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December 31, 2010

Pay Attention to the Questions

When I think of 2010 I have to admit, it wasn't a very eventful year for me. That's fine. Some years are like that. Acceptance is key. Think of it as prep work for what's next. A building year. A year of fuelling motivation to make change rather than just seeing where the days take you.

"If you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there."  

This last week of the year spent in Vancouver, seeing old friends and old haunts, has been one of the highlights of my year. I have experienced real contentment and joy being in the presence of the friends I still have here.

I found myself, especially in the past few days wandering around the city and memories would surface as I passed a landmark. In the West End, standing overlooking Lost Lagoon and remembering all the great walks I enjoyed around the pond. Walking along the seawall and thinking about the time my dad, at 89, managed to walk the entire wall with me. Eating lunch in The Sylvia bar and thinking about Neil and Richard and all the times we`d end up there after a walk around the park. Thinking about other people I'd spent time there with.  Seeing old things in a new way re-inspiring me to take photographs.

Passing The Running Room and remembering the amazement of building up to 5K runs in 2007. Seeing Colleen and going to our favorite restaurant on Main Street for the very best Thai food that I never get sick of eating. Pad Thai. Green Curry. Pork Satay.  The joy of seeing photos of her Cuba trip and being so happy for her that she had such an amazing time.

Spending time with Dee soaking up her positive energy and enthusiasm. No matter how much time passes we can always make each other laugh over the stupidest things. 

Spending Christmas with Peggy and Chris and the girls`.  Having an impromptu Christmas Eve dinner with Gwen and my sister. Seeing Lisa snowshoeing at Seymour with Karen and Heather. Seeing Konor and taking in a Giant's hockey game. Going to a casino.

Having Keiko do an energy healing on me called The Reconnection. She went to Japan this past year and took a seminar taught by Eric Pearl.  

Seeing my Dad. Feeling good for him that he is feeling better. Feeling sad after 12 hours with him; feeling his sadness and seeing his isolation and lack of joy when I look upon it with my younger eyes.

Enjoying the company of my sister and the luxury of her apartment and being so intensely grateful that she has been there for my Dad beyond the call of duty given that I`m not living here.

Taking in the exhibits at the Vancouver Art Gallery this morning and recognizing how I am just starved for that on Salt Spring. The priviledge of being able to see the photographs of Robert Adams, and marvel at the 41 photography books he created. Listening to the audio of Douglas Coupland in a pretend conversation with Emily Carr at an exhibit that juxtaposes some of her work with some current artists was fun. It was fun to watch the room stop and really listen to the pretend conversation and what if Emily Carr really could know that her paintings now sold for millions of dollars.

Seeing the Waste Not exhibit by Song Dong and understanding the work of Kerry James Marshall and his large paintings of black people with black faces arising from his own experience of being black and invisible in America.  The image that comes to mind. A Christmas cactus that finally got some water. That`s how I felt this morning when I left the Art Gallery. 

I walked down Robson back towards Dee`s place and I stopped at a small crowd of people all looking down at something on the sidewalk in the entrance near a building. It was a tiny mouse. Some young girls said, Oh, Oh, I hope it`s okay. I just laughed. To see that a tiny little mouse could gather a crowd on a street packed with superficiality and image made me smile. There is hope.

So, pay attention to the emotional reactions you`re having and the kind of questions that circumstances, people and places elicit in you. The feelings really do highlight the direction you're meant to be heading. Listen carefully every day. That`s what I hope you can do as the dawn of 2011 nears in mere hours.

December 23, 2010

Is Santa a Volunteer Firefighter?

Like Santa’s elves I got up really early one morning last week – 4:45 am – because I had thoughts of what I needed to get done and I couldn't sleep.  Now, that's truly ridiculous because I don’t host a big family dinner and I don’t have cute little sugar plum kiddies to please beyond their wildest dreams. All I really have to do is enjoy myself and other people's company.

At no other time of year than Christmas am I more thankful for the fact that I do not have traditional female responsibilities. The average wife/mom/maid probably puts in a 200 hour week as a result of Christmas instead of her regular 90-100 hours.  Welcome to “The Holiday Season” ladies!

Salt Spring, like everywhere, begins to whip itself into a frenzy around December 17th.

The firemen decorate the No. 1 fire hall in the middle of Ganges. It's a really old place with a bell tower similar to the one in that Steve Martin movie, Roxanne, that was filmed in Nelson, B.C.   I’ve overheard in passing, "What else do those firemen have to do  except buy shiny new equipment?  You better just hope Santa doesn't set your chimney on fire with that comment. Following that (flawed?) line of thinking, I guess they have loads of time to decorate as well. And, so they do.

They hang Santa’s bottom half out of their bell tower (above) which makes it look as if he’s about to dive into it, backwards. They decorate with wooden cutouts of sheep instead of reindeer (afterall this is Salt Spring). They blast Christmas songs too loudly in the 12 days leading up to the big day so no matter where you are in their vicinity it's impossible to forget the time of year.
Parking, just like in “The Big Smoke," becomes impossible to find. Everyone floods into Ganges village to do their shopping. The line-up at the post office (because there are only 2 post offices on the island) grew to 45 minutes the other day. Someone tweeted it on Twitter. Someone else at the back of the line was offering a home made roast beef dinner to trade places with the person at the front.

The local grocery stores are packed. Once you've lived here a while, doing shopping is a marathon event given the number of people you end up seeing to say Hi to or chat with. In Ganges, add on at least 20 minutes to every shopping visit as a result of social chit chat.  Yesterday I ran into Harry Burton, Apple King, and he said something that I thought was really true. "Well, at least on  Salt Spring," he said, "you can go to the thrift store, buy someone a present and they'll still really like it." And, that's true. In fact, I'd probably like it more! We love our thrift stores because they have cool stuff at absolutely the right price.

The other place with massive line-ups, of course, is the food bank. Yes, Salt Spring, like everywhere, has a food bank. There are some heart-wrenching realities and the closer the big day gets it’s as if every day is a full moon. (And, this year, that's almost a fact!)

I’m trying to maintain my own questionable sanity by going to deep water Aquafit at the pool twice a week. The fact that I can float without a belt in the deep end is a little worrying. This is, afterall, pre-shortbread, pre-eggnog, pre-Nanaimo bar, pre-Baileys in coffee, pre-turkey, pre-gorge fest.  Plant the sprouts for the New Year's crash diet.

There are a million concerts, sing-a-longs, and what else? Craft sales. Turns out you CAN have too much of a good thing. I’m beginning to think about crafts in the same way I think about IKEA merchandise. Just as I have never been able to figure out how it's possible to need an infinite supply of bathmats in a single lifetime from IKEA, I'm not sure why some people have a black hole of an inbox for jewellery, candles, and art work but thankfully, for Gulf Islands craftspeople (including me) they just seem to.

So, that's it.  I'm off to Vancouver. That ferry better be workin! 

Stay in the moment. Stay safe. Stay alive.  Find the beauty wherever you can. Chill!

December 20, 2010

Swimming with the Dragons on Salt Spring

Intuition. Mine works pretty well. Especially when it comes to people. Friday I found myself walking down the path of this 7 acre property, through a gate, into an old orchard and in the distance I see this unfinished round building.

A conversation with someone whom I have know superficially led to me agreeing to meet with him as a means to help me focus on my physical health.

He teaches Qi Gong. He's a carpenter who specializes in Asian-style buildings and in rammed earth. He's also done rigging for concerts in the city.  From the first time I met him about two years ago, I knew that he was a very unique individual. His whole way of being radiates gentle, respectful and accepting.

The conversations I've had with him have always been in my office and have always been oriented towards the spiritual. Whenever he drops by, which hasn't been often in the past 6 months, it's a breath of fresh air compared to my usual interactions throughout the day. He's just come back from Hornby Island for 7 weeks where he was building a rammed earth house.

He's  a very soft spoken guy who stands very straight. Slight of build but very fit; lithe might be the word. He wears his long blonde hair in a chignon atop his head. He usually walks around town in clothing that seems very Asian even though he's Caucasian. He's got an extremely calm, centred energy.

When I arrive, I find him at his "outdoor kitchen". We enter his place which is one round room on the main floor with a lotus flower cutout that leads to the "loft" where his bed is. There's a wood stove and a beautiful round skylight at the top where you can look up and see the sky and evergreens as if the natural world is being offered to you through a magnifying glass platter.

There are lots of windows and he is proud of a door he's just finished building. There's a poster of a tiger on one wall which has a significance that he explains to me.  Sprouts are growing in shelves in front of a window. (I never have seen the attracton of sprouts. Blah).  The woodstove has a kettle on it and the fire is crackling. He hands me a cup of green tea. A beautiful large Buddha with a turqouise patina sits atop a bookshelf full of books on nutrition, spirituality, martial arts.

We sit cross legged on the floor. 

I was facing the window, he was facing me. The light streaming in was framing his blonde hair like a halo. I was soaking in the visual effect savouring the way the light seemed to accentuate this "sentient being". (I say that half jokingly because a former friend, Anu, constantly would use the term "sentient beings.")

We talk about the three pillars of health and "plan the work, work the plan". He talks about clear vision and laser beam focus and he leads me through a series of questions he wants me to spend time answering on my own.I must come up with 20 possibilities for each.

As our conversation unfolds I am blown away by the knowledge he has and his ability to impart that using analogies and metaphors. After quite a long time, we get up and do some exercises.

He starts with a guided meditation called Coming Home. We begin beating ourselves down one side of the body and up the other like in former yoga classes I've taken. We are awakening our inner smile.  And finally, we do a movement called Swimming Dragon which starts with us standing on our toes, our palms together above our head, and then we try and draw an S curve with our arms and our body.

I am standing behind him so I can mimic him. I have to keep bringing myself back to the moment because if not, if I'd see myself as others might have if they had been observing, I'd probably have wet my pants laughing.

I felt like Shirley Valentine and instead of being on a boat with a Greek player named Kostas, I was with some Germanic "Ninja" healer in his Yurt-styled abode like I had just been transplanted into that book The Secret.

I'm trying to move a spine that is more used to sitting stationary in front of a computer than one that can bend fluidly like the winds bend willows. I know from being around Colleen all these years (and just from my own knowledge gained by taking Sandra's yoga classes in the West End) that keeping the spine limber is the most significant way to maintain mobility hence youthfulness.

Can't you just see me? I was pretty happy. I had a big smile on my face that he couldn't see and I stood behind this beautiful man. He was moving as fluidly as a dancer. It goes without saying, I don't. Move like a dancer, that is. I move more like the tinman in The Wizard of Oz. But, there I was.  Seeing the humour in the situation and wishing I was about 10 years younger.

Something to look forward to in the New Year to be sure. :-)

December 15, 2010

Have Faith

Winter Path
The other day I went to get a haircut. My regular stylist wasn't working and you know how it is. You need your haircut now, RIGHT NOW, when you're at that point.  So I took a chance on someone else. She had a likeable, quirky personality, dark red hair, and a way with a unique turn of phrase.  In her wonderful youth she was describing how she LOVED this time of year. "EVERYONE is so happy and excited and it's fun," she exclaimed.

I didn't say anything when she made that comment.  I was marvelling at the statement. Half of my thoughts were steeped in admiration. The other half  felt like someone had just run their fingers down a blackboard in my disbelief at her level of naivety. 

Her impression is certainly not mine given where I work.  Every day I'm reminded to be careful of the assumptions I make. I try really hard. I fail often.  I keep trying. At this time of year it's critical.

The commercialization of Christmas and especially the expectations related to family and a sense of belonging reach a crescendo that can be unbearable for so many people. It's especially true for  those who are struggling just to shelter and feed themselves and for those whose familial relationships may have long ago been broken.

What if you were alone? What if you were 95 and your life-long love was long gone as were all your friends? What if all you had were your memories?  What if you had to stand in a food bank line-up for two hours to get the kind of food to feed your children that wasn't adequate?

If you have your health, a partner, some connection to a family and friends, a job, and a decent place to live, then you are blessed. If you've never had to handle a significant crisis in your life, stop and inhale gratitude. If you have and you've overcome and thrived, recognize such a major accomplishment.

Spend just a very quiet moment considering what Christmas would mean to the person who didn't have any of that.  I can tell you it would be a reminder of their failures at every turn.

Be careful. Be sympathetic. Be willing to give someone the benefit of the doubt. Consider kindness a conscious act more than ever at this time of year hoping you can remind yourself better to carry such understanding throughout the year.

And, when you've done that, turn away from such overwhelming sadness. Go inside your heart and take the hot little hand of you the child. Remember when just seeing a Christmas tree and twinkly lights drenched your entire being in wonder and rightness. Admire the complexity of the human spirit and its ability to overcome and rise again.


Green Drinks,Silicon Island and Kindness

Green Drinks
Made it out to the first meet-up at the Harbour House between the Green Community and those working professionally or seriously interested in the digital world.  It was organized by a core group of on island "movers and shakers." The easy reference for the evening was Green Drinks.  Margery Moore from the Institute for Sustainability, Education and Action  introduced the evening.

It's an "experiment" said Christopher Roy, a senior strategist for Vancouver's Communicopia who works from home on island but commutes every second week for a few days to be at the Vancouver office.  

 International Digital Media Conferences? Educational Retreats? University symposiums? Workshops? Centre of Excellence? Dedicated research? There's a Facebook group called Silicon Island  and soon a physical space located between Salt Spring Air's offices and the Steffich Fine Art Gallery.

In a Former Life and Publishing
It was nice to say hello to Li Read. I haven't seen Li since my UBC Multimedia Studies days when she was a student there (circa 1995) one of the first, if not the first realtor, to have the insight that having a web site and being able to design it yourself would be good for the future. Ya think? And nice to chat, as well with Phillip Reece, part owner of Salt Spring Air, who was telling me about his wife's business, Spire Publishing, as an example of transplanted entrepreneurialship. (It started in the U.K.)

World's Apart
Afterwards, in a complete 360 degree turnaround in terms of topics, I met up with Karen Cross, Dave French and Larry Cross.  Karen runs the pest control company P.C.S. Gulf Islands.  It was started by her former husband and friend Larry Cross. She just returned from a conference in Waikiki. I always find it fascinating to think of all the circles of influence out there that just never intersect with my life and yet employ millions of people focused on a topic which is fascinating even if many of us would rather not think about.

Dave has worked for Karen for more than a year and they go all over the Gulf Islands to deal with people's pesty annoyances sometimes being picked up at The Burgoyne dock and being taken to a remote estate on a private island. Apparently wealth is no deterrant to creepy crawlies.

The Face of The Driftwood Retiring
Dave tells me that his mom Claudia, the friendly face at The Driftwood, is retiring as of Friday and the Driftwood Gang are celebrating their Christmas party this Friday where I"m sure she'll be well hosted (and maybe even roasted).

Seafood Linguine
I wrote a story on Karen and Dave's work for The Driftwood more than a year ago and I was invited last year to join them at their annual christmas dinner but snow prevented me from making it. This year, no snow anywhere, except in the lovely card Karen gave me above.  It was really a nice evening and the seafood linguine was fantastic at The Harbour House. It's a must order for sure chock a block with salmon and prawns. Yum.  Thanks so much Karen for your kindness!

December 12, 2010

Oh Christmas Tree

I was walking through the lobby of The Fairmont Empress Hotel in Victoria yesterday to admire the annual Festival of Trees, a fundraiser for the BC Children's Hospital Foundation and here are just a few of the ornaments that caught my attention.
Queen Victoria had a much safer place on this tree than a couple of other Royals this week. Stay safe Chuck and Camilla.

I really liked this look. Oranges and lemons by a local florist shop.
If your mulled wine needs a bit more tang, just rip 'em off the tree.
Shaw Cable Tree
Sometimes you may think your cable is coming to you via Martian but unlikely.

IPA anyone? It's a beer tree by The Spinnakers Brew Pub.

 Look. You can see the forest and the tree (and the owls). I loved these delicate cut-outs.

The child who made this was confused. Is it a bat, an angel or a batangel?

Had to take this photo. Reminded me of a few of my Internet dates from way back. (Minus the wings of course.)
I didn't write this. Honest. I found it sad because I think a little girl may have written it.
I can totally relate to the sentiment, especially the "without any effort" part. But when I was six, I was a beanpole and now that I'm not (understatement) it makes me even sadder.
This champagne was just so close...and yet so damned far!

Got any cool things that make your own tree special?

December 06, 2010

Sounds Like Salt Spring, Feels Like Gilligan's Island

It was with a heavy heart I packed up from the tiny vacation home, bid farewell to the loving kitty and returned to the hovel a.k.a. my cottage. There's nothing like steppin in the front door of your abode and the first thing you catch in your line of vision is a mouse trap. The only thing worse might be a mousetrap with something in it - or worse yet - only half of something in it. UGHHHH! My trap was empty thank you very much.

Goodbye Kardashian sisters. Goodbye Oprah. Goodbye Trading Spouses. Goodbye drinking coffee in front of the morning news.  I'll have to drag my sorry ass back to deep water aquafit for some reality tv entertainment along the lines of Biggest Losers.

What can I tell you about my exciting life on Salt Spring today? The workspace was totally dead this morning. That was cool because it allowed me to hear about my co-workers recent trip to Vegas. Then, this afternoon it was as if the office became like a miniature Gilligan's Island full of professors and Mary Anne's and too many Gilligans. It was as if a ship of asylum seekers had run aground offshore, all piled into a little dinghy, and rowed madly to reach shore (and our office) but instead of being from Cuba or India they were from Victoria and Ontario.

I'm in a strange mood. Can you tell? At lunch today, over at Volume II books, I spent some time lingering and I heard about a couple of books that might make good presents. The first was called A Vineyard in Tuscany by a guy named Ferenc Mate who it just so happened was the boyfriend of the ex girlfriend who was friends back in 1963 with the wife of the guy behind the counter at this bookstore. Yes. I admit. That sentence should keep you busy for weeks trying to decipher. The book, however, looked really enticing and the woman who came in and bought the only copy raving about the fact that this bookstore would even have such a copy at all said that the writer, Mate, is hilarious.  Perfect for the wine lovers or sommelliers (love that word, use it whenever I can) on your list.

Then, I was watching Oprah and heard about her next Book Club book: It's called Freedom written by one of the rare authors who has made the cover of Time magazine and was actually summoned by Barack Obama for a 20 minute meeting. His name? Jonathan Franzen.  On Oprah's show he described how he writes in an office that has no internet access, no t.v. and is cold. He says it's imperative that the environment is really quiet. That is the only way, he says, that he can really hear his inner dialogue and to quiet his mind enough to begin to get real insights into the struggles he's having and find a place where he understands that his personal struggles transcend himself and are possibly tapping into universal truths which he finds a way to weave into plot on paper. Horrible paraphrasing on my part I'm sure.

The best thing that happened to me today was a beautiful woman of First Nation's descent about 60 year old came into the office. She talked with me, I learned she was a hypnotherapist and she handed me a tiny silver angel with the words Love inscribed on the back.

I'll leave you with that beautiful vision and to think about how it is possible through a simple act of loving kindness to exchange an acknowledgement of spirit with another human being who will then surely remember the feeling that arose from your one simple action, forever.

December 03, 2010

Trading Places on Salt Spring

Here are my dear friends Tom and Linda leaving their cute little paradise on Salt Spring Island via a Salt Spring Air float plane via YVR to Puerto Vallarta because they found an amazing deal on TravelZoo

The thing is, their going on holiday equals me going on holiday (sort of). They wanted me to stay in their house and look after Fluffy, their cat, whom I love. I love Fluffy. It's the easiest house-sitting/pet sitting gig in the world. Fluffy and I are like this (visualize fingers wrapped around each other) as much as you can be with a cat because, well, we all know about cats. Bon voyage mon amies!

Suddenly, I have a whole house. A full-sized fridge. A freezer. A bed with a box spring. A full oven. It's heaven. I love their house. How long are they gone? ha.

It's as if I've become one with the couch because, hey, they have a big screen T.V. and I no longer have a T.V. and late last night, I hate to admit it, but I tuned into this show called Trading Spouses which just going by the name seems despicable; the lowest of the lowest reality show common denominator.

The thing is, I'm just going to say it once, really quickly: I like watching this show. It's a sociological experiment. They take the most unlikely families and switch the mothers for a week. Think Mormon Mother meets The Kardashians.

Think of yourself. Think of how you live. Put yourself in a situation that you'd absolutely despise and there you have it. It would be like me going to live with a family of 5 guys who all participate in monster truck rallies and them moving into my cabin on Salt Spring surrounded by new agers and healers and having to attend a zillion craft fairs being forced to give up Miller Light for Yerba Mate.  Mother Teresa meet Lady Gaga. It makes for fantastic T.V. (to which I'm sure many of you will disagree wholeheartedly).

Take a couple from Thousand Oaks California both raised in India. The woman has  a Ph.D. and works as a research scientist. The husband is a successful businessman.  A porche and a Hummer are parked in their driveway. They have one daughter. The family the research scientist mom is going to live with lives in the country with horses and participates in medieval re-enactments. Gettin' the picture? One word: Nightmare.

The thing is, the Indian father and the 12 year old daughter are the whiniest, most pampered, materialistic shallow snobs that have ever walked the earth.  They don't ever cook. They only eat out (perhaps so they can complain bitterly about every morsel.) They stay in only the top hotels and the suite they took their "new mom" to was unbelievable but they described it as "trashy".

They take their new mom to Palm Springs where they spend all day wandering from shop to shop and every single time they eat, they have nothing good to say about the food. The new mom showed incredible restraint. Even when she made them some homemade sushi, they were grossed out and wouldn't eat it, digging instead into some ice cream while she had to throw out what she had just made.They're judgmental and rude and the epitome of what's wrong with wealth in the bank accounts of the spiritually unconscious.

It's fantastic to have nice things and to be really comfortable and for your home to be your castle. I'm all for it. In fact, not having that stuff, I am beginning to see, is incredibly motivating.

Trust me,  when it comes to trading places, it's much better to be "Trading up"than "Trading down" but not at the expense of graciousness and gratitude.