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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.
30 grams of walnuts

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.


I made this for guests the other night. This time our gas range was working. I made 360 grams of pasta for four of us using the traditional boiling water method. While the pasta was cooking, I quickly roasted the walnuts lightly in hot olive oil in a large wok. While roasting the walnuts I partially cooked the green beans in a handy microwave oven. When the walnuts were about half done, I added the cherry tomatoes and continued to heat the mixture. I added the green beans, the pesto/tomato, and cheese and mixed some more. At this point, the pasta was done. I added the pasta and tossed all. It was great.

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.