Monthly Archives: April 2010

Five Things To Be Grateful For: the Cornucopia List

Yeah, I know it’s bad grammar and should say, “Five things for which to be grateful,” but pretend you’re listening to me talk, where we tend to use more slang and colloquialisms.

I think I might try this once a week for a while, listing things that are shiny and happy. After all, with buffoons and tyrants in positions of power and the news reporting the dire events everyday it’s much better to list some positive aspects of life to counteract the darkness. It’s harder because we’re told more and more about things like murders and teenagers turning violent and the media feeds on this, with a sparse quip from time to time stating that incidents of violence have gone down. It’s hard to believe when we feed like ghouls and the bad stuff. So, without much more ado, here are five things.

  1. I’m grateful that I live in a country where I can complain and write about my government’s shenanigans. Whether they listen to me or not, at least I’m not shot or imprisoned.
  2. I’m grateful for spring, watching trees and plants push for shoots and blooms, seeing the earth revivified, alive and vibrant.
  3. I’m grateful for my eyes. Though not perfect, they let me see the world fairly well. They let me read and perceive.
  4. I’m grateful for Q on CBC. Even though the station has gone through cuts and now repeats itself to the point that I change channels, Q is still of very high quality and interest. Jian Ghomeshi is entertaining, intelligent and even keeled. He’s weathered the greats like Phyllis Diller and Leonard Cohen and suffered elegantly through Billy Bob Thornton’s idiocies.
  5. I’m grateful for computers. They’ve sped up many aspects of writing, without having to retype a page for every error, editing only on paper or trying to remember where you put that manuscript. Sure they’re time sinks and sure they haven’t cut down on paper but they’ve opened up a bigger world.

That’s it. My short list. Not a bucket list but perhaps a Cornucopia List. Cornucopia’s are horns filled with plenty. The first was said to be from Almathea, the goat who suckled the infant Zeus. When he accidentally broke it off he replaced it with a horn that could give fruit and flowers. A possible precursor to the holy grail, the cornucopia is always a sign of abundance.

Let’s see how long my list of plenty can continue. If nothing else, it will counterbalance all the horrible stuff out there.

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Being Cool in School

It’s been a while since high school, which I attended in Calgary and included grades 10-12. We had junior high schools for grades 7-9, and I attended grades 1-12 in one very large city block. In some cases I saw the same kids for twelve years, even if we weren’t friends. The schools were large and there were hundreds of kids.

It was common to know your homeroom classmates and some of the students from other classes, especially if you took an elective that mixed the classes. And sometimes friends were in different homerooms so you’d know maybe half of your year to some degree and the rest of the students barely entered the zone of friends or classmates.

There were times in high school when everyone hung out, during breaks between classes and at lunch. Our high school had a major entrance (for students) that had been named the Pit. There was one to either side of the main entrance on the south side, which also had names. The actual grand entrance to the school faced the west and very few students ever seemed to use it, partly because it faced a shopping center and most of the homes were on the south and east sides. The east side also had a couple of entrances and one faced into the school field. We called this one Apple Crisp I believe. Another one was called Numbers and I think one was called Colors. I forget the rest of the names.

I’m not sure who named them and it could well have been the group we hung around with. Everyone knew of the Pit because it was the entrance used by almost everyone, open in both directions (as opposed to the side entrances, which were usually only exits) and where the students were allowed to stand and smoke. So it was always stinky and overcrowded. I never really picked up smoking. For awhile my girlfriends and I tried smoking wine tip cigarillos, more for the flavor and the look than for actually smoking. When everyone started to get into smoking I tried but had to be drunk to do it. (Shhh, yes we actually drank [without our parents knowing] during those high school days.) I don’t think I ever bought a pack of cigarettes and gave it up rather quickly.

Now the Pit, the center of our universe in many ways, was where everyone could socialize, smoke and hang out. It was known as the place where the jocks and cheerleaders gathered, a collection of the studly and maturing boys and the girls with bodies and legs and pompoms that they knew how to move. So we, who thought we weren’t the cool kids, tended to go to the quieter entrances and hang out. They were far less crowded and brighter, especially Apple Crisp, which faced the field. And if you happened to be skipping a class teachers wouldn’t find you there. In fact they probably would only find you in the Pit.

And of course, should you be skipping school (but not able to go home because a parent might find you) and still hiding in an entrance, it was a place to drink elicit alcohol, smoke pot or even try something like acid. Though the more hallucinogenic the drug, the more quiet and out of the way you wanted the entrance. Numbers I believe was the favorite for such activities.

We never thought we were cool. We weren’t the geeky studious ones, nor were we the jocks. We were also not the deadbeat losers that missed so many classes they failed. Fighting and knives and guns were still pretty much unheard of while I was in school except maybe for one or two boy on boy fights, though I never saw one. So we were a bit like nomads, flowing through, not quite part of any group.

Or so we thought. Of course we had formed our own group. But when you were in class, no one was a group. You were an individual under the watchful eye of the teacher. We were required to do a mandatory counseling class in high school. The girls would gather or the guys and it obviously wasn’t everyone because it was at the counselor’s office. Maybe it was 12-20 girls total.

I vaguely remember one session where there were a number of the cool cheerleader girls and then my friends and me. We ended up talking about belonging and being cool and we said how we knew they were the cool ones. And they said, but it’s you guys who are the cool ones. I don’t remember the exact details but I remember the feeling to this day.

Never had I felt cool, in control, the one people looked to for fun or leadership. And yet, that was my perception, not the perception of others. It was a very eye-opening experience for all of us. I wondered how many other people were either faking it or didn’t think they “were the ones” whatever being the one might be. I wrote about my experiments in changing myself in “You are Who You Pretend to Be” and in fact I was changing before this in high school. But it attributed to my change and I think the counselor who got us together from different cliques was very wise in letting us see how the other half lived, or acted. It truly didn’t put us all on a more even level. I sometimes wonder how much impact it made on my other classmates.

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Writing Update: March/April

I’ve been busy working on a couple of stories…still…always. Rewriting a couple after some constructive rejections. And still researching my biblical Mary Magdalene story. I’m writing as I research but I have about seven books by my bed on the Dead Sea scrolls, Christ and Caeser, the Gnostic Gospels, the Gospel of Mary, etc. You’d think I was entering the church. I find it very fascinating stuff, the history of the Christian church and the bizarre and sometimes malicious and frequently controlling twists it took to control wealth and people. Amazing. Some day I might research and do a story and have to research Buddhism or read the Qur’an or stock up on Hindu gods. It’s all truly fascinating, and should the Mary story work, I have other ideas there.

I also managed to take the long weekend in Easter and progress on my novel. Not a lot but I was getting to a worldbuilding stage where I needed to figure out the size of the continents as well as how long it would take them to travel by horse and foot. I think I will still have to adjust those numbers downward. You can read the reviews by following the links.

Scarabae

In the meantime, the Evolve anthology is getting some very good reviews. Vampchix says, “Colleen Anderson’s AN EMBER AMONGST THE FALLEN is strong and disturbing, but an interesting take on the new vampire.” You can read the reviews by following the links.

http://vampchix.blogspot.com/2010/04/review-evolve-vampire-stories-of-new.html

http://www.parajunkee.com/2010/03/evolve-vampire-stories-of-new-undead.html

http://anovelapproachto.me/book-reviews-2/

http://www.innsmouthfreepress.com/?p=5607

http://whatbookisthat.blogspot.com/2010/03/bwb-review-evolve.html

And last but by no way least, I have sold a story to Harlequin’s erotic wedding anthology. I don’t know the title of the book yet and it will probably be another year till it comes out but the story is titled “Better Wed Than Dead.”

And Cutting Block Press’s Horror Library Vol. 4 has accepted my story “Exegesis of the Insecta Apocrypha.” They loved the story so much (and I love that they loved it) that at first I thought it was a rejection but they said, “It simply…defies definition and certainly skips genres. There was a good deal of debate, not as to if we should take it or not. But, more so, at to what our own personal definition of ‘horror’ is here at +The Horror Library+ and how that definition is totally challenged when facing an incredible story like yours.

Needless to say, we’d like to ACCEPT this story. It’s just…amazing and thought-provoking and quite sinisterly clever. It’s an absolute one-of-a-kind, and we’d love to include it in this year’s collection.”

It should be out sometime this summer and I’m looking forward to seeing who the other 26 authors are. More as I find out.

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Traveling in India: Transportation Travails

I think there are many great tales that often take place around transportation: planes, cars, trains, buses, elephants, camels, bikes, rickshaws, etc. Especially if you’re traveling (obviously) there are more tales than the everyday commute, but even living in one’s own city will afford you adventures.

India was probably the most diverse in terms of transportation and terror. I already wrote about flying in “Frightful Flights” but the rest was its own adventure. I never did ride an elephant and though I saw one being ridden it was definitely not the most common form of transportation in India. That would be feet, as most people are too poor to afford more.

I took a few buses from town to town. Many of these were Greyhound size buses and usually without incident But a few trips were driven by kamikaze drivers on winding hills through treacherous roadways. These buses tended to be more like school buses with a picture of one or several Hindu deities up from as well as bright color trims or other decoration. The bus could be one where everyone had a seat and was a mixture of tourists and locals, or one that was a reservation only, air-conditioned, elite tourist only bus. Reservations certainly didn’t guarantee the type of bus or a seat.

On one supposedly reserved bus it was jam-packed full of locals with live chickens and other produce. We knew that we’d paid extra for the privilege of riding locally. It was a bumpy, dusty and long ride and we were packed close enough to examine the weave of each other’s clothes. After someone managed to puke on the bus, the answer being to put paper over the acrid mess and continue onward, several of us opted to ride on the roof of the bus. The tourist luggage was up there anyways and this was a good way to keep an eye on our goods and get some fresh nonvomit-ridden air. Of course this is illegal and had we been stopped some baksheesh would have changed hands, probably from tourist hands to police hands.

As it was, it was a fun way to see the country, and not experience the claustrophobia of the overcrowded bus. I had a couple of bus rides in Nepal too but they were calmer and cleaner. Busing to the next town wasn’t that far but the seats were narrow and metal. Metal is fine in a warm climate but at 5’4″ I was nearly too tall to sit in the seats. I would have stood but I was hit so badly with dysentery I nearly fainted and had to sit, thanks to the Nepalese who noticed my state and motioned for me to sit. Three of them can fit on a bench but I could barely jam my knees down and they were pressed against the seat in front of me. I also took up the room of 1.5 Nepalis. And anyone taller than me had to stand because they just wouldn’t fit. Imagine a 6’2″ man standing next to a tiny Nepalese woman.

Perhaps the most terrifying ride of my life took place in a jeep. The Himalayan hill tribes in the state of Meghalaya tended to drive mostly jeeps, which makes a lot of sense when you see the winding, curving roads with nothing but the foothills of the Himalayas framing them (those foothills equal some of our mountain ranges). One day we went out to Cherapunjee with Hanocia’s brother driving us in the jeep. I had tried to the drive the jeeps there but with the handling of a jeep which is somehow different and tippier, and the right-hand steering, left-hand gear shifting, I just couldn’t get it to work. (Oddly in Ireland with the same type of driving but a car instead, I had no problem.)

So we drove up and took the day looking around. We were there in Oct./Nov. and the days get shorter sooner. We ended up driving back in full darkness. There is no light pollution from distant cities in the foothills of Meghalaya. And the roads are narrow hairpins. As we found common and strange in India, cars would drive with their lights off and only turn them on when they encountered another vehicle. Imagine how terrifying this is as we wind through a hairpin, get to the outside curve and then there is a truck barreling at us, and they both turn their lights on to blind each other.

Hanocia’s brother swore he had to do this to save his lights and that the battery was going. Usually driving regenerates the battery but needless to say we were nearly breathless with fright. After a few encounters with oncoming trucks on the narrow roads we insisted he turn the lights on or we were going to get out and walk. We were miles and miles from Shillong but a long walk in the dark was preferable to dying in the dark.

Since this post has gone long enough I’ll leave off the train rides for a another time, but I can say this: after all these years I still vividly remember the transportation and the tales attached with traveling in India.

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Mental Health and a Helping Hand

This will be one of those unpopular posts that probably no one will read but I feel it’s important enough to write about. Having experienced mild to severe clinical depression in the past I have learned several things. Depression isn’t always the same every time, nor the feelings that accompany it. And people don’t truly understand it, nor how to help a person going through it.

For those who have never suffered from a severe depression there can be a lack of sympathy. The person looks healthy but sure he/she is just moping, or grumpy or wallowing in self-pity. This can in fact be true for a few people or those who are emotionally crippled in some way and use it as a crutch. However, even that situation indicates the person is not emotionally healthy or psychologically whole. Depression can hit all types of people in all walks of life, whether rich or poor, unemployed or working, male or female.

The condition has different degrees of severity. In the past, I have had to fill out questionnaires for my doctor that ask a range of questions and how you feel about them (on a scale), from feeling unloved or unwanted to feeling unmotivated or suicidal. Yes, a person can lie on these but it doesn’t serve a purpose to get drugs if you’re mentally healthy, or to let yourself sink into a black mire if you’re not.

A lower level of depression could be a general malaise and lack of energy. Symptoms can range and can include oversleeping, not being able to sleep, lack of appetite, overeating, anxiety, fear, sadness, boredom, lack of sexual interest, and various body pains. One way that my doctor discovered that I was clinically depressed was that I went to her about an elbow pain that wouldn’t go away and no amount of physiotherapy was helping it. It turned  out that it was caused specifically through my depression and with anti-depressants the physical pain went away too.

Sometimes I just start to feel bored or like I don’t really care much about things that other people are getting fired up over. It can be a sign of the first stages of depression. It can, also, just be a sign of boredom, but it’s a trigger I have to watch for. Sometimes it’s a lack of energy and motivation. This can look like many other illnesses such as thyroid disease, anemia, stress, so it’s important that a doctor diagnoses it and does so correctly. And sometimes depression comes out in the inability to cope. That can be in something as simple as answering the phone, making an appointment, dealing with a last-minute change, not able to make a decision, etc.

It varies in intensity and ability. When I was clinically depressed I managed to go to work every day, barely. I’m quite a good chameleon so I could hide what I was going through, but it built up by the end of the day and I was dragging myself home and crawling into bed. I couldn’t answer the phone, I barely ate, making myself have a bowl of soup a day, and that was it. I didn’t go out and I didn’t cry because I was beyond most emotion except a bottomless pit of loneliness and despair. It was not fun, and I was resistant at first to anti-depressants, thinking they wouldn’t help. I was wrong. I did not enjoy feeling like the world was overwhelming me.

And it was. I was broke, even partially unemployed. A relationship had ended, and I was having health issues partly caused by the depression. I couldn’t find anyone to date and 9/11 happened putting the final nail in that coffin. When I said to my doctor that I had reasons to be depressed she agreed, but said it wasn’t that bad things didn’t happen but how we cope with them. It’s a good gauge to use, seeing if I can’t cope with everyday things that I could handle at other times.

But…depression hasn’t always been this bad, nor has it felt the same. Other times I’ve overeaten. I’ve felt lonely. Or I was lethargic. There are many things that can make a difference in depression, including environment, life situations and healthy lifestyle. Irregular sleep habits and lack of physical activity can exacerbate the condition of depression. Diet plays an extremely important role and a diet high in carbohydrates and sugars and low in vegetables is bound to toss many people towards big highs and big lows, leading to unstable emotional conditions. And of course drugs and alcohol (a depressant) play a big factor; drinking while on anti-depressants can lessen their efficacy.

The other part of depression is that those around you are likely not to understand or comprehend the severity. People look at someone who is sad, depressed, grieving, morose, etc. and think, why don’t they just suck it up and get over it? Getting over depression is sometimes the same as getting over cancer or a broken leg. It takes time. It takes medical care and it takes the support of one’s community.

Mental illnesses tend to fool us. We think if a person looks whole, they are whole. And if there is something wrong with their mind, then they’re crazy and they get stigmatized. I have known people who killed themselves because of their depression. I have had friends tell me that I’ve been through this before and dismiss me, even when I was trying to communicate my feelings.

If a depressed person manages to communicate to anyone what they’re feeling (and remember, in our society we are afraid to ask for help or look frail and weak) it might be no more than saying, “I’ve been depressed,” or “I’m on anti-depressants.” If someone you know says that to you, it means they are reaching out to you and want your help. They might be afraid to say more unless you open up to them. If you don’t know how, ask them how you can support them. They may very well say, “I don’t know,” because the depressed mind cannot always see solutions. It’s like being at the bottom of a giant glass tube with no way to get out. Seeking information, or talking to your own health practitioner will help you support friends or family. One of the best things to do is to just call the person or talk with them and ask them how they’re doing. Get them to go for a walk, some way of using their bodies, which will help regulate the mind. Depression often has a component of feeling isolated, unwanted and unloved. Loneliness can be debilitating and deadly.

I found it incredibly sad and tragic that the one person I knew thought his only recourse was to kill himself. He probably saw it as the best solution for everyone he knew. No one should have to choose that. I could write more and probably will at some point but we all need to be better educated about depression: what it means if we have it, how to prevent it and how to help those we know who are going through it. It is definitely not as easy as just “sucking it up.”

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The Terrible Thing About April

Actually, I quite like April for several reasons. It’s usually spring in one form or another and blossoms and bright colors abound, trees are pushing out tender green leaves, and everything is fresh and new after the winter. Even here in Vancouver, where yes, the grass truly is always green. However, the terrible thing about April is “taxes.”

For Canada, the deadline is April 30. I get to try to get the taxes done before my birthday might come along. Sometimes I’m late and sometimes I’ve very late. Because I’m claiming various professional activities like writing and copy editing, I have to keep all my receipts. I was claiming as a writer long before I started doing copy editing. In Canada, we have this rule that if you’re an artist (pick any art you want) and you don’t realize a profit in your lifetime, but you are trying to sell your work in one way or another, you can claim your expenses.

For writing, this can mean anything to do with art and submitting work to publishers/magazines: software, books, movies, postage, paper, office supplies, etc. I just have to prove, should I ever get audited, that I was trying to make a profit. I do this by keeping rejection and acceptance slips, or the emails. Every once in a while, I weed through those papers and toss out a few, but I keep seven years worth, just in case.

But taxes are still a terrible thing and on the news today they said that Canadians on average are giving away 40% of their income to taxes. So you have to work half your time just to pay the government. And of course, we do our yearly taxes, which includes federal and provincial taxes but on top of that we pay daily GST and PST on top of those taxes. And should you own a house or other property, you have those taxes. It seems as if we cannot turn around without being taxed. And just think, federal tax is not a hundred years old yet. It was put into place by them Prime Minister Borden as a temporary war measures act.

See how permanent temporary measures can be. And even on top of income tax, came provincial sales taxes and then the GST, yet another tax on our pockets. I bet good ole Brian Mulroney told that that tax was temporary too. And imagine this, for centuries countries existed without taxes. Okay, sure they had tithes, and peasants feeding nobles who galloped around in their finery and shot deer for fun. But at least you could have a peasant uprising then. Now, we’re cowed and bleat futility as we pay those taxes.

And then the provincial and federal governments want to combine all those taxes and tax on things so far not taxed. And somehow they say this will make jobs? I’m not sure how except maybe in the tax department.

So…taxes. It takes me three nights to do it, mostly from procrastination. I do my taxes online now, even if I am claiming more than the standard form. Online is faster when it comes to calculations but Quicktax doesn’t always give explanations for those claiming professional and business activities. So I have to remember that I can claim two conventions a year because I won’t find the information there. For someone just starting out to claim artist expenses and using the online system, it might be better to buy their business packet. But I still use the standard and usually manage well. Unless Revenue Canada thinks I’ve miscalculated, which can only really happen if I enter something in the wrong section. And since capital gains and other areas aren’t explained really clearly, it’s not that hard to do.

Still, even with screwing up this year and not putting money into an RRSP, I will still get money back. It’s better to put the money into RRSPs though because it does cut down on money being sucked into the government. Not that you won’t end up paying that tax when you eventually take them out so it’s not really a big savings.

I hate doing taxes like most of us. I hate seeing how much money is sucked away and I can understand why some people go to live on the street or squat because you can work less and still survive. Such a lot of the big wheel moving round and round. I think we have complicated our world too much, but then again would we all want to work in fields growing our food and building our homes from wood? I think we’ve gone too far the other way though and some simplification and less taxation would help. It’s one thing to have services and resources. It’s another thing to be snowed under the avalanche of costs before even being able to hold a roof over your head.

April comes with trepidation and some relief when the taxes are done. For me, that refund won’t be spent until I know it’s accurate, and then it will probably pay down those bills.

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Weird Foods

Okay, everyone probably has their weird concoctions or Dagwood sandwiches that they used to make. Unusual combinations put together or some bizarre family recipe that others looked at like it would crawl off the plate and bite. Sometimes you could pull someone over to your side, and introduce them to the delights of strange delicacies.

I’ve already talked about some of my gross childhood foods. Well, there were other foods that were a bit of a mystery why we liked them, or even why we would eat them. Probably the oddest was “Beans I Like.” Yes indeed; that is what we called this culinary delight. Here are the three ingredients to this uh…unique vision of nutrition. Lima beans, watery tomato soup, wieners. That’s it. We seemed to like it too, from the name. But all I can surmise is that compared to those mushy frozen vegetables that I mentioned in gross foods, these were heaven. I don’t understand it either.

Then there was Velveeta Cheese and its creamier cousin, Cheeze Whiz. Cheeze Whiz could at least be scooped onto celery or crackers but Velveeta was the closest thing to eating plastic that ever existed in a pseudo cheese. I mean really, what was in that stuff? Granted they make cheddars in bright orange and Velveeta tried to mimic that, but it was molded into these thin plasticky pieces of milk product. Of course, kids love crap and that was a parent sanctioned piece o’ crap. Sure these “foods” still exist but I think I’d rather eat a leather shoe and probably get more nutrition though I did love those Velveeta days for grilled cheese sandwiches.

A somewhat odd food I was introduced to by a boyfriend was radish sandwiches. You take bread of your choice, smother it in butter, slice a lot of radishes, stack them in, salt and pepper them, and voila. An interesting vegetarian sandwich, which could be  a challenge to eat with little disks of radish slipping left and right, yet there was something good and crunchy about it.

When I used to eat hot dogs, or for that matter some sandwiches, I would toss a lot of potato chips into the bun/bread. Like I mentioned in Gross Foods of Childhood, I don’t really like mushy textures and I do like crunchy. It added another dimension of crunchy if unwholesome goodness. I’m not beyond the potato chip trick now, should I have potato chips and bread hanging about.

That really is it for the memorably weird foods of the past. There were truly good foods and the truly gruesome. One I didn’t mention before was those Jello molds with little bits of canned fruit and marshmallows in them. I know that during the War people didn’t always get fresh fruit in the days before massive shipping by every route possible, so canned fruit was sometimes a treasured treat. It falls into that mushy fruit category to me. Pineapple, not too bad. Peaches, meh. Pears…pallid corpselike mounds with no flavor. (shudder) And then in some ponderously jiggling, translucent green or orange blob reminiscent of a bad scifi B movie. Even as a kid I found that hideous and nightmarish beyond belief. No wonder I started writing speculative fiction.

It didn’t help that I ended up in the hospital at one point and was fed nothing but Jello, apple juice and consomme soup. Guess what I hate to this day? And Jello shooters (vodka used as the liquid when making Jello), please, just give me the straight vodka.

I was one of those odd kids that loved the crust on bread and always wanted the end piece (chewy) and liked what we then called brown bread, the pre-cursor to whole wheat bread. Though I do remember taking bread and compressing it (sans crust) into a dense dough ball to eat.

My family was probably a typical, whitebread Canadian family. Nothing to adventuresome except for once in a while when my mother brought home fresh crab or a coconut. Other than that, short ribs, pork chops, roast, hamburger, wieners, (tongue!), liver, fish and chips, maybe salmon, meatloaf, etc. were the common fair. Ah, those good ole days. When it comes to food it’s only my mother’s baking that was truly wonderful. The rest is happily relegated to memory.

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The Plastics Revolution

I got to thinking about plastic and  when it started to inundate the world, to the point that oceans and beaches are being clogged with bags and containers, our landfills are becoming toxic dumps and we’re looking at ways to get rid of these beasts that have a relatively long half-life.

Plastic is not found naturally in nature. Trees and even papery aspects of them in certain barks or wasp and hornet nests are. Glass in the form of a volcanic residue such as obsidian is found in nature. Sand, the basis for glass of course is. Gum and shellac were early natural plastics. Next came the chemically modified plastics starting with celluloid, developed in 1855 and was used as an ivory replacement and in photographic and movie film. But it was highly flammable. Collagen and rubber were a few of these. Later came the fully synthetic, not found anywhere in nature, plastics such as epoxy and bakelite.

I’m trying to remember the plastics of my childhood. I vaguely recall milk in glass bottles, and later waxed paper cartons. There were no plastic jugs for milk but there were for making Koolaid and other nutritious drinks like Tang. I think cottage cheese and the like might have come in waxed cardboard containers but I really don’t remember. There were the melamine dishes, often used for camping and very similar in denseness to the bakelite of old. I have one bakelite button that is put on like a buttoniere and has a screw back. I think it’s from the 30s.

There were of course plastic bags for things like bread but grocery bags were still paper. I can’t think of what we used for a garbage bag. I think it was paper and then tossed into the large green Glad bags. Saran wrap and other food wraps were around and even Ziploc bags but waxed paper and aluminum foil were just as likely.

Dolls were plastic, as were other cheap toys. But many toys were still metal. And things like shampoos, lotions, detergents seemed to always be in plastic containers of a type that could grow brittle if you had them for a couple of years. Pens and binders were always plastic too. But plastic wrapped things, shrink-wrapped items, equipment sold in blister packs or sealed in a stiff transparent plastic, those we did not have…much.

Now they’re everywhere. Plastic bags ooze out of ever garbage can. Clothing is made of recycled plastic and we worry about birds and other animals eating discarded bits of plastic or getting entangled. Vancouver is thinking of banning plastic bags. Stores would have to resort to paper or you bring your own cloth bag. The problem with banning all plastic bags is what do you use for your garbage can? Then you’d have to buy bags as opposed to re-using them. But then Vancouver is about to start curbside composting so garbage cans won’t have to be lined. But what do you pick dog poop up with?

And speaking of poop, what would happen if everyone went back to cloth diapers. Disposable (a misnomer if there ever was one) diapers cause huge strains on landfills. I remember my mother holding my little brother’s cloth diaper over the toilet and flushing the chunky bits down before tossing them in the washing machine. Many of my friends have used diaper services where you just toss soiled diapers, chunks and all, into a pail and the service deals with it all. It turns out to not be any more expensive than buying the disposables and probably better for baby’s bum too.

Look around and you’ll see how much plastic is on you or surrounding you. Plastic shoes, soles, purses, wallets, buttons, nylons, phones, furniture, etc. All of it. And most of it will take a very very long time to break down and will not add anything beneficial to the environment. Plastic like air pollution, has increased exponentially in the last century and it’s a huge problem. There are countries were you can walk the beaches for the plastics and animals are dying, at the rate of extinction for some. Next time you buy those prepackaged handy lunch packs in a plastic container and then shrink wrapped, ask if there would be a better way to do this, such as buying or making something in bulk and having reusable containers that you can use over and over. I think it’s more pervasive than we realize and is a large contributor to what’s causing our overflowing and toxic landfills.

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The Gross Foods of Childhood

I’m sure I was like any kid and was given foods that were probably good for me but were too gross to consume. Some were the bane of every child, like liver. A strangely dark meat resembling shoe leather, tasting like congealed blood and smothered in onions left an indelible print on my memories. But it wasn’t the only organ meat that my mother tried to make us consume.

Beef tongue--Blech!

Tongue was fairly common and I imagine cheap enough for a family with four kids and not a lot of money. Boiled in a pot, my mother would then make soup of the stock and slap that giant cow tongue on a plate, looking like a…giant tongue. She would peel back the outer layer of taste buds and then slice the tongue into little roundels. It had a texture unlike any other meat I’ve ever tasted. Light, sort of airy, long fibers like muscle but different. It wasn’t too bad, actually, but it grossed me out. I got so that I would only have the soup that had macaroni shells and veggies in it.

Organ meats were firmly marked in my book as disgusting: tripe, heart, kidney, haggis, tongue, brain, prairie oysters, pope’s nose (turkey bums), blood sausage, all of those meats still rank number one on my grossometer. My mother did try heart once but somehow, accidentally…we let it burn. Saved from the brutal tortures of organ meats.

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Only second to tongue in grossness. Creative Commons: stevendepolo Flickr

And on the top of veggies, there were a few gross ones there too. Not the turnip that most kids sneer at. That might have been refreshing. And we didn’t have Brussels sprouts too often, which one of my boyfriends used to call budgie heads. No, the absolutely most disgusting vegetables known to my youth were…frozen vegetables! Yes, those bags of little sliced up peas and carrots with an errant green (but really sorta gray) bean. These were boiled to a texture resembling pudding and heaped on the plate every night. I would gag over these repulsive, maggoty soft things. In fact to this day I don’t like soft textures in food and I think I just realized why. I guess I’m lucky we never had canned vegetables.

Of course I lived in a landlocked area that had real winter and in those days, fresh vegetables in the winter consisted of potatoes, carrots, celery and a few root vegetables. My mother was big on making things from scratch but not when it came to veggies. I would take those disgusting peas and carrots (the corn mix was pretty rare) and try to hide them in the husk of a hollowed out baked potato. Sometimes that didn’t work. One night I took a piece of bread, buttered it, slapped those degenerate suckers onto the bread and poured gravy over them, and ate it all like a sloppy joe. And guess what? My mother got mad at me. I still don’t know why but I should have been congratulated for my ingenuity.

Not all foods fell into the realm of nasty meats and slimy vegetables though. I also disliked malted balls, you know those balls covered in chocolate. I have no idea why but there was something in the taste that I didn’t like. I seemed to grow out of that around twelve though. I also never liked milk and would add the choco powder to try to get it down. And milk on cereal: there was that extremely mushy slimy texture again. The only two cereals I could stand were puffed wheat because it didn’t get too soft, and shredded wheat (the big ones) if I ate them quickly.

I feel pretty much the same about organ meats and half-dead veggies to this day and prefer my vegetables fresh and crunchy. I’m sure other childhood foods may come to the surface like a skin on steamed milk, but for now, that’s enough to dampen any appetite.

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Meanderings of a Long Weekend

I took the opportunity for the long weekend of going to Galiano Island, one of the Gulf Islands on the west coast of British Columbia. It’s a long finger of island that butts up to Mayne Island. Sturdies Bay is where the ferries dock, a one-hour trip from Tsawwassen terminal.

My friends aren’t far from Sturdies Bay, a five-minute drive, and their place looks out over the water to Little Gossip Island. There’s a little bit of rocky outcropping that’s submerged at high tide and has various birds from herons, cormorants, gulls and merganzer ducks visiting it. Little Gossip acts as a windbreak to that part of Galiano and when the winds were whipping up to 140 km/h on the ocean, it was a bit calmer where we were. Still, ferries were canceled, trees were downed and the power flickered on and off.

We worked out at the little community gym on Friday and although it’s small it’s quite well equipped with several nautilus machines, rowers, one elliptical, one stair master, one treadmill (broken), mats, balls and free weights. The power went out while were there but there was enough light that it didn’t matter. And lucky for us, we managed to get back before the rain began and the really strong winds. Trees whipped back and forth in the strong winds and parts of the island lost power as line were downed by falling trees. We heard a few things knocking about the place and the rain poured out of the eaves but we were dry and warm. Wood fireplaces are very handy.

Saturday we went for a five-mile hike along a lot of the road around the fatter part of the island and up to the Bluffs that look out over the strait. The day was slightly cloudy, with some sun and a big on the cold side so it was good that we walked fast to warm up. I work out three times a week and teach dance but I couldn’t keep up with my longer legged friend who does and hour walk every day during the work week. And I did get to find out which parts of my body are still not working right. My flexors (that join at the front of the thigh from hipbone down) were killing me by the end of the two hours.

Still it was a good hike which was mild as far as hills and gave me more of a sense of the island. Bill Richardson, humorous writer and past host on CBC radio was giving a talk at the town hall after their AGM. We were going to stay but instead did the hike. Lucky for us we did. We weren’t back and hour when it started to rain again. The winds picked up once more and at one point we even had hail.

The good thing about all that churned up water is that I thought I was seeing an odd-looking dog running by the house when I realized it was a sleek black otter that had come up from the shoreline to hunt around. As its pointy black tail went over the ridge I pointed it out. A few minutes later we saw it in the water and as it dove its tail popped up. I’m told they’re river otters and they’re definitely longer than a cat and like a smallish dog. I also got a chance to see a seal in the water and with the help of binoculars it wasn’t hard to see details.

I spent most of one day catching up on background notes for my novel. Because it’s on a different world I’ve had to do some extensive world building. I already have maps of the continents, rivers, marshes, forests and some towns, but I now had to actually figure out distances because my army is on the move. I had to figure out how fast horses can go and how fast people on foot. I think there will need to be some adjustment but it took figuring out how big my continent must be.

Admittedly long weekends are meant for naps and reading and drinking a bit of wine so my pace was slow. We’d also taken in a trip to the bookstore and the freecycle spots, where the island recycles everything down to plastics and papers and puts whole magazines and books out for people to reuse. (It’s called the Redirectory.) But I did spend most of Sunday re-reading my chapters, fleshing out some characters, finishing one chapter and moving on to another one. I managed about 5,000 words for the day which is a pretty good average. I’m hoping I can keep up the momentum and work away on the novel.

My approach to writing this one is much different from the first one of years ago (unpublished and languishing on the shelf). I have three main characters here and after an initial 30,000 words, I’m reworking the plot and writing through one character’s story arc before I move to another character. I’m sure that means that once all the chapters are written I’m going to have to do so rewriting so that they flow properly but in the meantime I find it the best way to keep track of the conflicts of one character.

Overall, my weekend was productive and relaxing. I wouldn’t mind more four-day weekends.

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