Friday, January 27, 2012

Dragons, etc.

So here we are, the Year of the Dragon. And I am surrounded by them – sort of. The Chinese New Year started on January 23rd, and will last for two weeks. Every year I jump on the bandwagon and bombard my Chinese friend with endless questions about traditional Chinese New Year practices: what foods are eaten (my fave) and the zodiac signs. I have known her for a few years, so she puts up with me – patiently.

Not only did her birthday fall on the first day of Chinese New Year this year (lucky girl – I guess that means double the luck!), but her zodiac sign is the dragon, a sign shared by my youngest son. Sadly, my other son and I are pigs – I’m not sure if I should be bragging about that.

It is said that those born under the powerful sign of the dragon are thought to be dominating and ambitious, energetic and warm-hearted. Driven and unafraid of challenges, ‘dragons’ are willing to take risks and are lucky in love.

Hospitals in China are already over-booked with mothers anxious to have their little ‘dragons’ born during this great year.

As for us ‘pigs,’ we are thought to be extremely nice, good mannered and compassionate: helping others and being good companions is what we are known for.

Hmm…maybe it’s not so bad being a pig, after all!

But back to the dragons…

All this talk about dragons these days has had me thinking. Those mythical creatures have been brought to life on the big screen and in books time and time again. DragonHeart (1996 movie), took place in the year 984 in England with knights and Saxons running hitherto with their swords. How to Train a Dragon (2010 movie based off a book by Cressida Cowell) took place in the times of the Vikings and their funny hats.

Fictional worlds such as that of the 2006 movie, Eragon, as well as the real/fantasy world of the Harry Potter series, has young boys face to face with dragons.

The Chronicles of Narnia (a book and movie) and Shrek (movie) both have dragons, good and bad, making their way into the hearts of readers and viewers.

In both the fantasy and romance sections of modern bookstores, shelves are lined with tales of men and women living with, and learning to live with, dragons. Katie MacAlister is one of many modern authors who have delved into the worlds of these creatures. Stories heralding dragons date back as far as The Argonautica, a Greek poem by Apollonius Rhodius in the 3rd century, BC, where a dragon guarding the magical Golden Fleece is put to sleep so the fleece can be stolen.

Through stories in poems, books and movies, the fate of dragons over the centuries has been tumultuous. Men and women, young and old, have fought, saved or befriended dragons. And very often the ones that were thought of evil were not so bad after all. All they needed was just a little patience and understanding.

But at the end of the day, if you are on the verge of being gobbled up by a dragon, his fire singeing your neck hairs, ya gotta do what ya gotta do. Pull out your sword, and be done with ‘im.

In my quest for more dragons, I went hunting on a windy day in historic Chinatown in Victoria, BC. And low and behold, I found Dragon Alley. I ventured into the alley, and made a quick exit as wind rushing between the narrow brick walls sounded like a low growl. A dragon slayer, I am not.

So this year, if you find yourself in the bowels of middle earth wearing a Viking hat, brandishing a sword, answering to a weird name like Fraindelöng, all while trying to outrun a dragon, remember - this the Year of the Dragon. They should be revered and praised, for in the Chinese culture this is to be a year of good luck, good health, and better fortunes.

Gung Hay Fat Choy!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Footprints Forever

I know this doesn’t look like much. And yes, even though snow is nothing new to many of you – to many parts of the world – I am not going to bore you with a bunch of pictures from one of Victoria’s rare snowfalls.

These are reminders of the past, always lurking around, like a ghost, never to be forgotten. Footprints that millions of years old refuse to let something like snow keep them hidden.

When there isn’t snow on the ground, many mistake them for big puddles, stepping over and around them just before running up the steps of the Royal BC Museum. Who wants wet shoes, anyways? As it usually rains here, snow being rare, they fill with water, and when mercury dips below zero the footprints become mini skating rinks.

These footprints are those of the Duck-billed Dinosaur, or hadrosaur. The herbivore’s prints were first found in the Peace River Canyon during excavations for the W.A.C Bennet dam, 75-110 million after the Duck-billed dinos roamed the earth. That’s a long time ago – and to think I was standing there looking at them in 2012.

But still, despite the years, the different forces of nature like…oh…say, meteors hitting the ground (if that theory is still in circulation), and ice ages (colder than temperatures I was in when I took these pictures), and massive volcanic eruptions, dinosaurs still stay in existence, in some way or another. Ever-turning we are with theories, discoveries, and the biggest and best computer-enhanced, high-definition rendition of the creatures found on any big screen. Dinosaurs are a mystery and an existence that will fascinate young and old for decades to come.

Their previous existence still lingers, as if they are ghosts. And even though we can read about them on hand held devices, and watch movies and documentaries about what we ‘think’ they were like on various sizes of screens, they are never far from our minds and daily lives.

So as I trudged around in the snow, my own footprints to melt away in a day or so, I snapped the odd picture here and there. My wad of Kleenex was barely able to keep up with my runny nose. Snow comes and goes, and daily life keeps going; we keep trudging along. And maybe, just maybe, we little beings on this earth can leave one day having left our own memorable mark.

This is what I was thinking about at temperatures of -7, a wind chill factor of -12.

(one picture is before sunrise when the first round of snow fell, the second picture is after another round of snow.)

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Quest for Copper

I wanted to write about a penny, and not just any old penny, but a found penny.

I wanted to write about the funny perils and experiences that stem from when I see a penny and pick it up. If I am not falling over as I capture the copper in my greedy little hands, then I am apologizing to someone who has tripped head over heels over my penny-finding form – not that they would exactly be head over heels in love with me after ending up on the sidewalk on more than just their heels.

I hoped to regale you with stories of dropped coffee mugs, dismembered umbrellas and overturned purses as I would scramble for that rain-soaked one cent.

I find them everywhere, and it is a grander day when the coin of my affections is not copper but silver – 5 cents, 10 cents, 25 cents. A dollar or a twoonie heads cause for celebration.

So when I came up with the notion to write about the treasured coin, I searched high and low. Well, mostly low. It’s a strange day if you find one on fence post.

And do you think I could find one? No.

I scoured the sidewalks, curbs, gutters and roads. I was even willing to meet my fate with a car bumper and dash out to the middle of the busy road for a picture of the tire trodden copper.

I know the whole thing tinkles with desperation, but I get a kick out of finding one.

With my head down I trudged on, almost bumping into a telephone pole or two, and after a near miss with a bus stop and a fire hydrant, I found…nothing.

Sure, I found things one normally steps over, around or side-steps with a grossed-out hop. Without mentioning the gross things, the ground is littered with age-old gum, gum wrappers, bus transfers, bird seed, cigarette butts, and broken earphone bits.

And many things that have always been there, but never noticed. (This is on a sidewalk I have used a million times, but had never noticed before.)

But alas, no pennies. Penniless and forlorn, I would have nothing to write about at the end of the day.

It would be so easy to throw a penny on the ground, snap a picture of it, and let you think that yes, indeed, I did JUST find that. You would never know the difference.

But that wouldn’t be honest.

My missions served as a reminder to keep my head up, despite all the pennies I could miss (remember the near miss with the bus stop and telephone pole?). It proved that great things happen when you least expect, and not when you are looking for them. And before you know it, something grand comes your way, so enjoy it for what it is.

But I was not to be penniless, forever….

The next day my quest for a found penny and the need to get a picture of one was rekindled with a new determination, and again I kept my eyes peeled. All through my lunch break from work I clocked the miles on the sidewalks, eyes darting back and forth, and this time a little more wary of telephone poles, but found nothing. Resigned to the fact that I wasn’t going to find one because I was looking for it, I relinquished my quest, and carried on with the rest of my day, penniless.

After my day’s work was done, I was leaving for home, and all thoughts of my quest for pennies were replaced with dinner planning. And just as I approached the front door of my building to leave, I spied it.

“Aha!” I proclaimed. I got a strange look from someone walking by, but they don’t know me and I don’t know them so that was just fine.

In the middle of the foyer, purses and bags forgotten at my side, I knelt down on the floor and snapped a few pictures - in case you had never seen a penny before. Folks hustled by heading to their cars or the bus, and luckily no one tripped over me. Happy with my photos, I collected my things, and picked up the penny. As I headed for the bus stop, this time my head held high, I realized that that found penny meant someone was likely going to be short for their coffee the next morning. Oh well….see a penny, and all that.

Mission accomplished!

See, I ended up writing about a penny after all!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Christmas Eve Panic

It was the night before Christmas, and all through the house…

…the children were banished to their rooms for the rest of the night so Mom and Dad could do their Christmas Eve Santa magic. They were NOT to come upstairs. They were to call me from their cell phone if they were hungry, thirsty or dying. They had a washroom to use and running water. Come upstairs and dismemberment would be their middle name. It was a happy time.

Just as I was getting my groove on, happily applying last minute bows to gifts and artistically placing them under the tree, the man of the house went to check on the 16 year-old and the 11 year-old. He came back up with some Christmas Eve-shattering news.

The 11 year-old was panicking Santa wouldn’t come because he didn’t write a letter.

The same 11 year-old who, despite the rest of the family’s protests, declared months ago he knew who the ‘real’ Santa was. We all deny otherwise and enjoy keeping up the fantasy – even the 16 year-old. I knew ‘that time’ would eventually come (for some later than others, it seems), but I still do everything to keep those childhood fantasies alive and fun.

Minutes before, through some cajoling, he somewhat participated in the laying-out of the cookies and milk ritual, the carrot for the reindeer ritual, and the hanging of the Santa key on our front door ritual (we don’t have a chimney – how else is he supposed to get in?). And then my little sugar plums were banished to their rooms for the night.

But I think our ultra-heightened Christmas Eve antics planted such a seed of doubt in his head, he didn’t know what to think. With all the excitement, build-up and just plain old being tired, I think at that point I could have told him the sky was green and he would have wondered….

Back to the panic….

So there he was, banished to his bedroom, last minute thoughts of ‘what if’ swirling around in his head, tormenting him. Poor kid; awful mother.

I sent down some paper and a pen with instructions to write an EXCEPTIONALLY nice letter, and to ONLY ask for five things, with no guarantee. I knew ‘Santa’ was good on all accounts, so I had no worries.

The letter was later delivered to me for placement by the cookies, and through my tears I was able to read his apology for ‘forgetting’ to write the letter, his apology for ‘sometimes’ being a jerk (his words, not mine), and his list of only two things. Later, after I was in control of my emotions I went down for a goodnight kiss and hug, and his panic had subsided.

Christmas morning came ‘round, and Santa had come through.

Yes, Christmas isn’t about the gifts or the bows that I worked so hard to perfectly place. We are fortunate to be able to even have Santa come to our house – many houses are not. But the wonder and magic of the ‘what if’ of the season is part of the excitement, and there is no reason why that openness to possibilities can’t be carried on year round.

I thought about this ‘enlightening’ Christmas Eve, and after deciding the poor kid likely didn’t need therapy, I realized how important this moment was. It was a reminder that no matter what age, always save room in your heart for the possibility of magic, for the hope of greater things, and for the wonder of childhood. It’s now 2012 and time is flying by. Make the most of it and enjoy every moment, no matter what you believe in.

(P.S. Before you think I am a bad mother for exposing my kids’ crisis, he doesn’t read this blog, and I know no one will tell him, otherwise. Right?)

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Lisa Goes to the Spa

Last Christmas I received a gift certificate to a spa. And not just for any old spa, but the Willow Stream Spa at the historic Empress Hotel in Victoria, BC. I was elated, and not being a regular ‘spa girl,’ this was a luxury. A year later the gift certificate was burning a hole in my pocket, so I finally made the time to go during my lunch break from work.

With my faded, saggy bathing suit in my bag, I strolled to the spa as if this was all very normal. But as soon as I walked in the door, nervousness took over. I didn’t know what to expect or what to do. Babbling nervously, I told the receptionist my concerns, and she reassured me with her spa-like voice.

She led me down to the bowels of the ancient hotel. I was sure ghosts would be laughing at my saggy bathing suit. She explained I was entitled to use the sauna, steam room, Kur mineral pool, hotel pool and Jacuzzi, AND the sitting room with complimentary yogurt, fruit, and tea. Yahoo!! Snacks!

We went to the change rooms comprising of lockers kitted with fluffy robes and flip flops. Each locker had a resettable punch-code lock. She showed me how it worked, and told me to call the front desk if I needed anything.

Just as she turned to leave, I tried the lock. Lights flashed and gears grinded.

“OH! I broke it already!” I panicked, calling after the girl.

“It’s okay, you didn’t break it,” she crooned in her spa-like voice, “Just press this, this, then this. See, it’s here on the instructions.” She patiently pointed to the instructions RIGHT beside my locker.

“Oh, um…thanks.” I mumbled. She smiled her spa-smile then floated away.

I changed and nervously locked up my stuff. Pristine white towels were everywhere, so I left my old frayed towel, grabbed my robe and flip flops, and went off to investigate.

I had less than an hour, so I had to hurry along. I couldn’t do the sauna or steam room – a wilting hair-do wouldn’t do for work. So I thought I would try the Kur mineral pool.

Fountains splashed at either end of the tiny pool, but the rebounding droplets were a little too much for my liking. So after some navigating I found a spot where my hair wouldn’t suffer, and tried to relax.

The fountains were too loud and there was no music to listen to. With nothing to do I read the plaque about the traditional tepid pool - 50 times over. The recommended fifteen minute soak was taking forever. Added to that, the strategically placed underwater lights highlighted my thigh cellulite.

This wasn’t working.

So maybe the Jacuzzi would be better, and it was also a safe-hair zone. The spa/mineral pool area led way to the hotel guests’ pool and Jacuzzi, separated by a locked door with a code – on the spa side.

So I tried the Jacuzzi….and watched the clock. I was determined to enjoy this. I had the whole place to myself, and this time there were windows to look out, so at least I had SOMETHING to do. Lean back, empty my mind, close my eyes, and…

But I had to get out for a towel to dab the sweat trickling down my face. I not only had my hair to worry about but my make-up, as well.

I got the towel, dabbed delicately, and ignoring the gobs of make-up left on the pristine white towel, went back in the Jacuzzi.

Lean back, empty my mind, close my eyes (one peek at the clock told me I had been in there for 6 minutes), and….

Get out again, get the towel, dab my sweat…

After the third time I finally got smart and put the towel on the pools’ edge beside me.

The dabbing got to be too much, and sweat trickled from my scalp down my forehead. This wasn’t good for neither hair nor make-up, so I got out.

Remember the door with a code leading back to the spa?

I forgot the number.

Luckily there was a phone right next to the vault-like door – for dopes like me – so I called the spa reception desk.

“Um, hi.” I mumbled, dripping on the pool deck in my fluffy robe. “I’m locked out of the spa. I forgot the code to get back in.” I hung my sweaty head and muttered, “Sorry, I’m new.”

With a spa-like sigh, the receptionist told me the code. As I went through the mineral pool area towards the change rooms, I passed the sitting room and remembered – I’m starving!

Trying not to make eye contact with the lady getting a foot massage, I got a yogurt (or two), grabbed a magazine and a tea, and tried to look spa-like. Even after the foot-massage-lady left (I could finally get some peace and quiet!), I couldn’t concentrate.

So I roamed around a bit to get a feel for the place (like I was going to return anytime soon after such stress!).

Seeing as I didn’t have too much time left, I went back to the mineral pool, and positioned myself ‘just so’ to preserve the hair. Luckily it wasn’t hot enough to induce sweat, and then….

I finally relaxed - only 45 minutes after first arriving.

So I guess my New Year’s resolutions will be to take more time to relax, and always follow instructions.