And Aw-aaay we go!

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The first time I published a book, it was a 140-pager titled Tailgate Church. My brother-in-law had given me a truck, and I decided to take the truck and the guitar, and drop the tailgate and “have church” — and see what random things might occur. Then I wrote the book.

The second time I published a book, it was called “The Little Green Beetle” and it was a children’s book I illustrated myself. What happened was, I was at a low point in my personal life and feeling completely burnt out, and I went on a family vacation. Lying on the pool deck at our campsite, this little green beetle tried to pass me. No matter where I moved my arm, he just kept going, just kept cruising. At the time, this tiny little creature inspired me to hang in there. After our trip, I wrote and recorded this bouncy little song about that beetle, then realized that I’d really written a poem. I laid it out in children’s book format, drew some really amateur (but seriously cute) pictures, and self-published.

The third time I wrote a book, it was a whole lot harder to do. “Quiet Me” is the story of a mother trying to parent a suicidally depressed son. Told with my son’s permission, this book describes my journey through that incredibly bad patch in his life. It was gut-wrenching to write — and people have said powerful to read — and when I published it, I really just wanted to get copies into my hand before the band I was leading at the time went on tour so I could sell them on the road. Although he hadn’t asked, I decided recently that this book had served its purpose. I didn’t want this to become my now adult son’s identity, nor to have him feel that I saw him that way, and so I have removed it from bookshelves for now. Of course, if you are going through similar struggles and feel the book could help, I would get a copy into your hands.

The last time I published a book, I had no intention of putting it up for public sale. A friend suggested I turn songs I had written into a book of poetry, and I decided this would make a great Christmas gift, so I did some formatting work, and “Song Poetry” was born. People seemed to like it, so it is now for sale on Amazon — and let me tell you, formatting a poetry eBook is not for the faint of heart!

This time, it’s different.

This time, I am being strategic. Continue reading “And Aw-aaay we go!”

Breaking Bread: Kelowna’s Taste of Home

 

Breaking Bread.

According to the Urban Dictionary, “To break bread is to affirm trust, confidence, and comfort with an individual or group of people. Breaking bread has a notation of friendliness and informality, derived from the original meaning regarding sharing the loaf.”

Another, simpler definition of the term is, “To share a meal with someone.” This comes from Writing Explained, an online site for writing instruction. They go on to state:

This expression means more than just eating; it is sharing a sense of brotherhood with someone or some group of people. It is a significant event that fosters some meaningful connection and cooperation.
Perhaps you are enemies; breaking bread with someone indicates a sense of forgiveness and moving forward to the affair.

Writing Explained (https://writingexplained.org/idiom-dictionary/break-bread-with-someone) states that the term breaking bread has Biblical origins, originating with the story of Jesus blessing, then breaking 5 loaves of bread — and feeding 5000 people. Then, according to Mathew 14:20, “They all ate and were satisfied. They picked up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve full baskets.” Considering Jesus had twelve disciples, there seems to be a moral in this number. First they fed others, then there was a basket full left over for each. Later on in his life, Jesus would refer to broken bread as his own body. Famously known as the last supper, the instruction given that day was to “eat in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19).

Food is about so much more than simply fueling the body. That’s why, every year at Christmas, I make the same cookie recipes — they remind me of the continuity of family celebrations.

Some of my recipes were taught to me by people no longer alive. I think of them every time I cook them. My English grandmother passed on roast beef and Yorkshire puddings, my Irish grandfather passed on potato pancakes, and my German Aunt (still with us – hi Auntie Marion!) passed on borscht and plotz — a white cake topped with fruit and butter and sugar crumbles. I still have Anne’s chicken wings and Lois’ chocolate chip cookies and Grandpa’s pastry written down in the little red notebook that I started in my early twenties, when I first moved away from my parent’s home.

I remember fondly the church potlucks of my youth, and Nellie Romeyn’s (my first boyfriend’s mom) Flying Saucer Cookies. I also remember the casseroles the church ladies brought our family when my grandmother died. I was thirteen at the time. And I remember Rie Beugelink, who had a tablecloth cross-stitched with all the names of her dinner guests on it. This inspired me, and when I bought my first home, I painted a patio bench and had it signed by all my house guests that first year.

Food reminds us of who we are, of our histories, our traditions, of relatives and homes which have gone before us. It bonds us. The smells and flavours of shared culinary creations take us back, and when shared, they build our united futures. All of which is why I was thrilled to receive the invitation to attend Kelowna’s Taste of Home event, and to stop in on my way home after work on Saturday night.

The event was held in the New Life church building on Harvey, which is an interesting choice considering the building’s original purpose after construction was as a farmer’s market. The main room of the building has two levels, and flags from around the world now hang from the top floor.

The Global Citizen’s event, which is in its fourteenth year, was packed. I had to park a block away, and almost let the blustering cold wind and my post-work lag change my mind about attending. Once inside, I was so glad to be there. It cost a dollar at the door to get inside, and then I handed over five dollars for food tickets ($1 each) and wove my way in through the crowd.

Vendors representing different countries were arrayed around the edges of the room, while the centre was set up with chairs where it was possible to sit and watch entertainers in traditional costume perform dances from their corners of the globe. It had been advertised that food items would cost between one and three tickets per item, and so my first goal was to do a full pass of all the vendors and decide which foods I would sample. I stopped halfway through, though, to film the Chinese dragon dance.

On my second pass, I purchased my first item. For one ticket, I received a dinner roll sized plate heaped high with pumpkin lentil stew (on a bed of rice) from Columbia. I’d never tried this dish before, and found it to be a delicious mild curry-flavoured meal. For a dollar, it was also quite filling.

Although I wanted to try the Venezuelan pastries and the Caribbean jerked chicken, I wandered past Thailand and Venezuela and Mexico, Japan and Taiwan and the Caribbean, mostly because the lineups were long, and there was easier places to wait.

I found myself standing in Israel’s line waiting to be served a cheese Knish with berries, which also cost me $1, and tasted great — not tart, but not too sweet, either. Because Syria was located next door to Israel, I next purchased a skewer of Falafel for $2. I passed on the hummus, though, as that would have taken my last ticket. The food was delicious — far tastier than the falafel I’d purchased this summer at the Kelowna Fruit Market, although, I have to admit, my motivations for that purchase were entirely political sentimentality. Israel was next to Syria. That, to me, simply had to be honoured.

With one ticket remaining, my options were a bit limited. I could have purchased tea from Taiwan, or an energy ball from Venezuela or gone back for seconds in Columbia. Instead, I decided to support the home team, and bought two somewhat gooey maple tarts from the ladies who were looking a little bit lonely at the Canadian booth.

I’d filled my stomach – and I was, indeed, full — with an interesting assortment of cultures. I didn’t get to try the bannock from the First Nations Booth, and I’m not sure what was being sold from Greece, although I did see some Kalamata olives on one lady’s plate. I didn’t get any gelato from Italy, but I did see that the servings they were giving out were quite ample. You couldn’t get as large a dish for as small a price in an actual ice cream shop, I can vouch for that.

On one of my passes around the food booths, I ran into my boss and her husband. Ady is from France, her husband, a local chef, is from Australia. They are expecting their first child, and at work this week, she was mentioning that since their baby will be born in Canada, the child will be legally entitled to three different passport options. I am second generation Canadian — my English grandmother was one of the first war brides to arrive after World War 2. And yet, here we all were, sampling meals from other people’s homelands.

With my stomach full, I found a spot to watch and photograph the entertainment. Peru had taken the stage, followed by Ukraine, and then Japan. I heard that Mexico was dancing at 7:30, but I knew I wouldn’t be staying that long. I didn’t expect it to be tears which sent me running for the door, though.

The Ukrainian dancers were part of a local dance club, and as a result, they had sets of dancers of various ages performing. This extended their time on stage a bit, and at some point as I watched, my eyes strayed from the performers to the crowd. At New Life church, the stage is accessible by a set of carpeted stairs which run across the front of the podium, and my attention was suddenly captured by the scene there. Children with various skin and hair colours, with various ethnic backgrounds and in various different traditional costumes had stationed themselves in an undulating line along the staircase. Sitting together, seemingly oblivious to exterior differences, or historical animosities, or cultural variation, they watched the performers. This, I thought, as I felt myself choking up, is the world as it is meant to be. This is a picture of my country, of my global community.

And I am very proud to call myself Canadian, eh.

 

Buzzing Ellis Street

It’s Wednesday, and it’s my day off, and Christmas is around the bend, and life is hectic, and tonight is book club night!

We are reading Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut, which, I feel, can be succinctly summed up as, religion is foolish, and science is lethal. Also which, I tell the man who picked the book, may have us all going to hell for reading it — with its Bible-bashing meta-references  and allusions — over the Christmas season. When I say this, I think I am being funny. He looks mildly concerned.

Anyway, I started reading the book on Tuesday night, knowing I had the day off and intending to finish while I baked things. Except, it was like Grand Central Station at my house today, with people dropping in left and right. I love it when they do this, but on this particular occasion, these impromptu visits mean I didn’t quite get the book finished.

Well, okay, to be honest, I likely could have, except, every day when I drive into downtown Kelowna for work I think, “Today I am going to stay late and explore all the businesses down here!” And every day, I go directly to my car, and I drive away home. So, I thought to myself, I could stay here and read the last quarter of this tale, or, I could skip ahead to the last few pages to ensure my perspective of Vonnegut’s message isn’t changed and then traipse into town early in order to window shop my afternoon away.

I went with option B. Continue reading “Buzzing Ellis Street”

Christmas in Kelowna

 

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I spent my evening last night at a Christmas party with some writer friends. Since we are all people who tell stories, we gathered around and told the stories of our personal Christmas traditions.

My traditions paled in comparison to the stories of shoe-shining in Hungary and pinatas in Mexico and buckets — yes, you read that right — of wine in Romania, so I didn’t regale everyone with the fact that my December 3rd birthday is historically the day we decorate our tree and my mother’s December 24th birthday sees the entire family — believers and non — at church. Christmas day itself is a free-for-all of sanctioned gluttony and gift-giving and playing with new toys / reading new books / watching new videos.

My fondest memories of Christmas, however, happen in the weeks leading up to the main event, when as a child my grandfather taught me to bake. This is a tradition which continues on, as annually I re-create his recipes for the hordes to devour between breakfast and turkey.

Beyond the gatherings of family and friends, the maxing out of plastic at malls, the gorging on feasts, and the celebration of faith traditions, Christmas is a season full of many fun events. Here are some I recommend: Continue reading “Christmas in Kelowna”

Peter Pan Journeys

 

 

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It started to hit home last night, when she told me of her plans to move her bed into my living room. She continued speaking, wondering aloud about types of screwdrivers, and worrying in a minor way about the potential for losing components of her bed frame. I’d stopped actively listening, though. Unable any longer to ignore the fact of my eldest daughter’s imminent departure, my brain had stuttered to a halt.

Time waits for no man, someone said. At least, I think that’s the quote. Possibly, though, it’s death waits for no man. Both, I’ve noticed, are true.

I’d had an early miscarriage the month prior to Alison’s conception. That baby would have been due near my own birthday, and of course, from the moment you know there’s a baby in your future, your imagination fires. So, the loss is real. The doctor told us we could start trying to conceive again immediately, and that is how Alison became the only one of my four children who was planned.

When, at approximately the same stage of pregnancy that the miscarriage had happened I once again started to spot, I was terrified. I hit my knees. As I was down there, anyway, I told God that since we were talking, not only did I want a healthy child, I also wanted that child to be a red head baby girl. Which is exactly what we got.

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Quite frankly, the entire pregnancy with Alison sucked. First, there was the spotting and doctor ordered lying on my left-hand side — difficult since at that time I was also raising a one year-old son. Next came the intensely itchy rash which covered my torso and extremities and lasted until I ran out of maternal vitamins two weeks before giving birth. (Apparently, I’d been having an allergic reaction.) Finally, during my last trimester, came the undiagnosed gall bladder attacks. Pain would grip me, so intense I’d throw up, and I’d end up in bed in a cold sweat, thrashing until the worst of the pain dulled enough for me to pass out and sleep the rest away.

And yet, out of a pregnancy which was an ordeal came this human being who is an absolute delight. A human being who, tomorrow, is moving out of my home for the first time.

A mother carries a thousand memories, moments snapped like photographs which spool on a loop, inside the recesses of her mind. There was the way, as a toddler, she’d put her hand to my lips and tell me, “Mommy, don’t sing.” The year she was a tiger, a cat, a ghost at Halloween. That time — and I think she’d proud of this one — when she bit the family dentist. The way she laced up her first pair of ice skates then hit the rink as if she’d been born wearing blades. Continue reading “Peter Pan Journeys”

The Colours of Autumn

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Years ago when I was studying the lyric essay at university, I wrote an essay titled The Journey, in which I detailed a trip taken from Kelowna, BC, to Vancouver by car. On this journey, I noticed that the deciduous leaves had started to change colours on the Coquihalla Highway even though they had not yet begun to change at home. Was it altitude, I wondered in this piece of writing, that caused the leaves to change? Was it temperature? Was it something else? I noted that I’d often wondered about the reasons behind the phenomena and debated the value of researching the answer versus having the pleasure of asking myself this question every year. I never did discover the answer.

Until now.

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According to Wikipedia (and elementary school science class), leaves are green because of chlorophyll, which is a green pigment. In the growing season chlorophyll is abundant in the cells of leaves, which is why leaves are predominantly green in colour.

Leaves need chlorophyll to capture the sun’s rays and use the energy produced to make the simple sugars which are the plant’s food. While making the food, the chlorophyll is broken down and used up, but it is also replenished in the growing season. Once daylight hours shorten and temperatures drop, the veins of the leaves (which carry the chlorophyll) gradually close off and a cork layer forms at the base of each leaf. The cork layer reduces water and mineral intake for leaves. This begins slowly but progresses more rapidly as the season changes. Although chlorophyll may still be in the veins of the leaf (keeping the veins green), the tissues between the veins dry out and change colour.

According to David Bradley of SciScoop, “the change in color to reds and yellows in autumn is not caused by the leaves dying, but by a series of controlled biochemical processes.” With less chlorophyll in the leaves as a result of the formation of the cork, less green pigment exists. The yellow pigments which already exist in the leaves can then become dominant. The leaves ‘turn’ yellow.

The process is different with red leaves. As the quantities of chlorophyll in the leaf get smaller, the leaf actually produces a new pigment called anthocyanin. This pigment, which is red, did not exist inside the leaf previously. For anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of colour theory, this makes some sense, considering red and yellow would make an orange hue which, when added to the green of the chlorophyll pigment, would simply turn all leaves a muddy brown.

Since the information about anthocyanin was only recently discovered by scientists, there has been an effort to explain why this process occurs. Anthocyanin has a toxic effect, and the red foliage appears to be a warning to insects that these leaves are toxic. The red colour is actually how the trees ward off insects. Red leaves, as beautiful as they might appear, are how certain tree species defend themselves in autumn.

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The Longer You Spend The More You Appreciate: Herman H Levy at Kelowna Art Gallery

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The first week that I worked at the Kelowna Art Gallery, I walked the gallery in giddy awe that my life had put me in this beautiful spot. Every day I got to wander the gallery and admire art work I’d only previously seen in Art History text books. I certainly never expected to see works by Monet, Van Gogh, Pissarro, Rubens, Degas, and other masters in my home town of Kelowna, BC, population 127,400. I gravitated that first week to the landscape by Jean Victor Bertin. Large and displayed prominently, this painting, which was in every art history book I had ever touched, compelled me. If I didn’t have an actual job to do, I could have stood in front of it and memorized the painting’s play of light and shadows for hours.

The second week that I worked at the Kelowna Art Gallery, my parents came from Vernon to support my new job, and see the art work I kept extolling. My mother, who is the organized glue which keeps our family of artists running, walked diagonally from one end of the gallery to the other twice, meeting me in the middle both times, then settled herself in front of Harold Gilman’s Portrait of an African American, and was promptly moved to tears. I understood. The anger and pride and humiliation and fear battling in the features of the model spoke to me, too. My father, himself a landscape oil painter, traversed the entire collection slowly, gazing with detail at the paintings he most enjoyed then leading me over to the Bertin and conveying his appreciation for the work. Apparently, I thought, the apple did not fall far from the tree in our family. My parents had picked out two of my favourites.

Except, by the end of week two, I would discover the passion in the rocks and waves of Roderick O’Connor’s Red Rocks and Foam. His technique reminded me of a lesson from University Art Class, where the name of the game was get your arm flowing freely. Somewhere, I have a painting from that class whose impassioned brush strokes rival O’Connor’s. On the opposite end of the spectrum, during week two I would fall slightly in love with the evocative warmth of Henri Le Sidaner’s The House in the Morning. If, I thought to myself, I could own only one of these paintings, The House in the Morning is the one I would want.

In week two, you see, I started to understand the urge to posses. These amazing works hanging on the museum walls stir the type of reverence which has grown adults whispering in their presence. The collection is on loan to Kelowna for a limited time. Eventually, we will have to give them up. I am asked by patrons on a daily basis, which is your favourite, if you could own one, which would it be? By the end of week two I had my answer narrowed down to a list of six, no eight, maybe ten, of the works.

By week three, I had noticed the disproportionate nature of the garden planters in the Le Sidaner painting, and had become arrested by the eyes of Maximilian III, by Peter Paul Rubens. What is that expression on his face? I would ponder, unable to properly identify the look in the man’s eyes. If I stood back far enough, the Archduke looked imperiously annoyed and dangerous. Three feet in front and to the center, he looked hopelessly sad, but directly in front of the portrait and slightly to the left, and the long ago Austrian with the warm brown eyes and beautiful long eyelashes looked — intelligent. Intelligent, is not an emotion, I chided myself. So what is the expression on the man’s face? With the slight churl of his upper lip, the man could have been irritated, or, I supposed, he could have been born with a trace of a cleft palate. I didn’t know which, but I wanted to learn. At some point,  I promised myself,  I will research this man, I will learn who he was and what he accomplished.

Continue reading “The Longer You Spend The More You Appreciate: Herman H Levy at Kelowna Art Gallery”

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