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Rainforest Writers Retreat

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The Lake Quinault Rainforest was mossy and very green.

I just returned from five days at the Rainforest Writers Retreat in Lake Quinault, Washington. Lake Quinault is on the Olympic Peninsula, tucked away amongst trees, and why yes, a lake. Patrick Swenson of Fairwood Press organizes these and does two a year, a week apart. I’ve been trying for three years to get in but it always sells out quickly. Last year, I finally got in but was on a waiting list (for about a half a day) because I had registered 24 hours later. Yes, it sells out that quickly and there are many alumni that return every year.

As a “newbie” there were many things I didn’t know about the retreat structure but Patrick gives pointers on the website on what to bring, and near the time of the retreat we’re all on a yahoo list where we can ask many questions. I picked up another writer on my drive down from Canada and we did the leisurely, longer Pt. Townsend ferry route to the Lake Quinault Rain Forest Resort. Neither one of us having been before, nor secure in our direction sensing abilities, we did make one wrong turnoff, not to mention somehow taking that different route on Whidbey Island (I have driven there numerous times but it’s easy to take the wrong turn–still it’s an island so you eventually get to the same spot). We arrived Wednesday evening and got our rooms in the hotel.

Rainforest Writers Retreat, Patrick Swenson, writing,

Writers writing in the lounge. The guy in red is writing by hand!

The resort has cabins, cabins with fireplaces and motel rooms. I had no clue as to what was good or not so ended up in the motel room. The cabins are more costly. The rooms are fairly basic, sort of rustic woodsy toned. Mine had an odd smell and faced the back but the bed was comfy and I wasn’t in it much. I guess these ones get shut up more in the off season. The restaurant and lounge is where the writers congregate, and besides the lodge being open for dinner in the evenings, we had the run of the place night and day. Being off season, Patrick made special arrangements. Most breakfasts were included but lunch and dinner were on our own. There is “Cabin 6” where spare munchies, some sandwich makings and the word count board lived. The other good thing is there is a homemade soup and grilled cheese sandwich day in Cabin 6 and then we have a party on Saturday night.

writing, revising, writers retreats

The Albertan contingent entrenched near the fireplace. Dead things decorate the walls.

The word count board is where everyone writing lists how many words they’re creating. Some people go into the negatives if they’re revising. I was working on revising a novel so while I did add about 4,500 words I also got rid of some as well. The main thing is to write and everyone does it differently. You can go off to hide in your room or to Cabin 6 or you can stay in the lounge or dining room, in a group or by yourself, though others will filter in and out. I went to write and write I did. By the end of the weekend, the winner of the word count had written over 32,000 words, and between the 37-38 of us there we created over 300,000 words. That’s a trilogy right there.

books, writing, short fiction

The bookstore is set up in the lounge, for writers or locals.

Most of the people are at different pro levels though some are newer writers, but I’d say the majority were working on novels. There were several, optional one-hour discussions given by Nancy Kress, Louise Marley, Daryl Gregory, Randy Henderson, Jack Skillingstead and a panel discussion with Nancy, Jack, Daryl and Ted Kosmatka talking about outlining. Many of the discussions aren’t necessarily about things we writers don’t already know but it’s always good to chat about them, be reminded about them and hear how others do it. Outlining went from those who don’t even know how their book ends when they begin writing, to those who bullet point the details. There is no right way, just many ways.

Rainforest Writers Retreat, Lake Quinault

It’s chilly enough to encourage people to write, but worth a walk to see some of the area.

Rainforest Writers Retreat, Fairwood Press, writing

Rainforest Writers. Big sweaters, booze and laptops.

As well, on Saturday night the University (of Washington) Bookstore sets up with books of all the writers present. It’s very evil and tempting and I’d wished I had more money. Writing, perhaps of all the arts is probably one of the most solitary. We sit alone at our desks and write. At the Rainforest Retreat, there was the lovely (if chilly and cold–it IS February) rainforest to explore that also has the world’s largest Sitka Spruce. It didn’t look that big until you walked up to it and realized you could put six people up on its trunk. There’s a store that sells various items including Sasquatch poop. We also sat quietly typing away or taking a break and talking with others. But it was actually really nice to look up and just see others doing the same thing; a camaraderie of our group writing solitary together.

forest, rainforest, Lake Quinault, Olympic Peninsula

The land of super mossy trees. The setting was inspiring for writing.

I made it through 50,000 words of revision on my novel, fixing some things as I went, that I’d woken up to through the talks. I got to know some of the writers a little better, and everyone would take a moment at some point to geek out and talk about “their story.” It was thoroughly inspiring, productive and fun. I’m not sure if I’ll do the retreat next year but like the group that comes out from Alberta every year, it could very well become an annual pilgrimage.

I won’t mention that I drove home through an unexpected snow storm, with the heater not working in my car and how I had to stay in Bellingham the night. No, I won’t mention that because I had a great time even if I was a popsicle by the time I got home.

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Lessons Learned on Traveling in Europe

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Horley (near Gatwick) Station

I thought I would write a lot while traveling, even took a laptop (mini) to do so but there were quite a few factors that made me post only once. I managed to get some gut bug when I flew into Amsterdam. It might have been caused by suspect Chinese food in Horley (but then I’m sensitive to the change of flavor in meat–it might have been slightly old or…bad) or it could have been the water, which is far softer than Vancouver’s water and maybe my body just couldn’t adjust. Still, tummy troubles didn’t keep me down but made my day a bit slower to start.

In Holland, thousands of people use bikes. If I had rented one it would have been a nuisance because I don’t just take pictures of tourist attractions but of things on the street; leaves, textures, patterns. A bike would have meant that I would be hopping on and off constantly.

I found my suitcase was in fact too heavy and I would take even less next time, maybe buying more there. However I was packing for rain and cold and got a very warm, extended summer of 25-30 degrees Celsius. I didn’t wear some of the items I brought because it was too hot. Still, backpacking might have worked but I have a few back issues that might have made it worse, but lugging anything up narrow, multiple Dutch and Belgian stairs will indeed give you a workout, and thankfully, my knees are good.

Most B&Bs have towels, though if you’re couchsurfing, check beforehand. I did a bit of both with even a hotel or two in there. I hate water splashing in my face and have always preferred using a face cloth. While these are pretty standard in any hotel in North America, you won’t find one anywhere in Europe (Holland, Belgian and England were the countries I visited this time). I brought one but might have brought two next time so one could air and dry when using the other. I had to deal with a bit of mildew even in half a day of being packed wet.

Many European buildings are centuries old and, besides having many stairs, have very high ceilings. This means the light might be faint. If your eyes don’t do well in low light, bring another light. I also brought a container for water, which was a good thing when walking around all day. In Belgium a waiter told me it was against the law to serve tap water so you’ll pay as much for a small bottle as almost for a glass of wine. And on drinking, while cider is in the veins of the British, Irish and Scottish it’s harder to find in other areas. I usually found only one bottled type in various places in Holland but it was nonexistent in Belgium.

I took cash but also brought my bank card and credit card. While cash always works, a couple of times I had to use the

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An example of old, steep, narrow stairs in Amsterdam

credit card, for reserving a room, or for storing my luggage at a train station because the machines didn’t take coins. I never could find out if traveler’s checks would work or not, or if there was a fee.

Trains are plentiful and sometimes hook up to trams. Many of the information areas are helpful. However, I found the rudest service in London at the booths marked for information. While different people working about the station were helpful in telling me what line to catch, no one bothered to clarify that there are trains and then there are trains in England. There is the underground or the tube, which has trains, and then there are the overground trains. They come into the same stations and sometimes your ticket transfers between the two (and buses) and sometimes it doesn’t. The underground information people were not helpful with the trains and vice versa. No one bothered to tell me the difference. At Victoria Station there was in fact a Tourist Travel Information center, which no one told me about, but they helped me figure out the overground and underground trains to the airport (after three other ties). It was also cheaper to fly from London to Amsterdam than to take a train through the Chunnel. On the way back I took a ferry from Calais to Dover, so check all forms of transportation,  and several months in advance of your trip for the best deals.

This is an overview and I did so much walking and visiting of galleries and buildings that I was just too exhausted to write in the evenings. Over the next few weeks I will do reviews of accommodation, food and the places I traveled.

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Fun With Thunderstorms

Creative Commons: El Garza, Flickr

When I was a kid nothing was more exciting than a thunderstorm. The frenetic energy that charged the air electrified us as well. My mother, who grew up in a small coal mining town, insisted we unplug everything and go into the basement, turning off the lights. Sometimes the power went out so it was flashlights and candles. As we sat in the dark, not standing too near the window, which would just entice the lightning to find you, we watched Nature’s amazing show.

Grey and bilious green roiling clouds, sometimes tinged with yellow, pregnant with dark anger. Eye searing forks of lightning stabbing the earth, sometimes reaching out to grab a bit more. Angry voices cracking through the sky. It was amazing. It rattled windows, it shorted out power and sometimes it caused fires.

We never experienced fire but lightning and thunder were both thrilling and terrifying. I imagine this is why people go to slasher/horror/thriller movies; the on the edge-of-your-seat tension and terror, the relief that it’s not real, the huge adrenalin surge that tells you you’re alive.

Adrenalin is an intrinsic part of our physiological reactions and is called the flight or fight reflex. In intense or dangerous situations, as well as sports, it gives us that extra burst of energy to move faster, lift heavier weights, just survive a bit longer. We can’t control it.

When I was still living in Calgary, there was a massive thunderstorm one night. My boyfriend and I lived near the river and several streets back the terrain became a small cliff with houses upon it. We watched from our balcony window as the lightning streaked out of the sky. It was close, extremely bright, the thunder loud and booming all about us. The closer the sound of thunder to the lightning the closer in proximity to the eye of the storm. As kids we would count from the time we saw lightning (one thousand and one, one thousand and two…) and that would tell us about how many miles away the storm actually was. This site says count the seconds and divide by five to get a mile so maybe that lightning was always closer than I imagined. http://weathereye.kgan.com/cadet/lightning/thunder.html

Well, that night as we watched the dance about us we were suddenly washed in blinding light as a loud boom instantaneously raced through us. My boyfriend and I, devoid of thought, pure instinctual animals jumped and ran, and found ourselves across our apartment in seconds. The lightning storm had been pretty much on top of us and had hit a tree on that cliff behind. That adrenalin reaction was so mindless it made me realize that we are animals after all. That was the closest I ever got to lightning and that was close enough.

But along with thunderstorms, we would often get hail, and this post today is inspired by the fact that we had little pea sized hail falling this morning in Vancouver, which is very rare. We might get a thunderstorm this afternoon.

Hail in Calgary was often an event in and of itself. I remember that it hailed so hard one July that we were playing in two-foot hailbanks afterward. The hail could flood areas and would be fast and furious, biting holes through plant leaves and cold enough to turn your hands blue. Being pelted with little chunks of ice was never fun.

One hailstorm that happened shortly after I left Alberta dropped golfball sized hailstones. Everyone’s car was badly pocked by the hail and people ended up with good goose eggs and bruises if they’d been out in the storm. Hailstorms are even rarer in Vancouver than snow, and that’s uncommon enough. I don’t miss hail as much, though it’s fascinating to watch but I do miss thunderstorms. And I still thrill at the charged air of a good storm.

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The Only Good Thing About Snow

Creative Commons--Ian Britton

I grew up in Alberta, which meant real winter. We had winter in the winter, we had winter in the fall. Sometimes we had winter  in the spring…almost always and we even had some winter on a rare occasion in summer.

Winter was cold and snowy. Sometimes winter was deep, with a windchill factor of -40 or -60. In most cases we still trudged to school, wrapped thicker than the Michelin tire man and the Pillsbury dough boy put together. When I was little I was perennially late for school and exhausted from dragging my little self through all the snow. Snow was evil, snow was cold. Winter was no fun and sometimes my nostrils would free shut while walking and a crusty layer of ice would form on a scarf, or worse, the balaclava we wore over our faces. You know the ones; bank robbers favor them now.

The indignities of snow and winter meant fashion nightmare even before I was old enough to really care about fashion. But no kid wanted to wear the geeky balaclavas. In our house, two of our bedrooms were in the basement, mostly below ground, where the furnace somehow didn’t send any heat. And the floors were cold linoleum on cold concrete, in a city where the ground freezes in the winter. But we were lucky in Calgary, compared to Edmonton, because we got chinooks, which is when a warm front moves through, turning the clouds into a chinook arch, and brining a reprieve with melting snow.

When I was about six I remember my older siblings building an igloo in the back yard. We had enough snow for it and I think it was only about three feet high but they were cutting blocks of snow and then pouring cold water on it to freeze. I remember an igloo shape; whether it truly was or just an open fort I don’t really know.

But the only good thing about snow, as far as I was concerned, was that very first snowfall of the year. Calgary is dry so the snow would be dry and big and flaky. It would drift out of the dark sky falling like powder over the ground. The best was at night, if I was up at my friend’s and I got to walk home late. The snowfall, usually enough to carpet everything was like diamonds under the street light. It of course warmed everything up and it sparkled and glinted. The virgin fall would be untread by cars or footprints and I would be walking through a new landscape. Everything was muffled in this snowy white blanket. Any car or dog, always heard in the far distance, was far far away and very faint. I felt like I was the only one in all the world and it was so tranquil. I loved that aspect of snow.

But these days, as I did then, I believe that snow should stay in the mountains where it belongs and where it is of use. Vancouver’s snow is wet and moist, sticky and damp. It soaks through everything and you can’t get traction for yourself or your vehicle. I especially hate it here because of that and because we’re in a climate that isn’t supposed to get snow. So I will always vote for no snow but remember those tranquil evenings when the first snowfall was magical, before it turned to slush.

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The Cornucopia List

Here are this week’s list of five things for which I’m grateful. In the future I imagine I will repeat some things as it will be that which makes me grateful that week, but for now there will be larger items, like life and chocolate. 🙂

  1. Thunderstorms–They’re not as frequent here in Vancouver as they were in Calgary where you could get super hot days and super cold rains. When a thunderstorm was imminent my mother would unplug all the electrical appliances, a very smart thing before power surge protectors when a lightning strike could travel into your appliance and kill it or start a fire. We would then all go down to basement and hang out, without the lights on, just in case of an electrical surge there. The sky would be vein with white light and the loud tumultuous clash of gray, broiling clouds. It was magnetic, dramatic, exciting! I remember one, while still living in Calgary down by the river. My boyfriend and I were watching the thunder and lightning outside our balcony window when there was an electrifying flash and smashing crash of sound that vibrated the building. Instinctively we had both run away from the window and were halfway across the apartment by the time we realized what we had down. That lightning strike hit on the hill not a mile behind our building. Today they warn that we could have a thunderstorm in Vancouver. I hope so.
  2. Turquoise–this is my absolutely most favorite color though I do like the whole range of greens (except for maybe puke green). Turquoise can be blue-green or green-blue, called peacock as well. I tend to like my turquoise on the slightly greenish side of blue, and I love it. I can’t explain but it is almost a visceral hunger to swallow, touch and taste this color. Contrary to what you might believe I don’t swathe myself only in this color though I tend to have more green clothing than anything else and one wall in my bedroom is turquoise.
  3. Cats–besides giving us an excuse to talk out loud without looking crazy for talking to ourselves, cats are lovely companions. They fill a space with energy and fur, they purr and express love for you, even if it is only cupboard love. They warm your feet and make you part of their family. And they certainly have unique personalities. From my first cat Beko, through Ming, Tiger, Banshee, Mango, Figgy and now Venus, they’ve all given certain traits and opinions. They can be a big pain in the ass, getting underfoot, knocking things over, scratching the wrong thing, howling to get in, in fights with other cats, clawing your leg on accident or purpose, demanding food, but hey, humans do much the same (except maybe clawing your leg). So yes, I am extremely grateful for the companionship of cats especially when I’ve been down. Venus, pictured above, is the epitome of a love cat, with people at least.
  4. Being female–Yeah, we have little choice with this unless we want to go through and expensive operation and face ostracization and social isolation. It’s very hard on people who feel they are the wrong sex in a body. And there are women supposedly who experience “penis envy” though I think that was more of a Freudian era than real, though there are women who feel they must act/dress like men to be respected or get a certain job. And unfortunately there are men who feel women are chattel, property to be dictated to, owned and wrapped and hidden away except for their own viewing. And of course, the Catholic church has long blamed women for leading men astray because gosh, I guess men can’t think for themselves. But still, I like being a woman and I feel that I am pretty empowered. If I chose I could give birth and I get to wear a way larger range of clothes. No wonder some men, who are truly heterosexual like to wear women’s clothing once in a while. I’m grateful I’m a woman comfortable in my body most of the time, with all my bumps and curves.
  5. Shoes–yes shoes. That I can afford them, that I have more than one pair (even though I do have foot issues) and that they come in such funky styles from stiletto with pointy toes, to round toes and wide heels, to flat shoes, to platforms, to straps, to slip-ons, to buckles and ties. A myriad of colors and materials of designs and patterns, and even of comfort, but I like them. I had a boyfriend once long ago who really liked shoes and maybe it was a shoe fetish but I developed a love of shoe styles through him, and they can completely ruin an outfit if not right. I have runners (tennis shoes or whatever they’re called in the US) but I only wear those for working out or hiking. They’re not for every day. But yeah, I’m grateful for shoes.

And there we go, from nature to fashion, my Cornucopia List for this week.

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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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A Nasty Tale About Lice

I was born and raised in Alberta, where the summers are hot and dry and the winters are cold and dry. I don’t mean dry as in no precipitation but dry as in the air can make your skin flake like a 10,000 year old mummy’s. And the water is mineralized enough to leave scales on taps and pipes the envy of any dragon.

Calgary gets rain (thundershowers), hail (in buckets) and snow that lasts a winter. Or at lease these phenomena were common in my childhood. Because of this you never saw an animal with fleas unless it was in a place particularly dirty or the animal was particularly mangy. And head lice was not something we even had to worry about in school. However head lice and body lice have been around since humans started wearing clothing (if not longer).

Now I don’t know if head lice care about cold or not, or if people washed more frequently or just didn’t get near to each other but we certainly never had warnings or even one kid with them when I was in school. However, infestations have been reported in most countries and a huge increase has occurred in the last 20 years. I don’t know if this is climate change or that these little vermin are just finding humans more appetizing.

I didn’t encounter head lice when I moved to Vancouver, but I did encounter fleas because of the warmer and moister climate. Your cat or dog doesn’t have be mangy to get them. Keeping a place clean certainly helps. I did encounter lice in the US though.

I used to go down and visit friends who had two kids. I’d sleep on an air mattress on their living room floor and play with the kids as well. I never even knew about lice really at that point. But one day a few weeks later I was at my desk and reading a paper, and scratching at my neck. Now due to my sensitivity to some foods, getting a rash around my neck was not unusual. What was unusual was that as I scratched a little born ovoid bug fell onto the page. At that point I frantically rubbed my hand through my shoulder-length hair and watched in horror as more bugs fell onto the page.

My skin crawled and I panicked. I ran to the bathroom and brushed and brushed and combed my hair knocking beige vermin into the sink. I looked over my scalp but really couldn’t seem much there but I knew. I think with a bit of internet searching and calling a few friends I figured out pretty quickly what I had and went to the pharmacy for louse shampoo, which came with a lovely nit comb. Nits are the egg casings of a louse and stick to the air as little white dots. They’re small but tenacious, and so are their parents, the lice.

The full process involved shampooing my hair and, because I didn’t want to shave my head, sitting outside (thankfully it was summer) on my patio and having a friend comb every nit from my hair. Two-three hours later, I was nit free but still had to shampoo a few more times over the week and check to make sure the buggers were gone.

Besides the bodily care there was the washing of all clothes and bed clothes I may have come in contact with during that time. As well, I had to bag pillows or items that couldn’t be washed and dried under a high heat. I had to vacuum everything thoroughly and leave those bagged items for up to a month to make sure everything was dead.

The worst part was that all of this could have been prevented if the friends, who knew their children had lice, had just let me know. Instead of being head in the sand like they had been, I took the onus of contacting everyone I’d been near to tell them about the lice and what to look for. It was like contacting people to say I had an STD. I felt ashamed and mortified yet I was responsible.

I never stayed with those people ever again but had the misfortune a few months later of being at a group camping event where they were at. I went home and found a few lice but caught them right away, and again informed everyone I knew. I think part of the reason these vermin infestations have been spreading is that people don’t take responsibility. School age kids are most susceptible because of their close contact and therefore schools have a huge problem. We’ll never eradicate them as long as there are people but we could get them under control with a bit of knowledge and responsibility. And I hope I never have to deal with any parasite on my body again, besides slapping a few mosquitoes.

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Hated Winter: From Snow to Rainforest

I grew up in Calgary, where winters were defined by snow and snowsuits, giant mitts and yes, that Canadian thing, tuques. As kids our tuques (toooq) were balaclavas. They had an inner piece that could be pulled down over the face. Today they’re called ski masks and have a big opening around the eyes. Ours had two eye holes and maybe a mouth hole. Pretty much  only burglars wear them now. It was nearly worth the risk of frostbite not to wear these horribly uncool and unfashionable items, even at the age of seven, even before seven-year-olds were that fashion-conscious.

There was just no way anyone wanted to wear these things. When nostrils started freezing shut and the air cut as we inhaled, and eyelashes froze our eyes shut, then we would reluctantly pull these things over our faces, dealing with the ice encrusting around the mouth hole every time we exhaled.

I didn’t have a snowsuit but I think there were thick pants over tights and two pairs of socks. Imagine being a kid of six, not particularly tall, struggling through a foot of snow and looking like the Michelin tire man. In my first grade I was late every day for a week because I just could walk any faster through all the snow. That was back when children were allowed to walk to school from grade 1 through 12 and the only ones that were driven were the teenagers who drove themselves.

Winter. How I hated it. My sister and I shared a bedroom in a split-level house, which mean all but three feet of our room was below ground. And the air vent didn’t really work. And the floors were cold linoleum on concrete. Cold. Icy icy cold. My sister and I both hate cold to this day. She has other reasons as she has arthritis as well.

In Calgary we would listen to the radio every morning in winter to find out the temperature and whether the schools were closed. They usually only closed them when the temperature, combined with the wind chill factor, got below -30.  Yeah, we were hardy little buggers. Walk or freeze. My mother would load our little metal lunch boxes with a thermos of hot chocolate and some sort of sandwich wrapped in wax paper, and a fruit or a cookie and off we would go.

I somehow don’t remember winter that well in my teenage years. By then I completely refused to wear those horrid balaclavas. Losing my nose was a risk I was going to take. I had a big puffy downfilled coat and some sort of hat or tuque but without the face part.

In art college I remember the tops of my ears being frostbitten one day because I walked from the college across a very major street to the shopping mall where I worked. I had my hair braided back and it was probably spring. That exposure was enough to do the ears in. My toes were also frostbitten when I got a ride by the Calgary hot air balloon club, in exchange for pictures. Again it was spring and the snow had disappeared from most of the sidewalks. In my runners I rode the balloon and everything was fine…until we landed in a farmer’s field still covered in snow.

The cold I hated the most was the one that seemed to freeze the marrow. Doing photography I would go out and shoot until my camera froze up. There are oils that are in the body for the gears and the lenses so that the focusing ring can be turned easily. When I could no longer easily focus I would go in. On days like that there was a cold beyond shivering that really felt like it was in my bones. It was a terrible deep ache that I could only alleviated by immersing myself in a very hot bath.

It was enough to get me to move to Vancouver, land of green grass and ivy in winter. But Vancouver was a different climate from Calgary. Calgary was dry. Vancouver was humid. I moved here and found mold growing in my shoes at first. Every time I crawled into bed it felt like I was in wet sheets. My face broke out in all these little bumps. After seeing a dermatologist, it was determined that I was using too much lotion, having come from a drier climate.

But Vancouver was warm, and sure it rained like it was time to build an ark, but it was nice. Yes, nice. I’ll take a two-week long deluge anytime. So when it snows here I whine. I whine a lot. Snow is for the mountains, not the city. If our temperature drops below 0, I whine. We’re not supposed to get temperatures that cold and believe me, our pipes are not that deep underground. Last year’s hideous, snowy winter caused my kitchen pipes to freeze. Luckily they’re plastic and we could thaw them with a space heater.

I was born in the clime of true winter but I never took to it. Perhaps my ancestors’ genes had some influence. But one half was Danish and the other Italian. It seems my sister and I take after the Italian side, while my older brother and my mother (born of Italian parents) would prefer to be of the Danish side when it comes to climate.

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Weathering Vancouver

What I often hear when friends think of coming to Vancouver for a visit, or for why they could never live here is “the rain.” And yes, we do get rain. After all Vancouver is in a pacific rainforest, though the forest has receded to this hills and mountains in places. Still we’re a pretty green place and that’s evident when flying over the land.

When I first moved to Vancouver, I moved because I hated the cold and I hated winter. The only snow I liked was the very first snowfall, when it was dry and fluffy and sparkled like diamonds in the lamplight. Walking back from my friend’s in the evening, my footsteps would be the first to make an impression on that scintillating carpet and everything was muffled and magical, with only the sound of a car or a dog in the distance. Then day would dawn and it would just be cold and cumbersome.

I was always cold, sometimes to the point that it felt like my marrow was freezing in my bones, a numbness that would only go away with a hot bath. So, winter especially was not my favorite month. I visited Vancouver three times in one year and all of that was in summer. Vancouver is very lovely in the summer and has the mountains and the ocean so close to the city. I fell in love.

I moved in June and spent the summer getting to know the city and getting a job. But fall and winter came and my shoes were growing mold in them. I always felt like I was crawling into damp sheets and it felt clammy to me. Compared to Calgary’s very dry climate, Vancouver was moist and humid (I hadn’t yet experienced Toronto or Singapore where that’s real humidity). My face broke out in little bumps, not pimples nor really a rash. After seeing a dermatologist it was determined that I was using too much lotion; for Calgary it had been the right amount.

Eventually I acclimatized to the weather. Vancouver does not get blazingly hot in the summer. It’s a rare day that it hits near 30, and because of the ocean and the mountains nearby it will cool down faster in the evenings. While we don’t get as hot as other cities in the summer, we also don’t get the freezing temperatures in the winter. In fact, most pipes for the older houses especially are not far below ground. That and the high water table (we are by the ocean) means that if it does freeze, the pipes are in jeopardy of freezing as well.

Last winter was a brutal exception to Vancouver’s winters. Whereas normally we can expect rain and may be a bit of snow that will melt in a day, we had huge dumps of snow (over 18 inches at one point when I measured) that lasted for weeks. There was so much snow that at first it was that dry snow that other places get, the type that is good for snowballs and building snowmen. But then as temperatures rose, we had the slushy, slippery stuff where everything gets soaked instantly and getting grip, whether by boots or tires, is nearly impossible. My landlord shovelled out more than 13 people in a week, me included.

But the white stuff is rare, and truly hideous when it happens in a city ill-equipped for it. The city is getting more equipment as global warming brings more upheavals in the climate. However, that ubiquitous rain that we always have. Well, yes, there have been a few truly icky and gray summers. But usually they’re quite nice. Winter and fall can vary. The past few years have had winters that weren’t that bad. A bit of rain but periods of sun. Of course the snow last year, negated the rain.

This year almost seems like the old winters here. I heard yesterday that we’ve had 23 days of rain. That doesn’t mean that it rains 24-hours a day but that it is raining every day. Today, it’s actually partially sunny but scheduled to rain some more. When the sky is deep gray all week long and the rain is dripping off of everything, and the grass, if you step on it, slides off the mud below it, then yes, it’s gruesome and depressing. I spent most of the day in bed last weekend because it was so miserable and I felt down.

The Olympics come in February and it looks like they’ll have enough snow for the events. Even in Whistler there are years where it can be a problem. But it could also be raining a lot in February, one of the notorious months for bad weather. But even in winter, usually, it’s not every day of rain. Being someone who has suffered from depression, I can understand the reluctance to live in a place depressed by rain. But then it’s a matter of spending time with friends and in bright light, even if it is artificial. I would still rather take the rain over snow and slogging through the cold every day.

 

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Galiano Island

Galiano Island ferry dock

Galiano Island ferry dock

 Last weekend I had the chance to go over to Galiano Island. It’s one of  many Gulf Islands in the San Juan Islands and is a long finger of land. Galiano can be reached by a ferry that takes a little less than an hour. We walked on and paid about $20 for a round trip (prices vary going and coming and depending on the season). And for some reason on the ferry rides in both directions the people who left their car alarms on were always driving BMWs and Audis. Folks, if you’re on a ferry, no one is going to steal your car. There is nowhere to go and if they’re breaking in and you don’t hear the alarm, what’s the point? At least the workers made humorous announcements about the alarms.

Rain was the forecast but Saturday turned into a lovely day, warm and fairly clear. This allowed the deer to come into my friends’ yard and have their lunch of windfall apples. There was the mother and a fawn with a few spots still visible on the coat, as well as a yearling that sometimes got chased away. But they were too happy to chomp away and the mother couldn’t be bothered most of the time.

The fawn still has its spots.

The fawn still has its spots.

We also went off to this property where various pieces of rusting metal, old chairs, metal drums, tanks, motors, etc. were ensnared in abundant blackberry bushes. If we ever needed an impenetrable barrier during a war, this guy could do it. The blackberries were plump and juicy so that over the weekend we had blackberry martinis, ice, strudel and just plain ole berries with peaches.

There are quite a few galleries on the island and we made rounds to three openings over two days. One is a little wood style building, nicely laid out, bright and airy called Insight Art Gallery. I can’t remember its name but it had a display of hand painted glass, some jewellery and the opening show of Ingrid Fawcett’s paintings, which were of Chinese lanterns and flowers. The next gallery was I believe the Island’s Edge Gallery, which had a store and a little courtyard (and really awful wine for the opening) plus the gallery. This gallery had paintings, sculpture, ceramic, etchings and a few other items by different artists. There were some great carved pieces including a unicorn head that would have looked better without the horn and a mermaid. The etchings were my favorite but I can’t remember the artist’s name.

Oceanfront Hotel

Oceanfront Hotel

The Oceanfront Hotel (actually condo suites that open on the water) and Spa also has a gallery and we went to that on Sunday. It had some art outside like homemade bird condos (birdhouses but fanciers), a few sculptures and then an gazebo shaped builP1010079ding with more sculpture and art in it. The grounds were very lovely with a small manmade pond and waterfall, a herb garden with some awesome artichoke plants, and a small tranquil Japanese style pond with a big goldfish.

I’ve only been to Galiano once before and we drove up the length of the island. It’s is a wooded island with fir and cedar trees, and some sequoia, and various cabins right up to fancy houses. The population is around 3000 in the summer. The beaches are often sandstone and rocky, which makes for interesting rock formations but there seems to be limited sandy beach. There are many gulf islands and small rock outcroppings that can be seen from different vantage points. I found it peaceful and a nice pastoral getaway. At some point I’ll probably go over again to hang out and do some writing.

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