Resolution 2012 revisited

Risk

Risk (Photo credit: avyfain)

“Use your common sense to reach a conclusion, then move forward.”  This advice is from Dr. Benjamin Carson, a paediatric neurosurgeon at John Hopkins Children’s Centre in Baltimore. He seems to think that this is the way we should conduct our lives. A seemingly simple prescription, it is one I hope I applied in making this year’s resolutions.

My two resolutions (as you may or may not recall) are to take more risks and to be “more likeable”. So, four weeks after making these declarations, I am re-evaluating them, and giving myself a report card.  A fair assessment thus far would be a C minus on the “take more risks” part of the resolution , and a C in being “more likeable” . Though not failing marks, they are not stellar–but then this gives me lots of room for improvement for the rest of the year.

For now, I am going to address the “risk taking” resolution. I happened across an article called “5 Ways to be a Better Risk Taker” in the February issue of Real Simple magazine. The above quoted Dr. Carson was one of a panel of experts called on to teach us how to become “bolder and braver”. He says that we live in a risk-averse society where people use “alarmist language” to get us to buy an insurance policy for everything from a toaster to a new mattress. His advice: tune it out and use common sense in evaluating the situation.

The one piece of advice in the article I found surprising was this: “be a quitter”. But, when it was explained it made a lot of sense. It came from Jill Heinerth, who is a cave diver and underwater photographer from Florida, and she puts her counsel to good use. She says: “Only an expert risk taker can swim toward a particular goal and arrive within a hairsbreadth of the treasure and then turn around and go home.” In other words, no treasure is worth a foolish risk.

Heinerth advises us to “come up with some golden rules” before any kind of endeavour, and “tell yourself what you are unwilling to tolerate or what will cause you to stop the activity.” In her line of work setting rules has saved her life. As someone whose line of works  generally does not put her life on the line, I think that this advice still has merit. If we do not set limits, then we are merely floundering in a sea of uncertainty. Limits give risks a boundary.

Stuntman Darrin Prescott says that he practices his stunts mentally, so that “by the time the actual situation rolls around, I’ve imagined it so many times that it feels old hat.” He says if negative thoughts creep in he starts all over again—imagining only the best outcome. The best outcome is the last thought he has before jumping off a building or setting a car on fire.

English: Annie Duke at the 2010 NBC National H...

English: Annie Duke at the 2010 NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Annie Duke is a champion poker player, so when she says not to “put everything on the line” I  believe her. She sets money aside to play poker, but risks only a small amount on each game. Duke believes “you can’t take advantage of big financial opportunities (such as a new job or potential investment) if you’re too stretched.” Taking her own advice  brought her wins in the World Series of Poker Tournament in 2004 and a National Poker Championship in 2010.

In collating their article, Real Simple had the advantage of calling on the ultimate risk-takers, but they also called on someone from the fashion world for a different take on risks. Jennifer Rade is a stylist and costume designer. While she does not deal with life and death, or huge financial risks— her advice still rings true. Her words of wisdom: “take one risk at a time” resonate outside the fashion world. Rade says “go big but not overboard”. I like this piece of advice. It is not “go big or go home”. Her approach to fashion fits a wider world view.

My risks so far this year have not been breathtaking, but I have taken a few. One case in point: In making a fruit salad to take to a friend’s house I used star fruit. Now this does not seem like much of a risk, but I had never tasted star fruit before—I just knew it looked pretty when sliced.  Perhaps it was not ripe, but though on first glance it looked appealing, the taste left me wanting. And just so you know—it turns brown after it sits for a while—so by the time it was served, it looked like dead fruit. But I tried something new—and no one said taking risks always means success!

Next month: I am shooting for a B minus and a B on my report card.

Published in: on January 31, 2012 at 6:24 pm  Comments (4)  
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Snowman 101

Snowman

Snowman (Photo credit: stevegarfield)

  We are getting very little snow in my neck of the woods–in the Sun Parlour of Canada. My little town of Kingsville is the disputed “most southerly town in Canada”.

“Snowmen are a little flakey.”  – Unapologetically Stated by ‘One for the Obvious’

The feeling of nostalgia for something is often stronger and more affectionate than its reality. Case in point: our desire for snow. I think we are starved for snow as we have only had a whiff of it so far this winter. Last Friday was the coldest day of the winter so far and admittedly, we did have some snow. But a few days later, it is being melted by rain—the seemingly one constant we can depend on this winter.

The conclusion that our yearning for snow may be more than our actual desire is not borne out by an article in The Detroit Free Press on Saturday. Most of the front page of the Life section was devoted to a tutorial on building and picking out your “personal touches” for your “traditional Frosty”. Snowman 101 actually had twelve tips on how to bring Frosty to life in various creative and to my mind, some rather far-fetched ways.

A snowman is simple: three large round snowballs stacked upwards in descending size, a hat and scarf, a carrot, some stones, a few tree limbs, a corncob pipe and voila—a snowman. If you are making a snowlady just change up the hat and remove the pipe. Okay, maybe not so simple—where does one find a corncob pipe? And smoking of any kind is probably not politically correct—so lose the pipe.

The tutorial in snowman making could stop anyone in their tracks, and make them just want to lie down in the snow and make snow angels instead. First it suggests you have to check the weather. Apparently the “best weather for good snow consistency starts out sunny and then turns to shady and cold.” Yeah, right—when I was a kid, or even a mom making snowmen with my sons, I turned on the radio to make sure that first it was going to be sunny and then shady and  then cold—seriously, how would you do that? If there is snow and kids, a snowman is ripe for the making in my books.

The second step involves rolling out the snowman’s base—is this not an inherent talent? Were those of us raised in wintry climates not born with this talent?  Do we have to be told that a good base is two feet tall? Do we have to be told that the next section should be smaller in circumference? Really? I think they had to reach to depths unknown in journalism for this article by Megan Swoyer Garbinski. Perhaps she is a junior staffer just cutting her teeth, and her editor thought she could do little harm with this article.

Megan goes on to detail where to find buttons for the snowman’s eyes (your sewing box), what kind of branches to use for the arms (“lightweight, 2 foot branches with smaller branches at the ends for fingers”), mittens and a scarf to keep him warm (he is a snowman—if he is kept warm he is no longer a snowman, but a puddle). The piece de résistance is this whimsical suggestion: “pick up a couple of faux red cardinals at any craft store. One can be for the snowman’s hand and one to perch on his hat.” My question: why not make this step a little more creative? Just train a couple of cardinals to land on the snowman. Put some birdfeed in strategic spots and hope for the best.

Okay, Megan, you were given an assignment, and as a true trouper you came through. Perhaps someone visiting from Hawaii could use your training. But this last one is even a little too “creative” for most except the most inspired and resourceful: “Consider building a big six-foot block of snow…carve the snow away (like a relief) to show a showgirl ice skating with a scarf blowing.” Sure, what a lovely activity with your kids. A showgirl? Are you kidding me?

Well, Megan wrote a whole article about building a snowman or snow-showgirl, and I wrote a whole column debunking it. Is there something wrong with this picture? Well, don’t think about it too hard, but the next snowfall we get, get out there and make a snow family, and forget everything Megan said, except for this one little suggestion I found helpful: dig a little trough out of the top of the base for the middle snowball to rest on—making your snowman more stable. Now go out there and create your own snowman—cardinals or no. Just make sure it is not raining on your parade.

Published in: on January 24, 2012 at 4:05 pm  Comments (2)  
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Butterscotch is not the new Chocolate!

Blood and Chocolate (novel)

“Anything is good if it is made of chocolate.” – Jo Brand

In the interest of covering one of my favourite subjects in the world, I have done a cursory search on  food trends for 2012. Admittedly, food trends are not my favourite subject, but food in all its lovely forms is.  One trend I found interestingly disturbing is that blood is a featured food trend for this just barely started New Year. Yes, blood—I think all those teenage angst vampire movies are getting the best of us. Perhaps we are supposed to only eat “blood” foods at twilight (sorry, couldn’t resist).

Canadian author and cook extraordinaire, Bonnie Stern provided the readers of the National Post with the culinary trends for 2012 and blood was on her list. I read her list several times to make sure that my blurry eyed reading of her column late at night meant that I was not seeing things correctly. So I looked up food trends for 2012 on the Internet, and there it was, as red as the nose on Rudolph’s face—blood is a bone fide 2012 food trend. According to my reading on the site “Nutrition Unplugged”, “blood is appearing on menus more and more” as blood pancakes, waffles, and of all things: blood ice cream. I read no further—my curiosity was curbed. Bonnie was not making this up—I wish she had been.

In her article, Bonnie (I am on a first name basis with her, though she does not know it) wisely said that culinary trends are gradual, and some “foods become part of our culture, some disappear, while others keep trying to make it” and she put the choice of what we want to keep in our laps. She said “You decide what will stay and go this year” and gave us a list she had gleaned from somewhere. She did not say where she got the trendy list—but here it is—for your culinary pleasure (or displeasure): bitters, blood, butterscotch, doughnuts, French food, grilled cheese sandwiches, heart, herbal desserts, historical recipes, hotel dining, innards, induction cooking, Korean, mackerel, marrow, McCafes, meatless Mondays on Wednesday, Nordic cuisine, rye, sea buckthorn, sous vide (method of cooking in sealed plastic) at home, salsify, sweetbreads, vegetables and wood sorrel.

Now Bonnie is trying to put forth the argument that butterscotch is the new chocolate, grilled cheese the new hamburger, and vegetables, the new bacon. I have no argument with butterscotch, grilled cheese or vegetables—but let me make this very clear—I will agree to them only in addition to chocolate, hamburgers, and bacon, not instead of. Why do things have to be left behind? And speaking of left behind, “Nutrition Unplugged” provided a list of what’s in and what’s out in the food industry, according consumer researchers, The Hartman Group. I totally agree with the site’s rejection of “nutritionism” which they say refers to “celebrating or demonizing particular ingredients at the expense of the food itself” allowing the popularity of processed foods such as potato chips with added fibre to flourish, while “whole, real foods in the produce section remain uneaten.” What I am not sure about is The Hartman Group’s “in” and “out” lists—but I will leave it for you to decide.

“Out” for 2012 is margarine, processed soy protein, low sodium, fat free, artificial sweeteners, white chicken meat, superfruits from afar, egg whites, processed factory cheese, activities trumping meal time, excessive supplements, elimination diets, treadmills, ultra lite beer, baked potato chips and wheat grass shots. So what are we supposed to replace these with? “In” for this youngster of a year is real butter, grass fed meat, sea salt, healthy fats, stevia, dark chicken meat, local, seasonal superfruits, whole eggs (cage free), The Family Dinner, fresh produce, portion control, dance/rumba, craft beer, kettle potato chips and dark leafy greens.

In the spirit of things, I bought a bouquet of dark, leafy green kale, which is supposed to be a superfood if you pay any attention to Dr. Oz at all. The question is: will it wilt in my fridge or will I find some way to work it into my somewhat haphazard but well-intentioned diet? But if there is anything I know for sure, it is that I will not be working blood into any of my finely tuned recipes anytime soon—although, if you think about it—what is gravy?

Published in: on January 17, 2012 at 5:40 pm  Comments (4)  
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On Trend for 2012

You can thank me later. Flowers and chocolates are also acceptable rewards. To keep you up to date and on trend, I am providing for you “What is In and What is Out” for 2012. Of course I am not savvy enough or sustainably “with it” enough to come in with what is in and what is out by myself, so I turn to Detroit News Design Writer, Sue Pollack, who either has the audacity or expertise or the audacious expertise to predict what will be trending for 2012, and what is to be left by the wayside.

I do not in any way agree with all her predictions, and saying that people are out of fashion is not something I approve of, but I do love 2012’s new colour of the year: Tangerine Tango. I love orange in all of its flashy glory, from yellow oranges to this year’s tangy “high energy hue” which Pollack says is turning up in everything from “appliances and ottomans to pillows and throw rugs.” She says that it is “the perfect antidote to winter blues and all the recent doom and gloom.” (I think the Mayan prediction that the world is going to end in December is the doom and gloom she is referring to.)

Unfortunately if Tangerine Tango is the new colour, then there must be an old colour—and its demise is not one I will miss. Honeysuckle pink is apparently no longer the reigning queen of colours. Now pink is not at the top of my list of favourite colours, but if it is one of yours, I give you permission to ignore tangerine tango, or unite the two in a burst of colour combination and co-ordination henceforth unknown. Will pink and orange be the new black and white? Not in my world, but if it is in your world, the more power to you.

It just figures when I finally get a pair of Uggs (mine are fake Uggs) they are out. Supposedly L.L. Bean duck boots are in. But are they made of doe coloured suede with a plush lining? I think not. I will save duck boots for the spring thank-you and cuddle into my fake Uggs for the rest of this thus far mild winter.

I have a few bones to pick with Pollack (besides the one that has now labelled me a foot fashion has-been.)  She says Nate Berkus is out and the new program “The Chew” is in. Have you ever watched “The Chew”? The high level of enthusiasm is over the top and sometimes frenetic—I think some of the people featured on that program (Carla) could give you a seizure. I like Nate’s calm, cool, and collected demeanour—by no means would I replace him.

Susan Boyle, Charlie Sheen, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver are out, replaced by Michael Buble, Ryan Goslisng and William and Kate.

Lost (Michael Bublé song)

Lost (Michael Bublé song) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Live With Regis and Kelly” is out and Dr. Oz is in. I would like to know how you get to make these pronouncements.  Has anyone told Susan or Regis that they are out? I can just imagine that call—“Hello, I am calling to inform you that you may as well roll up the rug of your life, as you are no longer “in”. You are out of favour, out of style, and may as well turn in your keys.”

As you have probably gathered, I read these lists out of interest, but not because they are a guide to running your life in 2012. If you like ski masks and small brim fedoras, recessed lighting, frozen Yogurt, country crafts, pop-tarts, Craig Ferguson, clogs, and fast-food drive-thrus, then stay true to you and do not replace them with critter caps and trapper hats with mega earflaps, hanging light fixtures, Greek yogurt, kids’ art projects, steel cut oats, Jimmy Fallon, moccasins, or food trucks.

Myself, I will mix and match my “ins” and “outs” but probably not replace them, with one rather pointed exception. For some reason, bullying was on the 2011 list and has been replaced by acceptance for 2012. I would like to know when “bullying” was ever in. It was not “in” in 2011. I imagine it was put on the list to foster acceptance—but to ever put it on a list as “de rigeur”, even in the past, is just wrong.

These lists are valuable in that they predict the trends, but better than that, they make us think about what we hold near and dear, and what we are willing to let go. I do not mind if honeysuckle pink is no longer “in”, but it may be your favourite colour, and I respect that. I am happy my favourite colour is going to enjoy the spotlight, but when it is out of favour next year, I will not abandon tangerine tango.

Published in: on January 11, 2012 at 6:57 pm  Comments (2)  
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Resolution: 2012

A hand knitted white lace sock award for gener...

A hand knitted white lace sock award for generosity made out of handspun wool- a blend of Cotswold and mutt. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“to be interesting and not bored, is to be interested…”

 Sometimes you are just in the right place at the right time.  Moments ago, I sat down at my laptop to write up my resolution for 2012  and decided to read my emails first — something many of you may recognize as a form of procrastination, but this time it paid off.  There waiting for me in my inbox, were a few words of wisdom from my sister, Peggy. We pretty well email each other on a daily basis to keep up-to-date on all the fascinating stuff happening in our lives—well her life, sometimes what I have to say is a bit mundane, but she doesn’t complain.

 This year my resolution was going  to be to take more risks. As a matter of fact right now I am taking a risk—I am wearing really warm socks cast off by my husband because they would not stay up and he was tired of them puddling around his ankles. I don’t mind puddles, because the socks are big and cozy, soft and warm. But they do not have any of those little gripper things on the bottom, so they are slippery—but in keeping with my resolution to take risks, I am wearing them anyway—though I must say I do walk a little gingerly on the wood floors. Thank goodness I am only a neat freak in my mind, and the floors are a bit sticky which makes the hazard of socks without gripper things not quite as dangerous as they would be otherwise.  I do intend on taking risks of a more fantastical nature, but I thought I would tell you of my initial success with my  2012 resolution.

After reading the email from my sister, though, I have rethought my New Year’s resolution and added an addendum to it. First I will let you read verbatim what Peg said in her email:

“Just read an interesting blog from a colour specialist…..nothing to do with colour, but about a new year’s resolution….to be more likable.  She talks about being a bit testy with others, and how she doesn’t like small talk or pretending to like someone when she doesn’t.  How she sometimes looks bored and not interested when people talk to her…..One bright follower of her blog said something that made sense….to be interesting and not bored, is to be interested….be curious, ask questions, put the emphasis on the other person.  I hope that bit of info helped the blogger.  She put herself out there, talked about improving herself, then all these great comments came back to her from her followers.  There is a lot of wisdom out there, you just have to tap into it.  Just thought I would pass that along.”

So my addendum to my 2012 resolution is to “be more likable”. What a lovely resolution, and one that while is not easier than “exercise more” or “lose weight” is much more praiseworthy. The merits of being more likeable are not only a payoff for us, but for those around us. I have always felt the phrase “does not suffer fools gladly” is a somewhat despicable way to run your life. Those who “do not suffer fools gladly” are most likely fools of the highest sort, and dare I say it, not likable.

So what is likable? That insipid word, nice comes immediately to mind, which is a word I would like to defend. There is nothing wrong with nice. Like likable it means to be pleasant, agreeable, amiable, and genial—friendly even. But adding the phrase “to be interested, curious, put the emphasis on the other person” widens the meaning even more. How many times have you listened to what someone was saying, all the while planning on what you were going to say next, instead of really listening?  I have found myself doing this—and have to literally bring myself back to the present, and be mindful that it is not “all about me”.  A real conversation is not just an opportunity to shed light on you and your accomplishments (or complaints or angst).

So this year, I am going to take more risks (beyond wearing slippery socks) and actually try to be more likable.  One could put forth the hypothesis that being more likable is a risk, because, though the word likable means to be “pleasant and friendly and therefore easy to like”—everyone is not going to like you. According to a statistic I have heard bandied about, 10% of people are not going to like you— but even so, I am going to strive to be more likable so that statistic does not rise too sharply.

Happy New Year to all and to all a good year!

Published in: on January 2, 2012 at 6:24 pm  Comments (4)  
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