Muscrat Love ***

*** That seems like an innocuous enough title not to attract a lot of pervs.

muscrat

So, the daughter is 16 and suddenly all her friends are sexually active. We’ve been having extra many discussions about this topic lately, as you can imagine. Of course, 16-year-olds having sex isn’t anything new, but kids my child’s age having sex is definitely something new for me.

I won’t get into any specifics regarding my daughter because I don’t think she’d be too happy about having something this personal bandied about in the bloggy world. However, I do think the topic in general is worthy of some bloganalysis.

Despite the threat of deadly and not-so-deadly, but still rather unpleasant STDs, kids just barely into their teens are having sex.  A few of them do it because they’re in a “long-term” (more than a month) relationship and reckon it’s expected. All their friends are doing it.  Or because it’s cool.  Or the do it to get some guy to like them. Or because they’re drunk and don’t know how to avoid it. All of these, while the same reasons many of us started having sex, are really bad reasons.

At 16, the daughter has already waved off one school-mate who left school to go have her baby. She has had huddled discussions with friends about another school-mate who got knocked up and was desperately trying to find a way to have an abortion without her parents finding out. And, she has had one school-mate get date-raped at a party. And, my daughter goes to what is generally considered to be a “good” school. 

From what I’ve heard, seen and remember from my own teenhood, I don’t think most young teens are ready for sex, not to mention all the flotsom and jetsom that goes with it. Most of them aren’t even clear on the physiological aspects of sex, nor are they equipped to deal with the emotional aspects of it. Hell, most adults aren’t equipped to deal with intimate relationships.

Some teenage girls deal with not being ready for sex by providing oral service to boys. This, apparently is not considered to be sex among the younger set. It’s just a way to get boys to like you and/or a way to keep your boyfriend from breaking up with you and dating someone else who will have sex with them.

I find this horrifying. Sure,  I’m all for young people finding creative ways of enjoying each other sexually if they’re not ready to commit to intercourse, but what’s going on here isn’t at all mutual. The girls are not enjoying this – they get nothing out of it but a stained t-shirt and a pat on the head. “It’s no big deal,” the girls say shrugging, while watching wistfully as the guy they’ve just serviced saunters off with his arm around the “real” girlfriend (Who, I understand, often watches and laughs).

Sooner or later most teenagers will fall in love and then things get really tricky. Because, odds are that after a while the couple are going to get to the point of wanting to have sex the old fashioned way — the way their parents and grandparents did it! (And are still doing it) (Ha! That should freak them out). 

I don’t think there is anything, that can be considered healthy, that a parent, or anyone else, can do to stop teenagers having sex if they feel ready to do it. We adults can make sure they know what they’re doing; that they know how to protect themselves physically. And with a lot of dialogue we may even help them to prepare a bit emotionally and make sure they don’t do anything they don’t feel ready for. But that’s it.

All that’s left is for us is to hope that our daughter’s (and son’s) first time[i] and every other time after that is a positive experience and that the relationship is strong and that if, or when, it ends they are not too heartbroken.

And to be there to pick up the pieces if they are.

It’s all so different and yet so much the same as when I was young. Parents weren’t involved at all in our sex lives at all, except to threaten us with death if we came home pregnant and/or got some girl pregnant.

For instance, did you and your parents ever discuss whether or not it would be okay if your girlfriend/boyfriend slept over? It seems to be a normal thing these days.  I guess if my daughter is going to be intimate with a boy, I’d rather she do it somewhere where she feels comfortable and safe. Other parents say there’s no way they could allow that and say that only encourages something I should be trying to discourage. 

Could anybody give me some sort of timeframe as to when this parenting gig starts to get easy?


[i] Say, YA!  all those whose first time was romantically wonderful. Say, ARG! all those whose first time was really bad. Say, MEH! all those whose first time would have been pretty much forgettable if it weren’t for the fact that it was the first time.

Taking Back The Weather

Since forever, weather has been vitally important to human survival. So, from day one, people learned how to read nature in order to forecast weather patterns. This way they’d know if they needed to bring the animals indoors, if tomorrow would be a good day for hunting, if the crops needed to be harvested, if it was too early to plant, if a storm was on the way, etc., etc. This method was amost 100% accurate.

Over time some people proved themselves to be better at reading nature than others and they became the designated weather predictors. They’d pass on their skills to the next generation and so on until some wise ass decided this important weather education ought to be formalized and they invented a university and meterological studies and all sorts of highly scientific equipment and specialized weather centers to really pinpoint weather patterns. The Environment Canada Weather Office now boasts a 45% accuracy rate in forecasting the weather. (OOooooOOOooooooOO… 45% is a FAIL, dudes!!!)

One day someone is going to figure out that blogging would make a good university course (if it isn’t already). And they will have some egghead who’s never blogged, but has done a lot of  “research” on it,  teach it and that will be the end of the blogosphere as we know it. Mark my words. ~ XUP

Anyhoooo… back to the weather. I think maybe it’s time for all of us to Take Back The Weather! Because I’m really tired of planning an outdoor activity after the weather people told me it was going to be hot and sunny only to wake up to near freezing temperatures and torrential rain. And I’m tired of going to work in the morning in my rain boots, raincoat and toting a big old umbrella because a “heavy rainfall warning” has been issued and then it turns out to be the hottest, sunniest day ever. (Not that that’s happened around here in living memory.)

So, okay let’s do our own forecasts. Screw you meteorologists and your gyroscopes. We’re just going to go outside and look at nature in order to figure out what’s going on with the weather. How crazy is that?  

Ready?

The Air

  • Take a sniff of the air.  In low pressure, plants will give off a composty smell, flowers will smell stronger. And low pressure means rain or some other precipitation.
  • Also, sounds will also be sharper in a low pressure situation.
  • Check which way the wind is blowing: 
    • Winds blowing in an easterly direction usually mean an approaching storm.
    • Westerly winds mean nice weather ahead.
    • Strong winds mean a worse storm and if trees are showing the underside of their leaves, it means a really nasty storm. When high winds hit a tree, dense leaves will catch the wind and pull the tree over. Folding up its leaves affords a tree some measure of protection.

The Sky

  • Remember the “red sky at night” ditty? 
    • If the sky is red at night when the sun is setting it means there’s a high pressure system mixing with dry air. Since this high pressure system is in the west and since prevailing winds move weather systems from west to east, this means nice weather is on its way. 
    • If the sky is red in the morning, the news is not so good. It means the dry air has passed and a low pressure system is on its way. And low pressure means moisture.
  • The moon:
    • If the moon is reddish or pale also means nice weather.
    •  If the moon is bright and clear, it means a low pressure system is in the air and we all know by now that low pressure equals precipitation.
    • And if there’s  a circle around the moon, rain or snow will follow soon (as the old rhyme goes).

The Birds

Our bird friends can help us predict the weather, too. They already know what’s coming and will adjust their day accordingly.

  • If birds are flying high in the sky, everything is fine and dandy.
  • If they’re down low and/or roosting, rain is on the way.
  • If you see a whole lot of birds in trees or on power lines it means a rain or snow storm is coming really, really soon. If you see birds feeding during a storm, you’ll know the storm isn’t going to be ending any time soon.

The Clouds

Clouds, of course are excellent weather predictors:

  • White, thin clouds high in the sky mean nice weather for a while.
  • Clouds will become thicker, darker and lower in the sky as bad weather approaches. That much, I reckon is pretty straight forward.  
  • If there are several layers of clouds moving in different directions, you know some heavy shit is about to come down.
  • If there are lots of clouds on a winter night, you will know that warmer weather is coming the next day, though it may snow.
  • A clear sky at night, winter or summer, means a nice day ahead.

The Long Range Forecast

If November is a warm month, the upcoming winter will be severe.

If squirrels seem busier than usual gathering nuts, it will be a bad winter.

If the summer is extra hot, the winter will be extra cold.

The first frost of autumn will occur exactly six months after the first thunderstorm in the spring.

If the autumn is windy, then expect a mild winter.

If the spring in windy, expect a cool summer.

If it is a dry spring, it will be a wet summer.

A mild winter precedes a cool spring.

The Weather Related Anecdote

The Old Farmer’s Almanac  has been a great source for long-range weather predictions since 1792. I always make sure I have one in my Christmas stocking because I’m a little obsessed with the weather. Growing up on a farm, (ya, ya, enough already with the growing-up-on-a-farm references) weather was an ongoing topic of conversation, worry, anxiety and joy in the house. And because I still like to spend a good part of my day outdoors, I want to know what’s going on out there—in the days, weeks and even months ahead.

Back to the Old Farmer’s Almanac. One year, back in the mid-1800’s, the publishers noticed that the upcoming edition did not have a weather prediction for a certain date in June and the thing was about to go to print. “Oh hell,” said the editor (because that’s how editors talked even back then), “Just put anything in there,”  So the flunky thought to himself, “Fine, let’s see how they like this” and he wrote —  on this day, it is not only going to be fair, but it is also going to rain, snow and sleet — And, as it turned out, the forecast was 100% accurate. (True story).

This guaranteed them subscriptions for the next few decades.

Although I complain about the weather a lot, like a good Canadian, I actually love weather. I once spent 6 weeks in a country that didn’t have any weather. Every morning the weather guy on the radio would announce, “80 degrees and sunnyyyyy” (in a liltingly musical Caribbean accent). I thought I would like that, but I didn’t.  I actually felt like I might lose my mind if it didn’t rain soon.

From the Society Pages

In other society news….  Miss Violet Sky  (eldest daughter of the Southern Ontario Skys), undertook a journey to the nation’s capital this weekend past. She was received at the home of XUP where a small wine and cheese affair was arranged in her honour. Other society notables in attendance included the lovely Miss Alison.

Miss Violet was so much more down-to-earth and humorous than one would have expected from her writings and pastel-balloon blog masthead. Neither did she emerge from her carriage in the anticipated diaphanous gown! Not at all! Miss Violet was quite practically attired in clothing that might more commonly be seen on the average citizen.

Welcomes were warm and raucous all around; Miss Violet presented her host with gifts of fruit and baked goods; and the visit got underway.

The next 24 hours saw Miss Violet jet-setting through the best of what the city has to offer.  The Landsdowne’s welcomed her to their outdoor marketplace where staff curried her favour with samplings of their best wares. Miss Violet charmed them all with her winning smile and brief, yet personalized tidbits of conversation.

Miss Violet was then whisked to Parliament to be presented with some of Ottawa’s finest gothic architecture, followed by a tour of Lieutenant-Colonel John By’s marketplace where, after a whirlwind expedition through shoppes, she partook of a large refreshing beverage on a terrace overlooking the square.

A late luncheon was enjoyed by Miss Violet and her entourage at Saigon Boy, in one of the town’s more colourful quartiers. There followed a visit to the famed photographer, Mr. Robin, who was exceedingly gracious in entertaining Miss Violet on his verandah.

As the long day wore on, Miss Violet’s energy, optimism and good cheer never flagged one iota – the sign of a true lady.  Nevertheless, the evening’s itinerary was of a more relaxed, subdued nature and Miss Violet was given the opportunity to retire to her chambers at a reasonable hour.

Miss Violet’s stay in our fair city was, unfortunately of short duration as she was obliged to return to her duties in her own village the very next day. One hopes Miss Violet took some delight in her foray into the heretofore unknown world of never-before-met Ottawa bloggers as they took a considerable amount of pleasure in her company.

Tittle-tattle has it that Miss Violet herself will be presenting a more thorough accounting of her visit, complete with numerous delightful photographs. One certainly looks forward to this.

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Meeting new people – especially bloggers one has been following for some time – has so far, for me, always been a very positive experience. I highly recommend coming out from behind your keyboards every so often and giving it a try. You will not like everyone you meet, but if you keep initial visits short and don’t enter into the encounter with a great many expectations, your meetings will, more often than not, be reasonably pleasant.

Bon chance!

The Freegans

I don’t know where I’ve been the last 20 years that the term “freegan” has never crossed my path, but there you go – now it has.

The word is a combination of “free” and “vegan” and people who practice freeganism live a lifestyle deliberately with little or no money. (I know…don’t we all?) No, but freegans, (who have been around for at least 20 years under this particular moniker and forever as a general concept) do not wish to participate in the conventional economy and strive to leave the smallest possible ecological footprint.

They are vegans, they believe in community and sharing and cooperation and freedom and are social activists combatting materialism, consumerism, greed, conformity and environmental damage.

They get most of their stuff, including food, from other people’s cast-offs. They “forage” instead of buying, They rummage through dumpsters, and the “garbages” of retailers, hotels, restaurants, residences, offices and other places. And before you turn up your nose at the concept of “garbage” you should know that the recovered goods are all safe, clean, useable and in perfect condition – including the food.

What they can’t find among discards they can always get for free on websites Freecycle or the free section of  Craigslist. Some communities events like“Really, Really, Free Markets” and “Freemeets” or a  free store. Goods (and sometimes services) are given or exchanged. No money is involved.

Freegans are also behind Food Not Bombs. They cook up recovered food and serve meals on street corners to anyone who wants them.

Freegans avoid using cars as much as possible, though realize they are often a necessity. They try to use diesel engine cars converted to run on leftover fryer oil from restaurants. (Yes, apparantly this is not only possible, but very efficient! Who knew?)  For the most part, freegans walk, bike, skate, or hitchhike.

They believe housing is a right not a privilege and so squat in vacant properties that landlords have boarded up. Freegans feel it’s an outrage to have people living on the streets freezing to death when there are structures all over the place just sitting empty.  Don’t equate freegan squatting with TV images of squatters in crack houses, though. No, these people make real homes out of these empty buidings. In addition to living areas, squatters often convert abandoned buildings into community centers with programs including art activities for children, environmental education, meetings of community organizations, and more.

They also turn garbage-filled abandoned lots into community garden plots, growing their own vegetables and edible and medicinal plants. And what they can’t grow they forage for in urban green areas.

Some freegans have moved out of the urban centers altogether and have set up communtiies in wilderness areas, living more primitive lifestyles.

And Freegans believe that the concept of a nine-to-five work grind is soul destroying  — which most of us nine-to-fivers already know. We sacrifice such a large chunk of our lives just to buy stuff we’re going to throw away eventually. We sacrifice our freedom to take orders from someone else. We live our days with stress, boredom, monotony, and in many cases risks to our physical and psychological well-being

So, without the need to buy stuff and pay mortgages, freegans can get by with very little need to work. They devote their days to caring for their families, volunteering in the community and joining activist groups

But, because it’s difficult to find some things for free, employment of sorts is often necessary. But even here, they stand firm in not allowing a boss to overrun their spirit of cooperative empowerment. Employee-led unions like Industrial Workers of the World ensure, safe, free and fair workplaces.

The documentary, Bin Appetit, explains more about the principles behind freeganism.

I love the idea behind this. In some ways it’s a step back to a kinder, more caring, more community-centered era. In other ways, urban freegans couldn’t exist without the throw-away consumerism so rampant in this era.

Some people call them freeloaders because of this, but they’re not lazy or shiftless; nor do they sit around waiting for handouts. Foraging is hard work, too. Making a home and a garden out of garbage is hard work. Volunteering, sharing food, goods and services is work – even if it’s not our conventional concept of “work”.

Lately I’ve been following the blog of Hallie – a woman who seems to be very much a part of this sort of lifestyle (even if she’s not vegan). She seems to need very little, has built herself the tiniest, cutest  living space and is free of pretty much all of the encumberances the rest of us have yolked ourselves with.

I wonder if I could live like this? Could you? I spend way too much money on food now because I’m picky about the quality of the stuff I eat. I think the transition to dumpster cuisine might be a difficult one. Other than that I wouldn’t have a big problem. I have very little interest in my home. I like it to be vermin-free and have hot and cold running water, but I don’t spend my weekends picking out colour swatches or down at HomeSense matching fabrics and dinner ware.

The only reason I’ve even made half an effort is for my daughter. And I love foraging for free and/or cheap stuff. And I already live car-free. It’s just the food thing…

What I Read at Blog Out Loud

What a great evening! Diary of a Turtlehead Lynn didn’t miss a trick in organizing this event, down to the little tiny notebooks we got to share blogsites. Everyone has thanked the hell out of Lynn already, but she deserves at least one more really big THANK YOU for organizing this. If we do this again next year (and I hope we will) I nominate Lynn to put it together!! Yay!!

I have to admit that beforehand I was a little leary of having to sit through 3 hours of people reading, but it wasn’t like that at all. Every one of the readers was captivating in their own unique way and everyone had such dynamic and engaging reading styles –there wasn’t a dry monotone among them. Colour me delighted.

So….

TOMATO SOUP

This is what I finally decided to read last night at Blog Out Loud.  I posted a version of this story a long, long time ago in another incarnation of this blog.

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When I was an innocent, fresh-faced adolescent, growing up in the heart of Canada’s fruit belt, I once spent a summer babysitting the three kids that lived on the neighbouring farm while their parents saw to the harvest.  I was so naive at the time that I truly believed that spending 12 – 15 hours a day with two very young boys, a 6-month old baby and an ugly, randy, black dog named, Fletcher, was preferable to picking or packing fruit.

This was back in the day when summers were hot and this particular summer was the hottest  I could remember. The kids were miserable all the time. We lived out in the middle of nowhere, so I couldn’t take them to a movie theatre or a play park or even to visit friends. We hung around the dusty farm playing by the dried-up creek. Or we’d walking through the bush looking at bugs. But most of our time was spent splashing in the kiddie pool trying to keep the heat at bay and shaking Fletcher off our legs.

It certainly wasn’t the worst job I’ve ever had, but it surely wasn’t the best either.

Until…around about the middle of July. The job benefits  increased dramatically when my boss took on a farmhand – a blond, young, strapping, guitar-playing Adonis-like farmhand.  Eddie.  Eddie was only a couple of years older than me, soft-spoken, with a halo of Byronic curls and the soulful eyes of a poet. 

He moved into the small hired-hand shack in the middle of the apple orchard. The very apple orchard that edged our property. The very apple orchard and shack that I was able to see clearly from my very own bedroom window.

Eddie would spend his evenings sitting on the tiny porch of his summer shack, strumming his guitar and smoking. Sometimes he’d sing along, softly in a sweet, sad voice.

I often watched him from my bedroom window before I went to sleep — memorizing everything for my dreams.  I’d hear him singing as I drifted off to sleep, imagining him sitting, shadowy, under his dim porch-light. 

Of course, I was completely besotted.  He was so unlike all the boys I knew from school; so grown up, so sensitive, so perfect. His skin was clear. His hair was clean. He played guitar. He lived in his own shack!

Eddie and I would say hello and smile at each other if we happened to pass in the farmyard. Or perhaps we’d exchange some brief word or two when I’d bring out the Hi-C in the scorching afternoon for the thirsty pickers.  But that was all. We didn’t seek each other out.

Instead, I spent the summer in a hazy fantasy  involving Eddie tossing pebbles at my bedroom window late at night, beckoning me to join him on the front porch of his shack. (The fantasy went hazy to overcast and foggy at that point because I was, afterall, still very young and innocent) 

Late one hot, sweltering morning near the end of August, the skies suddenly grew black. A frantic wind danced through the thick humidity. A rumble of thunder could be heard approaching in the distance.  The air became charged with electricity as lightening crackled over the hills.

The pickers were all sent home.  The morning’s harvest was hurriedly packed and loaded onto the truck and the farmer and his wife drove off to get their fruit to the cannery.

The farmyard was deserted in record time as the storm raced toward us.  And then there was just me, the kids, the ugly black dog and Eddie. The kids, of course were in super high-gear because something new and exciting was going on. Eddie rushed around putting equipment away before the rain came.

And all at once, the skies exploded with a crash of thunder and lightning and the clouds opened wide releasing a torrential downpour. Everyone screamed.

I hustled the kids and the dog indoors without any of us getting too wet. The screen door slammed behind us. But where was Eddie?

We looked through an almost opaque curtain of rain and could barely make out Eddie as he struggled to close the barn doors against the lashing winds.

By the time he got himself up to the house, he was soaked to the skin; his hair plastered darkly to his skull; his clothes clinging to him, dripping on the kitchen floor.  The kids had never had this much fun. They jumped up and down. They laughed at Eddie. The ugly black dog was so excited he was trying to mount the baby.

Then there was another boom and a crack that shook the house and then the lights went out. And then we were in the dark. It was like night. Everyone but the baby went quiet.

We all rushed to a window to see if we could see what had been hit by the lightening. But it was too dark and too wild out there. The heat of the last few weeks was just a memory as ferocious winds swept the farmyard.

Eddie shivered and peeled off his sodden t-shirt.

He shrugged and stepped into the bathroom.

The kids decided they were starving. They needed food. The baby was trying to mount the ugly black dog.

And Eddie emerged from the bathroom with nothing but a towel wrapped around his waist. 

Oh my.

He grinned and blushed and murmured an apology for not having anything else to change into.

I stammered something in return which I’m sure was inane and I suddenly felt grossly overdressed in my shorts and tank top.

The kids were climbing into the fridge foraging for sustenance.  Eddie and I decided we’d better feed them.

Eddie lit some candles and I scrounged around the pantry for something everyone could eat. I found some tins of Campbell’s Tomato soup. Eddie got the kids out of the fridge and found some bread and cheese. We decided to make soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. 

Eddie set himself up at one side of the stove creating cream of tomato soup. I was at the other side grilling bread and orange cheddar.

We were only millimetres apart cooking. Stirring, sizzling, steaming. I could smell the rain on Eddie, but oddly, could smell neither the soup nor the cheese nor the grilling bread. He turned and smiled at me every so often and once said something about cream of tomato being his favourite. I felt a little silly admitting I’d never had tomato soup in my life, let alone tomato soup with milk in it. He was so amazed. He promised I was in for a treat. We laughed. I don’t know why.

Then, strangely, after a certain point in the kitchen that dark morning in August, I don’t remember much of anything about what the kids or the dog might or might not have said or done. Seems to me everyone and everything but Eddie and I were in a state of suspended animation, though I’m sure that can’t be true.

I know we all sat around the kitchen table safe and dry in that farmhouse while the storm raged on outside. And we ate the sandwiches and the cream of tomato soup by candlelight.

And I clearly remember thinking that cream of tomato soup was the single best food in the whole entire world. And I marvelled anew at Eddie who was, on top of everything else, surely the best cook in the whole entire universe.

Things quieted down after a while and I tucked the two younger kids in for a nap while the older one did something in a corner of the living room with his little cars and legos.

Eddie and I washed the dishes and then sat ourselves on the sofa talking about stuff. I don’t remember what. It wasn’t important.

At the beginning of September, Eddie went back to wherever he came from.  But we spent pretty much every evening until then, together on the tiny porch of his shack.  We listened to music and talked some more.  Sometimes Eddie would play something on his guitar and sing and I would get a lump in my throat willing myself not to cry at the beauty of it all.

And Eddie was so very chivalrous the entire time. Oddly so, I think now. Not that I was irresitable at 14 or anything, but he was a 16-year-old boy with his own pad and without any other company for 2 whole months. And there I was totally, and probably very obviously smitten.

But to me, at the time, I thought it was perfectly lovely to be with such a kind, respectful boy. It all so terribly, terribly romantic. All the more because I knew Eddie and I would never see each other again after the summer.

There’s been a lot of water under the bridge since then, but to this day, whenever I eat tomato soup or experience a summer storm I always feel a small warm whisper of that extraordinary afternoon in August and Eddie.

Just Bee Cuzzzzzzz

When I was about nine, one of the neighbouring farmers gave over part of his empty field to a beekeeper.  One morning I was surprised to see stacks of wooden boxes in the neighbour’s field.

hives

I didn’t know what they were, but my father kindly explained to me that they were beehives and that the bees would help make our trees bear better and more fruit and that, at the same time, the bees would make honey over there in those wooden hives and that probably the beekeeper would let us have some of it. Seeing the astonished look on my face, my wise father then added that I should stay the hell away from the hives because there were thousands of bees over there who would sting me to death.

Since I spent most of the summer barefoot, I’d had more than a few bee-stings in my life, and knew they hurt  a lot and could imagine that thousands of them probably would kill me. So I stayed the hell away from the hives, but I spent a lot of time watching them from afar. If I went into the attic, I had a good view of the whole set-up from the little octagonal window at the front of the house.

Nothing much ever happened over there, however. I asked my dad how come nothing ever  happened over there at the bee hives and he said the bees were out all day busy at work in the orchards and the beekeeper probably only came at night to tend to them.

So I snuck up to the attic at night a few times when I could remember to stay awake long enough. And then one day I saw him – the beekeeper. He had a strange hat on with what I know now to be a net over his face, but what just seemed like a dark mask at the time. He had a lot of contraptions and he made smoke and he moved really, really slowly. The whole thing was eerie and deliciously mysterious– especially to a little kid like me who spent way too much time alone lost in her own head.

beekeeper

The next time we had a composition assignment at school, I wrote about the beekeeper except that I embellished the story a bit. The bees were the backdrop, but I made the story about witnessing a large, dark man fighting with another large dark man and then killing him and burying the body in the field next to the bee hives.

My teacher called the police. She and the police came to the house.

This was the second time the police had been to the house because of me. The first time was when I was 6 and was riding my bike on the nice smooth road instead of on the gravelly shoulder like I was supposed to.

Anyway, the teacher showed my composition to my parents and said the assignment was to write something about our every day life (I must have missed that detail). My parents apologized to everyone and explained that I was nuts and dragged me downstairs to tell everyone exactly what the heck I was thinking.

I tried to explain about the mysterious beekeeper in the night, but then I got heck for sneaking out of bed in the middle of the night and then the police and the teacher figured they had better things to do  with their evening and left.

I got some more heck and got sent to my room to re-write my composition.

The upshot of this whole post is that I like bees. (Fellow blogger, Robin, has taken some amazing photos of bees) Bees are becoming extinct because of genetically modified seeds and over-use of pesticides. Without bees our crops won’t grow. And without crops, people won’t have much to eat and we’ll have to resort to cannibalism.

Also, I love honey. Aside from maple syrup, honey is the only sweetener I keep in the house. There are so many varieties of honey that it’s worth a whole post on its own.

Once upon a time they made wine out of honey —mead. It was really, really sweet. I had some once during a party our Anglo Saxon literature teacher threw for us, so I guess you can still buy it now. I haven’t rushed out to do so.

One day, when I retire I’d like to keep a few beehives maybe.  (I’d also like some goats, but that’s a whole other story.) Meantime, here are some interesting superstitions about bees to prove that I’m not the only one who thinks bees are mysterious.

  • It is bad luck to give away a hive; the bees must be sold for a fair price commensurate with their worth.
  • Beehives should never be moved from one place to another without the bees being told beforehand.
  • If your bees suddenly become lazy it is said that there will be a disaster shortly.
  • If bees suddenly swarm on a bush or tree there will be a death nearby.
  • If a bee flies into the house it is a sign of great good luck, or of the arrival of a stranger; however, the luck will only hold if the bee is allowed to either stay or to fly out of the house of its own accord.
  • It is unlucky to kill a bee.
  • A bee landing on someone’s hand is believed to foretell money to come.
  • If a bee lands on someone’s head it means that person will rise to greatness.
  • It is a sure sign of a girl’s virginity if she can walk through a swarm of bees without being stung.
  • There is believed to be a very strong link between bees and their keepers; bees cannot prosper in an atmosphere of anger or hatred, and will either pine away and die, or fly away.
  • There is still a common belief that bees should be told about deaths that occur in the beekeeper’s family; in past times this was extended to include every birth, marriage or other notable event in the life of the family. It was especially important to inform the bees of the death of their owner; traditionally this was done by the eldest son or widow of the owner, who would strike each hive three times with the door key and say ‘The master is dead!’. If the procedure was not followed, the bees would die or fly away. In many districts the hives were put into mourning by having black crepe draped around them, and at the funeral feast sugar or small amounts of the food eaten by the mourners were brought out for the bees.

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Tomorrow is the event all of Ottawa has been waiting for: the first ever annual Blog Out Loud!!! Raw Sugar Cafe at Somerset & Cambridge. 7:00 pm. All your favourite Ottawa Bloggers will be there. Will you?

To Serve Man

To Serve Man is a science fiction short story by Damon Knight. In the 1960s it was made into an episode of Twilight Zone. In the story a bunch of highly intelligent, friendly aliens come to earth and teach man how to end wars, famine and pretty much everything else that’s wrong on the planet. They even offer free trips to their own Shangri-La planet, Kanamit. One day one of the aliens leaves behind a book which someone figures out how to translate. It’s called, To Serve Man. Everyone is feeling all warm and fuzzy about their new alien friends until they figure out that To Serve Man is a cookbook.

kanamit

What does human flesh taste like, you ask? Well, a New York Times journalist,  William Buehler Seabrook, once convinced a medical intern to give him a chunk of human to taste (for research purposes). Seabrook cooked it. (Breaded I think, like a cutlet, with a little seasoning and some spring vegetables). His opinion:

It was like good, fully developed veal, not young, but not yet beef. It was very definitely like that, and it was not like any other meat I had ever tasted. It was so nearly like good, fully developed veal that I think no person with a palate of ordinary, normal sensitiveness could distinguish it from veal. It was mild, good meat with no other sharply defined or highly characteristic taste such as for instance, goat, high game, and pork have.

The consensus among all serial killer cannibals, on the other hand is that human flesh tastes exactly like pork. (And, ergo that pork tastes exactly like human flesh. Yum).

Cannibalism was widespread among communities of people throughout history and even on into the 19th century. Today, there is only one tribe that we know of who still practice cannibalism – the Korowai of Papua, New Guinea. There are only 3,000 of them left. (Time to hit the A&P).

cannibalism

Anthropologist Beth Conklin, spent time with The Wari’ tribe in the Amazon, who practiced cannibalism until the 1960s when missionaries forced them to stop.

They ate people for two separate reasons. One; they ate their enemies (after killing them in battle) as an added expression of anger. And two; they ate members of their own tribe who had died naturally, as an expression of respect and as their way of coping with grief.

In her book, Consuming Grief: Compassionate Cannibalism in an Amazonian Society, Conklin says:

I hope that this book will make people think more deeply about the meanings that the body has in human relationships, and to consider that other cultures may have understood those in ways that made the destruction and transformation of the body through cannibalism seem to be the best, most respectful, most loving way to deal with the death of someone you care about.

Today, most Western cultures believe cannibalism to be socially unacceptable. But why? (You can’t just say, “Because…ewww, it’s gross.”)

With over-population in many areas of the world and famine in many more, why waste a nutritious product by burying it in valuable and ever more scarce land?

We can’t kill people for food; that’s a whole other taboo/law. But if healthy people die in accidents is there anything inherently wrong with using them for food?

If the dead person has signed “donor cards” ahead of time saying it’s okay with them if their body is used for food after they die?

Would that be so much worse than cultivating and slaughtering our fellow mammals for food?

With the way we’re laying waste to our environment, could cannibalism one day be our only way to survive? Remember the awesome 1970’s dystopian flim Soylent Green?

soylent%20green

Would you find humans more palatable if they were made into little green crackers?

What about in a survival situation? Like Alfred Packer or the Donner party or the Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 gang. You’re in a plane crash in the middle of nowhere and have very little chance of being rescued. There is nothing else to eat and some of your fellow passengers have died in the crash. Time goes by. Do you allow yourself to starve to death or would you dig in? kid

Neil, Buzz, Al & Other Conspiracies

Are any of you old enough to remember that moon-landing back in 1969? It’s definitely one of those long-ago things that does NOT seem like it happened just yesterday. That one seems like a least two lifetimes ago.

If it really happened!

Ya, the big Moon Landing is one of the all-time favourites among conspiracy theorists. They’ve done elaborate research on the film footage and stills and reckoned the photographic technology just wasn’t there in 1969 to produce that calibre of film. Not to mention that the technology to land on the moon apparantly wasn’t quite within grasp yet either. But the Americans were afraid the Russians were going to beat them, so they faked the whole thing.

Other great conspiracies include the one that believes the US was behind 9/11. There was a documentary about it called Loose Change that proved why and how. America needed oil and needed a really good reason to invade some oil rich country.

The AIDS conspiracy. That the whole virus was created in a lab for some germ warfare thing or something and either accidentally or on-purpose was released into the wild.

Along with this one is the multi-national pharmaceutical conspiracy. That populations are deliberately infected with new illnesses so that pharma can generate drugs and vaccinations to “cure” them. Not that far-fetched. Because I’m pretty sure that globally healthy people would not be a good thing for these guys.

The Kennedy assasination conspiracy, of course, will never die. Princess Diana also, was murdered in a giant conspiracy plot. Maybe even Elvis. Now, Michael Jackson, too. Fabulously famous people never just die once; they die over and over and over and over.

The whole Roswell UFO thing. I won’t even pretend to be able to unravel that one.

Maybe someone near Atlanta can explain the thing about the stack of 500,000 plastic coffins beside a major road just outside of Atlanta? The theory is that these are owned by FEMA and that FEMA has also set up concentration camps all over the US in preparation for the imposition of martial law and the killing of millions of Americans. The current finanacial crisis will apparantly be the justification to impose a police state.

The Global Warming conspiracy. This was all cooked up by politiicans, you know in order to give them a nice big fat diversion on which to focus campaigns and draw attention away from real issues like poverty, crime, education, health care and all that nasty international stuff. It’s would be a kick-ass ploy if it were real. Whoever thought of it should be given the Whole Wide World PR Award or something. Because whenever the polls ask what people think is important, damn if the environment isn’t right up there.

Oh, and here’s one I’ve never heard before. Did you know that Canada, the US and Mexico are secretly plotting to form a North American Union (NAU)? Something similar to the European Union? We’ll have a common currency called the “amero”. It’s all part of a greater plot to take over the world or something. The NAU idea is very popular among academics and economists, (not the taking over the world part, just the union part). Those in charge in all three countries deny the whole thing.

Conpiracy theories are fun to read about. The best part is that there are actually all sorts of weird and convoluted conspiracies going on all the time. I think there are a lot of people in very powerful positions who do not have the best interests of the average citizen at heart. And that some of this stuff could be at least partly true. Remember, Just because we’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get us.

Cheese! Glorious Cheese!

There are thousands of cheeses in the world and most of us only ever get to eat a handful of them in our lifetime.  This is so wrong.

I love cheese – good cheese. I’m particular about cheese. If I’m out with a bunch of people at a restaurant whose only vegetarian meal features cheese, I’ll eat it, but when I buy cheese for at-home eating, I like to choose something special.

I usually buy some sort of goat cheese because I like goats and the whole goat milk/cheese industry is less gruesome than the North American/UK cow dairy industry and goat cheese is so much easier to digest than cow. (Also, speaking of goats, did you know Google uses goats to tend their corporate lawns and never have to mow them? AND PETA is okay with it!!)

Also I buy only rennet-free cheese because rennet, is of course, not vegetarian. (Don’t click that link if you’re squeamish).

Anyhow, there are a few interesting places in Ottawa to get good cheese. (Il Negozio Nicatro, La Bottega, even Farm Boy).  A lot of really good cheese comes from Quebec .

One of the more interesting cheeses I’ve tried is haloumi cheese. It’s a goat cheese; very hard and layered and salty as heck, but mild like mozzarella. The fun part is that you can grill it on the barbeque and then slide it on some toast for breakfast. breakfast_tost_cheese

Every October there is a World Cheese Awards competition. The 2007 winner was a French brie: Brie de Meaux. It’s  a very soft cheese tasting and smelling of a delightful combination of hazelnut and fruit. It’s known as the King of Cheese because it’s been loved by French royalty since Charlemagne. You can buy a 6-pound wheel on Amazon for about $160.  Mmmmmm…brie…

brie

In 2008 the winner was a goats’ cheese called Queso Arico curado pimentón’ made by a co-operative in the Canary Islands. The cheese is pressed and regularly brushed with paprika and gofia  (a powdered cereal unique to the Canary Islands) before being matured for around six months.

canary island cheese

A close runner- up was a soft cows’ milk cheese from Canada (Quebec) called Cendré de Lune .

lune

Of course cheese is very high in fat, so it has to be eaten in moderation. Wine paired with cheese will help you to digest the fats in cheese, however, so there’s a win-win combination. There are no hard and fast rules for wine and cheese pairing, but obviously you don’t want the cheese to overpower the wine or vice versa. Experimenting with different combinations is one of those lovely small  things that makes life worthwhile.

wine-and-cheese

France is well-known for having some of the smelliest, but also most delicious cheese in the world. The stinkiest of the stinky is called  Vieux Boulogne. Officially, it smells of wet earth, mushrooms, and a hint of rotting leaves. Unofficially it apparently smells like cow poo. Neither descriptions sound all that bad to me, but there is a ban in France on taking this cheese on public transport. It looks so innocent and harmless.

stinky

Probably, you’ve also heard about the most disgusting cheese in the world – Sardinia’s Casu Marzu. It means rotted cheese. They let the cheese rot until it becomes infested with maggots and then the maggots get full of rotten cheese and then the cheese and the maggots are eaten. You have to eat it before the maggots die though or the cheese becomes toxic. It’s supposed to be delicious.

casu_marzu_570

Germany has a cheese called  Spinnenkaese which means “spider cheese” (or sometimes Milbenkaese – mite cheese) They take a nice low fat quark type cheese and then  place it in wooden boxes full of spider mites. The mites crawl all over the cheese. After 3 months the mite poop turns the cheese reddish-brown. After a year, the cheese is black and ready to eat. 

spider

Then there’s the revolting American cheese known as Kraft Singles. It smells of nothing, but tastes like plastic! kraft+singles+1-752005

But let’s not dwell on these nasty cheeses, shall we, when there are so many, many beautiful and perfectly delightful cheeses to try.

eco_friendly_wine_cheese

Please share your favourite cheese finds. Bon Appetit!

Centenarians

I read an article recently about a local woman who had turned 103 and was still living independantly, still robust and healthy, not taking any medications whatsoever, doing her own shopping, house cleaning, cooking, etc.

I thought “Wow. That’s cool.” The usual picture we have of centenarians is of shrivelled up old things in nursing home beds being tended by a bevy of care workers. In fact, however, 15% of people over 100 are still living independantly in their own homes. About 25% of centenarians are completely free of any significant cognitive disorders and most are usually healthy – healthier than people in their 80s and 90s.

Studies have found that the things most people who make it past 100 (and 80% of them are women) have in common are:

• Good genes – they have parents, grandparents, uncles or aunts who’ve lived long healthy lives
• Emotional resilience—ability to adapt to life’s events
• Resistance to stress—excellent coping skills
• Self-sufficiency
• Intellectual activity
• Good sense of humor, including about themselves
• Spirituality
• Strong connections with other people
• Low blood pressure
• Appreciation of simple pleasures and experiences
• Zest for life
• No smoking or heavy drinking
• Many play musical instruments

They also have in common a simple, sensible diet along the lines of a Mediterranean diet with an emphasis on plant-based foods (fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, nuts, seeds and potatoes); olive oil as the main fat source; only natural sugars; small amounts or no animal products; and no alcohol except one or two glasses of wine per day with meals.

There are about half a million centenarians living in the world today. The US has about 75,000 of them. Interestingly, while there are more 110+ year-old-people living in the US than any other country in the world, the US has one of the worst longevity ratings overall. France, Spain, Italy and Canada lead both in overall longevity and in having a significant amount of citizens that live to be 100 or more.

On one hand, I think it would be so interesting to see how the world unfolds over decades and decades. And, if I’m still relatively spry, getting to 100 or more could be good.

On the other hand, I don’t know if I could stand outliving my child and all my other relatives and friends. It’s hard enough making friends and/or finding people you have things in common with at my current age. I can’t imagine who you could relate to at 104 and/or who’d want to hang out with you.

Also, I’m not sure my pension and retirement savings will stretch to 40 years or more.

Even the healthy, active centenarians interviewed say they feel they’ve lived long enough and hope to die peacefully in their sleep — and soon.