Saturday, April 19, 2014

The flowers that bloom in the spring tra la!

My apologies to Gilbert and Sullivan (and maybe the weatherman), but I'm humming a little tune myself today. The temperature is 10 C (50 F) and we have bright sun. Woo-hoo! A few hours of
warmth brought those crocus buds out all over the flower beds. There are 10 or 12 clusters of purple blossoms so bright and cheerful that they are easily visible from our second story windows.

I went down about 1:00 (what a difference from yesterday's blizzard!) and worked in the first bed to the right as you approach the building. This is the one which gets the most sun and therefore is farthest ahead of any of the beds.

There was a single dandelion, which I yanked out, but happily as I pruned back old growth and cleared away leaves I found that at least one of the roses I planted last year survived. Sadly the one the landscaper took his gas-powered trimmer to in the fall appears to have died of outrage. In this climate you do not prune roses in the fall but in the spring. He was only supposed to neaten up the shrubs but he got a bit enthusiastic with those trimmers. By the time I got downstairs to shoo him out of my flower beds the damage was done.

But there are some Oriental poppies coming up, and several shasta daisy plants. It looks like some of the white swan echinaceas may have survived and surprisingly several of the dusty miller made it through the winter, when they are sold strictly as annuals here.

So far no signs of life from the sage or the "Little Rocket" ligularia, which you see in last year's bed. I followed the directions on the ligularia's pot, which said "plant in full sun, water sparingly" and now I'm reading that ligularia likes shade and wet feet. sigh…. That is a spectacular plant. I'll look for another one and plant it in a more suitable location this year.  What I'll put in its place is a question - maybe some very well-staked delphiniums.

I pulled back all the leaf litter which was mucky with mud and pruned the potentilla. I've finally got the potentilla down to nicely shaped four foot globes, when they were eight feet of mostly dead wood with green tips to begin with.

By this point I'd had it my feet were beginning not to pay any attention to what my brain was telling them to do. I just about did a face-first header onto the sidewalk when I caught my toe on the edge of the walk. Thankfully there's a bench there and I grabbed it.  I'll leave the rest for another day.  

Friday, April 18, 2014

If you can't trust your weatherman….

Who can you trust? If I'm going to be paranoid about "the government" I know which branch I wouldn't trust with Grandma's recipe for pound cake.
I'm pretty sure the people over at Environment Canada have it in for us, or maybe they just have a weird sense of humour.

It was a reasonably warm plus 4 C (39 F) yesterday afternoon so I went out to inspect the flowerbeds on either side of the main walk. There are still some lingering snowbanks and the newly-exposed grass is the most awful mess you ever saw, grey and slimy-looking.

The flower beds are covered with a carpet of sodden leaves and sad stalks and sprigs of last year's growth, but there are also many green spears of purple crocus popping up (some with fat purple buds).  The osteospermums are emerging and the heartleaf bergenia (aka elephant ears) looks as if it didn't even notice we had a winter. The other thing that's up already are dandelions, lots and lots of dandelions.

Despite these early birds, I'm sure we've lost a lot of plants this winter. Time will tell but we had record cold for weeks on end and almost twice as much snow as usual. The snow from the walk gets shoveled onto the flower beds, which in itself isn't be bad, but it's laden with the salt that's put down to melt the ice on the walk, and that is most definitely not good.

But, since the weatherman was predicting a warm sunny 13 C (55 F) tomorrow I decided to run to the WalMart this afternoon. The weather man said there was a chance of showers, but the temperature was supposed to stay well above freezing. So when I went out about 1:00 I was surprised to find that it was snowing very lightly; tiny flakes which couldn't decide whether they wanted to be rain or snow.

However, by the time I'd finished my shopping I realized my trust in the weatherman had once again been misplaced. Here I was, no hat, no gloves, in a flannel-lined windbreaker, and there was a blizzard blowing outside, with huge, globby flakes falling so thickly you couldn't see more than 100 feet ahead of you and a howling wind which just stood still and blew from every direction at once.

I loaded my shopping into the car, then got out the snow brush and cleared the windows and the side view mirrors, all clotted thick with snow. In that three or four minutes I was soaked to the skin. By the time I had my seat belt buckled both side view mirrors were completely clumped over again. I rolled down my window and cleared the one on the driver's side with a handful of tissues and directed some unladylike phrases to the one beyond my reach.

I know the route home, and how to avoid driving it where anyone can come up on my right. It would have to do.  Nonetheless half way home I had to pull over, get out and clear the side view mirrors (and the side windows) again. It's like the car was a magnet and we were driving through a storm of iron filings. But that's spring snow for you, half snow, half Elmer's Glue.

The weatherman has now changed his prediction for tomorrrow to partly cloudy and 9 C (48 F).  I'm not sure whether to trust him or not. With his record we may have an iceberg headed our way. 

Sunday, April 06, 2014

The Thermometer Has Fainted!

For the first time since … well, I am so old I don't last remember when it was +9 C (48 F ) outside, and it's forecast to be 17 C (62 F) tomorrow, though I have lived in Calgary long enough to know that weather forecasters here are given to hopeless flights of fancy when their brains begin to thaw out after four months of -35 plus (or rather minus) 20 degrees of wind chill. 

But like any Calgarian the slightest sign of Spring thaw is enough to send me reeling to the bookshelves for my stack of gardening books, and to have me feverishly checking what kind of plants will grow here, beyond the ones I have planted (which have surely succumbed to the God-arful winter we've just had). Ah, and a gardener's lot 'tis a hard one here.

Tulips do well, but all winter I've seen ominous little tracks in and out of the snowpiles over my garden beds, and I'm not including the size 11 clodhoppers of the e-jit who lives down the way on the first floor and is too dumb to find his hallway door, but who tramps out his patio door, across the frozen lawn and through my carefully tended flower beds to the sidewalk. Goodbye ferns, hostas, and coral bells because I'm sure the lout has smushed yer roots to moosh. He kicked the fence aside every time I put it back up. I weeps.  

But back to the dainty claws of the squirrel that I suspect has been raiding my bulb larder all winter. It's probably one of the reasons I'm getting fewer, and not more, tulips each spring, when they should be multiplying like mice in a grain bin.

But the thing that springs most vigorously anew each spring in the heart of the gardener is hope, and with it new gardening plans. I won't deny I've had some problems the last couple of years. Aside from the stinkos who can't be bothered to walk around, rather than through the flower bed, I lost half my plants the first year to drought. Worse, the landscape company hires kids who don't know a weed from a flower. I fell last July just as things began to bloom, and could not be out in the garden to supervise. So if it had a flower on it they left it. If it wasn't flowering they pulled it. Which means the yellow alfalfa and Russian thistle were left to get six feet tall and they pulled the day lilies and the thymes, the Oriental poppies and the blue catmint the minute they quit flowering. 

I keep wandering off track, what I'm really trying to tell you what my plans are for this year. The building's main entry is in an inside corner which faces northeast. It gets ferocious morning sun for three hours, sun that would peel an egg. The rest of the day it is in stygian gloom. The right side won't even grow grass, it has just a thin slick of green moss, the slimy-looking stuff that grows on the bottom of old wooden buckets and under your grandma's porch.
The sidewalk was formerly flanked at that point by seven foot high shrubs of an indeterminate variety which hung over the sidewalk by three feet and dripped black aphid snot all summer. Last spring we dug them out and I replaced them with some beautiful sages and a Midnight Lady Ligularia. All in all I had a decent showing of flowers in the beds, and a magnificent showing of weeds.

This year I have decided to tackle the beds themselves. I'm going to add a row of barberry shrubs at the back of the bed which is being used as a walkway. Barberries have a beautiful red leaf to accentuate which will tie in nicely with the flowering plum nearby, but they also have inch-long thorns and not easily traversed. Specifically I want to plant either Berberis thunbergii ‘Rose Glow’ or  Berberis thunbergil 'Cherry Bomb' because both get about four feet high and have a lovely fountain shape, as opposed to the ground-hugging varieties which only get about two feet high.

But the beds are where I want to make the biggest changes. Once all my perennials have emerged I want to place landscape cloth down and cover the beds in mulch and rock. I want to place larger stones along the edges and an occasional larger grouping in the beds themselves where I can tuck in some alpine plants. And that right back corner? I'm still thinking about what to do with that, but from the nearest downspout, I'd like to run a dry stream bed into the flower beds.

Big plans, now I just need to twist some board member's arms for the money and hired labour to do all of it. :) 

Monday, March 31, 2014

It's Not Only Justice Who's Blind

Okay, today I'm working off a riff, or I think that's what I'm doing - my ability to use cool slang is somewhat limited so I may just be planting my foot firmly in my mouth saying that. But I read a blog called Rolling Around In My Head and today's post included the following paragraph. It will probably make more sense if you read the entire post, so you can do that here.

"I know that I wish some people would allow people with disabilities the honour of having expertise in our own lives, having voices which need to have prominence in some areas and having vital information to add to any discussion about disability. Too often I see disability discussed as either a professional or parental concern. While those viewpoints are valuable, I don't disagree there, but they have to be tempered by and sometimes seen as secondary, and sometimes negated by the voices that speak from lived experience."
Cartoon by Kim

Reading this makes me think back to a conference for patients with a certain group of inherited neuromuscular diseases.  Experts in these diseases are booked as speakers. These are scientists who study the genetics in the lab, clinicians who see and treat patients, therapists, you get the drift.

A major complaint among patients is that the description of symptoms found in medical journals and textbooks is too limited. While descriptions used to be broader and more accurate, a few doctors with their own agendas have overwhelmed the field in the last 20 years. Their work has made it much more difficult to get a diagnosis, which is devastating to patients, because until you get a diagnosis you don't get treatment, and when you don't have treatment the disease slowly but progressively destroys your muscles.

At this particular conference an expert was standing before the audience expounding on his views. He is not a clinician, in other words he does not see patients or treat them. He studies muscle fibres removed from patients and draws his conclusions from what happens in a petri dish to a single muscle fibre.

He said, "Patients with (name of disease) have no problems with speech or swallowing."

The moderator stood up with her microphone and interrupted him. "Excuse me Dr. X. Did you say patients have no problems with speech and swallowing?"

He looked at her and said, "Yes, that's what I said."

She turned to the audience of perhaps 150 and asked, "Can I have a show of hands of patients with X who have problems with speech and swallowing?"

About 30 hands went up. She turned back to the speaker. "Dr. X," she said. "Are there any questions you'd like to ask these patients?"

He looked at her for a second before saying, "No," and continuing with his presentation.

Patients are not given the respect of having expertise in their own lives, of having vital information to add to the bank of knowledge about their own illness. We are too often told we cannot have this symptom or that one because the doctor says we don't. Progress is negated by "professionals" who not only have no physical experience with what they study, they refuse to listen to patients who do.

I think medicine has it wrong, at least in my field. It's justice which is supposed to be blind, not medicine.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Right Livelihood?

“Right livelihood,” is one of the cornerstones of Buddhist philosophy. That’s basically how you make your living and how you produce goods and services. The primary rule is that you harm no one, and increasingly it is interpreted to mean that you cause no suffering and no harm to the environment. There's a compelling and thoughtful discussion on "Right Livelihood" on Bill Moyer's blog here that is worth the few minutes it takes to read.

And never was it more needed.  Our rampant consumerism and growing inequality between rich and poor could lead to the collapse of Western civilization according to a new NASA-funded study written up at The Guardian’s Earth Insight blog. The study looked at the factors that have caused civilizations to collapse in the past and makes a compelling argument that we may be headed in that direction.

By investigating these past cases of collapse, the project identified the common factors which explained civilizational decline, and which may help determine the risk of collapse today: namely, Population, Climate, Water, Agriculture, and Energy.

These factors can lead to collapse when they combine and generate two crucial social features: the scarcity of resources compared to the size of the population and the division of society into two classes; the Elites [the rich] and the Commoners [the poor].

These two social factors have played “a central role in the process of societal collapse,” in all such cases over the last five thousand years. Currently, these factors are seen in our own global society at high levels with "Elites" based largely in  industrialized nations increasingly consuming  the greater share of the earth's resources, leaving the workers who do the physical labour that produces the wealth allocated only enough resources to maintain life at subsistence level.
In the scenarios the researchers studied, the “elites” were the last to feel the effects of the collapse, which, at first, were only apparent to those beneath them on the social ladder.

The wealth of the Elite means that they are protected from the worst effects of the collapse until much later than the Commoners, allowing them to continue  with business as usual despite the impending catastrophe. The same mechanism, they argue, could explain how historical collapses were allowed to occur by elites who appear to be oblivious to the coming catastrophy. 

As Marie Antoinette is said to have remarked when told the peasants were rioting because they had no bread, "Well, let them eat cake!"

For an increasing number, there is neither bread nor cake, nor hope.

Read the entire article at The Guardian.

A Wedding Day

This month's KIVA loan goes to Manushak, who is in her late 40's.  This is the second time we have loaned money to Manushak. She paid the first loan back in full and on time and we are happy to make this second loan for a very special reason.

Manushak is a widow who was left with three children to raise alone. She has no higher education and over the years she has worked very hard to give her children a decent life, doing all kinds of work. She worked in a factory and in a kindergarten. For several years she sold clothing from a booth in the market. Now she has her own small business selling fruit and vegetables at the city wholesale market.

Manushak’s daughter is now married and lives with her husband. Her younger son is a student. Her elder son helps Manushak selling fruits and vegetables in the Kapan market. He also financially supports his mother and younger brother by using his car to provide taxi service.

Manushak is very proud of her son. He has grown up to be a very kind, decent and solicitous person, and he feels a great responsibility for providing his mother with good living conditions. Manushak asked for a loan of of about $1,000 in order to pay for her son’s wedding reception, and to buy gifts for him and his pretty bride. She wants to make their wedding day memorable and wonderful.

We are proud to help this loving mother provide a happy day for her family.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Free from Suffering

There are days when the world's pain is almost too much to bear. The news this past week has been horrific, and promises to become even worse.

In all of these terrible situations there are good people, people motivated by love, working quietly behind the scenes to ease suffering as best they can but we ask ourselves again and again, "Why do we hate each other so much?"

What is it in us which can so easily be manipulated to dislike, mistrust and despise each other? This isn't just a problem at the national and political levels. I've had ample opportunity in the last year to see how small, initially compatible groups of five or six people, working on a common goal, can be twisted into a ball of razor wire by one person determined to cause chaos, who does not mind sinking to lying and deceit to achieve their goal.  

Power, or even the illusion of power, is addictive. Lots of people get a dose of crazy when they are given power, even in a relatively small group. Without an extremely skillful leader discussions soon degenerate into power struggles which have no relevance to the issues, especially when you have a person who constantly stirs the pot of controversy.

Having served on two boards of directors in the past several years I have deep compassion for politicians and diplomats who strive to keep the peace when faced with power-crazed ego-maniacal autocrats, dictators, tryants and warring tribal leaders.

Which is why I found the following hymn of compassion from Lewis Richmond's book, Aging as a Spiritual Practice so very useful.

May I be filled with loving kindness
May I be free from suffering
May I be happy and at peace

May we be filled with loving kindness
May we be free from suffering
May we be happy and at peace

May all beings be filled with loving kindness
May all beings be free from suffering
May all beings be happy and at peace

Of course we know that we ourselves, the "we" of our families, and all beings are not filled with loving kindness, nor are they free from suffering, happy and at peace.

But this is what we long for, for ourselves, and everyone, even those who sow discord. Acts of cruelty and hate do not bring peace, but deeper suffering to those who inflict them. Even a "victory" won by violence brings guilt to the perpetrator. Guilt may be hidden under bravado, but the pain it causes is still there.  

And this is my prayer for all, from the Taliban strapping on a belt of explosives to the board member who sows discord and mistrust to further a personal agenda.

May we all be filled with loving kindness
May we all be free from suffering
May we all be happy and at peace

Because if we were - truly - how could we hate?

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Wrestling with fear and anger

The Buddhist monk Thanissaro Bhikkhu writes, “The Pali word for forgiveness — khama — also means ‘the Earth.’ A mind like the Earth is nonreactive and unperturbed. When you forgive me for harming you, you decide not to retaliate, to seek no revenge.

You don’t have to like me. You simply unburden yourself of the weight of resentment and cut the cycle of retribution that would otherwise keep us ensnarled in an ugly samsaric wrestling match. This is a gift you can give us both, totally on your own, without my having to know or understand what you’ve done.”

This is a hard concept for Westerners to wrap their heads around. We've been brought up to believe that justice is only served when you can exact "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth".

Even if we don't take this concept literally we have the cockeyed notion that by staying angry with someone who has angered or wronged us we exact some cosmic payment from them, when it's exactly the opposite. Our anger and bitterness exact a toll on us, on our level of satisfaction with life, and even with our health.

We've all met people who can't let go of a grudge, a slight, an exchange of heated words. Years later they are still fuming as actively as they were five minutes after the incident happened. They are never free, they constantly rehearse all the ills done them over the years.

I experience this to some extent myself, and have to watch myself when I start leaning in that direction. Because my two primary genetic illnesses are "invisible" without careful examination, I've been on the receiving end of some pretty vicious remarks from physicians who were not well-informed on my disorders.

Because of many negative experiences I now have a real reluctance to go see the doctor, even when I need to do so. I keep thinking about those people who were cruel to me, and I wrestle with fear and anger over the years when I had no treatment, and doctors who called me a sympathy seeker, or a faker. But I'm working on it.

What a relief it is to be able to lay that burden aside. It doesn't mean I believe that what these people did was right, or that I do not still feel hurt when I think of their cruelty. It's just that when I do think of those times I visualize those feelings of resentment and bitterness as anchors chains I'm dragging behind me with each step and I make a conscious decision to let go of the chains of and allow them to drift away, carrying their emotional baggage with them.

I wasn't to blame for what happened, but the past is gone, and it can't be changed. I am now setting myself free from their guilt. This is a gift I'm giving myself.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Adventures in Genealogy - Autosomal DNA

Most family trees have a few nuts

Several companies now offer Autosomal DNA tests for genealogical purposes. An Autosomal DNA tests looks at the ancestral DNA of both parents of the person being tested. This means you see both Mama and Daddy's parents, grandparents and those before them, and also the descendants of the great-great-great grandparent, etc.

So you don't see only a straight line of descent, but you also may have matches with people who descend from your 3rd great-grandmother's sister, whose married name you do not know, and whose 4th great-grand daughter's married name you do not know.  

Autosomal DNA is the long-time genealogist's dream come true, if you know how to use it.  Personally I can't rave about it enough. It's allowed me to identify the parentage of my 3rd great-grandfather George Perkins, confirm a long string of ancestors I'd done the paperwork for, confirmed that I am 1/10th Native American, and that ancestry is shared between three different grandparents. It's allowed me to confirm that my 3rd great-grandfather Levin Clark was Nanticoke Delaware, as we believed all along. I've learned that Winston Churchill was my 10th cousin as was Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Now, along with my pirate Haymans I have a 9th or 10th great-grandmother who was convicted as a witch during the Salem witch hysteria. And at some point in Colonial America I have a set of great-grandparents, one of whom was Native and the other African, parents from South Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa. One of my next quests is to locate that couple if possible.   

Unfortunately most of the people I've encountered haven't a clue how to use Autosomal DNA. Those who have done genealogy a long time usually grasp the concept more quickly, but those who are just beginning and thought a DNA test would provide an easy trip to the genealogical heaven of royal ancestry (or whatever their goal) is have learned:

1) that autosomal DNA does not come with surnames attached.

2) the family tree is not built by the test.

3) that they should pray they have an avid genealogist in the family who has a well-researched and documented family tree, and that they can be induced to share it.

4) that it takes hard work and a good deal of time to find the match between two persons or families who are more than two generations apart.

5)  that there very well may be a "surprise" or two  (i.e. illegitimate child, adoption, or a racial heritage one did not expect) in one's tree. 

So how do you start if you have tested and don't know where to go next?

1) Register with Gedmatch and upload your raw data. You'll be given a kit number when you register. Write it down.

2) Build a spreadsheet. This can be a table in a txt document or any spreadsheet program. Unless you organize your matches and keep track of them you'll soon be drowning in a sea of jumbled information.

Here are the headings I use on my spreadsheet:

chr #  beg  end cM  snps  GM#  OCM  Name  Notes

chr# is the chromosome number the match is found on. Your matches should be put on in order beginning with chromosome 1.

The "beg" and "end" are where the matching segment begins on the chromosome and where it ends. These should placed on the sheet in order from the lowest number of beginning segment to higher, so on chromosome 1 my first match is at 2,492,640 and ends at 247,174,776. The next match starts at 3,669,635 and ends at 7,490,355. The third begins at 4,058,815 and ends at 11,694,927. These are always ordered by the position of the beginning segment.

If your relationship is a close one you will probably share segment matches on more than one chromosome so OCM stands for "Other Chromosome Match". I share segment matches on seven or eight chromosomes with several close cousins. The OCM column is how you keep track of that.  

In the SNPs column record the number of Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (single units of DNA) you share. Under 500 is insignificant, unless you know the person is related. Since SNPs are shuffled with every generation you lose the larger segments in a roughly calculable order.

You share about 50% of your SNPs with each parent, 25% with each grandparent, 12.5% with each great-grandparent. In theory by the time you are back to your 3rd great-grandparent you expect to see only about 1.5% of their DNA in an unrecombined state and this may be too small for the tests to pick out. In practice this does not always work out. Some DNA segments seem to stick together for a longer period of time. I have a robust match with a man who shares a set of 8th great-grandparents in Bath Somerset UK in the mid 1600s. Despite intense searching we can't find any other shared ancestry. Our 7th great-grandparents were a pair of brothers.

On the other hand I have a very small match with a 2nd cousin I know well, whose great-grandmother was the younger sister of my grandfather. I do not match her brother at all, though my son does.

On the spreadsheet GM# stands for GedMatch number. GedMatch is so useful that I can honestly say I'd not have accomplished much of anything without it. For one thing anyone who has tested with any of the companies that do autosomal testing can upload their raw data to GedMatch which gives you a pool of several million people. GedMatch generates a fresh list of who you match every time you log on, showing you where you match them, who *both* of you match (this is called triangulation), how many generations apart you are, and about two dozen different utilities unavailable elsewhere. These are all free of charge. The site is run by volunteers, but be fair. When you sign up donate a few dollars to cover the costs of running the servers. I appreciate their services so much I donate to them on a quarterly basis.

The Name column should be self-explanatory, this is the name and e-mail address of your match.

Notes - here's where I put the relationship once I have worked it out. Usually relationship and last common ancestor(s).

Keep in mind that a match from a couple (say gg-grandparents George and Betsy) could be from either (or both) of them. To separate out whether the segment came from George or Betsy you need to find a descendant of George's parents or sibling, who was not married to a relative of Betsy's. For example when I finally confirmed the parents of my very elusive 3rd great-grandfather, George Perkins, it was through DNA matches.

First I matched segments with descendants of two men who were documented in census records and his will as sons of Jacob Perkins and wife Elizabeth Cole Perkins. Then I was able to identify which DNA belonged to Perkins by matching segments with a descendant of Jacob's great-grandfather, Isaac Perkins who had no Cole ancestry, and I identified the Cole ancestry in the same way, by matching segments with a Cole relative of Betsy's who had no Perkins ancestry. (It probably goes without saying that I really love analyzing data.) 

The spreadsheet will be "thinly populated" to start with, but as you begin to identify matches it becomes clear that people who match the same segments as your "Smith" cousins A and B are going to match the Smiths or one of their ancestors. It becomes a process of you and your match comparing trees for common ancestors.

As a rule I won't work with someone who is unwilling to meet me halfway and do their share of the research. Nor will I play 20 questions with someone who won't give me a basic dropline or is unwilling to let me see their family tree. Here's an example:

Background: From sharing genomes months ago and GedMatch I know this person's ancestry lies within my father's maternal line. Our exchange went like this:

Them: Can we share genomes?

Me: We shared our genome information months ago. We match on Chromosome 17, these segments xxxxx - xxxxx. That segment matches my father's maternal line. Are any of the following surnames familiar to you? [list of surnames]

Them: I have a Kelly from Ireland. You have a Kelly on your profile. Was your Kelly Irish?

Me: I have only one Kelly in my tree. She was born in Dorset UK in 1747. I recently found their marriage certificate and learned she was the 2nd wife of my 4th great-grandfather. They were in their 60s when they married and had no children. So she couldn't be our match.

Did your ancestors live in any of these places? [I listed the places my father's maternal family lived (all in southern states) including Carroll County Arkansas.]

Them: Were your Carroll ancestors Irish? I have Irish Carrolls.

Me: I have no Carroll ancestors, that was a location, Carroll County Arkansas. Do you have a dropline or family tree I could look at?

Them: I have a tree on It's private. You can't see it.

Me: I'm sorry I can't be of any more help.

I was so frustrated by this I got up and vacuumed my floors. So it's all good. I was going to try to mop too but no one else asked me another sufficiently exasperating question, and I ran out of energy before I got to the mop bucket. Now I have to sweep again before I can mop since the "enfant terrible" has, as usual, rolled in the litterbox and carried clay litter everywhere. I don't need to do his tree to know he's got a bit of the Devil in him. 

But, if you are interested in learning how to do genomic "mapping" I'm happy to answer questions. Please feel free.

Monday, February 24, 2014

February's KIVA Loan

Our KIVA loan this month goes to Sharifa, a 34 year-old married woman with four children. She and her family live in a sector in Jordan called Wihdat. Several years ago her husband was called to serve in the Jordanian military, which put a great financial pressure on the family.

Sharifa decided to try and help solve the financial crisis she and her husband were facing by opening her own business. She decided to start a small food market in front of her house, where she now has been selling food products for two years.

She now needs to buy a larger quantity and variety of products to expand her business and earn more profit in order to improve the family's living conditions and to provide her children with a good education. But she didn't have enough money to expand her business, so she has applied for a loan from Jordan's National Microfinance Bank, which is funded by KIVA.

Jordan is a small country located in the heart of the Middle East’s Levant region. Regional instability has caused Jordan to be excluded from global investments for decades. Additionally, a lack of natural resources—including water and energy—places tremendous strain on the Jordanian economy, over 80% of which consists of small one and two person businesses, largely in the service industry. Despite their importance in the economy, many of these businesses are excluded from the banking sector because of their size.

Microfinance institutions like National Microfinance Bank offer their clients an opportunity to enhance and expand their businesses. NMB also offers its services to other underprivileged peoples in Jordan, providing them with loans to pursue educational goals and improve their homes and livelihoods.

We are so fortunate to be able to help hardworking mothers and fathers provide for their children. Please consider becoming a KIVA partner! 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Gold, Silver or Bronze?

Here I am, made disconsolate by the piles upon piles of snow we've had this winter and the never-ending minus minus cold with plus plus 90 mile an hour winds straight off the North Pole. It is warmer there than here and except for a trip by taxi to the mall and a shopping trip with elder son who picked me up at the front door in his big 4 x 4 tundra-capable vehicle I haven't left the condo since Jan 10th.  Oh I lie. We had a condo board meeting at a restaurant last week. I rode along with another member. So I have been out three times since Jan 10th! All three times I walked down the cleared sidewalk to the curb.
The reason I am in, rather than out, is because I am afraid to cross the parking lot to get to our little red car. That parking lot is slicker than the speed skating surface at Sochi which I just wish for God's sake the CBC would shut up about. Yes, I know Canadians are totally enamoured with skiing and hockey and speed-skating and bobsledding and the whole winter sport thing, but the CBC seems to think there's nothing else going on in the world except the Olympics.

Here's an actual transcript of this morning's newscast:

"28 killed in Kyiv protests overnight, and CANADA picked up THREE more gold medals at Sochi. Now, from London, Shanghai, Buenos Aires, downtown Burbank, St. John's Newfoundland, Paris, Mogadishu, Saskatoon, a remote village in the Amazon Basin, from atop a pile of burning tires in Kyiv, the summit of Everest, the Marianas Trench, AND Putin Square in Sochi - our reporters are here to tell you  at agonizing length 17 different versions of how their childhoods affected their reactions to the women's bobsled team winning gold, and their psychological trauma at our skaters only winning silver medals in figure skating…" 

Commercial break …. for funeral insurance, pills that give 12 hour relief from arthritic pain or make your pecker stand at attention, and for walk-in-tubs for the elderly and disabled. (Commercials vary by time slot - as you may guess, 10:00 am is aimed at the retired crowd.)

Sochi coverage recommences: More of what we said before, yada, blah, blah....  

Meanwhile the crawler at the bottom of the screen recounts the number of dead in volcanic eruptions, genocide and revolution in several countries, the discovery that the groundwater of entire states is now contaminated by fracking, floods are devastating England, a drought is threatening food production and drinking water in California, several politicians are convicted of crimes against humanity, it's snowing in St. Petersburg FLORIDA and 78 degrees F in St. Petersburg RUSSIA.

And yes, I get crabby like this every time the Olympics come around. I know the athletes work hard to be able to accomplish these feats of skill and strength, and I am not critical of the athletes themselves, but if we put the money and effort that goes into the Olympics into the world's energy, health and food crises we could solve those problems.
Every host city has turfed the poor and vulnerable from their homes, built the hugely overpriced buildings on the site and then robbed their citizens blind through increased taxes for 20 years to build Olympic venues and turn them into armed camps. Montreal hosted the Olympics in 1976, and just paid the last bill for it last year! That's 37 years to pay for two weeks of chest-thumping.  One hopes Montrealers are still warmed at the hearth of Olympic memory.  (As an aside: Has no one else noticed that the Olympic Flame in Putin Square looks like a huge erection with a flame spurting from it or all we all pretending we don't see that? I never know what to think in these situations, but I know it's not polite to mention so I probably won't say anything.) 

What I really want to ask is - Why not a "We Have to Live On This Earth" Olympics?  Let countries compete for gold, silver and bronze medals for developing solutions to the pressing problems of humanity rather than pouring billions of scarce dollars into arenas where people can skate really fast, or do flips in the air.  Of course we all know this is crazy talk, but you've read this far. Might as well finish the page.  

There could be a "competition cycle" of 12 years, with three divisions. All strategies would be public domain open-source, so they could be used, expanded, built on, manipulated, refined, etc.

Year 1 of the cycle)  Teams compete to medal for gold, silver or bronze in the development of strategies to produce commercially viable sources of clean, renewable energy.

Year 4 of the cycle) Teams compete to medal for gold, silver or bronze in the development of strategies to grow healthy food for people within 100-200 miles of where they live.

Year 8) Teams compete to medal for gold, silver or bronze in the development of strategies which communities could use/adapt to insure that the health, education, nutritional  needs of all its citizens are met. 

Year 12) The cycle repeats: Teams compete to medal for gold, silver or bronze in the development of strategies to produce commercially viable sources of clean, renewable energy.

Sport has value. It provides motivation for physical activity, is a binding force and an outlet for competitiveness. It provides a lot of joy, but when the glorification of sport takes precedence over  providing the necessities of life for a country's citizens and becomes a financial burden on its most vulnerable then it's time to reassess what is truly important.

I'm done. I've had it with the CBC until the Olympics are over. Good luck to the Canadian athletes, they've worked hard and I am genuinely moved when I see how much of themselves even those who do not qualify for a final try at the medals have invested. Many of them are wonderful examples for our children, but it's now time to also do our best for the world we live in, not for profit, but simply for the love of doing good, and for the love of all humankind.