Thursday, December 31, 2015

Water over the dam

Year's end and I think about events of the year, accomplishments, failures, happy times, family, and friends. I guess it's all considered just so much 'water over the dam', a phrase that apparently means the same thing as 'water under the bridge'. Though in this case, it's water over the falls.

Of all the definitions, Google's is the closest to what I am thinking about tonight. They suggest that those past events going over the dam are simply that -- the past -- so, "consequently, no longer regarded as important or as a source of concern."

But concern is exactly what I am feeling tonight -- that unfinished tasks from 2015 might be abandoned if we don't keep them in focus.

I have a list of them, and it's hard to arrange them into any firm priority. So, randomly, a year-end list of questions and causes that need some attention.

Why do the BC Ferries charge a reservation fee? The Washington State Ferries reservation only costs if you fail to show up when you said you would. Face it, it's a convenience for the company to know how many to expect. Maybe people showing up should pay an inconvenience fee for throwing out the count. And really, a higher rate if it's a last-minute reservation? I am shaking my head.

How does Christy Clark get away with acting so bossy? Does she think she is the Queen? Why did BC's taxpayers have to pay administration costs for a referendum with results that were a foregone conclusion (despite the $7 million campaign put up by the 'Yes' side). Why doesn't she have to have a referendum before she can commit ten billion (plus, you can bet) dollars of our money on the Site C Project. And how can she declare BC as not willing to participate in the strategy proposed towards repairing the Senate -- I'd think, where that's a federal proposal, she wouldn't have the authority to make such a decision.

But my last question is the saddest of all -- and the most important. Why has Rodney Watson still not been accepted as a refugee? He's been living in sanctuary since 2009 -- for a crime that should not have been considered a crime: leaving the US Army because he didn't want to kill. I don't want him going over the waterfall. I want our new federal government to recognize him as a seeker of refuge in Canada, to renew the promise of what our country stands for.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Once upon a time, I believed

Once upon a time, Christmas Eve was the day my dad would go shopping for gifts. My sister and I often got to go along on these last-minute excursions. It was lucky for us, as we usually wouldn't have bought anything for our mother by then either.

He'd give us each a dollar. That narrowed it down, didn't it.

One of the best-ever (I thought) gifts was a cookbook I bought her -- and yes, that faded brown thing in the photo is it. I was surprised, and a little bit hurt, that she didn't seem very thrilled by it.

Looking back, I can see that she might have taken it as an insult to her cooking. That wasn't the intent, though I suppose she could have used some help in that department, or at least encouragement. Weirdly, I still make several recipes from it -- it's the best for basics like pancakes or biscuits -- and the best-ever barbecue ribs come from it as well.

But the thing was, it fit the bill -- literally -- as it cost a dollar.

A baster is there too (not that it's the original) as it was another one of my 'inspired' one-dollar gifts for her. And this probably came about because one of my dad's favourite stores for his last-minute shopping was not a dress shop or a jeweller's, but a place he was likely more familiar with, the hardware store. There was something about going there with him that will always make visiting a hardware store feel a lot like Christmas to me.

Best cheers, however you celebrate, to all!

Monday, December 21, 2015

New light

Contrary to what a number of sources are reporting, this is the day when Solstice occurs in most of North America. Quick reads may suggest otherwise, as most of them seem to be citing the 22nd without noting that as a Greenwich Mean Time (okay, UTC) -- in other words, when it occurs in western Europe.

Whenever it might occur, the light won't be sudden, as we gain only seconds each day as the earth turns us toward the next seasonal marker, the Vernal or Spring Equinox.

Still, the change in light will start being noticeable soon, for sure by the time the new year arrives.

But even beyond the hours and minutes of sunlight, I am grateful for the other new light that feels as though it's shining on us -- the light of welcome being shone on the refugees arriving from Sudan, the light being cast on the Inquiry that will finally be held for Canada's lost and missing women, the light of scientific knowledge being uncloistered.

Let it shine!

Friday, December 11, 2015


It's still ten days until the arrival of Solstice, but this morning's sky looked wintry. Not in a bad way, it just had that look that comes with this time of year. As if it were quietly waiting -- maybe for Santa. 

The celebrations have begun too. Last night was the annual gathering of BC Publishers, always a good party, with tons of great food and friends. After that, a fundraiser event with poets reading from the fine new anthology, The Revolving City. More good friends, more good times. 

And I suppose the calendar, along with all this celebrating also means it’s just about time for the baking and treat-making to begin in earnest here at home. So, what am I doing, typing here in my room?!

Saturday, December 05, 2015

This was the night

... when we used to hang our stockings by the fireplace, as tomorrow is the feast of Saint Nicholas. I'm pretty sure you were actually supposed to put out shoes rather than stockings and I'm pretty sure that might have been what we did the first time or two. But somehow that tradition didn't last, and we switched to the more conventional stocking.

If memory serves, I was the one who came up with the suggestion for our family to do this -- mainly because I felt my sisters and I were getting ripped off (as if, eh). You see, our parents didn't believe in Christmas stockings. A hideous thought, I realize, and one that must contribute to who I am today.

Anyway, I read a story in some book about how Dutch kids put their shoes out and had them filled with gifts and candies and thought that we deserved to do the same. Maybe it's just because I've always had big feet that this tradition didn't last long, as we were persuaded to use the more modest stocking from the mantle, a tradition we still follow today.

And I realize the stocking in the image isn't the kind that Santa or St,Nicholas or anyone else fills, but it's the prettiest stocking I own, as it was a gift from my loving sister, Lisa.

Happy Feast of St.Nicholas!

Monday, November 30, 2015

Clouded vision...

As part of our local gallery's 40th anniversary celebrations, a two-day celebration of the written word was held.

Saturday night's reading featured 15 writers and a spoken word sound-artist -- all of whom had plenty to say about living and working and writing in Surrey. Held in the charged atmosphere of a North Surrey pizza place, the event went well past the magic witching hour of midnight.

Sunday's event was more sedate, with M.G. Vassanji as the distinguished keynote speaker. Two panels followed, with various presenters speaking, including this blogger.

In my role as a panelist, I'd been asked to speak about the history of creative writing in Surrey, so that's exactly what I did -- at least to the best of my ability in 12 minutes.

During the brief Q&A that followed, questions seemed to indicate that there were two very different groups in the room -- or at least that's how it felt.

I'm still feeling somewhat unsettled by the experience, but have already begun writing an essay about it, though it's pretty slow-going, as I feel that I am groping my way along, not really able to see what's ahead. Kind of like the way the world looks through that icy windscreen in the image above.

At least the weather bureau is promising that tomorrow will see a change in temperatures, that we won't be stuck with all that scrape, scrape, scraping. Some warming up, even if it means rain, sounds fine with me. And maybe -- just maybe -- tomorrow will also bring a bit of clarity on some tricky issues that are lingering in my mind.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Full moon party

Well, no party exactly. If you're interested, you'll need to get on a plane and go to Thailand. The Full Moon Party at Haad Rin has turned into something that sounds well beyond my interests, with over 10,000 attending.

The full moon this month was not only visible here (no clouds, hurrah), but the camera contributed some special effects to this, the so-called 'beaver moon'. It gets that name from a time when this full moon, the last before Solstice, indicated that the time had come to go hunting for the beavers whose pelts were so very valuable.

It has also been referred to as the 'mourning moon' to coincide with saying good-bye to things no longer needed. Maybe it's a good time for cleaning and tidying up, or perhaps for cleaning out the pantry for donations to the food bank.

Better yet, maybe it's a good time to dig deep into the wallet for donations to charities who might help those less fortunate. Yet another kind of full moon party.

Monday, November 23, 2015

How is this an improvement?

The world is changing -- especially in the part of the world where I live. Not so very long ago, this lot held a modest house and a number of trees stood in the yard. Not any more.

I'm no fortune-teller, but I'm pretty sure there will soon be a very large house rising here -- one that will extend to the farthest legal reaches of the lot, both sides and back.

Interestingly, the people who live in the modest house just next door are apparently planning to stay, as they are in process of installing a new roof.

Something seems very wrong when houses that are barely forty years old are demolished, just so extreme (some call them 'monster') homes can be erected. It seems to me that if I wanted a mega-mansion, I'd want to build it on a piece of land worthy of such a house, and not squeeze it in on a lot in a neighbourhood where it doesn't look at all like it wants to be part of the same community.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Are deer smarter than people?

When it comes to crossing the road, this deer looks smarter than many of the human pedestrians I see.

For a start, the deer actually looks in the direction of oncoming traffic to see whether it's safe to step out (also note: the deer is not wearing earbuds, nor is it texting).

Once having determined that it's safe, the deer steps carefully toward the crosswalk.

Halfway across the road, checking again -- this time, looking the other way for oncoming traffic.

Okay, getting there --

What do you suppose the chances are this deer could give lessons to people?

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

What a weekend!

It was such a busy weekend, it's taken a few days for me to catch my breath and do a posting.

The photo is from Friday night, downtown Vancouver in the rain. I was on my way to attend the opening night of an opera (yes, moi, an opera!) at SFU's Experimental Theatre, a performance of 'air india [REDACTED]' a production by the Turning Point Ensemble.

Irish composer Jurgen Simpson created the opera, using words from Renee Sarojini Saklikar's children of air india as the libretto. The performance is, to put it mildly, powerful, with a full orchestra (or, what looks like one to my untrained eye) creating the threatening mood required by the story. This is, after all, the story of a plane brought down by a terrorist's bomb.

The mood is enhanced by the almost-eerie voice of Daniel Cabena, a voice that's classified as a counter-tenor -- to my ear, it could have been a female voice -- that's how clear and high-pitched it was.

But enough of the show. You can read reviews that describe and interpret it better, I am sure.

Saturday had been a day I'd been looking forward to: a symposium to brainstorm/discuss what the city of Surrey might look like in 2030 -- or, as organizers put it, a chance to play at being a city planner. Unfortunately, aside from meeting some interesting people, the day proved to be a disappointment.

For one thing I was stuck at a table forced to discuss a topic that would have been pretty much at the bottom of my priorities for the day (crime and safety, ugh, can you say 'Steve Harper' yet again?).
And, as I have long suspected, 'tools' put out for us to work with included Lego. I'm firm in my beliefs that too many of our traffic/mall design problems have resulted from planners using 'Lego-thinking' in their plans -- that they fail to consider how their designs will function once people and/or cars come into the equation.

Happily, I was at least able to end the weekend on a satisfying note, working on homemade Christmas cards with one of my best buddies.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

We did it!

Earlier today, I had the privilege of breaking out of my usual pattern by watching daytime TV. The reason? Our new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, was being sworn in. This felt like history-in-the-making.

Already, from seeing the members of his cabinet and from hearing his responses to questions from the press, it appears that we really are going to get our country (and all it's always stood for) back. No more one-man rule.

Hurrah and onward!

Saturday, October 31, 2015


This is one of the pumpkins greeting trick-or-treaters at our door tonight. So far, we've had 29 little raiders, ooops -- there's a new batch!

Best costumes so far were worn by a group of five girls who looked like they'd just stepped out of lessons at Hogwarts, including one who was willing to admit she was from Slytherin. Luckily for us, they promised no evil spells.

For me, the scariest part of this Halloween might be that the shots I took today might be the last ones I get with my longtime faithful Nikon point-and-shoot. The other day I spotted a crack in its body, never a good sign for a camera.

In the meantime, safe flying to witches everywhere and Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Someone special

Today is the anniversary of the day that George's grandmother died. Yesterday would have been her birthday. It seems odd how the two dates are so very near. Celebrating one's birth on one day, dying the next.

But then maybe that's the way life is for all of us. A span of eighty, even a hundred years, is nothing on the timeline of the cosmos.

And maybe I'm just thinking on this kind of scale owing to an animation that came to my attention yesterday. It illustrates just how tiny we really are in the grand scheme of things.

And yes, that's a candle we have burning for her in our kitchen, the part of the house she always knew best. A bit of whisky in a glass for her, along with fresh fruit -- the one in front is a quince, something she liked to bake with.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Canada, renewed

Last night's election results are still reverberating across the country. News coverage of the change seems non-stop, all of it about going forward. It's as if a weight has been lifted. Even the sun has come out.

Two bits of oddness were handed to me by the Universe today.

One arrived while I was sorting a box I'd run across while cleaning my office. I found some items wrapped in newspaper, some personal treasures I'd put away when we travelled in 2011 and rented out our house. The date on the paper affirmed this theory, March 9, 2011. A headline on a letter to the editor caught my eye, The Government of Harper.

The letter, sent by Jeanette Campbell of Mission, B.C. read:
     The media announced recently that federal civil servants were ordered in a December 2010 directive that all federal communications, such as press releases, had to replace the words "the Government of Canada" in their missives with "The Harper Government."
     Have Canadians lost their identity and sense of national sovereignty and pride?
     Prime Minister Stephen Harper appears to think so. Incandescent outrage?
     You'd better believe it. Next misnomer on the plate for Canadians? You guessed it! President Harper. 
Fortunately, things didn't sink low enough for her last prediction to come true. But 'incandescent outrage'? Yes. That seems to be the reason we've had this wonderful change to the Government of Canada.

As for that other bit of oddness sent my way -- it arrived in the post, an opportunity to renew my subscription to a magazine. Yep, Harper's.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015


Last night was a presentation by four of the six candidates running for election in our riding. The topic for the evening's discussion was homelessness and housing. But nearly all of the answers they gave were discouraging in the fact that they were such non-answers.

Or, if they did respond to the topic, they gave answers that were much more applicable to other, faraway parts of the city.

It was as if they all lived in the same protected little cottage, one that's covered so completely in flowering ivy it's impossible to see out.

Not one of the candidates alluded to the biggest issue in this part of the city: the fact that so many perfectly good houses are being torn down to make way for an ever-increasing number of monster houses.

If these new homes were even occupied by people who planned to stay in the neighbourhood and become part of the community, things might be different. But no, it seems inevitable that within 12 to 18 months, they get flipped.

Trees are coming down and crime is going up.

But did these candidates have anything to say about this? Not a peep.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Han Shan Project -- revisited

It was just about two years ago that poets from around the world heard the call sent out by Susan McCaslin, a writer from Fort Langley, B.C.

She'd learned that the Township of Langley had plans to sell off a tract of forest, and that once sold it would be developed for 'estate' housing. Because Susan knew how valuable this forest was -- how important it would be as greenspace for future generations -- she set about organizing the Han Shan Project.

Poets from as far away as Australia submitted poems. Susan and her husband printed out the poems, put them into plastic sleeves and suspended them from trees throughout the forest.

Soon the project received national press (thanks in large part to the involvement of artist Robert Bateman) and hurrah, the forest was saved. Then, even more miraculously, Langley's Blaauw family stepped forward to purchase a second tract of the forest, ensuring a sustainable number of trees would endure. The bench in the picture above shows a bench dedicated to the memory of Thomas Blaauw, whose estate funded the purchase.

Trinity Western University, now charged with caretaking the forest, has sponsored a symposium -- some of which has reported on confirmation of endangered species discovered in the forest. To celebrate, they have remounted the Han Shan Project, again hanging poems from the trees.

Just as the first time this decoration-of-the-forest occurred, the feeling created is magical.

The poems will be on display in the forest until early December.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Election worries

A federal election is approaching. Unfortunately, it might not get here soon enough to save us.

Overly dramatic thinking? Maybe.

But again, maybe not.

Meetings to finalize details of the Trans-PacificPartnership are about to take place in Atlanta – too soon to have representatives from our (hopefully) new government in attendance.

Instead, Canada will be represented by Ed Fast, Minister for International Trade (and the Pacific Gateway) in the current regime, the self-proclaimed (by the PM himself) “Harper Government”.  

I’m still wondering how it’s fair or democratic for a government that’s long since dismissed its still-currently-elected Members of Parliament to act on the world stage as if it’s still in power.

When it comes to my vote, it will likely once again be a wasted one, as the candidate in our riding appears to be a shoo-in.

Dianne Watts served as the Mayor of Surrey for nearly a decade, and on many accounts, seemed to do a good job. When she announced her plans to run federally, I wasn’t alone in thinking she would run for the Liberal Party of Canada (not to be confused with BC’s provincially based so-called ‘Liberal’ Party).

We looked forward to the thought that our riding would finally be rid of the do-little Member of Parliament we’ve had for the last three terms and thought that Watts might bring a semblance of actual representation to us. But then Watts surprised us by announcing she was running for Harper’s Conservatives.

She’s had some less than stellar moments during the campaign, notably thanks to a pamphlet bearing her name and likeness that raged about ISIS being the greatest threat to everyone in our riding, as if it were the most important issue this election.

It seems more than worrisome that she could be elected on what appears to be almost a non-campaign, one that's based on a platform of fear and the fact that she’s a ‘name’ around here. And even more frightening to consider what our country will become if the Tory government regains power.

As Heather Mallick commented in an article in the September issue of Harper’s magazine (no resemblance whatsoever to our Prime Minister), if the Conservatives get into office again, there might be a few of us thinking about moving to Denmark. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

What a kick-off!

Launch. Whoever dreamed up that term for welcoming a book to the world couldn't have had a better site in mind than SFU's Harbourside branch. What better place for a launch, than beside Burrard Inlet, looking out over the water.

On Wednesday evening, a new anthology, The Revolving City, was launched there.

That site was doubly appropriate as the anthology presents poems by writers who have participated in SFU's popular Lunch Poems series -- and the venue for those readings is barely outside the door where the celebratory launch was held.

As with any such collection, many people were involved in bringing the book to fruition. One of those is Kim Gilker, the photographer in the image above. She's taking a picture of George Bowering, as he's reading a wonderful poem from the book by the recently-deceased Jamie Reid.

The poem suits the image, as it's a powerful rant piece called "Prayer" with the following lines that repeat as part of the chorus.
               LET THE SKY ESCAPE
And yes, the poem is all in caps, so is probably meant to be shouted across the universe.

The sky glowering in the background as sunset approaches seemed the just-right companion to Bowering's reading.

And this event was just the first in the four days of this year's Word Vancouver event. What a great start to it. If you're in range of Vancouver, maybe I'll see you Sunday at Library Square.

Monday, September 21, 2015

On retreat, an annual affair

One of my favourite weeks of the year is the one I get to spend on retreat with my writing group. We've been doing this every September for more years than I'm sure of -- at least five.

This year saw us in a different setting (we usually go to Nanaimo, on Vancouver Island), as one of our brainy members found us a house to rent in Whistler. I'll admit that I felt some trepidation, as I've never felt quite 'upscale' enough to be part of what I'd imagined as the Whistler scene.

The house we were in was comfortably nestled into a hillside of trees, so I felt at home right away.

The trail system was terrific, the village barely a kilometre from 'our' house. I even managed to get relaxed enough (thanks maybe to a fabulous massage I had at one of the local businesses) to enjoy poking my nose into some of the village shops.

And those trails led plenty of other places besides the village. The 'bouquet' above, placed on the 'vase' of a large rock outside our front door was comprised of bits of wildflowers, rose hips and pine cones gathered during foresty walks.

I'm pretty sure all of us accomplished the writing we'd aimed to get done. And best of all, I think we all came away refreshed and looking forward to a 'new year' of writing.

When the clouds made their way down the mountain on Saturday, each of us made our way down the Sea to Sky Highway, homeward, our heads filled with mountain air and memories, just about in time for the autumn Equinox.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Thoughts on a long weekend

The scents in the air have changed. Thankfully, there's no longer any hint of the smokiness we had during the worst of the forest fires. But it's more than just the clearing of the atmosphere now that we've finally had some rain.

It's a new scent, one that's sweet, something like apples slowly baking in the oven. But it's not a scent from the kitchen that I'm meaning -- it's a scent that fills the outdoors.

Yesterday we took a long walk through Campbell River Valley Park in Langley. Many branches and big limbs were still down from last weekend's storm, but staff had done an amazing job of clearing the trails.

Today saw our 'outside time' here at the house. Picking the ripened quince, pruning some of the bushes and trees, taking down the tent and packing it away for next year.

But just as during yesterday's stroll, being outdoors today has again been a time for thinking.

Probably more so than in January, this always seems like a time for beginnings, and is likely the reason Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, has always made such good sense to me. This year that isn't observed until next weekend, but where I had challah bread last weekend, I'm feeling a kind of symmetry, and thinking this weekend -- sandwiched between those two -- is 'my' new year.

There've been other years when this has been the weekend for writing (or trying to write) a Three-Day Novel, though that hasn't been on this year's agenda.

This year's thoughts are quieter and much less frantic. Listening to the birds, noticing the angle of the changing sunlight and, oh yes, just breathing in those sweet autumny smells.

Sunday, August 30, 2015


Well, this time the weather people were right about the rain. It started yesterday morning and came down pretty much all through the night. Hurrah!

With this end to the drought, it feels like I can exhale. There's something about waiting (and waiting) for rain that makes me feel like I have to hold my breath. I guess I must be acclimatized to where I live.

Along with the wet came a whole lot of wind, but we were among the lucky ones. None of our trees came down (huge ones at a friend's place did, crushing her deck), just a lot of small branches, spruce cones and cedar bits.

Our power was out for nearly 24 hours, but we're pretty well set to deal with those sorts of emergencies. Still, it was a good wake-up call -- enough of one that the generator has been tuned up and is set for the next round of whatever.

The garden sure looks happy though and the trees appear to be smiling again. Me too.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Canada Dry

And I don't mean the ginger ale.

When people learn where I live (not far from Vancouver), they often remark on the weather, and ask how I can bear all the rainfall.

But this year has been different. It seems as though it's hardly rained since April.

We've been visiting a friend on nearby Salt Spring Island where water supply in the summertime is often precarious.

As with the Lower Mainland, it's dry, dry, dry here. I can only hope this poor parched azalea (or is it a rhododendron?) will recover once the drought comes to end.

They keep predicting rain, but it hasn't been panning out. The skies will darken, and then the clouds will pass.

Hmm. Can you say 'climate change'?

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Getting touristical

When out-of-town visitors come to stay, it's almost obligatory to tour them around to see a few sights. When they're from out of country, the stakes go higher.

When my sister visited recently, we started off by heading for Vancouver Island. Sure, we visited some of the usual mid-island spots -- Cathedral Grove, Englishman River Falls, Goats-on-the-Roof at Coombs.

But then she expressed a desire to visit some of the attractions mentioned in some of the brochures, and I'll admit it, I balked. The thought of greenhouse with butterflies in it did not leave me eager to drive further down the road. I'm an appreciator of nature, but this didn't really tempt me, especially after we'd been disappointed by two other similar-sounding places -- both of which were supposed to be wildlife rescue sites. The first of these looked too scary to go into; the second held more examples of taxidermy than live specimens.

Then, though the butterfly place didn't look all that tempting from the parking lot, we decided to take a chance and go in. Not only were there butterflies in profusion, they were surrounded by tropical plants filled with blossoms. Heck, there was even calming music. Butterfly World and Gardens. Worth it? For sure. Sometimes it pays to take a chance on being a touristy tourist.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Lego Surrey

Among current exhibits at the Surrey Museum is one assembled (literally) by a group of Lego enthusiasts. This image is one of many that envision Surrey's past, future -- or, as this one indicates, its present.

The club's creations go back to the Ice Age and forward into a future that's not altogether happy looking, despite supposed changes to what our energy sources will be.

Still, it's a thought-provoking batch of pieces (and yes, thousands and thousands of pieces of Lego), resulting from hundreds of hours of work. Worth taking in -- and the price is right: Free!

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Poetic feet

Iambs? Dactyls? Not that kind of poetic feet. The feet with the beautiful blue toenails belong to poet Sandy Shreve.

She's just released a new book of poems, Waiting for the Albatross. The book, which she calls a collection of found poems, is based on words her father wrote in 1936 when he was 21, working as a deckhand on a freighter.

It becomes clear that 80 years ago, when Jack Shreve kept those journals, there was time to observe life more closely. He notes clouds, sea birds, a shark swimming belly-up. But maybe that was just who he was -- a careful observer. I can't help but wonder whether some of that might be because he didn't have television or all the other screens we devote so much of our attention to -- screens that so often seem to keep us from the real world, from things that matter.

But back to the book. It's enhanced by black-and-white photos. Many of them are of her father and his fellow labourers on the freighter where he worked during those days when he was keeping that diary which Sandy used as source material.

So what have her feet got to do with anything?

While she was sharing some of the poems with a group of us, the day was hot and she'd kicked off her shoes. While she sat straight in her chair, holding the book and reading to us, her feet were gesticulating to the words -- every bit as eloquently as hands might have been.

I suppose it would have been more fun to have a video of those expressive feet in action, but somehow it would have been too intrusive on the gathering. You'll just have to buy the book and imagine those feet in action, swinging to the sounds of Sandy's (and her dad's) poetry.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Revisiting the (almost) 100 foot diet

Back when I used to keep my supper blog, there was a night I did an experiment in eating food that had grown in our yard. I called it the 100-foot diet.

While that wasn't quite the case with last night's meal -- the bit of couscous was from the other night, as was the eggplant spread (though it was full of onions from the yard). The bread was a cheat as well, though from a bakery not so very far away.

Still, the beans (two kinds), little tomatoes and all of the berries (blackberries, raspberries and one humongous strawberry) were all just freshly picked in time for supper.

Ah, summertime!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The House that Birdie Built

We have a bird living with us this summer. Earlier, she tried building a nest on a ledge in the gazebo, but that one didn't work out. This time she's taken up lodging in behind a potted begonia.

Where the last posting here featured the front door of our house, it seems only fair to give the same treatment to the back door. And really, this nest (hidden) is not even a metre from where we go in and out to the back yard.

I can only surmise that Birdie must have been watching decorator shows on tv, as really, this spot seems more about looks than practicality. Not only does she have pink begonia blossoms, every now and then she has waterfall sound effects, as there's a shower just inside the bathroom (nearest) window.

The little mother seems to have grown used to us, though we do try to be quiet when we pass by her
home. And watering the plant has become an exercise in precision so as not to flood her home while keeping the plant alive.

Not exactly something that should show up on Dress My Nest, but Birdie has certainly made herself a a very pretty home.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Painted Door, revisited

If you’ve never read the wonderful story, "The Painted Door" by Sinclair Ross, the next time you have 15 or 20 spare minutes, you might want to click on this link to it.

Or, if you’re more into video-watching, here’s a link to a short adaptation of the piece that gives you a very good interpretation of the story.

But really, this posting isn’t about a great short story; it’s just an account of one of those jobs we leave for the days of mid-summer.

This year our house is badly in need of paint – especially all the trim, so that means the doors too. 

Because we only have one ladder (great excuse, sez I), the Dear Man is the one doing all the sanding and painting of roof-edge trim. That leaves me with the job that at least requires no climbing – the doors.

As with just about any paint job, the masking took me longer than the actual painting. I not only taped the doorknob and lock, but the top and all the edges, as those are supposed to remain white. Only a bit of jumping up onto a chair for the tippy-top. Otherwise, all was on the level.

One problem that did crop up during the job was the fact that my ‘painting shoes’ decided to choose this afternoon to almost completely disintegrate. 

Good thing this paint job isn’t going to go on for very long!

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

How early is too early?

Not long ago, I noticed that the blackberries were starting to ripen. It was just an isolated few, but whoa -- that's no longer the case.

They're over a month early, but try telling that to them. They just keep ripening and ripening, so I just keep picking.

Today's berries were so plentiful, I decided I had to make some of them into jam.

One more batch of Christmas gifts, I guess, but this early feels almost scary.

No wonder even the pope is talking climate change.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

O Canada (on Canada Day)

If you're not sure who Louis Riel was, click on his name for a one-minute history lesson. Sadly, a lot of those words -- especially the ones about government -- are just as true now as they were then.

Although I'm one who considers him a hero, not everyone does (nor obviously, considering his end, did).

For several years while I was attending Simon Fraser University, I was lucky enough to live in what was called the 'married residence' even though few of us were actually married. The other, more important name for that building was Louis Riel House.

Because the university didn't look after the building as well as it might have, conditions there have made the place uninhabitable. It will be closing at the end of August. What this means is yet another chapter of affordable housing closing.

Many of us who lived there were single parents, trying to raise our kids and complete a degree. We found the building a place that enabled us to fulfill both roles.

With closure of the Louis Riel House, education will become just that much more difficult for the students (and their families) who have been living there.

It's more than a little ironic to consider these words from the man himself, Louis Riel, about the battle being "...for homes and human rights."

He understood the importance of access to housing.

If only our politicians did.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Way of the Raspberry (and other berries)

Picking raspberries allows one the time to do nothing more than look and move one's hand. Such simple, repetitive motions -- hand to berry, to bucket, to bush again -- allow time for contemplation, almost meditation.

The berries reveal themselves, each in their own way. To the picker, to the sun, to the bumblebee in search of flowers to visit. It's as if they understand the purpose of their existence -- that they were made to be eaten and enjoyed.

The darkest, deepest red of the berries let go of their branches at the slightest touch. Those paler or slightly orange cling tightly and won't allow themselves to be plucked, teaching perhaps that resistance is not, as the Borg would say, futile.

Some lie hidden, gathered in a clutch beneath a canopy of green leaves, as if in wait for the one who will seek them out, perhaps the one who will best appreciate them.

Still others push forward -- higher, higher on the branch -- standing tallest at the top of the spindliest part of the cane, maybe as if to be nearer the sun.

Already, so many berries have gone into my bucket this year. So many of those have in turn gone into bags now filling the freezer. Others have gone into jars of jam that will in turn become gifts at Christmastime.

The strawberries have come and been. Blueberries are next (tomorrow, first pick for me).

But wait a minute, what's that already ripening even though it's still June? Blackberries aren't supposed to ripen until August, are they?

Monday, June 22, 2015

Summer bed, summery dreams

It's official. As of last night, when we passed the mark of Solstice, it's summer.

For us, summer means we set up our tent and sleep in the little clearing in our yard. Home-camping, I suppose. All that fresh air makes for great sleeps and wonderful dreams, even if the birdsong does seem louder in the morning.

Around here, it's felt like summer for weeks -- strawberries have come and been, raspberries are ripe, even the blueberries will be ready soon.

Yesterday was also Canada's National Aboriginal Day. To celebrate, our Sunday dinner was a little out of the ordinary: venison, turkey, wild rice salad, corn and (as just about always), green salad from the garden. Served with plenty of gratitude and family in attendance, it felt like a great way to start the season.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Remembrances and coincidences

It's been one week since we attended a remarkable remembrance event for a dear friend. It's a matter I mostly want to keep private.

But another remembrance that came to my attention this week is one that I think deserves a more public commemoration.

It was an item that caught my eye mostly by accident. Though I often scan the obituary pages (usually on my way to the day's Sudoku), I noticed a name I hadn't seen nor heard mention of in years: Mary Steinhauser. The announcement was a remembrance item, commemorating her death forty years ago on June 11, 1975, when she was caught in crossfire (or as we may now identify it, by the hideous oxymoron, 'friendly fire') during a hostage-taking incident at the British Columbia Penitentiary in New Westminster.

The institution's been closed since 1980, mostly excavated and re-invented as a subdivision, though remnants of the old BC Pen linger.

The penitentiary was well known for its practice of holding inmates in its SCU (Special Corrections Unit), where prisoners were confined alone for over 23 hours a day, with only the rarest access to the outdoors. Because the SCU was on the top floor of one of the buildings, it became known as the Penthouse. Prison humour, always the darkest, is often enduring in its irony.

Steinhauser was a social worker -- or, to be more accurate, a classifications officer -- who worked at the prison. She was known as an advocate against the practice of solitary confinement and was viewed by some as being 'on side' with the men, a situation that may well have contributed to her death.

Although the full report stemming from the official inquiry into the incident does not cite the names of any of the hostages (it names only prisoners and those who were called in as negotiators), we know that the single resulting death was that of Steinhauser.

I'll admit to having had greater than average interest in the story, both because I admired Steinhauser (and Claire Culhane, a peace activist and another prisoners' advocate of the era) and because I knew someone who was a brother to one of the hostage-takers. All I can find to substantiate my memories of the event is the Wikipedia article on Steinhauser. It portrays her heroically, as being the only hostage who chose to stay in the room with the prisoners who'd taken charge, standing for what she believed to the end.

But now here's where the coincidences come into play. Reading this morning's paper, I found a hopeful article about rehabilitation activities in U.S. prisons. Instead of the continuously more punitive measures which are being undertaken in our overcrowded prisons, gardening is being encouraged as a way to give men meaning in their lives -- and to save money by providing a source of food for the prisons.

Only then, when I turned the page, an even bigger coincidence presented itself, this time on the too-familiar obituary page. Former prison guard, Albert Hollinger had died. It had supposedly been bullets from Hollinger's weapon that had killed Mary Steinhauser. And here, within a day of her death's anniversary, was his death.

Details of his obituary made it seem as though he'd suffered his own difficult times in life, alluding to PTSD.

Coincidences, remembrances. Lives intertwined. May all of them now rest, in peace.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Backyard solar power

This is our version of solar power. The sun dries the laundry, provides salad greens and illuminates a spot for reading and relaxing.

It seems that our prime minister has finally acknowledged (publicly, no less) the reality of climate change and agreed to a plan towards achieving decarbonization by the end of the century.

But what I want to know is, now that this has been stated as a goal (even though 2100 is way too far down the road), where are the grant programs for developing alternative energy sources? Think of all the start-ups that need to get rolling -- solar, thermal, tidal, and who-knows-what-else -- if we are to accomplish this goal.

Our house has what seems to be the perfectly angled spot on our mostly flat roof for installing a modest solar array. I'd like to know when the Feds will show up with some kind of encouragement for implementing a more serious solar plan for the homes and neighbourhoods of ordinary Canadians.

We can only hope this fall's election will see some major changes which will bring about real leadership as we move towards living in more planet-friendly ways.

Monday, June 01, 2015

Down by the river

Winnipeg. That's where I spent this past weekend. Aside from hurriedly changing planes at the Winnipeg airport, I'd never been there before. What a place, a city that reached into my soul.

In between meetings and sessions for The Writers' Union of Canada and the League of Canadian Poets, I made it to the Winnipeg Art Gallery, the Legislature Buildings and the Canadian Museum of Human Rights. All of these visits were well worthwhile, but even more important to me was the visit I paid to the banks of the Red River.

The reason for visiting the river was so I could place a 'memory rock' there.

The memory rock was a shiny stone I'd found, in of all places, on the floor of a downtown dollar store.

The store was crowded, mostly with First Nations people -- singles, women, families with beautiful kids. It was a messy shop, with more security guards than ordinary staff, and I suppose the security guys weren't into tidying the shelves.

It made me sad that the food choices there consisted of nothing but chemmy-flavoured junk. I could only hope that there was another grocery store in the neighbourhood, one with at least milk, bread and some kind of produce selection.

But then, at my feet, was the perfect shiny stone. I knew it didn't belong there and rescued it.

It was later that the idea came to mind: I knew I wanted to take it to the river and toss it into the water, my small way of remembering Tina Fontaine.

Yesterday, my last day in Winnipeg, was the day I made my way to the river. But the River Walk was closed, owing to the height of the water, almost in flood. I tried a couple of spots where I might access the river -- in a park, beside a playground -- and got close enough that I could have thrown it in. Even though I tossed in a few small stones (ones I picked from under trees on the bank), none of those spots felt like the right place to send out the special one.

Then, when I'd almost resigned myself to keeping the stone, I found the special place.

Here I'd spent the weekend with writers and what did I find but a park bench with a book on it -- a hardcover one at that.

The book's title confirmed that I'd found the right place and I said a kind of prayer/dedication and let the stone fly. For Tina.

Tomorrow the official Report on Truth and Reconciliation will be released -- the aftermath of the horror of the residential schools with their hideous agenda, to "..take the Indian out of the child."

I'm hoping that one of the steps our government will take towards true reconciliation will be initiating an official inquiry into the missing and murdered Aboriginal women. I hope the ripples of my special stone for Tina will radiate into something positive so we don't have any more women thrown into the river -- and not just in Winnipeg, but anywhere.