Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Great Penny Cull

So this whole ‘no more Canadian pennies’ thing has me up in arms. Some stores are still giving them out when handing back change, but most aren’t.

Your totalled bill is rounded up or down depending on the denomination - $3.56 is rounded to $3.60, and $4.72 is rounded to $4.70. So sometimes you lose a few pennies, sometimes you gain. But it seems more often than not I am losing, which I find rather....interesting. Where are MY pennies going? BUT I swallowed an evil cackle the other day when, finally, my $4.42 order was rounded down to $4.40! Ha! So there! Two extra pennies for me!

But don’t worry - if paying by debit or charge, its fine. You pay the exact amount and all is right in the world. But when you think about it, you end up paying bank fees for using your debit card (depending on your bank and type of account), so either way you’re losing on out a few pennies.

Not that I'm a miser or anything, but this whole lack of penny thing is really messing me up.

Aside from all the sayings we won’t be able to say any more (‘see a penny, pick it up’....etc), we are losing a bit of history. Pennies have been around for eons. The history, especially for coin collectors, priceless.
For example, what we know as ‘pennies’ are actually called a ‘one cent coin’ because originally, a ‘penny’ was actually two cents. But when the old two-cent coins were cast aside so brazenly as their one cent cousins are being now, the term ‘penny’ took over, and so the one cent coin was named, instead.

Get it?

And then there were half-pennies. Now, can you imagine trying to debit a half-penny? But they had to get rid of those as the country evolved – things like the country adopting the decimal system of coinage in 1858, and provinces slowly joining the Confederation through the years meant denomination of coins minted was always changing.

Before I get too ahead of myself, because a historian and skilled coin-collector I am not, I’ll get back to my thoughts – and yes, please give me a penny for them (even if you think they are silly). I want them – I’m collecting them.

My dad used to work at an airport, a mine for found coins from around the world. He would bring them home and throw them in my piggy bank - an amateur coin collector was born. So not only do I still save coins found in my change from near and far, but I am now saving pennies. Desperately.

Yes, I used to see a coin (penny) and pick it up, adding it to my jar of rainy day funds, but now it all has new meaning.

I’m in a race against time in the penny’s extinction. I want them all. I’m convinced that if I save a roll or two, they might be worth something to someone (grandkids, great-grandkids – whoever), someday. You never know. I found a store the other day that was still doling out pennies as though the crisis wasn’t happening. I gleefully bought a bunch from them and skipped home, which was kinda hard given how weighted down my pockets were. Thank God I didn’t fall in a puddle and drown.

I walk a lot and during my travels, I find a penny here and there. Wet or muddy, they get wiped on my pants and thrown in my pocket. And during this great penny cull, the cause of grief, angst and agony to me, I have noticed a decrease in finding them. And it’s not because I have hoarded all the remaining pennies available. I realize they truly are slowly, slowly, slowly.....fading away.

But last week ‘someone’ up there must have sensed my copper-filled angst and decided to rain pity down on me. Of course it wouldn’t be pennies from heaven - HE is likely a bit short-changed himself.

In three days I found five dimes.

Go figure.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Karma, Lightning Bolts and Mittens

It was a big week for all things spiritual and of Mother Nature’s persuasion. I’m not pushing religion, or otherwise; I’m only just sharing my observations and experiences from the past contemplative week.....

On Monday February 11th, 2013 (depending on what time you were in), Pope Benedict XVI resigned from his post. The big shocker of it all was that he was the first to do so in 600 years. And, because of this extremely rare event, there is no protocol in place for what steps the Vatican takes next, so everyone was up in arms.

I am summarizing all this from a lay persons’ perspective.

Good for him for ‘manning-up’ and stepping down when he realized he wasn’t up to the job anymore, I say.

And for the rest of the day on February 11th, we all carried on as usual, living our lives as we do. But the Pope’s actions were the talk of the town worldwide, no matter what denomination.

But that night after he resigned, Vatican City was amassed with a major lightning storm, the Vatican itself being hit not once, but TWICE by lightning.

And that got me thinking.

I suspected that ‘somebody up there’ was pretty ticked-off at the upheaval of routine and order and, with Mother Nature’s help, decided to send a message.

But on the other hand, HE (or she) might have been commending the Pope for stepping down. Maybe the lightning bolt was intended to be a good thing...? Gotta think positive, here.

So, whatever you believe or don’t believe, here is what I believed during those tumultuous papal days...

I got it in my head that if HE (you-know-who up there) was ticked off then maybe I needed to ramp up my spiritual ways just in case – cover all the bases, and all that. I had been dealing with less-than positive people during that time, and they were getting me down. I focused on being positive, I strove to think only kind thoughts about others no matter what, and I acted in exemplary ways that would make my forefathers and mothers proud.

I was a model citizen and all ‘round good girl for a whole day. By the end of the day I realized I wasn’t grumpy and I was happy and upbeat. Not that I'm a miserable grump every day, but we all have our days where negative thoughts get in there and mess with our heads and days. Everything was happy and upbeat and nothing got me down.

Then later that night I had another ‘sign.’ While routing around in the bottom of my purse, focusing on not swearing or cussing at not being able to find anything, low and behold I found an earring I had lost three weeks before. I had all but moved on and forgotten about it; I figured it was gone forever, never to be seen again.

Hmmmm....it made me wonder: did all my good behaviour pay off?

As the anxious times of the Pope’s resignation faded through the week, I worked to keep up my new way of living – any negative thoughts that would creep in about the negative or unruly people or things eventually stayed away on their own. Found earring or not, I knew there was a much greater pay-off to thinking positively. There were moments where I slipped backward, thinking negative thoughts (say, about the person on the bus who was blabbering on their cell phone too loud), but I got back on track. I’m only human, I guess.

But then – BUT THEN – I found out the lightning strikes were likely a photo-shopped hoax.

What? But all my efforts! All my angst! All my being good!

So I thought and thought and thought and thought.

I realized I didn’t need divine intervention to make me think happier thoughts, to live more positive days. Although I suspect - no, I KNOW and believe - every little bit helps.

I have my beliefs, as do we all. It pays to be ‘good’ and think positive thoughts all the time, to be nice to my neighbours, etc, for no other reason than I can and should. Doing so leads to happier days – positivity spreads like a germ.

So whether it was religious intervention, a sign, Karma, or whatever you want to call it (despite the lightning bolts apparently being photo-shopped), something or someone out there was sending me a message; a reminder. I wasn’t being ‘good’ with the intent of getting something in return – unless you call getting in the good books of someone (up there) ‘getting’ something. I wasn’t asking for anything – I wasn’t praying, bargaining or making deals. I wasn’t asking to win the lotto. I was just thinking and acting positively, something I should do year round for no reason other than I can.

Then, just to add to it all, on the same day I had all these deep thoughts about God, Karma, and being good, I found a mitten.

Not mine, but someone else’s. A wee mitt sure to fit a tiny, cold, three-year-old hand.

And right away I thought, “I hope they’re thinking nice thoughts for that mitten to come back.”

I sent out my positive thoughts, hoping the parents of the little mitten-less one had a spare pair, and hoping the little cold hand was tucked away in a pocket.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Oh What a Day!!! Valentine's Day Celebrations with Romance Writers of America

Food? Inspiration? Celebration? Laughter and tears? Fantastic view? Food?

Did we have all that? You betcha – and much, much more.

Every February the Vancouver Island Chapter of the Romance Writers of America, to which I belong, hosts a celebratory lunch for its members to celebrate writing-related accomplishments and achievements from the previous year. Rightly deemed the annual 'Valentine’s Lunch,' an apropos time for romance writers, the day is one of inspiration and celebration – and food.

And this year's event was, of course, a success for all.

Awards recognizing writing achievements of all kinds were handed out, whether it was for first steps made towards publication in romance fiction; whether it was for further stepping stones made on the journey towards publication; whether it was a feather (in one’s cap) handed out for publication milestones; or whether was receiving recognition for volunteer work throughout the year in the chapter won by Lee McKenzie – all were handed out with support, applause and pats-on-the-back. There was a lot to celebrate, and we eventually ran behind schedule. But that was okay.

The drum roll vibrated on the windows of the restaurant we were in as winners from the in-house contest were announced. Members were previously invited to submit their writing for judging, critique and finalist placement in various categories. Awards, trophies and high-fives abounded as results were revealed.

Goal setting, especially for writers, is a big part of achieving what you want. An annual event at the lunch is a goals exercise organized by fellow member, Susan Lyons, in which members are invited to write down goals for the coming year. But it had me ignoring everyone as I busily scribbled down my own writing goals for the coming year. I had to be tapped on the shoulder to pay attention when my own Stepping Stone Award was handed out, an award achieved by setting and fulfilling my goals set the previous year - stepping stones towards greater writing aspirations.

This year’s venue, the Vista 18 restaurant on the 18th floor of the Chateau Victoria Hotel, lived up to its renowned spectacular view. A 360-view of Victoria sometimes interrupted our never-ending conversation, but not for long. As celebrations continued, we forgot to look outside, which is pretty silly given the view, but when you’re surrounded by fabulous, inspiring, supportive writers, well....I guess it’s pretty easy to forget where you are.

Then there was our fabulous keynote speaker, Jennifer McKenzie, who recounted her own journey to publication which resulted in her first novel published by Harlequin Superromance in January 2012 titled, ‘That Weekend...’ Her humour-filled, down-to-earth inspiring speech had most of us eager to ditch the event and race home to write.

But we weren’t that silly.

There was food to be had.

And who can ditch that?

Soup, spinach salad, beef, salmon or tortellini – we all were stuffed beyond our Spanx. Me, I had the tortellini, and I fought to lick the plate when I was done.

Then there was dessert, which is always a highlight for me, no matter where I am.

White chocolate latte mousse.

Let’s just say I thought I had died and gone to heaven, which I was pretty close to being in, anyways, given how high up we were on the 18th floor. And I know folks looking down on me from heaven were pretty impressed with my high level of self control. I didn’t tackle serving staff as they walked by with half-eaten dessert dishes from other members, demanding they give me the leftovers. Waste not, want not, and all that. But I was aghast – who could NOT finish THAT? Rest assured, however, the gluttonous, sweet-toothed dessert-freak I am maintained a sense of decorum - I licked only MY dessert bowl clean.

Oh, and maybe my neighbours’.

At the end of the day everyone left inspired, a little tipsy (not me), high on sugar (definitely me), and eager to head home and write.

Food? Inspiration? Celebration? Laughter and tears? Fantastic view? Food?

Yup – we sure had all that - and much, much more.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Harry Potter in Chinatown?

Barely a 10-minute walk from the historic Empress Hotel is Victoria, BC’s Chinatown. Often when tending to business nearby, I have a quick run up and down the ever-intriguing one-street town. The oldest Chinatown in Canada, its earliest beginnings were around 1858 and had at one time comprised of six streets - unlike the one, now. Oh, if those walls could talk, and all that...

When I’m there, and often pressed for time, I run into the Wah Lai Yuen restaurant and buy some baked sweets for me and my Chinese friend. I hustle along the sidewalks riddled with crates. Newly shipped vegetables bearing names I will never be able to pronounce wait to be unpacked and sold. The workers bark at each other over crates of bok choy (something I can pronounce), and the smell of fresh fruits and vegetables mingled with cooking from nearby restaurants has me swooning in hunger under the lanterns swaying above.

It’s a different world in the one-street town. But that one street packed with buildings of nooks, crannies, alleys and crevices could tell worldly stories forever.

Even though I am there for a quick visit, I forget I am in busy downtown Victoria, steps away from the Empress Hotel, horse-and-carriage rides and the Legislative building. I forget that only a block away is the seaplane terminal and the harbour, and another two blocks is The Bay Center shopping mall. I forget that ├╝ber-busy Douglas Street is nearby, a lengthy street always busy with traffic and double-decker transit buses.

In Chinatown, I escape to another world.

But on a particular day of rushing into Chinatown to buy buns and sweets for my friend and I, my deep reflections on cultures and contrasting worlds were about to be upended – in an alley.

I rarely traipse through the infamous Fan Tan Alley while visiting Chinatown, so rushed I am. Sure I have taken visiting family and friends through the alley in the past, but that day I decided to take my time. Little did I know I was about to be transported somewhere else.

I snapped a few pictures just outside the alley, and something on a door facing the main street caught my eye. The storefront’s address of 549 ½ had me in a bit of fantasy warp....

Had I transported to Harry Potter’s world-beyond-walls? Was I about to find myself on platform 9 ¾ at King’s Cross Station, waiting to get on Hogwarts Express? Would I end up at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry if I kept going? (I was kinda hoping it would be true as I would love to meet Hagrid – Dumbledore passed away couple books/movies ago, so I’m a little too late to meet him).

But back to reality....

I noticed another adjacent door with an address of 545 ½. How do they get their mail? Do folks actually address mail to the occupants as ‘545 ½ Fisgard Street’?

I snapped a few more pictures and started my journey down the narrow alley. Eons old brick walls flank either side, interrupted sporadically by a door just like the first one I found numbered 23 ½. As I kept going few steps deeper down the alley, I noticed the next door was numbered 19, then 18 ½, 17 ½, 16 then 14, then...no more half addresses.

Just when I thought I had finished my Harry Potter dimension warp, one door had me taking a ponytail-whipping-in-my-eye double-take. Door number 18 ½ bears the name ‘Howarth.’ Sure was close to ‘Hogwart’ if you ask me. Spooky.

Like I said, I had been down the alley before. I know I had seen the half addresses before, but they never had intrigued me as they were that day. It pays to slow down and take it all in.

Door after door I passed. I was dying to knock; “Can I come in?” But when roaming down an alley, even one as famous as Fan Tan Alley, you just don’t do those kinds of things.

So I continued on my way.

Then I came across a modernized alcove that seemed to stick out like a sore thumb in comparison to the old red bricked walls and wooden doors that had flanked my journey down the alley. I creeped down the stairs, only to find a few Western-style businesses. We're not in Chinatown anymore, Hedwig (the name of Harry Potter’s pet owl).

Then I came to an elevator that had to be barely 10 years old. It had me wondering.

Did the buttons within feature not only regular numbered floors, but half floors as well?

Not sure if I should be even calling the elevator for my ‘use,’ I pressed the button anyways, just so I could check-out the interior of the elevator.

I was sadly disappointed. No half-floors.

I emerged from the alcove, finding myself at the other end of the alley. No more Chinatown. I was back in downtown Victoria with its busy streets, cappuccino shops, and boutiques I could never afford to shop in.

I was back in another world. The same world I need to remember to slow down in and observe all it has to offer.