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December 29, 2009

When it comes to Love we all need back up

One of my favorite movies to watch over the holidays is About a Boy with Hugh Grant. I love the ending where Markus, the geeky kid, who latches onto Hugh Grant's character, talks about the fact that two isn't enough. It isn't enough to just be a couple. It takes a lot more people because you need backup in case something happens to one of you. And Grant, after a lifetime of aimless, self-serving, bachelorhood scamming women to meet women figures out that No Man is an Island and that letting others in is the fastest way to opening up the heart.  It's a great message, seemingly trite and yet so accurate.

I looked around this Christmas and saw that reality everywhere.  In the team of caregivers that look after "my lady". In the way my co-worker works out daycare for her kids. Spending time with my Dad and marvelling at his health at 91, going for a walk with him on his hour-long route. Seeing how a friend of mine is now making connections with the neighbours of a relative who has suddenly experienced the onset of some confusing behaviour that has not previously been exhibited and needs watchful eyes and helping hands around. 

The feeling of lovingness I experience when my phone rings immediately upon my arrival home after work today to be invited for dinner by Tom and Linda so we can catch up. Seeing Konor thriving at 8 months and remembering what he looked like in the ICU at Childrens' Hospital last March. Being embraced by Peggy and Chris as always. Spending time with my sister June and her friend Sheila in a Boxing Day tradition. Meeting up with Dee and catching up. Hearing about Neil and Beth's Christmas at Fairhaven. Circles of connectedness.

I've spent half my life wishing I could be like everyone else who seemed to have no trouble being part of a couple and me thinking that's the way things should be only to discover that in fact, more often than not, being part of a couple isn't really all it's cracked up to be.

I spent half my life feeling that letting people in was too messy and that if I let them in I wouldn't get to do what I wanted. It was an either/or reality; a perception developed from watching my own surroundings while I was growing up. It has taken a long time to recognize it doesn't have to be that way.

I can not deny the irony that after so many years of wishing I could have a long-term relationship, that I now thrive in the awareness that being single has allowed me to be part of a lot of different communities - to slip in and out of those - more easily that I believe would be the case if I had been with just one other person who was consistently demanding, just by the nature of a relationship, a large part of my emotional energy and time.

It's good to finally realize that maybe you really do get what you need and what we all truly need is back up! It can be good to have one loving person for back-up, but it's much better, (a necessity really)  to have a lot of back up; as much back up as possible.

May we all strive for that reality in the new year if we have yet to manifest it to the degree we would like.

Happy New Year.

December 26, 2009

A Curried, Perogy, Sashimi Christmas

As is often the case when I come back to Vancouver to visit, it's a bit of "lets play musical houses" by the time I catch up with friends. I didn't want this visit to be a marathon of scrambling and driving around so it's been quite an enjoyable, low-key kinda meandering through Christmas visit.

I spent the 23rd with Colleen in East Van and it was very refreshing to step out of the Christmas scene for an evening and eat out at East is East on Main Street, a narrow little place with carpets on the walls, what has to be the very best Chai in the city and an atmosphere that's reminscent of the old Afghan Horseman restaurant that used to be on Broadway at Cambie, but way smaller and with a lot more light. There was a classical guitarist playing when we arrived and then someone took over playing the sitar. I love the sitar but I'm sure if Ravi Shankar had been there his advice to this fellow would have been, "Don't give up your day job!"

The wooden tables are low to the ground and it's just a really cozy atmosphere with really healthy food. I noticed that Gabor Mate was seated beside us constantly checking his cell phone and there were even a few toddlers who wanted to get as close as possible to the guitar player.

I stayed overnight with  my Dad in Surrey on the 24th and really enjoyed making him dinner and spending Christmas morning with him. My brother joined us for an omelette and bacon. My dad and I toasted Christmas with champagne and orange juice and perhaps having my twin brother and I in the same room at the same time and actually enjoying each other's company was my father's real Christmas present. 

In the late afternoon I drove over to New West to be with The Johns for some delicious turkey and stuffing (made by  Courtenay and supervised by Peggy) two kinds of perogies, cabbage rolls, yams, cranberry sauce, and special Christmas pudding followed by multiple games of Scrabble and Cranium. Finally, around midnight I dropped into a deep sleep down in the cave (the suite in the basement). It was way too short a visit. Way too short! I'm still mulling over how I can get back for a quick tea break.

But, it was time to get over to Burnaby and visit  my sister and her good friend. This has become a bit of a boxing day tradition. We went out for Japanese food at Kura in Burnaby and now I"m sitting enjoying the beauty of my sister's apartment looking at all her Christmas decorations and blogging beside the glow of the fireplace.

Tomorrow it's on to Port Moody to see Lisa's new digs and to visit with her and Konor and  I'm still hoping to catch up with a few more friends before getting back on the ferry on Monday night. This time I really feel like I'm not ready for time to be moving this fast.

If there's one thing I miss while living on Salt Spring it's the lack of ethnic diversity which gets reflected in the cultural offerings to a certain degree and even more so in the choice of decent ethnic eateries.

Most of all, however, I miss the feeling of being able to just call up my friends like I used to and just drop by, go for a walk, hang out or meet them at The Sylvia after a walk in the park. Without that person to person ongoing creation of new memories, I worry that they will slip away.

It can take no time at all to make a new friend but it takes a long time to cultivate the chemistry and the ease of connection that occurs with friendships that have grown stronger over time for reasons that aren't even always explainable.

So far, a lovely time...

December 21, 2009

It Takes a Village to Care for the most Fragile

The fragility of this spider web reminds me of the fine line between the haves and have nots. The berries are the wealth in the world and the web is the majority of the world who are barely surviving; invisible, clinging to hope.

He sort of lumbers when he walks from side to side as if his feet are sore. He's big and wide and black. He has a name from the bible. He's 57-years-old.  He brought me a Christmas card the other day because he's come into our office more than a few times and in real terms, in ways that I could really make a difference, I've done very little for him. I've been friendly. I can't fix his reality.

I don't know how he got on this island or how long he's lived here. I think he's lived here for quite a few years and prior to this year he claims he's never been homeless. He is sleeping on the cement, under the shelter of the United Church's porch roof. He has a foamy and a sleeping bag.  As long as the temperature is above freezing, there are no cold weather shelters on the island but there is a lot of support for such a small place. There's a transition centre for women and another one for men who can spend a maximum of three months there. He's already used up his three months.

When the temperature dips below freezing as it did a few weeks back, the Salt Spring Community Centre opens its doors at 6:00 pm. There were approximately 9 people who had to make use of it.
"Are you cold?" I ask him.
"No, I'm not cold," he says. "My back's sore," he says.

The difference between this man and a lot of others is that he isn't complaining. He doesn't expect anything, at least not from us. He doesn't come across as hopeless. He tells me, when I sound worried about him, that he's okay. "Things will get better," he says. "I'll get a job again in March." He lacks a sense of entitlement.

If you're homeless, you can get food on Salt Spring almost every day of the week - usually a free lunch. While there is never enough, there is quite a bit of support here from the churches and the amazing community centre which is also where the Food Bank is located. There is someone who works there whom I've never met named Jamie Alexander who is the main interface to the community and he sounds like an amazing guy.

My co-worker, on more than one occasion, has had people in her office - men and women - who end up in tears. The woman who is fleeing an abusive relationship from another province. The guy whose baby died of SIDS a few months ago and is about to head off to rehab as soon as he can catch a ride to where he needs to go off island. The woman who has used up her employment insurance and can't seem to get the type of job on island that she's qualified for but she's lived here for 10  years and this is her home. And, there's the people who have come here because they wanted to live here but had no idea that jobs were so limited. You wonder how that couldn't be obvious  - the fact that jobs are limited on a small island - but you bite your tongue.

I don't feel guilty. I feel curious. I don't feel sympathy. I feel empathy. I feel gratitude (there but for the grace of God, go I). I don't feel judgmental, but there are days when I'm very judgmental.  I feel philosophical. I don't feel responsible, I wonder about all the personal choices that have led them to where they are now. A lot of the time I feel powerless knowing that listening is the only concrete thing of value I can give.

When I lived in the West End, I passed homeless people every single day. I became hardened to them because I didn't know them and there were so many that the only way to carry on was to become oblivious. It's not so easy in a small town to do that when you get to know them as people first.

This man says he will drop in again tomorrow. I'm ready. I have something to give him to brighten his day. Afterall, he's truly the only person I know who needs a gift to remind him that strangers do care and to perhaps help, just a little, to keep his hope alive.

December 19, 2009

Ca Na Duh or Canada?

I've decided to reproduce this on my blog because it's very funny. Enjoy.


Now that Vancouver is hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics, these are some questions people from all over the world are asking.

Believe it or not these questions about Canada were posted on an International Tourism Website.

Obviously the answers are a joke; but the questions were really asked!

Q: I have never seen it warm on Canadian TV, so how do the plants grow? (England)
A. We import all plants fully grown and then just sit around and watch them die.

Q: Will I be able to see Polar Bears in the street?(USA)
A: Depends on how much you've been drinking.

Q: I want to walk from Vancouver to Toronto - can I follow the Railroad tracks? (Sweden)
A: Sure, it's only Four thousand miles, take lots of water.

Q: Is it safe to run around in the bushes in Canada ?(Sweden)
A: So it's true what they say about Swedes.

Q: Are there any ATM's (cash machines) in Canada ? Can you send me a list of them in Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton and Halifax?(England)
A: No, but you'd better bring a few extra furs for trading purposes.

Q: Can you give me some information about hippo racing in Canada ? (USA)
A: A-fri-ca is the big triangle shaped continent south of Europe Ca-na-da is that big country to your North...oh forget it. Sure, the hippo racing is every Tuesday night in Calgary Come naked.

Q: Which direction is North in Canada ? (USA)

A: Face south and then turn 180 degrees Contact us when you get here and we'll send the rest of the directions.

Q: Can I bring cutlery into Canada ? (England)
A: Why? Just use your fingers like we do.

Q: Can you send me the Vienna Boys' Choir schedule? (USA)
A: Aus-tri-a is that quaint little country bordering Ger-man-y, which is...oh forget it. Sure, the Vienna Boys Choir plays every Tuesday night in Vancouver and in Calgary , straight after the hippo races. Come naked.

Q: Do you have perfume in Canada ? (Germany)
A: No, WE don't stink.

Q: I have developed a new product that is the fountain of youth. Where can I sell it in Canada ? (USA)
A: Anywhere significant numbers of Americans gather.

Q: Can you tell me the regions in British Columbia where the female population is smaller than the male population? (Italy)
A: Yes, gay nightclubs.

Q: Do you celebrate Thanksgiving in Canada ? (USA)
A: Only at Thanksgiving.

Q: Are there supermarkets in Toronto and is milk available all year round? (Germany)
A: No, we are a peaceful civilization of Vegan hunter/gathers. Milk is illegal.

Q: I have a question about a famous animal in Canada , but I forget its name. It's a kind of big horse with horns. (USA)
A: It's called a Moose. They are tall and very violent, eating the brains of anyone walking close to them. You can scare them off by spraying yourself with human urine before you go out walking.

Q: Will I be able to speak English most places I go? (USA)
A: Yes, but you will have to learn it first.

December 18, 2009

Whirling Dervish Dessert Diva on Salt Spring

A quilt from the Fall Fair that looks very Christmasy to me.
Did you notice that it's Christmas? I swear, until last week I was feeling completely oblivious to the incredibly limited time frame between then, now and December 25th. In fact, as late as early last week, which is a really weird but accurate way to state this, I was still at the point of  walking into the Post Office in Ganges, looking at the huge line-up and thinking to myself, What are all those people doing lined up with so many packages? Get with the program!

But, let me share with you that it is simply not possible to forget that it's Christmas when you visit Hurricane Pauline. I swear, she could charge admission.

In between having a beautiful, new Japanese-style fence built around her own place, orchestrating the ongoing construction of a new B&B (a.k.a's Gayle's future home) on her property, sourcing kitchens and aluminum siding and two by fours and designing staircases, the closer Christmas gets, the more her kitchen; well her entire house actually, looks like some poor woman has had a psychotic melt down and emptied every cupboard while depositing all sorts of amazing finds from garage sales wherever they could.

There are 63 crescent-shaped moon, icing sugar-covered cookies cooling. (Try saying that three times quickly!) There is a mince-meat cake that was made with 1/2 a bottle of brandy, cranberries, raisins and a custard topping. There are wonderful mince meat tarts - big ones - with little pastry hearts perched perfectly on top and lightly sprinkled with icing sugar.

She shows her mincemeat cake to me proudly as it has just come out of the oven. I regret that my camera is at home. There's plastic bins with flour and icing sugar overflowing and recipes taped above the work space like she's a scientist preparing some new radioactive isotope.

There's a magazine from 1995 with sugar cookies plastered across the front cover which she declares to be "lousy" but did I know that back then, even then, they were going on about Raw food, she says. She's wearing her work clothes: grey sweats, baggy jeans. Her ruddy complexion is made light with a dusting of flour.

She's got a live Christmas tree outside on her deck completely decorated. It fell over in the wind and the ornaments broke, she says.
Why's it out there? I ask, and no sooner has that stupid question left my lips when she stares at me. We stare around the room in unison and, oh ya, I get it, there IS no room in the living room for the tree. We peer at it all lit up through the french doors. I like to take my glasses off and stare at the sunburst white lights that happen as a result of a bad astigmatism. You could move the rocking chair. You could move the plaster statue of a horse that you picked up at the Sidney auction, I say, but no, it wouldn't be the same if those were gone.

The dishes are overflowing in the cottage's tiny sink and while the cake is cooling, she's stuffing holly branches with berries into this large, glass terrarium or whatever those things are called that hold floating candles. She stuffs in some gold beads, pours in water and lifts the christmas aquarium onto her fridge. "Sooooooo pretty," I exclaim with pure delight!

Outside, the house is strung with beautiful white lights. It's as if  generations of the McDonald Clan (including those arriving from Portland Island in the U.K.) are descending for a homecoming extravaganza. But, no, that isn't happening and given that, I have the $64 million question. What the hell is the motivating factor for doing all the work? Where does that come from?

I ponder this as she hands me a glass of Baileys and I sit down and update her on my last couple of days which, in Pauline work time equates in action to perhaps a mere 4 hours. Maggie, her affectionate black Scottie dog cuddles up to me on the couch. Who's crazy now I think, enjoying the taste of Baileys while I pet Maggie and revel in the pseudo Claus workshop right here on Salt Spring.

The whirling dervish dessert diva is a Christmas tradition. Mr. Bean's got nothing on Pauline.

December 14, 2009

Stream of Consciousness Colour

Sometimes when I see this type of luscious colour, it makes me wish I could dive into it and through one of the flower petals, find an opening to the most magical world just on the other side of the street; one I'd never noticed until now.
When I die, wrap me in this type of colour. Lay it at my feet so I may cross a rising stream and stay dry. See it blowing softly, flapping in the breeze. Let me wrap it round me and pretend that I am thin again. It's the colour that fuels dreams. Countries we wish we could visit. Exotic fish swimming in blue seas. Love, brand new with infinite possibilities.  Children taking their first tippy steps. Riding a bike for the first time and keeping your balance. Seeing old friends who always help you feel that everything's going to be okay. A smile. Excitement. Pleased.

What's your favorite colour and why? Tell me.

December 06, 2009

Polytechnique Montreal: Missing Herstories


to carry on


in spite of
one angry man

tearing them asunder

just a day like any other
before his rage
changed herstories

Honouring those friends and family and professors and staff who found the strength to continue after the tragedy, December 6, 1989 at Polytechnique Montreal.

Why it still matters 20 years later: Violence Against Women information

December 05, 2009

Victoria's Chinatown: A Great Fast Food Experience

Yesterday I had a meeting in Victoria in the early afternoon. As usual, I was early, so I treated myself to lunch. I wanted  to eat somewhere as inexpensive as possible but with decent food of course.

The meeting was near Chinatown anyway so on what was a stunner of a day, I wandered around and discovered that there appears to be an "it" place right across from the CRD offices that serves up all sorts of spicey noodle boxes. It was too busy.

Next, I wandered back from where I'd come and saw a little hole in the wall (my favorite kind of place when I'm in the mood for that kind of thing). My instincts said the food would be good. It was quite crowded and it looked like it had been there since the 1930s. In fact, on a wall high above were two photos of Fisgard Street from a long time ago. Actually, it didn't look all that much different.

The ceilings were really high. The walls were covered with the ugliest gold embossed wallpaper that looks like it belongs in the bedroom at a really cheap brothel. There was a fishtank, a really big fishtank, sitting right in front of my table. I kept looking at the fish, all vibrant purples, whiter than whites and a little seal fish. At least that's what I'm calling it. This fish had the head of a cute little baby seal but it had the tail of a fish. That's weirder than all those mutant miniature dogs you see in Vancouver's West End. Unlike those dogs, the little seal fish was so cute. Are you confused? When all the polar ice caps finally melt to an even greater extreme will the real life-sized seals mutate into this form I wondered?

Across from me was an elderly chinese man was eating alone. I wondered if this was his Friday lunch outing. He was very well put together. Beside me a Chinese couple were eating their wonton. I enjoyed listening to them speak Mandarin (I think?) A woman cam in and sat next to me. She put all her cycling paraphenalia on the second chair at her table. I started talking to her and she spoke about how great it was to live in Victoria (she'd been there about 3 years) and be able to ride everywhere.

I was trying to eat my shrimp udon and feeling like the guy on the other side of the room was smiling to himself as I used  chopsticks the whole time to eat my soup to get at the noodles. Not exactly proper I guess. Like eating soup with a knife?

There was only one waitress who was clearly overworked in the craziness of the lunch rush and being near the door I could watch both the activity on the street, people comign and going to the vegetable stand across the street and the people coming in. I really enjoyed the bustle of it all and even better, I didn't know and had never seen a single one of these people.

After my meeting I wandered down to the harbour and it was so crisp and sunny everything sparkled. I then decided to go into The Empress and looked at all the Christmas trees decorated by different organizations placed throughout the hotel. I walked past the tea room and thought that one day that is something I want to do with friends. I want to have tea at The Empress Hotel with friends.

I used to think that I couldn't live in Victoria, that it was too boring. Now, each time I go, I"m beginning to think my mind is being opened to being changed. But, for now, it's a great day trip!

December 03, 2009

This Planet's a Musical Island

Unfortunately, I forget the name of this family but they are an example of musical talent on Salt Spring. It's everywhere! Mom, sons and even Dad played at the Salt Spring Island Fall Fair and they are really decent musicians.

My article in the latest issue on pages 22-24 in AQUA magazine is about a great little hub of a music store in Ganges called Acoustic Planet Music. It's a cross between Corner Gas and North of 60.