2005-11-30

 

Less substance, more blog ...

Well, the ponds are completely ice free today.

Last night, I discovered the car had a flat. Normally, I would have changed it, but it was raining – so I called for roadside assistance (might as well use something I’ve paid for). Waited an hour for the guy to arrive. Maybe I should have taken the 15 minutes and changed it myself.

Got home at 21:00 and saw I had limited foodstuff in the house: 2 cabbages, 6 onions, some garlic, 1 tin of condensed tomato soup, 1 can of vegetable cocktail, 10lbs of grapes, 12 clementines and pretty much any spice you want to name.

Now, I know what you are thinking: “Why only two cabbages?” Well … one was red, the other green.

Since the red one was older, I shredded it, added some onion, garlic, salt, pepper (lots of pepper, cabbage needs pepper) and some powdered stock. Cooked it with some water until done then added the condensed tomato soup and vegetable cocktail. Not quite paradise, it was lacking meat. Something I intend to rectify this evening. The dish is similar bigos a Polish Hunters Stew (except I should be using sauerkraut instead of cabbage). Always gets better over time. It is a dish you want to age for a few days. Tip: if you intend to buy sauerkraut avoid any that says it contains wine of vinegar. Sauerkraut is made from only raw cabbage and salt – no water, no vinegar, no wine, no nothin’ (I know because my parents make it and parents of my friends make it, even some coworkers make it).

I keep a minimum of food on hand in Ottawa because I hate food spoiling, so I normally do a bit of shopping Tuesday night.

JJ was disappointed that I wouldn’t be going to Montreal that night, but I explained that the car had a flat. “Which wheel?” he asked with earnestness. “The one right in front of me”, I answered. “You better get it checked out!” he exclaimed. His communication skills have been expanding by leaps and bounds. Some days I find it hard to believe I’m talking to my own kid.

I loved this show as a kid. I wish I could find it on DVD somewhere. I think my kids would be just as entertained as I was. But, then again, TV was much better when I was a kid (although SpongeBob SquarePants and Teen Titans are pretty cool ;-)


Tra-la-la, la-la-la-la

Picked up the image from here.

[29-December-2005: fixed broken hyperlinks]

2005-11-29

 

Spoke too soon ...

It appears we have gotten some unseasonably warm weather (and rain) so all the snow has melted. We’re expecting a high of 12C (54F) as well as heavy rain – so what little tufts of snow remain, will soon be gone.

The ponds outside my window are still covered with unbroken ice. I wonder if it will last? Because I have no idea how thick the ice is.

Have a fairly computer free extra long weekend. I took Friday off work because of an unscheduled pedagogical day (strike) at Tania’s school – since the daycare is part of the school, it was also affected.

Then there are always the surprise expenses that come up. This time it was the fridge breaking down. When I arrived home in Montreal Thursday night, the fridge wasn’t working. A little bit of investigation did not reveal any obvious problem. So we went out and bought a new one. But, it won’t be delivered until tomorrow. Fortunately, Sofia will be home because Tania is having another unscheduled pedagogical day that day.

We were able to prolong the life of most of the food by simply making ice outside and sticking it in the fridge. The frozen food (and anything freezable) we stuck in the freezer in the garage. We omitted perishables from our grocery shopping this past weekend.

Monday morning was an interesting morning, weather wise: we had freezing rain. I had to scrape off 2-3mm of ice off the car’s windows, salt our walkway and driveway and then take Sofia and the kids to their respective drop-off points, all the while driving on extremely icy roads. My path of first choice was blocked just before exit to a major artery because a school bus had slid and was blocking the entire street. So, I had to go back, slipping and a sliding (“peeping and a hiding, been told a long time ago” – sorry, tangential jump into a Little Richard song) to try and get to the main artery. Fortunately we made it.

And interesting side observation was that the Wal-Mart parking lot was only half full around 08:45, when it is usually packed at 08:00 when it opens.

Freezing rain is not all that bad, it makes for very beautiful trees. The trees get encrusted with ice and look like beautiful crystal sculptures. It is particularly wonderful when the sunlight is refracted through them. (The down side is that walking and driving are awful, but, hey! That is only a minor concern for an almost surreal vision of extreme beauty).

Tania and Jason are disappointed that the snow is all gone.

Images were grabbed from here, here, and here.

[29-December-2005: fixed broken hyperlinks]

2005-11-24

 

First snowstorm

Well, we have our first snowstorm today. Lot's of traffic accidents (at least 35 they were saying on the radio). Took me 1-1/2 hours to drive 32Km (20 miles) to work. Normally it takes me 30-40 minutes.

We are expecting 10cm (4 inches) of snow. It is currently -7C (19F), with a wind chill of -16C (3F).

You can have a real-time look at Ottawa from various traffic cameras here. But hurry, the snowstorm won't last long and the morning rush hour traffic will eventually dissipate. Unfortunately, some cameras are down.

You can jump directly to an intersection here

I recommend picking Innes and Blair (near where I live) from Zone 3 or Terry Fox and Palladiium (near where I work) from Zone 1.

But a more exciting one might be Terry Fox and Hazeldean in Zone 1 or St. Laurent and Innes from Zone 2.

You can click on the arrows in the lower right corner to get a slightly larger image.

The snow is a fine, wind driven, snow, not the more romantic big fluffy snowflakes, lazily falling to the ground.

We had snow last week as well, but the snow didn't last even a day. Today's looks like a keeper - unless we suddenly get unseasonably warm weather.

I grabbed the photo from here.

2005-11-23

 

"Tell me about when I was born"

When putting my daughter, Tania, age 6, to bed, she often asks me to tell her about the time she was born. She likes to hear about it and I’ve been telling her this for at least the past two or 3 years.

I wouldn’t be a good dad if I didn’t gush enthusiastically about my kids (hey! they are great!), but Tania is very special. She has an amazing capacity for languages and understanding relationships is very important for her. How many 3 year olds do you know who could say, “Grandma, will you tell your son to please stop bothering me.” Jason, age 4, has just discovered that grandma is my mother – but he doesn’t really care. On the other hand, you could see Tania working this all out when she was 2 and being very precise about it.

Tania was born on 19-April-1999. She was the only girl born that night (mirroring my own birth, where I was the only boy born among a gaggle of girls).

I remember seeing the top of Tania’s head: tiny and covered in black hair. Then the head came out and I could see her beautiful face – not that I knew if it was a boy or girl. Then a few moment slater she came out and I was entranced by her beauty. I was overwhelmed that I had helped to create this beautiful new life that lay in front of me.

I literally felt like God. The words from the book of Genesis rang true in my heart “He looked at what He had made and saw that it was good.” I finally understood what those words meant.

I cut her umbilical cord. This was a bit of a surprise to me. The umbilical cord is actually transparent, it has no fleshy colour to it whatsoever except for about an inch from the child’s belly. Inside you can see the two umbilical arteries and the umbilical vein. It is easy to cut – or maybe the scissors given me were very sharp. The placenta looks very much like liver, in terms of colour and texture.

Holding her was a joy. I was filled with great pride at her birth and I am filled with great pride every day because of her. I held her in my arm – so tiny and fragile.

I have to confess that I am jealous that I can never experience pregnancy. Pregnant women are beautiful, they literally do glow (this has the same hormonal cause as women looking more beautiful when they are ovulating). I think it would be great to feel a life developing inside you. The vicarious experience of touching my wife’s belly was not enough for me.

2005-11-22

 

Chocolate - it's not for kids

I was watching SpongeBob SquarePants this past Saturday morning with my kids (“How old are you again, husband?” asks Sofia. “Four” I sheepishly reply), when a commercial comes on for Chocolate Rice Crispy Squares Cereal. Apparently, this is not correct, see here, but what do you expect, I only saw the commercial once, half paying attention before my mind zipped off on a tangent.

So, my tangential thought was, “How things have changed. Chocolate being marketed at kids. One hundred years ago giving chocolate to kids would be unheard of. Chocolate was a bitter drink reserved for adults.”

Sort of correct. Edible chocolate has been around a little more than 150 years. But certainly 200 years ago, cacao was made into a beverage, spiced with chili and drunk. A bitter drink reserved for adults.

Makes you wonder why human adults persist in consuming rather gross stuff. Not only that, but making it out to be a delicacy. Maybe I should go home put a few tablespoons of cocoa to a cup of hot water, add some chili powder, whip to a froth and enjoy my adult experience. Then again, maybe I’ll just go buy a Snickers bar and enjoy that instead.

[29-December-2005: fixed broken hyperlinks]

2005-11-21

 

Tending Gardens

Recently, I wrote about how negative experiences in life block us and hinder our growth in certain directions as we try to avoid pain and suffering (ok, I didn’t exactly express it that way, but I think it is the gist).

kwakersaur asked how I thought positive experiences affect growth and development.

I think we take positive experiences for granted – like good health. We don’t notice them because they are what we expect. Growing up (most people, I think) had positive experiences and consequently, believe that goodness is the norm rather than the exception. It is only after we have been pretty beat and downtrodden that we begin to notice them.

Positive experiences nourish and nurture us to grow without bounds, like a tree which stretches upward towards the sky. Some discipline may be necessary to ‘prune’ us so our direction is not ragged and unbounded - diverting our energies into the production of useful fruit.

I fundamentally believe in the goodness of people. Some have had hard lives and their souls show it. Like the ground it may be desolate and windswept, or choked with poisonous weeds, but I believe many are still fertile and rich capable of growing beautiful and delicate gardens. Some have been frozen and covered in snow, but as the snow melts it reveals a fertile land from which a beautiful garden may grow. We should take care of and nurture new and blossoming gardens, encouraging them from their winter’s solstice.



A tree unfettered by negative influences.
A tree distorted by the constant influence of wind.
Crocus' bursting forth in the early spring through the snow. Fragile and beautiful.


Images were taken from here, here, and here (and, consequently, are their property and not mine).

2005-11-19

 

Internet weirdness

I mistyped Icecream's URL this afternoon and was taken to a different page. A little more experimenting and I've discovered that it has worked for every blogspot URL I've tried (mind you, I have not exhaustively tested this).

For example typing in http://forbidden-planet.blogpot.com will reveal the mystery page.

Amazing what a missing 's' can do. If you are a denizen of blogspot, you can try it with your own URL.

Saw on MIO's page that someone had stumbled across using a rather obscure search (it's her 18-Nov-2005 post).

While not in the same league as MIO, someone did stumble across my blog via unexpected search terms last night as well (not sure he got what he wanted though):


It seems that Paradise Lost is the culprit.

[Note: Blogger's spell checker is simply amazing. It flagged Icecream's and suggested I replace it with isochronally.]

2005-11-18

 

It's a boy!

Found out from my friend last night that his wife gave birth to a baby boy Wednesday morning. It is their first child.

The only sadness is that he is in Canada while his wife and son are still in Africa waiting for their papers to glacially crawl through immigration.

(can’t remember where I grabbed the image from, but I can say, it is very, very hard to find images of happy healthy African children)

2005-11-17

 

Off to Grandma's House

The kids like going to grandma’s house (they never call it grandpa’s house, maybe because in Little Red Riding Hood it is grandma’s house – I can’t think of another, popular, fairy tale where grandparents are prominent).

I took them this morning for a two day stay because Tania’s school was having an unscheduled pedagogical day (strike) today and tomorrow was a scheduled ped day. Since there was a strike, there were also no daycare services at the school - so we had to scramble for backup. My parents live about 80kms (50 miles) from us in the “bush”.

Of course, there was no way Jason was going to miss an opportunity for a sleep over either, and insisted that he go too. Normally, he goes to a Montessori / daycare program.

Tania has spent nights and weekends at grandma’s house since she was a little over 2 years old. Jason spent his first night a few weeks ago. Our criteria were that the kids had to be able to effectively communicate before we let them go overnight. Tania is a language prodigy, speaking Spanish and English, in full sentences with the vocabulary of a 5 year old by the time she was two. Jason, on the other hand, by age 2, I think his entire vocabulary consisted of ‘buh’ – which could mean bird, ball, bus, bath, big, bull, etc … If we pointed to an animal and asked him what it was, he would make the animal sound. So he didn’t actually get to have a sleep over until he was 4.

First thing the kids did when I dropped them off was ask (at least 20 times): “Do you have a cotton candy making machine?” (Yes, they do - but it is an ancient Coleco one - does any one remember Coleco's cotton candy machine, popcorn maker, and easy-bake, or was it see-and-bake, oven?)

Afterwards JJ wandered off to find my dad (who was in his workshop), and offered, “Do you need any help, grandpa?”

I hope they have a good time. It will give Sofia a much needed break (which I hope she will use to rest), rather than deciding this is a good time to do things around the house while the kids are away.

Picture was taken from here - but you would have a hard time distinguishing it from any of the bush around my parent’s place.

[29-December-2005: fixed broken hyperlink]

2005-11-16

 

What I've Learned

We become who we are because of the experiences in our lives - some good, some bad.

Nobody's life is perfect. I have never met anyone who had an idyllic life (maybe I just haven't met enough people), but I have certainly encountered many who have had very hard and difficult lives.

As a general rule, I think my life has been pretty good, but there are certainly things in it that have shaped who I am. I wish I could frame my life in terms of positive experiences, but the shaping forces have been negative. I guess negative forces shape us because they define our boundaries - extend beyond it and you get hurt.

I think the reason positive and pleasant experiences don't shape us in the same way as negative one is because we are amorphous - without clear bounded shape. We extend and expand ourselves in whichever direction we wish to go - stopping if we encounter pain.

As we get older, we become so boxed in by the negative forces in our life that we feel hemmed and trapped. At this point we begin to notice kindness and gentleness. We have become so trapped in our protective shell that a little kindness is an oasis to which we outstretch and extend ourselves.

So what have I learned in the first half of my life?

When I was 3:
  • I learned that people lie. A boy threw a stone through our window. I saw him. When I accused him, he denied it.
  • I learned adults will defend liars. The boy's father was obviously an unreasonable man who was unwilling to distinguish between his son's lie and my truth.


  • When I was 5:
  • I learned that children would say mean and untrue things. "Extra! Extra! Read all about it! All the boys are mental retarded!" The girls would run through the schoolyard shouting, to be followed by a gang of boys shouting the same except substituting 'girls' for 'boys'
  • I learned that there are pointless rules I am expected to follow (like nap time when I was not tired)


  • When I was 6:
  • I learned that children would exclude you from games


  • When I was 7:
  • I learned that friends would steal from you or break your things.


  • When I was 8:
  • I learned that children would pick on others. There was a girl in my class that I frquently defended.
  • I learned that people cut into line ahead of you (this was at a drinking fountain in a park, despite my protestations, the excuse was, "I asked if she would let me in.")


  • When I was 9:
  • I learned that friends thought it was fun to play "Lets run away from Richard" games.


  • When I was 10:
  • I learned that having curly hair made you fair target to be called a girl


  • When I was 13:
  • I learned that an invisible barrier was set up between boys and girls when they entered high school (my high school was grade 7 through to grade 11).


  • While not an exhaustive list, and probably everyone has similar ones. Shorter, longer, less hurtful, more hurtful, it doesn't matter, because we all had imperfect experiences.

    In my case, the experiences taught me one thing: caution. The older I grew, the more cautiously I trusted. The more cautiously I gave of myself. The less I was willing to trust my emotions and the more I relied on reason. So as I wrote earlier, Stoicism is something I came to naturally. I believe in people, I believe in their goodness, but experience has taught me to temper my emotional desire with objective reason.

    Now, I also mentioned that our experiences shape us and hem us in. Enclosing us in a prison of our own making. Only when we feel we are completely trapped to we begin to notice the beauty and gentleness around us.

    The first time I recall what I consider a selfless act of consideration from a friend was when I was 29. Does it mean that until then I had never been nourished with an act of kindness? Or does it mean that I was more receptive to it at the time? I am not sure. I think it is both (on the whole, I think my life has been good and positive without much hardship or trouble and Ipositivesily pick out postive moments, but for some reason the one I want to share always strikes me as the pre-eminent one).

    For reasons I prefer to keep to myself, I plunged into a deep despondency in May of 1995. I wrote an e-mail to a friend - the contents of which I don't remember (I don't think I mentioned I was depressed). But, there must have been something in the tone that concerned my friend, because 5 minutes later she called me out of concern. I don't remember the conversation. I only remember her calling and us talking and the feeling of gratitude that I had. Somehow, the Universe had granted me, without my having to ask for it, without (I think) dropping any hints, the gentle comfort of a friend in an otherwise bleak world.

    "Time is a great teacher, but unfortunately it kills all its pupils." - Hector Louis Berlioz

    2005-11-15

     

    Reflections on ‘The Marriage Course’

    A while back I wrote that Sofia and I were taking a program called ‘The Marriage Course’. We finished the last lesson on Sunday.

    We both found the course somewhat disappointing because it did not address exactly what we were looking for. This is not to say the course was bad, but it is fundamentally a course about learning how to communicate – which I suppose is useful for most couples, since communication seems to be a major problem. We were primarily hoping for a more interactive program with a qualified counsellor who would be able to help us with various issues. The program itself consisted of watching a video and time alone to do some exercises.

    For Sofia and me, there were few surprises in the exercises. We have good communication, so there was not much to be learned form the exercises (which stressed revealing and opening up of oneself). Others in the course said that they found the exercises useful and discovered new things about their partners. Sofia and I were also the only couple (aside from the hosts) who attended every session.

    One thing Sofia and I picked up on at the end of the course, when the hosts were thanking everyone for participating, they stressed how hard it is to get husbands to come out for the course. We both felt that comment was directed at me – probably because I am a stern man who is quick to question what I am told – rather than the ‘green pepper’ who nods his head with vacant approval and a simple grin

    The last session was titled ‘Love in Action’ – it was really about five different ways in which people express love: Loving Words, Thoughtful Presents, Physical Affection, Quality Time, and Kind Actions.

    Of those, my two primary means of communication are Physical Affection and Quality Time (although, with friends it would be Quality Time and Loving Words - since I can't imagine anyone even remotely considering me as touchy-feely. Touchy-feelyness is something I always felt I wanted to reserve for that special someone in my life - my wife).

    Since I’ve mentioned Quality Time, I should point out that I have a problem with the term. While our modern culture tends to stress the quality of the time, for me the quantity is far more important. I dislike being on a schedule, I dislike being told “I’ve got you booked in between 13:00 and 15:00). I think time is something that we really need to give freely of ourselves in order to enjoy and appreciate relationships (maybe that is just me).

    For me, a perfect ‘date’ would go something like this:

    (1) meet up between 13:00-14:00
    (2) do something like go to a museum, art gallery, exhibition
    (3) go for dinner
    (4) go for a walk in a park (or some other secluded place), although a walk in a busy, colourful market is also good – maybe catch the sunset by the river
    (5) go for a show or a movie
    (6) go for coffee, have a deep intimate discussion
    (7) go for a final walk before returning home

    Of course, I am pretty flexible on the exact order and activities. My interest is in being with the person, not so much the activities. What is important is that I get to spend time with the person, a lot of time, not to feel that the attention given to me has been carefully measured and apportioned.

    Note: In Japan, when you want to insult someone, you call them a vegetable. As my friend explained to me, “Green pepper means: pretty to look at, empty inside.” The equivalent North American expression would probably be “dumb blonde”.

    2005-11-14

     

    Utopian Anarchy

    I came across this passage from Isaiah Berlin commenting on Zeno of Citium while posting a comment on another blog. It accurately sums up my personal beliefs regarding people.

    "Men are rational, they do not need control; rational beings have no need of a state, or of money, or of law-courts, or of any organised, institutional life."

    Of all the philosophical schools, I like Stoicism the best - since it tends to be quite in tune with my own beliefs and ideas.

    "Begin the morning by saying to yourself, I shall meet with the busy-body, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial. All these things happen to them by reason of their ignorance of what is good and evil. But I who have seen the nature of the good that it is beautiful, and of the bad that it is ugly, and the nature of him who does wrong, that it is akin to me, not only of the same blood or seed, but that it participates in the same intelligence and the same portion of the divinity, I can neither be injured by any of them, for no one can fix on me what is ugly, nor can I be angry with my kinsman, nor hate him, For we are made for co-operation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of the upper and lower teeth. To act against one another then is contrary to nature; and it is acting against one another to be vexed and to turn away." - Marcus Aurelius, 'Meditations'

    "Never esteem anything as of advantage to you that will make you break your word or lose your self-respect." - Marcus Aurelius

    "Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present." - Marcus Aurelius


    Bust of Marcus Aurelius

    2005-11-13

     

    Confession

    I hate shaving and I like beards. Not short anaemic, face hugging ones, not moustaches, but a goodness to honest full face of whiskers - with a massive mane of hair to complement it.

    Sadly, my wife does not share my enthusiasm. But, I did manage to grow a little bit of a beard during my sabbatical. Two months does not really translate into what I like, but ...

    Jason liked the beard. I remember him telling me as I started to grow it, 'Daddy, I like your whiskers!' I laughed. Where does a 3-1/2 year old come up with the word 'whiskers'? I think he misses it because he still asks me why I shaved it off.

    I was bearded through most of my early 20s, prompting my local bishop to nickname me 'The Viking'. I shaved it off and trimmed my mane two weeks after starting at Ottawa U).

    The most oddest comments I got were from old women who would say, "I guess the girls must like it." I did not understand why because I do not care what other people think and I do not did not accustom myself to fit other peoples expectations. I liked it and it was only for me.

    I did start a trend at my workplace, were we all grew beards (we were four guys in a small shop).








    These are pictures of Brian Blessed, Robbie Coltrane, and me. I leave it as an exercise to my faithful readers to work out who is who ;-)

    "He that hath a beard is more than a youth, and he that hath no beard is less than a man" - Much Ado About Nothing. Act 2, Scene 1

    2005-11-11

     

    Freaky Friday's Freefalling Frosty Fraudulant Fricatives

    Erm ... no ... not really.

    Just three highly dubious, but ego inspiring, instant insight internet interrogations indulged in over the course of the week.



    How You Are In Love

    You take a while to fall in love with someone. Trust takes time.

    You tend to give more than take in relationships.

    You tend to get very attached when you're with someone. You want to see your love all the time.

    You love your partner unconditionally and don't try to make them change.

    You stay in love for a long time, even if you aren't loved back. When you fall, you fall hard.
    How Are You In Love?



    Your Brain's Pattern

    You have a tempered, reasonable way of thinking.
    You tend to take every new idea in, and meld it with your world view.
    For you, everything is always changing. Each moment is different.
    Your thinking process tends to be very natural - with no beginnings or endings.
    What Pattern Is Your Brain?



    Slow and Steady

    Your friends see you as painstaking and fussy.

    They see you as very cautious, extremely careful, a slow and steady plodder.

    It'd really surprise them if you ever did something impulsively or on the spur of the moment.

    They expect you to examine everything carefully from every angle and then usually decide against it.
    How Do People See You?

    2005-11-10

     

    Death of the Immortal

    Sometime over the past 2 or 3 years, I have shed any and all delusions of being immortal.

    Intellectually I have known for a long time that some day I shall die. But, it was a far and distant destination beyond my power to observe.

    Now I am mortal; a human whose existence inexorably grinds its way to his final breath and heartbeat. I raise my eyes and in the distance I see my journey’s end – a barren and desolate land, windswept and cold. A lonely cairn testifying that I am no more. Freed from the burdens of sadness and loneliness, denied the joys of loving and cherishing.

    Nevertheless, I expect there are at least another 30 or 40 years left in me, but … it is still sad to recognize ones mortality.

    I have passed from the Summer of my life into the Autumn. I expect it to be a long and glorious Autumn with bright and vibrant colours. A sunny Autumn with leaves burning with burnished brilliance. The next stop is Winter whence the days shall grow shorter and colder until nothing remains but cold and darkness.

    “I am forty years old now, and you know forty years is a whole lifetime; you know it is extreme old age. To live longer than forty years is bad manners, is vulgar, immoral. Who does live beyond forty? Answer that, sincerely and honestly I will tell you who do: fools and worthless fellows.” – Fyodor Dostoevsky, ‘Notes from the Underground’

    The image was taken from here.

    NOTE: My mental and emotional states are fine. For various reasons, I have chosen to be somewhat melancholic with my post today. And I won't be 40 until Feb-2006.

    [29-December-2005: fixed broken hyperlink]

    2005-11-09

     

    The Problem with Immigrants

    (I should point out that I myself am an immigrant and the child of immigrant parents. I was born in Sutton-in-Ashfield in the County of Nottingham, Great Britain – my parents originally came from Poland. I emigrated, along with my parent’s and younger sister to Canada in 1971. That was a great year, we had the snowstorm of a century in Montreal. For a 5 year old kid, this was just fantastic - and I have been waiting every year since then for the same, but all we get a piddling amounts of snow. sigh).

    Being an immigrant is hard. You lose you language, your culture, your food, your music. Nothing is familiar anymore. So you seek comfort and join up with fellow immigrants of the same nationality. You form little conclaves – ghettos – where you live in isolation from the rest of society and your own culture.

    I’m not saying all immigrants do this, but my experience is that a lot do - at least the first generation. Many of my friends are children of first generation immigrants. The second generation are often torn between cultures. The third generation usually has little to do with the original culture.

    I find it sad that a the parents of a number of my friends really could not communicate in English or French beyond simple phrases, “Coffee? Tea? Juice? Please, sit. Sit down. Thank you”

    My parents were different. They did not cling to their Polish culture and heritage (this comes with its own angst). Instead they tried to integrate within Canadian society. So my parents do speak English well (with a bit of accent), they do not slavishly hold to old customs and traditions. They adapt as necessary.

    They did this because they had seen what happened to immigrants who became isolated within small ex-pat communities. Clinging to the past, to things that had changed long ago – music, clothes, behavior, social attitudes, etc. But, these people, in their isolation, still remembered the land they had left 20, 30, 40 years ago – but they did not experience the changes that had occurred in those years. They lived in a frozen fantasy.

    Of course things are different today. We have much better communication. It is easier to keep up to date on what is happening in your country of origin. We can watch satellite TV, log onto the internet, and subscribe to blogs. Information passes more easily and freely than it has in the past.

    But, in some ways it only serves to isolate people even more. Why bother to even try to integrate when you can watch the news from your home country. We have Chinese neighbors (they are elderly) who basically live on Beijing time – they sleep during the day and in the evening watch Chinese TV, get their news. Can such an compromise schedule be good? I don’t think so. (To be fair, they are actually up later in the day, I often see the woman tending to her yard and garden - but I do know they get up late because they watch TV from China late at night)

    Breaking with the past can be hard and difficult. But, the road forward can be very rich and rewarding. Your heart, your mind, and your soul can be expanded to dimensions you never imagined. Your old view of the world will seem so antiquated, narrow and limited.

    Join in and sing the Immigrant Song.

    [29-December-2005: fixed broken hyperlink]

    2005-11-08

     

    Paradise Lost

    A fairly universal myth that spans cultures and generations is “Things were better in the good old days.”

    This is a myth. Typically people invoke images of peace and harmony, how you could leave your door unlocked, everybody knew everybody else and kept an eye out for one another.

    Many examples are always brought forth:

    (1) “Ancient / ancestral / traditional diets were healthier. In the old days nobody heard of cancer / heart disease / allergies / etc…”

    Poppycock! In the old days, you were probably dead by 30. Many of these “epidemic” diseases we have now only show up later in life. Further more, you can get some idea of how healthy the ancients were by looking at their size. Recently, the kids and I saw some Egyptian mummies, a lady who had died in her twenties was barely taller than Tania (who is 6) – the ancient diets were poor and lacking in nutrition.

    With high rates of infant mortality, it is likely that a child with severe allergies would die young – another casualty of a tough world.

    (2) “People were more moral in the past, we live in a culture of sex and debauchery.”

    Bollocks! STD’s were quite prevalent in the ancient world (certainly anytime the Europeans went anywhere, they made certain to leave behind syphilis). In more “primitive” hunter-gatherer societies, if you ask who is the likely father of any given child, the women will usually point out the best hunter (sex for food). Mistresses were quite common in Victorian times and as long as the man provided for her, everyone seemed content to turn a blind eye.

    (3) “Communities were safer.”

    Cod’s Whallop! They were safe so long as you didn’t venture out after dark into the hands of brigands, thieves, and highwaymen. Interestingly enough, the notion that weird things are afoot during a full moon actually has a pretty pedestrian origin. With electricity and electric lighting everywhere, we forget how dark it really gets at night. Before widespread use of lighting, people would not have ventured out unless it was quite bright at night (a full moon). With more people are out and about thieves, brigands, and robbers will take advantage of it. Consequently, things were more likely to happen during a full moon than any other time (since it would be dark).

    We look at serial killers and wonder how this can happen. How depraved our societies have become. But these things happened in the past as well. Stories like Baba Yaga (a cannibalistic witch), are allegories trying to give meaning to senseless brutality of the time. We can deconstruct other stories too – like Beauty and the Beast (“He’s not really all that terrible once you get to know him.”).

    But, even if we do not idealize the distant past, most of us believe that the world we grew up in was a better world (unless you grew up in a war zone or other area of constant conflict). This too is an illusion. The world only seemed better because most of us grew up fairly secure. Our early childhood's were oasis' of secure tranquility. As we got older, as we gained more independence, as we saw and understood more of life's ugliness - we saw the harsher realities of life. Who doesn’t want to go back to the time when they felt safe and secure and provided for?

    "To be in process of change is not an evil, any more than to be the product of change is a good." - Marcus Aurelius, 'Meditations'

    2005-11-04

     

    An ill wind blows

    Well, not really.

    It is just that today the wind is blowing from the southeast, normally it blows from the northwest. It’s odd to see the trees and reeds bowing in the opposite direction.

    [Updated at 14:23]

    Ah! The sun has come out. That makes things much more cheerful!

    2005-11-03

     

    Brain dead today ... urg ...

    For various reasons (most notably a cold, me ole noggin' ain' workin' so good t'day):

    So I'll just leave you with an inspirational quote:

    "Any life, no matter how long and complex it may be, is made up of a single moment—the moment in which a man finds out, once and for all, who he is." - Jorge Luis Borges

    And a nice place to visit if you need to look at some pretty pictures and relax. Check out the Visual Meditations page.

    2005-11-02

     

    Teaser

    As mentioned, I signed up for NaNoWriMo - 50,000 words in 30 days, a quick estimate makes that about 75-100 pages.

    So here is what I have, no idea yet where it will go:

    Hard soled footsteps echoed in the darkness.

    … LOUDER …

    … softer …

    … Approaching …

    … Receding …

    … In unison …

    … At random …

    … Solitary …

    That was his favorite, a single pair of footsteps echoing lonesomely in the darkness. It was the only sound he liked. The only sensation he lived for.

    Clip … Clap … Clip … Clap.

    Regular or irregular, fast or slow, soft or strong, it did not matter, to him it was a soothing metronome beating a comforting rhythm into his life.

    It receded and he was alone in the silent darkness.

    He was blind. He was numb. He was severely burned. Only his hearing remained and he chose to be selective, listening only to the footsteps, ignoring all other sounds. He knew the doctors and nurses spoke to him, but he chose not to hear. He only wanted the soft comforting darkness and silence of the womb with nothing more than the steady, assuring lub-dub of his mother’s heartbeat.

    Consciousness was not something he wanted. Consciousness meant memories. Memories meant pain. Pain meant suffering. He preferred not to suffer. He had suffered too much.


    sigh. only 49,806 words to go. The only thing I know for certain is that I wanted that opening sentence.

    For those who want something lighter to read, you can find a bunch of mathematical jokes here. I'm not sure it will appeal to everyone, but it made me smile.

    But, before you go wandering off somewhere you might have preferred not too, here is a brief sampler:

    Zenophobia: the irrational fear of convergent sequences.

    You know what seems odd to me? Numbers that aren't divisible by two."

    My mother is a mathematician, so she knows how to induce good behavior. "If I've told you n times, I've told you n+1 times...."

    2005-11-01

     

    Pictures of Ottawa

    A little while back, I blogged about the view from my cubicle. Security gave me permission to take some pictures so I present them below, they are from left to right (I probably could have done a better panorama, but ... still ... I think they convey pretty nicely what I see everyday - at least in the Fall).





    Here are some additional Fall photos from Ottawa taken in the morning at Strathcona Park:





    Naturally, all images are copyrighted by me.

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