Sunday, July 27, 2008

Simpsons do an interview. . .

I loved the Simpsons since the first time I saw them on the Tracy Ullman show. Here they are on the actor's studio:

It's amazing how they just jump into character like that.

Popcorn Done Right

It's been far too long since I've reposted my instructions on popcorn making. Use this recipe the next time you rent movies.

This post was originally on my first, myspace, blog on June 6, 2006.

Educational Programming

Just to show that this blog is not just about random musings and my various obsessions, I will offer up a little bit of educational programming.

I am a big popcorn fan. It's my favourite snack and I've become quite adept at making good popcorn. So good, in fact, that I'm forced to share it with my co-workers at least once a month. It's gotten to the point where I now bring in five large freezer bags full. It's gone in a day, at most.

So, without further ado, here is Remi's Rules of Popcorn Making:

Step 1 - Go to cupboard and take out box of microwave popcorn.

2 - Take bags out of box.

3 - Throw bags in garbage.

4 - Recycle box.

5 - Go to local grocery store.

6 - Buy popcorn kernels. Orville Redenbacher is worth the extra money - it gives a better yield (less wasted kernels) and has a lighter, fluffier taste and texture. The cheaper stuff is still good, however, and usually a lot cheaper.

7 - Buy canola oil. Name brand or no name, it doesn't matter. Canola gives the best taste, but any vegetable oil will work.

8 - Buy salt, if you don't already have any. For a special treat, buy butter, but it really isn't necessary as the popcorn is tasty enough as is.

9 - Whatever you do, do not buy margarine. While movie theatres like to pass off becel as a butter substitute, they are wrong. You either use butter or you don't. There are no half measures.

10 - I'm serious, no margarine.

11 - Go home and turn on stove to high.

12 - Find your oldest dented medium sized pot with lid. Place on stove.

13 - Drop a little bit of oil into pot and spread it around. Just a few drops.

14 - Pour in popcorn kernels. I usually aim to cover the bottom of the pot but it's all a matter of taste and practise. Good popcorn making is an inexact art. You will eventually get a feel for it.

15 - Add more oil. The kernels should be well coated, but not doing the backstroke. Don't skimp, however, or you will lessen the taste.

16 - Shake pot occasionally. Especially when the kernels really start to pop.

17 - Get out bowl. I prefer a monster sized stainless steel one I got from Ikea, but it's really up to you.

18 - When popping slows almost to a stop, take pot off heat and dump in bowl.

18a - If lid starts to lift while popcorn is still popping, hold lid down with a little bit of pressure. Let it rise, but keep some pressure on or you risk a mess. Cleaning burnt popcorn off the elements sucks.

19 - Salt and butter to taste and enjoy. For an extra special treat, melt butter in a small sauce pan on the stove. Much tastier than microwaving.

Now, I make no claims that this is a healthy snack. That would just be foolish. If you want healthy popcorn, buy a hot air popper. They are cheap, quick and still offer fairly tasty popcorn.
What I will say about health issues, though, is that popcorn done right involves far fewer scary chemicals and trans fats than the bagged variety.

If you've made it this far, it's time to go enjoy your popcorn.

Canuck Book 1 - Al Purdy's Selected Poems (1972 edition)

War is hell and so are reading challenges. Mr. Mutford, mastermind and administrator of the 2'nd Canadian Book Challenge, Eh? offered up a prize for commenting on a book of poetry during the month of July. The notion of reading a book of poetry for the challenge seemed like a worthy endeavour so I jumped at it. And then I stumbled. And jumped again. And missed. And jumped.

You see, I love poetry. I love the razor sharp precision of good verse. I love the way it sounds and feels. A large part of my book collection is devoted to poetry. In the past month, I have read poems by Canuck writers Margaret Atwood, Leonard Cohen, Milton Acorn, Michael Ondaatje, Irving Layton and Al Purdy. I also read poetry by Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, Frank O'Hara, John Ashbery, Allen Ginsberg, ee cummings and Charles Bukowski. (I know I should be reading newer and younger poets, but I just haven't got around to it yet.)

So it's not poetry in and of itself that made this task difficult.

Just over 2 years ago, I decided to become a member of the small and entirely unofficial every station club. In one day, I went to every station on the TTC. Easy enough, if you're just passing through. Not so easy when you make a point of leaving and entering every station, grabbing a transfer on your way back in (the TTC subway transfers have the station name where they are issued stamped on them, making them a record of your trek). It was a day of long staircases and trips too short to read anything. Anyways, it was an ordeal I only survived because I get obsessive-compulsive about these things.

Reading this book felt much the same to me. Don't get me wrong. The book, itself, is great. Al Purdy is one of my favourite poets and the book is filled with great poems. In fact, the spine of the book is now jammed with scraps of paper so I can flip back to particular gems.

What bothered me was the notion of reading a book of poetry from cover to cover. I just can't do it. I love flipping through a book, picking poems at random. I like the happy accidents this creates, where you chance upon some phrase or thought that sets your mind ablaze. I like jumping from book to book and poet to poet. In contrast, reading Purdy's selected cover to cover was something of a drag. I found myself forcing my way through when I should have be stopping and marvelling.

It took me all month to muster the determination to read a poetry book from end to end and I probably won't be doing it again any time soon. I will, of course, be reading a lot more Purdy because, as much as reading the book through bothered me, I wound up reading lots of great poems.

(for my old blog post on the every station club, go here -

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Thursday, July 24, 2008


Scary title, eh? Well, I was looking for something witty and wry but it just didn't work.

You see, when I went in for my medical scare back in April, I came out with a couple of pieces of news I didn't really want to hear.

The first was the easiest to take. It turns out I should have been on some sort of anti-seizure medication since I had brain surgery. Fair enough. The medicine on that front is constantly changing so a change like that is not unexpected. At this point, my brain's a fixer-upper, anyways, so I pop pills and the seizures stay at bay.

The other piece of news was that my blood sugars were high. Really high. I joke now that when they tested me, I had more sugar than blood. You get the picture.

It wasn't a complete surprise. If I had been a little bit more in tune with what my body was telling me, I could have seen the warning signs. I could have realized that the peaks and valleys of fatigue were not normal. I could have seen that my body just wasn't handling my horrible diet as well as I'd liked to believe.

But hindsight only ignores the facts of the present. If I am to get healthy, I need to worry about the present and the future. That's what I've started to do.

One of my doctors told me recently that 85-90 percent of patients who receive news similar to mine make little or no actual change to their lifestyle. Pretty depressing thought. It frustrates him because he keeps thinking of all the other patients who come to him, people with horrible conditions that cannot be treated or managed. These patients come to him looking for something, anything they can do to make things better and the doctor can't offer much more than to ease their suffering.

Then he sees a patient with diabetes. Now diabetes is a horrible illness. The more I read about it, the more it terrifies me. The difference with diabetes is that, with discipline and courage, the disease can be managed. Your life is really only limited by the amount of work you are willing to put into staying healthy. You learn to get a feel for what your body can and cannot take. You stay away from stupid things like candy and pop. You eat your veggies. Most important, you get off your butt and do something. You walk or swim or dance (don't worry, I've stayed away from the dancing) or whatever.

The 85-90 percent figure is a sobering reality. Fortunately, for me, I've never really gone with the crowds. I march to the beat of my own drummer, even if he is a little demented, only has one arm and can't keep a beat (what can I say? I got a good deal). So I came out of the hospital with a mission.

After a scare like the one I got, giving up the sweets was a whole lot easier to do than I would have imagined. Where I once acted like a kid in a candy store - literally - I now pass the junk by without a glace. I'm not going to say I don't have the odd craving or that I don't indulge in some junk once in a while, but candy and chocolate just don't factor into the equation.

I also started to move more. The building I recently moved into has a great rooftop pool and I like going up there and splashing back and forth for a half hour or more. Even better, I'm only a short walk away from the Belt Line trail so I do a lot of walking. I will admit this has been an uphill battle. I can find all kinds of good reasons why I don't need to get up off my butt right now. It's what I'm good at. I can spend hours looking up info on walking without actually putting my shoes on. More and more, though, I get moving and I wind up feeling much better for having done so.

Stopped the sweets - check. Exercise - check. Next was my diet. In a lot of ways, this part is even tougher than the exercise. I'm a single guy living in Toronto. Cooking for one sucks and every restaurant delivers. You do the math. Of course, I'm now just an elevator ride away from a 24 hour dominion and I work just a 10 minute walk away from the St. Lawrence market. So I played to my strengths and got obsessive compulsive about it. I loaded my fridge with veggies and, in a break from past practise, I actually started eating them. I'm a snacker and a grazer so I just make sure that what I snack and sample comes from the produce section and not from a factory. I make it a point of pride. I plan ahead. I do all the things I should have been doing all along but this time I make sure they stick. And they have. Right now, I have a routine that involves making lunch for work and most other meals at home. It takes time, sure, but I wind up feeling better for it. So does my wallet, for that matter.

Again, I am not claiming sainthood. I have my weaknesses and I have my treats. I just make sure they are treats and not a complete relapse.

So, if I'm doing all this, what keeps me honest? What keeps me from treating myself again and again until I'm back to my old ways? The answer is simple. I've started using a glucometer.

Using a glucometer was one of the hardest things for me to do. First, I hate needles. Second, I really hate needles. Third, I didn't like the idea of dragging the thing around wherever I go. Besides, what do I really need one for? I'm eating healthier and exercising. Isn't that enough? Well, no. I started using a glucometer on June 1. I put it off and put it off and really only started because my doctor said there wasn't much point in having appointments if they didn't have numbers to work with. So I decided to give them a good week of thrice a day testing just to get them off my back.

I bought a knock-off moleskine notebook and recorded the numbers in there. I figured if I didn't need to record numbers afterwards, I could always use the notebook to scribble scraps of verse in the local starbucks or something like that. The week ended, however, and I kept going. And going. In fact, there has only been one day since I started when I recorded less than three tests. Taking the glucometer along with me turned out to be a minor inconvenience, one that was easily outweighed by the benefit of knowing how my body is doing. Taking it even further, I've even put together a spreadsheet of the numbers so I can bring it to the doctors when I need to (more OCD related madness, to be sure, but it impresses the docs).

What have I found? I found that good eating makes for lower numbers. I found that evening snacking makes for higher morning numbers. More importantly, I found that exercise really does play a role in blood sugar numbers. This is kind of my weekend wake-up lesson. As I tend to treat myself on weekends, my numbers do trend higher. If I get off my butt and go for a swim or a long walk or something, I see a noticeable drop in my numbers. Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to excuse the treats by exercising - it's not a one for one kind of equation. It's just that it puts the difference in its starkest contrast.

What I've also found is that, by testing my sugars regularly, I am less prone to treating myself. Even for a contrarian like myself, I find it's hard to argue with numbers. They don't lie near as often as we'd like to admit. It's about pride. I really hate to see high numbers now. It stays challenging because my definition of high numbers is also getting lower. I'm giving myself less room to play with and that's a good thing.

So, now that I'm about three months into this change, what do I see? I see weight loss and more even energy levels. I see blood sugars on a downward slope. I start to see a different me, one who doesn't feel quite so out of place among the joggers and the walkers and the lap swimmers. Sure, I'm still bigger than most, but I'm out there lumbering along and that's all that matters.

Concrete gains? The last time I had blood work done, my sugars were just above the optimal level for controlled diabetes. By now, they should be well into the optimal range. If I keep going like this, I should be off the medication within a year. The last time I met with the scary number doctor, he shook my hand.

So, why am I telling you all this? The answer is complicated. Sure, I've had no problem talking about my aneurysm, but that was different. That was just an unlucky roll of the die, something that happened to me which I've had to deal with. Diabetes is a different matter, altogether. It's the disease of the new, fat millennium, the byproduct of a culture that would rather sit and watch than stand and do. While I can tip my hat to heredity, the reality is that I didn't do myself any favours and probably caused most of the problem with poor lifestyle choices. For someone who prides himself on his intelligence, it was a pretty stupid thing to do.

As such, I'm not looking for sympathy. Everyone was great when my aneurysm happened and I am more than grateful for the thoughts and words and actions of pretty much everyone I've ever known. The sympathy I received then helped me in more ways than I can count.

This time, I'm more embarrassed than anything. There's a stigma attached to this disease that confronts me everyday. That's fine and as it should be. I hope the stigma will keep people away, scare them into living healthier before it's too late. Sadly, that doesn't seem to be happening. While I've come to accept the reality of this disease, it remains a sore spot. For me, the stigma has become one more reason why I'm going to beat it into submission.

Save your sympathy for those who need and deserve it. I've created this mess on my own and I'm going to work my way through it. I'm stubborn that way. I'm going to get myself off the meds and make sure I'm one of the 10-15 percent who do something positive. I'm going to make sure the doctor keeps shaking my hand.

So why am I here? Why am I offering up an embarrassing reality to the world? Spending time exercising has left me with a lot of time to think and ponder. The framework for this post was written in my mind while walking the Belt Line. I realize I'm probably not the only person out there receiving this sort of news, waking up to the ticking of a biological time bomb. I just want to let those people know that there is hope. You might not be able to dismantle the bomb, but you can at least slow or maybe stop the clock. It takes hard work and discipline, but it's better than the alternatives. Even better, for all the hassles and headaches, the frustration and the pain, you do wind up feeling much better. Even now, still basically at the beginning of the journey, I'm seeing changes I wouldn't have thought possible three months ago.

That's as close to an inspirational speech as I'm likely to get. It makes me uneasy getting up on a soapbox but someone has to say something. The numbers are just too scary to ignore. I'm a bit of a news junkie and it seems that a week doesn't go by without some report detailing the skyrocketing numbers of diabetics in our country. Do we really want to create a society where glucometers are as ubiquitous as cell phones? I could probably go on for hours like this but, thankfully, I won't. I do have to go for a swim, after all.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Some Pics

I was thinking of something to post here and really did not have much to say. Instead, let me offer up a few random pics in honour of me getting off my butt and actually taking some photos to the photo shop. It really does feel much better to hold the photos in yr hand than to just sit here and stare at a computer screen. Maybe now I'll get prints developed more often than once every four or five years.

I guess that was one of the benefits of film. If you wanted to see the picture, you had to get off yr butt.

So this, then, is an ode to getting off butts (though you won't have to get off yrs):

Taken on the hippo land/water tour bus by Ontario Place.

Taken in Ottawa.

When I think of a weekend away from the city, I think of this.

More Ottawa or having fun with a polarizing filter.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Tilting at Windmills, Replying to Chain Letters

Recently a friend sent me one of those chain letter emails that get passed from friend to family member to friend to stranger to. . . You get the picture.

Usually, the emails he sends are humourous so I opened it up expecting some sort of joke. What I got instead was a message that bothered me. There was something wrong with the argument presented and it had me wishing I could talk to the email's original author. I dearly wanted to explain where I felt he or she had gone wrong in their thinking.

With the author unknown, I sat down and pounded out a response anyways. I couldn't help myself. To tell you the truth, it just felt nice to write with such purporse about something that means a lot to me.

Then I sat on it for a while, which is always a smart thing to do in these days of instant (mis-)communication.

Next, I talked with the friend in question and warned him that I might publish a reply. I didn't want him to take offense as his views may or may not differ from mine. He actually seemed more bemused than anything, so I decided to run with it.

First, the message I received:

Must Read & Only in Canada.

Do not apply for your old age pension...

Apply to be a refugee. It is interesting that the federal government provides a single refugee with a monthly allowance of $1,890.00 and each can get an additional $580.00 in social assistance for a total of $2,470.00. This compares very well to a single pensioner who, after contributing to the growth and development of Canada for 40 or 50 years, can only receive a monthly maximum of $1,012.00 in old age pension and Guaranteed Income Supplement. Maybe our pensioners should apply as refugees!

Let's send this thought to as many Canadians as we can and maybe we can get the refugees cut back to $1,012.00 and the pensioners up to $2,470.00, so they can enjoy the money they were forced to submit to the Canadian government for those 40 to 50 years."

It concludes by asking the reader to send the message to every Canadian they know.

Instead, I wrote this:

Alas, the logic here is flawed. For a moment, consider the fact that the money the pensioners were "forced to submit" was probably repaid to them in the form of medical care (not perfect, but better than the alternative), education for themselves and their children (we only assume that grade and high school should be free), infrastructure, and a social safety net for when we suffer troubles. Not so unbalanced, when you look at it that way.

Besides, if that money is what it takes for us to get someone to move halfway around the world, leave behind their life and savings (because moving halfway around the world is not cheap) and then work the jobs that people born in Canada feel too good to do, then that's fine by me because, without the immigrant, our country would collapse.

I mean, are we really so foolish as to believe that the immigrant has it easy? In addition to a life of crap jobs for crap wages, they often have to deal with social isolation, language barriers and a culture that is blind to how dependant our country is on people from other countries.

When I was working on the rail gangs in eastern Ontario years ago, I went with my co-worker to visit his aunt. She was spending the growing season in a series of rickety shacks planted on the edge of farm fields. She comes to Canada from Jamaica each summer and follows the harvest across Ontario. By doing the backbreaking work that natural born Canucks reject, she earns the money that lasts her through a winter at home.

Fine. Even the editors at the Toronto Sun would probably applaud this as long as the workers made sure to go home when done.

What I saw, though, was something different. I saw a shack overfilled with workers and empty of most furniture and furnishings. Let me tell you, the only difference between that place and the pictures one sees of the darkest days of the Great Depression is that this place had a power line. A decade later and I am still trying to answer the questions raised by that evening. How can we, the members of an extremely affluent nation, turn such a blind eye to how our food is produced and how it is produced? It goes beyond wilful ignorance. It is hypocritical. It is cold and calloused. It is, well, un-Canadian.

So, heck, if nursery tales about spoiled immigrants and hard done to Canadians are you thing, then. . . Uh, now there's a problem. I can't say hard done to Canadians, because some of the proudest Canadians I know were born in other countries. In fact, I feel proudest as a Canadian when I talk with immigrants because they generally appreciate and value their citizenship far more than those of us who were born in Canada. They are proud to be a part of this country, even if it means doing such things as working seven days a week in a suburban sub shop (as one woman I talked to from Iran does).

Oops, another hole in the logic there because, behind the rant, is the unspoken notion that Canadian born Canadians are somehow more deserving or entitled than Canadians who started life elsewhere. Personally, I think the opposite may be true. I feel that a person who has to choose and work and sacrifice to be Canadian is probably better overall for the country than someone who is going to sit back and whine and snipe and complain. In my more radical moments, I feel that natural born Canadians should have to take a citizenship test on their eighteenth birthday before being granted the full range of benefits we reap from living in this great country. Maybe then we could learn to appreciate what we have rather than whining about what we do not.

As for the money disparity, no one mentioned the fact that it is usually far more expensive to be an immigrant than it is to be a senior. The majority of immigrants wind up living in Canada's three largest cities. Two out of three of these cities often show up on lists of the most expensive places to live in the world. Furthermore, the immigrant usually does not have the network of friends, family and relatives that Canadian-born citizens have. Immigrants need the helping hand to get started, sure, but that's not where it ends. Soon enough, this helping hand gets paid back in sweat and taxes, keeping our country running.

I'm not saying the Canada Pension Plan is perfect. I'm not saying the immigration system is perfect, either. What I'm saying is that it is far more complicated than taking the money from the immigrants and giving it to the seniors. What I'm saying is we do a disservice to ourselves and our country by substituting simplistic griping for reasoned thought.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

What a Wonderful World

Take a read of this:

I'm just amazed that a government that once tried to impeach a president for an affair has the gall not to impeach a president for willfully breaking national and international law with reckless abandon.


Remember when I went to visit the new Al Purdy statue ( Well, I spent the better part of a summer once tearing up train tracks in Prince Edward County. Every morning we would leave Trenton and head to the job site, passing the turnoff to Ameliasburgh. Even then, though I was barely acquainted with his work, I longed to take the turnoff and go see the house and maybe the man. It seemed so perfect that down this small road in the middle of nowhere lived a famous Canadian poet.

Now, it looks like the house may be sold. I guess I'll have to plan some sort of road trip for this summer if I am to see it at all.

You can find the article here:

Friday, July 11, 2008

The week that was / Memories

Well, it's been a while since I posted. I really do need to post more often, but inertia often takes over. . .

My job has me rotating back and forth from a week of day shifts (6am-2pm) to a week of afternoon shifts (2pm-10pm) and back and forth and so on.

My day shift weeks are tiring affairs. I really don't handle starting my day at 5am too well so, by Friday, I'm a little bit beat. I usually wind up having a late afternoon nap and then a lazy evening involving nothing more taxing than a rented movie or a good book.

This week has been particularly draining because it started on the saddest of notes. My grandmother, after being diagnosed only 4 days earlier, passed away from cancer on Saturday afternoon. You can rationalize and justify all you want but it still doesn't make up for the fact that a person you love is no longer there. The Saturday before, I was joking with her, kidding in the way we always did. A week later, she was a shell, hollowed by that horrible disease. And then she was gone.

I don't know where I am going with this post. I started with the intention of talking about my evening, reading by waning twilight on the roof of my building. Now, with words on (virtual) paper, my original vision seems far too trivial even for me, a man who thrives on the trivial.

Let's get this straight - my grandmother was a pain in the ass. She was demanding and vain, stubborn and sometimes selfish. She could manipulate with the best of them, keeping everyone running circles around her, doing her bidding.

She was also pretty incredible. She was never an apple pie and knitting sort of grandmother. In fact, we grandkids grew up calling her by her first name because she did not want people to know she was old enough to be a grandmother. She suffered a major stroke when I was about two years old. Still, bounced back and I can remember her playing softball and bowling regularly. Even in the last years, in very poor health, she made a point of getting up and playing in our somewhat annual family baseball game, if only for an at bat.

She drove a pick-up truck, largely because it gave her the chance to look down on people in a way her short height would not normally allow. She played lottery tickets with a vengeance and relished trips to casinos and slot rooms.

She came from a wonderfully musical family and once played the piano, though that was lost to the stroke. The grandmother I knew was still a fan and loved listening to people playing, especially live.

She loved the Leafs, but we forgave her for that. She loved them from the radio days and rarely missed a game on tv. It got to the point where even the more rational side of the family, those that cheer for the Habs, came to secretly root for the Leafs a little because she was so devoted to them. Of course, we'd never tell her that.

My sisters and father talk often of the time they took her to the east coast. She was in her late sixties at the time and had never seen the ocean before. It was one of those rare moments where she was truly at peace, watching the water and the whales.

It's funny how things change. I started by saying that she was a pain in the ass and I won't take that back. It was who she was. It was who we loved. Glossing over the truth would create a fiction where a memory should be. What's changed is that it seems so inconsequential, minor complaints in the face of a larger truth. The reality is that, for all the demands and the hassles, there is not a person in my family who does not wish we could do her bidding one more time, take her out for a meal or shopping, mow her lawn or plant her garden.

The evening after she passed, we had family over to my parents' new house, a wonderfully warm and inviting home on a hill in the middle of land that once belonged to my grandfather. The evening was a makeshift affair, take-out pizza and chicken, some baking brought by friends. It was an evening of talk and remembrance while we tried to cope with the shock of what had happened. Of course, even in moments of sorrow there can be instants of levity and we laughed at those, which was good.

At the end of it all, though, the evening lacked one thing. We all felt it and knew that the person who would have loved the evening the most was the one who was not there. That was a very bitter pill to swallow.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

13 Books to Go. . .

I've joined up for the second installment of John Mutford's Canadian Book Challenge. The goal is 13 Canadian books in a year. I generally avoid book challenges as I get far too obsessive compulsive about such things. I like my aimless meandering from book to book far too much to tie myself down to too many rules.

I make an exception for the Canuck challenge for two reasons: First, I really like Canadian books and think more people should be reading them. How can I go around telling people to read Canadian if I don't read Canadian myself? Second, Mr. Mutford runs a really good challenge. I had a lot of fun last time reading people's impressions of some really good books.

For those of you interested in the challenge, you can sign up here -

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Happy Canuck Day

I spent most of the nation's birthday cleaning my apartment and doing laundry. I made up for it by heading up to the roof of my building and watching the myriad fireworks displays the city has to offer. There were fireworks going off in all directions. It was nice to see so many people up there on the roof. Eventually, some of the people who had been drinking deeply from there, ahem, water bottles broke into a decent rendition of O Canada. A nice way to wrap up the day.