Sunday, December 31, 2017

Good intentions

It was a rainy night in Vancouver and maybe a time when city workers were on holiday. While it looked as though plenty of people did their best to put their trash where it belonged...somehow this was not exactly the way it was supposed to work. I guess it was a case of good intentions gone awry.

This is a time of year when most of us look back -- whether on what we've accomplished or what we've lost -- and it's also a time for looking ahead, usually with good intentions. Resolutions are often part of the plan, though they often fall aside before long too.

Looking back, it's hard to ignore the near-fiasco that was Canada 150. Well-intentioned, I am sure, but it's leaving very little beside still more debt in its wake. After Canada's Centennial, back in 1967, nearly every little town came away with a legacy, often in the form of a new sports complex. Our local example of this, White Rock's Centennial Arena, still attracts skaters of all ages, whether for hockey, figure skating, or plain old fun.

But what's to show after this year's extravaganza? I'm not sure. Certainly nothing I can cite locally, especially not something we'll be able to point at in another 50 years. Sure, there were gimmicky gizmos, flags and shirts and hats -- even coins that glow in the dark -- though the one of these I liked best doesn't have fireworks, only the glow of the beautiful Northern Lights.

Even the weather seemed to frown on the celebrations. Canada Day in Ottawa saw a downpour of rain. Year-end celebrations with the whopping expensive no-fun skating pond also fizzled, thanks to temperatures deemed too cold, complete with safety warnings. 

Best memento I came across was one that we had for dessert not so long ago. A delicious dark chocolate bar, that came in a box a few sizes too big for the bar. Yummy, yes. But kind of like the celebratory year itself: not quite up to expectations.

And I haven't even mentioned the elephant in the room: the fact that Canada is way more than 150 years old. People have lived here for eons.

I'm hoping for better from our government(s) in 2018, and hoping as well that I will be able to live up to some of my goals and not have them dribble off into the Land of Good Intentions. How about you?

Sunday, December 24, 2017

The power of believing

Over the years, it's been a bit of a tradition for me to write about some of our family's traditions as we celebrate the return of the light at Solstice and, of course, the things we do to observe Christmas.

One of the oddest of these has to be our "Christmas Pig" -- the one in the photo above. It's hard to remember when he began taking up position, playing guard at the end of our walkway each December. But there he sits, year after year, on a complicated bicycle sculpture that's always illuminated by many coloured lights.

This year, he got an added topping of snow. As it melted, it turned to ice, giving him a decidedly punkish coif. Just as Charlotte wrote in her magical web, I have to agree: "SOME PIG!"

But believing in Christmas magic is what's been on my mind. Best of all was the experience I shared with my sister, when we looked out the window and saw (yes, we both swear to it -- and we were way too young to drink) the magical sleigh, flying through the sky, pulled along by that famous team of reindeer.

And even later, another Christmas miracle: this time when I was (still) an adult. One Christmas morning, my kids and I went out to the backyard and were amazed to find parallel marks gouged into the snow, surely the tracks of a sleigh.

Although the kids pestered me, accusing me of making the marks, I knew positively that I hadn't made then, nor could I have been as precise if I'd tried. Besides, no footprints accompanied the tracks.

A prank by a neighbour? I doubt it, as we had only lived in that particular house for about two months and really didn't know anyone who lived nearby. In fact, our next door 'neighbour' was a lumber yard -- an unlikely source for elfish tricks.

I attribute these sights to the power of belief. And if you're lucky enough to have someone in your life who is young enough (or young-at-heart enough) to have such strong beliefs in the Magic of the Season, you are truly blessed.

As for the rest of us, I can only suggest that we all try -- even for just a few minutes -- to believe. Because, if we do, who knows? Maybe tonight, even pigs will fly.

Sending Happy Christmas greetings to friends and family near and far, with hopes that you indeed find time to believe.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Thirteen bananas

...that didn't get eaten, somehow made their way to the freezer. This morning, when I saw that we were getting some snow, it looked like a good day to thaw those and put them to better use.

So, thirteen loaves of banana bread are cooling on the counter, waiting for plastic wrap and a bow. Edible gifts for friends.

Ho ho...

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Two out of three -- not good enough

Thankfully, there were a few rays of good news this week. In the US, Democrats scored a victory -- both political and moral -- when voters in Alabama elected Doug Jones to represent them in the Senate, the first time in more than 20 years for such an occurrence. This marked a huge shift in thinking. Or, perhaps it meant simply the beginning of thinking: not choosing the 'same old, same old' candidate from the Old Boys' Network. Mind you, voters there had plenty of reasons to not vote for the incumbent, but that's another story or two.

Locally, voters in the riding where I live also made history by coming out to support the federal Liberal candidate. In doing so, they gave us our first Liberal Member of Parliament in 64 years. We've had nothing but conservatives of one stripe or other heading to Ottawa on our behalf for way too long. And even though I am not always fond of the federal Liberals, I'll admit that I was part of this sea change. For the only the second time in all my years of voting, someone I cast a ballot for has won a seat. I can only hope that with proportional representation becoming a stronger possibility -- at least at the provincial level -- my vote will count more often.

So, two good news stories, but counterbalanced by one very bad one: On Monday, the provincial government came down with its decision on the fate of the Peace River Valley -- in essence, damning it by going ahead with plans to dam it. This Site C decision is bound to have many negative repercussions for the provincial NDP, the party currently in control (by a hair) here. As for the other negative outcomes -- disregard for farmland, First Nations claims and heritage, and of course the overall environmental losses (forests, fish, birds and a slew of wildlife), those will echo far into the future. Although our premier's statement was thoughtful, it's hard for me to not be suspicious of political ties that may have weighed on him. But, that's only speculation, and not something that's going to change anything -- especially not for residents of BC, in particular, those who live in this region of the Peace, whose homes and land will be flooded.

So, two out of three reasons to celebrate; one to cry over.

It's interesting that the two positive outcomes were brought about through the voice of the people, while the Site C decision was made by a group of politicians sitting around a table. Had there been a referendum, with our province's citizens voting to decide, might the result been different?

All I can hope is that come Solstice, we'll start seeing more change for the better. 

Friday, December 08, 2017

No two the same

Hmm. Looks as though I must be on another of my kicks to keep Canada Post in business -- all on my own. That isn't really the reason I still send cards, mostly it's because I love making them.

Many of them are made from bits and pieces of cards that people have sent me. Some of them are more involved -- layers of stamps and stickers -- or my favourite: getting out the pencil crayons and colouring.

Luckily, my friend and I started early this year. We closed up our 'crafts shop' early in November. But now, here it is, almost mid-December, and I'm still deciding who gets what and sending them out.

Oh well, there'll be plenty of other things to do this month. But then, aren't there always?

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Breaking the silence, breaking the cold

These past two weeks have been silent, I know.

Silent, blog-wise, but not silent here. The sounds in our home have been anything but pleasant: sneezing, nose-blowing, cough cough cough coughing. But today, that is finally changing, thanks to what I will have to call My Healing Tree.

Long ago, at a point when I was filled with a grief so harsh I felt completely lost, I took comfort in the arms of one of the cedars in our yard. Weaving my way through the fronds, almost to the centre -- the trunk -- of the tree, I pretty much collapsed into the branches. Without complaint, those branches cradled me, supporting me firmly enough that they kept me from falling to the ground. They held me and kept me safe while I wept myself dry, a turning point in healing from the sadness I'd been overfilled with.

And last night, this same tree offered help again.

Blustery. A Winnie-the-Pooh word for the sort of night it was. But when I woke in the night, I felt that I was being called. Opening the front door, the branches of the cedar seemed to be reaching out to me. This time the branches were whipping in frenetic bursts of wind, but it was a wind that was filling me with sharply scented air, offering what felt like a cleansing for my lungs.

I can only trust that the neighbours weren't watching as I stood outside on the deck, taking in huge gulps of air that seemed to be pulling phlegm and spew from me. I cast it out in spasms of coughing, projectile sputum hurtled into darkness. How long this went on, I'm not even sure.

But finally, once back inside, I managed to sleep. A deep sleep, one that was filled with dreams of summertime, swimming and light. And somehow buried in those dreams, I was handed a vial containing a precious essence. It was small, and in a container that reminded me of the slim darkened glass ampoules of royal jelly I used to buy from the Chinese store.

But this one, singular, held what I was told I needed: cedar oil.

So today I selected tips from the tree, the greenest and freshest ones. Snipped them into a pot and brewed a tea. Tenting myself over the pot, I breathed in the foresty steam, held it deep and long. Then took the smallest cup of it, sipping and taking in its vapours until it was gone.

Almost immediately, I could feel the clearing in my chest. What I had pictured as white fungus (like the white mould that might grow on the soil of a fouled houseplant) inside of me was now gone.

While this sounds as though I must still be well in the grip of fever dreams, I can only say that an Internet search for cedar oil has only suggested caution -- not to drink very much of it, so I am paying attention and doing that. But I also see that indeed cedar oil has, among a number of its other uses, the clearing of fungus.

So maybe the crossover between dream world and reality isn't as great as we may sometimes think, especially when there's a healing tree that serves as a messenger between those two worlds.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Reclaiming lands, reclaiming lives

Before the Site C dam project goes any further, we need to consider another option -- one that would protect all those hectares of farmland (equivalent to about eight Stanley Parks), one that would preserve the sacred burial sites, one that would see the land put to better use than as lake bottom in a lake that nobody needs.

A lot of work has already gone into the site, so abandoning the project will be costly. But re-purposing it could make sense. My vision sees it as a prison farm. 

The nearest correctional centre (a facility designated for offenders serving less than two years) is in Prince George, pretty much a five-hour drive away. The rest of BC's prison facilities are on Vancouver Island or in the Lower Mainland and are, for the most part, over capacity. In other words, there is cause for British Columbians to build another such institution.

Although Oakalla Prison in Burnaby had a dark history, it also had a more positive side, as it was the site of a productive farm. Kingston Ontario was also home to such a facility, but thanks to the Harper government, it was closed down. There are still groups who are working to have this policy rescinded. There is even a herd of cows ready to 'go to prison'. 

A small city already exists on the banks of the Peace. Why not stop building a dam that doesn't make sense and build something else? If mistakes have been made, so be it. That isn't a good reason to dig further into the mistake. 

A prison farm would make use of the threatened agricultural land (even BC Hydro's reports predicted the land could feed a million people) and would give meaningful employment -- not only to inmates, but to farmers from the Peace region who could be employed to manage the prison farm. 

Such a plan would also ensure that sacred sites and burial caches (many of them thousands of years old) of Indigenous peoples from the region would not be flooded, but would be protected. And who knows, a tourist industry might well arise; certainly an interpretive centre could provide work for members of local First Nations. This could be yet another step forward in our efforts at Reconciliation. 

And no prison runs without a large staff -- personnel who range from guards to social workers and medical experts. 

It isn't too late for us to find the courage to proceed along another path in this precious waterway, a path that would preserve the land and heritage while still creating jobs -- and maybe even rescuing some who might have become just another batch of lost souls in the world of gangs and crime.

PS For an easy way to get a call into your MLA, click on this link and fill out the form. They'll phone you right back, putting you through to her/his office. 

Friday, November 03, 2017

Icing on the cake?

Last night, past midnight but well before dawn, light crept into the bedroom, waking me. Outside I discovered the reason. No flash on the camera, just reflected light from the glow of the unexpected white stuff, thus the spooky glow.

I admit to not being a big fan of snow (okay, it can look pretty for a few minutes, especially if it's Christmastime). And even though today is a friend's birthday, the icing on the cake I'm talking about isn't exactly the bonus kind.

Last week broke temp records here.

On Tuesday I was still wearing sandals.

This morning I need to find the shovel and figure out something saucey for those little yellow dots still there shivering on the vine.

Or, I suppose I should just think of all this as icing on the tomatoes.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017


Our neighbourhood has some pretty wild decorations. This is one of the tamer ones, though they seem to have all the bases covered -- witch, skeleton, ghost, spider with webs. But Halloween decorations aren't the scariest things hanging around these days...

Monday, October 23, 2017

Whales and ...

I don't usually write about books on this blog, especially not ones that have my work in them, but this book is somehow different.

Maybe it's just that so many things seem to be on the cusp of change -- politically, decisions are soon to be announced regarding both the Kinder Morgan pipeline proposal and plans for Site C. Anyone who knows or follows me understands that I don't support current plans for either of these going forward, and it tuns out I'm not alone in my thoughts about the Burnaby Mountain project. Today the City of Vancouver has put out a court challenge to review the approval process that took place. There are also several organized protests today, highlighting the dangers of the plan. It looks as though we'll have to wait a few more weeks to know any outcomes.

But back to the book, Refugium: it's an amazing collection of works that honour the Pacific Ocean. Edited by Yvonne Blomer, Victoria's Poet Laureate (that's her in the photo on the left), it brings together poems that celebrate, that praise, and that warn.

It seemed significant when I traveled to Victoria to be part of the launch on the island that, on both legs of my journey across the water the ferry's captain announced the presence of humpbacks nearby. On the trip over, though I dashed to a window, all I managed to see was the roiling water left by their deep dive. But when the same announcement was made on the way back, I got see part of a long, long body curling across the surface, and even got a glimpse of the tail, complete with its own distinctive white markings.

At last week's Vancouver launch one of the presenters, Stephen Collis, startled many of us by mentioning that humpback whales (that's the species pictured on the book's cover) have been known to come to the aid of other sea animals. He called them 'peacekeepers' -- that wonderful term that once, not so long ago, was applied to Canada and its military. And then, as if to back up that tidbit, the next morning's paper had a piece on the social awareness of whales.

With the crazed and crazy ways we (and some of our world's leaders) have been behaving, it's hard to be positive about outcomes for the future. So it's good to know that if we blow ourselves up, perhaps the whales, swimming deep in the oceans will remain. And even if those whales and dolphins don't have our opposable thumbs which have enabled us to create buildings and technologies, we'll be leaving the planet in 'good hands', probably better than the ones it's currently in.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Eat well, eat local

Today is the first day of an "Eat Local" challenge. It runs through early November, perfectly in tune with the final harvest of autumn. It's all about eating well, and cooking with locally-produced food.

All the foods in the photo are ones that were locally grown. This particular batch of eggs, a product I usually buy at my local Farmer's Market, were a gift from a friend who raises chickens (and other critters) at her farm. I love the range of their colours, a mix from the different varieties of chickens she keeps.

The rainbow of tomatoes and sprigs of basil (even in a photo, they want to be near each other, just the way they do in a salad or sauce) are the most locally grown of all, as they're among the last survivors in the back yard garden.

Besides having an excellent market every week, I'm lucky enough to be able to choose among several excellent nearby produce shops, where local food is always identified, making it easy to decide what to buy.

More and more people are choosing to pay closer attention to the food they eat -- all part of staying healthier, eating food that tastes better, and also about using the land better. A number of my friends now proclaim themselves to be urban farmers. A great way to start making this goal a reality for next year is to get a copy of Digging the City. No snobbery here; it proclaims itself as a "manifesto for omnivores" -- a group I'm still proudly a member of.

While I doubt that I can make it through to November without wanting an avocado or banana or orange or lemon or... (Oh dear, I am still too reliant on too many foods from 'away'), I have joined the challenge, as I like its awareness factor.

If you'd like to try the challenge too, follow this link and click on the 'join' button. And even if you don't join, here's to good eating!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Winter wonderin'?

No, it isn't snow edging up to the blackberries -- it's just the result of crazy weather -- hail from a thunder-and-lightning storm we had this morning.

When I first moved to the west coast we didn't seem to have thunderstorms. In fact, they were one thing I missed, and I always loved it when I went back east and got to experience one. While they haven't become exactly common here, they do occur now and then, though usually on a hot day in summer, not on a cool October morning.

Oddly (the way my world so often seems to go), I heard a piece this morning that mentioned the passenger pigeon, a bird whose numbers were so great, its flocks numbered possibly as many as five billion (yes, with a b, billion). Yet by 1914, they were extinct.

Something I hadn't realized was the effect these birds had on forests. The weight of their landing in trees would knock off leaves and even branches, in effect, opening the canopy so light could make its way to the forest floor. This meant the forest environment a century ago was much different than today's. I can't help thinking that maybe the passenger pigeons' disappearance could have something to do with the disastrous fire situations our woodlands -- and even neighbourhoods -- are experiencing.

And really, if flocks of them were so massive they could take hours -- sometimes even days -- to pass across the sky, maybe those clouds of birds were large enough to have an effect on the weather.

The white stuff has melted, but still I wonder, if we hadn't killed off all those passenger pigeons, might our weather be less crazy than it is today?

Monday, October 09, 2017

Gorgeous "grassitude"

As the weather starts to change, the winds announce themselves, reminding us that colder temps will soon be here.

But that chill also serves to bring us together, to bask in the warmth of friends and family in this time for giving thanks. One of the things to be grateful for is the fact that our holiday has shifted from the narrow definition its origins bore.

A big meal with plenty of leftovers, along with a walk through the now-changing colours -- when it comes to celebrating, that's plenty for me.

Nonetheless, I'm still left wondering, Who paints these gorgeous leaves when I'm not looking?

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Nosing into a new month

Even the tomatoes from the garden are pointing the way to October.

In another week, Thanksgiving -- then Halloween, and yikes -- not long after that, Christmas.

And then we'll nose our way into yet another new year.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Time has a way of...

...disappearing, it seems. One minute, the National Research Council Time Signal is beeping ten o'clock (Pacific time), the next thing I know, it's turning into afternoon.

Salvador Dali knew a thing or two about time and created so many pieces exploring its flexible nature. I felt pretty lucky to have heard about an exhibit of a few of his works -- in of all places, a mall.

The piece at the top is his interpretation of Alice in Wonderland. I love the freedom of its fluidy, dancing lines.

One kind of crazy thing I couldn't ignore was the accidental (I am sure) juxtaposition of Dali's dancing clock, and its placement just outside a shop with a clock in its name. Even their times were somewhat in sync. Something I think that Dali might have liked, might have at least winked an eye at.

The show is on at Oakridge Centre until October 1st -- better hurry, before time runs out.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

from Oh to Why

It's a job that's taken longer than I'd hoped or dreamed it might, but the old four-drawer file cabinet is finally cleared out.

Part of the reason it took so long is that I seemed compelled to look at too many papers. It was as if I simply had to read what had once seemed so important.

As it turns out, some of those papers turned out to be keepers, including this little set from what once filled the bottom drawer. As you might guess, one of the strangest set of clippings captured all the wariness that accompanied Y2K. Lucky us, the world didn't end, didn't even seem to feel a bump in the road.

Even though the actual point of equinox doesn't happen until tomorrow, having that cabinet cleared out feels like a good way to begin the new season, the stepping-off point to who knows where.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

No $ale

All I wanted to do was buy some tape. Some good sturdy clear tape that would hold up, no matter the weather.

But it turned out, because there was no bar code on the roll, the worker behind the counter couldn't ring up the sale.

I asked him, "But it's clear, look at the display. The price of a roll is $2.99. Can't you just ring that in manually?"


It's true. My paranoia is justified. The machines are definitely keeping us in our place. I'd say this is yet another proof that they're winning.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Eyes of heaven

One of my favourite reading series celebrates the work of poets who have died. There's nothing hokey or ghoulish about this -- it's no seancey nonsense -- it's brought together every two months by a group of very-alive writers, and it's called Dead Poets Live.

I always learn about some poet I've never heard of before. This time the poet was a man named Kabir. Unbeknownst to me, he lived in the 15th century and was considered by many to be a saint. Who knew? I have to credit Kate Braid, who told us that she first discovered one of his books in a second-hand bookstore. The selections she read made me want to learn more. And learning more is what often happens at these readings. Alban Goulden presented a selection of work (and much in the way of enlightening comments) on Paul ValĂ©ry. Goulden even included some of his own translations, explaining his dissatisfaction at some he encountered.

Even though these first two presentations were engaging, the second half really kicked into high gear, as these were works by three poets nearly all of us in the audience had known -- three poets who each died too soon.

Weldon Hunter presented works by Nanaimo poet Peter Culley, whose death took all of us by surprise when we were at the Cascadia Poetry Festival in 2015. Hunter read from each book in Culley's Hammertown trilogy and told a few wonderfully personal stories about his friend, Culley.

Barbara Nickel was exactly the right person to present the work of her friend Elise Partridge. Well-loved by so many in Vancouver's writing community, like Culley, Partridge died in 2015 when she too was only 57. She wrote brave poems that cut close to the bone, with lines like these from a poem called "Ways of Going" that was dedicated to her partner, Steve:
Sad rower pushed from shore, / I'll disappear like circles summoned /by an oar's dip. 
However I burn through to the next atmosphere, / let your dear face be the last thing I see.

Closing the event was Wayde Compton, reading from work by another beloved Vancouver poet, social activist and essayist, Jamie Reid. I can hardly remember giving or attending a reading where I wouldn't see Jamie, often leaning against a wall at the back of the room. No matter the occasion, it was never 'about him'. But then, that's just the kind of guy he was.

As for the crazy photo accompanying this post, it was after the reading, and I was still feeling kind of spiritualized, I guess, by the emotions that were so evident in the room, downstairs in the Vancouver Public Library. Looking up, all those skylights in the building looked to me like eyes -- and whether they were eyes looking up, or ones looking down, I couldn't be sure. But I felt like, if there is such a place as heaven, there it was, in plain view, nearer than ever.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Forest fire skies

Today's skies were smoky, giving the day a feeling I heard called everything from eerie to surreal. I thought about getting out the glasses I used for watching the eclipse, as I thought I might be able to look at the sun. Even the light was similar to the partial darkness we had during the eclipse. Hidden behind so much haze, the sun seemed more like the glow you might see in an old-fashioned light bulb getting ready to burn out, glowing a tired-out-looking orange.

The fiery-looking picture above isn't what you might expect at first glance. It was just one of those lucky shots, a phenomenon I spotted the other morning. Yes, morning.

The sun was streaming through a window and cutting through the petal of a nasturtium in a tiny vase. Thankfully, no fire here. Just the power of the sun, compromised today by smoke blowing northward from the blazes raging through Oregon and Washington.

For a part of the world reputed to be rainy, the past few months have seen drought conditions, with watering restrictions in effect.

And no, Mr Trump, there's no such thing as climate change, is there... I hope you've been able to tell that to the people in Texas.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Almost peachy

To someone who lives in Georgia or in BC's Okanagan, our tiny peach tree would be a joke. But here in the Lower Mainland -- or at least in our little yard -- it's a treasure. This year, it has a whopping big crop of nine (admittedly undersized) peaches.

And I figure that's good enough to qualify as peachy. As it turns out, there are a few phrases based on glorifying this luscious fruit, some weirder, some punnier, some more profound than others. (Can anything based on the description of a fruit be profound? Probably not.)

Even though they're getting nice and rosy, they're still too hard to want to pick and eat. But I'm trusting it won't be long -- and also that they'll be at least as good as last week's little crop of three golden plums. Those were so juicy, we had to eat them outside. I ate mine over top of a plant in a pot, and pretty well managed to water it with the drippings.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Getting ready to say 'Au revoir' the sun. But just for a little while. After all, the meaning of 'au revoir' does suggest 'until we see each other again.'

I've got my fingers crossed that our blue skies will continue, as I really want to watch as much as I can of tomorrow's solar eclipse. Even though where we live will only see an 89% occlusion, I reckon it will be memorable.

I know there are plenty of stories that feature this solar phenomenon, but I'd have to say my favourite is Tintin's adventure in South America, Prisoners of the Sun, where Tintin's knowledge of science (and of a solar eclipse) saves him from death.

The safe glasses are ready, and so am I.

Monday, August 14, 2017

La la la FairyLand

With guests visiting on the weekend, I took a turn at playing tour guide. One of the places we visited was nearby Redwood Park. Not only is it filled with many magnificent trees, it contains some important elements of Surrey's history.

A more recent addition to the park is one visitors often come upon by surprise. I knew the fairies often paid their respects, but I was surprised at how their little village has grown.

Considering how much nasty business has gone down during the past week (and especially on the weekend), it felt safe and idyllic in the forest with its fairy town.

Now, if only the rest of the world could be this calm and peaceful.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Hot times

The past while has been our version of a hot spell -- nothing like many would consider hot (trust me, I was in Kansas last month, and it was HOT there). Temps here on Wednesday made it up to 30 degrees, or for anyone south of the border, 86.

But what a great excuse to curl up with a book and read.

I've been doing a fair bit of that this summer -- whenever I can manage some quiet time. I'm pretty sure I'd have to say the best book I've read this season has been Ivan Coyote's memoir, Tomboy Survival Guide. I'm just about ready to say that this should be required reading -- for everyone. Its messages, though not always easy ones, are important; besides, it's also a fun read, with plenty that made me laugh out loud alone.

A read that's less fun, but one that feels important in another way is a book I recently re-read. One of those (don't you dare roll your eyes) post-apocalyptic novels, Emily St John Mandel's Station Eleven. Food, clothing and shelter -- for sure. But hey, you've gotta have art.

What cool books have you been reading?

Monday, July 31, 2017

Destination nowhere?

Even though it was way last week when I attended a panel presentation at the Surrey Art Gallery, I'm still mulling what sort of enlightenment it was supposed to bring. And sadly, I'm still not feeling any more enlightened now than I was then.

I'd understood that the topic, "Reflections on Canada" would offer some kind of vision on what contemporary Canadian Art is, and where it might be going in the future -- especially now that the hoopla over Canada 150 has eased.

The roster of presenters seemed pretty terrific -- a potter, a poet, a musician and an artist. With this in mind, I expected a diverse view of 'art-now'.

Unfortunately, not all of the presenters were there to talk about Canada. One seemed most intent on ensuring we understood she was not 'of Canada' while another spent much of the time displaying a personal C.V. of accomplishments. And as for discussion, there was hardly any. The bulk of the evening had been eaten up by some of the presenters going overtime. Moderator, where were you? Hello...

I was -- and remain -- curious about what constitutes Canadian art. Even in the limited area I know best, literature, it seems to be all over the place.

But maybe place -- the very place each of us stands upon -- is as far as any of can go, whether in understanding or in making art that might (or might not be) 'Canadian'.

Whatever, next time there's a panel on what seems to be a specific topic, I hope it will in some way deliver more on that promise.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

What puts the 'festive' in Festival?

For a festival to truly live up to the meaning of the word, it must celebrate a thing or an event. The festival I've just been to takes place every year and the 'thing' it celebrates is a person, Amelia Earhart.

The Amelia Earhart Festival has been a tradition in Atchison, Kansas since 1997, and every summer it seems to only grow bigger and more exciting. This year's festival certainly bore that out, with the town of her birth attracting too many visitors for me to be able to count, though I know that at least one came from as far away as Spain -- and another from Ukraine -- to attend. Truly, a 'round-the-world' celebration!

Although it doesn't officially start until Friday, tradition dictates that the celebrating starts with Thursday evening's fundraiser, an old-fashioned ice cream social. There's an assortment of homemade pies and cakes, plenty of ice cream (at least four flavours to choose from), colourful sprinkles to scatter over top.

Dramatic performances, author readings, a speakers' symposium --  even a carnival of rides in the downtown area -- mean there's something for everyone. Flight aficianados had plenty to be excited about this year, as the airport in Atchison is now home to the last remaining Lockheed Electra 10-E, twin to the plane Earhart flew on her last flight. "Muriel" (named after Amelia's sister) is the gorgeous machine pictured above.

And another of this year's highlights had to be a slide presentation by Ann Pellegreno, who successfully followed Earhart's round-the-world circuit in 1967 -- fifty years ago. History alive!

Plenty of visitors come to the Birthplace Museum, where they took plenty of photos of the many articles there that belonged to Amelia and her family.

Culmination of the weekend is always a spectacular display of fireworks set to music. I got to sit in a rocking chair for this, surrounded by friends old and new. What a time!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Sunny sunflower for Kansas

It's the state flower of Kansas, the place I'm off to for the next few days. Just the littlest bit of research reveals that Kansans take their state flower seriously -- there's even an ode to it!

I suppose, to be sure I can get back home again, I should take a pair of ruby slippers along. Since I don't have any with jewels, these little red shoes will have to do the trick.

If nothing else, they make me feel happy when I wear 'em.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Rollin' into Stardust

Once upon a time, going to a roller rink was its own kind of social media -- or maybe social milieu would be fairer.

Surrey's Stardust roller rink was just such a place. Even its slogan offered an invitation: "Where meeting people is half the fun!" Only now, after many years (and who knows how many round-and-rounds of wheels), the Stardust is saying its last farewell.

Today is the last day the rink will be open to skaters, with a kind of finale event tonight.

I was surprised to discover that there is no entry on Wikipedia for the Stardust rink. I hope that this will change. One of my best memories of the place was a Grad fundraiser at the school where I worked. We had an all-night skate, or 'Roll-a-Thon' where parents and friends sponsored us to skate from midnight to dawn. Tiring, but fun -- with even a fair bit of money raised for the cause.

The building will be replaced with a 55-storey building, but I'm sure there are more than 55 stories with their origin this particular heritage site.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Summer dreams

One of my favourite summer pleasures is sleeping outdoors. The cool night air fills my lungs, freshening them and refreshing me.

No tent this year -- at least not yet -- just a long couch nestled beneath the cedars.

Morning birdsong is so much better than hearing an alarm. Watching the gradual lighting of the sky so much calmer than turning on a light switch.

When I woke here, I lay still for quite a long while, just taking in the possibilities of another new day.

Looking at the greenery above me, it gave a whole new meaning to the concept of a canopy bed. Such sweet dreams lying under the real thing.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

Incongruities abound

Initially eager to observe this year's Canada Day, I hung the big flag outside the front door and charged ahead making a treat I usually only make at Christmas.

Butter tarts, a treat I think of as quintessentially Canadian, even though my recipe doesn't contain that most quintessentially Canadian ingredient, maple syrup.

Yet finding one last bucket of strawberries in the fridge from last Sunday's pick meant I was baking wintry treats in summer -- at the same time I was needing to slice berries for the freezer -- for wintry treats.

This somehow felt like a happy juxtaposition, a sunny kind of parallel, even complementary -- a yin and yang of seasons, of oven and freezer.

Tonight was another tradition -- the fireworks show on the beach in White Rock. As always, crowds of people streamed down the hills towards the sea, looking for the best vantage point for viewing. We managed a spot along the boardwalk, just below the train tracks that run the length of the beach. When we heard a train go by shortly before the show started, we thought that would be good to have it out of the way before everyone got down there.

But then in the midst of the celebratory display, not just one, but two more trains came through. Tanker cars, black. To me, ominous-looking as they rumbled along so close to those thousands of people -- young and old, so many families and groups of friends -- who'd been talking and laughing and pointing at the colours in the sky.

Black metal train cars carrying something toxic. Even their sound overshadowed the fireworks. American train on Canada Day. Talk about stealing someone's thunder.

Friday, June 30, 2017

At last, onward!

It's taken nearly two months, but at last there's clearly a new road ahead. Since our provincial election way back on May 9th, those of us who live in British Columbia have been on an uncertain path. Our premier has done quite the job of dragging her heels, hanging on to power. It's hard not to think this was primarily to do what she could to see to it that the Site C dam project gets to what she has called "the point of return".

Thankfully, events in the Legislature late yesterday laid the way for us to finally go forward. The acting (I'll say!) government had presented an almost absurdly 'copycat' set of proposals that nobody seemed ready to fall for -- after all, we've had 16 years of their tight-fisted (unless you're one of their rich friends) actions. A bit like the boy who cried wolf story -- who would believe! Instead, the BC Liberals fell to a non-confidence vote, opening the door that will allow the NDP-Green agreement to start leading us forward.

As soon as John Horgan is sworn in -- we can only trust that this will happen soon -- we may at last finally see some action in government. No one promises that the road ahead will be smooth, but at least it will be one that offers a better direction.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Berry beautiful days

Tuesday was Solstice, so that means ever since that night it's been summer.
As if to help us celebrate, the raspberry canes offered up the first of the year's fruits that day -- two perfectly red raspberries -- ripe and delicious.

Yesterday, the first full day of summer, was also National Aboriginal Day. Again, the berries presented a way to celebrate. We'd gone out to Brae Island Regional Park, a park on the Fraser River that also bounds the lands of the Kwantlen First Nation.It seemed like a great place to celebrate the day and also enjoy the weather. While on our walk there, we found that the salmonberries were ripe, so had to pick a few of those for a snack.

I love the way the berries change colour as they ripen, just the way their namesake does, going from pale orange to a fiercely bright red.

They're a close relative of the cloudberry. In fact, some contend that's just another name for salmonberry. Aboriginal people used to whip the berries into a froth and serve it as a treat -- a kind of 'ice cream'. Name-wise, another close relative of this berry is what they call bake-apple in Newfoundland. Whatever the name, a wild berry fresh off the bush is a treat to be savoured.

As for tomorrow's berries, the morning is time for another round of picking ripe strawberries. And maybe when I get home from the fields, I'll do another round of pruning towards my end-of-summer harvest of the blackberries.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Disappearing tall trees

It's not just me who thinks this is the case. Even the Vancouver Sun has noticed. Their article about Surrey's disappearing canopy actually made the front page.

It's just about impossible to drive anywhere in the city without seeing clear-cutting in action.

Although there's a bylaw intended to protect trees, it doesn't seem to be doing much to protect many of the remaining forested tracts. Saddest of all, when these big trees fall, most of the time they aren't even culled as possible timber to be processed.

The city likes to say 'the future lives here'... If all this destruction if an indication of what the future is going to look like, I don't think it bodes very well.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

What a waste!

On Friday I did my rounds of produce and grocery shopping. The day had started out as cool, but the afternoon had turned surprisingly warm. Sadly, the display of potted lettuces outside the supermarket practically had their tongues (okay, it's a metaphor) hanging out, in want of a drink.

I mentioned how they looked to the person at Customer Service, and was told that the problem had already been reported to the person in the Plants Department. In other words, Customer Service had done what they could.

When I went past the Plants Department, no one was to be found, so I carried on with filling my list, hoping the watering was in process.

Then, when I was ready to check out (always a joy, as there are never enough cashiers), I spotted the woman working at the Plants counter. When I mentioned the lettuces, she said she'd gone out and watered part of the batch, but hadn't been able to do the job properly as she had so many orders that needed filling in her role as the supermarket's florist. And of course, they were all 'rush' jobs. She looked frazzled and practically exhausted, and I understood that she was doing her best.

It's a case of not enough people being hired to do the work that's required.

As I was ready to leave the store, I found the person who was apparently in charge of running the store's front end. When I mentioned the lettuces to him, his unhelpful reply was, "I didn't know we had lettuces out there," and he seemed content to leave it that.

At $13.99 a basket, the pots of lettuce (three rows of about ten each) represented over $400 of food that was going to waste. And if the attitude of the person 'in charge' was any indication, it was $400 that didn't even matter. But I can't help thinking, the money that store is 'saving' by not hiring enough workers to look after things properly is money that's going to waste and not being 'saved' at all.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

On achieving equality

There's a chilling line in a Kurt Vonnegut story about a future I don't believe any of us want to see come true. "The year was 2081, and everybody was finally equal."

It's from a story called 'Harrison Bergeron' in Welcome to the Monkey House. While the idea of equality is a noble one, the way it's achieved in Vonnegut's vision is anything but noble. To achieve 'equality' among everyone, anyone with a beautiful face must wear a hideous mask; anyone with above-average intelligence must wear earphones that continuously blast cacophonous sounds to prevent them from thinking clearly. It's a society with a level playing field, but it's one where the bar has been lowered to the bottom rung.

On the weekend, I attended the On Words Conference of The Writers Union of Canada, a group to which I belong. The overriding theme of the weekend was the issue of equity.

Carmen Rodriguez offered a metaphor of explanation, one that made it clearer than any I'd heard before. She told us to picture three people standing behind a fence, outside a soccer match.. One of the persons is quite tall, one is of medium height and one is very short. The tall one can see a bit of the game, the mid-sized one can reach for the occasional glimpse, but the short one is out of luck. In other words, they're not being given equal opportunity to see the game.

Then someone comes over to the fence with three little stools for them to stand on. Now, the tall one has a good view; the medium person gets a better look than before, but the short one still can't see over the fence. Resolution for the problem? For the tall person, the short stool provides a solution, allowing them to see the game. For the middle-sized person, a stool that's a bit bigger will make all the difference. As for the short person, they will need a very tall stool to look over the fence comfortably to participate in watching the game. Equity. Aha! A chance for all to be equal.

At our family supper on Sunday night, I told Carmen's story and reactions around the table were mixed. One son thought each person should get the same advantage -- that they should all get a tall stool right at the start. Even though the tall person didn't need a tall vantage point, this way would be 'fair' to all with no one person needing more 'propping up' than the other. Interesting.

And then came the suggestion to simply take down the fence.

I'm still not sure how best to handle the question: How do we provide equality to everyone? About the best metaphor I can offer for now is the image of the curving fence above. Maybe each of us needs to find our own place along it.

Monday, May 29, 2017

The future looks green

It sounds official. The Green Party, with its three elected members of the BC Legislature, have decided to join forces with the New Democrats. This changes everything -- it's history in action.

Any number of items will at least be revisited -- the plan for the extension of the Kinder Morgan pipeline, the Massey bridge extravaganza, and most of all, the Site C project.

And at last we should be in line for electoral reform. Plenty to celebrate!