Monday, December 30, 2013

Books: the year's best titles

I'm not kidding when I say the best titles, as that's exactly what I'm talking about. A few of these are books I've read, but truthfully, one of them is a book I've never even held in my hand (or, for those who prefer the world of e-life, downloaded).

I would have loved to include Words the Dog Knows, only it was published way back in 2008, so I can't really count it, even though I only got around to reading it this year. It's a fabulous title and a pretty darn good book inside as well.

I think a lot of authors were inspired to better titles after Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time came along (an excellent read, by the way, worth digging for).

Still, contenders for this year's Best Title include:

The Oil Man and the Sea -- not only for its delightful punniness, but for its timeliness and courage, speaking out about the precarious times we are experiencing in BC and exactly how much is at stake.

We Are Born with the Songs Inside Us -- it's hard to beat the sheer beauty of these words in combination. Besides, this book holds some good news for a change, as it's Katherine Gordon's gathering of hopeful words for the future of First Nations Peoples in our country.

Another book with a beautiful title and wonderful insides is Stephen Reid's A Crowbar in the Buddhist Garden. A collection of Reid's writings from prison, it's a book you won't soon forget.

One that I still hope to get to is Milk Spills and One-Log Loads (and we think traffic is hazardous today), written by a fellow who began his career as a truck driver when he turned sixty. This guy's life sounds like one that won't be repeated unless something puts us back into horse-and-buggy mode.

And my list wouldn't be anywhere near complete without the inclusion of Douglas Coupland's latest, a title distinguished by its use of punctuation. Worst. Person. Ever. Despite the fact that not everybody likes this book, Coupland continues to hold appeal for me. Sometimes, with his irreverence and steady pointing out of the world's ridiculous ills, I think he's become my Kurt Vonnegut surrogate. The book was one of my Christmas presents, and I've purposely made it last to today, which happens to be the author's birthday, and he's turning the magic number, 42. (Er, no, bad arithmetic. Make that 52.)

Read any good titles -- or, for that matter, books -- lately?

Wednesday, December 25, 2013



The gifts have been opened, the mounds of glorious food consumed. All's well.

Time for a break. Time to slow down to recuperative mode. Time to be thankful. Time to enjoy the last few days of the year.

Here's to doing plenty of nothing for a while.

Monday, December 16, 2013

In darkness

It's the time of year when the darkness seems to want to take hold. Not only on the sky, but on life itself.

The light has been elusive, with today's sun finally rising at 8:01 and then setting again at 4:14. How many people spend their entire workday inside and miss the few hours of light? Go to work in the dark, come home in the dark, do it all over again the next day.

It hasn't helped the mood of things that government officials seemed to be running amok, out-Scrooging Scrooge with their meanness. Immigration services grabbed a man who'd spent the past 37 years of his life as a contributing community member on a small BC island. That story has at least seen a temporary resolution.

And though he's now apologized, when he was asked about child poverty, Minister of Industry James Moore remarked that it probably wasn't his "job" to feed his neighbour's children.

Another story -- and one that unfortunately still remains unresolved -- is that of Rodney Watson. He's the US war resister who's been in 'sanctuary' since September 18, 2009.

For being the season of supposed generosity, it's hard to see much of it in action.

Maybe with Saturday's Solstice, the light will be begin to return on more fronts than merely the sky.  

Monday, December 09, 2013


Freezing. The temperature on our little weather station is one that we don't see very often, especially not exactly zero-point-zero.

Only now it's even colder than it was. No one can pretend it isn't winter around here. It's been cold for about a week now, colder than I remember it being. Mind you, that may not mean anything, as I'm pretty good at blocking bad memories, cold being one of those conditions I like to avoid (and thus, forget).

When I put gas in my car the other day, I thought it might be a good idea to wash my windscreen. Only thing is, the squeegee wouldn't come out of the bucket where it's kept. The water had frozen around it, making a
veritable Popsicle of it.

Since then, the temp dropped further over the weekend, but has 'warmed up' today to a whopping -2 C (29 F). In fact, it's warmed sufficiently that we're getting a little bit of snow.

Pretty though that may be, I am hoping it doesn't decide to accumulate.

Looking to some facts from The Canadian Weather Trivia Calendar, I find that things certainly aren't as cold as they might be -- that on this day in 1906, it was so cold in Lethbridge, Alberta that the sheep "started eating the wool off each other's backs" and that the situation became so bad that ranchers had to make "them coats from sacks to help them survive." And yet, despite this, "About 25 sheep died a day." Temp that day was recorded as -32.2 C. According to my trusty conversion website, that's -32.96 in Fahrenheit. Yikes.

So yes, I will stay inside today, not too far from the cozy fire and write some more of those Christmas cards to friends around the world -- in places both colder and warmer than my thermometer tells me it is here.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Happymess is...

Not quite Santa's workshop, but a great place for cutting and pasting and getting a head start on Christmas. 

This is the time of year when my office gets taken over by stamps and stamp pads and little bits of paper. It's become an annual tradition to make cards with a good pal of mine. 

She and I started off on this adventure about five years ago, but then we only had about half-a-dozen stamps and a few samples of decorative papers. Since then our supplies have grown, but so has the diversity of the cards we make. 

Besides, making the cards is FUN. So, early though it may seem, we've already started enjoying Christmas in our own cut-and-paste happy-making way. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Giving in to bullying

Yes, that's a picture of my apparently not-smart-enough electrical meter. I guess it's soon going to be going the way of the dodo, replaced by an enhanced, supposedly smarter cousin.

In my dictionary, the definition of the verb 'bully' suggests that bullying occurs when a weaker or smaller person is intimidated into doing something they don't want to do.

That's exactly the position I feel I am in.

Our electrical utility in British Columbia has determined (not via legislation, but someplace) that those of us who don't want a smart meter installed may 'opt out' by paying a fee of $35 a month to keep our old one. That's a smooth grab of $420 every year, more than I am able to justify paying.

I've talked about this before, including times when I felt there might be a chance in this David v. Goliath situation.

Only now it's come down to my giving up.

Wikipedia puts it pretty clearly in their article about bullying. And the way they describe it sounds exactly like what's going on here in B.C.

In the grand scheme of things and of inequities that go on in the world, I'm sure most would consider this extremely small potatoes.

Still, it's the kind of thing I don't like giving in to. Residents of other jurisdictions haven't been penalized nearly so harshly for not wanting a smart meter installed.

Only in B.C. are the penalties this extreme. Welcome to the brave new world where corporatism sets the rules we are coerced into living by.

Monday, November 18, 2013

More remembering

While last week was the official day for it, Remembrance Day, today is also (for me at least) a day of remembering.

It was five years ago today that my mother died.

Visitors to this blog will have seen the little angel in the photo before. Still, it's one of those small gifts from my mother that will always remind me of her.

The flowery cup in the photo is another gift from her. I can remember times when I'd go shopping with her, so she could buy me a present for my birthday or other occasion.

She'd generally want me to like something more 'girly' or decorative -- jewellery or a fancy, fitted sweater. It took many years, but eventually I was able to convince her of my tastes. If it's clothing, I prefer something second-hand and baggy. Jewellery; not even the second-hand store usually turns up much for me.

It took years, but we finally struck agreement on a gift I would both enjoy and use: something for my seemingly-endless cups of coffee. Still, what kind of cup might that be? Ah, our quiet disagreements dribbled on...

She'd want to buy me a dainty little cup, often one with a saucer. To me, saucers are best used as small serving plates, not as something extra to cart around (or to wash) as accompaniment to a cup.

So the hardest part was convincing her that I was a 'mug' person. But I persisted long enough that she finally agreed.

Compromising on the degree of 'cutesy' or 'pretty' aspects were yet another hurdle. The cup (er, mug) in the photo serves as an example of one of our best compromises. Bright and pretty, not too 'pinky' or delicate in its design -- an item that I still enjoy using.

Something she and I more easily agreed on was good literature. One of the writers whose work both of us admired was Doris Lessing, the Nobel-winning author who died yesterday. If you click on the link at her name, you'll get one of the best overviews of Lessing I've been able to find on the web. I really like and am a firm believer in the quote posted at the header of the article. My 'best reads' are often books I've found by a method I call my 'radar' and no, I'm not afraid to not finish a book that keeps losing me.

Choosing the article I linked onto does, I admit, reveal some bias on my part, as I'm a longtime fan of science fiction, a genre Lessing sometimes called 'space fiction'.

One of the aspects of Lessing's work that isn't always referred to (though it is mentioned in the piece I've linked to) is her belief that many of the ailments referred to in contemporary society as mental illnesses are really just a kind of clear-eyed sanity that comes with seeing how crazy the reality of our world is. I've actually had more than one therapist agree with this observation.

For years, I was criticized for self-prescribing when I experienced depression, a condition my mother experienced as well. Happily, I see now that I wasn't so far off the beam and that my self-treatment (sleep) did not justify the derision I took for 'taking to my bed' again. Especially in wintry times (and here in Northern climes, where our days are now getting so short), maybe a kind of hibernation is just plain good for us.

And with that, I'll say Sweet Dreams. Maybe my mother will visit tonight.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Art and war: a remembrance

This isn't the usual statuary one envisions when Ottawa’s war memorial is mentioned. Still, it's the one I prefer, as it honours our country's longstanding tradition of serving as a peacekeeper. 

I've spent much of the weekend thinking about Remembrance Day and thinking as well about War Art.

In ways, the term seems almost contradictory, as what can be beautiful about war?

And the more I thought about it, the stronger I grew in my conclusion that War Art mostly turns out to be Anti-War Art. 

Last week at the library I picked up a DVD -- with no forethought or plan -- it was just one of my usual 'radar' grabs. This was truly the right weekend to watch it, with its hugely powerful statements on the horror that is war. 

It's a 1957 film by Stanley Kubrick called Paths of Glory. I'd never seen it before, but thought the title sounded familiar. I guess I must have confused it with another war-themed film, Tunes of Glory. Though both are worth seeing, they're not at all the same, and don't even focus on the same war. 

The trench warfare images presented in Paths of Glory aren't particularly graphic or nightmare-inducing. The horror lies in the details of the story, one that illustrates the pointlessness of war and also the ruthless nastiness that power can inspire. 

Oddly, this weekend also turned out to be when a cousin of mine died. I hadn't seen him since we were kids, but have terrific memories of him, a once-in-a-while pretend little brother to me. When he grew up, he followed about as different a path from me as any two people could. He attended the U.S. Military Academy, West Point and chose to spend his whole working life in the military, a career that included a long stint at the Pentagon.  

And now, I can only hope that he has found peace. 

Monday, November 04, 2013

Stinky business

Or, more accurately: Stinky businesses.

I'm getting tired of walking into stores where the only means of entering means I have to pass through the perfume department.

You'd think with all we've learned about allergies to scent, that merchants would have found it necessary to shift these potential death traps to some area of the store where customers wouldn't have to walk through them.

More and more places post signs that ask patrons to refrain from wearing scent. It's not just my doctor's office that's posted this request. My local pool has joined the movement. Hotels and other buildings with elevators often encourage the avoidance of scents.

It's no longer just something you need to do when you're visiting your crabby aunt who has asthma. It's become a widespread courtesy (think: airplanes, with their closed-circuit air systems, yech!) to avoid using scent.

Being shiny-fresh clean is all the scent you need. And maybe next time you walk into a store that assaults you by greeting you with a wall of scents, hold your nose and let the manager know that you think their policy stinks.

Monday, October 28, 2013

All decked out for Halloween

...and I didn't have to do a thing. This perfectly ghoulish draping comes free of charge, thanks to a hard-working spider.

Happy Trick or Treats!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Nothing to curse about

Not long ago a friend wrote to share a small rant of his own. Since it doesn't take much to put me into rant mode, here I go, taking up his cause and blathering as usual.

A friend of his had expressed concern to her child's teacher over the fact that the students weren't learning the art of cursive writing, or as we probably refer to it most of the time, handwriting. The simple act of connected writing is apparently a dying art, no longer even part of the curriculum in most jurisdictions.

And no, the term cursive has nothing to do with cursing (even though my frequently flying-away cursor often sets me off on a string of curse words). Origin of the word relates to 'running' -- the letters all running together in a connected line.

It's become a skill parents have to teach kids on their own -- a situation some parents might say also applies to arithmetic, spelling and grammar. Naturally, the Internet offers everything from animated teachers and practice sheets to patterned images you can follow to learn cursive handwriting, but as with anything, it takes time to learn.

Sadly, if you look at my page of notes in the photo, you'll see that somewhere along the way I seem to have lost the art of connecting my letters -- that my notes have devolved into the more common print scrawl we mostly seem to encounter these days.

About the only people I know who have retained their lovely handwriting are friends who are hovering near eighty. Both of them were elementary school teachers, who no doubt offered examples of evenly spaced loops according to the MacLean Method (or, for those in the U.S., Palmer Method) for their students to copy.  

Yet my pal and I aren't the only ones who wonder about this disappearing skill. Still, in the great end, at the rate we're going, will it matter? After all, how long can it be until all of our 'word' processing/writing and reading are done via voice-activated commands?

Monday, October 14, 2013


Over the past few months, while driving to New Westminster, I've seen a large (too large for safety, I suspect) video signboard by the road. Often the message there says simply, 'Gratitude'.

Since the sign is beside a bridge where it's impossible to pull over and stop, I've never managed to take a photo of the sign. So, you just have to imagine it.

But probably more than any video sign, this Thanksgiving weekend has seen me grateful for where I live -- for the weather and for the beautiful spots where we got to hike in the past few days. Thus, today's photo represents just one of those many elements for which I express gratitude.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, October 07, 2013

Books – a thing of the past?

Being a Luddite in so many respects, I am definitely on the ‘no’ side of this question. And though I admire the idea behind the 'book art' that was displayed in the window at Project Space, I still prefer my books as undesecrated works with words and pages that I can turn. 

Lately, I've been trying to weed some of my many (too many, even I will admit) books. It's a tricky business, as I keep running into treasures that slow me down. 

Oddly, one that I couldn't resist poking into (and keeping) is Frank Ogden's The Last Book You'll Ever Read. About all I can say to the challenge implied in his title is "No, Frank, not quite."

Sure, I have an e-reader, an object that beats the heck out of carrying an extra piece of luggage packed with holiday reading. But in truth, it's not the first place I turn when I'm looking to read something new. I still appreciate the smell of a new book, sometimes even the vaguely musty smell of an old one. And it seems I'm not the only one who feels that way.

Just this past weekend, the Vancouver Art / Book Fair took place at the Vancouver Art Gallery. And only the weekend before was Word Vancouver. Both events are all about books, magazines and reading. This
table at the Library’s concourse had crafts persons helping people make little books of their own.

This morning's newspaper (now there's a form that, sadly, could indeed become a thing of the past) reported community-bonding activitybased in mini-libraries. Again, books as the common denominator between people.

Hmmm. Maybe instead of getting rid of all these books I've put into boxes, I should start a neighbourhood library of my own.

And if you're still not convinced about the case in support of books, borrow or buy a copy of Lane Smith's It's a Book. Or, at least take a peek at the YouTube version of it.  

Monday, September 30, 2013

When is a lemon not a lemon?

When it's a leaky dishwasher, on extended warranty.

As part of a kitchen renovation we did in 2008, we bought a raft of new appliances -- from a company we trusted, one that (for now at least) shall remain unnamed.

Included in those items was a dishwasher, made by a company whose slogan claims to be "Life's Good." I think they ought to change it to "Life's Glitchy" -- especially if you happened to buy Model LDS5811WW. For fun, click here to read some of the reviews posted by others who made the mistake of buying this particular machine.

Over the years, we've amassed a stack of papers from the many repairs we've had to get. Nearly all of them (6 of 8) have been about leaking. The last repair took place just the other day, on Friday, and wouldn't you know, when I next ran the dishwasher (after supper on Saturday), it leaked. Yet again. Only this time, it wasn't just the same old leak from the bottom of the door. Looking closely revealed it had sprung yet another spurt.

Because the floor underneath the machine was clearly wet, we knew we had to get the machine out to prevent greater damage. And sure enough, it's easy to see that, in addition to leaking from the bottom of the door (where it shows) it's also been leaking underneath there, quietly pissing itself, for quite a long while.

I feel almost as though I know the people in the repairs department -- not only the repair guy who visits our house so often, but also the intake workers, the management team, and even representatives from the insurance company that provided the extended warranty we purchased. I could name you a raft of them -- Julie, Chris, Shane, Jodie, Tina...

To give them credit, they've been patient as they've tried explaining the world of extended warranties, though I'll admit, by the time I've finished listening to some of their on-hold tunes and jingles, I'm not always the most patient listener.

So, finally, going back to my original question: What does it take to declare a machine a lemon -- so that it can be declared hopeless and be replaced? Three repairs.

But wait a minute. That's not quite right.

Declaring it a 'lemon' requires three repairs for the same problem.

Only, oops, that's not quite right either.

Three identical repairs for the same problem.

Only no, that's not quite right either.

Even though the 'vent' mechanism has been repaired three times, (this, besides door gaskets being replaced twice) we don't qualify for a 'lemon clause' replacement, because one of those repairs occurred while the machine was still under the manufacturer's warranty, and only two occurred on the extended warranty. Thus, the extended warranty won't cover replacement, as not all three occurred during the extended warranty.

And now, of course, the money in the extended warranty has pretty well run dry, so, in effect, no more coverage for the continuing wet spots in our kitchen.

As for the manufacturer, they kissed us off years ago. Basically told us "too bad" and to go away.

So, for now it looks as though I'm washing dishes in the sink. While that's not as bad as washing them in the bathtub was, I'm not happy about it.

It would sure be nice to think there might one thing in this world of ours where straightforward answers and plain dealing would be the case, rather than artful weaseling and dodging behind the guise of 4-point font legalese. But apparently, that's simply not the case.

Why did the chicken cross the kitchen? To get another towel to wipe up the water on the floor.

Monday, September 23, 2013

It's official

Yesterday was officially the first day of autumn. For once, the calendar and the weather seemed to be in agreement.

Saturday was sunny, the perfect day for end-of-summer chores -- digging the last of the potatoes, tidying up the grape vines, pulling off the last of the berries for a fruity dessert.

But Sunday -- anything but a SUN day. The rains began in the night and lasted for most of the day, announcing with a kind of finality the end of summer.

Equinox, a time of balance, a time for change.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Silence is...

You can fill in the blank at the end of that sentence.

Chances are that 'golden' is the first word that pops into your mind. But that's become such a cliche, who even knows what it's supposed to mean anymore -- especially with the way the price of gold keeps flopping around.

One thing I can say about silence is that it is restorative. I know, because I spent the last week on retreat, again at the oh-so-quiet Bethlehem Retreat Centre on Vancouver Island. Our group observed silence throughout the day, and then shared what we'd accomplished (or not) in the evening.

The other thing I can say for silence is that it allowed me to be better able to 'hear' the words I needed to put onto paper during my retreat. After all, the goal of the time away was to accomplish more pages in a long-worked-on writing project.

It's a practice many spiritual seekers have relied upon to help achieve clarity and inner peace.

Take a chance (it doesn't even cost anything to be silent, the ultimate free trial) and see what a few hours of silence bring into your life.

Monday, September 09, 2013

A psychedelic anniversary

This week saw the 50th anniversary of the lava lamp. I had no idea anyone was keeping track. Most of the people who stared into them didn't seem very into making note of things like time.

But it must be part of a trend going on, as Boston's Museum of Fine Arts is currently featuring an exhibit called 'Hippie Chic' an exploration of fashion, and some of the changes that occurred in fashion, during the decade we call The Sixties (even though some of that decade apparently spilled over into the early '70s).

One oversight in the Boston exhibit -- or at least in the part accessible through the museum's link -- is the exclusion of dresses or fabrics by Peter Max. To me at least, his work epitomized the look that became known as psychedelia -- vibrant colours in surprising combinations -- patterns that often appeared to be moving.

It's hard to imagine I ever fit into the little dress in the pic, but lord knows, I did.

Oh, and if you want a view of a modern lava lamp in action, click on the video below. Maybe it's my sense of time that's awry, but I'm pretty sure the original lamps released their waxy globules much more slowly. One of the most hypnotic ways of watching it was to the accompaniment of Jeff Beck's instrumental, Beck's Bolero. For maximum viewing pleasure, we played our 45-rpm version of the Bolero on the stretched-out 33 1/3 speed. Long, drawn-out notes for extended pleasure. Probably some consciousness-raising inhalations as well.


Monday, September 02, 2013

Seasonal adjustment

Yesterday, the first day of September, meant a trip to one of the final days of this year’s PNE. Sure, we did the usual strolls and walked through the animal barns, marvelled at the farming displays, yawned over the same old blenders and sponge mops in the Marketplace. But mostly, it was a day for wandering among the crowds – plenty of opportunities for people-watching.

Weirdest thing I saw all day was while I was in the per-usual lonnng line-up for the women’s washroom. Some of us were chatting, considering what would happen if a crew of us were to barge into the men’s where, of course, there was NO line-up at all. But then, a guy waltzed in there, carrying a large drink of some sort as well as a huge slice of pizza! None of us could figure out exactly what he planned to do upon entry. Pee with no hands? Or??

It was also crazy to see how many people must ignore the signs (posted at a number of rides) with the warning to secure loose items. Hard to calculate how many dollars must lie in ruins in these bins.

The day ended with a beautiful sunset sky, light cast on the PNE’s grandest feature of all, the old wooden coaster. Happily, the coaster has just been granted special heritage status. If you click on the ‘heritage’ link, you’ll not only see an article about this news, you’ll find a video that offers a sample ride. Wheee!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Looks like the end

...of summer for another year.

At least it's not the end of anything else -- especially not the world -- this despite the spate of summer films on that subject. We had World War Z, the cheesy (but fun, who could not have a soft spot for Seth Rogen?) This is the End and now from the U.K., The World's End.

It won't be long until that green leaf on the ground will be joined by more of its colourful neighbours. And surely that will mean a time for new beginnings.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Not quite on hiatus

Summer sees so many events 'on hiatus' status. Holidays can sometimes provide a similar break.

In a world as full of chaotic events as this summer is seeing -- Cairo, Syria -- and closer to home, trains exploding in Quebec, floods in Alberta and just tonight in Metro feels good to be able to stop and at least look at the flowers.

A little bit of calmness in a raging sea of altogether too much bad news.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Just dessert

As opposed to just deserts, meaning things that are deserved, whether reward or punishment. Weird, but I always thought those were 'just deSSerts' -- like, your reward for having eaten that pile of overcooked Brussels sprouts on your plate. Not though. In this case, it's just a single 's' though it's not pronounced like desert, as in Sahara. Really, what an impossible language. Enough to make you want some kind of reward just for figuring out one of its mysteries. 

This ice cream with fruit is just a dessert, not a 'just desert' just a treat. I could hardly believe it when I saw the carton of ice cream actually called ‘Canadian Vanilla, eh’. What an easy way to celebrate today, Canada Day.

Raspberries fresh-picked from the little garden out back are supposed to form the red bars either side of the maple leaf. A flag that looks good enough to eat. Here I go!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Salady days

Not the same thing as the 'salad days' referred to in Shakespeare, but these salady days are every bit as permeated with green.

Once the Solstice has passed, I want it to be full-on summer, and fresh salad greens from the backyard are part of that. Yes, this batch rides in a wagon. It can easily be moved for mowing (or, to get more sun). And by being that little bit raised off the ground, the lettuces are safe from slugs and the resident bunny.

Having our own daily salad bar is a treat. But seeing all the condominiums that have sprouted in our neighbourhood, I wonder how people can grow any of their own food. And when I see so many vacant lots (houses torn down, developers waiting for whatever it is they wait for), I wish some of those lots could be turned into community gardens, even if only temporarily.

Disappointingly, Surrey, the city where I live, has only four community gardens. Comparing this to Vancouver, with its 75 community gardens (with one of them occupying the grounds of the City Hall in the city's downtown), this seems just plain not good enough.

For now, about all I can do is be grateful for how lucky I am -- to have a bit of a yard where we can grow such a nice part of our daily food.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Private. Keep out.

As if. Still, that idea is probably the reason any kid builds a treefort, or finds a hole in a shrubbery somewhere she thinks she can call her own. Just a space for thinking, a spot for some privacy.

The hero of the day (the week, month, year?) has to be whistle-blower Edward Snowden. The Guardian ran an interview with him today (worth clicking on and reading).

Weird the way he has the same name as such an important character in Catch-22. Snowden was the bombardier who'd been shot and kept saying he was cold. He serves as the transformative force in the novel which shifts Yossarian's thinking.

Today's Snowden seems to be serving a similar purpose: shifting our thinking so we'll look harder at the matter of our privacy -- where it's gone, how can we retrieve any shreds of it.

They're watching. We know they are. Sifting among the raccoons and elks and bunnies or whatever we might choose to write about, hoping for weasel words to light up their scorecards.

I suppose I should throw in some weasel words tonight. 

How many might fit into one sentence? Hmmm... How about this. 

Stephen Harper’s speech bombed at the G8 Summit.  

That should get a whole raft of buzzer-bots zinging.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Coming to fruition

June restores my belief in renewal. If I could bottle the morning air, I'm sure it would sustain me through winter better than any vitamin concoction.

The strawberries are just about ready, but they're not the only new beginnings I've been privy to.

The past few days have been pretty hectic, as two friends have brand new books out, one of them a novel, the other her fifth book of poetry. I've been hosting one of them -- laughing and driving her here and there, being part of readings as we made our merry way through coastal B.C.

There've been readings in Vancouver, in Mill Bay on Vancouver Island, in Victoria and back again on the mainland in New Westminster.

Tiring? Yes. Worth it? Absolutely. Especially if I'll soon be able to reward myself with a feed of sweet (nothing better than) BC strawberries.

Monday, June 03, 2013

City of contrasts

A five-day visit to Ottawa has convinced me the silly polls are wrong. Our capital doesn’t deserve its recent designation as Canada’s most boring city. Boring wasn’t a term I could apply. There was so much to do, I ran out of time and couldn’t get around to everything I’d wanted to see or do.

It’s a city where old meets new, most obviously in its architecture. Turn of the century (that is, the 19th to 20th) houses stand in small clumps beneath office towers. Churches and government buildings lend an air of tradition, while glass buildings and construction cranes crowd the horizon.

The National Gallery, where I spent two afternoons, provides further contrast, with antiquities under the same roof as starkly modern abstractions. The two items that fascinated me the most were a video loop shown on the ceiling (mattresses on the floor to lie on, so you can look up) and a tiny carving of a beluga whale, marked as being 2,500 years old. Wow!

As in any cosmopolitan city, there's plenty of high-end shopping and fancy restaurants. Unfortunately, the same contrasts evident elsewhere -- the ones between rich and poor -- are here as well. 

The market area provided more reasonable food choices -- bakeries, ethnic restaurants, poutine stands, flowers for sale. 

But the biggest contrast of all was the new exhibit on at Canada’s War Museum – an exhibit on Peace. 

One of the coolest aspects of this is the fact that John Lennon and Yoko Ono came to Ottawa on June 3, 1969. It was the day after they'd finished the bed-in events they'd done in Amsterdam and Montreal. By fluke, I ran into a photo of their meeting with Pierre Elliott Trudeau during that historic visit.

Now, if only I could convince the powers-that-be to change the name of the memorial museum to the Museum of War and Peace. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

Dream a little dream

It seems that all of our travels in The Rattler have convinced us of the joys of getting away. Of course, it's possible that the construction of the GIANT house next door may have something to do with that too. 

Whatever the reason, this weekend saw us poking around south of the border, in an anomaly of a place called Point Roberts. According to Wikipedia, it's a pene-exclave of the U.S. -- something I'm pretty sure translates as part of the country that's not connected physically. It's a tiny place that, if you're travelling by land, is only accessible via Canada.

We had a wonderful time, strolling the beach at low tide and exploring a few of the properties for sale there. 

These ranged from low-end (more realistic to our budget) where the realtor's descriptions are always the most creative. Yes, the floors do indeed 'slope in a few directions.' You wouldn't want to try a game of marbles in there. 

We also indulged in some beyond-our-means dreams, like taking a look at this property on the bluff with its view of forever. 

Again, the description shows creativity. 'The cabin needs some work' translates as 'there's a rose bush growing through the foundation into the main room.' 

Oh well, it's always fun to dream. And washing it all down with lunch at a seaside pub wasn't a bad thing either. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Pieces of pie aren't squared

Nor, for that matter, are they triangular.

Usually they’re wedge-shaped, though I have no idea what the correct term for wedge-shaped might be. Segment with arc?? Whatever. Pie-shaped.

But this isn’t about geometrical terms or determining the area of anything. 

It’s about seeing things in fresh, new ways.

Whoever it was that amended this sign needed only a single line to alter it completely.

I don’t think I will ever again be able to see a no-smoking symbol without considering the wonders of pie

Monday, May 13, 2013

The poem is mightier than the chainsaw

Saturday saw yet another event of celebration resulting from the Han Shan Poetry Project, the brainchild of poet Susan McCaslin. Only Saturday's event was more than poems.

Langley artist Susan J. Falk was inspired by the poems in the trees and created a series of paintings for a show she’s calling “Written in the Forest”. The paintings incorporate words into their design – just a key phrase from each poem – enough to firmly link the idea of visual image and poetic line.  

It isn’t very often that poets get the privilege of seeing their words incorporated into another form of art. This time, the privilege was doubled by being able to read our poems while standing in the midst of the paintings. In the photo above, Susan McCaslin (right) reads her poem while Susan Falk, almost a part of her glorious painting, looks on.

The works are currently on display at The Fort Gallery in Fort Langley. For the duration of the show, there’s an ongoing silent auction. Falk intends to donate proceeds of the auction to WOLF, the organization that first brought McLellan Forest to the attention of the public.

But the best part of all? Publicity garnered by the Han Shan Project has resulted in at least 60% of the endangered forestland now being protected as parkland. That’s good news for the future and a testament to the power of art. 

Monday, May 06, 2013

Beautiful, serene -- and even good for you!

Saturday was not just 'May the 4th be with you' day (and really, who started that one, George Lucas?). It was also World Labyrinth Day.

I'm quick to admit the only reason I knew the significance of the date was that I was part of an event marking the official opening of a new labyrinth at nearby Kwomais Point Park.

Nearly a year ago, I did a post on this labyrinth, which was then only a clearing in the woods. I called that post "A Place of Vision" as that's what the word 'Kwomais' means.

And what a lovely day we had to celebrate this 'place of vision'. The weather was perfect -- sunny and unseasonably warm for early May. Certainly no one complained, including the singing eagles who soared overhead.

Although the official ceremony was at 11, many of us stayed in the park to celebrate the 'Walk as One' at 1 pm which marked the world-wide observance.

I filled the time between events with a walk in the forest and discovered as I always do, that the natural paths provide their own kind of meditative labyrinth. I also discovered this treasure that someone had left behind in
the forest, their creation which I call an 'art tree'.

One o'clock was also when the 'unofficial' part of the ceremonies began. Local artist and writer Virginia Gillespie, one of the prime movers behind construction of the labyrinth, led us along the pathway while beating a drum and speaking beautiful words about labyrinths, their history and a number of beliefs and practices surrounding them. The one I found most intriguing was the practice of drawing labyrinth patterns on the bellies of pregnant women -- supposedly a track for the unborn infant to follow!

Even if you're not pregnant, walking a labyrinth is supposed to provide many health benefits, especially when it comes to stress-related ailments such as high blood pressure and chronic pain.

If you'd like to see this particular labyrinth a bit better, there's a link to a song (a bit long, but...) which praises the Eagles' Nest Labyrinth and which shows it as it looked earlier this year.

And in case you think you (or your group) would like to build your own labyrinth, here's a link to some instructions for doing just that.

Monday, April 29, 2013

The best 100

In 2014, Touchwood Editions plans to release a book about books – specifically, BC’s greatest 100 books.


Since their criteria defining a BC book seemed pretty open-ended, I devised my own. 

My key consideration? Would the work be essentially different if the book’s BC-related elements happened someplace else?

Consider for example Douglas Coupland’s Girlfriend in a Coma.Weather (specifically, in North Vancouver and West Van) plays a huge role in the overall atmosphere of the book. It would be nowhere as haunting if it were set in a place where the sun doesn’t seem like such a rare commodity. Fog, soggy lawns, abundant winter greenery – all contribute to the novel, almost serve as one of the book’s characters in furthering the story.

I’ll admit, I’ve pushed the BC boundary with a few, but only with books too good to ignore. Besides, in these instances, the authors (LeonaGom and Howard O’Hagan) have each spent a considerable part of their life in British Columbia.

And in one case, I’ve included a book strictly on its one-of-a-kind-ness, coupled with the fact the author, Mark Harris, was a longtime BC resident who must not be forgotten. He knew more about cinema than any other British Columbian ever has, and likely ever will. 

Many of the books on my list have already been granted awards and honours. But I like to think there might be a few here that have flown under the radar by mistake or oversight. 

One such nominee, by local writer Margo Bates, is the funny and sad (and oh-so-real) P.S. Don’t Tell Your Mother.

And wouldn’t you know, there’s one that I can’t fix a title to. I’m remembering a small (and beautifully produced) book of essays that tracks the seasons of the year by using the device of 13 moons. Each month’s moon has a name (e.g. Hunter’s Moon, Harvest Moon) and the seasons reveal themselves through beautiful word sketches. I’ve poked around and even asked a few writers if they remember this book, but no one seems to. Who knows, maybe I dreamed it.

For what it’s worth, here, in no particular order, is my current list.

Joy Kogawa, Obasan
Howard O’Hagan, Tay John
Ethel Wilson, Swamp Angel
Douglas Coupland, Girlfriend in a Coma
Daniel Francis, ed. Encyclopedia of British Columbia
John Armstrong, Wages
Bill Gaston, The World
Emily Carr, Klee Wyck
George McWhirter, ed. A Verse Map of Vancouver
Brian Brett, Trauma Farm
Al Purdy, Cariboo Horses
Gurjinder Basran, Everything was Goodbye
Brian Fawcett, Virtual Clearcut
John Gould, Kilter: 55 Fictions
June Hutton, Underground
Grant Buday, Stranger on a Strange Island [or White Lung]
William Gibson, Neuromancer [the complete Cyberspace trilogy; failing that, this book]
Leona Gom, The Y Chromosome
Charlotte Gill, Eating Dirt
Paul St. Pierre, Breaking Smith’s Quarter Horse
Gary Geddes, ed. Skookum Wawa
Mark Harris, Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood
Susan Juby, Alice, I think
Maggie deVries, Missing Sarah
Evelyn Lau, Runaway
Anne Cameron, Daughters of Copper Woman
Margo Bates, P.S. Don’t Tell Your Mother
Alan Twigg, First Invaders: Literary Origins of British Columbia
Susan Musgrave, Origami Dove
Steven Price, Into that Darkness
George Ryga, The Ecstasy of Rita Joe
Stephen Hume, Bush Telegraph
Malcolm Lowry, October Ferry to Gabriola
Kate Braid, To this Cedar Fountain
Betty Lambert, Crossings
Audrey Thomas, Intertidal Life
Howard White, Writing in the Rain

Not up to 100 yet. Which books would you add?

Monday, April 22, 2013

A face for Earth Day

For a glimpse at some other faces appropriate to Earth Day, even if not as happy, click here. Or, better yet, get yourself outside today and put one foot in front of the other. Walk lightly on the Earth.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Not a trilogy...

…more of a hat trick.

I’ve been lucky enough to have work selected for three new anthologies. The tricky bit has been the fact that launch events for all of them have been over the course of the last week. Exhausting? Yes. Nonetheless, exciting, that’s for sure.

One of the books, Jack Layton: Art in Action, commemorates Jack Layton, the best prime minister Canada never got the chance to have. The other two – Force Field and Alive at the Center – are strictly poetry, a most appropriate way to observe National Poetry Month, a celebration that takes place throughout the month of April, not only here in Canada, but also in the U.S.

Even if you don’t consider yourself a poet, take some time to appreciate the beauty this month brings. In case some words of wonder whisper themselves in your ear, write ’em down. Who knows, you may find that they turn themselves into a poem. 

Monday, April 08, 2013

A courage of nettles

As with just about every plant and weather phenomenon, superstitions are part of the lore of nettles. Gathering nettles has become a spring ritual for us. When the nettles are ‘just right’ it’s a sure sign that winter is behind us. Although seeking courage wasn't part of our quest (nor was protection from lightning, though that sounds like a good thing), the word 'courage' seemed like a good collective noun for a bunch of them. 

We looked for nettles in early March, and though we found a few, they weren’t quite tall enough for picking. About 8 inches seems best – with plenty of leaf, but easy enough to cut without harming the plant.

Then, in early April, we decided to try again. And yes, they were the right height – and abundant.

Picking three bags (ordinary, shopping-type bags) left us with two bags once the leaves had all been stripped from the stems.

Then, eight pots of water later, eight little bags were lightly steamed and ready for the freezer. Best of all, once they’ve been blanched, their nasty sting (which Hans Christian Andersen's courageous princess endured) is gone.

I’ll use these throughout the year – sometimes in combination with spinach, sometimes on their own – in lasagnas, cannelloni or spanakopita. 

Iron-rich and flavourful, they’re a forager’s dream. 

Monday, April 01, 2013

Coconut dreams

If we weren't home from our holiday, this is where I’d be today – attending the Coconut Fest on the east end of Grand Bahama Island.

The palms on last week’s post are the same kind used to decorate the bandstand pictured here. And yes, they go all the way around.

Among treats we’ll be missing are coconut tarts. For the camera’s sake, a half of one survived long enough for this shot. And somewhat weirdly, this was exactly the shape of the moon in this morning's pre-dawn sky.

If there’s ever another time for the Bahamas, I’d like to try to make a point of being there for Easter Monday, as that’s the date for this annual festival that celebrates the bounty of the coconut. Coconut tarts, coconut buns, and something called a coconut 'jimmy' -- these sound like a doughy concoction with coconut between its layers.

Oh, and just in case you need a better look than the peek provided in the photo above, this is the beach. Crowded, eh…

Monday, March 25, 2013


When I was growing up, one of the (few) days on the church calendar that made any sense to me was Palm Sunday – and maybe not so much that it made sense, as that it made me happy to be at church that day.

I suspect what I liked was the fact that Palm Sunday was the day we received a swath of palm leaf. Although only a small token, that dried bit of palm felt like a gift – the single day at church when, instead of just throwing coins into a basket, we got something back.

I came to associate the day with things changing, going forward. It may have been Palm Sunday when my parents decided to buy the house they’d been considering. I think I met one of my best boyfriends that day. Silliness perhaps, but a person seeking direction is alert to points that may be worth marking.

Yesterday was this year’s Palm Sunday, and though I can’t say I noticed any big shift going on in my life, I did discover some beautiful palms. I bet they’re the same variety that would have been blessed and distributed had I still been someone who believed in going to church.

As with so many religious observances, when it comes to Palm Sunday there’s some crossover in the events of origin. Jesus, who was a Jew (a fact that some Christians may find heretical) was riding a donkey into Jerusalem as he was preparing to celebrate Passover.
He was greeted by people laying palms along the ground. And today – at least in Canadian time zones – is the first day of Passover.

Even though I don’t follow any particular religion anymore, it’s clear that those early lessons were imprinted, as some of those early-learned stories appear now and then in one of my poems.

Whether this is the week when you observe rituals associated with Holy Week (pre-Easter) or Passover, or simply the changing of the seasons, may it be a time when you can hold your own palm open to whatever lies ahead.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Finding balance

Even though it's not quite officially spring, many of the flowers know better. Crazily, I had to go uptown to shoot this image, as the squirrels had efficiently eaten the budding heads off all the daffodils in our yard. As far as I can tell, they didn't leave a single one. I can only hope the pesky critters got their fill and will leave the rest of this spring's bulbs alone. 

Technically, the equinox doesn't happen until Wednesday, and for most of us, it'll be while we're sleeping. So unless you want to set an alarm, it probably won't be a year to do the egg-balancing experiment.

Still, there are plenty of other ways of seeking balance in our lives. The first that comes to mind is likely diet -- in the foods we choose to eat. The one I'm trying to pay more attention to this year is trickier (at least for me), the ongoing delicate balance between work and play. This week, Spring Break, the goal is play.