Category Archives: A little serious

I Am Not A Baker – Coming Soon

As you can well imagine it has been rather difficult to write a shallow blog during this pandemic. Admittedly, the impact of COVID-19 has not (yet) had a major effect on my life. To be brutally honest, it has been frighteningly easy for me to confine myself to my home and to connect with others primarily through Zoom, Facebook, Google Hangouts, Skype and that old fashioned mode of communication, the telephone. Yes it’s true, I still do have a landline. Sure it’s been hard to give up my grocery shopping habit. Thursday used to be a big day in our house what with the delivery of all the flyers. Now it’s one trip, in and out, sales or no sales, and I thank my lucky stars I am able to continue to stock my pantry with what I need. But I am painfully aware that for many life has taken a dramatic downturn financially, physically and emotionally, and I do not for one minute want to minimize the sadness and suffering our friends, family and those we do not know, are feeling right now. Our world has turned upside down. Everything has changed. The most common and perhaps accurate description I’ve heard is “it’s just weird”. I think there is some consensus that at any moment Mr. Rod Serling will step out of the shadows to pronounce we have now entered “The Twilight Zone”. Unfortunately it seems we are binge watching the episodes. 

The thing is, as a retired shallow person, writing my blog has actually occupied a fair bit of my time. There’s the thinking about what to write, the writing, the procrastinating, more writing, the online Bingo games in the middle of the writing, the editing (yes, I do edit), the searching for and finding an appropriate pic and finally, the putting the whole damn thing into WordPress. And without all of that I have to admit I’m a little lost. Normally I’d manage to wile away a few at the local cafe but in the “new normal” there’s only so much time I can spend encouraging my broccoli and cauliflower seedlings to “keep up the good work” as I sip my tea in my own backyard. Fortunately a couple of years ago I discovered that not only do I like to eat my cherry cheesecake, I like to make it too. Me and Doug Ford. Who would have thought! 

Yep. It’s hard for even me to believe that the first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is think about what I might bake. Well that’s not exactly true. The first thing I do is go to the bathroom but you don’t want to hear about that. And now with little else to occupy my time, these days all I want to do is bake. Got a recipe for Beer Bread? I’ll run down to my local speakeasy and grab myself a brew. Morning Glory Muffins made with Red Fife flour? Got a pantry full of that. Cookies? Just give me a sec to source some organic, fair trade semi-sweet, dark chocolate chips. Never mind there’s only two of us to devour all of these goodies. The pandemic has awakened my baker within. There’s only one problem. 

While I love to bake I am the first one to admit that I am not a baker. And I know this because I spend inordinate amounts of time watching real bakers bake on baking shows. The ones where they compete against each other to see who can construct a cake that recreates most of downtown Manhattan, including a proportionately correct replica of the Statue of Liberty, while incorporating chili powder and olives, the “secret” ingredients concocted by their particular panel of sadistic judges. If you have never witnessed this spectacle you must. What you will quickly discover is that these people are master’s of their trade. To say they know what they are doing is tantamount to saying the Pope believes in God. Or Trump lies. But I digress. There are no measuring cups here. No teaspoons. No tablespoons. Not a hint of a written word anywhere. You won’t see these guys checking the old cellphone to decide if it was one egg or two. They just know what they are doing. Or watch Mary crush it in her kitchen. Now I love Mary but I need to know how it is that she can make a three course meal which includes a delectable desert, without ever getting one teeny, tiny speck of oil, or a little smudge of flour on her always fashionable and never protected, frock. For goodness sake. Even her hands stay clean!

As you can guess, nothing like this happens in my kitchen. And I have to think this is the case for many of you, especially those who have recently become part of the pandemic baking craze. So I’m starting a new blog. For people like us. The ones who find themselves wondering how it came to be that there was still an egg on the counter when all things were said and done. Did I take out an extra or just forget to put this one in? Who check our measures not twice but many multiple times. Who follow instructions to a tee. Who know that a 15 minute prep time will somehow mysteriously expand to about an hour and a half. Who didn’t know what the heck Red Fife flour was until last week. It’s the truth about baking. For those of us who bake but are not bakers.

Don’t worry. It’s not the end of the shallow blog just the beginning of something new.

I Am Not A Baker. Coming soon. Watch for it on WordPress.

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I Finally Figured it Out!

I love baking. I don’t think I have to tell you, at least those of you that know me, that these are  three words I never thought I would utter. And if you don’t believe me, just ask my children. They are the ones who suffered through the late evenings when I was compelled to at least attempt to fulfill my duty as the “muffin mom”. You know. The one who must provide muffins for the entire class on an appointed day which, from what I can recall, was the third Thursday of each month. Honestly, I have tried to block this whole episode from my mind because here’s what would happen on the rare occasion when my husband, who was by any measure a very competent baker, was not available to take on the task. 

First let me explain that the school my children attended was full of men and women whose lives were dedicated to ensuring their families would never be subjected to anything that resembled what we have all come to know and love, junk food. And in this case, you should define “junk” in the broadest sense of the word. Consequently, it meant that muffins entering the classroom were not only to be devoid of common allergens like nuts, or peanut butter (something I could of course understand and get behind) but also had to exclude that most basic of all ingredients, white sugar. In addition oil had to be replaced with something less toxic like homemade applesauce, and it goes without saying that chocolate chips were strictly forboden. All of which were the only fallbacks I could rely on to make something even remotely edible emerge from my oven. So typically I would do my best to put together ingredients that would be acceptable to the most discerning folks, sample the results, and then head to the nearest 24 hour supermarket (the only place that would be open by the time I was done) to pick up a couple dozen of whatever they had left at that time of night. Preferably with bran. At that point, all that was left to do was remove the packaging, place the muffins in a couple of heritage looking tins (a gift from my Mother) and read my kids the riot act should they be foolish enough to breathe a word of this to anyone.

Now my lack of baking prowess comes at no surprise, at least to me. Simply, I wasn’t from a baking family. Perhaps it’s because I have three brothers who were raised in the day and age when boys only entered the kitchen to eat. Or maybe it was because my Mother, who was very good at very many things, was definitely not good at being a baker. My earliest and only memory of baking with my Mom was the one day, a long time ago, we shared space in the kitchen to demonstrate to the rest of the family that, given the chance, we could make a cake and maybe eat it too. We were wrong. I will admit that my Mom’s turned out slightly better than mine but, from what I recall, that wasn’t saying much since I have a vague memory of banging my little cake on the counter in an attempt to break off a slice. But why dwell on the past when the future holds so much promise. 

I’m not sure I can pinpoint the exact date and time my metamorphosis took place. Well maybe I can but I’ll save that for later. What I do know is that when we moved to this little Island we now inhabit full-time we were blessed with what by most standards is a fairly large kitchen with ironically, a rather large island and a great big oven. Even I knew that this was every baker’s dream. The only thing missing were the tools required for the job and, of course, the baker. The first was an easy fix as I rushed to my favourite store to purchase what we all know is the quintessential baker’s appliance, the stand mixer. I was pleased to be able to acquire this tool in a lovely blue which matched my colour scheme. Because who was I kidding? I knew this would be a mostly decorative device. And it was, until one day a couple of ladies from my walking group suggested we get together to make some rugellah. At my house. Well why not I thought. I have the space, I can get the ingredients and most importantly, I have a heretofore never used, colour coordinated stand mixer. Let me just say, the rest is history.

To make a rather long story just a tad shorter, from that day forward I never stopped baking. Now I bake muffins and loaves, cookies and brownies and, believe it or not, even bread! (Well to be fair, I’m going to try to bake bread today). Some of what I bake is great, some is ok and some is best delivered to the ducks. But good or bad I just love baking. And apparently, now that we are all responsibly staying in our homes, so does the rest of the world. I know this because a day doesn’t go by when someone I know (or portend to know) doesn’t post a pic of a delectable treat they have spent hours slaving over a hot oven to make. And that gave this shallow gal an idea.

Perhaps at this point I should mention that while I love to bake I’m by no means a baker. What that means is I don’t have a clue about the chemistry of baking. I don’t know what baking soda does, or why I have to add salt, or whether or not I need to bring my eggs to room temperature, and if I do, what difference that might make. Hence the only thing I can do is follow a recipe to the letter. Let me tell you, I’m no Auntie Fanny (get well soon!) when it comes to culinary pursuits. So here’s my idea. Since we are all home and we are all baking maybe you could take some time to share your fav delights with all of us. And since I already have a blog with a small but loyal following, I am more than happy to volunteer my services to compile and post any that you send to me.  If you know my email address send them there. If you don’t, you can post them in the comments here. And if you can figure out any other way to get them to me, well you can do that too.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not converting the shallow blog into a baking blog. No way. It just occurred to me that after all this time I have finally figured out a way to get other people to write this thing for me. Come on! You must know by now that even bakers can be shallow.

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Never Hug A Stranger (Revisited)

A rather strange thing has been happening over the past week. Well at first I thought it was strange but now that things have turned a corner in this world I suppose it isn’t. As you may or may not know, WordPress (they are the guys that let me write and publish this blog and to whom, in the next few days, I will once again send my 24 bucks) lets me see how many people are reading my posts and which posts they are reading. Now as you know I have a small but loyal following and I really appreciate that many of you actually click on my posts when I post them. I don’t want to bog you down with technicalities so suffice to say that typically a new post will generate views for about 3 or 4 days, with the majority coming in around 3 to 4 minutes after it goes live (as they say in the biz) and waning fairly significantly thereafter. As time marches on it is not unheard of, but rare for anyone to revisit a post from the past and to be honest, I’m pretty ok with that. I mean I don’t even revisit them so why would anyone else? 

But this week things have been different. This week, much to my surprise, there has been a veritable flurry of visits to a post I wrote quite some time ago. These hits (that’s what we bloggers call them) are coming from all around the world. Now I don’t want to blow my own horn but I’m pretty used to having my posts read by people living in places like Canada, the U.S., Britain, Switzerland and Australia. I mean I even know people in Australia so it’s not too much of a stretch to think they might give me a read once in a while. But when my reader map (yes, WordPress has that too) starts to register hits from countries like Bahrain, South Africa and Iraq well that’s when I take notice. That’s when I think something must be up. And when all of those hits are on the same post I gotta figure it’s more than a coincidence. Especially when that post is titled “Never Hug A Stranger”. If you happen to have a little time on your hands and missed it way back when, or if you just want a little reminder, feel free to take a look. The title speaks for itself. 

Now I’m the last person to indulge in self-aggrandizement because I know that people look for any port in a storm. So I’m pretty sure that my new friends from around this globe are not actually seeking the advice of a shallow person. But indeed, that’s where they landed, albeit through no fault of their own. And while I am wont to ask anyone to heed my advice or to suggest they adopt any of my idiosyncrasies this is the one time I suggest you do. While I’m never one to say “I told you so” and hindsight, as we know, is 20/20 somehow this time I sure seem to have hit the nail directly on its head. One day, if you insist, I’m sure you will be able to hug again but for now your only job is to flatten the curve. If need be send virtual hugs to everyone you know but keep those arms by your side. Chances are they won’t span the six feet you’ll need them to anyway.

There’s just one more thing. When all of this passes, and it will pass, please do me a favour and ignore my advice for just a bit. There are many, many people who are literally risking their lives to save ours. Health care workers, first responders, truck drivers, bus drivers, journalists, government workers, grocers, and a whole host of others. All of them, each and every one, deserve a hug from you, so go ahead and make both your days. With permission of course. And while you are at it, give them one from me too. 

Stay safe and be well!

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Misery Loves Miserable Company – Or Does It?

This might not be a shallow blog. I’ll let you decide. 

Those of you who have stuck with me over the many, many years of this blog will know that I don’t indulge in what has become a yearly tradition of making promises that are, unfortunately, most often destined to be broken. Even so, I have always resolved to be as honest as possible (although it’s not always possible) with my readers so here’s something you might not have imagined about me. Hard as it might be to believe, I wasn’t always at the top of my alma mater class which, I confess, is putting it mildly. It’s not that I didn’t like university. It’s just that I liked other things better. Like sleeping. Or spending ridiculous amounts of time in the cafeteria drinking coffee. Both of which may have been the result of having an extra draft or two (afterall, they were only two bits) the night before. Admittedly, things picked up in my later years, but those first year courses. Well let’s just say I’m a little short on the details. Except for one. 

If I had to guess, and the odds are not that great given I’m about 48 more years down this road of mine, I would say that the reason I found myself sitting in a lecture theatre surrounded by 400 budding psychologists was that it was the only available course that fit my schedule, meaning I didn’t have to be “up and at ‘em” before noon. Also I had heard the professor had a wicked, dry sense of humour and a guy who thinks brain stuff is funny can’t be all bad. Beyond that, I must refrain from making any judgements about the course because I can’t honestly say I remember much. Not much, but I do remember one thing which has stuck with me through the years. What our professor explained to us, and what I remember like it was just yesterday, was that while it is common knowledge that “misery loves company” what we might be surprised to find out is that misery actually loves miserable company. At the time it was quite a revelation. One which I have come to think about more than I perhaps would like over the past few months.

Let me backtrack just a tad. If you’ve been reading lately, (and granted I haven’t been writing much lately) you’ll know that 2019 has not been a stellar year for me and my family. There was the passing of my Mother in August, the Cat in September and my Aunt in October. And just when we thought we were out of the woods, because we all know that good/bad things happen in threes, we discovered, much to our chagrin, they actually don’t. Nope. Without getting into too much detail, that husband of mine decided to bring a little more excitement into our lives, and suffice to say, I spent much of the first week in December travelling to and fro from my home to the hospital. While things are now looking up I learned almost as much from this experience as I did from that old prof of mine. About people. And their miseries.

So we’re sitting in the rather sterile basement of the “other” hospital in this little city of ours, waiting for what I think is the third CT scan of the week. Knowing how these things can go I’m ready for a longish wait, having plugged a couple of extra hours into the meter and packed my Mother’s very well stocked Kobo which, I might add, I have made quite a dent in over the past few months. I’m pretty much minding my own business when in walks another couple who, I surmise, are there for the very same reason we are. Now I’m not really one to make idle conversation with complete strangers, especially in a rather uninviting environment, but I’m not so callous as to ignore their presence altogether. With that in mind I raise my eyes from my book (which btw, I’m quite enjoying) long enough to flash a welcoming smile and toss out a polite hello. One hour later I have been apprised of not only her husband’s current unfortunate health situation, but also of her own, those of her daughter, her grandson, her son-in-law and I’m pretty sure the neighbour who lived beside her before the neighbour who lives beside her now. 

But here’s the thing. Call me shallow but the truth of the matter is I really don’t want to hear about other people’s problems simply because I have some of my own. Honestly, I would rather talk about something wonderful going on in your life. A lovely trip you have taken. Perhaps a good meal you shared with someone you love. I’ll even listen to stories about your grand kids and their rather dubious accomplishments. I promise when things get back to normal in my life I will be glad to talk about your mother-in-law’s persistent bladder infection or your sister’s upcoming knee operation. You can tell me all about the adverse reaction you had to some plant-based supplement you decided to take on the recommendation of your herbalist. I’ll be happy to listen to any and all of the problems you have. Just not right now. Because now is not a good time for that.

Later in her life my Mother who I know loved me very much, would say this, in the nicest way, whenever I called to complain to her about an ache in my shoulder or a pain in my back. She’d say: “I have enough of my own aches and pains, I don’t really need to hear about yours”.  I didn’t always get it then but I get it now. She was right. Misery actually doesn’t love miserable company. And if you ask me, that professor of mine could have learned quite a lot from my Mom.

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I’m back…sort of

Yes it has been a very long time and no I haven’t forgotten that I am the writer of this blog. So at the risk of sounding perhaps a tiny bit presumptuous it seems that I have had some more important things to do lately. First of all there was that little contract I may have mentioned three, four or five times before. It has kept me busier than expected. And then there was the 103rd birthday party I attended which, if you have ever been to one (and most I am guessing have not) was a really big deal. Beyond that there’s nothing much more to say except that I’m back now….sort of. And I say “sort of” because once again, and not for any reason connected to those excuses I just made, this will be a blog post, but not a shallow blog post. Mostly because I have had a long time to think about what I am going to say next and what better place to say it than in my own blog? At any rate, I do this every once in a while ‘cause even I can’t be shallow all of the time.

This probably won’t come as a surprise to anyone who knows me, although it may be a surprise to those who don’t, but the thing is I have quite an aversion to dolls. I especially don’t like dolls that can talk, walk, eat, pee or do other things that something without blood coursing through its veins shouldn’t be able to do. And to be totally honest, it’s not just dolls I don’t like. While it’s a little hard to explain, for the most part I don’t like any type of inanimate object made to look like people, animals or even insects. Anything really that can be purposely or accidentally dismembered. Because when things can be dismembered they will be. Like when your little bro’ decides it would be fun to see what Barbie looks like without her head. Or has a grand old time slowly but surely eating each of the parts of a gingerbread man, delivering a virtual play by play in between bites. And it should suffice to say that I can in no way condone the travesties that occur around Easter and Christmas when the markets are flooded with chocolate bunnies, chicks and Santas.

Before you get too concerned let me state categorically that there was no early trauma in my life to blame for this state of mine.  As Ms. Germanotta would say, “I was born this way”. This is not a phobia (I’ve checked) but rather a preference, one which doesn’t have a significant impact on my life. It’s quite simple. My chocolate comes in bars, my cookies are round or square and it’s been a very long time since Barbie has been in my life. Besides, as someone once politely suggested when I explained why I was turning down their offer of a gummy bear, everyone has their quirks. This is mine. But that’s not what I want to talk about here. I want to talk about robots. Because for reasons I am sure you now understand, I don’t like them very much either. And while my problem with other inanimate objects might not have a huge impact on my life or yours, robots will.

In case you missed it, (or as the young people say icymi) not so long ago there was an article in the Globe and Mail, (so most probably not fake news) about a start-up in Vancouver where some very smart people are dedicating their lives to the development of some very smart robots. These robots they proclaim, will “move, speak and think for themselves and interact – as intellectual peers – with real people on a daily basis in intimate and vital roles…” . This, the article goes on to say, “will fundamentally alter the basis of capitalism itself by introducing an entirely new type of synthetic species that could do much of the work now done by humans”.  And not only will this new species talk, walk and think like us, they will also look like us since the creators have determined that we (as in humans) prefer to interface with our own likeness. Just in case you should think that this is some “pie in the sky” hoopla, the writer assures us that Mr. Rose (the fella at the helm of this project) is a successful visionary entrepreneur who is “the closest thing Canada has to Elon Musk”, although given the events of the past few weeks that might not be as stellar an endorsement as one would have previously thought. Nonetheless, it seems to me, even as a shallow person, that it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that what these people (yes there is more than one really smart person involved) are doing is just about as big a deal as that 103rd.  

As I made my way through the article, learning perhaps more than I ever wanted to know about things like AGI (that would be “artificial general intelligence”) and the apparent inevitability of robots becoming part of our not so distant, and depending on your perspective Utopian or Dystopian future, I found myself wondering if any of these enthusiastic, and possibly overzealous geniuses had spent even a moment of their time thinking about the ethics of what they are doing.  So you can imagine my relief when quite near the end of this very long article the question of ethics was finally raised. I mean they had to, didn’t they? And they did. In black and white. Because they know there might be issues. Like what would happen if some unscrupulous human got fed up and decided to erase their robot’s memory? Or started taking advantage of their robot? Or treated their robot as a lesser being?

Wait a minute. Am I mistaken or are they thinking more about the welfare of the robots than they are about us humans? Surely these people have thought about how the creation of a whole new species might impact the species that currently inhabits this planet of ours. Alas, it would seem not. When asked “what if thinking robots challenge the goals or motivation systems programmed by humans?” or “who would be responsible if human-like robots commit crimes?” the answer was a very definitive “I don’t have any solid answers to these questions yet.” So here’s a suggestion. Maybe we should all try to come up with a few solid answers to these questions before you start creating robots that can fundamentally change the course of history, not to mention the human race. You know.  In case something goes wrong.

Ok, I’ve gone on a little long so I’ve only got one more thing to say. Truth be told, this whole thing scares me a whole lot more than biting off the arm of a gingerbread man.

BTW…If you want to take a gander on what’s going on in the lab, have a look at this.

All excerpts from Sean Silcoff, The Globe and Mail, Saturday, September 8, 2018. In the Company of Robots.

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