Monday, November 30, 2009

The archive committee

I went to the Medical Archive Committee the other day. We meet a couple of times a year. The committee is comprised of the old and the very old. We have a nice lunch supplied by the Lotus City Medical Association and discuss historical matters. Interest in history seems confined, at the moment, to those of us who are history. Our main man, Stewart, has devoted much of his time to what is now, finally, a National Historic Site. This is the first free standing operating room in the Pacific Northwest, built in 1896. That is, all the area north of San Francisco. This little, 24 foot octagonal building, was approved for use, once built, by Lord Lister when he visited Lotus City and it was supplied with a carbolic acid gas spray machine of Lister's design. The significance of free standing was the separation from the hospital wards which fitted with the then, new concept, of germ avoidance. Despite the significance of such a site it is difficult to generate much interest in younger physicians who are dealing with today's realities, and impossible to interest the hospital bureaucrats for whom the bottom line is king. This small building now sits in a site surrounded by a massively reconstructed hospital and is a lttle treasure that needs restoration and preservation.What we require is dynamic younger physicians, or individuals with more Mojo than Elderly Eclectic Gentlemen can muster, to raise money ! Preservation of our history,whether it may be Medicine or any other endeavor, helps us to see ourselves as part of a long chronological line of participants in a Way of Life, in continuity with our past and our future.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Pee on your compost

My friend Doug told me years ago that his prospective in- laws, who had never met his parents, came to visit them unexpectedly. The old boy was out, said to be turning the compost pile at the time, and the enthusiastic mother-in-law to be, volunteered to get him and rounded the house only to catch him taking a pee on his compost pile. Since he was an Englishman, he raised his hat to her. What else could he do? I was relating this story to my family ,as I thought it was funny and the pianist said to me, "You've never done that have you? " She looked at me through querulous eyes. "No" I said. My daughter said, "Yes he does. I've seen him stand and pee on the compost". You can rarely get away with anything in a family! So, I told this whole story to my friend Ez'. I excused our behaviour on the fact that both Doug's father and I lived in an area of Lotus City that was private and secluded. Ez' lived in a wealthy enclave of Lotus City that was less secluded . I said, "You, on the other hand couldn't get away with it because your properties are more open. Your neighbors would see you". "Yes", he said, "that may be true, but my neighbors have too much "je ne sais quoi " to say so. Touche!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Crum jelly

We have a forty foot plum tree that is an escape from somewhere,( Prunus cerasifera) . It is a red leaf plum that produces an abundance of small, one inch, somewhat sour red plums in such an abundance that the birds cannot keep up to them. I probably collect fifty pounds of plums and boil them down for the rich red juice of superior color. There is , however, little or no pectin in these plums . We, the pianist and I, also have a mature Dolgo crabapple (Malus domestica) , that we also collect a great many crimson crabs from and boil down as well for juice of a similar rich color. I have been doing this for decades. The crabs have lots of pectin and when the two juices are combined for jelly making, a very superior, piquant jelly emerges. This is Crum jelly and the family favorite for bread and for meat. I hang the boiled fruit in the basement under the rafters in big cheese cloth bags which I make from small bolts. The boiled mash drips overnight . The scene may appear grotesque to some, in the semidark. Years ago, my little daughter came screaming upstairs because, when she looked in the semidark basement, her elder brother told her we had butchered and hung the dog, our white Samoyede, and it was dripping blood. Forgiveness sometimes needs a long reach!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Church Bazaar

This morning the pianist and I are taking our culinary efforts to our church bazaar. The convenor is an exacting taskmaster and the purchasers are certainly of a highly discerning nature when it comes to the culinary arts. I have tasted a sample of the pianists product, which is really good. They are brown sugar meringues, coating walnuts and pecans, and a flat cake for slicing, loaded with flaked pecans. Delicious! However, my product is my Dolgo crabapple jelly. I don't use pectin and my jelly is in jars so I can't sample it. It has good color. The pressure is on me. It usually is just for the family so it doesn't matter if it is hard jelled or lightly jelled but now that I'm into the quasi commercial racket, it has to be just right! I suppose it is pride so I hope it doesn't " goeth before a fall ".Since it's been stored for a short while, I washed any sticky bits off the lip sides and polished the brassy lids for presentation purposes so, done my best. I carefully labeled the jars with my best printing which does not measure up to the pianist's hand. I appear to be the only male providing his effort in the food division! I seem to be the only member of the food division with primitive printing on my labels! So what! I love food. I could eat bread and jelly slathered with butter " from now, 'til the cows come home ". Comfort food!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Balance or Focus

I was privileged several years ago to be part of an interview team for applicants to medical school in a major Canadian university. These were applicants that had already traversed the long list, where marks were the consideration, and our job was to interview secondarily for character. The interviews were searching and in depth. The candidates were universally outstanding scholars.I found it awe inspiring and was mighty glad I was so long in the tooth. I could have never competed in that group.Most had higher degrees and long resumes with focused science backgrounds, and a history of community and national service activity. All interviewees were on an equal footing since we did not know the marks they had obtained in their previous life. All we knew is that they all had exceeded the high threshold marks agreed upon. Much of the information we were provided, orally and written, described personal accomplishment. What was intriguing to me was the singular focus on science, and social contributions. There was not one applicant I met that talked about or responded to questions concerning a wide avocation of literature and history and culture, for it's own sake. I think we have made it so competitive and forced such a requisite focus on utility, that somewhere along the line, balance is sacrificed. I really have no solution, given the edge necessary to succeed, but I hope there develops an awareness, at some point in the career, to broaden those magnificent brains.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Wet Coast

This is monsoon season on the wet coast in the Salish Sea. We have had a solid week of heavy rain and wind and another week to come of the same. Lotus lsland is soaked through and through and all the water can only gain the surface of the full sponge. The tides are high during the day so with a southeast wind and a flood tide, the waves are at least brisk, against the rock wall. All decked out in raingear I look like Captain Ahab on a bad day. Living on the seashore is a weather experience. One is always aware of its presence. Luckily when we had our builder construct the house he made sure the underground drainage piping was placed in critical lies to carry the water away from the foundations. They need to be checked and cleared from time to time to prevent silting up. Water does not flow up hill. This wet weather is a boon for the Rhododendrons and the Western Red Cedars. They had been stressed by the long hot and dry summer, particularly the Cedars which showed a lot of leaf death. We are experiencing El Nino ( the Boy), arriving with the warm, wet, windy weather of the early Christmas season. Some call it by it's secular name, the Pineapple Express. It's as wet as wet with any name. Just tonight the Hydro truck is in front of the house chainsawing a tree trunk off the road and our power has been out all last night. In a world that is frequently suffering for lack of water, most, if not all of the time, we should be thankful for large mercies and minor inconvenience.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Goodbye ain't Au Revoir

The pianist and I are selling our home we have lived in for 32 years, since, it is now too much for us to look after! We want to turn the page and start afresh in our mid 70's. Still, one's decisions in these matters are always conflicted with the losses that we will experience despite the pragmatic and sensible approach. It is always a difficult matter when one ages, to choose to march to the tune of sense, or sensibility! Once the page is turned we cannot go back. Whether it is "stuff" that makes one hesitate or, "stuff that really represents memories", I'm not sure? Once sold, all control is relinquished to the new owner! " Will he cut down my sweet bay tree ( Laurus nobilis) I have nourished over 20 years?" " Could I put a codicil in the sales agreement that it stay?" The real estate agent would have "a hairy" ! "Would they tear the house apart and change it's character totally, revise the studio and greenhouse?" " Would they prize the same things we do? " Of course they will change things to their own style and so they should. We said to one another a year ago "Are we ready to do this?" and agreed we were. Over time, once the loss of anything valued may be imminent , reappraisal occurs, since the putative event now becomes more real. " Maybe we can manage if we can't get our price." " It's not as much work as we thought. " " Now that we have it in show condition it's so nice." I have many friends that have waited too long and become too old to turn the page effectively. Their properties have deteriorated badly and they cannot cope with the move and the losses. I understand how hard all this is. It comes down to doing the right thing at the right time and the only matter of real importance in life is relationships, not "stuff". Memories will continue; after all they are memories!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Failed Handyman

I changed three light bulbs in our spotlights yesterday.Since retirement I have convinced myself that I have become a bit of a handyman. Now that is truly pathetic, that a man who can change a light bulb considers himself to have become handy ! I have many colleagues all of whom have been handymen of note. They built cottages, repaired plumbing and electrical faults, fitted windows and built furniture. I lacked all these capabilities and during my working career, when presented with a handyman problem, I would suggest we call "a man" to fix it. The pianist, early in our marriage, gave me an encyclopedia of home repairs which I confess I never read. My eldest daughter is handy in spades. She can build and repair anything from buildings to tractors to barns. She is a farmer and so does not need help at every turn. I asked her where she learned all this and she said she just read a book if she needed to. Much of this skill is acquired by thoughtful planning and self confidence. I think I never ventured forth in the handyman world for fear I would elicit scorn on the part of my handy friends and others of a naturally talented bent. Better do nothing than display my feeble talents. Fear of failure! Though I was of reasonable competence at work, and could grow a good garden, my skill at domestic matters ended at that juncture. For carpentry with inert materials, my credo seemed to be, " measure to cut and hammer to fit ". I consoled myself that the shoemaker should stick to his last.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


When I was five years old and living a life of crime, an alchemy occurred and I went from sounding brass to gold. C G Jung, the alchemist of the mind, would have fully understood. I have some early memories of this period but my mother filled in the gaps over the many years we comported ourselves together! I sojourned briefly in Davidson, Saskatchewan with my mother and infant brother in 1939 and stole beer bottles , eggs and chickens from a man who accosted my mother about this. I vaguely remember enjoying myself with my friend, and our activities. My mother was on her own at that time and was horrified because the man had suggested reform school as a cure. She told me up until then I had been a good little boy. Now Borstal bound at five! She told me, when I was sent to the attic room by myself, she spanked me everytime she thought about it, repeatedly, over the next day or so. Fear was rampant and she was alone and newly in town. I remember standing in that attic room at sundown by myself. I can still see the sepia like quiet atmosphere of the room and feel the complete sense of abandonment. The spankings were nothing; the sense that my mother would be lost to me was everything. I truly believed her admonition that the man would bind me over. That must have led to the alchemy, an epiphany of childhood. Things only change when they get bad enough! My behavior became exemplary. I can't say I didn't lapse back into brass from time to time in my life, but I never forgot the sense of abandonment that straightened me around. I wonder if they still remember me in Davidson?

Saturday, November 14, 2009


The spate of popular apocalyptic writing ,movies and articles these days, would amuse that sage of yesteryear, Alfred E. Neuman. I do not claim to be free of worries, but hopefully most of them are rational. Certainly the seriousness with which the students of pessimism order their life and advise everyone else to do the same is perpetuated by this overburden of fear. It is the "spirit of the age". Of the apocalyptic movies my preference is Waterworld and the Mad Max series all of which clearly defined themselves as outrageous entertainment, rather than prophetic. What a serious bunch! How a secular world could steal from Revelations, the most cognitively strained part of the Bible, without admitting it, yet reject almost all of the sensible bits of the rest, is a reflection of the unreasonable fear that surrounds us. No one I know would advocate literalism in interpreting scripture, but it does give some good general advice. As Alfred E. Neuman says "What, me worry? " In the darkest days of the world the most hardy of the survivalists, at least for a time in the case of some, retained a sense of humor along with a tenuous hope and some energy. They had no guarantees! Think of Viktor Frankl ! Think of Corrie ten Boom !Think of Nelson Mandela ! Think of Roberto Begnini ! Then think of Alfred E. Neuman and relax. The world will unfold as it will, Governments notwithstanding! When I think of someone saying "I'm from the government and I'm here to help you", I think of "The Ministry of Silly Walking".

Friday, November 13, 2009

Pecking order

In my late adolescent and early teenage years we moved frequently from small town to small town since my father bid in a succession of railway jobs to gradually increase his income. Each time we moved, after a few weeks settling in, it was customary for a boy of roughly my age to wrestle (pronounced rassle) with me to establish where, in the pecking order of boys, I fitted. It had something of a ritual and was an invariable consequence of each move. It was never angry and once over was not repeated. I accepted where I was in the hierarchical structure and, as a result, adapted relatively easily . This establishment of hierachical placement , though primitive in adolescent boys, is widely applicable in societies structures generally. If I join the golf club or the faculty club in Lotus City, there is a "hydrant sniffing activity" that both preceeds and follows admission. Some free spirits may have a problem being sniffed out, but in fact the Free Spirit club will also perform it's own due diligence and classify its newly arrived members as it will. Much of this is surreptitious in the adult world. If, however, you have never seen the enactment of the "wounded chicken syndrome" in the chicken coop, you will be thunderstruck at the barbarity of the attack on the vulnerable. This is a pecking order in spades. Civilization, for what it's worth, has softened the pecking order. The "wounded chicken syndrome" is still around, not so overtly violent, but let's not kid ourselves! I happens less! Thank God for small mercies.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Low threshold cryers

When I would leave home to go to university,after holidays or summer, my father would cry. It used to embarrass me because it didn't seem manly at that time. I certainly didn't cry at that time. My father would also bawl every Christmas day that I can remember, ostensibly because his mother's funeral was on December 25, 1932. Not much later in life, I started to cry. Sometimes it was maudlin I am ashamed to admit. A sad, or happy movie with a poignant ending, an endearing embrace, bagpipes, Amazing Grace or other sweet sad songs. I have to take Kleenex to weddings and funerals. I have three brothers and two of us are cryers! We were never able to do a eulogy for our parents because we bawled our heads off and choked up. My other two brothers were at least as loving, but didn't cry , so were useful in all circumstances ,whereas we were useless. The pianist and I have three children. The youngest displays my crying capacity. If we go to a movie there is always something to at least sniffle about. What is this curious dichotomy ? In the practise of medicine, I encountered the saddest of events and crises in people's lives but my effectiveness never allowed even a scintilla of tear pass my lids. My crying daughter is a nurse and experiences the same events in her work, crises and sad events. She doesn't cry at work. I guess, in our jobs , the role we play, accepts the nature of the work without qualm. We wouldn't be useful otherwise. It seems however that the response that some of us have inherited, in our case from my father, allows us to wring out the feelings when it is safe to do so. There is something comforting about tearjerking activity. I don't get embarrassed anymore.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Give and Take

Convention usually says we may adopt much of ourselves after our parents, but the reverse is also true. Much of our parent we may struggle to avoid copying, often with less success that we might have hoped. Much I have learned in my adult life, I have learned from my mature children as they accepted the inevitability of the template we provided and struggled and succeeded, or failed, to separate from it. I have learned as much observing the arrows as they have from the bow.As I have watched our grandchildren move from under the shadow of their parents, I see the repeated sequence again. What goes around comes around! The blessing of children is, in time, both give and take but always a blessing! Psalm 127, which we sang today and which has occasioned this post, as Remembrance day approaches,the psalmist sings,
Children are a heritage from the Holy One
the fruit of the womb,a gift from God.
Children born in one's youth
are like arrows in a warrior's hands

Happy are those
who fill their quivers with them;
they shall not be shamed
when they talk to enemies in the gate

Saturday, November 7, 2009


When the pianist and I were first married in 1957 we made our nest in what was then Vancouver, now Olympic City. The pianist was developing a culinary style that has served her for many years. Food was a major issue for my inlaws since my father-in-law was a wholesale grocer of note and his wife a discriminating cook and shopper. One day, shortly after settling in, I asked my newly wed if she would cook fried bologna for supper. She had never experienced such a request or even considered it before, but she gave it a try and it made her nauseated. I ate it alone that night.It was nothing like I expected. It was everything like I should have expected. Much earlier, when I was a youngster, I recall a picture in a magazine of the King brothers. They were Hollywood B movie producers and the photo showed them eating chunks of what I remembered as raw bologna from a big bologna tube and drinking ginger ale. That image captured my attention as a child, mentally labeled as, "what famous people eat!" I must have retained that critical piece of knowledge in my subconscious soft wear; retained it up to my early marriage period, when it surfaced. It must have always been 'de rigueur' in my mind storage, since it looked like the King Brothers were enjoying their feast. It looked better to me as a youngster, than macaroni and cheese and better than canned spaghetti in tomato sauce. I may have thought It was a dish fit for a King. I don't think that you can even buy a big tube of bologna now, as if anyone would really want to. I have never since that culinary fiasco, lusted after bologna. The pianist would ignore me if I did! Postscript. (The picture I saw was in Life Magazine, Nov 22, 1948, and lo and behold, it's salami, not bologna!) A life long illusion shattered!

Friday, November 6, 2009


My mentor was reading from "Gargantua" yesterday in our little literature group on Lotus island. Rabelais ( b. 1483 d. 1553) was an Eminent Elderly Eclectic Gentleman ,lawyer, cleric, physician and author. The point Rabelais addressed was the popular view, wrongly attributing the great movements in history to leadership individuals. Rabelais asserted that populations began movements at a critical time for change, and that the leadership arises as a result of the movement. I believe such a role is, as a surfrider catching the right wave, waiting on his board, seeing the wave develop out at sea, anticipating and picking it up at just the right time, standing and steering the board through the violence of the wave, avoiding getting ahead of the wave and taking a tumble. All waves eventually come to an end on the shore. All wave movements end, though they add to the changes on the shore, some more than others. Those who manage to ride the wave will end with it. When we think of Stalin, Churchill, Hitler, JF Kennedy, both the good and the bad, they caught a wave at a critical time of change and managed to stay afloat for extended periods for better or worse. Whether Devil or Messiah, we probably, as Rabelais suggested, attribute too much to the individual and not enough to the movement of change, however subtle in the first instance. Rabelais was not always rabelaisian in his writing! He speaks for today as well as yesterday! Nothing changes! Everything changes!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

toilet reading material

The criteria for useful material in this arena requires short, interesting and light reading! As we age, the material can be of somewhat more length, though care should be taken that your leg doesn't go to sleep. Usually on a visit to the washroom I snatch whatever I spy en route lying on the chair or table for perusal. I was somewhat taken with my random selection today, following two earlier visits where no literature was found at hand. First, "Collapse" by Jared Diamond, "How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed", and then the magazine, "Aeroplan, Arrival" fall winter, 09. What a contrast ! "Arrival" promises a life of exotic travel, fine dining and bauble-mania, if you spend ,spend, spend, and use your points to advantage. "Collapse" promises disaster after disaster with societies living a life of waste and wanton disregard of the consequences of overuse by individuals. What an edgy world we live in! Clearly, I did not have time to do justice to the reading material in my stay in the washroom but I got the idea. Picking our way through a pockmarked world littered with minefields of our own making, or striding briskly through a world of enchanting fantasia, with not a shred of misgiving. Certainly in a free society such as ours we are free to choose our own poison, within limits. I wonder sometimes whether greed and voluptuary activity, or paranoia and envirophobia are taking hold, or are the ordinary people still in charge. I hope so! The truth of most matters lie somewhere in the middle. It's just less interesting and harder to sell. The bathroom remains a good place to think things through.

winter moon

The full moon is small and silver tonight! It looks like a winter moon and appears to be moving rapidly through the grey drifting cloud in the blackness. It seems early for a winter moon. The tide has been out at night here on Lotus island for the past month, so it has not been my inclination to dig clams. I like to make clam chowder with tomato sauce and lots of chunky vegetables. We have abundant little neck and butter clams . The pianist is not keen on clams, so I do it for me. I'm waiting for daytime low tides as it is difficult digging under a torch. The moon is too small to cast a good light. Besides that, it's cold out on the beach in the dark. The garden still has to be fully put to bed and tucked in. Dahlia bulbs are put to sleep under straw and covered with an anchored down tarpaulin. Then, November really kicks in with dark nights, wind, low tide, clam chowder, fireplace, and pale silver winter moon riding the dark clouds. You have to take November by the neck and shake it to get rid of the doldrums. Probably the brisk winter winds drive out the doldrums! There is nothing like activity, wind or human energy to banish them. Beautiful summer days are easier. Lovely fall weather is exhilarating. I need to work at November to make it palatable.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Anglican Communion

The safest way to administer communion in these days of Swine flu is with a minimal touch technique. Where both elements are insisted on, the use of the wafer, intincted 50 percent of its circumference, and placed directly on the tongue, holding the dry side without touching the tongue, while not 'no touch', is minimal touch . Both administrants would move together to each communicant. As a physician, I assert there is no safety in wiping the chalice lip and less safety in the use of dipping crumbly bread. The restriction of administrants to," fewer the better", with scrupulous use of hand sanition, goes without saying! Having said this, I can hear it all now from the other side of the pew and, I sympathize with the Rectors and Bishops who would meet with fury if it were imposed! We are not talking about someone saying " I will risk the chance of Swine flu for my Tradition" . We are talking about the real possibility of someone with a subclinical flu, risking being a carrier to their Christian colleagues. This may be a misguided variety of "beggar thy neighbor ". I guess I know that this proposal will not happen ,but I feel at least I have said my piece, which is incumbent upon me to do, since my role is both a people's warden and a fossilized physician. It's just a matter of generosity toward others!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The crack in everything

Leonard Cohen says, "That's how the light gets in" . He also says" Only drowning men can see Him". I can't say exactly why but I never gained any spiritual insight myself when things were going swimmingly for me. Drowning is something that may happen when your ideas are all wet! My exterior at one time, was as smooth as a snooker ball. It took a while but I learned well how to slide smoothly by and get to the pocket. Adversity caromed off me. It sure was comfortable! Not!!! Inside I did have a growing unease that things weren't perfectly right. Then the crack in the surface starts to let the light in and your life begins to get progressively more and more uncomfortable . There is a crack in the wall ! Then you find out there is a crack in everything! Then you find out slowly and haltingly that that's how the light gets in. The difficulty with insight is, it always preceeds action! The minute you change in response to the insight, by action, further insight appears, and you are in domino effect that you cannot fully control. Let go! Go downstream like the fingerling you are. It's only the old salmon that swims upstream, discharges its milt and becomes eagle food. The flashlight shines only as far as the next step. If you can't make the journey, it's best not to start. Leonard's, Book of Mercy, is truly for him a creative stations of the Star of David. The pianist pointed out to me it was copyright in 1984. He has done a lot of living since then. May he continue to do so!