Battle on Sesame Street*

Elmo: Hey, Cookie Monster. How you feel about losing? Do you cry, or anything?

Cookie Monster: No…

Elmo (sneering): Good. Cause Elmo gonna beat you!

Big Bird (gleefully): Hehehe! My turn first!

Cookie Monster (eagerly): Now me!

Elmo (pouting): Awww! Elmo last!

Big Bird (annoyingly): Up the ladder I go.

Cookie Monster: Awwww….Ha, I passed you!

Elmo (hopefully): Here I come!

Cookie Monster (threateningly): If you pass me, I’ll kick your butt.

Elmo (darkly): Oh, yeh? Elmo like to see you try to get your leg up past that fat belly of yours, Cookie Maaaaahnster.

Cookie Monster (losing it): HAHAHAHAHAHA!

Elmo (tauntingly): You should cut down on those cookies. Ahhh, tooo baaaad. How did you like that loooong slide, Cookie Monster?

Big Bird (earnestly): Up I go again!

Elmo: Oh, yeh. You’re so greeeeat, Big Bird. Awwww…I have to go down the long slide. No fair!

Cookie Monster (with gusto): I’m way ahead of you now!

Big Bird (gloating): I win!

Elmo: Oh, good for you, Big Bird. How’s it feel to have a giant nose?

BB (indignantly) It’s called a beak!

Cookie Monster (not ready to lose): Wanna play for second place?

Elmo: Yehhhh….I do! Oh, I see you found the loooong slide again, heheheheh!

Cookie Monster (howling): Now it’s your turn for the long slide!

Elmo (wailing): WAHHHHHH!

Cookie Monster (emphatically): I win!

Elmo (throwing himself on the board): Elmo having tantrum! Aiiiieeeeee!

* My brother and his seven-year-old son and me, playing Snakes and Ladders with plastic Sesame Street figurines.

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About Meat

What ever possessed me to pick up this book? I was looking for three novels that I heard about through a member of my Book Club. I generally don’t find myself in Non-Fiction areas of book stores. Yet there I was, reaching for this book with its bright green cover, leafing through the first pages and finding myself intrigued. “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer had me as hooked as many a great novel.

I guess it all kind of started back over the Christmas holidays. My husband was at the computer, surfing around, when he called out, “Pick one of these answers. What’s the best thing you can do for the environment: stop driving gas-powered cars, become a vegetarian, buy energy-efficient appliances, or use solar power?”

“Cars,” I replied. And I was very confident about my answer. It seemed like a no-brainer.

“It’s being a vegetarian,” my husband said. “It has an exponentially higher impact than all those other things put together.”

I was flummoxed. How could that be? Methane, as it turns out–a potent greenhouse gas. Not to mention other factors. Beef is apparently the biggest culprit. The tons of manure and gases produced by mass-produced cows has the largest impact on our carbon footprint. I also learned that for every kilo of beef produced, the cow has to be fed 15 kilos of grain and another 30 kilos of forage. All that grain needs a lot of fertilizer, production of which gobbles up significant energy.

I decided promptly that I could do one thing. I could stop eating and buying beef for my family. And I did, from that moment on. Keep in mind, I am a hamburger freak. My mantra at the drive-thru at Wendy’s was “single-with-ketchup-pickles-extra-onions” followed by a Homer Simpson-esque gargle. I often refer to hamburgers as my “Death Row” last meal. But I like veggie and turkey burgers just as much. So, the martyr hat was a loose fit. My one thing was decided, and that was that. My carbon footprint was reduced in one fell swoop.

And then, I saw this book. And I learned all about factory farming.

The food industry does not want the consumer to know about factory farming. I grew up on farms. I was in the barn when the cows were brought in from a day in the pastures for milking. I saw my grandfather bring in a chicken from the chicken yard, chop its head off and gut it for dinner.  Where I live in South-Western Ontario, I often see grazing animals all over the place. But, from what I have learned, that whimsical memory of old-fashioned farming has become a rarity. Most livestock today never sees the outside of a barn or a cage or a pen. Of all the antibiotics manufactured in the U.S., 90% of them are pumped into the sickly animals that suffer through their short existences on these factory farms. Pumped full of growth hormones, genetically manipulated, and not included under the umbrella of animal-protection laws, this is sad stuff that ends up on our plates.

I tried to rationalize. This is American material. Surely, it can’t be that bad in Canada. Hello? We’re trading partners. We have to compete. Of course, it’s that bad in Canada.

A hundred years ago, people were involved in the production and harvest of their food, from seed to harvest, from egg to drumstick. Now, we walk into gargantuan grocery stores and buy our pink skinless chicken breasts splayed on styrofoam trays and our dark red hunks of beef held together with twine. We have become completely divorced from the fact that this meat came from an animal. We trust that it is not filled with hormones and antibiotics. We trust that the steel rod that has been drilled with a pneumatic gun into the cow’s skull results in its instant death. We are misguided to trust any of those things. Food is big business. Powerful business. It’s not about animal health  or even human health. It’s about money.

So, vegetarian? No…not yet. But I’m done with beef. And I find myself choosing meatless options: feta, mushrooms and onions on my pizza. A veggie and cheese sub, skip the cold cuts. Eggs from my brother’s free-range hens. And today, my daughter and I headed out on a snowy afternoon to a local certified organic farm for our organic chicken and bacon.

Change does not come all at once. But I feel like I have made a pretty good start in my little corner of the world. And I even believe (perhaps foolishly) that it makes a difference.

January Woods

My trail buddies and I pulled up to “my” woods today to find the parking lot filled with cars and a considerable crowd of hikers gathered in front of the entrance to the trail. I have to confess–I am quite possessive about my woods, and I wasn’t feeling overly enthralled to find all these people encroaching on my special corner of the world. However, the entire bunch of them were, thankfully, the kind of dawdlers who like to collectively stop and chat and point at little birds and such, so we hoofed it past them and headed across the bridge into the woods…blessedly, alone for the most part.

We had another snowfall yesterday, so the trails were thickly snowed in. It was a decent workout, blundering through it all. Below the bridge, the water was nicely iced over in most spots, but further up the creek, there was a patch of open water, and it was gurgling away quite energetically. I imagine the ice, under its milky dusting of snow, was quite thin. There were no animal tracks on it.

The tree that was decorated last month for Christmas was bare once more–relegated to its eleven-month normalcy again, and perhaps as relieved as I am to be so. The trees were dusted generously with snow, the branches coated in white. Logs on the ground looked like twisted sculptures, intertwined and made uniform under their undisturbed blanket of snow.

The air was cold and fresh. It swept my lungs clear and blew all the cobwebs out of my head. We plodded through the church and up the hill to the tall pines. Everything is so familiar there, and yet, each time I visit, so different.  A cardinal darted out across the trail and into the trees, a sudden splash of brilliant red. I tried to whistle at him, but his winter song is no more than a series of clucks. He was having none of that, and did not bother to sing back to me.

Colour in the winter woods is scarce and therefore stands out all the more–the bright yellow hue that is carried in some varieties of pine, and the summer-green of the boughs in the church, the red of the cardinal’s feathers–almost startling. Even the dull brown of the dried sumach takes on a rich hue against the black and white of the season.

I always bring my big walking stick with me into the woods. Many people bring their dogs there and let them run unfettered ahead of them, and I have experienced many unexpected meetings with charging dogs. They run up to me open-mouthed, as though they want to devour me, but they actually only want to say hello. Still, that moment when I face a big dog running at me is never a pleasant one, and my stick offers a lot of security.

Today, as we came to the bottom of the hill past the tall pines, we happened upon two ladies who were out walking an enormous black Newfoundland dog. He was on a leash. They told us that his name was Razer. I thought immediately of my friend Robyn and her wonderful book about a war hero Newfoundland dog named Gander. As Razer stood regarding me (almost head to head) with kind eyes, I had the most incredible moment where I felt like I was meeting Gander in the flesh. He stood there on his webbed feet for a few minutes, then lowered his massive self into the snow as though it were a warm rug. His head was as big as a bear’s. It was impossible to be afraid of him, even for me.

Under the snowy trails, I know that the violets and trilliums are deeply sleeping, dreaming of the first warm breezes that will coax them into bloom again. Until then, I am content to wander the trails through the snow and enjoy the shapes of the bare branches. The forest has settled in peacefully for its season of rest, and everything is as it should be.

On Being Nice

Some people think of me as “nice” (I think). Maybe it would be a more honest admission on my part to say that I am sometimes just a convincing actor. The truth is, I am not always nice.  And I am becoming more increasingly conscious of it. And that’s a good thing, because it makes me try harder. And it makes me more contrite when I fail.

Kindness has been an issue playing on my mind for several months now. It’s a risky thing to blog about, because the friends and associates who read this will, at some point, inevitably catch me in the act of an unkindness. I can be called into account. No one enjoys being called into account.

I find myself able, with less effort, to be kind to strangers. Isn’t that an enigma? It is sometimes easier to be nicer to the waitress who has forgotten that my salad dressing was supposed to be on the side than it is to be nice to my own family and my colleagues. Perhaps this can be attributed to the investment factor: there is no history with strangers, no pay-backs brewing in the backs of our minds, no complicated relationships to work around. I find kindness to be a far greater challenge at home and in my work environment.

I’ve told my own children as well as many students that it costs nothing to be kind. In retrospect, I realize that I have been wrong. It costs great effort to be kind. It requires constant vigilance over words, facial expressions and even thoughts. My mind is sometimes littered with unspoken mean thoughts–and until lately, I considered those thoughts harmless, and congratulated myself on the self-control that it took to keep most of them from moving from the inside to the outside.  But the truth is, thoughts have tremendous power–and they overflow readily, often without the slightest provocation.

I don’t go out of my way to be cruel–I earnestly hope that I don’t. But when there is laughter at someone else’s expense–and they are not in the room–I have been known to be one of the laughers. When there is gossip–I am leaning in to hear the details. When there are negative comments, I am either nodding, or making them. I so want to be kind. In fact, in my daily spiritual practices, I ask for strength to be kind. It doesn’t always come naturally to me. I suppose there are not many for whom it does. I can think of a handful. For example, at school, staff members sometimes forget the occasional yard duty. What fun it is for some of us to stick our heads in the staff room door and yell laughingly at the poor subject in question that he/she has neglected to remember his/her yard duty. Eyes pop, arms flail, the poor wretch leaps from the chair and tears out the door…and we chuckle. I am guilty of chuckling. Many times. However. The other day, a certain individual stepped subtley inside the staff room and waited for the forgetful party’s eyes to meet hers. So quietly and inconspicuously, she mouthed the words, “You have duty…” in the hopes that no one would notice. Well, I noticed. Quietly, the person nodded and quickly left the room to go to her duty. And I sat there. Not chuckling. Just thinking, That was just so utterly kind. Why can I not be that person?

Even on the tail of that scene, a few hours later, I was joking with another teacher about an incident with a custodian–and I think (this is excruciating) that he overheard me.

I wish I could focus on other times when I have been successful in administering kindness. Those recollections bring little comfort. It’s the unkind moments that haunt me. The saying “People will not remember what you did or what you said, but they will always remember the way you made them feel” resonates.

Still, in all this, I suppose we have to remember that we have to be kind to ourselves, too. Perhaps it is when we are reproaching ourselves that we need to offer ourselves a little forgiveness. If we go around loathing ourselves, that does not bode well for offering kindness to those around us.

January Blues

Is it the time of the year? Is it the long Canadian winter, the lack of sunlight? The extra couple of pounds that knit themselves onto my form over Christmas? Ugh, I feel so lethargic and despondent. It’s January, all right.

Cold and snow and slush, the sun setting before dinner. The dreariness of dirty snow, the frigid blast of wind that hits when you step out of the house, the grocery store, the school…the house, the grocery store, the school….the house, the grocery store, the school….The kindergarten kids  with their noses all running, and their endless rows of snowpants and sloshy mittens.

Being in the house so much makes me supersensitive to all its faults….the pile of wet boots kicked off helter-skelter, all over the floor in the front entranceway. The gouges in the wall down the basement stairs, left from heavy furniture moves. The old countertop that so badly needs replacing. The dust on top of the piano. This morning as I made my way towards the stairs, the sight of an old television shoved into an empty bedroom and left in the middle of the floor almost had me in tears.

Bah, it’s ridiculous. I hate these moods. They are so unfounded and so ungrateful. A warm home–haven for a family, full of food and comfortable beds, three bathrooms and all the amenities–this place would be like Heaven to more than half the people in the world. 

And, yet. BLAH is the overwhelming emotion. Fish oil supplements and twenty-minute walks are just not cutting it. Hibernation…now, that might do it.

As I was going through the endless cycle of morning chores this morning, I glanced out my son’s bedroom window into the snowy back yard and had a brief vision of a different season. I was drowsing in my lounge chair in the sun, with the laundry fluttering in a warm wind nearby. The patio pots were filled with geraniums and ivy and the tomatoes were just starting to blush. Green faded quickly to white, and the branches were bare once more. Frozen spikes of something that used to be green poked out from their mounds of snow in the patio pots.

This is the long haul to spring. The Christmas lights have been taken down. These are long, dark nights. There’s nothing to do but duck our heads and battle through.

Typo

I love my IPod Touch.  I love how it holds the history of my life in tunes. I love how it synchs to my car’s sound system. I love my Yoga app. I love playing Doodlejump and Bejewelled on it. I love surfing Youtube with it. And I love checking my Facebook on it.

What I don’t love is the touch keyboard. Having an IPod Touch has taught me that an IPhone is not for me. I could never  text on an IPhone. Allow me to illustrate.

This morning, I woke up and reached for my IPod. I poked the Facebook icon with the pad of my index finger, and started checking out status updates. It occured to me as I lounged in bed that I had not taken my friend Jody up on her offer of a hot tub over the holidays. Since today is the last day of the holidays, I thought it was time. I tapped on her profile and nudged the text box under “post” so that I could leave a message on her wall. Up came the impossible little touch keyboard and squinting, I poked around until I came up with this message, or something close to it:

Jode, if you are thinking about a hot tub today, I would love to join you!

I tapped “post” and then turned the screen sideways to look it over. IPods adjust their screens which ever way you turn them, and lengthwise is sometimes easier to read. I could sort of make out the words I had posted, but the message was blurry (probably because I had been playing Bejewelled for half an hour before I went to Facebook). It looked all right from what I could see, yet I felt sort of uneasy for some reason. I went down to the computer and logged into Facebook there so I could see it “big.”

This is what I had written with the touch keyboard on my IPod:

Jode, if you are thinking about a hot rub today, I would love to join you!

I hollered and starting clicking around like crazy, forgetting (naturally) where  it was you had to go to in Facebook to delete posts. Since the comment had been posted on her wall, it was public–and I could only imagine the comment threads spewing forth for the next few days. And my chat notification told me that friends were online…oh, the humanity.

Finally, on my own profile, the magic X appeared. Delete post? HELLZ, YA!

Forget the hot tub. I’m back to scrounging through the fridge for wine bottles.

2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,500 times in 2010. That’s about 4 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 34 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 49 posts. There were 49 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 7mb. That’s about 4 pictures per month.

The busiest day of the year was October 10th with 49 views. The most popular post that day was October Woods.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were facebook.com, stumbleupon.com, mail.live.com, fc.tvdsb.on.ca, and mail.yahoo.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for corrina austin, corrinaaustin, crying kid, small children crying, and dismal autumn.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

October Woods October 2010
3 comments

2

Moonlight October 2010
4 comments

3

Dear Santa December 2010
2 comments

4

The Christmas Bus November 2010
4 comments

5

The Pleasure of My Company October 2010
2 comments