Friday, December 23, 2011

cheers to Tib's Eve

This is Toronto. Wanting to be New York? I don't know. Who cares. It's Christmas.

It's hectic and cheerful and bustling and magical. A time of giving and receiving. A time to rest, reflect and be overwhelmed.

Thank God for CBC radio.

This morning on CBC Radio 2 I learned about Tib's (Tibb's) Eve from Tom Power. Essentially, it's an excuse to go out and have a couple of drinks on the night before Christmas Eve. Who doesn't love Newfoundland?

Below are two (abridged) definitions of the phrase from the Dictionary of Newfoundland English.

tib's eve n. also tips* ~ and, by folk etym, tipsy eve OED tib sb 5 ~ dial (1785-1902), EDD tib(b)'s eve, JOYCE 342 for sense

1. A day that will never come; never.
'it will be Tibb's Eve before you get that done.' If the person asked, 'when is Tibb's Eve?' you would reply, 'Tibb's Eve is neither before Christmas nor after.' I don't care if he's there till Tibb's Eve, he won't get out of that room till he knows every word of his lesson.

2. A day or two before Christmas.
A period when 'anything goes.' It means, or meant once, a specified date, the day before Christmas Eve. Tipsy Eve, December 23rd. What a day! School is out. Christmas has begun... Though I'm only guessing, I've always assumed that the name Tipsy Eve originated from this custom of the men going from house to house on the afternoon of December 23rd to test or taste each other's brew.

I am in no way leaving out CBC Radio 1. Lots of faves there: Ghian, Anna Maria, Randy, Matt, Nora, even Rex. And some shows are repeated on both frequencies. To quote Kathleen Edwards, I love CBC radio one, but CBC radio two is where the party is at.

Tonight, Canada Live aired The McGarrigle Wainwright Christmas - A Not So Silent Night. It is both a Christmas celebration and a loving tribute to the life of Kate McGarrigle who, before she sadly, passed away in January 2010, devised a scheme simple yet effective. That her entire far-flung clan would gravitate back to Quebec for a Christmas dinner each year and hold an annual Christmas concert. She would have be pleased this year with 27 of her family and friends on stage at The Theatre Saint-Denis in Montreal. All proceeds went to The Kate McGarrigle Cancer Fund.

You might want to stop what you're doing and listen to it right now because it ends with the McGarrigles and the Wainwrights singing A Fairytale in New York.

If that doesn't say Merry Christmas, I'm not sure what will.

I am fortunate for many things. Too many to list here.

Living on a street that goes hog wild with lights is one of them.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

happy fuming holidays

December 21, 2011

James Corkum
Operations Manager
Oxford Properties
20 Bay Street, Ground Floor
Toronto ON M5J 2N8

RE: smoking at entrances to 20 Bay Street

Dear James Corkum,

This letter, if you are not already aware, is to bring to your attention the fact that people regularly smoke cigarettes outside all entrances to 20 Bay Street. They smoke very near the sign pictured above. I would go so far as to bet five dollars there is someone standing there right now, the North entrance in particular, smoking.

On several occasions earlier this year, while parking and locking my bike near the North entrance, I took the opportunity to ask people if they were aware of the sign. I asked if they would mind moving, about 50 feet west, to the area designated for smokers that has benches and ashtrays and planters filled with mother-in-law’s-tongue.

A variety of responses followed.

“Oh sure, of course,” one woman said and headed toward the benches.

“No problem,” said another two men.

“Sure, sure, sorry,” said another.

“Yeah, I know,” said one woman, and continued to smoke and chat with her friend right next to the sign.

One man simply turned his back and pretended like he couldn’t hear me asking him a question. Behavior not unlike a four year old.

“Oh here,” said one guy who proceeded to take a step down onto the sidewalk, “How’s that?”
To which I replied, “Not very good”. He was maybe four metres away from the door, not nine. Nine meters North of the sign would put him in the middle of two lanes of Eastbound traffic on Harbour Street.

“Do you have a measuring tape?” another one asked. I told him I did and he told me to go get Security if it bothered me that much. I informed the woman at the Oxford Properties office on the main floor and she said that she would ask Security to go have a look.

Others told me that I should park my bike elsewhere, and one person simply shook their head, no, they were not interested in moving.

When I asked them why they didn’t use the smoking area provided, no one answered. I guess it was obvious. It didn’t need to be said.

The answer is that it’s easier to stand right beside the door rather than walk 50 feet.

My question to Oxford Properties is this: Why are you not enforcing the messaging on the sign, in red lettering, on every window next to each entrance of the building which clearly states: No smoking within nine meters of entrance?

The City of Toronto’s website in the Q&A section states:

Q: Are there smoking restrictions outside of buildings?
A: Smoking outside of buildings is not covered by the Smoke-Free Ontario Act, with the exception of buildings such as health care facilities, where smoking is prohibited within nine metres of entrances or exits.

20 Bay is not a health care facility. If the action is not being enforced, why is there a sign there at all?

As someone who works at 20 Bay Street, someone who enters and exits the building on a regular basis, I find these people who stand there and smoke, for the most part, to be offensive, self centered, egotistical, condescending, childish, unpleasant and rude. I really don’t care if they smoke. That is their choice. I care where they smoke. They get away with the disgusting and shameful behavior because they can.

I commute by bicycle for the majority of the year and am forced to breathe in second hand smoke while I park and lock my bike. I find this to be a violation of basic human decency. Common courtesy. Perhaps it is expecting too much for people to have manners, compassion, consideration and respect for each other.

A woman at the 20 Bay Oxford Properties office informed me that Security doesn’t have time to stand out there policing the entrances all day long.

So what else is to be done?

Paint a line on the ground indicating where nine metres ends? Try to embarrass the smokers in front of their peers? Start coughing loudly while pretending to have asthma? I tried that and a woman told me that the pollution I had just ridden through on my bike was worse than inhaling her second hand smoke. This comment is all things laughable, sad and wrong.

I used to smoke. I have close friends and family members who smoke. I get that it’s hard to quit. It was the hardest thing I have ever to do. What I don’t get it why the smokers outside 20 Bay Street assume they have the right to smoke anywhere they want.

This is not a lecture about quitting smoking. This is plea for respect.

To quote the late Christopher Hitchens, from his book God is Not Great, How Religion Poisons Everything "It [religious faith] will never die out, or at least not until we get over our fear of death, and of the dark, and of the unknown, and of each other."

Much like religious vs. non-religious, I think the argument between smokers and non-smokers is destined to continue for quite some time.

I am not asking people to stop smoking. I am asking that people who choose to smoke do so in a place that does not directly affect those who choose not to smoke.

I want nothing more than to end this issue, this defense, this letter.

We don't always get what we want.

I would feel better if the signs were removed. At least then I wouldn’t have an argument. I could refrain from interacting with the thoughtless people who are in no way concerned about the health and well being of fellow citizens.

Instead, I have decided to make a documentary.

With such proximity to a subject as this, I am unable to pass up the opportunity. I am writer/producer/director who works in the media, marketing and communications industry. This letter appears on my blog.

I look forward to your participation in the project in the coming months.

Best wishes for a safe and happy holiday.


Lana Pesch

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

winter vow

Because my entry to the CBC Winter Tales contest didn't appear on yesterday's shortlist, it now appears below.

Winter Vow

The morning of Monday December 10th, 1990 the world wide web was in its testing phase, Peter Gzowski was smoking cigarettes while hosting Morningside and I made a vow never to spend another winter in Saskatchewan.

This is how it happened.

I woke in the dark, buried beneath my feather tick (a down quilt weighing about eight and a half pounds), to a voice (not Gzowski’s) on the radio that said, “The temperature is minus 30. Minus 47 with the wind chill.”

It was my second year as a theatre major at the University of Regina. I was paying $100 a month rent in an old Victorian house I shared with a three guys (two Dave’s and a Mike) who were friends of my older sister. Photos of Thailand and China and India hung on the walls — all places they had been. I was discovering bands like Moxy Früvous and Skinny Puppy and watching Twin Peaks and Kids in the Hall on TV.

Sunrise was at 8:48 a.m.

It was two weeks before Christmas and I should have been excited about the holidays. I should have been looking forward to going back to my hometown (an hour and a half Northeast of Regina) to eat perogies and cabbage rolls and pig out on my mom’s ginger snaps and scuffles (crescent shaped cinnamon cookies). I should have been relieved I didn’t have to wake up in the dark for a few weeks.

I should have been all of those things, but all I could think was, it’s minus 47 with the wind chill. I made coffee and packed some leftover pasta and a shriveled up apple for lunch.

It helps to dress in layers.

Under my black wool winter coat, purposely three sizes too big, I wore; a tank top, a turtle neck, a short sleeved t-shirt, a sweatshirt, a football (Saskatchewan Roughrider) jersey, long johns, jeans, and wool socks over top of thin cotton socks inside my hiking boots.

Anyone who knows the prairies, knows how the snow gets packed so tight it squeaks when you walk on it. It sounds like you are walking on Styrofoam.

You cannot think about summer.

At the car door I fumbled with my giant mitts until I finally pried the handle open. Luckily it didn’t break like last time. Luckily my skin hadn’t frozen, yet. I wanted to take a deep breath but, even inside the car, it was still minus 30.

I decided to hold my breath until spring.

While the engine warmed up, I listened to the radio. “A car stalled on Wascana Parkway is causing some delay. You’ll want to take things slow today paying extra attention to that black ice.” I put the car in reverse. Clunk. The tires had frozen solid. They were rubber cubes of ice.

Minus 47 with the wind chill.

The morning of Monday December 10th, 1990 I made a vow never to spend another winter in Saskatchewan.

And I never have.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


Monday evening at 6:00 p.m. I had cycled past Dundas and Sterling, on of my usual routes, on my way home. I saw media trucks and a reporter doing an interview.

Tuesday morning at 6:00 a.m. in the taxi on the way to a shoot, I heard the news that a cyclist had been killed at Dundas and Sterling.

This morning, I read that cyclist was Jenna Morrison. She has been labeled many things: yoga teacher, mother, life partner, four months pregnant, dancer, nonjudgmental, a spiritual person who loved life.

To me, she was an acquaintance.

I used to take classes at the studio she owned in Kensington Market. Now Spiritwind Internal Arts. I remember her because she was welcoming, interesting, vibrant, and attractive. Simply, a lovely person.

Because of the line of work I am in, I have many acquaintances.

That cab ride yesterday morning took me to The Alzheimer Society where I spent the day making more acquaintances. I was shooting a public service announcement on the importance of early diagnosis.

It was a powerful day.

People with the disease gave testimonials about their experience. They spoke about shame, pride, anger, frustration, hope, hopelessness, acceptance, denial, befriending the disease and the importance of treatment and support and getting the most out of the life they have left. They were accompanied by their spouses who double as caregivers.

There was much laughter and a few tears.

A thirteen year old girl, Sarah, participating in the video project, spoke about her grandfather's struggle with dementia. When asked if there was one thing she could tell people who are dealing with the disease she said, "Cherish the moments you have with them, because one day they'll be gone."

Like Jenna Morrison, I am glad to have made her acquaintance.

Toronto cyclists are invited to meet at Bloor and Spadina at 7:30 a.m. on Nov. 14. The group plans to ride to the site of the accident.

Monday, October 10, 2011

destruction before creation

In order to rebuild, something will get destroyed.

A clearing is created so a thing - newer, stronger, taller, smarter, brighter, faster, better? - can take its place.

It could be anything. A building, a machine, an idea, a movement, a recipe, a car, a plane, a planet, a generation.

Bit by bit, things crumble. They fall. They erode. They rot.

They disappear.

It has happened before and it will happen again.

But it has never happened this fast.

Revolutions and evolution, wars and battlefields are all around us.

They bring change, for better or for worse.

Maybe it's the world.
Maybe it's your neighbourhood.
Maybe it's your life.

Rebuilding starts with a blank page.

A clear mind.
Zero balance.
An empty lot.

Destruction before creation.

Friday, September 9, 2011

groundhog alley

While on my way to Fresh Co. the other day to pick up a few things after work, I heard rustling in the tall grassy weeds that line the sidewalk in front of an abandoned warehouse building on Dundas West. It sounded like it could have be a squirrel, only bigger. I stopped briefly and watched the plants move. Then I kept going.

On my way back from the store, on the other side of the street, a man and a woman were trying to coax a groundhog off the road so he wouldn't get run over by a bus.

I can only assume it was the groundhog I'd stopped for just fifteen minutes prior. Like I said, it sounded bigger than a squirrel. While I was picking up grapeseed oil and eggs, the little fella made it all away across four lanes of traffic. He was Frogger.

I stopped to help the two coaxers get the not so little rodent onto the grass. He was so freaked out that he couldn't get his chubby body up onto the curb. But after a few scrambling attempts he managed the leap and at least we had him on the sidewalk. Poor thing was scurrying this way and that, not know where he should be. I called home and got my husband to text me the number for the Toronto Wildlife Centre which is (416) 361-0662 if this ever happens to you.

It was 5:55 p.m. and they are only open until six. I got an answering machine and pushed a few options before hanging up to give my full attention to the critter. Even though I wanted to help, it wasn't like anyone had been bit by a rabid raccoon. By this time, he had made his way down between a couple of houses and was heading for the back alley.

Then the woman said, "I'm not getting nailed for trespassing for this guy, see ya." With that, the man left too. But I followed the groundhog and watched him tuck between a garage and a fence on the other side of the alley.

He looked so mixed up. His torso waddling back and forth. Panicked. Stressed. Disoriented. He didn't know where he was and he didn't know where to turn. Maybe he was a she and she just forgot where she was supposed to be.

We've all been there.

I went home and quickly emptied my grocery bag. I took the bag, the cat carrier and an umbrella and headed to the door.

"What are you going to do, bag him?" my husband asked.

I had no idea what I was going to do.

But off we went. We found him where I'd left him. He still looked dazed and confused but it appeared that his breathing had slowed down. We stared at him and he stared at us. All of us just staring and blinking at each other, wondering what was going to happen next.

What happened next? We walked home.

The next day I looked but couldn't find him. I know this because I took the alley instead of the street. What I did find, is that the alley is a much calmer ride. It's quiet and serene and there is no one back there.

Because of a displaced (or so we assume) rodent I was taken off my usual course. I looked up at the big yellow sign that said: SLOW, and thought, why haven't I been taking this way all along?

Monday, August 29, 2011

no parking

The notice in the elevator was titled: Bicycle Storage in Parking Garage. The one pager went on to say how, according to Section 4.3a of the Condominium's Declaration, each parking spot shall be used and occupied only for the parking of a motor vehicle.

Rules are rules.

Clearly, in the picture above, you can see how my non-motorized vehicle is an issue. The rubber tip of the handle bar leaning up against the wall. Its problematic tires touching the cement floor. It is casting shadows on the wall and creating a distraction from the number painted two feet above it. (Just in case we forgot which spot was ours.) I mean the thing is just sitting there, paralyzed, and taking up space that could be used for...a larger motorized vehicle I suppose.

The bicycle is a menace. An eyesore. Dangerous and unsightly, hazardous and unsafe and needs to be removed.

We have lived in this condo for a year and a half and this is the first talk of parking spot regulations. There are two floors of parking in the underground, roughly 350 units in the building, which makes for, I'm guessing, about 75 or 100 bikes.

The aforementioned notice went on to state that several bikes have gone missing and have been vandalized. That is unfortunate. However, I've had bikes stolen (while locked) from outside my place of work and from my old apartment where the bike was locked to the wooden stairs outside the front door. The thieves took apart the wood railing and stole the bike. At least they left the wood so we could put the railing back together. Once, just my gel seat was stolen. That's just weird.

At the condo, I stopped locking my bike (to itself) a few months ago because I'd seen other bikes unlocked. And nothing happened. My philosophy is if someone wants my $99, twelve speed from Canadian Tire that badly, they should take it.

In the condo's defense, there are several bikes other than mine down there leaning against walls, taking up space behind parked cars. Can you believe some bikes are even using kick stands? Standing upright in an empty spot that should only be used for a motor vehicle. There are two adult sized bikes and two kids bikes leaning up against each other, against a wall, in a spot where there is no car. A whole group of them, bunched up together in an empty spot...the horror!

And that's only P1. I've never even seen P2. Who knows how many unlocked bikes are loitering around down there.

I get that vandalism and theft if bad.
What I don't get is why I am being offered the following two options:

(a) pay $5/month for the use of bike racks that have been installed (which is why the notice was delayed until now), with a $40 mandatory payment up front to cover the storage from September through April

(b) put the bicycle in the storage locker

Here's the thing...

(c) I am not going to pay an additional $5/month to park my bike in a rack that I never wanted and do not need

(d) The storage locker is already full of camping equipment, Christmas ornaments, golf clubs, winter boots, etc., you know...stuff you store

And in fact, there are more than two options.

I could park it outside the public bike stands on a busy street.
I could ask the neighbours with a garage, if I could use a few feet for my bike.
I could put a bike rack on the car and store the bike there.
I could lock the bike to the car itself.

But I am not going to do those things.

What I have opted to do, is bring my bike up to the apartment every evening when I get home and lug it down through the stairwell every morning when I leave. It's not so bad. There's no additional cost. I feel in control. Exercising my rights as a tenant. Because it's up to me what I put in the entrance way of my apartment whether it be a welcome mat, a coat rack, or a bike.

Incidentally, CBC radio ran a great series called Know Your Rights - an on-the-ground and in-the-field exploration of our rights as Canadian citizens where host Craig Norris navigates the complex world of what we legally can and cannot do in our country.

I haven't listened to the whole podcast yet but I intend to, just in case things escalate with the condo board. I'm guessing they'll have something to say about me bringing my bike up in the elevator. The Declaration likely states something about how the elevator is to be used only for human or canine occupants. Wait till they see my pony.

I'm not even one of those hardcores that cycles all through the winter. Up the street Set Me Free bike shop offers free winter storage if you do your Spring tune up with them. Sold.

Rules are rules.
And some people have nothing better to do than to enforce them.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

water ways

I took this picture last month at Grenadier Pond on a bike ride through High Park. My husband thinks it's a small bass. The little guy swam right up to the cement wall of the pond, close enough for me to snap this mugshot.

On another hot summer day last weekend, I went to the same spot and didn't see any fish. What I saw was the water level four inches lower than a month ago.

Disneynature's Oceans nailed it. An extraordinary nature documentary containing unprecedented footage of the world's oceans. See it. It will give you a glimpse of what is goes underwater, on this planet. If it doesn't leave you changed, watch it again.

We've gone to space, only to look back at earth and see how much of it is...water. Our structured ways on land mimic microcosms existing in oceans. We hunt, gather, work, and play, much like creatures of the sea.

Only they are much better managers than we are.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a section of the ocean where currents bring trash to an area estimated (depending on your source) to be the size of Texas. I'm fairly certain the hammerheads, blue whales and sea turtles are wondering (a) what the hell is this enormous pile of floating junk and (b) just how did it get here?

I'm also pretty certain you won't find a 696,200 square km slop of sea sludge (that's Texas sized or, twice the size of Germany) anywhere on earth, any time soon.

But we, an indifferent people, made up of up to 70% water, are allowing this to happen.

If we are running out of it, and if science and technology have come so far, why are we not making water?
If it were only that simple.
It's not.

I like to skydive, a decadent and privaledged pastime, and my view of Lake Erie from 14,000 feet is extensive and expansive. It's one of the smaller of the great fresh water lakes left. I'd stick close by if I were me.

I cycle along Lake Ontario everyday on my way to work and I walk along the boardwalk pictured below. Last week a guy was fishing here, in downtown Toronto. He hauled up a big walleye (I think) that must have been at least six pounds. He got someone to take a picture of him holding it, then tossed it back in the water.

Like him, I wouldn't eat it.

But I'm not hungry.

What does a photo like this do to people desperately lacking in resources?

The drought in the eastern Horn of Africa is being reported as the worst humanitarian crisis in a generation. Here is a link to CARE Canada's blog that I found via an email from Gap Adventures asking for donations to help build two water stations in Kenya.

To learn more or donate, click here.

Sadly, this is only the tip of the (melting) iceberg.

Thursday, July 14, 2011


Earlier this morning I stepped on to my balcony to snip some parsley for my tuna salad. The cool, fresh, air smelled like camp.

As a kid, I spent two weeks every July from the age of seven to fourteen at summer camp. It was the highlight of my year. Trident Church camp was, and still is, located at Crystal Lake, 23 km North of a small community called Canora, in South Eastern Saskatchewan.

This morning, the sense of smell took me right back to those memories of a knock on a cabin door with a counselor shouting "dobre ranok!" (good morning, in Ukrainian). I remembered the wake up shake up exercise routines, the breakfasts in the dining hall with giant boxes of Rice Crispies and jugs of milk. Lunch and dinners of cabbage rolls, perogies, and borscht and evening snacks of cinnammon toast and hot chocolate. We walked to the beach for swimming time, and had dancing, singing, and language classes, we did arts and crafts where we made Easter eggs, matchstick crosses and did embroidery. We ran around at bedtime giving (and getting) good night kisses before the counselors got too pissed off.

As I got older, I graduated to staying in "Cabin 14", where I shared clothes with my cabin mates from the big city. We tucked our suitcases under the bunk beds where cigarettes were hidden discretely in side pockets. We snuck out after lights out, through the fence and across the highway, getting eaten alive by mosquitoes while smoking said contraband.

One year, someone brought a ouija board and we tried to summon spirits of the past. It was church camp after all.

Every year, a tearful good-bye followed the final performance where we would show off our cultural song and dance in full costume.

Today, older still, my office is a two minute walk to Lake Ontario, very near to where one would catch the ferry to get to Centre Island. Today, clumps of kids, pictured above, sat cross legged on the grassy patch beside the ferry terminal. They wore matching T-shirts and protective hats, counselors were wrangling and pointing with clipboards in hand. You could smell the sunblock from across the street. Perched on the edge of the GTA, these kids were not going to have the same experience as me, but their excitement was palpable. They were at camp! Little people creating memories of a summer adventure.

A couple of weeks ago, a lot of Toronto, less our mayor, celebrated with Pride and brought new meaning to the word, camp. Go see for yourself.

As Canadians, we are conditioned to enjoy the outdoors. Mostly because there is so much of it. We minimize our needs and pack up smaller versions of necessities to be closer to nature. There is something, obviously, very freeing about going to camp, or camping. Letting go of the comforts of an urban lifestyle and rediscovering the wonders of our environment. Sleeping in a tent, lighting a campfire, eating in the open air, the sound of a paddle dipping into water, diving off a dock.

This weekend, I'll pitch a tent and sleep outside. I'll eat at a picnic table and walk barefoot on the sand. I'll smell like bonfire, muskol and sunblock and I will love every second of it.

Camp out.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

solstice focus

My sister once told me, we don't multitask. What happens is we do a lot of things, really fast, one after the other. Makes sense. However, I am not convinced this is practical. Or healthy. Or even useful.

It's likely why I sometimes end up at the wrong subway stop. It's why the milk ends up in the cupboard and the cereal in the fridge. Keys left in the keyhole...overnight. Typos and missed appointments suddenly have explanations.

But in all this multitasking, there is one big thing missing.


I have been doing a lot of things really fast, one after the other for most of my life. But the past month has been a bit...full on. It is precisely why I have not been doing a lot of other things like playing tennis, or reading, or spending time with my family, or writing in this blog. A lot of the things I have been doing are assignments and projects for my job. A job that, usually, requires a fair amount of focus.

Pissing and moaning aside, one of the more enjoyable things I've done recently was make this video, a lifetime achievement tribute for Patrick Brown, former CBC foreign correspondent.

It takes a certain type of person to do a job like that. A person with talents that include language, storytelling, being a quick study, a quick wit, having a sense of compassion, humour, resonance, integrity, humour and adventure. That, and you also have to be intelligent, courageous, driven, passionate, and of course, focused.

Earlier this month, Mr. Brown was honoured for his lifetime (which incidentally, is not over) of achievements, by the Canadian Journalism Foundation. After the video, he walked up on stage at the Royal York to accept the award, and what did he do?

He thanked everyone else.

Ça c'est de la classe. Perhaps humble, perhaps modest, it's also true. You can't do these things alone. You need all those aforementioned traits, but you can't have a career like that without help. Without asking questions, constantly. Without creating your own opportunities. Without trying and without failing. Without working in teams. Without pushing. Without striving for excellence and truth.

Without focus.

There is a mountain of footage that didn't make it into that video. A lifetime really. Several lifetimes in fact. Terry Mosher, a long time pal, said many honourable and flattering things about Patrick. He also said, "He's a guy who enjoys the simple things in life. Good conversation. Meaningful moments."

Patrick said it best himself, in a piece for regarding his coverage of Elvis Presley's funeral, "This profession exposes us to a great deal of misery, but also to wonderful moments when the human spirit seems to triumph over everything that is mean and destructive in the world." To read the full column, Elvis Made Me What I Am, click here.

I have terrible eyesight. When I look out into the world without corrective lenses I don't see misery or wonder or triumph. I see colours, lights and darks, sometimes shapes. I am forced to do nothing. I cannot do one single thing because of a complete and pure absence of focus.

Today is the solstice.
The strawberries are ripe.
Summer has arrived.

We can only do one thing at a time.

So, like a berry, pick one...and focus on that.

Friday, April 22, 2011

grapefruit fanta

I slept for most of the flight here because it was early last Saturday morning. But when the cart came by for last call, I saw the woman in front of me order a tomato juice.

"Tomato juice please," I said.

"Juice? We have orange, apple, cranberry or tomato. Or grapefruit fanta."

I still had my ear plugs in but yes, that's what he said.

"Sure, I'll try one of those."

"If you don't like it I won't be offended, but I stand by my word."

Turns out when you mix apple juice, orange juice and tonic water, it tastes like a grapefruit soda.

"For twelve bucks, I can make you a wicked cocktail."

The attendant gave the same pitch to the guy behind me. And the recipe for the cocktail: add a bit of rum, vodka and grand marnier. A splash of cranberry makes it ruby red.

Then I took a bus to Banff and have been in the Writing With Style workshop all week in the building pictured above.

This afternoon, I climbed Tunnel Mountain, a 1.8 km hike. A struggle in places because the snow is melting and it was mucky and wet. It was sloppy and icy but there were trees to hang on to and they've put railings up near sharp drop offs. I thought I might slip and fall. But I made it to the summit, and from there, I could see the the other side. I saw it for what it was - a completely different point of view.

Vast, expansive, endless.

It might be a struggle. It might be mucky and sloppy, and I might slip and fall. But I have new knowledge, lots of ideas and plenty to read. I've got a lot to hang on to. And I am open to the possibilities of things I haven't thought of on ways to approach my work.

I mean, who knew apple, orange and tonic would taste like grapefruit?

The possibilities are endless.

Drink up.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

a bake-aholic's confession

Like a lot of things in my life, in everybody's lives, they take time. Sometimes, they take a long time.

Like choosing a career, finding a mate, buying a house, selling a house, getting good at a career, getting good at anything, having a child, raising a child, establishing a community, changing careers, caring for a pet, reading Atlas Shrugged, making friends, keeping friends, changing careers again, moving, planning a name a few.

Not baking.

With baking, there is an immediate result. Along with the actual baked item, comes satisfaction, accomplishment, a sense of completion.

I am a writer and if I wrote like a baked, people would be stuffed with overindulgence. Writing takes time. At least for me it does. I suppose writing is more like cooking. Things are being chopped and trimmed, stirred and mixed. I'm letting them simmer. And that's OK. I've got several stories on the go, in various states of completion (cooked vs. raw), and that is how things will get done. For me. For now.

In the meantime, I bake. I made a two honey raspberry cakes (pictured), doubled the recipe by accident, scuffles - old family recipe for rolled up cinnamon pastries, oatmeal pecan chocolate chip cookies, carrot muffins, quinoa cranberry cake, brownies, blueberry bran muffins and oatmeal lightening squares. And that was just March.

My favourite writing teacher categorizes her writing into headings named after foods. (She bakes too)

1. Fresh Ingredients - new ideas, things you transcribe from writing classes, exercises, stuff from your notebook, random thoughts.
2. Cooking - stories that are being worked on, each gets its own folder, having graduated from Fresh Ingredients to a real 'dish'
3. Leftovers - stuff you wrote but you don't want to look at anymore. You don't want to throw it away (delete it) but it has to go somewhere.

At the moment, I make videos for a living. These have a fairly immediate result and are not as bad as feature films or documentaries, which can take years. It's probably why I've stayed at the same job for seven years. Variety. Change of subject. Something different. But even some of these short corporate videos or public service announcement projects can linger around longer than necessary. Sometimes MUCH longer and I need to bake something when I get home just to feel like something is done.

Or a theatre play. You rehearse, rehearse, rehearse, the same material for weeks on end before the show even opens. I don't know how they do it on Broadway. But a pumpkin loaf? You're out of the kitchen with a tasty snack, when the toothpick comes out clean, in about an hour.

Baking is also a good way to try something new. Similar to my work as a producer, where I have new subjects, new clients, new people, trying new recipes keeps me coming back to the kitchen. The cookbooks and online resources are endless. And once you've been at it a while, like baking, producing, or writing, you begin to see the pattern. And once you know how something works, you can change it up. Use a different flour, a new lens, another point of view. You'll still get a cake, a video or a story, the result is the same, but different.

It doesn't stop at baking, it's cooking too. I try new recipes to vary up the meals, to not get stuck in a rut.

There is a shop in the basement of St. Lawrence Market way at the back that has so many different food items in it I could stay there poking and sniffing and snooping around the bins of weird nuts and seeds, cans of imported sauces and pickled vegetables, individual vermicelli packages, dried Saskatoon berries, kamut flour, acai jam, bits of dried pear and pineapple, colourful French mustards, at least 100 kinds of chocolate, stubs of blueberry flavoured Australian licorice, saffron and halva and spinach spaghettini. I could stay for hours, but they close at six.

It's like discovering a new author. Same thing goes for music, or a new band. An interesting cocktail, or a new wine. You dive in a read and listen and taste all this newness that is inspiring, enlightening, satisfying, fulfilling. With reading, this week it's Annie Proulx. Annabel Lyon was last fall. I read Jonathan Franzen for the first time last Christmas.

Or trying a new route to the same destination. Just yesterday I took my bicycle out heading over to Bloor West. Well doesn't Glen Lake connect go all the way to Quebec Avenue which runs parallel with Gothic, where I lived for three weeks, four summers ago. Who knew?

It happens with places too. People go somewhere for the fist time and can't stop talking about it. People go somewhere new and then end up living there. I went to Montreal for the weekend once and stayed for six years.

So wash down that blood orange pistachio tart with a whiskey sour made with agave syrup, infused with earl grey tea while talking about your trip to the Galapagos, listening to jazz, which you rarely do.

It's healthy to keep things fresh and new. Experiment and grow, broaden your horizons and deepen your appreciation.

But in the end, it's about balance.

Everyone is different and we all have our favourite: books, bands, booze, food, routes, places. Our staples. Something you count on. Somewhere to turn. Someone you trust.

With baking, I know I will never go wrong with the cranberry streusel recipe I've been using for years. (It's because of the sour cream). My never-fail-doesn't-get-old seafood soup, is a hit every time. If I need to read something solid and rich that will not disappoint, I turn to Alice Munro. As for music, anything from Weezer is good, but I keep going back to REM's Automatic for the People and Cirque du Soleil's soundtrack from Alegria. Wine? On a Pelee Island kick, especially the Shiraz Cabernet blend. But once in a while I splurge on the tried and true Californian Zinfandel from Ravenswood, or Henry of Pelham's Cuvée Catharine Brut Rosé that sparkles, for sparkly occasions.

I bake to make myself feel better.
I bake to enjoy the achievement.
I bake to savour a conclusion.

Thank goodness we have a freezer.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

shut it

Two jabbermouths on the GO Train last week speaking three decibels higher than necessary in a public place. Everyone else is quiet. Some try to read, many wear headphones, watching videos, playing video games.

But these two. They think they have the right to let the whole train in on their incessant chatter. How the baby is getting weened off the bottle. How the dog only eats Swiss Chalet. How the wife hasn't lost all the pregnancy weight yet, but it's because she doesn't eat regularly, so she binges.

"Eating three large bags of chips in one sitting isn't reasonable. I'm a 220 lb man and I can't do that you know?"

Then GUY #2 starts up with his advice to GUY #1 on how to handle his wife when the baby starts to crawl.

"You gotta watch that. Believe me, she won't want him to touch anything, there's germs on this and there's germs on that. Mine was no better with the dog. Now the 100 lb lab needs to be hand fed because she coddled it so much. I mean really."

No. I mean really?

TMI guys. Too much information. Must you do this in public? Have you no sense of privacy? No respect for fellow commuters? Inside voices, please.

The following day, they were at the other end of the car so I only caught the last of their conversation as they were exiting the train.

"It's my ingrown toenail."
"Oh yeah. If you cut it too close, where the skin is thick you know, it can get infected."
"It's been like this for a while."
"How long?"
"A year maybe."
"A YEAR? You have to get that looked at."

Good grief.

Don't get me wrong, I've been told to shut up plenty of times - at the office carousing in the cubicles and disturbing others, on the balcony - usually late after several beverages have been consumed, once on a patio on Church street - years ago but I still remember this - a couple of gal pals I hadn't seen in a while got together and our laughter was reverberating off the buildings out back of the restaurant. It was 11:00 p.m. on a Friday night.

But the GO Train? Come on.

In an age where we, in North America, are online more than offline tweeting, skyping, facebooking, texting, MSN'ing through our days, one would think it might get a little quieter.

But it's no better on the subway. My colleague had a subway ride that was interrupted by two teens screaming curses at each other to a point that led a passenger to pull the emergency alarm. Subway stops. Driver gets on. What's the problem? No problem here Sir, not anymore.

I was on the streetcar once where the guy next to me, right next to me, in a two seater near the back, was trying to sort out his Rogers bill because he'd been out of the country for a for a year. He had all his credit card info, address, phone number, mother's maiden name out there on display. He'd been teaching in Korea and had changed addresses now and needed the service back up.

You can't read with that going on next to you.

Etiquette people. Try it on.

It's no wonder bands write songs about it. One of my favourites is Cake's Nugget, from Fashion Nugget.

The lyrics to the chorus are:

shut the fu*k up.
shut the f*ck up.
right now
learn to buck up.
shut the f*ck up.
right, shut the f*ck up
yeah, yeah
learn to buck up.

And the opening lyrics to the Black Eyed Peas song, Shut Up.

Shut up
Just shut up
Shut up [3x]
Shut it up, just shut up
Shut up
Just shut up
Shut up [3x]
Shut it up, just shut up

And of course, the chorus to Joe Dolce's classic 80's comedy song, Shut Uppa You Face.

What's-a matter you? Hey! Gotta no respect.
What-a you t'ink you do? Why you look-a so sad?
It's-a not so bad, it's-a nice-a place.
Ah, shaddap-a you face!

The youtube video has over 1.5 million views.

While in line to buy another GO pass, the woman behind me gives a speech on relationship woes to her troubled pal.

"You did this before, I'm just saying. I see the same thing happening and you can't let her get away with it again. She's gonna walk all over you if you let her. I'm just saying."

Maybe I should just shut up and ride my bicycle all year long.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

the nose knows

Recently, my morning walk along the West Toronto Railpath has been affected with the comforting smell of burning. I think it's wood. The city is getting rid of a pile of junk (see photo in post re: stuff, Nov 3, 2010) and building something in its place. This burning smell, no matter where it occurs, always, always, always reminds me of Mexico.

I spent a couple of months there in the early 90's and they would often burn things. Wood, stubble, garbage. The smell would drift into the little beachfront town and give me that solid feeling of being somewhere else. It also didn't hurt that it was thirty degrees in December.

Smells trigger memories that are as vivid and precise as the original thing.

There are smells that are obviously wonderful. Bar-b-que, a cake in the oven, your lover's neck, freshly ground coffee, garlic, a good cheese shop, clean laundry, baby after bathtime, pizza delivery guy in an elevator, gin.

When you enter Village Meat (pictured above), a bakery/butcher shop in a Polish neighbourhood near me, it is almost impossible to leave without buying a slab of smoked bacon or a few slices of peppered salami or cured ham. They also make one tray per day of the best cheesecake I've ever eaten in my life. Go early if you want some.

There are the not so nice odours we try to avoid: wet dog, garbage trucks, fish gone bad, the litter box, an Irish pub after last week's revelry, burnt hair.

Places have their own personalities, and smells. Paris smells like bakeries and piss, Cape Breton is fresh and pine scented. Vancouver smells damp and sunny while Montreal is humid and smokey. New York smells busy and active, full of art and money and delis. The prairies are extreme - frozen or overheated, but they always smells wide and windy. Mexico City is polluted. So is LA. London smells like soot and sea and beer and fried fish.

It is a conditioned response. The first time we smell a new scent we link it to a person, place or thing. EFA skin cream by JASON reminds me of Costa Rica, because it's what we slathered on our sun soaked bodies at the end of each day. Nivea skin toner still reminds me of Cuba because I started using it there, over a decade ago. Hawaiin Tropic suntan lotion reminds me of the beach. Any beach.

Perfume. A specific scent can define a person. Alfred Sung (my sister), too much Polo (my brother), Kenneth Cole Reaction (my husband), Love's Baby Soft (my life as a teenager trying to hide the stench of cigarette from my parka), Farenheit (an ex I'd rather not remember), Oscar de la Renta (the woman I babysat for when I was seventeen), Vera Wang (me in the mid 90's).

A note to Alfred Sung if he's reading this: Why do you stop making things people are still buying? The scent my sister wears has been discontinued. By her account, she has about five years left of the stuff. This includes the traditional Christmas gift bottle from her husband and few extra ones she found from rogue sources on eBay.

The answer to why things change might be this; According to Amy Verner's article in The Globe and Mail's Style section a few weeks ago, she learned a few things from her L'Oreal scent workshop, the first for beauty editors and writers. Apparently, "fragrance trends and the development of new scents are not arbitrary but mirror the zeitgist and evolve each decade. In the 1980's, yuppies ruled and scents such as Poison, Opium, Cool Water and Egoiste were brash and overpowering. The nineties, of course, was the era of unisex fragrances such as CK One and Issey Miyake. The past 10 years can be characterized by the duality of glamour and nature, Gucc Guilty verses Terre d'Hermes."

I am part of the masses with that theory in that, at the moment, I enjoy wearing Chanel Sensual. However, I also carry around a little tin of Pacifica Waikiki solid perfume. The latter is made from organic coconut and soy wax with natural and essential oils. The woman at the store where I bought it said I could eat it if I had too. And it's vegan.

These are fads. Not to be confused with trademarks.

There is a guy in Kensington market named Moses who sells perfume oils in plastic containers. I started buying Egyptian Musk from him about ten years ago. (Prior to that, when I lived in Montreal, I found the musk in an store that sold African artifacts on St. Laurent Boulevard) Now, I supply a friend's sister in Regina with the stuff, along with Explorer for her, a thick green oil that smells like fresh soap and pine needles. Moses fills up little glass viles from his bigger reserves and sometimes doesn't charge me.

Well hasn't Moses disappeared.

His shop, that also sold Jamaican t-shirts, scarves, cards, candles, creams and lotions, was boarded up when I stopped in before Christmas. The fellow next door said Moses is working out of another space around the corner with no name and no sign because he had a riff with landlord. I'll be on my bike soon enough and have a look for this nameless place and hope I find Moses and his magic oils.

"I love the smell of napalm in the morning." A line made famous by Robert Duvall in Apocalypse Now. I love the smell of jet fuel in the morning. It means I am at the drop zone, near a plane prepping for flight and ideally, out of which I will jump.

Spring has sprung (well, tomorrow it will have) and with it comes its own smells. You can sense it in Toronto these last few days. Things are warmer, sunnier, happier. Nothing is slower, just...better. Then summer follows, with lilacs and fruit blossoms and those trees that smell like semen. Latin name: Ailanthus altissima, commonly knows as 'the tree of heaven'.

Speaking of semen, in her workshop, Verner also learned that perfumers have to identify over 3,000 raw materials from plant, animal or synthetic origin. The weirdest thing, as she pointed out, "arguably the most intriguing", was ambergris. "Produced in the intestine of the sperm whale, it becomes solid over time and takes on a sweet, musky smell. During Middle Ages, it was used to cover up the stench from plague."

I know what a thunder storm smells like. I grew up on the prairies. It's warm, then cool, then dark, then electric, then wet, then energized, then light, then over.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

dating disasters

(Photo: Morgan Reiner)

Another entry to CBC's Flash Fiction contest.

Theme: Dating Disasters

The task: Tell us about the oddball your sister set you up with. Tell us about the guy who brought his ex-girlfriend along. Tell us about the guy who tied his pit bull up outside the restaurant. Or maybe you are the weirdo who's scaring everyone off. That's okay too! I'm sure there are guys out there who would describe me as having been their worst date ever.

Before Lavalife, eHarmony, 25dates and, there was Telematch. Phone dating.

Years ago as a single, twenty-something, theatre school student in Montreal, I called the phone number at the back of the Mirror’s classifieds. What I found was a plethora of material.

I ended up going on one date.

After two polite and entertaining-to-the-point-of-maybe-this-could-lead-somewhere phone conversations, we agreed to meet in person. At a coffee shop on Crescent Street, the lack of chemistry between us was similar to that of two burnt out bulbs on a string of old Christmas lights. Our conversation, civil and restrained, was as interesting as a glass of water.

I went back to the phone. I was addicted to the voice messages.

Fascinated by the depth and breadth of creepy, lonely, professional, sad, ethnic, bizarre, cryptic, funny messages, I wrote a play about a woman who explores teledating.

The comedy, Call Me, was produced twice in Montreal and won the first ever Montreal English Critic’s Circle Award (MECCA) for best production, semi-professional. I moved to Toronto and thanks to a Telematch sponsorship, the play also had a ten day run over Valentine’s Day at Second City’s Tim Simm’s Playhouse.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

bad behaviour

Another entry to CBC's Flash Fiction contest.

Theme: Bad Behaviour

Are writers naturally inclined towards wickedness? Do we have wilder lives than other people? Is that why we have so many stories at our fingertips?

In addition to bad behaviour, I would file this under: mean, inappropriate, frustrating, spiteful and judgmental.


The middle seat on a charter flight is a gamble.

Passengers file onto the aircraft like blood cells traveling to an aorta. Husband on my right stares out the window occupied with all things aviary.

Here she comes.

White hoodie, shoulder length brown hair, pretty face. She shoves a bag into the overhead compartment and maneuvers her black sweat pant clad hips into the aisle seat. Her bulbous thigh touches mine.

“I can’t believe the vacation is over already,” she says.

My smile is false. I shift closer to Husband giving me less room in an already cramped seat. We all opt for Shepherd’s Pie over pasta. She eats the brownie first. I want more wine.

Two hours later, after the half funny movie, Fatty continues watching Ugly Betty reruns. Her head is four inches from mine. A chubby cheek now full of gum. I insert earplugs but still hear her chewing. Her fleshy arm against me is like warm glue. I fondly remember the chatty fellow on the outbound flight who asked too many questions. I exhale in puffs. Husband covers my hand with his.

Later still, she snores. A sleeping giant beneath the hoodie. It smells like damp sweat and peppermint foot powder. I stretch the muscles in my face keeping my mouth open in the position of a scream. FAT!

On our descent, she asks me to repeat the announcement she missed about donating to the charity of the airline’s choice. I pretend I can’t hear her.

Monday, February 28, 2011


Watching iguanas mate was far more engaging than watching the show the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences put on last Sunday night. The lack of presence in the evening's hosts made for a lame, awkward, laggy, unoriginal, stale, drawn out, bore of a show.

It wasn't the films or the music or the theme or the presenters or the acceptance speeches or the sound editing you don't care about that made the Oscars suck.

It was the hosts.

James Franco and Anne Hathaway did a poor job. It's not entirely their fault. Shame on Oscar for thinking it can get away with hiring actors as hosts. Is it because nobody wants the job? Previous hosts have included some very funny people with presence, timing, and charm. The stuff you can't teach. Over the last decade hosts have included comics such as Ellen Degeneres, Steve Martin, Chris Rock, Whoopi Goldberg, David Letterman. But the majority of the job in its 83 year history, has been filled by Bob Hope, Johnny Carson and Billy Crystal. Icons.

Presenters are off the hook because they're only up there to present, announce, get lost. However some have more presence in that category than others, even for a short while. Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis were off, Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law were funny, Kirk Douglas was old and funny.

The Academy's history reads in part, that it is, "Dedicated to the advancement of the arts and sciences of motion pictures, the Academy’s corporate management and general policies are overseen by a Board of Governors, which includes representatives from each of the craft branches."


But, if it's dedicated to advancement, why is it going backward? It started heading south in 2009 with Hugh Jackman as host. Albeit a talented actor, Wolverine is not a standup comic, nor a talk show host. But he was more entertaining than this year. I still wonder if midway through the show someone called Billy Crystal at home and said, how fast can you get here? He's that good. When he took the stage he was comfortable, engaging, witty, and funny. You wanted to watch him.

Billy Crystal is all those things. He is also present. He performs. He listens. He reacts. I heard a reporter on the radio say, "It looked as if Franco was watching a show he was also hosting." The man was distracted. And full of himself. And not funny. Fail.

I agree with Jesse Wente's ( take. "You know something is wrong when one of the funniest jokes of the night is from a hologram of Bob Hope 60 years ago," he said.

But it was nice to see Trent Reznor win and Melissa Leo drop the f-bomb and Christian Bale forget his wife's name. Who does that? I thought he was king of the assholes since the fit about the lighting guy. This bumps his status to Emperor. Was he caught up in the moment? You might forgive someone else, but a jerk who is a jerk is still a jerk. A real prize, that one.

Receiving the award is in itself, a present. A prize. To receive a symbol of excellence recognized by 6,000 people in a Members Only club, who choose the best of the best, by voting on secret ballots. Kind of underground and clandestine when you get right down to it. And the winner ends up in a club of its own. Everlasting glory, fame and a not so little gold statue for the mantlepiece, coffee table, den, bookshelf, kids room.

"Since the initial awards banquet on May 16, 1929, in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel’s Blossom Room, 2,701 statuettes have been presented." (

Still, I'm glad I don't have cable. I would have felt ripped off from such lousy value. I watched the show on the TV in the gym in my building. Then after an hour and a half workout, I went back to the apartment and caught snippits on a website that was streaming it for free. I saw enough.

Jennifer Westaway ( summed it up diplomatically. The show was "polished and predictable."

I'm also glad Inception didn't win.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

pineapple express

Another postcard competition, another story under 500 words...


You coast along Pacific Ocean Highway in your rented gold Lancer sipping a latte. Twisty roads through stunted brown hills take you to your destination. For once, you are not lost and find the address on the first try. A satellite truck is parked in the driveway. You are here so Dave Thomas ⎯ the non-Wendy's one, of the Mackenzie brothers’ fame ⎯ can do live interviews with Canadian entertainment reporters for a Red Cap beer promotion. It is mid-May and Bob and Doug’s 24th anniversary. He is laid up in an easy chair because of recent surgery on his Achilles tendon. This, he says, is something he wishes on no one. A blonde woman wearing yoga pants and a hot pink T-shirt makes brief appearances to bring him orange juice.

The event takes a turn for the worse because⎯ you learn five minutes before the first interview⎯Verizon does not provide an analog signal in these rolling Malibu mountains. The truck operator panics. Your cursing trumps his as you trouble shoot your way through the unforeseen mess that is beyond your pay scale. You take the cameraman’s suggestion of the scenic route back to your hotel in Santa Monica.

You buy a pint of strawberries from a fellow on the side of the road. He writes his phone number on your map. You are flattered, not bothered. He too, is looking for adventure this afternoon. You thank him for the berries.

You take Topanga Canyon Road and stop to call your sister. She didn’t know you were in California and you enjoy a quick chat because you were both huge Six Feet Under fans – addicts to be precise—and you are near to where Aunt Sarah lived in her wooded, artsy make believe home.

LAX is the only place you have ever seen cinnamon Tic Tacs. You buy six boxes. Your flight is delayed. You dip into your travel snacks early. A recyclable Whole Foods container filled with brussel sprouts, orzo, roasted garlic, walnut bits, dried cranberries.

On the flight you watch The Bucket List. During the part in the movie where they go skydiving you are flying over the same exact place. You also, are a skydiver. You think, what are the odds?

You land safely back in Vancouver and pass through customs unscathed. He is there waiting for you, holding a pineapple. No time to buy flowers, he says. He will cook catfish for dinner and grill the fruit to go with it.

You already knew that.

As you cross the bridge on the drive home you think about how you like to travel. How even the muddled trips where jobs go awry have a curious appeal. You run a hand around the back of his neck, touch his hair and smile. His eyes soften. You like to travel. But you love to come home.

Monday, February 21, 2011

fishhooks and fudgsicles

Another CBC Flash fiction, Stranger Than Fiction story. 250 words. Theme: Childhood memories


If you walk for almost half a kilometre, and are four feet tall, the water in Good Spirit Lake in Southeastern Saskatchewan is still only chest high.

My sister and I would wade out with the orange canoe until our dad could barely see us. On board was one half of a pair of walkie-talkies he had picked up at a yard sale. We dropped our lines and waited for perch.

One cloudless July morning, my sister, sitting in the front of the canoe, cocked the rod back at exactly the right angle and wedged the jagged piece of metal through the thin skin on the crown of my head. The pain? No worse than a split lip or a black eye. But the mess. So. Much. Blood. I thought I was a tough kid until I took a fishhook in the skull.

The screaming started when I saw the dark, thick liquid spilling over my glasses. Given the distance we were out and the fact I was rendered incapacitated, it was my sister’s adrenaline fueled paddling that got us back as fast as her teenage biceps could manage. We rushed through the expanse of shallow water while our dad ⎯ an award winning St. John Ambulance instructor ⎯ sent encouraging messages over the cheap walkie. Safely on the beach, my Snoopy T-shirt ruined, he stopped the bleeding then bought us fudgsicles.

We agreed it was a good thing mom stayed at the campsite with the dog.

Saturday, February 12, 2011


Howler monkeys poop in their hand and chuck crap at you if they think you are eyeing them too closely. But the annoying creatures on the ground continue to press their luck with silver machines that point and beep and flash and snap.

A seeing eye dog sees for two. Perceiving the planet for someone who was given four out of five.

Along with Canadian Olympian gold (among others) medal winner Clara Hughes, 1 in 5 Canadians will experience a form of mental illness at some point in their lives. (Canadian Institute of Health Research, You wouldn't think it to look at her. Or us. You wouldn't think people shining on the outside are screaming on the inside.

This month it's Egypt. Soon there will be another political disagreement between right and left or North and South. It will stem from differences of opinion, value and perception. Then there will be another after that. And another and another and another...

"I really think it's a great time to be an amputee," is a line from a video I produced. A young woman from Oklahoma trying out her new bionic hand. ( The editor and I giggled every time we heard it, but for her, it was the truth. This invention made things a whole lot better. Positive and inspiring and not something you hear everyday.

100 sled dogs die senselessly. There is only one way of to perceive that. If only shit could be thrown where it is needed most.

A mother will perceive her child to be full of talent, beauty, intelligence and wisdom. Even if the child is bedridden with a disease that inhibits them from feeding themselves. Another mother will leave her newborn in a shopping mall's bathroom toilet.

1. awareness, sense, recognition.

In 2008, HSBC launched a marketing campaign entirely based on perception. "In each “Different Values” ad, created by JWT, New York and London, a single image repeats three times, with a different one-word interpretation imposed over each photo. In one, the words “style,” “soldier,” and “survivor” overlay the photo of the back of a gender-neutral shaved head." (

The campaign continues to change, paring it down to two photos in stead of three. Using words like "traditional vs. trendy" and "good vs. bad" over images of hennaed hands, a tattooed shoulder, chocolate cake and papayas. If you've walked the hallway to a flight recently you know what I mean. The message is open to interpretation based on your investment style, cultural background and...perception. These posters however beg the question: Which is the positive and which is the negative? Well, it depends.
"It encapsulates our global outlook that acknowledges and respects that people value things in very different ways.” Tracy Britton, Head of marketing for HSBC Bank, USA, N.A said. (

Last week a cab driver in Ottawa told me how multiculturalism in Canada is not working. Trudeau ruined the country and Stephen Harper is doing a good job. The cabbie - not a real taxi driver but a retired guy driving a cab - pointed out that he was an immigrant himself 40 years ago. Now he is thinking of suing the federal government because the Anglo Saxon country he signed up for doesn't exist. "You can't have so many different people here who all expect to keep on with their cultures. Enough of this political correctness. Oh I am sick of it!" Then he helped me with my bags when we arrived at my destination.

Eating oatmeal and berries and nuts and seeds makes you "one of those health nuts"; direct is perceived as aggressive; ignorant equals stupid; drinking is acceptable but smoking pot is a problem; boards of directors never say "OK, we've made enough."; unruly kids are stamped with ADHD while their busy parents run to the pharmacy for the solution.

So we have options and opinions and agree to disagree on things a) black b) white or c) grey. There are almost seven billion of us and counting. Too many perceptions and not enough water.

It's mid February and there are houses on my street that still have Christmas lights up. This, it would appear, is flat out denial.

Looking in the mirror is pointless. You can never see what others see. Whether it's how they perceive themselves, what they see in you, or their idea about a monkey in tree tossing turds at tourists.

If through experimental forensic futuristic manipulation we evolve to a point where we are able to dissect the perceptions of our families, friends, enemies, animals, politicians, foreigners, lovers and acquaintances and they in turn, will understand ours...what a dull existence it will be.

But that's just my perception.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


Below is the entry I didn't submit to CBC's Flash Fiction contest. I'll publish my submission after January 29th if iI don't win the Sony Reader.

Current Theme: Unusual Childhoods

Funny, outrageous, heartbreaking true stories by Canadian writers.


When I got my driver’s license in our small prairie town, it became my responsibility to buy Grandpa’s groceries. Once a week my mom gave me a twenty-dollar bill to go the Co-op and said, keep the change.

The list was always the same: oatmeal, brown sugar, MacIntosh apples, oranges, potatoes, tea, skim milk, bran, chicken pieces (bone in), 100% whole wheat bread, peanut butter. I would also buy cigarettes with this money and lose the receipt.

His kitchen table was covered in sawdust from the lathe permanently attached to it. This drove my mom crazy. Anyone who came to visit received a wooden pencil holder inscribed with his name and date on the bottom.

I unpacked and put away the goods in his tiny subsidized bachelor apartment. I respected the sawdust and left it alone. If The Price Is Right was on TV, I’d sit and watch it with him. He would tell the same stories in rotation. His lazy co-workers at the sawmill in Quesnel. The time cousin Kenny stole his bike. When he caught my uncle smoking behind the barn at nine years old. He never once spoke about his wife.

Anna died from a hole in her heart when my mom was three. Their wedding photo hung in the apartment until the day he died. A black and white portrait of the couple holding hands in a field of wildflowers. They were tall and poor and squinting at the sun.