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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Old Age

Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint Mark Twain  
The more scientists learn, the better trained medical doctors become and the better the instruments invented for coming up with early diagnoses and treatment, the greater the probability that people who take reasonably good care of themselves are going to live into old age. Statistics are showing that it’s happening already so I thought I’d write a blog post as one who has a little experience.

I think that after you get past 85 you can start to consider yourself old aged. That was the year I began to feel ‘old’ as I was realizing things about myself I wouldn’t have even thought of when I was young.  I found that gradually it was becoming more difficult to move, energies were becoming more limited and to even run out some days, and sleeping was taking up more time.                            

I am aware that everyone is different but when I was young, I used to group all old people together and think that you could pretty well write them off by the time they were in their 80’s. After all I was mostly conforming to the attitudes that our North American culture has. Approaching 88, I behave as if I’m not to be ‘written off’ and truth be told I find most people if not respectful, are very solicitous and helpful. I am all for the way that Native people and those in Asian cultures treat their elders - with respect.  Still, I think respect must be earned.

I didn’t ever expect I would reach this age – I’ve had more that my fair share of health problems, mostly heart and arterial problems that not many years ago would have killed me. Lately it’s mostly my stomach that has been giving me grief - as I know it does with in many others my age. Winston Churchill must have been one of us – he is quoted as saying ‘Don't worry about avoiding temptation. As you grow older, it will avoid you I’ve been told by my health food consultant however, that eating fermented foods is very good for old people so I have started eating sauerkraut, more cheeses, yoghurt and kefir,  sprouted grains, and best of all, beer and wine!
The most important things in my life, besides meaningful relationships, have always been time, energy to do what I wanted. And what I want is like an unquenchable thirst to continue to learn and understand. I have lived through a flowering of science that continues to give insights into our roots as humans that run deep into the evolutionary millennia that have shaped us. So one of the best things about old age I find is that less and less is expected of me so I have more time. At first I felt guilty about not helping with household chores so much but I have been told by my daughters, wise souls, that I should convert my guilt into gratitude and give others the ‘pleasure’ of serving me.
Truth be told, I find that the older I get the sweeter life becomes. This past summer shimmers in my memory because my senses seemed heightened.  I was very aware of bird songs that seemed so melodious, flowers were a delight to the eye, sparkling and rippling water seemed more amazing– all this probably because unconsciously I realized there is less future time to enjoy them. That makes me live in the moment more, realizing fully that it is always now.   Rie

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Birds and the Bees

We have harvested just two squashes off our 12-foot long healthy vine this year and I noticed during the season that there were quite a few tiny squashes that just withered and fell off. That the same thing happened with quite a few of our zucchini as shown on left and I wondered if it was because huge healthy leaves obliterated any sight of the flowers so they were out of view of pollinating insects.  I had heard about helping the female blossoms get fertilized by actually acting like the birds and bees and helping pollinate the blossoms so I looked it up. What I learned was so useful and interesting, this blog practically wrote itself. 

You probably learned about the parts of a flower in school but the picture on the left is for those who may like a refresher. The drawing shows a ‘perfect flower’ that has both stamens and pistils in one flower. Vegetables like tomatoes, peppers and peas have these complete flowers and can fertilize themselves easily by just being shaken in a slight breeze - or to be sure, you can give them a little shake as you pass by.  However, I’ve learned that there are some families of plants like squashes, zucchini, cucumber, pumpkin and all sorts of melons that have 'incomplete flowers' that depend on the birds and the bees for carrying pollen from one blossom to another . 

The picture left shows male and female blossoms growing on the same squash vine.  You can easily tell them apart because the female flowers have an obvious baby fruit behind the flower and the males don’t.  If you look inside the open blossoms, you'll see that both have either just a single stamen or in the case of females, a pistil.

The picture on the right shows the petals being pulled off the male flower in preparation for fertilizing the female.  If you have a Q-tip in your pocket you could be more refined and brush some of the pollen off the single stamen and apply it to the sticky pistil of the female blossom...

 but the fastest and most successful technique is to rub the pistil with the stamen itself as shown on the left.  

The best time to do the job is first thing in the morning when the flowers are just opening. 

You must agree, gardening can sometimes be pretty exciting.  Rie

Sunday, September 16, 2012



So many things taught to young people in school have nothing to do with students learning how to cope when they go out to live on their own.  One important skill is how to handle money so when this week when a friend brought up the subject of children’s allowance, I thought it might be useful to write about what proved successful for us.

I am totally convinced that we can only really learn is from our own experiences   so we used our children’s weekly allowances as a means for giving them some experience with handling money matters. We only started when they were 8 or 9 years old and were ready to earn the money by doing some routine chores like keeping their rooms tidy and/or helping with meals by setting the table and helping clear up after it.

We used to keep accounts and no money changed hands but the books were open for them to see at any time and they could draw out money when they needed it.  The amount they were given depended on their age and was generous enough that they could save up and buy something they really wanted.  If they couldn’t wait until they had enough saved, they could go into debt but that meant they were charged interest on the amount owing and that came out of their next allowance. They could also earn money by doing extra chores.

We found the system really worked – there were consequences when chores weren’t done and it made us a more cohesive family with everyone pitching in to do their share of the housework. As well, there were possibilities for negotiating for a higher allowance if a good case could be made for it and that was fun with everyone usually gathering around the negotiating table and getting involved. 

The system turned out to be especially useful when we were asked for money to buy things we could well afford but they didn’t really need so before we hit on the allowance system, it was often difficult and arbitrary to turn down a plea for money.  By the time they were 14 or 15 their allowance was large enough for them to budget for more costly items like winter boots and coats.  I attribute our girl’s ability to sew well directly to their fiscal restraints – they had enough to buy everything they needed but not enough for all the clothes and shoes etc. they wanted.

I have read that in this age of so many broken marriages, a parent often doesn’t have enough time to spend with their child or children and that they give them money to assuage their own feelings of guilt. That’s understandable but studies tell us that your children want more quality time with parents not more money. It may not be too late to negotiate an allowance and that is bound to open up some interesting dialogue.           Rie     

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Good Book

Ever since I was in my mid teens when I began to think for myself, I have sought answers to the big questions about the meaning of my life and of the values to live by that might lead to having a satisfying and fulfilling life. It has been through reading and observation that I have developed over many years some answers that measure up to my constant need for rigorous logic.  The study of science, and particularly reading about the latest findings on evolution and complexity theory, have helped me understand why I am happiest when pursuing my drive to constantly learn and understand and my tendency to want to share my insights.

However, I have felt a gap in my quest because I have not read many of the books of wise people who have faced the same questions and come up with their own answers – the secular philosophers.  This week I discovered  A.C. Graling and ‘The Good Book’ that was actually published last year .  In a short video Grayling describes the how the Holy Bible, which he carefully studied over many years, was an edited compilation of the writings of many 'prophets' who lived from about 400 BCE to 100 ACE. It occured to him about 30 years ago that he should compile and edit a similar book of the writings of the most important secular sages and philosophers including those from such sources as China, India and of course the western world. His authors differ from those of the Bible in that they are not religous and have only the desire to enlighten others with their own human observations and insights. For a more complete explanation of his book click on the video and hear Grayling give a longer lecture.

I feel hugely indebted to Anthony Grayling and look forward to filling any gaps in my knowledge about what has been written about the great questions that every thinking person faces.    Rie

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Sun Revisited

Like a precious spring in the vast empty desert of space, the Sun makes our Earth a beautiful living oasis in the cold, dark universe around us.

Have you ever thought what makes the Sun shine and keep on putting out such colossal amounts of energy for billions of years? It is amazing to me that, like most people, I didn’t ever ask that question when I was growing up. Maybe it was because the Sun is so awesome that I didn’t think anyone could possibly know the answer.

But Einstein figured it all out in 1905 when he developed his famous equation: E=mc2

That equation says that energy (E) and matter (m) are interchangeable -- one can be turned into the other. In the Sun, incredible amounts of energy (E) are created when very, very small amounts of matter (m) are destroyed. That’s because the constant (c2) that is on the same side of the equation as the mass (m) stands for the enormous speed of light multiplied by itself.

The Sun is made up of gases, about 75% hydrogen and 25% helium. In the very very hot centre of the sun (15 million degrees Celsius), two hydrogen nuclei fuse when they collide, and the helium nucleus that forms as a result has a mass (m) that is very slightly less than the combined masses of the two hydrogens. That lost mass (m) is converted to the prodigious amount of energy (E) in the form of heat and light that the Sun gives off and has been giving off for billions of years. Watching this short YouTube clip helps visualize this thermonuclear reaction happening in the Sun.

So far the Sun has used up only about half its hydrogen, so no worries, there is no reason it won't keep flooding planet Earth every single day with an amount of energy that is equivalent to the whole of the world’s oil resources. That constant and beautiful supply of energy has been a major cause of the truly awe-inspiring evolution that has occurred on our planet – that, and of course the laws of nature.

One of nature's laws - the famous Second Law of Thermodynamics – says that in an isolated system, Entropy, or disorder, increases. But what about a system that is not isolated and that is receiving the wonderful energy from the Sun constantly? A relatively new theory, Complexity Theory, recognizes that if you pump energy into an isolated system, order will increase!!

Darwin certainly made great breakthroughs – recognizing evolutionary patterns and coming up with his ‘survival of the fittest’ dictum. But consider the tremendous driving force for the increasing complexity on the planet that is now being directed by us. And where do we get our energy? Indirectly, like everything else on Earth, from that marvelous thermonuclear reaction going on in the Sun!   Rie