Thursday, November 30, 2006

A Letter to Frank

When I met B five years ago he was sponsoring an Indonesian child through World Vision. I have also sponsored children over the years through WV and Foster Parents Plan. So it was an easy decision for us to sponsor a child together. That child is Frank . Frank, now age 10, is from the Gogo tribe in Tanzania. He lives in a desperately poor, drought stricken area of the country where subsistence farmers try to coax vulnerable crops of corn and peanuts out of the barren soil. We have exchanged letters for four years, with help from Frank’s father and a translator. Here is a letter to him I just wrote. In two weeks I will have the joy of delivering it to him myself.

Dear Frank,

Frank, I am so proud and happy to be your friend. From your letters I know you help your family by carrying wood and fetching water. That most of your meals are a thick porridge of corn meal, with some greens when your family can get them. You live in a mud hut you share with many brothers and sisters.

I know you like to draw. I love your gifts of drawings with each of your letters.
You like to draw cars the most, but you have also drawn chickens, a soccer ball, a self portrait and a house for me.

You share enchanting details in your letters. Like:

We have neither a dog nor a cat but there is a brown with white marks dog at the neighbourhood. He is named Poppy. He is a very friendly dog to all people except thieves and robbers. (I hope Poppy can tell the difference!)

I hope you are fine. I am fine and my family is all fine. I dropped out of a tree and my head got injured.

Thank you for the birthday card. You are such a pleasures friend to me.

Despite the hardships you face every day, your serious eyes in your photos are filled with hope. Like all children, you love to play. Football is your favourite game. You have dreams. You like story books, and dream of being a teacher.

You are always so thankful for the little things I send in my letters, like stickers, photos, and post cards. Frank, I should thank you, because you give me a much greater gift: gratitude. Your courage, happiness and dreams help me remember to be grateful for the abundant gifts in my life. And you are one.

All of your letters end with the Kiswahili words: Karibu sana Tanzania, which gets translated as: You are very welcome come to Tanzania. That is an irresistible invitation.

I can't wait to meet you and your family Frank. I will see you soon.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


I have an embarrassing secret vice. No, not midnight trips to the casino, or a crack habit, and I have never made a porn video. It is The Bachelor. I watch that cheesy, pathetic, utterly mesmerizing show. I saw the final episode of The Bachelor Rome Monday night. It made me gag, but I could not turn it off. Prince Lorenzo chose Jen and sent the virgin Sadie packing. After he shed feeble, very fake tears of anguish.

A work colleague of mine shares this furtive habit. Tuesday mornings, there we are, two middle age civil servants whispering over the water cooler.

He: “Hey, pssst, did you see who got a rose last night?”

Me: “Yeah, but what about that cat fight at the pool!”

He: “I know, Karen damn near fell out of her bikini. I could hardly breathe.”

And then this morning, in whispers:

Me: “So Jen won, what a shock”.

He: “I know, it was unbelievable! He gave up the chance to pop a cherry!”

O.K., so my male colleague’s interest in watching this crap may be somewhat understandable. Mine is inexplicable. Maybe I can find a Beat the Bachelor Habit support group somewhere. Monday nights we would gather and chant: “We are powerless over this despicable T.V. program.” Which we would then all rush home to covertly watch on tape. Because the next ONE, well he is a naval officer and a doctor. Gotta go. I feel a swoon coming on.

Today's dream travel destination: Rome

Monday, November 27, 2006

We are Canadian eh!

This is a photo of our deck this morning. Here. In Vancouver. The snow started Saturday, and did not quit until this afternoon. Isn't it gorgeous? Magical in fact. Kids sledding in the park. Christmas lights twinkling on icicles. So crisp, clean and cheerful. Winter wonderland.

Bull. Shit. Sweet Mother of God make it go away. It is not allowed to snow here in November. In fact, sometimes whole winters here are blessedly flakeless. We like our snow to stay up in the mountains where it belongs please. Where we can drive 20 minutes to go play in it, in our designer snowshoes. Then come back down for tennis and a latte.

It took half an hour this morning to scrape the frozen windows and thaw the iced up locks on the POS car. So B could drive to work and drop me off at the packed, late, skytrain. Which was not working properly, having been designed for L.A North, not freakin Antarctica. The radio predicted -13 degrees tonight.

So you see, we are real Canadians here. We get winter too. For a week or so. Which is 6 days too long.

Today's dream travel destination: Skiing Ruby Bowl on Blackcomb Mountain. Where snow belongs.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Guest writer

I am sooo busy this week. Trying to tie up things at work so I can leave for our trip, starting to pack,freezing meals for my son and my Beloved's neice who will be looking after our house and zoo while we are gone. So I asked B if he would like to contribute a post. Here it is:

I arnt a riter or a speler.

Um....thanks sweetie.
Today's dream travel destination: Summer. In the Okanagan, playing on the lake with our friends. Oh Yeah.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Cappuccino Calamity

Days of endless rain, followed by downpours, interspersed with heavy showers, is taking its toll on Vancouverites. Our usual insufferable cheerful superiority is replaced with surly despondence. This dark morning, as we dripped umbrellas all over each other’s feet on the packed skytrain, shuffled up the stairs at our downtown stops, and navigated huge puddles to get to our offices, only one thought kept most of us from turning around and going back to bed until May. A steaming cup of Java. That magic elixir to fuel the barely glowing pilot lights in our brains.

A few steps from Starbucks I begin to anticipate my Tall Non-fat Misto. (Bucks-speak for half steamed milk, half coffee.) Then I see the sign. CLOSED. Huh? Luckily, the coffee shop in my building is open, so I head in there. “Sorry, we are not serving any coffee. Because of the water quality problem.” Sweet. Mother. Of. God.

Yesterday a “boil water advisory” was slapped on the entire Greater Vancouver District. All the rain has churned up yucky stuff (technical term) in the rivers and reservoirs, stuff that bacteria like to cling to. Water must be boiled for at least one minute. Apparently coffee machines do not actually boil the water, so coffee shops are protecting themselves against us litigious hordes by turning into no coffee shops.

We are not supposed to drink, wash food, or brush our teeth with tap water. I suppose it is good practice for Tanzania. Where I am headed in 3 weeks. Last night my Beloved & I had a “holy shit, we are not ready” moment. At least we will have the drinking water routine down pat.

Today's dream travel destination: Sumatra, where my favourite coffee beans are grown. And I bet I could get a cup.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Hard Boiled Digital

I am nervously waiting for an e-mail from my Dad with a photo attached. Any photo, taken on his new digital camera, downloaded into his computer, and then attached to an e-mail. Dad goes geek! Well, I hope. I have yet to see the evidence.

You see, digital photography is new to Dad. And Dad doesn’t pull off new as well as he does the-tried-and-true. Don’t misunderstand me, he is a very intelligent man, with a master’s degree in engineering. But ask him to do something he has never tried before, and, well….. his normally first-rate brain can all but shut down.

Let me illustrate. Before Dad retired, he made himself the same breakfast every day. A CPR (Canadian Pacific Railway) egg and toast. To make a CPR egg (where he got this I have no idea), you boil an egg for 3 minutes so it is totally runny and the white is barely congealed. Dad had a timer for this. Then slice off the top and scoop the egg into a glass with a glop of butter, salt and pepper. It has to be a clear glass so you can really see how gross this concoction is. Mix the mess up in the glass with a fork, and serve with toast. This was the only kind of egg Dad knew how to cook.

One day, my mother was busy preparing a Christening luncheon. (For my son’s Christening actually, and I was useless to her, rendered frazzledly stupid with figuring out how a newborn baby works. It was new to me you understand.) She had to run an errand, and in desperation asked my dad to hard boil a dozen eggs for her.

“HARD boiled? I’ve never cooked a hard boiled egg. How do I do that?” asked the man with the post-graduate education.

“Don’t be dense dear, cook them for exactly 10 minutes.” Mom left.

So my dad got out a big pot, put 12 eggs in it, filled it to the top with cold water, put it on the stove, and set the timer to 10 minutes. Then turned on the burner. Uh huh. You can figure out the rest. Devilled eggs did not make it on the luncheon menu.

Now Dad, I can see your pained expression. You are thinking, “How long will I have to live with the damn hard boiled egg episode?” Forever, Dad. It’s a family legend. And, in case you are wondering, Mom gave me permission to write about you. “Sure you can write about your old parents” she assured me when I was visiting last week. You were at choir practice. Now Dad, don’t say “But I was not there, so it’s not like I actually decided…” Yeah Dad, it is. Making decisions for her husband is a wife's privilege after 50 years of marriage. Does it work in reverse? Hell no.

I’m waiting for that e-mail photo Dad. Forget the eggs. I have faith.

Today's dream travel destination: Kerala, India, where my parents will be travelling in a few weeks, and the reason for the new digital camera.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Remembrance Day in Chester

At the end of my business trip to PEI last week, I stopped in Nova Scotia, to visit my parents in Chester. They have lived in this little jewel of a village on the Atlantic for more than 25 years.

On this visit, I was there for Remembrance Day, Nov. 11. It was a glorious day, with unseasonably warm sun twinkling off the ripples in the harbour. I walked to the village cenotaph, which shares a tiny park by the shore with the bandstand gazebo. It seemed that most of the town, and all of its dogs, had come to share the annual memorial ceremony at 11:00 am.

When the kilted piper played the ritual Lament, the profound stillness and unexpectedly plentiful tears in the crowd moved me deeply. Even in this little village, far from the flashy, dignitary-stuffed ceremony in Ottawa, war is all too real. The first wreath was laid by a local mother who recently lost her son in Afghanistan. The minister of my parent’s church, who led us in prayer, will be deployed to Afghanistan shortly as an army chaplain from the Reserves. November 11th is no longer just about our grandparents. We again are sending our young men and women overseas to die in a brutal war. (Do not get me started, not today.)

The Chester marching band made up in enthusiasm what they lacked in precision as they led a parade of veterans, sea cadets, volunteer firefighters, scouts, girl guides, and the Legion-sponsored peewee hockey team through town to a church service. That concluded the somber, or rather sober, part of the day’s rituals.

The local Legion was the hub for the rest of Remembrance Day. This is one of two days a year the Legion welcomes non-members. The women's auxilliary put on a buffet spread. My father's choir provided the entertainment, an afternoon performing sing-along war tunes. "It's a Long Way to Tipperary", "Pack Up Your Troubles", "White Cliffs of Dover", "You'll Get Used To It". I sang along. I know the words to these songs, but where and when did I learn them? The audience singing got louder with each $2.50 glass of Keith's. All the seats were taken, so I stood at the back near the bar. An elderly man with a row of medals on his navy blazer shuffled up.

"How are you then Jimmy?" asked the woman tending bar.

"I'm some dry Dorene."

"Another Keith's then?"

His grin was all the answer needed.

Today's dream travel destination: The lovely village of Chester, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Table For One

"Will Madame be dining alone?"

When I first began business travel, these words made me quickly scan the restaurant to see who was staring at the big "L" on my forehead. I just knew they were thinking: "Pity, she has no friends." "What, can't get a date?" "Huh, looks like she's been stood up." "Loser!" I would eat dinner at my little table feeling the heat of the million watt spot light over my head. (Yes, my ego was that big!)

Now I know better. I might still suspect people are thinking those pitiful thoughts, but I don't give a shit. One of the few advantages of aging is getting over yourself. So that dining alone on a business trip is not torture, it is a treat. An hour or so of blissful peace. Courtesy demands that my cell phone be turned off. Smiling people bring me artfully prepared food and drink, and clean up after me. I read the local paper. Issues and events that matter to people in different places can be fascinating, enlightening, or hilarious. I bring a book for back up. And, best of all, my employer pays for it.

Last night, as the waitress put a plate of PEI mussels in front of me, (steamed in Guiness and garlic, yummy,) I felt a twinge of guilt for my Beloved at home. He is dealing with the houshold grind and chaos while my whims are catered to.

The guilt fades with every succulent mussel. By dessert time, guilt shmilt. This is bliss. Sorry Sweetie.

Today's dream travel destination: Where I am, but do not have time to explore. Prince Edward Island, Canada.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

On the Road Again

Hell is a 5 hour, fully loaded, red-eye flight from Vancouver to Toronto. Stuck in a window seat next to a large snoring man. Oh to hell with correctness, he's a lard ass, overflowing the middle seat. Don't people his size have to buy two seats? And he's a smoker. He reeks of the last nine or ten cigarettes he must have desperately chain smoked before boarding.

It is past midnight, but I cannot sleep, and the movie sucks. This is a work trip, it's not even anywhere fun like our approaching adventure. I read the in-flight magazine. Then the French Version. I. Am. So. Bored.

Wise fliers avoid alcohol and drink lots of water. Screw that. I order a beer, hoping it will make me sleepy. It doesn't. I have another. Not totally ignoring flying wisdom, I have been sucking back my bottled water too. Now I desperately have to pee. To do that I have to get past my two sleeping seatmates. I wake them, and they graciously get up. By the time I come back, lard ass is asleep again. God I hate the window seat, but it was all I could get. I am claustrophobic, and get antsy any time I am not in an aisle seat; at football games, movies, the bus, whatever. At a funeral I would wrestle the grieving widow if she tried to move me down the pew. "So sorry for your terrible loss, but you will only get me to move by prying my cold dead hands off this seat." Oooops, bad analogy.

The beer and water was a very poor idea, requiring 2 more trips to the toilet. By the third trip, my seat mates are ready to throw me out the door. I am tempted to let them. I still cannot sleep. The crummy movie has been replaced by a business report. SWEET MOTHER OF GOD, GET ME OFF THIS AIRPLANE!

Finally, I fall into blissful slumber. Ten minutes later we land. I stumble into Pearson International airport transit area. The time is a quarter to too fucking early. I have two more flights and six hours of travel before I reach my destination: Prince Edward Island. That's O.K. From now on I have aisle seats.

Today's dream travel destination: Anywhere in this airplane:

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Reigning Cats and Dogs, Part 1: Henry & Oliver

Pets outnumber humans in our household 5 to 3. How that came to be still baffles me sometimes. Tika and Henry are the dogs, Squirt, Snuffy, and Oliver the cats.

Henry and Oliver have been best friends from the first day we brought Henry home as a puppy 13 months ago. It’s an unlikely match. They are from enemy species. Henry now weighs 85 pounds and is still growing. Oliver weighs 9 pounds, if he has had a big breakfast. Oliver is the smartest creature in the household, humans included. Henry is spectacularly stupid. (My Beloved, always the optimist, says Henry is gifted and just needs to mature a little. Nonsense. The only thing he is gifted at is farting. I mean Henry, not B. Although, when we have taco night…….well, never mind.)

In spite of their differences, they adore each other. Oliver gets Henry. In return, Henry smothers Oliver with drooling, doe-eyed devotion. They sleep together. Wrestle and play together. Take walks together daily, Henry on his leash, Oliver voluntarily running along side. Rain or shine. When their paths cross in the house or the yard, they stop whatever important dog or cat work they were pursuing to give each other a little lovin’ and affection. Oliver rubs up under Henry’s chin, Henry licks and nuzzles. Oliver comes out of these sessions soaked in drool.

If Henry and Oliver could go to the UN they would demonstrate profound lessons about acceptance, understanding, and triumph over prejudice. Humankind would learn to live in harmony. And drool, and fart.

Today's dream travel destination: UN headquarters, New York

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

I love Halloween

Before B and I bought this money-sucking pile of bricks and cedar, I lived in a hip, pretentious neighbourhood near downtown, full of young professionals, a sprinkling of retirees, and chic gay couples. Not many children. My son’s elementary school was the smallest in the district, with less than 200 kids. (Unfortunately that’s not the explanation for why every successive principal there knew me on a first name basis.) We got a few trick or treaters on our street, but only because an NHL hockey player lived on the next block. Halloween in the area went unnoticed. Well, almost. The waiter at the sushi restaurant up the street put on a costume.

But our current neighbourhood does Halloween, and I love it! Yards are elaborately decorated with dead and dying souls, goulish lights, even sound effects. Check it out:

Yesterday evening started with the tiny adorable bumble bees and bunnies in their Daddy’s arms, who were far more interested in our dog Henry than candy. “Goggie! Goggie!” (Tika, who pees in fright at the sound of a firecracker was shut up in the basement.) Then we got so many princesses, Sponge Bobs, vampires and witches I had to raid B’s chocolate bar stash. Almost last came the young teens with ‘tude and cell phones. And finally, an hour after the last of them, the doorbell rang again. By then it was my bed time, and I crankily went to the door.

On the porch are two guys about 17 years old. No costumes. Grinning hugely. “Trick or treat!” Should I offer them a chocolate bar, or a beer? Sarcastically I ask: “So what are you?” They immediately drop to their knees. “We’re midgets!” Now they are laughing out loud, madly pleased with their scam. I try not to smile. Then one of them stares at the plastic skeleton we have hung by the front door. “Whoa, dude!” he says, taking its boney hand, “You should have been nicer to the lady.”

Dudes, you made my night.