September 23, 2017

Let Me Tell You Something

Writing, for me, is an astoundingly personal thing. It is not only thoughts put into words, but my thoughts, my words, borrowed from my experiences and filtered through my fractured lens. "How do I know what I think until I see what I say?" or something like that. The fact is, I choose to post my thoughts on this blog for two reasons: 1) Writing for a potential audience is a good practice. I like talking to people and this way I can try to organize my thoughts into something cohesive with a beginning, middle and an end. So often, real conversations get interrupted or sidetracked, which is fine and fun most of the time, but can be unsatisfying for someone who likes to finish her stories. 2) I like feedback, even if most of the time it's only from family members and friends who support me as as person. I am not an introvert as so many writers tend to be, only a people person who needs some regular time and space to herself to sort out her thoughts.

As I sit at my desk this Saturday morning, later than I planned due to half an hour waiting for someone to answer my call at the Royal Bank of Canada VISA headquarters, I begin the plunge, yet again, into sharing my thoughts with 'the world'. Yet, I feel shy about sharing those thoughts sometimes, this morning included. Why should anyone care what I think? Really! The world is in constant turmoil and I tend to write about little, everyday matters which feel so inadequate in this current climate of fear and upheaval, not to mention flooding, fires and pestilence. My posts don't solve anything or help anyone in any concrete way - except perhaps, me. The act of typing words strung together as sentences and forming paragraphs is therapeutic and creative. Each time I blog I have built something, a sort of structure which I can add to the others of my building, and that process is, in itself, satisfying. Clicking the 'publish' button is like locking up my building once the windows are in. I know it isn't perfect and there is still much more work to do in my painfully slow progress as a writer, but my structure has at least reached a stage where I can look at it and say, 'There. I made that. I finished that."

I am a person who needs to contribute, but I am struggling to figure out how my contributions will be shaped in the future. For thirteen years I was on the board of the community arts council of my former town. Six of those years I spent as President. Then, I got a paying job. My job is not anything spectacular. It's a humble, three days per week position as kitchen staff at a cafe-bistro, but I enjoy the creative nature of my work making food for people (anyone who knows me should be aware of my passion for food), the tips are good, and it helps pay the bills. We also moved to the mid-sized city where my daughter's busy theater life happens. I had to let the arts council go and now I've stepped away I see what a huge role it played in my life. I maintained a sense of personal value and purpose in my volunteer role with the council, a role which also happened to be a huge amount of work. Stepping away allowed me the time to pick up my blog again after a two year hiatus, and I find some renewed sense of value and purpose in writing my posts. For now, my blog has to be my contribution to my community. I know in comparison to my other roles in life its impact is tiny. I know I am mostly just talking to myself and a few others, (thank you, family and those few friends), but sometimes the things we do for and from ourselves end up creating a positive, albeit diminutive, ripple.

Growing up when women were the product of the 1970's 'You've come a long way, baby' brand of Feminism, I entered motherhood with the sense I may be an anacronism. I had dropped out of university after deciding against becoming a teacher (yes, there is huge regret there) and had no visible career. I wanted to be at home with my beautiful kids and was lucky my husband was ambitious and career minded enough to earn a good living for the both of us. Yet, I craved more. I loved stories and reading, so I tried to write books as a way to glory and meaning within my family and friend circle of strong, capable, well educated women, but my books were failures. My books were failures mainly because they were deeply flawed in structure and I didn't know how to fix them. I survived those failures and learned the truth about myself. Writing is important to me, but it is not my ticket to another portal "outta here". It is the ticket to my inner life, my heart, my often wavering sense of self in this crazy world, and I will keep doing it even if people stop reading it. Honestly, though? I hope they don't stop reading it.

*The photo is a snowshoe hare changing its colours for a new season.

September 9, 2017

A Library Tale

I was on Facebook the other day when I came across yet another news post about the high cost of living in my province of British Columbia. Ever interested in the topic I began to read some of the comments below the article, something I don't often do because some people say such ignorant things on social media platforms. Reading those comments is one sure way to lower my hope for humanity. Anyway, a woman had posted about her family's struggles to make ends meet even with both she and her husband working. In fact, with the overwhelming costs of daycare, food and rent the family was going into debt. She asked for any suggestions on how to make do with less. I attempted to help her by sharing some of my own experiences from my days as a stay-at-home mom of four. Among other cost-saving measures I mentioned how I used the local library a lot, as a place to borrow videos, books and as an outing that did not cost a dime (unless our books were late, of course). I ended the comment by commiserating about the cost of groceries and wished her the very best of luck.

That night I slept poorly. The forest fire smoke hung over our city trapping in humidity and heat, and my back was bothering me. As I lay awake I thought about my comment on Facebook and hoped my suggestions had been friendly and helpful ones. One thought led to another and I began to think gratefully about all the times spent at libraries with my children. When my boys were very little we lived in a lovely little mountain town called Kimberley. I have always been a walker, and I went out with the boys every single day, no matter the weather. If the weather was decent I pushed them in the double stroller to the park down the road. We would play there to run off any potentially cranky energy (pushing the stroller down the hill had already eliminated mine) and then walk/ride back up the hill to the town center to make our usual rounds. The town of Kimberley is incredibly charming. The businesses border a central European-style plaza where a large cuckoo clock yodels the hours - at least it still did on our last visit there several years ago.  One of our stops, at least once a week, was the library. After choosing carefully and reading several, we could check out a large stack of books, which I would put in the undercarriage of the stroller along with everything else I had gathered on our travels that day - groceries for dinner, thrift store finds, interesting pine cones or rocks the boys found, etc. I believe I counted my lucky stars each time I left the library - I walked out of there with over a hundred dollars worth of books and I could keep them all for weeks, provided no one else had requested them. We were usually done with the books after a week and would take our stack back to the library along with any Mighty Machines or Little Bear videos we had borrowed in order to get an entirely new selection - for free! Oh, I know full well we all pay for libraries through our city taxes and such, but for a young family such as ours, I cannot thank The System enough.

When my husband was transferred to Vancouver Island we again sought out the local library. There we discovered more new books and authors to add to our growing list of favourites. I greatly appreciated the way in which the library staff would place a selection of books and videos on display. I have often found a new book or author for myself in these displays as well. With the kids in tow, I did not often have time to search for items for myself but if a cover called to me from the display racks I would throw it (gently) on the pile and take it home. On our annual trips to my hometown to visit family we would visit a favourite bookstore. Our kids would get to pick one book each as a present. The book would often be a shiny new copy of one they had come to love at the library.

When we moved to the Fraser Valley we lucked out completely. The small town, almost village in size, where we were to make our home for the next thirteen and a half years, was the proud owner of a brand new library. Not only was the library beautiful, open and brightly lit with natural light, it was, despite it being on the small side, part of a wonderful regional library system like our Island libraries. Any item in the vast and seemingly endless system was available to we small-towners at the touch of a keyboard. Our three older children were all school age, and our youngest was eighteen months when we moved to the Valley. Within three months of moving I found myself doing daycare for a couple of teachers from our elementary school. My method of child care involved much walking and playing at the park, but it also involved frequent visits to the library for outings, especially for Friday morning Storytime. Storytime at the library was looked forward to by many parents and caregivers in our town. The fifteen minute walk from our house was a good way to work out the ya-yas in my charges before they were to sit and listen to the head librarian entertain them with puppetry, fun stories, and activities. I personally loved our librarian because she spoke my language, so to speak. We both revelled in nonsense and word play, and mildly politically incorrect humour. She and her dry-witted Scottish workmate would also make delicious coffee for the adults and serve cookies for the kids. Those Friday morning cups of coffee, company and stories forever endeared me to those two amazing women.

I have not visited my new library branch much since moving to the city where we now make our home. I am too occupied by trying to make use of all the trading credit I amassed at a local second-hand bookstore when downsizing this past autumn. When I do make another visit to the library here I know I will smile at all the young families making use of the wonderful services there. I also know I will enjoy the immediate sense of community a library offers to all who enter its doors. A library is a rare place of equality. A wealthy person is treated the same as a low-income person, for they can each borrow the same amount regardless of income. Access to computers and internet, newspapers, magazines, audio-books, CD's and DVD's, reference books, not to mention author readings, seminars and workshops allow an extension to everyone's education. We only have to take advantage of them.

Long live the local library, truly one of the very best institutions in the world. I know full well my life as a young mother, and the lives of my children, would have suffered greatly without it.

August 30, 2017

French Women Don't Get Fat - or, I wish I were French

Recently, I was given the book French Women Don't Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano, a Franco- American. I was happy to get a copy of this book (even though it may have been a hint) after wanting to read it ever since I saw the author interviewed on Oprah way back in the mid-2000's. I was nearly finished reading a novel called My Brilliant Friend written by Italian author Elena Ferrante and thought perhaps a transition from one European sensibility to another might be natural. I am anything by willy-nilly in my choices of what to read and when. I did find Guiliano's 'non-diet' book easy to get into, but to stay with? That is another matter, and fitting don't you think?

After explaining the French woman's loving relationship with food and pleasure in a delightedly light-handed way Guiliano launches into a series of meal plans and recipes that further illustrate her philosophy. Light, varied but satisfying and delicious meals seem to fill her life, with a glass of wine at supper each and every night. She grew up in France fairly privileged (with a nanny and a gardener) and food preparation and mealtimes were  near-sacred ceremonies, especially lunch, which was the main meal of the day as it is in many countries. Her mother seems to have been a wonderful cook who got the family involved in the harvesting and preserving of the fruits of their orchards and gardens. The main bits of wisdom I take from the book so far are the following: if you are going to have dessert - and dessert is very important - skip the bread at dinner (although bread is also very important, so skip the dessert if that makes you happier), set the table beautifully and present small portions with panache, eat what is in season when it tastes its best, and enjoy a hearty, healthy breakfast containing yogurt because that will start your day off right and prevent over-eating later in the day. Try not to snack, but if you are stuck in the airport waiting for a delayed flight, keep a handful of nuts in your Hermes handbag. Moreover, enjoy every bite of your precious food, simply take fewer. In any case the pleasure of food is tasted only in the first few bites.

Guiliano's way of living and eating is admirable and enviable. There is something beautiful and classic about her approach. To our North American way of thinking the French woman's philosophy may seem elitist. We immediately shout at her, "I can't afford halibut and lamb chops and all that wine and fancy cheese!" In France, however, food and wine ARE the center of everything, and she explains how life works there. Markets exist in every town and shopping is done daily on foot, not by car, so you get some exercise, too. One purchases for ultimate freshness and quality. I think the anecdote which impressed me the most was when she writes about going to the melon seller and him asking when she wanted to eat the melon. When she replies "In two days when my husband arrives from America - these melons are his favourite," the seller carefully chooses a melon that will ripen perfectly by then. Her husband arrives in Paris, enters the apartment and his nostrils are filled with the perfectly ripened aroma from the melon. "Wow!" is all he can say. French people would rather eat an ounce of good, what we would call 'artisan', cheese than a pound of  American cheese from the 'hypermarche'. The difference between North America and France is defined by how the poor eat as well. In North America, she observes, the poor eat low quality carbs and junk food because that is what is immediately available to their budgets. In France, however, their culture has shown them how to buy food in season when it is at its most plentiful and cheapest, and since less is more they fare better than North Americans health-wise. Eating well seems to be written into the French person's DNA. How lucky they are! We seem to live a lifetime learning how and what to eat.

Living in New York half the time, Guiliano has access to year-round European style markets selling everything from asparagus to fresh caught fish and seafood. Most of us are lucky to live in a town with a farmer's market open once per week in the summer months only. The 'hypermarche' is the reality for most of us. We've all heard the advice, "Shop the outside aisles only" because that is where the fresh food is. Everything else in the center aisles is bottled, packaged, and processed. Well, I shop the center aisles, too. Where else can I find pasta, oats, jam, peanut butter, crackers, coffee, tea, those mint Oreos my kid loves, and the juice my husband needs to survive? In France, perhaps, all of this is available freshly produced at the market, apart from the Oreos (but then, who needs Oreos when you have macarons?). I know from experience that my area's local farmers produce oats and even jam, and I can access these by a bit of extra leg work, but I don't always have the time. I do stop at the pepper farm once a week for a bag of bell peppers in season, and visit farm stands often for berries, eggs, and fresh corn, for these are all on my way home from work. I have always made it a priority to feed myself and my family the way I need to for our health and my peace of mind. That being said, I could stand to lose a few pounds.

So, what can I learn from Guiliano's book? I think I can take her principles and apply them realistically to my own life. I do many of the things she suggests - eat a good breakfast, eat what's in season, make most of our food at home, drink a lot of water, move my body, etc. I do not refrain enough from snacking, especially at work where I am surrounded by food. I do not set the table every night with nice dishes and cloth napkins, sipping wine while I chew slowly and thoughtfully. Perhaps that is the ticket. When all my children lived at home and my husband came home every night we sat at the supper table most nights of the week.  Most nights now, I and my youngest kid, the only one still living at home, eat sitting in front of the TV watching an episode or two of our latest favourite show. Our supper hour is a routine for the two of us and we both enjoy it.

The other night I served myself smaller portions of supper, sat as usual in front of the TV for an episode of Father Ted, and took smaller bites, trying to savour them slowly in between hoots of laughter. Life is all about compromise. Oui, oui!

August 20, 2017

The Need for Peace

I am quite certain most of us feel like the world is a scary place these days. I do not have to list the reasons why. We are bombarded daily with new images and descriptions of violent acts and bad news stories, and feeling overwhelmed and powerless to change things in any meaningful and lasting way seems to be the norm for many of us. As if the global situation is not enough of a threat for us, 2017 in my part of the world has proven, thus far, to be a year of climatic events of biblical proportions. Our winter on the West Coast was the fiercest we have seen in a decade or so with one raging snow storm after another (yes, the rest of Canada laughed). The month of April saw only one day without rain, and British Columbia has been locked in a chronic State of Emergency this summer due to the hundreds of forest fires raging across the extremely dry southern half of the province. My own sister was evacuated from her city for two weeks, and another relative was kept from her home for a total of thirty-nine days due to the threat of nearby fires. I cannot help but move toward fall with a slight sense of trepidation, as in, 'What's next?' Still, I am glad to be alive and constantly yearning for a sense of balance and peace on this crazy planet. What else can I do?

Last evening my husband drove me up to the main lookout point at the resort where he works. He wanted to show me the stars without the diluting effect of ambient light. We drove up around nine pm and watched the sky as it darkened and the constellations revealed themselves one by one. The night was windy and quite chilly so we stayed in the truck as long as possible before getting out to gaze up into the night sky. Satellites and airplanes cruised across the starry dome. Shooting stars pierced like arrows and then were gone. The Big Dipper, the Little Dipper, Orion's Belt, and the Milky Way shone boldly as monuments to eternity. "We are so tiny down here compared to what's out there," said my husband at one point. "It's amazing to think that some of what we are seeing no longer exists, but we are seeing it now due to the time its light has taken to travel to a point where it becomes visible to us." Then, he told me again about taking groups of people on evening snowshoe treks up at Mount Seymour years ago when he was doing his practicum. He had made a chart with holes pierced in it in the shapes of the various constellations. He would shine a flashlight on the chart and the 'constellations' would appear on the snow. Then, the snowshoers would look at the sky and identify the matching constellations. He wore a little satisfied and delightful smile as he talked about those memories, and I felt so glad he was back doing a job where he could live and work in the outdoors and share the magic of nature with the public, and with us.

Just before ten we climbed back into the truck and drove down the mountain. Earlier he had been describing the look of the resort's wedding tent - the resort hosts a lot of weddings in the summertime - and decided to drive me 'round to see it all lit up. The tent glowed with ropes of white lights and Middle Eastern music filled the air. We could see a crowd of people dancing and hear them laughing and enjoying themselves. Earlier, there had been some tension between the families - one side Iranian, one side Cuacasian - but from what we could see that seemed to have dissipated with the celebrations. Perhaps the wedding had shown them they were all family now and they had better get along. I mean, if the bride and groom didn't mind their cultural differences, why should their families?

Earlier, in the truck, as we were waiting for the growing darkness to reveal the stars fully, I sat quietly. My husband asked me if I was alright. I said I felt sad, not for me, I had a good life, but for some other people. I felt sad for people who hold onto prejudices and grudges. I felt sad for people who refuse to forgive others, and for people who go so far as to foster hatred for people they don't even know, only because they represent some perceived threat to their comfort and security. Mostly, I felt sad for people who didn't know or cherish peace.

This morning as I sit typing in the morning chill with a second
cup of coffee to warm my hands between sentences, I am grateful for everything good. I am glad people are standing up in the thousands to speak for peace and harmony in the world. I am grateful for stars to remind us of our limited time to do some small good on this planet - so, let's do it! I am grateful for the difficult people in my life because they teach me patience and understanding. I am grateful for the ones who by loving me unconditionally keep me afloat. I am also grateful that stars, the ocean, lakes and mountains, trees and wildflowers are free for all to enjoy and to have in common.

I remember a song we used to sing in elementary school. In my mind's eye I see a crowd of kids dressed in corduroy bell-bottoms, crocheted vests and shirts with wide lapels sitting cross-legged on the carpeted floor of the assembly room. They are rocking slowly back and forth while singing:

Peace is flowing like a river,
Flowing out of you and me,
Flowing out into the desert,
Setting all the captives free. 

Let it be so.

August 6, 2017

Smoke and Magic

Sometimes in life we get to take part in something magical. Last night was one of those times, although I have no photos to prove it.

My daughter and I spent the first part of Saturday morning packing up enough food and clothing for the BC Day long weekend which we would spend with my husband at the resort where he works and lives part time. By ten-forty-five we had gassed up and merged our way into the stream of vehicles heading East for holiday time away. The drive is a fairly quick one in good weather so we arrived at the resort by noon. The smoke from the interior forest fires had been heavy all week and we were hoping to drive up, up above the smoke into clear skies. No such luck. We had to content ourselves with the thinness of the smokey layer up in the mountains and make the best of it. We arrived at the main lodge and immediately spotted my husband in the parking lot talking with some very good friends of ours, the kind you want to see when you are escaping your busy life for the weekend. They had come up to the resort to spend the day. That was magic moment number one, come to think of it. We all embraced and made plans to spend the day together. We would meet in an hour and a half at the lake where a barbecue and lantern festival was happening. My daughter was tired from a long and energetic week teaching theater camp and chose a nap and a quiet afternoon in our cool cabin instead.

Things did not go as planned. Somehow our wires got crossed and the friends and I didn't end up meeting. We spent about three hours looking for each other. I circled the beach area twice and then, hot and a bit worried, decided to commence a hike around the lake with a first stop at a favourite little swimming beach from where I could hear people on the path above and be able to intercept my friends should they walk by. I dove into the beautiful, clean, clear water and swam for a quarter of an hour. The physical relief of swimming in a lake after being hot and sweaty is something I have always considered the penultimate in outdoor activities. No sign of our friends, though.  They, too, as it turned out, had hiked around the lake in search of me and had also gone for a swim. Somehow we missed each other but at least we all got a hike and swim in. We also enjoyed a pleasant dinner together. Saturday happened to be Leo's birthday and we toasted his years with a beer for him and wine for us. They left for home at eight and my husband, daughter and I changed into warmer clothing for our evening activity, which was to be volunteering at the lantern festival with other staff.

We had to be at the boathouse at eight-thirty so we could launch all the canoes and kayaks while there was still daylight. Within minutes about twenty staff members were assembled and choosing PFDs (life jackets) and paddles. We chose a canoe and hurried to get in and push off to make room for everyone else to do the same. The lanterns would be launched at nine-thirty from Spruce Bay, which is the beach for the lake's main provincial park campsite, so we had plenty of time for a paddle down the lake. The smokey skies had greatly suppressed the wind in the past few days and we enjoyed a calm surface in which to dip our paddles. As dusk settled bats flew above our heads and the dark outline of duck families floated past. Those with lights on their canoes switched them on. Earlier in the day families had attended a lantern-building workshop on the grassy lawn by the lake. They constructed wooden frames with a holder for a candle and covered the frames in coloured tissue paper. On my last walk around the beach in search of my friends I caught a glimpse of an impressive 3-D maple leaf lantern receiving its finishing touches in red tissue paper.

From the water we could see and hear a large crowd gathering at Spruce Bay. The lanterns would be launched a few at a time and let drift with the current. Our job was to keep them from drifting into shore and also, after they had traveled far enough to gather them up, blow out the candles and place them in our canoes. We would then paddle to the bay and return them to Jo and the other staff members who were standing in the water waiting for us. The families could then retrieve their lanterns and take them home if they wished. Approximately seventy glowing lanterns in all shapes and sizes were launched. The designs ranged from a white Pac Man replica to a tall lighthouse to a beautiful pink whale with pink and purple scales. Two maple leaf lanterns, one with 'Canada 150' emblazoned on it, were set adrift and glowed proudly red for the occasion. Such a beautiful sight! My daughter, ever cheeky, started singing a song from the Disney movie Tangled, which features a lantern festival, and saying, "See, it is Tangled." 

And at last I see the light
And it's like the fog has lifted

Except in this instance it was smoke, not fog.

As the night set in completely, I kept an eagle eye out for other boats and my husband steered us in and around the lanterns. We gathered a boat full and brought them carefully back to shore. The usually boisterous and noisy young staff seemed a little subdued by the ceremonial aspect of our task, as if we were all honoured to be out there on the lake in the dark returning lovingly made creations to their rightful owners. After the last lantern was gathered and the last candle blown out we all turned our canoes and headed back to the boathouse. An orangey-red orb of a nearly full moon was rising up over the hills and accompanying us as we paddled across the blackened lake. Keeping an eye out for the log boom we found the opening and steered through it to the dock, my husband calling out to the other boats, "Watch out for the log boom!" Earlier in the evening I had chuckled after hearing one of the young men on the staff call out jokingly to my husband, "You're not my real dad, you can't tell me what to do." My daughter and I put away our paddles and PFDs while my husband helped with the canoes. I had been warm out on the water, but now with the extra insulation of the life jacket gone, I began to shiver a little. After a short chat about a successful event - no staff members had flipped their canoes or cursed (water would carry sound to the families on shore most effectively) - with Mike, the resort's GM, we drove back to our cabin.

After my active day sprinkled with little bits of magic I fell gratefully into bed and slept until my husband arose for work. As I write this the clock stikes ten, and my daughter is still asleep - she rarely sleeps in late. I suppose she was sprinkled with some magic dust last night as well.

July 29, 2017

The Downside of Take-out

Are we settled in our new home, now that we've been here for a month? If you call having furniture in its (possible) places and four pictures hung out of about twenty, then yes, we are basically settled. We have so far spent pretty much every weekend of this endlessly blue-sky summer up at the resort where my husband works, and the dust is settling in our town condo much more effectively than we are. Every week we organize a few more little things but we know we have all the time in the world now, so we will take it.

Going away for weekends takes quite a bit of organization. I have Wednesdays off work so I spend that day cleaning, planning meals for the weekend and preparing some food in advance for Thursday and Friday. By the time Friday evening comes I am fairly ready to go, and also in need of a good night's sleep. The cafe where I cook is extremely busy in summer, and we are working flat out all day in a hot kitchen. I opted to stay in town for this weekend since my Wednesday this week was a write-off - oh, I had a great day visiting with a friend, but I got nothing on my to-do list accomplished aside from having my car serviced and some chicken cooked. I woke up this morning after a ten hour sleep feeling rested and missing the cool pine-scented air of the mountains, but looking forward to getting some things done here at the condo. My daughter went off to a cherished friend's house for the day. The friend in question is home from her job at a summer camp and has an in-ground pool. Enough said. So! Here I sit at my laptop in our lovely, bright little den, the silence spurring me on to fill it with words.

They say to write what keeps you up at night. Nothing has kept me up at night this week. I have fallen gratefully into bed each evening and slept hard for at least seven hours. That's not to say I haven't had anything on my mind, because I have. In summer our cafe serves hundreds, if not thousands - honestly I lose track - of take-out orders. Each of those take-out orders is placed in a biodegradable box made from cornstarch-based paper, the paper napkins and plastic cutlery placed in small paper bags. Soup is served in paper take-out cups with paper lids. My employers try to make everything as environmentally friendly as they can. We compost and recycle and serve healthy food with as many locally farmed ingredients as possible. For a restaurant, I think we do fairly well, apart from the plastic cutlery. Perhaps one day soon we will find an alternative to plastic for cutlery as well. I know one has been invented, but it is probably quite expensive and not readily available - I know the take-out boxes made from corn are more expensive than the alternatives. We only offer plastic carry bags if the customer asks for them, or if the volume of take-out requires them. The sheer volume of take-out coffee cups, plastic lids, plastic cutlery, plastic straws, and plastic cold drink cups (recyclable though they are, I most often see them thrown in the garbage) which leave our cafe, and the innumerable cafes and restaurants around the globe, on a weekly basis is somewhat staggering, and I cannot stop thinking about that fact.

A few weeks ago my daughter and a friend brought home Mexican take-out. The food (yummy!) and drink (a delicious Mexican guava soda in glass bottles) for the three of us arrived in three large styrofoam boxes and five plastic bags. I was aghast although I said nothing in front of my daughter's friend, who had kindly driven to the restaurant to get the food. My mind immediately leaped to the fact that every order from the restaurant in question would create plastic garbage, and a lot of it. I thought of the take-out Pho I'd ordered in the winter and how it came in large styrofoam containers and plastic bags. At least the wooden chopsticks were reusable. Over the next weeks I began to think about the volume of garbage created by restaurant take-out and wondered what to do about it. We rarely get take-out as a family, and when we do it is usually pizza in a cardboard box - not so bad. What about all the people who get take-out a couple of times per week? What do they do if they want the food without the garbage? Do they bring their own containers? Their own bags to carry it in? Is that even allowed?

I have a sense people are more indifferent about garbage than they were a few years ago. I am sure these things go in cycles. We can only care about so much at one time. Moving twice in the last eight months was quite enough to focus on for me, and I went months without feeling overly guilty about throwing away the occasional plastic bag. Lately, I am trying harder to save them to reuse for produce purchases. (I wash and reuse Ziploc bags, so a box of them can last me two years.) Restaurants cannot reuse plastic bags, just as hospitals cannot re-use certain things for sanitary reasons. Some garbage is unavoidable for commercial and public enterprises. Personal garbage is not. I have a choice each and every day to use less throw-away products. The cafe I work in has made the choice to use mainly sustainable materials, so I know they exist. I don't see many good excuses out there for continuing to use styrofoam take-out containers. If restaurants switch to biodegradable ones, they can simply add the cost to their take-out prices. If the food is good, people will pay a little extra for it. I know that to be true.

My mother used to bring home the plastic cutlery and cups from events she organized, wash and reuse them for our family picnics and parties. I found myself doing just that with plastics used for my kids' birthday parties and lemonade stands. When I was little and asked my mother why she didn't buy plastic wrap she told me that when it was burned in the landfill the chemicals went up into the air and killed the birds. I still can't use it without considering the impact on my bird friends. I was instilled with a checkpoint for environmental impact. Yes, there have been times when I have ignored the checkpoint when other factors took precedent, but the point is I have one. I wish with all my heart everyone did. These days it seems people who care about producing less waste are looked upon as slightly 'precious' by others. How on earth did that happen? This isn't about being trendy or hipster, it's about doing the right thing for the planet we all share and will hand on to the next generations. We all know plastic takes hundreds of years to break down in a landfill. Thankfully, more and more municipalities are seeing the light and mandating improved household waste practices; they are the ones who must deal directly with the landfills and understand the overall impact on the community. Even grocery stores are either eliminating plastic carry bags or charging for them. Perhaps one day soon restaurants will also have to become more accountable for the garbage they produce. Convenience is costly. Or it should be.

June 10, 2017

Where the Heart is

This past eight months my life, and the lives of my husband and youngest daughter, has turned a full 360, then a 180, managed a few cartwheels and even a couple of back handsprings. The changes have mainly been good, and now we are adding a new home to the mix. We take possession June 23rd, and we are counting the days while we box up our belongings. I am an anxious home buyer. The regulations for borrowing money were tightened by the Federal government last fall and the number of documents required has been a bit staggering, but what can you do? You sigh and go back to the bank one more time; they are getting to know us there. I know I won't quite relax until we are actually moving in because I have been swinging from fear of the ball dropping and everything falling apart to elation at each little victory along the way. I felt elation once again this week when I realized we'd done it: we had managed to find a place we liked a lot in an extremely competitive market, for a price we could afford - as well as make a decision in about an hour, which is what had to happen - no small feat and with many thanks to our real estate agent. I also credit my husband for keeping me from completely freaking out at times. He keeps telling me to 'trust the process', which honestly can be difficult for someone who likes her ducks in a neat, disciplined row, doing what they're told.

The other morning, I woke up too early. I could not go back to sleep - always so much to think about, and try not to stress out about, these days - so I got up by six. I went through my usual morning routine - a giant mug of coffee, some reading, some perusing of Facebook. I came across a post by the son of a childhood neighbour of mine, announcing the passing of his dad. Now, I knew this news was coming. Matt had cancer and was in the late stages of his disease, but 'where there is life, there is hope,' right? Death, on the other hand, is final and never comes without some level of shock. I quickly wrote a first reaction comment. I then posted a simple message of love for Matt and for his whole family on my own wall. I sent a message to Matt's sister, Molly, my friend since we were ten when her family moved into the house next door to ours, and to a mutual childhood friend. I wanted to keep writing messages, but I made myself turn off my phone and do some necessary tasks such as prepare supper for my daughter and me since I would be working a later shift that day. I had planned to spend some time writing as well, but now I was unsure I could accomplish anything. The news of Matt's death hit me like a cold wave. I had not seen Matt in a long time. We had not been in contact until last year sometime when he sent me a friend request on Facebook. I was honoured by that gesture because Molly had written to me some time before and told me about her brother's devastating diagnosis. To be included in his circle of love and friendship humbled me because I was not sure I deserved to part of it. I kept an active eye on his page and watched for signs of changes in his condition. What struck me the most was the ongoing, outpouring of affection from his friends, his son and his family. Molly regularly posted about her frequent visits to our hometown to spend time with him and with other family members, as much time as humanly possible. Through her posts I learned more about Matt and his unbridled enthusiasm for life. I learned he had grown up from the quiet, unassuming boy I had known as my vivacious friend's sweet little brother into a shining beacon of light in the lives of his many friends and acquaintances. His life, though shortened by cancer, was lived to the fullest and with a generous heart wide open to the world. How many of us can claim a similar value on this planet?

Matt's exit from this world brought into sharp focus the important things in life. Material victories like buying a new home or vehicle are well and good. Often we need those things to progress, to be safe and comfortable in life, but by themselves they can never be enough to satisfy the needs of our hearts and souls. Perhaps something to temper their shiny glow is also well and good. We need constant reminders of the more important values of human connection, of spiritual connection, and of the work we need to do daily to keep on building the world around us into a more beautiful, joyful, and kind place to inhabit. As writer Anne Lamott says, "We are all just walking each other home."

Rest well, Matthew, and thank you for making this world a better place. This song has been playing in my head since you left us.