Category Archives: Random Musing

Pandemic Daze: A World Without Crowds

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AP Photo credit John Locher

If you had told me earlier this year that cities across the world would look like this, I would have said it couldn’t be possible. Nothing could bring down the inexorable momentum of population growth, a growing economy thirsty for consumers to buy, buy buy and a rapidly urbanized landscape with all of its concommitant issues like traffic congestion, economic hardship for growing numbers of vulnerable people, climate change and so on and so on.

Many of us are extraordinarily lucky to live in countries with healthy economies, working democracies, access to healthcare and social safety nets. But here we are. In a matter of weeks the entire global economy has been brought to its knees, and the economic and social systems we  built to support this wonderful world we have created, have all but collapsed. Inequality, dying democracies, dying social and environmental systems, climate refugees, and piles of garbage we don’t know what to do with. The pandemic has shown us many things but one of them is how fragile this world we built is.

I don’t think it’s ever been more evident how interwoven and interdependent our environment, social and economic systems are. The failure of one signals the failure of the other. The current crisis has revealed deep schisms, that we likely already knew were there but chose to ignore or don’t really know what to about.

How do we put Humpty Dumpty back together again? On a hopeful level I don’t think there has ever been a greater demonstration that the exploitation of wildlife, that incursions and destruction of habitat, that trophy hunting, Chinese traditional medicine with its extensive and unproven use of wildlife for so called medicinal purposes, that wet markets, that all of these combined together are destructive not only to the species that are exploited but for our planet as an ecosystem that includes humans. We are all vulnerable. By connecting the dots we can start telling a different story, and by telling a different story we can collectively create pathways to a better future for all. Part of that story is bridging the economic divide that drives behaviour and part of it is education. Alot of it is political will.

In Canada we know that seniors have been left to languish in private care homes owned in many cases by foreign corporations that have been grossly underserved, leaving many left to die difficult and lonely deaths. This is an opportunity to do something different. Let’s do this differently.

The residents of the homeless tent city in the downtown Eastside have been found temporary homes. Why can’t we find permanent homes for vulnerable people? Why does it take a pandemic?

The money flowing from our federal government coffers shows me one thing. That a guaranteed income for economically disadvantaged people is possible. Let’s keep making that possible.

On a micro level I see how we are digging in to the things that matter most. None of them are involve running to the mall to buy more clothes or stuff but instead staying close to home, embracing really simple things like hanging out together, baking bread (if you can get your hands on yeast), discovering birds, hoping to god that nobody that we know will get COVID19, phoning people to make sure they’re not lonely, and being kind.

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Pandemic Daze

I often find myself dreaming of pre-pandemic days, that three weeks in, already feel so far away. Maybe a part of me knows that nothing will go back to normal. There will be a new normal that we will all quickly adapt to.

I already know so well how to walk amongst others outside- giving way on narrow forest paths so we can maintain the 2 metres of separation. I know to cover my mouth if a jogger passes by too quickly, to not take the elevator, to wash my hands over and over and over again until they’re almost raw.

Photography – Dave Vanderkop

Like Ebenezer Scrooge I take a deep account of the virus that inhabits our invisible world.

This is how I know things have changed.

Every evening at 7:00 o’clock when my neighhourhood erupts into applause, and somewhere I hear drums and a distant saxophone, someone else is beating on a cake pan (maybe Nancy on the 4th floor), and occasionally the boats out front sound their horns in honour of the frontline workers who risk themselves and their families hour after hour, day after day, to help others.

It’s the vulnerability of the new world that strikes me as well. The small businesses collapsing after only weeks of economic shutdown, entire lives, savings and dreams lost. They scramble to offer goods and services in a way that assures the public they are implementing the strictest of social distancing measures and still they struggle. Everyone wants to stay home.

And then there is the gentleman we passed the other day coming out of his beautiful home, an Audi and a Mercedes parked out front. He was clutching his dog as he opened his door and we said hello.

“How are you?” I said too late to notice that he wasn’t fine and he answered, please don’t ask and off he went into the early evening clutching his small dog.

I think about the days just before the pandemic shut down the world and the global economy.

In January we sang together over a thousand strong at an old theater in Vancouver with Choir Choir Choir. The theme was the sound of the eighties, our song was “Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey. Our voices were raw at the end of the night but the feeling of community of coming together in song was powerful. When Choir Choir Choir invited their fans to join in a socially distanced sing along, I grabbed my computer and sang alone, together with many thousands from around the world, my voice ringing out loud and hollow inside my home.

I met a colleague at his office just over a month ago, he shook my hand and gave me a hug. “Did you read the news?” he said wide-eyed. “Yes,” I said. “Scary.”

“I won’t be going to China soon.” he answered.

And then we went to a small meeting room and chatted about the project we were working on together. And I think about how foreign that feels now even though it happened just over a month ago.

I remember walking with my sister. I wanted to show her Reub’s swimming hole, the path we walked together with him for years. I knew her new toddler dog Houston would appreciate this walk. So we met, hugged and walked together down the winding forest path, to the quick running river where Reub used to swim.

We hugged afterwards and she thanked me for showing her this great new place. We promised to see each other again soon. We had a date to go to the theatre and dinner at a great Lebanese restaurant.

I remember talking to Dave about doing a trip in the fall to celebrate my birthday. Cuba? I had gotten dancing lessons for Christmas. Now we’re hopefully thinking to go to Ontario to see family again but we won’t hold our breath. Who knows where the world will be in October. It’s a landmark birthday and you have to live every moment as best as you can as the years behind me are greater than the ones in front.

I went “pandemic shopping” just before everything was locked down. I came home with two large bottles of wine, a jug of vodka and French cheeses. “This” I announced to Dave, “Is my pandemic shop.” We both laughed.

I think about the last time we ate dinner with friends, how we talked about how some of their friends were too nervous to meet this way. We laughed and said it can’t be that bad.

But with the dawning realization of people dying, and others risking their lives for those who were sick, and with my own yearly battle to have my lungs survive the annual flu, we have double downed on our own responsibility to ourselves and others.

Now like millions around the world we are practicing social distancing. Dave, the exemplary caretaker in the best of times, has gone into overdrive. I am watched and spritzed with disinfectant regularly . We gather close as a family in the simple rituals of living well together but with a heightened sense of the dangers of the invisible world.

I often think about my 93 year old friend Inge who has been socially distancing from the get go. At 93 she told me over the phone, I’m at the higher risk end of you know what…

Photograph by Dan Toelgoet

But she has quickly put a plan in place to manage her loneliness in these loneliest of times. “I found my phone book and I’ve started phoning every single person in the book. I just spoke with friends I haven’t spoken with in YEARS and they were delighted to hear from me.”

Last when I called she couldn’t chat. She was hosting a socially distanced picnic in her backyard with an old friend and would have to call back. Did I mind? I smiled. Here’s a woman who has lived through the holocaust, lost her parents, was orphaned at a young age and with grace and dignity is now living through the latest in the strangest of times, a global pandemic.

When I think about the wet markets and the distress of those animals gathered in small cages, one on top of the other waiting for an ugly death, having lived unnatural lives, stolen from the wild or raised on farms, when I think about our rapidly heating world, the plastic filling our oceans and the devastation of a mass extinction that will tip the ecological balance of the world that will certainly up-end the global economy, and all of us who are a part of the social systems that sustain it, when I think about all of what we have gotten ourselves into, I can’t help but think that the natural world is sending us a big reminder, a gigantic fuck you, that the eco-systems of the world will prevail and adapt one way or the other. It is more than just the vanishing wildlife and eco-systems that will suffer. The final cost will be one that we human beings will have to bear and it will be the most vulnerable of our species that will bear it.

As I despaired to a friend who works on elephant issues with me he ended the call with something that I’m choosing to continue to think about…there’s opportunity in everything, he said. I’m going to hitch my North Star to that thought. There’s opportunity in everything.

Stay safe.

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Bringing Reub back to the swimming hole

When we first moved to North Vancouver (the North Shore) finding places to bring Reuben, our then 4 year old lab, was a real process of discovery. When we discovered the “Berkeley Trail” it felt like discovering a wild jewel in a well treed but orderly suburban neighbourhood. It had a winding path that was surrounded by a canopy of spruce, fir and pine trees. It led to a long hill that wound itself around natural vegetation under a beautiful thick canopy of trees. Eventually this led to the river and we would wander alongside the river until we came to the steep rickety steps that led to the beach. It was at this beach that we spent countless hours throwing balls for Reub. Admittedly unlike any other lab-ish dog I’ve ever met he often took his sweet time fetching them, as though he were weighing the options between us fetching the ball or him. Often the ball would slowly drift down the river, the three of us watching and wondering, “Who’s going to get the ball?”until it was too late and another ball would be lost. Other times we would sit on the large flat rock where sometimes Dave would skip rocks but mostly we would just hang out and talk. One year we celebrated my birthday down by our swimming hole. We brought wine and cheese and watched as Reub watched his ball float away. We did this for years and every season offered its own special magic. On beautiful autumn days the reds and oranges of the changing leaves and the crisp cool air made us linger longer taking it all in. Even on those mad, rainy westcoast days we would still go, slowly winding our way down the trail to the river thankful that the canopy could offer some protection. In the summer we would put on our shorts and be grateful that those same trees now offered shade. We didn’t always swim with Reuben but one hot summer day the water was running high and first Reuben went in after his ball and Dave and I both followed, swimming and laughing, as we raced him for his forever disappearing orange ball.

I’m not sure why we stopped going to the swimming hole. We almost lost him when he was five and there was a period of recovery where we didn’t take him anywhere too challenging. Then the trail got busier and we were no longer one of the few to wander these beautiful lost trails. There were too many bikes and Reub was oblivious with bikes. So we stopped and found other places to take him. But there were at least 4 or 5 years when we went every weekend both days and often Dave would just take him on his own and it felt like this place was our own. We had our own rhythm, our own way of being, alone and together. And that place more than any other just felt like us. The every day ritual bound us together in the smallness and the greatness of the measure of everything. It’s as close to what I imagine church is supposed to be that I have ever gotten.

It has been nine years since Reuben left and we haven’t been back until today. We thought we would return Reub to Berkeley where he seemed to belong more than any other place except home. Then we were like, nope, not ready. Can’t do it. Instead we went and visited and wandered down the trail in the pouring rain, turned right at the bottom that led to the rickety staircase that took us to his and our swimming hole. We looked at the rock where we sat, at the water where we swam and at the trees that watched over us all those years ago. For a brief time it felt like that place had been ours alone forever. The thing about grief is that it never really goes. You just come back and visit with it in different ways.When the time comes we’ll be ready to bring him there. Just not yet.

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Random Musing: “Little Things” 2018 Highlights

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My list of 2018 highlights….

Little things

I’m grateful to end my day with Dave in bed beside me and Bean beside him. In preparation for sleep we accuse the other of snoring and how beatings will ensue. Then like synchronized swimmers we insert our ear plugs and don our eye bras, kiss each other good night and drift off to sleep but not before I hear the train across the water which reminds me of long ago.

I am very thankful for my friend  Anna who  agreed to help me rescue the crow even though I knew she’d rather have gone to the  mall like she had planned:)

If I’m lucky enough to make it to 96 I hope I have as many renaysances as my wonderful friend Inge who is full of impish delight, humour, wit and generosity.

Last year I did the Polar Swim to raise money for elephants. Dave and friends stuffed me full of waffles, cheered me on and then warmed me up when I came running out of the ocean. For a nanosecond I felt like a coddled elite athlete. So thanks for my Olympic moment guys!

I was dispatched to Vietnam by work and randomly thrown on a bus with a bunch of fabulous nutbars.

After a massage a young Vietnamese woman hugged me. That hug collapsed oceans of difference between us.

Summers here now mean smokey skies. But on Salt Spring the smoke was laced with the scent of heavily ripened black berries. If I remember nothing else I hope to remember this. Late afternoon naps with Dave and Bean. Slow walks down the winding blackberry lined road. Early morning, mid-afternoon and night time swims in St. Mary’s Lake with my family.

I have a small circle of guy friends. They keep it light even when you’re stuck in a car for 6 hours straight trying to get through the border to a baseball game and have to  pee or you’ve been having a bad day. They’re like “Sit down. Bee-atch! Grab a drink and  chill yourself out. “They spiral it up. So thanks boys.

My sister-in-law, reminded me of the time when we were 18 and we had climbed to the top of a barn and drank wine for hours. Unfortunately (mostly for Alison) this was the exact moment I discovered my terror of heights. We still can’t figure out how we got me down but I imagine it was something along the lines of her  carrying me down on her back with a glass of wine in one hand and a smoke in the other. I think this best sums up our lifelong friendship.

I love  little conversations. The big ones are like major parentheses. They’re always there. But the little ones get me through it all. My sister and I are fierce in the morning. We hurl made up song lyrics at each other, frequently trying to rhyme our almost impossible to rhyme names. “Mia bom bia is a tree-aa. Oh ya- ah. “We rage at traffic and shake our fists at the sky. I regale her with my Seinfeldian office life. And  when the sads hit we listen, or get feisty. Humour is a fishing rod for our sads. There’s no sinking to the bottom of the ocean when you have the option to be hauled up by a life rope.

There’s a poem that Alison McGhee shared by a man called Tony Hoagland. I’ve read this poem over and over and over again and each time it makes me emotional. But here are a few lines that I hope will encourage you to read the poem in its entirety.

“Hotel of earth, where we resided for some years together,”
I start to say, before I realize it is a terrible cliche, and stop,
and then go on, forgiving myself in a mere split second
because now that I’m dying, I just go
forward like water, flowing around obstacles
and second thoughts, not getting snagged, just continuing
with my long list of thank-yous,
which seems to naturally expand to include sunlight and wind,
and the aspen trees which gleam and shimmer in the yard
as if grateful for being soaked last night
by the irrigation system invented by an individual
to whom I am quietly grateful.”

This “hotel of earth where we resided for some years together” is such a beautiful image. My own “hotel of earth” is given meaning by the little things. Sitting with my brother and his wife in our living room.. The years of knowing each other gives way to ease of being that’s earned through time and forgiveness and just plain having fun together.

This year we got rid of stuff. We’ve emptied our house of things gathered over the years. We are down to the essentials. I feel like it leaves more room to fill the house with more living of us,  rather than living of room. This is the place where Dave makes me laugh, where sometimes we dance, where we spend countless hours jut staring at Bean. “My gosh, she’s just so cute.” We say to each other over and over again.

This year, I hope like Tony and his beautiful poem that I go forward like water and flow around obstacles and second thoughts. I hope to remember all minutiae and the moments in between. I am eternally grateful to everyone who is a part of my hotel of life but mostly I thank Dave and Bean who carry me through the seasons with their steadfastness and love.

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Random Musing: Bike to Work (hell)

My bike to work week started a good month after the official start which is the end of May early June. I took my time this year because there are a lot of mental preparation that goes into even getting my bike out of the bike locker.

First, I have to get down to the bike locker and then somehow I have to get myself to go in. Even though I pass the bike locker every single day, actually getting in there is a little like climbing Everest itself.

Once I wrap my mind around this I have to start considering the key to the bike lock. Where is it? Bike lock keys belong to the world of tiny keys that unlock mysteries in tiny places everywhere. And let’s face it, all keys look alike.

Then I have to remember where I put my panniers. By now I’m already feeling like I’m doing a gigantic 5 kilometer ride up a very steep hill and I haven’t even gotten on my bike yet.

When I finally have the bike, the lock, panniers, helmet which I didn’t have because I drove over it with my car last year, then I’m ready to consider next steps. What am I going to put in those panniers? How do I stuff my work clothes in there and look presentable? Well, that’s easy. I don’t. I’ve accepted that I look like a complete red-faced sweaty woman with wild hair who by some grace of good luck doesn’t stink. At least I’m assuming I don’t.

When I finally get to the biking part I conveniently forget the misery that was last year’s biking season, mainly the complete uphill relentless slog that is Willingdon, Patterson or anything that takes you to “Metrotown”.

Last year I cried. Real tears not fake ones. Why oh why oh why am I doing this I kept thinking to myself? So I’m not sure what made me think this year would be any different.

It’s true, last year’s biking got me ready and able to do the Juan de Fuca Trail fairly effortlessly. I lost my winter fat, I felt fit. Also, I like not driving my car because traffic is crazy and it fills me with rage and it feels good to pass people sitting in their cars when I’m flying down the big hill I have to come up in the mornings.

So having gone through the herculean effort of getting me and my bike ready for the ride, I finally did it this week – twice. The first time was evil. I foolishly believed that my winter (and spring) of doing nothing would prepare me but it didn’t. I also thought that maybe I was still fit from last year. That also turned out not to be true.

So it was hard. And today’s was even harder because I was still exhausted from two days before. But I’m proud to say there were no tears. Was there grimacing? Yes. Was there drool running down my chin? Yes. I’m hoping that the drooling will end by the end of next week when I’ll have three more rides under my belt. Wish me luck.

 

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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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