Friday, January 29, 2010

People are good

Today I was part of a big office fundraiser for Haiti. We had a pair of hockey tickets to auction off. They went for $300. But that's not the best part of it. We raised another $2,200 throughout the agency. I think people are good, if you give them half a chance.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Sympathetic Joy

You'll notice that favourite thing #8 isn't a thing at all.

In Buddhism, mudita or sympathetic joy, is one of the Four Sublime States or Brahma Viharas.

It basically means that your joy will increase if you share in the happiness of others.

But before you get all whoa with the Buddhist mumbo jumbo on me, let me put this into everyday terms. It might be easier to grasp sympathetic joy by understanding what it decidedly is not. The opposite of sympathetic joy is jealousy.

Example: a co-worker gets promoted. She deserves it. She's been working hard, putting in some late hours, and really bringing it for months now.

How do you feel about this? Do your thoughts automatically go to, "Good for her. Her work has been recognized. Her promotion is well-deserved."

Or does it go to "Why haven't I been promoted. No one notices anything I do around here. I bet she got a raise. I really should make more money." Is their a tinge of begrudgement?

Let's sit with that today. We'll have 100 opportunities to practice sympathetic joy. I guarantee it.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

My Favourite Things #7 Kraft Dinner

As a former fatty who never met a carb she didn't like and spent roughly 7 hours a day watching sit coms throughout junior high, I know my way around the junk aisle. For me, low fat meant I could have two.

For some time now, I've begun the sentence, "When I'm on death row..." That startling fact aside, I periodically like to toy with what I'd enjoy for my last meal.

For me, it's unequivocally the national dish of Newfoundland -- Kraft Dinner.

I love Kraft Dinner. Love it so much I could marry it. Probably will marry it, since no other offers appear to be forthcoming.

I love it's orange, artificial cheesy goodness, it's gloppy stick to your ribs quality and it's fat-inducing after burn. Kraft Dinner drags me back through time to my muffin-topped expandable waisted self sitting at my TV table in front of Wonderful World of Disney.

An old boss of mine was allergic to dairy. Of the anaphylaxis variety. Even he used to swoon at the smell of Kraft Dinner. There's something in it that feeds your inner child.

Monday, January 25, 2010

My Favourite Things #6 - The Dhammapada

Not surprisingly, I have a lot of favourite things that involve words.

This one, in particular, really rocks my world. It's the first in an anthology of 423 verses that makes up the Dhammapada -- a series of teachings of Buddah from the Theravada Pali Canon.

Don't let the Buddhism scare you off if you're not so inclined. Like most things that are true, it'll speak to your heart if you allow it.


We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.
Speak or act with an impure mind
And trouble will follow you
As the wheel follows the ox that draws the cart.
We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.
Speak or act with a pure mind
And happiness will follow you
As your shadow, unshakable.
"Look how he abused me and hurt me,
How he threw me down and robbed me."
Live with such thoughts and you live in hate.
"Look how he abused me and hurt me,
How he threw me down and robbed me."
Abandon such thoughts, and live in love.
In this world
Hate never yet dispelled hate.
Only love dispels hate.
This is the law,
Ancient and inexhaustible.
You too shall pass away.
Knowing this, how can you quarrel?
How easily the wind overturns a frail tree.
Seek happiness in the senses,
Indulge in food and sleep,
And you too will be uprooted.
The wind cannot overturn a mountain.
Temptation cannot touch the man
Who is awake, strong and humble,
Who masters himself and minds the dharma.
If a man's thoughts are muddy,
If he is reckless and full of deceit,
How can he wear the yellow robe?
Whoever is master of his own nature,
Bright, clear and true,
He may indeed wear the yellow robe.
Mistaking the false for the true,
And the true for the false,
You overlook the heart
And fill yourself with desire.
See the false as false,
The true as true.
Look into your heart.
Follow your nature.
An unreflecting mind is a poor roof.
Passion, like the rain, floods the house.
But if the roof is strong, there is shelter.
Whoever follows impure thoughts
Suffers in this world and the next.
In both worlds he suffers
And how greatly
When he sees the wrong he has done.
But whoever follows the dharma
Is joyful here and joyful there.
In both worlds he rejoices
And how greatly
When he sees the good he has done.
For great is the harvest in this world,
And greater still in the next.
However many holy words you read,
However many you speak,
What good will they do you
If you do not act upon them?
Are you a shepherd
Who counts another man's sheep,
Never sharing the way?
Read as few words as you like,
And speak fewer.
But act upon the dharma.
Give up the old ways -
Passion, enmity, folly.
Know the truth and find peace.
Share the way.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Favourite Thing #5 -- The Catcher in the Rye

I occasionally meet people who have never read The Catcher in the Rye or read it later in life and didn't get it. This is usually a sign from the universe that we will never hook up.

Fact is the work is such a seminal influence on my literary development that I can't even conceive of my reading life without it. We wouldn't have David Sedaris, Augusten Burroughs, Jonathan Franzen -- hell, even Buffy the Vampire Slayer, if it weren't for Salinger and Holden Caulfield.

Salinger is the prime mover.

So we come to today's favourite thing.

Everybody's got that one irreplaceable thing they'd save in a fire. Mine is a first book club edition of JD Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye. It's all the more rare because it has Salinger's picture on the dust jacket. I bought it as a gift to myself for surviving my Masters Thesis.

Other gifts I gave myself for surviving my Masters Thesis were sessions on a tanning bed (third degree burns) and purple hair (they said it was a temporary rinse, but they lied).

What can I say. Stress does strange things to a person.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Favourite Thing #4 -- Moisturizer

You may well leap out of bed looking all youthful and dewy but that's because you're either younger than me or sold your soul to the devil when you were 13.

Truth is that, left unattended, I have the chapped, cracked skin and conspicuous capillaries of a perpetual whiskey drinking northern Scot. My complexion stands me in good stead with my peat-moss digging ancestors. Despite drinking a thousand glasses of water a day, my skin contains almost no natural moisture. You could sand drywall with it.

So imagine my delight when I happened upon a moisturizing agent that actually worked. Enter H20 Face Oasis Hydrating Treatment.

First of all it's blue, which leads you to believe that it's otherworldly. The ads tell us it's sea-derived, so I believe, perhaps incorrectly, that it might be a gift from our mermaid friends. A way of saying, thanks for giving up the dolphin hunt. And it goes on like jelly. Blue mermaid jelly. But the best thing of all is that our face just sucks it up. It's like one of those masks they put over burn victims. And the next thing you know...shazam, my raw, rough epidermis is glowing like a Georgia peach.

Of course all this beauty comes at a price. A jar will set you back about $48. I usually go through about two a year. Small price to pay for looking this good.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

My Favourite Things #3

If you like a little alliteration with your onomatopoeia, old Yeats is your guy.

One of the most lyrical examples in the English language is a line from The Lake Isle of Innisfree: "I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore."

I heard a (probably drunk) Irish dude reading it on the CBC the other night. The Irish are second only to the Welsh in making almost everything they read sound musical and a little like poetry. Even the phone bill.

Anyway, I present for you one of my favourite poems in the English language. I've got a framed copy of it on my wall at home -- a reminder that no matter how smart I think I am, I'll never produce anything as close to perfection as this is.

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

I WILL arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the mourning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

My Favourite Things #2

While I like to shake up my breakfasts -- one day steel cut oatmeal, the next pumpernickel bread with a generous swab of that laughing cow cheese -- there's usually one constant. A dried fig.

Dried figs are nature's wonder food. They're nutritious, high in potassium, calcium, magnesium and iron, and are a good source of fibre. Figs are fat-free, sodium-free and cholesterol free.

There's pretty much nothing super fig can't do.

If you don't eat meat -- which I haven't for over ten years now -- you'll appreciate the consistency of the lowly fig. It's tough and chewy, kind of like I remember meat to be, but it rewards you with gooey sweetness inside.

I've stewed figs before -- usually with apricots, dates and apples -- but the dried fig can proudly stand alone.

The Bible is lousy with fig references, too. Everything from Adam and Eve cladding themselves in fig vines to my fave Song of Solomon.

So all hail the fig. Fave thing #2.

Monday, January 18, 2010

My Favourite Things #1

I make a point of buying one new item every time I go grocery shopping. It's a way to avoid shopping cart complacency and its a challenge to keep things fresh and new. A couple of years ago, Clover Leaf's brand of spicy thai chili tuna made its way into my grocery cart.

The first thing I noticed was how convenient it was. The pull-top lid makes it easy to get inside. It's the perfect size for a lunch bag.

But the taste. Holy cow.

It's so deliciously spicy and zippy (helped, in part, by a large chili in each can) that as soon as I tried it, I grew worried that it would be pulled from the shelves lest it offend the bland Canadian palate.

The best part is that this tuna can liven up a green salad like nobody's business. You won't even need salad dressing.

Haven't tried it? Now's the perfect time to give it a whirl. Sobey's has it on sale for .88¢. I bought ten cans on the weekend.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


A catastrophic earthquake hit the already impoverished country of Haiti yesterday.

Gentle men, women and children who were already struggling to find enough to eat, clean water to drink and a way to eke out a living for their families, literally saw their lives crumble around them.

I knew a few CARE folks who worked in Haiti about ten years ago. Food was so scarce that they'd have to order it from Miami and get space on incoming defense department planes. Ordinary Haitians weren't so lucky.

Now this.

If you've never been in an earthquake, I don't wish it on you.

We had regular tremors when I lived in Japan. Sometimes several a day. But there was a 6.0 quake toward the end of my tenure there. I was seated in a train in Akebane station -- on the third storey up -- when the quake hit. Our car rocked back and forth like it was been handled by a giant grumpy kid's hand. No one screamed. There was an eerie silence. Probably one of the most frightening things that ever happened to me.

The Haitian quake was a full point higher.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

How important is makeup to you?

Did you know that the average "worth" of a woman's makeup bag is about $400?

According to 2006 PMB data, in a 30 day period the readership of Flare spent $37.5 million in cosmetics.

I've been working on something at work that has makeup at the core and it's led to some fairly lively debate about the importance of makeup in a woman's life. You'd be surprised -- or maybe you wouldn't -- how intimidating most people find it to go au naturale.

So I'm important is makeup to you?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Weapon of Mass Destruction

In the few weeks since a crazy Nigerian dude tried to blow himself up on a transatlantic jetliner, the feds have really stepped up the security screening at airports.

Do you feel any safer?

I bet you don't. I bet you mostly feel irritated that you can't take anything larger than a tampon case through security.

I've been on a bit of a rant lately about the fact that if someone has the intention to do harm, no amount of security clearance will stop them.

In fact, I've mentioned the fact that you could gouge someone's eye out with a plastic spoon so many times that people are actually getting a bit jumpy whenever I linger too long around the cutlery drawer.

Fact is, security is necessary. But I think we're losing our minds a little. Our culture of fear (can you say H1N1) is in overdrive and no one seems willing or capable of saying "the emperor has no clothes".

As for crazy Nigerian dude -- the best part of that story is this. The other passengers stopped him. No retina scan. No full body scanner. Nothing. Just old fashioned football style tackle.If only they'd had plastic spoons...

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Don't Nut

Someone over at Tim Hortons clearly has a direct line to the fact that most people break their New Years resolution to lose weight fairly quickly into the month of January.

What could be better than the low tech Wheel of Donuts. It invites you to spin the arrow and purchase, for the low, low price of 49¢, a little ball of heavenly dough. It's certainly a damn sight better than chasing another brown and soggy lettuce leaf around the plate for another day.

See, they even almost got me. And I'm not even trying to lose weight.

So after hearing the siren song of the new Apple Fritter stuffed with apples and caramel, I took a little trip online to check out the nutritional information of some of these tasty treats.

Word to the wise. If you love something. Truly love it. Can't live without it. Don't bother looking up the nutritional information. It will never be the same to you again.

But if you're prepared to have your world collapse around you, you might be surprised to learn a few things. Like, what has more calories -- an apple fritter or a raisin tea biscuit? Cue Jeopardy music.

I might guess the tea biscuit is the healthier choice but they're nearly identical in calories -- 300 for the fritter and 290 for the tea biscuit. Shocking, especially since I'd be tempted to slather the tea biscuit in strawberry jam and pretend I'm British. But wait for it -- the tea biscuit has 590 mg of sodium. That's not a treat, it's a salt lick.

Tim Bits are slightly better on the gluttony front, providing you exercise a little self control.

A single old-fashioned plain timbit is about 70 calories, while an old-fashioned donut is 260. How many times have you crammed half a dozen timbits into your cake hole when you'd never, ever consider eating a whole donut?

Then there's the chili -- a popular choice among my colleagues. It has 1320 mg of sodium in a bowl. The recommended daily intake of sodium for adults between 9 and 50, is 1500 mg.

Forget The Wheel of Donuts. I think Timmies might be on to something. Wheel of Hypertension! I'll have my marketing people call their marketing people.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Winter Feast for the Soul

Happy new decade, everyone.

According to Rumi, what 9 months does for the embryo, forty early morning will do for your growing awareness.

So I've decided to join thousands of people worldwide in a 40 early day spiritual practice period for world peace.

The project is called Winter Feast for the Soul and the aim is to generate awakening and peace for all sentient being. A little heady perhaps, but it's all about intention.

Participants are asked to commit to a 40 minute practice period every day for 40 days. It starts on January 15th and ends on February 23, 2010.

If you'd like to join in, you can register here .

Last year, over 10,000 people from more than 29 countries joined in.

May all living beings have happiness and the causes of happiness.
May we all be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.
May we always rejoice in the happiness of others.
May we abide in equanimity, free from attachment and aversion.

~ The Divine Abodes, or the Four Immeasurables