Sunday, 28 December 2014

the good, the bad and the ugly...

 ...more or less.


I love Tofino...summer winter and fall.  The expansive South Chesterman Beach, the peacefulness and the exquisite beauty; we are so very fortunate to live on this beautiful Island. We arrived back in Victoria yesterday after a peaceful and exhilarating 4 1/2 days; the piles of laundry and the square glass plate heaped with shells and other bits from the sea, remind me. Otherwise, this day, filled with business and traffic, would have me forget.

The weather was October-beautiful and my frantic Victoria search for rain pants proved unnecessary. Even I saw humour in the rain gear hunt: first searching MEC, Capital Iron and Robinson's and finally buying a kids size 14 at Patagonia, overpriced and way too big.  The next day, while buying some hats and scarves for people living on the street,  I literally bumped into a pair of like-new MEC rain pants at a thrift store. Half-price, reduced from $4 to $2! (I returned the others)

I spent the days in Tofino doing just what I love best: walking on the sandy beach.   Gum boots instead of bare feet.  Smelling the ocean, and seeing the patterns in the water and in the sky.

                        Taking photographs and gathering shells.

Enter the more or less 'bad'. Because my attention was divided between shell-collecting and photography, my fingers dropped a grain or two of damp sand onto the lens of my most favourite Panasonic DMCZS30.  I didn't realize at first, until the automatic lens wouldn't close completely.  Nor would it open fully. The sand was truly imbedded. I warned Brian that I would be in deep mourning and severe upset for at least a day, so to be prepared.

I have said before, how my camera helps me see more clearly, to find texture and intricate detail.  To notice the soul in things. Without it, I seemed to see less, not more.

Moving towards 'ugly', this morning I spent over an hour at London Drugs looking for a new camera.  As is the way with technology, every year when a new model comes out, the old is discontinued.  Never mind that the ZS35 is inferior to its predecessor in every way and that the brand new ZS40 has some serious limitations. The small cameras I saw with better lenses had less zoom capability.  Not suitable for me. So, in the end, I took a camera home on a 15 day trial. (Panasonic DMCFZ200)  It takes beautiful photos.  Absolutely. It is heavy and definitely not pocket or purse size. The really ugly bit is that my arthritic thumb is aching from just holding it at the store.

I will go on a photo shoot trial tomorrow-  ironically just after an early morning appointment at the Arthritis Centre with an occupational therapist, who will fit me for a thumb brace!

These photographs are from our first morning in Tofino
If anyone has a used Panasonic DMCZS30 for sale please let me know!

Sunday, 14 December 2014

with 'the handicap of sight..

...never rely on what you can see.  Not everything can be seen.'

Pew, who is blind, talking to the child Silver, in lighthousekeeping by Jeanette Winterson

Saturday, 6 December 2014


The convergence of four Events in five days was the basis for this post;  like a dot-to-dot children's puzzle, they connected to create a circle so obvious, it was difficult to ignore. It's as if the molecules bumping into me were saying 'Do you get it?' and then a bit louder, 'Do you get it now?'

The occurrences were:
-The play '17 Stories'  by Caroline Russell-King (Sunday)
-Brian Andreas's wood block message (Tuesday)
-An unexpected compliment (Wednesday)
-Distribution Day at St John the Divine Church (Friday)

Zelda Dean is the director of 17 Stories, and the force behind this series of fast-paced vignettes concerned with loss.  She had long dreamed of launching a Jewish theatre group in Victoria, and Bema Productions' inaugural play is intense and deeply moving.

 Loss through suicide and disappearance, loss of a relationship and the tragic loss of childhood and identity experienced by First Nations children as they were forced into the Residential Schools.  Loss in numerous voices, speaking out and being heard.

As the week continued, the theme of loss was woven into my life

Event Two was seeing a quote that Brian Andreas, the creator of Story People, posted on his site. The wood block print read:

So, when will the critic on my shoulder tumble and be booted aside? Andreas says 'NOW'.  oh.

I guess this time around I won't know much about history or spelling or be able to count without using my fingers.  I won't be a marine biologist or sing in tune. Though I am creative and take chances, I certainly won't be tall.  I am energetic, often loud. I don't ease my way in, bounce or butt might be closer to the truth. I am honest, compassionate and generous. (oh my god, can I really publish this?) I am not as patient as I had hoped I'd be, but I'm kinder. I am true to my friends and becoming a wee bit more tolerant of people whose opinions are opposed to mine.  A wee bit. I am also older and wrinklier and definitely more decrepit than I could ever have imagined.  Yes, Andreas, loosening my hold on 'fantasy Jackie', I am on my way to become who I am.

I will keep Wednesday's Event in my pocket to pull out every now and then. In line for the buffet at a private club, myself and two friends were chatting. A gentleman, perhaps in his 60s,  turned around and spoke to me: 'Your necklace is very beautiful.' ('thank you') and he continued  'and it looks wonderful with what you're wearing.' ('thank you')  Later, at our table, my friend commented on this, saying how unusual it was for a male stranger to comment in that way. 'He was hitting on you!' she said with delight.

I guess he didn't notice that my hair was growing thin and that I needed some sort of face cream to hide blotches and the circles under my eyes. Just two hours earlier, staring in the mirror, I had confronted the loss of my youth. And then a stranger's compliment; a gift to me as I am now.

The fourth Event was at St John the Divine Church, where I volunteer on distribution days, at their food bank.  Clients choose approximately 15 non-perisable food items and help themselves to fresh produce.  They may come only once during the month. At St. John's, they are welcomed and honoured, however, our good humour and politeness does not give these men and women the money they need to end their unwanted dependency on 'charity'.

When I sneak a second thin roll of toilet paper into a woman's shopping bag, I am furious that she needs to benefit from my stealth in order to take care of her most basic needs. I apologize when we run out of peanut butter or coffee when there are people still awaiting their turn.

However much I try, my graciousness does not give food security to the people using the food bank, nor does it undo the loss of dignity that poverty imposes.

Loss comes in many forms.

 *see the article by Peggy Wilmot in the Times Colonist Comment section, Thursday, December 4.  'Food banks a Band-Aid on a gaping wound'

Saturday, 22 November 2014

I hope I would have....

I have again been pondering the slippery and elusive questions of 'doing good', particularly when there is great danger involved.

A friend recently sent me a youtube video of people taking great risks in order to save the life of a pet, generally not their own.  Going into rushing water or hammering spikes into the rock-face in order to reach a stranded dog. 

Last evening I finished Until Thy Wrath Be Past, a mystery novel by Asa Larsson, in which 4 young men in the Swedish resistance movement during World War Two were savagely killed.  A pretty young woman consented to be used as bait, to first uncover their hideout and then to lead the German officer to murder them. 

                                                                   Memory Shrine
Members of the resistance movement in numerous countries played an important part in defeating Nazi Germany's military might. As an example of their dangerous missions, the Polish resisters 'destroyed 1,935 railway engines, derailed 90 trains, blew up three bridges and set fire to 237 transport lorries. However, such a success came at a cost as the reprisals by the Germans was savage in the extreme.'* *

         Memory Shrine
I frequently think of the supremely brave people who hid their Jewish friends and acquaintances within their own homes- behind a camouflaged wall or a hidden attic room.  If discovered, they were killed along with the people they were sheltering. Often it was their own neighbours who became suspicious and reported them to the local SS, sometimes receiving a bag of sugar as payment.

Was this solely a moral decision? A push
against injustice and evil? Was it the embrace of the righteous, helping the innocent survive?

I used to think of this so often, I actually became obsessed with the fear that I might have been a Nazi in a former life.  (Never mind that it would have been a very speedy reincarnation!)  So intense was this feeling, that, when in Britain more than 20 years ago, I went to see a woman who was skilled at leading her clients into a trance-like state where one could go back in time, into previous lifetimes.

While mentally fighting the loss of control this entailed, still I saw myself as a young child in a long-ago time, seated at one end of a long English table, with a bowl of porridge before me. There was an extremely large and deep hearth to my left.. The room was chilly, despite the fire. My doubting, rational self pulled myself away from this vision, back to the 1980s and to the small sitting room of the practitioner.

Googling 'past-life regression', I found that ancient Indian literature mentions past-life regression, while wikipedia writes that 'in the religious mythology of China, the deity Meng Po, also known as the "Lady of Forgetfullness", prevents souls from remembering their past lives: she gives them a bittersweet drink that erases all memories before they climb the wheel of reincarnation.'

While I no longer believe that I might have been an SS officer, the questions surrounding courage, belief and commitment are still with me.  

The role of collaborator, as the Red Fox was in the Larsson book, seems foreign to me; while she flirted with vanity and power, four people were sacrificed. In the story we see her as a bitter, hateful old woman living with her horrid husband who knows her role as a spy and what she had done.

I hope I would have been brave enough, compassionate enough to shelter someone from persecution during those terrible times. To contribute to light, not darkness.  

My job is to be that person now.

                          Ritual Blessing Cards

An interesting site: Holocaust Resistance- Living and Surviving as a Partisan

Sunday, 16 November 2014

weeping larch

This afternoon, I went outside to once again photograph the weeping larch.

Its colours have become muted, the needles a soft palette against the frozen brown earth.  Some of the branches have already shed their needles, allowing the cascading limbs to reveal themselves and for the small cones to become more visible. (It is because of these cones that larches are considered deciduous conifers.)

Moving closer,  I discovered something grey.  Resembling a ballerina's tattered garment, it was the papery remains of a wasp's nest!

With my camera, I see the intricate designs of nature that might otherwise go unnoticed.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

a conifer celebrates autumn

Early this morning, I took about 30 photographs of this small weeping tree in our back garden.

It looks as if someone has delicately spray-painted the soft needles!

Larix decidua 'Pendula' is a deciduous conifer, dropping its needles in the autumn.

I'll be watching this tree's celebration of autumn throughout the month.

Friday, 31 October 2014

planting potatoes

“I only want to live in peace and plant potatoes and dream!” The magical Moominvalley of Tove Jansson’s imagination contains all you need to know for life.

It's night-time and nearly November; tomorrow, all-hallows' eve. It's past potato-planting time for 2014, though certainly not past the time for peace and dreams.

Tomorrow I'll don my fabulous tu tu, bought on a whim 6 months ago, when I was shopping in Vancouver with a dear friend.  I'll need to rescue it from the dark corner in my closet where mistakes live! The store, JNBY, has disappeared from South Granville Street, so I'll wear it to honour the fun and funky clothes they had featured.

We haven't bought candy this year, rather we have a stash of 36 mini bags of Cheezies, hoping that only a few children come to our door so that we can indulge ourselves on the salty left-overs.

We have a huge off-centre squash sitting on our front steps, its  pink-orange body gleaming in the evening drizzle.  If I were to cook it, there would be gallons and gallons of soup. But I won't.

As a young child, living in Montreal, my Halloween costumes were often inelegant.  Imagine me as a 6 year old fairy princess wearing my mother's nightgown, tinfoil-covered cardboard stars stitched on. Now imagine this magical outfit with a bulky brown winter coat stuffed underneath it!  In the early fifties, in our neighbourhood, there was no debating with what our parents said.

My older sister and I would climb the stairs to the neighbours' front doors and then ask, in a sing-song voice,  'Charity please'. My friends on the West Coast laugh at this, however Wikipedia explains this oddity:  'In Quebec, children also go door to door...however, instead of 'Trick or treat' used to be La charite s'il vous-plait'. 

We carried white pillowcases to collect our loot, eating as many of the loose jelly beans and other unwrapped candy as we could, because, once home,  our mother would make us throw them out.  

Our first stop was always to a neighbour's house where we were given magnificent homemade toffee apples.  En route we got handfuls of peanuts in their shells, wrapped Halloween candies that were sweet and chewy, Tootsie Rolls, pieces of Juicy Fruit gum, and the coveted chocolate bar.  (no mini bars then)

We carried small cardboard boxes to collect coins for UNICEF.

Back home, the routine was always the same.  Mum had a white sheet spread out on the carpeted floor of the entry hall.  Estelle emptied her candy to one side while I  eagerly spread mine to the other.  Then the sorting. The best part. Favourites were piled to one side and the few nickels and dimes were counted.

And then the bartering began!

'I'll trade you two boxes of raisins for your Tootsie Pop.'
Are you kidding? Who wanted raisins on this special evening!
After candies had been exchanged, we put our stuff into grocery bags to sample in the morning.  Then, on a sugar high, we peeled off our home-made costumes, double-brushed our teeth and went to bed.

Wikipedia notes that in 2008, Halloween candy, costumes and other related products accounted for $5.77 billion in revenue.  (I'm not sure if this is in the United States or world-wide. The article doesn't specify. Either way, it's a lot of money)

Monday, 20 October 2014

with thanks.....

I finally made the phone call.  For several days I had notes to myself. The scribbles  changing from phone to phone and finally to PHONE The voice on my old Panasonic answering machine was still asking me the same question. Would I open my garden Mother's Day weekend, for the wonderful tour arranged by and benefiting the Victoria Conservatory of Music?

While I have shown our garden before, twice as a happy participant in the Teeny Tiny Garden Tour, benefiting Hospice, and many times casually to the members of the Horticultural Society, the Conservatory tour had always seemed a bit aloof. A bit too proper for the likes of my more casual gardening style.

But, I digress.

I decided to phone, hoping no one would answer and I could just record a message. As young children, my sister and I used to chant 'Chicken! Chicken! Rooster! Rooster!' under circumstances just like this!

I am not a phone person: I like to see the people I'm conversing with, gauging the response by their frown, a wrinkled nose or a grin. Face to face, I know no one is drying the dishes or absently surfing the net. 

But I digress. 

I phoned, she answered, I declined with thanks.

Speaking fromtheothersideofseventy made it easier.  Not easy, but easier.  I love my garden and my friends are always welcome to wander through and pause for a visit.  I will complain that 'just last week the ferns were at their best, just unfurling' or that 'in just a week or two the clematis Sweet Autumn will be fuller, more beautiful'.  But, of course, that's the language of gardeners.  And if there is an empty spot, awaiting  inspiration or a shift of plants, I'll definitely mention it...the difference is, when friends visit, I don't have to fill the brown space right now...I won't have to run to the nursery and buy a full-grown and expensive plant just before our lunch date so the garden will look more perfect.

Declining with thanks, graciously refusing, saying no.

Why is it so difficult? The fear of missing out on something?  The worry of offending someone?  Letting someone down?  Being the good daughter all over again?   Maybe it's just lack of practice!

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

candy chang

On Sunday, Brian and I drove home after a beautiful day spent by the ocean.  We had celebrated my birthday by going first to one of my favourite places,  French Beach.  On this visit, the shoreline was jagged and the beach-land small, with only the larger tumbled rocks visible under the breaking waves.  The plentiful logs we were accustomed to were under the swell. With the chopped-up beach, zig zagging as far as I could see, there was no place to sit and comb through smaller stones, noticing their shapes and patterns. Though beautiful still, the peace I had always experienced at French Beach was replaced by majesty, undercut with agitation. Brian wandered and I moved slowly, with my camera.

We then headed to Point No Point for lunch, sitting at a window table with binoculars set beside the cutlery. Local wild salmon with horseradish mousse was our choice and it was delicious.  With a glass of dry white wine- perfect!

Forgoing dessert, we drove the short distance to China Beach. The mist was thick and rain seemed almost certain.  Brian carried an umbrella, which I considered blasphemy! (in honesty, he had forgotten his rain jacket and his down vest left his arms un-weather-proofed)

We walked past the empty campsites, closed until the spring, and began a curving descent to the Pacific.  It is a 1k walk on a forest path with about 300 shallow broad steps (a very wild guess) built where the slope is steepest.  Being small, I had to stretch to keep the single-step rhythm, and, at times, I felt as if I was being propelled down the path  The moisture clung to the trees and numerous and varied fungi grew from huge tree stumps.

For a moment, I seemed to see the forest as it had been before the giant trees had been felled for lumber.  The stumps had become the nursery for hundreds of young trees that sprouted from the crevices in the rotting wood.

Young surfers passed us in wet suits, returning from the beach with surfboards under their arms.

The smell of smoke greeted us before the ocean appeared. Several small fires were burning, stoked with driftwood and larger logs; surfers near to the coals to warm themselves. The waves seemed to hold their shape, tantalizing and powerful. We watched the surfers' ritual- waiting, waiting and then being lifted and carried on this magical carpet of water. I held my breath, hoping for a perfect ride.

As a light rain began, we turned back, this time climbing uphill.  Brian opened his umbrella and I kept well ahead of him, like a child who pretends she is not with her mother!

The climb was exhilarating; the steps built so skillfully they seemed not to be an intrusion into the forest, the markers keeping track of the distance remaining.

Ready now for dessert and coffee, we stopped at Shirley Delicious, a wonderful cafe in Shirley.  I always judge a place by the quality of its date squares, and I awarded these bakers an A+.  Brian had a huge slice of vanilla peach pie and a cappuccino that seemed like coffee topped with a clown's huge ruffle!  When I ordered my latte, I was asked whether I was right or are asked so that the intricate design on the foam faces the correct way!  Talk about attention to detail. With all the baking  done on-site, for me, the drive to French Beach just got a whole lot shorter!

Now, back to the reason for this post's heading.  As we neared Victoria, I turned on the radio and we listened to a bit of Tapestry on CBC.  An urban designer and conceptual artist was being interviewed. Candy Chang was describing an interactive art installation that she had done. a few years ago.  On a wall, on a deserted building in her neighbourhood, she wrote in chalk paint: "What do you want to do before you die?" and made a grid with 80 lines.  She left coloured chalk for people to write their responses. The grid was quickly filled, with additional writing on the edges and tucked into corners.  This experimental wall idea has spread to over 60 countries in 30 different languages, the question changing somewhat as it travels, and Candy happy to have it fluid.

Before I die, I want to walk on our magical beaches millions of times...well, lots and lots and lots of times.  With the mist and the fog and the smell of the Pacific.  With stones and shells to examine. With sunlight bouncing off the waves. With family and friends near me and with my camera tucked into my pocket.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014


Perhaps it is because I have just celebrated the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah. Perhaps it is because another birthday is sneaking up on me.
Perhaps it is because the summer in Victoria has been so glorious.

Or perhaps it is all of these things or none of them at all!

I have been musing about friendship.

My young granddaughter was lonely when her 'best friend' moved to a new city last year, although her sadness was mostly overcome by a new best friend made at her week-long biking class.  Now that kindergarten has begun, new friends and their birthday parties will shift the terrain once again. It's not that she will forget those earlier friends, they will likely remain loved in her memory. It's more that in her five- year-old life there are many opportunities to meet and connect with other children- at school, in the park and at gymnastics or art class.

For me, from the other side of seventy, friendship sometimes has funny quirks. Some of my dear friends have no shared pasts with me.

Walking from a movie at Cinecenta a few weeks ago, after seeing a film set in the Eastern Arctic,  I only then discovered that my friend and movie-partner had spent several of her teenage years living in Inuvik.

We are friends in our adult selves.

Another woman, who I knew casually 30 years ago in Duncan, has more recently reappeared in my life.  Although living farther apart now, our connection has deepened and increased in its significance.  We knew each other when our kids were in primary school, yet, even with this history, we are truly bonded by who we are now.

With another friend, I wander in downtown Victoria, checking out the shops and talking politics and tech hints over coffee. Our friendship is new.

My dearest friend is my husband. Brian sees me as I am; who I dare to be when I'm cranky, un-groomed or sad. He embraces my power, and, in fact, sees beauty in it. He is the first person who ever told me that I was beautiful. And he tells me again so that I will really hear him.

There are other friends too. Women I reach out to when I look for vibrant conversation, a walk around the chip trail at Henderson or for comfort when life seems to sit heavy on my shoulders. A caring friend who includes me into her circle to celebrate holidays, and my artist friend with whom I delve into colour, composition and mood. We may not visit or talk often, still I hold these women close.

The common thread with these special people seems to be that we can be together without needing to pretend.  I am safe with these friends. We find time for each other despite busy schedules. With these friends, my voice is heard and I truly listen to what is said; we are constantly learning from one another.

Ziad K Abdelnour wrote 'As we grow older, we realize that it is less important to have more friends and more important to have real ones.'

I particularly like Samuel Coleridge's description of friendship, saying it 
 'is like a sheltering tree.'  

near Willows beach

I imagine the roots growing deep in the earth and the canopy of leaves keeping off the sun's glare.  The tree is home to many species, living together, mostly in harmony.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

charlotte's web

                          a  local resident, though not Charlotte

This afternoon I spent a half hour watching a spider spin it's web.  I was in our dining room and the late afternoon sunlight caught the spider just beginning her silky creation.  

While both males and females spin webs, I've named this spinner 'Charlotte'.

We already have two residents suspended between our deck railing and a potted  evergreen tree, cryptomeria Japonica 'Rasen', but the initial silk thread of this adventurous lass has spanned at least 4 feet from 'Rasen' to a hawthorn branch.

When I started watching, she was in constant movement from the centre outwards and then in again, forming the 'spokes'.  After this framework was spun, she began the outward circles.  Much later, she positioned herself in the centre, awaiting dinner.

Starting my Google spider web search, I found a Wikipedia article which says that 'spider webs have existed for at least 100 million years, as witnessed in a rare find of Early Cretaceous amber from Sussex, southern England.'

Delving more deeply, I clicked on a beautiful photograph of a dew-draped web.  This led to a detailed article by Damir Beciri.  In his article Secrets of spider web design, Beciri investigates the materials produced by spiders.  'Although webs seem as if they were made out of a same material, one web contains multiple silk types. For example, viscid silk is stretchy, wet and sticky, and it is the silk that winds out in increasing spirals from the web center, while dragline silk is stiff and dry, and it serves as the threads that radiate out from a web’s center, providing structural support. Dragline silk is crucial to the mechanical behavior of the web.'

                                  this is not Charlotte

Continuing my internet search, I found that there is now a spider app. The 'Spider in Da House' app has been launched as the creatures become more active during the autumn mating season.  It is 'to help arachnophobes identify the creepy-crawlies they find at home.'

From Australia,  the news that 'Spiders Growing Bigger in Cities, say Experts'.  Researchers find some spiders thrive when living near humans and reproduce faster.

Not to be outdone by the Aussies, this week's Manchester Evening News continues headlining the spider, warning that our mild summer could bring bigger eight-legged creatures into our home.  

And finally, my favourite, there is a website  'the best site in the world for spider info!!'