have focused on the heavily tattooed & dreadlocked drummer, a yawner, those lounging in conversation. One "live" reporter in Toronto said "Oh, maybe 150 people here," and 10 minutes later another reporter, across the square said, "There are 1000 people here".

In a shocking interview CBC commentator Kevin O'Leary accosted Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and economist Chris Hedges, referring to him as a "Left-wing Nutbar". As Hedges said, "I'd expect such behaviour from a Fox News commentator, which is why I don't go on Fox, but not from the CBC." He ended his interview by saying he would not be returning to the CBC. In general media coverage has been pretty dismal.

Apparently TV stations don't understand that social media is as useful at getting out the real news in North America as it is in the Middle East. The real news here is that TV "news" is a five minute clip designed to manipulate you into tut-tutting about the awful things happening elsewhere while you wait for the next round of commercials for anti-wrinkle cream and pizza to begin.

In my senior year of high school my English teacher had us read and discuss two books by Vance Packard one called The Hidden Persuaders on how advertising agencies use psychology to make you want their products and how voters are manipulated into choosing candidates; and another called The Waste Makers which criticizes how companies build planned obsolescence into products to encourage customers to discard functioning items in favour of a new "improved" version which offers little real increase in value.

As a 17-year-old high school student I was disgusted. I threw my "Seventeen" magazines, with their ads for clothes and hair products and perfumes and make-up, in the garbage. Without knowing what it was I adopted the philosophy of voluntary simplicity then.

So it is, that a good many decades later I have no more use for the advertising industry than I do for a three-legged jumping horse, and I have even less tolerance for "news" programs which purport to offer viewers facts which allow them to make up their own minds but instead manipulate information to serve their own purposes.

The message is clear. Politicians and corporations have formed an increasingly unholy and incestuous relationship for the past 30 years. During that time 99% of us have been sold down the river to the greed of the 1% at the top. Rules governing the behaviour of banks and other financial institutions have been relaxed to the point of paralysis.

My elderly neighbour came one day, white-faced and trembling, after a visit to her bank. After her husband's death the year before she had put her investment portfolio in the hands of the bank's investment manager, with strict instructions that she was financially conservative and invested only in bonds and safe markets. Reassurances were made. Papers were signed.

The bank's investment manager had called her in to tell her that they had invested 90% of her money in a risky South American currency exchange, which had been making fabulous profit - until the country defaulted on its IMF loans and went bankrupt. They said they were sorry but they had lost 90% of her money for her. That's investing for you, win some and lose some. Good-day madam. Thank you for allowing us to serve you.

"How am I to live?" she asked me, "I told them I depend on the interest from my investments as my income. How could they do that to me without any consequences?"

The bank took her money, gambled with it, and lost. They suffered no consequences (and made over a BILLION dollars profit that quarter) while she was left trying to figure out how to afford food and pay her electricity bill. BTW, she was a veteran as was her husband. Both had medals for heroism for their service in WWII.

What can we do? I can't occupy much besides my rocking chair, but there are several avenues, some of which may be open to you and some of which may not.

1) We can stop buying those things which are unnecessary to life and health

2) We can move bank accounts to local banks or credit unions

3) We can refuse to vote for any candidate who now holds political office and begin NOW to organize a party of independent candidates who are known by, selected from and accountable to the people of their districts. Campaigning need not be expensive if done on a grass-roots level. Scare the sh*t out of Washington, Ottawa and every other government who has been profligate enough to favour greed over the common good.

4) Be prepared to cinch in the belt - no one is entitled to live above his means - even those in the 99%

5) And let your "news" channel know that you are capable of making up your own mind if they will just present the facts.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Discovered in a Far Country

The web takes us places and introduces us to people we'd never meet in the tightly confined routines of our little lives. I've been fascinated by Japanese culture since reading Will and Ariel Durant's massive tome Our Oriental History as a teenager. It was the first of the 11 volume set of Will and Ariel Durant's series The Story of Civilization. I bought a 40-year-old (and 40 lb) set in 2005 at a booksale, and then found my old eyes couldn't read the six point type font they were set in.

Now what that has to do with the price of corn in Topeka escapes me, but I believe I was thinking along the lines of being interested in Japanese culture, ah yes, that was it. I knew there was a thread in there somewhere. And also a fan of delicious writing.

Trust me, there aren't that many wonderful writers around. So I was delighted to discover PureLandMountain.com, a blog written by Robert Brady, an American in his 60s who has made his home in Japan since the early 70s. His work is sage, laugh-out-loud funny in places and recognizable as an American who has lived in another culture long enough to identify with it.

Just read his post on Simple Vegetarian Recipes and see if you don't view the preparation of simple food in a whole new light.

To whet your appetite and encourage you to visit for yourself I am going to include a snippet of one of his pieces, on elderhood. I have read my way through dozens of entries in one sitting though that is not the way to read his work. I have to go back and read it slowly. It should be savoured, like a perfectly ripe peach, letting the juice run to your elbows.

"...genuine elders aren't enticed by the culture of youth: because they see right through it, how short-lived and time-blind it necessarily is. They know the portals one must pass through to get beyond that stage of life and, if one is truly alive and not asleep or otherwise spiritually sightless or habituated, the lessons that await and must be learned at each stage. That, in its totality, is life; it is not life if one somnambulates through the whole thing, or tries to stay young forever, or mature quickly. A life thus true is all the more a life the closer it approaches its entirety."

Oh, just read it for yourself. It's delish.

Monday, October 10, 2011

October KIVA Loan

Though we've made at least one, and sometimes two KIVA loans each month, I've been negligent in posting them recently. But I shouldn't be. I hope by seeing what a difference loaning even a small amount of money can make to the life of a hard-working person somewhere else my readers will be encouraged to think about loaning to a Third World business person.

This is our 30th KIVA loan and it goes to Dilbar, a widow who is the loving mother of two children, a daughter and a son. Dilbar lives in Tajikistan, a country with a captivating Silk Road history and a rich cultural heritage. It is also the poorest of the former Soviet republics. A mountainous state where only six percent of the land is arable, its economy was damaged by a destructive 1990s civil war from which it is still recovering.

Dilbar is smart and hard-working. She is a farmer who primarily grows wheat, which yields her a good income, and she also raises livestock. She asked for a loan of $1500 to have capital to buy mineral fertilizers, wheat seeds and livestock to expand her business. She wants to increase her income so she can provide a nice wedding for her daughter.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The New Social Revolution

1:00 am, Thanksgiving morning. The pie is made, the yams are roasted, cranberry sauce chilling, the cornbread and wild rice and ready to join hands with celery, onions and mushrooms to create "stuffing" for the turkey. The turkey is defrosting in the fridge. The salad greens wait, the potatoes will know the kiss of sour cream and butter, baby peas and carrots will snuggle up together as they lightly steam. We'll groan afterwards that we ate too much, we always do.

We are on every side surrounded by plenty. Food, clothing, comfort, love - what blessings flow around us like an ever surging stream.

Our home is small and simply furnished but there's been a certain amount of expense with setting up housekeeping all over again. It's high time we climbed back on the very careful financial wagon and built up the savings account. Not just wise from a financial point of view, but from a philosophical and political one too.

One reason I love Rhonda Jean Hetzel's blog Down to Earth so much is that she and her husband Hanno are our age and are very self sufficient. They are both in good health and capable of much more physically than we are, with our genetically wonky muscles, but she makes her own soap, sews up her own clothes, knits and crochets, has a big garden and chickens (I have chicken envy), preserves and cans her own foods and bottles up beverages like cordials. Rhonda is the kind of all-round competent captain of the household that my grandmother was.

My mother knew how to do all these things, and did them in her early married life, but by the time I came along my parents were in their 40s and after the deprivations of WWII having store-bought was a mark that you'd arrived.

As time has gone by we've collectively given over our competence to the corporation, who is all too eager to do everything for us, at a price. I feel guilty buying things I could be making on my own, but I need a little pinstick of motivation to get me moving, so I was glad to run onto this post by a favorite "political" blogger of mine. If you like his take go read his blog, he's "older", and right on the mark (as far as I'm concerned anyway) and I enjoy what he has to say.

Repost from: Blogger William "Papa" Meloney's blog PA^2 Patois

Call to non-violent revolution: the New Social Revolution

We must first as individuals and then as a body enter into a non-violent insurgency against forces that remove our self-worth, our self-respect and most importantly our dignity.

The corner stone of our non-violent revolution will be: Living within our needs.

When we break the cycle of desire we will begin to escape the trap of materialism. When we live within our needs we begin to escape the trap that our profit driven captors hold us in. Succumbing to their fabricated crises of fake hunger and contrived vanity we willingly allow their influence to color our otherwise healthy decision making process.

We must allow ourselves to make better, healthy decisions.

We must live intentional lives, accepting personal responsibility by living to the measure of our needs.

When we deny supporting the driving efforts of desire-driven profiteers we throw off the yoke of their false desires.

- Papa

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Trumpets Please!

I've been in a bit of a green funk since our move. Anyone who has followed this blog for any length of time knows that I witter on annoyingly and at great length about conserving energy, water, recycling, growing your own food, etc.

And moving from a place where we minimized our consumption and were able to do all those things to a city of 1 M+ sort of harshed my buzz, to quote the younger generation.

But I am not just old, I am also cunning. The condo's annual general meeting was the night after we moved in. And though I could barely put a foot in front of the next, when a nice young man knocked on the door and begged that one of us come down to the lobby for the meeting so it could reach a quorum and proceed, I went. And when they asked for volunteers to sit on the board for the coming year, I put my hand up.

I admit to an agenda, and if you can't guess what it is you haven't been paying attention. But in the commission of her duties this old girl has learned some very interesting and highly encouraging information.

This building has 183 units of various sizes, each of which has its own washer/drier. Fifty of those units have heated underground parking in the parkade. It's a nice building, not fancy by any means, but interesting architecturally, as it's laid out in three "wings", which come together in a central lobby. The roof has dormers and gables, it's not your ugly flat "apartment-style" block. It's got four floors and because it has level entries and two elevators it's accessible.

I look at the long hallways, with a light fixture every 15 feet and groan at the power consumption. (All replaced with CFL bulbs thank you very much.)

But all those TVs, all those washing machines and dishwashers churning away. I can just see the planet going up in smoke and flames. I look at the financials and see how much we spent on electricity and gas last year and think, we have to bring that down!

So I dive in and figure out how much each unit on average each unit consumes in electricity and natural gas for the year. Hmmmmm... that can't be right..... recheck figures. Turns out we use less power and heat here than we did in the Tin Palace. And the average unit here is at the very bottom of the consumption scale compared to other buildings of its type.

Okay, this doesn't mean we still shouldn't try to cut down, and my next newsletter will talk about how to reduce consumption so we can keep our condo fees (which include our electricity, heat, and water) down.

I also got permission to set up "Freecyling Stations" on each floor, in the room where the garbage chute is located. It's clean and well-lit, lots of room, and people often leave things there they no longer want but are still usable. We're just going to "Official" it, with boxes and signs, and encourage people to recycle clean, useful items rather than throwing them away.

And the coup de grace - (Trumpets please!) I got condo board approval to try to organize a community garden in the back corner of the property. The corner has a six foot fence on two sides and parking lot on the third. It's triangular in size with sun all day, and a few small insignificant trees spaced widely apart. Now to begin to recruit other gardeners.

Sigh - That feels better....

Thursday, September 29, 2011

I Used to Know that!

It appears as if my brain has reached capacity. It has adopted the new "Zen" rule of organization - "One in - One out". Where once my brain was a hive of fractal-like activity, my brain's new mantra is minimalism. I was not consulted.

Whenever a new nugget of information enters, an old one is automatically jettisoned into some "trash" file from which there is no retrieval. Unfortunately, I don't get to choose which items to jettison.

This automatic editing is a dreadful nuisance, especially when something that has been jettisoned is later needed. There are few things as frustrating as being aware that you used to know something, and now you don't.

Words, I find myself searching for words. Now this is a damned nuisance when you're a writer and have been for 50 years. I once had an editor estimate my vocabulary at 50,000 of the suckers - he was in a fit of pique because he had to constantly edit my submissions to that 7th grade reading level newspapers and magazines sought to maintain.

But despite my editor's irritation, whatever I wanted to say, whatever nuance I wished to convey, I had a word, (sometimes half a dozen words) at my disposal to serve the purpose. Now there are times I feel as if I'm writing texts for beginning readers. "Look Jane! See Spot! See Spot run! Run Spot run! Run to Dick!" (I blame Dick and Jane to my over-fondness for the exclamation point to this very day!)

I'm reading papers on Complex Adaptive Systems, very exciting, but when I go to try to explain the workings of the immune system to a patient who is genuinely confused about the differences between inherited and autoimmune conditions I find I have to look up the immune system. I knew that information by heart a few years back, now I scratch my head and have to read about T-cell activation three times before my light bulb fires.

I don't know if this is age, too much going on up there to pack neatly into one small round head or my fondness for cholesterol-laden poutine, but for now I'm following the lead of a poster called "pinkfreud" on a forum I ran across and calling it "hardening of the smarteries."

Saturday, September 24, 2011

So long Sherman, Hello Boris!

Sherman "the tank" being the four wheel drive, super-cab, long box with canopy, needs-a-ladder-to-get-into, F-150 pickup I've been driving for the past five years.

I can't say we've ever had a more reliable vehicle. We bought it, put on a new windshield and installed new brakes, did a tune-up and changed all the fluids, and other than buying new tires and regular oil changes we've not had to spend a penny on it since. It's not going down the driveway because it won't run, it's going down the driveway because I just can't drive it anymore. I end up with pulled muscles and a three or four day migraine every time I have to climb in and out of it and wrestle/drive it to the store. Time for a change.

Since I don't have the energy or the car smarts to search for a replacement, Ian the familial car guru assumed the responsibility for shopping for a new car for me. Back in the day when he was a car salesman he sold Volvos and Mercedes and was pretty sure from the beginning that he wanted to find one or the other for us. Bless him.

After a month or so of looking, enter the new boy on the block, a stocky but meticulously-groomed German gentleman surnamed Mercedes-Benz who is a dream to drive.

The pickup requires a football field to turn around in, the Benz turns around in its own footprint, with no effort whatsoever. Even Ian said after driving the Benz driving the pickup was like driving a horse-drawn wagon. Yeah, I've wrestled those horse for years. My arms are three inches longer than they were when we bought it. But no pulled muscles or migraines after a trip to the WalMart in the Benz. Such a relief!

The Benz' first owner was "Boris", the Russian Ambassador to Japan, so he's spent most of his life in Japan. Boris the Ambassador then came to Canada, bringing the Benz with him. Now, after a lifetime of chauffeurs and very light diplomatic service (only about 7000 km annually), Boris the Benz is what you might call semi-retired, as we don't drive much. He'll get lots of time to sit in his parking stall and think about whatever retired diplomat's cars think about.

Thank you Ian and welcome to the family Boris!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Sunny Day

We aren't entirely bereft of "garden". A few pots of petunias and geraniums brighten our balcony. A wicker chair is a pleasant spot for coffee, if you can get the cat to move. He enjoys a nap out in the fresh air, and likes to sharpen his claws on the chair.

There's a big street light in the parking lot, and a couple of nights ago I stood and watched a bat hunting moths around the light. It darted in and out of the circle of the light. They are amazing fliers. In Summerland I'd sit out in the evenings and the bats would fly all around me. They fly by so fast you can't see them unless they fly between you and a stationary object which is very close. They were tiny little things, half the size of a mouse, incredibly delicate and beautiful.

I was pleased to see one here, even briefly and half way across the parking lot.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Frugal Recipes

As promised yesterday, recipes:

Chili, Mole Negro Style - 81 cents for a one cup serving

Ingredients:
1 lb ground sirloin
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic minced
1/3 red bell pepper, diced
1/3 green bell pepper, diced
1 large can diced tomatoes, or two large fresh tomatoes diced
1 tbs tomato paste
2 cups cooked pinto or romano beans
1/4 c chili powder (or to taste)
1 tsp smooth peanut butter
1 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder or 1 square baker's chocolate
1/4 tsp each, ground cloves, cinnamon, anise

Method:
Cook ground sirloin in large pot until all pink is gone; add diced onion, garlic and peppers, cook until onions are transparent. Add tomatoes and tomato paste, stir well, add beans and chili powder. If mix is too dry add water or tomato juice. Simmer 10 minutes. Add peanut butter, cocoa/chocolate, and spices. Stir well. Cover and simmer five minutes. Makes 12 cups.

Baked Beans - 33 cents a serving

Ingredients:
1 lb small white navy beans
1 tsp meat tenderizer
1 smoky sausage sliced
1 tbs brown sugar
1 tbs tomato paste
1 tbs dried onion flakes
1 tbs corn flour

Recipe:
Wash beans, pick out any dark or broken ones. Soak overnight in water. In the morning, rinse, put in crockpot, cover with cold water. Add sliced sausage, meat tenderizer, brown sugar, tomato paste, and onion flakes. Turn crock pot to high and cook until beans are tender enough to mash easily with a fork or spoon. Put corn flour in a cup or small bowl, spoon liquid from beans into corn flour and mix until it becomes a thick gruel with no lumps. Add to the crockpot and stir in completely to thicken juice.

Mama's Pasta sauce - 32 cents per half cup serving

Ingredients:
1 lb ground sirloin
1 medium onion, diced
1 cup sliced white or brown mushrooms
3 cloves garlic minced
1/3 red bell pepper, diced
1/3 green bell pepper, diced
1 large can diced tomatoes, or two large fresh tomatoes diced
1 tbs tomato paste
1 cup tomato or V-8 juice as needed
1 tsp Mrs Dash herb and garlic seasoning
1 tsp each rosemary, marjoram, thyme,
1-2 tsp vinegar

Method:
Cook ground sirloin in large pot until all pink is gone; add diced onion, garlic, mushrooms and peppers, cook until onions are transparent and mushrooms are cooked through. Add tomatoes and tomato paste, stir well. Add Mrs. Dash's, rosemary, marjoram thyme and vinegar. If mix is too dry add tomato juice or V-8. Simmer for 10 minutes. Makes 24 - 1/2 cup servings.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Ambitious Housewife

Any time I get ambitious enough to cook up a batch of anything it's wise to take a photo! But I seem finally to be pulling out of the energy hole moving put me into, and either I'm possessed by my younger self or it's a swan song, because I spent two or three hours cooking today.

There are many days when I don't feel much like cooking, so having something in the freezer is a real bonus. Plus Tony's favorite snacks are baked beans (cold from the can - shudder) and creamed corn (cold from the can - gag) . And while there's no accounting for taste I sometimes worry about the amount of Bisphenol A he could be ingesting from all those can linings.

So, since baked beans are the world's easiest food to make, I decided to replace his canned beans with home-cooked ones. And, as we shopped yesterday I found several bargains, which combined with food from my pantry, inspired me and turned me into the cooking queen today.

When you compare home-cooked with buying prepared food you really save money, which is something lots of people are thinking about right now. I made 24 - 1/2 cup servings of pasta sauce, 12 - 1 cup servings of chili, and six servings of those baked beans Tony loves so much.

Aside from knowing that what he's eating doesn't have gluten in it, I have a bunch of meals in the freezer available for those nights when I am not feeling up to cooking. And I saved a bundle! Compare the costs of what I cooked with the costs of the same items bought.

A can of generic baked beans at WalMart = 87 cents for 400 grams = .00217 cents a gram. Home cooked baked beans = .00128 cents a gram. The entire batch cost $2.00 to make, and I got 1560 grams of cooked beans, or six one serving containers. Taste? Tony pronounced them better.

Chili? Our "emergency" meal is a can of Stagg's chili and crackers. I buy the chili at WalMart (cheapest place for them) at a cost of $2.67 a can (.006675 per gram). This is for 400 grams of chili, or a 200 gram serving for each of us. I made 12 - 250 g (1 cup) servings for $9.73 or .00325 a gram. Lots better chili too!

Then there was the pasta sauce. You can't buy pasta sauce like mine in the store, but I made 24- 125 g (1/2 cup) servings, for $7.67 or .002556 a gram.

In each case I saved approximately half and ended up with a far tastier and healthier product, made with no added fat, a generous number of vegetables and no preservatives or chemical additives.

Recipes? Tomorrow

Monday, June 20, 2011

Love in the Afternoon

Salvador the Feline Overlord had a hairball and puked in three places in rapid succession in the middle of the day.

Tony decided to pick up puke pool #3 but (as he is very nearly blind, and in this case cat puke and laminate flooring were very much the same colour) he ended up walking through it instead.

He tracked it over half the kitchen and into the bedroom while bent over peering at the floor saying, "What? Where? WHAT?" while I yelled, "Fer Gawds sake STAND STILL!"

I was going to mop anyway.

Funny what passes for love in the afternoon, when you are retired!

Friday, June 17, 2011

KIVA Loans for June 2011

Going all out this month and making two KIVA loans, because the repayments coming back from those we have lent money to in the past year or so has provided enough money to make two new loans! While we usually loan money to women, tomorrow is Father's Day, and in honor of my dear husband Tony and my dear departed Dad, Charlie, I decided to choose two men as the recipients of these loans.

Our first loan goes to Bayardo Ines Ramirez of Nicaragua, who has asked for a loan of $400.

Bayardo has a tricycle taxi service. He is very responsible and enjoys his work, and this is the first time he has requested a loan. Although the work is steady and he has been able to make a living, he does not have sufficient capital to buy new tires, make needed repairs and reupholster the passenger seat of his tricycle taxi. This small loan will enable him to maintain his taxi and continue to earn a living.

Our second loan goes to Miguel Ernesto in El Salvador. Miguel is a young man who lives with his wife and their two-year-old son. Miguel plants beans on a small plot of land. He sells some of the crop and also helps to feed his family with it. He is getting ready for the harvest and is requesting a loan of $300 to purchase better quality seeds and fertilizer for his field.

The loan will makes a significant difference to Miguel's success. The new seeds will help him generate a good harvest to take to market. Miguel's dream is to be able one day to buy his own house, and live with dignity with his family.

We are happy to help in some small way Bayardo and Miguel to achieve their goals for themselves and their families.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

A Celebration of Rachel Carson's Life



Rachel Carson's work had a major formative influence on my life. The impact of her life can hardly be overestimated.

Thank you Dear.
Rest Peacefully,

Ever a Fan

Friday, May 27, 2011

Happy Anniversary!



My Dear Parents,

It is your 46th anniversary today.

Frankly, it's shameful.

As a representative of a younger generation, I feel that it is my duty to explain that most people have the common decency to end their marriages after a suitable period of "trying to make it work". An appropriate time for this would have been thirty to forty years ago, but it still isn't too late.

I realize that, in having a marriage that has lasted longer than a decade, I provide a poor example for you, but I blame you for this. While many of my peers received important life lessons by having their parents painfully divorce at a young age, I was stripped of this important character-building opportunity and instead had to rely on my
own devices. Thankfully, I learned to run away, start fires, skip school and otherwise add difficulty to my life at a young age.

I know that little that I say will have an impact on your unconventional life choices and suspect that you plan to continue your unrelenting celebration of love, while simultaneously flaunting your ability to thrive and do good amid overwhelming hardship.

Still, I urge you to change your ways before the Rapture.

Sincerely,

Elbas T. Batshit, Esq.

# # #

Seriously now.

I wish you both all the happiness that there is. Your love for the other and your commitment to carrying your family through even the most difficult times is an inspiration.

All my love,
Zak

Saturday, May 14, 2011

May KIVA Loan

Our KIVA loan this month goes to Doreen of Hoima Uganda, who 41 years old. Doreen is married with seven children aged five to 21 years old, and a dependent grandchild. Her husband is a driver. Her goal is to educate her children and see them able to sustain themselves.

Doreen has operated a produce business for five years. She started by growing tobacco and then changed to her current business selling maize. She faces a challenge due to the maize business being seasonal. She wants to diversify into selling beans and groundnuts.

This is our 25th KIVA loan, and we're pleased to be able to help Doreen and other hard-working small business people around the world achieve their goals and provide better living conditions and futures for their families.

Thank you KIVA, for giving us this opportunity!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Note to self:

Avoid Norovirus in future.

I've been about as genial as a bear with a burr under his tail the past ten days. I am very careful to use hand sanitizer while out and about, and before we sit down for lunch while we are out shopping. Who knew that alcohol-based sanitizers are not effective against norovirus? This is a glaring oversight in the information doled out to us on how to remain infection free.

Henceforth I travel with an electric kettle, a #3 tin washtub, a bar of carbolic soap, and towels. I will bathe at the table before eating my out-to-lunch lunch. Other patrons will avert their eyes or I will not be responsible for the life-long damage to their tender pysches.

So, grouse and grump have been the order of the day the past while, in between trips to the potty. However reading this on a blog I follow cheered me to no end. I just love sentimental poetry.

Great Rules of Writing

Do not put statements in the negative form.
And don't start sentences with a conjunction.
If you reread your work, you will find on rereading that a
great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing.
Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.
Unqualified superlatives are the worst of all.
De-accession euphemisms.
If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.
Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
Last, but not least, avoid cliches like the plague.
~ William Safire

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Beginning to feel like home

As you can see I finally got around to replacing my lost camera. Somehow I can't seem to get enthused about blogging without a photo or two to drop into a post.

Of course one of my first photos was one of the Overlord, he of the red hair, green eyes and monumental attitude. For those who are wondering, he has made a smooth transition to condo life.

But I also tested my new camera by taking a few pictures of the living room. Nothing like a photo to show you what still needs to be done (lots) but those who have been asking what the place is like can get an idea.

One of the quirks of this condo is that the living room has no window. There's a six-foot wide door off the hall, so it's more or less open-plan. I don't actually mind, as it gives us more room to hang paintings. I've hung maybe half of our paintings so far and am wondering which ones will end up in the closet. If we had windows in this room I'd have no room at all for paintings!

In a few days we'll have been here six weeks, and while we still aren't entirely unpacked or organized some order is beginning to emerge from the chaos, as evidenced by books, DVDs, CDs and various junque loaded into the bookcases.

At the end is one of the many model ships Tony built over the years, and in front of it the "host" chair from the dining room set. Over the TV is a cut-away model Tony made of the structure of a clipper ship - from a cereal box. On it sits a tiny dory he built and a miniature three-masted sailing ship which was a gift from friends many years ago.

Taking a cue from the model ships and our collection of shells gathered by family and friends and the half-dozen or so sea-themed paintings we turned this into the "sea wall". Though I love all of these paintings, my favorite has to be the large one to the far left. Tony's mother bought it 50 years ago from a Norwegian Canadian named W. Raade who travelled through Canada in the 1950's and 60's selling his oil paintings door-to-door from the back of a station wagon. It captures all the moody restlessness of waves lifted by an approaching storm.

The stack-of-books coffee table cleaned up nicely. I retouched the spots where the leather had been wet and had faded, glued down the loose bits of leather and rubbed it down with brown shoe polish and it looks great. Still old, and well-loved, but full of character in a way a new piece would lack. It also makes a great runway for a tissue paper and balsa model plane Tony built by looking at pictures in a book. Sadly, I ruined my chances for the "Martha Stewart room stylist" job, when I took this picture with lots of evidence that this is a "lived-in" space lying about.


What I really need is a picture of Salvador lying on the sofa with his four feet in the air, totally comfortable and happy. Somehow the flowered sofa provides perfect "catouflage". (He's just about been sat on a number of times.)

But with cat and our rockers in place it is a comfy room, and while it might not be a candidate for a chic Apartment Therapy home tour it is filled with items we love which make us feel comfortable. And what more could you ask of home?

Friday, April 8, 2011

April KIVA Loan

Our April KIVA loan goes to Manushak Mkrtchyan, who is the same age as our older son. She is a widow with three children who lives in Kapan Armenia.
Her two sons are still living at home but her daughter is married and she lives separately. Manushak’s younger son is a student. Her elder son helps her with her business, which consists of fruits and vegetable trading in Kapan market.

Previously, Manushak sold clothing but decided to become a produce vendor because food trading is more profitable. Part of Manushak's income goes towards her younger son’s education and the rest part supports her family.

This is Manushak’s seventh loan. She will use her loan to buy tomatoes, cucumbers and fruits to resell.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Stack of Books - What Else?

I'm not sure what most newlywed couples do the first few days as husband and wife (besides the obvious), but we spent an inordinate amount of time acquiring books. Lovely lovely books - including a 60-volume leather-bound set of The Great Books of the Western World.

We started our marriage reading that marvelous "first modern novel", The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote de la Mancha to each other before bedtime, and dreamed of owning a bookstore.

The book has been a recurring theme throughout our marriage, buying them, reading and rereading them, and even writing a few. We've literally read the covers off a few favorites, and had to find replacement copies.

So when I did my daily cruise through the Kijiji furniture ads last night I was entranced by a large and well-loved coffee table which was built to resemble a stack of three enormous leather-bound books. At 38" x 27" this is not a dainty piece of furniture. It weighs over 100 pounds.

No matter. It was furniture love at first sight. I called as early as I dared to check that no one had pounced on it as soon as it was offered. My heart was in my mouth. It was still available! Ian was off in the mountains climbing, but the owner said he'd hold it for me until the end of the day. I sent Ian several e-mails begging him to pick it up on his way home, and about 5:30 he called to say it was in his truck and he was on his way.

It needs a bit of love, the leather is dry, cracking and peeled back in some spots. A couple of the corners are damaged, it needs a bit of paint on the legs. But glory it is gorgeous! It fits perfectly in front of the sofa, and is great for throwing your feet up on, for a plate of snacks, to play a game on or assemble a puzzle.

As a bonus each of the three books is also a large shallow drawer which will hold the laptops, cords, back-ups drives, disks etc, paperwork, CDs, stationary, the kinds of things which quickly find their way to the bottom of a deeper drawer.

My camera is missing or I would take a photo of it in our living room, but in lieu of that I will post the pictures from the ad. I have to admit Tony was not at all sure he liked it, until he sat on the sofa and put his feet up and it suddenly dawned on him that this is not just a beat-up old stack of books we're talking about here. We're talking comfort and a significant amount of storage as well as a great conversation piece.

We also bought some shelving today so once we get it assembled we can begin to unpack the boxes of books, CDs, videos and other "shelf" stuff. We need a second shelving set just like the one we bought today, but will get it the next time we go to the store. Try as I might I could not find shelves the right size on Kijiji, so finally broke down and bought new.

We are a long way from being unpacked, but little by little the story writes itself.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Operator!

I remember vividly trooping up the wide staircase of Robert E Lee Elementary (Duncan Oklahoma) at some point in the third grade to watch a film.

You have to remember this was in the early 50s, when few homes had TV, and a film in school was an event. In fact we'd looked forward to it for a week, and had fidgeted and waited impatiently for our turn as other classes marched past our first floor classroom door on their way to see "the movie".

When we were finally settled into the desks in the large third floor room and the lights were dimmed we were shown how to use the technological marvel of the age through the story of a boy whose puppy had gone missing. Alas! The boy was an unschooled ninny who did not understand how to use the rotary dial telephone to call the appropriate puppy-seeking authorities. (High Drama! We were as entranced as today's 10-y-o at a "Harry Potter" movie.)

To that point you simply picked up the phone and yelled "Operator! Give me 21!" - or 723 - as the case might be, or "Stumpie Busby's". (Everyone knew Stumpie's number, he was the local bootlegger.) So film star and Puppy-Loser stood and fruitlessly shouted "Operator! Operator!" at the mysterious and previously unheard signal coming from the receiver, the dial tone.

Thankfully Puppy-Loser's kindly Mr. Rogers-like friend came along and showed him, with great care, how one uses a rotary dial. Place your finger in the hole over the number desired and rotate the dial around until it stops. Release, choose your next number, rotate the dial ALLLLLL the way around until it stops, release, repeat, etc. (Four digits in those days!)

"PL" was told he might get a beeping "busy" signal, otherwise wait for the ringing to begin. Your "party" (we called people we phoned the party in those quaint days) will answer the phone. No operator will announce that they are now on the line. You must say, "Hello!" when you pick up a ringing phone, and that is what you wait to hear before speaking.

This was breathtaking stuff which prepared the elementary aged school child to go home and show the parents how to use the baffling rotary phones which were being installed the following weeks. I proudly showed my puzzled parents this new age marvel myself, while my father shook his head in astonishment.

Now, we move 55 years forward. The Shaw guy hands me a "Universal remote" which will supposedly allow me to watch the flat screen high-def TV on my living room wall and then he makes a hasty retreat. Do I get an informative movie, or even a demo on how to use this device, with its hundred buttons, each of which has four dozen functions? No, I get a 75 page instruction book which tells me (supposedly) how to turn on the &^*% TV - but doesn't.

I hold it up and shout Operator! Operator! at it. Nothing. The TV is dark. It's 2011. The operators have all gone home.

I want to go back to third grade.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

In Reverse

AKA "unpacking". We have unpacked all the necessary-for-life stuff and are mostly down to boxes of books, pictures, CDs, DVDs and odds and ends. This is not to say that things are organized. That will take some time. Ask again in a month. Nonetheless we are pleased with the progress we have made so far.

We have to wait to unpack the books etc. we brought with us until we buy the hutch and some bookcases. Once we do that the stored books, china and pictures can come "home" from where they have been parked the past four and a half years.

One of the moving helpers carrying in the 10th or so box of books, looked at me and said, "I went through my books and weeded out the extras before I moved." I'm not sure she believed me when I said I had.

We've begun to buy furniture. Since we spent Wednesday pining for comfortable chairs the first items on the to-buy list were two comfortable chairs and a sofa, which we bought Thursday. Now we need a hutch and dining room table, bookcases and perhaps an end table.

As far as furniture is concerned I decided that whatever that's comfortable and I love will work. When I eventually find the camera I'll take pictures but I bought a French Provincial sofa, a lovely thing - silk with big flowers. (eye roll)

I have not a single flowered garment in my wardrobe, nor a ruffle, nor anything particularly girly. My decorating tastes are still a mystery to me. If I didn't love this sofa so much I'd say I was nuts. All the cat has to do is walk across it with extended claws and we'll have instant "shabby chic". I also bought a matched pair of very comfy swivel rockers with traditional rolled arms, in a burgundy velvet corduroy, which picks up the burgundy bits in the sofa pattern.

I may have to thumbtack a "Guns and Roses" poster to the wall to off-set the granny vibe. Except I couldn't stand to look at a Guns and Roses poster. I'm hoping some contemporary bookcases will help. I don't know why I'm worried. Visitors always just look at the cat anyway, so I could probably have thrown an old mattress on the floor and no one would have noticed. When a 21.8 pound red cat stands in the middle of the floor and demands attention everything else fades into insignificance. Weird thing. The sofa matches the cat. The background of the fabric is the same colour as the walls, sort of a rich latte, but there's some colour in there that makes the cat the perfect accessory. He thinks we bought it for him. I hope he's willing to share.

I guess I best admit I'm enjoying this entire process, though it's darned hard work.