Tuesday, November 30, 2004

To Say the Least

To say the least, life can be ironical at times. Several blogs back, I mentioned how much I appreciated using the computer to enhance and develop interests that I already possess. Normally, I utilize the computer quite a bit. I don't surf much, but I write blogs, read blogs and newspapers, write email, do web pages, and work on photos. Other uses also present themselves from time to time. Lately, for example, I have been working on my annual Christmas card.

The great irony, however, is that shortly after posting that particular blog, I almost completely lost interest in being at the computer. I guess we reach a saturation point every now and then, and I must have reached mine.

Perhaps fatigue set in: not just computer fatigue but fatigue in general. Usually, I am a late night kind of guy. Usually, I stay up for an hour, two hours, or longer after my wife has gone to bed. Usually, I can be productive during those late-night/early-morning sessions. Lately, I have been going to bed earlier and rising just as late. Lately, I have been tired early in the evening: to the point where doing anything that requires a dram of mental exertion seems beyond me. Lately, computer-related tasks have seemed onerous rather than stimulating.

It did not help at all that my web host began to act up during that time. First, my email accounts began to work sporadically and, then, not at all. Soon, files that I had recently uploaded disappeared. Then, new files became impossible to upload. They would appear to upload, but would only list as empty files afterward.

As my beloved pointed out this morning, there almost seems to be plague transpiring. Two blogs that we read: Rayne Today and Real Live Preacher have both had blog crashes and are trying to rebuild their stuff. At times like this, computers become a source of utter frustration rather than the convenient assistants that they are meant to be.

Maybe I'm getting over it. At least, my whole website didn't go down in flames. At least, my blogs remain intact. At least, I am able to summon both the stamina and desire to write a short blog this morning. At least, I have been able to print all of the Christmas cards that I plan to print. At least, I am looking forward to catching up on several other tasks this afternoon.

At least I can sometimes appreciate life's ironies and chuckle over them. Eventually, at least.


Thursday, November 25, 2004

Giving Thanks

It's no newsflash that today is Thanksgiving in America.

Like Canada, and even more so, I suppose, America is truly the land of plenty: where approximately five percent of the world's population consumes (so I am told) about twenty to twenty-five percent of the world's resources. I'm not being smug because, on a per capita basis, we are not a whole lot less consumptive here in Canada.

I have just been reading Bill Bryson's very short work on Africa that he freely produced for CARE. The timing of this reading juxtaposes somewhat ironically with the annual event that is Thanksgiving. Bryson's account reminds me of the various luxuries that we take for granted.

He toured one neighbourhood where most people's daily allotment of water is the approximate equivalent to the volume we send down the toilet with one flush. Many of the more fortunate souls in much of Africa have jobs that barely provide them enough to eat. Those who are especially fortunate may be able to afford to send their kids to school — public school that is. Many women still walk for hours to obtain the day's water rations. Such is the lot of countless millions: to speak nought of the truly miserable souls who are trapped in war-torn or famine-ravished regions.

This isn't news to either you or me, but it is important that we are made to recall this knowledge from time to time and especially at this time of feasting. It's rather easy to blithely murmur our thanks, but, sometimes, we require a deeper reminding of the incredible vastness of our bounty.

Thank you destiny for allowing me to be who I am where I am. As I enjoy my pumpkin pie, I wish that billions of my brothers and sisters could also enjoy a small slice: as opposed to their present paucity of crumbs.


The Sequel

Good grief, I've now blogged enough that I am starting to forget about some of my previous topics. I fear that I am soon to become the typical old geezer who endlessly retells the same old stories.

You see, it had occurred to me after posting yesterday's blog, that some might wonder how I could spend so much time on the family photo album. Therefore, I uploaded the above sample to illustrate. However, when I logged into Blogger and began to enter a title beginning with 'The' a list popped down, and I saw that I had already written about The Sacred Family Photo Album back in August.

Now, my feeble brain isn't so far gone that I don't recall mentioning the album, but I must confess that it had completely slipped my mind that I had actually posted examples. Hence, this post is now a little redundant, but since I've already gone to the trouble to upload the photo, please permit me to plunge ahead regardless. Besides, since I hold that it is quite possible that I may possess the best family photo album in the history of the universe, it's surely worth mentioning twice.

What I do, primarily, are composites. In the example above, I have seven different photos of yours truly melded into one collage. I have found that, generally speaking, an odd number works better than an even number; for some reason far beyond my comprehension, asymmetry beats symmetry for aesthetic appeal, and odd numbers tend to accomplish that better. One might still attain asymmetry with an even number of photos by varying image sizes, but you might also have to think and plan a little more thoroughly than I normally do. I create enough of these sheets that I can't really summon the wherewithal to invest a whole heckuvalota time into thinking and planning. Rather, I just start plopping photos willy nilly and arranging them on the fly — it's a strong and patient fly, in case you are wondering. Sometimes, the results are far from spectacular, but, after all is said and done, I am just doing this for the family album and not to display in some prestigious gallery.

I have eighty-three such pages in this year's album. That's a lot of ink, my friend! Not all pages are composites (probably ten to fifteen pages are single-photo 8x10s), but the seventy or so that are collages have required a fair amount of time to produce. Even if it's possible for me do one page per half-hour, which is truly optimistic, that's still a thick dollop of time to invest.

In addition to our regular album, I also composed my daughter's wedding album this year. That involved sorting through about a thousand photos [sic] and compositing about thirty pages. I don't think that my own album ever quite recovered from the time the wedding album took to put together, for I did try to put a modicum of thought into how I might best memorialize such a milestone event.

Aside from my daughter, who insisted on getting married, my wife will doubtless confess to being the main cause of this logjam (sorry about that, but somehow photojam just doesn't seem to work). She has a little digital camera that she carries almost everywhere. And does she ever use it! She snaps with reckless abandon. Why stop with two clicks of a subject when ten might produce that one perfect picture? She can easily take thirty or forty photos on a short, country walk if she puts her mind to it. Consequently, I am awash in digital image files! I have been trying to catch up lately, but I'm still adrift in October's prodigious seas, having skipped over September's choppy waves for the nonce. I dearly aspire to reach the shore before the Christmas deluge engulfs me in a new flood.

Although I would understand if you thought otherwise at this juncture, I'm not really complaining ... although a wee bit of sympathy might be in order. Turning the page and surveying an arrangement of five, seven, or more photos is vastly more interesting that turning a page and viewing four 4x6s slotted in their appointed receptacles. Mind you, I'm not disparaging anyone else's album, because I do realize that most poor, working sods can't spare the time to do what I do. The highly important thing is to maintain an album of some sort, and anyone who takes the time to both read and record blogs must surely feel the same way about his or her family's photo archives.



Wednesday, November 24, 2004

In My PJs on a Rainy Afternoon

Cuppa, at Brown Betty, recently posted a blog about quiet rainy days, and how she goes upstairs to do her thing and how I go (or stay) downstairs to do mine.

Usually, however, I don't do what I have done today. Here it is, mid-afternoon, and I'm still in my PJs. Of course, as winter draws nearer, my pyjamas consist of a sweatshirt and trackpants. It doesn't make much difference that I'm still wearing jammies, for, when I do get around to dressing, I will still be in a sweatshirt and trackpants. (In case you fret about such things, these PJs will be in the wash and not in the bed tonight.)

What do I do on days like this? Well, many interests of mine are tied to computers. I work on and print the family photo album using the computer. Of course, I also use the computer to write, blog, and read. This morning I worked on a lesson involving animation techniques using Dreamweaver. If you want to check (hint, hint), take a look. Once there, click the NEXT links to access the two pages after the first one too. Then, I worked on a web page for a local church: strictly volunteer work of course. Drat!

It's not really that I'm an obsessed geek. Rather, it's that the computer fits really well with the kinds of things that I already like to do. For example: I have always had a passing interest in photography — long before computers entered my life. Now, in the digital age, I am able to expand that interest. The computer has been a great tool by assisting me to do things that I already like to do. Operating systems and the like don't hold much interest for me, but, when a computer application synchronizes with my existing interests, like writing — this blog, for example — I really appreciate it and love to utilize it.

... Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go and change into my day clothes.

PS: Has it been a rainy day everywhere? I have seen more fresh blog-postings than normal.



Let's face it; we humans crave validation. An 'attaboy' or some similar acknowledgement is always meaningful and welcome. While I blog primarily for my own satisfaction, I am always pleased when someone drops in and makes a positive comment. Last night, it got even better. Martin, of EclecticBlogs (see sidebar), featured my blog on his. What an unexpected treat! Thanks Martin.


Tuesday, November 23, 2004

In a Real Bind ... er

That stack of binders that you see in the photo above is my collection of email from mid-1996 to the end of 2001: five years, four binders — really big binders. This is just my half of the correspondence, you understand. It's just the stuff that I wrote and doesn't include incoming correspondence. This archiving has been a fair amount of work because I copied and pasted each last piece of email into my word processor. I would collect a month at a time and make a simple cover page for that month, print it up, and put it in a binder.

After the year 2000, I rethought the process to some degree and have since contented myself with archiving the files onto CDs, thereby saving a lot of ink, paper, and shelf space.

"But why did you do this silly thing at all?" you ask.

Mainly because I have never been very good at keeping a journal. And so it seemed that preserving my emails was as close as I would ever come to maintaining some sort of chronicle. Whether I, or anyone else will ever read it, is of secondary importance.

Email was my first big kick on the Internet, and, in fairness, it is probably still the Internet's killer app. Some people chat; some people message; some people surf; some blog; some, but very few, do all of these things. However, everybody emails.

I really emailed, however. In addition to the normal writing to friends and family, I regularly wrote to pen pals in Singapore, Japan, Israel, England, Australia, Georgia, Ohio, New Hampshire, and British Columbia. There may have been more, but that is all that my dimming brain can dredge up at the moment. Over the years, sadly I suppose, all but one correspondent have fallen by the wayside.

Just last week, however, I obtained a Gmail account. I don't know if I will use it a lot or not, but Gmail archives material differently, and that got me to pondering my own archival habits. I came to the conclusion that because I no longer email as religiously or prodigiously as before, and because I now blog fairly regularly, there remains no compelling reason to continue to preserve and archive my email.

"To every season, there is a time." The time for archiving my email has passed. Enough already!

But I really must start archiving my blogs ... some of them at least.


Friday, November 19, 2004

Emotional in Blue Jeans

I am feeling emotional right now.

You see, I bought two pairs of blue jeans today. Pretty common stuff really — for most people.

I am hard-pressed to remember the last pair of jeans that I owned. Was it twenty years ago? More? Less?

For whatever reason, I have it in my head that jeans are to be worn by skinny people. I have not been skinny for almost all of my adult life. Let me be more truthful. I have been fat for all of my adult life — save for a few months here and there during diets and for brief periods afterward.

When I began the battle to regain control of my weight, way back near the beginning of the year, one of my goals was to be able to fit into a pair of denims. And, today, I have succeeded. I may have jumped the gun a bit, for I am not exactly skinny yet, but I needed to buy something to replace the loose, baggy items that my old trousers have become. Off we went to Mark's Work Wearhouse, and home I came with my trophies: two pairs of blue jeans!

I've gone down two pant sizes, four inches, in the last ten months or so and no longer feel too fat to wear denims. So, believe or not, this old fart is sitting here with tears in his eyes as he types this. Silly old fool that he is.

I am very grateful to my beloved. I asked for help on this journey, and she delivered it in spades. Thanks partner.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Bill Bryson

After passing along my thoughts about a movie in my previous post, I will now attempt to articulate a few thoughts about a book that I have recently finished: Notes from a Big Country, by, you guessed it, Bill Bryson.

We have read or listened to several of Bryson's books now, enjoyed them all, and look forward to reading more. A Walk in the Woods was a journal about his attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail. A Short History of Nearly Everything focused on the earth, the universe, and the science and scientists who have unravelled so many deep mysteries. In a Sunburned Country was another journal: this one of his trip around and through Australia.

Does all that sound dull? Of course, it does! That's Bill's talent in my opinion: to shape any topic into an interesting read rather than a dull screed. Just when you think that he may be hovering on the verge of tedium, he'll reveal something terribly interesting or awfully funny, and you'll be riveted once more.

The man possesses a wonderful sense of humour. He has a talent for describing the ordinary in a way that catches you off guard. Suddenly, I'll find myself giggling uncontrollably at the way that he has put something or other. He sneaks up on the reader so subtly that his humour, sometimes, doesn't hit me until I am in the middle of the next sentence. Then, I'll pause, look back, reread, start to chuckle, and find it hard to stop.

Perhaps it is because it is my most recent read, but I may have liked Notes from a Big Country best of all. The book is a compendium of articles that were originally published in an British newspaper. Bill is an American who spent twenty years living across the pond; he writes this series of articles to the folk in England shortly after returning to his native soil. He describes America to his British friends (and the rest of us), both the positives and negatives. Of course, he can get more humour from highlighting its eccentricities, but he applauds all of the country's positive graces as well.

I recommend the book to Americans. Seeing yourself as others see you can be elucidating.

I recommend the book to non-Americans. Increasing your understanding of America and Americans must surely be a good thing.

Primarily, however, I'm recommending an author more than any of his particular books. If you enjoy being both informed and entertained, you'll enjoy reading Bill Bryson.

At least I think so.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Finding Neverland

We don’t' get out much, but the other night my Better Half decided that it would be nice to go to the movies. Since it's been a while, it seemed like a good idea to me.

The last few times that we had this same idea, we checked the local scene and found nothing that lured us. This time, we found two likely candidates: Shall We Dance, and Finding Neverland. We read reviews and chose the latter: somewhat against Better-Half's inclinations. She is immediately attracted to movies that involve any sort of dancing. I'm not. In particular, I was unenthused about watching Richard Gere dance. When it was pointed out that I could ogle Jennifer Lopez too, it still wasn't enough to entice me: which probably speaks volumes about my age.

It's not easy to rate movies; I'm glad that I don't have to do it for a living. I think that I can only give this film *** (out of five), however. There is a lot to recommend it, including good acting performances. It is also a flick that will stick in the brain for a while, so that's a positive sign too.

However, when you find yourself saying, "Oh, come on now," or rolling your eyes, or shaking your head over the improbability of certain events or behaviours early on in a supposedly serious drama, then something is not right in the state of … last-century England.

It's supposedly based on the true account of how the play, Peter Pan, came into existence. However, I suspect that it was based rather loosely, indeed.

My bottom-line assessment: if you love going to the movies and get out a lot, and, if you are of semi-mature bent, this film will probably suit you. If you don't get out much and really want to pick 'em right when you do, then wait for the video.

Of course, I could be wrong. I recall sitting through Chicago in mortal agony while the other three in my company were totally entranced: as was the world, apparently — judging by all of the awards and attention that it received.


Monday, November 15, 2004

Forgotten-Shirt Truths

While some many of my posts may have triggered the nagging suspicion that I am enthralled with cycling, the dear reader is only partly correct. The truth of the matter is that I have somewhat of a love/hate relationship with the two-wheeled beast.

For much of today, hate dominated handily. Let me tell all, but more briefly than usual if I am at all able.

I awoke in somewhat groggy state this morning. In said condition, I should have exercised a modicum of perspicacity and stayed away from the computer and some taxing conundrums that I am facing with regards to web coding. But sagacity was in short supply this morning, and I set myself down to wrestle with the devilish computer. The ensuing frustrations, of course, only served to exacerbate my initial grogginess. I must confess, therefore, that my normally equanimous self morphed into the moody and surly soul which lurks beneath the veneer waiting to seize control — much to the distress of my dearest. Thankfully, said black mood surfaces both infrequently and pithily.

The Lady of the house, therefore, did not choose the most appropriate of times to inform me of the afternoon's priorities. She enumerated a list of about seven items that would consume the rest of the daylight hours. Let me hasten to add that they were all valid tasks that required attention, but I wasn't altogether gleeful to have them thrust upon me all at once: not today of all days. Kind of like hitting a man when the referee has already commenced his standing-eight count.

Let's cut to the chase, and reveal that a two-plus-hour bike ride was on the list. Neither mind nor body jumped gleefully at the prospect. In truth, I often dread riding. But, an even greater truth is that I invariably am reinvigorated by these exertions. Somewhere along the trail, the black cloud lifts. I would say that this is so without exception. When we arrive back home, I feel better in mind, spirit, and body.

Of course I would feel this way, for our minds, bodies, and spirits are inextricably linked. Everybody knows that really. In fact, we have all had this truth revealed to us more than once. But it's rather one of those forgotten-shirt truths. We've all discovered, in our closets or bureaus, shirts (or other items of apparel) that we had forgotten. It's rediscovery really, not discovery, but sometimes the forgetting has been so deep that the items seems fresh and new. Of course, I am now speaking more of life principles rather than shirts, but you take my point, I'm sure.

I think I'm at that stage of my life: the stage where more than learning new things, I am relearning old things ... or being reminded of them. It's part of the human condition. Our focus and attention is drawn far away by the hurlyburly, and we tend to lose track of certain important knowledges.

We need to take care of our bodies, need to exercise them. We don't have to climb rock faces or run marathons, but we must require a minimal amount of physical exertion from ourselves. It's good for our physical well-being, but perhaps more importantly, it also benefits our minds and spirits. For we are interconnected beings: spirit, mind, and body. Each component depends on the health of the other two in order to function well. I know this, and you know it, but now we are both reminded.

This is why I love biking, even when I hate it.


Friday, November 12, 2004

Saints, Dogs, and Onions

Olds adages aren't always true. Take, "You can't teach an old dog new tricks," for example. Of course you can. It may take longer, and there may be more mishaps along the way, but I am here on my soapbox to say that it can be done.

Case in point: I prepared a rather wonderful dinner (even if I do say so myself) for Saint Paul (see previous blog) and his wife the other night. Forthwith, we shall refer to the saint's wife as Minneapolis.

Saint Paul and I both perform the lion's share of cooking in our households. I notice that this is a growing trend. I'm not sure if men are taking to the kitchen as a result of a spiritual urge to nurture or out of desperation to taste cuisine other than toast, crackers, and cereal. I leave that for each dear reader to sort out according to his or her situation.

I am rather a latecomer to the culinary scene, at least on the preparatory side of the equation, although I have been a prodigious and enthusiastic consumer for lo these many years. When life became kind enough to offer me the opportunity to do more of the things that I wanted, I found myself beginning to rifle through cookbooks. It must say something about my age when perusing Julia Child's delicacies appeals to me more than admiring the ample bounty of Miss October's provender, for example.

And so, I prepared my first full course meal for company the other night: perhaps my first full course meal for anyone. I usually content myself with cooking the main dish and letting all of the other consumables fall where they may. But, I laid out the whole enchilada, so to speak, for Minneapolis and Saint Paul the other night: soup as an appetizer, lasagna for the main course, and banana cream pie for dessert. By nature, I am somewhat self-deprecating, but I must concur with my guests that the entire repast was most excellent.

The kicker is that they were all light recipes. If you're willing to try, you will find all sorts of wonderful, light fare these days. But people are strange; they will compliment you on a meal: "That's the best phibberstrum that I ever had." When you tell them that it's light, healthy phibberstrum, their confusion becomes apparent as they can't help but blurt that they don't like low-fat cooking.

"But didn't you just tell me that was the best phibberstrum that you've ever had?"

"Yes, I did, and it was, but I don't like light cooking."

Is it just me ('me' is really supposed to be 'I' you know, but it sounds ever so poncey, and I therefore opt for bad grammar), or does the dear reader also detect the teeniest of brain malfunctions in the above converse?

I did mention earlier (about six pages ago you must be thinking by now) that there are pitfalls (or should I say pratfalls?) that result from the process of endeavouring to teach old canines fresh tricks. The other night, for example, the soup recipe called for a minced clove of garlic. No problem. It then called for a whole clove. No problem. Plop goes a whole clove of garlic into the pot. (You probably, dear reader, spot the difficulty already.)

When it was soup, so to speak, I asked my own dear wife, who prefers not to be named after a city, so we'll call her Louisiana, what to do with the whole clove of garlic. Should I remove it from the mixture before blending, or should I just chuck it in the blender along with all of the other cooked ingredients? Poor Louisiana looked rather perplexed for a while. After some cogitation and poring over the cookbook, my beloved pronounced me mentally deficient and, before my startled eyes, held up a clove. I now know that there are cloves of garlic and there are cloves — period. Happily enough, despite my gaffe, the end product was quite scrumptious.

There also springs to mind one of my earliest attempts in the kitchen. A certain recipe, which time has mercifully erased from my diminishing memory banks, called for six green onions. So, I began to chop ... and I chopped. I chopped while Louisiana got ready to go out somewhere and was still chopping furiously when she reappeared all ready to eat supper before going out. When I say furiously, I admit to having become a trifle testy about the whole ordeal. In fact I was on the edge of rebellion as I surveyed my mountain of onions, vowing: "By gum, I'm taking a stand; I'm going to make do with just five onions. Take that, Julia!"

It was then that Louisiana explained to me the nature of green onions as opposed to cooking onions. Louisiana just loves to tell that story. Over and over to everyone she meets. In fact, she has a lot of good stories featuring this poor sod who is neither state nor city but sometimes feels like the village idiot.

Granted, my feeble attempts at humour might not seem so uproarious by morning light, but I'm actually quite serious about the central tenet: that we can and indeed must always keep striving in this life. That doesn't always entail embracing new hobbies such as breeding kittens, knitting doilies, or enrolling in arcane courses, but it does mean that we need to maintain and expand our interests. Living is a process after all, and we humans harbour an innate need to keep processing our brains in some way. We must go forward because, when we try to stand still, we inevitably slip backwards.


Saturday, November 06, 2004

Saint Paul

Recently, a friend opined that it seemed unlikely that I could be as mechanically challenged as I let on. In my head, the full and unspoken text goes thusly: "On the whole, you don't seem completely stupid, so I am at pains to believe that you could possibly be as clueless and unhandy as you claim." I suppose there's a compliment in there somewhere, but the truth is that I am, in point of fact, pretty darned clueless when it comes to things mechanical.

I related to said friend an account of the time when daughter #2 pulled out a sofa bed that she shouldn't have because it was malfunctioning; we had a deuce of a time trying to get it folded back in. At one point, my wife and daughter looked at the mechanism and both deduced that the flangmigoo had to nestled aside the grabinspock in order for the filagromer to slip back into place. You see, they might as well have been uttering those nonsense words, for as I looked at the very same things that they were looking at, I could not make sense of what they were saying.

However, I joined with them in pushing, pulling, heaving, and cajoling in the directions that they indicated, and the mattress magically [to me] slipped back into place. In those moments, it fully dawned on me that I lacked certain perceptive abilities that others take for granted and that I may as well acknowledge such and save myself some frustration in life. I had not understood this truth about myself prior to this incident; it was somewhat of a seminal moment, really.

When I related this and other similar accounts to said friend, he concluded that I might have a touch of dyslexia. I begin to wonder if he isn't correct. For example, I know my directions but typically find myself saying east rather than west. Just the other day, I was on the phone with tech support for my computer. When techno-man instructed me to click the right mouse button, I madly clicked the left. At times I read aloud to my spouse in bed, and if she chances to look over my shoulder at the page, she sometimes sees that I am inventing my own text. The words that I say make sense and are harmonious with the real text, but they aren't always the exact text as written. I tend to reverse words, for example, or even change the syntax of whole sentences. I'm not sure how my brain accomplishes all of this — how it is able make the adjustments necessary to make coherent sentences that carry the story along nicely — but it usually seems to manage. Sometimes I am aware this process transpiring but not always, I'm sure.

High tech apparel can also give me fits. As readers of this blog will know (for I have gone on at great length by times) we purchased bicycles this summer and have been madly pedalling about like frantic fools ever since. My helmet, however, is beyond my comprehension. The other day, I thought that I should tighten it just a tad. I took it off my head, surveyed the various and sundry straps and doodads perplexedly, and put it back on my noggin without the required adjustment. I could have probably sorted it all out in time, but the quantum effort did not seem to be worth it.

I am now in some sort of angst over my new winter coat — excuse me — system. You see it has a liner, umpteen zippers, sundry hooks, and myriad flaps. I asked the salesperson, not altogether jokingly, if they offered a night course on how to wear the coat ... er, ah ... system. My spouse may have to dress me this winter, which makes me wonder how I could possibly reciprocate. Tantalizing possibilities spring to mind.

If this diagnosis [of dyslexia] is correct, I must suffer from only a mild and/or unusual strain of this affliction, as I did not find it difficult to learn to read. In fact, I seem to read rather well — even if I do construct my own stories by times!

Enter Saint Paul. We have a friend who seems to accept my handicap without judgment or condescension, and he frequently and freely does what he can to assist. He has installed lights for us, replaced boards, and done various odd jobs. He does this without expectation of payment or reward beyond the odd pint or two after a job well done.

Saint Paul reads this blog, so I offer it here as a semi-public form of thanks.

It is also his opinion that I should post more photos. This one's for you, Paul — Patron Saint of the Dyslexic.

Our local wetlands on a very windy day  


Thursday, November 04, 2004

Bean American

As I have stated previously in this space, and I only exaggerate slightly when I say this, I only live a stone's throw away from the good, old US of A. But what a difference a border makes. We speak with different accents and have different words for the same things. For example: Canadians eat chocolate bars, not candy bars; we drink pop, not soda.

When daughter #2 was young, we hosted two American girls from a city not very far from the border. The wee dears were thunderstruck to realize that we buy milk in bags (if we so choose), and when we treated them to our delicious fries at the bridge, they were aghast at the thought of putting vinegar on fries. All in all, they didn't seem to much care for these wonderful fries, probably thinking that they weren't like McDonald's fries. Pity that.

Just the other day, I decided to try a new chili recipe. It was from an American cookbook that is sold ubiquitously here in the Great White North. Consequently, I set out to find three kinds of beans: pinto, great northern, and red kidney. The red kidney beans were tracked easily enough, but I searched in vain for the other two. It was pretty darn exasperating. It is just as well that I walked into the store without much hair because, had I had any, I would have yanked it all out in frustration.

Anyway, after unloading the groceries that I was able to purchase that day, I decided to Google beans. I was thinking that maybe we might call them by different names here. A very unusual thing occurred. I was right! Not that I could find synonyms on the Net, but at least I was able to find photos. Armed with my newly-informed, Google, knowledge, I was able to track down what seem to be the equivalent Canadian versions by trying to match the photos of pinto and great northern beans with pictures on our local cans.

From what I can tell, American pinto beans are romano beans here in Canucklestan. And great northern beans sure look a lot like what passes for white kidney beans here. Regardless, I bought them, cooked them, and results were pretty darn tasty; so even if I was wrong, the recipe turned out right. Bravo for me!

So you see, I don't fully grasp American English. Oh, we are pretty aware up here; we have a basic understanding of most Americanisms because we glue ourselves to American media. But TV programs and movies don't really tell you beans about the important things like … well … like beans.

This type of thing has happened before. Take DUI (driving under the influence) and Q&D (quick and dirty) for example. These little acronyms were simply not part of this poor, dumb Canucklehead's lexicon and required explication by Americans who must have thought me terribly dumb. We also tend to sign our "John Henry" not our "John Hancock", both terms being highly confusing to my brand new son-in-law whose first language is not English.

Well, I'm sure you get my point by now, and just as I have the occasional difficulty with lingo American, I have also had a frightfully difficult time trying to understand Americans as a people over the past few days. You see, it's really hard for most folk of other countries to even begin to fathom how the vote could have gone the way it did.

Let me just say that I am making some progress. I think that these folk are tremendously misguided, but, having listened and pondered, I think I can at least begin to fathom some of the reasons why so many Americans arrived at the decision that they did. Personally, I think they are guilty of very fuzzy thinking, but I really don't want to get sidetracked into explicating all of that right now as I'm trying (and it's hard) to keep this particular piece non-political. Besides, the election is being explored in great detail in all sorts of places by those much better informed than this poor plod.

One thing I do want to say is that I think Americans are absolutely wonderful people. They are warm, open, friendly, and hospitable. I think that I can honestly say that I've never met an American whom I haven't liked. And now that I know beans as it were, hard as it is, I am working at trying to understand how and why many of them think and vote the way that they do.

Isn't that the important thing: to do our best to understand each other?