Monday, May 30, 2011


click on any of the pictures
for a better view
We all take a lot for granted. Turn on the taps, flick on the lights, turn up the heat, toss food in the fridge. I certainly don't often think much about the 'magic' that goes into supporting the rather easy life I live. It hasn't escaped my notice though, that getting anywhere is made a lot easier by the fact that there are a lot of people involved in creating all this magic (applied science). It's kind of funny really, because I'm one of those Arts grads (from long ago) who was dismissive of anything outside my tiny world view. I will only say, that in my older age, I've grown up a bit, and appreciate it greatly when I step out to walk across a bridge, or get on a bus, or turn on my car, that there are Science grads too.

some of the tools
This past week it's become a little bit more visible how that magic is created. My little neighbourhood has been turned  temporarily upside down by an extremely complicated hydro project, one that is intended to increase capacity for power in nearby areas. It's not surprising, when you stop to think about it, which we don't often, that there would have to be some new wiring put in here and there to support the myriad new buildings that keep appearing on our landscape. Each time a new tower goes up, it's like a new village is added, sometimes a small town, except it goes up, rather than out. It has to plug in somewhere.

strange beast
Project management is visible everywhere, made concrete by the appearance of bulldozers, flag-people, hardhats, heavy equipment operators (lots of 12 hour shifts) email updates, traffic diversions, shuttle buses, and the inevitable delays of any renovation project. It's also made visible by the appearance of seven 850 metre long pipes stretched in a bundle along West 8th Avenue, looking for all the world like some exo skeleton, or a sea serpent (on a solid sea), stretching some five or six blocks. It was dragged up here during the night, after being assembled alongside the oh-so-briefly-used streetcar tracks stretching between Granville Island and the Olympic Village station.

The pipe bundle was pulled along West 6th Avenue (blocking traffic completely, and snarling up Broadway for miles) up Willow Street, and then laid out along West 8th, where I found it when I was trying to walk up to Broadway a few days ago.

the pipe bundle was capped, to pull it to the holding area
It made for a much longer walk than I'd planned (I didn't bother hopping on the shuttle) but also a lot more interesting one than I usually find around here.

the bundle diving into
the ground
Yesterday the bundle started to move. It makes a turn now down Laurel Street, and then at West 7th slides into a bore hole. It is being pulled through (not pushed) across False Creek into David Lam Park. Lots of machinery and hardhats over there too. It might be finished today. Maybe tomorrow. I've had renovations done, so I know it'll be done when it's done.
the crane, just visible at the
centre of this photo, is where the
pipe bundle is diving underground

The pipe bundle will be encased with concrete, which will insulate and protect it. The drilling mud gets sucked out the other end by vacuum trucks. Eventually the pipes will house cable, connected to a new substation to keep our city chugging along, while we inevitably complain about rising rates.

The tranquil view to the right doesn't show it, but the pipe bundle is there, inching it's way under False Creek. The crane where the pipe bundle goes underground is just visible right in the centre of the picture.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


the view from the balcony
blissful in any weather
We spent the weekend in Osoyoos, BC. It likes to call itself desert country, but I find that Wikipedia says it's actually shrub-steppe. That seems like quibbling though, because it's usually dry and this time of year, hot, which is what draws us escapees from the rain. It's a beautiful drive from Vancouver, if the weather behaves, which it did on our trip out. We followed the road less travelled, Highway 3 from Hope, following the Similkameen River through Manning Park to Princeton, then on to Keremeos and Osoyoos. (I love even the names.)

The first time my sweetheart and I stopped in Osoyoos was at the start of a road trip that had no plan. We meant to spend just the one night there, but realized we'd found a treasure; off season rates for a motel room with the balcony hanging over a sandy beach. So we stayed all weekend, straying out of our room to walk along the beach, and then to take drives around to some of the wineries that absolutely litter the Okanagan Valley.

We've been back several times. One year we took the kayak, but it stayed out of the water, because even though it was hot and sunny, the wind was fierce, and the waves crashed all weekend. Last year I got a sunburn the day we took the kayak out on a beautiful calm day, I was so unprepared for the leap into summer.

This year, we listened to the waves, and we saw some rain. Rain! And it wasn't warm! Well, it wasn't warm in Osoyoos terms, but still, my Vancouver self was happy to wear flip flops all weekend. And the rain was pretty inconsequential. Not what we call rain. Still, wet enough to keep us in, and I did sit outside with a blanket, even though it was warmer than Vancouver; both places are suffering unseasonably cold temperatures. People did tell us that it was hot last week. Ah well, it'll be hot next week too, but we'll be back in Vancouver. Timing is everything I guess.

So what did we do? Read. Slept. Listened to the quiet lapping of the lake outside our window which was fairly constant except for that period in the evening when lakes fall still. Sat on the balcony, drank tea and gazed at the view.

there are marmots lined up on 
the doorstep; you can see
them, if you click on the pic

We went to the pub to watch the Canucks win the first game in the latest round on their road to the Stanley Cup (whoo hoo!). Listened to the place erupt with joy (shouted along) each time a Canuck scored. Had breakfast a couple times at a local cafe, and talked with the owner about her sleepy town. Watched a colony of yellow-bellied (I looked them up, to see what kind) marmots hanging out in an empty lot. Walked along the lakeside. It was hardly hardship.

Driving home, we retraced our path through different climate zones, as the trees gradually grow thicker as you head west. We spotted lots of deer, missed hitting another little marmot. We stopped in Keremeos to visit an elderly cousin, then carried on through Hedley, where we have yet to stop to visit the now tourist site of an old gold mine. We did stop there one year to wander through a fantastic jumble of stuff in a second hand store. Hedley has about 350 people, so it's not exactly a large town. There are a lot of places it's size, too, scattered throughout the province. Osoyoos itself is hardly a metropolis, with a population apparently around 5000, though I'm not convinced of that. For the months of July and August it of course swells.

Driving outside of Vancouver always reminds me how few we are in this part of the world. It feels so crowded and busy here (it is crowded and busy here) that your perspective gets a bit warped. But outside the city, people are spread out, life is slower, and different things matter. I was thinking about this, as we wound our way home. That the recent election saw, as usual, a clean sweep of Conservatives in the interior of BC. Traveling through you realize that people have very different things on their minds, scraping a living out of rural landscapes. The concerns of city folk are different.

In Manning Park, we pulled over to admire a black bear, who considered us, and then faded back into the trees, perhaps recognizing our city dweller-ness, basically irrelevant to the bear's existence. Through the park the rain came down, drifting toward sleet as the temperature also came down, but in the end it only hinted at winter, likely just a last gasp.

The last stretch of road, before you get back to Hope, is truly awe inspiring, the tree clad mountains rising up almost vertically from the river, with the road snaking along beside it. The clouds clung in wisps adding a sense of mystery and remoteness. And the downpour reminded me that sometimes these mountains are not as permanent as they look. We drove past the Hope slide, disinclined to get out of the car in all the rain, but one year we stopped to marvel at the sight of rubble stretched through the valley, where the side of a mountain slid down in 1965.

This year we beat it out of the mountains, and raced our car down the lush green Fraser Valley where, oddly enough, the sky looked brighter out west, over Vancouver.

And there you have it. The sun is shining here, today, and it's supposed to last all week. Last week's hailstorm, history.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

moms the word for this epoch

my grandmother with my mother
I stumbled over the word epochal yesterday and thought that's the word to use for the arrival of myself into motherhood. I used to say it was an apocalypse in my life when I became a mother, apocalyptic in the sense that my old life was absolutely, completely, over. The word has too many religious senses to it, however, and anyway, people always seem to think I mean something bad.

What I really mean is that the person I was, before my first child was born, had no idea what she was stepping into. I found that the change from not-mother to mother was profound, and I couldn't go back. And I was not prepared. There I was, an innocent walking down the street, and then blam, I was blown into this other existence, a different dimension, where what I did mattered. I think that's the key. What I did before didn't matter, and then it did. It wasn't all about me anymore. New epoch.

my mother with me
And I don't want to go back. That's the astonishing thing, but much as I might whine about how hard it was, learning how to care for infants, then children, then adolescents, now young adults, learning how to back off and respect their ability to get it right, while I was still doubting my own ability to manoeuvre through my life. Endless peanut butter sandwiches, constantly looking for the (sticky) floor under all the rubble. No, I don't mind that the sticky floor days are gone, but I wouldn't go back to pre-motherhood. Nope.  It defies logic, because of course it's about heart. And anyway, they've made me a better person.

Of course it's different now. It's still not all about me, but in a different sense. They're launched into their lives, and now when I hear from them, I feel simply and truly glad that I'm some kind of touchstone (and not an albatross). And I think that's fair enough for me to say.

and then it was my turn
And that doesn't take anything away from me as individual, still working at stuff, still engaged, working on this epoch, the so-called empty nest time. I'm still alive, and intend to be for a very long time. There's lots I still want to do. It's just that now I do things with always the knowledge that I'm somebody's mom. It's never not there. It's not that I'm living through them. It's just that they are alive. It's a gift I didn't realize I was getting, when I thought "I want to have a baby", which was an all-about-me thought. It gets hazier with the next two "I want another" times. I knew what I was doing. Sort of.

So that's one of the marvelous things, is that they taught me about myself (and continue to do so!). I apologize for the slow learning, and any damage I may (probably) have inflicted along the way, but my world is vastly improved by the existence of my children.

So yes, epochal, that's a much better word. No connotations hanging from it, but it certainly carries all the import of becoming mother. It's not a switching over to the dark side (though they will treat you as though that's where you're coming from, for some really brief teen years) but it certainly switches you over to another side. Even more astonishing, you find yourself feeling some sympathy for your own mother, and what she was up against.

To borrow, and repurpose, some words from Elton John, a little message to my kids:
I hope you don't mind that I put down in words
How wonderful life is while you're [all] in the world
And even though she's gone from the world, thanks to my own mother for bringing me into the mix. I miss her.

Friday, May 6, 2011

what do I know

I went to listen to Elizabeth Hay and Miriam Toews at a Writers Fest event last night. They make a good team on stage. They told stories about how their current novels came into being. They each read from the beginnings of their novels, and then answered questions. Oh, and they made us laugh, which I'd been forgetting to do lately.

At these sorts of events, the questions often range around How do you do it? and Where do you get your ideas? How autobiographical is it? (I guess when people write memoir, we should start asking how fictional is it?)

Apparently it's not easy to drag a completed novel out of yourself. Both women are funny, which makes for an entertaining evening. They also seem remarkably human, which is encouraging for an aspiring, currently blocked, novelist.

I've had one of those periods where I doubt myself constantly. Can't make decisions (well, I did when I voted, but I'm still questioning my decision). Start things but don't finish them. I've gotten caught up in worry about my future (delayed birthday effect?). I'm certain I've sorely offended several people. I remember a whole bunch of incidents where I've been very much a not-nice girl. These stretch back over years, and my memories are probably fiction.

Anxiety is a condition that soaks my family, so I'm not alone in the circular thoughts and self doubts.

The odd thing is that, even when I'm in the midst of it, I know that it's not reality based. I mean, there's something going on that's triggered it, and I might indeed have said the wrong thing here and there, but my reaction is always way over and beyond. I'm not really that significant. Basically, I recognize that I'm a bit of a nutcase.

Alcohol used to defuse the feeling, temporarily, but I've stopped using the stuff except for extremely rare occasions. Because of course alcohol opens up it's own can of worms, if you're susceptible, which I think I am. Come to think of it, alcohol was always only temporary, because I'd wake up next day remembering whatever I'd done, and then add in embarrassment and repentance. Circular thoughts and self doubt can easily pick up steam in a hangover.

It's kind of like the gallbladder attacks I used to get (that was reality, so I got to cut it out). They would, interestingly, start in about the same location as my anxiety does, and pretty much take over for a period of time. Sometime rolling on the floor helped, sometimes pacing. Long walks were actually helpful. That works with anxiety too, rolling on the floor less so. But after a time the attack would pass. But I can't surgically cut out the anxiety, because, though it feels like its situated in my stomach, it's actually emanating from my brain. On other days I feel like a very worthwhile person, and I never make mistakes. Always right. Peaks and valleys.

I'm somewhere in between today, which is the best place. Normal, eh? I'll be able to get some things done. I started reading a book called The War of Art: break through the blocks and win your inner creative battles. Creative battles aren't just the big projects, but all the little ones, so that at the end of each day, you go to bed thinking/feeling you are on the right path. I managed that yesterday, oddly enough, even though the day began with the roiling in my gut. Laughing before bed, maybe that's the trick.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

on not choosing

That was an interesting election night. I can't say I'm happy with the results, but certainly intrigued. We have a majority Conservative government, which I'm not happy about, but I accept the result. That's how the system works.

I'm glad to see Elizabeth May got elected. I'm glad to see we now have a nationalist party representing Quebec, that they voted for working withing the system (for now). I'm happy to see the NDP as the official Opposition. I hope they are effective. I thought Harper gave a nice speech.

But we can only guess at the message sent by those who didn't vote. My first impulse on watching the returns was to think, oh, no, the centre/left vote is being split by the anti-conservatives!

The country went Conservative, and the vote split suggests most Canadians will be a bit disgruntled this morning, as many more of them voted against the Conservatives than for.

Across the country, just under 40% of the population didn't vote, which might mean that whatever happens is just fine with them. That puts the popular (?) vote for the blue party a lot higher, if indifference can be said to be a vote. (The Elections Canada site has the turnout at 61.4%, the last time I checked, but not all the numbers are up.)

We know the Conservative party doesn't like census data that gives accurate results, so this amorphous reasoning may be as good as any for them.

Now you might say that people didn't vote because our system allows people with a minority of the popular vote to win a majority. The deck is stacked, you can't win. Which is how it feels when there is a three-way split, and the two losers have policies that are pretty darn close, but neither wins.

But when you don't vote, it's only guesswork what your reasons were. If the non-voters actually have a preference, it's as clear as smoke. Which means the new government can assume everything is fine with those non-voters, and so their majority has added meaning.

If everyone voted (what a fantasy, eh?) then the Conservatives, even with a win based on all the vote-splitting, would at least know there was a large base of people out there unhappy with them. Or they'd have a clear majority, which would it easier for me, for one, to accept our fate.  As it stands, they can take whatever meaning they like from the poll of non-voters.

My point is, apathy hands over power. Whether it's the actual choice of the non-voting public, is anyone's guess.


What a week, eh? Wedding of the Century, Obama takes out Osama, Harpo gets his majority, and now, we can get back to what Vancouver really cares about. The Canucks. Third game of the series, in Nashville tonight, and how that ends is very important. Anyway, at least with a two party event like this, there'll be no confusion about how the goals are ranked.

Monday, May 2, 2011

If you are Canadian, and aren't voting, what's stopping you?

easy enough
Seriously, what's your problem? Vote today because you can. This is a point that has meaning. It's pretty simple to do, but it wasn't simple getting to this point. Some history (remember it or repeat it!):

The British North America Act, uniting New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and the Province of Canada in a single political entity, was given royal assent on March 31, 1867, and came into force the following July 1.
only a small fraction of the voters in the founding colonies had been given an opportunity to decide their political future; the others were presented deliberately with a fait accompli. Since then, as subsequent events have shown, the relative influence of voters in Canadian parliamentary institutions has grown appreciably – to the point where today, politicians would not likely venture to act as the Fathers of Confederation did without consulting the electorate.
---(From the section, Voters and Confederation, in "A History of the Vote in Canada" on Elections Canada's site.) 

Did you notice the use of the term "not likely"? Nothing is set in stone. (Can you spell prorogue?)

Federally, the 'privilege' to vote varied depending on tinkering from the provinces. The "ethnic factor" in different regions was a factor, as was gender, property and income. Class, in other words.

Canada's first federal election was in 1867. Some people had the privilege to decide on their electoral fate. There was no UN overseeing the validity of any votes. Still, we were on the way. It's a complicated story, but the slow trickle from a privilege to a right had begun.

Then, imagine:
  • in 1918 'all' women can vote federally (1919: women can run for federal office)
  • 1947: Chinese and Indo-Canadians including even the female ones
  • 1948: Japanese Canadians, male, female, what's the dif
  • 1960: Aboriginals (they could vote earlier if they gave up their status! What a choice!)
  • 1982: Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms enshrines the right to vote for all Canadians.
Turnout for the 2008 election was an abysmal 58.8%. Are we back to leaving it to our betters to decide?

I don't understand why people voluntarily give this up. It seems to be worth dying for in some countries.

The polls close on the west coast at 7 pm. Not much time left.