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?

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Faith in the Unbelievable

I don't have time to go in to my whole past today, but I must give you a short recap so that this topic will make some sense. I joined an evangelical church over twenty-eight years ago when I was a desperate young girl with two little children of my own. The church literally raised me and gave me a community and a base from which to rebuild my life. I've come a long way, baby.

Eight years ago I met my future husband. I used a dating service because I was clueless (and I am still clueless) on how to date. In the ways of professional matching services, I was hooked up with a Jehovah's Witness. After all, we are both traditional, non-smoking, non-partying religious people. How incompatible could we be?

Hah! They had no idea about the complexities and sensitivities between the sects. Nevertheless, hubby and I have forged our marriage along it's own idiosyncratic way. We make it work. I must say, our conflicts are frequent and spicy. I'm never bored.

Anyhoo, watching how my husband is guilted and coaxed in to (in my mind) illogical conclusions and behaviors, I've become very interested in how the mind is thereby tricked. I'm reading "Expecting Armageddon - Essential Readings in Failed Prophecy", edited by Jon R. Stone. The book provides a fascinating tour through various end-time sects and how the congregations either fail or reinforce their original belief....even after spectacular failure.

What is it about the mind and human behavior that makes us vulnerable to following a failed belief? On page nineteen, I'm seeing glimmers of the reason. We are hard wired to respond to initiation rituals, "Though 'improvised' the rite of apocalypse combines elements of initiation, mediation, and purification found in other types of ritual behavior...In effect, the acting out of a predicted event represents a ritualized reaffirmation of belief." Even if that belief is proven false.

There must be something deep in our nature that responds to ritual. Ritual can be comforting. I think of our annual events like Christmas and Thanksgiving, and the little family rituals that help us identify ourselves with those we are closest with. It sets us apart, it gives us a memory anchor to hang on to, and it helps us identify with our tribe. The Jehovah's Witnesses spurn the "world"'s rituals, of course. But they've replace them with a pale shadow of their own. There's baptism, the midweek meetings, field service, conventions, and of course the annual memorial. All of these activities help reinforce the group's identity and beliefs. These rituals are a comfort in the face of ongoing disappointment.

My husband hangs on to the belief that Armageddon is just around the corner. He truly believes he will not grow old. Yet the evidence of that failure can be read in the eyes of every senior at the Kingdom Hall. If they had neglected to save for retirement, they are in a desperate place indeed. They speak less often than my husband does of the immenent hope of a new world.

Friday, November 28, 2008

What did you dream of becoming as a child?

As a middle class kid growing up in suburbia, I dreamed of becoming an architecht, building struts of air and pockets of intimacy out of steel, wood, glass, and concrete. I also dreamed of becoming a writer, spinning another kind of structure out of magical words. Words are magic. They can inflame the imagination with fear or hope; they build us whole new worlds in our minds. I never became an architecht. But I do love to write.

In a way, that joy of building castles in the air is still with me. I'm a Manager in a busy government office with a large complement of staff and a big budget. My day is filled with meetings, decisions, approvals, and people, people, people. I am an acknowledged expert in my field and people pay attention to what I have to say. When I listen to a new plan or policy, I build a structure in my mind on what it will look like. Are there flaws or obstacles that will hinder us? How can we fix it?

The most fascinating structures of all for me, these days, is complex group interactions. How do we coax a group of people in to a new way of doing things? Can we help them overcome their own barriers? How do we get the best out of our people?

When I started out, I started at the bottom as a records clerk. This job found me when I was very low, and I worked my way up. How did I end up at the bottom? I became pregnant as a teen. The father, who I stayed with for three long years, was abusive. He rarely worked. We lived in a dirty hovel. When I left him, I was a shattered human being. But I was also a young mother of two small children. I did not have the luxury to give up. I had two futures in my hands. So I went to work. And learned and grew along the way with my children.

My children grounded me. No longer a passive dreamer, I went out and built a future for us. I gained some callouses and some smarts along the way. I was no longer a flat and plastic suburbia child. I had depth of character and new insights on how people are; both the dark and the bright. I chose to shine. So, ironically, my checquered past gave me the decent foundation to become a decent writer.

I've been published - once - a cute little anecdote about my son for a magazine. But most of the time my work has been turned down by publishers.

I've learned that rejection is part and parcel of the writer's trade. I've also learned that writing is a higly solitary activity that comes with rare praise. But the creating, if I remember that. The joy of building my castles in the air, that is mine to enjoy and share.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


This past weekend I went on a cleaning jag, throwing out many of my old papers and junk. I organized what I am keeping according to my interests. It is obvious that creativity and doing creative things is very important. That folder is two inches thick. My relationships folder, though, is thin. When I get on a jag, it is as if everything and everyone around me disappears for a while.

When I come out of my jag, I do expect them to pick up where I left them. Which must be unfair. In my mind, they are just as valuable and significant as they have always been. My children similarly have described those times when I took intense interest in their lives. It is as if my searchlight focus is suddenly on them. From the outside looking in, I must blink in and out of my people's lives.

I wonder, also, if my vivid inner life threatens to take over the real. Which could explain the gaps in my history (paper trail) where I just seem to disappear.
I know my salvation comes from being with people and being engaged with people. Let that powerful inner life shine through. Help people see what I see.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Grazers of Edmonton, or Hard Core Dumpster Diving

I've seen very little about this activity in the media, but I know through my son that it is going on. The group my son was involved called themselves "grazers" and were quite happy to live off the excess of modern society. They "harvested" from back yard gardens and dumpsters. I did a quick google search and see that this activity is starting to show up on the web.

Here's a dumpster diver in Calgary.

And here's a meetup site looking for local dumpster divers.

There's a cachet to this sort of activity. After all, there's evidence of excess everywhere. For some people, it can become a mission to reduce that environmental load. Kind of like a modern Robin Hood and his merry men. They get to know the disposal cycles of the stores and where the best "takes" can be found. My son casually mentioned, for instance, the great finds of pre-packaged and expired sandwiches he was able to pick up behind a local convenience store. The "grazers" held a lot of appeal for my son, as he has a very strong miserly streak (I recently broke him from picking up cigarette butts when he's out walking with me). For him at least, the activity also had a side benefit of saving enough money to re-invest in drugs.

Which is the grimmer side of the grazer culture. It tends to pick up people who, for whatever reason, are not fully engaged with society. They could be suffering from untreated illness or addiction. They can literally drop off the grid. Living on the streets in Edmonton is doubly hard because winters can kill.

I won't comment either way on the wisdom of the grazer lifestyle, but I am worried that it's a quiet subtext in our society that no-one is talking about.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Deep thoughts under a lurking migraine

After listening to "The Last Lecture"...several times...I bought the book. I bought two of them. One is for me, and one for the lucky employee who impresses me this year. Anyways, having finished with Mercator, I picked the book up, and polished it off in two bus trips and some late night reading. He repeats much of what he said on screen, plus he shares more about his family. The written word is handy for that. You can share deep feelings without blubbering all over the paper (or screen).

So it got me to thinking what I would share in my own "last lecture". It would most definitely start with "do not be afraid", and would include things about boundaries (respecting yourself) and barriers (removing them), about hummaness and inclusion, about believing and trusting yourself, about decency. Find your community, and work hard to make it yours. How to measure the quality of the information you find. How to measure the quality of your own beliefs, and to question. Be a leader worth following, and see how the world changes around you. Why it is worthwhile to fight for a better world.

P.S. I thought of two more. Integrity, the big lesson from my father, and self-discipline. How to get it and keep it and demolish the whole guilt cycle.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Living in a world of ideas

I've always had a rich internal life. Ideas, philosophy, plans fill my mind and my day. I wonder if that is why I've let those around me pick the music I listen to. I wonder if that is why dust can gather and I barely notice. I wonder if that is why my parenting was a contrast of intense interest and passivity. If the child or the employee or the friend were in my sphere of interest, they got the full glare of my attention.

Whereas some people need to be stimulated by their environment, "entertain me", it seems that I prefer to entertain myself.

It is my salvation, I think, to look outside myself, to stay engaged with those around me, to include them in my sphere of interest. When I get outside myself, I am good. Too much navel gazing and I become self-absorbed and fearful. After all, if any one of us look too closely, we are going to find some damaging flaws. (OMG! Fix it, fix it!) But the fix is not inside, it is out there.

With people. Dust and all.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

More of that nervous energy...

The other night I caught myself spastically reaching for the popcorn. I did not stop until I gave my hands something else to do. So I pulled out my knitting. I now have a DS cover nearly done.

I don't know if my iPod and cell phone socks will take off, but it seems that they should be really cool. I do check with really cool people like my granddaughter and my neice just to be sure. My daughter scoffed at my idea until she saw a woman with a cell phone sock on the train. She, also, had balked at the cost of the iPod sock and opted to make her own...out of a real sock.

Anyways, that's how I kept my hands busy. When I am dieting, I am overwhelmed with frenetic energy, searching for an outlet. It is my hungry cells looking for their ambrosia? What will it take to get them to open up?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Candor and Veritas

Candor and Veritas, two descriptive words for Mercator, the founder of modern maps. I just finished his biography, "Mercator: The Man Who Mapped the Planet" by Nicholas Crane. On page 225, these two descriptive words are used to describe this very, very productive man, this man who also cared deeply about his work. Any natural analyst would understand his obsessive pursuit of perfection and harmony.

Wikipedia describes candor this way... "is a virtue that is the quality of being open and honest in expression. i.e., frankness. For example, 'He is a man of refreshing candor.' The word originated from the late Middle English (in the Latin sense): from Latin candor 'whiteness'".

The image I get is of a fresh fall of snow, which suddenly brightens our drear winter. It is crisp, clean, and refreshing.

From wiki also, a little bit about veritas. "In Roman mythology, Veritas (meaning truth) was the goddess of truth, a daughter of Saturn and the mother of Virtue. It was believed that she hid in the bottom of a holy well because she was so elusive. Her image is shown as a young virgin dressed in white.[1] Veritas is also the name given to the Roman virtue of truthfulness, which was considered one of the main virtues any good Roman should have possessed".

Truth's elusiveness reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Twain:

We are always hearing of people who are around seeking after the Truth. I have never seen a (permanent) specimen. I think he has never lived. But I have seen several entirely sincere people who thought they were (permanent) Seekers after the Truth. They sought diligently, persistently, carefully, cautiously, profoundly, with perfect honesty and nicely adjusted judgment- until they believed that without doubt or question they had found the Truth. That was the end of the search. The man spent the rest of his hunting up shingles wherewith to protect his Truth from the weather.- "What is Man?"
I think an honest seeking after truth demands that the search never stop. Always, always challenge my base assumptions. Never cave to fear or pride that I might be wrong.
I found this picture at

One tooth holds me hostage...

I was doing great, charging along, absorbing all the new information from the diabetic class, I get home, and pow. Down I go. A tooth, that has been sensitive for some time, starts sending out waves of pain.

I take an anti-inflammatory, and go to bed early. Hubby, bless his soul, notices, and puts a temporary halt to his endless teasing. He even offers to call the dentist at seven the next morning. I must look really, really bad. It turns out they are not open at seven but rather, open at ten in the morning! I take another anti-inflammatory, and soldier on to work. Taking a break halfway through the morning meeting, I make the call at ten sharp. And then another call at one minute past ten. Thankfully, the receptionist picks up on the second call.

I find out that dentists, or rather their loyal receptionists, can hold you hostage, too.

She asks if I can come in at three. "But I have meetings this afternoon. Can I make it later?"

"Our next opening is the following Wednesday."

I make it for three. Again, hubby refrains from teasing and picks me up promptly from the train station. I must sound really, really bad. The dentist checks me over, taps my teeth, shaves down the offending tooth, and confirms that I will likely need a root canal. He prescribes an anti-inflammatory and some antibiotic in the meantime. As I rise from the chair, I have to pause for a moment as I am washed over with an intense wave of pain. A tsunami wave that overruns all my senses and leaves me reeling.

The dentist quickly decides to do some emergency work. I sit back in the chair. I am given a happy face ball to squeeze the life out of. The dentist chatters about his "day of pain". It seems that everyone that came in that day needed help in the worst way. Sure enough, when he drills in he finds a dead tooth, just starting to abcess. He cleans it out and puts on a temporary filling. I am now on antibiotics and yet another anti-inflammatory.

But here I sit the morning after, and I am surprisingly pain-free. I was held hostage, but the ransom wasn't too expensive. I simply had to put a hold on my regulated day to take care of some necessary things. Now, to find the money for the root canal.

Oh, P.S. I've borrowed the picture from a fellow blogger, Willie Walsh:

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Something New - Youth Games

A local organization is promoting an "Edmonton Urban Games", possibly for 2010, that will feature at-risk youth participating in hip-hop, beatboxing (what is beatboxing? Oh. It's music. I thought it involved beating on each other) graffiti, and skateboarding.

Here's another great group, working at breaking down the barriers, and re-integrating some of our disenfranchised back in to the community.

The organization is Youth Restorative Action Project (YRAP), and is peer-run. Think about it. Committess of teens telling teens how to straighten out.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Have you thought of seeing a counsellor...

...or perhaps diarizing your feelings?" Can I count the number of times I've been given that advice? Well, it happened again. A zealous instructor called me ahead of her course on clutter-busting. I admitted I knew what kept me from throwing away miscellaneous papers and things at home.

I'm afraid of losing my history.

Thank God she added the second part, diarizing. I can honestly say that I do. Though I don't know how much is spent on introspection. I also fear that too much navel-gazing will make me self-centred and neurotic.

But more about forgetting, which is what the instructor suggested I explore a little further. It's not like alzheimers runs in the family, but my mind my most valued asset. Just like a pretty woman fears losing her looks, I fear losing my mind. I spend so much time with ideas, will I forget my children's names? Where have we lived? What have we done? So I keep the utility bills from twenty years' back.

Yes, it's probably time to clean out the attic. And the basement. And the cobwebs in my own mind.

I have a feeling that instructor is going to have an amazing course. She asked me to make sure to introduce myself at the class.

Monday, November 10, 2008

What room in my home is my favorite?

So asks the "One Minute Writer" another fun blog.

What is my favorite place in my home? Hard to say. I guess you could pick where I spend the most time. But that might be for convenience and comfort, not real joy. Of, course, most time is spent in the bedroom. We have made it comfortable. It has satiny soft microfibre sheets, deep mauroon window curtains, and a flat screen television on the wall. The room is comfortable.

But I don't think it is my favorite.

I would have to say it is my kitchen. My kitchen is where I can most easily create. Oddly enough, it was the purchase of a simple recipe cover that changed the way I approach my kitchen. It inspires me to put up the most recent recipe to try, and prompts me in the evening, when I would most comfortably retire to that cosy bedroom, to make something instead.

I am reading of Mercator, maker of maps

His biography came my way by boredom. I'd bought the most recent Koontz novel and to my deep disappointment, I was finished it in two days. It was a very fine novel. But it did not satisfy over the days.

So I went to the library. One of the books I picked up is "Mercator: The Man Wo Mapped The Planet" by Nicholas Crane.

The book gives a rich description of life and society of the 1500's. The story is extensive, too, because like so few of his time, Mercator lived to be over eighty years old. What strikes me is that a bad winter or a poor harvest could send the people in to a spiral of poverty and starvation so very, very quickly. I am at the part of the story where Mercator is in his fifties. He has just lost a grandson, his daughter, and one of his sons to the plague. His contemporaries are passing from kidney stones, an accidental splinter of jousting pole to the brain, gout, stroke, and heart attack. Familiar to our times, the series of disasters and political events have many convinced that armageddon is at hand. All the signs are abundant.

So, as my earlier readings of medieval times have led me, people are no different today. We react the same way to dire events. There is love, dignity, fear, and prejudice in abundance.

What is different today is the strength of our administration, civilization, health care, and the devising of social safety nets. Can you imagine today, when a financial crisis looms, that we be faced with lines of migrants leaving our city, emaciated, munching on grasses and barks to stave off death?

Not that we take the needs of the poor for granted. Oh, no. But we have come a long way. There are ways to prepare for social crises. We've learned something from our histories. Like Joseph of old, our leaders should store up during the seven fat years of abundance, for what may lay ahead.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

A Repast of Vegetables

The numbers don't lie. Bread kills. Me. After weeks of monitoring, on Saturday morning I get a "good morning" number - 5.4 mmol/l. What did I do differently? I ended my evening with a crisp and nutritious vegetable stir-fry. Flavored with ginger, honey, and chillies (no salt), it bursts across the palate. This is now my favorite way to serve sweet potato. It filled, it satisfied, and it was a meal without bread.

(Added November 13, 2008 - well, I'm fresh back from diabetic training and it turns out I was only half right. The nurse told me the culprit was FAT. Fat gets processed the slowest, so it will stay in my system, being broken down and stored, for over 24 hours. The list of food "good guys" gets shorter and shorter....)

This morning, I wake up to one of my worst morning numbers, 8.0 mmol/l. What did I do differently? Hubby and I indulged in a large pizza with bread sticks last evening. I ate the equivalent of five servings of bread in a single sitting.

The numbers don't lie. Bread kills. Me.

I mustn't give up carbohydrates altogether, of course. The stir fry was nearly all carbohydrates, too. But they were at their most complex. There was nothing complex about that pizza. I can all the toppings I want, it is still a very, very simple answer to my cravings (fat, salt, and bread).

It is obvious there is more work to be done in our family to change our eating habits and our preferences. I have an image of me in a monk's cowl, sitting down to a plain meal of vegetables and barley or perhaps a little soup, parsimonious in my sips, withering to a shadow of my former self, a veritable living prune...

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The seven fruits of the soul

My theological meanderings have brought me to Judaism. If I am to understand the foundation of my faith, I must understand where it came from. And Christianity is definitely born out of it's Jewish roots. The biblical condemnation of the Pharisees and centuries of anti-Semitism, I fear, have kept Christians from any deep look at our similarities.
That's where we get peace from, isn't it, not from highlighting our differences, but how we are fundamentally the same?

I've been transported by new ideas in the way that a Jewish scholar may approach the Bible. And don't think that all scholars approach the bible the same way. A treasure from the Jewish school, I think, is that reflection, questioning, and doubt are part of the curriculum.

So, anyways, I've been introduced to the concept of the seven fruits of the soul. In Chaddism, wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates have allegorical meanings beyond the plain reading of the text. Each represents a quality of man, specifically transcendence, vitality, joy, awareness, action, struggle and tranquility. The Jewish holiday of Yom Habikkurim celebrates rebirth in the spring and the first fruits of the harvest, including these seven traditional "fruits" of Isreal. For Christians, we would recognize this in the Old Testament as the feast of "first fruits".
What relevance does that have for us today? Well, in reflecting on our seven characteristics or needs, we might see where we are out of balance, or where one over-arching characteristic or need has overtaken our life. It might help, on self, reflection, to re-introduce balance in our lives.

Friday, November 7, 2008

When you realize you are in a pissing contest...

Get out as soon as possible! So goes the advice of Randy Pausch, the man of "The Last Lecture". In so many ways I can relate to this inventive, creative man. Like me, he managed his ambitions within a bureaucratic framework. He found his way around and through, and picked up a few arrows around the way. His nonchalance towards the arrows, I must learn. It comes with the territory if I happen to be someone who loves breaking ground.

So anyways, so much of what he said resonated with my own career. What is new is his attitude towards the barriers. He did not let resentment build. He used each barrier as a reflection of his own determination, and found new ways around them.

What is most revelatory for me was the above statement. "When you realize you are in a pissing contest, get out as soon as possible!" Why? Because the dream is more important than anyone's ego! Isn't that why I strive to break ground, over and over again, even when the aftermath may include a little pain, misunderstanding, ruffled egos, diminished opportunities?

So how do you get out of a pissing contest? What is your rival saying? What is their chief need? Have you expressed it back to them, letting them know you understand? In the last lecture, I think Randy asked, "What is it we are not understanding here?" He put it out on the table. He listened. And he helped his obstacle overcome his concerns.

For personalities whose chief interest is "return on investment" (I relate to the "Gold" personality in a color quiz), I have to address their fears and concerns. "Because it's cool and fun" just isn't going to be enough.
The "gold" card is borrowed from one of the many color personality training programs out there.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Sparrows have worries too

Watching the sparrows out my window, I learn something of a sparrow's worries. I've given them a gift, a steady supply of seed to help them through the winter. But they approach the feeder cautiously. Over the past month, they have quietly made their way to the feeder, and quietly left. They don't approach it directly, either. First, they land in the upper branches of my cedar, then in the cool, green dark, they hop ever closer to the goal. Even as they eat they are cautious, taking a quick look around before they crack a seed.

Why such caution? Because others are watching as well. We now have cat-visitors to my yard. More than once I've caught a strange cat sitting in our basement wheel well, intent on that feeder, so temptingly close above.

"What is the price of five sparrows? A couple pennies? Yet God does not forget a single one of them". - Luke 12:6.

I am sure God is not tracking them with the same intensity as a cat. And with another motive altogether. Why does God care about the sparrow?

Note also, the sparrow does not throw caution to the wind, even if God is watching.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Income Tax Volunteer

Renewed, invigorated, inspired...I'm looking forward and revisiting my roots at the same time. This blog is heading towards a theme. Remembering the disenfranchised, and simplifying their life. It came to me that I've done this sort of thing before. For years, I worked as an income tax volunteer. I was involved in the single parent community at the time, but of course, single parents are one of those struggling groups who need this sort of help.

So I'm going to do it. I'm going to start up an income tax workshop again.

It's a great program. Revenue Canada veterans, the same people who review our submissions, teach us how to do an income tax return. They are full of humor, hints and tips, and how to apply the latest changes. So not only do you help get some deserved income for grateful people, some who may not have collected their GST for a while, you get expert advice for your own return!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

School Shoes

I was chatting up a new friend on charities at a conference last week, and I caught myself sharing an old idea. The worst month for staying on budget when I was a single parent had to be September. In September comes school. With the start of school comes school fees and school supplies, school clothes and school shoes. It didn't help that for me at least, my driver's licence came up for renewal the same month. I always sweated it out in the fall, hoping I could keep food on the table and bills paid.

The school shoes were the worst. It's not like one pair would do. The janitor would specify scuff-free gym shoes - no outside shoes - for his gym. So each child would need at least three pair. One scuff-free for the gym, indoor shoes, and shoes or boots to get to and from school in. And in the early years at least, the child would either grow out or wear out those shoes midway through the year.

From my granddaughter's example I've learned that the schools have come a long way to help with school supplies. For a fee, the school will bulk buy and get every child what they need.

But what about the shoes? It seems to me that this would be a great way for a shoe company to step up to the plate and offer a shoe club or shoe membership plan. These days with bar codes, internet sign up, point plans and membership cards, it should be easy enough to set up. Perhaps a family could sign up for a monthly shoe club plan, say, for five dollars a month, they can accumulate credit towards the big shoe purchase in the fall. For families closer to the edge, sponsors could offer membership cards for qualifying families.

What do you think? Isn't a shoe plan a great idea?
The photo is borrowed from Jessica on Picasa. Thank you, Jessica.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Energizer Bunny

A few day ago I was at my lowest, in a real funk because of a real problem at work. But I tackled it differently this time, giving myself only a few days to lick my wounds before I reached out for help. It was such a relief to talk about the problem, as I was encouraged and I know I will not be alone in dealing with it.

These latest changes in the way I deal with problems are part of a bigger change in perspective, spurred by a little coaching from my boss. The simple idea is that we can get stuck because of small irritants or barriers that drain us of energy and keep us from moving on. Spurred on by her example, I tackled some of those personal energy-drainers in my life. Shortly after that I got a good doctor, and shortly after that I was diagnosed with diabetes.

You'd think that would be bad news, but it's something that's been hanging over my head for years. With a solid diagnosis, there are solid programs I can get join to make a change in my life. Seven weeks ago I joined Weight Watchers. I've lost over seven pounds since I joined. Last week we joined the YMCA, and I've gone over to swim at lunch time. The difference in my energy levels and my mobility, well, they are life-changing. I am bouncing around like the energizer bunny.

This got confirmed yesterday as I chatted up my weekend students at NAIT. I had casually mentioned throughout the course, by example, my experience as an Income Tax volunteer, my time as a Condo Board member, a discussion board moderator, an artist, my knitting, the joys of being a grandma and a Sunday School teacher. All of this besides being a very busy manager for my corporation, where my days are crammed with meetings. Someone asked when I sleep?

Well, that's another issue altogether, as madame menopause imposes her own disruption to my schedule. I am up very early most days, involuntarily. But I do sleep deep and long every night.

And I do manage my crowded schedule very well. I tell my colleagues at work that I manage by being "freakishly organized". I credit my years as a single parent on how to use each moment to the fullest. Before the days of PDA's and Blackberries, I kept a Day Timer to keep track of all my appointments. I live by my calendar. My latest innovations include the dreaded To-Do list, and a Tickler file. At home, we keep a "Punch List" on the white board for errands that need to be done around the home. I am in charge of my toys, by the way, they don't control me. I spent several days turning off all the buzzers on my Blackberry, for instance. By comparison to my days as a single mother, my simple life these days with a calm man at my side, my evenings mostly filled with family and entertainment, feels like plenty of time to do a few more things.

I'm thinking, with my renewed energy from the weight loss, I will be a bouncy, bouncy lady. Perhaps my weight gain and my eating was a way to self-medicate a tendency towards hyperactivity. But I don't remember such energy since I was a six year old child. After that, I mostly hid in books. I think I must have been hiding for a very, very long time.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Feeling Better Today

I've had a swim, a think, and a little talk with the people that can help me out of my funk. We're not out of the woods yet, but I do have a plan.

In the meantime, I untangle a ball of wool. Funny, how an embedded twist of cord can jam up the whole works. The trick of untangling is not to push too hard. Shake it up, let it fall naturally where it may. Then pull gently until you find a knot of resistance. Massage the knot and coax it apart. Take a good look to see where the twist went wrong. Then flip, untwist, make it straight again. Quick, roll it in to the ball where it belongs. Tell the cord, see? This is how you were always meant to be. I could never use you to make a scarf or hat until we got straightened out. Before, I'd take a stitch and stop. Stitch and stop. Never seeing progress, hardly going forward at all. Now we can stitch along in no time. Just you see what we can do together!

Then shake the tangle again. No yanking. No forcing. Patience, patience.
The tangle picture is compliments of a fellow blogger, So Sue You Can Sew!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Random Ramblings

I am freebasing today, writing whatever comes to my head. I have no theme, no campaign, no agenda. Just me. Does this happen every year at this time, when the cares of the world and work crash down on my well-laid ambitions? I know I have a habit of hiding away from my friends, becoming a "virtual" hermit for months on end.

I sense I am leading up to one of those times now.

Can I fight my own nature? Should I? A trainer told me that it is OK to retreat for a while. But not long. So if I were to take that advice, I should go off and do my deep think..quickly..then come back. That makes sense. I don't want to retreat just for the sake of getting away. The problem is to be faced...after I've regrouped.

I can hear the wind howling out my darkened window, and the crisp flap of the tarp covering our beloved deck. That deck is raised to a work of art in our eyes (mine and my hubby's), as it is the first construction project we've done together. It was three days of hard sweat to build it. And six hundred screws. I developed a new respect for hubby's brute strength. And I think he is mildly amazed that the whole thing came together. After all, my notes were scribbled on three grubby index cards, the measurements checked and rechecked.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


I've often wondered what a person from the third world would think of some of our television shows. I don't always have to guess. My girlfriend from Uganda was horrified when she first came to this country by what she saw on the screen. And not for what you might think. We get hung up on nudity and sexuality. But what bothered her was the gratituous violence. After all, she'd seen enough of the real thing to never want to see it again...let alone glorify it. A commentator on Access television gave me insight on how we have given ourselves permission to see horrible things done to one another. Make the villain very, very evil. Have him harm innocents on screen. For the rest of the movie, we are given permission to cheer his and his associates' destruction. In the most horrible way.

But I didn't mean to talk about violence today. What I wonder about these days are the shows that help us deal with our excesses. I think of shows "Clean Sweep" and "The Biggest Loser" that helps people shed their excess. Whether it be a household out of control, or a body out of control. What would such a pile of goods look like to people outside of our bubble of prosperity? Our problems must appear vacuous, silly. But they are real. We do really struggle to pare down.

Perhaps a leaner society would be a happier society. I'm thinking of planting a victory garden this coming spring, in commemoration of our survivor past.

As a closing note, have you ever seen Time's photo series, "What the World Eats"? Well worth a visit.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

It just makes the world a little less cruel...

The chicadees were waiting for me this morning. They were close enough for me to see their plump grey forms hopping up the bush. It pays to be reliable, especially when little creatures are depending on you.

I got a follow-up e-mail from someone else interested in Homeless Connect, and she twigged me to a YouTube clip on the San Franciso campaign. It looks as wonderful as it sounds. The line that really stood out for me on the video was from a volunteer who said, "It just makes the world a little less cruel." Another volunteer noted that these are the same people we pass on the street every day without acknowledging, yet in the connect atmosphere they are "just like everyone else." Isn't that what it is all about, to bring humanity in to every interaction?

On a separate note, I just finished another delightful novel from Alexander McCall Smith. He's the only author whose books I can't wait to come to paperback. I'm beginning to collect an impressive series of hard bound books about the "No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency", set in Botswana. But this man does a lot more than write delightful detective novels. He is also an expert in the field of bioethics, serving on many national and international bodies. A BBC biography writes of McCall Smith, "If his day job presents its own philosophical complexities and dilemmas, McCall Smith's writing offers an escape to a place that celebrates moral certainty, warmth and compassion. The author considers it "legitimate to write about virtue" and The Detective Agency series, in particular, shows "qualities that are found all over Botswana. People don't go in for distance and insincerity"."

Legitimate to write about virtue. What a delightful turn of phrase. Is it not also legitimate to campaign for virtue and decency, even in a jaded world?
Update from Elise, on Facebook: "Anyways, I heard really good things from my co-workers about that event (Homeless Connect). They all thought it was very successful. The event expected 1000 people but over 1500 showed up! "

Friday, October 10, 2008

A Tipping Point to Peace

On September 24, the Edmonton Journal told a good-news story of city counsellor who helped turn around escalating teen violence in the community of Mill Woods, "Road to justice in Mill Woods takes a splendid turn". City counsellor Amarjeet Sohi brought together the parents and the police to talk and come up with solutions. Most impressive is how the escalating violence has been brought to an abrupt end, and struggling parents were brought together for assistance and mutual help.

I think this is an impressive example of, not only of great leadership on the part of Counsellor Sohi, but of the principles of the tipping point as described in Gladwell's book. Not only was an epidemic of violence stopped in it's tracks, but a new positive epidemic of support and helps was generated for a community.

I think the incident also points out that we can't objectify violent teens as a problem of "those people". The problem could erupt anywhere, in our own households, if the conditions are there. Parents everywhere take note, and get help if you need it.

We mustn't justify violence as a natural progression in a growing, struggling city. Find the root of the problem and be as bold as Sohi to take action.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Connecting with the Homeless

I just heard about a program to help the homeless connect to services in the community. Edmonton is hosting a "Homeless Connect" campaign today. Dozens of services will be under one roof at the Shaw Conference centre. The homeless can get a hair cut, clothing, social services, and even photo ID if they need it. Launched by San Franciso in 2004, this approach is recognized in the United States as a national best practice.

The concept is intriguing, and I suspect far less frustrating for the homeless than roving from office to office. Transportation is an issue for street people as well. An errand that would take an urbanite an hour to complete in their car could take a street person two days to fulfill.

I'd love to hear how it went. Were there enough volunteers to help? Were there lineups?

Friday, October 3, 2008

Visiting Dad

Dad called for a surprise visit at lunch. He's in town for tests. He rolls his eyes for giving his new wife new things to worry about. His lung function is rated something like "extreme" which means they have an upper time limit. "Five or ten years", dad says.

I saw shades of myself as we talked, because he and I were more interested in the advances in technology, and the relative efficiency of the office. Or perhaps those things are a little easier to talk about. Dad was impressed with the speed they got him through his tests. In for a CAT scan at nine, they promised he could see his specialist by ten. And they did. Dad credits the speed to the small office with a few people managing several tasks. The same lady who gave him his wrist band reviewed his chart and fast-tracked him to the front of the line. Dad says he sat in the waiting room only a minute. It was obvious the counter staff knew the doctor who was ordering the tests, and knew what they had to do. Dad was similarly impressed that his doctor had all the test results in front of him when they talked.

It was a lot easier talking to dad this time. I've lost some of my old defensiveness, and he seems to have mellowed a bit. Or perhaps he's always been mellow and I've finally stopped striving to meet some imagined standard. He still worries about me, drilled me about the state of my home, my children, my work. It's all good, really. Very good.

Dad will do just fine, too. We compared notes on the "ideal" diet and the trials of reducing salt. Funny, how much more I taste the food now.

It's like, Naomi taught me to see the blue. Now dad's example is teaching me to savor. Every berry bursting it's own gift as I eat my oatmeal and milk.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Sub-Waiting Room

Yesterday I endured the most dreaded of waiting rooms - the hospital outpatient clinic. This time it is my eyes. As I was just diagnosed diabetic, my diligent doctor has sent me over for some baseline pictures of my eye. I don't know what it is about touching the eye, but I find it more intimate, more terrifying than the dentist's. What comes to mind is a picture of Winston Smith in Nineteen Eighty-Four where his eyes are peeled open. He has no way to close them. ~shivers~. But I haven't found the image that haunts me. Anyways, hubby came along as I was not to take myself home after the tests. The drops they would put in my eyes would leave my pupils dilated with very limited vision.

But for all my horrors, the photographs and the exam were fairly painless. The professional staff, also, were pleasant and helpful.

Where I encountered reception hell was in the waiting rooms. There were at least four of them in this eye clinic, a wing in a much larger hospital.
The signage to the first rest stop was fairly straightforward. This first receptionist directed me "to the very end of the hall" and "to the right".
Like all government buildings, the place was forested with signage and instructions. "Put paperwork in this basket", "Emergency Intake". and a hand drawn, "This is not the end of the hall". I got to the end where I faced the mildly terrifying "Emergency Intake" and a darkened room. "To the right" was a small area marked "Sub-Waiting Room", a pleasant elderly lady, and nobody else. To the left was a small receptionist counter with another one of this ubiquitous baskets. Uncertain, I went back to a more substantial waiting room. And stared at the "This is not the end of the hall" sign again. I helpfully called out, "Is this the end of the hall?" And got a helpful reply, "keep going." Back at the empty counter on the left. A woman appears and takes me in hand. I'm on my way.

Nearly as distressing was getting there, as there is construction going on. The entrance was positively hostile to people on foot. The sidewalk I usually take was blocked off. The emergency entrance had a blaring sign, "No access to day clinic". Hubby and I looked at each other for a moment and decided we would have to walk the block away from the hospital to gain access to the main doors.
There's a narrow ramp that takes street traffic to these doors. There is no side walk. As we hesitated at the base of the ramp, allowing several cars to rush past, I looked one more time to see if there might be an easier way to get in. There were several access doors below and to the side, but they had that same forbidding look that the emergency entrance had. I had a gut feeling those doors would not gain me entrance. So up the ramp we went. My memory told me the eye clinic was just to the right of the front entrance, but the large directory overwhelmed. Do I look under Opthamology, Eye Clinic, what? I couldn't see it alphabetically, so I bothered the main receptionist. Thankfully, the clinic had not moved in the six years since I was there last, she pointed me in the direction I thought I must go. And there it was, just past the main directory, a huge sign, "Eye Clinic".
Thinking about all those hallways, signs, doors, and waiting rooms, I wonder if the eye clinic suffers from being cobbled in to a large hospital wing with a minimum of renovation. Not that I'm a huge fan of renovation, considering the trouble we had even getting in there.
What is it with hospital sub-waiting rooms? What spot of efficiency is hoped to be gained? Is it to keep the professional from having to walk a hundred steps a day to locate their patient? The result is that every day newcomers are treading unfamiliar halls and unfamiliar signage. It is unsettling.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Aunties and Grandmas

I remember when I fell in love...with my granddaughter. The grass became greener, the sky bluer. Everything was right in the world. I became a better person the day Naomi was born. I had a little person to impress.

There are great advantages to being an auntie or a grandma. We get to choose our moments to shine. There are great big rest breaks in between. We don't have to be the disciplinarian. And there isn't that niggling mother-daughter struggle for supremacy. Now, that doesn't mean I haven't been on my best behavior. After all, I have a reputation to build. Grandma reads stories. Grandma bakes cookies. Grandma always hears me; she listens.

But in our North American culture at least, extended family plays a subordinate role. If a parent deems us a danger, we're out of it. Out. There are "grandparent's rights" groups, of course. But legally and socially, custody and raising primarily rests with the parents. Not that this is wrong. But it makes me very, very respectful. Mom and dad have a huge responsibility after all. I must not ride roughshod over their decisions. After all, I am deeply in love.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A Rear View on our City Streets

Is it gay for a woman to admire another's butt? I'm thinking not. I admire beauty in all forms, and through my hubby's eyes, I've honed my skills at seeking out those curves. I also enjoy spotting them first to remind my hubby that I'm not blind, stupid, or dead. What he sees, I see too. Well, this time I was walking alone on our windy streets, so my humming admiration I had to keep to myself. To describe this woman's rear with words alone would be inadequate. I also cannot fully describe the flow of her curves as she walked down the street. This crude drawing might help.

The fabric snuggled her perfectly, and the shirring down the back, ending in a cute little bow...ooh la la.

A woman who takes the time to put herself together so carefully, she must know, must she?

On the same day, I was assaulted with another butt. But this time it did not elicit the same admiration. I am sure the woman was trying for a similar effect, but this time the clothes did all the talking. They were low-rider jeans that ended just before the crack. Her form was poured in to the square jeans, so instead of a round butt, I encountered a squashed rectangle. She also sported the unfortunate fashion of bubbled flesh just above her belt. I was close enough to see the goose bumps. Ick.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Hi, what service are you looking for today?

Nicolle must have asked that twenty times or more in the twenty minutes I was in her care. Nicolle is the receptionist at the Alberta Motor Association, Manning office. She is friendly, efficient, and oustandingly hepful to everyone who comes through her door.

Her first job is to get you to where you are going, and she does that very well. She is alert and aware of all the clients in her space and what they are waiting there for. Of the half-dozen services offered at this location, there was only one line, waiting to pay insurance. She helpfully redirected one client, "Don't worry, that line is not for you; travel is around the corner." Another time a case worker called a name with no response. Nicole checked with the couple at the display, and sure enough, they were the ones waiting to be called.

It was also obvious that she's a warm person who really likes people. We got talking because she noticed I was crocheting a "kickin'" scarf. She asked lots of questions. Nicolle is also plugged in to one of those cordless phones, so it was a little disconcerting to sort out who she was talking to. I suspect our new generation will get better at filtering out their freind's eatherial conversations. Anyways, we soon had a lively conversation going, interspersed with her helpful redirections for newcomers.

She tells a great story about her father in law, who lives in a tiny town in Sasktachewan. Somehow we got on the topic of drunk driving and how wrong it is. I mentioned that smart alcoholics drink close to home so they can get home afterwards without hurting anyone. Which is where her father in law comes in. He taught his pig to take him to the bar and back! They had a few old pigs on the property, over five hundred pounds. He would climb on the back of the pig and say "Bar", and the pig would walk to the bar. He'd tell the pig to "Stay" and he would stay. When the drinking night was over, he'd come out, flop on top of his pig and say "Home", and old pig would take him home.

Pig stories and all, Nicolle is an outstanding example of how a receptionist, who loves her job and loves people, can make a world of difference for new people coming through the door.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Nurturing and Naomi

It hit me the other day. Naomi is growing away from me, blossoming, growing. Just like her mom did over twenty-five years ago. I see her animated face, her expressions, her joys, her friendships, her occupations. It is so individualistic, so her. She is showing the signs of the fresh young woman she will be. She is blossoming. It is natural what is happening, her growing apart. Even when she tells me how her and her mom "nearly forgot your birthday" and worked 'till "one o'clock!" to put together a pretty gift basket. From Naomi I get a home made card crusted with stickers, declaring her love. I love her too, painfully so.

I see her bright future. More and more her network of friends and mentors will take over, and I will recede as one of the centres of her life to a friendly morning star. I will always be in her constellation, always watching and cheering her on, but I will no longer be the centre.

The generations march on, and I am helpless to slow the progress. My joy will have to be to watch and marvel.

Your call will be taken in the order it was received

You guessed it. I was put on hold... and hold... and hold. I was calling back a woman tasked with booking me for diabetic training. She'd left a pleasant message, giving me a call-back number which I foolishly deleted. I thought, why bother when I have her number displayed on my blackberry? Her failure, in this diva's opinion, is that she did not state the nature of the call. She simply said she was calling from Capital Health link to make an appointment.

(Note to self: Include pictures with every post to liven up the text)

When I called the displayed number back (which varied from her call-back number by one digit, by the way), I was put in to holding hell for about twenty minutes. I didn't dare hang up, because the pleasant automated voice reminded me of the dreaded consequences. I'd lose my place in the queue. So as my husband shouted conversational inanities at me over a Tim Horton's lunch, I listened in succession to health tips, elevator music, and dire warnings not to hang up. I offered to let my husband listen in to the helpful tips, but he declined.

The second failure was an automated message that came on every five minutes or so, advising me that they were experiencing a high number of calls and if I wished, I could "press one" to leave a message. After ten minutes, I gave that "1" a try. It doesn't work! So then I was stuck. Do I hang up and risk a longer wait in the future? I grimly stuck it out.

The receptionist at the general health line was unhelpful. She asked what the appointment was for. When I said I did not know, she told me I would have to wait for the lady to call me back again. (The horror of hours of hold flooded my imagination). In desperation, I mentioned that my doctor was hooking me up for diabetes training. Could this possibly be why they are calling? "Well then, I'll forward your call to Diabetes booking. If I lose the call, here's the number." I made her repeat it two times. She said it too fast to write or memorize.

What was doubly unfortunate is the receptionist bothered to explain how difficult it is to locate the right department, now that they have gone through a major reorganization. She detailed that for me, just in case I was unaware. Like that prig of a psychiatrist years ago, I got the sense she was trying to pull me in to her political reality.

It's not my fight, lady. I want out of hold hell, and I'd pretty please like to set up that appointment.

The woman who originally called me was delighted to hear from me. She was so pleasant and efficient I forgot to tell her that her original voice mail was unclear. But we got through the necessaries and I am booked for my appointment. It was disconcerting that the closest clinics for the Northeast are far West and Central.

Now I am envisioning several "mystery shopper" forms that people could complete to describe their own experience. I'd need one for waiting rooms, queues, and for automated phone systems.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Hospital Waiting Room

The University of Alberta walk-in mental health clinic looms large in my memory, and not in a good way. My experience is over fifteen years old now, so hopefully they have improved things since my visit.

It was not a good time. My son was a very depressed pre-teen. I dreaded the possibility that he was developing schizophrenia. It runs in the family, you see. Children's Services had started to get involved, and one of their first priorities was to assess his potential for suicide. Perfectly understandable. They wouldn't want to be held liable for a death while under their care. So they asked us to visit the above-named clinic to get assessed. So far so good.

The clinic was fairly new at the time, and the waiting room was clean and modern, the colors soothing. My son and I were both given a long survey to complete where we were to check off all our fears and phobias. In my enthusiasm, I was probably more honest than I needed to be. Just because I skeedadle up the basement stairs at night because of the boogeyman who lives under there, doesn't mean I am a less capable adult. I've even been able to go up the stairs s-l-o-w-l-y, heart in my throat, daring the boogeyman to grab my ankles. I can override my overactive imagination with a dose of common sense.

I am absolutely fearless, on the other hand, when it comes to spiders, snakes, mice, wasps, bees, and all sorts of wiggly things. I'm just as likely to take hold of it to get a good look. My hubby has caught on to this facility, and has put me to good use, asking me calmly to "get rid of it" while he trembles like a schoolgirl.

Anyways, back to the "walk in clinic" intake process. My son and I fill out the forms and wait, patiently. We finally get to see the doctor, and he explains the presence of several interns as this is a teaching hospital. So far so good.

He tells me that he would not be doing an assessment, as my son was already scheduled to visit a premier child psychologist in the city. I got the sense the man did not want to provide a conflicting diagnosis. I get upset. I'd been asked to attend this clinic on the best advice of Children's Services. I don't want my son do die of suicide either. "So you tell me you will do nothing for me? That the forms in the waiting room, our hour wait, was for nothing?"

He tells me that Children's Services should not be using their service as some sort of clearing house. "I see." Near tears, I clammed up and left.

That experience left me with a burning conviction that conflicting agencies should never use the people coming through their door to make a point. What did that clinician expect me to do? Write my MLA? "Know for next time", if there ever were a next time? I was a mother in crisis, very near the breaking point myself. I needed help from the experts I was referred to. I did not need to be dragged in to a turf war.

It also made me wonder which sector of the mental health community that clinic intended to care for. Signs in the waiting room and notes on the application forms made it clear that they were not set up for crisis care or serious chronic mental illnesses. I tried to imagine my mother, while in full-blown manic phase, voluntarily attending weekly sessions at this pleasant clinic. They were also obviously not there to assist Children's Services in providing on-the-spot assessment of a client's risk for self harm. So who is left? The chronically depressed and the narcicissts? People with spider phobias?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A day at the eye doctor

I've just been diagnosed with diabetes, which leads to a whole bunch of other appointments and tests. That includes an eye exam. I couldn't help compare the intake experience at this very commercial enterprise, compared to the visit to the mental health clinic only a few days before.

The place is set up for profit. The architecture, the furnishings are all sleek and modern. Glass walls and chocolate walls sweep around in sleek curves, with little cubes to show off the merchandise. The cute little reception chairs were ordered in a perfect row. Instead of a coffee table, cushions. The fabric was worn in a spot and I couldn't help wonder, "Gosh, that fabric is going to be hard to match."

Anyways, the receptionist was pleasant enough. We had to lean close to talk. All those hard surfaces, and the space echoed with loud chatter. I asked her if it was like this all the time. "It comes and goes. Sometimes it is real quiet. When there's lots of people like now, yes, it is hard to hear." I make a mental note, "Put in some soft wall coverings." To the technician puffing air on to my eye, I complain about the absence of magazines. "Oh, but we have the big screen for that." What do you know. I completely missed the big screen on the wall, playing endless loops of instructional video on... you know what... the eye.

I'm not sure I am keen on all these instructional videos showing up all over the place. The Edmonton courthouse has the same thing. But I must say the courthouse video lady gives very practical advice. Advice that a live clerk of the court must repeat dozens of times a day. Most people (we hope) don't go to court that often. There's no way we could pick up all we need to know to keep ourselves straight, in the right place, and out of trouble in the short time we are there. I am grateful for the courthouse video lady. Though the courthouse is not so nearly as sleek and polished as that eyeglass store.

Should a public building pay as much attention to it's intake? What impression is it trying to build? Rather than prosperous, modern, and professional, what image is the intake office attempting to portray? Is it calm and efficiency? Or is it like the courthouse; authority and order? How does joe taxpayer feel about money being spent on a sleek and polished intake gallery?

The mental health clinic had patient artwork on the wall, which was very good. There was a great deal of random clutter, however, including the inevitable collection of ratty notices. Those notices, I swear, don't have nine lives. They are immortal. No-one ever reviews them or dares to take them down.