Sunday, January 30, 2011

Cost of Leisure

I read somewhere of a French gentleman, living on the beachfront in Normandy, who required his children and grandchildren to bring back a sack of seaweed for his garden each time they went to the beach. No pleasure without accompanying industry. It was not declared in the article that he compelled his friends to do likewise! It is possible that he ended up having few friends and distant issue as well. Over the years, I had taken a leaf from this man's book and endeavored where possible, never myself to take or do something to the right of me at point B, without doubling up by bringing something back to the left of me to point A. Work on the way down and work of a new nature on the way back; or leisure on the way down and leisure on the way back; or a combination of both! Trying to never waste a moment myself, either at play or work! Programming! Wasted moments and leisure may have much more in common than we realize! One of the things they have in common is that they are both defined by those who have little of either! Work and play may also have much in common for the fortunate who may not be able to differentiate between them! I wish I had composted the Frenchman's leaf in my earlier days rather than seen it as an opportunity. Now that I am older, walking in a room to forget what the Hell I am Hereafter is not Heaven! I don't want to leave it too long without a conclusion! Whether it is better in the mind's eye to engage in this sort of work cycle for a shorter working life, and then move to complete leisure for the balance, is moot! I can't judge. I suspect that a happy balance through one's life, and clear lines of definition, and a willingness not to impose your ideas on others, is a suitable choice. Living in the present, not the future, is hard. Reality says the future is nowhere! This balance applied now gives autonomy to you and everyone you love!

Friday, January 28, 2011


When little Joanie says, "No one ever taught me how to cook. I just learned by osmosis by always being around my mother. I learned unconsciously by absorption":I say, tell me more! Osmosis is simply described as the transfer across a semipermeable membrane, of water from a low solute concentration to a solution of high solute concentration to establish equilibrium. Small solute particles such as sodium and potassium ions will also transfer across the semipermeable membrane to equilibrium. All of us have learned much, as Joanie says, of what we know, by metaphorical osmosis. The transfer of information or water, by osmosis, from the less dense to the more dense will gradually produce equilibrial density without much energy expenditure. The presence of the semipermeable membrane and the degree of permeability adds selection to the information transfer. Because this is a passive transfer we often don't know the origin of much of the information we take for granted. Since however, as we need for life, to maintain an osmotic pressure gradient that maintains solutes in a non-equilibrium state as well, between the intracellular milieu and the extracellular milieu, energy is required to refine the passive osmotic process. The energy to maintain the osmotic gradient metaphor is defined as the energy of active learning! It is volitional and identifiable! Dorothy and Martha were two laboratory dogs I inherited from Johnny Watt when I took his place as a Teaching Fellow in Anatomy in 1959. Once a week on Tuesday and Thursday they would lie quietly for me for 6 hours as I cannulated the femoral artery and vein of each and injected various hypertension producing drugs into them, measuring the change in solute concentrations that hypertension could manipulate in the extracellular and intracellular spaces as established by the measurement of the inulin space. This activity prompted me to think in general of how the energy expended in manipulation or learning is analogous to the energy to establish osmotic pressure gradients that are so necessary to augment the process of passive osmosis! Energy produces work! The conversion of energy to work is always imperfect and the wasted energy is given off in the way of heat. Study is, directed work provided by energy, and is also imperfect and is accompanied by an energy loss. Intelligent study will render energy conversion to work, more efficient and lose less heat. Or if you are like me, a lousy wood chopper, you will convert that energy to highly inefficient work, and get bloody hot in the process. Entropy! We can't just depend on passive osmosis and permeability only, in our intellectual or physical world. Active learning harnesses osmosis with the addition of creating a selective osmotic gradient that requires energy, transformed to work plus heat, to maintain life and intelligent life!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Scum, skim, and fuzz

If you boiled your marmalade mix in sugar today for the requisite 45 minutes, you created scum on the surface margins of your product. Some call it fuzz and others froth. If you want your marmalade to be pristine without little gobs of scum you will skim your scum from the margins of the pot before pouring in the jars. For that I use a flat edged spoon. The scum or froth or fuzz is good to eat. I saved my scum in a little bowl for immediate eating. My mother always allowed us boys to eat all the scum from her preserves on bread and butter. It may be that the particular amongst us would turn up their nose at scum. They might say that it was infradig to eat scum. I am sure however that the same person probably relishes the froth on their cappuccino and the other epicurean concoctions available in the 5 dollar cardboard cupfuls! I skimmed my scum today and have tried it on 2 slices of whole wheat toast. My marmalade is sealing and snapping as I write. Why we have ever allowed these pejorative terms to describe a delicious side, end product of the jam business that has all the attributes of goodness without the prettiness of the retail product I do not know. Beauty trumps flavor in the real world! Enjoy your cappuccino fuzz. Skim the fuzz off with your spoon before drinking or you'll have fuzzy lips and a white mustache!

Exposure and anonymity

At a certain stage of life there is less and less time available" to have a kick at the cat". If you have something to do, you had better do it while you still have a guarantee of your faculties, or at least, as you believe they are still present! If you have something to say, or if you believe you have something to say, the internet affords a medium that allows anonymity. There is a certain freedom in this as you can dip your toe in the water and test the temperature without jumping into the lake and finding it's too frosty to swim. If you are a cowardly lion or a tin man or a scarecrow you will have to find an expert behind a screen who will give you a green light to publish! If you come with a proposed book that is not a book but a compilation of anecdote,history , reverence, irreverence,garden variety humor and recycled wisdom you may know that most will say there is no coherence to this material! Incoherence is representative of the human condition. If you believe you are coherent it is proof positive that you are not. We really never have a theme if we are truly a holistic human being.If you write of your realities or your fantasies you are still writing your autobiography. All writing is revelatory! To put a name to your exposition is fraught with the danger of "going to jump in the lake". Fear of exposure is only present with the first time you take your clothes off and go naked. After that it becomes easier as you realize there is less to lose that you thought. Years ago when my brother Ken got married, I hosted a stag at our home with his friends. My brother was a school teacher and I did not know his friends. The stag turned out to be sagging quite badly by mid-party and was very boring. I needed an idea! My son Robert who was 13 was at the stag and we had a large swimming pool off our living room. I took a chance,discarded fear, and announced we would have a water ball game and pick up teams. Thereupon in the living room I took off all my clothes in front of these strangers to jump in the pool. To my relief so did my 13 year old and my brother and then everyone did the same. The party no longer sagged. We had a hell of a good time. I took a gamble. The outcome could have been dreadful! I now shudder to think of it. If my life is sagging, I want to take a chance!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Orange Marmalade

It's mid-January on Lotus Island and I hustled to the supermarket to get the first of the Seville oranges that have just arrived. They are not a hot ticket item anymore so they often languish in the bin at the store and dry out. We hardy few who look forward to our bitter marmalade preservation every year mark the calendar at this new beginning. The Seville oranges here come from boulevard trees in Mesa Arizona, I am given to understand. Mary, Queen of Scots would have had her oranges shipped from Spain. My patient years ago, who was a distant Chivers relative gave me the three day recipe which I have faithfully followed. Since some of the people I care for do not care for marmalade with large peel pieces, I have dispensed with tradition and use the cuisinart to chop the peel more finely. One does what one has to. My oranges today are clean and plump. Sevilles are amongst the more ugly of the orange varieties so don't be dissuaded by their lack of beauty! Don't take offence at the bitterness of the fruit. Ugly and bitter will transform into sublime in the hands of the lover. Gentle patience is all that is necessary! Here is the recipe. I make a double batch.

Day 1, 8 large Seville oranges, 2 lemons. Halve these and remove the fruit. Leave the pith on the skin. Place the fruit in a muslin bag. Chop up the orange and lemon peel with the pith. Place all the material in a large container. Make sure your muslin bag doesn't leak or you'll have seeds in your marmalade. Add ten cups of water and soak everything overnight.

Day 2, Boil contents for 45 minutes. Let cool and rest for balance of the day.

Day 3, Take out the muslin bag and squeeze well. Add 1 and 1 quarter cups of sugar to each cup of your product. Boil for 45 minutes from the time of rapid boiling. Simmer longer if the marmalade does not jell well when dripping off the spoon. Fill jars
and seal when hot, in jars oven heated at 275 degrees.

The quality of the jelling in my opinion comes from the thickness of the pith. The marmalade darkens over the year but quality remains. No pectin needed: no citrate compounds: no treacle! Bon appetite!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Canoe River BC

In November 1950 a troop train transporting Canadian Army troops for embarkation to Korea was in a collision with a passenger Continental eastbound. 21 people died in that collision, mostly troops of No.1 Royal Canadian Horse Artillery from Shilo, Manitoba and four railway employees. The collision occurred at Canoe River BC in the Rocky Mountains. The army and railway eventually charged a 22 year old telegrapher with manslaughter on the alleged basis of failure to transmit accurate orders. I remember the crisis in our family at that time because my dad had copied orders on that same troop train earlier the day before and it was not clear at that time where the fault lay! Remember at that time orders were telegraph orders. They were transmitted to the engineer on a paper slip attached to a hoop from the station as the train passed through, slowing down at the yellow light which indicated new orders, for which meet, and which siding to take. There was always the potential for disaster! The dispatcher in Winnipeg phoned my dad and said to seal his copy of the order for safe keeping. He was subject to immediate assessment by the railway inspectors. To the relief of all of us my dad's orders were alright! This tragedy was subject to a trial in BC and John G Diefenbaker assumed the defense of Jack Atherton, the young telegrapher,gratis, at the request of Mr.Diefenbaker's dying wife. Mr. Diefenbaker paid 1500 dollars in order to become a member of the BC bar for this occasion, and went through the bar examination where it was said the only question asked was to define a tort. John Diefenbaker succeeded in defense of the client whom he portrayed as a scapegoat for the prosecution. The death of so many was an incredible tragedy but he succeeded in laying the fault on the systems rather than the employee! In our family, at that time and after he became Prime Minister, no one could be considered greater than the man who served the sort of persons like us, the ordinary Canadians. When Mr. Diefenbaker died the people in our towns along the main line lined up for hours to salute the passenger funeral train as it passed by. The common touch is what distinguished him, and the things we valued!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Unnatural Act

I was removing, with difficulty, a string of outside Christmas lights from the quince tree! Some of the smaller branches were traumatized as the electrical wires clung to them and the freezing cold had rendered the branches rather brittle. As I was working away on the stepladder a small voice said, "You've made me look like a tart!" Then the voice said, "you've spent a long time yapping about Mother Nature, and how organic you are, and you even quoted a poem about me, and now you have made me into a freak!" I must say I was taken aback by this assertion as I hadn't meant any disrespect! I didn't think it was unseemly to string lights on living bones but now I realize it is an unnatural act and has nothing to do with Christmas either! "I guess you are right that I am a hypocrite", I said," but it was out of ignorance rather than intent." "No way", she said ,"You have made such heavy weather of your connection to the vegetable world and apparently worshipped the dialogue between us. It gives us the suspicion now, that you are a person who talks a good game but really has little real understanding or respectfulness of living bones. Rather than your feeble attempt to illuminate me, try to illuminate yourself!" Well, you can readily see that I felt pretty crushed, particularly since she has provided faithfully every year, beautiful quince for jellies and preserves, a home for the Western Flycatchers every year that grace our home, and she never develops powdery mildew. She is sweet! They have obviously discussed the matter in the orchard and I am properly reprimanded. I have assured her that I will not repeat any unnatural acts in the future and will scale down my rhetoric, beating my breast about how connected I am, when they really know better!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Extra Spoon

We had the usual collection of matching everyday tableware, spoons, knives, and forks, in our family when the children were growing up in Lotus City. In addition, there was a spoon that was not of quite the same configuration as the other teaspoons. It was less oblong and a little more square! It lived in the same tray with the regular teaspoons. Trivial as it may seem, this extra spoon became 'a cause celebre' in our family that generated at times, heated discussions with respect to ownership. The children vied to do the table setting to acquire the experience of possession, albeit transient, of the extra spoon. That gave some accrued benefit to us but at the cost of further debate. It's hard to know where it all started, but clearly once one person wanted it, it became a source of minor veneration. Rational folks, even in the pediatric age group may have recognized the matter as one without merit. Not so our offspring. Matters of the heart and issues of entitlement can raise the stakes! Reason goes out the window. We want something that others do not, or can not have, even though we lust after the acceptance of the group. Something that sets us apart, but not too much! 30 or so years later, and living on Lotus Island I have discovered for some time that we have a different newer extra spoon in a different set of matched tableware. It is not exactly like the extra spoon of yesteryear but it is clearly an outlier. It is of no interest to my grandchildren , nor was it a few years back when they were younger. It has no intrinsic value! It is only of value as most material things are, if someone else wants it too. It sits in the tray with the other teaspoons and I occasionally speak to it, to remind it how indifferent we all are to it. Not, "Deja vu all over again!"