Monday, April 18, 2011

Braving the body scans

I have a couple of awesome ideas for blog posts roaming around my head, but my plane for San Francisco leaves in twenty hours.
And I am a bundle of stress.
One of my few recurring nightmares involves missed plane flights, so you can imagine how catching a real plane affects me!
And, because I am self-employed, I am working flat stick today and tomorrow in order to miss as little work as possible. And packing. A 50lb checked bag and a 15lb carry-on.  And organizing things for Jeff so that he doesn't starve while I'm away.
Actually, he kind of likes it when I'm gone. 
He gets to eat fast food any time he wants!

So, you will have to wait a little while longer to learn about my new magic laundry ingredient.
And the other thing.
Whatever it was.
I'm sure it will come back to me tomorrow.
Oh yeah, something about fascists and royalty.
It's a good one.

Meanwhile, I will be greeting old friends and hugging my Mum and sister and little grand-nephew and generally soaking in the Kiwi ambience.
It's a rough life.

And, just because a post without pictures is boring, here are a couple of new photos from Sam and Charlie's official wedding album.

A boy and his Mama.

And a picture-perfect princess.

Wish me luck. 
With that old plane thing.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

More wisdom from The Canadian

I had a pleasant interlude this morning with friends Karen and Nicole. Mani-pedis and Quiznos for lunch, all with coupons! (My manicurist was kinda attitudinal, but other than that....)
Anyway, over our spectacular lunch, they reminded me that I hadn't yet posted the last of Mark's essay on America. If I'd have known anyone cared that much, I would have posted it weeks ago!
So here it is, with a few added links for those of you who (like me) are unfamiliar with some of his references. I suggest following the links, they are fascinating stories. Sadly, I was completely unaware of both of them.

How America is different.

I see American exceptionalism in that desire to be the light on the hill and to aspire to the highest values of representation of the people. Not only were the slaves freed, but the 14th amendment ensured that they were also given political franchise. The Constitution and its amendments serve the people. This is as opposed to political structures where the people serve the state. In serving the people, I think the most important facet in the entire American political system can be seen by example in the 1st and 2nd amendments to the constitution. In these America can claim its place as the light on the hill.

The freedom to assemble, the freedom to speak out, freedom to worship or not to worship, whom or what or whenever you please. These freedoms flow from the first amendment. They are found in other countries to some extent but in America they are law. 

In the cartoons of Mohammed controversy and in blasphemy laws like those now in place in Ireland, freedom of speech is under fire. The so called Ground Zero mosque also illustrates the right of freedom of speech and religion. The planners do have the right to build their mosque. But that same freedom should also mean that, should people like to protest in front of the mosque against whatever grievance they have with Islam, they should be tolerated along with pork roast festivals, showings of “Fitna” and the like.

The right to bear arms on the other hand, elevated the people to the status of equality with their government in defending themselves lawfully. I am sure that the original intent of the amendment was also to ensure that the government remained humble and subservient of the people rather than the other way around.

These freedoms in America have not been won cheaply but have cost the blood of generations of fighting men and women. And now these freedoms are in danger again. Modern threats to freedom include erring too much on the side of political correctness and a loss of economic freedom through irresponsible federal spending. On face value political correctness is a virtue as it embodies tolerance and deference for diversity. But when political correctness means tolerating intolerance then it has gone too far and I think that Europe for example is approaching that point. Geert Wilders has gone on trial for inciting hatred. (Read one of his blog posts here.) What kind of a crime is hatred? An imaginary crime I suppose. How can you know what is in the heart of another? But a casual overview of what is happening in Holland will show that the only obvious outward display of hatred comes from those Wliders is exposing so for example, Theo Van Gogh is dead, and open critics of Islam live under 24 hour armed guard. 

The United States must not follow Europe. It must not give up its unique position and must hold fast to the freedoms that make it what it is. To a large extent this uniqueness stems from the freedoms which to many in the world may seem quaint. But it is these very freedoms that have been a magnet to millions of immigrants who have become Americans over the centuries and it is these freedoms that must remain for the sake of all the world.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Arboreal spring in the Northwest

I love spring in the northwest forest.
This afternoon, Jeff and I walked the trail at the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge.
'Twas a compromise between the long hike he wanted and the nothing that I preferred.
I was in a mood.
You should understand that, I said, you get in moods all the time.
He sensibly deferred to my point of view.

This pond lies at the beginning of the trail and is covered in some kind of weed.
Jeff noticed this big old bullfrog sitting very still. 

Although the pond is completely covered in weed, a ranger said they test the water frequently and it is full of life.
And beavers, apparently!

The neighbouring pond is still clear.

Trillium is one of my favourite things about the woods in spring. The three leaf-like bracts below the flower are the plant's only way to store food for the next year, so if you pick one it will take several years to recover.

Oregon grape is in flower. The shrub looks kind of messy for most of the year, but is pretty in its new spring finery.

Love me the symmetry of a cedar.

Things, they are a-budding.

Can you figure out this picture?
Look in the lower right corner for a clue.

And by the time we got back to the car, the fresh air and spring loveliness had done its work
and I was happy again.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Remains of the day: an Ode to Cake

On Sunday, we had Jeff's birthday dinner. 
You know, the birthday we celebrated every day last week!
He requested the usual cake. It was particularly delicious (although not so pretty) and I thought I would post the recipe for you.
Then I got a little deja vu and searched the blog.
Turns out I posted it on Jeff's birthday last year and also on Jonnie's birthday.
So, did you make it yet?
Did you, huh, did you?

Just in case you didn't, here are some leftover photos to inspire you.
And no, we had no problem finishing up these leftovers!

It had a chocolate ganache coating; sweet, but not too sweet, and perfectly decadent.

The kids picked out the cherries, as usual.
I swear, I'm going to ban them from this cake.
Really, I am!

Check out that moist, fudgy crumb. 

And the thick layer of whipped cream in the middle.
Which Kenzie ate around.
So I ate it.

Wish I didn't love cake so much.
Is there something wrong with me, that it makes me happy?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Weirdness in the morning

It's been a strange day so far.
First, it was raining (nothing strange about that) so Barb and I decided to try our walk after I got done with my morning elderly group. 
On the way to the care home, I remembered that I had a preschool group right afterwards that I had forgotten to write on my calendar.
Phew, I thought, Thank goodness I remembered that. Thank you, Lord, for reminding me, even though I didn't talk to you this morning.
Then, I got to the care home, only to find another musician unloading his amps at the front door. Turns out he wasn't supposed to be there, but I kindly rescheduled my group for next week and left him to it. Wasn't sure why I did that, but decided, driving home, that it will get me in tight with the activities director, if nothing else!

I came home and took care of some phone calls and emails, cleaned the kitchen and cooked mushrooms for Jeff's dinner. They were a little on the old side and needed to be used. Sauted 'em up with some butter, sea salt and pepper and then added a little cream. They looked pretty good. I left shortly afterwards for the Cultural Center for my kiddy group. As I pulled up to the building, something told me to call my neighbour and ask her to check on the mushrooms. But I know I turned them off, I thought to myself. I called anyway and told Carol that I was 99% sure I had turned off the stove, but would she check just in case?

When I got home about 90 minutes later, the pan was on a different element and the 'shrooms looked kinda dry. I called Carol.
I left them on, didn't I?
Sure enough, I did.

One of my favourite cooking blogs is Mennonite Girls Can Cook. Every Sunday they post a spiritual message. I particularly liked yesterday's post, on the 121st Psalm, because I've been feeling distanced from my faith lately. It got me thinking about all of the love and care I've received from God in my life. The author of the post also composed her own psalm. Go check it out, it's very sweet.

Psalm 121
 I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.
 My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth.
 He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not  slumber.
 Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.
 The LORD is thy keeper: the LORD is thy shade upon thy right hand.
 The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.
 The LORD shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul.
 The LORD shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.

And, a little ray of sunshine on this rainy day. Look what I got from UPS and the mail lady this morning:

A set of Anew Rejuvenate face care from Avon, which was a bit of a mystery until I figured out I had signed up for a free sample of it. But what a sample! I think these may be full-sized specimens,
And a little pouch of hair and face care products from Target. Sweet!
And a wee packet of Stevia to try.

So, it's still raining and I still didn't get my walk in. 
But there's a cozy fire in the wood stove, I have received more of God's grace than I deserved, and I think I will stay home for the rest of the day and not tempt fate any further.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Illusionist

I was reading the AARP magazine the other day.
I'm not really in favour of AARP, but I joined for the discounts and then never even used my card.
But this issue has some interesting articles, one of which contained this picture: the Checker Shadow Illusion.
Look carefully at the two labelled squares.
Are they the same shade of grey?

Believe it or not, they are. You can check it by blocking off the surrounding squares.
This optical illusion tricks the brain into seeing colours as it thinks they should be, rather than as they are.
I was blown away and had to do a little Google.
You know I did!
Edward H. Adelson is a professor of Vision Science in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT. The Adelson Lab studies problems in visual perception.

This design, the Munker-White Illusion, has a similar effect on the brain's power of perception.
The colours within in each rectangle are exactly the same shade.

If you want to see some very short videos of more Adelson illusions and the scientific explanations of the phenomena, go here.

The world is full of mysteries.

And here I go, trying to think new thoughts every day, staving off the Big A.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Dreams do come true

This magazine ad from 1968 seemed to be something out of science fiction at the time.

In retrospect, it's strange that it took forty years for such communication to become commonplace.
Personally, I never liked the idea of being on screen every time I picked up the phone; some things are just better not seen! So, if I had an opportunity to have a Picturephone of my own, I would say, Thanks, but no thanks.

Mind youI would not say no to a little Skype with baby Elsie if Annie had internet right now.
But she doesn't.

This is me, fighting technology to the bitter end, and signing off for today.

Friday, April 1, 2011

A Small Treatise on Waste

Being children of the World War II generation, my sister and I are conditioned to obtain all of our needs and wants at the lowest cost possible and then to use everything up before we dispose of it.
It is a burden.
And a blessing.

Leftovers are always eaten at my house. Things can get downright innovative! I frequently clean out items we aren't using any more and donate them to the Goodwill truck, but I am much happier when I can re-purpose the goods or find a recipient who will do the same.

I think my children have all rebelled to some degree against my obsessiveness on the matter. I could tell you some fine stories about the mould cultures I have found in their refrigerators. I think many of them would have qualified for a scientific study! But we shall speak no more of that.

About a year ago, I read an article that laid out the economic and environmental impact of food waste.
Aha! I thought to myself, I shall write a blog about that some day.
And here I am.

So, it turns out that my frugal instincts are completely justified.
Hearken to just a few of the startling statistics.

  • According to the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, just over 25% of all food (about 26 million tons) is thrown away in the U.S. every year. It costs us over a billion dollars annually just to dispose of this food, which is taken to landfills.
  • Rotting food produces methane, which is 23% more efficient at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. Thirty-four percent of methane emissions in the U.S. comes from landfills.
  • It is estimated that U.S. restaurants throw away over 6,000 tons of food every day.
  • Schoolchildren waste about $2 billion every year in taxpayers' money through the school lunch programme.
  • In America, an average household spends about $600 a year on food that is thrown away, at an annual cost of over $100 billion. Extrapolate this out to the costs of food production, storage, and transportation and the true cost of wasted food becomes much more egregious. Think of all the oil, water, pesticides, fertilizer, money and human effort that is literally spent for naught.

I don't know about you, but contemplating the ramifications of food waste makes my blood boil. And, apart from the cold hard facts, there are some other subtleties involved.

It used to take a good chunk of a family's income to buy food; in fact, in many parts of the world, it still does. Food was a precious commodity. In 2006, we only spent (and I say we, but I don't mean me, because, you know, I'm frugal) ten percent of disposable income on food, the lowest in the 70 years that USDA has been tracking the figures. As food becomes cheaper, it also has less intrinsic worth.

Now, I am famous for my picky eating habits, and some of my children have food quirks. But I have noticed that the next generation of children, my own grandchildren included, refuse to eat anything that doesn't fit into their very narrow parameters of acceptable food. And, on the whole, their demands are indulged. I was thus amazed, on our trip to Peru several years ago, to see children happily eating the same food as the adults. Food in Peru is plentiful, but is, relative to total income, much more expensive than here in America. This seems to engender a difference in attitude that I wish we could emulate. Before it is forced upon us.

We are a culture of excess. Perhaps less so since the financial downturn, but we have such short memories that I fear any improvement will not outlast an economic recovery. I believe that we need to bring back the idea that food is a precious resource and treat it as such. My heart breaks when I think of a malnourished orphan that we met in Haiti, less than a year old and clutching precious rice in each hand. We heard of families that don't even eat once a day, grandmothers who struggle to cook for sixteen extended family members and who are themselves always hungry. Without food in our stomachs, life stinks. What kind of a privileged life do we lead when we can say I don't eat leftovers and all over the world are people in pain from hunger?

So, considering the enormity of the problem, what can you or I do?
I'll tell you what I do.

  • I compost my kitchen waste and put it on the vegetable beds.
  • I rarely eat out. If I do eat out, I bring my leftovers home (preferably in one of my own containers, if I have been awesome and thought ahead) and then I eat them.
  • I keep track of what's in the fridge and plan ahead for dinners that will use up the leftovers.
  • If fruit is getting too ripe, I make cake or bread with it, put it in a smoothie or freeze it so that I can do so later. Smoothies are great for using up fruit, leafy greens, or yogurts that no one wants to eat.
  • I try to only buy amounts that we will use before food spoils. Admittedly, I get caught on that one once in a while when I hit a great bargain! But better to give it away than for it to waste.
  • I keep a well-stocked pantry that allows me to reinvent leftovers. Sauces, spices, tortillas, basic canned and frozen goods.
  • I have lots of containers and bags for storing surplus food. I also invested in a vacuum sealer.
  • If I've stocked up on canned goods that end up being not to our liking, I donate them to a food pantry.
  • I read about food. Recipe blogs. Recipe books. Articles in magazines. Books like Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food, Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Books that make me thing about the way we eat and how to do it better. 
  • I invite people over to help me eat all my food!
Just so you know, I'm not setting myself up on a pedestal here. There are many things I don't do so well when it comes to food. I eat too much sugar. I don't eat salads. I don't eat enough vegetables.
But I do leftovers really well.
And I am blessed with a husband who thinks almost everything I cook is delicious.
That being said, I'm sure Jeff will be really glad when this latest pot of rice and beans is gone.

Now, if you're even a teensy bit motivated to learn some new tricks or change some behaviors, here are a couple of great websites that say it all so much better than I.
First, you can click on the new green button to the right, Love Food, Hate Waste. It's a British campaign to educate people on food waste and has some nifty ideas on what to do with leftover food as well as storage and portion tips.
Then, check out this article on the Culinate blog. There are some other great articles on the blog, like this one  on how to get kids to eat well.

If you are naturally thrifty, I hope I've given you some new ammo and ideas.
If you lean more towards the wastrel side of living, I hope I've given you something to think about and maybe motivation to try some new tactics.

Thanks for reading.

P.S. Oops, forgot this one.