Wednesday, December 3, 2014

You Crazy Canuck Winter Runners!

I would have never believed a year ago I'd be writing about running. But here I am. Last spring I walked my first 5K. After surgery in the fall I walked again in the Walk for the Cure, 5K. Afterwards I got thinking, "That wasn't so hard", and realized I needed to find a bigger challenge.

So I signed up for Runner's World "Learn to Run" following the C25K program (Couch to 5K, get it?). Halfway through the classes, I am running farther and stronger than I had ever imagined! Along the way I learned to dress for the weather including thermal inner wear, dressing in layers, a windbreaker, and cleats for my running shoes.

Last winter I dreaded falling to the ice again. My new agility I swear is turning out to be my best protection against falls.

 My health and fitness discussion board recently had a lively discussion about winter running. The OP despaired being able to run in the cold and the dark, as she lives in frigid Michigan (I seem to recall). Well. I've been out in -30C windchill (-22F) now, and lived to tell the tale. So the northern runners all chimed in on how we do it. A disbelieving poster called us crazy. Here's a selfie to prove it, though I would count today as pretty mild (-8C, 18F). There aren't any icicles forming off my balaclava.

People who haven't seen me for a while must be seeing a miracle. But it has not been like that for me. Truly, it has been incremental changes, small adds to my routine, that have sort of compounded themselves one on the other. The C25K is a gentle introduction to running that is deliberate in its' approach. The first week was one minute run, one minute walk. The second, three and one. The third, three and one, four and one, and this week is three rounds of five minutes ending with a three minute run (one minute walking in between).

It is important not to push too hard so the body has time to adjust. I am a freak about avoiding injury, so this is perfect.

I've learned that boredom is my enemy and the best way to stave it off is to raise the bar. I am grateful for the enthusiasm of my daughter, granddaughter and niece who are supporting me and joining me in this enterprise. As a consequence, I have signed up for a 10K run next June (Underwear Affair) and the 6K Mud Hero in August. I am nervous about the Mud Hero challenge as I will need upper body strength to make it through, and I have none right now.

Well, another goal to work towards. Baby steps.

You can join our team Ells Belles or sponsor to a good cause if you prefer. Come and watch and cheer us on! I've got a few ideas to fun up the runs.

The ultimate dream I have is to participate in the Grande Cache Death Race. That one terrifies me. My niece and I have agreed the smartest approach is to get there in degrees by participating in stronger runs leading up to the event. I also found out that participants who volunteer the preceding year are guaranteed a spot in the following year. So barring injury or unforeseen event, the plan is increasingly difficult runs through 2015/2016, volunteer in 2016, and run in 2017.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Revenant (2015)

Leonardo Dicaprio

I read with interest of your current filming of “The Revenant” and I was struck with the similarity to the family story of my great Uncle Jim Christie, also barely surviving a grizzly mauling in the Yukon. From there he enlisted in the First World War but he said nothing ever compared to surviving that grizzly attack. From the cited article below, his superior officer described Uncle Christie this way:

“His long life alone in the mountains made him the most observant man I have ever known. He saw everything and said nothing. He could put his hand on the ground in No Man’s Land and tell whether a man had walked there one hour ago, two hours ago, three hours ago. It was uncanny, and he was never wrong. He would lie out in the open behind our trenches, day after day ... and get his sight on some part of the enemy trench and wait for someone to put his head up. If he did not put it up today, he would be there tomorrow, and sure enough some German would come to that spot, and Christie would get him. This happened year after year. I have never known anyone outside an Indian who had the patience of Christie. He would concentrate hour after hour on one spot ... Christie could do it for two days.”

The difference between Christie and your Glass character of course, is that Glass did not have the support of his comrades, and Glass is driven chiefly by revenge.

It gives me great pleasure to consider how my Great Uncle, for all his adventure, lived through a silver retirement in good cheer. After the Great War he married the spinster who knitted his socks for him and other boys on the front. She had slipped in a small note in his sock. Their correspondence led to love and marriage, and ultimately gentle retirement on Salt Spring Island.

Best of success in this undertaking, and may you channel the heart of the great adventurers who haunt our hinterlands still. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

PIcked up by Charter for Compassion!

A few weeks ago a posted an info-graphic on the common threads of faith. I don't know about you, but I am distressed by the increasing polarization of our society. Conservative vs Liberal. Rich vs Poor. Athiest vs Religious. Muslim vs Christian.

Some of my views are conservative, others not so much. It is annoying when I am lumped in with a group that do not share all my views. I would much prefer to be challenged directly on what I say and do.

It sure is easier to attack a paper cut-out, an assumption of attitudes and beliefs it is assumed that all those "others" share. Arguments become repetitive as the assumed ground is tread over and over. Instead of finding common ground, people become entrenched and secure in their original beliefs. Movement is not possible.

Out of that frustration, I took a page from Karen Armstrong's book and created a graphic of some common principles among all religions. To emphasize how much we have alike rather than our differences. I believe if we wish to see movement away from radicalism, there has to be a joining, a mutual understanding. 

Then to my great delight, Karen's website, Charter for Compassion, picked up my thread! Boy, that feels great. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014


Today I picked an old draft in my blogger portfolio, where I had jotted down some ideas for safekeeping, then forgot about it. I must have been in a high-minded mood, pondering how individual action can influence a world.

I want my actions to count. I must behave as if what I do matters. Call me selfish, but I want a better world in small ways and large. I see this determined optimism also in William Ury, as he talks about some of the most intractable problems of our day. He asks if the problems in the Middle East bother us, even if we are not immediately affected. I have to say yes. This concern may be as primal as distressed bystanders watching tribe members duke it out. We may not be fully aware how much these disputes affect us, until it is resolved. I cried when the Berlin Wall fell, even though I had no German relatives on either side of that accursed wall. It's very existence carved a scar on the human psyche. Ury encourages us all that as bystanders, we offer perspective. We help disputants find a way out of their death-grip.

Have you heard of the Butterfly effect? The idea is that a chance flutter of a butterfly deep in the Amazon may start a chain reaction that results in a hurricane. The idea is that a seemingly small action on our part might have monumental consequences.

This idea has been explored oh-so-creatively by various SF writers, especially through time travel. Can a seemingly inconsequential action in the deep past affect our present? Cancel a war perhaps? Or would such tinkering result in unintended side-effects? Here is an example, A Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury.

Mathematically, my gut tells me this is not so. Small inconsequential actions tend to cancel each other out. It's a good thing too, because at the atomic level, there's a chance always that an electron may not behave as expected. But the mass average of all atoms means our desk stays solid and our clothes remain knitted together on our frame.

Nevertheless, I choose to grab opportunities to make my immediate world better, whether it is a free compliment, a spare smile, or a small act of kindness. I figure the deliberate push towards kindness surely will add up.

Here are some ways to take small actions towards big changes.

Pay it Forward

Random Acts of Kindness

Abraham Path

Free Hugs Campaign

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

My 8 Mantras

I am in the middle of a physical transformation with an ambiguous ending. Thanks to the Weight Wise team at the Royal Alexandra Hospital I have lost a significant amount of weight, retired some chronic health conditions, and gained a great deal of energy.

It's amazing, really, how much more I can do when I don't have a spare 75 pound pack on my back. Looking forward, I am warned that to sustain such a transformation, I will have a different life. Eating is different, activities are different. I must shed my formerly sedentary lifestyle and find new ways to be active. I am motivated twice over to keep moving, as I don't want to reduce my portions so much that eating is no longer a pleasure.

So with my newfound energy and restlessness, I have been setting new goals. This fall I joined the CIBC Run for the Cure for the first time.  I walked it. And I wasn't even that winded. This past Sunday I joined Groovin' for the Cure at the Enjoy Centre. I got my sweat on for sure there. Which got me to thinking, what shall I do to challenge myself next?

I am also adding twenty minutes of swim lane at our pool dates. The twenty minutes goes by pretty quickly, but my restless mind needs focus. Most of the time I have my iPhone to keep my jumpy neurons happy But I can't take that in to the pool. Which leaves my mind wandering, too often on intractable problems.

I know from experience that my performance drops if I dwell on the unsolvable problems of life. I need to retrain my mind for the empty spaces. Some of my ideas about mind training come from my reading and practice of mindfulness (thanks, Kathryn Burwash!). When we train our minds to be fully in the moment, we get all sorts of health side-benefits, including lowered blood pressure. Mindfulness I believe may be a form of self-hypnosis but I find the two fields (hypnotism, meditation) to be too steeped in their own forms and terminology to have a meaningful conversation.

I learned from long distance swimmer Diana Nyad that she keeps going by singing an internal playlist during her long swims.

Then there's the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and his discovery of the state of flow. This is the pleasure of being completely absorbed in an activity, and time disappears.

Which got me thinking about mantras. Again, the mind is taken in to a different state while chanting a particular phrase over and over. It is pleasurable, and for a while, time stops.

At least I won't be trying to solve the world problems while I swim!

But I am dissatisfied with existing mantras (such as the rosary and Hail Mary), as these do not fit my particular beliefs. I could set aside my disbelief to participate in the moment, but that does not fully satisfy either.

So as I did my laps back and forth, I asked myself, what is it that I believe in? Some of these come from Covey's book, Seven Habits... Reverence life is from Albert Schweitzer.
  1. Life is good
  2. Listen First
  3. Share what you know
  4. Reverence life
  5. Stand tall
  6. Food is lovely
  7. Leave a legacy
  8. Seek Win Win

    So there you have it folks. That's how I ended up with my own mantra. I've tested it out and at least in the memorization phase, I am indeed fully occupied.


In my last post I gave an example of the ongoing dispute between Israel and Palestine. In his book, The Better Angels..., Pinker cites an ingenious study, where various scenarios were offered to both sides of the dispute. Offering purely monetary rewards for peace were summarily dismissed (likely triggering disgust).

"We report a series of experiments carried out with Palestinian and Israeli participants showing that violent opposition to compromise over issues considered sacred is (i) increased by offering material incentives to compromise but (ii) decreased when the adversary makes symbolic compromises over their own sacred values. These results demonstrate some of the unique properties of reasoning and decision-making over sacred values." Sacred bounds on rational resolution of violent political conflict by Jeremy Ginges, Scott Atran, Douglas Medin, and Khalil Shikaki (2007) [emphasis mine]

Now comes the hard part. I have an ongoing dispute with a long-standing colleague, after having volunteered as a moderator of his discussion board for twelve years. The dispute revolves around the cause and resolution of gratuitous violence as displayed by ISIS and its oddball adherents. Is the entire religion of Islam to blame? If so, can the world community force Islam to reform?

First of all, I don't think the entire religion is to blame. My colleague does. He rages over the despicable acts of violence, I rage over the implications of blaming billions of people for the actions of a few. The hard part as an open advocate for peace, I am obliged to live by my principles. An unsettled dispute like this sits wrong. Is there anything I can do to restore relationship with my colleague?

Going from No to Yes in the Middle East by William Ury

After all the insults, barbs, and accusations, the cutting off of a working relationship of  dozen years, what could I offer first across the negotiating table? If such an olive branch were offered, what would I need in return?

I would need an admission that the original accusation is too strong and neither Simon or I know enough about Islam and how it is taught to say that it is fundamentally flawed (diseased). [Most interesting. I could not even entertain a concession until I resolved my need. I guess that makes me human - J]

What do I offer first? I agree that the community of Islam itself is to be shamed in to dealing with it's demons within, and provide the first and strongest response against extremists like ISIS. The world community can support the Islamic communities in any way they ask, such as air, advisory support. This may require a critical admission that Islam itself is not united in thought and deed, and some elements deserve to be expelled.

I finish this three-blog rant with an offering of my dignity, something I dearly treasure and loathe to sacrifice. For a whole-hearted life, I offer my vulnerability. Long-standing friendships are worth fighting for, much more than the fight.



I have an annoying husband.

He teases constantly, thieves minor-ly, hates unreasonably, chatters endlessly, and tidies up behind me. Generally, I am tolerant or amused. He found out quick and I figured out much later that he suddenly becomes intolerable when something else is bothering me. If I snap, he approaches cautiously, " was work today?"  Turns out, work has been great. But I am losing a a long-standing connection with a volunteer community, and I am very, very angry.

The community of which I speak is a discussion board where I have moderated for years in the Ex-Jehovah's Witness community. I'm not an ex-Witness myself, but I've lived in hope for my husband to become one. The board is dynamic, funny, and real. It is one of the few places on the internet where there's a cachet of intelligent conversation where subjects as diverse and politics and religion are debated openly. And usually civilly.

Except when the board owner takes offense to the violent streak in Islam. I resign as a moderator, and protest. I won't go in to the mechanics of our difference just yet. I'm angry enough to have four or five blogs' worth of comment left in me. But in fairness to my annoying husband, I'm confronting the source of my anger, taking a step back and dissecting the dynamics of dissension.

Who knows? When I am done perhaps my anger will have dissolved, there will be apologies all around, and there will be some sort of reconciliation. Maybe.

The fierce emotions coursing through me can be predicted from some of my readings lately, especially Haidt's The Righteous Mind and Pinker's The Better Angels of our Nature...  Most encouraging is that the studies referenced by these authors (likely fierce opponents themselves) also point to how we can disentangle ourselves from old hatreds. It might be interesting to see if the techniques hinted by the studies referenced might work to resolve this seemingly irreconcilable difference.

So how am I feeling? So asks my indefatigable iMood Journal several times a day. The gentle request is preceded by a meditation gong. Oh, how annoying is that gong to my long-suffering husband. He asks, "Is there any way you can turn that off?" So of course I will never give it up. At random times of the day, my iPhone gongs and I turn to hubby and ask sweetly, "How are you feeling?" Hahahahahaha.

So how am I feeling? If I go anywhere near that heated discussion, I am angry. I see ignorant, bigoted posts allowed to stand unmolested. My quiet protests get buried under a flood of fellow-feeling for the board owner's disgust and anger towards the Islamic faith. My arguments are called "lame", my honest response to a disaster "hypocritical". I feel disrespected, my contribution over the years swept away in the heat of crude argument.

I would call the response classic dinosaur brain
A most useful metaphor to describe the fierce, unintelligent, and primal response to threat. We know better now, of course. The part of our brain that houses the fight response is not as old as the dinosaurs. It's alive and well in our primate cousins. Monkey brain.

So how do chimps fight asks Pinker in The Better Angels.... It turns out in fairly evenly matched confrontation between troops, there will be a lot of screaming and chest thumping. Neither group can risk loss of prime hunters, so the threat is kept verbal, a "Don't tread on me" sort of warning. Not to say that chimps won't turn violent but they do it in secret, and if the poor victim is vastly outnumbered. When done in secret, the threat to their own number is minimized.

I am sure you can think of a similar spillover in the human communities. Violent acts generally private or in the cover of darkness, to prevent detection and consequences. Presidential screaming matches are a good sign that both combatants would prefer to settle without resorting to violence.

I can't say my ancestors always took this to heart. I understand the clan of Fraser was greatly reduced in number by one battle from which they refused to back away. I credit my heritage for a personal refusal to back off when principles are at stake.

But my dispute with an old friend in this case, is not a battle between opposing tribes. We are participants in the same community. So there is another dynamic at play; this is a battle of dominance.

Within a tribe, one of us has got to go.

The logic is pretty plain. I have been a happy and active participant of the discussion board for many years, but I am not the owner. If the owner won't back down, I must go. If this were the local pub, I am virtually throwing in my towel.

Dinosaurs, chimps, wolves, and the local pub.

Hence, my grief and my rage. I must bow out of a community I have supported and admired for these twelve years.

Next, I'll explore "hot buttons" and why disputants polarize.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Hot Button Issues - Sanctity and Disgust

"This is a list of Wikipedia articles deemed controversial because they are constantly being re-edited in a circular manner, or are otherwise the focus of edit warring or article sanctions. This page is conceived as a location for articles that regularly become biased and need to be fixed, or articles that were once the subject of an Neutral Point of View (NPOV) dispute and are likely to suffer future disputes." Wikipedia list of controversial issues

Not surprising, politics, history, religion, science (biology, health) and sexuality top the list. Why as a people do some subjects become so heated? I propose that for some issues, opponents feel that their fundamental values are violated in some way. If these issues were strictly a matter of logical discourse, surely they could be resolved fairly quickly.

More than Cost-Benefit

I've known we are far more than cost-benefit machines because of the things that we value. There's motherhood, apple pie, goodness and a fair shake. This challenges the perception of evolution as a brutal dog-eat-dog, the Devil take the hindmost filtering to the fittest. I call this perception of evolution because survival of the fittest is a far more sophisticated concept than simply lopping off the weak.

I am convinced that evolution got us here, but what do we do with these intangible values carried from ancient traditions and religions? Where did they come from? Are they part of our fundamental nature and if so, what possible evolutionary value do they have?

There's been some fascinating studies in the primacy of group behavior and the evolutionary advantage of cooperation. One such study is of bats:

"Individuals, whether they be humans or animals, live in groups. They form social organisations of variable nature and composition, and for various purposes. Whilst the adaptive benefits of sociality are generally understood, comparatively little is known of the precise mechanisms by which individuals in a social group establish and maintain social bonds. In this thesis, we expose and discuss some ruling principles of collective social behaviour, specifically by using animal groups as models of complex societies."  Comparative analysis of social interactions in animal groups by Perony, Nicolas (2012)

Sanctity and Justice

Then I came across Haidt's moral foundations, and my dilemma was resolved. As human beings we share some fundamental values that help us form groups, cooperate, and defend our group against outsiders. These may not be the universal morals that religion has sanctified, but they are "holy" orders for getting along. At least with each other. It's not quite as universal, say, as the speed of light or gravity, because as people we still readily attack outsiders/aliens. Not too long ago wolves were treated as vermin. Our values are fundamentally human values. 

Here is Haid's list:

There are two moral categories, Sanctity/Degradation (disgust) and Fairness/Cheating (justice) that can bring the classically democrat and the conservative to loggerheads. The values of care and fairness are common among all peoples, but the conservative element in addition value loyalty, authority, and sanctity. 

"If a value is sacred in the minds of one of the antagonists, then it has infinite value, and may not be traded away for any other good, just as one may not sell one's child...People inflamed by nationalist and religious fervor hold certain values sacred, compromise them for the sake of peace or prosperity is taboo." (The better angels of our nature....Pinker Page 738)

We have for example, the ongoing dispute between Israel and Palestine. Pinker cites an ingenious study, where various scenarios were offered to both sides. Offering purely monetary rewards for peace were summarily dismissed (likely triggering disgust).

"We report a series of experiments carried out with Palestinian and Israeli participants showing that violent opposition to compromise over issues considered sacred is (i) increased by offering material incentives to compromise but (ii) decreased when the adversary makes symbolic compromises over their own sacred values. These results demonstrate some of the unique properties of reasoning and decision-making over sacred values." Sacred bounds on rational resolution of violent political conflict by Jeremy Ginges, Scott Atran, Douglas Medin, and Khalil Shikaki (2007)

Breaking Through to Understanding

Pinker continues,

"All of this would be pretty depressing were it not for Tetlock's observation that many ostensibly sacred values are really pseudo-sacred and may be compromised if a taboo trade-off is cleverly reframed....In a third variation of the hypothetical peace deal, the two-state solution was augmented with a purely symbolic declaration by the enemy in which it compromise one of its sacred values.." (
The better angels of our nature....Pinker page 739).

For example, a Palestinian may be asked if Israel were first to agree in principle to their land rights, might they be more ready to reach a settlement? What if the other guy were to offer the olive branch first?

My Fight

My dilemma, which I hinted at in my last post, is that I am fundamentally opposed to the position that a board owner has taken towards Muslims. We are both affected by our own principles of fairness and sanctity. If I dare put words in his mouth, my long-standing colleague was horrified with the image of a fifty-four year old woman beheaded by a knife-wielding zealot in Oklahoma.

The death is senseless, the method brutal. Of course, we are repulsed by the images this offer. In his rage over the events, my colleague offered that there is something fundamentally wrong with Islam if it permits, allows, or creates such brutes.

This is when my own sense of fair play was outraged. I am all for containing and eradicating brutal fundamental organizations like ISIS. But these subsets of humanity do not characterize entire groups! There are 1.6 billion Muslims around the world. How many have membership in ISIS? Maybe 15,000.

Condemning an entire religion is disproportionate. The images that come to my mind are other groups, "outsiders" who were similarly rounded up and punished for their perceived "threat".

Japanese Internment Mess Hall

These are the sorts of images that horrify me. 

My colleague has tempered his comments somewhat, suggesting that the religion should abandon the violent passages in their holy book, the Quran if they are serious about putting to bed the violent streak in their brand of extremists. My argument is that even Christianity continues to hold it's entire bible sacred, even it's violent bits. It is entirely possible for a devoutly religious person to hold a book sacred, even as we have evolved past it's violent past. We have a finer sensibility these days, and genocide is simply out of the question.

We have broadened our sensibilities of what it means to be human, and it includes all of us.

Compelling Religious Reform

My colleague has been silent on the mechanics of how we might compel a religion to become a kinder, gentler version of itself, to reform its education and decry it's violent past. Whenever I see examples of say, governmental intervention in religious affairs, I see disaster. We're talking about treading on a community's sacred values and frankly, government lacks the finesse.

Waco Siege
Consider also the example of the Marrano forced Jewish converts to Christianity. Even those who publicly converted were treated with suspicion and later they were put to the inquisition. Convert or die; lousy idea.

Then there's the succession of civil wars in England, some of it spurred on by opposing Catholic and Protestant sensibilities.

Next, I'll talk about detente and how it is possible for fierce opponents to reach across the negotiating table.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween Candy

This is the one-minute writer's prompt today. I am to write about my favorite candy but I prefer to write about a memorable flop. I was baking for a particularly tough customer, my daughter. She's in the natural crowd; need I say more? We're talking organic, sugar-free, gluten-free, aspartame-free, non-gmo, and no kittens were harmed in the production.

I've got my own list too as a mature type-2 diabetic. I want some fiber in there for satiety, low in fat, and high in protein. This was a production of love, as my daughter was expressing symptoms of weakness and fatigue in the afternoon. One of my principles in controlling blood sugar is no skipping of meals! Have a snack during that afternoon slump.

I decided to make stuffed dates. I simmered the dates in orange juice with a little nutmeg. Softened and cooled, I dabbed light laughing-cow wedges in the cavity of each date and wedged in walnut quarters.

Sweet, tasty, and natural (not counting the violation of California mamma cows somewhere in the production).

Next came the packaging. I was pretty sure my daughter would be non-plastic, so I laid out a half-dozen dates on waxed paper, rolled it up, and twisted between each date to make a long string of treats.

The final product looked like a string poop.

Which my daughter noticed when I swept out my offering to her while we were out shopping.

I'm not sure if she ever tried it.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Faith's Common Threads

I imagined the precepts of various faiths as buttons on a string. This is how we are alike rather than what separates us.

Thanks to Karen Armstrong and her Charter for Compassion for the inspiration.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Wings to Fly while Roots Run Deep

I am moved to take a few young adults in to my circle - to mentor, support, and encourage. Every single one of you - and you know who you are - are destined to do very well. You are hard working, kind, carrying yourself with integrity. You are coming in to your own with perhaps less than perfect support, but you are survivors.

I remember how uncertain I was in my twenties, coming to terms with the absolute consequence of failure. Sometimes I felt utterly alone. I saw my own children graduate from their uncertainty, too, through their twenties. One of the great treats of motherhood was to see my children come fully in to their own in their thirties; confident in who they were, their dreams and ambitions so unique to them. I am determined to pass on the same heritage to you.

You have an Auntie watching over you, cheering from the sidelines. You are strong and lovely. I see your hard work and your kindnesses.

  • My own weakness is books so I might make a recommendation here or there. I don't want these suggestions to be a burden, so I will offer a Cole's Notes summary of what that book taught me, and why I think you might benefit. 
  • For wings, I will instruct on resiliency. Many of you have this already, so I will simply explain why this ability will carry you through to success. 
  • For wings, I will cheer on your successes and remind you of your strengths. 
  • For roots, I will build a mythos of shared history. I will tell family stories of heroes who accomplished great things. There are roots of greatness in all of us. This will be your power.
  • For roots, we will build shared tradition. Some way I will find to visit each one of you, at the very least once a year.
You may have guessed that my drive to give support at this time of your lives comes out of a shared history. My own mother in her weakness could not give, only take. It took me a long time to reconcile myself to that loss of what might have been. I had all the love that a daughter could give, but my poor mother could not see it as freely given. It made me very alone at times, and I had to beat away the bitterness. But I did find great friends, mentors, and the motherly along the way.  

I promise also not just to talk about books. 

My first recommendation, The Time Paradox by Philip Zimbardo. The happiest people are those who are anchored in the present allowing a little hedonism, have warm memories of shared traditions of the past, and ambitions for the future.

When I scored myself for my time perspective (the link above has a quiz) I saw that I was pessimistic about my past. This was holding me back. I decided instead to pay attention to the warm traditions that I enjoyed, I have experienced since a lifting of old burdens and a letting go of past hurts. When I walk lighter, I can do more things I enjoy. 

Find your joy.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Seven Day Veggie Challenge

I suddenly got sick of salads so every day this week I will pick up a different vegetable and figure out how to prepare it. 

Saturday, Breakfast
Whipped egg, garden tomatoes, Edamame, Cob's Chia bread

Here's the thing. For the past few months I have been putting together fresh salads from the Buttercrunch lettuce in my garden. Fall has arrived, the lettuce is done and I have been replacing my garden lettuce with the bagged stuff. It's just not the same. Definitely not the same a day old. I figure my sudden dislike for fresh salad is not the veggie's fault.  Respect the vegetable. Instead of trying to pick together a salad with day-old ingredients, I will pick fresh then decide how to prepare. 

Sunday, Dinner

Kale with pasta, bologna, tomatoes, and sunflower seeds. I racked up some PC points at Superstore for buying two bundles. Here is the recipe
I substituted the bacon, the sun dried tomatoes, and the Parmesan with bologna, fresh tomatoes, and sunflower seeds. I added a tablespoon of olive oil to make up for the missing bacon fat. I was surprised that hubby gobbled it up, since he has told me many times he does not like his pasta green. It just goes to show that everything goes with bacon. 

Monday, Lunch in my Bento Box
Kohlrabi coleslaw with mustard and carrot. Fine and crisp, great texture. Next time I will peel the Kohlrabi. My coleslaw looks different from the recipe because I grated my vegetables funny. I used my Mandoline to slice the Kohlrabi and my extra fine grater for the carrot. Served with Finn crisps that I tolerate nicely, along with home-made hummus. I freeze mini portions that are just right for lunches. 

Tuesday, Breakfast
Stuffed Bell Pepper with Egg

Here's the recipe I modified with impunity, to my tastes and what was available in the cupboard. Instead of squash I microwaved a potato with the garlic, olive oil and onion. Instead of feta and ricotta I used quark. I scrambled the egg because that is how we like it, and I skipped the marinara sauce. This is served with a bit of reduced sauce from the Kale recipe a few days ago. I could not convince hubby that this was a breakfast, but he promised to try it later. We shall see.        

Why seven days? Wouldn't a thirty day or a 365 day challenge be punchier? Sure, but I have fallen in love with winning. A lesson learned from my year-long weight loss is that goals must be achievable. Seven days I can do. 

Wednesday, Dinner, Okra with Lemon Basil dip and honey baked lentils
I wondered when a web description mentioned, "slimy". But I hardly noticed with these crisp, grilled Okra. The lemony smooth dip might have hidden the slippery part. I replaced the strained yogurt with Quark; much faster to prepare. 

Why all the substitutions you ask? I am watching the budget. If there is a replacement readily available in the fridge, that's what I do. I figure necessity is the mother of invention, far more creative than the canned recipes that Martha Stewart offers. Like all adventures, sometimes the substitution works, sometimes it doesn't.

I was right about the stuffed peppers. Hubby managed to avoid them completely, so I am sending the leftovers home with my daughter. She loved them, by the way. 

Two more days. These last few days will be an extra challenge, as I will be on the road. How does Cheez Whiz on celery sound? Veggie gummies don't count.

Thursday, Breakfast, Fried Green Tomatoes and Peppers with Lemon Basil Dip
I replaced the sour cream with the ubiquitous Quark, and rounded out my supply of green tomatoes (the final fall offerings from the tomato plant) with a bell pepper. The dip is fresh and delicious so I used up the remainder from last night. After this I will not be in my own kitchen, so we shall see what vegetables will be available on the road. 

Friday, Breakfast, Green Onions on Scrambled Eggs

Saturday, Breakfast, Omelet with Tomatoes, Green Pepper, and Onions

I was quite right. Great vegetables are hard to find on the road, though I can't complain about the buffet offered at the Executive Royal Hotel in Calgary. 

That's it! My seven day challenge is over. My confidence in vegetables is restored, as long as I seek them out fresh and in season. And step out of my comfort zone now and again.

During the long winter season, my sister points out that frozen is freshest. That's when I will seek out ways to prepare Edamame and spinach along with the tried-and-true "mixed vegetables".  

This recipe for Spaghetti Squash and Kale Gratin looks intriguing...

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Post-Surgery Musings

Yet another post about food, a natural obsession through this past winter, as I prepared to be admitted for Bariatric surgery, specifically the gastric bypass. It has been four and a half weeks since surgery, and a lot has changed. Through pre-surgery preparation, and post-surgery dietary restrictions, I've lost another twenty pounds. I've suddenly dropped from 3X to 1X, and nothing fits any more.

My therapy group has stayed in touch, a wonderful group, and they have asked if I have adventured in to my list of foods I had made before surgery. I added to the list every time I was hit with a craving while on a restricted liquid diet. Here's my list:

What I will eat after surgery:
Edamame seed pods
Apple fritter (half)
Corn Chips
Flaky pastry
Pastry wrapped sausages

What I was unprepared for is how radically my body has changed, and how long it will take to reach a new normal. My tiny pouch has definite dislikes, and some meals now look like a mountain of pain instead of a feast. I've had toast (broken in quarters and eaten over an hour). And strawberries, locally field grown, and absolutely delicious. But as for the rest of the list, not interested....yet. The apple fritter would only appeal as a small bite.

I have new cravings, though. Watermelon is wonderful. A home-made Popsicle, so cool and slow, delightful.

I can see why the Weight Wise program is so hung up on diarizing my meals. Before surgery, it was to restrict my intake. After surgery, it is work to get in enough calories during the day. I have to be conscious, alert, and mindful of every bite. I am grateful for my years of preparation as a diabetic, eating every two hours, and counting my proteins. That's all coming in handy.

I can anticipate the months ahead as the incisions heal and the pouch relaxes. It will become gradually easier to get through a meal, and a little bit kinder to reach my calorie target for the day. In about a year it should all be settled and my body will find it's new normal.

But I won't ever be the same.

Who knows what size I'll end up? But as my granddaughter kindly pointed out, I'm happy now (many symptoms have disappeared, and my medications drastically reduced), and once I settle to a new weight, I will find a way to be happy there, too.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Glorious Fat

Fat is the magic ingredient, along with salt and sugar, that set us up for return visits. Chances are that these needed ingredients to our diet used to be hard to come by. Yes, I said needed. Their relative abundance these days perhaps have led to their disfavor.

What is it that fat does for us? It takes the longest to metabolize. It takes your body up to 72 hours to process ingested fat. This gives us a long-burning steady source of fuel, useful for optimum brain power.

Fat is also super-concentrated.
There are 119 calories in a single tablespoon of olive oil. You would have to eat over three cups of air-popped popcorn to get the same calorie load. We solve this imbalance by loading our movie popcorn with fat. And salt. Yum.
In addition, our body is slow to signal satiation from this high-powered food source.
Like I said in the beginning, this premium ingredient used to be hard to come by. You will notice the freaky face I prefaced this article with. Note how much of our brain space is dedicated to the mouth and the tongue. We are hard wired to remember great food experiences, and I bet we are also wired to repeat the great experience as often as we can!
Fat isn't talked about much in Canada's Food Guide. It doesn't rate it's own category, not like Vegetables and Fruit, Grain, and Meat. There's advice to choose lower-fat dairy and lean meats. That's because it is screamingly easy these days to get enough fat. You don't exactly have to go looking for it. It's blazing it's smiling face from every fast-food ad.
Here's a test. Order a side of fries and throw out half. Finish the remainder and see if you are satisfied. I bet your habitual center will be screaming that you were cheated! Is this demand for a full order a needed supply of fat, or habitual?
Who benefits most from this habitual ordering? I'm betting the food marketers are aware of this drive of ours very well.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Let's not call it mind-blowing

Here are some mind-expanding thoughts, from the ideas and discoveries I've come across over the last year.

On March 17, 2014, US astronomers based on the South Pole announced that they have found evidence of echoes of the Big Bang, direct evidence of "cosmic inflation".

This discovery leads to all sorts of implications, as described by Allan Adams:

Our universe, as vast as it is, is not unique. It is one of who knows how many universes, each with its own physics.

Now on to consciousness and awareness, a subject covered by Haidt and my yoga-chi instructor, Paul Yapp. (Levels of consciousness). If I understand fully, consciousness is all the inputs we receive.

Awareness is whatever we give attention in the moment. Through mindfulness meditation and moments of flow, we can calm the chatter of our rational mind, and experience an expanded awareness. With sufficient expansion, awareness extends beyond the consciousness, beyond our inputs.

I had earlier blogged about the relationship between our inexpressive side which processes most of our inputs and the rational mind as described by Haidt:
Using Paul Yapp's nomenclature the elephant is the holder of all consciousness, and through exercise, the rational side becomes ever more aware of all input.

Jill Bolte Taylor demonstrates ever so eloquently that even our ability to individuate can't be taken for granted. With the flip of a switch, it is gone. It may be difficult to complete even simple tasks in this state, but it also provided profound experience, which she undoubtedly values.

This is a random set of thoughts, I know. My friends will undoubtedly accuse me again of being "deep". All I know is that Haidt's description has helped me reconcile more deeply with my "inner elephant", a detente with my inexpressive motivations. This has helped me relax and allow the process of transforming my body, to steadily reduce my caloric intake, with little struggle. I've promised to celebrate, listen, and understand my inner needs. I'm not fighting myself any more.

I have experienced moments of "flow". Mindfulness does quiet and expand my awareness. Some of the exercises I think I enter a state of self-hypnosis. The journey is warm and friendly, so I go.
In conclusion, I believe what is bringing this together for me is that human discovery continues to push the limits; what is beyond nothing? It turns out, more. On a personal level, it is possible to push awareness beyond our habitual boundaries, and be in the presence of more.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Slo Mo Gamblers

Farmers are the ultimate slo mo gamblers, and I think so because of my short experience with Kiva, and conversations with a praying farmer's wife near Innisfail, Alberta. I likely have farmers on the brain from our field trip to Prince Albert last weekend. There were farmers chewing the fat at the gas station in Turtleford, and grain dominated the news.

If you haven't heard of Kiva before, this is a micro-loan site that matches investors with small enterprises throughout the world. I have helped grocers, shopkeepers and clothing resellers achieve their dreams by investing a few dollars towards their efforts. I was paid back in full every time, and usually within a few months. One payback took longer, and that was the rice farmer co-op in Rwanda. I waited a full year for my investment in seed and fertilizer to be realized. Which gave me my aha moment; farmers wait longer to see their return! My farmer had to wait a full year for his initial investment to pay off. Out of his control are vagaries of weather, social disruption, and the final price of rice that year. Even bumper crops can hurt him, as he won't get the anticipated price for his crop. We are seeing the results of unexpected returns here in Saskatchewan now, with piles of grain standing in the field with no place to go. What should have been a windfall is hindered by a limited infrastructure.

Time Elapse, Wheat

All right, pharmaceuticals might have a longer period of return and higher risk. Even so.

Then there are my fond recollections visiting a Timothy farm near Innisfail, Alberta. My friend described how her prayers changed after years of watching the sky, praying for rain and sun at the right time. Her emotions would follow the clouds, rising and crashing with their fortunes. Her revelation is to pray in trust that whatever may come; rain, sun, prosperity or disaster, that God is in it all.

As an aside, with the increased mobility that phones and apps offer, farmers are leveraging the power of the internet to manage their business, for instance "Cloud for Cows". 

Farmers, the ultimate high-stakes gamblers. In slo mo. Oilmen, you have nothing on them.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

To Know a People

The journalist will hunt out the edge of the story; seek out that element that will grab the reader and carry her through. I got thinking about that as I read the full-page spread on the Prince Albert Kennel and Obedience Club annual dog show. Three dogs were highlighted, as the writer sought the edge; a Poodle, a Finnish Lapphund, and a Japanese Chin. As the writer failed to highlight our dog of choice, my daughter's Afghan Hound, I was less interested.  (James racked up an impressive twenty-five points over the weekend, taking Best of Group twice). By focusing in on a few animals, the article did highlight the obsession that drives these breeders and handlers to travel hundreds of miles to show off their animals. The writer quickly lost ground in his brief explanation of the points system, no doubt in fear of losing his readers. For those of us on the inside, though it's all about the points and standings, and for my step-mom and me, a table of the winners and points earned would have served us better.For my step-mom especially, the show allows her to reconnect with old friends, to get the latest skinny in the dog show circuit, to build relationships and create new ones.

Which gets me to the edge of my story, the difference between a quick story and taking the time to really get to know a people.

It was a treat to visit Prince Albert for the first time, a decently sized community on the edge of bush country. It hugs the southern shore of the Saskatchewan an impressive river of joined forces, North and South. But I could not spend the decent time needed to really get to know its people and this place.They have an impressive casino. But I hope that monstrosity does not define this city.

On the five hour drive to Prince Albert, we made a pit-stop in Turtleford, population 525. Race Trac Gas is the place to be, at least for grain farmers looking to chew the fat. A half-dozen plastic lawn chairs are arrayed at the entrance, every spot filled. Is the local colour there for our entertainment or theirs? On the way through I grabbed the town newsletter, "The Arrow", to see if I could get a sense of the place. Weekly events consist of one Yoga class and three Bingo's. Oh my.

What could be found about the people of Turtleford, if I were doing more than breezing through? Is there a beauty to the endless horizons of Saskatchewan, where change is measured in inches?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Farwell to my Aussie Pal

My Aussie cubicle buddy is winging his way back to Australia (no doubt a glorious fall) just as winter releases its' icy grip here. Andy took full advantage of all our country had to offer, hitting the slopes whenever he could. I took perverse pleasure, as all Canadians do, watching him adapt to Really, Truly, No-kidding-around Cold.

Andy, I did not have a chance to send you off properly, so in the spirit of our camaraderie, I am sending you some genuine Canadian snow to remind you of good times.

No worries, being part of a pro-active organization, I've thought ahead to package well to survive the trip down-under.
With the added security of duck tape.
There; that should do it!

P.S. The doctor finally got back to me and sure enough, I had cracked my ribs, fifth and sixth.  The breaks are contiguous, which I take to be a good thing.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The holy grail of workflow solutions

Let's say you have a work process that is tedious, repetitive. Tasks get dropped and forgotten. Approvals get hung up. You are constantly having to go back through your pile to check on the status of your work. It seems with all the electronic gadgetry we have available today, someone should have made an app for that. By now. Surely!

The software solution you are looking for is workflow, and it is an add-on feature of many products including collaboration software (ex. Sharepoint, Alfresco), financial software (ex. Deltek), records management software (ex. OpenText) and others. Workflow is not required of the application but it is a nice-to-have. Developers have also built custom applications based on industry, such as contract signing (ex. Docusign) and facility management.

Simple Accounts Payable Workflow

Countless times I have seen a software demonstration culminating in a workflow example, usually in accounts payable. Oh, so smooth it looks in demo, like watching a knife demonstration at the county fair.
Why is it so difficult to take this concept and apply it to our real-life examples back home? Here's the missing piece you absolutely cannot overlook. You have to know what it is you do now. Excellent software solutions abound where there are standards and a programmer can write to that standard. But what is standard about routing paperwork? Every business does things a little differently. It is our own ignorance of our processes that will send the project down rabbit trails and back.

Do your implementation team a fair service and be clear how you want the workflow to work. Keep it simple. When it does what you wanted it to do, call it good and be done. For a while.

Excerpt from a reddit conversation:

What's something you can talk about for hours on end?
–]jayzee124 33 points ago
conspiracies, cars and trucks, and the universe and how mind [blowing] it is.
[–]Screwbit 7 points ago
you and I could never be friends.
[–]SharkPanda 3 points ago
Yes but can you talk about all of them at the same time?

Watch for scope creep. Let's say your first shot at workflow solves one irritant. Once you get a good look at what it can do, horizons open up at all the other things you could automate. Tinkering and broadening the scope can kill an otherwise great solution. Take pauses, enjoy the changes and give the new way time to work out its bugs before you automate the next big thing.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Paintings for Pennies

Help me fill in my penny collection. If you have a penny I need, comment on this blog. I will mail you a hand-painted watercolor, 4" x 6" on receipt of my penny. If you want to fill in more, I will send you an 8" x 10" watercolor. The penny does not need to be collector's quality. I'm looking for cross-Canada participation, and maybe a few penny pals. This little project has already received international attention. Who knew our pennies traveled so far?

The Story

Now a little on how this all started. Around about the warm and hazy summer of 2009, I read an article about the upcoming demise of the penny. In 2007 our Canadian Mint sponsored a poll, and it turned out that the average Canadian cares little about the penny. Our little copper companion weighed down wallets, but nobody cared one way or another. I knew then that the coin's days were numbered. Watching out my window at my granddaughter play with her neighbour friends, I hatched my plan. I asked the girls to help me fill in a collection, one penny per year, to fill up my page. Off they went hunting for copper treasures, squinting in the bright summer sun, to see if they had a winning year. I warmed in my grandmother's satisfaction of seeing young ones occupied with a little thing, hardly consequential at all. But so much fun.

Those three energetic girls filled in a lot, but not all, of my sheet. In the past few years the collection gathered dust in the back of my to-do pile, just as my kijiji ad gathers dust somewhere around page thirty. This spring, flush from some personal successes, I decided to finish off the collection. I would broadcast far and wide, and finally complete the penny sheet for my granddaughter, Naomi. These past few months have been more than successful, leaving only five spots left since 1940.

All that is left to fill  is 1944, 1948, 1954, 1957, and 1958. The year 2001 is a shade of it's original form having spent far too long in the water pump of my daughter's washing machine. This has been so much fun I am now moving to fill two more sheets for the two girls who helped Naomi fill in the collection that golden summer a few years ago.

Here are the pennies (and quantities) I am looking for:

1941 (2)
1942 (2)
1943 (2)
1944 (3)
1945 (2)
1946 (2)
1947 (2)
1948 (3)
1949 (2)
1950 (1)
1951 (2)
1952 (2)
1953 (2)
1954 (3)
1955 (2)
1956 (2)
1957 (3)
1958 (3)
1959 (2)
1960 (2)
1961 (1)
1962 (2)
1963 (2)
1964 (2)
1965 (2)
1966 (1)
1967 (1)
1968 (2)
1969 (2)
1970 (2)
1971 (2)


1996 (1)


Here's a picture of Naomi's penny collection so far:

...and here is how the two girls' collection is coming along.

Tickling My Fancy

Besides passing on a story and heritage to Naomi and her friends, I am tickled to instigate a project where items of nominal value are traded to the mutual satisfaction of the traders. Pennies have no intrinsic value. But there is effort on the part of the collector to find a prized year, and satisfaction in discovery. Similarly, there is nominal value in paper and pigment. The artist is offering time and talent in exchange. Funny, the cost of postage outweighs the nominal value of the product we are mutually shipping. Yet there's a feeling of fulfillment between collector and artist; a fair exchange.

Progress To Date

 Two acquaintances from filled in the king's portion of my empty spots. It is a delight to see your packages arrive, and I am so excited about creating some watercolors for you both. Though this project did not go viral, it has been fun. As an added bonus, never asked for but received, Canadian pennies that are older than anyone alive:

And here's an example of my artwork:

By the way, here's the results so far of my attempt to broadcast to a wide audience and reach that elusive tipping point. I posted this request on Blogger, Facebook, Google+, twitter, and No nibbles until I posted on a discussion board I frequent, There, I encountered three generous collectors who radically filled in my board..and then some!

These results inspired me to revisit my Klout scores, which have climbed, with a little more disclosure on my part, to 41.48. 

The first painting heading out, a watercolor of a Great Blue Heron, 8" x 10", based on a nature photograph by Ron Davis. 

 Thank you, Tony, intrepid browser of kijiji, for adding to the collection. This is what you picked:

And the latest painting winging it's way across the continent:

This is the memory of the confluence of the Smoky and the Sulphur rivers with the bold contrast of poplar with Spruce, in an untamed part of our world. 

My next two contributors provided some inspiration, after I learned a bit about their own interests. For a nine year old girl:
This is a mixed media, pen-and-ink, sparkly glue, and some familiar loom bands

And for a seven year old boy, something smells "fishy":
Another mixed media, pen, ink, and Nori. There's room to incorporate a penny if they like. Maybe find a special penny, one that marks the year they were born for instance.

Word of mouth continues to get me mileage. My friends Val and Dailan filled in a king's share for the two friends.