Category: Thinking About

Increase Your Chances of Being Right

In “post-fact culture”, where rationality seems to vanish in the storms of lies and conspiracy theories, beliefs about the future are crucial.
– Gapminder Data System –

Are you smarter than a chimp? Watch this funny, entertaining and encouraging video to see how your knowledge compares to the chimps at the zoo.

How much do you know about the world? Hans Rosling, with his famous charts of global population, health and income data (and an extra-extra-long pointer), demonstrates that you have a high statistical chance of being quite wrong about what you think you know. Play along with his audience quiz — then, from Hans’ son Ola, learn 4 ways to quickly get less ignorant.
– TED Talk by the Gapminder Founders

What facts surprised you or made you think more positively about the future of the world?

Super Bowl Quiz – The Winning Answers

We were invited to a Super Bowl party. I knew it was going to be a good one when the hostess pointed me in the direction of a really well stocked snack counter. Then she handed me the first of the number of glasses of wine it takes to drink a half bottle or so. With my beverage in one hand, and a plate of munchies in the other, I commandeered a front row seat on the soft couches.

“Before the game starts,” said the hostess, “You are all going to take a Super Bowl Quiz. There is a prize for whoever gets the most right answers.”

She handed each of us a single page of questions, which I dutifully read. I only knew three answers. I had no idea about the rest. Not a clue. That wasn’t a surprise, since I didn’t even know which teams were playing in the game I was about to watch. (In my defense, I am Canadian, and the last time I really paid any attention to football was when Doug Flutie was quarterback for the Calgary Stampeders in the early 1990’s.)

So I filled in the answers I knew, and handed my page to The Car Guy.  His skill set is trivia, and he does follow American football. He filled in his question sheet first, then filled in the rest of my sheet with his second best answers.

At half time, the hostess put out more food (I have to get her recipe for pulled pork!) Then she announced the winner of the Quiz. The person who had the most right answers was ME! What a surprise!

You must be wondering how the ‘least likely to win’ quiz player stumbled into the end zone for a touchdown? Well, it was because I know Roman Numerals. Sample Question: How do you write the Roman Numeral for Super Bowl 48?  The Car Guy  knows Roman Numerals too, so my win ultimately came down to the fact that his second choice answers on my sheet were better than his first choice answers on his sheet.

The prize was a handy pair of glasses that made me look a cross between Groucho Marks and Hitler.  They look much better on Albertina Elf.

Did you watch Super Bowl LI too? What did you think of the commercials and half time show? Do you have a really easy crock pot pulled pork recipe?

Post 564

Why There are Back-seat Drivers

This is a story that started out with the Monarch Butterflies in my garden. I learned a bit about them and their remarkable journeys. It seemed quite natural then to discuss human journeys, directionally disadvantaged navigators, and why there are back-seat drivers.

An Arizona Monarch Butterfly

Some humans are remarkable navigators. Others – not so much. I call these people ‘directionally challenged’. Unlike a butterfly that can find the way from Canada to Mexico with only the sun and the stars to guide them, certain people are lost by the time they drive past the edge of their neighbourhood.

My spouse, The Car Guy, is moderately directionally challenged. The invention of GPS navigation has been a godsend for him. He has a friend, 3P, who is both directionally challenged AND has failed GPS 101. 3P can get lost when he ventures past the end of his street.

We discovered this on a recent road trip where 3P was the driver, and The Car Guy was the navigator. The ‘wives’ sat in the back seat of the vehicle. Neither wife realized that the spouse of the other would have difficulty finding the local mall, let alone executing a road trip that involved more than one left turn.

The driver’s vehicle had a GPS system. The Car Guy had a map and another GPS system. Both men, however, were unaware that the other had a navigational deficit. Both assumed the other knew the route and would, in fact, navigate when needed. Within half an hour, they had not only erred with the first few critical turns in the road, they were, in fact, heading back towards home.

That is why some people, usually wives, become ‘back-seat drivers’. They aren’t nags -they are navigators!

Do you have a ‘directionally challenged’ driver in your family?

More photos of Monarchs can be found at my Birds Blooms Bugs blog: Monarchs in Alberta

Post 458

Today was a Day of Coincidence

Is it mere coincidence, or are the stars aligned such that TODAY I should buy a lottery ticket, bet on ‘Stumbled’ in the 9th and eat that piece of cake that has passed the ‘Best Before’ date?

Today is indeed an auspicious day because of the number 15203. I just realized that today The Car Guy and I have been married 15203 days AND at sometime today my blog was viewed for the 15203rd time!

In comparison to other digital milestones, I suppose this isn’t much. But imagine what a feat it would be if each of those views was equivalent to a visitor stopping by for coffee each and every day of my married life!

Of course, coincidences happen all the time. Most of them go unnoticed. But here are a few more for you to consider:

Thanksgiving dinners take eighteen hours to prepare. They are consumed in twelve minutes. Half-times take twelve minutes. This is not coincidence.
– Erma Bombeck –

Dressing up is inevitably a substitute for good ideas. It is no coincidence that technically inept business types are known as ‘suits’.
– Paul Graham –

It’s no coincidence that in no known language does the phrase “As pretty as an airport” appear.
– Douglas Adams –

The sixties were when hallucinogenic drugs were really, really big. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we had the type of shows we had then, like The Flying Nun.
– Ellen DeGeneres –

A child can go only so far in life without potty training. It is not mere coincidence that six of the last seven presidents were potty trained, not to mention nearly half of the nation’s state legislators.
– Dave Barry-

Post 217

Picking up the Pieces – The Puzzle of Life

I don’t have a “Big Picture” of  where my life is going – no overall plan that says I have to be doing a certain thing by a certain time. I kind of just live day by day, picking up bits of this and that as I go along. What kind of bits? Puzzle bits. I think my life is like a Jigsaw Puzzle. It started with no pieces, and had no picture on the box lid. My job is to collect the pieces I either want or I am obliged to take, put them in as best I can, and see what picture emerges.

I don’t know how many pieces are in my puzzle. I think that depends on how long I live. The last piece will go in the moment before I die, I guess. I do know, though, that I look for a puzzle piece in everything I do and everyplace I go. I seldom know where the piece is going to fit in the puzzle, and it may just languish in the box for some time before I find a spot for it. But that is okay. I’m in no hurry to finish the puzzle.

puzzle shape

Now and then I fit a piece into the puzzle and discover that the picture I thought I was working on has shifted somewhat. Sometimes it is a big shift caused by something like a death in the family, or relocating to a different country or having a sick child. Sometimes it is a small shift, like the discovery that I’m not going to have enough mushroom compost for all the flower beds. Sometimes it is a really small shift, like today when I recalibrated my monitor and all the colors moved a few shades south…

I don’t know what piece I’ll find tomorrow, or the day afterward. I don’t know exactly what my puzzle picture will look like a week or a month from now. What I do know is that I was pretty happy with it the way it looked last year, and I’m just as happy with it today.  Hope you are too!

Post 178

Old Time Teachers and The Arithmetic Circle of Doom

Toonaday teacher times tables blackboard

My Grade 5 Teacher, Miss W., could draw a nearly perfect circle on the blackboard – freehand. She would face the board, take up a piece of chalk, and almost by magic her arm would go through the full range of motion needed to draw one very nice circle. It was impressive, even though it was the prelude to the hell that was to follow. She would write the numbers from one to twelve around the perimeter of the circle. Then the whole class would wait in dreaded anticipation for what was going to be written in the exact center of the circle. It would be a number between one and twelve and immediately after this number would be the sign of doom – a plus sign, a minus sign, a multiplication sign or a division sign. With that task competed, we all knew what the instrument of torture was going to be.

We would slink down in our seats, and try to look like we weren’t there. Miss W. would pick up her pointer, and with a sly smile on her face, she would gaze out the window. Without even looking at the children, she would call out the name of her victim. This poor soul would have to stand in the aisle next to their desk, and Miss W. would start stabbing her pointer at the numbers around the perimeter while the victim tried to call out the correct mathematical response.

A wrong answer was met with a Miss W’s. icy glare, then the pointer would come down sharply on the same number again. Somehow her pointer made a different sound when it struck the number that second time. The rest of the class perked up as the trembling victim struggled to find the right answer, an answer which had likely fled the scene and would not be found again that day. We all learned a lot about working under pressure in her class…

In those days of yore, Corporal Punishment was a perfectly acceptable tool in a teacher’s arsenal. Miss W. would never use her magic pointer to strike a student. She used the yard stick for that. I don’t remember what circumstances warranted a whack on the shoulders with that ruler – I just remember how startling it was when she came up from behind, with the stealth of a cat, and delivered the blow. It didn’t really hurt all that much – it was just such a surprise. We all learned a lot about consequences in her class…

At the end of the school year, our whole group passed Grade 5. Every single child had worked to the maximum of their potential because they never wanted to enter Miss W’s. classroom again. Failure would have meant another year of torture from the Circle of Doom and the Yardstick of Punishment, and no child was strong enough to survive that for two years. At least, that is what we all thought. We all learned a lot about motivation in her class…

Post 156


The River or The Road – River People and Goal People

fallsEarlier this week, Blogger Malcolm Bellamy wrote a post called Seven Words to Describe Yourself. Coming up with a list like that is perhaps a good beginning to answering the Really Big Question – What do you want to do or be When You Grow Up? It is interesting how some people are able to say, from an early age, what they want to be. Earl Nightingale describes these people as River People. They know their passion, usually from an early age, and they follow it over waterfalls and rapids, through backwaters and calm pools. They never abandon it, because it is who they are.

As I listened to Earl explain River people (and this was many, many years ago), I knew this wasn’t me. But he also said there are two types of Successful People. Perhaps I would see myself in the second group, (because I was sure I would be wildly successful at something, if I could just figure out what that might be).

Earl continued – the second group are the Goal People. They set a goal, follow one or more roads to get there, then set another goal.  Drat! A dusty road, not a flowing river. This was going to be harder than I thought. My children will attest to that, because they got dragged into the dreaded Goal Setting Exercises. It was part and parcel of Family Forum Night – the Car Guy, the daughters, the cat, and I would gather to discuss any important topic that impacted the whole family. At Christmas, Family Forum was Goal Setting. Each person would detail what they had done to achieve the goals they had set last year, then list the goals for the coming year. The kids wailed about not wanting to do this, but I think they learned a lot about the basics of goal setting. Which was good, because none of them indicated that they had a river they wanted to throw themselves into…

As the kids got older, their goals began to grapple with the When I Grow Up question. They looked towards their father for motivation, because for all intents and purposes they couldn’t see that their mother had made much progress in the career department. Which was fair. My goals were still mired in the trenches of the Stay at Home Mom and Chairman of the Committee of what Everybody Wants but no one Wants to Do. The Car Guy was bringing home a paycheck each month. Money – the litmus paper of career and thus success.

Much water has passed under the bridge since then, so to speak, and I’m still prowling roads, ticking off quirky little goals. I’ve decided to divert off the road to Growing Up, though. People seem to lose much of their sense of humor if they follow that road too far.

Back to the seven words to describe yourself.  I came up with curiousness, skepticism and humor which led to craftsman, writer, researcher and advisor. These are, I think, my River Words, even as I walk the dusty roads. And for now, Best Blogger within three miles of my house here in Canada is my goal. Next month, maybe I’ll expand that to a radius of five miles…

How would you describe yourself?

Post 153


Self-Indulgence and Consumer Spending Habits

One of the more interesting movies in 2008 was an animated Disney Pixar film called WALL-E .

With an estimated budget of $180 million, (and Gross Domestic Revenue of  $224 million), the movie depicts what happens to mankind when it has to leave the Earth they destroyed and live in the  luxury of a huge space ship. Seven hundred years after the earth was abandoned, all that is left on earth to clean up the mess is one little garbage collecting robot (WALL-E) and a cockroach. In contrast, the people in the space craft live a  pampered life, riding around on hovering chairs that give them a constant feed of TV, video chatting, and food. The inactivity has made them all so fat they can barely move.

The movie is actually very funny, and the hero, WALL-E is such a loveable character that I pinned a photo of him on my fridge. But there is no question that the movie is a cautionary tale of what happens to a society when a self-indulgent lifestyle goes awry.

Self-indulgent – indulging one’s own desires, passions, whims, etc., especially without restraint. How much of the American lifestyle can be described as being somewhat self-indulgent? How much of the American lifestyle could lead to the situation described in WALL-E? Here are some statistics I found on the internet about how Americans indulge, or over-indulge. All amounts are on an annual basis, and could vary by a few billion dollars one way or another. (I found conflicting amounts for some items):

1. Sitting and watching things; creating idols (movie, music and sports stars)
$10.5 billion for Hollywood movie ticket sales
$22 billion to support Major league athletes
$11 billion for videos
$10 billion for recorded music
$25 billion for video games
$50 billion for cable TV
$100 billion for consumer electronics to watch and listen to the above

2. Ingesting or inhaling things that aren’t necessarily very healthy;  attempting to fix problems resulting from this:
$110 billion to eat fast foods
$12 billion for coffee at coffee shops
$55 billion for weight loss products
$90 billion for alcohol
$88 billion for cigarettes
$65 billion for illegal drugs
$215 billion for illegal drug health care, justice, lost productivity

3. Trying to look a little bit like the idols created in item #1:
$1.4 billion for botox treatments
$1 million for spray on tans
$1.7 billion for tooth whitening products
$24 billion for skin care products, particularly anti-aging ones
$38 billion for hair care products, particularly hair dyes
$15 billion for perfumes
$18 billion for make-up

4. Sundry other items with dubious merit:
$41 billion for pet care products intended to make pets more human-like
$1 billion for anti-bacterial products  to create a false sense of security
$6.8 trillion in mortgage debt. There is no question that many people financed houses they couldn’t really afford. Some of these homes are still available – in May of 2010, the farm where the filming of Field of Dreams took place, was put up for sale. The193-acre Iowa corn farm with a two-bedroom house, a barn built in the mid-1800s, and baseball diamond built by Universal Studios was listed for $5.4 million. One astute observer asked, “Would the income from 193 acres of corn pay the debt service on $5.4 mil?”

Some portion of these purchases are made with credit cards.  With 610 million credit cards in the hands of approximately 231 million adult Americans (over the age of 20), personal credit card penalties are:
$15 billion for credit card penalty fees.
$77 billion for interest on unpaid balances

Canadians – don’t sit back with a smug smile. We, as a nation, are as self-indulgent as the Americans are. Now, I’m not saying that people shouldn’t indulge in a few of these things if they can afford them. I’m just saying that at some point self-indulgence leads to self-destructiveness, and I think both of our countries are on the edge of toppling into an  economic and social hole that will be very difficult to get out of.

Post 106

What if You Don’t Believe in God?

I found a blogger last week who made the most remarkable announcement. I suspect she has been thinking about this for quite a long time, and was reluctant to put her thoughts into words. When she finally found the courage, she chose the beginning of a New Year to make her thoughts public. She wrote, “I do not believe in God.”

What a brave thing to say! Believing in God isn’t normally a concept you inherit as a child, test as you grow, and discard when you are almost a rebellious teen. A child can believe in Santa Claus, and then question the belief when they discover Wal-Mart stickers on the Santa presents. A child’s faith in the Easter Bunny can be shaken for similar reasons. The Tooth Fairy can be easily forgotten after all the baby teeth have fallen out and been paid for. The Monster that lives under the bed is vanquished the first time the child safely reaches the bedroom door in the middle of the night.

But how does a person come to the conclusion they don’t believe in any God? After all, there are so many of them to choose from. According to David Barrett et al, the editors of the “World Christian Encyclopedia“, there are 19 major religions in the world, subdivided into 10,000 distinct religions. These groups teach the existence of thousands of Gods and Goddesses.

But what if, faced with the realization that the world can’t agree on one supreme God, you decide it is just as likely there is no God at all?

Stephen Roberts, a strong Atheist, talking to a theist about the thousands of gods and goddesses worshiped by humans: “I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”
– Source: Religious –


There is not much chance there will ever be one World God. Most religious groups contend that their beliefs and practices are the only true ones, and all other faiths contain errors. Many religions are so sure of this, that they actively try to convert other people to their religion, or they try to destroy those who dissent. Religious oppression, discrimination and war are the result of the intolerance unleashed in the name of a God.

Imagine the results if more people accepted their religion as the best faith for them, but at the same time recognized that there are other religions which teach about other deities, other systems of morality, other religious practices, etc.
– Source: Religious –

These are the major World religions and estimates of the number of adherents:
Christians: 2,100,000,000
Muslims: 1,500,000,000
Of no religion: 1,100,000,000
Hindus: 900,000,000
Chinese folk religionists: 400,000,000
Primal religionists: 400,000,000
Buddhists: 375,000,000 adherents
Sikhs: 24,000,000
Jews: 14,500,000
Baha’is: 7,400,000
Jains: 4,300,000
Shintoists: 4,000,000
Taoism: 2,700,000

Very, very rough estimates suggest that, in the US, about 25 percent of the population are actively involved with their religion. About 50 percent claim to belong to a particular religion, but they do not actively participate. The last 25 percent either don’t believe in a God, don’t believe there is any proof that any of the Deities exist or don’t really know how they feel about God. This last category isn’t a comfortable one to belong to if a person admits to being an Atheist. Many North Americans believe that Atheists are Communists, or that they are unable to lead a moral life because they don’t fear punishment in Hell.

Some people prefer to say the are Agnostic – they hold the view that any reality such as a God is unknown and probably unknowable. Other people profess to be Agnostic Atheists. This term means they don’t believe in the existence of any deity, but admit not knowing for sure that a deity might exist.

Which brings us back to our brave blogger. I hope ALL of her family and friends will let her choose the beliefs that work best for her.

NOTE: Regardless of your beliefs, I suggest you visit Religious, a very remarkable website that tries to present a balanced view of  Religion. It is written by an Atheist, an Agnostic, a Christian, a Wiccan and a Zen Buddhist.

Post 84

What Makes a Marriage Last

man woman eating

Marriage is not merely sharing the fettucini, but sharing the burden of finding the fettucini restaurant in the first place.
– Calvin Trillin –

The Car Guy and I recently celebrated our 41st Wedding Anniversary. Arriving shortly after Christmas, and just before New Years, our Anniversary is easily overlooked by all… even the small delegation that wished us well on our wedding day, while shaking their heads at the naive young couple who were starting life together with a single asset –  a 1958 Chev Bel Aire 4 door sedan that cost $150.

Forty one years later, the Car Guy has seen many vehicles pass through the garage doors. He remembers the significant events of our life together by what he was driving at the time. The big New Yorker hauled the 16 foot Shasta trailer with wings on family camping trips. The Dodge MaxiVan ferried the family around Texas during our year of residence there. The Fargo truck still makes runs to the dump, a reminder of the days when it hauled grain from the family farm. A sleek BMW was the week-end warrior that accompanied us all around England. And today a nice little diesel Jeep ploughs through Canadian snowdrifts with impunity. There have been, are, and will be other vehicles in his life. But there is only one wife.

I remember the significant events of our life together by the house we lived in at the time. Each child was a baby in a particular house, and none of them were babies in the same house. Friends were found, trees were planted and groups were joined everywhere we moved.  The Car Guy came close to “checking out” when we lived in a compound house in the Middle East. A child was very sick here at the Red House. There have been so many houses, there will possibly be other houses. But there is only one husband.

What sticks two people together for 41 years? I wish I could say there is some magical ingredient that keeps two people bonded. But I don’t think there is. Each couple is different. For the Car Guy, maybe I am the engine that he knows he can always depend on to keep running. For me, maybe the Car Guy is the roof over my head – a roof that never blows off in a storm.  Or maybe we just signed a paper 41 years ago that said “till death us do part” and we’re both determined to outlast the other…

Post 81

Free Range Kids – The Slow Erosion of Childhood Freedom

If you were a child when I was, or even when my children were, you instinctively know what a Free Range Kid is.

So how Free Range was I? I lived in a small town – a triangular shaped suburb whose borders were defined by “Our” city with a population of 235,000 people, a major river, and the Trans-Canada highway. Before we were even in our early teens, we knew every street and alley in town. We’d crossed the river at the bridge, and headed up and downstream for miles. We’d sprinted across the highway, and visited the horses that lived on the bordering farms.

Compared to my parents, I barely traveled anywhere. My dad, by his early teens, was riding his bicycle all around “Our” city, and out into the country to nearby towns. At that time, the city was 85,000 people.

I don’t know how Free Range my grandfather was in “Our” city  – when it was only 44,000 people. But suffice it to say that he was a Free Range  soldier in the trenches in France by the time he was 19.

62-cabin-trailMy children were as Free Range as I was. Their childhood was spent in a small town where they also had a river valley to explore. Their teen years saw them living in, and exploring “Our” city, which had grown to 600,000 people.

Now “Our” city is just over 1,000,000 people, and my grandchildren’s lives are much more confined. The wide open spaces that their ancestors explored has been gobbled up by housing and shopping malls.

Urban sprawl. The car is king. In my grandfathers time, there were about 20,000 vehicles registered in the whole province. Today, there are 834,000 registered vehicles in just our city. There aren’t just more cars per capita  – our homes, streets, shopping, and entertainment are all designed around the family car. This focus on vehicles often sacrifices walking and bike riding as alternate forms of transportation.

Our society today is also obsessed with safety. I won’t go into all the ways that people try to protect their kids from real or perceived “danger”. But in “Our” city, I wasn’t able to volunteer in my grandsons classroom until I had provided the school with a police report saying I was not a criminal. The fact that my daughter was on the parent teacher council and volunteered in the school, and could speak to my character, was not enough. I had to have a police report made out by an officer who had never met me before…

I was concerned enough about what my grandchildren were missing by living in the city, that I convinced the Spousal Unit that we should buy a cabin where kids could stalk frogs in the swamp, and bushwack through the woods, and ride  bikes all over the neighbourhood.  It is fun to see them get so excited about such simple pleasures.

Post 62

The Value of the Stay-at-Home Workforce

Phillip Martin woman ironing

Cartoon © Phillip Martin

My lifelong career has been a “Stay-at-Home Mom”. This came about for two reasons. The first was that I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. The second was that my spousal unit and I decided that one of us would be home for the children. He had a better idea of what he was going to be, and what the potential was for his earning power. So he got to be the “Go-to-Work Dad”.

Staying at home would have been an easier choice if I had been living in my moms generation. But my generation was convinced that the road to liberation didn’t stop in a bungalow in suburbia. My generation wanted to be in the workforce. Many of them weren’t all that complimentary to the few of us who stayed “behind”. I was often asked by women what my career was. When I told them, their response was usually, “Oh, you don’t work.”

If I didn’t work, then what was I doing all day? Caring, cooking, cleaning, driving, advising, managing… well the list goes on and on. If I had been doing this work for someone else, I would have had  a job and I would have been paid. But because I worked for my family, I didn’t work.

If I wasn’t working, was I playing? By definition, work is a trade, profession, or other means of livelihood. Play is an activity that exists only for its own sake. It is absorbing, voluntary, and pleasurable. It does not have goals or compulsions. No, I wasn’t playing all day long. Perhaps what I was doing was a Hobby. A Hobby is an activity done in spare time for pleasure and relaxation. A hobby can have goals and compulsions. No, I wasn’t doing hobbies all the time either. In reality, it was a combination of all three things, done in small blocks of time, in no predictable order. I didn’t always realize how lucky I was to have had the opportunity to have such a flexible definition of what was work, play and hobby.

My husbands career was a mobile one. We have moved 15 times and lived in 4 countries. I unpacked our belongings all 15 times. Some people hire someone to unpack their stuff, and someone else to put it where it looks best. When I unpacked, it was like a big game of hide and seek. Then it became an interesting exercise to put things where they would work to the best of their abilities in a house that was nothing like the one it had been bought for.  Turning a house into a home… and then a patch of dirt into my yard – it was hard work, but not always work, if you know what I mean.

Apparently someone keeps track of what a stay-at-home mom would earn for her work, if she got paid for it. MSN reports that calculated that in 2007, mom would have earned $138,095 for doing the typical tasks that a mom might do in a day:  housekeeper, day care center teacher, cook, computer operator, laundry machine operator, janitor, facilities manager, van driver, CEO and psychologist. (Feel free to substitute stay-at-home dad here, because more and more men are taking on this role.)

I’m glad no one has figured out a way to actually pay stay-at-home moms what they are worth.  The federal government would just figure out a way to tax it…

Post 56

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