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Thursday, December 22, 2011

ODE TO CHRISTMAS TREES

One of the beautiful parts of Christmas are the traditional Christmas trees.  I still prefer the real kind and usually try to have one in my apartment.  But this year, because I'm going to be away, I am only having my small gold decorative tree.  When I put it up, with special small decoration and a string of lights, it looks very pretty and is just as satisfactory as a real tree.  These days many people prefer the imitation trees (much less trouble) but there is something about the scent of pine and cedar in the air that is missing when you use an artificial tree.  (So yesterday I bought pine-scented candles to make up for it!).

This is a story I wrote a few years ago about Christmas trees.  There are so many memories attached to Christmas trees.  I love seeing them, and my own tree always has decorations collected over the years, each with a special meaning.  (I buy a new decoration each year so I have something special to remind myself of that particular Christmas.  This year, as I'm using the small ornamental tree, I bought a tiny carousel when I visited the Burnaby Heritage Museum and it is hanging on the golden boughs along with my other Christmas treasures.)


"OH, CHRISTMAS TREE!"

Two weeks before Christmas. The tree lots are full of fresh-cut firs and pines. Families make special outings to pick this year's tree. Around the city, coloured lights shine heralding the Yuletide.

In the line-up at the Supermarket, I browse through the display of magazines, their covers advertising the
Christmas season, displaying showcase homes with plump trees bedizened with extravagant decorations. Some trees are sprayed gold or silver. And under the dazzling branches are heaps of designer-decorated packages.

I am reminded of other Christmas trees. MY Christmas trees. Although perhaps not so grandly decorated, they are distinctly memorable and remarkably special.

At home I open a box of photo albums and take a nostalgic trip to Christmases past. in a black-and-white photograph, hand tinted by my mother, is Tree Number One. My first Christmas tree: a spindly fir garlanded and hung with lots of tinsel and ornaments. Under its thin branches are the toys Santa has left. In front of the tree, on a little rocking chair sits a large doll with a frilly bonnet and pink dress. Next to it is a doll crib filled with stuffed toys and more dolls. Two stockings hang on the red-brick fireplace behind it, one lumpy with fruit and candy, the other a store-bought stocking full of surprises.

In another photo, taken several years later, the tree has ivory-soap 'snow' on the branches and garlands of popcorn and cranberries. My Mom enjoyed creating special effects for our Christmas tree. Under it are two dolls in highchairs, the boy dolls our mother lovingly sewed wardrobes for. Mine was named Tommy.

Every Christmas was magic when I was a child, a splendid family affair with a house full of visiting relatives and good cheer. Even when we grew older, each year at tree decorating time, it was a special family get-together with mom's delicious Christmas cookies, ginger ale and popcorn for treats as we dipped into the box of decorations and drew out a bauble for the tree. It was a time of nostalgia too, because each ornament had its own little memory attached.

When I grew up and had children of my own, their tree always had some of the decorations they had made: toilet-roll angels with cotton-batting hair and gold wings; egg-carton bells painted red and green and glued with sparkles; cut-out trees with sticker decorations.

One year we had a cookie-decorating contest. We baked sugar cookies, decorated them, and hung them on the tree. The most elaborately decorated cookie won. We saved the best one. They lasted a year or two until some mice discovered them.

Another year we set out a box of ribbons, glue, paper and sparkles and invited each guest that entered our house to make a special decoration for our tree.

Sometimes, other things had to make do for Christmas trees. The year I was going away to California to attend my daughter's wedding, my avocado plant served as a tree, hung with tinsel and silver balls. Another time, when I was living in a cramped bachelor suite, I decorated my ficus plant with lights and tinsel. The year I went to live in Greece, I bought a small laurel plant and decorated it with tiny lights and baubles.

I still have a few of the old treasured ornaments, and every Christmas as I unpack the decoration box to trim my Christmas tree, I am filled with nostalgia, remembering Christmases past: the chenille wreaths from my childhood trees, the expensive silver and gold globes bought to decorate the first tree shared by my husband and I; our children's special ornaments -- little ceramic bells collected on my children's visits to Santa Claus; special little gift ornaments made by friends; starched snow-flakes crocheted by my daughter; ethnic decorations from Mexico and China given to me by newcomers at the daycares where I have worked.

I always look forward to Christmas, especially to the tree decorating time. Some of those old ornaments are getting tattered and tarnished. Each year I have to part with a few, but each year I buy one new ornament to replace the old.


"Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree, how lovely are your branches!"

FAMILY CHRISTMASES


This was Christmas with my family in 1957.  We always gathered (either at my parent's or my
Aunt Grace's home) for a big turkey dinner, lots of fun with skits and board games, and nothing stronger than gingerale to drink.  They were truly merry affairs and looking back I miss those days.
In this photo, there's my Uncle Frank, the joker playing checkers with my husband Mike while cousin Adele and cousin Gracie's husband Gordon looking on.  Gracies' son David is playing behing them. My son Stevie is just a year old, sitting on my cousin Gracie's knee. My dad, cousin Merilyn, Mom, a friend holding Gracies baby Caroline, Aunt Grace and cousin Lynette are in the background.

When I first married Mike, I was introduced to his Ukranian family, and it was quite a different kind of Christmas celebration for them.  Here's a story I wrote about that experience.

CHRISTMAS WITH THE IN-LAWS


Christmas for me has always been a family affair.  From the time I was a small child, it meant visits from the relatives, everyone gathered around the tree on Christmas eve drinking ginger ale, eating the delicious Christmas goodies Mom had baked while we played games like monopoly and crokinole or snakes and ladders. The men would tell funny stories.  My Uncle Frank always recited “’Erbert Burped and Dads famous singing of When Father Papered the Parlour never failed to send us into rollicking laughter. Mostly Christmas meant remembering the true meaning of the Season with carol singing and stories of the birth of the Baby Jesus.



The children (me, my sister and various cousins) would be tucked into bed with the proverbial visions of sugar-plums dancing in our heads,  convinced Santa could be heard stomping on the roof, and going off to slumber-land with happy dreams of the surprises wed find Christmas morning under the tree and in our stockings. 



Christmas dinner was a festive event.  Turkey and all the trimmings,  Christmas pudding with money hidden inside, and everyone gathered around the table with bowed heads while Dad or Grandpa or Uncle Frank said the blessing.



This is the way my Christmases always were in my family. And I thought it that way for all everyone.

What a surprise I got when  I got married and was introduced to Christmas at the Ukrainian in-laws.  The first time my husband  took me home to spend Christmas with his family I was shocked and amazed.  It was my first introduction to a hard-drinking, hearty-eating  Ukrainian way of celebrating the holidays.



There I was, the new bride, sitting in the midst of a party of elderly folks,  a bottle or two of rye whiskey plonked on the coffee table and water glasses filled to the brim -- neat!   It was the first time Id tasted rye straight and it made me gag. I guess I was too polite to say no,  so when nobody was looking I passed the glass down to my husband who eagerly downed it, matching glass for glass with the old folks.  As the afternoon wore on, the merriment grew more boisterous and argumentative. It was a wonder to me how those elderly folks could drink so much.



 Ill never forget one of the Christmases we were invited  for dinner. Wed already had my familys Christmas dinner but we also had to go to the in-laws house or they would be offended. Lena, my father-in-laws common-law wife, was a great cook.  She made the best cabbage rolls and perogis.  This Christmas she had prepared a very large turkey to feed all the friends who were to drop in.  By the time the bird was cooked and ready to come out of the over, she was so drunk that as she removed the turkey from the oven she teetered over and the bird slid off the pan and dropped on the floor. Without missing a beat she picked it up and plonked it on the platter.  I was an eye-witness. The others were probably too drunk to notice. Anyway, it was a delicious dinner and as usual, she was constantly filling your plate. Eat! Eat!  or your glass Drink! Drink!  It didnt occur to me, the naive youngster from the tee-totalling family, that all that booze was eventually going to be my husbands downfall.



Oh yes, those Ukrainian Christmases were memorable. Especially the one when my father-in-law almost cut off his hand when he was demonstrating the new chain saw hed got for a present. He was drunk, of course, and hardly felt any pain. But he bore the scars forever after and in fact caused serious nerve damage so his hand was never the same.  Did that deter the constant partying?  Never!



They were good-hearted folk though, and I know their intentions were well-meaning. 

My mother-in-law, on the other hand, was a different story.  My husbands parents had been separated for many years and it was easy to see why there was no communication between them.  She was a Seventh Day Adventist, strict and totally lacking the joviality and good nature of Lena and Harry.  In fact, I was sure she had the ability to put the evil eye on me and quite frankly I was a bit scared of her.  She had weird eyes and would sit scowling at me when I arrived with my husband and baby.  She had her own ideas of how I should be handling my new baby boy and I know she didnt approve of me one bit. 



Shed cook us dinner once in awhile, never Christmas dinner, because she didnt celebrate Christmas the way the rest of us did. In fact, my husbands younger brother, still a teen-ager, lived with her, and at Christmas he was not given any gifts because she said it wasnt Lennies birthday. It was Jesuss birthday.  I always felt sorry for Lennie so wed invite him to our place and made sure he had lots of presents, and of course hed drop by his fathers for the Christmas meals too.  Maybe the way he was brought up warped him because he grew into the most avaricious nasty man, a bank-manager who had total control over both his parents finances and wills and made sure when they died neither of my children got a cent -- it all went to him, his Ukrainian wife, and their two kids.



Those Ukrainian Christmases were memorable, mainly for the vast amounts of food and booze that were consumed and the chaos that reigned as a result. Invariably it would somehow end up with a fight breaking out.  I didnt realize it then, but my father-in-law was not the jolly guy he seemed to be and poor Lena was often the brunt of his drunken temper.



 It was an experience worth remembering, but to this day I prefer the old fashioned Christmases of my childhood.

Instead of spending  Christmas with a massive hangover  Id rather enjoy what it is really meant to be, a time of good cheer spent with relatives and friends, presents stacked under the tree, stockings hung by the chimney with care and children nestled in their beds waiting for Santa to arrive.  (He didnt get a glass of whiskey at our place,  just some ginger ale and home-made Christmas cookies. There werent any fights, Mom never ever dropped the turkey on the floor, and nobody ever cut their hand off with a chain saw!)



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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

CHRISTMAS ON A SHOESTRING

These days Christmas has become even more commercialized with all the hype of shoppers rushing to the malls to buy! buy! buy!  But it wasn't always like that, especially in my family.  Right from my childhood when my parents earned a meagre living (Dad, an immigrant coal-miner from Wales, was a pastor on the Prairies at the end of the Depression and during the War years my mom, sister and I lived with my grandparents in Stratford Ontario.  Christmas was always a big celebration in our home, no matter what, and many of the gifts were lovingly home-made as there simply wasn't a lot of money to spend.  Because of this family background, when things got tough for me and my kids, after the break-up of my marriage, we were still able to enjoy the holiday season even though "living on a shoe string". Here's a Christmas memoir I wrote a few years ago.

Here it is, that Jolly Old Season again and true to tradition my bank account is running on empty and I haven’t even started shopping yet. It’s just a fact of life that happens when one lives on an extremely low-income budget. Somehow, things always work out alright though. I’ve had lots of experience organizing gala Christmas celebrations on a shoestring.

I recall those “hard times” back in the ’70’s when I was a divorced single mom struggling to support two kids on a miniscule salary as a daycare teacher. My boyfriend and I decided to cut the costs by moving into a big house which we shared with a variety of other equally poor lodgers and assorted dogs and cats.

My boyfriend was on the lam from the American army as this was during the Viet Nam war so any work he had was under-the-table at a car wash. The other lodgers were young college students, and an occasional deserter or wayward hippie that took shelter with us. We never turned anyone away and each guest or tenant, no matter how impoverished, would participate by helping with cooking, sharing expenses and whatever. We all learned how to make do with very little and we were a happy, carefree gang.

The first year we moved in, with our very sparse budget, we were still determined to make the best of it for the Christmas season. After all, it isn’t Christmas without parties, decorations and presents. So all of us got together and cut out coloured tissue paper snowflakes to decorate the windows. We hung lights and somehow managed to get a Christmas tree which we decorated with traditional balls and tinsel as well as strings of popcorn. But what to do for presents?

 It happened that I had a lot of material goods brought from my past life, so I sorted through the china tea-cups, jewelery and other items that I had stored away, carefully picking just the right gift for each of my friends. The girls in the house baked Christmas goodies and the old house was full of the delicious, familiar smells of the holidays. The whole motley crew enjoyed a turkey dinner with all the trimmings. It was a special Christmas because it wasn’t in the least bit ‘commercial’. Everything we had made or chosen from our own belongings to give away. It gave Christmas a new, special meaning.


My kids, Steve & Andrea (Alex) celebrate Christmas in the early '70's (with one of our little Yorkies) 

There were a few other Christmases on a shoestring too, during those years. Once I remember us having a box of odds and ends: ribbons, tinsel, shiny paper, glue, sparkles and various artsy craftsy thing and each guest who came visiting had to make a decoration for the Christmas tree. One year my daughter and I made gingerbread houses for all our friends. Another time we had a Christmas cookie contest and decorated sugar cookies cut in various festive shapes which we hung on the Christmas tree. The ornamental cookies were so pretty we decided to keep them for the next year. But alas! The following Christmas when I opened the box up, the mice had eaten all the cookie ornaments!

I recall as a kid, my Mom used to make whole wardrobes for our Christmas dolls, and sew all our holiday clothes too. My parents didn’t have a lot of money and in those days there were no credit cards but there were always plenty of gifts under the tree, and lots of goodies to eat. Christmas was a jolly time spent with family and friends. I guess those early days taught me how to have Christmas on a shoestring and in a way, those Christmases are the most memorable



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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

"FAMILY PHOTOS: A View of Christmases Through the Years"


My mother enjoyed photography as a hobby. Our family albums are crammed with black and white snaps taken with her Brownie box camera, some hand-tinted with pastel colours. browsing through them, I am transported back in time to Christmases past.

The first Christmas photos, Estevan Saskachewan., I'm an infant in a wicker pram, wearing an angora bonnet. My mother's tidy handwriting on the back says "Ruthie, six months old. She's wearing the bonnet Aunt Edie sent from Wales." In another, I'm propped up in a wooden box on the back of a sled. My father, dressed in his fedora hat and overcoat is posed beside me. In Dad's unique, tight handwriting, is written: "Ruthie's first sleigh ride. I made the sleigh."



Next year, I'm an 18 month old dumpling, podgy as a little snowman in knitted leggings, sweater and bunny-ear hat, knit by Mom. Next to this picture is one of a Christmas tree piled with decorations I can remember using for years to come, and piles of gifts including a doll in a pram and pictures books. A few years later, another Christmas tree, this time with identical dolls sitting in high chairs and a Red-Rover sled with shiny runners. By now I have a little sister, so each year Santa brought us identical gifts. She liked dolls better than I did though. I preferred paper-dolls.

There is always a lot of snow in these pictures: Lloyminster,Saskachewan. My pal Albert and I, age six, standing arm in arm in the back yard under bare-limbed trees with snow up to the tops of our galoshes. Me wearing the coat Mom had made me out of a hand-me-down: moss green wool trimmed with Persian lamb from one of her old coats. I'm still wearing that coat three years later in another photo, this one taken by a photographer for Santa, the year we went to Toronto to see the Sant Claus parade. This photo invokes clear and rather unpleasant memories of that Christmas.

I was nine then. We had moved from the Prairies to Brantford Ontario and then to Stratford when my father was called up as an army chaplain. We lived at Grandpa and Grandma's house while Dad was overseas. In a photo she had taken to send Dad, my mother stands on the front porch steps wearing an elegant crepe dress, her hair neatly coiffed in the fashion of the '40's, smiling.
Behind her, on the door, is a big silver bell with red writing: "Merry Christmas". Those Christmases without Dad must have been lonely for her, but she never showed us anything but her sweet smile. Christmas at my Grandparent's house was a joyful, exciting event with visiting relatives who arrived by train from other parts of Ontario, and a house full of cousins and Christmas cheer.

That particular Christmas, Grandpa promised us we could go to Toronto to see the famous Santa Claus parade. It would be a special Christmas outing for the whole family. We would take the train in the morning and return that night. It was an adventure I had longed for and I was beside myself with excitement for days before the scheduled departure.

Then, on the eve of our journey, I took ill with the flu. I was very sick, but determined not to miss the trip. I don't remember the train trip or the Santa Claus parade. I look at myself in the photo, puffy-cheeked and pale, totally wretched, sitting on Santa's knee unable to smile. I still haven't forgotten how ill I was that day, and how disappointing it was to have such a special outing spoiled.

The next year's Christmas photo shows us standing on Grandpa's steps with my Dad who is beaming proudly in his army great-coat and beret. My little sister Jeanie is on one side of him. She has a doll in her hand. Twelve-year-old me stands on the other side of him, skinny, long-legged and solemn. Behind us is a spangled sign that says: "Welcome Home!".

That was our last Christmas in Ontario. The following year we took the train across Canada and made our new home in British Columbia where Christmas wasn't always white, although I can still remember skating on the Lagoon and singing carols door-to-door in the snow.

Wherever we were, Christmas was always special in our family, with beautiful decorations, the aroma of Christmas baking, pine logs on the fire; Christmas music, and a tree we always decorated together with heaps of surprises wrapped in colourful paper under it. Santa always found us, and filled our stockings, even when my sister and I were grown up and had little ones of our own.

In her photographs, my Mother has captured all these memorable times and left us this legacy of Christmas with the Family. Christmases Past.

CHRISTMAS AT GRANDPA’S

Grandpa Bexton's House in Stratford Ontario (and that's our dog, Dutchess)


          Christmas in the ‘40’s was a time when all the relatives came to celebrate at Grandpa’s house.  We would troop down to the train station and stand waiting on the wooden platform, our breaths puffing like the steam from the locomotive engine, the frosty winter air nipping our cheeks into roses.  The train chugged into the station, the coach doors opened and travelers spilled out onto the platform.  Happy greetings filled the air as merry as caroler’s songs, families embraced and made their way down the snowy streets.

          When my uncle, aunt and cousins arrived, we all went back to Grandpa’s house. How my grandparents found room for everyone, I can’t imagine. All the Aunts, Uncles and Cousins crowded into the small living room around the Christmas tree to chat, the crackling of the flames in the hearth sounding like pop-corn. After a few games of monopoly and Chinese checkers, my Uncle Frank would performed a comical rendition of “Herbert Burped”, tongue-in-cheek, about a little boy who gets swallowed by  a lion. Then all of us children were tucked snugly into beds, often three in a bed, the middle one squished between the other two, warm in our flannel pajamas, while the grownups sat up late eating Christmas cake and drinking ginger ale.

          One particular Christmas stands out in my memory.  That was the year I bought the best Christmas presents I’d ever bought before.  Certainly, the most memorable!

          I was nine years old, and I felt very grown up as I went off to town to do my own Christmas shopping. I headed straight for the Woolworths Five and Dime store where you could always get the best bargains.  I looked over all the trinkets, trying to decide what would be the finest gifts.  It was difficult to decide. I wanted something unforgettable. Something everyone would love.

          Then I saw it: a little clay Chinese dragon on a bamboo stick. The head of the dragon was made of painted clay, and it had a red felt tongue that looked like fire shooting from its gaping mouth. The body was accordion-pleated tissue paper.  When you waved the stick, the body expanded and the head shot out, tongue flickering, like a real fire-breathing dragon.  The Chinese dragons would make the perfect Christmas gifts!

          I bought one for each of my relatives and excitedly headed for home, proud of myself for making such an extraordinary purchase. But when I showed them to my Mom, she was not impressed.  In fact, she

was upset with me for ‘wasting’ my money on such foolish toys as these instead of buying something more ‘practical’.  I felt embarrassed and disappointed.  However, it was too late to return the dragons to the store, so I wrapped them up and put them under the Christmas tree with the other gifts.

          On Christmas morning I waited nervously for everyone to open their presents.  I felt embarrassed thinking that my relatives would think the present’s I’d bought were foolish and useless.

          Instead, when the gifts were unwrapped, everyone was amused and delighted. especially my Uncle Frank.  He played with his dragon all day.  Of course, Uncle Frank always was the life of the party!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A NEW CAREER FOR MR. CHEEKY BIRD: Bird-brained Artist

Mr. Cheeky Bird on his favorite perch


I read a newspaper article the other day about Parrots in a Bird Refuge who were raising money by painting.  Yes!  Parrots were actually producing bird art, brandishing paint brushes and using their claws and feathers to create saleable paintings.  The paintings are on canvas and will be sold at the World Parrot Refuge in Coombs, on Vancouver Island, in order to raise money for the centre which shelters birds who are discarded or mistreated by former owners.


The owner is quoted as saying, "I think the cockatoos are going to be the best artists."

That got me thinking.  I have a very clever cockatiel, Mr Cheeky Bird.  He loves getting into things.  So what if I brought out my paints and some canvas sheets and let him try his claws and feathers at art too.  I bet he'd really enjoy the experience.  And maybe we can eventually hold an art show to display his unique creations.


The parrots at the shelter started with group painting sessions but they got a little feathery with paint splashing all over.  So now the parrots work in pairs or individuals.  Apparently they have their favorite colours a well.  Two umbrellas cockatoos, Bailey and Peaches, favour reds and yellows.  Bailey uses her tail to create impressionist influences. Peaches uses the brushes to throw paint on the canvas. Nickey and Sidney, two Moluccas cockatoos with pink feathers, seem to like the blue and green tones. I'm curious now to discover what colours Mr. Cheeky Bird would prefer.

Of course the paints are non-toxic so there's no danger of the birds inhaling or tasting something that might be harmful.  They have baths following the painting sessions as they love using their feathers as brushes. 

I'm honestly curious to find out if cockatiels are as talented at art as their larger cousins the cockatoo.

The Shelter hopes their bird-brained paintings will go on sale to help the finances of the centre and get the refuge out of the red.  I think it's a truly innovative and creative idea.  Apparently they are the only place in North America that does this.  The World Parrot Refuge houses more than 800 birds.

My handsome cockatiel, Cheeky.  Do you think he might show artistic abilities?




Sunday, October 09, 2011

THANKFUL THOUGHTS

It's the Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada and families are gathering to enjoy a traditional turkey dinner.  This year I'm not cooking a turkey, nor am I attending a family get-together. Instead I'm going with my friend to the Irish Heather on Monday for a turkey feast.  I've been once before to one of their special events (that time it was roast beef).  It's almost like a medieval feast with a long table where everyone (friends and strangers) sit together and get waited on by the staff and served delicious food from their special dinner menu.

There's lots of ways to celebrate Thanksgiving.  In the States it's held in later than ours and it's all about the Pilgrims.  In England it's held around this time of year but it's called the Harvest Festival.
My friend Patrick says it's the same for Germany and there isn't really any big deal other than in the churches.  (I remember when my Dad was pastor he always made sure the church was decorated for the Thanksgiving holiday, much in the tradition of the Harvest Festival would be in Wales where he was born. 
Many countries around world have a special day for expressing gratitude and a bountiful harvest.
In Biblical times there was the Feast of the Tabernacles (tents).  Hebrew people decorated their tent homes with leaves and branches and feasted and thanked God for their harvest.  Jewish people still celebrate this festival, called Sukkot.

The ancient Greeks had a harvest festival to celebrate the goddess Demeter, goddess of the earth and harvest.  The Romans also held an October harvest festival called Cerelia named after their goddess Ceres who protected their crops and help them grow.  The word "Cereal" comes from the Greek word "Ceres"

China has also celebrated a Harvest moon for many centuries. Soon it will be the Harvest Moon here too, the first full moon of autumn.  The Chinese-Canadians will mark the festival with celebrations.

Wherever you are this weekend, remember to give thanks for not only the bountiful harvests that put food on our tables, but the beautiful world we live in, our friends and families, and for the goodness and peace in our lives.  HAPPY THANKSGIVING, Everyone!

Thursday, September 01, 2011

MORE SUMMER FUN: The Nanaimo Blues Festival


Horseshoe Bay Marina

Last weekend my friend Patrick and I headed out to Horseshoe Bay to catch the ferry to Nanaimo for the day.  My son and his band were playing at the Nanaimo Blues Festival and neither of us had been to Nanaimo so we thought it would be an excellent weekend outing.

Heading out into Howe Sound

It's a beautiful cruise through the islands of Howe Sound and out into the Strait of Georgia.  The sailing takes just over an hour and is a relaxing, enjoyable trip.


As the ferry approached the Vancouver Island coast, I was listening to Diana Krall's song about Departure Bay on my mp3 player.  Then we approached into the Bay, a scenic, beautiful sight.

Departure Bay, Nanaimo

Nanaimo is the second largest city on Vancouver Island and the third oldest city in British Columbia.  It began as the home of five Coast Salish villages and became a Hudson's Bay Company outpost more than 150 years ago.  Now it's a thriving port city, sheltered on the eastern side of the island.  It has a population of 77,000. 



The sheltered bays of the Strait of Georgia are perfect for sea adventurers including sailing and fishing excursions.  Nanaimo is considered the best scuba diving destination in North America because of the rich marine ecosystem and diversity of saltwater inhabitants as well as sunken ships that have become artificial reefs.


The Blues Festival was held at Maffeo Sutton Park, a lovely sea-side venue with plenty of opportunity to wander the shoreline trails as well as relaxing under shade trees while listening to some of the best West Coast Blues.  The Fesitval was presented by the Nanaimo Blues Society and was a three-day event.  Unfortunately we could only afford the Saturday shows, but each day including the Friday and Sunday, was perfect weather and the most excellent musicians participating.

One of the craft tables.

It was a hot, sunny day and we had arrived just after noon but by later in the day the grounds filled up with more people. 


Like me, most people brought along their own beach chairs


I wished I'd brought a picnic lunch like some spectators had, but there were food booths outside the venue with an interesting range of snacks.  I enjoyed the pulled pork on a bun. 

There were several different Blues bands performing before it was time for my son, Steve Kozak and his All-star band.  So I took a break to cool off and walked along the sea front, enjoying the scenery.


By six o'clock it was Steve's turn.  Meanwhile, one of my daughter's long-time friends had shown up with her pal and we had a beer at the Beer Gardens and then settled down to hear some more fine music.

Me, Connie, and Sue (Steve's wife)

Steve Kozak and the West Coast Blues All Stars
Steve and his group of West Coast Blues All Stars are popular with Blues fans.  The blurb on the festival program says "You can feel the drive dirt and sweat in every note they play and sing whenever you see them perform." As always, it was an excellent show, and well worth making a day of it to attend.

My Blues Musician Son, Steve Kozak
We stayed for a little of the day's feature, The Duke Robillard Band, but didn't want to miss the one and only last ferry back, so we left early.  Turns out we could have stayed much longer, but I guess it's better to be safe than sorry.  And by then my eardrums were worn out as I'd sat in front of the amps for much of the day, close to the stage.  So waiting at the ferry terminal,  relaxing in the solitude, was a good, quiet way to end a wonderful day's outing.

Reflections:  The End of a Perfect Day











Friday, August 26, 2011

MY SUMMER FUN, 2011: Blues Lunch at the Dockside


The other Sunday, my son's Blues band, West Coast All Stars, was playing for the noon-hour Blues lunch at the Dockside Restaurant, in the Granville Island Hotel on Granville Island.  My friend Patrick and I went to hear them play and enjoyed a wonderful meal while sitting dockside in the sunshine by False Creek.


There's nothing more pleasant than being down by the water on a sunny Vancouver afternoon.  Granville Island is a great place to explore with the market and shops galore.  I've been to the Dockside before for cocktails during the Jazz Festival and on New Years Eve when Steve's group played there.  The service is efficient and friendly and the food was excellent.

I ordered the spinach Bennie which was one of the best I've ever tasted!  Patrick had fish and chips.
Because it was a special occasion I also had a mimosa (champagne and orange juice) to accompany my brunch.



I try to attend as many of my son Steve's shows as I can, but this one was particularly special being outdoors by the water. Somehow the whole atmosphere was serene and it made the music sound so mellow.  He'll be playing there again in September so why not come on down and enjoy a very special Sunday brunch!





Saturday, July 23, 2011

SAYING GOODBYE

Dora's Sunset (Poros, Greece)

DORA’S SUNSET
(written on Poros Greece in memory of my friend Dora Preston)
The night I learn you had left us,
I walk the seaside promenade
by Poros’ harbour
and pause, remembering.
The sunset has turned the sea
into a pool of crimson
And against the blazing sky
a four-masted sailing ship
lies at anchor
I remember you, the free spirit,
You who wore purple
and buttercup yellow.
You danced in floral frocks,
amused us with funny stories
about an old lady named Clover.
I still hear your sweet voice,
singing, laughing.
I search that crimson sunset sky,
say prayers, remember you.

The next day, on Kanali beach,
I wade into the water.
A gull soars overhead,
a small white bird circling
as though it is watching me.
My tears mix with the sea salt.
Is it your spirit
soaring over the blue Aegean sea?
I hear the gentle trill of your voice,
telling me not to cry.
How could it be that you are gone,
taken from us too soon?

Dora, you will always be remembered.
 Since I posted the blog about my friends taking ill and some passing away,  my friend Anne passed the end of May, and when I was in Greece the end of June, my dear friend Dora passed.  That was a real shock to all of us and we were devastated. (How Fragile Life Is).

Before I went to Greece, I visited my cousin Shiela who had the stroke last November and it was so sad to see her lying on her back in a care-home bed unable to sit up or stand. She was always an independent woman and loved spending time with her family. It is not likely she will recover. 

These are the frailties of life we must all face, but it leaves me so sad to think of these dear friends who have been taken.
None of them will be forgotten!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

WHAT IS THIS 'RAPTURE'?

This, to me is 'rapture': A beautiful Aegean sunset
So the "rapture" has come and gone, largely a non-event other than a couple of rumbles down in California and Iceland and a Icelandic volcano spewing a bit of ash.  Along with some of the other natural disasters that have happened recently, this hardly seems too disturbing.  What does disturb me though, is that this lunatic so-called "Christian" con artists, Harold Camping, should get away with his fear mongering and the huge scam that caused his gullible followers to sell property, quit jobs, and buy into his idea that on May 21 the world was going to end.  This same guy has pulled this stunt off before and once again he got away with it.  Meanwhile, I wonder what has become of him and the $70,000,000 he has amassed in his phony 'ministry'.  These kinds of nut-cases make a bad name for religion and there are far too many of them, along with the hard-core fundamentalist bigots who claim they are Christians.   I think Jesus called guys like Camping 'false prophets' and the others 'whited sepulcures'.  And the unfortunate thing is, these types have been around for centuries and still they con the masses with their wild predictions and glean funding from the poor saps in the process.

The River Acheron
One of the big con job of the past centuries was the so-called "Oracle of the Dead", the Necromanteion of Ephyra on the north east coast of Greece.  Back in the ancient times pilgrims came here to consult with the dead, bringing along their votive offerings to fill the sanctuary's coffers.  One of these was Odysseus who went there to consult with Achilles' spirit. 
The Necromanteion (Oracle of the Dead)
I've been to the Necromanteion on a couple of occasions and it's a fun boat trip from the port of Parga up the spooky river Acheron, symbolic of the Styx.  There isn't much left of the sanctuary now but you can get an idea of it and how these gullible souls were lead to believe that they were actually going to talk with their  beloved departed.  Here's the way it worked,  the pilgrims came (bearing their gifts -- nothing was free, even in those days). They were placed in windowless cells where they were visited by the priests and fed strange concoctions including beans and psychoactive lupin seeds which caused them to go into a trance.  When the priests deemed them ready, they were lead down a stone labyrinth full of hallucinogenic smoke and into a small dark room.  From here they descend into the pit of Hades where they would consult with the souls of the departed.  It was a very popular sanctuary, one of the largest in Greece.  Trouble is, it was phony.  The 'souls' were really the priests who already knew what the supplicants meant to ask the dead and knew the right answers. An elaborate scheme that they got away with for literally centuries! When the Romans arrived in 168 BC they discovered the scam and destroyed the place.  Later an orthodox church was built in the site.

You would think after what happened to all those poor folks who followed that other nut-case down to Guyana and allowed him to feed them poison that people would wise up to these charlatan so-called
'ministers of the gospel' but it seems that the charade goes on.  I wonder if Camping dares to show his face now or if he bit the bullet and found his own private 'rapture'.  Mostly I wonder about all those poor suckers that quit their jobs and sold their property.  Will they be reimbursed from the massive bank roll of Camping's phony church?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

IN MY OPINION...

There are some things going on in the media these days that made me think back to ancient times.  In Greece, one of the popular gods was Dionysos, god of wine, madness and vegetation.  He was also god of the theatre.  Dionysos has a dual nature: bright and joyous, but also dark, mysterious and deadly.  He is the god of wine and therefore should be pleasant and beneficial, but wine has its negative aspects too, making people drunk and behave in strange ways.  The Greeks were aware of the dual nature of wine mirrored by the dual natures of this god.



Dionysos is a male god, always surrounded by women, his chief worshippers.  His worship involved transvestism and blurring of sex roles.  Both men and women worshipped dressed in long robes covered by fawn skins.  The women, known as bacchants, left their homes and revelled on mountainsides.  Their name (in ancient Greek maenaeds) literally means "raving ones". Through dancing and drunken intoxication they went into a state of ecstatic frenzy, lost all self-control, began to shout excitedly, engaged in uncontrolled sexual behavior and ritualistically hunted down and tore into pieces animals (and in myth, sometimes men and children) devouring the raw flesh.


Death forms a major part in the worship Dionysos.  He revels in human sacrifice.  It was suggested that every tragic hero who suffers and dies on stage at the Dionysia, a great drama festival in Athens, is in fact Dionysos being killed.  It was said that the sacrifice plot was the original plot of the tragedy.

Sadly, we are seeing signs of this mad, erratic behavior relating to people in today's entertainment business.  In my opinion, the media has gone too far in their quest to sell news by dwelling too much on the antics of these out-of-control, misbehaving, addictive individuals.  These actors/entertainers who make public spectacles of themselves -- using all forms of media to flaunt their unacceptable and crazed behavior to the world -- do not deserve a minute of press time.  Anyone who has dealt with people with addictions knows there comes a time when tough love is the only solution. (Firing this actor from his TV show was a step in the right direction, so is laying charges of theft against one who 'borrows' an expensive piece of jewerly and refuses to return it and continually breaks their terms of probation.)  If the user (alcoholic or drug addict) continues on their path of self destruction, refuses rehab (or makes a joke of it by checking in and out like they're at a luxury resort), refuses to admit they have a problem, endangers themselves and loved ones (especially their children) by their out-of-control, crazed behavior and refusal to seek proper treatment, they do not deserve the publicity the press is giving them.  Yet we continue to condone this negative behavior by listening to their manic tirades, giving them a voice on radio, TV and Internet, and watch with fascinating as they self destruct.

It's time to quit giving all this attention to these sick individuals and focus more on people who are contributing their talents in a positive way.   Oh, I know, bad behavior sells newspapers.  But have we all resorted back to the days of the ancients, worshipping Dionysos and condoning this madness, following along like the raving maenaeds?

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

HOW FRAGILE LIFE IS


There are times when you realize just how fragile life can be.  It seems that for the past few months so many dear friends (and relatives) have suddenly been struck down, unexpectedly in many cases, leaving a huge ache in my heart and making me feel so vulnerable.

The first shock was when my dear cousin Shiela in Wales had a stroke last November.  This was so unexpected and the tragic part is that she hasn't responded to physio and has been rendered unable to sit or stand.  This meant she had to be moved to a care home and will likely never return to her own home which she loved so much and worked so hard to get.  At the same time my other distant cousin Joyce,  also in Wales, who is quite elderly and in fragile health, also ended up in the hospital in a near death situation.  She's recovered enough now to be placed in a home and is doing okay other than some dementia.  Shiela turned 80 this month. Joyce is a bit older than that.

Then there was the big shock when our dear friend Dora, who was 83 going on 63 and always the Energizer Bunny, suddenly became ill on a flight home from California after the American Thanksgiving.  When she got home she had to check into the hospital with what turned out to be a burst appendix.  This woman has never been ill and had no idea that was what she was suffering. Who would imagine having a bust appendix at her age?  I can't imagine the pain she went through.  The most upsetting of all was when they discovered that the burst appendix was because of a malignant tumor, so they had to do an iliostomy.  She has now had to move out of the town to the care of her her daughter's on the Island.  Although she is gaining strength it isn't certain if she will recover completely - that will depend on whether all the cancer is gone and she has decided against treatments if it hasn't, resigning herself to her fate.

All this while another close friend who has been suffering from congestive heart failure was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia and kidney failure.  We completely expected that Anne, 81,  would not survive and were prepared for the worst scenario.  Surprisingly she did pull out of it and in fact, I spoke to her today on the phone.  She's still in the hospital in very fragile condition and will be going into a home. And in spite of the ordeal is in amazingly good spirits.

Then, last night the biggest shock of all when I got a message about a friend who has been travelling in Peru.  I last heard from Lorna on the 24th as she was heading by bus to Chile and planned to visit a friend of mine in Santiago.  She's been travelling around the high Andes for some weeks now, having a grand time with many excellent adventures, and in spite of the high altitude was managing to see a lot.  The last message was from Lake Titicaca and she was leaving the next day by bus.  Well, somewhere along the line she got ill and was taken off the bus to a hospital in Chile (we don't know where) and there she died.  We don't know the details but suspect it was altitude sickness.  She was only mid 60's and had planned to travel through to Argentina before flying home.  Needless to say, we who know her are all in shock. 

This has all brought to mind exactly how fragile our lives are.  I am a traveller too, and an elder, and although I am in good health, who knows what might happen and when?  It is important then, to live the life you want, do the things you want to do,  enjoy yourself, the way Lorna was.  It was a dream trip for her.  How could she know it was her ultimate trip?

I mourn my friend's passing,  I worry about my friends who are ill and in care homes.  I don't like to imagine it happening to me.  But these are the realities of life.  Life is very fragile.  It is a gift.  Live it the best way you can.

Friday, January 07, 2011

THOUGHTS ON THE NEW YEAR

This is a piece I wrote some time ago about celebrating New Years Eve. 

The balloons drop at midnight

ONCE UPON A NEW YEAR’S EVE


December 31, the final day of the Gregorian year and the day before New Years Day, is also called Hogmanay (in Scotland) and Sylvester (in Germany, Israel, Hungary and Poland) In the 21st century western practice, New Years eve is traditionally celebrated with parties and social gatherings. Many countries use fireworks and other forms of noise making to welcome in the new year. Some countries have odd traditions associated with this eve.

In Brazil music shows are held, most famously at the Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro and in Sao Paulo they hold the Saint Sylvester Marathon, contested by athletes from all over the world. The Danes celebrate with family gatherings and feasts. In Ecuador they have elaborate effigies called Anos Viejos (Old Years) created to represent people and events from the past year. These are often stuffed with firecrackers. One popular tradition is the wearing of yellow panties, said to attract positive energy for the new year.

The French celebrate with a feast called Le Reveillon de la Saint-Sylvestre. In Berlin Germany, a huge display of fireworks is ignited at the Brandenburg Gate. There’s also fireworks in Hong Kong and in Japan the Buddhist temple bells are rung 108 times. Mexicans down a grape for each of the 12 chimes of the bell, and people who want to find love in the New Year wear red underwear (yellow for money).

Auckland New Zealand is the first major city to see the beginning of the new year as it’s 496.3 kilometres west of the International Date Line. The Filipinos celebrate with a dinner party called Media Noche; They have a custom of wearing clothes with a circular pattern, like polka dots, to attract money and fortune.

In Spain families celebrate with a special dinner of shrimp, lamb or turkey and also wear red underwear for luck, and eat the 12 grapes synonymous with the new year.

In Turkey homes are lit up and decorated with garlands and public celebrations are held. In Greece, while the adults gamble at card games, the children go around ringing little triangles while they sing “kalendelas” (carols) as this is the night that Agio Nikolaos (Saint Nicholas) comes with gifts for them.

In the U.K. Big Ben strikes the midnight hour as the crowds count down the chimes to the hour. In London the London Eye is the centre of a 10 minute fireworks display illuminated with coloured lasers. In Scotland the traditional song Auld Lang Syne, by Robert Burns, is sung and street parties are held. In the States the Bell Drop at Times square in New York is broadcast through America and Canada.

I have both fond and melancholy memories of New Years Eves. In the old times it was one of the most anticipated holidays next to Christmas. You always had a new outfit to wear which was planned well in advance, something fashionable and spectacular to wear to the celebration which was often held in a night club or at a gala house party. I’ll never forget the year I’d made a gorgeous gold pois de sois two-piece dress. I looked fantastic. But when I arrived at the big party with several other couples, which was held in a big barn-like place on Grandview Highway, I was chagrined to find that another woman in the group was wearing a dress of similar style and material. I was crushed, but of course I had made mine myself so considered it be more ‘original’. I recall one new years eve when I was in my late teens, my girlfriend and I had been invited out by two American sailors to attend a show at the Cave supper club. My girlfriend had a new dress but hadn’t time to hem it so she’d pinned the hem up and all night long the pins scraped her legs until they were bleeding. After the show at the Cave, we tottered over to the Holy Rosary Church for midnight mass. I was in charge of holding the bottle of wine in a brown paper bag under my coat, and I distinctly recall dropping it in the back pew!

Yes, New Years eve was always a night of wild abandon and over-drinking. At clubs or house parties, when it turned midnight, you are supposed to kiss your pattern or date, but all to often I’d find myself alone in a crowd of st4rangers while my boyfriend was off in a corner kissing someone else. I soon grew weary of these episodes. New Years eve began to lose it’s romantic appeal, and instead it became a lonely time, especially once I was single. Eventually I decided I’d rather stay home alone, if necessary, so I’d bring in some goodies: the makings for Welsh rarebit, oysters to fry, a few bottles of McEwan’s ale and a bottle of Heinken Trokel sparkling wine. I’d tell a few people my plan and wait to see who’d show up, and usually a couple of close friends would drop by. One of my most memorable New Years Eves was one I spent all alone enjoying my own company, dancing to my favourite music.

I’ve had New Years Eve’s abroad, far from family and close friends, that were still fun in their uniqueness. One time I remember my room-mate and I heading off to a big hotel for the night and on the way stopped to get a bite to eat at a pizzeria. We walked into a party of rowdy Qantas airlines crew who immediately embraced us and invited us to party with them. That was one of my best times, and it landed me a nice boyfriend for several months, so long as Qantas was flying in and out of town.

New Years Eve with friends at the Dockside


Now I will occasionally make plans to go out, if friends are going along and the price is right. Being with close friends, dancing and dining, is quite satisfying. It’s no longer to me the ‘romantic’ exciting night it used to be, but it’s worth a little celebrating especially if it’s been a good year.

This year I went out with a some friends to enjoy a night of partying at a rather posh restaurant where my son's band was playing. It was a more 'formal' affair but even the sedate older couples loved dancing to the Rhythm and Blues music provided by my son, Steve,  and his band. A great time was had by all.  I don't think you can beat celebrating the New Years with good friends and family!


                                        Steve Kozak and the West Coast Blues Allstars

HAPPY NEW YEAR, EVERYONE!
BEST WISHES FOR 2011