Tag Archives: chocolate

My Mother the Squirrel

Happy New Year, World! I hope we can see more peace and calm and less fanaticism this year, but it’s not looking likely. However, I’ll do my bit for compassion and understanding and remember, it’s the microcosm, your neighbors, your friends and your family that can make for a more loving place.

winter, pack rat, cold, hoarder, food

Creative Commons: Zeeksie @ Deviant Art

On that note, I traveled to the frozen wastelands (as I see it) of Alberta to visit friends and family over the holidays. While I’ve been back in recent years I’ve tried to avoid winter  because it is evil and bone-chilling. I decided to brave it for the winter festivity and because my mother is 91. Two weeks I spent, and overall the weather was only -28 for about three days. The rest was in the -5 range, balmy for Alberta.

It gave me a chance to visit friends, find some long lost cousins, and do the family thing. Staying at my mother’s, and with my organizer personality, it meant cleaning out drawers, cupboards or closets. Even my sister, who might be considered closer to the hoarder personality (she moved in the this summer, purportedly with boxes to the ceiling) felt my organizer bee abilities. We were driving all over the city to do some pre-Christmas shopping and as I sat in the passenger seat of the moderately messy car, she asked me to look for her Superstore card.

purses, overstuffed purse, hoarding, pack rat

Not my sister’s actual purse but a close representation. Creative Commons: http://jewelrypurse.blogspot.ca/

Grabbing that rather pregnant purse, I pulled out the overstuffed wallet. No card. Turns out there were two other holders with plastic cards. Still no card but I started to go through her bulging wallet, putting Tim Hortons (the Canadian doughnut gods) and Shoppers Drug Mart gift cards together. There was more than one and I have never seen so many store cards before. My sister could be the goodwill ambassador for commercialism and store marketing.

In the process of cleaning her wallet I found coupons that had expired and others that soon would. There was a forest of business cards, many for businesses she no longer frequented. In fact, this mothership of store cards had very little actual cash and took up most of the room in a moderate sized purse. When I was done, there was a small plastic shopping bag full of paper. Her wallet lost several inches in girth and actually closed by the clasp.

At my mother’s it was much as it had been two year’s previously. I exclaimed, “Mom, you’re a squirrel! There’s candies and nuts everywhere.” This time, as I started to clean up for Christmas dinner, I decided to inventory my mother’s squirrel hoard. To put some of this into perspective, my mother grew up during the Depression, in a small coal mining town. A treat at Hallowe’en was an actual fresh apple, something we would sneer at today. She traveled to a large city with her friend to find work. They slept in ditches with their one small suitcase and hitchhiked to get there, when it was much safer to do so.

squirrels, hoarding, food, pack ratss

This is not my actual mother but she stores food like the queen of squirrels. Creative Commons: http://theairspace.net/commentary/squirrels/

Going through the Depression and then WWII where rationing was practiced everywhere, my mother learned to appreciate being prepared. Long before the days of Costco she hunted out food wholesalers and would buy toilet paper and other items in bulk. After her divorce, she continued her frugality, and would buy day-old bread from a bakery, up to 24 loaves, which were then frozen. She also sold Tupperware, when we were very young and I remember my brother and I playing in the large container suitcase. So yes, my mother still has nearly three shelves of Tupperware, which, by the time I organized it, was only two.

She had five knife sharpeners (and nothing but dull knives), six cheese/food graters and more pots than a restaurant kitchen. In fact, she’s never thrown out a pot or handle-less cup since I was a child. A Taurus mug that I used when about 12 was there, the handle gone. I convinced her to throw out a few pots where the Teflon was worn but then she balked at getting rid of the two aluminum, electric frying pans that she no longer uses.

In cleaning out a spare closet I found crafts going back to the 70’s; unfinished potholders and head-sized balls of wool. One partially finished needlepoint of a forest, with the bag of woo, she told me she had bought it in England during the war, before any of us were born! She’d never worked on it since. There was a pillow cover, to be embroidered that had Canada’s flag, the Union Jack. That’s how old it was. There was a three-foot plastic bin of gifts for unexpected g, which she had forgotten about. Then there were the cosmetic bags, for traveling. Two were stuffed full, then a triple decker bag, extra deep, chock full of lotions, shampoo, conditioners and other small toiletries. Some were very ancient and dead. Others half used, and many unopened. She must have gone on a burglary spree of hotels.

I cannot name all of the things I cleaned and boggled at, such as health supplements in at least four places, or the spices in pretty much every cupboard. If you’re thinking my mother is going senile, you’re wrong. She’s pretty sharp still and has always liked to keep things, lots and lots of things. Like every scrap of wrapping paper ever used (I threw out a three–foot pile some years back), or enough bulbs to light half of the city, or coats.

Purdys, candy, chocolate, food, hoarding, sweet tooth

My mother’s not so secret love affair is with Purdy‘s made in Vancouver, Canada.

All of this pales  in comparison to the food items and not just any food, but chocolates and candies. My mother shrunk this last year to 4’9″ and she lost weight. She was never overly large but stores like a squirrel. In doing the inventory, I counted every bag or container that was open on the kitchen table (her place has two kitchens,up and down but she used the bottom one for eating) or on the table by the chair where she watches TV, or on the counter upstairs. There were the nutrolls in the fridge upstairs, and then in the deep freeze there were 17 boxes of After Eight mints. She claims she can only find them at certain times of the year and when her stomach is upset the mint helps (with chocolate of course). There were also another five boxes of Purdy’s chocolates.

Purdy’s should have a plaque to my mother: I’m sure she keeps them in business. The upstairs cupboard had the main squirrel hoard. There were hard candies, contained in bags or bought bulk. I pooled many into one container. There were Scotch mints and licorice all sorts, mint chocolate bars from Purdy’s, Jordan almonds, nougat (hard as a rock), and some Italian coconut confection, a few Smarties or M&Ms. I didn’t count raisins because they’re a natural food. When I thought I was done, I discovered a container of icy squares and of Ferrero Rocher in the closet. Then, as  we pulled dishes out of the china cabinet for Christmas dinner, lo and behold there were two large bulk bags of chocolate squares and a mega box of liqueur chocolates where the liqueur had dried up.

I thought I was done but I was looking in a cupboard for a pot and lo, there was a box of chocolate covered cookies. And then I looked in another cupboard and found another five boxes, plus some other cookies. My mother was given another two boxes of chocolates for Christmas and chocolate covered cookies, plus some Italian candies. And then three days after she bought a tin on sale. She said to me that she had all this stuff because if she got sick there was enough to carry her through. I told her, “Well, Mom, if the apocalypse comes, you’ll survive it on chocolate alone.”

Readers may recall that I did the apocalypse diet a year ago, and with the food in my place (no hoards of candy) I survivef for three months without buying anything. My mother would run out of real food in probably less time than I did but then I didn’t count her dry goods staples. However, the final count of cookies, candies and chocolates in my mother’s place was…ready for this? ONE HUNDRED AND SIX! Yes, indeed. The Guinness Book of Records needs to talk to my mom.

All in all this was a lesson to me. I determined there are three levels of “collector.” I’m the curator because I have many ornaments and tchatkas (like my mother…sigh) but I dust and you can walk through my place. My mother is the pack rat, because she stores things for unforeseeable disasters, and my sister is the hoarder, who keeps more than my mother but can’t find things. It’s a fine line between them and it’s a lesson to me not to hang onto things I no longer use or need. I barely escaped without a suitcase of chocolates.

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What’s Good About the Dutch?

Dutch houses, canals, gables, history

The top of the house shape is called a gable and this hook is used to bring items in.

I’m on day 5-8 of my European adventure and I’ve learned far more about Dutch history than I ever knew before. Granted, there are still gaping holes, but I know a few things about art and history now.

My education started before I arrived with reading the guide books, probably written a few years before.  They were the Eyewitness guide to Amsterdam and the Lonely Planet guide to the Netherlands. I’ll review these books side by side later. However as I read through and forgot information the one thing that struck me was, “How could I have forgotten about the Dutch masters?” I didn’t really.

I mean, the local gallery had a show the year before (with more impressive silver work and glassware than I’ve seen yet in any of the galleries). Yet my front lobes seemed to backfire and I kinda forgot. So what is Holland known for historically? Surprisingly little of it is military. Let’s say that the great deeds of men killing each other do live on somewhat but it is the painter and writers, composers and jewellers and architects whose great works we go to see.

Holland was a great naval nation and that’s only natural when you battled back the sea to claim land and most of the country is below sea level. Flying over Holland the great canals and swathes of very flat land were visible. I never realized exactly how pervasive the canals are and even before I landed I knew the Dutch would be superior at dealing with anything to do with land and water. They’re perfect hydraulic engineers because they’ve been doing it for over 500 years.

This also gave rise to the tall narrow houses in various cities and especially Amsterdam. They were once taxed by the width of the house so people built up instead of out. Stairs are extremely steep and narrow, which means you can’t get furniture in through the door. All the old houses have a hook at the top of the house where a rope can be put through and then items that are too wide can be pulleyed up the floors. Which means, when you look at Amsterdam streets, that all the houses all tilt out and look crooked. They’re done this way on purpose so that heavy objects don’t bang into walls and break windows.

The Dutch were huge sea traders and had a huge part in bringing tobacco,

canals, Dutch houses, water, shipping

Dutch canals are in every city. This is Delft.

chocolate and spices to Europe, not to mention being great silver smiths, painters and farmers. They’re a pretty helpful bunch and they really love their beer. Oh and there are those chocolate spreads and sprinkles to put on your toast in the morning.

They also love meet and I’ve never seen so many Argentinian restaurants as in Amsterdam. Meat, steak, meat. And beer. Wine is at a minimum and cider can be found but it takes hunting.

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The Cornucopia List

Bridge in Trim Ireland

In the continuing effort to battle bad news and dire prophecies of the future about rising prices and taxes and population, wars, defects, ill will and political rivalries, I have my second installment of the Cornucopia List.

I will be continuing the list once a week with five items, ever expanding it and making me more of a shiny happy person. It will encompass everything inner and outer, physical and spiritual, visceral and ephemeral that I cherish in my life. Here are this week’s five things for which I am grateful.

  1. My Aunt Elsa, who is very ill right now. She reached across a family rift that happened when my parents divorced. Being one of my father’s sisters there was little contact with that side of the family and because I never saw my father from that day forward, the contacts disappeared. But my older brother kept in touch and one day Aunt Elsa and Uncle Fred called me up, as they still lived in Vancouver then but were about to move away. I met all my cousins but have really only seen them once. Aunt Elsa and Uncle Fred came to town from time to time and we’d get together for lunch or dinner. Elsa gave me the Anderson family tree, which I have just found. And my aunt and uncle were the only people to attend my university graduation (it being during a work day and most friends working and family far away.) Elsa has always been gentle, humorous and nonjudgmental, and I cherish that.
  2. Birds: many of them are annoying little buggers and some are downright scary beasts. But birds remind us that we can soar, that we can leave the earth. Albeit we must do it by means of devices (planes, gliders, parachutes, hot air balloons, Apollo missions) but we can do it. And even if it is only this way that we can unshackle ourselves from an earthbound existence birds help us see farther and indeed gave humans the idea of flight. They come in a range of sizes and colors and purposes from hummingbirds to condors and ostriches. They have feathers where we have skin or others have scales or fur. They are related closely in some ways to our dinosaur history and they add a natural chorus of song to nature’s backdrop.
  3. Chocolate: Yes, yes, I’m a chocoholic. I’ve done month long elimination diets and the only thing I craved throughout was CHOCOLATE! Where would we be without the ancient Mexicans (the Olmecs, Toltecs, Aztecs) and all those folk who had the cacao bean. The world would definitely be a lesser place and the Dutch and everyone else would be diminished without it. Definitely a food of the gods, the darker the chocolate the better it is, and toss in some chili or orange or nuts and it’s even better. Yes, I’m am smitten by and unequivocally grateful for chocolate. Just imagine what life would be like without it: no chocolate cake, eclairs, sauce for ice creams, chocolate bars, hot chocolate, cocoa, etc. A dull place I tell you.
  4. Writing: without it we would not be able to share our thoughts, except with a small group of people and not in a long term way. There would be an internet of pictures only. But more than that the many worlds that people imagine, the histories of nations, the stories of our lives, the workings of a myriad things would be mostly lost to us. Our history would be thinner and not as longlasting and fewer people would know of much. I can learn of events, places, things and I can curl up and get away with a tale. And I am of course grateful that I have a little bit of a gift and a lot of hard work and can write to some degree.
  5. Stars: One of my very first blog posts was about being a kid, growing up near the edge of the city and going to this empty lot to lay in the weeds and grass and stare up at the millions and millions of stars. There was less light pollution then but stars are amazing from what we can see from this angle of the galaxy. They range in sizes and colors and types. Stars make our night world brighter and mystifying, adding questions and searches to our lives. I love stars for bringing out my imagination. And no matter what we do to our Earth, there will always always be stars by the billions.

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Easter Eggs

I was lamenting this weekend that I no longer see the eggs of my childhood. Forget Easter bonnets. I never saw one and I think that was of an earlier era but chocolate Easter eggs still abound. However, we’ve hit such an era of mass production that there is little originality left in eggs unless you make your own.

I grew up in Calgary but my friend Laura, a native of Vancouver’s lower Mainland, remembers the same eggs. My mother used to order these eggs from a local chocalatier. It wasn’t even Purdy’s or Laura Secord, though I think for a brief spurt those companies had the eggs. Now, I was hard pressed to find even a picture of these beautiful pieces of culinary art.

The eggs were hollow chocolate, usually about six inches long. They were decorated with a hard icing, similar to the type on birthday or wedding cakes but this would be very crunchy. The eggs my mother gave us had a ripple of icing sealing the top to the bottom and then some flowers and leaves cresting the top of the egg. Once you cracked the egg open there were about five handmade chocolates inside resting in some shredded paper nesting.

My mother was never big on packaged or processed foods. She never used cake or pie mixes. And she did have that taste for chocolate that I’ve inherited. So these were gourmet chocolate back before there were fancy chocolate shops where one chocolate can cost you $2. Saving the top of the egg till last was the best where you could either let the hard sugar flowers dissolve in your mouth or eat the sugar icing with some chocolate attached.

These days you can enter any store and find rows on rows of chocolate eggs, ranging from the gooey Cadbury eggs to larger ones fill with Smarties or Reese’s Pieces.  But you won’t find eggs decorated with sugar icing. Once in a while there still might exist a mass produced version but it’s rare. And finding any chocolatiers that will do these eggs, that don’t cost $20 or more, is pretty much impossible. With the equivalent of wages and costs when I was a kid, I can guarantee my mother would not have spent that much money for four kids each with a unique, decorated egg each. So the cost has certainly increased exponentially.

There used to be a chocolatier of the old style in Vancouver, in that V between Main and Kingsway. He could be cantankerous but all his stuff, from nougat to chocolates were made in the back room. My friend Laura remembers eggs from him and she said you knew he decorated them because, as he got older, the decorating got a little more shaky. When he died, his chocolate shop died with him. It’s too bad.

It may be that next year I’ll try to make a few of these eggs for my friends and family because they were the true magic of Easter and the joy that the Easter bunny left.

The above egg picture comes from this lovely confectionery site. http://www.georgenick.co.uk/Foods.htm

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Rationing During the World War

I wasn’t around during either World War so can only use my imagination, history texts and those oh-so-accurate Hollywood movies for my impressions of it. My parents both had been in the tail-end of WWII. I can also take memories as my mother has told me a few stories about those times.

Velorution_vintage_poster_pin_up_giWhen I was a child my mother had this drawer in the china cabinet (a pretty old and shoddy one) that was full of stuff. It had playing cards, some with girly pinups (of my father’s), ashtrays, rumoli chips, cribbage boards, coasters and whatnot. It also had a small stack of postcards. Where they came from I’m not sure. Some were joke or funny postcards but all were illustrated as opposed to photographs. A few of these had those classic pictures of a woman, pin-up style of course, showing stockings and peeks of underwear.

One particular card I remember had a woman holding her hand over her mouth as her underwear puddled around her feet while she watched a man change her tire. I recall other cards with the dropping underwear thing and just never got it. It wasn’t until my mother told me that rubber was rationed in the war that I started to understand.

When the Japanese and Germans cut off supply lines for various items, the UK, Canada and US (along with needing various items to feed the troops) brought in war rationing as well as other countries affected by the war. Rationing lasted from 1942-47 in Canada, from 1942-46 in the US and from 1939-1954 in the UK. Obviously European countries were harder hit as they were directly in the line of fire and did not have the range of resources that N. America had.

Rubber was needed for tires and other items so it was rationed on civilian cars, but it also affected fashion. There were no elastic waistbands in underwear, nor straps on bras. And no wonder women cherished the silk stocking from France. Clothing in general, especially in Europe was rationed as well and people were only allowed to buy so much in a year and had to use ration coupons for everything. Of course rationing affected all types of food as well.

My mother told me about the problems of wearing the button underwear of yesteryear. The buttonholes were given to stretching, which often caused a malfunction of the underwear. She said she saw this well-dressed woman walking along the street one day and slowly this pink fabric began to creep below her coat. The woman stopped, stepped out of her underwear and kept walking, leaving the pink offender behind. Women often put safety pins into their underwear to secure it better. Imagine our world now, if we had nothing that stretched. That would eliminate almost all underwear out there including yoga and exercise wear, bumpers, steering wheels, tires, boots, shoes, electronics from phones to kettles, you name it.

We don’t realize how much we have and in a world of the world wars, people were cut off from various supplies. My mother also commented on chocolate and while she was stationed in England a friend was sent several squares of chocolate. Not even a whole bar. Her friend shared with my mother and they would take one small bite of chocolate. She’d stare in windows at pastries she couldn’t afford with her rations.

We live in the have and have not world now. A third world country has people who won’t read this. They’re not thinking of internets or blogs or social networking. They’re thinking of how to get another meal and finding enough shelter. In North America, for almost all countries, the poorest people have TVs and phones and several sets of clothes. They may be of poor quality and made of stretchy material that was so hard to get so long ago, but they have the essentials.  We toss out clothing that is out of fashion by a few months. We get rid of clothes that are too tight or too big.

During the war, people would have made do, or would have taken up needle and threadmake-do-and-mend to adapt. In some ways it wouldn’t be a bad thing to bring back some rationing. Too many countries are using resources at a phenomenal rate, depleting trees, water, minerals beyond our ancestors’ wildest nightmares. We waste millions of tons of stuff a year that gets sent to landfills, and yet, we want more. If our society continues to live in the more is better attitude and that a person’s success is judged by how much they accrue, well then, we certainly won’t have more in fifty years.

Everyone needs to take a history lesson, thank their lucky stars and consider how we could use those mindsets that were done for war but could be done for economy today. I’m sure I would moan with everyone else if rationing came in (where backyard gardens also flourished) but I would make do and be no worse for wear.

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The Mind and Eating Disorders

I’ve talked before about the eating disorder I grew up with. It was always accompanied with self-loathing and vows to never binge again. Those vows were always broken. I felt I couldn’t remove myself completely from eating because we obviously need food to live. It wasn’t like alcoholism, I told myself, because you can remove yourself completely from alcohol. In many ways it was just like alcoholism.

One reason to eat all of something was instant gratification. The more my life sucked the more I could find instant pleasure in eating. I could not get enough of the taste. But then of course it was the catch-22 of hating myself for eating so much, feeling fat, sometimes gaining weight (though not always because I’d cut out most other foods), being hungry, eating sugars. Around and around and around.

When I finally sought help, I couldn’t go for counselling because it’s not covered by the health care system. But psychiatry is. Psychiatrists sort of counsel but they love to give out medications. I mentioned in my other post about the Prozac and then the Fenfluramine. Every week when I went in to see the psychiatrist he’d ask me how many times I had vomited. I would say, “Remember I’m the bulimic that doesn’t puke?” It didn’t give me much faith that he couldn’t note this in my chart or get it right.

We never talked about how I felt, why I couldn’t control my eating or why I had a bad body image. We talked about my writing, in the least likely way to relate to eating disorders. He told me, oh you’ll lose weight on these drugs. This psychiatrist specialized in eating disorders and had evening sessions at his home for people to talk about their experiences. I’d go and there would be a bunch of skeletal models and me, the bulimic, the fat one. It didn’t inspire me to feel like I wasn’t the only one with my problem. Instead I felt like the only weirdo amongst the weirdos. But still, all of those models knew at least one person who had died from anorexia. I didn’t. I think I only attended one of these meetings.

It’s said that people’s serotonin levels balance how much they eat. Too much and they eat little. To little and they eat a lot. I don’t believe my serotonin levels were out of whack to begin with but with the years of the disorder I do believe that they became unbalanced and that’s why I never felt full. I don’t know if this is accurate but it did seem to change. After about a year of taking the drugs and not losing a pound, of fruitless “counselling” and seeming to go nowhere, I quit the drugs and I quit the psychiatrist.

I did realize then that in fact my eating behavior had changed. I felt full when I ate. I could now have some chocolate in the house, or ice cream and not eat it all in one sitting. I still rarely keep these things in my place for fear of triggering the disorder but I can have them in small quantities now. When I’m depressed or unhappy there is still the urge to gorge but it’s more controllable. I feel less out of control and I can rule the food as opposed to it ruling me.

When people look at an overweight person and arrogantly say, She/he should just lose some weight, they need to understand it’s not an easy thing. True, dieting in and of itself takes time and isn’t easy but there are many factors than someone judging by looks alone can’t know. There could be genetic factors such as thyroid issues, metabolic such as a sluggish one or high cortisol factors, emotional factors such as past abuses, psychological such as phobias and blocks, and other external factors. One can’t know unless they’re in those person’s shoes. And even the person dealing with eating disorders and weight issues may not know. I’m not a medical professional so I can’t name all of the aspects that could affect a person’s weight but to gain or lose weight is not always as easy as just willing it.

The brain is a powerful tool and it can kill us. People with eating disorders struggle enough within themselves. Not one, whether thin or fat, wants to be that way. They either see themselves as fat when they’re not, or possibly thin when they’re not. However, an overweight person or a skinny person does not automatically mean an eating disorder. As I said, there are other factors and some people are naturally not in what we conceive of as the norm for body size, and some are happy where they are. But one thing is for sure, the more ridicule the person with a disorder receives the harder it is for them to get to a state of mental health.

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Candy of an Era Past

It’s sunny and finally like spring out there and who wants to think. So I decided instead to write about candy.

I think that since I was a child candy has changed but I wouldn’t say there is more variety. Maybe some but overall there are just more chocolate bars, all a confection involving chocolate and nuts or chocolate and wafers. A few exceptions are the Lowney’s Eat More bar, molasses and nuts (okay so nuts are also a big part). I loved the Eat More’s for their chewiness. Over the years I think the nut content went down some and the chewiness lessened.

Twax bottleshe coolest items were these wax thumbs or lips. They were made of some sort of soft parafin wax (probably cancerous for all we knew) and filled with a sweet juice. You would bite into the wax and suck out the juice and often chew the wax, sometimes with the juice in your mouth so it would mix together. Maybe I swallowed the wax and maybe I spit it out; I don’t remember but it was sort of like a chewier bubble gum.

Gum itself hasn’t changed a lot. Different flavors, soft, hard, coated like a gumball, a stick like Wrigley’s or filled with jelly. Oooh, gold mine gum (gold nuggets in a cloth bag) and bubble gum cigars (pink, green and yellow). Most of these still exist as do jawbreakers. I think there was less of what I would call the adult gums then except for Wrigley’s, and that particular brand I haven’t seen in a while. If it’s still made they don’t seem to come in the stick packages like they used to. But then, I don’t like chewing gum much anymore because some types stick to my crown and the texture is…meh.

We used to be able to get packs of candy cigarettes (also gum cigarettes) but I think theycandy cigs were discontinued as being politically incorrect. There were two types, one at least had Popeye on the pack. The one type had almost a slightly fruit flavor and more chalky in texture though not chalky in flavor (akin to but not as acidic as candy necklaces) and I preferred it. The other was a harder, shinier white candy with a red tip. It was crunchier but not as flavorful.

There was also this long (like a ruler) flat piece of taffy or nougat, usually in the Neapolitan colors/flavors of vanilla, strawberry and chocolate. Something else was stringy and I have visions pink elephantof pulling off the strings of sugary goodness but I have no idea what it was. There were of course various licorices, including black licorice pipes and cigars, and strawberry shoestrings, which somehow tasted the best. And Necco wafers (still available in the US), each color tasting differently. The purple (lavender?) and black (licorice) and brown (chocolate) were the best. And of course there were Cracker Jacks, carmelized popcorn with a prize inside. But even better, Pink Elephant popcorn, sweet and pink and with some sort of cool prize.

Those were the corner store variety of candies. Oddly I really don’t remember the chocolate bars. There were still candy counters in the department stores like The Bay and Sears and Eaton’s. Chicken bones were peanut butter flavored, crunchy candies. Jordan almonds were nfruit slicesearly hard enough to crack teeth with the hard sugar coating. I was never big on jellies, jujubes or gumdrops but there were these orange and lemon slices, gumdroppy, sugared and with a rind like the real fruit but just harder sugar. The best part of these was that they had a tang like the real fruit. In later years they degenerated to just being sweet. And there were the little ice cream cones with a marshmallow in them.

Once in a while you can still find these things in a larger supermarket but they’re getting rarer. Which makes me believe we’re getting down to just varieties of chocolate bars. There are still chocolate shops, and a few more than there used to be. My favorite chocolate memory was of these Easter eggs my mother would give us. They were about the size of my hand, decorated in hard, sugar icing and when cracked open, had about four or five real chocolates in them. They were made by a chocolatier in Calgary and they were beautiful. I’ve seen some mass produced versions of late but they’re not the same.

Many of the corner store items still might exist. There is one store (with two locations) in Vancouver called the Candy Aisle. They specialize in nostalgic candy though sadly I don’t see most of the ones I remember. http://www.candyaisle.com/index1.html And one aspect of nostalgia that’s long gone is cost. Ahhh, the confections of yesteryear.

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Filed under consumer affairs, Culture, food, life, memories, shopping

A Case of Indulgence

This was the last of the Fearsmag articles that I wrote. I thought of putting it out tomorrow but I could be nursing a hangover, or more likely sleeping in. That’s one of my indulgences.

In whatever stage of abstinence or feeding our appetites that we managed to survive through the holiday season, we now suffer the aftermath. A new year has begun and in many cultures it becomes a time of reckoning, of cleaning our mental houses, of taking stock and changing or honing up on our past year’s progress.

Often January is a time of making too many promises and setting stakes too high. You might say it’s the time of atonement, whether you’re religious or not, for our past sins, be it laziness, overindulgence, taking on too much, doing too little, not changing, lacking stability, clinging to the past or not planning the future. We try to set past abuses or mistakes right with New Year’s resolutions. If we can whitewash the slate, perhaps we can start fresh and ignore all that’s gone before.

Or not.

Not too many years ago, I decided to stop making resolutions. After all, why set yourself up for a fall? We resolve to make these changes in our lives, often drastic ones, and wonder why we then fail to change. In January, because there’s no planning for holidays, we’re broke from spending too much and have already saturated our flesh with sugar, alcohol, salt and fat; we heroically battle our faults. Start a new year, start a new plan, start right.

And time, which is really just a big wound-up clock that we imagine, unwinds the wheel of the year as well as our plans, which fizzle by March if not earlier.

I guess I learned the lesson. Don’t overindulge through the holidays, then you won’t have to diet yourself down to the right size again. Of course, many people control themselves throughout the year and feel that this is the one time to let loose, to balance the scales even if those scales can be tipped to one side rather quickly and it takes the whole year to get back there again. To indulge or not—the fear to let go, to take the plunge.

We have set ourselves a tricky quest in this new century, as in the old. We want to have it all but we don’t want to wallow in it. Gourmet chocolate shops, delectable world-select coffee bars, elite watering holes holding alcohol from every exotic locale, and the finest clothes made of wondrous fabrics not seen since the Egyptians wove cotton, abound in many countries. We surround ourselves with splendor, covet what we don’t have and continue to search for the most expensive, exquisite or unique of today’s fads.

Well, what’s wrong with having the best, of rewarding ourselves for what we’ve accomplished? Nothing, but those that have too much, who can acquire whatever they desire, who have sailed to the highest pinnacle and hover there, are watched by the heaving millions with envy, jealousy and ridicule.

Like Icarus and his fateful flight toward the sun, we view movie stars, singers, politicians, the famous, the rich and the powerful as those who try for godhood and will fall back to the earth. And like scavenging vultures, we wait to pull them down or help them on their descent. Each and every person wants what is rightfully theirs, perhaps more than a fair share and will seek it out. All of us would like to indulge. Those that do are loved at first. We hold them like beacons in the darkness of our obscurity. They shine as examples of what can be done, of what-ifs made real and that some people can have it all. Yet, if they stay too long in the flame, we burn them with our scorn. We hold their lives up to that oh-so-bright light and examine every pore, every crack, every flaw.

Michael Jackson is no longer a rising star. His comet is falling and he receives as much ridicule as adoration, not for his music but for his life that, like any one of ours, cannot stand the polished gleam of godhood for long. Let’s face it, people are hypocrites. It’s all right if I have it, if my loved ones and friends have it, but if others have it and I have to watch for too long, well that’s just not right. Just like the dog that’s done his business in the wrong spot, eventually he gets his nose rubbed in it. Those who have and indulge end up rubbing our noses in it. Not the same as the dog. It’s not necessarily intentional, but many people see this material flaunting as the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-nots. And perhaps there are the unspoken messages that we really don’t like to hear: Could I have done more? Am I doing anything with my life? Will I amount to anything? Does anything I do matter? Will I be remembered after I die? Why have I failed when others have succeeded?

So it is that to indulge, in more than one culture or religion, is seen as a sin, a luring to the dark side, a vice. Indulgence in itself is not necessarily bad. You can indulge someone, let him or her cry, or rant or be a little crazy once in a while. It makes you look magnanimous, open-minded, loving. Having a little chocolate or getting looped or dancing the dawn into being is okay, once in a while. But do it all the time and you become a pig, a dilettante, a bohemian, a hedonist, a self-centered creature. The names abound.

In the end, our indulgences are our own but it’s our society that really let’s us know what’s not right and what is considered overindulgence. So, don’t make a resolution, until you’re ready to, whether it’s January 1st, March 19th or November 23rd. In the end, it matters only to you, and society, your friends or other forces like your body will tell you when to change. Indulge a little but don’t parade it in front of others. And before you indulge, ask yourself, with just a little fear lacing your veins, am I ready for what it will do to me and how others will see me?

Happy New Year. May your indulgences keep you healthy.

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Weird Pets

rabbit, bunny, pets, Dutch rabbit, animals

Dutch Rabbit Wiki Commons

The other day we got talking about the weirdness of some pets. I have a friend whose cat will eat any flowers she brings into the house. One of my cats loved bread and would eat a whole loaf if he could. Another friend had a cat that loved fruit. It’s known that cats will eat corn, olives and melon. What appeals to their taste buds, I don’t know. But other animals can have just as many odd habits.

I grew up in a household that had dog, cats, rabbit, budgie and guppies (a turtle at one point too). My particular pet was the rabbits. I had several successive Dutch rabbits. They remain small with (the most common colors of) grey or black hindquarters, white upper torso and black ears with whtie on the face. The paws, including the hind ones will usually be white. Kind of the same as the tuxedo cats.

In Calgary we kept the rabbit in a hutch outside. It had free run of the fenced yard during the day and when weather was really cold, we’d bring it in though it probably would have been find in its hay. Rabbits are easy to train to use the litter box and are fairly calm though if they’re startled the sharp digging claws that they sport can do some damage.

I think I had three rabbits in all but maybe it was only two. I remember Snuffy and then the male. My mother named him after the Minister of Highways because they were both odd. I didn’t know what she meant at the time but now might hazard a guess.

Gordon Taylor was a bit different for a rabbit. Rabbits are naturally timid, but Gordon had to stand up to his own with two cats and a German Shepherd. In the summer I’d see one of the cats chasing the rabbit around the yard and whereas this might give concern to some, we soon learned not to worry because the next few seconds would see Gordon chasing the cat around the yard.

It could be that the cat was running in terror because Gordon, true to his species, was a very amorous bunny. I don’t know if he ever tried to hump the cats but we have pictures of him hanging on the Shepherd’s tail (all that he could reach) and trying to make mad passionate love to it. The dog pretty much rolled its eyes and ignored him.

Gordon’s odd penchants ran to food too. As I teenager I would sometimes eat a raw wiener (why on God’s green earth, I don’t know) and one day I was doing this and holding Gordon. He leaned over and took a giant chomp out of the wiener. I stood looking down at him in shock, saying, You’re not supposed to do that. You’re a vegetarian.  Not only did he swallow that piece but he took another bite.

Gordon also was very fond of chocolate. We had to put him in a kennel once when we went away. I greeted him with a chocolate bar, which he nearly swallowed whole. I didn’t know then that chocolate isn’t good for animals, especially dogs, but if it did Gordon any harm, he never showed it.

Being a cocky little rabbit with a big dog attitude, Gordon also loved to race around the yard. Sometimes he’d kick up his hind feet and squirt. I don’t know what this signified but he did it to me once. I was so mad I picked him up and dunked him in a tub of cold water. He never did it again.

Gordon died mysteriously, his neck broken. We don’t know if a dog got into the yard (ours would have said something) or if he hit the fence. He wasn’t savaged and his skin was unbroken.

I stopped having rabbits for pets after the last one died, a little female, in a way so gruesome I still shudder (and won’t relate here). But after that I said no more. Rabbits rarely died natural deaths and it was too much. Still they were gentle and interesting pets and definitely had their individual personalities and predilections, like Gordon Taylor. He gets to go down in history as one of the quirkiest pets I had.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dutch_rabbit

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Eating Disorders and the Forbidden Food

I grew up with an eating disorder. It’s not that I wanted to be a super skinny creature after seeing too many anorexic models and movie stars. I didn’t want to layer myself in cushions of fat to keep the world at bay. Really, to this day, I don’t know what my reasoning was but I know I had no control.

The background is that my father sexually abused my older sister and me. That leaves a lifetime of scars. I don’t have statistics before me but I know in the past that I’ve read that something like 80% of people who were sexually abused have eating disorders. Cause and effect.

For me, it was a bit of a different style. I wouldn’t starve myself, but I would binge, but never throw up. I was missing that second half of the bulimic equation. Mostly, from such an unbalanced diet, I would get diarrhea and purge that way. Anorexics and bulimics might take Ex-lax or stick their fingers down their throats to vomit. Mine was more natural. I tried the throwing up thing once and couldn’t do it.

No one ever binges on lettuce or carrots. It’s sweets and carbohydrates; junk food and fatty foods. I was put on a diet by the doctor when I was about 12 (my eating disorder began around the same time). I remember nothing of what I was supposed to eat, except sneaking down to the freezer in the basement and pilfering cookies. When I was in my late teens/early twenties, I would buy candies from various stores. Like an alcoholic, I would try to not hit the same store twice in case they started to recognize and judge me. I never had any change in my purse because I used every spare cent for sugary crap.

Once I was going off to dance class. (I was living with my boyfriend but I hid my sweet secret from him too.) I had a bag of smarties (or something similar). I threw it in the dumpster when I left for the class but when I came home, I dug it out, ashamed but unable to stop myself. No one knew I had this eating disorder. It was a dark secret, a terrible stigma. When I moved to Vancouver it continued, in my home, when alone. I ate normally in front of people.

I tried diets several times. But my pattern of not eating much and then binging on a full bag of cookies, a box of chocolates, a carton of ice cream, continued. Diets worked to a degree, until one year. I tried Weight Watchers and gained in the first week. I hated myself. I weighed 175 lbs, more than I’d ever weighed, I was single but all my friends weren’t, and I’d fallen in love (accidentally) with a man who couldn’t love me. I nearly became an alcoholic, recognizing that abyss only when I was hanging over it by a thread.

Finally desperate enough, I went to my doctor and said, “Some of my friends think I have an eating disorder.” She said, “Which friends?” I said, “Well, me.” Then she asked if I’d been sexually abused and I burst out crying, while at the same time I sat there and watched myself cry, feeling odd and disassociated with my reaction. She sent me to a psychiatrist who specialized in eating disorders. He asked me if I’d been sexually abused and I had the same disassociated reaction. At the end of that first session he said my eating disorder had nothing to do with being sexually abused. ??WTF? Then he put me on various meds like Prozac and Fenfluramine, and then Fluvoxamine when the first didn’t work. He promised that I would lose weight. I never did.

The counselling of course was nil and I’d go to his evening sessions with all the skinny anorexic models and me. At least I hadn’t known someone who died from their disorder, like they did. One thing I had never felt when eating was full. That mechanism had malfunctioned and I would only feel full when I’d binged so I never stopped eating soon enough. The medications, which made me somewhat zombie like to my friends, did not aid in losing weight, but did in fact seem to bring in that mechanism of feeling full. A year later, frustrated with the lack of progress with this doctor and with the unending pills, I just quit both. What I found was that I could now eat and feel full. Something had changed.

A year or so later my doctor asked me how I was doing, did I still binge? And I said, yes I did. She asked me what I considered a binge and I said eating two or more chocolate bars in a day. She told me everyone does that once in a while. What I then realized was that it had never mattered how much I ate but how I felt when I ate: I hated myself for having no control and then I would be was out of control.

I sometimes still get that feeling and it scares me when it happens. I unfortunately still have a sweet tooth, but I eat way healthier, and don’t have to eat all of something. If I’m depressed I tend toward hiding under chocolate. I have to watch that. I might have suffered less and had fewer sensitivities to foods now had someone given me the right help early enough, had my father not scarred my psyche, had I not been ashamed.

I was talking once with friends and the subject of comfort foods came up. I couldn’t name one, because for me, there had never been comfort in food. Just trauma, guilt and self-hatred. These days, I can take comfort in a few foods, like Lipton’s chicken noodle soup, but I never feel I can let my vigilance down because that eating disorder is still just around a corner.

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