Saturday, December 31, 2011

Year of the Road Trip

I like looking back at year end, to see what happened, what registered as being important. It's all part of setting myself up for a new year, new adventures.

Biggest of all in 2011 had to be the road trip in The Rattler. Coast-to-coast and then some, exploring North America. If you'd like to follow along with our travels, click here to see where they began.

I saw so many places I’d never seen before - Amelia Earhart’s birthplace, the Grand Canyon, the Outer Banks of North Carolina, the Royal Tyrrell Museum...

Even better, I saw so many friends I hadn’t seen in years – Bob, Betty Joan and John...

Best of all, everyone in my family stayed healthy - with appetite, desire to go places, do things.

And as kind of bonus, I had a new book published, fiction at that – a new step for me.

It seems a good time to count the good things that have happened. It's probably a good way to start gathering more good things for 2012. Try it.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


A quote in a friend's Christmas card has had me puzzling for an answer. The query she posed (from a novel by Colm Toibin) was this: "Tell me something you are sure is true..."

At first it seemed easy enough, but the more deeply I thought on it, the more difficult it became.

But because one thing is pretty-much-true -- this is my week 'off' -- I've been playing at another kind of puzzling. I'm hoping by week's end, I'll be able to reclaim my table for more substantial things than 'puzzling' with pieces of jigsawed cardboard.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Return of the light

In this time zone (PST) the winter solstice occurred twelve hours ago. From here on in, so long as the clouds aren't too thick, there'll be more light in the sky each day, leading us into spring towards summer.

Those of us who observe the Solstice aren't the only ones lighting our homes. The menorah candles are casting light for Hanukkah (Chanukah); trees and windows and eaves bear coloured lights.

These traditions seem to be so ingrained, it's almost as if they're part of our genetic heritage. But whatever reasons we have for illuminating our homes, light brings hope and joy to our celebrations.

Whatever you choose to do this time of year, enjoy!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

An early visit

Look who I spotted!

He was just arriving at a local day-care centre. I must admit I was a little surprised to see him stepping out of a car (snowy white, at least), and I asked him where the sleigh was. He explained that the reindeer weren't feeling very well, so he'd let them stay home to rest up for the big night.

This sighting was almost as exciting as when I was little and came home from the Santa Claus parade with this lie for my mother: Not only had Santa waved to me, he'd called out my name in greeting. Wasn't I the lucky one not to get a stocking full of coal.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The good, the bad, and the sometimes-ugly

The past week has seen the deaths of three people who represented each of the attributes above.

The good, Vaclav Havel. Man of the arts, leader of his country as it moved out from under the Russian thumb. If ever there were a combination of intelligence, creativity and integrity in a leader, he'd get my vote.

And then there's the matter of the unquestionably bad, Kim Jong-il. It's hard to think of a leader who might present a greater contrast to Havel than this man. Dictator, suppressor of human rights, threatener of nuclear war -- how awful could one person be? And oh yes, the propaganda about him was always amazing, like the story of his first game of golf, when he shot the Superman score of 38.

And then there was Christopher Hitchens. Although he was no world leader, he certainly exerted a broad-reaching influence with his books and other assorted writings. And though his work was always thought-provoking, he did express a few sometimes-ugly opinions. To my mind, the worst was his support of the unnecessary war in Iraq that G.W.Bush created. (If only that trillion dollars could have been put to better use.)

And while Hitch certainly didn't expect any kind of afterlife, who knows what conversation might be if these three were to meet up? Wherever they may be (or not be), may they rest.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

What's so smart about smart meters?

I haven’t been able to figure out what, exactly, is supposed to be so dumb about the old ones.

They seem to track our power use just fine. BC Hydro hasn’t complained that it’s not tracking accurately, so what’s the trouble?

Supposedly the new ‘smart’ one will let me know when I’m being wasteful. Only hang on, I can figure that out. Or, if I’m not sure, I can go outside and look at the meter. If it’s whirling too fast, I know there must be something on that’s eating the power. The clothes dryer? an electric heater?? something to check, or maybe turn off?

One goal of the new ‘smart’ ones might be to make a bunch more human jobs redundant. Yet even that won’t be much of a savings. Meter readers don’t make big-time wages, and most of them now serve double-duty, reading gas meters at the same time they check the electricity consumption.

Oh, Hydro's got their promo up and running (what did that cost us?) and even claiming this will make our power cheaper. But if that's the case, why were they seeking a rate hike? Maybe to pay for these? Meters that a lot of people seem to not want?

Many groups and individuals have posted information about the perils posed by these new devices. Here’s a link to more information. Here’s even one with information about how to replace your ‘smart’ meter with an old one; this same article also contains links to forms for making official complaints to Hydro – and more.

The old meter that’s outside my house still seems to be working just fine.

Whatever happened to the concept, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ Or, is this just some deal cooked up between BC Hydro and the company that supplies these? Because if it is, I suppose that might qualify as some kind of (even if dirty) ‘smart’.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Not-quite-winter walkabout

The calendar says December. The morning sun is so low in the sky, it enters the window almost horizontally. Easy to see that Solstice is near.

Today was cool, but without a breath of wind -- perfect for taking a long, lazy walk.

Thursday, December 01, 2011


I’ll bet there’ve been times while you’re paying for a purchase when someone has asked, “Would you like to give $2 to the food bank? ...breast cancer research? ...your local hospital?”

Of course you would. You’re a good person. But wait a little minute before handing over your money.

Next time a cashier asks whether you’d like to donate a couple of bucks to X or Y charity or noble cause, think about where it’s going and why they’re collecting it.

The first place it’s going is into a bundle of dough handed over by kind-hearted souls like you. And the supermarket (or Post Office or other fill-in-the-blanks corporation) is holding onto it, counting it, and getting ready for the day THEY get to donate it to charity. Such presentations are often accompanied by plenty of frou-frah – frequently, even a photo op for the local paper.

They’re using YOUR money, then getting the credit. And that credit is not only of the feel-good variety, but also the tax credit for making a charitable donation.

If this practice annoys you, don’t take it out on the cashier. That person has been directed to ask – in fact, MUST ask every single customer, and can be reprimanded for not doing so.

These days when I’m asked, I say: I’m sorry you have to ask me to make a donation. I prefer choosing my own charity and then making a direct donation – that way I not only know where it’s going, I’m the one getting the tax credit, not your employer.

And where it’s just turned December, this is a good time to think about who you’d like to share with, where you’d like your charity dollars to go. Without the coercion of yet another corporate ploy.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Power out, wicked thoughts

It was windy last night, and this morning the power was out, knocked out sometime before dawn.

Wickedly, one of my first thoughts was that with the router down, I wouldn’t be able to get on the Internet. No emails to read or answer, no intrusions from Facebook. A morning to do whatever I felt like, not what anyone else might be asking. 

Even now, typing the words, I can feel my shoulders going down, as I think about crawling back into bed and reading by the light coming in through the window...

Oh, and the significance of all those phones? I bet if any of them were hooked up to a landline, they’d work, even if the power were out.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Writing down the demons

Dawn. You can almost see the spirits, rising in the cloud.

This was another of those weekend writing retreats at Matsqui penitentiary.

The word 'penitentiary' -- a place for penitents to deal with their sins -- in other words, a place for showing regrets.

One of the most interesting aspects of this weekend's discussions was the nature of the issues facing writers, both the inmates and those of us who live outside the walls (are we 'outmates'?).

The number one demon facing all of us is the many-headed monster of doubt. I call it many-headed because it whispers to us in so many ways, telling us we have nothing to say, that our thoughts are far too mundane. How it tells us we should give it up, that it's pointless trying to put our feelings into words.

But that's where the strength of group enters the scene. We were able to remind each other that we do have things to say, and that we each have our own way of doing so.

So, those spirits rising out of the clouds -- were they malevolent? Probably not. Were they real? Absolutely.

But we dealt with them, harnessed them so we can carry on, after the group experience comes to an end.

And with that in mind, today is a day for using that harnessed strength and putting words to page again. Simply because that's what we do.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Chasing the snow away

Transit is usually my mode for getting to Vancouver. Only, sometimes it just doesn’t work -- the bus or train doesn’t go where I need it to go, or the timing means the car’s the only way.

Last night was one of those times – only wouldn’t ya know, it turned out to be the day for Vancouver’s first dusting of snow.

It’s always a treat when that first icing of white decides to decorate the North Shore mountains or Mt Baker. But when it comes down onto the plain that is the city and environs, the thrill quickly fades.

The day's trip was for a cause – a downright writerly one. An afternoon meeting with my ever-helpful writers’ group, supper together, then a dash across town to the delightful Prophouse Café for an event in the Twisted Poets Series.

It felt like a heck of an honour to be reading with Michael Turner who is, after all, the only writer I can think of who’s had a book of poems made into a feature film. And of course, he didn’t bite. In fact, he bought me a drink. He was a perfect gentleman and read from a range of work that encompassed the whole of the city and then some.

The poets who read at the open mic were amazing as well. From Dennis Bolen’s explosive work to the night’s closing reader, Miguel Burr (a finalist in the 3-Day Novel Contest, a poet who even provided back-up tunes), it was not your average open mic event. Many were very skilled poets, poets I know we’ll be hearing more from – Eva Waldauf, Shannon RayneTimothy Shay and of course, the evening’s organizer, Bonnie Nish.

I’m grateful for venues like the Prophouse and White Rock’s Pelican Rouge. Especially in these arts-endangered times, they provide a lot more than coffee. Food for the mind, food for warming the soul. Warm enough that when I came outside to leave, although there was a dusting of the white stuff on my car, the roads were clear and fine.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Food from Mars?

No, but it sure looks as though it’s from someplace other than earth. Don't you think so?

Although there seems to be some dispute whether it’s cauliflower or broccoli, the experts at least agree that Romanesco is in the family brassica.

It was just one of the treats I found at Port Townsend’s winter version of their famous Farmers Market.
I offered the Romanesco as crudités to accompany homemade homous, then used the rest of it in a stir-fry.

So far at least, no little green horns growing from my head…

Friday, November 11, 2011

Ones of a kind

When we started our big crazy trip last year, the place we began in was just across the line in Washington state. We’re taking advantage of the long weekend, and gone back across that invisible line of the border, spending a few days in one of our favourite places by the sea, Port Townsend.

Readers of this blog will know that I often observe ways to make new beginnings – whether that’s observing the formality of January first, the beginning of September, or my birthday. Besides revisiting the spot where our tour began, today presents another kind of new beginning.

Unless our calendar starts over at zero again, or we get a new kind of year that contains 22 months, we won’t have another day where we can write the date with only a single digit – and not just in this particular lifetime – ever.

I feel especially hopeful for this particular round of new beginnings, partly because we attended a very different kind of ceremony to observe this always-significant day, November 11th.

We joined in with the locals and attended a midday observance at the local Legion. A fabulous band played wonderful music, the speeches were thoughtful and respectful – and best of all, every speaker seemed to focus on peace.

Peace, that’s my kind of new beginnings (and hey, the free lunch, complete with yummy desserts was pretty all right too).

Monday, November 07, 2011

November Ferry to (and from) Gabriola

I can’t think how many years it’s been that I’ve been meaning to read Malcolm Lowry’s novel, October Ferry to Gabriola. And I suppose for at least as long, I’ve been meaning to actually take the ferry there myself.

Yesterday, I accomplished one of those goals, finally visiting this seemingly hardest-to-get-to Gulf Islands.

It’s all but impossible to get there as a foot passenger, as the ferry to Gabriola is nowhere near either of the arrival points from the mainland. Luckily, I was travelling with a friend, so expenses were less of an issue and I drove.

We were there to take part in a reading for the League of Canadian Poets -- a benefit to raise funds memorializing the poet (and painter and writer of prose), P. K. Page. Here’s my colleague and co-reader, Sandy Shreve, hypnotizing the crowd with her poem about crows.

It was one of those crisply perfect autumn days. We even got a quick show from a few orcas in the bay.

From what I’ve been able to learn in reading about Lowry’s book, the main character doesn’t quite make it to the island. At least I’m lucky enough to say that I’ve finally set foot on Gabriola, even if this visit was much too short.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Anniversaries and other observances

There’s something about November that lends itself to remembering. And it’s not just the fact of Remembrance Day on the 11th.

Even the words form a kind of imperfect rhyme: ‘November / Remember’.

On a happy note, today is the day to observe the 75th birthday of our national public broadcaster, the CBC. Even people who don’t listen to it mostly acknowledge the value of having such a system in place – and commercial-free at that! I can’t describe the many things I’ve learned or been entertained by or fascinated by – just by the sounds that come out of that little black box in my kitchen.

Today is also the day we still celebrate our friend Miki’s birthday. We even ate some wild mushrooms with our supper in his honour.

But that flame in today’s image is also there to observe the anniversary of Norman Morrison’s self-immolation. Technically, he wasn’t the first to take such drastic action, but he did it outside the office of then-Secretary of US Defense, Robert McNamara.

Morrison’s death marked another turning point (or maybe it was a ratcheting-up point) in the rise of the movement that helped bring an end to the Vietnam War.

Thinking of that brave 31-year-old (far braver than I will ever be) renews my faith in the idea of hoping for change. And while I’m not extolling any more self-immolations, I am firmly believing in the power of the people, especially as represented by those who comprise the Occupy-Wherever forces. May they continue speaking out, and continue to do so with the voice of consensus.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Silly and fun

... and easy. Those are usually the best Halloween costumes. The ones that come together, often at the last minute. Bits of this, a little of that, with something in-between.

This is the hat I wore for my costume as The Magnetic Poet (yep, it's a metal colander -- will go back into service for pasta soon, I am sure).

With a small metal clipboard on a string as a necklace (with words magnetized onto it too), all I had to do was put on some silly clothes. A red sweater, an orange skirt, red gloves, a red-and-orange get the picture.

Oh, and a bag of more magnetic words, which turned into a group-effort poem on my friend's fridge.

Happy Hallowheeeeen!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Bounty of an autumn walk

It's amazing -- all the treasures that pop out during this, the harvest season of the year.

Like one final push before the frosts get hard, these little beauties appear in multitude.

Today's walk revealed (front and centre) chanterelles, (behind those, towards the left and upward) several varieties of boletes, (far left and far right) parasols in various stages of opening. The curly black ones just behind the chanterelles are the wonderfully textured helvellas. The rusty-orange pile on the right is simply my scarf, which got pressed into service as a 'container' when I ran out of bags to fill.

Most of these mushrooms will get eaten fresh over the next few days. The rest will get dried (five racks of the dryer are already filled with parasols). They'll nourish our palates (and memories of forest walks) all winter long.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Tales of the 351

I can understand if you’re having trouble figuring out what the image is. I’m still scratching my head as to why these things have to happen.

It’s a pic I snapped the other night on the #351 bus home from town.

The Canada Line is all swish and swell, and the driverless trains just keep a-comin’ till somebody shuts 'em down sometime well after midnight. But because connector buses to the southern 'burbs have a drastically cut schedule (down to only one per hour) after 11pm, the line-ups for the buses just grow and grow as the trains blindly bring riders to the changeover station.

Plenty of concerts and other events in Vancouver start around 8 (movies often at 9 or 9:30), so it’s only logical to see that many riders will be starting to head home sometime after 11. But some brainy administrator (who’s obviously never stood outside in the cold waiting for a bus) seems to have determined that everybody who lives past Richmond must go to bed by eleven.

Sure, there’s a bit of an overhang for shelter while you wait, but that’s it. And nary a toilet in any Translink station, so hang on!

Because the bus I was on (11:50 pm) was only faintly illuminated, it was hard to tell just how many passengers were standing. My best count (I did it twice) was over 30. With the number of seats on the bus (47) and the number standing – even if my head count was off, we were well over the stated capacity (60).

I’m grateful the driver was willing to take all of us, and that he didn’t want to leave anyone behind in the cold. As he pointed out as he asked everyone to keep moving back, “We don’t want to leave them out there for another hour.”

He drove smoothly and carefully, and a number of us thanked him for squeezing us all in. I guess we were just lucky that pretty well everyone on the ride that night was nice and slim!

Translink doesn’t seem to think there’s a problem with their scheduling. As of last contact, they have ‘no plans’ to add more late-night buses. Guess we better get used to this – and hope that all the drivers on the line are willing to bend the rules for the sake of riders on the 351 route.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Theatre in the 'burbs

Despite the cleaner air and somewhat lower costs of living, life in the suburbs lacks a number of elements.

Number one on the list would have to be the choice (or lack thereof) in opportunities for professional theatrical productions.

Happily, the Surrey Arts Centre runs a satellite series of productions based out of Vancouver's Arts Club Theatre. Last night's show was the season's kick-off and wow, did it rock!

Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story starred Zachary Stevenson (whose pretty much note-perfect voice was certainly convincing as Holly), but it was the work of the whole ensemble that made the performance the event that it was.

One of the elements that emerges from the show is the depth of Holly's genius. You can't help but hear how much his music influenced the Beatles, a band who patterned their name after Holly's group, the Crickets. (And where do you suppose the Hollies got their name?)

I have to say that the sound in the newly renovated theatre last night sure beat the tinny speakers on the old 'hi-fi' record player I used to listen to, playing those 45s over and over while my mother quietly went crazy.

It's just too bad I couldn't take a photo of the performance, though I can't imagine my camera would have caught the high-end energy of all that talent. Still, for a preview, here's a link to the trailer.

The Surrey show runs until October 28th. A link to tickets is here, as are listings for other performances in other 'burbs and outposts in B.C.

Sometimes life in the sticks ain't so bad after all.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Occupy Vancouver

The movement I first witnessed last week in Taos has come to Vancouver, the city where it all started, with Adbusters Magazine. Crowd estimates vary, but when I was there in the afternoon, the people gathered outside the art gallery were definitely in the thousands.

It probably helped that the sun was shining. The day felt glorious -- like the start of a very good thing.

Speakers were amazingly eloquent, the crowd delightfully polite. One of the issues addressed was free (or much less expensive) post-secondary education, so graduates don't need to go out into the world with a debt load bigger than mortgages than used to be. The fact that government rarely seems to listen to listen to the people or even heed data was another (as in the current build-more-prisons-faster mania of the Harperites, or their tear-down the Ministry of Environment as fast as the ozone hole grows philosophy). Joblessness, homelessness -- the issues exist and can't keep being swept under the rug.

This movement may indeed be the change we've all been waiting for. Fingers crossed as we go forward, towards better lives for all.

And from the number of tents set up on the north side of the gallery, it appears that quite a number of people plan to be here for the long haul. As the old saying used to put it, 'Power to the People'. Maybe it's time.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Small beginnings

The lazy-looking little stream above is part of the famous Rio Grande. Hardly looks very 'grande' but I guess everything that's eventually big starts out small.

This tiny demonstration in Taos, New Mexico (yep, there were only three people when we drove past) is the first I've seen in the Occupy Wall Street movement.

I suspect that, like the Rio Grande, small beginnings will be leading to greater things.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

On being led...

I like it when I seem to fall into good things, especially when each of those good things leads its way into another. That’s kind of how this trip to Santa Fe came about. The Dear Man was off to a photographic conference, and I managed to come along for the ride.

When we got here, one of the first brochures he spotted was advertising a writers’ festival. Since he knows I’m not a big-time shopper, he knew this would be exactly what I'd want to do.

Because Friday’s first reading didn’t start until 4:30, I had plenty of time to stroll around Santa Fe’s beautiful downtown. The place is almost an embarrassment of arts and culture – there’s far too much to take in on one short trip. Still, I did my best.

Although it’s probably best known as Georgia O’Keeffe territory, the galleries, museums and shops here are filled with all sorts of treasures. The handmade quilt in the photo above was only one of the many spectacular items I saw.

Walking through an underground mall of gallery shops, I spotted a number of fine Japanese prints. Falling into conversation with the shop owner, I learned that he was hoping to travel to Japan – and that when there, he hoped to make a documentary, revisiting sites referred to by the famous haikuist, Basho.

From there, it was on to the New Mexico History Museum, site of the writers’ fest. Owing to cold and rainy weather, the readings had been moved indoors, to a room holding an exhibit called From a Distant Road. It’s a remarkable exhibit of modern haiga by Santa Fe poet, John Brandi. The exhibit is rounded out by photographs from New Mexico’s Photo Archives, and these in turn are matched with excerpts from the work of – who else – Basho.

It was beginning to feel like an abundance of those serendipitous signs I love receiving; they always make me feel as though I’m in the right place at the right time. This feeling was only confirmed by the readers who followed.
Besides reading from her beautiful book, My Thin-Skinned Wandering, (even the title seems Basho-like), Piper Leigh showed us a kimono she had made. The kimono itself is a poem; the text is embedded within the sheer cloth – a gorgeously innovative way to present the work. More of what she'd probably call a "high-touch artifact" (a term she used in describing her book).

Then, when the next reader, Renée Gregorio (one member of the group Tres Chicas) stepped up, she took me only further into my day of happenstance. In fact, the coincidences were getting so thick, the day was beginning to feel like one of those Russian nesting dolls. She thanked the audience, then indicated her comfort in the venue, pointing out that the poet/artist whose work adorned the walls is her husband.

Today’s skies are blue, and the crows are calling for me to come out and play. Really, how can I possibly say no to them?

Thursday, October 06, 2011

An e-Sign of the Times

Yesterday was a travel day. It was only two flights, but there were far too many airport shuttles, and way too much sitting around.

In the waiting area at LAX, I couldn’t help noticing how just about everyone was hooked up to some sort of electronic device. Most of them were talking on cell phones, texting, or playing games to pass the time. Several were reading – but from Kindles or other e-readers.

Aside from a couple who were reading from old-fashioned print newspapers, I only spotted one other person reading from a traditional print-format publication. Ironically, he was reading Wired, the magazine that's all about e-communication.

And then, later the news, with the day's final irony: Steve Jobs, the man who had initiated so much of this, had died.

Even if his devices mostly seem to start with an ‘i’, he certainly did a lot to extend the bounds of our physical world to the one we inhabit now, a decidedly e-world.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Peace in the forest

This was a weekend for a different kind of retreat – a getaway for doing nothing in particular.
Just the two of us, off and away. No alarm clock, no agenda, no computer.

Even the weather co-operated (mostly), allowing us to take lazy strolls through the bush. Aside from encountering several piles of bear scat, we appeared to be the only mammals around. We were on our own, alone in the midst of all that woodsy beauty. Even the air seemed to carry a tang of green.

The trees were filled with birdsong. The streams were full of salmon, splashing their way towards home.

And hidden under the softest green moss were the golden treasures of the season, the chanterelles. A bounty to bring home, to enjoy and to share.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Word on the Street was…

Windy. As you can see, the winds were so strong, the Poetry Tent was deemed unsafe and had to be dismantled. There it lies, collapsed on the ground, and while you can’t see them, the poets are mostly wandering around, wondering where and when their readings will happen.

Wet. Mid-afternoon, the rains began. Booksellers especially were scrambling to cover their wares. Protected venues and indoor exhibits saw bigger-than-ever audiences.

Waiting. This was especially for the poets – still waiting (and wondering) when the readings might resume, as various alternate areas each in turn proved to be unavailable.

Warm. There’s a special kind of bond that emerges when a group is oppressed. And while the 'oppression' involved was hardly worthy of the word, there was a lot of great bonding as the throng of poets gathered in Translink’s Poetry in Transit double-bus. The powerless vehicle served as rain shelter for over an hour while the powers-that-be continued trying to find a venue for the long-postponed readings.

Wonderful. And yes, the poets finally convinced the WOTS volunteers that even without light or amplification, we could each take our turns reading a poem or two.

Wildly successful – an assessment that would likely be echoed by any of the thousands who partook in this always well-attended annual Vancouver event.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Retreat means renewal – of spirit, body and mind

By definition, the word retreat suggests a withdrawing. In my case, it meant withdrawing from the mundane tasks of ordinary, everyday life: dishes, cooking, laundry, newspapers, phone calls, plants that need watering – you know how long the list can be.

It was a withdrawing with a purpose, as a way to make time to focus on writing. While it may seem extreme to get in the car and literally go away for such respite, it can be a hugely valuable experience.

Beyond selecting clean clothes for the day (from the limited wardrobe in my suitcase), there were pretty well no decisions to make.

And being freed up from making decisions is amazingly liberating. Even when the decisions are as small as ‘What should I get from the freezer for supper?’ they take up valuable mind space that could be used towards more productive ends. There wasn’t even the matter of deciding what to watch on tv, as there wasn't one.

It became easy to focus on what I wanted to accomplish. Aside from being lured toward the lake for contemplative walks, there were really no distractions. Besides, moving my feet often helps me move the wheels in my brain. Those walks were the source of many ideas and useful insights.

It probably helped that the site of this retreat was such a calming, peaceful place, nestled beside a lake, in amongst so many trees.

It probably also helped that the food there nourished not only my body, but also my sense of aesthetics, which in turn fed my imagination and creativity. The salad in the picture was only the first course in one of our many fabulous meals.

I also found it nourishing to be in the company of four like-minded companions. During the day we kept silence and worked intently.

After supper, we spent our evenings discussing what we’d written, offering workshop comments to each other.

But those evening also saw us engaged in spectacular conversations, the likes of which I probably haven't had since university days. God, the meaning of life, our views of an afterlife, secrets...These discussions were like the best slumber party I ever attended, and we didn’t even have to stay up all night to get to the good parts.

Getting in touch with ourselves seems a sensible thing to do now and then. Whether we have a specific goal in mind (such as writing) or simply want to relax and un-stress, quiet ‘away’ time can provide a remedy to the demands of everyday life.

Besides being a word that suggests a withdrawal or stepping back, it’s also worth considering the ‘treat’ part of the word retreat. I look forward to the next time I can ‘re-treat’ myself this way.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Still time

If you think you’re at the wrong blog, you’re not. This isn’t What’s fer Supper, it’s still the big limb. And the photo isn’t even supper, it’s lunch.

No, I haven’t gone all fancy with noonday meals. I’m lucky enough to be away on retreat, so there’s a whole staff of kitchen workers pulling off these daily miracles.

And miracles they would absolutely seem to be if any of us were unfortunate enough to live in the drought-stricken areas of Africa.

Yes, this writing retreat is all about being silent and still – experiencing ‘still time’ to quiet the thoughts of the noisy world and focus in on the writing.

But it’s also 'still time' in that there are still a couple of days when the federal government will match donations we make on behalf of the starving children, women and men who had the bad luck to be born across the world from where we live.

The CBC website serves as a clearing house for a number of charitable groups. Of course, you may well already have your own favourite charity.

We have until the 16th to get in on the promised matching funds from the government.

I hope you feel this cause is as important as I do. And that maybe you’ll look at your next meal a little differently, perhaps with more gratitude for all you have.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


For too many months, the city of White Rock has felt grey and dreary -- and it hasn't had anything to do with the weather. So many shop windows are papered over, the place sometimes feels like a ghost town.

But today the sun was shining -- and not just in the sky. The brightness was reflected in the faces of the many people filling the walkways and streets.

Musicians played in several venues (in fact, it was difficult to take everything in), vendors were demontrating their wares along the sidewalks. There was even a 'bouncy castle' playground for kids.

One of the day's activities was the official opening of a month-long fibre arts festival, Outside the Box. Lots of art to look at, even a dance in celebration of the medium. 

No one can complain that there isn't plenty going on in White Rock these days. It's a treat to see the place so vibrantly alive.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

An opportunity to be heard

It isn't very often that ordinary people get to play a direct role in decisions about their governance. But yesterday provided just such an opportunity.

This July, Skip Triplett was chosen to conduct a series of public gatherings that would allow such input to occur. The focus of these sessions is the current state of gaming grants to community groups in British Columbia.

Anyone who visits this blog knows that I often write about the arts and that I frequently find myself needing to advocate on their behalf -- especially since there have been such deep cuts to funding. Heck, I've even 'gone out on a limb' and stopped buying lottery tickets!

Yesterday's session, held in Surrey, drew presentations not only from a range of arts groups, but from crime prevention groups, athletic organizations, and associations that offer child care programs or shelter for women and children escaping violence.

In every instance, the message was the same. Our community is assisted or enriched by the services we provide. Our funding has been cut. We don't know how we can carry on.

Nearly every group shared accounts of having to vacate premises, lay off staff, reduce or cancel services. 

But on the other hand, every group offered concrete suggestions for how the situation might be improved.

There was a wonderful atmosphere of cooperation and understanding. It felt as though we were really all reaching for answers.

Best of all, Mr Triplett actually seemed not only to listen, but to care. He's keeping a blog of what he learns at these sessions. And he's also willing to hear from others who aren't able to attend the hearings.

All I can hope is that the spirit of positive change in the air at the session will translate into real change for arts and culture groups in this province.

[Vancouver residents, please note: hearings are scheduled for that city on Saturday, September 17th.]

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

School's in!

Today's the day students headed back to classes. But here in B.C., teachers are in the unenviable position of being without a contract (again). They've initiated a mild-sounding variety of job action, not doing tasks that are considered administrative ones. Among requests from teachers are a pay raise that will bring them to equity with teachers in other provinces -- provinces where it's less expensive to live than here -- and considerations to permit them input on class size.

Neither prospect seems likely to happen, as there's been a wage freeze here for public sector employees for far too long. Oh, unless you're a Member of the Legislature, in which case it wasn't that long ago you got a 29% increase in your pay.

As for class size, that consideration was taken away in 2002, the last time this province had Christy Clark serving as Minister of Education. This time, she's in office again, but as Premier of the province, so it doesn't seem like a good time to be looking for class size consideration. All of this despite the fact that she poses as being all in favour of whatever serves to benefit family.

On another educational front, two of Canada's universities, McGill in Montreal and Toronto's U of T, made it into the top rungs in a world ranking of top schools. Toronto inched at number 23, while McGill earned number 17.

These rankings are based on a number of factors, but one of the key criteria (constituting 20% of the points allotted) is faculty/student ratio.

It's a shame to think such a factor is important to evaluators doing world-wide ratings, but that it doesn't matter much to the powers-that-be around here. After all, the only losers aren't yet old enough to vote.   

Thursday, September 01, 2011


Last night finally saw a BC launch for my novella, Shrinking Violets. The flowers were a gift from a friend who couldn't attend.

It may seem odd to consider that the book was launched in Montreal way back at the end of April, in Toronto and London (Ontario) in May, in Saskatoon and Red Deer in June, and only now (finally) out here on the coast where I live. Best of all, it was at White Rock's Pelican Rouge Coffee House, the site of so many local literary events.

In part, this delay had to do with the fact that so many people (including me) like to get away during the summer.

But it also had something to with the fact I like to think of September as the time for going forward with new beginnings. So, in that light, if September 1st is the 'true' new year, I guess last night was a great time for celebrating New Year's Eve, along with all the promise a new year should always hold.

Plenty of books were sold and signed -- a very nice omen for launching not only a book, but a new year.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

In praise of hope

There's something courageous about a flag at half-mast, especially against the blue of a summer sky. It's a combination of sadness and joy, probably the same combination of feelings so many of us are experiencing today, the day of Jack Layton's funeral.

The words of the letter he left for us have already been championed as a manifesto for change, as impetus to go forth and change the world to the better place we want it to be.

The CBC has taken his words to heart and put out the challenge on their website, How would you make the world a better place?

That might seem like an awfully big question, but it's manageable if each of simply looks within and asks, What will I do today to make the world a better place?

I'm taking Jack Layton's final thoughts seriously, especially the parts about Hope being better than fear, Optimism being better than despair.

One of my greatest hopes is that his death won't have been in vain. I'm hoping that it will serve as a rallying point for the Left to take a page from what the Conservatives have done (aligning the voices of the Right). I am optimistic that the various socially conscious factions -- be they NDP, Green or Liberal -- will find ways to heal their differences and join together.

Coming together seems like the greatest way to honour the memory of Jack, and the best of way of fulfilling his desire that we change the world. And what better time to start changing the world than now?

PS Lipstick Press has been honouring Jack Layton by posting poems.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A better-than-fair day at the fair

Despite being regular fair-goers, when the PNE celebrated its centenary last year, we somehow managed to not get there. But yesterday we made up for it and as a reward, even the weather cooperated.

The food is always a highlight (little doughnuts, soft ice cream, perogies…), but this year the real treat was the performances we saw.

Chris Isaak and his always-hotshot band rocked a sea of people out under the stars (we even got to see the space station fly over).

The night’s tribute band Revolver peformed the music of the Beatles. I liked the fact that they didn't try to look like the original Fab Four (what could be worse than middle-aged men in tired wigs?) but offered some remarkable renditions of the songs.

For me, a dyed-in-the-wool survivor of Beatlemania, it was very cool to overhear snippets of conversation on the midway, especially from teenagers: “Hey, that’s a Beatles’ song!” Yep, the Beatles remain a band that’s pretty enduring. Nyah nyah to those all those dorky guys who used to criticize my girlfriends and me for loving the Beatles -- I guess we didn’t have such bad taste in music after all.

But the best show of the evening was another PNE freebie, the Peking Acrobats. As would be expected, all the acrobats were lean and fit and omigod-flexible; they'd probably been in training since they were tiny children.

The fellow balanced on top of all those chairs managed a number of stunts once he was up there. (To note: the legs of the lowest chair were balanced on four bottles that looked like they might have once held champagne; those in turn were on top of a very tall table).

After tilting the topmost chair, balancing it on only one of its legs, he then did a single-handed handstand while extending his legs most elegantly.

It must have taken years to become so skilled (and apparently, fearless).

As for me, I figure I’m doing well if I can balance on one leg while I’m reaching for a casserole dish on the top shelf of the cupboard.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Ferry Tale

Once upon a time in a kingdom by the sea there stood a series of islands, treed and green. These islands, so resplendent, especially when bathed in the golden glow of sunset, tempted the folk on the mainland, who toiled through the week at their weary-making tasks.

Long ago, in the springtime of the realm, the people from the mainland used to enjoy taking short trips to visit the dreamy islands. To get there, they would ride on sturdy ferries which in turn rode the sparkling seas, as if the waves were logical extensions of the roadways.

But as so often happens – especially in tales – change came upon the kingdom. Dark clouds of greed gathered along the horizon. A new emperor named Gordon came all smiling amongst the people and occupied a castle on the largest of the dreamy islands.

Gordon grinned to the friends he had brought to the castle and told them that he had plans to rearrange the kingdom. First, he’d appoint a new steward who would take charge of the lovely boats that plied the waters to the dreamy islands. And he appointed none other than a prince by the name of David.

Soon after Prince David took charge of the fleet, little things began to change, amongst them the fares. Though they’d steadily gone up in the past (hadn’t almost everything, save for wages?), they now rose incredibly – 40% on the main routes, 69% on the ones deemed as minor, and even higher yet in those in the northern reaches of the kingdom. But these things didn’t matter to Emperor Gordon and his friends, as they didn’t much enjoy having to wait in long lines, so they usually took a helicopter or plane anyway.

And Prince David didn’t think much about the fare hikes, as he kept getting raises and sacks-of-gold bonuses for all he’d done to do his part in privatizing the people’s network of transportation.

But then one day it suddenly occurred that not so many people were taking the ferries any more – not even the ones who’d learned to leave their cars behind and trek over as foot passengers, lugging their goods in backpacks and rolling carts.

When someone told Prince David that his fleet was losing money, he pointed out the shining window of his tall glass tower towards the sky and said, “Ah, but the weather is to blame.”

Then, when the sun continued to shine, he looked out another gleaming pane of glass, towards the towers of his old friends at the nearby bank. A small line creased his face, giving him an air of concern, and he pointed again, this time saying, “Ah, but it’s the loonie – much too high.”

The cleaning woman, who happened to be in his office, polishing one of its many windows, dared to look upon the prince, and said in a voice that was quiet but clear, “The fares are too high."

“Oh no,” laughed Prince David, “what could you possibly know? You’re just a simple cleaning woman and I am a prince.” And with that, he pointed his finger again, only this time at the door.

Emperor Gordon has gone away, off to live in a castle on another dreamy island, one that’s much too far to reach by any ferry. In the meantime, Prince David continues to offer his elaborate excuses. And while no one knows yet whether anyone will live happily ever after, one can only hope that at least this year Prince David won’t be receiving his usual bonus sacks of gold.