Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Year of Yes – Rachel’s version

I began 2011 with an attitude of determination. My usual, but maybe squared.
I decided I was going after every reasonable idea and opportunity that came my way. And as these things so often go, the universe has lobbed so many soft pitches my way, I’ve been swinging ever since.
I was teaching one day a week and writing a few freelance articles last winter when I saw a notice that Statistics Canada was hiring people to work during the census period in the spring. I applied. I got a call asking me to go for a test, so I showed up and while I waited for the test to begin, one of the other applicants suggested Elections Canada as another temporary gig. So after the Stat Can exam, I went home and signed on to Got another call.
I worked as a poll clerk during the federal election in early May and was fascinated to see the process from a different point of view, to chat even for brief moments with so many people who were excited to be voting for the first time or the 20th time.
A week later, I started a temporary stint with Statistics Canada. I loved the team, loved the downtown location, and loved the work.
A couple of days after that full-time job ended in late August, I spotted an ad for a position at the University of Victoria. The new Centre for Social and Sustainable Innovation was looking for a half-time coordinator, someone who is all about sustainability and education and writing. My résumé practically wrote itself.
I started working on September 7.
My first journalism class was on September 12. And the second (did I mention I was asked to teach a second course this term?) started September 14.
And in Friday’s mail came a notice that I’m to report for jury duty next week.
I can’t wait to find out what’s going to happen next – because, you know, I’m going to have to say yes!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

What's new

I got a new job!
I'm teaching even more!
I celebrated both – and the advent of September – with a daytrip to magical Carmanah Valley!
Fodder and I are both holding our own in the healthy-weight department – and in fact he's still raising the bar for his fitness level!

And that's enough exclamation marks for now.

I'll post more details of the exciting new stuff later, but today I'll introduce you to a couple of the fascinating people and places I encountered this year:

LaConner, Washington is the site of the annual Tulip Pedal bike ride – and a whole lot more.

Alisa Smith is the co-founder of the 100-Mile Diet, but she's about more than just food.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

A gardener's dream…or is it nightmare?

Some people call it the wonder green.
The Saint calls it “not again.”
Kale grows fast and thick and in all seasons. Here on the wet coast, the purple variety is also used as wintertime ornamental foliage in window boxes and patio planters.
It’s nutritious, packing into a single cup 350% of an adult’s daily Vitamin A requirement, 90% of our Vitamin C needs, and 10% of our fibre.
It can be cooked any number of ways – steamed, sautéed, braised, layered in a casserole, pureed in a smoothie, dehydrated into chips that my cousin Tea swears are as good as Miss Vickie’s. Very young kale is lovely in salads.
I could go on.
You knew there was a but coming, didn’t you?
The down side of kale is that it is so very prolific. Prodigious. Productive.
It sprouts fast and grows faster.
I’m still harvesting the first crop I planted very late this spring and the second is past the salad stage and heading for outright maturity. The third crop (what was I thinking?) is already two inches high.
I like kale. The Saint, witty comments notwithstanding, eats what’s put in front of him. Fodder had enough after the first bunch of the summer. My neighbours avert their eyes and pick up speed when they walk past our house.
You know why.
Kale is the new zucchini.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Fifteen minutes of…

My friend Lee McKenzie is all heart. Not only does she write award-winning romance novels, she passed along the info about this research:
Taiwanese scientists studied more than 400,000 people for 13 years and their conclusion, published in The Lancet recently, is that 15 minutes will get you more than famous.
It'll get you an extra three years.
That's right. Just moving briskly for 15 minutes a day can extend your life by three years and even cut your risk of the big C.

So how about it? Isn't this is the perfect time of year to get in some practice?

I'll meet you on the sidewalk.

Sunday, August 21, 2011


When I was a little girl, departures made me so sad that I used to hide to avoid saying goodbye to guests.

I don’t hole up in the closet any more, nor cry (much), but still poignancy floods my chest whenever anything ends. On Friday, it was my job with Statistics Canada for the census.

Five or six days a week for three and a half months, I packed a lunch, put on grown-up clothes (no sweatpants, not even once!) and went to the office where I worked with, at peak season, more than 30 others.

It was a temporary job – we all knew that going in – and I suppose that made it easier at the end. Also, we’ve been bidding adieu to colleagues for weeks as the work tapered off and a mom went back to her kids; a student headed for Europe before term starts; someone else landed a more permanent gig…

Then a few of us were asked to stay for another five days. At the end of that, we were offered more work with the clear understanding that it was strictly one shift at a time, and that turned into another pay period. When it became obvious that the possibility of on-call four-hour stints was going to turn into another full week with some bonus hours tacked on, I wrote, “Welcome to the Hotel California” on the white board by the door.

Most of my coworkers were a generation too young to get the reference, but it made two of us laugh, so it was worth it.

And then on Friday evening there were just half a dozen of us entering the final data for Vancouver Island, packing up the last few thousand questionnaires, and sweeping the stray elastic bands and paper clips into boxes. Six of us logged off the computers for good and walked out of the building into brilliant evening sunlight that offered no cover, nowhere to hide.

I had to suck it up and say goodbye like an adult.

I’m going to miss my daily rides and walks to the heart of the old town. I will miss all the gardens I walked through on my lunch breaks. I’ll miss the colours of swarming tourists and hanging flower baskets.

I meant it when I told my colleagues that I’d love to hear from them any time; I meant it when I wished them all the best.

And I mean it: I will miss them.

Saturday, August 20, 2011


When I was a little girl, departures made me so sad that I used to hide to avoid saying goodbye to guests.
I don’t hole up in the closet any more, nor cry (much), but still poignancy floods my chest whenever anything ends. On Friday, it was my job with Statistics Canada for the census.
Five or six days a week for three and a half months, I packed a lunch, put on grown-up clothes (no sweatpants, not even once!) and went to the office where I worked with, at peak season, more than 30 others.
It was a temporary job – we all knew that going in – and I suppose that made it easier at the end. Also, we’ve been bidding adieu to colleagues for weeks as the work tapered off and a mom went back to her kids; a student headed for Europe before term starts; someone else landed a more permanent gig….
Then a few of us were asked to stay for another five days. At the end of that, we were offered more work with the clear understanding that it was strictly one shift at a time, and that turned into another pay period. When it became obvious that the possibility of on-call four-hour stints was going to turn into another full week with some bonus hours tacked on, I wrote, “Welcome to the Hotel California” on the white board by the door.
Most of my coworkers were a generation too young to get the reference, but it made two of us laugh, so it was worth it.
And then on Friday evening there were just half a dozen of us entering the final data for Vancouver Island, packing up the last few thousand questionnaires, and sweeping the stray elastic bands and paper clips into boxes. Six of us logged off the computers for good and walked out of the building into brilliant evening sunlight that offered no cover, nowhere to hide.
I had to suck it up and say goodbye like an adult.
I’m going to miss my daily rides and walks to the heart of the old town. I will miss all the gardens I walked through on my lunch breaks. I’ll miss the colours of swarming tourists and hanging flower baskets.
I meant it when I told my colleagues that I’d love to hear from them any time; I meant it when I wished them all the best.
And I mean it: I will miss them.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Interstitial adventure

Saturday, 7 pm:
I drafted a post this morning and when I came to revise it just now, it was gone. It shouldn't have had any delusions that it was ready for the big world; a first draft is a gawky thing and rightfully unconfident. Nonetheless, this one has flown into the Maw of the Blogosphere.

I'm still intrigued by the idea that sparked it, and I've retrieved the shreds of morning pages from the recycling bin, so I hope to reconstruct the essay more tidily than I've reassembled the paper. Maybe I'll tackle it tomorrow. But not tonight.

Sunday, August 7, 2011


I wrote this essay nine years ago, but it remains so true to my experience. Or my experience stays true to it….
I was at a 60th-anniversary party yesterday afternoon with all the usual suspects. There was a new baby, a new fiancé, old men and middle-aged ladies (whose ranks now include me, which just feels weird). There were print dresses and, of course, there were lemon squares.

The Touchstones

My younger cousin Tracey phoned recently to tell me about a plan she and five of her thirty-something single friends are hatching. It involves an RV trip to Alaska (where, apparently, men still outnumber women quite dramatically), a video camera, and lots of sociologically significant interviews in bars. As she talked I put on the kettle, took teabags from the caddy that was a gift from her grandmother when I got my first apartment, and dropped them into a pot my grandma gave me at the same time. Tracey was still talking when the tea was ready. I sat at my kitchen table and laughed helplessly at her descriptions and then dispensed advice on getting the stories – and believe me, there will be stories – published.
I picked up my cup and inhaled. The scent of orange pekoe tea winkled me back to my great-aunt Mary’s house – Tracey’s great-great aunt – sitting with half a dozen women and at least that many kids at her new round table with the fabulous black vinyl chairs that twirled.
Pink bathroom tiles, the smell of varnished wood panelling, the textured flowery fabrics of 1940s curtains, and green brocade chesterfields from the sixties. Flowered teacups, small girls carefully helping at parties, the sound of women’s laughter and the crackle of six conversations around one kitchen table.
Any of these details immediately evokes my grandmothers, second cousins, and a couple of generations of aunts. Living hours and a ferryboat ride away, still they were the solid backing to my ever-shifting world of elementary school and best friends, neighbours and new playground equipment. I spent summer weeks with them, learning the proper way to make a bed, eating Cheez-Whiz on white bread, and inventing aimless hot-afternoon games with my cousins. Throughout the year there were bridal showers and birthday teas. On the second Saturday every December for six generations (or is it seven?) the whole tribe creates the Family Party with long paper-covered tables splayed under pots of curried shrimp and lasagne, sour-cherry pie and brownies carefully crafted by the roomful of strong women.
They are almost gone now, those matriarchs, slipping away through old age or illness. Sometimes they go one by one but occasionally they leave in clusters, just like they did everything else. They went to dances together, planned weddings, had babies at the same time, played cards, and talked. Always talked.
“I saw Biddy Dennison in Ladner the other day.”
“Fran and Ruthie are going to Nova Scotia to visit Allen’s relatives this summer.”
“Barbara and Peter are getting married in May…. Yes, I know it’s very quick, but they’re determined…. Well yes, pregnant is another word for it.” With Tracey, as it turned out.
For more than 40 years, through my childhood visits, adolescent angst, youthful hubris, and adult growth, the print-dress phalanx stood behind me, supporting me with their common sense and constant interest. Now that their ranks have thinned I feel a draft at my back. I miss their lemon squares and criticism, birthday cards and timely practical gifts. I feel a little adrift without their solidarity, the certainty that no matter what happens, someone will pick up the pieces and love me until the fragments coalesce into something like Rachel once more.
New generations need them too, to provide certain (though not necessarily approving) acceptance, the continuity of old ladies and middle-aged women with lots of life experience and a tremendous willingness to share it.
My cousin Barbara is just such a woman. Now that we don’t have access to Grandma’s expanse of lawn any more, or Auntie Marg’s big house, Barb offers her condo common room for parties and wakes. Joan is a rock, always ready with a laugh for a ten-year-old’s latest exploit and unflagging enthusiasm for someone’s retirement-launching cruise. Standing and surveying the talking, hugging, laughing crowd at the last Christmas party, George’s wife Margaret said with admiration, “These women are amazing.” I stared at her for a moment. She shows up for every event with unfailing respect and interest while her beautiful small boys (born just a year apart – the mere thought exhausts me) entertain themselves and everyone around them. I don’t think she has any idea that she ranks in the top ten.
At my uncle’s funeral last weekend I noticed for the first time the new batch of print dresses. As my mother’s generation fades, getting greyer and thinner and more absent, my cousins are taking up the slack. Louise rolled her eyes sympathetically when I shared my 14-year-old stepson’s latest misadventure involving his foot, a hundred-dollar running shoe, and the wheel of a moving car. Barb listened to me fret over my demented mother-in-law. The difference is they’re not standing behind me. They’re bracing me up, but now they’re beside me, shoulder to shoulder. Daunting as it is, I suppose that means I’m one of them.
At the graveside I hugged Debbie while she restrained her sobs. I whispered into her hair, “Breathe. Makes it easier to cry.” Then it occurred to me, “And easier to laugh.”
When Doreen said pensively that she no longer puts flowers on her garden-loving mother’s grave, I thought, “There’s no need. You honour her every time you tend your own beautiful garden, and you passed the passion on to your kids.” Next time I’ll say it out loud.
I’m learning. I have very good teachers.


Sunday, July 31, 2011

“Wow. I haven’t seen one of those in…” The man’s voice trailed off. He was strolling past my campsite at Sooke Potholes and had paused to…admire is probably too strong a word…comment on my tent.

My mother bought the Taymor Trailmaster at a local hardware store and gave it to me for my first bike trip back in the mid eighties. The price tag didn’t include a fly, but when a lightweight tent with a waterproof floor rings in at $11 and Mom’s handing over the cash, smiling and saying “Thank you” is a no-brainer.

“I’ve had it for twenty-five years.” I beamed at it fondly. “It’s as good as new.”

Except for the dental floss. And the stick.

The yellow pup tent is just about as simple as they come: the classic triangular profile with a brown woven polyethylene floor that wraps about three inches up the walls and a ripstop nylon roof pitched steep enough to shed snow. At one end, two flaps tie over a zippered mesh door and at the other, a small net window allows some air flow when the cover’s rolled up. One aluminum pole (that breaks down into three short sections for easy packing) holds up the front, another supports the back, and a handful of pegs and a bunch of cords (which now include a shoelace and some dental floss) complete the original ensemble.

A brown nylon tarp makes a very serviceable fly, and a stick inserted in one broken pole section splints it to the next without affecting the overall elegance at all. Last but certainly not least, the entire kit weighs in at about a kilogram. Including the stick.

“It works as well as ever,” I amended.

“I used to have one,” the fellow at the campground said nostalgically. “I had to give it up when I could see the stars from inside.”

I nodded sympathetically, hopeful that my home away from home will be star-free for a few more years. Properly guy-wired, the tent has kept me dry from clearcuts north of Kispiox to sheep meadows in the Outer Hebrides. The mesh has foiled midges on Skye, blackflies near Smithers, and mosquitoes at Nimpo Lake.

While rainstorms and biting insects are, generally speaking, on no-one’s top-ten list, they were really not my mother’s idea of holiday material. Or a suitable work environment, for that matter. She liked indoor plumbing and embroidered cotton pillowcases.

But she was a mom, and since she couldn’t follow me around forever saying, “Stay out of the rain or you’ll catch cold,” she did the next best thing.

For a quarter of a century and counting, whether I was driving to Mexico, hiking the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail, planting trees in the Rockies or pedalling the gentle Galloping Goose Trail, I’ve carried the shelter Mom gave me.

On my last night at the Sooke Potholes campground, when I was tucked out of sight in my bugless reading room, a couple of girls on the cusp of adolescence wandered near my site. Their high-pitched chatter hip-hopped closer and closer and then, when they were only a few yards away, it stopped. The silence stretched from one second to two.

“Oh. My. Gawd,” one girl finally said, her voice steeped with horror.

I set down my novel.

Look at it. I could never sleep in a tent like that.”

I picked up my book again and thought, “Kid, you should be so lucky.”

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A lovely mind

I've been working full time for Census 2011 for the past two and a half months. The work's been interesting, my colleagues are great, and I have to get myself downtown (and back) five or six days a week.

I vary my route to keep it interesting and as beneficial as possible from a fitness point of view, and one day I rode past this condominium under construction.

What great karma, I thought. Imagine living in a building where the very plywood sheathing is smiling.

And imagine being the builder who made it so.

Sunday, July 17, 2011


The grass is greener.
My hometown is called the City of Gardens for good reason – we’re florid, loaded with gardens. But…
We also have a regular summer drought from July to September when lawns turn gold and crispy and hardware stores do a brisk business in watering wands. But…
This year our especially long, wet spring has led to a cooler, overcast summer so the grass is still lush. During rush hour on Thursday afternoon, Miss Jean Brodie and I startled two young bucks cropping greenery on a busy suburban corner. Yesterday morning the sky fell and gave the roses and geraniums another reason to sparkle.
So it’s true: every cloud has a silver lining – at least in Victoria.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The latest buzz in Victoria

In the summertime, visitors come from around the world to enjoy Victoria's lovely gardens, pretty historic buildings and pleasant hum of activity. 
The Empress Hotel has it all.
There are now ten gleaming white beehives in a quiet green corner of the garden, apparently so the hotel has its own supply of honey.
The scones at afternoon tea are going to be really something now!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

New starts

Yesterday I picked up my new spectacles and as I walked home, I reflected that I'll be able to read better with new lenses; I strode through the fragrance of cherry blossoms and the bumper crop of lilacs and thought ahead to the fruit and seeds that will form over the summer; and then I saw another kind of new start.
A bride's satiny white dress glowed against the backdrop of lush green shrubs and the glistening grey stones of an urban waterfall while the photographer arranged her pose, and her groom, dashing in black and white, held her bouquet of red roses.
A wedding is one of the loveliest of new starts, I think, right up there with the arrival of a child in the top-two category of life-altering-in-a-good-way events.
I must remember to tell the Saint that when our anniversary rolls around. Right after I remind him that no, June 6 was D-Day.

PS: am discovering the glasses aren't working so well. I hope the honeymoon is going better.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Gremlin's on a diet

“Tell me four good things about yourself,” Maggie said to her boyfriend in the movie Love and Other Drugs.
He couldn’t come up with a single one.
At least, he couldn’t say them out loud.

I saw this in action at a communications workshop the other night. Each of the participants drew a word from an envelope and we were to use it when we introduced ourselves. In a room full of smart, hard-working women – there were probably 20 of us – not one of us managed to say that we were generous or patient or kind.

I didn’t manage, either. The gremlin in my head is always ready to snap off a chunk of my self-esteem.
Why do I care what that gremlin says? After all, it’s only me.
Maybe that’s why I care.
Part of me is saying I’m not as good as I want to be, or it’s saying that I’m not good at all, and as for the future, well, Abandon Hope….

And that takes me to a story about a man who explained to his grandson that two wolves live within him.
“One is a bad wolf,” he said. “It’s greedy and lazy, seething with anger and jealousy and regret.”
“And the other?” the grandson asked.
“The other is a good wolf, full of joy and compassion and great love.”
“What happens if they’re stuck inside you together?”
“They fight all the time,” the grandfather said.
“Which one will win?”
“The one,” Grandpa said, “that I feed.”

As of now, my gremlin’s officially on a diet.

I dare you to name four good things about yourself.

Sunday, May 8, 2011


One of my oldest friends moved from our hometown to a smaller town last year and she's having a blast cruising the farmer's markets.

I think she has to come back to the old stomping grounds once in a while to justify all the swag she can't resist buying. Anyway, that's my theory because frankly, I'm not that great a hostess and when she came for a visit recently, she brought me the motherlode of hostess gifts: lavender bath salts, a salt bag for warming sore muscles, blackberry vinegar, two bags of nettle tea…and a skein of wool.

Is this a score or what?

There are so many beautiful colours in this yarn and the angora-wool blend gives it wonderful depth. 

I knitted myself a pair of fingerless mittens. They warm my hands while I hunch over my keyboard, and they warm my heart, too. 

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Thousand-page journey, meet your new first step

So you wanna be a writer? (This also applies to painters, photographers, musicians…)

“There are three rules for writing the novel,” said Somerset Maughm. “Unfortunately no-one knows what they are.”

In fact, though, we all know the first one: put your fanny in a chair, your fingers on a keyboard, and words on the page (or insert your art of choice here).

But it turns out that was the Old Wisdom; now scientists think there might be more to it than just, well, writing.

Along with helping your heart, muscles, and skin tone, exercise is now the front-running domestique in the marathon to a three-book contract.

Experiments over the past couple of decades have found that aerobic activity – either a short burst like dancing around the house for 20 minutes or long-term fitness from a regular program – actually boosts creativity.

One study used measures like colorful and rich imagery, unusual visualization, extending or breaking boundaries, and storytelling articulateness.

So “storytelling articulateness” is not how the average (or even bad) novelist would express it, but the message is clear: move that tush before you settle it in front of the computer. You’ll have more fun and a better tale.

And ultimately, you’ll have a trimmer tail too.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Happy Earth Day!

I’m not generally interested in doing much math, but there are times when those arithmetic lessons come in handy.

Out of curiosity recently, I totted up how many kilometers I walked or cycled for meetings or errands in the month leading up to Earth Day.

Then I did a little Googlesearch, hauled out my solar-powered calculator and waited for a sunny day.
Counting only trips that had a specific destination, I discovered that me, my muscles, and Miss Jean Brodie (my bike, also in her prime) kept 40 kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions out of the atmosphere. In a month.

If I keep it up all year, that could add up (if I’ve done the math right) to almost half a metric tonne of greenhouse gases that me and my car didn’t send skyward.

I know I’m not saving the world but I’m also not making things worse, and that feels good.

And the fact that all that activity – which I enjoy, by the way – keeps a cupcake or three off my tail? Well, I call that travel bonus points.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Heeding the call – of Twitter

For a few months I’ve been paying lip service to Twitter but a couple of weeks ago I converted for real.
The command didn’t come down from on high. There were no angels involved unless you count Toni McGee Causey, which I sort of do.

Toni (if I may be so familiar) is a wonderful author and a great blogger. I share her post “Dear God the stick turned blue” in the humour class I teach to journalism students. More recently, her post on home towns had me weeping on my iMac.

Then she announced that she was going to sacrifice her Murderati blogs on the altar of Getting More Done in the rest of her life. I’m delighted that I can look forward to More Toni Stories, but I love her Murderati posts. They’re the reason I turn on the computer every second Sunday.

I was happy for her but sad for me, so I checked Twitter. And there was a little beacon of a TMC mini-post. That’s when I realized I could still get an occasional fix while I wait for her next book. That’s when I truly saw the light.

I can Follow (this is different from Stalking) people who entertain and enlighten me and they will entertain and enlighten me at intervals that range from hourly to daily or weekly. I’ll get the laughs I crave without having to go on my own quest; I’ll find delightful quotes without reading erudite books or even trolling quotation sites for hours; I’ll learn about the world while I remain hunched safely in my cave.

The corollary is, of course, that in turn I must create funny mini-posts, jot marvelous quotes from the books I read, and adventure out of the bat cave so I can share the fun with the people who have shown enough interest in me to click Follow.

Looking for the up-side…still looking…ah!

Create an image, be funny, impart an insight – basically tell a story in 140 characters. This is, like, the ultimate writing test: How much can you show with how few words?

And there’s the irony of writing, encapsulated in, well, 140 characters – I lovelovelove words, and I spend most of my time trying to pare them away.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Proud Dotter

I posted several of Fodder's pen-and-watercolour sketches of France over on Calorie Neutral yesterday, and thought I'd share another couple here.

Beynac by Ray Goldsworthy

Because I think they're simply gorgeous.

Bicycle at La Borie des Combes by Ray Goldsworthy

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The best gift

"Watch out for Nana's flowers!"
Every spring, that's what I used to call after the kids running around in the undergrowth at my parents' cabin, where my mother's treasured white fawn lilies unfurled their petals, trilliums showed their tripartite faces, and Easter-tinted ladyslippers nodded in the wake of little sneakers.
Those kids don't charge around outside much any more. Instead, they slump on chairs inside the tiny cabin, their long legs and enormous shoes taking up most of the floor space, but the flowers, Nana's flowers as I will always think of them, are getting ready to pretty up the outdoors again.
So you can imagine how thrilled  I was when my cousin Bee gave me a little volume she found at her favourite thrift store.
Wild Flowers of America, it's called. Jane Harvey wrote it, Irving Lawson illustrated it, and the Whitman Publishing Company printed it in 1932.
The book is small in every way: 3 1/2 by 5 1/2 inches; includes perhaps 100 flowers; and Jane's America extends only as far west as Minnesota.
It's charming. The illustrations are lovely and now that I think about it, its scope is big enough to beam some spring sunshine on some of my treasures – memories.
Two more of Nana's Flowers, a la Wild Flowers of America

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Miss Jean Brodie hits the road

My pétard is working well. I’ve hoisted myself onto it fairly regularly since I announced my intention to ride the 100-km route of today’s Populaire. The weather’s been good and rolling beneath flowering plum trees has done wonders for my state of mind. Best of all, I managed the hills – even the 12% grade – without embarrassing myself by grinding to a standstill and falling off while still clipped into my pedals.

Not that this has ever happened to me.


A couple of days ago, I did my final training ride and I wanted it to be as close to the length of the Populaire as I could get without actually totting up the mileage (those of you who read Calorie Neutral know my dislike of numbers that need pandering. Er, calculating).

I aimed for about five hours on the road but since I don’t wear a watch…well, I’ll be getting a watch soon.

From my place I headed south to the waterfront, then basically did a big loop and had a glorious ride, hills and all. I stopped once for a red light, then once more to pick up ten pounds of apples and eat one of my handy nutritious energy-boosting bars, and was home in four and three-quarter hours.

So today I’m out doing the ride for real. With a bunch of people who wear Spandex and whose bikes are probably not named Miss Jean Brodie.

Wish me luck.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Green maps. Who knew?

“Victoria is the epicenter of green mapping in North America,” said Wendy Brawer, the New York-based founder of the Green Map System, at the University of Victoria last week.

She cited the dozen or so green maps of our region, which range from a teacher’s artistic rendering of the land, food and people of Vic West to the Shelbourne Corridor’s community-planning chart.

Along with a unique style, each map has its own theme or target users. Children, perhaps, or tourists. In one city, a group of binners created a map of local sources.

One of the beauties of the Green Map System is its use of universal symbols. Anyone can find a farmer’s market, for example, whether she’s shopping in Singapore, Stockholm or Santa Monica. The system is flexible, though, so mappers can customize or add symbols that express their communities’ special attributes. Like Victoria’s two dozen contributions to the icon collection include skateboards and osprey.

How cool is that?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Building my own pétard

As I preached over on Calorie Neutral a while ago, one of the best ways to help oneself reach one’s goals is to make them public. Share them with a friend or two.

So, friends, here I am:
In two weeks, I’m going to ride the 100-km route of the Victoria Populaire as set out by the BC Randonneur cycling group.

To be honest, with a couple of days’ notice both my butt and my quads can cope (albeit slowly) for a hundred km. The thing that’s going to make this ride a challenge is that there are hills. Oh, I can walk up the 12.5% grade, no problem. It’s the 27.5% one that has me sweating before I even put clip to pedal.

I guess we’re going to find out a little more about me in two weeks. Can I train for and ride those hills? Or did I, she asks hopefully, read the map wrong?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

And now for something completely different…

A very flattering email landed in my computer on Friday morning: an invitation to apply for a teaching position at a local college.

“…we need to increase our staff of talented Instructors,” the note said. “Do you like to see others succeed?”

I sure do!

“Do you have great communication skills?”

My clients think so.

“Are you honest with a great work ethic?”


This was looking better and better. I was stoked – a possible new gig, and apparently there were medical and dental benefits involved. For a longtime freelancer, those words were magnetic. Avidly, I read on.

“Are you passionate about cosmetology?”

Sadly, the extent of my knowledge of the beauty world is that there’s more to it than choosing blue-black mascara or none.

The registrar doesn’t know how I got on her email list but to be honest I don’t really care. It was fun to imagine what I might do with a captive audience and a wand of blue-black waterproof.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Inner Boot

Good for me
I scrawled those words in my morning pages this week and immediately wished them back in the pen, unwritten, even unthought.

I hadn’t meant them in a self-congratulatory way. I’d been writing about activities that are fun, intellectually stimulating, healthy – “good for me” in the way that omega-three fatty acids and a thought-provoking novel are.

Still, my own brain reared up and said, “Whoa there, little lady! Who do you think you are?”

I retain (barely) enough control over my mind to wonder “What the heck is that all about?” What do I gain by reining, repressing, censoring my own thoughts? Is that mean little beast in there protecting me somehow? If I were to say aloud, “This is what I did and isn’t it cool?” is anyone going to A) care and B) shoot me?

Not likely.

But boy, I’m quick enough to jump all over myself.

So here’s my new task this year. Instead of trying a new sport or voice lessons or an art class, I’m going to work on getting that inner boot off my neck. 

Isn’t that cool? (Glances furtively around the room before stiffening backbone) Good for me!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Friend

A man I know died last week. He was a brilliant scientist, thoughtful writer, delightful raconteur, and character of rare determination. But to me, above all that, he was a friend.

“How often are we to die before we go quite off this stage?” wrote the poet Alexander Pope to Jonathan Swift. “In every friend we lose a part of ourselves, and the best part.”

Now I know what he meant.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Happy Heart Day

Those of you who were here last Valentine's Day know that I don't really know my sweetie. I call him the Saint, after all. That should be your first clue.

So I think he's not romantic. I mean, this is the guy who, every spring, says, "So our anniversary's coming up."
Only it's really a question; he's just trying to be subtle about it.
"Yes," I say brightly.
When it's obvious that I'm not going to be any more help than that, he ventures, "The, uh, sixth, right?"
"That would be D-Day," I say.

So he gets around the whole concept of specific dates for special occasions by marking them in other ways. A few weeks ago, we went to Point No Point on the west coast of Vancouver Island for a couple of days of togetherness. And, apparently, photography.

He took pictures of driftwood wrapped in a Gordian knot of kelp

He shot the path to China Beach

And he was captivated by the most romantic bench

Happy Heart Day, Bryce and Emma!

Whoever you are.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Three-Way Win

I lost a bunch of weight last year, which is all to the good from a health and self-esteem perspective, but there is a downside.
I hate shopping for them and even more I hate forking over loads of money for them. In fact, I can’t pay a lot without taking my credit card farther than I’m comfortable going, so for many years I have relied on a staple of the community: thrift stores.
There are a lot of these where I live and most of them support useful social programs, so I can even feel good about my frugal ways. But that’s a bonus. My primary payoff is that I get quality clothes very inexpensively.
Last week, for example, I picked up a luscious new brand-name softshell jacket for walking and riding – “And skiing!” says the Saint hopefully – 
as well as a lovely, slightly dressy, Ann Taylor sweater. 
Sleeveless! The last time I was comfortable showing my upper arms was…never mind, you’re too young to remember that far back.
I have even (shhhh!) bought gifts in thrift stores.
Last year I found a gorgeous retro glass jug as a wedding present for a friend who’s totally into all things 1950s.
More recently, I scored a handbag.
Do I need a purse?
Do I want one?
But this sweetie is a polka-dot Kate Spade.
Did I mention that my friend Lee McKenzie is a KS fan? And that the signature look for her brand of charming novels is polka dots?
And that, to my mind, makes it a perfect fit!

Sunday, January 30, 2011


“The blade of the paring knife broke off right in the handle,” I told the Saint* sadly. “Can we fix it?”

“We can afford to buy a new one,” he said.

“But Auntie Marg gave us that one when we got married,” I said, my eyes filling. “I think of her every time I use it.”

And never more often than since I began my super-healthy new lifestyle which, to be honest, requires a lot of peeling and chopping.

I thought about her again, gone to that big kitchen in heaven, as I looked at the two halves of the Henkel lying on the counter before turning my attention to quartering a Granny Smith apple with my Opinel pocket knife. I think of my cousin Tea every time I use that, because it was a gift from her after a backpacking trip that included a collapsing tent, excellent sausage, and more cougar scat than I ever want to see again.
When I finished dissecting the apple, I threw the core in the compost.
It’s the best compost bucket I’ve ever had, complete with flowers and gems and multifaceted beneficial insects. See the pink ladybugs?

I think of our niece Enn every time I add to its stash, because she’s the one who made it for us…

*This is not a completely sarcastic nickname

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The fortune of January

The snowdrops are out!
Right on schedule, the little white and green blossoms have popped up in my neighbour’s yard to cheer our grey Wet Coast winter. They bring a smile to my heart because they’re so pretty and low-key – they don’t demand attention like the brighter, splashier blooms later on, but their very quietness gives them a dignity I love.
Also, they’re just so pretty.
But according to the Oxford Dictionary of Plant-Lore, cutting the flowers and bringing them into the house will bring bad luck.
“When a former husband brought me some indoors,” writes one source as recently as 1993, “we split up within days and were divorced…”
Maybe the fact that she wrote a former husband (implying there is more than one) should be a clue that it might not be the flowers that are at fault. Perhaps she should examine her own perseverance, or her taste in men.
Or maybe, as the fruitarians would have it (see Down on the Farm, Aug 29, 2010) the plants are meant to live out their natural span and we should only harvest them when they tell us they are good and ready. Although I would miss the point of flower bouquets if I had to wait until they’ve gone to seed and fallen over.
I must admit that I feel lucky that my neighbour leaves hers outside – where I can enjoy them!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Fits and Starts

A personal trainer once told me that gyms are as busy in September as they are in January.
Last September, my local recreation centre seemed to be much busier than it’s been during the first part of this month but suddenly, late this week, the place filled and serious sweat began to flow.
Part of the reason might be that a nearby travel agency is sponsoring a weights-and-measures challenge.
“Your buy-in gets you weighed, measured & photographed before and after [the program],” the flyer says. “Along the way get newsletters with tips and hints to keep you on track and motivated. The participant with the greatest overall results will be awarded a Flight Centre credit.”
If a six-pack (no, not the beer kind) isn’t enough motivation, the chance of winning $500 toward a vacation might do it!
At this time last year, my friend Lee McKenzie joined a walking clinic to prepare for her new fitness aim: completing a 10-km walk. But she’s been putting one foot in front of the other for a few decades, so why would she need a clinic?
“I was in no shape to do a 10-k walk,” she says, “so I thought the clinic would be a good way to achieve my goal. I don’t like exercise classes but this was different. It really was motivational, it was social.”
There was also more to it than simply putting one foot forward and then the other. Guest speakers talked about nutrition, staying hydrated, how to be properly fitted for walking shoes, and more.
“There was a lot of information,” Lee says, “and that suits me.”
Her payoff also included finishing a five-kilometre event in March, then two 10-ks later in the spring.
This January Lee has signed up again, with her sights set firmly on a triple finish line: a brisk 10-kilometre walk, a satisfying sense of accomplishment – and a lot of fun.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Sea Lions and True Grit

A friend who lives in Powell River went in search of sea lions this week.
“We started looking along the shore,” she emailed to me. “What we thought were rocks along the breakwater were very well disguised sea lions – awesome!!! And then every time we looked a little closer there were huge sea lions that used to be part of the dock or a rock…at one location there was a mound of them sleeping, probably about a dozen.”

She’s so lucky to be able to wander along the beach and, just by looking a little harder, find what she was looking for.
And yet isn’t that often the way? Once we slow down and peer a little more closely, we spot the elusive sea lion we’ve been seeking…or maybe even some other treasure we weren’t expecting.

In the movie True Grit, Mattie Ross seeks out Rooster Cogburn to help her because he’s got a rep for being determined and tough. By the end of the movie, we see that the one with real sand is…well, I don’t want to give it away.

What have you found lately that surprised you?

(photos by the ever-so-observant Spence Partlo)

Sunday, January 2, 2011

An adventure!

I'm really stoked about this coming year – I'm celebrating my fresh, healthy new start with a new blog and I hope you'll share the excitement with me!

In Calorie Neutral, I'll tell you my stories about losing weight (and keeping it gone), gaining energy (and keeping it), and doing it all with more fun and no pain.

I won't tell you what to do – there won't be a single "should." It's all about me (and my dad, and that's another story :)).

What I hope is that my stories will make you laugh and encourage you to find (or share) your own path to a life bursting with pleasure and wellbeing.

Saturdays are story days and on Wednesdays I'll share a fun link, a fantastic recipe, or an informative interview.

Please visit early and often. I'm looking forward to seeing you at Calorie Neutral!