Category Archives: Random Musing

A Sad Day – The World Says Goodbye to Anthony Bourdain

Way, way, way back I had the pleasure of meeting Anthony Bourdain in Vancouver for the launch of Kitchen Confidential when I still worked at Raincoast Books. He was down-to-earth, funny, raw and unpretentious.  It was obvious that he loved what he was doing and that he knew he was lucky to be living his dream.

Like everyone else, I was so, so sad to hear that he had taken his life this week.

A friend on Facebook shared this podcast that was done when he was on tour in 2006 for his next book Nasty Bits. It’s a three part series that was created over the course of a book tour in Vancouver and captures him in different moments. In all those moments, he   never radiates the “rock star” arrogance that comes so often with fame. He was a mensch, a very real human being.

Thanks to Monique for sharing and Robert Ouimet for producing.

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A little taste of what is in the podcast:

“On June 12, 2006, Anthony Bourdain, the best selling author of Kitchen Confidentialand host of the TV show No Reservations, spent a day in Vancouver doing media interviews and bookstore appearances to talk about his new book The Nasty Bits.

He wore a lapel microphone during the entire day, allowing me to record Bourdain’s casual conversation with fans, private moments in the car, and regular interview style questions.”

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Have a listen to a man who showed us the world and all of its amazing offerings.

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Random Musing: The Beauty of Vietnam

My workplace recently offered me the opportunity to visit Vietnam to be the company rep for a Bestway tour, a company we have partnered with in the past to do group tours.  While Vietnam was on my bucket list, I didn’t really know too much except for some knowledge of a raging war that ended in 1975 (for America but not Vietnam), terrible humid heat, and delicious Pho noodle soup. I  had also never traveled in a group before so I had no idea what to expect.

Now, as a seasoned alumna of a group tour, I can say, “Wow”. There are a few secret ingredients that elevated this to an amazing travel and life experience. The first was the itinerary itself. Was it ambitious? Yes. Did it leave everyone exhilarated and nicely tired at the end of the day? Absolutely. Over the course of ten days we covered a lot of ground starting in the north in Ha Noi.

Crazy, beautiful, wild Ha Noi. We arrived late in the evening and our guide Thanh had us up at the crack of dawn to go to Ba Dinh Square where Ho Chi Minh read the proclamation of Independence in 1945. After watching the flag raising ceremony we went back for breakfast and then visited the Temple of Literature, (Vietnam’s first university) and then we wandered through the Old Quarter streets.

I won’t go into all the details because there are really too many to mention. But we left Ha Noi and went to Ha Long Bay. Being a British Columbian, I have the good luck to live in one of the most beautiful places in the world. But Ha Long Bay will make your jaw drop. I ended up just lying on my bed in my room staring out the window thinking, holy smokes, what an extraordinary  place and what a beautiful world we live in.

But people really make a trip and by them time we hit Ha Long Bay the group started to gel and laughter infused our conversations as we got to know one another better. Add in people  making us feel welcomed and acknowledged throughout our journey and the recipe for an amazing experience was well underway.

After Ha Long Bay we went back to Ha Noi and caught a flight to Da Nang and from there took a bus to Hoi An, a beautiful, ancient town, filled with charm, colourful lanterns and a complicated history. We walked the market with Thanh leading us through expertly and hydrating us with fresh fruit just when we thought we might drop dead from the heat!

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Later that afternoon we were taken to basket boats (squid fishing boats) for a ride along the coconut river. This was probably my least favourite activity of the tour and that’s saying something because I loved virtually everything. It felt like a bit of a disconnect being in a boat on a river with loud music playing (I counted three boom boxes, all playing different music) with enthusiastic boat captains singing and dancing wildly. But in spite of my reservations,  I have no regrets joining in the lighthearted fun.

I’m not going to lie…the pools at some of the hotels we stayed in came in handy. Even though I forgot to bring a swimsuit, I fashioned one out of various yoga wear and in I went, cocktail in hand, while others were getting fitted for their hand-tailored shirts and dresses at a local shop. I pruned up like a raisin in the pool for a few hours and felt fully restored and ready for more evening fun.

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We saw endless cool things in Hoi An,  the city of lanterns, not the least of which were some great restaurants with the opportunity to enjoy the fresh, clean, flavours of Vietnamese cuisine which is fantastic.

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Our next stop was Hue, taking us back through Da Nang, and up to a mountain summit which was stunningly beautiful. As I looked at the greenery and the beauty around me, I thought about the men and women both Vietnamese and American, who lost their lives in the beautiful countryside and in the places we had visited. This is now, I heard a voice say in my head.  Indeed, this is now.

Thanh’s knowledge of history and politics is extensive and I learned more than I ever could have hoped on my own. Many times I tried to nap but gave up because I didn’t want to miss one single opportunity to learn something from him. I think the tragedy of what happened there and learning so much more on this trip, was balanced by the company we had on our bus. People wanted to learn but they also wanted to laugh and to lose themselves in the fun of living in the now. And I think most of us truly succeeded in the ten days we had together.

Our next stop in Hue was top notch. I don’t even know where to start, the rickshaw ride through the crazy traffic to  the old citadel city, visiting pagodas and temples, the vegetarian lunch at the pagoda, the dragon boat trip up the Perfume River, or the dinner at Madame Ha’s. Or just siting quietly by myself in the hotel bar, enjoying a drink and taking in the beautiful view of the river.

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I bet you’re wondering if I ‘m done yet. Nope. THERE’S MORE!  Ho Chi Minh city (Saigon) is different from Ha Noi.  The influence of Asian and European architecture makes it a very familiar feeling city for visitors from the West.  I loved visiting the presidential palace of south Vietnam, with what looks like 60s architecture which is one of my favourite periods. (I’m probably wrong about the era). You can’t imagine the decisions that were made in the rooms we visited…large maps of the country, sixties and early seventies phones, now looking like relics of a bygone era.

A group of us chose to visit the War Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, which was certainly a sobering undertaking, and our usually ebullient and funny group was silent on the ride home. Wars have a millions edges and it doesn’t matter what you see or whose side it is, it’s hard to witness what human beings manage to do to one another.

Our last day was a trip to the Mekong Delta. I had no idea you could pack so much living into one day. It started with a bus ride, then a boat that was laden with wonderful fruit. Along the way we visited micro- economic development projects nestled in the palm fronds and the greenery that borders the river. Freshly made coconut candy, friendly honey-bees (including magical age reversing honey cream for sale!).

My memory is already getting foggy on the details but I’m sure we got on another boat,  got back on land, jumped on tuk tuks, took a ride on the wild side until we came to an outdoor restaurant where we were treated to yet another amazing lunch. After a short walk, we were back on another boat, until we finally reached our final boat where we had to throw ourselves to the floor THREE TIMES, so we  could pass under the various bridges. I’m not sure what was going on by this time but Blue Family (as we called ourselves) was deliriously excitable and with every bridge, we’d throw ourselves to the floor singing and hooting and howling, as grown adults are known to do:)

There is still so much from the itinerary that I’ve left out. But you get the picture. A fabulous trip was planned by a genius at Bestway and their affiliate partner in Ha Noi.  A man, who treated his guests on his bus as though we were guests in his own home, and who took the time to passionately share the history of his “beloved Vietnam” so that we were left with a taste of its history, culture, cuisine and politics, and stories told so passionately,  you felt you were living them yourself. Add in a group of people who were ready for a ride, and opened their arms wide to soak it all in and to connect with everything and everybody and it transformed into a magical experience.

For a short time it felt like we were all on fire. That all the things that divide us, brought us together. It felt a lot like family. And maybe that won’t last forever and I’m okay with that. But I hope little seeds of friendship were planted along the way.

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And thank you Thanh for showing us Vietnam with all of its enormous history and culture, its pride and its kind people.

 

Thanks to my Blue Family members. You made it great.

Thanks to Paul Holden and the Board for letting me have this extraordinary opportunity.

The nicer photographs were taken by Mike Checko and Suzie From and Hermes Salonga.

Want to read more on the Vietnam War ?Here are two books I read ages ago that are worth a read. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien and Dispatches by Michael Kerr.

 

 

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Random Musing: The Plant Artist

I only know his name through others who have mentioned it in passing. However, in the 12 years I’ve lived here, I have often seen him wandering  the numerous trails surrounding our community (although increasingly less so as the area is developed and green space replaced with housing). His presence is  most often announced through the plume of sweet tobacco smoke that always accompanies him on his walks. Often you see him sitting in amongst the trees and plants, head set on, legs crossed, thin, quiet. He acknowledges you but I rarely got the sense he wanted to chat. So I would nod and move on.   Sometimes I would see him early in the morning  sitting on a log, lost in thought, headset on, taking in the view from the top of the hill that overlooks Indian Arm.  Wherever I found  him, either deep in the forest, often in  the company of a neighbour’s dog, or out front, sitting surrounded by the tall summer weeds, it felt to me that nature was necessary for him. That he needed to be a part of it.

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His property stood out from others for the extraordinary beauty of his garden. Large, wild, exotic, beautiful plants flourished under his care. I imagined that he spoke to them, urging them forward. Be bold, he would say to them. And they were.  His garden was so beautiful it was almost outrageous. How could that much wild beauty exist in one small place.  I often walked by his place feeling as though I was looking at a painting or a piece of art work.  And I imagined that all the time he spent meditating in the forests he was gathering strength and inspiration to images.jpegbreathe life into his own family of plants and flowers, his own creation.

I heard through the grapevine that he was sick. Already thin, he seemed to get thinner, smoke with a bit more fury. Still I would see him in all his favourite places and then I heard he had passed away.

I never really spoke with him, I barely knew him. I only benefited from his unique gifts as I think many of us here did.

I often think about how we all live in these neighbourhoods passing each other every day like ships in the night. And then suddenly you realize someone is gone. They’ve left.  I was inexplicably sad to hear that Randy had died. We had gone through multiple rotations of spring, summer, winter and fall together, cells mutating, bodies changing, anonymously passing each other.images-1.jpeg

I like to shout out the names of people who have died when I’m driving, or walking or thinking. To me it’s the only tangible thing we have of those who leave. Their names, out loud connect me to what they offered in beauty, laughs or love. Randy was an artist. That’s how I think of him. And when I say his name I’ll conjure the natural beauty he ushered forth year after year in the little space that he called home.

Thanks Randy.

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Random Musing: Spring

The first hint of spring often came at the tail end of winter. As a child growing up in Ontario my mother wrapped me in a snowsuit so thick I could only manage a waddle at best. Off I would go behind my sisters or brothers out into the snow. And then suddenly, that tiny sliver of spring would come sailing in on a breeze so sweet it still takes my breath away.Unknown.jpeg

Years later I remember driving and suddenly I saw my mom walking down Lakeshore Road in Port Credit. It was summer and the sun was out bright and hard. I could see her long legs from far away and that short curly hair. Although a grown woman with four children she walked like a kid. Her head was tilted back to the sun and if I didn’t know better I could see she was taking in the sweetness of the smell of summer grasses and the cool air as it came off the lake.

Like my mother I am a walker. Even as a kid I skipped the school bus and would walk miles to school on my own both there and back. Each section of the walk brought my senses alive in different ways.

images.jpegAs I crossed the bridge over the Credit river, I could catch the breeze that came from Lake Ontario and the river that winds its way up Mississauga, the name of a tribe whose home this once was. I would walk past the Library where I worked as a teen.

Even now I feel the walls of that library through the smells of books I shelved, ordered by the magical dewey decimal system.

images-1.jpegThen off to the GO Station and under the tunnel often wet and smelling of swamp although a swamp was nowhere near. Then past the old houses to the orchard sweet with apples. The orchard is gone now but I can still smell the fruit.  Today I’m still a big walker.

Every day at lunch I wander for an hour so I can catch those fragrant breezes, watch the trees and the houses age as years pass by. It’s my own personal calendar of the passing of time.

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Random Musing: Chance Encounters

One night after work this week I was going to meet my husband and mother-in-law for dinner. I was early and I decided to wander around my old neighbourhood to see how things had changed. I was happy to see that the old Cedar Cottage pub that Dave and I used to meet at when we first started dating was still there so I decided to pop in, say “hello” to the old girl and have a glass of wine by the fireplace. I was happy that the pub hadn’t changed much so I settled in by the fireplace thrilled to be listening to Lynerd Skynerd’s Free Bird  playing in the background.

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I was sitting next to the table where over 14 years before Dave and I sat exchanging stories about who we were, our lives, our old loves and heartbreaks. I loved how easy our conversation flowed and how he made me laugh. I remember being shocked at how he asked me questions and actually listened for the answer.

I sipped my wine and was happy to see a community of  pub travellers either sitting alone or with friends at tables, sipping beer, watching the game, chatting, and settling into the groove of  pub life, a place where people gather to feel at home away from their own four walls.

I paid my bill and left thinking how much I would love to come back to this place of almost feeling like home. I put on my woolly mittens and hat, and pulled my jacket close around me as I wandered back outside into the cold winter night to meet my family.

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I stopped at the crosswalk and waited for the light to change to green. When it changed I stepped into the intersection. Lost in thought I didn’t notice the speeding SUV as he careened down the road, his rear fishtailing against the icy the road. He managed to stop just before hitting me and the woman who had been standing right behind me.  My heart raced. My adrenalin started to run. This is how it all happens I thought. One second your life is one thing and the next it’s this and you never see it coming.

“He almost killed us.” she said crossing the road beside me.

“Ya I know. I guess it’s our lucky night.” I said. We walked together for a minute in communion, happy that fate was allowing us to continue on as planned and not have our  lives inextricably linked by tragedy.

“Have a good night.” I said.

” You too.” and off she wandered into the chilly night.

In my head I heard Free Bird…humming it as I walked along to the restaurant.  I was off to meet my family, and Dave the same guy from the pub all those years ago, who still makes me laugh, who still listens.

 

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Random Musing 2016: My Grateful Life

 

2016 has not been the best year, not really. Even though I have a theory that the world has always been crazy and always will be crazy…this year felt like a special kind of crazy like we’re all tilting towards a precipice and we’re all going over the edge no matter what.

My sister and I have a theory that 2016 went haywire because for the first time in her life she had no game plan for her birthday. THAT’s the cause of all this mayhem.  The lady who lives life big didn’t plan her annual monumental February birthday bash and now everything is gone to shit. EVERYWHERE. Not just here. EVERYWHERE. Now there’s no bright light, no guiding star to get us through this darkness. People, can we please start over and tilt the world backwards, the right way this time. Come on. Let’s just strike this set.

Still I can’t help but ask myself if everything is lost. I am a person who fights for elephants to have the right to walk on this planet unchained and unviolated. That seems like a pretty hopeless situation to me but somehow I keep going although some days I’m not sure why. I just know that if I stop, and everyone stops then there’s no chance whatsoever. So I guess somewhere in there I must be hopeful. I can thank my mother for that.  It looks like she tossed  her half glass full set of genes over to me. Or maybe I’m like a compulsive craftswoman weaving life’s terrible and breathtaking offerings into a big carpet of life. These are all the things I am going to remember. These are all the things I’m going to feel, these are all the things I will carry with me moving forward into this uncertain future. . This is my grand reduction.

I will not ever forget the extraordinary ordinariness  of a phone call that brought me to a hospital to find out that my sister has brain cancer.

I am in awe of extraordinary courage. Because you never really know how you’ll deal with this kind of thing.  And the girl who lives large, brings her extraordinary gifts to bear in dealing with the issues that confront her.   She lives big no matter what.

I will never forget how beautiful it is to laugh in spite of every fucking blow that is being dealt her way. That we still laugh. Everyday.

I will never forget that it’s okay to say nothing because sometimes there are no words. And the ladies who like to live large can sit in silence, something they never imagined before.

I will never forget trying to climb a big scary wall after being convinced to do Tough Mudder by my sister.  That if you don’t think of the big picture, if you just consider the first small step, and then the next small step, if you trust in the people around you, that you can and will make it over the top. Step by step. That feels like hope to me.

I will never forget the moments in between. Those moments when Dave sits me down and introduces me to music and shows me the extraordinary in the ordinary. Or leading me to John Mavin who led me to myself and my creative mind and desire to build castles with words.

And the moments in between of  doing nothing. The beauty of nothingness. Just being.

2016 feels like a knock down and then get back up and fight kind of year. I’m not sure the road feels clear. Sometimes I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. But I often think of that wall and I know that step by step you can climb enormous walls. Don’t look down, don’t look up. Keep focussed. Be full of hope. Full of joy. And step by step I think we can get there. I’m happy to say my sister has filled the entire month of February with birthday festivities. I think this means the world will be okay.

 

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Do I Really Want a Dog? Things to Consider Before Taking the Plunge

dsc_1384Years ago I adopted a dog on the fly. I went with a friend who was adopting a dog at a ‘farm’ and in a moment of irrational craziness I came home with the sibling of the dog my friend adopted. They were named Reuben and Loo-is before we even left the barn.

I had never been a parent to a dog and I had no idea what I was doing. Neither had I given any thought to where I was living (a studio apartment with no dogs allowed) or how I would cope (I was single at the time and working full time with an energetic sporting schedule). Everything felt poised for disaster and in the intervening days I felt something close to panic.

I have always been a believer in jumping off cliffs…taking big leaps and seeing where I land. In this case, however, I had a puppy in tow and for the first time I felt the burden of real responsibility. Reuben would look up at me with these beautiful dark eyes and from the get go would follow me around no matter where I went…a habit he kept for the 11 years he was with me.

It would be an understatement to say he changed my life. I ended up changing everything about my life in order to give him a life I thought he deserved…even though I wasn’t even sure what that was yet.

It turns out I really love animals and slowly but surely I figured out what I needed to do. But there was a steep learning curve along the way. So here are a few things to think about for anyone thinking of bringing a dog into their life:

  • Breed – I had no idea what kind of breed Reuben was. It turns out he was a black lab something…the something part made him gigantic possessed with an old soul. It turns out that was perfect for me. What wouldn’t have been perfect would have been a super aggressive dog, or a dog that would be dominant over me. In retrospect, doing some research over the type of dog that best suits your personality or family needs is an important thing to consider.
  • Lodging – As mentioned I adopted Reuben when I lived in a studio apartment. In the eleven years we had him he lived in a house that had a backyard, as well as in a condo. Some people say you can’t have a dog in a condo which I disagree with. You can have a big dog or any kind of dog in a condo. The key is exercise.  Wherever you live, in a house or a condo, your dog needs to be walked. Once in the morning, again in the afternoon and again in the evening. Most dogs need a good hour (or more) of exercise a day. If you can’t commit to this, then don’t get a dog. Owning a house is not a good excuse for never taking your dog out.  Most dogs won’t walk themselves in the back yard.
  •  Backyard dogs – People who get dogs who only want to keep them in the yard shouldn’t bother getting a dog.  If you have a yard where you can let your dog rip around for a bit every day that’s great. A yard is not a home.  A porch is not a home. A dog is a social, loving animal who wants to be a part of the family. They need to be walked and loved. That means having them be a full fledged member of the family inside the home.
  • Exercise – I mentioned this above but it bears mentioning again. Dogs, all dogs, big and small, need exercise. They need to be exercised every day, outside their yard. My guess is that a lot of behaviour issues could be solved by fulfilling this basic need. This means giving them exercise, every day rain or shine. Just going on shine days doesn’t work. You have to ask yourself if you’re the type of person willing to do this. If for whatever reason you can’t do this, there is a dog walker and they provide an essential service.  When I got Reuben I was armed with two big problems. One I was hugely fearful of all other dogs, and two I worked full time and needed to get him walked.  I dug into my entertainment budget, the one where I used to go out for dinner and drink vast quantities of wine and I re-directed it to his walking fund. It helped socialize him and he was given a much needed break during the day and I lost weight. Yes, dog walkers are expensive but it’s worth it.
  • Training your dog –  As mentioned Reub came into the world an old soul and really didn’t require a huge amount of training. He didn’t bark if I left him alone, he followed me everywhere so he always came when called, I could walk him off-leash due to his following me everywhere…so I had it easy and I admit that. He was an ABNORMAL puppy. But I have seen a lot of dogs who are a bit wilder or simply need to be trained to be good canine citizens. You want your dog to get along with other animals and to be reliable with people and to be manageable in all situations. It’s good for you and its imperative for them. This means spending time in the first year training your dog.  If you don’t have the time to spend doing this then I would think twice about getting a dog. So many animals end up in the shelter or being re-homed because they can’t be managed and the responsibility for this failure belongs entirely  to the dog parent.
  • Dogs are forever –Dogs are highly emotional, intelligent and loving sentient beings. They form strong attachments to people and families. Giving them up because you’re moving, you had children and now it’s too much, or worse they’re too old, isn’t good enough.  You need to see this through and that means a 10 to 15 year investment. Can you commit for that amount of time?
  • Families and Dogs – We had two sets of neighbours. Each was a young couple. Couple one had a dog before children…and then the children came along. This couple spent time training their dog before they had children and then spent time socializing their dog with their children. Every day you saw them out walking their dog with their kids. It worked. Couple two had a dog who I used to walk. I walked the dog because they never walked the dog. When they had children things went from bad to worse because now they didn’t have time for the dog, which they barely had before they had kids. Then guess what?  They couldn’t take the time to train their kids how to be with the dog and vice versa. Before long the dog was confined to a small space within the condo where I could hear her barking all day long. That’s when I started walking her every day (while my dog went with a dog walker). This is an example of a dog being given a good shift sideways by the family.
  • Cost – I found out quickly that dogs are expensive. My pup was sick from the get go and I spent the first year at the vet with ongoing problems throughout his life. Get insurance, it helps. Food adds up. I don’t like to cheap out so we buy good food and cook half of all of his (now her) meals. Shots, vets, food,….all these things cost money. Do you have the budget or can you make room in your budget for a canine family member?
  • Emotions: Dogs are emotional. Like people they come wired in different ways. Unlike people dogs are dogs and sometimes their behaviour means something different than you think.  What is universal is that dogs want and need to belong. They need to be loved, cared for, they need consistency and most of all they need people to follow through with their commitment to giving them a meaningful and safe life.
  • Sticks – Don’t ever let them eat sticks. We let Reuben do it and it almost killed him when he was five. We also spent close to a downpayment on a house to keep him alive. Seriously, if you can’t eat something, your dog shouldn’t be eating it either.
  •  Dogs don’t lie. Dogs don’t lie. If they’re behaving oddly them more than likely something is going on. They’re in pain, something hurts, or something happened. Take it seriously and go to the vet.

Dogs are work. They are a commitment.But the effort, the time and money spent are all well worth it. You won’t ever have the kind of unconditional love that this beautiful animal has to offer.

 

 

 

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