Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Armstrong Peanut Butter

I've finally graduated to the grandpa of peanut-butters. You know the kind. Non-homogenized. No salt, no sugar, no additives. Just peanuts. I shuddered at the thought of switching, remembering the jar that sits in dad's cupboard. There's always that golden layer of oil waiting to be stirred back in. Heaven help you if you don't; you are left with peanut-butter plumber's putty on the bottom of the jar, unspreadable.

So anyways, I've graduated to the grandma club and now I've switched. That sugar and salt is no good for us. I thought I'd forestall the oily layer by keeping my PB in the fridge, but it is too hard to spread except on the toughest of toast. Hubby moved it to the cupboard, then hid his homogenized version to keep me from "borrowing". I'm back to facing that oily layer. So heave ho with some heavy wrist action and a blur of speed, as I convince the oil to reunite with it's nutty brothers.

As I stir vigorously, my mind wanders to comforting places. I wonder how many calories I'm burning. Then I remember dad's peanut butter jar, always there. And my mind wanders back to the memory of an older tin that grandpa found in a corner of the old cellar of the family farmstead. Grandpa laughed at that. How he used to look forward to his peanut butter, a delicacy.

Peanut Butter has a venerable history. It got it's launch as an alternative cash crop for southern farmers, and it was touted as a health food.

But for me, my daily vigorous stir of some gritty peanut-butter transports me to an old farmstead grown over with lush weeds with my grandfather's comforting rumble in the background as he tells us stories of growing up in Renfrew, Ontario.
I am borrowing the picture from a fellow blogger, Lucia Andres, of

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Neverending Story

Trailing ends leave me nervous. Maybe they bother you, too. Do you tuck in the tag sticking out from your friend's shirt collar? Will you wind up the trailing strand on a ball of wool? Must you watch the movie to the bitter end? Then maybe you are like me, too.

I'm a lifelong Trekkie. I partly blame my mom. She would not tolerate rivals, and Star Trek rivalled her for my attentions. So she planned dinner to start ten minutes before the finale. Ten minutes to six. She would trot up to the television and turn it off, "Dinner's ready." I'd thought for many years that it was terribly inconvenient that television programming did not accommodate people's dinner schedules. It only dawned on me many years later that mom planned dinner hour on purpose to mess with my schedule. All those missing finales, they left their mark. I'm never sure when I watch a re-run if I've seen the whole thing through. So I set myself down, even today, to revel in the pleasure of a finished story.

The paper-back sections of the public library similarly leave me with trailing ends. I admit, I'm trolling the science fiction section. Especially in SF, it seems, authors get themselves a series going. It must be a great deal of work manufacturing entire worlds and civilizations. It is a terrible waste to use it all up on one book. So we have ourselves our trilogies and our tetralogies and our heptalogies. Anyways, back to our problem in the paper-back section of our public libraries. Typically they contain fairly current novels. Which means they have perhaps the third volume but not the first or the second. I am thrust in to the middle of the story without context. Or worse, I am fully involved in my hero's tale with no way of knowing how it ends. To this day I'll pick up any Asimov novel I come across, just in case it might be one I've missed. I'm sure I've read Foundation dozens of times, fearing it's one of my missed books.

How does all this talk of trailing ends have to do with life and blogs? Now that I'm halfway through my earthly toil, it seems to me that life itself is a story with trailing ends. Often I've thought of writing of what I've learned about parenting, courage, success...but the lack of a satisfactory conclusion has held me back. My children are a work in progress. I'm a work in progress. I cannot say that one way or another guarantees satisfaction or an end to problems. Problems are interwoven in to the fabric of our life. They mess up the edges of our lives, leaving trailing bits of undone business around. Perhaps that tension of an unsatisfactory conclusion drives us forward to do better, to give another try. Let us hope that is the way to respond to life's trickeries.

It does no good to throw the book to the ground (or toss our relationships to the side) because they do not satisfy.

Thanks to sammystuff for her lovely wool picture.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Creepy Santa

It's tough to keep the Christmas spirit going. I forge ahead by feeding myself with sights, sounds and smells. This year I made a low-fat version of Christmas cake. All right, it's still heavy and rich - there's no escaping the candied fruits and nuts - but what I really wanted was my house filled with rich, warm smells. I also splurged on a real tree this year. Also for the smells. A fifteen dollar tree from Superstore, just a tad lopsided. He sits on one of my side tables, decked out in three seasons of silver globes, picked up at after-season sales.

A sight I could have done without is robot Santa at Wal-mart.

He sent me automatic greetings every few seconds, as I stood at the door, bundled up with my purchases, waiting for hubby to pick me up. Anyways, there's this robot santa standing above the seasonal racks. On schedule, he makes some spastic moves and mumbles something Christmas-ey. Thankfully, he is drowned out by the buzz and clatter of the shoppers. But we had those few creepy moments together as I waited for my ride.

Whatever was Walmart thinking?

I watched a documentary on Mall Santas last night, very well done. Here's a fine review. The director, Mike Sheerin , gives us to peek in to the lives of three Mall Santas who take their job very seriously. There's an exchange of kindness; all three men get something special from the lives they touch. A surprising flip side is the barrenness of their personal lives. When Christmas is all over, Santa is forgotten. I'm of a mind to pass on my thanks to these heroes of the human touch....on Boxing Day.

Meeting Santa is all about humanness and warmth. A benevolent stranger cares about me and wants to know how I am doing, what I most wish for. You can't get that touch from a machine. I'm all for technology when it helps. Sure, automate the check-out experience. I'd be happy to do that chore myself. But Santa can't be automated. He's a living, breathing symbol of care.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


I confess, Hubby and I are the nosy neighbours. You know, those very special people who nose in to your lives and somehow know more about you than you do yourself. Neighbours like us are commemorated on screen, like this top twenty-five list of sitcom neighbours. Surely you remember them. There's Frank and Marie, Urkel, and who can forget Kramer?

I figure it's the unique combination of our strengths and neuroses that led us to where we are today. We both love the small town life, but live in the big city. I figured, if the mountain won't come to Mohamed, well.... So I added a few small town habits. We stop and talk to passers-by. I drop off cookies for newcomers, or to commemorate an everyday fence-burning, or maybe just for no reason at all. After all, I love to bake with my granddaughter but I cannot eat. Why not give the love away?

Hubby asks everyone what they are up to, aggressively interested in their day. He's not faking it. He really wants to know. After all, people and their lives are loads more interesting than television. He also has a sharp eye for makes and models of cars. We know, for instance, when our single neighbour has switched boyfriends, by noting the change in make and model of car in her visitor's spot. We figure when our young couple is visiting family out of town, when their spot is vacant for a few days.

Me, I want to extend our social network for our own sake. Since we are in a religiously mixed marriage, it's tough to find couples in our relative congregations who will socialize. So I constantly search out new prospects in our neighbourhood. These extended friendships also help to remind my hubby that regular people, religious or not, are just plain fine folk.

Building our own small town around us has it's perks. We've lent and borrowed sugar. Sympathetic neighbours have pooled their collective intelligence to help us break in to our own home. I've traded perrenials around the complex so I now have a blazing variety of flowers in my garden. We've helped our neighbours apply as foster parents and get their mortgage witnessed, and they've helped us get our passports.

Helping each other fill out those necessary applications have been a wake-up call for the young couples in our neighbourhood. In the busy-ness of building their lives and their little family, they suddenly realize their network of friends is very, very small. What does it say about our modern, isolating lifestyle that the best candidates to vouch for them are the....nosy neighbours?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

My feeding station is not just for the birds

I have a new visitor to our bird-feeder. In other circumstances, I might even think he is cute and cuddly. He has a thick coat, brindle-striped in greys and browns. And he's made a beeline path in the snow to a little nest right under the bird-feeder. His only redeeming quality is that he scoots when I say scat. Guilty conscience, I would say.

Our famous Canadian cold is finally scheduled to arrive, so made sure the feeder is full.

I wonder if a few strategically placed moth-balls might convince him to nest somewhere else. Where does one buy moth-balls these days?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

How big is our world?

There's a Stella Artois commercial that most beautifully makes my point. So I went looking for it. Two days later, I'm still looking for it; not for a dearth of examples, but because there are too many Stella Artois commercials. Let's hope they spend as much money on their product as they do on their stunning presentations. ....Hah. I just found it through google images, from a fellow blogger, Rob Orange. I am so grateful, I may now go on with my point.
Anyways, the commercial depicts the age when this stunning brew was created. The Middle Ages were a terrifying time. The earth had edges one could fall off. A ship meandering too far from shore could be burnt up by the sun and crushed in the sea by terrible sea creatures. As silly or exotic as this world view seems to modern man, this was truly their reality.

Consider also the world of biblical Paul and Noah. Their world was closer in shape known to Middle Age man than our modern world. The heavens were a great arc over a flat earth, and Sheol lay in darkness underneath. When the whole world flooded, or were spread with the gospel, it was a much smaller world than the one we know today.

Funnily, it seems that now that we do know it's full size and shape and have even seen the whole world from space, it has shrunk again. We worry over it's upkeep. Our world has become vulnerable. Perhaps this new vision of our world with no political borders, vulnerable to our care and our neglect, will help mankind come to terms with our responsibility.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Debunking Urban Myth

I confess, I've been caught. Once in a while I spread an urban myth as "fact" before I thoroughly check it out. I confess that there's one urban myth I continue to share just because it sounds so good. Let's see if you can guess which one I still spread. Let's see if you can guess which one is true:

  • Edmonton is the restaurant capital of Canada

  • We use only ten percent of our brain

  • Boil a frog slowly enough and it won't jump out of the pot

What's the harm in spreading myth? I've spent a good deal of time teaching myself to think clearly and make decisions based on fact. It's so easy for people to get duped by a good sounding story, to be swept along by hormones, feeling, or instinct. People who base their decisions on anything other than reason may not really be in charge of their life at all. They could become victims of a con-man or a cause. I proud that am not taken by telemarketers or by any salesman for that matter. I am my own woman, not a puppet.

Even so, once in a while I get caught. But I'm getting smarter. If you haven't found it yet, snopes is a great place to check out if a story is fact or fiction. Please, please use snopes before you forward an e-mail rumor. You will be doing every shared server on the planet a big favor. And you will save yourself my annoyance.

Well, my most recent myth to die, which I have shared unknowingly for years, is that Edmonton is the restaurant capital of Canada. I've since discovered that most cities make this claim. It's not based on fact, but civic pride. The only google reference to Edmonton's claim I found in an Edmonton article. It just goes to show, if a tidbit is shared often enough, it gains a life of it's own. Share it enough, and people might just think it's fact.

So which city can honestly boast that they are the restaurant capital of Canada? Montreal. There are over 5,000 restaurants in the metro island area. All the more reason to go for a visit, don't you think?

We only use ten percent of our brain. Myth. My Witness husband uses this false factoid to bolster his claim that human beings were meant to live for thousands of years. He gains great satisfaction from the hope that his poor brain can finally be used to it's full potential, if only it were given enough time. How the brain really works is a fascinating read. Two books I highly recommend are "The Language Instinct" by Steven Pinker and "The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force" by Jeffrey M. Schwartz. From those readings, I may have to give up another myth that the mind stores all information fed it from birth. That false mind model suggests that we could remember everything if we could just learn to access a vast unconscious. It turns out rather that the brain constantly renews itself, reinforcing pathways that are referenced often, and dropping others. In other words, you can lose it if you don't use it.

Now. About the boiled frog. Myth. This myth died hard. After all, the imagery works so well. I still use it to make the point that we are to be vigilant always and not to ignore incremental change. Always check - where are we heading? I've used the boiled frog analogy to explain how Jehovah's Witness recruiters slowly introduce a bible student to their beliefs. I've seen this in action many times as a new study is first warmly welcomed to a meeting in his jeans and t-shirt.

  • The next meeting he's wearing a jacket over the jeans.

  • The t-shirt is the next to go, replaced with a crisp open-necked dress shirt.

  • The jeans are replaced with suit pants.

  • And finally, the tie. No decent Witness male attends a meeting without a tie. At this stage, the study leader my offer to lend one of his. Just to make sure the poor fellow fits in.

So which one of these myths are true? Not a one. I played a rather nasty word game to prime you to find some truth in my three myths. It's not there. Word games can be tricky. Here's a final example to make you think. An author writes a highly successful fiction novel. In his preface, he suggests that the entire story is "true", but the facts must be hidden in fiction because sinister forces don't want the "truth" to come out. But the plain answer is that the entire novel is fiction. Half-truths rumor and myth are woven together in to a great story. It's a fantastic story, but it is not true.

I am horrified to find that many people were duped by that single false statement in his preface. There's entire discussion groups dedicated to the story he wove. The story? The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. A pox on that one sentence that sent a subset of the internet world on chasing a myth. History is muddied enough without a creative author kicking more muddle in to the mess.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Sunday School Teacher to Jump Ropers

Another one of my great joys is being Sunday School teacher to a group of school age children. My transparent motivation is to stay current with my granddaughter's contemporaries; what are their interests, trends, and concerns? My secondary joy is to watch yet another generation be launched in to adulthood. Every couple years I am approached by one of my old Sunday School students, happy to reminisce (remember when I shut the lights off and the whole room went black?) and to tell me their achievements. As small a part as I played, I must make up a bit of the mortar of their lives. Now, that is a pleasure.

Anyways, I am influencing the next generation. And what a challenge that turns out to be. This particular little group struggles with worship. For some, at least, it is a challenge to wiggle and weasel out of the chore. It's not a chore, it's a joy. But that's our own tug-of-war, and we'll keep working on it. After all, I am very, very determined.

Where I see eyes lighting up and esteem growing is in the short minutes of play before the structured program. This little group, besides abhoring worship, has taken to skipping (or jump rope). I've seen the shyest approach the rope ever more confidently from week to week. Even the youngest have surprised their parents by skipping a few times.

So I am wondering how I can leverage this interest, and how I can honor their choice. My google tour launches me in to a fascinating culture. Jump rope is a game of the streets. Any child can learn it, and very little equipment is required.

Perhaps I will simply expose my little group to the possibilities, and we'll take it from there. We can start with some jump rope rhymes and I can show them some championship video. I have friends in Wisconsin, close to the self-proclaimed jump rope capital of the world. I could get some bumper stickers and other items. After all, when it comes to jump rope, my little group is leading me.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Back to my mission - lineups at the Movie Theatre

It's about time I turned back to the reason I started this blog in the first place. Can I make a difference to intake to make it kinder and easier, that is humanize the experience? Everyone would benefit, including me as I head in to retirement.

I despise waiting rooms.

So I asked myself, have we stood in a line lately? And sure enough, we have. I was in the line-up at our discount movie theatre, Movies 12. As is the case in so many places in Alberta, they were short staffed last night. There was one girl on ticket sales and only two on concession. The line to the concession was growing. At some critical point, the counter staff hollered out, "there are two lines!" and the line dutifully split. We flowed naturally, like a creek finding a new path. The only person who was a little upset was a girlfriend, who had briefly left the line. Those of us waiting our turn helpfully told her where to find him. She shook her head at nearly losing him.

Later on in the evening, the management put a sign up at the ticket booth, letting patrons know they could buy their tickets and their concession at the same time....inside.

Efficient and friendly. They made best use of the resources they had. And we were all knew it.

So why is it that in nearly every private example I've looked at, there's a sense of professionalism, of order, of a desire to make the patron as comfortable as possible? Could it be the reason we are there? Cinema wants us to come back. They gain when we have a good experience. We are planning to have a good time.

It's not quite the same thing when we go for hospital testing or apply for a service, is it?