AQUA MAGIC

 

Over the past two and a half months, I have seen a remarkable change in my transforming lifestyle — a lifestyle that has taken me from workaholism to floating through a severance period that will eventually lead me to retirement.  I want to share with you one aspect of that change — aquafit classes, sometimes referred to as water aerobics.

 

In a very short period of time, I have gone from never really enjoying aquafit classes but doing them because supposedly they would be good for me physically and socially, to actually really enjoying the classes because they have indeed proven to be good for me both physically and socially.

 

I first started with this gig in January 2018 after a long time friend invited me along to the Maple Ridge Leisure Centre pool for the nine a.m. aquafit class in the indoor pool.  

 

From my youth and throughout my lifetime, I can remember not feeling too enthusiastic about going swimming because the water in public swimming pools is generally cold, and being cold just has no appeal to me. I can also remember feeling worried about the security of my personal belongings and how awful it always was to walk on the change room floors and pool decks in bare feet.

 

For the first couple of months of going to indoor aquafit classes twice a week, recently, my previous discomforts or reservations stubbornly stayed with me; but, at some point, I opened my mind ever so briefly, and realized for every worry I had, there had been a proven way around it.

 

The Maple Ridge Leisure Centre has more than one pool; the one used for aquafit classes has a standard water temperature that is higher than the main pool and it higher than any other public swimming pool I had ever been in.  In fact, it is almost like bath water.

 

Security is a commonplace concern at the Leisure Centre and the best way around it is to bring only your essentials. Get changed in the changing room, but bring your belongings in one compact bag to the unused bleachers aligned with the pool. 

 

As for my concern about the grungy floors and pool deck, a simple three dollar pair of vinyl slip-ons do the trick.

 

With those complaints set aside, I began to relax and moved from going twice a week to three times. It even got to the point that it didn’t really matter to me if my best friend came along or not. The gathering of often as many as forty people, men and women, turned into something more than just a time for exercise. It became commonplace to chit-chat with the person next to you, while we continued to bounce around, stretch our arms and kick our legs, and try to coordinate leg and arm movements at the same time.

 

After the class, some of us would stay to do some lengths and eventually move over to the hot tub to continue our chatting, before going our separate ways.

 

All of that fun ended when the Leisure Centre had to close not only for the annual maintenance, but for a complete infrastructure renovation of the pool deck areas and a redesign of some of the pools. It felt like the sudden end of summer camp when you start off as a bunch of strangers, learn to have fun together and to learn things about each other, and then, before you know it, it all suddenly ends.

 

Thankfully the great staff at the Leisure Centre stepped to that plate, figuratively put up a YIELD sign, and diverted us to a new option — the same classes, the same schedule, the same instructors, but at a new location — a local community outdoor pool.

 

I could hear the hemming and hawing, and feel my own hesitation suggesting it could not possibly be the same. I sensed that not many people would participate in that alternative, but since the outdoor pool was a stone’s throw from my house, and since the heatwave helped to motivate me to do things to keep cool, I decided to check it out.

 

Class time would be at nine Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings.

 

The first day, I crawled out of bed, got into my swimwear, and bagged my change of clothes and a towel into my homemade packsack. I got my red and white Tim Horton's bicycle out of the garage and off I went for the twelve minute ride. 

 

The initial insecurities sprang back to mind as I got closer and closer to my destination — Hammond Community Pool. I worked most of it out before arriving: my bicycle can be locked against the pool fence; my belongings can be placed on a chair on the pool deck; only the issue of the water temperature would remain a mystery.

 

As I arrive, I stare through the wire fencing, look around and see a lot of familiar faces. It was like a homecoming as we all greeted each other and introduced ourselves to people we recognized, but had never met. Some were already in the water and had a level of cheerfulness I had never seen in the other pool. 

 

“It’s like bath water,” they said.

 

Those five words put a spring in my step as I hurriedly set up my personal docking station for my belongings, uncovered my bathing suit and walked with my slip-ons to the stairs leading me into the water.

 

I slowly dipped in one bare foot and then the other.

 

“Oh Lord, this is just like bath water,’ I echoed and smiled from ear to ear, as I wandered to a spot where some of the regulars had placed themselves. I immediately introduced myself to Solveig (pronouned Solveigh), Rita and Renée, and a guy named John. My best friend, Jan, arrived soon thereafter.

 

The Monday class began right on time with a selection of fabulous rock and roll songs of the sixties. The instructor is enthusiastic, loves to sing while she works, and clearly loves her job.  The 30+ students all face in her direction and obediently follow her lead. We were all full of vim and vigour, and some of us joined in the more familiar lyrics or just made up our own. The forty five minutes of constant movement flew by, and I could hardly wait for Wednesday and then Friday.

 

It was at this point that I would refer to the morning experience as Aqua Magic. Over the next eight weeks, at each class, I set out to remember another name and to chat with another person. They were no longer just faces, but names I would remember both inside that pool and out.  That is Gary (with one r), beside him is Klamer, over there is Cherie who ride shares with Rita, who is next to Solveig along the back wall.  Rita, Klamer and I share an ethnic/cultural identity — we are all born in the Netherlands, and we enjoy greeting each other in our mother tongue. 

 

I am in front of Rita, beside Renée and slightly behind Laurie who is to the left of Marge and Loretta who often come together except when one or the other is vacationing somewhere. There was a smiling lady who always came to class wearing a big floppy hat over her naturally grey hair; I never did communicate directly with her other than a quick nod or hello. I wonder what her name is?

 

In the last couple of weeks, I met Ron and Garry with a double r.  They were two of a regular group of about eight men who didn’t know each other before this all started, but always placed themselves in the deep end, to the right of the instructor.  It was impressive to see them all pay attention and follow along.  The instructor even noticed them and their faces beamed when she congratulated them on their progress and enthusiasm.

 

Early on there was a very talkative guy named John. Of all the guys, he seemed to prefer engaging in conversation with a lady or two. The ladies he chose would politely listen and learn things about him, including his health challenges and family dynamics.  Then, one day there was no John and we never saw John again.  We all felt a sense of sadness hoping he was okay, but helpless in that we had no idea who he was, where he lived, or how to find out what happened to him. It reminded us that we should not take anything for granted and that everything and anything can end abruptly and without notice. I think most of us know this but we tend to not remember until it is too late.

 

At the outdoor pool, we all seemed to be a lot more talkative and social during classes. It is hard to figure out why that happened, but it definitely made me feel more energized and enthusiastic about the aquafit program. 

 

After day one in the outdoor pool, I no longer rolled out of bed, but sprang out and enthusiastically prepared for departure. I enjoyed it so much more than the indoor program. I guess time will tell if it was the program or the people that made this happen.

 

Now that the summer has ended and the outdoor pool is closed, our gang is once again feeling the end of summer camp. It was, and now it is no longer. Just like that — terminal. We are back to square one as we try to figure out how to keep up the aqua magic of morning exercises and of discovering interesting new people going forward. 

 

The Maple Ridge Leisure Centre is still under construction and will be for many months to come.  The alternatives for aquafit programs are not local and the external options are plentiful. We are on our own to figure that out.

 

Because of where people live, some plan to go to facilities to the east of our town and others will go west or south. I am happy to say that it sounds like my core group is planning to go west, so we will reunite next week in the water at the Hyde Creek pool in Port Coquitlam. Perhaps with our having to travel a fair distance for sixty minutes of exercising, some of us can include a coffee break visit or occasional brunch outing into our plans to make the long journey  west even more worthwhile.

 

As a recovering workaholic approaching official retirement soon, the aquafit program has definitely opened up my world to new experiences and new people. I am looking forward to more of the warm waters and magical gifts that will be accompanying this new lifestyle well into the future.

 

 

 

 

 

Australian Odyssey

I embarked on a long journey from home base Maple Ridge, British Columbia Canada to Brisbane and Perth, Australia recently. It was indeed both long and incredible.

 

The first leg was on a beautiful Air Canada Dreamliner on which I had three delightfully wide and comfortable seats all to myself. I almost instantly piled up the three airline pillows against the window side and sprawled out to get a good feel of what was to come. It was like heaven or at least how I hope heaven will be.

 

I closed my eyes and started thinking of those people in my life who often feel I have horseshoes up my wazoo. I giggled silently and smiled, as I opened my eyes and saw the flight attendant pass by with a food cart. It was one in the morning, not really a time I have ever eaten; but, since the flight would be fourteen hours and since I would not likely sleep that long, I decided to sit up and experience the culinary offerings. They called it steamed chicken and roasted vegetables. I ate it although I am not sure why the chef chose to steam chicken. There are so many other ways to present a nice chicken tasting meal.

 

I left the meal scraps and utensils on the table tray closest to the aisle and stretched out for the long term. No loud voices around me. No crying babies. I was out like a light in sixty seconds and woke up seven hours later, just in time for a breakfast of the continental sort. I had apparently slept through a snack service of cheeses, fruits and crackers. The flight attendant remembered and handed me a stash.

 

Although I am not a person who likes earphones in my ears, I have developed a knack of watching shows and creating a suitable storyline on my own. On this occasion, I chose to watch the new Churchill movie called The Darkest Hour and happily I saw a new feature in the options—English subtitles. It really was a great movie so that makes it easy to understand why it got a handsome Oscar this year. With four more flying hours to Brisbane, I stretched out again, giggled again and smiled again as I drifted into another sleep.

 

Upon arriving, there were no comments from me like ‘finally’ or ‘I am never doing this again’. It was a dream trip, on a dream bed on a dream airplane. I felt fully rested as we landed at 7:30 a.m. Aussie time.

 

There is a most impressive and economical way to get from Brisbane airport to your Brisbane hotel. It is under twenty dollars with a shuttle bus company called Con-X-ion. You book on line, tell them when you need a pick-up and when you get out of the secured area of the airport, right there in front of you is their company desk with attentive, friendly staff ready to guide you to the clean, air conditioned bus. I have given them a five star rating on Trip Advisor and coming from me, that is saying a lot!

 

On arrival days, I tend to sit back, review the options and explore the neighbourhood around the hotel. On this occasion, I texted the daughter of a friend of mine. Christina is a new mom, lives in Brisbane and is on parental leave. I got an immediate PING back. Turned out she and baby were at swimming lessons at the Olympic Pool directly across the road from the hotel and lessons had just ended. We met out on the sidewalk after I figured out how to jaywalk safely on a road where drivers drive on the opposite side of the road from those of us in Canada. Don’t look left, right and then left again! Look right, left, then right again, walk to the median and then look left, right and left again to get to the other side.

 

After a short visit on a very muggy day, we planned to be in touch the following day for another encounter in downtown. I walked along the scenic main road sidewalk adjacent to  Victoria Park, to the traffic light just to be sure to be safe when recrossing that rather busy road. 

 

Not feeling ready to go back to the air conditioned hotel room, I did a loop walk in the area to see what was around. I walked by several  schools where students of all ages wear uniforms and boys are schooled separately from girls. A lot of the houses and town homes and low-rise apartment buIldings are built like compounds where a heavy duty fence blocks out viewing from either side at street level. The stroll led me to a quaint coffee shop, Union Street Cafe, where I would start the plan for the following day.

 

The sky looked ominous that morning but I made it to the coffee shop before the rain came pouring down. I sat at the window seat and watched the rain and the students who seemed to be prepared with their uniform hats and umbrellas to keep them dry. It was only a ten minute shower and then the sky was a gorgeous turquoise blue with only a few clouds up above. I was clear to go a bit further down the street, up a short hill, directly to the free bus bus stop — the Springhill Circle route taking me to downtown.

 

The main street in downtown is a street mall for pedestrians only and along that strip there are several malls extending from the street inward. I read somewhere that there are something like 700 stores within a four block radius. I knew I couldn’t tackle it all in one day so I just strolled leisurely walking into some stores and not others. 

 

While inside a fancy department store, I sat in a cosy chair to check for messages. Christina was on the strip and suggested we meet at 11:30 at a key location. I confirmed, found her and her baby, and we headed off to lunch. We went into a side street food mall where we enjoyed tacos and sparkling water, and enjoyed a couple of hours of time together.

 

The diversion gave me a chance to rest before continuing the quest to at least explore the other side of the four block street mall leading me back to the free bus bus stop to get me back to my adopted neighbourhood.

 

During those two initial days in Brisbane, I only covered off a few things; but, when I returned a week later, I learned a whole lot more.

 

On day three of a twelve day journey, I was back at the airport for my flight to Perth. Perth is where my niece would be married on St. Patrick’s Day, and most of the family had gathered there for the celebration.

 

The Qantas Jet was very comfortable. The seats were spacious, including decent leg room. The hot lunch food service had three options: lamb ragout, pulled pork or steamed chicken. Yes, steamed chicken! I opted for the pork although just like the chicken didn’t taste like chicken on my last flight, the pork didn’t taste like pork. I did eat it because I actually believe the flight attendant would give me ‘that look’ if I didn’t! It wasn’t even an hour after cleaning up from that food service, that we each got a frozen raspberry ice cream bar!

 

The welcoming committee of two, proudly carrying Canadian flags, at Perth Domestic air terminal, started the excitement of another leg of this incredible adventure. Outside of the main doors, across a roadway and into the car park, a trunk springs open. Buckled up, off we drove on the left side of the street as the driver sat on the right side of the car. Suddenly being a Canadian passenger became somewhat scary as it is hard to feel confident when almost everything related to driving is opposite of our norm.

 

We made it intact to our Air BnB just at the edge of the downtown core. Its second floor location didn’t have a view but it was spacious and quiet. The place was somewhat lacking in cleanliness but we each took the initiative to wipe down the furniture, launder the bedding and wash the dishes we would likely be using. Fortunately we had a high end dishwasher, clothes washer and dryer to make the process somewhat seamless.

 

Our first full family meal, the Thursday night before the wedding of my niece and future nephew in law, was a wonderful cornucopia of BBQed seafood, lamb chops and sausages. Mediterranean salad, carrot salad, and homemade baked  French fries at their Victoria district home. All very delicious. It was there that I met their dog, Maple, a cute mini pincer, who loved the smell of my coconut butter covered legs.

 

The first big outing was the next day to a place called Fremantle. This is where the prisoners from Great Britain were sent to do their time I think maybe back in the 1600s for crimes big and small. Over the centuries, the location developed into a pleasant community and it now proudly stands as a very popular place for tourists and locals to enjoy the boating, beaches, eateries and simply strolling along the boardwalks. 

 

We all enjoyed a most impressive lunch of Hoki (visually it looks similar to cod, but more on the pinkish side. It is as flaky when cooked and as mild a taste as cod) and chips. I would say Cicerello’s in Fremantle is the place to go if you are a fish and chips connoisseur!

 

Saturday, March 17, 2018, was the wedding day. My niece, Andrea and her groom, David, had planned for this day for six months and no stone was left unturned. The attention to detail was amazing right down to having a few fleece blankets at the reception in anticipation of a cool evening.

 

Some of us had to arrive on site earlier than the guests. As such we became somewhat of a welcoming party and met the marriage celebrant and event organizer. There I learned at what point my role in the ceremony would take place. I felt calm, relaxed and ready. As the guests seemed to have all arrived, we got the cue that the bride was nearby and the ceremony was about to begin. A tear dropped from my left eye as I saw my beautifully dressed sister, the mother of the bride, stride down the grassy path to her seat at the front of the congregation. 

 

The next tear fell when I watched the beautiful bridesmaid, my niece Kayla, walk down that grassy path, to take her place. Then, alas, the biggest highlight of the ceremony, and another tear dropping, the gorgeous bride, my niece Andrea, with her arm in her dad’s, as he guided her down that same grassy path, to her fiancé, standing patiently before a beautiful backdrop of a small pond and deep green foliage all around.

 

With everyone in place, and my niece shaking with nerves as she was about to embark on a whole new journey, the ceremony began with a brief overview on how they met. This was followed by my part, the recital of a unique poem written for the bride and groom:

 

Andrea, one of my two Sampson nieces, 

first sees the big picture 

then puts together the pieces, 

carefully and strategically,

creating an organized mixture.

 

An organized mixture

Be it a party like this or her closets at home

her office desk or inside her car,

There’s always a proper place for everything

so she knows where things are.

 

She works very hard to get things just right,

Spends money wisely; grabs the best deals in sight.

She loves her dog Maple and, of course, David too,

 He’s passionate and caring and loves beer and food.

 

I wish them the best on the adventures ahead,

An organized mixture of a life that’s well bred.

 

The bride and groom wrote their own vows and proudly shared their personal messages with all of the guests, while keeping their eyes on each other. After the usual array of photos at the site, the wedding party went to various spots around Perth for more photos, and then made a grand entrance at the reception site — the large and beautifully decorated backyard of the groom’s parents. Food and drinks were aplenty; the music drew the guests into the dancing mood; and, we all danced and danced the night away. It truly was a fantastic celebration!

 

The following day we regrouped with the newly married couple and enjoyed a light brunch on a Main Street in the city. It was a great opportunity to reflect on the success of the day before and talk about plans for the days ahead. 

 

Our dinner plans for that night were set with the soon to be in laws of Kayla, the bridesmaid, a lovely couple named Jenny and Greg — both warm and loving people who raised two beautiful people, Kim and Toby. They live in Fremantle and their yard includes fig, lime, mandarin oranges, pomegranate, Star fruit, avocado and blueberry crops. 

 

Jenny and Greg are socially astute and easily moved from guest to guest to make them each feel uniquely welcome by showing an interest in more than just small talk. It was a discreetly organized evening of musical chairs, giving everyone an opportunity to talk with everyone else one to one. The meal was a wonderful array of bbq meats, salad and scalloped potatoes. Dessert was Jenny’s renowned homemade baclava — a baked meringue with whipped cream and fresh strawberries. It was absolutely delicious.

 

The following day was our post wedding hens outing to The Cheese Barrel in the community of Swan Valley. This place apparently has the largest selection of international benchmark farmhouse and artisanal cheeses in the region. 

It was a lovely sunny day out in the country as we sat outside under the covered patio to enjoy a potpourri of different cheeses (Udder Delights Brie, Jensen Red, Landana 500, Pradera and Stokes Point Smoked Cheddar), meats and breads — oh, and a bottle of bubbly prosecco. It was another great opportunity to socialize with the family — and now our extended family as well. Happily the new additions blend in extremely well as we seamlessly learn about each other in all kinds of scenarios and feel the natural genuine comfort of welcoming new people into our lives.

 

We left the hens by around 4 pm and got resettled at the apartment where a patient husband awaited our arrival. We debriefed on our respective experiences of the day and, suddenly, we found ourselves in a perplexing state of mental confusion. We laughed and laughed to the point of tears because we switched from several smooth flowing, organized days of clearly structured and sequential plans, to being in a state of utter flux. 

 

We had three more days to spend together in Perth and we started talking out the logistics only to find that one person was talking about some things relating to day two or three while another put day one into day three, day two into one and one into three. Laughter and tears are now pouring from my eyes as I attempt to share this story, and as I do, I look up and see the same in the others in the room. We are out of control, off the tracks, mixed up, confused and loving every minute of it! We needed this to happen and once the dust settled, we were once again able to regroup, rebuild a comprehensive plan that maximized our remaining time and incorporate all the loose ends we hoped to accomplish in the days ahead. 

 

Jamie Oliver has a chain of restaurants across Australia and we found one nearby. On the window it read, pizza and beer for ten dollars on Mondays. A great deal and a great idea. The five of us were seated at a large round table and handed the menus. The server and a server in training handed us the menus and explained the dinner deal. Four of us ordered the  pizza deal, and the fifth only a beer with the intention of sharing her husband’s pizza.  

 

Twenty minutes later, the four fabulous and delicious pizzas arrive and we enjoyed every bite. I was mentally readying myself for another positive trip advisor evaluation, but then the bill came. Now I do know that some people never cross-check their bill, totally believing it must be right, but I NEVER do and sure enough, as has frequently been the case in foreign transactions over the years and even domestically, our bill was not correct — at least not logically correct. The single beer, the exact same beer paired with the pizzas, cost ten dollars! 

 

Why would a server and a training server not flag to a customer that the beer itself is the same price as a pizza and beer! We expressed our concern and the server, and later her supervisor, could not understand how our findings were a concern. It was almost like one of those “well that’s the way it is” moments to which we were expected to bow and accept.

 

Well this clan does not bow and accept and after a round of attempts to decipher an inkling of logic, the manager asks “well what do you want me to do about it”?

 

Suddenly the Trip Advisor evaluation went from a ten to a three, and that stood firm even after we settled on paying five dollars for that lonely beer. With the reprinted bill in hand, I walked to the paying station, handed the cashier the bill of $45 along with a $100 bill. She rustled through her wallet and handed me a five dollar bill.

 

“Wow, this place is really warped!” — is the only thought that flashed before my eyes. “I think I will pass on that Trip Advisor plan. It would be a waste of my valuable time as I now focus on the organized plans for the following three days.!”

 

Tuesdays are cheap fare days for the passenger ferry to Rottnest Island. This is a small island off the shores of Fremantle with an incredible history worth googling if you are interested. Here we found some of the simpler pleasures of life such as unique natural attraction like stunning beaches and many secluded coves, local wildlife like the tame Quokka, colonies of sea lions, fur seals and whales. People walk, hike, cycle, boat, fish, skydive, surf, golf, swim and snorkel around interesting reefs and shipwrecks. The Island is not inhabited full time but does have cabins, camping locations and other temporary options.

 

The temperature was 30 degrees Celsius. We packed a small carry pack with the basic essentials of food and drink. We met at the port five minutes before departure and enjoyed the fast and quick thirty minute ride to the Island’s central business area where there are restaurants, a general store, two ice cream parlours and a bakery. 

 

It is a non-vehicle zone except for a few buses and service vehicles. The road and cycling route is about thirty kilometres around most of the shoreline sectioned off with coves and beaches, with plenty of swimming, snorkeling and scuba diving attractions, paired with incredibly beautiful views. It was an ‘easy-moderate’ cycling excursion for us but, without basically any shady areas and no extra drinking water stations along the way, it can be overwhelming on very hot days. Taking a dip into the Indian Ocean was an option, but we didn’t all take advantage of that cooling down option. Thankfully the hop-on, hop-off bus service is complimentary for the cyclists who suffer from exhaustion or dehydration!

 

When we all reunited in the business district, it was great to enjoy some shade and rest before heading to the local pub for a mid-afternoon meal of salad, fries and fish, cold cider, water and beer, followed by an especially good ice cream cone, before returning to the ferry dock for our return to the Port of Fremantle.

 

On my last day in Perth, I walked downtown to meet my newly married niece. She had a new job interview at nine so I timed it in such a way that I was able to check out some of the commerce and enjoy a most delicious cappuccino  before meeting her in a predetermined plaza. She brought me on a free bus to the outlet mall not far from downtown, where we both went on a bit of a shopping spree, before catching the train back to her neighbourhood.

 

This was her husband’s birthday so with the help of her mother, they prepared an Oreo cheesecake before he came home from work. Thankfully the temperature was a bearable 24 degrees, making the oven heat more or less bearable! At his request, we ordered in a chicken, salad and fries dinner as the sun set, the air cooled and the car got packed to get yet another traveler to the airport. Our group of six had dwindled down to two in Perth, but now there were two in Melbourne, one off to Brisbane and one back home in Canada.

 

Upon my return to Brisbane at 7:30 in the morning, on Virgin Australia, the Best Western Gregory Terrace hotel granted me room access. I immediately crawled into bed for a quick ninety minutes before heading to a local bus stop for the trip to the Brisbane Museum where I was meeting a BC friend, her daughter and grand daughter. As per usual I arrived early giving me opportunity to scout out the area and enjoy a smooth cappuccino.

 

The museum presentation was about the life cycle of turtles, including onsite incubators and the various phases of the birthing process. Afterwards we walked to the south shore of the Brisbane River to view some kiosks and decide on a place for a late lunch. We chose fish and chips giving me a chance to compare other such meals over the course of this trip. Feeling exhausted from the lack of sleep the night before, it was easy to return to the hotel for a quick nap before a take home dinner that was in the room’s fridge.

 

The following day, the ladies picked me up for our day at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary about twenty minutes north of the city. There I was introduced to the world of raptors, koalas, kangaroos, crocodiles and native birds. It was a warm, cloudy day with some sunny periods, but basically just fine for a day in this park. There was plenty of shade and sitting areas, and we were well stocked with water and a delicious assortment of easy picnic snacks, including crackers and cheese, cut carrots, celery and cukes. This is a must-see location for anyone coming to Brisbane.

 

To top off the day, my last in this town, I sat in the hotel restaurant for a delicious pasta meal with zucchini, tomatoes and bacon, along with a glass of Australian Shiraz. At 6:30 p.m., I was the only patron.

 

With the flight from Brisbane to Vancouver leaving at 10:40 a.m., starting off in sleep mode didn’t  quite work so I watched the flight plan screen. Flying at more than 11,000 meters, we were heading due east, right across the grand Pacific Ocean to Vancouver. The sun was shining, the air outside a tad shaky, and the temperature hovered at minus 43 Celsius! We travelled at a ground speed of more than 950 km per hour. To put that into perspective, the speed limit on most major ground highways is 100 km per hour.

 

Here is an interlude question: when on a long flight, what is worse: sitting near a crying baby or listening to a big man sniff constantly at a very audible pitch? He was three seats away from me and the frequency made me think he had some form of Terets syndrome! Plugging one ear helped.

 

Within two hours of flight came the first of three food services. I chose chicken over beef, and tried my best to eat most of it. Food services have improved over the years but I still find it hard to stomach. When you are hungry though, and you know the flight is fourteen hours long, somehow you manage to get something down. A good incentive was the cheesecake dessert.

 

As we approached the final 3 hours of a very long flight, I tried to sleep but just could not get to that point. Sitting up or slouched to sleep and laying to sleep are two diversely different experiences, and despite the pillows, blanket and leg room, it just wasn’t to be. Instead, I reflected on the huge new life experience of travelling alone to a very far away place, with confidence and anticipation of having a great time alone and with people. I certainly did have a great time alone and with people, and am already preparing for the next great adventure as I live through another year of severance coverage before heading into the pension world and whatever other opportunities come my way! 

 

 

Reign of Inhumanity

Every time Wile E. Coyote and Yosemite Sam tried to accomplish something simple or seemingly impossible, they failed. One thing they never failed in was their determination to never give up; but, neither did their nemesis’: Roadrunner and Bugs Bunny.

 

Young, and maybe even not so young, viewers of those Looney Tune programs got joy out of seeing the characters fail time and again. In a nut shell, neither Wile E. nor Yosemite liked competition and sought to eradicate it. The other two were gung ho ready for whatever would unfold. They enjoyed competing with relentless competitors, and successfully stopping them in their tracks.

 

Every obvious and every subtle effort was made to be victorious, but any degree of success was short-lived because the victims on both sides of the scenario always bounced back no matter what the calamity. The cartoon seemed to be on ‘continuous play’ as each show followed the same pattern of two goals: get rid of competition and WIN!

 

Win what exactly? For the perpetrators it turned out to be the unveiling of their extreme jealousy, insecurity, pride, indifference to the feelings of others, greed, envy, gluttony, attention, and humiliation. For Bugs Bunny and the Roadrunner, it was to highlight evil, meanness, bullying, and standing up to relentless pursuits.

 

In those Looney Tunes, neither side ever gave in and neither side ever gave up. The projector reels kept turning and turning, and we saw the same story line unfold, with different scenarios and different settings, but always leaving the viewers with the exact same outcomes. Yosemite and Wile E. were perpetrators of evil and ultimately victims of their intended results.

 

Evil exists around us and it usually stems from jealousy, personal insecurity, possessiveness or an inability to embrace differences. From our personal life experiences with the parallel personalities of Wile E. Coyote, Yosemite Sam, Bugs Bunny and the Roadrunner in our every day lives, we can learn that there is no one right answer to everything and no one right answer to any one thing. Hold your head high, stand up on your own two feet, lend a helping hand and be the one to stop the reign of inhumanity.

 

Red Flags

Sadly lots of sadness has recently sprung to my life from the secrets and darkness within the lives of the troubled.

Christmas is the worst time of year for people with depression and anxiety — we hear that all the time. It is the most difficult time of year to hide suicidal thoughts — we hear about that a lot. It is the most terrifying time for families and friends who know there is very little, if anything, they can do to take the pain away — but, we know giving up or walking away isn’t the answer.

Sure the sun will shine and the wind will blow, but the human spirit continues to struggle with the human condition now widely known to be mental illness. People only start to think about that or only start to open their eyes when the reality of mental disorders strike them directly personally or within their families.

I lost a dear friend to a common mental health condition, a condition that was there from childhood but never talked about or acknowledged for any number of reasons. Like a snowball, it became more and more difficult to handle and then too overwhelming to family and friends. 

An intervention had to take place and a few caring people stepped to the plate to take that bull by the horns vowing to carry it through and never walk away, no matter how difficult it could become. It took a total breakdown for us to take that step and from there we depended on professionals. The monster was too much for us to handle.

It was a long and grueling road, lots of hills and valleys, occasional detours and many setbacks. Faith and hope was about all we, the outsiders, could offer as medical science did its best to douse the fire from its roots. The fire wall kept us away as various theories were applied and various dosages of various medications were tested and carefully monitored.

Gratefully the patient was compliant, letting go of his shame and embarrassment, acknowledging the condition, and accepting professional help. Although most of the people who initially stood up and swore to not walk away, couldn’t hold on. It seemed hopeless to some family members and some friends, as he was moved from institution to institution, with time outs now and then that showed little progress, fading hope, and few signs of optimism.

Some of those who didn’t walk away early during this indescribable, complex and worrisome journey, eventually became ostracized — perhaps because they got too close and were too aware; or, perhaps because part of the therapy recommended a clean slate or a distance from those who intervened. Perhaps the time had come for the patient to start fresh with new dreams, new priorities and a new life.

Yes, I was one of a few people who was ostracized and that was extremely hard to take. We, the diehards, stuck it out and we continue to support each other knowing we saved a human being.

We are now just grateful that his darkness came to our light when it did and as it did, and that his efforts and his determination to overcome his demons, have now seemingly brought light to his life and promise to his loving family.  

There is indeed power in hope and I wish everyone faced with a loved one crushed in an abyss that is impossible to fully understand, faces head-on the red flags early, so more Christmases can be a time of true joy and celebration.

 

Shoe Shine Ma’am?

If I had shoes to shine, I would be seated on that high back chair across the way, watching the middle aged woman with a thick European accent scrub, clean and shine as though there is no better job in the world. She is strong and she is passionate about her work. A brush for this, a brush for that; buffering all over the front, back and sides, including the undersides, of each shoe, and finishing off with a spray, more massaging and polishing, until the shine is like a glimmering mirror. It's a simple job and no doubt making a huge difference in the life of a newly landed immigrant. I look over again, long after the customer has left, and she is still smiling.

Her job emulates the definition of living well and having a good life: structure, order, goal-based, hard working, pride, courtesy, gratitude, service to others, personal satisfaction and honesty.

Farewell and Fare Well

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Farewell and Fare Well

 

One of the great things about working in a political job is that you get to interact with people who observe a certain conviction, people who follow another conviction and people who don’t do either.  When it comes to elections, there can only be one winner and that winner’s lifespan in that elected office is ultimately temporary. In my case, the lifespan of serving elected people, always including our Leader, has been an incredible 26 years and I think that is quite a long haul.

 

I feel pretty darn good about having been with my team for that long.  As some people might say: I have seen it all! Although I am not one to carry around a camera to flash shots everywhere I go, my pictures are my memories, my short stories and my poetry – much of which can be found on my website www.antoinettedewit.ca . All those pieces are fictional, but some people might see threads of truth interfaced between the metaphors and similes that I tend to favour in my creative writing.

 

The experience of reaching the end of a milestone has helped me to understand the meaning of bitter-sweet. This is my time for me to turn the page, for now. I have had my mind on work almost 24-7 at the expense of family relationships and friendships. Days off have been interrupted; vacations have been interrupted. But, my chosen life has experienced something unique, wonderful and incredible, and has brought me to this point of comfort and personal pride.

 

I feel internally enriched; I have been honoured and I have been blessed. The sun continues to shine; my heart is smiling; and, my soul has found much comfort during this incredible journey.

 

Small Schools

Bring Back Local Small Schools

The news story about the abundance of classroom portables in the City of Surrey, got me thinking about my upbringing in a three-room school in the hamlet of North Bend. It served the 60 school aged children, Grades 1-6, very well for many decades, and then bureaucrats stepped in and imposed a new approach to educating those students – sending them to another community, only reachable by one caged aerial ferry that could hold about forty people, taking them to the other side of the Fraser River where a school bus awaited! It was a huge inconvenience and a huge hassle, and probably saved a bit of money, but at what cost? The alternate school in Boston Bar needed portables to accommodate the change and there was no opportunity for extra-curricular fun as the students had to catch that one bus back to the ferry in order to get home.

This might be a time to look back at how things used to be in some of our rural or remotely inhabited settlements around the province. Let’s look at transforming abandoned churches, town halls, community centres or resorts into schools for the local children. I would argue that maybe something like that could work in our overpopulated urban areas as well.

Combining Language and Culture

Tonight I went somewhere I would not normally go and I learned about the quest to preserve and revitalize First Peoples’ languages.

The new exhibit at the Royal BC Museum is innovative and interactive. It includes sounds and visuals, takes you back in time, springs you forward to the here and now, and then leaves you with a feeling of optimism about a revitalized future for First Nations peoples and a stronger relationship with all of us.

The heartbeat of our First Peoples, however faint it has become, carries them forward. Their language and their culture travel as ONE and if one of the two is weak, so is the other.

The Museum’s curator, Dr. Jack Lohman, is passionate about our First Nations’ history. He is passionate about revitalizing that history as a means for all of us to better understand, respect and appreciate how language and culture make people strong and proud, and how they make communities strong and proud. We must not let either slip away, sleep or get isolated – the information we need to preserve and revitalize the peoples’ history, our own history, is out there – we must see it, hold on to it, share it and embrace it.

Our Living Languages is a voice, a clear voice, that will inspire the movement for reconciliation within nations and between nations, for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples alike. The exhibit speaks to us and about us. Its power will give visitors a renewed perspective not only of First Nations history, but on the importance of history as a means to better understand ourselves by reconciling with our own beginnings, our own roots.

Tonight I heard the voices of our First Nations peoples; I listened and learned. I felt that faint heartbeat get stronger thanks to the Royal BC Museum taking the lead in the resuscitation of the lives of the living, and helping us all to better understand what being whole actually means.

 

Ode To Trish

I wanted to be sure you wouldn’t leave the office without a good laugh, so I wrote these priceless memories on your behalf:

 

Hello, my name is McIntosh. I read that controversial new book written by Margaret Trudeau, and I thought she should sleep with either Reagan or Brezhnev --- maybe that would bring peace to the world. Thank you, goodbye.

 

Hello, my name is McIntosh. I think there is a great need for more round rooms rather than square ones because words can be more clearly understood when they are free to circulate around the room rather than get trapped in the corners. Thank you, goodbye.

 

Hello, my name is McIntosh. I think it is just awful to read that Hunky Bill’s is being fined. I have eaten at Hunky Bill’s and I had a hunky-dorry delicious meal there. That is what I will always think of when I hear the word ‘Hunky’. Just like when I hear the word ‘chink’. I don’t consider that word to be an ethnic slur. It makes me think of a fine cup of tea in China. The Human Rights Code has made a mistake. Thank you, goodbye.

 

You must not forget the anonymous caller from the Island that we used to call Mrs. Qualicum because she would never give us her actual name – the woman obsessed with using the expression God-damned. She seemed to use it in every sentence. She was the one bothered by our God-damned prime minister who wanted to turn our country into one of those third world places, and all of our problems were your God-damned fault!

 

Oh yes, then there was that other poor lady who couldn’t find her deed of land because the authorities took it away from her before she was committed to Riverview. That will be a good case for your replacement to handle, I’m sure!

 

Of course, there are some nice, neat times to remember as well: the mushroom soup from a place called Honey’s; the sandwiches from Ruffage; the flowers; the mysterious disappearance of office pens; and, the paranoid woman who used to drop by to visit Shelby.

 

Isn’t life grand?  Best of luck to you, Trish.

 

This farewell was written in June 1982 for a former colleague in the office of the late Senator Ray Perrault

who was BC’s representative in the Federal Cabinet when our province did not elect any Liberal Members

of Parliament. Trish and I lost touch with each other, but my memories of our working time together shall remain.

Waking Up Late

I am not sure what you would call a row of beautifully bloomed dogwood trees along one rural street in Maple Ridge, but getting up at 6:30 in the morning and walking under those lightly weighted branches, to the bus stop down the road, sure makes it easy to stop, smile and feel sure that today is going to be a great day. 

I am sure those trees have been there for many, many years, but it seems I only just noticed. I am inclined to think that maybe in years past, the blooming for dogwoods was not all that successful so there really wasn’t anything special to notice. If that assessment isn’t right, then maybe it is true that I am finally coming out of the negative impacts of workaholism and into the wonderful world of unimpeded reality. Am I actually finally smelling the roses?

I was walking along the pathways at the rear of the Legislature last weekend and it struck me as odd that there are now 3 memorial monuments out there. I stopped to see if I was daydreaming or sleepwalking, but I was feeling quite sure that a new one had just been mounted yesterday when I hadn’t been around. I looked at the ground and at the cement, but neither looked particularly fresh; in fact, the areas around the two other monuments looked every bit the same as the ground and cement around the third. 

I walk this path about fifteen times a month, and only now I am taking notice of a third monument and not only that, I am taking notice of a beautifully bloomed dogwood tree at the corner of the pathway and the parking lot.  I can remember when that was first planted. For the first 2 years I don’t think it bloomed; and, on the third year, I think possibly five flowers woke up, but I am actually not quite sure.  This year there are several branches fully bloomed with so many flowers one person could never actually accurately count them.  


I feel like I have just bloomed too, as I remember the story of the Little Prince who dropped by from another planet and yearned to be taught things from scratch, as so much before him was so new.

I am living in a grove of trees, one curiosity lined up before another, a collection of challenges back to back, a string of accomplishments to come. I feel myself at a turning point. I am actually opening my eyes and ears, smelling the coffee and seeing the sky as the limit. Life isn’t meant to be all about being “busy busy” or “all consumed” – it’s supposed to be about noticing and appreciating what’s right there in front of you before it passes you by.

Colouring our World

Colour My World was the theme song of my 1974 high school graduation year at Burnaby Central Senior Secondary School in Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada. I remember the Valedictorian saying that the lyrics were so significant that we had to listen to them, understand them and carry them with us as we move from the protective custody of public school and endeavour to survive in the bigger world.

For some reason, 42 years after that speech, some of the lyrics of that song have come back to my mind. It is like looking back into the rear view mirror, seeing old boyfriends, school dances, jocks and nerds, and, of course, those honour roll plaques on wall of the main entrance highlighting the exceptionally bright students. Those plaques always bothered me as I could not understand why a select few who apparently scored high on exams then, got singled out as prominent and special.

Those select few were instantly ostracized, metaphors for the distinction between black and white, and many of them were incapable of doing so well in college or university, dropping out and acting out in their adult years when detentions and opportunities were handled somewhat differently than in our high school years. Words like prostitution, pole dancing, drug trade, marriages ending in divorce, suicides, attempted suicides, mental illness diagnosis, and homelessness come to mind. I don't think that was the intended colouring your world message the grad committee had in mind.

So when I think of Chicago's lyrics of their song Color My World some grads who were listening to that could not possibly have understood the value of colour or the metaphor it represented; the diversity of the spectrum, the experiments, the risks, the adventures, were seen as tsk tsk, faux-pas, in the black and white world into which the select few had been indoctrinated or embedded. They saw their future as being dependent on sterility and a total commitment to academic prowess. They understood black and they understood white, and to them there was no need to pay attention to the things in-between.

Colouring their world with hope, as the song says, was so a way out there that those graduates felt confused and scared, or safe in their own secure world, while the rest of us – the colourful others, reached our arms high into the air and said bring it on! We knew what colour meant; we embraced it and celebrated it, hitting bumps and crevices, but always getting back up ready to face the challenges before us.

There is definitely hope and promise in colourful choices – that is what the song was telling us. Those who succeeded professionally through the tunnel of black and white, became that lawyer or that doctor or that teacher, but now, 42 years later, when they take a look in the mirror – do they see black and white or do they see colour? Divorced? Failed relationship after relationship? Maxed out? External beauty and internal ugliness? Financially strong and socially inept? Do they see depression, sadness, emptiness, loneliness, routine, pill bottles and a little too much alcohol, or are they full of life, laughs, interesting conversation, up for adventure, happy within, testing the waters and trying new things with genuine excitement and energy?

And now, now that you're near, what really matters is when looking into that rear view mirror, looking back 42 years, and then looking into the mirror currently in front of you, are you really proud, prominent and special to yourself and, most importantly, are you loving the colour you have created? As time goes on, it is never too late to create!


 

 

Healing Words for Paris



I was listening to a Hockey Night in Canada broadcaster reference

the terrorist attack on Paris this past week. He said: there are no

words.

There are no words?  I can think of nothing but words. Words are

pouring out of my head: horrendous, awful, senseless, stupid,

incredible, unbelievable, disgusting, disappointing, scary, sad,

worrisome,shameful and crazy.


And then I think of the victims, survivors and the survivors of the

victims: sad, angry, dumbfounded, condolences, love, grief, cry,

yell, scream, hold hands, hug, share the memories, find strength

and comfort in those memories. You are not alone in your pain,

your grief, your anger and your sadness -- it is all a part of all of us.

There are indeed words, many words; please find them within you  

and say them to yourselves and each other. They tell it all and they

will heal all of us.


 
 

Suppositions

 
I have come to realize that we all set out in life to find stability and inner strength, and once we see those elements within ourselves, we try to find those things in others. 
 
We try and try to find those things in others. We talk. We listen, talk some more and listen some more and the unanswered questions remain.  When all else fails, we turn to suppositions.  
 
Suppositions are uncertain beliefs that cause our minds to develop scenarios or conclusions, that may or may not be true, but the more we think about them, the more creative our stories become. 
 
Eventually the stories are no longer about the people or experiences or situations around us, but something beyond them, away from them and perhaps nothing at all like them – but, created because of them. Those people, experiences or situations are mere starting points on an easel, and then the paint brush steps in or mere rough notes for a movie script, novel, short story or poem, and the fingers start to fly on the keyboard. Whatever the result, it is no doubt beautiful, but the starting point is never left behind.
 
Tell me who you really are.

 

Wants and Needs

I feel so strange being estranged from the Internet. I am so used to ending my day with a few word games with family members and friends, and closing off email responses, and then awakening in the morning for another round.
 
Incredible wind storms throughout the coastal and inland areas have cut off hydro and Internet access to more people than I can count and Internet service can't be restored until hydro workers have fixed the downed lines. They are working flat out to get the jobs done, but although I have power back, the other part hasn't happened. It has now been 15 hours without Internet communications and apparently it could take that much longer!
 
So I am sitting here, grateful for the sunshine so I can get out to stretch the cycling legs and check out local sales. I am grateful for the telephone and the cell phone, and the opportunity to not ignore housework and stitching and sorting projects that have been sitting just awaiting the most opportune moment! No excuses now. The garbage and recycling pick up service will get a huge load from my place this week.
 
It is weird, though, having this opportunity. It is making me think of the cave people and how they managed to live quite nicely with very little. As time unfolded, life included more and more things and more and more options, and here I am wondering why? Why do we need so much? Yes, why do we need so much and why do we want so much?
 

Pink on the Rink

My life long male friend, an engineer who lives in Las Vegas, someone with whom I went to senior secondary school and then with whom I got involved in the political world when we were both in our late teens, sent me a FaceBook message relating to Vegas possibly getting an NHL (National Hockey League) franchise. Seems strange to the world that a desert town would want a professional hockey team, but everyone wants in on big money opportunities and this guy named Bill Foley, the guy vying for the NHL approval for a team in Vegas, is no exception.

I found the owner's bio online and spotted a Twitter address. I immediately tweeted him while this wild new, intriguing, significant and doable idea was fresh in my head. I recommended the name of his hockey team be something like Pink Knights or Pink Warriors as a tribute to breast cancer awareness and anti bullying initiatives! The players could wear uniforms with a pinkish tone or several tones of pink, pinkish helmets, pinkish sticks. Fans could wear pink tee shirts.

This idea has huge potential.  Mr. Foley's gamble on creating a successful hockey team in a town only known for table, machine, on line and back room gambling activities in grand, sparkling, flashy and impressive magnanimous properties, bars, restaurants, grocery stores and at their airport, can now use this new business adventure to make a much bigger statement than any of his fellow NHL team owners or Vegas gambling facilities have ever done before!

La Vie En Rose

 
I have come to realize that one of the many things we learn during our formative years, our childhood, our youth and our young adult time, is the formation of an understanding of friendship – that special bond with someone we hang out with, practice new things with, talk about everything and anything, make plans, develop trust, understanding and appreciation of one another, as well as a sense of protection for one another.
 
When I look back at my history and think about my present, I smile. The bonds I developed as many as 45 years ago, when I was 13, were solid bonds. Some of those very people, once tadpoles but now adults, are still a part of my life today and new people have come along and stayed aboard since.
 
One of the tadpoles of 45 years ago did not make it with me or anyone else; she did not want to bond and did not really bother to try. She was lost somewhere in her mind; stuck or scared, I do not know. The reality is that back then those symptoms were ignored and thought to be something one grows out of eventually. 
 
The sorrow I felt for that lost ducky back then remains with me. When she popped up again, a couple of years ago, and as we talked and talked and talked some more, it became increasingly evident to me that our understanding and appreciation of friendship were polar opposites. There is nobody from her past in her life today; she has carried over no life experience with actual bonding, and has never really considered that as odd. The people she does have in her life, she has met mainly through work and kids’ school events. Their time together works out to maybe 2 hours per visit, once in a blue moon, and those people are considered to be friends. Anyone she meets just once, forever and a day is referred to as a friend, even though there has been no continuum in communication since the introduction. My singing idol, Edith Piaf, would echo C'est Incroyable, Elle vit avec sa bouteille. Elle est toute seule dans la vie. (It is incredible. She lives with the bottle. She is alone in life.)
 
The shallowness, secrecy and loneliness within that person has been perplexing to me in the past. Not long ago I was working on a theory  – she is afraid of something or hiding something, and getting close to anyone would expose her secrets or her secret fear or uncertainty about bonding, trusting and loving. Knowing now what I did not know at the time about depression, bipolar disorder and mental health, it all makes sense to me.
 
In fairness to her, when her personal world shattered [divorce] and a failed family business, a pregnant teen daughter, a son addicted to drugs and another in prison for attempted murder, plus the death of a parent, she did cry out for help and got a lot of it. Unfortunately, the end result is more secrecy and more determination to keep a distance from bonding opportunities with descent, astute, experienced and wonderful people. Not sure how to explain that kind of help or could it be that maybe the help did not internalize – it only nurtured and encouraged the external layer to upgrade the acting roles that are shared with the outside world.
 
It is all very sad; so very sad. Those who care, feel helpless and alone, in a scary movie theatre, watching an actress play mind games with herself and others, desperate for the semblance of happiness while, all the while, being and feeling dark, sad, distant, lost and alone. We only see the shell but, her camouflaged inner self, is screaming at us! It is now known to be mental unwellness and it remains as much a mystery to us today as it did decades ago. 
 
The positive side of things now is that more people are talking about it, openly and honestly, and more researchers and scientists are specializing in studying the neurons in the brain that direct us through our everyday lives. We can only hope they are successful because without their determination, our eyes would remain glazed or closed while mentally unwell people remain ignored or ostracized, feeling tormented by their demons and surrounded by people walking on eggshells

Oscar Renault


It was 1976, and a very good year when I met New Brunswick Acadian, Oscar Renault, in a cottage in the woods of Gaspé.

A husband, a father of five, a fine businessman, he was gracious, soft-spoken and kind, and he was proud of his family, his garden, his home and himself.

In the 1990s, he travelled to British Columbia with his lovely wife and eldest daughter to explore the province from the Rockies, to the south coast of Vancouver Island, north to Port Hardy, the Northwest Passage, to Prince Rupert and Prince George, and south to the Okanagan, the Fraser Valley, Metro Vancouver and so much more. The trip was thorough and all-encompassing including train, bus, ferry and car travel. It was an amazing experience that stayed close to his heart for many years thereafter.

Oscar was an Acadian Canadian, easy to talk to and a pleasure to meet. He just died recently at the age of 91, ready to go to whatever comes next. 

May he rest in peace knowing that he had a good life and that people who were touched by his kindness will always be grateful to have made his acquaintance.

My condolences to the Renault family.

Saffron

The family went through a rather odd culinary experience over the weekend.  We tried a new recipe that asked for a spice that comes from the crocus plant. It is called saffron and the recipe asked for a half teaspoon. A half teaspoon did not seem like much in the quantity of stir fry and vermicelli noodles. When we taste-tested it, the flavour seemed bland.  So we added another half teaspoon of saffron, along with a few other spices. It was a delicious meal.

 

In the evening, we talked about saffron – wondering how it is harvested and tried to figure out its flavour and its health benefits so we went on Google.  From what is written,  it comes from the crocus plant and the flavour is bitter. Although it is red prior to heating it, it ultimately adds the colour yellow to your meal – that would account for the very yellow hew on the bottom of the dinner plates. None of us slept too well that night – listed as a side effect; and, all of us looked jaundiced the next morning – listed as a side effect due to the overdose, apparently!  As for human waste removal [urination], none of us has ever seen the toilet bowl water so YELLOW!

 

So, as for saffron – despite being one of the most expensive spices we have ever bought, its flavourlessness caused us to have a few interesting after effects from doubling up on the recommended dosage. Thankfully the overdose was not life-threatening and hopefully there are no long term negative effects from the experience, as we continue to wonder what a half teaspoon would do for a meal and what difference we would see if we did not add any at all.

 

Popped Bellies

 
Is it a pot belly or pop belly? In my case, because of how society has accepted a definition of pot belly such as it is, I can get away with either expression or a combination of the two as my belly is often full of pop or popped out. I have a popped belly!
 
The standard expression pot belly is weird to me as pots are concave, not convex and I don't think anyone ever meant to use the word pot (as in the smoking kind) as I don't think smoking pot gives people popped out bellies.
 
So the question remains -- how is it that the expression pot belly was derived?

IKEA Moment

 

It is not often that I do something spontaneously, but last week I did.  I opened an email from Harbour Air highlighting a seat sale for flights to and from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  Since I was in Victoria at the time, I jumped on line to see how good the sale was!
 
$63 each way, including taxes. No airport fees. No renovation fee. Free coffee, tea or water; muffin, cookie or piece of fruit. Plus, complimentary newspaper and free WIFI.
 
Is this for real?
 
Yes, it was for real. 
 
I immediately booked a Saturday morning departure and a Monday afternoon return on the long weekend, giving me two full nights, a day and two half days on the mainland. The cost was less than the cost of a ferry ride and it took less time. 
 
How can this be?
 
It was an IKEA 'start the car' moment!
 

Matrimonial Cake

 

While housesitting in a swank Victoria neighbourhood, a commitment that includes caring for an 87 year old wise Sri Lankan woman, I decided to make matrimonial cake. 
 
The first question that came to mind was why is it called that? As I carefully and patiently went through the process of removing every pit from nearly 100 dates, I told the lady I would look it up and get back to her.
 
When she retired for the evening and I had completed the meticulous task and washed my hands, I Googled how was matrimonial cake named? Here is the scoop:
 
Making matrimonial cake requires a lot of patience and care – so does marriage.
 
The cake includes smooth elements and rough ones – smooth date spread and rough oats and cinnamon crisp. Marriage includes smooth and rough times.
 
The cake has a solid foundation. Marriage depends on a solid foundation Marriages only work if they have a solid foundation.
 
Drop the matrimonial cake and it falls apart; drop the matrimonial vows and the marriage falls apart.
 
This special cake is the story of matrimony.

 

Robin Williams

Robin Williams committed suicide this month – the end result of a lifetime struggle with mental illness discretely displayed by depression and addiction, and often masked by humour and a craving to be constantly busy or in character. He tried to beat it, but now he is another on a long list of good people the world has lost.

Once again, mental illness has become front and center – articulated, accentuated and on the agenda. People are coming out of the closet giving medical researchers and health professionals more to work with to better understand the brain as a means to better understand and treat mental illness. The flood gates have opened up yet again, and I can only hope this will lead to something substantial.

I have often written about my direct experience with someone living with mental illness. It is like alcoholism – it is always there and dependency on carefully formulated prescription drugs is the only refuge. But, the solution can’t be drugs alone.

Back in the 90s, I witnessed the aftermath of several suicide attempts, light and heavy depression, various moods, days of optimism and pessimism, in the life of a sad, broken hearted friend. I became his best friend and, by far, his most caring friend. I lived temporally in his two bedroom basement suite in the country, made his meals, cleaned windows, washed floors, vacuumed, watered the plants, swept the back deck, and made sure bills were paid, while he was in and out of various treatment centres and institutions, and I even washed his vehicle and mine, once a week. I was selfless, helpful and did make a difference; that is, I thought I was making a permanent difference until suddenly we changed course.

When he was allowed to be home, we walked and talked a lot; went to the driving range, travelled, saw movies, made meals together, went grocery shopping, visited family and engaged in odd debates on the purpose of life and living. When he was institutionalized, I was a regular and seemingly welcome visitor.

But, one rainy Spring day he looked at me, and there was a freaky darkness in his eyes. There was always a darkness in his eyes, but this time it was freaky. He pressed his lips together using both his hands, took a deep breath and blew out slowly towards me. His lips were vibrating as spats of saliva flew from his mouth. When he finished, he turned, walked away and never looked back. This guy was 35 years old.

Although that odd behaviour was his mental illness speaking and taking control, the experience still haunts and perplexes me. Nevertheless, a small part of me says that the efforts and sacrifices I made, somehow helped to keep that hidden person alive and, ultimately, that is the important thing to hold on to.

Eventually the comfort of what I thought was a more normal life for him, drove him away from an envied and widely admired friendship, in favour of a dark, secret life with room for superficial relationships … relationships with a few select people who perhaps care less or are less concerned or not really aware of what is really in their presence. They are those extras on a movie set to fill a space now and then, but they don't really impact the movie nor do they know anything about the story line.

After three years of being there for him and virtually on-call for him 24/7, I was exhausted and had no more energy to give, except what was left in me to step aside and become an outsider at his request. A relationship that seemed rich and powerful to me and others, was being received as poor and terrible, causing him to fall back into his comfort zone of darkness, secrecy, creepiness and sadness. Eventually he moved away. Far away. No forwarding address. I had been shifted from first class to coach, from the engine to the caboose; but, looking back, it felt right for me to care beside him back then and to continue to care, but from far away now. I was not, and still am not, equipped to battle the unknowns of mental illnesses, although I like to think I must have been on the right track because the guy is still alive.

His illness controls him and it blew him at least partially away from a role model more in line with the right track, I believe; but, I am no expert and can only hope my story coupled with those of others, can somehow help the experts who are involved in mental health research.

Robin Williams was a naturally funny man and was widely admired and praised as a funny man. How many people ever wondered why he was always publicly in funny mode? And, even if there were people who wondered, what could they have possibly done? Whatever those close to him did do, it just was not enough or good enough or just a temporary fix. The end result is not their fault. I am sure they gave it their best shot; but they, like me, were no match to the demons who drive the agenda when it comes to mental illnesses.

Mental illnesses are mind boggling to both the carriers and the receivers. I am not even sure research will lead us to answers but, ultimately, more intense research and people speaking up to share their experiences openly and freely, is perhaps our only hope.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conquering Hills

 

For months I have been challenging myself on the bicycle, going further and further each time.

I find this very easy to do -- on flat lands. I have become the master at finding the flat routes to just about anywhere.

 

The problem is that I am supposed to be readying myself for a moderate-level group cycling trip to Provence, and moderate  means there will be hills. It is the kind of organized trip that won’tlet me stray to find the flat routes; I have to stay with the team.

 

Over the past week, I have been attacking the hills. Before even beginning, I seem to convince myself that there is no way I will ever make it to the top without stopping. I make myself say: yes you can, you must, you can, you will. On the first try, I miraculously achieve the halfway point of a hill that got the better of me. I stopped, turned around and decided tomorrow would be a better day.  

 

Sure enough, the next day I tackled that same hill and conquered it. I started with a positive attitude, a lower gear and a faster start. Reaching the summit was amazing and I was ready for more. I sailed around the downtown core and set a plan for future attempts on different hills. 

 

The next day – I conquered another whopper and again the next. I was now on track, hooked and ready for any cycling challenge.

 

Provence – here I come!

 

Cleaning Up

 

I was in the mood to clean house the other day. I am generally quite orderly, when it comes to putting like things together, but sometimes the piles get to a shocking stage – mismatched socks; unsorted coupons; aged potatoes or onions or garlic; stuff for the needy; stuff for recycling and then there are the receipts pertaining to bills paid. You get the picture.

 

I do know where everything is, more or less; it’s just that at first sight and second sight, it can look [and is] messy to the human eye.

 

So, once in a while, I start the cleaning up and the clearing out. Inevitably I find a treasure. Today I found a few old, very old, Moka House punch cards – one with four holes, two with two each and then one with five. All tolled – I have enough for a free ‘any drink, any size’. This discovery is very motivating and I compliment myself for meriting a reward.

 

I think I will catch the barista off guard and order a medium instead of a large!

 

Cross Breeds

 

I just met a cross between a golden retriever and a poodle.

 

Its body is big and its coat is poodle-like. It is calm with a lovely quiet demeanour.

 

As I sit at the Harbourfront Moka House in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, with my legs stretched out on the plastic patio chair in front of me, looking at my bicycle and the dog next to it, I can’t help but reflect on a Nature of Things show

last week featuring sex and animals.

 

Obviously animals do engage in sexual relations, but some of the combinations seem difficult to imagine. Flash: golden retriever humps poodle or poodle humps golden retriever. Outcome: incredibly odd!

 

I suppose I could ask the dog’s owner; on second thought, seems rather personal.

 

Let's Not Forget!

 

Betsy has been experiencing a lot of oddities lately. Between her anxieties and glimpses of paranoia, her days include wondering if she turned the faucet off when filling the sink to soak some dishes while she went out for a bit to leaving her garage door wide open mistakenly on a Friday night after an exhausting day at work, convinced that some things were no doubt stolen but she’s still not sure what.  Her brand new bicycle and BBQ are still there and so are the empty bottles and cans ready for the recycling depot. She feels relieved, but also perplexed.

 

Are these signs of aging perhaps? When she gets a chance to think about it some more, she will, but right now she is looking for her passport. She always puts it into a special spot in her house and leaves it there until she prepares for another trip and it is instilled into her brain to always return it to that exact spot each and every time.

 

Last Friday she transferred the document from that special spot to the side pocket of her travel bag. As she approached the border crossing, she stopped in the block ahead to open her trunk to get the passport and US money ready. Both were not in her travel bag – she emptied the entire bag, looked around the entire trunk: no passport, no money. She was shaking with fear and images of abandonment, incarceration, court date, a hefty fine. Sweat was dripping from her forehead and along the backside of her neck, under her arms and under her knees. Her heart rate increased and she felt sick.

 

She breathed in and out slowly as she walked around the car, thinking and swearing, swearing and swearing some more. She resolved that the documents were transferred from the house to the travel bag and into the trunk. She methodically went through everything again and imagined the large border crossing cameras were taking it all in and preparing for her arrest.

 

Suddenly she saw her work bag and decided to divert her attention to it. Before even looking into the bag, she convinces herself it would be a waste of time but does so anyway. In the side pocket, she discovers the passport and money, remembering she had indeed put them there believing she would not forget.

 

Why did this happen and why would this happen, she wonders. Her brain can frequently remember the most trivial of things, but when it comes to more important things, frustration brews.

 

Betsy cries and curses some more, before collecting her thoughts and clearing her mind the best she can.  It’s over – another mishap is over, carry on. She smiles at the shining sun and the little two year old on a three wheel scooter coasting fearlessly down a slightly slanted driveway.

 

She decides too much time has passed from this ordeal so she won’t be going through the border crossing for cheap gas and some groceries. It is a self-imposed penalty for forgetfulness, hoping that will make a difference. She turns around and heads to her next commitment down the road.

 

Her brain has turned the page and is on to something new.

 

She exits her car and proceeds to meet a lifelong male friend in the local White Spot restaurant – a place the locals love and especially the former locals who come back to visit with this restaurant being their first choice.

 

Roger had come to town after a three year escapade in Nairobi where he works on contract as an aeronautical engineer. They had kept in touch, semi-regularly, via Skype and email, but it’s always better in person.  He had arrived at the restaurant early – always nice to know a guy like that – and the greeting was a kiss and one very long snug hug. What a guy!

 

As they sat in the booth, across from each other, Betsy thought about her car – did she lock the door? As Roger spoke and spoke about something, she could not listen to his voice; she is listening to her inner voice convincing her the car door had not been locked. Should she go or should she stay? She decides to forget about the car; it is being noticed and watched by merchants and passer-bys. Relax. Enjoy the moment, the rare moment of being with a future lover. Don’t throw it away!

Okay, okay. Later, later, let me deal with it later.

 

This all is made easier when Roger blurts out quite confidently and loudly that Betsy is looking fantastic, in fact, most people are getting older, he says, and he thinks she has never aged.

 

She sinks back in her seat, feels her ego expand and her smile reach from ear to ear. What a nice guy. I want to marry this guy. I want to spend the rest of my life with this guy.  Car? What car? Passport? What passport? Water in sink? What water in sink? Nothing else in life, at least at this moment in time, matters.

 

A new page has turned; a new day; a fresh start; and, there is no turning back!

 

Even if this is not Easter Sunday, it is Easter Sunday, a new start, a new harvest and a new spring to life! Hallelujah! Let's not forget!

 

The Power Behind Celebrity

Since I have identified Margaret Atwood as an idol of mine, whenever I spot her name, I stop, look and listen. One of her backroom operators has written a book (Margaret Atwood and the Labour of Literary Celebrity) about what it is like to work for a celebrity or in the world of celebrity, and I cant help but see the correlation between author, performing artists, big-name philanthropists and actor celebrities. Since I work in the world of politics, I can also throw politician into that mix.

Celebrity is no longer a person; it is an industry; it is a business; it is a corporation. It is a successful advertising campaign featuring a brand. The brand is identified, established, supported and shaped by a host of backroom people; the ones that are ghosts; the ones we never or rarely hear about or read about. They are the advisors, the make-up artists, costume designers, the bookkeepers, legal experts, business people, problem solvers, promoters. They are the frontline workers, answering phones, opening doors, responding to mail, scheduling promotions, writing speeches or news releases, receiving the income and paying the bills. The brand is built around the persons name and it is that good name, when professionally managed, that helps keep the brand strong – not necessarily or always because of the persona behind the name, but because of the efforts of the machine behind the name, the machine that created the brand, promotes the brand and protects the brand.

Did Bill Bennett junior become Premier of the Province of British Columbia because of Bill Bennett the man, or was it the Bennett brand established during the decades that his father served as Premier? When the younger Bennett tried to be his own person, to make his own mark, how long did he last? Do we keep giving some guy named Beeber or that gal named Lindsey or that man named Ford attention because of the person or is it the machine behind the person that keeps drawing us in and making it difficult to tune out? Do we still hear people talking about and idolizing JD Salinger, the author of The Catcher in the Rye, because JD asked for that? He was a quiet, subdued man who did not want public attention and did not care what people thought of his work; he just liked to be that way and was not seeking celebrity status. A machine set out to promote him and his work, during and after his lifetime, and it is that machine that keeps him on the list of literary giants.

Once the machine in the world of celebrity stops or loses its grip, everything stops or slips away. Where is Mel Gibson now? What is Elizabeth Manley doing now? What about Michael Ignatieff? Elvis Stoiko? This is the super-power behind celebrity and no matter how hard the person tries to succeed alone, without the backing and support of that machine, that army of minions, the stage hands, the energizers, the schmoozers, the bagmen and strategists, success will be short-lived. Once the page is turned, once the machine loses strength or takes control, there is no going back to being an individual.



A Prayer for Iona

Oh great spirit high up in the Heavens watching over us, thank you for our many blessings such as peace of mind, inner smiles, comfort and love; thank you for friendship and homes, jobs and security, family and friends.


Today we thank you, in particular, for Iona, a woman who has touched the lives of many; a woman who is admired and respected, honoured and loved; a woman who is now enduring the aftermath of an unavoidable fall.

We ask that you watch over her, help her weather the storm, encourage her and make her feel your guiding hand as she works hard to feel better and looks forward to enjoying many more years of happiness and love with her family and friends.

We ask this as a special favour for all who are praying for her or thinking about her during this difficult time,

Amen.

[written February 2014]

Community Soccer Sacrifices

 

I can remember all too clearly playing softball in my teens at the park down the street from where we lived in Burnaby, British Columbia. I can also remember so clearly that the parents or at least one parent of each of my teammates would come to watch a part of, or the entire game, rain or shine. Some would stand there enthusiastically cheering us on; others would try to predict outcomes and alert us; others would just stand there trying to figure out the game. One other thing that springs to my mind whenever I think of my time in the little league is that my parents rarely showed up; they never asked about outcomes; they came forward to drive us to away games. It was painfully sad as I made excuses for them time and again, while at the same time I pledged to never forget how this felt.

The opportunity for me to play a parent-like role with sports came with my twin nephews and my niece becoming avid soccer players. It is a sport that is played in the late Fall, right through Winter and then into Spring. The schedule is packed as so many youngsters are totally into being involved in their local leagues and branching out to play other communities. They play through wind, cold and rain, and it is very rare that a game is cancelled.

What astounds me about all of this is that many of the parents consistently come to watch their kids play, despite the weather. They stand out there, bundled up, and sometimes they are covered up from head to toe with only their eyes showing. Some have special chairs, special umbrellas and one couple even brings a party-style canapé under which about 8 people can stand protected from the sun or rain, snow or sleet.

Although I cannot imagine going to each and every game on the schedule, I do make an effort to drop all other desires in order to be at the games that take place in my community. At times, that means 2 games a day and although tough weather makes it tough for me to stay, I flash back to my youth, my thoughts and my feelings of those days; then, I look at the many parents who regularly show up for every single game regardless of their location and despite the weather, and I remind myself that I am only accessing a fraction of the whole schedule; I am capable of standing for 90 minutes if I forget my chair; I have tough umbrellas, boots, scarves, gloves and a down coat. I am capable and I can only believe that my presence makes a difference to at least the blood-related players – that is what keeps me going, keeps me cheering and keeps me smiling!

Thank you, Mother Nature, for the challenge and thank you Aaron, Jaden and Emma for always playing your very best and for waving at me from the field. All of your extra training and many practices are making you look like stars before my very eyes!

 

Canada's Senate Scandal

Outside of my naivety I do realize that some people tell the truth and others lie, but in my efforts to help build a perfect world, I would like to believe that at least people with distinguished titles would never lie when called to the floor to account for perceived wrongs. That said, we are now faced with two versions of the truth for each of the three Senators implicated in alleged wrongdoings.

 

The sad part of all of this dragged out affair is that nobody is able to admit to any level of wrongdoing and, as such, I find it extremely difficult to declare any winners or to establish the truth. Despite how it may turn out, none of this mess will ever be cleaned up or cleared up within the House of Commons or The Senate; there will be no winners, but there will be a lot of whiners as well as a lot of disgruntled people, saddened by the shame, embarrassment and humiliation bestowed upon our character as a nation, our apparent lack of respect for democracy and due process within political institutions, and the apparent inability within our political institutions to understand that all people are innocent until soundly proven otherwise.

 

I say stop the merry-go-round; stop the spin. Get on with a full independent inquiry, and get the House of Commons and The Senate back on track to attending to the important business of the nation.

JC Penneys

When watching the Business Report the other day, I learned that it is official: JC Penneys is in trouble. This is a major department store in the USA and one where I used to shop a lot – in the distant past, that is. Over the past decade, it seems JCP has been trying to attract the Bloomingdale, Nordstrom, Nieman Marcus customer, failing badly and, at the same time, losing its traditional middle class to low income customers. I was at the store in the Bellis Fair Mall in Bellingham, Washington two weeks ago. When I say ‘at’ I really mean ‘at’ not ‘in’ … I stood outside the entrance in the mall. There was nothing in sight to pull me into the store; no sale signs; no balloons; no people. I walked away remembering the last time I entered that store a couple of years ago, walked through all of the departments and tried to get a handle on their new pricing policy. The tags were now coloured coded but none had a nice pen scratched through the price showing a significant reduction or something like that with a big bold sign saying an additional 50 per cent off the last marked price. The store used to have a lot of those appealing price tags. With the new pricing policy, all of that was gone and I remember saying to myself then I am not impressed and now I continue to say the same thing: I am not impressed.

I did write to the CEO to let him know; the customer service person wrote back in less than 24 hours acknowledging receipt and appreciation of my feedback, assuring me it would be included in related discussions. For JC Penney’s sake, I really hope so because I am but one disgruntled former JCP loyalist who feels let down, discouraged and, at the same time, hopeful that attracting the ultimate bargain hunter will once again be a priority for this once wonderful middle class department store.

Cycling Sicily

From September 30 to October 6, 2013, I completed the journey of a lifetime – cycling from the City of Palermo, on the Island of Sicily to the City of Syracusa on that same Island, and I discovered a whole new world; it is a world very different from the boot of Italy. 

The Island of Sicily is an area impacted by a major earthquake and invasions from the Byzantines, Romans, Normands, Arabs, French, Greeks and many more. The inhabitants pride themselves on being different from the people and communities of the main boot of Italy – in much the same way as Quebec feels about Canada and they speak a different version of Italian – a version that only Sicilians would understand. They value the land and it is a land that is predominantly agriculture-based with orchards of grapevines, olive, grapefruit, lemon and orange trees everywhere and fields of cauliflower, artichokes, zucchini, eggplant and so much more. 

Sicily is unique and wonderful, with a rich social, political and cultural history and a mixture of baroque, Doric, Ionic and Corinthian architecture everywhere. It is a place where city civilization lives in homes embedded into the rock surfaces of mountainous slopes; the homes seem to be stacked on top of each other and you can only access them on foot, climbing hundreds and hundreds of stairs. The highest structure seems to always be the dome of the mighty Catholic Church – often used as a look-out to spot potential attempts to invade. 

This cycling and touring trip was an incredible experience for me and one that I will not soon forget. Cycling, walking, hiking, eating, drinking local wines and Pellegrino, spa-ing and staying at four and five star Resorts – I can’t imagine life getting grander than this!

War and Nature

There is something peculiar unfolding before my very eyes. I am sitting on my new harvest green couch, looking out my living room window. It is a quiet, misty day in Walnut Grove. A beautiful Stellar Jay is pecking away at a hazelnut cluster in my hazelnut tree. It is determined to husk it and totally undeterred by the presence of a squirrel, in the same tree, doing the same thing.

This is all very interesting and it makes me think of what is currently happening in Syria – separate groups of humans, all from the same species, fighting each other to the death, void of tolerance, compassion, cooperation, or collaboration. The very same is happening in other parts of the Middle East and elsewhere in the world. People over there are just not getting along; they can’t seem to get along and no longer want to try.  I’m not even sure if they have tried as for as long as I have been alive, some groups have been fighting constantly, or intermittently, with not a whole lot of hope for change.

Here, in front of me, a Stellar Jay and a squirrel, two different species from the animal world, sharing the fruits from the same tree – no squabbles; no lunges; no attacks; not a sound. Two species working together, and separately, determined to achieve the same end – looking forward to tomorrow.

I feel at peace and I feel their peace, as I pray for the people, all of the people, living in war torn countries, unable to find the fruit and never knowing if tomorrow will come.

Unusual

 

Nicole sees the fog settle on the horizon, in the middle of the day and at what seems to be the end of a very delightful and long stretch of warm, sunshiny weather on the west coast of British Columbia. She cannot remember a time when the climate has been consistently dry and warm for thirty days straight.

 

The ”unusual” seems to be in vogue these days.

 

It is unusual for the seats on the commuter bus to be newly upholstered.

 

 

It is unusual for the security person at the train station to ask to see a boarding pass for the morning train.

 

It is unusual to be granted the best spare office in which to work while away from the usual place for an entire week.

 

It is unusual to have time to actually sit back and notice unusual things.

 

This Hour Has 22 Minutes was not a repeat to me last night.

 

ME TV airs old Mary Tyler Moore episodes at 9 pm, weeknights -- last night reference was made to Rhoda’s younger sister --- but, they did not call her Brenda. When did she transform from Debbie to Brenda? Why? 

 

Why did the Forget Me Not seeds forget to bloom in my planter this year?

 

Why did someone who is known to be thrifty spending $1600 on two pair of new eyeglasses without shopping around?

 

Why did my new neighbours, the ones who begged for dispensation from our one- pet only bylaw, say thank you and then go ahead and bring in three pets instead of two?

 

Why did the tutor in the Apple Store arrange for an additional half hour of tutorial with his client and assign his next client to someone else?

 

Why did the clerk at the Sport Chek shop pretend to not know when an item does not scan right, the customer gets some kind of compensation?

 

Why would SEARS have a delivery policy for regular priced big items that differs from clearance priced items?

 

Our world is a funny place -- the stories are ongoing and endless; I am sure now that I have gotten you started, you have a few to add on. In an open-eyed life, there is never a dull moment and never a shortage of things to say! PROSTE! 

 

 

Believing in Christy Clark

 

During the recent provincial election campaign in British Columbia, I took a leave of absence to work within the confines of the BC Liberal Central Campaign Headquarters – that is where all the ideas and issues are discussed, problems are solved, tours are planned and questions are answered. It is a hotbed of constant energy, constant movement, constant planning, strategizing, problem solving and issues management.  The place was hot and buzzing, and phenomenally exciting. It is one of those unique working experiences that only happens once in a fixed election cycle.

 

Those of us who are chosen to contribute to that assignment set our regular lives aside – completely aside. Family is not forgotten, but ignored, as are our friends and neighbours. Meal breaks are rare and irregular. Our beds are not made, often our bills are unpaid, plants unwatered, and pets boarded elsewhere. We run out of clean clothes, start to smell, get irritable, anxious and antsy; we forget who we are, mix up day time with night time, and can’t sometimes remember what day of the week it is.  It is the most intense and bizarre real life experience I have ever had – but I actually love it!

 

How could I not love it? Look at what just happened in our province – a miracle of miracles; not only did the publicly perceived underdog win, the publicly perceived underdog won with an incredible landslide victory; it was a victory virtually no pundit or press person or published polling company predicted; it left egg on the faces of virtually all of them and they all could only eat crow for breakfast the next morning and the days that followed. It shocked our opponents and even many of our own people.

 

The Central Campaign team was composed of the most incredible bunch of people ever assembled. Everyone brought in their experience and their special skills. We all appreciated one another; respected one another; helped one another. Most importantly, we all honoured, respected and supported our Leader, Christy Clark – a hardworking, focused, committed, dedicated and politically astute person, from a political family where she learned about developing ideas, debating, discussing, problem solving, respect, speaking out and standing up for what you believe in, values and the importance of democracy.

 

Premier Christy Clark is a believer and her campaign team, her candidates, all of the thousands of volunteers and those who voted for our Platform and our Party, believed in her and in our candidates; if anyone of us was not a true believer before, we definitely are now as are so many other British Columbians in every region of our great province.  Thank you Jim and Mavis Clark; thank you Christy Clark and thank you British Columbia!

Hash Brown Rant!

How are your hash browns this morning? Are they brown? Are they hash?

 

I ask these questions to you now as I ask them to myself whenever I go to a restaurant for a breakfast meal. More often than not the potatoes are not served brown and sometimes they are not even hash. It always perplexes me and it perplexes me even more when I specifically ask the server to ensure the product is brown, and the reaction I get is along the lines of what do you mean?

 

What do you mean what do I mean?  The item is billed as hash – so I am expecting hashed potatoes – not cubes or chunks or squashed cooked potatoes and not blanched ones either. They are supposed to be brown.  The word brown in hash browns refers to the colour of the product and not the last name of someone called Brown. Why can’t hash browns be brown in all instances?

 

I have asked that question many a time. The response is either I don’t really know; but, that’s the way they always come from the kitchen. Or, the oil we use does not make them brown. Both responses are illogical and ridiculous. It goes back to my irritation with the existence of non-thinking people … the people who just do things because that’s the way it’s always been done or perhaps you would like to order something else?

 

I don’t want anything else – I want brown hash browns. Hash browns that are not served brown are not hash browns. Apples are not oranges and grapes are not raisins. Men are not women and day is not night. Hash browns!  I want hash browns! Where are the hash browns???

Imposture Friend

A cleansing of body, mind and spirit does not bring forth the answers. Those become self-created and not at all flattering, maybe because they are made up, presumed or assumed –whatever they may be, one thing is for sure, they have consumed a lot of his time and the time of others who care a lot and some who care a bit.

I guess this is what happens when the source of the answers has gone into hiding or hiding from her self, running from Anthony or running from her self, because truth can be scary, especially when it is consumed with guilt or secrecy. It is all very much like a curious dream, a fascination and, some would say, a shameful and sad human comedy of suppositions.

Life goes on, nevertheless, although the perplexity of bipolar disorder or schizophrenia or insecurity or sinning or shame, whatever the truth may be or wherever it may be hidden, will always occupy a front and center spot in the pantry of life, as Anthony continues to smile, love and live,  standing tall and proud, as do his true friends who have been there for him, despite the weaknesses, the misfortunes, the struggles, the shame of someone who was once supposedly a friend, but then became somewhat of an imposture friend before becoming a downright imposture through and through.

Planning Plan B

Amazingly it is already February 2013. Time seems to be flying by with a pace I have not experienced before now. I am not sure what brought this on, but at least I am not feeling rushed or overwhelmed, nervous, worried or bored. There never seems to be a dull moment these days with the upcoming political unknowns in British Columbia, the federal Liberal Leadership campaign, the price of gas and food and the concerns about the quality of life for baby-boomers entering the world of retirement.  I am glad that I have always been a good planner, a good frugal planner, so a lot of the standard worries are not worries of mine. Plan B is always sitting on my shoulder.

 

Essentially that Plan includes going back to my roots – right to my roots – The Netherlands, where I plan to study the language, history and culture of my birthplace. One would think that being brought up by Dutch parents would include language and history and culture of our homeland but, apparently, that was discouraged by the people who helped us settle in Canada in the late 1950s. It was said to be a good strategy to help the children integrate more easily.

 

I have to say I have never been the subject of harassment or discrimination and maybe that was because of the strategy my parents implemented. Although now that I do know more about my homeland, I am not really sure what part of it would fall under the evil attacks of bigots or the ill-informed? We generally have blond hair, fair skin and many of us have blue eyes, some of us have brown hair and hazel eyes. We wear standard North American-style garments; we are polite; pleasant; thoughtful and kind. We seem to eat generally the same except maybe we combine things differently, and tend to love our Edam and Gouda cheeses, chocolate sprinkles on toast, croquettes, apple fritters and deep fried raisin balls at Christmas. We smile and open doors for people; we say please and thank you; we go to movies, out for dinner and walks; and, we love to talk. I would like to talk more about my Dutch culture and history – it is kind of a missing part of me, like I was born with all my limbs, but now I am missing one or two.

 

Part of my Plan B is to carefully examine the missing limbs, to embrace them and to celebrate them, and then share them with anyone and everyone who cares to know all of me. This will be my goal, my strategy, and one that I will approach with excitement and pride, as I ease into my retirement years.

My Gandhi

As I sit and ponder over the past year, while listening to Rex Murphy on Cross Country Check-Up on CBC Radio One – a show that is probably as old as me, if not older – I hear people talk about the most significant person or event of 2012.

 

I am hearing answers like Obama, Mulcair, Marois, Sinclair, Hatfield, the sadistic psychopath in Montreal, the asinine shooter in Connecticut, the Fiscal Cliff, the events in Syria, the rape of the young lady in India, the NHL crisis, the earthquake on Haida Gwaii and other things that listeners deemed to be significant.

 

As usual, I like to make those simpler exercises a bit more challenging and I ask myself to dig deep within to find out who might have been the most significant person or what might have been the most significant event in my personal 2012.

 

Those of you who have read the December Part One story and the January Part Two story about my encounter with my newest friend, Mrs. Raj, will not be surprised by my response to the question of who and what stands out as hot in 2012. [www.antoinettedewit.ca]. Mrs. Raj is a Sri Lankan new Canadian, a mother of many and grandmother to a few. She lives in the basement suite of a huge house in the Broadmead neighbourhood of Victoria – where my friend, her daughter, Sulo lives.

 

My experience with her drew a part of me outside of me, and made me realize that as much as prejudging is bad and as much as I believed that I am not a pre-judger, I do, in fact, prejudge. For example, on the basis of a simple and quick hello to Mrs. Raj two years ago, I decided because her utterance was low and almost inaudible, and her dress was traditional to Sri Lankans, she did not speak or understand English.

 

Two years later, as the Part One story on my website says, I was put into a situation where communicating with Mrs. Raj was required and necessary, because I was both house-sitting and checking up on her in her home for a couple of weeks. The experience opened up a whole new world for me and one from which I have grown, been enlightened and enriched, and become a much more aware of myself and aware of others person.

 

Mrs. Raj speaks beautiful English and her spiritual nature came out quickly and naturally on the first day of our time together. Within a couple of hours she had me reflect on the biggest personal challenge I have ever had to face and she got me to articulate how I felt about it at the time it was occurring, how I handled it and how I feel about it now. I unloaded a particular personal story of emotional turmoil and struggle, a situation that pitted me between moral decency and immorality and brought to light some of the realities of living with someone trying to live with a mental illness.

 

By taking a stand on a matter of personal choice, I put the relationship at risk, and all the while I thought I had paid the price of a lost friendship. I had been feeling perplexed and sad about what I thought was a personal loss for quite some time, I told her, but I relieved myself from that negativity by knowing I stood up for me and my values, and realized that that loss of friendship was actually a personal gain. 

  

Mrs. Raj’s spiritual nature gave me a sense of confirmation and certainty that I had made the right choices and that deciding to move forward with pride was neither selfish nor prejudicial. Our discussion on that very first night, relieved myself of ownership of a relationship meltdown. Suddenly I felt my inner smile return and a two year mystery had been solved – the meltdown happened because it had to happen; it was the right thing for both parties and life goes on.

 

So for me, 2012’s person of the year is Mrs. Raj and 2012’s event of the year was my two weeks of house-sitting – complemented by a couple of hours (daily) of open, frank discussion, making an 85 year old Sri Lankan-Canadian, Mrs. Raj,  my Gandhi and my newest friend.

 

Can you think back to someone who made a difference in your life in 2012? It may be someone you have known forever, for a while or even for just a bit. The event might be one personal conversation, one personal accomplishment, one personal deed. Who inspires you, who guides you, who enlightens or enriches you?  If you can’t come up with an answer, think about it over the next 364.5 days and talk about it same time next year!

 

Happy New Year!

UBC Transcript Surprise

Yesterday I opened my 1987 UBC transcript because I needed to order one for the Ministry of Education in The Netherlands. I was stunned and wondered if they had printed the right information!

 

I remember not appreciating having to go to UBC to be certified to teach in BC and I went, biting my tongue, each and every day. I did each and every assignment, but I did not keep track of how well I was doing. I just wanted to pass and get it over with! In fact, I got a fulltime two month year-end posting before the program officially ended and since graduation ceremonies were on a weekday in early June, I did not even go to pick up my diploma.

 

When the official transcript envelope arrived in the mail in 1987, I just put it into a file and forgot all about it – until NOW!

 

They were the very best marks I have ever seen!

Bicycling -- I do LOVE it!

One of the first things I bought when I set up house in another community, after buying a bed, was a bicycle. I love to cycle and although the busyness of my life would legitimately raise the question Why did you buy a bike?, I bought one because even just the occasional short trek around the block, with the air flowing freely through my sleeves and across my face, makes the experience, long or short, most fulfilling.

 

Often times as I walk by my parked bicycle, I notice the dust mounting from lack of use. I don’t ask myself why I bought the bike, but I do say when I use it I am glad I have it. This past weekend, for example, I was up and out by 7:30 a.m. I did a trek of about six kilometres before returning home for breakfast … a healthy breakfast.

 

Soon afterwards, I got back on the bicycle and did about 20 kilometres, including slight inclines and valleys, doing outdoor chore after chore. By then I could really feel it so I returned home for another rest. The rest lasted about 30 minutes and I was out again to pick things up and drop things off in three different neighbourhoods before heading home again.

 

At that point, I had had enough. The sun had been beating down on me virtually all day and I was beginning to feel somewhat lightheaded. I drank a couple bottles of water, some cider and some Pepsi. I tried to lie down for a bit and sat up for a bit, and just let the feeling ease its way out. I was tired, definitely tired, and I felt stiff and sore all over.

 

I know that if I would make time for cycling each and every dry day, eventually my body tone would project fruits for that labour, my organs would be healthier and my energy level would be up. I also know I would be more ready to join friends who have been going to Europe almost every Fall to do an organized bicycling tour in France, Spain, Italy and other places. I really want to go too, but can’t until I have developed a higher capacity level to keep up.

 

I can see now how setting goals and striving for those goals go hand in hand. I have the bicycle, I have the opportunity to cycle in Europe and join local excursions of the Cycling Coalition of which I am a member, and now I must strive to reach those goals.

 

Currently when I cycle, I can feel the pulling of the muscles in my legs, arms, back and stomach; I know the exercise is a good thing and I know the exercise is having an impact, but the impact will only transform into better body tone and a better ability to keep up with the pace of my cycle-tourism buddies, if I continue to keep the bike dust-free and moving much more regularly!

Hope Springs

I don’t go to the movies often, but when I do I feel my mind is peeking into the lives of other ordinary people – sometimes it is like looking in a mirror as I see parts of me, or people I know, both physically and mentally. To rate as a good movie, I have to hear my thoughts say oh I [or they] wear things like that, I [or they] say things like that, I[ or they] have done that, I have thought that, I [or they] have behaved like that and I [or they] have learned from that too. I also hear myself say I hope so and so comes to this movie as it hits the hammer right on the nail, and emphasises an important point much better than I could.

 

Hope Springs has all of the qualities I look for in a great human interest movie. Meryl Streep has got to be the greatest living actress on earth as she, once again, hit the mark on a personality that comes across as very real and very natural. Her role was to depict what happens behind the walls of the life of couples who followed the world’s expectations of getting married, having children and staying together no matter what, as that is what the outside world expects and assumes is happening. Meanwhile, the couples eventually lead separate lives and merely live under the same roof. They play the game when in public and when the children are around, but they are lonely and very much alone the rest of the time. Routines set in, basic services are provided, but there is a painful emptiness that neither wants to mention, talk about or get help for.

 

The movie shows that there is light at the end of the darkened tunnel and often it takes the courage of one to motivate the other. Meryl’s character took that step and we can only hope that this is the beginning of a new trend, a new approach to living a living life rather than living a dying life -- new threads and new found silver linings in the lives of possibly thousands of couples who live around us.

 

This is a great movie and a real motivator for couple’s therapy and something else. The tips therein may well be enough to save on therapist bills and put less pressure on our mental health care services dealing with mental instabilities. Living on this earth gives us reason to celebrate and embrace every day and being able to lead a living life is key to dying happy.

No End in Sight for this Ride of a Lifetime

As some of you know, I claimed my Dutch citizenship and actually am a dual citizen. As such, I have decided to figure out what that all means and I have decided to feel worthy of such an honour.

 

Over the past several months, I have been studying my country of birth – The Netherlands. In the months ahead, I will study my province of birth – South Holland; and, much later down the road, I will find out more about my city of birth – Rotterdam.  You can call this self-directed studies as I am preparing the curriculum myself and putting myself through the learning process.

 

The first big thing I learned so far is that Holland is not a country – North Holland and South Holland are provinces within the country known to be The Netherlands.  The country has twelve provinces; each province has a capital city and a Queen’s Commissioner, which I think is something equivalent to a Premier.

 

The capital of The Netherlands is Amsterdam – it is located within the province named North Holland. The capital of North Holland is Haarlem.

 

Drenthe, Flevoland, Friesland, Gelderland, Groningen, Limburg, North Brabant, Overijssel, South Holland, Utrecht and Zeeland are the other of the twelve provinces.

 

I am commenting on this subject today because I feel somewhat embarrassed about my ignorance about the particulars of my roots. I know very little and am discovering that some of the things I have been told are, in fact, not true or not accurate.  The biggest error so far is actually believing that Holland is a country! What else is there in my head that needs to be turned around and revisited?

 

This journey will be interesting!

 

Zoals sommigen van jullie weten, BEN IK mijn Nederlandse nationaliteit aangevraagd en ben eigenlijk een dubbele burger. Als zodanig HEB IK besloten om erachter te komen wat dat allemaal betekent en ik heb besloten om waardig voelen zo'n eer.

 

In de afgelopen paar maanden HEB IK studeert mijn geboorteland - Nederland. In de komende maanden zal IK onderzoek mijn provincie geboren - Holland; en, veel later op de weg, zal ik meer informatie over mijn geboorteplaats - Rotterdam. U kunt dit gesprek zelfgestuurd studies zoals ik van plan ben het curriculum zelf en het zelf via het leerproces.

 

De hoofdstad van Nederland is Amsterdam - het bevindt zich in de provincie Noord Holland genoemd. De hoofdstad van Noord Holland Haarlem. Drenthe, Flevoland, Friesland, Gelderland, Groningen, Limburg, Noord Brabant, Overijssel, Zuid Holland, Utrecht en Zeeland zijn de andere van de twaalf provincies.

 

IK ben naar aanleiding van dit onderwerp omdat ik ietwat beschaamd over mijn onwetendheid over de bijzonderheden van mijn wortels. IK weet heel weinig en heb ontdekt dat sommige van de dingen die ik gehoord heb zijn eigenlijk niet waar of niet juist zijn. De grootste fout tot nu toe is werkelijk geloven dat Nederland een land is! Wat is er in mijn hoofd die moet worden gekeerd en revisited?

 

Deze reis zal interessant zijn!

Bothersome Things

Certain things really bother me. I will highlight only four this month:

The price of gas – one would think that living on an Island means the price of gas would be higher than on the mainland. Not so. Today gas in Victoria is $1.00 a litre and it is $1.38 in Metro Vancouver. It was almost like that last week and the week before too. The difference is huge, yet the experts who get interviewed on this subject, in straight faces, say there is very little profit in the gas business????

The BC Ferry Service – had a June-only sale on for the main routes, but only for Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday travelers. Why only in June and why only those days?

Air Canada’s changing flight policies – as an occasional traveler, I tend to arrive at airports with plenty of time to spare. I like to look at the schedule, once there, to see if I can get on an earlier flight to my destination. I only travel with carry-on baggage. Often that is no problem for me from Victoria to other locations and even sometimes from Vancouver. However, the opportunity for others to do so at Vancouver or Seattle airports is met with a slam dunk NO WAY. They say it is against Air Canada policies and they could lose their job. Huh? If there is a seat available and if one is only travelling with carry-on, what on earth is the problem?

Doorcrashing specials – I am an avid early-bird specials shopper. I lay out the plan the night before and head out early Saturday morning to take advantage of the doorcrashing specials. Inevitably I get to the cashier, only to find the computers have not been programmed to give you the product at the special price. I point it out to the cashier, who seems to not realize the error. The employee looks around for the flyer, then tries to find the specific ad, turning the flyer from front to back, flicking page after page, finally finding the product, realizing I am right. Meanwhile, the line-up grows and grows, people are moaning and frustrations grow exponentially. I say because the scanner charged me incorrectly, I get the product FREE. Again, the cashier is unaware of that policy, calls a supervisor, who also does not know that policy; as the line grows and grows, frustrations mount, people are walking out of the store, as the supervisor pages a manager, who hasn’t started work yet and the scenario goes on and on and on! “I am never shopping here again.” I say as the whole matter is either solved or not solved, before I walk away angry, upset and not at all recommending that store to anyone!

 

 

 

 

 

Canada Can

As we are approaching Canada Day, I am thinking a good old Canadian Moose tale might be appropriate. Then I start to think about other Canadian animals like the Beaver and the Buck, the Salmon and the Trout, the Kermode and the Grizzly. All of that makes me think about Animal Farm and how all the different personalities in Orwell’s novel worked to work together in some kind of harmony, in order to eliminate chaos and establish a productive and peaceful life. In a lot of ways, the animal kingdom is like the human kingdom – they kill and eat meat; they make homesteads and protect their families from trouble; they are territorial and, most often, respectful and tolerant of others.

 

I wrote a story once, Animal Farm Revisited, and I had given an animal persona to each of the employees of my office at the time. We had a Queen Bee, a parrot, a cow and a pig, and a pesky bull that just did not fit it! I can’t seem to locate that story anymore, but I know my friend Dove has it somewhere on a bookshelf in her lovely Foskett House Bed and Breakfast in Comox, British Columbia. I meant to ask her for it last month while I enjoyed a weekend with her, Michael and Max -- the dog who loves me.

 

When you think about it, humans have adopted specific animal traits – physical and emotional, but also there are behavioural similarities too. Some politicians, some teachers, some doctors, some lawyers and some businessmen have easily been compared to various animals – snakes, slugs, woodpeckers, octopuses, doves, tigers, rats … leading to great allegories and the use of personification in many novels in all languages everywhere in the world. I think I am most often a dove – peaceful and loving; but, I have monkey traits as well in that I am inquisitive, curious and energetic when it comes to figuring something or someone out! You can’t pull the wool over my eyes!

 

So, instead of trying to come up with a Canadian Moose story this Canada Day, look around you and see that celebrating Canada is more than just identifying our iconic animals or adopted floral symbols  or naming our provinces, capitals and former prime ministers – it is about looking at ourselves and those around us. It is about our harmony with nature, our relationship with nature, --- all it has to offer us and all we have to offer it, in our clean and peaceful homestead called Canada, where 'Can' trumps 'Can't' and we have figured that out.

Life is too short to stop Living

 

There was a very interesting PBS program on last night featuring 3 bipolar people. In discussion groups, I learned that bi-polar people try to shun loved ones as they don't want them to be subjected to their 'episodes' or 'aware' of their episodes or negative thoughts. They live a hidden life and generally don't have feelings for others, because they are struggling within. Those who do stay in their marriages, stay married because of very thick-skinned and strong-nerved spouses and tolerant children who accept that their given life is not stable, every day is different and tomorrow is another day. I could definitely never play that tough role, but I now understand more clearly the disease and feel like sending flowers to the spouse of a bipolar man I know, for standing by him for as long as she has. Thankfully he is not violent, but I know his episodes are very wearing on the family, friends and neighbours.

 

I know from my six month experience of being on the receiving end of volatile behavior, that enduring a life time of it would never have happened. The mental toll, the mental abuse, the lack of compassion, thoughtfulness and personality, does not sit well with me. Thinking and hoping and praying that it would all go away, like salt eventually does from its shaker,  was a pipe dream, an unrealistic hope. Some days it felt like sulfuric acid hit my face and others were like days on a lovely white sandy beach, with warm, clear turquoise water brushing lightly on my naked feet. The ‘in-between’ of those extremes rarely saw the light of day.

 

Although after six months, I did not feel ready to go or let go, the going was imposed on me, leaving me shocked, choked and speechless, until I realized my reactions were based on evaluating normal circumstances when, in fact, I was part and parcel of something very abnormal or a rare happenstance, carrying a lifelong medical diagnosis and medicated sentence. My heart still goes out to that person, his family and acquaintances, and my door is always open to giving him an occasional outlet or even a one-off opportunity to say sorry; but, as all of my real friends, family and research recommend --- I am not holding my breath because the disease and medications have taken control and life is too short for me to stop living.

Cycling like Copenhageans!

The Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition invited me to attend Copenhagenize Victoria --  an information session about how the cycling network and infrastructure program works in Copenhagen and how, with a bit of extra planning and commitment, we can make such a program work in Canadian cities too.

 

It seems a bit far-fetched because our roads and sidewalks have been in place for so long and it is hard to imagine redeveloping every highway and street to accommodate bicycles. The key is to not look at it as an ‘elephant’ and then every little concern can be addressed. It will just take time and, when you compare the costs of infrastructure upgrades for roads and sidewalks, ferries, buses and trains, the cost of establishing a cycling network in any town or city is peanuts!

 

In Copenhagen, as in virtually all European cities, bicycles are more popular than cars. Every citizen has at least one bicycle and eighty per cent of the population uses their bicycles at least once a day – to work, to school, to events, to shops, to the bus stop, the train station, the airport. It is natural for them. It is easy. It is safe. It is economical.

 

Bicycle lanes, paths, roads, tunnels and bridges; programmed bicycle traffic lights; bicycle stands and lockers; bicycle huts and resting places; regular bicycles, cargo bicycles, tandems, racers … multiple styles, colours and sizes – everywhere. It is incredible and fabulous.

 

We can make it happen here – let’s make some noise!

Theatre Etiquette

 

I went to see the move The Artist on Valentine’s Day with my Valentine for the day! It was an amazing experience to be at a movie that only had music for sound. It is a trip back to the days of silent movies.

 

It took some effort to adjust, but eventually I sat back, relaxed and realized what a delight it is to be in a peaceful movie theatre: no loud volume, no loud bangs, no flashy scenes. The audience was quietly paying attention to the action and perhaps attempting to lip-read, in order to miss neither the point of the story nor the point of the movie.

 

 

The experience led me to want to try to enjoy silent entertainment beyond meditation or yoga – I decided to watch television programs with the Mute button alight. It took awhile but, WOW was it ever effective. I started with Mary Tyler Moore and M.A.S.H. and Hogen’s Heroes on ME TV [KVOS] – the story lines are pretty basic and predictable, so the dialogue can almost be deduced. I felt myself listening, laughing, anticipating the punch line and figuring out the stories even better than when listening live. I loved the experience and look forward to doing more of it in this wild world of ours – a world that is often loud, exhausting and overwhelmingly bombarded with  noise that envelops so much of our days.

Phenomenal Fog everywhere I go

It was not the best way to end my vacation – I slept at the SEA-TAC airport because my connection to Victoria had to be cancelled due to fog. The airline booked me on the first flight the next morning.

 

A fog fell before my eyes as my heart rate increased and body temperature soared. I did not want to spend a night in one of the third world hotels around that airport and paying for a cab to get me downtown and back, for three hours of sleep, seemed ludicrous. I wandered around Terminal C to stake out the best sleeping spot. I noticed a janitor vacuuming a carpeted area and decided that was a good sign. I put my things on an elongated bench with slightly elevated metal dividers separating seat widths. I attempted to lay across them in such a way that those elevations would not bother me – there was no way. I was too tired to seek refuge elsewhere so I laid my jacket across the floor, placed my little red blown up pillow down and there I lay for maybe three hours. I am not sure if I actually slept, but I kept reminding myself that as long as I lay still, my organs were getting much needed rest and my brain’s rest would come later.

 

At some point, I got up to see if the kiosk would provide me with a boarding pass. I used my confirmation number – no luck; my flight number – no luck; my passport – no luck. Blame it on the fog and walk away, said my inner voice.

 

I walked away reminding myself that all too often the simplest things just get so fogged up! The list flew before my eyes – all the times I go to the Saturday morning door-crashing specials only to find the store’s computers have not been programmed to ring in the product at that price. The clock is ticking and the sale ends in five minutes. The line-up grows and grows while the cashier waits for a manager to key in the code to eliminate an entry and enable a manual input of the right price. Then there are the times you pre-pay at the gas station and go out to the pump and wait and wait and wait some more because the attendant is serving another customer at the counter and is ignoring the beep, beep, beep. How about the many, many times you are handed your change in one lump, then you take a moment to double check, only to find you are a couple dollars short. Again, the line-up grows and the moans echo, and you wish you had never entered the store. Blame it on the fog.

 

Our high-tech and fast paced world is consumed by fog. People have lost their thinking power – their logical reasoning power – and just breeze through life without a care in the world. Carelessness, sloppiness, untidiness … oh well, they say, it is what it is.  I HATE that expression. If that is how it is, we need to stand up and do something to change it. We have to care again – we have to dare to care again. A comma is not a semi-colon and a hyphen is not a dash. Three quarters and a dime do not make $1.75. When I buy one loaf of bread, two loaves should not show up on the bill. My name and my mother’s name are not exactly the same! And, will everyone please listen to me yell: a lot is not one word!

 

Maybe tomorrow the fog will lift – oh, I must be dreaming!

Growing with Grammar

After enduring years of poor grammar usage within my work environment and embracing questions about punctuation from people of all walks of life and all branches of society, I finally took that bull by the horns and offered my services as a volunteer grammarian teacher at the workplace. I put together twelve hours of essential concepts using thinking, speaking and writing as a means to explain or demonstrate an answer.

 

Eight daring students enrolled in round one and now ten more are taking the plunge in round two. The emphasis is on thinking a lot before actually writing. If the student can’t think of the right answer, then there is no point putting pen to paper as guessing just does not cut it – nor does telling me that is how my mom always wrote it or that is how my supervisor wants me to do it or that is how I think I was taught to do it in Grade four!

 

There should be some shame in not knowing when to use a dash, hyphen, bracket or parentheses. There should be some shame in not knowing that all sentences end in some form of a punctuation mark. There should be some shame in not realizing that the expression a lot is actually two words. There should be no shame in stepping to the plate and registering for an English grammar class.

 

A good writer, proofreader or editor has to have the personal confidence to fully understand and, therefore, know that what is being written or reviewed is correct. I am blessed to have been taught by many proficient grammarians in three languages and now I am pleased to have the opportunity to help people who have missed out on learning those basic language skills.

Toilets

Do you ever wonder why certain toilet seats are different than others? Some are somewhat donut shaped and others have a frontal opening.  As I sit there on the throne, I find myself, at times, wondering why the opening is there, do you do the same? In case you are wondering the answer, it is actually written about on line. It has all to do with hygiene, so much so that in the USA there is an actual law stating all public places must have the open front toilet seats. I guess the same level of hygiene is not expected in home settings?

 

Do you ever wonder why there is no sink within the toilet cubicle? When I enter, I can’t help but think about what my hands have already touched before I sit to do my business – I touch the main door and the cubicle door that have been touched over and again by the previous users. Similarly, I touch the lock mechanism. My hands are contaminated before I ever get started. Once my panties are pulled back up, I turn to flush but then I stop myself – I grab a piece of toilet paper to protect my hand from the germs on the flusher or I lift my foot and let it have the honours. I then turn to exit by touching the already contaminated lock mechanism, pull the already contaminated door open, and get to the sink.  The sink nozzles are touched by a contaminated hand. I wash and wash for sixty seconds and turn the contaminated nozzle off using my once clean hands. I turn to walk out of the washroom, pull open a contaminated main door and go to my desk, shaking my head asking, why is there no sink within each cubicle? Why is there no sink within my office? My worries go on and on because comments like ‘that’s the way it’s always been’ just don’t cut it for me. Ideally, we should all enter a washroom with a paper towel in hand or disposable glove – that way sinks and soap would never be needed.

 

 Do you ever wonder why at home all genders use the same washroom yet, in public places, there is a designated male and female washroom?  I notice it most when at the theatre during intermission – a very long line-up for the women and no line-up for the men.  Many of the women think about slipping into the other option, only some of them actually do. If it is obvious that no man is needing the facility, why not encourage women to use that as an option. The less time spent in line would mean more of a chance that a snack or beverage would be purchased.

 

Do you, too, ever wonder why the obvious just does not kick-in?

 

 

 

Health Care in British Columbia

As you know, I am on the receiving end of a lot of criticism about our health care system and I feel so sorry for those people who seem to be having such a hard time with it. I am not one of them.

 

I am one of the fortunate who has absolutely never been in need of hospital or institutional care. I have, however, needed to go to the hospital and to institutions to be supportive of, and loving towards, people who have had no choice but to be there.

 

In these past 4 years, I have been in and out of mental institutions and hospital rooms almost constantly to watch over my friends or their ailing parents who are dealing with one form or another of cancer, an infection, a broken heart or a broken mind.

 

Each of the various health care facilities has been clean and fresh. Each ward had competent and attentive nursing staff.

Each meal included all of the food groups and I never saw or tasted anything burned nor over or under cooked.

Each facility had liberal visiting hours and I always felt welcome.

 

The doctors and nurses had a full work load and they all responded quickly and attentively to all patient calls and emergency buzzers. Whenever I needed to ask a question, there would always be someone at the nurses’ station, able to stop whatever he or she was doing, look me in the eyes, listen to my comment or question, and provide me with the most professional and clear response possible.

 

Our health care system – at least the units I have experienced -- has given me nothing but peace of mind and a sense of real confidence in what they are doing for their many patients, regardless of what the backroom labour quibbles might be.

 

We strive to have the best health care system in Canada; from what I have seen and lived over these past four years, the health care professionals in British Columbia are committed to helping us get there. In fact, I would say we truly are almost there!

 

Suddenly

Today I learned that once again someone in my life has suddenly passed on from earth to another dimension. She had suddenly been diagnosed with bowel cancer only five months ago. It had been caught early and the prognosis was good. The treatments started right away and, after the first round, it was immediately apparent that the cancer had been spreading and no treatment could or would circumvent it.

 

Suddenly the reality of life set in … the end was now near. People had to be told; arrangements had to be made; last comments, last laughs, last good-byes, last rites and then the eyes closed and she was gone.

 

Suddenly, she lay there resting in peace and those who knew her, stood numb, not knowing what to say but, no doubt thinking about their own mortality, the progress of their own lives and of those around them. Has enough been said? Has enough been done? Do we need to say more? Do we need to listen more? What are our loose ends and how can be best tie them up?

 

We get nine months to prepare for someone’s life but, sometimes, we only get nine weeks to prepare for their death, you say? 

 

Not quite the case, I say. 

 

We have a lifetime to prepare for our death and for the deaths of others, and all too often we tend to forget that reality. We go about doing whatever it is we want to do or feel we need to do, taking each day, month and year for granted, taking the people in our lives for granted, not getting too close or too interested or too concerned or too helpful. We keep an arm’s length or tread carefully so as not to rock boats or bust down walls. Then, suddenly, we learn about an illness or an accident and our antennas rise; we scramble; we shake; we worry; we cry. We feel awkward and helpless, and wonder where our time together has gone, and what we actually did with that time while we had it.

Penticton Tragedy

Today the most awful news was confirmed. Last week a young single mother was brutally attacked physically and sexually for several hours. It happened in a Penticton, British Columbia second hand store where she went to buy a mattress for her infant son. The owner went berserk, forcing her to the back of the shop and forcing himself on her, while her less than 2 year old infant remained elsewhere in the store.

 

She was supposed to have dropped her son off at the babysitter’s at 1 pm and when she did not show, family members and friends attempted to track her down. They saw her vehicle outside the second hand shop and attempted to enter; but, the door was seemingly shut tight and there was no sign of anyone inside. So they left and attempted to get police participation.

 

Meanwhile the car in front of the store information did not sit well with one family member so he and some others returned to the store, gave the door an extra push, entered, roamed, called out and then saw the most despicable sight of all, the young mother, head smashed in, naked and left for dead.

 

911 was called, family contacted, hearts pounding, pulses high, blood pressures sky-rocketed, as everyone rushed to the hospital, afraid of the worst, holding their breaths and fingers crossed for the prognosis of the condition of the mother and her son.

 

It was touch and go for the first 24 hours and now she is holding on to her life, feeling the love of her family, friends, neighbours and community, as everyone is pooling resources to set up a trust fund to help her and her child.

 

The loser who did this to her was captured along side a highway north of town, three days later. This demented animal has been charged with a number of things and hopefully will be remanded in a confined space, without fresh air or daylight, until his last breath. This is a loser unworthy of a name, address, picture or story, although sadly none of the above will ever be forgotten by his victim and her amazing family and incredible friends.

 

She stands tall and is determined to not let this experience bring her down to rock bottom but, in fact, raise her to heights previously never imagined. She is astounding and the champion of a miracle, a fighter and a survivor; yet, she will embrace all the help that comes her way to help become that phoenix who rises from the ashes and makes her own world a much better place.

 

Odd, YES; odd-balls, NO

When I was walking home yesterday with Bob, I felt a cold coming on. I wondered how that could possibly be; but, then accepted that I had not had a cold in 2 years and I was not going to Aruba for another 10 days, so just put up with it and let it pass.

 

 The feeling turned into reality as by 7 pm I had the box of Kleenex out and I was starting to feel warm all over. It was not a hot flush as it lasted all night and into the morning --- so real that I actually phoned in sick. This was only the 2nd time in 20 years that I phoned in sick – the first time I was not really sick at all – I just wanted to see what it was like to be away from work in the middle of a work week!

 

So, this morning I stayed in bed until maybe 9; got up and made a cheese omelette; I went back to bed until 11; had a shower and then a bowl of homemade spinach soup. I did feel better so I dressed for work and stayed focused on making it through the day.

 

It was a bit trying but I slipped into my office and closed the door so my germs would not circulate, giving others cause to take full days off. I lasted 30 minutes and needed water for a daytime Tylenol. Then I needed to go to the bathroom before discussing something with individual staff – I stayed at a distance the best I could.  It worked out pretty good – did not hear any complaints.

 

By 4 pm, I was feeling warn out, tired, ready to go home to a hot drink, my cosy chair and ottoman, with my IPAD on my lap in order to play Words With Friends with my two word-friends … winning seems to be important to everyone these days, but not me – I just enjoy the opportunity to challenge my own brain and do the best I can do with the ammunition in front of me.  That is sort of how I approach all aspects of my life and ultimately enables me to start and end a day with a genuine smile, even the day when an ultimate odd ball in my life had the audacity to attempt to return a beautiful birthday gift via a third party.  What would be the rationale behind such cruelty? Yes, someone whom I have now passed on, sank so very low; but, my stamina kept me strong while she remains lost in that very dark and scary world of mental irregularity.  All so very sad and my smile comes from knowing that is not me, not for me, not in me and not worthy of me.

Dogs and Me

 

I think I can trace back my dog phobia to the days of my youth when a nasty out of control family of seven children decided to sig their Chihuahua on me. Up to then, they had always kept the dog away from me as it was an awful yappy thing that jumped on people and bit them regularly.  I was no older than 10 and now I am over 50.

 

One day, one of the seven decided to have the dog surprise me. Once I was in the yard and the gate was closed, down came the yappy mutt and headed straight for my ankles. I held on to the brat kid next to me and circled round and round to disable the dog’s attempts to get a piece of me. My inner instincts told me to turn around, walloped the darn thing with my boot and send it flying across the yard. The sight appealed to me, but, a voice of reason dominated my thoughts and thoughts of horrible consequences like a gang of seven attack, youth court, foster homes or jail caused me to stop running and let that darn dog bite me. 

 

Everyone around laughed and laughed as I cried and cried and vowed to never return to that home. I never did. The scar, both real and metaphoric, is still in my mind’s eye.

 

Decades of dog phobia followed, but that has almost gone. With the help of good people, I have been eased into being more or less okay around certain dogs. I could really feel the transition when in the company of two miniature fluffy purebreds that were and still are no bigger than the size of the palm of my hand – okay, maybe double that size. They came from a breeder in Salmon Arm. I think they might be Mini Maltese or something along that line --- cute hyperactive balls of fur and they seem to have endless energy and unconditional love for everyone! I actually enjoy them more than their owner as whenever I am invited over, the first thoughts that come to mind is how great it will be to see those dogs and play with them, and will she let me take them for a walk?

 

Since then, my younger brother has become a small dog owner. It, too, is a little hyperactive sort that is heavier and slightly bigger than the Maltese. I feel like I have graduated as his dog is very pleasant to be around and hold and chase and tease. His name is Jack and I invite him to sit with me and on me and the experience is delightful. Not a bit of fear rests within me when I am around him.

 

Now I can’t really say that I am cured as I used to know a dog named Lucy – she was a golden retriever with gross breath and an imposing snout. I don’t think she was given manner training as she preferred crouch smelling over reaching out a paw. Why do owners not bother to get those imposing behaviours corrected?  

 

I did, on occasion, put a harness around Lucy’s mouth before taking her for a walk on days when the owner was otherwise detained. Picking up the manure was certainly not an incentive for me to anxiously overcome my phobia or motivate me to want to actually have a dog! Lucy is dead now --- may she rest in peace.

 

Another contrast would be a non-ferocious dog named Max. He is a Pitt Bull cross of some sort and lives in Comox. The name and the breed send shivers down my spine; but, when I decided that my quality time with the owner was important to me, I had to make an effort. My friend is very understanding and exercises a strict training session with Max prior to my arrival. As I arrive, she is always in the driveway giving the dog instructions. Amazingly, he remains calm, does not approach and allows my hand to stroke his back without being impeded by his snout. He follows me everywhere I go but, he never touches me. Then, I find his fluorescent orange ball and he goes wild with excitement that he has a new friend. I throw it and he eagerly retrieves. He tempts me to pull it out of his mouth, but I don’t do that. Eventually he lets it go and runs away. I then have clear access to the slobber-drenched ball. Picking it up with my bare hands is never pleasant, so the owner gives me a long handled scoop designed to pick up such balls and throw them far more effectively. I like Max and I love his owners – they’ve done a remarkable job at changing my dog views!

 

So, if you are one of those people in my life with a dog or you are planning to get one, ease me into the introductions; if I shake or seem even a bit nervous, back off and try a different approach. It is not impossible to meet the challenge; I just need you to keep trying!

Wasting Life

Today, a Purolator courier dropped by to pick up a sickly looking chocolate bar that is going back to the company, in Toronto, for analysis. I told the lady making the arrangements that I could happily send her the chocolate bar via Canada Post and save the company on courier costs for the pick-up. She insisted it is company policy to do it this way and then once the analysis is complete, the company would courier to me a supply of chocolates to compensate me.

 

All I can do is think about the lunacy of that company policy. The amount of money to courier a small package from Victoria to Toronto and then by return send me a package of chocolates as compensation for encountering a defective product, must be at least fifty dollars. Why not just ask me to Express Post the item for $5 and then have them send me a gift certificate for $50 worth of product at the local drug store?

 

What does it take to execute a logic reasoning component to company policies or to life itself? Ah, yes, logical reasoning. I think Aristotle did a lot of analysis on that concept. Aristotle was intensely concrete and practical, relying heavily upon logic as a starting-point for decision making – yes, the guy inspired me early in life.

 

If you have a staff of five people in a public office and four of them are out for lunch, would it make any sense for the fifth person to go out for lunch too?

 

If you know the recycling service picks up in your neighbourhood as early as 7 a.m., would you put your stuff out at 8 a.m.? When you come home to see your stuff still out there, would it really make sense to call City Hall?

 

If a brand name detergent is on sale at the local pharmacy for $4.99 and at the local grocery store for $6.99, for what reason would you spend a lot of time to make a purchase decision?

 

Life is grand as in large and wonderful. When you pay attention, you see the good, bad and perplexing. I find the perplexing intriguing, especially when the participants have not got a clue! They don’t get it; they don’t see it – ultimately wasting time, wasting money and wasting life.

Christy Clark

I first met Christy Clark when she was knee high to a grasshopper, in the basement of her family home. It was there that practically the entire membership of the Liberal Riding Association gathered to silk screen lawn signs and tee-shirts in support of the only person who stood forward to be the underdog in an election campaign. The room was not very crowded. There was no hope in hell of winning, because the word ‘Liberal’ had no credibility; but, we stood our ground in the name of democracy and were determined to stand proud of our candidate.

 

 I drove a Datsun B210 in those days and since our budget was zero, we used all types of freebie innovations to get the message out. Both my front doors donned a bright red and white cardboard lawn sign. Everywhere I went, my car was a billboard.  At times, my younger brother or my lifelong male friend would sit in the passenger seat as I honked around town to catch the attention of the voter in a way nobody else could.

 

Do you want a lawn sign?’ we would shout from the car.

 

We did not get a lot of waves or nods, and a lot of people hid their heads in shame. Nevertheless, we persevered and sledge-hammered lawn signs at every public street corner or empty lot we could find.

 

As every election campaign came and went, our membership increased and our support base increased as well. Suddenly, in 1991, we won 17 seats in the BC Legislature. Who would have thought that could or would ever happen?  We, the loyal members of that Riding Association, with the Clark family as its backbone, were some of the happiest people on earth that October day.

 

Christy’s Dad, Jim, was a father-figure in my life during election campaigns. He inspired me and encouraged me, and he taught me a lot about democracy and politics. He introduced me to intelligent discussion and debate, and how to respect differences of opinion. He taught Christy a heck of a lot more and inspired her a heck of a lot more as well. She had a dream, a very big dream early on in her life, and now her dream is a reality. Her family and friends are very proud of her and she should feel very proud of herself as well.

 

Shattered Dream

I was listening to Dr. Christiane Northrup the other day. Her focus was on a monetarily rich, but sad and lonely lawyer whose life dream of the perfect life had slowly crumbled like sedimentary rocks over several decades. Layers and layers of hard work, prayer, therapy, giving, giving and giving some more were all for nought. It was now time to set the shattered dream aside. It was time to get rid of the life planned, and develop and live a new plan. Empower yourself, was the theme of her TV presentation. When things don't work out, all is not lost.

 

Some truths hurt, she says, in one of her many books. In a shattered life, many truths hurt. Once you distance yourself and allow yourself to figure it out, only then can you move on.

  

I know such a lawyer. She was a first born of three. Her parents’ hopes for her were high and she sought to please them. Her teachers’ hopes for her were high, and she sought to please them too. Their hopes became her hopes. Their hopes became her life. 

 

The mission to please others meant no time for play; no bonding with peers; no hobby interests; no sport involvement. It meant a lot of time in the library and a lot of time doing homework at night and on weekends. The praise from elders was her reward and that was good enough. [click on 'read more' below to continue enjoying this commentary] 

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Whispering Waldos

  

Today I see a man with a woman – the grey haired man is very old and the lady is but a young blond girl. They look like father-daughter as they have the same facial features, skin tone, eye colour and general appearance. They are holding hands. Their wedding bands shine in the brilliant sunlight as they walk along the aft deck of a BC ferry. As they approach me, I see that the woman is actually pregnant.

  

I hear whispering all around me. I find myself staring, just like everyone else. Suddenly I feel my feelings and realize we all tend to not make our mouths say the words that need to be spoken. We don't know how to say them. We know that what we are seeing is appalling, at least to our sense of ethics and morality; but, we have a general societal agreement, a silent understanding, that we just turn a blind eye to stuff like this and let it be.

 

Read more: Whispering Waldos