Mindfulness, mental health and other stuff

I love the Olympics. Even these summer sports. I mean, I especially love the winter ones but I forget how much I love all the Olympics. PanAm games too. Any time athletes are competing for something more than themselves. I mean, I guess NHL, NBA, NFL etc. athletes are also playing for their teams and their fans but for some reason there’s something about national competitions that makes me watch street skateboarding and table tennis and get as into it as I do for the diving and swimming and triathlon.

(on that note, if your kids are in sports or other activities and I can go watch, or watch online or support in ANY FREAKING WAY please let me know)

Follow Michael de Adder:

The US has amazing gymnasts. They defy gravity. Even Toby watched with me a little bit and we tried to figure out the physics.

And when you’re the best of an amazing team? When you’re Bolt of Jamaica or Comaneci of Romania, Redgraves of Great Britain, Thorpe of Australia, or Oleksiak or Hughes of Canada? Or well, Biles of the US? (plus many many others of all countries) Then your spotlight shines even more brightly and bright lights alone can cause damage. Then add on your own expectations, the expectations of your entire country, of random people like me sitting on the couch with a beer and chips, of the media, of history.

Simone Biles did what she had to do. And in that moment that was to stop. Pamela Ware walked off the spring board. Ellie Black withdrew. As Andy Murray did from the singles tennis.

Mental heath IS health. Every bit as much as physical health is health.

Back in February, a friend who recognized how hard COVID and the pandemic was hitting me invited me to a FB group to focus on self-love and mindfulness and care for a month. I couldn’t do it then – I wasn’t ready, I didn’t have the focus, I don’t know what. But I’m going to try it again now. 28 days. August has 31 of course so I have a couple of buffer days in there 😉 (and yes, this time I am going to stick with it even if it takes me to November to do).

But this is my August focus. And I’m going to write here a lot about it. I hope you join me.

Get Baked

Chocolate Fudge – variations on a theme

So early July I decided to try the Joy of Cooking chocolate fudge to bring to friends as a treat. But also as an experiment. Why an experiment? Because I used milk chocolate. The recipe calls for bitter-sweet or semi-sweet chocolate.

and now a lesson…

Types of chocolate: There are actually all sorts of different types of chocolate depending on the amount of cocoa in there. In Canada (where I am) we basically have four different types:

Milk: (all are at least) 15% cocoa butter, 12% milk solids, 3.39% milk fat, 2.5% fat-free cocoa solids, 25% cocoa solids

Sweet: 18% cocoa butter, 12% milk solids, no required milk fat, 12% fat-free cocoa solids, 31% cocoa solids

Bittersweet/Semisweet/Dark – we lump all these together: 18% cocoa butter, 5% milk solids, no required milk fat, 14% fat-free cocoa solids, 35% cocoa solids

White: 20% cocoa butter, 13% milk solids, 3.5% milk fat, (no cocoa solids)

Canada has some laws about this – of course we do – including the fact that in Canada you cannot use cocoa butter substitutes. In other words, you cannot have vegetable fats or oils in our “chocolate” (which is allowed in the US). Also – and this I didn’t know – “chocolate” in Canada cannot have artificial sweeteners at all! If it does – that’s why in Canada it would be called “candy” instead of “chocolate”.

back to the fudge…

So milk chocolate has more milk fat and milk solids than bittersweet/semisweet chocolate. And the Joy of Cooking recipe calls for bittersweet/semisweet. So what’s the worst that could happen?

Creamy sugar? Or really sweet cream?

There are a bunch of steps missing but basically next I added the milk chocolate, brought it to a boil and waited until it hit about 240* F. Then I cooled it down to 110* F. Then you are supposed to stir until it loses its shine and becomes stiffer.

This is after 10 minutes of stirring – still shiny. Still pretty liquidy:

This is after 15 minutes. Still pretty shiny but definitely seeing trails in the chocolate:

After 20 minutes of stirring I gave up and put it in the pan.

Using a hot knife, I was able to at least cut it.

But obviously very hard to keep its shape:

The kids all enjoyed it – and the adults too to be fair – but it’s chocolate and edible so I didn’t really think anyone was gonna refuse it. But still.

This week I figured I’d try again, with the nice dark chocolate my mother picked up for me.

Remember: dark, bittersweet, semi-sweet, all have the same basic requirements.

So here are the ingredients this time:

Picture of the ingredients in their containers.

The creamy sugar step was the same but this time I remembered to take more photos so here is the chocolate added.

melted chocolate in a pot

And then the chocolate heating while I (not so patiently) took its temperature every so often:

melted chocolate in a pot with a hand on the right side of the image holding a thin metal rod into the centre of the bubbling chocolate.
Me using Toby’s instant read thermometer 🙂 Not why I bought it for him but it works really well!

Then it cooled in the sink (by putting the entire pot in the sink with cold water) and once it was cool enough I started stirring again:

melted chocolate in a pot

Oh look – just five minutes later and it already looks very different:

melted chocolate in a pot

And only 2 more minutes till it was getting less shiny and definitely stiffer:

melted chocolate in a pot again
Dark chocolate fudge in a light coloured metal pan with parchment paper having out the top.

Five minutes in the damn pan and it was already more set than the milk chocolate fudge ever was in its entire existence!

Dark chocolate fudge, cut into three square pieces with more fudge in the fore- and background.

Fudge that holds it’s shape!

Smiling grey haired female presenting person holding a chocolate covered wooden spoon
Diversions Podcasts

Ologies – Quarantinology

One of the things I usually say when people ask (on FB or wherever) what I like best about myself is my curiosity. I love learning new things. Or about new people. Or a new way of doing something.

This doesn’t mean I need to have the latest new-fangled gadget; in fact, I’m usually a bit behind the times that way. But gosh I am such a geek.

Venn diagram showing three overlapping circles: Intelligence, Social Ineptitude, Obsession (I + S = dweeb; S + O = dork; O + I = geek; I + S + O = nerd)

Or maybe that should be nerd…but I’m not really socially inept, I just don’t like most people.

Anyway, I love learning new things. Especially from really smart people. So just try and imagine my joy a few months ago when I started listening to the podcast called Ologies. With a tagline like “Ask Smart People Stupid Questions” it was right up my alley!

I recently listened to the Quarantinology episode, where she had on several guests as California (where Alie Ward, the host is based) was poised to let COVID-19 protective measures expire. It’s a great episode and really helped me feel a bit less anxious.

BUT that’s not why I’m writing about it – sometimes it takes me a while to get to the point 🙂

I’m writing because TIL about Cole Imperi and thanatology. Thanatology – all about death and dying.

Aside: There’s another side story in me somewhere about how I was going to go to college and become a mortician but there’s already been enough digressions in here…

So part of what Imperi spoke about was “shadowloss” – a loss in life as opposed to a loss of life. Certain experiences affect people the same way that a death of a human or beloved pet might – there is grief and despair. An example she gives is divorce or the loss of a job. Just like the death of a loved one, divorce doesn’t effect everyone the same way, but for some the losses can be very similar. It’s a neat idea I think that conveys the depth of feeling.

moving from why to what

Another topic was on moving from why questions to what questions and I really love this. The idea is that why questions don’t really help. Even if there is an answer, the answer doesn’t change anything. “Why me?” doesn’t really get anyone anywhere.

But “what can I do now?” or “what can I do to honour the past?” or “what would feel good for me right now?” or “what can I learn from this?” are examples of shifting your perspective from mourning the past to embracing the future.

And now, please excuse me while I go down a thanatology rabbit-hole. Ciao!

Book Diversions Indigenous Politics Reading Review

Bookish – 2 July 21 – Memmi

Okay so a thing I am doing more than I used to is read. Sometimes I read light and fluffy things; other times grim and dark police procedurals, sometimes newly released stuff; sometimes it’s older. Fiction, non-fiction, heck I’ve even read some plays recently.

I am going to share what I’m reading and what I thought about it – while reading and when finished and then maybe in some cases (like this first one I am sure) I’ll have an update later when I’ve digested it more and maybe done a bunch of reading about what it is that I have read. I already have a tag for “reading” so I’m just going to stick with that for now.

The reason I am starting this now is that my current library book is making my brain hurt so I wanted to get my thoughts down etc.

The Colonizer and the Colonized – Albert Memmi

Cover of The Colonizer and The Colonized by Albert Memmi.

Memmi was born in “French Tunsia” in 1920 (he only just died in 2020 at 99 years old (link is to a NYT obituary – you may need an account). His mother was a “Tunisian Jewish Berber” and his father was “Tunisian-Italian Jewish.” Lots of divisions there. He was actually in a forced labour camp during the Nazi occupation of Tunisia.

In the preface of The Colonizer and the Colonized he writes:

…oppression is the greatest calamity of humanity. It diverts and pollutes the best energies of man – of oppressed and oppressor alike. For if colonization destroys the colonized, it also rots the colonizer.

I wonder how Memmi would have responded to a suggestion that he say “the best energies of people” or “of all” instead?

Memmi is very cognizant that in some areas he is more akin to an oppressor than the oppressed: Yes, he was Tunisian and thus “treated as a second-class citizen, deprived of political rights…” BUT he was not a Moslem [that time I learned there were different ways to spell Muslim]. “The Jewish population identified as much with the colonizers as with the colonized.” The Jewish population were just as badly off as the Moslem population but they turned to the west as saviours really so that “the Jew found himself one small notch above the Moslem on the pyramid which is the basis of all colonial societies.”

So he acknowledges that, as Jewish, he has some perch to hang his colonizer writing on; the Tunisian heritage is the perch for the colonized writing. But what about male? Are women of no concern? Well, in brief, nope: “A woman is less concerned about humanity in an abstract sense, the colonize mean nothing to her.” Oh FFS. Sigh. And on I go.

picture of three generic pyramids

There is that fundamental idea of a pyramid – Memmi returns to that: “such is the history of the pyramid of petty tyrants: each one, being socially oppressed by one more powerful than he, always finds a less powerful one on whom to lean, and becomes a tyrant in his turn.”

This is seen so much in the US south – there are lots of books / research on the idea of driving a wedge between impoverished white and Black people in the south so as to keep the Black people oppressed and the whites constantly striving for acceptance by the rich whites – never recognizing (a) that acceptance will never come and (b) they have far more in common with the poor Blacks than they ever will with rich white Americans.

Some points truly hit home – “

…the few material traces of [the colonized’s] past are slowly erased, and the future remnants will no longer carry the stamp of the colonized group. The few statues which decorate the city represent (with incredible scorn for the colonized who pass by them every day) the great deeds of colonization.

A reminder – this book was first published in the 1950s. But people still argue today – in 2021 – that removing these statues would be “erasing history.” *insert eye roll here*

A knocked over statue of Queen Victoria, a field of orange flags in the background representing murdered Indigenous children.
From The statue of Queen Victoria lies on the ground with its head removed in front of the Manitoba Legislature. The head was thrown in the Assiniboine River. (Justin Fraser/CBC)

Memmi goes on later:

if only the mother tongue was allowed some influence on current social life, or used across the counters of government offices…but this is not the case. The entire bureaucracy, the entire court system, all industry hears and uses the colonizer’s language.”

I have never been good with languages – my brain doesn’t seem to like studying them and I always found other things more fun – but what joy it would have been to hear Indigenous languages as often as I heard French and (because I grew up in the west end of Toronto/Tkaronto) Ukrainian and Russian and Polish and Maltese (though I probably should have tried harder with that last one).

Most Canadians came here from somewhere else: my dad immigrated in 1968. My mom didn’t have to – she was born in August in northern Ontario only a couple of months after her mother and my oldest uncle arrived in Canada on a Polish ship. Lots of people fled war and famine and disease, seeking a better life. But a better life for us shouldn’t be at the expense of other people – there has got to be a way we can make it a better life for all of us.

We have no way of knowing what this land would have looked like had colonization never happened; but we can certainly see what has happened because of colonization. And it’s up to us now to work to make it better.

Why can’t we give back? Schools, streets, parks. Why do they all have to be named after colonizers? Why can’t we invest more time and energy into learning about Indigenous peoples and their histories and names and customs?  Why are 57 versions of desperate housewives an option instead of more like First Contact or just opening up to more Indigenous creators?

Why can’t we tax churches and the wealth of the top 1% and actually collect those taxes and use that money to give clean water to Indigenous communities? Why can’t we impose term limits on elected positions so that people stop looking at that as a career that they can coast through and not actually accomplish any meaningful change for the people of this place? Why can’t we stop throwing money at police and carceral options and start throwing it towards education and health care?

This is one of those books I will definitely have to go back to in the future – I probably really should take a poly-sci or philosophy course to truly understand what Memmi is getting at. He explains the book wasn’t intended to be a work of protest or even a search for a solution – instead “it was born out of reflection on an accepted failure.” He says right at the start that it wasn’t true that he knew how impactful the book would be.

Online resources

I’m including a list of online resources I found when googling the book. Like I said, I’m setting aside the book for now – returning it to the library even; but in a bit I’ll read some of these writings (and any others that come up) and maybe even re-read Memmi.

Document with reflection questions

Course outline from AcadiaU with questions

London Review of Books (may need an account)

Diversions Health

Reflecting on a Daily Trip

I was listening to today’s Daily Trip (I love the name) on the calm app. The title is “To love the unlovable.” Jeff Warren is the “tour guide” of the trip I guess.

…“Daily Trip” meditations – short practices that attempt to communicate the exploratory joy and pleasure and richness of meditation, but also, in an honest way, some of the challenges…

Jeff Warren’s description of Daily Trip from his website

I’m quite fond of the Daily Trips – Jeff Warren is engaging and seems to care about the listener. All really reassuring actually.

So, back to today’s daily trip: about loving the unlovable. He clearly sets out that this is gonna be hard for some people; some people will feel pull back etc and just to feel it all and note it and see what happens.

Me, on the other hand, have no difficulty it seems in seeing the humanity in others, of being able to send out love to all. Then the trip moves to thinking about who you consider unlovable. All I get is those who don’t recognize the humanity in others – that whole I see the humanity in everyone so my mind goes to people who fail to recognize that trans women are women; or who seek to impose laws restricting a women’s ability to control her own body; or people running corporations single-mindedly focusing on increasing profits and caring nothing about the environment or their employees or customers etc

I can still love those people.

When I turned my mind to actual people who are in groups like those I described above, or who support those groups, I still felt love but even more so I felt a deep, almost devastating, disappointment. It took me a while to move past that feeling; in fact it’s already after 5:10 p.m. and I’m still a bit heart-broken in writing all this.

I tried to pick a calming picture – so here are the lilacs from our garden