Thursday, 20 December 2018

tiny stories

This time of year, when latkes have been fried and consumed, and when Christmas lights are draped over hedges and wrapped around the trunks of trees, it can be challenging for many.

Brian and I participate only a little in holiday festivities.  A latke bash at friends' is a highlight for us, and so is lighting the Chanukah candles, which seems both solemn and joyous. 

I miss my "kids" and their families at this time and wish we could all magically assemble and share our love for one another as we sing the prayers.

At my next shift at the food bank I will bring in a huge tin of Walkers shortbread.  Because cookies are only available through donations, not purchased through the food budget, often there are no cookies at all.

The people we know probably don't consider having a cookie a luxury.  

Think again.

Our book club members are a generous group of women. To our December meeting we bring in socks to donate to Our Place and in January, the bookies give me items for the food bank at St John the Divine. This year I've suggested special items like honey and jam, chocolate and olives. Tinned salmon and salsa. There are enough months when tinned vegetables and beans and pasta are the regular fare.

At the food bank, shampoo is poured into little plastic film canisters. Once a month, when a client gets to select 15 items from a printed shopping list, choosing shampoo means getting two of these containers. Last week, we emptied the last from the larger shampoo bottles into these wee containers.

 I imagine it's on next month's list of items to purchase.

The next day when I was at my hairdresser's, I talked about my experiences at St John's and asked if she might purchase a gallon container of shampoo and sell it to me at her cost. "Yes, absolutely," Moira said.  And today she phoned from Salon Modello to say she had the shampoo, and that she was donating it to the food bank!

Another angel.

On the darker side of gifting, I am horrified by its excesses.I subscribe to Ruth Reichl's newsletters in large part because of my fascination with how a select group of people eat, drink and otherwise indulge themselves. At this time of year she posts "A Gift Guide"  featuring one item a day for about two weeks. 

Noir Chef's Knife


Even today when she recommended the reasonably priced collapsible coffee press, she suggested to wrap up a few great bags of coffee to go with it.  A few. 

I've just reread what I've written so far and, with a slight blush, notice how self-righteous all of this sounds. 

But, when David Hockney's "Pool with Two Figures" was recently purchased for $90.3 million after nine minutes of heated bidding at Christie's in New York, all I could think of was "No painting is worth that much", followed by, "Just think of the good those millions could have done."

What I see as supreme selfishness is that this painting will likely be hung in a locked room with specially controlled temperature and humidity. Or perhaps it will be stored in a vault.  The iconic painting, simply an acquisition. No longer art.

I wonder how I would feel if I found out that this private purchaser had also spent $90 million on famine relief in Yemen. Would that be justification for this personal indulgence?

 No, it wouldn't.

Opportunities for kindness and generosity surround us. 

                                                               $Millions not required.

When I pass someone sitting on the pavement, asking for money, I try not to look away. That doesn't mean I need to give money to everyone. Sometimes I have a pair of socks in my bag to offer, sometimes a Tim Hortons Gift Card, sometimes I offer acknowledgment with a nod.

And sometimes I do look away.

I had a powerful experience a few months ago. I was on Fort Street and a middle-aged man walked quickly by someone sitting against a storefront, berating him in a very loud voice. "Go get some work! Get off your ass!!" was the gist of it. I ran after Mr. Sanctimonious to say that his remarks were both hurtful and totally unnecessary. 

When I returned to the man who was the object of this toxic display, he quietly thanked me. Our pain was visceral.

For that moment I WAS the man on the street. 

For generosity is much more than about giving away things or money. Assisting people with kindness and giving people recognition for who they are, embracing differences with acceptance, is truly what generosity is about.

I believe that we can be most generous to others when we are both giving and forgiving towards ourselves.

This is something for me to remember as we move ever closer to 2019.

The photographs were taken in Pasadena when we visited my niece, Andrea

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Saturday, 8 December 2018


These last many months I have thought a great deal about our responsibility for the things we read and for those words that we choose to pass on from our gathering of information. 

This introspection, a reflective looking inward, is being forced upon me primarily because of Donald Trump and his toxic comments on Twitter.


"Mike Pompeo is doing a great job, I am very proud of him. His predecessor, Rex Tillerson, didn’t have the mental capacity needed. He was dumb as a rock and I couldn’t get rid of him fast enough. He was lazy as hell."
PRESIDENT TRUMP, on his current and former secretaries of state.

This quote was included, in the large print you see above, in a New York Times newsletter I received this morning.

The internet, as well as reaching and connecting many millions of people and dispensing valuable information, has opened a huge chasm of differing viewpoints and comments from the ethereal to the divisive and toxic. The word, chasm, from the  Latin, chasma, and from the Greek, khasma ‘gaping hollow,’ evokes in me the frightening image of being in a deep hole or pit and trying to crawl up from its depth.

Why this dark image when I have seen and read glorious and positive stories on-line?  Stories of kindness and discovery; introduction to poets and artists; fact-finding and wisdom. And cartoons that make me laugh. On-line I find help towards understanding my camera and Google translations from Spanish into humorous English so I can read emails from my friends in Cuba.

For sensitive people in particular, the burr of negativity sticks, just as the burdock plant's prickly seeds stick to our clothing.

I know how the people we choose to be around is important to our well-being.  How the negativity of a person in our midst can pull us all down. And how, likewise, a  person's joy and consideration have a positive effect.  I am conscious of my effort to cultivate the friendships of those who elevate, and to move away from those who do not.

When Brian and I were in Cuba we were distant from all world news. No television, no internet, no communication at all outside of the personal day to day ones.

No tales of sorrow and bigotry. Of pain and unleashed anger. Of better than and less worthy.

In Havana I witnessed the kindness of people we met.  Not an easy life, to be sure, but as an outsider I appreciated how often people helped us figure out directions from our small map, often walking along with us. How we laughed together, unable to say in words what we meant, but noticing that it didn't really matter.

                         a tee shirt I brought to Havana....a perfect fit!

No "outside noise", as in negative news cycles, made it so much easier to access kind expressions from inside, from close to my heart. To notice parents' love for their children, older men and women sitting near a window observing life in the streets and to be able to smile and say"no thank you" to the multitude of bike taxis.

Yes, I did see the poverty in Cuba partly as a result of the American embargo. I saw too the young adults sitting on door steps, who seemed not to have work. I realize that I was a tourist/visitor who didn't know the stories behind the nearly 2,000 photographs I took.

But, in retrospect, I was healing from the American and Canadian news outlets.

I can escape again by returning to Cuba in the spring, but, as an ongoing filter, this isn't practical!

Just as responsible parents restrict their kids' screen time, so too do I need to limit mine.

I feel somewhat virtuous as I don't follow the news on television, but visiting on-line is no longer much different.  A half hour or more scrolling weighs me down. Where has the time gone and why am I not reading the books from the library and the three new ones from the Beacon Thrift store that sounded so fascinating just yesterday?

I've just scrolled through this month on my Facebook page.  I am trying to determine what grade to give myself.

When is sharing a truth okay and when is it best to be silent.

The entry (Dec 4) from Doctors Without Borders telling about being forced to stop their rescue boat from saving migrants in peril in the sea seems important to share. And, another post, saying that the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) announced that it had located a terror tunnel, constructed by Hezbollah, that extended 40 meters (131 feet) into Israel, also seems important for others to read.

I think that sharing information, whether on-line or in person, needs to be considered as carefully as measuring drops of a chemical into a test tube.

For me, Trump's tweet translates to acute toxicity.

Toxicity: The degree to which a substance (a toxin or poison) can harm humans or animals. Acute toxicity involves harmful effects in an organism through a single or short-term exposure.

The effects of Trump's produce absolutely nothing of positive value.  His hateful rhetoric benefits no one: not even the one who spews the dirt.

How can we ask our children to understand the pain of bullying and the harm hatefulness lays upon all of us, when the President of the United States belches forth these toxins.

Yet we must try. We must discipline ourselves, as well.

Friday, 26 October 2018


“I will give proof of my zeal: one day, on tearing off some old bark, I saw two rare beetles, and seized one in each hand; then I saw a third and new kind, which I could not bear to lose, so that I popped the one which I held in my right hand into my mouth. Alas! It ejected some intensely acrid fluid, which burnt my tongue so that I was forced to spit the beetle out, which was lost, as was the third one."

From Darwin's autobiography.

How I love this quote, copied and saved on my computer for quite some time.

I wonder if it is the obsession part that holds me, or simply the unbridled fascination with a new discovery.

This morning I went to London Drugs to buy a second 64 GB camera card. While I won't be shooting raw this trip, I believe my camera can never have too much space for photos! 

Habana Vieja was truly a dream come true for me. Before Rafaela served us breakfast at 8 a.m., I had been outside with my camera for an hour, and after eight full days in Cuba, I returned home with 2,500 images, more than could be downloaded onto my computer.

Speaking with the woman who heads the photography department at London Drugs, I told her that I was returning to Havana in two weeks. 

"How wonderful!" was her response. We chatted for about 10 minutes, recalling moments of joy from our trips and also particular events that have remained with us. 

I talked about an hour-long downpour and the ride back to our casa in a bike taxi, covered only somewhat with bright yellow tarps. 

A few of my friends have thought it odd that I am returning to Cuba so soon.
"Isn't there somewhere else you'd like to explore?", they wonder.

"No, not really," I reply.

About 20 years ago I saw a short film in an art class I was taking at Malaspina College. The artist featured had two huge studios. One studio held a great many cabinets with about 100 shallow drawers.  Each drawer held a particular type of paper, sorted by colour and design. These were for the collages and mixed media art pieces he created. 

Besides the envy I felt, I was awakened to his passion and to his manner of collecting.  

The single line that has stayed with me was his mantra: "Follow your obsession!"

I reminded myself often of this advice over a twenty-year period, as I created more and more images of chairs using acrylic and occasionally a combination of paper and paint.

And, over the last few years I have collected about a dozen children's chairs, which reside in my studio-gallery.

And, as I look through my collected photographs from Cuba, well over 100 of these  are portraits of chairs!

                                        And in two weeks I will be back.

Saturday, 1 September 2018


Yesterday was an amazing day.

In the early morning I continued to the next stage of making Damson plum jam, having the day before cooked two large pots of fruit until the Damsons were very soft and the juice covered them.  The scoring of each plum and the very slow simmering had already taken about two hours the previous day. The process of removing the stones from the cooled stewed fruit followed.  I love this step, with my hands deep in the pot, seeking them out.

Just as I love the process of preparing and cooking the fruit, so Brian loves the picking. Two days earlier he had picked 54 pounds of fruit from the wonderful farm of Norry in West Saanich.

As I slowly cooked the plums down, standing by the stove and almost constantly stirring the fruit to ensure that it wasn't sticking and thereby burning, the pleasure aspect of Damson jam-making was being challenged!

However, the finished product was worth every minute of my time.

Remember, this was jam made from a mere 15 pounds of the fruit!

Later in the morning I had a wonderful visit with Rabbi Harry. We sat in the studio-gallery talking about time alone, friendship and the mature wisdom of choosing  those people who enrich and honour us.

When I said that I was thinking more about these things as my 75th birthday neared, Harry looked at me, saying that he had always thought of me as being 60 or 65.  I laughed and said that if true, it would make him in his very early 40s!

So our conversation wandered, sharing stories of people we knew who seemed old even when fairly young, and those people who remained vital and involved even as their chronological age grew high.  Sitting in the studio, surrounded by my photographs, seemed the visual evidence of my dedication to continued growth and  expansion.

Our visit concluded with a wonderful 1/2 hour sharing our excitement and love for our individual time spent in Havana. The feelings we had each experienced of coming home to a place we had known at another time in another lifetime.

I went upstairs to watch my favourite tennis great as he played an epic 4 hour 28 minute match against Khachanov at the U.S. Open. I anguished as Nadel lost his serve, thankful as he broke back, and rode the roller coaster until its conclusion and Nadel's victory.  During the commercials, and at times I didn't dare watch, I went through packets of photographs that I discovered in our storage room.

Most of these photographs chronicled my art output from the years we spent in Duncan.  They were snapshots, usually taken outside on our deck, propped up by a chair or bench, or clipped to a rod in our studio.

Simply a record.

Brian and I were blown away!  I had forgotten about many of the paintings.  I had forgotten too how unafraid I had been and the huge creative output of those years.

I had many series of paintings on paper, painted in black and white using children's powder paint. Others, again on paper, using household enamel. When I discovered colour,  I was again totally uninhibited and painted hundreds of works on small prepared boards.

The power of seeing these works was almost overwhelming.  I realize now that I have likely sold over 300 works of art, and perhaps more than that, during those creative years.

Seeing these photographs again, I remembered  the many times I had exhibited my art in galleries on the Island and also when Cynthia showed my wire mixed- media "dolls" in her wonderful store in Duncan, Fabrications.

Dear Brian scanned about two dozen of these photographs so I will have a digital record of these early paintings.

While I long to have some of these paintings back, to look at them again and hang them in our house, I am happier that they are out in the world.

Today is our anniversary: Brian and I have been married for 37 years.

What an amazing journey we have had together:

Doing our art,
Trusting that Hilary and Sat-Sung were safe walking the 1/2 mile down our driveway to the school bus & later knowing that a bear had been walking the same route!
Growing herbs and vegetables in 90 raised beds that Brian built using huge slabs that he hauled from a lumber yard,
Having our business Harvest Herbs for several years,
Making and selling echinacea tincture, before it was "the thing",
Canning hundreds of pounds of fruit and filling hundreds of Mason jars with every kind of chutney, relish and brandied fruit and,
making blackberry wine and the less successful parsnip brew!

And, most of all, working hard and having fun!

I am truly blessed.  I wouldn't trade my life for anything.