Sunday, July 31, 2011

Summer days outdoors

One of the things I love about summer is that so much of my time is spent outdoors. I’m not a huge fan of the heat, and those sweltering humid days I could definitely live without, but I do love how much of our days are spent outside the confines of four walls.

Today we spent most of the morning at a park celebrating the second birthday of one of Miya’s little friends. There was a great splash pad that the kids ran around in, lots of trees and open space. The party invite had suggested that in lieu of a bought present, guests offer the birthday girl a little rock. Miya is great fan of collecting rocks and spent quite some time mulling over the perfect one to give her little friend.

In early evening we headed to a friend’s house for a lovely backyard bbq. Well, even though the food was cooked on the bbq it was much more than the type of bbq we usually host. Our bbqs tend to be sort of haphazard get-togethers at which various things get thrown on the grill, naked children pee in paddling pools and foods are consumed at random times, often with fingers.

At this dinner party, we actually sat along a long table under a little tent, ate delicious salad, roasted eggplant, salmon and beef off real plates with real cutlery. It was absolutely lovely and reminded me of outdoor meals in Europe and of how delightful it is to eat in the open air.

Even our cats have become outdoor pets and are loving the change. Ever since the latest peeing disasters, both cats now spend as much time as they like outdoors. Our house smells better for it, and the cats are happy and contentedly tired.

It’s a nice kind of tired you get at the end of a day outside – much different from that sort of headachy, stiff tired that comes from a day spent hunched over a computer. After a day spent outdoors I feel a perfect mix of relaxed, rested and sleepy.

I am outdoors year round, but the effortlessness and ease of it during the summer is wonderful.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Breast Milk Baby

A new doll that’s coming to North America is getting a lot of negative buzz. And while I admit that the doll kind of weirds me out and I won’t be lining up to buy it for my daughter, I think the controversy over it is just as disturbing.

The doll is called “Breast Milk Baby” and, as the name suggests, it’s designed to mimic breastfeeding. Little kids playing with this doll can put on a halter top with two appliques symbolizing breasts. When the doll’s mouth is brought to the appliques, it wiggles and makes a sucking sound. Afterward, the doll cries until it is burped.

The Spanish-manufactured doll has been successfully selling in Europe for several years, but has only just debuted at a recent Los Vegas toy fair. It is supposedly meant to encourage parenting skills in young children.

The doll comes in six different combinations of race and gender – and with the requisite halter top. Apparently there are flowers for girl dolls, stars for boy dolls. What’s up with that?? A woman’s nipples do not change depending on the sex of the child she is nursing!

So while I’m all for breastfeeding and think it’s more natural to have little kids pretending to breastfeed their dolls than to give them little bottles, I do think this doll is strange. But that’s more my beef with the over-commercialization of things and the manufacturing of toys so as to prescribe the ways in which they should be played with.

But Fox News host Bill O’Reilly has declared the doll inappropriate for children and that it forces them to grow up too quickly. Obviously he has not seen toddlers imitating their parents in housecleaning, lawn mowing, dish washing and yes, caring for babies. Imitating adults is what little kids do – albeit usually with more imagination and less gimmicks.

Some critics are saying it sexualizes little girls, while others that they aren’t ready to think of their bodies as nurturing. The issues seem to be much more about the fake breasts than about the idea of a baby breastfeeding. Shameful to think we’d teach children that breasts are utilitarian and not just objects of entertainment.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Bike + thunderstorm

I experienced something new tonight – and it’s not often that I get to have a truly first-time experience these days – I biked home in the pouring rain.

I was out for dinner with a friend tonight. Before deciding to bike to meet her, I’d asked my husband if rain was forecasted. I didn’t check the forecast myself, but trusted him since he consults the radar and satellites with religious devotion. He told me the forecast was clear. So off I went with neither umbrella nor jacket.
Toward the end of our dinner I noticed a few drops on the ground. But I figured it to be a cloud burst that would blow over – and besides, it was only about a 7-minute bike ride to get back home.

Well, just as I hopped on my bike, the clouds burst. Lightning flashed and thunder rolled. The rain came in sheets that I could see crossing the street (I was almost tempted to swerve). In the short time it took me to get home, I was soaked through.
It was teeth-chattering cold, but oddly fascinating as well. I don’t have a light on my bike, so the bike path was a ribbon of blackness, with puddles faintly gleaming in the light of street lamps. Trees bent heavy with the rain leaned over me, weighed down so low that several times I had to duck to pass beneath them.

The rain was driving so hard it was almost blinding –and yet given how dark it was, that almost didn’t matter. And the feeling of getting soaked by cold, pounding rain was invigorating. But the worst was when I had to wait at the lights to cross the street only a block and a half from home. That was when I felt the coldest – standing still and being pelted by sheets of rain.

I nearly fell on the driveway as I rushed the dismount and spilled out onto the wet pavement. I didn’t bother negotiating my way to the garage, just pushed my bike into the sun porch, kicked off my soaking shoes and went for a towel.
I’m mostly dry now and headed to bed. Somehow not sleepy though.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

I heart public libraries

Today on CBC’s noontime call-in show, Ontario Today, the topic was public libraries since the mayor of Toronto is proposing closing some branches and reducing hours and programming in others in an attempt to compensate for an estimated $744-million shortfall. Even Margaret Atwood has weighed in on the controversy, urging people to sign an on-line petition against cutbacks.

The call-in show was asking if and how people use their libraries. The guests on hand talked up the services libraries offer – like free downloads, e-books, internet, etc. In fact they seemed to be doing their best to not talk about books – as if ‘books’ is the old image that the library is trying to break with. Chat up wine tastings and citizenship ceremonies. Make the libraries sound cool. The underlying message was that books are just not hip enough to draw the public in.

As a book lover, I found this all a bit sad. And let me add that when I say I love books, I love print books. I love the paper and covers. I like holding a book, feeling the weight of it. (V however keeps complaining that he should be reading the latest George R.R. Martin release on an e-book since he’s nearly dropped the 1,000+ page hardcover book on his face a couple times when reading late at night.)

I think libraries should embrace their bookness. Sure, it’s great to offer internet and making your own baby food classes, but libraries are essentially about printed books. Stats even show that the borrowing of e-titles represents only 0.8% of overall circulation.

I know I’m a bit archaic when it comes to these matters, given that I’m a fan of such things as printed books and old-fashioned letters, but now that I have a young reader at home, I’ve become even more of a library fan. A trip to the library is a special outing, complete with snacks, coloring, puzzling… and of course, the choice of new books to take home. Thanks to the children’s section of our library I have become somewhat of an expert on penguins, pikas and construction trucks.

So yes, I’m all for finding ways to support public libraries.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Crime rates steadily falling

The next time you hear a politician claiming that the reason we need to invest billions of dollars into building more prisons and warehousing more people within them, please bear in mind a recent report from Statistics Canada which shows that crime rates continued their long-term downward trend in 2010.

Crime rates have been falling steadily for the past 20 years. The majority of the decline last year was in property crimes like break-ins and car theft. Decreases were also reported in many offences such as homicide and serious assault. The index measuring the severity of crime also fell by 6% to its lowest point since 1998 when the index was first available.

Our national rate of homicide is 1.62 per 100,000. While it’s very hard to make international comparisons about homicide due to variances in reporting, categorizing, etc. as a rough point of comparison I would like to point out that homicide rates, according to Wikipedia, in some other countries of the world: Honduras, 77; El Salvador, 70; Colombia, 32; Brazil, 25; Mexico, 18; America, 5.

Some types of crime did increase last year, such as child pornography, sexual assault, criminal harassment and drug offences (about half of which were for pot possession). However, most crimes are non-violent (4 out of 5 offences). And almost 2/3 non-violent offences are minor (theft under $5,000, mischief and break-ins).

Also contrary to the fear rhetoric of politicians, Toronto has one of the lowest crime severity index reports of Canada’s cities (the lowest being Guelph, followed by Quebec, Toronto and Ottawa). And despite the image often portrayed of violent youth gangs holding our cities hostage, youth crime rates have declined by 7%. And yet the federal government is seeking to substantially harden the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

Despite this steady decline in crime rates, the Canadian prison population is expected to grow by 4,500 inmates by 2014 – not because crime rates are going to suddenly reverse their trend, but because the Conservatives are continually changing legislation so as to send more people to a jail for longer periods. Since 2006-07 when the Tories came to power, spending on Corrections has increased by 80%.

Have they imprisoned logic too?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Email Charter

As a daily blogger, it’s ironic that I complain about time I spend in front of the computer and on-line. And yet I do. I know though that I’m lucky enough to not be in the predicament of some friends who open their work email to be greeted with 50+ messages. My inbox is relatively small. Yet I still spend many hours each week opening, reading, and replying to email.

So when I noticed on the Q blog that there had been a recent conversation with TED conference curator Chris Anderson about a proposed Email Charter, I tuned in.

Anderson argues that email is terribly inefficient and stressful. The problem, he says, is that it takes less time to send an email than it does to respond to it – i.e. multiple recipients, added links, attachments, etc.

Following a popular on-line discussion about this problem, Anderson has created an email charter, as a way to tackle this “tragedy of the commons”.

His first rule: Respect Recipients’ Time. He’s advocating for clarity and brevity, although the point is not necessarily to always write shorter emails, but to write emails so that they can be responded to quickly.

My favourite rule is #5 - Slash Surplus cc’s. While acknowledging that cc’s can be useful and even efficient, they get used far too often. I think people often do it to cover their butts, to needlessly keep everyone in the loop. How did offices function before email? Did we have to inform our colleagues and managers of every decision, every conversation? Let’s keep our own records and save the cc’s for when it really counts.

Another great idea from the charter: use EOM and NNTR. EOM – end of message – is for brief messages that can be sent in the subject line followed by EOM, letting the recipient know they don’t have to open the email. NNTR – no need to reply – can hopefully shorten some needlessly long email chains.

Email has been around for about 30 years, and has been popular for about 20. Is it too late to change? Perhaps. But then again, technology is all about reinventing itself. Maybe it is time we reinvent how we use email.

Monday, July 25, 2011

#9: Blog about our cat, Bacall

V had asked me to write about one of our cats. I think at the time he was just hoping for some sort of sacrilegious parody – what with his ‘Pope Pointyface’ bit.

But the tale I will tell is not a farce – it is a sad tale of inappropriate urination and costly veterinary bills.

Back during the whole Ssscat episode, Bacall expressed her displeasure by peeing on things in the living room, right in front of us. She peed on my book bag and on a few other things left lying on the floor.

I turned off the Ssscat and Bacall stopped her protest.

But a few days ago, she started peeing upstairs again – and now she was not limiting herself to items left lying on the floor (as if criticizing our lack of tidiness). She peed in Miya’s toy box, on a pillow, on my bags, in a vent... She even peed on M’s change pad and V did not notice until after laying M on it and coating our daughter’s hair in piss.

And this wasn’t any old cat pee Bacall was so liberally sowing – this was dark, extra-stinky pee. On Sunday morning (the day of pee-in-the-hair) I decided Bacall had earned herself the privilege of being an outdoor cat and she spent much the day outside, despite her protests. (Bogey was quite happy to join her though and didn’t come home till midnight, the rogue).

V did some internet browsing and came up with suggestion that Bacall might have a urinary tract infection. He convinced me to take her to the vet, so today I packed up Bacall in her crate and carted her to the vet. She did not like the trip and peed her displeasure and fear, so I did not have to explain that my cat’s pee is extra stinky.

But of course she would not pee on command (do any cats?) for them to test her urine – and so we paid $70 for a consult, $48 for IV fluids, then $100 for collection and analysis of pee. Seems she does indeed have an infection – so now we have 2 weeks of antibiotics ($30). This is some expensive pee!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Famine in East Africa

A massive humanitarian crisis is currently threatening the lives of 10 million people in East Africa. Famine has already killed tens of thousands – and more people are dying each day. An estimated 2.2 million people have been cut off from emergency aid due to militant control of some areas.

A perfect storm of drought (the worst in 60 years), war, and rising commodity prices (the price of some staples has increased by as much as 240%) has created what is being called the worst hunger emergency in a generation.

In Somalia, there are areas in which more than half the children are severely malnourished and one-in-three could die. As a parent, these kinds of statistics mean more to me than they used to. I can’t imagine watching my daughter die of starvation before my eyes and being unable to feed her. I can’t imagine what that does to someone.

The United Nations (UN) estimates that they need $300 million to prevent the famine from spreading, and another $1.6 billion to sustain essential regional programs. Top priorities are clean water and food, in addition to bore holes for wells and the establishment of feeding centres with medical supplies. The main drought refugee camp in Kenya, a facility designed for 90,000, is overflowing with 400,000 desperately hungry refugees.

But the desperately needed donations are simply not manifesting. There are financial problems in Europe and America, as well as donor fatigue from the recent crises of Haiti, Pakistan, Japan, etc.

The question is, how many people is the world willing to watch die before they start to act? Well, perhaps that’s the problem, they are oceans away from most of us, so we don’t actually have to watch the children who are too weak to cry, the mothers who are unable to nurse their infants, humans and animals turned skeletal by malnourishment.

But societies are crumbling and tens of thousands are dying. At what point do we say enough is enough?

Between July 6 and Sept 16, the Canadian government will match every dollar donated to Canadian charities like the Canadian Red Cross, Oxfam Canada, Doctors without Borders and the Mennonite Central Committee, Word Vision Canada and UNICEF Canada.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Jesus Christ Superstar

Music is such a big part of the teenage years for most of us. I remember being enamoured with pop radio and one year writing down the name of each song on the top 100 count down. I had posters of music artists on my walls, memorized lyrics of sappy love songs (although I remember being vaguely aware that these songs were expressing things that were still beyond me).

But I also remember sitting in the dark in the living room, listening to some of my the LPs from my parents’ collection. Aretha Franklin, Roberta Flack, Simon and Garfunkel, Mamas and the Papas. And these are the albums and artists that have stayed with me over the years, unlike the one-hit wonders like Tiffany or the soundtrack to Dirty Dancing.

Tonight, when I found out that Jesus Christ Superstar is playing at Stratford this summer, I had again a flashback to my youth. My parents had the original 1970’s recording of this Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice Rock-Opera production. I don’t remember how long it was – but it was several records all together.

There were certain songs I liked to listen to from time to time (i.e. ‘I don’t know how to love him’) but every now and then I would listen to it all from start to finish. I was a kid who had been raised on the Bible and I knew the Scripture’s version of the Crucifixion – so perhaps there was some teenaged rebellious part of me that like the irreverent take on some aspects of the story. But my teenage heart was also moved by the poetry and passion of the lyrics and the music. And it’s not exactly sacrilegious – just not the Sunday School version of the story.

And now I’m itching to head down to Stratford to actually see this rock-opera that I’ve only ever listened to (although thanks to YouTube I can now see some movie clips). I’ve never been to Stratford either, although I’ve often wanted to go. Funny, as someone who loves Shakespeare, you would think that would have been the draw... but there are always opportunities to see Shakespeare – this would be a rare treat.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Beating the heat

We’re sweltering here in Ontario this week, as are many across North America as a massive dome of heat sits above us. Last night I stepped outside at 10 p.m. and it felt like the heat of the tropics. Sticky, humid and hot.

I’ve lived in hot places before, but have gotten used to the temperate weather here in Ottawa. So it’s a bit of an adjustment to deal with temperatures above 40˚ (counting humidex). I’m trying not to complain, but I am looking for ways to stay cool. We’re certainly spending lots of time in air conditioned museums and as little as possible outdoors during the heat of day.

While there are some long-term solutions for keeping cool, like planting trees around our home, improving home insulation, and adding ceiling fans... I’ve been gathering some tips for beating the summer heat which I thought I might share here.

1) Draw the curtains, pull down the shade, close the blinds... it makes the house seem dim but helps to keep some of the sun’s heat outside. Putting up a reflector shield in the car’s windshield can also really make a difference.

2) Stay hydrated – lots of water and cold drinks (they say to avoid caffeine and alcohol, but that’s not much fun).

3) Lower the humidity in your home by turning on a dehumidifier, drying clothes outside, or using the bbq. A heat wave is a good excuse to avoid cooking by eating cold meals or getting take out.

4) Have a cold shower. I gasp as I step into an icy shower, but it feels so refreshing once I get used to it! Added bonuses of less steam in the bathroom and a lower energy demand.

5) Put a bowl of ice in front of a fan.

6) The shade of trees is much cooler than the shade of buildings, so if you have to be outdoors, seek shelter under trees. Big hats help too.

7) Head for the nearest pool – or even stay home, fill the paddling pool, put up the patio umbrella and pull up some chairs. Add kids and feet to water, and garnish with some cold drinks and watermelon slices.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Uncovered poetry: Monkeys and Angels

It’s not all that late, but I’m all that tired. So tonight I submit some more of my odd poems. Reading these poems again now is strange to me, my game of metaphors obscured by time.

Monkey Tongue

Words are like problems we never solved;
like the five-year-old monkey that lives in my mouth
whose shit on my tongue is bitter, the smell of damp fur musty and dark.
His tight black fingers pinch my teeth and his whimpering
wakes me each dawn,
a helpless moaning that tastes like desperation.

His name is Bob Transcending
he moved here from Trafalgar Square,
it’s not in my mouth that he lives,
but further in my belly somewhere.

I don’t believe you saw an angel when we climbed onto the roof last night,
your coat hunched over your shoulders so its wings could drive clouds from the moon.
‘This gets my mojo hummin’’ you shouted from your perch,
the crumbling chimney of archetype silhouetted against your back
like Michael’s sword come to bless and comfort you.
This before you leaped to the church tower and hung on its heavy bell,
its pendulum swinging you side to side like Natalie’s pen in her restless hand.

When you will swing next and the monkey rise to meet you,
I will swallow for the very first time,
tasting my own baked saliva on my wet furry tongue.
I am no mother’s appendix, my feet are yet unclean.
The bell replies no
and the monkey’s shit unraveling.

God’s Angels, Priority Post

The pin-head dancing angels delivered by the post
startle you when you open the letter,
spray jasmine scented dust that makes you sneeze.
The return address reads: God Almighty, Belfast
but the street name is smudged illegible
and you haven’t really opened it yet.

In your moment of hesitation,
She reaches through the mail slot
and plucks the letter from your hands,
so that you will not be blinded
by the glory of God and her dancing minions.

Thus the prayer will rise, disillusioned,
recalling the unopened letter
lost from beaded fingers unclasped.
And you, crying in incompletion,
are left longing for the angels
snatched back by a jealous hand.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Google scares me

What is it about this new Google+ that has even my husband onboard (he and around 18 million early users)? V, one of the most cautious, internet-security buffs I know, was the one who invited me to Google+. Why should I join? I asked the man who has refused Facebook and generally snubs social media.

He argued that Google+ has better privacy settings and controls. And there's the supposedly the big appeal of Google+ – their fancy-looking ‘circles’ which allow you to categorize your contacts into circles like friends, family, work colleagues, acquaintances. You can then decide who, in these categories, can see what you’ve posted.

(Google+ says, ‘not to worry, your contacts won’t know what circle you’ve placed them in.’ Just make sure to not post something too gossip-worthy for one circle since a ‘friend’ might mention it to a mere ‘acquaintance’ – thereby revealing to said acquaintance what esteem they have in your eyes.)

So my curiosity temporarily got the best of me and I opened a Google+ account. I closed it within a few hours – after some momentary panic when I read that if you try to close Goggle+ you will lose all other Google services like Gmail and this blogging service. Perhaps my house would cease to exist on the map.

Not surprisingly, it’s also rather hard to find good answers when you do a Google search for ‘close Google+ account’. And the Google+ help centre isn’t much better.

Thankfully Bing found me helpful video on youtube that showed me how easy it actually is to remove the + but keep the Google. But my relationship with Google has been soured by this experience.

I already depend on Google for my email, my calendar, maps, blogging... their creepy little virtual fingers seem to be reaching further and further into my life.

I often have the desire to completely unplug from the Internet – this desire has been bolstered by these months of daily blogging. I would rather invest in face-time than screen-time.

The last thing we need is another timewaster that draws personal information out of us and tricks us into thinking we are more social after spending more time alone with our computers.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

I trust you

The first time I went on the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, I encountered a profound life lesson, that of learning to accept help from others, to be vulnerable and, overall, to move from my preferred state of solitary independence to one of integrated community.

I have continued to learn, being repeatedly taught through life’s encounters and circumstances, that life is best lived with trust and faith, that believing in the best in others is ultimately uplifting.

I have come to enjoy, and even to value, being someone who tries to assume the best of others, not the worst. Sure, this means that I have been, at times, taken advantage of. A guy showed up after a huge snow storm offering to shovel our driveway and walk. I paid him up front and he left after only doing the walkway. Another time, I nearly let some scam company lock us into an expensive energy deal.

Each time I’ve had such encounters, I make a note that I should be more cautious. But at the same time, I try to resist actually changing how I see other people. Sure, I know that anything that sounds too good to be true obviously is, and to report as spam any emails I get asking me to write back quickly because one of their clients with the same last name as mine just left a large pile of unclaimed money!!

But when someone says, ‘I can keep an eye on that for you while you run in’, I like the feeling it gives me to trust that person. I like putting my trust in a stranger, in this community we have suddenly created together, and honour that with my confidence. It makes me feel part of something bigger than myself. Makes me feel good about the place I live, the people who live around me. To me, these feelings are worth a moderate risk (i.e. sure, you can watch my bag of groceries, but I’ll take my daughter with me).

So when situations arise when I am reminded of the need for caution, to get everything in writing... I feel a loss much greater than the circumstance at hand.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Bring back the handkerchief

Mistakenly thinking that today was International Ice Cream Day (when in fact the third Sunday in July is America’s National Ice Cream Day), I bought V some Häagen-Dazs. I missed the festival, but the ice cream was still tasty. This also got me thinking how smart it would be to lobby the government for a national day for your product.

Someday, perhaps, there will be an international handkerchief day. Once I’m the highly-placed distributor and promoter of handkerchiefs, I may even lobby for it.

You see, bringing back the handkerchief, or hanky as it’s more affectionately known, is one of my life plans. It should have been on my bucket list, or even on my high school yearbook: Anita will bring back the handkerchief (instead it said something about planning to work with deaf children - which didn’t quite come about).

Why the hanky, you may ask?

1) It is environmentally friendly. If people are willing to use cloth diapers on poopy baby bums, I don’t think blowing their noses in cotton squares should be a stretch. Unlike dirty diapers, used hankies don’t stink and can be tossed in the wash on any old cycle.

Also, think of all the trees that are felled and the chemicals used to bleach and soften tissues so we can fill them with our snot and toss them in landfills. Then there are the boxes and plastics which package the tissues, the transportation to stock them at local stores... Switching to reusable cloth hankies could be your gift to Mother Nature this year, and to our future generations.

2) Hankies have much more personality than a bleached box of tissues. We used hankies all the time when I was a kid, and I remember the big plaid ones my dad and other men used, the smaller white ones my mother had, and the more colourful, patterned ones my sister and I used. I learned to iron with hankies. My friends and I embroidered little flowers on them. Hankies can be monogrammed, personalized, stylized. They have flair.

Have I convinced you? Get in touch – I have a bag full of hankies from India and am looking to seed the market...

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Summer storms

A storm blew through Ottawa tonight with wind speeds up to 90 kilometres an hour – ripping leaves and branches off trees and collapsing the main stage at Bluesfest.

We’ve been melting in a heat wave these last few days - so the cool air the storm brought is welcome. Temperatures at Ottawa airport dropped by 12 degrees in roughly an hour.

We’re a big fan of thunderstorms at our place. We have a big window in the living room at which we will sit and watch the storm blow through. Tonight the cats nervously joined us, twitching as leaves and debris were being tossed around. If I catch a flash of lightening, I’ll tell Miya that thunder is coming and she eagerly waits for it, then imitates the rumble or jumps around with excitement.

Only once was she really startled by a storm, and that was mostly due to me. We were walking back from the park since the sky had suddenly clouded over and the winds picked up. I was carrying her on my shoulders when a clap of thunder burst right above our heads. I jumped – so M was startled both by the loud noise and my reaction.

I lifted her down and carried her the rest of the way, trying to make up for my show of fright by admiring the thunder that continued to rumble all around us. Often when she hears a particularly loud or drawn out thunder roll she’ll say seriously, “that’s pretty cool.”

I’ve always loved storms, even when I’ve been caught out in them. Although I’ve had some close calls with lightening on some canoe trips and have a healthy respect for the potentially destructive power of nature, I love watching the sky churn with dark clouds and wind, the trees bend with the invisible force, the driving rain...

I love how a storm changes and progresses – the winds of warning which come before, that momentarily lull before the first hard and sudden bursts of rain. Some storms settle down and stay awhile, soaking the ground and over-flowing drains and sewers. Others blow through so fast that a few hours later it almost seems like nothing happened.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

#15 Blog about the cognitive capability of insect swarms.

The request was that I blog about the cognitive capabilities of insect swarms, which, I’ve discovred, is also known as ‘swarm intelligence’ (SI). I thought this was a facetious request at first, but not only have I found out such intelligence exists, it’s also long been a subject of intense study by biologists, mathematicians and others.

Swarm intelligence is when group acts “to solve a problem collectively, in a way that individuals cannot”. Essentially, SI means that without centralized control, interactions between individuals cause a sort of ‘intelligent’ behaviour beyond that of which individual would be capable.

Problems SI can solve include such things as where to find food. A sudden shift in direction by a swarm has been attributed to small errors adding up to big change – sort of a tipping point being reached, I guess.

Natural examples of SI include bird flocking, animal herding, bacterial growth, and fish schooling. Insects which move in swarms include: locusts, midges, mosquitoes, bees, ants, butterflies, milk bugs, gnats and termites.

Knowledge gained from studying SI is being studied for such things as cancer treatment and the development of artificial intelligence. It’s even been used in films, such as creating battle scenes (Lord of the Rings) or structuring behaviour (the Borg in Star Trek).

There are many mathematical models out there which are based upon swarm intelligence. But I admit that, given the scope of this blog, the hour of night and my waning interest in the minutia of details about swarm math models, I cannot understand nor explain them.

I content myself to relay what one blogger identified as the five most dangerous insect swarms in the world – all of which are dangerous not because each individual is so threatening, but because these insects act tenaciously en masse. The top five are: 5) locusts; 4) fire ants; 3) yellow jacket wasps; 2) army ants; 1) killer bees.

I will also note that there are some pictures on the Christian Science Monitor site of insect swarms that might make your skin crawl a little.

And as a point to ponder, I wonder how SI could relate to Jung’s theories of collective unconsciousness. Now that’s something I’m interested in...

Friday, July 15, 2011


I’ve been talking books tonight with V, a conversation that is now spilling over into my blog.

At any given moment, I am likely to be part-way through at least half a dozen books. For example, right now I’m reading: The Sacrifice by Adele Wiseman, Selected Letters of Margaret Laurence and Adele Wiseman, Iris and the Friends by John Bayley, Connected Parenting by Jennifer Kolari and The No-Cry Potty Training Solution by Elizabeth Pantley.

I’m looking to add a French book to the mix, so tonight V is browsing the web and tossing out random suggestions at me.

We have three different bookshelves in our living room. The biggest one, which dominates one wall, is filled with a random selection of books from V’s and my combined libraries. This is an eclectic mix of poetry, Shakespeare, cognitive philosophy, travel books, pop-sci and sci-fi, among others. Another bookshelf, one which was given to me by my mother about 15 years ago and which has traveled with me across the country, is stocked with some of my classics (Dickens, Dostoyevsky, Conrad, Joyce...), philosophy and French lit.

The smallest, but the most cluttered bookshelf, is mostly filled with books both V and I have acquired and mean to get to at some point, but just haven’t quite got around to it yet. V keeps up a steady stream of books-on-hold from the public library and is usually racing to finish one before it’s due back – so he doesn’t have the time to read any of the books he actually owns. (The long-awaited A Dance with Dragons arrived Wednesday and V fell asleep a few pages in last night). I tend to read so many books at one time that to actually finish any one in particular takes much longer than it would if I just read it on its own.

Despite my acknowledgement that I read too many books at once, I’m actually looking for suggestions of good books from any readers out there – would be particularly interested in books in French and books by Canadian authors. I like rich narratives that focus more on the subtleties and complexities of relationships than on action and plot. Feedback welcome.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Toddler art

There is something so absolutely refreshing about doing arts and crafts with a two-year old. It is completely about the process, without any judgement on the outcome.

This freedom is something we lose early on and may spend a lifetime trying to get back.

When Miya draws, paints, glues, etc. it seems to be for the sheer fun of it. There seem to be no concerns about whether a line is correctly drawn, whether the chosen colour is the ‘right one’. She has fun experimenting with colour and things like glue, glitter, stickers, etc.

And while to many the outcome may just look like the scribbles of a toddler, it is exactly this that I find so fabulous about them. Once she starts actually trying to draw houses, trees, people, cats, flowers... well, then we’ll be moving toward judgement. She’ll begin questioning whether what she did reflects what she was aiming for. She’ll start comparing the house she drew to the house the kid next to her drew. She’ll learn that grass is green and the sky is blue and that she’s supposed to colour within the lines. How can I help her hang on to making art just for the pleasure of putting colour on paper?

Generally, we’ve been working hard to avoid that instinctive ‘good job!’ for everything our child does. I hear kids being praised all the time for standing, for drinking water, for splashing in the pool, for going down the slide... We’d like to encourage our daughter to do such things for her own reasons, or do them simply because they are normal things to do, not so that she will receive our approval or praise.

This is especially true when it comes to arts and crafts; we’re being very careful to not put our own judgement on the things she does (that’s beautiful!) or to suggest that art is a chore to be done for approval (good work!).

There is going to be enough time ahead for judgment and competition. Right now I’m doing all I can to hold on the glorious freedom I see in her when she bangs away with her markers and splashes with her paints.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

What does honesty look like?

I’ve been thinking today about honesty and about what makes the difference between truth and lies. Is all lying morally wrong? What about lies of omission or intentional deception?

A study in the UK found that men lie an average of 6 times a day, and women 3. This study reports that the most common “lie” told by both sexes was: “Nothing’s wrong. I’m fine.”

While some may protest that lying is wrong and can only cause problems, I actually think most people lie to avoid problems – and often with just cause. Indeed, I think there are many situations in which the full truth is not warranted.

When I was in the military, we were taught to give information only on a ‘need to know’ basis. I tend to use the same principles in my daily life. This means that if I’m feeling particularly negative, annoyed, grouchy, or whatever and someone ask how I am, like the British, I’ll likely say I’m okay.

In fact, I tend to think being honest about one’s feelings can be dangerous and often regrettable. Back my single days when I would meet someone new, I may have thought this person was wonderful and I would marry him in a heartbeat and bear him many children ... but to tell him this on the first date would likely not have been wise. Instead, I usually waited to see how he felt about me, and whether or not my feelings about him changed.

Similarly, the first time we hit a rough patch and in my despair I imagined we were ruined and I thought he was the most inconsiderate louse on the planet, I would not rush to express this. Again, I would try to assess how he felt and start a careful conversation, which would likely make no mention of my thoughts which likened him to lice.

So I know myself to be someone who is guarded and careful. I do not easily talk about how I feel. I am reluctant to show the cards in my hand. But am I dishonest?

I almost never tell an outright lie. But neither can I say that I always tell the truth.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

#19: Blog 'A Song of Fire and Ice' Summaries

One of V’s blog suggestions was that I blog summaries of the first four volumes of ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’. This is not that blog.

The first book in the Song of Ice and Fire series, A Game of Thrones, was 831 pages. The second book, A Clash of Kings, was 1,040 pages. The third book, A Storm of Swords, was 1,216 pages. The fourth book, A Feast for Crows was 1,104 pages. So forgive me, but I did not have time to read and summarize 4,191 pages in order to write this blog.

However, given that A Dance with Dragons, the much anticipated volume has finally been released today after a six-year wait, the least I can do is acknowledge V’s request.

In all honesty, I have not read any of George R. R. Martin’s books and have no plans to read this one. I did not even watch the Game of Thrones t.v. series on HBO. My husband tried to get me to watch the preview for it – but I found it violent enough that I walked away after 5 minutes. I have no stomach for television or movie violence and don't intend on acquiring one. (Although I do appreciate that our friends are watching it and providing free babysitting for us!)

That said, from browsing the Internet, listening to my husband and talking to some friends, I do know that the highly acclaimed Song of Ice and Fire series was inspired by England’s 1400s War of the Roses and that it reportedly has complex story lines and multifaceted characters who defy stereotypes and conventions. Many people have spoken very highly about these books and I’m sure there are fans all over the world tonight who are immersed in their brand-new copy of today’s 1,016-page release.

I pre-ordered A Dance with Dragons online for V awhile back, only to discover today that I didn’t really do him any favours since we now must wait for it to be shipped (imagine how many orders Amazon is processing today!) Seems I missed a chance to prove my love: I should have been lining up at midnight to get a first edition hardcover copy.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Land of plenty

I’m reading a book of letters between Margaret Laurence and her close friend Adele Wiseman. I love reading collected letters, especially when both sides of the correspondence are available. A couple years ago I read the correspondence between Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre. They weren’t published in the same book, so I was juggling various volumes, some English, some French, using the dates on the letters to try and match up the conversation. Read alongside with their biographies, autobiographies and other writings, it was a great immersion into two brilliant minds.

But I digress. What actually prompted me to write about the Laurence/Wisemen correspondence tonight is not the letters as a whole, or even the women behind them, but rather something which came up in passing in one of Laurence’s letters.

She was writing to her friend from London, England in June of 1950. Wiseman was about to move out to England and Laurence was advising her on what to pack. “Food is pretty good here now,” she writes, “with tinned meats, biscuits, jellies, rice, syrup, fruit juices, etc., now off the ration and quite easy to get.” She does add a post script though: “find out if you can bring some sugar – the ration is very small (1/2 lb per person per wk).”

This mention of rations got me wondering how such a concept would fly these days. I can’t imagine our government, in 2011, being able to impose rations on how much, or on what, people could spend.

A restriction on capital markets would fly in the face of all the economic recovery plans that seem based on getting people shopping again. And even if there were rations imposed, given the global world we now live in, people would just go order their sugar or canned goods on-line. Internet business would sky-rocket. Our postal system might even flourish.

In this day and age, restraint is not something which the government or even society in general encourages. One of the biggest challenges faced by people promoting the 100-mile diet or advocating for local foods is that consumers want everything anytime.

We live in the land of plenty as if it will last forever.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

#12: Blog about the proper use of the hyphen versus the em dash.

Hyphens, which are narrower than dashes, should be used to break single words into parts, or to join separate words into a single compound (i.e. twentieth-century). Spaces shouldn’t be used before or after hyphens, except in the case of the hanging hyphen (the nineteenth- and twentieth-centuries).

Old-school style (note the hyphen use there) was to use hyphens with many prefixes (such as pre-school) but now-a-days (again, hyphen) most prefixes are not hyphenated (i.e. preschool). However, hyphens are required if you’re adding a prefix to a proper adjective (i.e. how very un-Canadian of him). Hyphens are also used with prefixes such as ex- (ex-boyfriend), self- (self-confident), all (all-encompassing), and with the suffix –elect (mayor-elect).

Generally, use a hyphen when:
1) joining two or more words together to serve as a single adjective before a noun (i.e. a one-way street, a well-known author) but not after the noun (i.e. the author was well known).
2) joining compound numbers (i.e. thirty-two).
3) avoiding confusion or an awkward combination of letters (i.e. re-sign the petition – so as not to confuse with resign).

The ‘en dash’, so named since it is roughly the width of an ‘n’, is slightly longer than a hyphen and is used for periods of time when you might otherwise use ‘to’. For example, I lived in Montreal during the years 1999–2000.

The ‘en dash’ is also used to contrast values or illustrate a relationship between two things. For example: mother–daughter relationship, Ottawa–Toronto flight, a score of 12–3.

The ‘em dash’, a dash which is the width of an ‘m’, is best for informal writing where it can replace commas, semicolons, colons or parentheses and indicates emphasis, an interruption, or a change of thought.

Examples include:
I find that blogging—especially blogging each day—can be quite challenging.
Tonight V’s out playing ultimate—I’m home with the baby.
I’m a big fan of the ‘em dash’ in my writing—although I try to avoid it in formal writing.

The em dash can also be used to replace the rest of a word that wouldn't be appropriate to spell out (a d— fine job).

Spaces are not recommended before or after the en or the em dash.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Hungry Poet Project III

“I used to write poetry,” a guy says to me after asking what I’m doing begging for words.

He’s wearing chinos and a button-up shirt on a Sunday morning, a cup of Starbucks in hand.

My ‘hungry poet’ moniker makes people think of starving artists and it seems everyone has romantic ideas about that.

This guy sits beside me and begins to tell me about the poetry and books he used to read before he got in to high-tech. Eventually he stops talking long enough to write a few words down. They’re good: ‘Immersed. Disconcerting. Hunger’, and I thank him sincerely.

I get ‘Love’ so often the word has become less meaningful than a one-night stand. Peace, serendipity and happiness are losing their charm for me too. All those pretty, smiley words. I guess people who stop and give words tend to be the happy type; or perhaps they uncomfortable writing something negative. How Canadian of them.

I was surprised once when a well-dressed, polite-looking woman wrote ‘anxiety’. Most women write ‘happy or ‘beautiful day’. It felt like this woman made some sort of confession to me, admitted something real.

Sitting cross-legged on sidewalks for an hour or more at a time, I’ve gotten used to reading people; predicting who will stop, who will brush me off. Those high-heeled, belly-button bearing stylish types won’t even look at me; old men will want to chat; young scruffy kids are always good for at least one word, and sometimes a slice of pizza or a gingerbread cookie. And I am often surprised by sudden generosity – a cup of coffee, a blessing, a song.

I see a grey-haired woman coming toward me, holding the hand of a little girl in pink. She looks the type – matronly, friendly – and moving slow enough to read my signs.

“Can you spare a word?” I ask as they get closer.

“I’m sorry dear, I’m from out of town.”

Well, you never can tell.

I begged for words throughout the summer of 2003 – hard to believe it was that ago. It was such a great experience that I can’t help turning my thoughts from time to time to ways to bring it back.

Read more:
Hungry Poet Project
Hungry Poet Project II

Friday, July 08, 2011

Hungry Poet Project II

I’d sit and beg for words a couple hours a time, usually in locations where there was a lot of foot traffic – like the Byward Market and the Glebe or on the fringes of arts and community festivals. I’d come back a few days later a paste a poem near where I’d been sitting – a poem based upon words that had been given to me at that spot.

[you] [are] [Rain]

[I am the Rose of Sharon]

[I dream of you

and] [blush],

(June 7, Glebe Art in the Park)

If they understood what I was asking for, many people were quite happy to ‘spare a word’. Often they’d hold the paper for long minutes, pondering, stroking their chins or gazing off in the distance. They’d write comments about the weather ‘humid’, ‘sunny’ or ‘rain’. They’d reveal pieces of themselves - their faith: ‘God is love’, or lack thereof: ‘delicious ambiguity, or their mood: ‘happy’ or ‘tired’. Sometimes they’d make a comment directed at me.

“Beautiful girl!” wrote an old man with a big belly stretching his faded t-shirt. Then he stood above me, swaying back and forth on his heels.

I looked away and saw a woman approaching, pushing a stroller with a toddler shuffling along beside.
“Can you spare a word,” I asked as they got closer. The baby stared at me with wide, blue eyes. I winked and he ducked his head shyly.

The woman hesitated, then took the outstretched paper. “What’s a word?” she asked her son, squatting down beside him. They always ask the kids. “Can you think of a word to give this lady?”

The kid stared at her with uneasy confusion. It’s an abstract concept for a toddler, so I tried to help him out. “What’s your favourite colour?” I asked.

“Blue,” he mumbled around the thumb jammed between his lips.

“Blue,” repeated his mother triumphantly as she wrote it down. She tore off the sheet with a flourish and handed it to me. She thanked me and began to move off down the sidewalk; the baby’s blue eyes watched me until his stroller blocked the view.

I noticed with relief that the old man had moved on.

Read more:
Hungry Poet Project
Hungry Poet Project III

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Hungry Poet Project

I was telling a friend today about my hungry poet days. I’ve actually been thinking a lot about this project that I started back in 2003 and wondering if I could find the time to pick it up again…

For those who may not know about my time as the hungry poet, here is something I wrote about it awhile back – which will be continued and expanded on over the next couple blog posts.

“Can you spare a word?”
“Sorry. I don’t have time for that.”
He doesn’t look back as his shiny shoes clap off down the sidewalk. I should’ve known; suits don’t generally have words for begging poets.

A woman is coming toward me, casually well-dressed. She’s walking slowly enough to have time to read my signs – ‘Spare some WORDS?’ ‘Any WORD helps.’
“Can you spare a word?” I ask when she is within earshot. I hold out a little pad of paper and my lucky purple ballpoint pen.
She slows, smiles uncertainly. Her face looks shiny, like a freshly scrubbed gala apple.
“I’m just asking for words,” I say quickly. There is a small window of time to assure people my intentions are pure.
She takes the pad without speaking. ‘Exfoliate’ is written on it she hands it back to me. I’m guessing she’s just come from the little spa around the corner.
I tear off the word and put it in the shoebox beside me. After five months of begging for words, I probably have close to 1000 words in this box.

Of course, most people are confused by what I’m doing.
“You’re just asking for words? Not money?”
“Just words.”
“It says you’re the hungry poet. Does that mean you want food?”
“Hungry for words,” I say.

Some are suspicious. They’re looking for a catch. Panhandlers on the street are good-for-nothing bums.
“I don’t get it,” a lady wrote and walked away before I could explain that I’m building poems using only other people’s words, that I got tired of the solitary writing life and wanted to involve other people in my craft, or that I want people to think twice about those sitting on the street with cardboard signs.

Read more:
Hungry Poet Project II
Hungry Poet III

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

#3: Blog about the ending of the water ban in south Ottawa.

I am not sure why my husband asked me to blog about the water ban in Ottawa South – but he did, and so I will. His wish is my command. (Can you read sarcasm?) But the take I have on this issue is not likely to be one which would be popular in this city.

There was quite the stink when the water ban was imposed back on April 27 after the breakdown of a primary water main servicing the south end of Ottawa . The water ban was lifted on June 17, 2011 – less than 2 months later – meaning all water use is permitted, allowing such things as watering lawns and gardens, washing cars, filling pools and hot tubs, and that ridiculous wasteful practice of washing driveways.

Now I admit that my perspective might be a bit different if I actually lived in Ottawa South (as opposed to Ottawa Centre where we have had no bans on water usage), but it is certainly informed by having lived in countries such as Mali, Africa, where water is a scarce commodity, where we would walk to wells and pumps to draw water by hand and carry it home, where water was treated as the precious commodity that we in North America forget it is.

So forgive me, but I do not having a great deal of sympathy for those who were not able to water their lawns for less than two months, given that one in six people in the world lack access to safe drinking water (which Ottawa South residents continued to enjoy throughout the water ban) and that the daily per capita water consumption in North America is 350 litres – compared with 10 or 20 in other parts of the world such as sub-Saharan Africa. Forgive me if I fail to see a crisis in brown lawns and dirty driveways.

One good thing about the water ban – the City of Ottawa offered rebates on purchases of rain barrels. Wouldn’t it be great if because of this short-lived ban, people across the city actually started making long-term changes in their water consumption such as through the installation of water barrels?

Now I’m just talking crazy.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011


If you know me, you’ll know I tend to juggle various engagements and contracts and usually enjoy the variety and challenge which this offers. However, every now and then I hit a point at which I have to temporarily still the balls I’m juggling, assess their weight and decide how much longer I can keep each one in the air.

This is the kind of assessment I’ve been doing lately and I’ve been thinking that many of my strengths in juggling can also be my weaknesses.

I can have, and enjoy having, multiple projects on the go. But the cost of this is that something going wrong with one project can often have a negative impact on others, i.e. if one project suddenly demands more time than I had originally budgeted, I have to scramble to realign the balance.

One of my strengths is that I have a lot of energy and enthusiasm for many issues and causes. But this can be bad when my enthusiasm has me biting off more than I can chew, and since a lot of what I do tends to be in the areas of social justice, advocacy and community development, I tend to invest a lot of myself in any given project – again, something which is both an asset and a liability.

My passion makes me driven and committed. It can also mean that I do not pay enough attention to the personal and financial costs of what I do. So part of my stepping back and looking at things from time to time is to conduct a little reality check on the amount of effort and time I am investing in something and how much it is costing. This is not much fun to do, but seems like a responsible, adult-like exercise.

So I’ve been looking at and weighing each of the balls I’ve been juggling over the last few months, as well as my capacity to juggle them. Some balls have grown so heavy they skew the balance. Some I keep around because their lightness counteracts the heaviness of others.

Once this process is done I can take a deep breath and set things in motion again.

Monday, July 04, 2011

#2: Blog about cricket

In the ‘Spirit of Cricket’ lecture, cricketer and former Sri Lankan team captain Kuman Sangakkara reportedly delivered a scathing criticism of Sri Lanka’s political struggles and reflected on the “the heavy responsibilities on Sri Lankan cricketer to promote reconciliation after the end of the civil war that blighted the country.”

And here I thought cricket was just a bunch of guys tossing a ball and running back and forth. Obviously I have much to learn. My husband has requested I blog about cricket, but as you will see I know very little and 365 words cannot hope to convey the complexity of this sport. But I’ll take a bat at it…

Cricket is a game played with a ball and a bat. That much I did know. However, add in wickets, bowlers, overs, dismissals, etc... and I quickly get confused.

Two teams with 11 players each face off on an oval field at the centre of which is a 22-yard long pitch. The team at bat will try to score as many runs as possible while the other team bowls and fields in attempts to dismiss the batsmen and thereby limit scoring. Once the batting side is all out, the inning is over and the teams switch places.

The bowler will toss a ball from one end of the pitch toward the batsman who will hit it and run. A run is scored by the batsman hitting the ball with his bat, running to the opposite end of the pitch without being ‘dismissed’. There are also wickets at each end of the pitch – stumps that are hammered into the ground and topped with 2 ‘bails’.

There are multiple ways in which a batsman can be dismissed, most of which I do not understand, but which can include the bowling team catching an ungrounded batted ball or knocking a bail off the wicket. But batsmen who have been dismissed must leave the field and be replaced by the next batsman on the team. An inning ends when 10 batters have been dismissed.

There are two batters playing at the same time, something about bowlers only throwing a certain number of overs, strategic things the ‘wicket-keeper’ does…

Sunday, July 03, 2011

#4: Blog about the smoke points of various types of nut oils

Fats, though useful for adding flavour to food and for cooking food since they can be heated much more quickly and to a much higher temperature than water, have gotten a bad rep since saturated and trans fats (mainly found in animal fats such as butter, cheese, egg yolks and meat) are associated with obesity, high cholesterol and other health problems.

But there are plenty of healthy and tasty fats which can be used to cook and flavour your food – such as those from plants (like avocados and olives), seeds (like canola and grapeseed) and nuts.

Not surprisingly, given that fats can be produced from such different sources, different fats are best used for certain things and each will perform best within a certain range of temperature – in other words, some are best for high heat cooking while others have more intense flavours and are best drizzled cold in small quantities.

The smoke point of an oil or fat is the temperature at which it gives off smoke. You don’t want to heat oil beyond its smoke point since the flavour of your food could be wrecked and you’ll end up with a smelly kitchen and possibly even a kitchen fire.

Knowing the smoke points can help you know what to expect from various oils and how best to use them and so, as requested, here are the smoke points of some nut oils (all of which are monounsaturated fats):

Almond Oil has a subtle aroma and flavour, typically used in sautés and stir fries. Smoke Point: 420-430F

Hazelnut Oil is a delicate oil, best for salad dressings, marinades and baked goods. Smoke Point: 430F

Macadamia Nut Oil, a versatile oil that is similar in quality to the finest extra virgin olive oil, can be used in sautés, pan fry sears, deep fries, stir fries, grilling, broiling and baking. Smoke Point: 390F

Peanut Oil, a pale yellow oil with a subtle scent and flavour, is primarily used in Asian cooking and salad dressings. Smoke Point: 440-450F.

Walnut Oil is a medium-yellow oil with a nutty flavour and aroma that’s best for sautés, pan fry sears, deep fries, stir fries, grills and broils. Smoke Point: 400F.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

#13: Blog about the life cycle of the spider plant.

The Spider Plant, or the Chlorophytum comosum, is a tropical perennial and popular houseplant. It can grow to several inches in height and width and does best as a hanging plant or when it is on a high shelf since it sends out long leaves and cascading stalks – lending it the nickname the ‘airplane plant’.

Spider plants are incredibly easy to grow and will tolerate a lot of neglect. They can also put up with various conditions in terms of lighting and temperature (although they don’t much like midday sun). Hard to kill a spider plant. Apparently they also reduce indoor air pollution.

Spider plants are probably among the easiest plants to propagate since they send out long stalks that produce small flowers on the end. They are hermaphrodites; any one will self-fertilize and produce these flowered stalks which are followed by little ‘baby’ spider plants.

Baby spider plants can easily be potted and grown to a plant that will produce babies of its own – so you can easily have generations of spider plants under the same roof.
One way is to grow the babies into separate plants is to prepare a small pot of soil, place it next to the ‘parent’ plant and bend the stalk until the baby is resting on the soil. Peg it in place or firmly pack some soil to keep it there. Once the baby is growing new leaves, you can snip the umbilical stalk.

Another way is to wait till the baby is sprouting some roots, then snip it off and set it in a bowl or cup of water. After a few days the roots should have grown quite long and you can transfer the little plant to a pot of soil.

So if don’t have a spider plant but find yourself intrigued by this hardy little self-propagator, please don’t bother buying one (although I’m sure they are pretty inexpensive). Just let me know and I’d be happy to pot the next baby one for you. And if it doesn’t survive, I’m sure I’ll have more to give you if the cats don’t get to them first (those flowering stalks hang down in such a tantalizing way...)

Friday, July 01, 2011

Canada Day

We did not join the estimated 300,000 people on Parliament Hill today. Canada Day usually attracts a large crowd to the city’s centre – add in the celebrity royals, William and Kate, and numbers swell beyond reason. Certainly beyond anything I would like to join.

So to celebrate our national holiday, we went, as we often do, the Experimental Farm. Miya is a big fan of the horses there and today she got to ride on a horse drawn wagon and watch some displays of horsemanship. Admittance was free and there were enough extra visitors and people clad in red to make things festive without being pressing or hectic. She even got her first taste of ice cream.

In the afternoon a couple of Miya’s friends came over to join her in the paddling pool and have a bbq. Hanging out with friends and toddlers in the backyard - a relaxing and casual way to mark a national holiday.

I was reading an article recently bemoaning the demise of non-commemorative, non-commercialized regular ol’ parties – where people simply get together to enjoy one another’s company, not because someone is getting a divorce, or planning a wedding, or revealing the sex of their baby, or some other self-referential ‘milestone’.

My approach to parties, at least those I’m hosting, is about as regular and non-commercialized as one can get, in fact they’re more the ‘beer’s in the fridge, food’s on the grill, mi casa es su casa’ type events. There’s a small part of me that would love to host a well-coordinated, trendy affair – but the realities of my life are otherwise.

Parties in our backyard are far more likely to include naked children peeing in the paddling pool than canapés and chilled wine served amid stylish decor.

That said, having a child has actually made me much more social and likely to throw a party – the peeing-in-the-pool variety that is. Miya enjoys playing with her friends and I appreciate our big backyard much more when there are a few toddlers running around in it. And since most of the people we have over seem to have a similar party sensibility to us, it all works out just fine.