Saturday, December 20, 2014

Life doesn't get any better than this

I'm a grandfather. I'm retired. I'm ill. My heart is slowly converting from muscle to a mix of fat and scar tissue. I have a somewhat rare genetic disease of the heart. But most of all, I'm joyful. And for that I can thank my three granddaughters.

Little Isla is not twenty-months-old but she has a well-laid out life. She has stuff she like to do and she lays out her day to accommodate all these interests. Painting is one of her must-do activities. She will call out, "Gugga! Paint!"

When I appear she takes my hand and leads me to the door to the basement. "Downstairs," she both announces and orders. I open the door, turn on the lights and Isla takes my hand seeking help to get down the stairs safely.

She picks out her brushes carefully and trembles with excitement when the little pots of paint appear. She dips her brush in some purple paint and begins making big swirls of wet colour. Life doesn't get any better than this, at least not for Isla. She loves painting with Gugga and she also loves Gugga.

And, for me, life doesn't get any better than this. There is not a thing I would change.

Friday, December 19, 2014

No surprise here: Toddlers have amazing language skills

Is my youngest granddaughter advanced, as some in my family like to think? When I heard this claim made yet again the other day, I decided to do some research. My own gut-feeling was that the kid cruises along at the high end of the curve but it would be wise to refrain from informing the university of our budding genius.

I came by my gut-feelings thanks to watching two other children go from being babies, to toddlers to little girls. These children are the littlest one's sister and cousin. I was convinced the two girls were advanced. They weren't. They were bright. But that's it. Bright, by the way, is very comforting. It puts a lot of worries to rest.

So, what can the average 18-month-old do? A lot more than one might expect. I gleaned the following from PBS Parents and confirmed the numbers with further research.

  • At 18 months, kids understand 200 or more words and use 68 words. (Keep in mind that a well-trained dog may understand something in the order of 200 words.)
  • Between 16 and 23 months, children typically enjoy a spurt during which they acquire one or two words per day. By 23 months the average child can say about 200 words.
  • At about 18 months, the average kid begins combining words to form phrases and even sentences.

Children understand a lot more than most of us realize. Choose your words carefully around little ones. They are listening and understanding. At least, this is true when it comes to their native language. Sometime after 6 months of age the ability to discriminate individual sounds in other languages takes a downward turn. The loss of this sensitivity is gradual but steady and with the passing of time a lot of this language ability is lost.

A senior I know says he has no ability to learn a new language. None. He worked in government for years, took French courses as a Canadian government employee and yet can't order dinner in a Quebec diner.

Both the old geezer and the young toddler are actually just average. The old fellow may be at the lower end of the curve while my granddaughter may be nearer the top but neither is remarkable.

When I watch folk pushing children like my granddaughter, filling these children's heads with stories of their great abilities, I am reminded of the last two lines of the W.H. Auden poem The Average.

"He saw the shadow of an Average Man
Attempting the exceptional, and ran."

For me, there is no shame in being average. For one thing, I believe most of us are exceptional at certain things. Being exceptional, but only in limited areas, is also average. One must learn to appreciate and celebrate one's talents.

I like the way the Leadership Freak put it: "Believing exceptional is about everything and not one thing places exceptional out of reach. The impossibility of being exceptional at everything paralyzes legitimate passion for one thing." I believe it was this that foiled Auden's Mr. Average.

My senior friend should accept the reality that learning a new language is difficult for old geezers. His problems should come as no surprise. If he accepted this truth, maybe, just maybe, he could learn to speak French on the level of a two year old, order poutine in a Quebec restaurant and have French language comprehension skills on par with the family dog.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Being retired does not mean eating pet food

Dinner didn't cost $2 a serving and that's after going back for more.

Awhile back a reporter at The London Free Press wrote an editorial warning seniors that they may have to eat pet food in their retirement. It was a silly statement and I said so. The reporter was miffed and said so.

Tonight I cooked dinner. I was proud of my creation and it didn't cost more than a couple of dollars per serving. The green beans were the most expensive ingredient at one dollar per serving. (I found them selling at a reduced price at Ungers Market in Hyde Park.) The pasta wasn't even a dime as it was bought on sale for 79-cents for a 900 gram package at a discount grocery store like Food Basics. The sun dried tomatoes came from Costco. Need I say more. The cherry tomatoes added colour but not much cost. The walnuts came from the Bulk Barn and made an inexpensive addition. (The recipe follows the post.)

The best part of the dinner was that it kept to the Mediterranean cuisine rules. One of my doctors, a heart and stroke specialist, instructed me to try and keep to a Mediterranean diet. Lots of vegetables and meat only every other day and not red meat. Red meat is a once a month treat.

Oh, and there is one surprising fact that I haven't mentioned. Making this dinner didn't require a stove. Our gas range is on the fritz. I made the entire dinner using two microwaves and a kettle. The pasta was al dente and the green beans still had a little crunch.


Serves two
180 grams medium shell pasta
250 grams green beans chopped into one inch lengths
30 grams sun-dried tomato pesto
45 grams oven-dried freeze dried organic roma tomatoes from Costco. This has basil, garlic, lemon juice, oregano and red pepper added. It is inexpensive and a nice addition to this recipe.
1 medium tomato diced or a handful of cherry tomatoes sliced into halves and thirds.
30 grams of old chedder cheese diced into quarter-inch cubes.

I made this without a gas range. The stove had conked out. I was forced to use two microwave ovens.
  • Microwave the medium shell past for ten minutes after placing dry pasta in hot water preheated in a kettle. (Check during cooking.  Take care not to overcook.)
  • Microwave green beans for 3 min. on high. (Again: Take care not to overcook.)
  • Microwave the combined tomato/pesto/walnut mix for 2 min. on high. (It should be hot.)
  • When the pasta is done, drain the water and add green beans and tomato/pesto/walnut mix. Stir.
  • When ready to serve, stir in the diced old cheddar cheese. It should melt when added to the hot pasta/pesto/tomato/walnut mix.
  • Serve

During assembly it was noted that this meal had a dry weight of almost 10 ounces. After cooking, the pasta had swelled with retained water. I don't know what the weight of each serving was when served but this dinner was definitely filling.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Encourage originality

One of the best drawings of a cat I have ever seen. Simpy love it!

Colouring books are good. They train kids to stay within the lines. And colouring books are bad. Maybe downright evil. They train kids to stay within the lines.

For me, a lot of life has been lived outside the lines. It's a lot more fun out there. Art is the same way. Break free of the stereotypes, smash the molds. Learn to rock the world a little.

The unique art of Louis Wain.
When my granddaughters are art mode, I encourage originality. For instance, I love the drawing of a cat at the top of this post. It was done by my one granddaughter now five. This cat doesn't just purr; It rocks!

If, by any chance, you are familiar with the work of Louis Wain and the stories detailing his descend into mental chaos and linking this to a growing abstraction in his cat drawings, read the post on Mind Hacks. An interesting alternative take on Wain's work. That is a Wain cat on the right.

In my personal experience, I have never found artists to be any more "mad" than other folk. I believe most of us have a screw loose here and there.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Don't believe The London Free Press; Get a flu shot.

It is interesting to note the headline was changed on the online story.

 A lot of folk don't get a flu shot. They don't believe in them. Flu shots can't be trusted. Flu shots don't always confer protection, they say. And now my local paper, The London Free Press, has given these folk more ammunition in their fight against the annual flu shot. Well, in my humble opinion, when it comes to health stories, the local paper can't be trusted. (The stories are factually accurate but the spin is wrong.)

According to the newspaper, Ontario seniors are getting the dregs when it comes to flu shots. The paper reports a super flu shot for seniors is widely available in the States and it is a "game changer." The quote comes from a spokesperson for Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccine manufacturer. The quote overstates the value of the new vaccine. It's good, it's an improvement, but it is not a "game changer."

Other medical experts, not employed by Sanofi Pasteur, have called the new flu shot a mild improvement. Why is a 25% improvement, as reported by the paper, not causing more excitement? The numbers. The New York Times reported it this way, "The key finding was that 1.4 percent of the first group [the group given the improved vaccine] contracted the flu versus 1.9 percent of the second group [given the older formulation.]" The spread between the two vaccines was about one half of one percent. Hardly a "game changer."

Consumer Reports warned its readers not to be in a "rush to get the high-dose vaccine." The vaccine, called Fluzone High-Dose, is only "slightly more likely than the standard vaccine to prevent the flu in people 65 and up." CR is in agreement with The Times about the value of the new flu shot for seniors.

CR goes on to report that the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns the high-dose vaccine might be more likely to cause side effects, including headache, muscle aches, and fever. The Consumer Reports medical experts believe older people should weigh the possible risks and benefits of the new vaccine before getting inoculated.

When it comes to the new 'quadrivalent' flu shot, Consumer Reports told its readers to consider it. The magazine went on to warn readers that "unlike the standard vaccine, not all insurers cover it, so you might have to pay out of pocket, about $38." In Ontario the flu shot is covered by OHIP -- very important if your income is limited. I would imagine there are Americans who cannot afford the improved flu vaccine and many others who cannot afford even the older, less expensive flu shot.

Back in the day that I worked at the newspaper, The Free Press arranged for flu shots to be made available to all staff. They had a nurse come in and spend the day. Everyone was encouraged to get vaccinated. No one bad-mouthed the flu shot.

A time for sharing memories.

When I heard this rendition Sleigh Ride by the Christian pop punk band (what a mix!) Relient K, it brought tears to my eyes. The you I pictured were plural; I pictured my granddaughters. I promised myself that I would find a sleigh ride offered somewhere in the London, Ontario, area. I'll take them all for a memory-making ride, if possible.

From the 2007 holiday album Let It Snow, Baby . . . Let It Reindeer. Be patient, it gets into a lovely groove a little ways into the recording. And the video is far more upbeat than the featured art would have you believe.

Relient K "Sleigh Ride" from Gotee Records on Vimeo.

If you liked that, you might like Run Run Rudolph. An old Chuck Berry hit from the late '50s it was covered by Lynyrd Skynyrd on the group's Christmas Time Again album. It has a gentle intro but it quickly hits full stride.

Whenever I hear a Chuck Berry song, I think back to the 99-cent rock and roll nights at the University of Windsor in Windsor, Ontario, in the '60s. My friends and I caught a live performance of Chuck at one of those alcohol-fueled events. He was fantastic - I think.

My personal favourite when it comes to Christmas albums is Phil Spector's  A Christmas Gift for You. Produced and arranged by Spector, the album features Dalene Love, the Ronettes, the Crystals and Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans. Spector himself makes an appearance on Silent Night.

The version of Sleigh Ride on this album has become a classic and for that  reason I'm ending this post with a link to that recording. It is a remastered version. Note: In 2003, this Christmas album was ranked No. 142 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Seniors shouldn't eat dog food; It's too expensive.

Some time ago a reporter a the local paper ran an editorial warning those with some years left until retirement that they should be worried about the prospect of eating pet food in their senior years. I wrote she was being silly and she got in touch with me to say writing editorials wasn't her job. She simply cranked out her piece at the demand of those above her.

Still, the piece was silly. Last night, as I at my dinner, I considered how much I had spent on food that day. I don't believe I spent more than $3. I bought all on sale and all was purchased with food value and taste in mind. The soup pictured cost about $2 a serving and was thick with added broccoli and carrots. The vegetables were leftovers. I'd have added a little extra cheese but my wife didn't want the added calories. We could have added some leftover chicken but yesterday was a meatless day for me: doctor's orders.

The bread with the meal was two-day-old baguette and the topping was sun-dried tomatoes with grated Parmesan cheese -- both leftovers sitting almost forgotten in our fridge. The meal was filling, nutritious and delicious. Breakfast and lunch were also put together from food items bought on sale.

If I had written the editorial telling folk how to prepare for retirement, I'd have told them to not eat junk. Junk food is expensive. Don't get a taste for the stuff. It's neither good for you nor easy on your food budget. Build your daily food menu around stuff on sale at your local grocery stores and do the food preparation yourself. You will eat well and on a fraction of what most folk believe you must spend.

Bon app├ętit!

p.s. After writing this I bought some instant oatmeal cereal on sale: 19-cents a serving.  I can have my cereal, a banana mashed into the cereal to add  extra sweetness and food value, and I can make this with milk and cool it with a little more, all for less than a dollar a day. At this price I can assure you, no dog food for breakfast.