Friday, July 14, 2017

Be Bold and Barbeque

On the July 1st long weekend when everyone was out celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday, we were home having a barbeque funeral...
…not a ‘funeral barbeque.’

Yes, we were having a funeral for our barbeque – and in turn had a barbeque to celebrate the barbeque funeral.

Confused? Grab a cold beer, sit back in your lawn chair, and try to follow along…..

Many years ago our dear friends handed-down their older super-SUPERsonic barbeque to us; stainless steel all over, multiple grills, burners on the side, the lid so massive you need two hands to lift it. We were overwhelmed by its extravagance yet we knew we had hit the big time owning something so elaborate! This thing could cook anything, DO anything, BE anything and I suspect if I knew the right magic words it could transform into half barbeque/robot/spaceship.

It was a very generous gift and we DID use it but we eventually realized it was a bit….daunting. The thing weighed more than me – even during my extra-chocolate days. It took up a better part of our small patio and was somewhat overkill for us simple folk. We aren’t big time barbeque-ers, but we DO like your run-of-the-mill burgers, hot dogs, and chicken. It was a bit finicky to start, as so we were warned by our kind friends, but because it was more of a chore to start/use/clean because of its finicky ways and size, we didn’t use it as much as we should. In turn fun things like backyard barbequing (despite it being in the front yard) were all but non-existent and I hadn’t made potato salad or swatted flies off food for eons. I was itching to do something summery.

And with the cover on the fancy barbeque was just a big black in-the-way monstrosity. I felt burdened and weighed down by this ‘thing’ we weren’t even using. We just kept walking by it day after day, year after year, ignoring it, pretending it wasn’t there yet acting like we ‘should’ keep it, all while feeling…..closed in.

Added to that - I was terrified of it.

It wasn’t just the size that intimidated me but the scary combination of gas, sparks, flames and smoke that kept me near my indoor stove top. Sure I might be able to flip a few patties on it, no problem, but start it up with a spark and some gas? Forget it.

At least we knew I’d never grow up to be an arsonist.

So the fancy barbeque I never used sat right outside our kitchen window and not only was the perfect perch for neighborhood tomcats to taunt my indoor kitty, but the cover was a perfect place for the same tomcats to ‘mark their spot.’

Gross.

Maybe it was the celebration in the air what with Canada turning 150 years old, but we suddenly found our long-dormant barbeque-bug itching to get barbequing. So we half-heartedly pulled off the gross barbeque cover and after wading through all the mold, too many bugs to count, bits of fur from creatures I dared not guess, and trails from slugs who had travelled from afar found under the lid, we couldn’t get the great beast started. No amount of tinkering or fiddling was gonna get it going; it was old, dead, gross, and falling apart (exactly how I feel on those extra-chocolate days).

We will be forever grateful to our friends who gave us the barbeque but sentimentality aside, we just didn’t have the wherewithal to try to get it fixed. And to be honest, its passing was a relief. Not only did the barbeque’s death mean we would gain much-needed space on our patio, but it meant we could get something smaller yet big enough to make just burgers or hot dogs – never mind simple enough for me to start without worrying about blowing up the island on which we live.

So the older, heavier version was upgraded – or downgraded depending on how you look at it - hence the barbeque funeral.

We got a simpler, much smaller, single grill, one switch, light-lid barbeque that weighs less than me. I can turn it on without too much fuss and stress (I still get nervous), we can make run-of-the-mill burgers or hot dogs, and we have room on the patio to jump out of the way in case I set the food on fire.

We feel free, liberated, lighter, and decluttered. The new barbeque has inspired us to have more dinners outside (plus the cat is a lot happier), therefore fostering more family get-togethers with my boys. You’d think we never had barbequed before!

But I realize now that getting rid of the old barbeque and getting a new one really meant so much more than just a few greasy burgers….

The last year or so has been one of many changes, so getting rid of the barbeque was just one more final ‘letting go’ of what had been weighing us down and holding us back - from doing fun things like backyardin’!

And ‘letting go’ also means letting go of fear. I had previously deemed this year the year of doing what scares me – to do what I fear most.

Getting a simple-start barbeque was, I realized, on the menu. Yes, we needed something smaller so as not to feel cluttered, but being bold and barbequing without fear, stress, drama or injury was freeing in itself (and I’m not the only one out there who is afraid of barbequing, as I have come to learn). Sure gas, sparks and flames are still involved but with this barbeque they are on a MUCH smaller and manageable scale – plus I have lots of room to jump out of the way if things go awry.

I will always be so very grateful to our friends for giving us their very extravagant barbeque, and our desire for something a little simpler is not a reflection of our seemingly lack of appreciation - au contraire! It was just time to get back to barbequing, and on a smaller scale!

So in the coming weekends as I crank the gas and flick the switch to spark a flame, I’ll throw on a few patties, blink the smoke out of my eyes, enjoy my family, and be proud of my newfound skills – and be bold and barbeque!



Thursday, July 6, 2017

Interview With an Illustrator

Joanna is like a crow. She sees something shiny and she instantly wants it – or more like draws it.
And it’s not diamonds or emeralds that sends her her heart aflutter. Things made of metal weighing up to 3,000 lbs and sporting a diamond-like finish are what grabs her attention and has her swooping back around for a better look - or picture. As an illustrator for most of her life, Joanna Szasz Vandervlugt has found her niche in drawing anything with wheels – cars, motorcycles, bicycles, the list goes on - things women are not typically known for drawing. No matter the shape, size, age and import, with a wave of her pencil, marker, and brush, Joanna can bring out the sparkle in any mode of transportation.

And not only does she do commissioned portraits of people and vehicles from clients around the world, but her work has been made into greeting cards which not only does she sell for charity, but are featured in stores around the country.

Lisa: Thank you so much for joining me here, Joanna! Tell us a bit about yourself…When did you start illustrating? What got you started? Did you go to school – take classes have a degree? How many years doing cars and motorcycles?

Joanna:
I drew as a child and in my teens I created charcoal portraits. As soon as I went to college, I stopped. I blame my Economics class. I then met my husband, got married, and had children. Twenty years later I tried drawing again, but I was disappointed at my result. I figured I had lost “the eye.” I crumpled up my sketch and never talked about it. Ten years later (at age 48), I started drawing again at the encouragement of my best friend. I remember how pleased she was when I told her I bought a bigger sketch book. After about 6 to 8 months, the drawing skills came back, and so did “the eye”. I’ve been drawing and illustrating for 3 years now, attending a handful of art workshops, but I’m basically self-taught.

Lisa: Did you start with pencil then go on to paint and marker? Was there a progression? What did start with and what do you use now? What is your favorite medium?

Joanna: As a teenager I used charcoal pencils. I did an illustration of Colin Farrell a couple years back with charcoal pencils….it’s not that easy. I started creating illustrations with watercolour pencils. Then one day I saw the fashion illustrations of Hayden Williams (a British Illustrator) and his illustrations blew my mind. To create art with such vibrant markers, I had to get some and soon six markers grew into 72.

Lisa: Did you always draw cars? Always people? Was there a subject matter you mainly illustrated in the early days and If different than vehicles, how did you evolve into doing cars and motorcycles?

Joanna: Given I started drawing in the ‘80s during the Supermodel era; I’ve always loved drawing people. I’ve drawn Linda Evangelista, Christie Brinkley, Andi MacDowell. My mother wouldn’t let me have a boyfriend, so I survived puberty by drawing the members of Queen over and over and over again.  I would draw using People magazine photos or record album covers. That’s how I taught myself. My mother was amazed and I think relieved that I could spend 6-hours on a summer’s day, drawing. She knew I wouldn’t stop drawing until I got it right.
I started drawing cars because a very good friend, Lisa Verhagen, asked me if I would illustrate her husband’s Sprint car. I said sure. One car illustration led to another car illustration.


Lisa: What’s your favorite to illustrate?

Joanna: I love illustrating people, especially their clothes and if they’re involved in movement. The motorcycle illustration of the girl, those jeans took me 2 hours to colour. I loved it. My favorite illustrations involve people, motorcycle and cars. One day I hope to have an illustration involving all three.
Lisa: Do you have a favorite car? Old or new? Classic or modern?

Joanna: It depends on the car. The classic cars are full of curves and character and there’s usually a story behind how the owner obtained that car. I like hearing about the back story of a particular vehicle. Yet the European sports cars, such as Porsche and McLaren, wow! But besides cars, motorcycles are really cool to illustrate, lots of bends with pipes and air valves. I have learned that tires, be it car or motorcycle, are not round. Tires are oval.

Lisa: How do you feel as you are creating? How do you feel when a project is finished?

Joanna: I feel like I’m doing what I was born to do. I get so into the process. You and your fellow writers will totally get this, it’s like I’m not in this physical space. My husband once called me from work and he thought I had been napping. I explained I had been drawing. His next question was if I had lunch. No. then I better eat something. When I’m really close to finishing, I won’t stop. When I’m done, I’m happy. Sometimes if there’s a quick turnaround time to get that illustration to the client, then I’m also a little sad that I’m letting that picture go so soon. I’m also excited to give that picture to the client and see his/her reaction. I feel like I’m giving that person a gift. That’s a pretty special feeling.

Lisa: Do you ever get ‘stuck’? If so, how do you deal with it? How do you work through it? What do you do to get out of it? How do you get ‘unstuck’?

Joanna: I get stuck. Sometimes when I’m really wondering how to colour something, I’ll colour that object last. Windshields are always tricky, the least favorite part of the vehicle I like to colour. I actually have a process when starting to colour a picture. I always start with the black areas. The drawing process is long and I feel a little uneasy when I first put down the colour, that’s why I start with plain black to build my confidence before I move on to the trickier colours. I will also get my husband’s input. I’ll never forget my first car illustration, it was the Sprint car, and the drawing looked great, the spouse being a car guy, looked at it and said, “It’s too small. The client’s husband races this car. The car needs to be bigger.” You can imagine the look I gave him, but he was right. My husband is my biggest fan yet also my biggest critic. It’s perfect. There have been 3 commissions which I have started drawing over again. It’s got to look right, and I won’t hand it over unless I think I’ve got it.

Lisa: What inspires you? WHO inspires you?

Joanna: The everyday people who take the risk to do something different. My daughters inspire me, both of them are pursuing different careers. The Bear Mountain shuttle guy, who is touring Canada with his band. The risk takers who are pursuing their dreams. With risk there is success and disappointment, but by not pursuing my dream, I’ll have a greater disappointment in myself than if I had tried and been rejected. Keep trying. Three years ago I never thought I would be communicating with a Professional Brazilian Motorcycle Driver or have a lady in Germany buy one of my art cards.
My icons are David Downton, a British Fashion Illustrator who has been commissioned to illustrate the Obamas, and he has illustrated Fashion icons, and the late William Davies, a Canadian illustrator. William Davies used reference photos, and learning that made me realize its okay using a reference photo. I’m very hard on myself when it comes to art.

Lisa: What are you dreams or goals for your creative self? Where would you like your career to go?
I’m shooting big. I want to be known internationally as “that female car and motorcycle illustrator.” Go big or go home, right? I want to ship art to Brazil or Germany or London, to communicate with clients overseas about their car illustration.
I would also love to spend 6 months in London, Paris or Venice creating art. Start the morning by walking to a local bistro, get my coffee and head back to where I’m staying and start creating my next illustration.

Lisa: What do you fantasize about doing in your creative career? Commission a drawing for Mario Andretti? If there is one car or motorcycle you would love to draw, which would it be?

Joanna: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sitting in his father’s, Mercedes-Benz 300SL, and for race car drivers, I would like to illustrate James Hinchcliffe standing beside his race car.

Lisa: Is there a famous person who you dream about illustrating?

Joanna: (smile) Yes. Benedict Cumberbatch.

Lisa: What advice would you give someone who is struggling with their progression? Struggling with a piece they are working on? On the verge of giving up?

Joanna: Never give up. Scribble. Doodle. Try a different medium. If an artist is struggling with a piece, ask why that piece is so difficult? Maybe it’s the subject matter. Maybe that artist loves to illustrate gardens and has found herself/himself illustrating a house. After each piece I complete, I take a 24 to 48 hour break. I’ve tried jumping right into the next art piece and it never works. There’s always some sort of mistake made when I do that. Remember why you’re creating. Numero uno, I create for myself. I also need to get something out of that commissioned illustration.

Lisa: Do you have any pets? If so, do they inspire you? Get in the way? Become models for your illustrations?

Joanna: I have my miniature schnauzer Ozzy. That dog is good for my soul. I know I’ve been drawing/colouring too long, when he comes up to me, stands on his back paws, and paws my leg with his right paw. That always makes me feel guilty.

Lisa: I understand you do commissions and that some of your work has been printed as greeting cards? Where are they sold?

Joanna: My Etsy store is JoannasArtandCards and I just sold my first greeting card to a lady in Germany. Yes, my car illustrations are made into art cards and available on my Etsy site. However, when it comes to portraits, those I do not sell to the public. I consider portraits very personal and should not be mass produced. If an individual would like a car illustrated or a portrait done, I just need to be emailed a reference photo at joanna.vandervlugt(at)gmail.com
I’ve sold art cards locally and a large supply was purchased by the Metropolitan Pit Stop in North Hollywood, California. Over $300 was raised with the sale of the Puppy Love cards and the proceeds from those card sales went to Broken Promises Rescue, a local volunteer organization that rescues all animals, dogs, cats, horses, etc. In terms of my 11 x 14 illustrated portraits, I’ve sold many locally and just recently to a professional motorcycle racer in Francisco Beltrao, Brazil.

Lisa: Is there anything else you would like to share about your work?

Joanna: I’m on Instagram as Jvandervlugt_illustrations and Facebook as Joanna Szasz Vandervlugt. I’m very selective in friend requests on FB, so if you’re interested in following me on FB, maybe just drop a line that you’re a fan of my work after reading this article.

Thank you for joining me, Joanna! I hope everyone enjoyed getting the behind-scenes-peek into the life and work of such a talented illustrator. Be sure to check out Joanna on line!

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Happy Canada Day, eh?

Here we are - the moment we have been waiting for. The build-up for Canada's 150th birthday has been a big one, and there are festivities everywhere! If you are one to brave the crowds (unlike me), I hope you have a great time out there - lots of sunscreen, lots of water, and lots of patience!

For me this long weekend means some time off work and not only spending time with friends and family, but also tackling a huge to-do list. But aside from all that, it's a time to be thankful for where we live, our sense of fellowship and pride, and our freedom to think, write, and speak freely. I am proud of where I live, proud of who I am - and just proud to be Canadian!

So while I'm busy getting through my to-do list, I'll be embracing my friends and family, enjoying a bit of Tim Horton's, enjoy saying 'Happy Canada Day, eh?' to everyone I meet, and wearing proudly wearing red.
Happy Canada Day, eh?




Thursday, June 1, 2017

Rhubarb, Rhubarb Everywhere

When I was a kid I hated rhubarb.

HATED IT.

Sure, I MIGHT have occasionally enjoyed a fresh deep-crimson stalk dipped in too-much-sugar-to-mention, and I was always hopeful it would change in flavour each time I tried it. But I was always wrong. The fact that we had the leafy plant growing in our yard didn’t encourage me to like it anymore, either. It looked like a weed, and it tasted like sour celery. It would take at least half a pound of sugar to make it barely tolerable.

Barely.

But my mom and dad loved it – LOVED IT – and my little-kid mind took that as a measure of ‘adulthood,’ that it was a ‘grown-up’ food. Every summer my mom would make a pie or two for the family. NOT to disregard my mom’s efforts or baking abilities, but I hated it. I remember the first time I tried it was I was so excited because it LOOKED sweet like a strawberry or cherry pie – my favorites. But the first bite had me puckering and quivering in revulsion. Sure it was sweet, but not THAT sweet, and every summer when my dad would get excited at the prospect of one of mom’s rhubarb pies I, in turn, shrunk in further revulsion and disappointment.

I contemplated mowing down the plant with the lawn mower.

But that adult-only rhubarb as I had come to deem it would follow me around my whole life.

When we were first married, my husband and I visited his uncle's cabin deep in the interior of BC. An old vegetable patch from a previous owner was still there, un-tended, but rhubarb had continued to grow over the years like a weed. Deep in the bush where we were the soil was rich and pure so everything grew bigger and lusher. The rhubarb stalks were almost as tall as me, and the leaves could easily protect me from any rainstorm. My husband saw the potential and I learned (with disgust) that he TOO loved rhubarb pies. We transplanted some and brought it home.

I made it clear, however - I would NOT be making any rhubarb pies. NO WAY.

But I humoured him and nurtured that little plant as best as I could. The novelty of growing it was enough for me. However too much sun and little water on our west-facing balcony of our apartment was too much for the transplanted little plant, and it withered away to nothing.

I wasn’t exactly sad.

I eventually upped my domesticity and started canning, but mostly jams. I found a recipe called Strawberry Jam Spoof and it took – of all things – rhubarb. The recipe also used peach flavoured Jello as the ‘gelling’ agent and the rhubarb as the ‘fruit.' Curious, despite my aversion to rhubarb, I made it and not only did it work, but it tasted great! No taste of icky sour rhubarb to be found!

Life went on and every time rhubarb appeared in my life, I cowered in horror, my salivary glands kicking into overdrive at the thought of the red stalks' sour, bitter bite (I may seem a bit over-dramatic but I REALLY didn't like it). Social functions where desserts were served were always a challenge, and I was always careful. It only took once of getting caught and I learned my lesson – just because a scrumptious looking square has a red fruit filling DOES NOT mean it’s strawberry or cherry or anything else pleasing to my palette (I’m not a fan of raspberries either, but that’s for another time).

Recently I was at a three-day out-of-town archery tournament and my sister and her husband were kind enough to let me stay with them. During those long and exhausting yet fun days my sister kept me well fed. The outdoor temperatures soared up to the 30’s and the heat, along with exercise, nervous tension and long days outside on-the-go worked up an appetite. Every evening when I arrived back at her house I was hungry enough to eat….anything. One night she showed me a pie she had for dessert, and my interest piqued beyond words. Until…..

She pointed out that it was a rhubarb (gag) cherry (yum) organic (?) pie. Now, I’m not against organic things, per se, but when I’m THAT hungry all I want want is sugar, fats, carbs, and everything unhealthy. I asked if there was sugar in it, in light of it being 'organic'. She assured me there was and insisted it was very very good.

The ‘athlete’ I am (not) should have been more open to an organic fruit pie. TRUTH: I’m not that much of an athlete, I have a sweet tooth that has me craving chocolate by 10am every day, and if I had my choice I’d smear REAL butter on everything – especially 2-inch slices of sourdough bread. But I fake it and try to exercise as much as I can, eat as healthy as I can, and avoid bread and real butter as much as I can. As for organics? Well…

So I kept an open mind and gratefully accepted a hearty slice of pie along with a dollop of each vanilla and pistachio ice cream.

My salivary glands shuddered in fearful anticipation. I knew – just KNEW – this wasn’t going to go well. Yes, there was the thought of cherries mixed in with the pie, and at LEAST I had the ice cream to serve as a ‘chaser’ - something to dull the unpalatable rhubarb that was threatening bring me down. But I would be a good house guest. I would be grateful. I would eat it. I would be polite. I would conduct myself in a lady-like manner.

And most of all, I told myself, I would LIKE it.

I took a forkful and readied myself. If need be, I consoled myself, I could inhale the slice as fast as I could before I could taste it. And there was always the ice cream.

I lifted the fork, took a bite, and….

…and chewed….

….and chewed…

And guess what?

I didn’t DIE.

I’m just hungry, I surmised. There’s no possible way I could actually like…

I took a bite of ice cream, then another bite of pie.

And again, I LIKED IT.

Yes, the cherries were saving me from self-induced extinction, but beyond them I could taste the rhubarb, and it was GOOD. I pushed aside the ice cream. I didn’t need it any more. I had more pie. My salivary glands were in heaven. I loved it and fought to lick the plate. What was wrong with me? Was I just so hungry that I couldn’t think straight? Was I just so over-heated I was losing my mind?

Or maybe – just maybe – I was finally becoming a – gasp! – a GROWN UP!

This VEGETABLE often confused as being a fruit had threatened to plague my existence all these 40-something years. Had I been wrong about it along? Had I never truly given it a fair chance? Maybe if I had tried it prepared in different ways I would have liked it sooner...

Before I could go down that never-ending curving road of what 'might have been' and ‘if only’, I stopped and had a pie-induced revelation - no better time than the present to start something new! Maybe I had grown up – my taste buds only, at least! I know they say tastes change as you get older – maybe this was one of those times.

Last year someone gave us part of their rhubarb plant and my husband was ecstatic. He knows I won’t bake with it, but he likes the novelty of having yet another plant to grow in our tiny backyard. But as I watched the leaves unfurl as winter turned to spring, and the stalks grew longer and redder with every day nearing summer, I've been wondering….

Maybe it was time to grow up just a little more…

NOPE.


(PS - pistachio ice cream is best on it’s own)

(PSS - I'm going to 'try' to make Rhubarb Cherry Pie - must ease into these things ya know http://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/rhubarb-cherry-pie

Friday, May 12, 2017

A Flash in the Pan

I have a house full of men.

They eat a lot.

And they're messy.

But that's okay.

I try to teach them independence and domesticity as best as I can. I tend to ‘over mother,’ as many would say, but we are all growing and spreading our wings together, which means I’m having to learn to ‘let go’ as well. Part of the growing also means testing what works and what doesn’t work individually and together as a family. What might work one day, might not work the next. We all have our limits, strengths and weaknesses – no one is the same – and when things aren’t working personally and/or in the domestic life-skills department, we try, try again.

So I try to keep my boys on track in the life-skills department as best as I can. Most important lesson: how to make a grilled cheese sandwich. I say that if all else fails in life, you can always make a grilled cheese and survive (don’t forget the ketchup!). So over time they have mastered the basic grilled cheese sandwich of buttered bread and cheese on a frying pan. No big deal. After a few burnt sandwiches, however, they learned the intricacies of minding the stove.

I’m not a gimmicky-type of person, always quick to get the ‘next big thing’ that comes out. I’m kind of old fashioned and sometimes stuck in the bubble I tend to keep myself in. Despite how adventurous I can be sometimes trying something new is a challenge. The good old ‘tried and true’ always feels most comfortable.

But in the spirit of fostering independence and broadening the horizons of my boys, a few years ago I decided to try something new. I know I can’t let my fears and inhibitions hold them back from venturing and adventuring out in this great big world, so I took a deep breath and was bold and brave:

I got a sandwich maker.

The sandwich maker was nothing super high-tech, but despite the simplicity of it I hoped to expand their menu options. This particular kind was an electric little grill that when filled and closed tight can make a little hot-pocket-like sandwich. Sure the boys were masters at making a grilled cheese sandwich with a frying pan, but I figured the gizmo would be a nice change for them. The actual sandwich content possibilities are a little more varied with the concept of a closed grill-like contraption, so I was excited at the notion of my boys trying new things. And the bottom line was no matter what they put in the sandwich they were making it themselves.

It started out fine with just a bit of a test-and-go-process in learning how it worked. It wasn’t a super industrial-strength grill you see in restaurants but it did have a built-in timer/sensor. When the indicator light goes on once it has warmed up, you load it with your yummy to-be-grilled sandwich, close it tight, then remove the gooey cheesy deliciousness when the indicator light says it’s ready. Simple. And ‘simple’ was good to start with given we were modernizing ourselves way from the boring old frying pan.

But then the problems started.

We soon learned that cheese cut any thicker than razor-thin slices was bad. Sure the cheese would melt, but it would also ooze out the sandwich and down the sides and back hinges of the machine. Like ALOT. I know there are far worse tragedies in this world than mis-managed melted cheese, but this truly WAS an atrocity. The challenge to clean, never mind the challenge of getting my men to actually CLEAN the sandwich maker properly was - to put it nicely - a CHALLENGE. No matter how much I fussed and scraped, and no matter how many toothpicks or tines of a fork I used to get into the tiniest of nooks and crannies, none of us could get out all the caked on melted cheese. And it’s not like the maker is something you soak in a sink of hot soapy water, either. Upping how much I nagged my men to clean it wasn't going to help, either. And it's not that I'm an over-picky neat freak, either, but this BAD.

Added to all that misery, the sandwiches were kind of soggy.

But I fought to brush off the disappointment and kept a positive perspective: we were modernizing and experimenting and getting away from the boring old-fashioned.

Eventually the novelty of the sandwich maker wore off and it sat on the counter unused. I know now that denial prevented me from trying to understand WHY it sat there unused, and so for what I excused as 'space reasons' I stored it away in the cupboard.

Time heals all wounds and all that, and the frying pan was getting a workout anyways so all was well in our world.

Until recently while cleaning and re-arranging the cupboards I found the sandwich maker.

The memory of the stress of it all had faded over time

Maybe we weren’t using it right, I reasoned: out came the instruction book.
Maybe it was harder to use than I thought: bring on Google.
Maybe we were putting on too much cheese between the bread: try UBER-razor-thin slices. But that means boring, nearly just-bread sandwiches.

So for two days we tried the machine again, but it was two days of frustration and disappointment…and soggy sandwiches. I'm not about to knock any brand name, nor dismiss sandwich makers entirely, and maybe we were simply using it wrong, but this was just...wrong.

But none of that mattered because right then I realized that the fight was over. The sandwich maker thought it had won – but its’ victory was backfiring on itself.

Because no matter how hi-tech this particular sandwich maker thought it was, at the end of the day it had lost the battle to the frying pan.

Sometimes nothing beats the good old tried ‘n true. Sometimes all the modernizing in the world is not for the best and we have to stick with the basics. I have to keep teaching my kids the basics – keeping them grounded by knowing the root of it all – if they are going to get by. Technology will always change, and yes, there definitely IS a place for some gizmos and modern hi-tech appliances in our lives.

But at the end of the day when all else fails and the gizmos-of-the-day promising to save you from yourself have let you down, go have a crispy, oozy-cheesy grilled cheese...made on a frying pan.

And stick with the old tried 'n true because sometimes anything else is simply….a flash in the pan.




Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter Sunday....

....time to count more than just eggs....

As I write this it's early on Easter Sunday. I've been for a walk, my turkey is having a little soak in the sink before finding it's way to the oven, and the Easter Bunny officially arrived at my house for my menfolk this morning.....

...but not for me.


Yes, my men are much older and bigger than I (my youngest just celebrated his 17th birthday this weekend), and no matter how old they get and no matter where they go in this world, the Easter Bunny will always find his way to them. Yes, this time a time of reflection for some - a time of new beginnings, even for the not-so-religious - and with Spring here (sort of - depending on what's happening right outside your window at the exact time you read this), it's a time to remember and celebrate what we have. Time is of the essence, we never know how much of it we have, so why not share a little joy here and there, no matter what the age?

But sometimes the Easter Bunny doesn't find his way to all the mom's out there - mom's are always giving the Easter Bunny a helping hand. Yes, my true gifts are my own little Easter Bunnies asleep in their beds (they'd be mortified if they heard me talking like this - but I don't care), and I'm beyond grateful for what I DO have, but my sweet tooth beckons for a little attention.

But I DID, in fact, get a few treats here and there this week, and my pals at work were beyond good to me....


But then I forgot them at all at work and all this long weekend I had been thinking about them. Given I had exhausted all my - ahem - personal Easter supply at home, I took drastic measures...


Easter candies aside (there's always sales at the stores tomorrow), I have beyond too many blessings to count. I have three men who DO care for me very much year-round and I have friends and family near and far who support and put-up with all my crazy antics. I have a turkey I'm about to put in the oven, and while that's doing it's thing, I'll be heading to the archery range to get a little exercise and fresh air with family and friends.

(photo courtesy of World Archery)

By the time I get home, the turkey will be done, and I'll have all my men, including a dear friend, over for dinner - all of us together at the SAME TIME.

I'm a pretty lucky girl.

So no, I didn't wake up this morning to the Easter Bunny having had stopped by my house for me (maybe he'll come back and clean it while I'm at the archery range), but I got so much more....

So don't count how many Easter Eggs you don't have, count all that you DO have. They are everywhere, all year long, and always appearing when you least expect them. If you look to hard you won't find them all - it's always when you aren't looking, that they suddenly appear.

Easter Blessings to you and your families....

Friday, April 14, 2017

Paint Job

I had been in a rut the last while - I froze. And not just from the not-so-fabulous weather we had been having this last while. Funky health in March, too much going on generally all around, and not taking a step back to sit, think, ponder and evaluate - and just giving myself a bit of a break - overwhelmed me and I froze. My writing along with many other things took a hit. Too many fingers in too many pots? Maybe. Very likely, actually. But I realized I was expecting too much from myself - I was pushing myself beyond what I could handle - and that along with many external forces that were zapping me of all creativity had me knowing I had to stop. My creativity seriously left the building and honestly, I don't think I really wanted it back.

But I was lying to myself. I didn't want it gone, I just needed a break. But inch by inch I'm coming back. I had to change - had to re-asses and re-evaluate what I'm doing, where I'm going, and how I'm gonna get there.

But getting there would have to be on my own terms.

So as I'm slowly coming back - and not to what I once was, but as a newer fresher version of the old writing-me, I had to have a make-over. A paint job. Part of the reason for my frozen state was that I was stale. Yes, I had burned out on so many levels of my writing and my creativity, but I was also very stale. Very outdated. It was time for a change. The old is not totally gone and never forgotten. I'm thankful for what I've had in the past - it's help make me the ME I am now. But I just had to figure that out on my own, first. It's time to move on and keep moving forward, with renewed energy, a bit of a fresh look, and the knowledge that it's okay to give myself a break once in a while. Most of us loves a new set of clothes, rearranging the furniture, new hair or nail polish - a new look. I'm still the same me, but just a slightly different version of ME. I had to acknowledge what got me in a rut in the first place, and reinvent myself a titch and go forward - without fully leaving the old me.

Get it?

Anyways, here is a bit of a new me. We're always evolving - always changing - and this won't be the last change I make. Sometimes less is more - not so bulky and overwhelming. It's up to us to shed what holds us down and get ourselves out of that rut we can sometimes find ourselves in. It's okay to get in that rut, but it's how we get out of it that matters.

And a new coat of a paint can never hurt....

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Weather Talk

March is suddenly/finally here and spring is around the corner.....or so we thought.

It’s been an interesting New Year around the world so far, to say the least, and unfortunately the bad things going on overshadow the good in most conversations. But of the many topics to talk about these days, the weather has been a big one among folks on the West Coast of British Columbia. It’s been an interesting winter both on the Coast and Inland, and it’s leaving folks a bit…disgruntled. Yet of all the topics of all the icky things we could be talking about, the easiest, tamest, most non-controversial but best-for-escaping topic to chat about is the weather.
We can’t control what’s happening in the skies, we can only work with it, and let’s be real – we know whatever is happening at that moment right outside our windows won’t last forever. Snow melts and rain dries. The sun comes and goes leaving us hot or cold depending on the month and how far away/close we are to the burning ball of gas in the sky. Before you know it worry about sunburns and sweaty armpits will replace the angst caused by unexpected snow and ice.

It IS still winter, after all, and many other places DO have more ‘challenging’ weather conditions to deal with. And besides, there are worse things that could be happening – far worse than a few topsy-turvy inclement-weather days.

Not that I’m in denial of what’s going on in the world. But the icky things going on in the world has perspective shining brighter than any sun. Perspective makes Mother Nature’s moods tolerable; frizzy hair, runny noses and chapped skin, manageable. If our only problem where we are is strange weather, then we have it good.

And really, the weather is a safe topic – an easy topic. It’s an escapist topic. “Oh, Weather, what would we do without you? If we didn’t have you, would we talk about?” We love it, hate it, loathe it, wish for it, debate over it, and lose sleep over it. We blame everyone for seemingly ‘unpleasant’ weather – the meteorologists, Mother Nature, the Gods/Spirits/other-world-entities (the list is endless) – for miss-reading and controlling the weather. We blame thy neighbor when he mows his lawn too early, a sure way to jinx the seemingly perfect weather du jour - rain always seems to follow. And for the love of all that is good and pure do NOT step on a spider. Not only is it not nice, but superstitious folks will blame you for bringing on the rain with such an inhumane act.

But actually, maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad idea….

…because lately in these parts where we pay exorbitant amounts to live in ‘supposed’ mild weather, we have had snow – and lots of it. And yes, yes, yes – I know many other places across Canada have it worse. It’s not that we have had more snow than any other place, it’s just that the abnormal amount we have had has been a shock to our systems – our roads, our highways people, our city workers, our furnaces (our utilities companies are happy, at least), our skin, our hair, our creaky joints, our ….everything. Folks had recently started pruning their fruit trees, only to be faced with flash snow-blizzards – very bad for any freshly pruned tree.

But when you are used to a certain way, and the unexpected tosses everything off course, it’s alarming, it’s unsettling, and it throws everything and everyone off kilter. One bad weather day – okay – but more than that? Forget it.

But at the end of the day it’s important to remember that, as with anything, nothing stays the same forever. Like the tide, the weather will change. Before you know it this crazy winter will be a not-too-distant memory. When in a few months we are too busy seeking-out shady spots in the glaring hot summer sun, we’ll sip our iced teas and think back: “Remember that awful winter of 2017? It was something else, I tell ya…”

So be thankful for the weather no matter what it’s doing. It could be so much worse. Because OF all the things we COULD be talking about, at least we’ll always have the weather.


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Pink Shirt Day February 22 2017



Today is Pink Shirt Day, a movement started by teen boys who saw a wrong and stood up for what is right. Although a day has been marked for everyone to come together and support the movement – bringing awareness to bullying everywhere, no matter the age – awareness, action, and support has to be year-round. The Pink Shirt movement started with a couple of courageous boys who took action – actions speak louder than words – so remember to show your support and commitment to anti-bullying and wear pink, and think pink, today and all year long.

Visit www.pinkshirtday.ca


Be sure to check this video by Arnold Lim of Victoria News of Pink Shirt Day happenings that took place around BC.

http://www.vicnews.com/news/414554983.html

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Gratitude Gathering

My pal Jo-Ann Carson - author of smart, sexy suspense with a touch of magic - came up with the perfectly fabulous idea to have a Gratitude Gathering – a group of bloggers coming together and share what gratitude means to them and hopefully spread a little positive perspective during these dark and dreary days of winter and while the world feels like a topsy-turvy place. Jo-Ann's concept: 'Bloggers write a post on Gratitude on their own blog, 1-3 things you feel grateful for this month.'

Recognising what you are grateful for can be done at any time - no matter what the season and no matter what is going on in the world. Acknowledging gratitude for what we have and putting a perspective on what we think we don’t have can only lead to happier peace-filled days – sharing what we are grateful for can only spread like a dandelion’s seeds and foster thankful goodwill in others.

On the day I got Jo-Ann’s invite to participate in her Gratitude Gathering, I wasn’t exactly having the best day - never mind the best week. True, we all have bad days – they are inevitable and we are allowed to have them. But on that day where I felt gross, my hair was awful, I hated my wardrobe, I was three days away from payday and there was nothing ‘good’ to eat in the fridge (translation – junk food), the people on the bus were driving me crazy and I was clumsier and klutzier than ever, I scoffed at first at her invite.

How the heck was I supposed to find GRATITUDE given the day, never mind week, I was having? I thought with a snarl.

But…

But her invitation was enough to stop me in my tracks and have me giving myself a whoop upside the head. I always try to practice – note the word PRACTICE – being positive and keep an upbeat outlook on things, but at the end of the day we are human and emotions and truly catastrophically life-altering events are bound to throw our gratitude out the window. It’s important to take stock of what we do have and be thankful – even for the little things.

Here are a few of the things that were bringing me down that I was able to turn around and therefore appreciate:

1. The bus: I’m lucky to be even able to RIDE a bus. It means I have somewhere to go, somewhere to leave, and the money to even do so in the first place. And given I mostly use the bus for going to and from work – WHOAH! That means I have a job! And a paycheque! Being squished on a stinky hot bus can mean so many things if you look at it from a different angle (plus I’m saving money from parking and gas – the list keeps on going!). I’m pretty lucky that I am able to, and have the means to, never mind reason, to ride the bus. Gratitude #1 – check.

2. Feel gross/bad hair/hating wardrobe: I lumped all these together as I realized it was a matter of personal opinion and my own grey mood overshadowing all I should be grateful fo. You ever have days where you are having the WORST HAIR DAY EVER and someone compliments your hair? You’re not having the worse hair day ever – it’s all in your head (not just on top!) I’m fortunate to even have my good health so that I can actually FEEL those gross days – and it only be so because I’m having an ‘off’ day and not because I’m sick or anything. I have clothes on my bad – I’m not without. Truly. I have shampoo AND hair products AND the means to get it cut (never mind even HAVING hair on my head). All those things – feeling gross, bad hair, hating wardrobe – are just insignificant stuff on the surface that can all be remedied with a bath and a good long look in the mirror and in my closets. I have a lot to be thankful for. Gratitude #2 – check.

3. No ‘good’ food in the fridge: well aside from the obvious that I am lucky to even have anything in the fridge at all, maybe remembering to eat the healthy ABUNDANCE of food I do ACTUALLY have would help fend off those days where I feel gross and the clothes I DO have don’t fit right. I am grateful for the food I DO have in my seemingly empty fridge - translation: the fridge isn't really empty. Gratitude #3 - check.

Gratitude check = Reality check = perspective check: Jo-Ann’s invite came at the right time. It was a much-needed exercise to sit down and remember that I truly DO have so much to be grateful for. I am healthy, safe and sound, and loved. I have friends who invite me to share such an exercise with, along with having the ability and freedom to write what I want, when I want. I’ve got it pretty good – those ‘bad’ days are nothing.

Gratitude # 4 – check.

Be sure to check out what other author's are grateful for at Jo-Ann's site - www.lovindanger.wordpress.com


Sunday, January 22, 2017

In My Own Backyard

25 years ago my husband and I bravely ventured out from Richmond BC to his uncle’s newly-acquired cabin. 50 miles in the bush of Golden, BC, the ‘hunter’s cabin’ was aptly nicknamed ‘The Ozone' as it was so far out and away from life as we knew it. The only running water we had was from a hand well pump in the kitchen sink as well as a big one outside. We are not hunters but were keen for an adventure and with only a dog-eared, crease-worn aerial map typically used for logging as a guide, getting there as an adventure in itself. My husband’s uncle and aunt had regaled us with stories of the wildlife in the area so I was (naively) excited at the prospect of seeing animals so different from home.

We found the beyond-rustic cabin and once we side-stepped the fresh grizzly scat and removed the bear-mat from the front door we settled in for a nail-biting stay. A bear mat is a piece of plywood riddled with up-turned nails to deter the most toughest of bears from entering the cabin for a snack. Uh oh. We were in remote back country, the furthest out I had ever been, I was immediately aware of ‘whose’ territory we were in. We kept ourselves busy by mowing over-grown grass (as a favour), and chopping wood. I suspect we were given these tasks to keep us from worrying about the resident grizzly and the wolves that would later circle the cabin as we slept up in the ‘watch’ (yes, I actually saw wolves).

Serene nature walks in the woods nor sunbathing with headphones were NOT on the agenda - mosquitoes weren’t the only thing that could sneak up on you – we had to keep our wits about us. But despite my grizzly-bear-frazzled-nerves I found great joy in watching the numerous wild birds not typically found along Coastal BC where we were from.

I grew up in the City of Richmond, BC surrounded by farms, bogs, marshes and ocean. Richmond is actually on Lulu Island and ‘back in the day’ the dyke-surrounded island was a huge farming community. If you go to the outer-est outskirts of the city and look between the shopping malls, you will see hints of farm-life the island was once known for.

Local birds such as Mallard Ducks, Canada Geese, herons, cranes and Stellar’s Jays, along with the wild pheasants that roamed the fields near my house, were what piqued my amateur bird-watching ways when I was a kid. Those feathered friends comprised the extent of my wildlife experience.

So years later when I found myself 50 miles in the bush worrying about grizzlies and wolves, the last thing I expected to find – yet much, MUCH to my delight – were hummingbirds.

Up at 'The Ozone' the rich and pure air and soil makes everything bigger - the chipmunks, the wild-growing rhubarb we found in the old horse corral and especially the bugs! But I soon realized that what I thought were huge flies overheard were, in fact, hummingbirds. I couldn’t believe my luck! To this city girl hummingbirds were a mystical, rarely-seen magical creature! I was hypnotized by how they buzzed, twittered, dove and spun all day long. We didn’t have a hummingbird feeder to attract them - all the summer wildflowers were what kept them busy.

I knew our stay at the old cabin would be forever memorable, but it would be the hummingbirds who would always be at the forefront of my memories.

Fast forward a few years and we have moved from Richmond to Victoria, BC and have expanded our world with two little boys to keep us busy. The hummingbirds I once saw were not forgotten but I had more important things to worry about – my own two hungry little birdies. I still considered the tiny birds rare and knew I would only ever seen them again at some magical place like 'The Ozone.'

One day right around Christmas I was cuddling my then-7-month old in the rocking chair next to our patio door. We had a little garden with shrubs and trees in patio-size pots and we had decorated some of the smaller trees with outdoor lights. It had snowed so even in the day when the lights were off our little yard was bright with the reflection of the snow. Just as I felt the weight of slumber overtake my little baby boy, and I started to nod off myself, a movement just outside caught my attention and I was instantly awake.

Because there, investigating a bright red Christmas light bulb on the tree just outside the patio door, was a hummingbird. His red throat shimmered and rippled with every movement as he tried to ‘drink’ from the bulb.

I couldn’t breathe – I dared not move (despite the sleeping baby in my arms). WE ACTUALLY HAVE HUMMINGBIRDS IN VICTORIA? I wanted to scream – but again, the baby.

WOW! The elusive little birdie – or so I had thought was elusive – was right there, in my own backyard. I wasn’t anywhere remote – we had no grizzlies or moose. The wildlife we had were deer and cougar commonly seen near my older son’s elementary school, despite us being 5 – 10 minutes away from huge shopping malls and highways. We had Mallard Ducks, Bald Eagles, and cranes - and of course Canadian Geese.

But what was the little bird doing here? Was I seeing things? Was motherhood exhaustion getting the better of me?

Or had they literally been in my backyard all this time but I just didn’t know it?

Although I was extremely intrigued by the sighting, I didn’t have time to worry about the little dears. But as I saw them more and more over the years, and when time would permit, I’d occasionally do a bit of research about them. Although typically a migrating bird, their numbers have increased along the West Coast, especially on Vancouver Island, over the the last fifteen years – which was right about the time I was rocking my youngest son to sleep when I first saw one on the Coast. As for all those years ago in the interior? Well I suspect we happened to be in the right place at the right time – in their migratory path with all the summer wildflowers in bloom and with no grizzlies chasing them (although I think they are too fast for a grizzly).

Fast FAST forward to now. My kids are older and the amount of time at my disposal to notice things like hummingbirds has changed. Although I’m still busy working full-time while trying to referee/clean/maintain my house, I DO have time to sit at my kitchen table and write – and watch the hummingbirds. Years ago we hung a hummingbird feeder (a gift from my youngest ‘rocking chair son’) just outside the kitchen window beside where I write. The little birdies' numbers have grown and although they can be a distraction from my writing, they are a perfect one, at that. They are much tamer than the ones I saw in the interior years ago – they swoop and hover as I re-hang their freshly filled feeder. I have come to know their chatter and chirps of defense and warning as they wait then dive in before I barely step away. I can hear them as I sit at the kitchen table and when I'm washing dishes - they are never too far away.

The once-thought elusive little bird who is for now, as it seems, a permanent fixture in my life have been here for good reason - they make me slow down and stop even if only for the few seconds they hover at the feeder. And now, thanks (but not THANKS) to global warming and who-knows-what-else, it seems as though they are here to stay - and I didn't have to go somewhere remote to see them.

I know our mild weather makes their year-round existence easier - winters are hard up in the backwoods of Golden BC - and the abundance of flowers Victorians are proud to grow makes where I live more attractive to them. It's a perfect place for a hummingbird, I'd say, and even more perfect that they are right in my own backyard.


Research is always being done on the busy little birds - to find out more about them visit the Canadian Wildlife Federation here and as well at the Rocky Point Bird Observatory - visit here.