Friday, October 30, 2009

Nathan Bransford started it

It's Friday, it's raining, I'm beyond tired after a crazy busy week with the amazing photographer Freeman Patterson, and now I just feel like a bit of silly.

Nathan started it when he posted this:

So I'm going to add this:

But nothing, nowhere, no-how, compares to this one which always gives me the giggles to the point where I'm weeping:

Great weekend toute le monde!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Does Dog Exist?

I'm still recovering from The Conference That Is Surrey, and getting back into the usual routine, which usually means dealing with shit of some kind or another, and in today's case, I mean that literally. (Yes, I'm aware that's two posts in a row where I've said shit. But there are no two ways about it. I was knee deep in doo doo today.)

As usual, there was a writing metaphor buried in there.

The day began with a brutal wake-up call by our pet-sitter Bill, who was there to return my neurotic dog Buddy. I threw on whatever clothes I could find on the floor and stumbled downstairs. As I attempted to see well enough through bleary eyes to write the kind of fat check that allows Bill to drink a far superior whisky than I'll ever hope to afford, I was accompanied by an unmistakable keening at my feet, rising from an ungrateful mutt who would have wrapped his arms around Bill's legs if only he could figure out how. You see, after a few visits to Bill's dog kennel country dog spa, Buddy now wrestles with a kind of canine existential angst, that being defined as I'm not sure I exist and I don't think deep thoughts, but unlike you, my stupid owner, Bill feeds me real stew and lets me sleep in his bed nestled under his armpit every night, so I know with absolute conviction that you no longer exist.

While Buddy moped, I wrestled four snow tires out of the shed and into the back of my car. This meant rolling them through the back yard, along the side of the house and then hoisting them into the trunk. Yes, I too think this is a job for a man, but my man forgot. And the other man of the house, my son, is not reliable and liable to cause more damage than not when it comes to placing tires in the trunk.

So while in the process of rolling the tires across the backyard, I discovered that Buddy had dropped a few more little bombs, camouflaged by fallen leaves. All the rest of his digestive detritus had been scooped and disposed of in the proper way (i.e., lobbed over the fence into the neighbour's yard, a tit for tat sort of gesture as the neighbour's dog frequently runs loose and leaves gifts for us. It's like a cookie exchange, only with dog shit.) The end result? I ended up with dog crap lodged in the treads of my tires which I had to pry out with a stick before I could stack the tires in the car. (Ironically, the tires now on the car have virtually no tread left and would have been a whole lot easier to clean.)

What does this have to do with writing, you're thinking. You said there was a metaphor.

Well, as I cussed and rolled the tires down the side of the house, I discovered a stump covered with rings of tree fungus. I would never have discovered this otherwise because I avoid that side of the house. I finished with the tires and hauled out my camera to take some shots.

Sometimes we have to wade through a lot of shit before we stumble across something beautiful.

Keep your eyes open to the possibilities.

Mind you, if I'd really kept my eyes open, I would have seen that wolf spider the size of a grape rappelling down to my head as I made faces at Buddy in the window.

My screams still echo down the street.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Back from the Surrey International Writers' Conference

I'm staggering from exhaustion, but I'm back! Another year of exhilarating workshops, moving keynote speeches, long sessions in the bar with new friends and old, and a general recharging of the batteries. There is nothing like a few intense, whisky-soaked, chocolate-filled days with people who love and understand the power of the written word.

There were small moments, like the giggles we got when we spied the guy behind us wearing a tee shirt that said:

Haikus are easy

But sometimes they don't make sense


(You can buy it here and what's that you say? Would I like it for Christmas? How did you know? You must be psychic!)

Or when I shuffled over to the mall, lost in my own thoughts and only half paying attention to where I was going, once again wracked with self-doubt and tuned in to what one of the presenters referred to as "shit FM." I asked myself should I really continue with this writing business? I mean, if only I had a sign, some signal of some sort that I should continue to pursue this, that this is really what I'm meant to do.

I looked over at that moment and saw this:

...and doubled over laughing figuring the only thing missing was a smack upside the head.

And there were big moments, like Jacqui Banaszynski's moving, thoughtful keynote speech about the death of a gay farm couple featured in her Pulitzer prize winning story AIDS IN THE HEARTLAND and her coverage of the Ethiopian famine that left not a dry eye in the house. It was one of those time stood still moments.

Then there was Michael Slade's SHOCK THEATRE featuring Jack Whyte, Diana Gabaldon, Anne Perry, Sam Sykes and kc dyer that....well, that simply defies description. You just had to be there.

The magic of the Surrey Conference is very real.

Do you believe?

Monday, October 19, 2009

See ya next week

I'm off to Surrey, British Columbia to attend the SiWC, one of the best writers' conferences on the planet. Go read my friend Kathy's blog post about it here. Or go to the SiWC website here to see what delights await. It's my absolute favourite conference on the planet. I attend workshops, network and spend time with my most excellent buddies. The atmosphere is warm and friendly and I usually come home pumped and ready to tackle any and all projects, both new and in progress.

I never take my laptop with me so no blogging. I barely have enough time to sleep a few hours every night because there is so much going on, so no blogging until my return next week. When I write at the conference, I do it the old-fashioned way - paper and pen, baby. (No, not a quill and ink. I'm not that old.)

Have fun without me. Go pick pumpkins. Jump in the fall leaves. Put on your snow tires. Unless you're in Australia, in which case, you are probably ready to go for a swim and a picnic.

I'll see you next week!

Random shots in Hawaii

No theme or any kind of organization, just people or flowers or buildings I came across and liked a lot.

The bird in front of the pink Royal Hawaiian hotel was just a lucky break. Rumour has it that Joni Mitchell wrote Paved Paradise in Waikiki and her lyrics are about this hotel, which was next door to us.

This is Oahu's flower, the yellow ilima (Sida fallax) and you'll see it everywhere, including in women's hair and in leis.

Here's another beach goer, taking in a little sun.
Entering the Royal Hawaiian.
The koi pond at our hotel.
What I'll need mid-February.
The sunsets are so perfect they're almost corny.
Here's Doug in front of a banyan tree, to give you some idea of scale. These trees are behemoths.

Someone's front yard. We should all have that view....
This is a Hawaiian mourning dove, but a different song than the ones we hear in Canada. Very haunting, beautiful sound. Best not to get too attached. They hunt them in Hawaii. Yum, yum.

Bonus points if you can spot the lizard and the bird hiding on this banyan.
A cruise ship reflected in a Honolulu office tower.

On Waikiki's main drag. Reminds me of my favourite Monty Python skit.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Health Care in Hawaii

An interesting article about health care in Hawaii. If you've been following the debates about health care reform in the U.S., this article is quite enlightening.

Again, that aloha spirit, and something called "ohana" or familial obligation, is very real and taken very seriously by the people of Hawaii.

You can read the article in the New York Times HERE.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

More of Oahu

The reason we went to Hawaii was to honour my husband Doug, who was awarded a fellowship in the American College of Dentists "for meritorious work" and contributions to the field of dentistry. The ACD is a non-profit, honourary organization of dentists who exemplify excellence by demonstrating leadership, ethics and professionalism, and who have made other contributions to society as a whole.

The American College of Dentists, non-profit and apolitical, is known as "the conscience of dentistry" and no one represents this ideal better than Doug.

Congratulations, honey. We're so proud of you.

We attended the ceremony together followed by a huge dinner dance (picture hundreds of dentists in Aloha shirts and leis dancing to the golden, I'll wait while you fix the image in your head...) then we staggered off to our room to recuperate. Doug attended various workshops and events, and while I could describe them to you, which would you rather see - highlights of dental workshops like Gadgets and Multitasking - 150 High Tech Dental Products You Need Today! or more photos? Thought so.

These birds-of-paradise bird-of-paradises pretty flowers grew everywhere. I saw a gorgeous clump in full bloom growing outside a seedy looking video store surrounded by cement. I guess they're hardier and more prolific than the florists here would have you believe.
Sunset beach, home to the big waves and big sissies like me.
Fish getting in my face in Shark's Cove. Seriously, every time I had the camera on, this fish was right there in front of me. He was Not Shy.
Sunset beach. The shore breaks were pretty wicked and we didn't go in. I had no desire to get my face smashed into the sand although plenty of people did. That part was fun to watch.
Recognize this cove? This is where Deborah Kerr and Burt Lancaster got down and dirty in From Here to Eternity. I'm sorry, did I hear you say you don't know this scene? Stop reading and hie thyself to the nearest video store and rent the movie.

I'll wait.

Hot diggety dog. She "never knew it could be like this." Oh, baby. Boom shakalakalaka boom.

Some of my new friends.
I want to feel like this every day.
For your entertainment, here we are, snorkeling in Shark's Cove. There weren't any sharks, but lots of fish, sea urchins and the odd octopus. I was completely and totally freaked out. There was quite a strong current so I was buffeted by waves and constantly thrown against chunks of volcanic rock and columns of coral. Not to mention all the sea creatures all around me. I waited on shore for as long as I could stall Doug, then once in, I was afraid to risk the shore breaks to get out again. But I did it. Next time, somewhere a bit more calm methinks.

And that noise in the first one isn't me. I think it might be a dolphin. Or Doug. Or the strap on the camera. I'm going with dolphin.

And who says a snorkel mask can't be a damn sexy fashion accessory?

Friday, October 16, 2009

A Day at the Office?

A break from the Hawaii stuff, courtesy of the gals at Go Fug Yourself.

Love this.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Reality Bites

We interrupt this regularly scheduled Hawaiian travelogue to bring you....reality.

A big dose of it. In the form of frost.

I am going to snuggle right down into deep denial.

I am going to think about this instead.


Israel Kamakawiwo'ole AKA Iz.

Still one of the most beautiful voices of Hawaii even though Iz died in 1997 at the age of 38. His voice is gentle and soulful, powerful and full of emotion. This song is one of my favourites, and when I hear it, I'm once again sitting on a white sandy beach with the trade winds ruffling my hair as the surfers roll in on the waves of Waikiki.

As I said in a previous post, I went to Hawaii without any expectations and really not knowing all that much about the history or culture. What I discovered was this thing called the Aloha Spirit, alive and very real. The people are kind and very proud of their country.

"We shall extend and display respect to all others which reflects our own appreciation of humanity. We shall carry our pride quietly, neither boasting of ourselves nor speaking badly of others - often a dishonest method of self-praise. Yet we must be unashamed of our principles and honest in our criticisms."

~ Hawaiian Code of Conduct

And this one will just break your heart. It's the one that brought international attention and is most widely known.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Duke Kahanamoku, the Father of Surfing and Hawaiian Hero

Confession: I was an ignoramus about Hawaiian culture before I visited Oahu. I thought it was one big beach party, like Miami, just sun and fun and not much more.

I knew about Captain Cook who landed, named the islands The Sandwich Islands, and a year later got a splitting headache on the beach via an axe held by a native Hawaiian.

I also knew that the islands were originally populated by Polynesians over 1500 years ago, who paddled over 2,000 miles in canoes, guided mainly by the stars.

What I didn't know was that back in 1810, all of Hawaii's islands were united under one royal kingdom and an official royal family recognized the world over. (Trivia: in 1886, the Iolani Palace on Oahu became the first royal residence in the world to be lit by electricity. Cool beans, no?)Anyway, back around 1820 or so, the Protestant missionaries arrived, and while I'm sure they believed their intentions were good, they did their honest best to obliterate the Hawaiian culture. They preached against surfing, riding, and most importantly, hula dancing and singing (which was how Hawaiians passed on their history to successive generations.)
Sugar and pineapple plantations were established, and the owners brought Japanese, Portuguese, Filipino and Chinese over to work the fields as cheap labour. Very quickly, big business in Hawaii was controlled by former missionary families, specifically five families. Known as The Big Five, they held the entire economy of Hawaii in their tight little fists - banking, importing, shipping, warehousing, labour - and thus an oligarchy was born.

It was this group of businessmen/former missionaries that was behind the overthrow of the royal family and who forced the last Queen, Liliuokalani, to surrender her kingdom to the United States. She was placed under house arrest in her own home, the Iolani Palace, before Hawaii was annexed to the U.S. in 1898. Hawaii became the 50th state in 1959. Once Hawaii became a state and workers were no longer treated like indenture servants, sugar and pineapples for huge profits was no longer viable.

But what about surfing, I can hear you saying. You were going to talk about surfing. What's this got to do with surfing?

Well, I was also ignorant about the history and tradition of surfing. I thought it was just another water sport by lazy pot-addled dudes who soaked up the sun and played in the water. That's what the missionaries thought too. Turns out surfing is rooted in tradition and linked to ancient Hawaiian royalty. Surfing was part of the Kapu system of laws which held that royals or chiefs called "alii" were above commoners, and they used this sport to assert their command over their people by demonstrating their strength and agility on the surf board.

The surf boards themselves were sacred, and the status of the rider determined the type of wood used and the size and weight of the board. The best wood was reserved for the chiefs. Once a tree was selected by a master craftsman, a prayer was recited and a sacred fish called a kumu was placed at its roots. Then the tree was cut, hauled away and carved into a board. (You can still watch modern surfers make boards.)Once the general shape and size was established, it was taken to a canoe house or halau to be smoothed with coral stones. A dark stain was applied, then kukui nut oils to make the board shiny and glossy. Before its first dip into the sea, it was dedicated and blessed. After each use, it was rubbed with coconut oil and wrapped in tapa cloth to protect it. (Unlike modern surfers who tuck it under one arm like a briefcase and wrestle it into the hotel elevator. I saw that more than once.)

The surfboard was a revered part of Hawaiian culture, and remained so until those pesky missionaries arrived and pursed their lips. They believed it was hedonistic and a huge waste of time and they strongly condemned it. It was the last reigning Hawaiian king David Kalakau, a huge sports enthusiast and father of the Hawaiian renaissance, who fought against decades of suppression and kept the tradition going. He brought hula and surfing back from the edge of extinction (and yes, I don't use that word lightly.) Many Hawaiians believe that without him, there would be no surfing today.

In 1905 the missionaries began to lose their grip on the community, and a teenage boy named Duke Kahanamoku and his buddies met up at Waikiki Beach and formed a canoe and surfing club called "The Club Of The Waves". Known as The Renaissance Man of the Sea, he revived the old traditions and introduced surfing to the rest of the world like California, Australia, and New Zealand. He is credited with doing the longest ride on a monster wave, a journey of 1 1/8th mile on a 30 foot swell named Bluebird, right up to Waikiki beach. He won three gold and two silver medals in four Olympic games."Try meeting or leaving people with aloha, you'll be surprised by their reaction. I believe it and it is my creed. Aloha to you." Duke Paoa KahanamokuWe spent two evenings at his open air bar and restaurant called Duke's, on the original site of Duke's Outrigger Canoe Club. (Those are the photos I posted a few days ago with my tropical drinks in hand.) His surf boards and photos line the walls. It's a huge tourist attraction, but it's also one of the best places in town for a meal. We befriended our young server named Young John (we never met the unfortunately named Old John) and talked about his future plans to take a master's degree in kinesiology and Doug gave him some good advice. A few days later, we had dinner there again, and John not only remembered us, he sent over a Hula Pie - ice cream, macadamia nut, fudge sauce the size of my head - and gave us all hugs goodbye.

That's aloha spirit.

Have a look at this video and tell me this isn't awe inspiring.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Aloha Week Parade

We were lucky enough to be in Oahu the same week of the Aloha Festivals, the oldest and biggest statewide festival with food, hula dance, and live music all week long. We kept stumbling across performances in parks and outdoor malls. This year's theme was Hula "Let The Story Be Told."

Seriously, how cute is the fellow on the far right? I coveted his hat.
Only Oahu has the Floral Parade with giant floats covered in fresh flowers, lots of bands and choirs and most special of all, horses and p'au riders.
My favourite p'au rider, below. How many cowboys you know who can wear several leis, a flowered Aloha shirt and still look so....masculine? It's one of the charms of Hawaii.P'au riders are men and women on horseback wreathed in flowers and metres and metres of fabric in their island's colours. The "p'au" comes the fluttering fabric behind the riders when Hawaiian women refused to ride sidesaddle like the missionaries wanted. They'd grab their long dresses and scrunch them up underneath their legs, allowing the fabric to "p'au" or flutter out behind them. For the parade, the Queen P'au leads her princesses through town. Eight colours and types of flowers represent the eight islands.After several hours in the heat, I felt like this guy.

Until I discovered this magical place called the Cold Stone Creamery. I tiptoed through its magical air-conditioned land until I came upon a thing called the Mud Pie Mojo and the rest (of the parade) was history.