Wednesday, January 31, 2007


I just read a small snippet from the Robert Fulgham site. He was writing about brooms. He lit his old one on fire and threw it into the snow. Wooha! But of course, in his philosophical way, the story has more meaning that that.

I took my boys camping last summer and our treasured find of a campsite had a small broom sitting there beside the river, waiting for us. "Forget the Marshmallows, Roast the Broom" became our chant that evening (okay - we ate marshmallows too, and licorice, and salt-and-vinegar chips). The boys would stick the straw into the fire, pull it out in flames, wave it above their head, and dance about. Then, SLAM, stomp the broom out on the dirt floor, only to start again.

We felt like wild children from Neverland or Lord of the Flies. Savage. It was good fun.

Our story, has no more meaning that that.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007


a louvre of willow leaves
oscillate in twilight, each leaf set apart,
like stars before Saturn
relative to stars beyond Neptune
two planets, miles from lakes shore.

two lovers mount a tripped tree,
bark mellow with wisdom
limbs lopped from time
two trout renunciate in slowmotion
two swallows absolve their guilt
two spiders gallop across craggy rocks
set in clay by August's sun.

tulips cup droplets of evening dew
two women pick swollen blackberries,
discover hands stained darker
than blushing cheeks, tittering they look away into willow leaves

Monday, January 29, 2007

Foggy Daze

I was at my parents this weekend and an odd thing happened. One side of their house was shrouded in fog, while the other side was baked in sunlight. Out one window - white. Out the other - blue. It stayed like that for most of the day.

They say the grass is greener on the other side. In this case, the sky is purer white just over there (I say, pointing beyond the frosted deck), or shades of bluer just over there (pointing just above and beyond the skylight).

I feel like that sometimes. Half in a happy foggy daze, half in a blissful state of blue sky.

Here is the peaceful foggy view, to the left, in the morning:

And a soulful blue sky sunset, to the right, almost night:

I think the grass is greenest straddling the fence post, a bit of both.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Douglas Fir Pigeons

From my parents house, I stroll down a dirt road (pass the eagles nest, the orca painted mailbox, the yard full of plastic flowers, and the overgrown blackberry bush) to get to a hidden duck pond. I go there to feed the mallards and sit on an old church pew, breathing in fresh air. It has always been a beautiful spot to stop, until recently when someone painted the pew a god-awful electric green. Pun definitely intended.

Today, as I threw a handful of bird seed into the air, a flock of pigeons flew down in a rush from a nearby Douglas Fir tree. They pecked at the seed, and then like a nervous twitch, flew back in a flutter to their perch above.

I watched them for quite a while and then taunted them to come down for more food. Like bombers, one-by-one they dove down for seed, regrouped on the group, and then swarmed back up to the tree. Synchronization at its best.

I have seen pigeons in urban parks, urban streets, and urban paths. I associate them with concrete fountains, Italian cafes, and aged gentlemen with Andy Capp caps and polished shoes. But I have never seen twenty-one side-by-side, perched on a branch of an old Douglas Fir tree, looking like owls. Wondrous indeed.

Retired Favourite Photo: West Coast Hula Girl

This was once My Favourite Photo. I still love it.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Distorted Reflection of Me

Some common everyday words seem awfully distorted when you think about them. Really think about them. Sound them out, spell them out, roll them around your brain - left and right. Wierd is one of those awkward words. Quite awkward. But then so is quite. And awkward. Who the heck decided what awkward was to mean, how it was to be prounounced, and worse of all, how it was to be spelled? The more you think about it, the more distorted it gets. Such a wierd word. Awkward.

Looking into yourself can be a bit like that. On the surface, every day, life goes on and you are who you are. But if you stop and think about it. Really think about it. Turn yourself inside out - values, beliefs, actions, projections, thoughts - it can seem as if you are pretty distorted too.

So I just experienced a little bit of an unusual self-reflection exercise. To help my son figure out how to get Google adsense on his blog site, I added it to mine. I was just about to delete it when I realized that it some ways, the advertising on my site is a direct reflection of what I have written, which is a direct reflection of who I am, in part, sort of. So who am I, according to advertisers and Google spiders?

Over the last few weeks, I have had the following in my ad space: Photo lighting, Canon photography equipment, the Elkin Creek Guest Ranch, Singles Scuba Divers, Snowshoes, Mongolian yurts, Buddhist meditation, Eagle watching, Rafting trips, Jobs in Victoria, Sailing adventures, and Italian Singles.

I am married, so I'm not sure what the "Singles" is all about. But the rest sounds pretty good - adventure, relaxation, photography. And then there are the Italian studs... Quite wierd and distorted. Perhaps even, a bit awkward.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Munnybagz, Strawberry Ice Cream, and Apu

Some people have a gift of writing. Yesterday, I read my older son's "About me" section on his blog, and it made me smile. I watched him write it. It took about, oh, 30 seconds.

Other friends I know take hours to craft every word on their blogsite. In the end, both kinds of writers read well.

Here is my son Munnybagz. He looks better than his picture and I like Apu too, but really Lisa is my favourite.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

I'm an Adult

In November, I was taking fitness classes with a few friends. One of them was running around a bit differently than the rest of us. She said, "I don't feel like doing it that way."

Our trainer replied, "Hey, you're an adult. You don't have to do anything here you don't want to do." I love her for that statement.

I remembered her words last night when I was cozy in bed, feeling blue, really blue, midnight black almost, and not at all feeling like I wanted to go downstairs to write. "I'm an adult, I don't have to write tonight," I said to myself. Besides, I would have just written some drizzly, brooding crap you wouldn't have wanted to read. Yet, it's been gnawing at me that I have already skipped my resolution to myself - write something every day.

It is odd how we, or maybe just I, feel that once verbalized, a resolution might as well be written in granite. Or at least limestone. I have difficulty letting go of my commitments.

Twelve years ago, I signed up for a woodworking class. It was my first evening course after I finished my marketing diploma. I went into the class knowing full well that I was going to slack. Within a few minutes of class starting I would leave to get a pop from the vending machine. Then, I would sit and watch chips fly, sanders sand, and hammers hammer. I took great pleasure in participating in this class by not participating. I was Sodapop or Johnny from the Outsiders. I didn't have to do anything I didn't want to. Needless to say, the table I made was kindling within weeks.

Tonight, I have decided I am not going to pretend I wrote this yesterday. I'm heading to the store now to get myself a black cherry soda. When I get back, I might read a few other blogs, but probably just head back to bed.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Chirping chickadees

Outside, it is spitting - raining, but not really. 4 degrees Celsius. Gumboots with jeans tucked in. Old Navy raincoat and emerald green plastic gloves. High-neck sandbar coloured sweater, cozy.

I'm washing the car of all things. Hose in hand, sponge in other, singing some long forgotten song I once heard on 8-track in the station wagon (with wood panelling) while coming back numb from soccer practice. A Scottish marching band tune, I believe.

Then, I realize the bush down the street is singing along with me. It's making a heck of a lot of noise. Or should I say, I lot of little noises, rising into a chirping frenzy.

I drop the sponge, walk on down...slowly... push back the bush...slowly... and poke my misty glasses into darkness. The chirping continues, a bit quieter from my presence.

A chickadee flitters out and lands on a branch close to me. Cocks its head, and flies back it the chickadee forest.

My neighbour from down the alley walks by me. This must look odd, I think to myself, my head pushed in the bush. She just smiles and says, nice day. Yup, I say back, sure is.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

100 Day Celebration

I attended my first Baek-il party today, celebrating 100 days of little Michael's half-Canadian, half-Korean life.

In the past, due to a lack of medical information, Korea's seasonal temperature differences, and many childhood related diseases, the death rate for children was extremely high. Many children died before their first birthday.

It therefore became a custom to celebrate many stages of the child's first year. Saei-rye is the 21-day Celebration, Baek-il is the 100-day celebration, and Tol is the celebration of the first year.

Mom and Dad wore their Korean wedding outfits while guests feasted on pizza, sushi, Chinese food and chips. Languages dipped in and out of understanding. Pool balls slammed into pockets. Conversations sat back on the red leather sofas. Neighbours met neighbours for the first time. You know, this is the kind of event that makes you really appreciate living in Vancouver. Fusion culture, fusion food, fusing friends.

Retired Favourite Photo

This was once my current favourite photo: Chicken Coop with Sod House.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Personal Happiness

Tonight, at a magazine conference, I listened to Chatelaine editor-in-chief (all in small letters according to the masthead) Sara Angel speak about the history of Chatelaine. Really, it was a literary history of women in Canada, everything from war efforts and war brides to mastering the workforce and loving the life of being a single woman. Chatelaine has tried to write about issues that matter to women in Canada. Birth control, before it was acceptable. Abuse at home, when it wasn't spoken about. Breastfeeding sucks, but not speaking literally.

I asked her what she felt would be the one thing that matters most in the next 3-5 years. I kinda like her answer.

Personal Happiness. With all the choices out there for women, it is no longer about fighting for the right to vote, or the right to work, or the right to stay home, or take the pill, or be sexy (or even not sexy). It's about the internal fight of deciding what creates our individual personal happiness, and what the hell we women want to do about it.

I can relate to that. Men think a lot about sex, so I have been told. I think women think equally about what we want to do with our lives. At the same time, I want to be a stay-at-home-mom, a corporate leader, an independent traveller, a writer, a photographer, an exerciser, a thinker, a student, a supportive and sensual wife, a great friend, a philosopher, a poet, a 9-to-5er, an entrepreneur, a SCUBA diver, a nomadic wanderer, a global volunteer, and a community builder.

I want to care, and I want to throw all my cares away. I want to stay, and I want to never come back. I want to produce, and I want to relish in nothingness. I want to build, and I want to break down. Choices, choices, choices.

All I can do is remind myself of what is most important - my family, my community, my contribution as a citizen of this planet. As for the rest, I try to flexibly fit it into my life when I can, when that particular urge rises to the top. I change my choices every day.

For my personal happiness, that is the one right I cling to every day.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

100 words

Last night, over sangria and chipotle sauce, a friend introduced me to 100 Words. Kinda like Project 365, but for writers.

Every day, you have to write 100 words. Do this for an entire month, and your posts get published to the world through their website. Miss a day, and you have to start all over again.

I am only at 60 words now so I will include a sentence about a great place I went to for lunch today. The Victoria waterfront restaurant, glo, has a spinach salad with candied pecans, grilled prawns, and herb vinaigrette on their menu, which…

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Night Falls

Night readies himself, brushes back twilight,
buttons up fog in mother of pearl, seven holes, Solomon
casts a sable cloak round his neck,
loosens whispers of shadows,
who skulk black alleys of latitude.

He takes a swig of moonshine (Mongols howl going down)
and trips over his imagination
into the Himalayas,
Kathmandu rises in chaos as if water ran uphill.

He dances drunk
drums conjured within purdah, set free in
Jaipur Jalapur Nagpur Jodhpur
hash dens concealed behind Indian nights

Aiii ya Aiii ya
his windpipe hails tribes of Arabian nomads
screeching atop camels to Aqaba, indigo nights

Aiii ya Aiii ya
sandstorms lacerate his shoulders,
shrouded by the Sahara
bahr bela ma
a swig of moonshine (warm ripples of sandsheets, waves of dunes)

in Senegal hung under an acacia tree,
velvet leaves his imagination
Night falls, desert sun.

(warm ripples of sandsheets, waves of dunes -National Geographic article March 1999)

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


My fascination with Mongolia started about 10 years ago when I entered a writing contest. Each story entry had to include something about the colour purple and Ulaanbaatar, if I recall correctly. Since then, I have added Mongolia's history, horseback riding, yurts, Naadam festival, arid steppes, and the Gobi desert to my list of why I am drawn to the Mongols. And then, last year, as a Christmas present to the world, and to myself, I sponsored Lkhagvadorj, a five-year-old cutie-pie.

I received my fourth letter from Lkhagvadorj today. He lives in a little hut in a suburb outside Ulaanbaatar. Recently, to celebrate the 800th anniversary of his country he went out to ride horses.

Approximately 30% of the people living in Mongolia are semi or fully nomadic. I have absorbed many books on nomadic tribes and there is something compelling, something instinctive about moving as a way of life. Perhaps it is the horses and camels, or the yurts and tents. Roma (Gypsy), Bedouin, Mongols, Moors, Sami, Turks. Caravans, fire, music. Raw life. Sometimes, too raw.

Just over five years ago, my family packed everything up and moved into a mini-camper for six months. We travelled for 154 days and 36,000 kilometres, and into six countries. I still count that as the best year of my life. Modern nomadism for us industrialized urban bohemians. But nomadism just the same. Freedom to move. Freedom to stop. Freedom to wear flip-flops or bare feet everyday.

I just rented an evening in a yurt on top of Seymoun Mountain. Not quite a Mongolian night, but it will have to do. Here's to you Lkhagvadorj, I wish you could join us.

Monday, January 15, 2007

A Well Done Arm

My younger son told me this morning that his arm was "done."

"Look mom," he said, pointing to the tip of his elbow, "it was only half before, but now its growed."

Hmmm. I looked at his elbow, the same elbow he had yesterday, and the day before.

I still don't know what he was talking about, but he is sure proud of his new, improved, well done arm.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Adventures in Brackendale

Brackendale Eagles Provincial Park was full of eagles today. Approximately 1,700 of them I was told. But even more spectacular, was the number of photographers trying to shoot them (with the camera of course). In particular, there was a swarm of zoom lenses following every breath of three bald eagles on the river shoreline. Zoom lenses that made my piddly lens seem, well, just plain inadequate. Zoom lenses longer than my arm and wider than my head. I looked at theirs, I looked at mine, I looked at theirs, I looked at mine. Somewhere from deep down inside me came this rumbling, animalistic desire to go out and purchase a big-ass truck with over sized tires and after-market parts...

Needless to say, I didn't get any pictures of the eagles. I did however, manage to get a great picture of a huge camouflage zoom lens in action.

I also discovered the Brackendale Art Gallery, which is an eclectic art gallery / theatre / teahouse / interpretation centre / home / artists studio / artists-in-residence space / workshop / you name it. Next time you are heading to Squamish / Whistler it is worth the stop to check out the sculptures / paintings / eagle photographs / tea / jazz band / movie night / photography slide presentation / art show.

This was on the door of the workshop. I kinda like it.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Just a Habit or Two

I started this blog as a way for me to create a new habit. I have always been a writer, just some years I focus on the craft more than others. Last summer, my horoscope read, "The only thing between you and the person you want to be is a habit or two. For instance, the habit of giving time to your creative life could be revolutionary for you." Hmmm, sometimes those things really do ring true.

Since then, I have spent more and more time writing. And this year, I am making a habit of writing every day. A friend, Tom Ryan, is doing the same with photography. He is taking a picture every day, part of Project 365. For each and every day, he will take his camera with him wherever he goes. I kinda like that. I kinda like his images, too.

Upon his inspiration I have started to bring more photography into my creative life as well. While I don't pledge to inject my camera under my skin, I am committed to letting the lens find its way into my life.

While walking through Queen Elizabeth Park today, I took a shot of this statue. I didn't stop to check for the official name, but for now, I will call it "Habit".

Retired Favourite Photo

This was once my Current Favourite Photo: My Tom Sawyer on a Raft.

Friday, January 12, 2007

The World

Many, many moons ago, I needed an adventure but couldn't decide where to go. I had narrowed my choices down to Vietnam, Costa Rica, or the Czech Republic, but my inability to actually choose one did nothing but just delay the trip. Finally, I decided to let fate decide. So I spun my globe, closed my eyes, and blindly pointed to the spinning world. My finger landed on Taiwan. Close enough, Vietnam it was.

Currently, I feel as though I am in another backpack deprived state of mind. Perhaps it is the short, dark, cold days and the long, dark, cold nights. Perhaps it is the daily grind just grinding. Time to just purchase a ticket and go. Destinations on my current list of desirables include Mongolia, Turkey, Belize, and Costa Rica, still. (Fortunately, I married a Czech, so I have been to the old country a few times since Vietnam.)

Tonight, out of sheer desperation, I went upstairs, spun the globe, closed my eyes, and pointed. Where am I going? Oddly enough, I am heading right on the International Date Line, smack-dab between Monday and Sunday, south of the Aleutian islands, and north of Midway.

Just my luck, close to nowhere. But... there is something highly alluring in the idea of travelling to nowhere. As long as its sunny, warm, and endless.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Mitlenatch Island

After hitting the Reifel Bird Sanctuary last weekend, I was reminded of a place I visited last summer.

I had never even heard of Mitlenatch Island until the day before I left to visit it. I was told by a local boater that it was like the Galapagos of the North. I’m not sure why but pictures of penguins and sea turtles came into mind – two things you don’t find in waters 30 minutes off the coast of Campbell River.

Mitlenatch means ‘calm water all around’ in the Coast Salish language. But the island was anything but calm. The noise from the birdlife was like a chaotic musical symphony. Gulls squawked, cormorants cawed, and there were hee-ha and whee sounds coming up from guillemots, oystercatchers, auklets, and other species of birds too numerous to count. We did count seven bald eagles, including three hatchlings. It was early summer and the tiny island was filled with newly born baby birds.

As we toured to the other side of the rock, the relentless roar and barking of the migrating sea lions joined in the chorus. I had never seen this many large lions on such a small space before. Needless to say, they were all jockeying for position, with many getting pushed back into the crashing waves.

Once on shore (just a little beyond the basking seals), we climbed over sun-bleached driftwood and were met by the park keepers. B.C. Parks has a program where volunteers can stay on the island for a week in exchange for maintaining trails and ensuring visitors don’t encroach on protected areas.

The island is very small but we were able to climb up to the peak to peer down to study the roosting birds from behind a lean-to. Then we meandered through a meadow filled with vibrant wildflowers with intriguing names like seablush, chocolate lilies, death camas, gumweed and prickly pear cactus. While keeping an eye out for resident snakes and mice I half expected Darwin himself to pop out from behind one of the few arbutus trees.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


There is something incredibly peaceful about sitting on a white duvet, leaning against white pillows, staring out beyond white curtains and through white window panes.

Looking into a snow white covered maple tree, with winter bare crooked branches, leafless against the grey white clouded evening.

Across the alley, a neighbour's roof, covered in white snow, is interrupted by a crimson red crumbling brick chimney.

White smoke wafting away. Quietly.

Snow flakes still falling.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007


This story was published in an online travel magazine that is no longer alive. I moved my story here:

Juice spurts out as I peel back the Sumatra leather dress and reveal flesh beneath. I hold each curved peel to my nose in hopes the vitamin C will jump into my cold like dragons leaping from the fantasy of folklore into reality. I place them in a pile on my meal tray. The last bit of peel from the navel I place gently between my lips and bite into bitterness. A slight sour bursts through my teeth, invading my tastebuds, leaving them wanting of sweet.

White veins cover the orange and I daydream of Vietnam, another 5 hour plane ride away, while peeling the pith away.

I wonder if oranges grow in Hanoi. If not, I will have to find a replacement for my early morning ritual. Papaya, mango or passion fruit would suffice. Or coconut, which would ease my hunger but not quench my thirst. And it would be as difficult to peel with my own fingers as it is to continue wishing for peace in the world. Why even start when you know the effort is fruitless?

If I find oranges in the south, perhaps along the muddy shores of the Mekong Delta, I hope they won't be poisoned by Agent Orange. What will I say if I go to buy a basket of ripe oranges and the boy selling them turns around with a permanently bent arm, a deformed jaw, or a growth on his empty stomach the size of a hand grenade? Or only three toes, like the eastern dragons that live in rain clouds and bring floods for the rice fields? Will I buy two oranges out of pity, or politely decline, silently waiting for papaya while tears wash away my compassion? If I eat two baskets of his fruit will I dream of giving birth to tiny droplets of dragons, my own body a victim of chemical warfare, a casualty in the food chain? As the dragons nestle against my breasts will I regret the memories of each slice going down? Or will I return to the land of Nine Dragons to get more fuel to warm my nipples, the creatures happily burning them black with the heat of their breath?

I imagine marauding dragons cowering in caves in Ha Long Bay, waiting for time to disperse. Their ancient wings held down by too many non-believers. Bats curl around their burnished gold talons, snuggle against copper-red scales. Why is it so hard for us to believe that which we do not see? I want to see Bai Chay - scorched beach - where Mongol ships were set ablaze. I know the nose-holes who protected those waters. I want to see the jade seas and the towering monoliths where fishing junks are disappearing. Will the future classify them as myths too?

Perhaps I will find a three-toed wanderer meditating in the Perfume Pagoda, manifested into a monk, sitting on a mat, shrouded in incense and silence. Or ill tempered and impatient, hobbling up the stone stairs, changing colour to match emotions and moods. Talons rip sugarcane out of the soil and suckle on them with long, rotting fangs. Sugar sap slips through it’s grip and drips off the gold now silver now mother-of-pearl scales. What emotion is orange?

I want to see Sapa. See for myself the hill tribes that have not slipped into my developed world - yet. I want to see where Montagnard villages were destroyed with fewer people left to rebuild. Shacks of bamboo wall and ceilings, no windows and a dark earth floor, where sun beams never entered and still no longer reach, leaving life dark and damp. Where I will wake up in the morning and replace my ritual with sugarcane that I know I will not be able to open.

The orange, now slippery with nakedness, has grown to meet the temperature of the room and I roll it in my hand like a relaxation ball, feeling the weight slide and shift from finger to finger. With only one hand I try to crack it open like an egg, but the orange resists. I saw purple balls with gold flecks yesterday in Chinatown and bought them to throw into the rivers of Vietnam to feed the dragons. Perhaps then they will sleep. I imagine my fingers as purple talons with golden claws.

I open my orange as I do every morning, slowly pulling each slice apart like plucking daisy petals. He loves me, he loves me not, he loves me. He will miss me while I am gone, still buying flowers only now fanning them in his own vase. If one of my oranges cracks open to reveal black seeds floating within the translucent womb will I still eat it?

The first slice I peel with my teeth, slowly chewing on the outer membrane before nibbling, one by one, each tiny sack of juice that forms the slice in its entirety. The second slice I slide in my mouth and roll it around with my tongue before chewing and swallowing. Each successive piece is devoured faster and faster, like a disease overwhelming a country, until finally the last piece is placed on my tongue, now rid of the bitterness from the peel.

I leave my hand by my mouth and stroke each lip, arm bent, knees nestled against my chest. The morning sun is coming into my seat. What would he say if, instead of postcards and pictures, I brought back a belly full of three-toed dragons? I press the last slice to the roof of my mouth and squeeze as hard as I can with my tongue, imagined purple with gold flecks. Juice squirts out. I swallow.

Monday, January 8, 2007

Wah-hoo for Bumpy Roads

Even though I live on the urban-fringe of Vancouver, there are still two dirt alleys just down the street from my house. They are full of potholes and have little water creeks that run down them when it pours. Perfect for puddle-jumping in rain boots on the way to the corner-store for licorice.

We call these alleys Bumpy Road and the Other Bumpy Road.

“Mom, can we go down the Bumpy Road today?” my son asks.

“We already missed the Bumpy Road,” I answer, “but we can go down the Other Bumpy Road.”

Funny thing though, we never go down the Bumpy Roads, we only go up them, on the way home.

I have realized that the best way to go up the Bumpy Road and the Other Bumpy Road is to drive slowly. Really slowly. The slower the better, meaning the bumpier. More time for jiggles and wiggles and wobbles. The slower the better, the longer. More time for wheees and wah-hoos.

Sometimes, life is a little better when we slow down for the bumps, groove into them, and accept the ride, happily wah-hooing along.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Go, go, go, stop

Two large eagles, a hawk, trumpeter swans, snow geese, mallards, grebes, and a handful of heron. That is the list of birds I saw today at the George C. Reifel Bird Sanctuary. I also saw zippy black-capped chickadees, which were near impossible to capture with my camera. Damn fast those little birds are. My Jedi skills are not up to the task.

My kids and I stopped along a path to play go, go, go, stop. Every time we moved, the ducks looking for our bird seed moved along with us. Every time we stopped, they just kept on moving, waddling to catch up. It’s hard to play go, go, go, stop with ducks who don’t know how to stop. At one point, a mallard jumped up and tried to bite our bird seed bag. Ducks are odd. Here they are, to the right, waddling behind us.

The bird sanctuary is on an island, about an hours drive from downtown Vancouver. Along the way, signs guide you to the site. Until you reach the island, and then you are greeted by a large sign that says something to the effect of “This Island Is Protected By The Westham Island Gun Club.” Go, go, go, stop of a different kind. Islanders can be odd, too.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Geist Maps

Melissa Edwards is a cartographic genius. She has created the Caught Mapping series of maps of Canada, based on unexpected themes, with real geographical places. Maps for people with no place to go.

Take for example the Fairy Tale map, pointing out places like Sleeping Beauty Mountain, Shoemaker Lake, and Gingerbread Creek. Or the National Beer Map of Canada, where you can find Belcher Gulch, Brewer Bay, and Stout Lake. I like Stubby Lake.

I can relate to the Menstrual Map of Canada. Bitch Lake, New Moon Lake, Mount Bigger. Misery Mountain and Crying Girl Prairie.

What really got me hooked, was the Erotic Map of Canada. Who knew us Canadians would have the guts to name placed Lust Subdivision (what goes on in that neighbourhood?), Cumsack Mountain, Dick Burns Rock. And then there is Dildo and South Dildo. Suck Creek. Etang Slippery Stick. The Tits. And Swallow Lake, perfectly situated just a hot, skip and jump away from Hardman's Lake.

And of course, what True, North, Strong and Free Love map would be complete without Beaver Creek?

Maps are published in Geist Magazine and are compiled in book format too.

Friday, January 5, 2007

Those Surreptitious Shrimp

While diving a few years ago in Thailand, my divemaster sat lotus pose, underwater on the white sandy bottom, motionless. I couldn’t figure out what he was doing. Later, he told me that he was sitting still, waiting for the shrimp to come closer.

Shrimp? What shrimp? I didn’t see any shrimp.

Later, back in British Columbia, a local dive with buddies also ended up with everyone raving about how many shrimp they had seen.

Shrimp? What shrimp? I didn’t see any shrimp.

I still remember the first time I became aware of the shrimp. Notice the use of the word aware. They had always been there, I just didn’t recognize them. They are tiny, transparent little guys. With eyes. Eyes that glow when you shine your flashlight on them.

Once I knew what to look for, I realized that yes, they are everywhere. Since then, I have new eyes underwater. Eyes that look for the little things. Like brittle stars, chitons, zoanthids, and nudibranchs. Eyes that look for macrolife and microlife equally.

I wonder what else is out there in my everyday life, above water, that I just don’t recognize. That I am not aware of. How many glowing eyes are watching me, and then back up suspiciously once I near.

Tomorrow, I will try to be still. Open my eyes to what is not there. What I don’t recognize. I am sure there will be more to see than I saw today.


sometimes while winter driving
i open the windows open
(blast blizzard whipping wind)
and open the heat open
(air boiling hot box)
so that i enclose the sometimes
in a cosy of snug warmth
while i still solo surrounded,

part of the world outside

Thursday, January 4, 2007

The Adventure of Adventure

I get lost in words sometimes. Literally. My new favourite toy is the Visual Thesaurus. Quite simply, an online tool used to look words up. Roget, without the dated, dog-eared yellow cover.

Today, just because, I typed in “adventure.” The visual thesaurus shape-shifted until a connected word-web appeared around “adventure” with new related words to link to, including risk, gamble, stake, escapade, and dangerous undertaking. By chance, I clicked onto “chance,” which happened to lead me to “happen,” which passed me off to “pass off,” which faded into “fade,” and ended up at “disappearance.”

And that is how I get lost in words.

Nervous Nose

My son told me this morning that his nose was nervous. So he needed to get some ice cream. Then he giggled. I like that.

Here he is, dirty from the beach, nervous nose and silly smile.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Blessed by Buddha

One of my favourite pieces of jewelry is a silver chain with a buddha dangling from it. I often get comments on the uniqueness of the piece and get asked where it came from. Here is its story:

“Come, come,” he cried, “Come in.” The small monk looked eager, running towards us with his saffron robe swishing around his shuffling feet, calling to us, gesturing for us to stay. An excerpt from my travel guide came to my mind. Dress properly when entering a Buddhist Temple. I was wearing short shorts with a tight tee, perfectly dressed for the sultry Thai beach, not so much for meeting a man of reverence.

I revved the motor of my rented scooter, looked at my husband and gave him the international SCUBA dive sign for abort – a thumbs up. Any diver can end any dive at any time for any reason. No questions asked. We extended that philosophy to life and in times like these – wanting to flee at the precise moment a Buddhist Monk offers his hospitality - it helps to not have to verbalize your intentions. I turned my scooter to leave.

“No, no. Please stay. Please come,” he shouts, a bit more forceful this time, still shuffling closer.

When we had turned our scooters up the dirt road to Wat Khao Tham that morning, we didn’t mean to stop. Admittedly, we wanted to check it out to determine whether or not it was worth the ride back another day (which translates to “worth the shower, worth putting on long pants and baggy clean shirts and worth sacrificing a day of diving”).

As I turned the motor off I tried to hide my inappropriate clothes with averted eyes and a polite, Canadian smile, which must have worked because he warmly smiled back, shook my hand, patted Tony on the back and offered to show us around.

“Awesome Chai,” he said placing his weathered hand against his heart. “I am Awesome Chai.”

Did I hear correctly? When I was 16 I renamed myself Cherokee Rain for my fake drivers license, but Awesome Chai didn’t quite seem to fit this respectful looking monk.

“Awesome Chai?” I questioned.

“Yes, Yes. Thank you. Awe Some Chai,” he responded. Well okay then, I could use a bit of that after an hour speeding over lush mountains in the cool morning air. We followed Awesome Chai into the Temple.

“This is hall of worship, please come.” He entered another room. “This room Shrine Room, for pray to Buddha.” He looked back at us and nodded as we stepped out of our sandals and into the small room. By this time in our journey I had seen reclining Buddhas, seated Buddhas, walking Buddhas, white Buddhas, bronze Buddhas, broken Buddhas, and of course, pocket-sized laughing Buddhas, but this was the first time I was this close to what felt like the 2,300 year old man himself. And he looked it. Gold assaulted me with its antiquated shine and loose flakes dappled the black and white checker tiles on the floor.. Cracks exposed his inner core. Plastic fuchsia, magenta and tangerine-orange flowers lay on the shrine table collecting dust. Hundred of burnt incense sticks stuck out of sand pots like a field of underwater sea grass reaching up towards the infiltrating sun.

My Religious Studies classes were far behind me and I was grasping at faint recollections, anything to guide me as to what to do next. Tony and I exchanged glances that confirmed we were both baffled. How awkward.

“Please wai. Please come. ” Awesome lit a stick of incense. Lemon Grass filled my senses. I sat on my heels and pressed my hands in prayer. A twinkle in his eye confirmed I had guessed correctly.

He sat on a pillow in front of a small urn and began chanting what I later learned where verses from sacred Buddhist texts. He seemed to be entranced by his chanting. But what am I supposed to be doing? I know all about praying in times of dire need, “Oh God, please let this birth end. Let this baby come out!” or “Please God, let me survive this evening with my in-laws!” or even “Oh God! Oh God! Oh God!” rapidly in times of heightened sexual energy. But what do you concentrate on during a Buddhist prayer? World peace? Wasn’t I supposed to be unselfishly praying for deeper Compassion, Understanding and clearer Comprehension. Wasn’t I supposed to be gaining Insight? My mind went blank. I should have been more prepared. I pictured white, bronze and gold Buddhas all over Thailand standing, sitting, lying and laughing at me. Finally Awesome lifted his head and smiled. I felt as though I had missed my opportunity for Enlightenment.

I bow again. Awesome dipped a bamboo brush into the urn and shook it on top of my bowed head.

“Water blessed by Buddha” he claimed before continuing with his chanting.

By now I was feeling awe struck that this gentle man had invited us into the home of Buddha and was blessing us. At this point all he knew about us were our names and that we were stupid enough to enter the grounds of the Wat as though we were heading to the beach, which in fact we were.

Prayer done, we bowed to Awesome, thanked him and left the temple. However, it was not over yet.

Rain in Thailand is like rain in Florida, it pours for a short spell and then disappears (unless you are visiting during monsoon season when it rains relentlessly), which is very much unlike my hometown Vancouver, where it rains for a short spell, and then a longer spell, and then for the rest of the year. Rain is nothing to me; I don’t even own an umbrella or rain boots. It is part of the day, like clouds, they come, they go and they do not change my routine. Sometimes, you just have to let the clouds roll by, let your hair get wet and carry on.

“Come in. Stay for rain,” Awesome urged.

“No, no, really, the rain is okay, we will go,” I replied. After much smiling and insisting, I realized that nothing I could say would change his mind, we were there to stay.

Awesome led us into his home, one sparse room with one bed, one chair, one desk, and many photo albums. We drank tea from his one teapot. As I looked around I suddenly wanted to dive in and know everything about him- about being Buddhist, living in Thailand, living at the Wat, his teaching, about being Enlightened and Wise. About how he can live in such a small space with so few things, while I needed a three-storey 2,400 square foot home filled with enough toys and trinkets to keep the entire island occupied during the rainy season. But I didn’t get a chance to ask anything before he started firing questions at me.

“We are from Canada,” I replied. “Yes, that is a long way to go – 37 hours in fact. Yes, we have good jobs. Yes, we own a house. Oh, we are very happy. You are right, it is nice to be filled with love. Yes, we are married. We are on our honeymoon, well, actually our 3rd honeymoon - our boys went on our first honeymoon so we had another one without them. We have two boys. No, we don’t have a girl. Yes, it would have been nice to have a girl, but that is okay. No, we are quite happy with boys, they are very good kids. 2 and 9. Yes, they grow fast. Yes, we would have been happy with a girl, too.”

I am not sure why, but Awesome was quite fascinated with our obviously missing girl.

He opened the first of his photo albums and showed pictures of wedding ceremonies he had performed. I breathed a sigh of relief when I realized we had not been the only travelers inappropriately dressed for our rendezvous with Buddha. In fact, many of the photos showed couples with even more skin showing than us, never mind their tattoos and body piercing. Lovers from all over the world posed with our host. On each page he pointed at a different couple and told their story. The young couple from Salt Lake City went home and had a girl; they still keep in touch with him. The couple from London also went home and had a girl, and flew Awesome to meet her on her first birthday. Happily married with girls in Australia. Happily married with girls in Sweden. Happily married in France, but still waiting for a girl.

“I will give you a wedding ceremony and bless you to have a girl,” Awesome declared. “You go home, you work hard, you be happy, you have girl.”

Once again I sat on my heels. Once again I bowed and closed my eyes. Once again I am sprinkled with blessed water and sacred chants.

This time, though, I am more prepared. What Awesome did not know, and by this point I didn’t have the heard to tell him, was that the reason we went on this trip, our 3rd honeymoon, was to spend a few weeks without our boys to celebrate Tony’s vasectomy – I was done giving birth and was giving the whole experience a diver’s thumbs up. We would never have a girl, or another boy, – and we were happy about that!

So while Awesome was chanting away, blessing us for a girl, I was busy chanting myself. Enlightenment and Insight pushed aside, I knew exactly what to focus on this time and selfishly shouted within myself “I will not have a girl, I will not have a girl, I will not have a girl.”

He placed a Buddha charm on a bright orange, green, turquoise and pink string around my wrist and held my hand. “You go home, you work hard, you be happy, you have girl.” I silently screamed louder “I will not have a girl, I will not have a girl.” I open my eyes and looked at my gift. Ladies must not on any account touch a Buddhist monk, give things direct to him or receive things direct from him. Perhaps the rules can be bent a little on a tiny Thai island full of international backpackers that is best known for scintillating behaviour during a Full Moon Party.

The rain stopped. Awesome opened his desk drawer and pulled out a piece of paper. At the back of the drawer I see an entire box of Buddha charms on bright string. I see an envelope full of money, with even more peeking out from under papers. He closed the drawer quickly.

“I make Buddha myself for you. Please, would you like to make a donation? We are making a new building. We have more visitors in new building and need money to make building.” Ahhhh! I see what it going on here. The economy of the world has entered even this remote Temple.

He smiles and hands me the paper. “Here is my address. You go home. You have girl. You write to me from Canada. You send me picture.” I looked down at his name. Phra Sum Chai (last name may not be spelled correctly). Laughing at my mistake, I gave him my biggest Canadian smile. “Of course, we will write to you,” and pressed 800 bhat into his palm. If he can touch me and give me things directly, I assume I can do the same. Besides, you can’t get a ceremony like this for $25 back home, and get a charm to remember it by and be filled with blessing for a girl. It seemed like a good deal on my part.

I still wear my Buddha charm, which is now dangling from a black leather choker. I touch it and think back to Our Blessing Ceremony. Tony and I have agreed that if I ever do get pregnant, we will embrace Buddhism and will name our first daughter Phra. Smaller miracles have happened.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Off to a Good Start

I just received an email from an old friend. “I hope 2007 is off to a good start,” she wrote.

My immediate reply was “Absolutely! Life is always off to a good start.”

There’s a statement I like: Life is always off to a good start. Eight little words that make me feel as though it all starts now. This leads me back to a funny incident that happened on Christmas day.

For me, stuffed stockings are often more important than the presents under the tree. I love the tradition of waking up on December 25th and finding an overflowing cornucopia of Christmas at the end of my duvet. I love the memories of my younger brother and me sitting on my childhood bed in the still-too-dark moments of the morning as we share our stash.

Every year, the staples were there: a mandarin orange, a Lifesaver book, an Archie comic, a magazine, an Oh Henry bar, and a few small games to keep us happy until a respectable hour. I savoured these little presents, especially the magazine. It was my treat.

This is a traditional I have passed on to my kids. My husband, who never had stockings growing up and was thrust into the tradition when he met me, has also joined in. Being of Eastern European descent, he has added to the mandatory list: ginger cookies, chocolate bars from the Czech Republic, and marzipan piggies.

This year, however, things were a little low-key in our house, and on Christmas morning, my stocking was mostly empty. In all fairness, we decided to celebrate Christmas a day earlier and, well, with my partner being a last minute shopper, my stocking was sacrificed.

Later that day, while in transit on the ferry to my parents, Santa surprised me with a few items that had “fallen out” of my stocking. He looked at me with a loving twinkle in his eye and pulled out of his sack a bag of Smartfood and a magazine.

More magazine. A magazine celebrating women over the age of 40, which is great, except that I am not over the age of 40, and have more than just a few years to go. I am not sure what message my slightly younger husband was trying to tell me.

“I got the magazine because of the stories on the cover,” he said.

“You mean the “Antiaging Beauty: Neck Creams You Can Believe In” article,” she said.

“No, no the other articles,” he said.

A twinkle in my eye appeared and I couldn’t help but laugh like jolly old Saint Nick.

That night, tucked in a corner of my parents couch, I dove into my Christmas magazine. One article in particular struck my fancy: “Your Reinvention Roadmap,” stories of brave women who woke up one day and decided to do something different with their life. Another article chronicles the adventures of a motorcycle trip through Vietnam, while another tells the story of a financial advisor trading in her briefcase for a fishing rod. Now, these are stories I can relate to, no matter the number of candles on my cake.

Life begins again and again and again at any age. 20, 30, 40, 50 or 80. Absolutely, life is always off to a good start.

Monday, January 1, 2007


It's not easy finding a name for a blog. After getting multiple rejects, I finally was able to slip Tunicate through. A tunicate is a jelly-like vertebrate that clings to all things underwater. They are filter feeders.

More personally, they are one of the most beautiful creatures I have ever encountered. I am a SCUBA diver - like a fish while diving in warm water, but sometimes, while swimming in the chilly currents off Vancouver, I can encounter mild panic attacks (really, I just need to dive more often). Thankfully, I know what they feel like and know how to stop them. I grab onto the nearest rock, stare at whatever species is in front of me, and breathe slowly, regaining stability. Really, I have had some of the best underwater time this way, up close and personal with microlife, including a few close encounters with tunicates. Their delicately transparent vase-shaped bodies cluster in communal carpets on the ocean floor or rocky reefs. They appear like glass-slippers or little lost sea bottles. Little fragile sea squirts.

Stalashen Reef on the Sunshine Coast has my favourite colony of sea squirts. I float above them absently like a ling cod and watch them sway below me like sea kelp.

I think it is fitting for my blog to be thought of as a cluster of opaqueness. A fragile transparency rooted to the ocean floor. A jellyish thing, swaying in the current, filtering. Something to be inspected close up, something to cling to.

Vancouver International Foosball Tournament

This year, to ring in the New Year, I watched 8 episodes of "24" in a row, and scarfed down the remaining christmas cookies. Needless to say, it was indulgent. Last year was more worthy of my first post:

With pots and pans, smoking colts, and gin and tonics, we stood on the dim-lit front steps hollering “Happy New Year”. Firecrackers popped, Auld Lang Syne could be heard faintly, and from across the street three revellers were running around the block towing luggage behind them.

“What are you doing?” I asked, more coherently than expected.

“It’s a Venezuelan tradition,” he shouted back in his spirited Spanish accent, then crossed Commercial Street to join us, “Happy New Year!”

Shaking hands and sharing cigars led to an invite inside for an informal foosball game. Their five-crowd party moved into our five-crowd party and soon the “Vancouver International Invitational Foosball Tournament” had begun.

Team Canada took on Team Venezuela with a quick match (in true Canadian form, losing teams had to down a shot of Jack Daniels). Next up, Team Asia. Between the ten of us, there were representatives from Venezuela, Chile, Japan, China, Korea, Germany, Czech Republic and Indonesia. I was the only home grown Vancouverite.

It didn’t take too many shots of J.D. for the tournament of skill to degenerate and turn into a lively discussion around an after-midnight snack of fresh-made salsa and chips, hoisin infused chicken wings and Saltspring Island Blackberry Port.

“I love Vancouver,” exclaimed Juan Paulo passionately, who asks us to call him JP. JP and his new friends were in Canada to learn English.

“What is the best thing you like about it?” probed Antonio from Chile/Canada.

Without hesitation, “safety,” stated Team Venezuela in unison. “You could not run in the streets at home and expect to be safe – you have to always watch around you and know where and when to go.”

“Everyone is open and friendly” adds the quiet goalkeeper from Japan. “In Japan you can not just talk to strangers. You have to meet people through other people.”

“It’s so good,” says JP, “I meet people here and they learn I am into Ultimate. Right away, they invite me to come along and play with them. Immediately, they are friendly. It’s the best. Or when I go to Commercial Drive to watch a soccer match. All the men are friendly and we cheer together.”

With ongoing media reports throughout 2005 of gun fire, crystal meth, political mayhem, Walmart, escalating housing costs, poverty, and auto thefts, it was refreshing to speak to representatives from other parts of the world who came here, the place voted “best city to live” in the world, and reminded us of the positive aspects of Vancouver.

The hardest part of being in Vancouver is learning about cultural differences, they all shared.

“We have to watch our slang,” JP adds. “We don’t want to insult anyone. Just as an example, the hang loose sign means let’s go surfing in Canada, but in South America, when you move it rapidly away from your body, back and forth, it means let’s have sex.”

“And in Indonesia, it means the number six,” Kelly offers.

JP holds his thumb and pointer finger in a circle, with his other fingers fanned out, “In Canada, this means ‘okay’, but at home, when you turn it upside down, it means you are gay.”

With a few quick gestures I invite everyone to go surfing, have sex six times and that is it okay to be gay.

As the evening progressed my energy recharged. I sat back in my smoky-blue couch and absorbed the multiple languages as they wafted about the room. I could taste the passion and salsa induced spirit in the room – spirit for Vancouver. Our Vancouver; how fortunate we are.

Perhaps this year, instead of anxiously booking trips abroad to learn more about this world, we should resolve to be a bit kinder to strangers, open our doors more often, and invite the world to share a bit more of them with us. One foosball game at a time.