Category Archives: DISPATCHES & RAMBLINGS

NOT THE MOTHER’S DAY CALL I EXPECTED

POSTED: JUNE 1, 2024

Mother’s Day is a special time. We pull out the emotions we don’t show often enough and share them with the ones we love, or respect. Any regular readers of my posts will know I am not a dad and don’t have a partner or siblings. My Mothers Day experiences historically have been with my own mom and my grandmother. Both sadly passed many years ago. In recent times I have taken to calling those friends of mine I respect as moms just to tell wish them well and tell them I am thinking about them. I will often do it the day before, partially because of the time difference of my location Malta and many of them being in North America. It is also a day before the busy time of Mothers Day, and if the timing doesn’t work they call me back on their time and we can have a good chat. This was the case with my friend Janice who actually called me back the day after Mothers Day when she had more free time.

 

I know Janice pretty well, given she is the partner of my buddy Jim. Her Mothers Days always involve Jade and Jason over for the day, and often Jim makes a nice dinner and they do some things together. They do this every second Sunday so the significance of Mother’s Day is just that it is more focused on Janice than usual. This year, like others Jade always posts on social media an image of her and her mom doing something from when she was a kid. I always like that kind of remembrance as it brings to life the historical depth of the relationship. Also like some previous years Jade and Jason brought a number of flowers they thought their mom would like for the garden, perennials I think, and spent some time with their mom choosing the location and planting them.

 

 

 

But what was really on her mind, were some events that had happened during the week, largely involving Jim. I felt compelled to use the often-referenced quote of our high school principal when Jims name would come up “Oh, what has he done now?”

A few days before Mother’s Day he was planning his day around an outing to see his dental hygienist. He and Janice have a good relationship with Faye. She does a great job, and works in a very large and very good dental practice and they have been with for some time. It is a small world it seems as her grandfather started a major company making short helpful guides on various subjects for high school students. I used these guides myself.  Faye has a daughter and who is about nine and she and her partner are now expecting another baby. This is of particular interest to Jim has a sister who is nine years older than him and my other buddy Jim H. has a couple brothers, the youngest of which is also nine years older.  The dynamic of these siblings is always interesting to watch. There isn’t much competitiveness, as the age spread is so large its almost like having an aunt or uncle more than a sister or brother. Where there is jealousy its because by the time the younger one comes along the parents are now more mature and able to let the little stuff slide and they almost always are in a much better financial position so the family trips aren’t inexpensive camping trips in the car, but expensive trips to exotic locations and the meagre allowance has now become much more sizable.

Like me, Janice and Jim are getting older so need to have their teeth “detailed” as Jim says, about every four months so Jim had seen Faye just after she went public with her pregnancy and had a booking with her on her last day before her scheduled time for stopping work. While he was never really happy about his trips to the dental office this one he was looking forward to because he could get the final update on how things were progressing and the plans and wish her well.

It is with these thoughts that Jim was more than a bit put off when an event happened earlier in the day that put his dental outing at risk. Over breakfast he and Janice had watched a racoon come out from a patio table in their back garden that had not been uncovered from the winter and climb over a fence they share with a neighbour and head off to the neighbour’s yard. They were relieved to see she had left as it was Jims plan to uncover the table that day and start to do the spring yard work before his dental visit. He had just made his coffee and saw her return with a baby racoon in her mouth. Before he could collect his thoughts, she had crawled under the table cover with the little one. He called to Janice to come to see this but before Janice was out the mother racoon was off and over the fence again. This was not good. She was obviously relocating from where they had been born. Hopefully that was the entire family. Nope. The process continued for three more trips.

Janice is a very resourceful person and was on the phone with the municipal wildlife control people. They assured her that this was not their problem and that she should call a private wildlife control company. The answer there was not a very good one. Two different places she called were very clear that they could come and trap the mother and her kits, but that once they were released at a park the mother would bolt, the kits would be left on their own and either starve to death or be eaten by other animals. What the hell kind of mess had they fallen into here, they thought.

But one of the private wildlife people had made a good suggestion to encourage them to relocate to someplace in the yard that would not be so intrusive but still provide shelter and that would lead to the best possible outcome.

So once Jim saw the mom head out to get another one or to get food Jim took some gear and built them a little house in a corner of their yard.  It was an aluminum step ladder covered with a tarp and with a cardboard box below with little walls so the kits wouldn’t wander out. The next part I imagine was a bit scary. With some gloves on Jim gingerly opened the table cover to reveal the nest of babies and carried one of the little guys to the new home and went back for the next one. Once the cover on the existing nest under the patio table was exposed it was obvious there were six of them! One at time Jim did the gentle walk to their new home and placed them in the box. I was at number four when mom came back and hear the squealing from the new location and went under the tarp at the ladder house. There was no turning back now so Jim got the next one and brought it to within a few meters of their new home and set it down and went back for another. Thankfully mom heard its squealing and after making sure Jim had left came out and picked it up with her mouth and took it to the new nest. They repeated this routine until the job was done. On one of Jims trips to the drop point Janice snapped this photo. Their little eyes were not even open at that point!

 

While the drama of this was all pretty interesting Jim was at a terrible risk of not making his dental detailing appointment and called to tell the clinic he was on his way and would not be characteristically early but might even be a few minutes late. Apparently, someone had forgotten to call him to say that the appointment would need to be rescheduled with another hygienist at a future time as Faye had gone into labour and been rushed to the hospital. She and her baby boy were doing fine he was told.

Other than caring for their elderly dog Tuli, Janice and Jim have a life these days that is quite quiet and does not have big events, or even little events to liven it up much so this had been quite the day. The new nest was quite a novelty for the next few days but then there was no action around it at all. They were getting a bit stressed that she might have abandoned the nest altogether and on Mother’s Day morning gingerly pulled back part of the tarp hoping to not see a number of dead baby racoons. Nope. Nothing. Mom had relocated them to somewhere safer.

That night having a nice mothers day dinner they could hear the mom and her kits making noise from their new nest in a nearby park.

It was not the Mother’s Day conversation I thought I would have but it made my day.

Love you mom.

Django

CHASING THE WRONG VILLAIN

Perhaps it is my age that I am conditioned to love a good chase scene. The cop in pursuit of the bad guy of course is the classic. Running down the lanes, and jumping over the fences. The famous car sequences like Steve McQueen in Bullitt, or the Bond films with car and boat chases come to mind.

But what if you are chasing the wrong villain?

Now you may think that this is where I pivot into talking politics and after giving a little acknowledgement to some of the current political monsters in the world (you know who they are) move to talk about Xi Jinping and how he is that sleeper that is going to really make a mess of the world during, or shortly after the American presidential election. No. I am not that smart.

What I am referring to is a nasty villain I learned about on my last trip to the Doctor. In various other posts I have covered some of the things I have learned at such visits. My “Doctor” is actually a clinic with several practitioners, all of whom seem to enjoy messing with me and my aging body.

But this time my usual designated General Practitioner at the clinic, wanted to talk about a villain I had ignored while trying to pursue the big nasties in my hypertension life: Fat, Sodium, Sugar, and Carbohydrates.  While judiciously trying to cut down or avoid these four, Cholesterol was often there lurking in the wings I learned. Damb, I like brie cheese and milk, and eggs and croissants and….well, it’s a long list once you start into it. Those four current components I am already avoiding make me feel like a pinball.  Just bouncing away from one only to bounce into another. And now there is one more pin to hit in trying to complete the course. Its not that I was chasing the wrong health thief, just that while chasing the right ones, another was picking my pocket.

My doctor is a bit of a character and I was leaving the office she called to me down the hall with a little afterthought that I should also think about joining a fraternity. My puzzled look was her queue to snicker: Omega 3

So last week there I was at the grocery store, with my glasses on, scribbling on my pad looking at some of my favourite foods and dutifully not letting them make it to the cart as they all have at least one of these five problem components in abundance, and most have many of them represented. I already eat a mess of vegetables and fruit but really need to up the beans, lentils, oats and oatmeal and some fatty fish like salmon for this cholesterol component. Dark chocolate is a crazy one. Its good to reduce the bad cholesterol, and to increase the good cholesterol but comes packaged up with lots of sugar and fat.

I take this health business personally and when I am not getting good blood pressure numbers indicating my hypertension is winning it gets me down. But you have to take it all in stride and not let one days bad numbers dampen your spirits if the day before you didnt go for a nice walk or were not as diligent in your food choices. Don’t beat yourself up, just resolve to do better the next day. I also know that there are a lot of people in the world who would love to trade their problems for mine.

Stay tuned. I will may survive this.

Django

MYSTERY SOUP

POSTED: APRIL 1, 2024

Just about year ago today I got a call from Janice. Now regular readers will know that I have a good relationship with Janice but my real history with Janice and Jim is with my buddy Jim I went to elementary school with and then high school, and after that toured around Europe with. So, getting a call from Janice instantly puts me on edge, sure that some terrible thing has happened to have her pick up the phone at a strategic hour to span a few time zones from Toronto to Malta. I was relieved to hear it was nothing like a health scare.

She was gearing up to make a nice meal for Jim and over a period of time heard a couple of people mention a soup that she had never heard of but thought it would be interesting to try as she and Jim really like soups of all kinds. I think it is the northern climate thing, where warm and cozy foods and beverages are comforting on a cool, cold or damp day. Soups, stews, hot chocolate, tea, coffee all do the job after digging cars out of snowbanks, shoveling snow, skating or skiing.

She had been all over the internet and could not find it and thought that with my history working in kitchens that I might have a lead on it or be able to reach out to some of my friends who are chefs, cooks, or otherwise working with food.

Square soup. Yeah, square soup. No, I had never heard of it but would put out some feelers with a bunch of chefs I had worked with over the years. Janice knew that having worked in the kitchens of cruise ships, I have a long list of friends all over the world who still work in kitchens, some as chefs, some as cooks, some bar and restaurant owners and some just working to survive. It took the better part of a day to get a number of responses as they reflected a lot of different time zones – Asia, America, New Zealand, Europe, Africa,  mid Pacific and mid Atlantic. Most of the responses were the same, (other than the personal updates) “nope – never heard of it”.

After spending a lot of time on this I was frustrated to not have something more definitive but sent her the two leads I had come up with.

The first was Square Meal Soup from a girl I had worked with who today was involved in a little restaurant in Reykjavik. It is a stew of meat and vegetables and potatoes or other root vegetables. It sounded like a pretty flavorful meal in a bowl and I have enjoyed some with these ingredients myself.  Nope that was not it.

My second one I knew would probably even be further off the mark: Square Grouper Soup. Now this one is not well known and is a local joke in the Florida Keys. When people would smuggle in bales of marijuana by boat and coast guard officials would come up to the “fishermen” to ask what they were catching they would often respond  Grouper, but then when the official would leave, joke about the bales of marijuana they had thrown overboard as Square Grouper. Square Grouper Soup is a soup made with seaweed. I know that does not sound appealing but there are some very tasty, and nutrient rich seaweeds out there, and when cooked in a soup all look like marijuana.

Nope that was not it she assured me.

SQUARE SOUP

She did however say she had a lead on it and would get back to me later in the day.

So just after midnight on April 1st she sent an email with the following recipe and picture and hoped I would enjoy my first day of April.

 

SQUARE SOUP RECIPE

INGREDIENTS:   You can use almost any vegetable you like, as well as various meats, seasonings etc.  Really there are no limitations.

STYLE: Consommé’s, broths, cream soups, bisques, chowders…again,  its pretty wide open.

VESSEL: This is the key. In contrast to the traditional bowl, designed for a spoon to hug each arc of a conventional soup bowl,                             square soup needs to be served in a square container.

 

Django

 

P.S. Just a few little shout-outs to:

Salute On The Beach,

1000 Atlantic Blvd, Key West, Florida  Salute! On The Beach | Key West, Florida (saluteonthebeach.com)

Square Grouper Bar and Grill

22658 Overseas Hwy, Cudjoe Key, FL               https://squaregrouperbarandgrill.com/

Matarkjallarinn  (The Food Cellar)  Adalstraeti 2, Reykjavik, Iceland.

Home – Food Cellar (matarkjallarinn.is)

 

TRIVIA NIGHT

POSTED: MARCH 1, 2024

Trivia night. For some just those two words are enough to make them run in the opposite direction. I had a bit of those feelings when asked to fill in for a missing team member for such an event recently but based on the interesting people who made up that team, I decided to give it a go. Now for those who are not familiar with this pursuit, it is a night at a local pub, restaurant or bar. Questions, film clips or images are up on a screen or music is played and there are a series of choices to be made on which person, date, etc, is the right answer.

The drinks are often discounted so that somewhat enhances the skills of the participants or at least the enjoyment of the activity. For our little group, the five other team members did most of the heavy lifting that evening but I did have a few moments of contribution. We came third of more than ten teams so clearly those teams were drinking more than we were.

I had fun. I did not think it was going to be as enjoyable, but quickly realized what makes for a good trivia team we had in spades. The ideal team member mix is people of different ages, and backgrounds as it is just as important to know the name of a type of fishing lure as the size of an African country or name of one of the bones in your finger, or who wrote a hit single from 1996.

The significance of that diversification of team was not lost on me. We may not all have the same knowledge but we can all learn from each other. A bit of a lesson for some who would have us all be the same. Perhaps a trivia night should be obligatory before being allowed to function in a community!

And there were other real lessons for me as well. I recently turned seventy and I think I am in pretty good shape for that age. But it also was very clear to me when with a combination of younger and older people all scrambling to come up with the right answers that I don’t process information as quickly as I once did. I also often doubt my responses. Age does that to all of us, and most of us realize it.

Joe Biden, if you are reading this, there is a lesson here – experience counts, and experience and insight together create wisdom which counts even more, but there is some point where the baton should he handed off to some younger folks as there is a point where the mental acuity is eroding faster than the wisdom is being generated.

As I was walking back to my boat, I learned an equally important lesson. A fellow who was at the other side of the room for the trivia event was walking my way and we got to chatting about the evening. I realized when I heard his voice that he was the one who had called out a few funny comments. The one I remarked to him that I enjoyed the most was a bit of dark humour to the question: “What stunt did 3M create for the sole purpose of introducing Scotchgard?”

This fellow walking with me, had a drawl from the southern United States and had called out: “The assassination of JFK, and Jackie did not have any stains on her outfit”.  Now this game is not played by calling your answers out, but the absurdity of this response in combination with some alcohol drew quite a bit of laughter at the trivia night but when I referenced it to him, he was looking quite grave. “Yes, that is the correct answer but no one seemed to believe it” he said in a very serious and somewhat upset tone.

As we walked along and we chatted about a few other parts of the evening it became evident that this was one of those fellows who will believe the conspiracy theory before the logical conclusion. After a few more examples this became very clear. I had previously only heard about these sorts of people, and could not imagine they actually exist.

Donald Trump if you are reading this you need to know that just because there may be more than one right answer to a question, does not mean that all answers are correct. Also, just because something is a plausible answer does not make it the right answer.

As we walked along, he also explained to me that he had been disappointed that Malta, where I live, and he was visiting, is a democratic place and it was upsetting for him that we did not all vote on the responses to the questions to determine which ones were right.

I usually confront weird stuff head on, but decided the smartest thing in this context was just say goodnight to this fellow and to peel off at the next street and take a longer way home.

I had expected a fairly goofy event with a lot of people all of the same age just using it as an excuse to drink. But my experience at Trivia Night, like a lot of things in life, can have unforeseen enriching aspects.

So now, I keep my Wednesday nights free in case I am needed as a substitute for a missing trivia  team member.

Django

 

FROM  CHEATS TO INNOVATION

POSTED: FEB 1, 2024

Regular readers of my pieces know that one of the things I love to talk about in cooking are Cheats. I was recently asked what my favourite cheats are in the kitchen and as I started to put them down I realized that I not only like cheats but also go-to’s.

Cheats I think of as those things that are short cuts that get you almost as good a finished product as doing something the correct way but saving time, energy, cost etc. Using a prepared puff pastry or filo pastry in a recipe instead of making your own saves a lot of time and for most of us who are not great pastry chefs, the result is as good or better than if we had painstakingly rolled out, buttered, folded, buttered again and then repeated until our arthritis, time constraints or limited attention span, forced us to stop. Cheats are a fundamental of most commercial kitchens -finding that quick and cost-effective way to get almost as good a product as the conventional, but mor labour intensive or more costly approach, particularly in environments where the price of the meal components is a factor.

But Go-to’s are those things, that if resources (time, materials, labour) are scarce will be utilized first. Every chef has a go–to knife (often about a nine inch) that they can do all but the most extreme tasks with. If they were going to be on a desert island with just one knife, that would be the one.

Cheats and Go-to’s I have often thought of in terms of cooking, but over the last while in chatting with a lot of people about the piece I did on retirement I have learned that cheats and go- to’s exist in every walk of life. In some cases they are techniques, in some cases tools and in a few cases much more conceptual. Let me explain.

Veterinarians like all other medical people have a variety of resources on hand to do blood work, biopsies, and other lab tests to determine the cause of various ailments. This is good because animals cant give a very detailed review of what pain or problem they have.  But all of that costs a lot of money and often the owner of a pet or livestock is not keen on spending hundreds of dollars to get a detailed report when there is an easier way. That easier way to for the vet to just do a quick visual on the what they produce. (man, was that polite or what!). It tells a lot about what has been consumed, how its being processed and can usually get the Vet quickly to either a narrowed down focus, if not the actual accurate answer. From there more detailed work might be taken on but often a strategy is worked up to try to solve it based on that preliminary thinking.

Over the last while when chatting with people about this retirement business I have shamelessly asked about these topics and been startled at how cheats and go to’s exist in everything. It doesn’t matter if you are an early childhood educator, a neurosurgeon or a roofer.

So what is the common element to all of these cheats or go -to’s? Well its experience. In some cases people are thrown into a situation where they should not have to do surgery by candlelight without their regular equipment, but their experience will just kick- in and they will know the cheats and go-to’s for working in bad lighting and with less than perfect equipment. But more than experience I think it is their reflecting on that experience and what has worked.

The reason education is valuable of course it that it is distilled experience. It is that compilation of all the experience that has been accumulated to that point in history and organized into a program to learn how to do it. So whether its engineering school or scuba diving the techniques and experience that has worked for so many in the past is available to be learned. Things that have taken years or centuries to evolve can be learned in a fairly short period of time if properly set out and explained. And many of those techniques or best practices had precursors that were cheats or go-to’s of course.

And that brings us to a category of person who figure out some of these cheats and go-to’s early in their careers and go further in coming up with a technique or tool that might work better. I have a buddy who mentors young entrepreneurs having been a serial entrepreneur himself in a variety of industries. What he often tells young people who are chomping at the bit to start their own business is to ask themselves if they are learning at the job they are in. If the answer is yes then its clear that they should revel in the fact that someone else is paying them to learn their trade and just enjoy that as long as it lasts! If the answer is no then the follow up question is whether they have a plan or strategy for doing the task or service better than their current employer or the industry does it. If no, then they should stay in the job until they figure it out. If yes, then its time to evaluate whether the time is right for them to go out and build that better mousetrap!

I just wish someone had explained all this to me when I was young. Or perhaps I wasn’t listening.

Django

IS IT A WAR CRIME?

Posted: January 1, 2024

I am an optimist, that’s just how I am wired. But the events of the last few years really test that perspective. I am starting to just expect that there will be another bad event: floods, wildfires, wars, pandemic, interest rates, inflation, mass shootings. The list goes on.

Until the Russian invasion of Ukraine our news was dominated by the pandemic, both the virus and the social and economic fallout that flowed from it. All that got us off that virus fixation was the Russian invasion. And now, approaching two years into Putin’s war we have another terrible war that some like to neatly compartmentalize as a regional war.  Of course, Covid has not gone away, and the fighting in the Ukraine rages on, various parts of the world have been flooded or lost their communities to wildfires, and we have all just learned to juggle one more ball in our anxiety kit.  Yes, its true – I am not in Kiev being bombed directly, nor am under attack in Gaza city, so its true that my problems are a rather distant ripple from where those stones first hit the water but it is hard to not be somewhat paralyzed by the events of our times.

As the journalists turn from the immediate stats on casualties in different regions and what (lack of) progress has been made on trying to get these two invasions to end, and move to deeper insights, one topic bothers me more than others. The question of whether certain activities are war crimes.  Yes, I realize that War Crimes are a defined term by many groups and whether the definition flows from the Geneva Conventions in 1949 or the more nuanced ones at the U.N. coming from the experience in Yugoslavia and Rwanda, there is a measure of what is, and what is not,  precisely a “War Crime”.

But the whole notion of there being some acts of war that considered acceptable in this bloodsport seems quite strange to me. Yes, I understand the idea that one soldier killing another soldier is just fine in comparison with the rape, torture and murder of civilians.  But certainly, this is a spectrum that already starts at the wrong point – killing each other, and then tries to put measurement points on various acts from there.

Is it a war crime?    Well if you have to ask…..

A few nights ago I went to bed after watching some BBC coverage of the two regional wars. In both cases there was a lot of talk of War Crimes.

Yesterday I woke up at about 5:30 with a terrible poem going through my head and I got up before the sunrise to write it down. And yes, to my poet friends its not technically a haiku, but close.

 

                IS IT A WAR CRIME?                  

Is it a war crime

splitting hairs I think, even

clear glass casts a shadow.

 

 

This little poem needs some refinement and if anyone has suggestions, I would be pleased to receive them and will post them here.  Remember to contact me, it is djangobisous@bell.net

 

In looking back over my posts of the last year, it seems I am somewhat stressed about the world and as we go into another year in my future posts I am going to share some of my more encouraging thoughts as I have lots of that variety as well.

Enjoy the new year.  Twenty- twenty- four  will have some positives for each of us I am sure.

 

Django

LOST & FOUND

POSTED: December 1, 2023

I really like public buildings that are on a human scale. It doesn’t matter if they are schools or municipal buildings or hospitals. The key element for me is that they are of a size that is big enough to get the job done but small enough that they are very much the vessels for the activity, and not that the structures are so large that the structure itself is the primary focus. I posted recently about my experience with a young woman named Ofra (posted November 1st). Most of my experience with her was at a small hospital here in Valletta, Malta and it consisted of waiting in a fairly small area to find out the outcome of her medical problem and to help her back to her temporary accommodations.

I was there for many hours overnight and the whole adventure was unplanned so I had not taken a book or even reading glasses, my phone or any other distractions so the space I was in became quite familiar after a few hours. The window was close by and I could look out but it was nighttime and not much to see. I was reminded of my buddy Jim’s story about his uncle Gordon in a setting like this. Now Jim’s uncle was a character, and I think became even more of a character in Jim’s recollections of him but one story that came to mind here was that Jim’s Nana (grandmother) was in a small village hospital on the Quebec side of the Ottawa river valley, in Canada. The region, while part of Quebec, a largely French speaking province, was inhabited primarily by people with an English speaking heritage, largely from Ireland, and many of them farmed or went into Ottawa for employment.

So his Nana was in the hospital for one thing or another, and Uncle Gordon thought it would be a grand gesture to fly by in his little airplane and waive at her. For most of us, this initial plan would quickly be discarded as the small community hospital was still a busy place with lots of activities of people coming and going. Beyond this, airplanes are noisy things. In those days (the 1960’s) the small size of this little one-seater plane sounded more like a loud lawnmower than any smooth running aircraft and it might occur to most that some people in the hospital would want some calm and quiet.  But Uncle Gordon did not have the same decision making process as the rest of us and saw the flight and waving as a good plan. He was also not deterred by the fact that there were lots of electrical wires running from the poles around the building to the top of the five-storey structure – he would just fly under them. Yeah. Really. What a plan.

Well he did pull it off but in so doing lost his flying license in Canada. He did keep his flying license elsewhere however, and continued to fly around the United States and the Caribbean. YIKES.

As I sat there in the waiting area, the small commissary was close. Too close.  It had a very limited range of products during busy hours and only vending machines in the less busy hours when I was there.  It made for tough decisions for me with my efforts  to manage my hypertension – death by sugar overload? Carb overload? Fat overload? Some of the products in those venting machines liberally satisfied all three and with a lot of sodium in there for good measure as well.

I couldn’t leave to go elsewhere for a coffee or some fruit as I did not know when they would release her and at that hour there would probably not be anything very close by.  It was my first time pretending to a be a dad and I really did not want to screw it up. To keep my mind off my hungry stomach I tried to focus on some other things and one was right there within sight. It was a small cabinet with a rather ancient sign LOST & FOUND.  Now these lost and found cabinets, tables, or bookshelves in small facilities are quite the stimulus for anyone with an imagination. In some cases, the objects on display there look like they truly have been lost and would have some value, at least sentimental value,  to someone. In other cases they look like items that are not worth retracing steps for – a paperback book, beat up baseball cap, or satchel that probably was just abandoned. But other things truly looked like they were just waiting for their owners to come back through the door to reunite with.

This notion of LOST and FOUND really got me thinking at the time. I had nothing but time on my hands sitting in that waiting area, and was desperate to not think about the vending machines.

In general LOST is a negative. You might lose your way, or lose in a game. None of us like losing things, but there are some very noteworthy exceptions. Sometimes the loss of ones virginity is a negative, sometimes a positive. Most often the loss of body weight is a good thing, but sometimes if its due to a medical problem a bad thing. A friends mother was losing her memory from dementia and that was really bad, but one day went swimming as she had lost (forgotten) her fear of water. Damn, this lost business is complex.

I was petty sure that FOUND was a positive however as I began to muse about it at about 4 am. We all love finding stuff. A bit of cash in a jacket we do not often wear or finding the right partner. But what happens when we find the partner in bed with someone else, find a lump where it shouldn’t be, or find we have been scammed out of our life savings. I guess found is not universally a good thing either.

I had a few chats with others who were waiting, walked around a bit, read parts of a paper that had been left, and eventually broke down and ate a bar that had the promising name of  “only protein”. It tasted pretty good. So did the second one. The wrapper I sheepishly read after eating two of these killers:  yes, there was protein but also 12 grams of fat and 9 grams of sugar. And I had consumed two! Well, no use beating myself up over it.

As I was looking at the ingredient list on the little package when the doctor came out to tell me the news on Ofra, and my time at the hospital would soon come to an end.

I have since done a lot of walking, am back on my good diet and have generally redeemed myself for those two killer protein (and everything else) bars.

The notions of Lost and Found however, like my memories of that experience with Ofra have lingered with me.  Most stuff of life has a crazy combination of simple and complex and I seem to spend a lot of my time these days trying to sort out the two.

Django

 

OFRA

POSTED: November 1, 2023

A couple of years ago I was on my way home from a walk in a park when I encountered a young woman who was clearly in distress. It was in the early part of the pandemic and we were all wearing masks but hers was lying on the grass. She appeared to be choking and as I tried to determine what exactly was happening, she started to bloat up as if being filled with air. I sat her down at a bench but her throat was closing up badly and she was looking like the Michelin Man. Before I knew it a young fellow was beside us with a device out and slammed it into her thigh and she had almost instant improvement. “Epi pen” he said as he left almost as fast as he arrived, and then turned and said the weirdest thing “get her to the hospital …. and you are her dad”. The first part of his short instruction list was obvious but the second one I found bewildering.

Shortly thereafter the ambulance people arrived and after asking me what had happened and who she was, again the statement “You are her dad and you need to come with us.”

Once at the hospital she was admitted and then it all became clear when I was doing the registration. When a patient is admitted the administrators need a person to attach to the file administratively. This is partially because with so many visitors in Malta who are not part of the EU the procedures for approval for treating them are extensive if not EU citizens so once identified as my “daughter” and I produce my identification they don’t seem to ask beyond that for the purpose of treating her and then later the admin stuff can get worked out. It is the relationship of the admin side not being done as quickly as the actual emergency work that needs to occur as something of a lifesaving workaround.

So for that brief time I was her dad. I have never been a dad and I had a glimpse into that overwhelming sense of responsibility – even with this just being a little administrative fiction.

The wait was long. We started in the afternoon and as the hours dragged on it was clear we would not be out of there until the next day. They had said that it was anaphylactic shock from a wasp sting and once home she would have to follow up to see about this extreme reaction. They periodically told me she was doing fine but in a small facility that was already running past capacity I could not visit her. Finally, at about 6:40 in the morning they said we could go and I got a taxi.

Her name was Ofra and she was staying with some friends on holiday in a place not too far from our Marina. The truth of it is Valletta is not a big community so everything is fairly close. Her phone was dead and I had not brought mine out for what I had thought would be a short walk that previous afternoon so her friends were relieved but startled when we arrived at their rental flat. We had a tea with them and I learned a bit more about her. She was from Tel Aviv and a student and was here with some friends just for a few days of holiday. We exchanged some contact info and I went home to bed.

Since that time captain Ciara has my little pack equipped with not only an epi pen for dealing with people who go into anaphylactic shock for an allergic reaction but also with a Naloxone kit for people who have overdosed on opioids. She had always kept an epi pen handy on the boat for extreme allergic reactions but also keeps one in her personal bag and now one in mine. So periodically these expensive little needles get to the end of their useful date and Ciara gets an orange or grapefruit and has me practice on jabbing into them. I have saved several pieces of fruit over the last couple of years!

Ofra was a bit of a political junkie like me and we would periodically email back and forth about the world’s problems. I enjoyed hearing her perspective as it reflected the ideas of my optimistic but naïve younger self.

So why am I going on about this now? Well sometimes she would copy her cousin in the email loop as he was quite political as well. Two weeks ago I received an email from him that Ofra had been hurt at a pro-Palestinian rally in Tel Aviv, trying to convince the current government coalition under Netanyahu to not over react to the terrible atrocities committed by Hamas. As a reservist she was on alert with an expectation of being called up and with others was conflicted by her duty and her conscience. Her cousin said that even her family had mixed reactions to both his and her participation in the rally, some proud, some disgusted.

At that rally she was hit by a rock, thrown by one of her countrymen at the protestors. After some medical complications from a delay in accessing medical help, from a high quality medical facility that was very close to where she was injured, she died. An Israeli reservist, trying to keep her government in check, killed at the hands of another Israeli.

The older I get, the more complicated and confused the world seems to be.

Rest in peace Ofra.

Django

A.I.

POSTED: October 1, 2023

There has been a lot in the news about A.I. lately, driven partially by the writer’s strike in Hollywood. Now that A.I. is artificial intelligence and really is a concern on many fronts, but the A.I. I am referring to here is one that relates to the inflation in our stress and has more of my attention: Anxiety Inflation.

We all have anxiety, it’s a good thing to have in the right dosage, much like fear, a sense of adventure, ambition etc. But there are times in our lives or circumstances that really ramp it up and dealing with it becomes more difficult without counselling, meds or a real change of thinking.

I have found that as I age, I have less control of many things in my life. The simple example is that as we age our bodies start to wear out and let us down. That takes on many forms but because most of those aspects are incremental. Sometimes we don’t see it at all and at other points can clearly see the increase in the rate of deterioration in our sight, hearing, memory, or joints. That deterioration is an underlying fear that creeps into my thinking more often these days.

Now in better times we can put this into perspective and effectively digest that  level of anxiety, but today there are so many concerns that start to pile on. Our geopolitical world is a mess. Chinas aggression, Russia’s aggression, and increasingly countries looking inward. The migration of mass population groups creates its own conflicts, particularly in some countries not prepared to accept the waves of immigrants. We have largely made it through the pandemic I think but the financial fallout of price inflation, housing issues, and both individuals and governments unable to keep up with costs, are starting to really hit home in many places. Increasingly there is evidence that society is breaking down, with less tolerance for others, a lack of mutual respect and a general growth in self interest. And with it all this going on the foretelling of the climate crisis is no longer foretelling – its all happening right now – the floods, wildfires and hurricanes.

I am a political geek and love to keep up with what is happening in the world. I also care about the environment and am disturbed by all the evidence of our damage to the planet. But watching the news sometimes is just overwhelming. The anxiety inflation is just running at a rapid rate and I need at times to just go for a nice walk, try to stay in the present. Of course, it is that staying in the present that’s the key. Anything that makes us slow down, not project ahead to the worlds end, or to stress over past mistakes or missed opportunities, is the way to go. A good coffee with a fresh croissant and some homemade jam will often do the trick for me, but some days even those nice things have only a short-term effect and its tough to rise above it. I find I am drinking too much alcohol and letting the state of the world get to me.

But for now, I am off to take this big boat out for a sail. My reality is that these days En Plein Air usually sits in her slip for months at a time, but with water and wind conditions right, Captain Ciara at the helm, and a couple of friends to crew, maybe on this beautiful first of October day, with a steady wind and in this little bit of sea just south of Malta we can turn off the world…. if just for an afternoon.

 

Django

P.S. The afternoon turned out to be an amazing outing and as the wind died down and the sun started to retreat a sky to remember showed up…

 

SURPRISE

POSTED: September 1, 2023

There are few things more delicious than a surprise. Now when I say surprise, I mean a positive one, not the “…well your test results are back and its not looking good…” kind. A positive surprise is something we did not expect or even anticipate. So while coming down the stairs on Christmas morning to a few presents under the tree may have some surprise elements, that’s not really what I am meaning.

The best surprise is one that is truly out of the blue and has a positive element to it. Sometimes they are tangible gifts but as often I get as much satisfaction from the intangible ones. Someone complements you on a new shirt or glasses, or a person you do not know well invites you to a dinner party.

As I age, I also think I get more satisfaction from creating or giving a surprise as from getting one. And that is what is really on my mind today.  I recently created a fun little prank for a friend. This fellow I have immense respect for. He is intelligent, articulate, witty and generally a nice person to be around. While all these are admirable traits, what really strikes me is his ability to put the past tense and the future tense in perspective. It may come with his age as he has several more years on me so I see him somewhat akin to an older brother.  He seems to have mastered the art of understanding and learning from the joys and scars from his past, and keeps a healthy balance of his hopes and fears for the future, all the while really savouring the present. This is no small skill, especially as you get older. Believe me….. I know.

He had helped me with my manuscript and while I was certainly appreciative of his efforts and took him and his partner to dinner, when reviewing the writing project with him at his home I thought it would be fun to plant a little surprise in their house for when they returned from the cottage. They were planning to  head off there for a few weeks the day after I saw them.

Well the weeks passed, and then a few more and it is now over two months later and quite clear that they have made it home and I fear the cleverly placed, and very non-descript looking package may have been too cleverly placed and too boring in packaging and been thrown out. Now just to be clear this was not some expensive gift, but a fun little acknowledgement of my appreciation of his efforts.

I am now faced with the conundrum of deciding to ask if they found it, ruining a potentially wonderful surprise to come and in so doing also embarrassing him, or do I just wait and see what happens in the future?

And it has just occurred to me that dealing with a person of his intelligence he may have found it and is just playing possum so perhaps the surprise is on me!

Damb, I enjoy a good surprise.

Django