A Stroll down Dallas Road, Victoria, BC – in photos

Spring is arriving in Victoria, BC, slowly but surely. And one of my favourite places to see its arrival is on Dallas Road. It shows up in daffodils.

File 2017-03-16, 2 32 56 PM

From a distance, they almost look like dandelions, until you get close up, and they look like this.

edit1 (1)

And they’re just one of the many beautiful things I love about Dallas Road. The explorevancouverisland.com site provides a description of the location and features of the Dallas Road Walkway. It’s a place where people of all ages can stroll along oceanside trails.

2017-02-27 01.37.41

The nearby body of water is called the Salish Sea, and if you stand on the trail and look straight across, you’ll see Port Angeles, Washington. You can also catch some amazing sunsets and everchanging rays of light playing on the water.

2017-02-26 17.46.48

Even when it’s stormy, the ocean is beautiful.

2017-01-29 19.27.24

And in the evenings you’ll often see people just standing at the edge of a path, gazing at the sea and sky.

Feb pic for calendar.JPG

The evening I took this photo, I was struck at the silent kinship my husband and I felt with others on Dallas Road. Most of us didn’t know each other, but we were all taking photos and sharing a kind of silent awe at the amazing sunset in front of us. No one spoke, but we all knew what had made us stop in our tracks.

Dear readers, wherever you live, I hope that spring brings you great weather and time to enjoy a stroll in your favourite place.

Remembering Stuart McLean and the Vinyl Cafe

Like many Canadians, I felt a profound sense of loss last Wednesday when I found out that Stuart McLean had passed away. He was a bestselling author, journalist, and host of The Vinyl Cafe radio show, a wonderful program that introduced us to a series of humorous, heartwarming stories about a fictional family and their friends and neighbours. Stuart’s storytelling brought these characters to life and made us love them and relate to them.

file-2017-02-20-3-25-21-pm

When I heard the sad news, it hit me almost as if a family member had passed away. My family members and I even called each other and talked as if we had lost someone close to us. Stuart McLean’s storytelling enriched our lives, and his loss will leave a great hole in the fabric of Canadian culture.

The Vinyl Cafe family summed it up perfectly in their Message to the Vinyl Cafe Community:

Stuart connected us – to our country and to each other. He entertained us, he made us think, he made us smile. Occasionally he made us cry. And, through all of that, he reminded us that life is made up of small moments. We never know which ones will be forgotten and which ones will stay with us forever.

So, in the spirit of celebrating life’s small moments, I just wanted to share a simple way Stuart McLean’s storytelling touched my life.

In 2005-2007, my husband and I were living in Calgary, Alberta, and I was working as a closed captionist. It was the job I talked about in a previous post, Memories of Closed Captioning and Magnum, P.I. Every Saturday morning, a package of VHS tapes would arrive by courier for me to transcribe over the following week. Not being a morning person, I’d set the radio alarm so I’d be awake in time to receive the delivery.

Normally I’d feel a bit stressed out about having to wake up early on a Saturday. But not this time. The radio was set to CBC, and the show that woke me up was The Vinyl Cafe. So every Saturday began with laughter as my husband and I sat and listened to Stuart’s stories until the delivery arrived. Thankfully we weren’t laughing loud enough to miss the sound of the doorbell! 🙂

I could talk about many other moments, but I’ll leave it here for now. I’m thankful that through The Vinyl Cafe recordings we can continue to laugh and cry as we listen to the adventures of Dave, Morley, and their family and friends.

file-2017-02-20-3-30-20-pm

As Stuart said, life is made up of small moments. Some will be forgotten, and others will stay with us forever. Thank you, Stuart McLean, for reminding us of that. May we make all those small moments count.

Memories of White Christmases Past

It snowed in Victoria, BC, this week, great big fluffy flakes that created a winter wonderland overnight. This is very unusual weather for our little corner of the world, and I was eating a lot of humble pie because of my previous gloating about how warm and snow-free we were.

file-2016-12-11-3-52-24-pm

But I wasn’t always such a cold weather Grinch. When I was a kid growing up on the prairies, I always dreamed of a white Christmas, and usually my dreams came true. My memories are a bit like snippets of home movies running through my head, and this week’s snow brought many of them to mind.

One year we went to a Christmas concert in Old Wives, Saskatchewan, where my aunt, uncle, and cousins lived. That night the temperature was a chilly -30 degrees Celsius. I’ll never forget that moment when the door at the back of the community hall swung open, a frosty breeze gusted into the room, and Santa Claus burst in among clouds of mist and blowing snow.

My favourite Christmases were spent at my grandparents’ houses, and the cold winter weather outside was always contrasted by the warm, cozy interior. I still remember the feeling of getting out of the car and walking through the chilly air towards the warm lights shining in the windows. Then the door would open, and we’d shake off our boots and coats and be embraced by people we loved more than words can say, with the smell of cooking and evergreen in the background.

With both British and Romanian ancestry, I remember an eclectic mix of foods. On the British side, there was turkey dinner with Christmas pudding and hard sauce, which confused me a bit when I was a kid because Christmas pudding didn’t seem anything like the chocolate pudding I ate for lunch, and how can a sauce be called hard when it’s soft? Now I love it, though.

christmaspudding_87598_16x9
Image via BBC Food
On the Romanian/British side of the family, we ate a turkey dinner supplemented with cabbage rolls and perogies. My sister and I also had the privilege of performing Romanian Christmas carols with the Eminescu Romanian Dance Group in Regina, Saskatchewan. We performed them both for an audience and also at people’s homes. I didn’t realize it at the time, but in doing so, we were continuing an important tradition from the old country.

file-2016-12-11-5-15-26-pm

We sang two songs: Steaua sus răsare and Sorcova Vesela. Recently I’ve been researching these songs and the customs surrounding them so I can understand them better and write about them in a future blog post.

In the meantime, no matter what kind of weather you find yourself in, I hope you have a very Merry Christmas that becomes a beautiful memory to look back on. Now that the snow in Victoria is gone, I’m looking forward to a Christmas that looks a bit more like this. 🙂

sunset2

 

Writing about Writer’s Block

I’m attempting to combat writer’s block by writing about writer’s block. As Calvin and Hobbes would say, I’ve had a block on top of my desk for two months that’s prevented me from writing there.

img_0499-3

But not really. To be honest, writer’s block seems to strike me for one of these three reasons:

1.  Fear – that I’ll sound stupid and my new post will be pure drivel.

2.  What I like to call the 1984 Grammy Awards syndrome – if one of my posts does fairly well and people seem to enjoy it, I feel like I’ve just won 8 Grammys and wonder how I’ll ever be able to match that accomplishment.

img_0500

3.  Discouragement – if one of my posts doesn’t do very well, I feel like I should throw in the towel and stop writing.

img_0501

So really, it is a bit like I’ve bought a block from Calvin and Hobbes and placed it on my desk. None of the above feelings are any reason not to write.

While I’ve been procrastinating from writing, I’ve had a chance to connect with many authors and writing coaches on Twitter. At its best, Twitter can be a very encouraging place. This week I was thrilled to connect with an author named Lauren Sapala who wrote a book called The INFJ Writer: Cracking the Creative Genius of the World’s Rarest Type.

According to the Myers-Briggs test, my personality is definitely INFJ, so I’m really looking forward to reading this book. The author was even kind enough to respond to my message on Twitter and told me to let her know if the book helps.

According to Sapala, many writers have trouble writing, especially INFJs and other introverted personalities. In an encouraging blog post, Why INFJs Have Trouble Writing, she outlines many of the reasons why and gives us this great piece of advice:

And regardless of whether you’re an INFJ, if you’re reading this, the time has come for you to step fully into yourself, and claim confidence in your writing. The only way to do this is to get to know yourself through your practice of writing.

And to do that, you have to write.

So that is why I’m combating writer’s block by writing about it. 🙂

With Courage and Grace, Too

Last weekend I did what millions of other Canadians did – watched The Tragically Hip’s final Man Machine Poem concert broadcast on CBC Television.

It was hard to overlook the significance of that evening. Lead singer Gord Downie was up there performing with the same passion, wit, and wisdom as usual, but with one difference – we all knew that he’s been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. What a courageous, generous man. And what love there was between the band members who stood up there with him.

image
Image via CBC.ca

I have to confess I wouldn’t win an award for being the most loyal Hip fan. I’m mostly familiar with their music from the late ’80s and ’90s. I don’t own any posters or life-size cardboard cutouts like I did for another singer who shall remain nameless, one who inspired me to learn the moonwalk… Oops, I think I just gave it away! 😉

But the Hip provided the soundtrack for my life in another way. I first heard their music in 1994, when I was in my fourth year of university. That was the year I finally started to feel like I could take my nose out of the books once in awhile and enjoy life. Over the next few years, their songs are intertwined with my memories:

image

  1. Listening to the album Fully Completely in my dorm room in 1994 – commenting on how every song is good, but what is “Locked in the Trunk of a Car” really all about?
  2. Attending Another Roadside Attraction at Thunderbird Stadium in Vancouver on July 13, 1995 – marvelling at how witty and entertaining the Hip were onstage.
  3. Riding in a van to Swan-e-Set golf course in Pitt Meadows to work as a television assistant during the 1996 West Coast Classic golf tournament – trying to politely listen to the driver’s storytelling and hear “Ahead by a Century” on the radio at the same time.
  4. Taking a Greyhound bus to Kamloops in 1997 – listening to a cassette of Road Apples all the way there.

image

Recently I found a great article on The Georgia Straight website that matches all my memories of the Roadside Attraction event. Author Steve Newton describes Gord Downie’s performance way better than I could, so I’ll share a quote:

As usual, concertmaster Downie held the Tragically Hip’s reins in a loose grip, mostly allowing the riff-driven beast to run wild, but reeling it in when the time came to lecture some goof on the hazards of tossing shoes at the stage. At one point, the charismatic crooner gestured at an airplane that was circling intrusively above, trailing a banner advertising a fast-food franchise. “Hey, look everybody,” he proclaimed, “[Band manager] Bruce Allen!”

Now cancer has tossed shoes on the stage and interrupted life like an intrusive airplane overhead. But with his signature charisma and wisdom, Downie has cared for his audience and kept the show going.

image
Image via CBC.ca

A common saying is that we can’t control what happens to us, but we can control how we respond to things. I’m inspired by the way Gord Downie has responded to his health challenges by sharing The Tragically Hip’s music and poetry one more time – with courage and grace, too.

 

 

The City Moose and the Country Moose

I love telling people I was born in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. Little kids laugh at how funny the name sounds, and adults who have only ever known me as a British Columbian often raise their eyebrows in surprise.

06 mj-2
Main Street, Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan

I love that my favourite hockey player, Theoren Fleury, played for the Moose Jaw Warriors WHL team. I love that a giant moose sculpture named Mac stands proudly at the outskirts of the city. And I love that the best poppyseed loaf in the world (in my opinion) has been baked at the Maple Leaf Bakery on South Hill since my Dad was a kid. (I don’t think I’m allowed to say how long ago that is.)

img_0306-1
A slice of Maple Leaf Bakery poppyseed loaf and one of my Mom’s delicious coconut macaroons

But most of all, I love the fact that a dear childhood friend and I bonded over our discovery that we were both born in Moose Jaw in the same year, same month, and same hospital.

My friend lives in Toronto now, and she recently mentioned how the Moose in the City art project in her new hometown reminds her of Saskatchewan and of our Canadian heritage. In the year 2000, the City of Toronto began a campaign where 326 life-sized fibreglass moose sculptures served as blank canvases for local artists to decorate.

image
Image via Toronto.ca

These colourful city moose bear a striking resemblance to their cousin Mac in Moose Jaw, but with one important difference. While Mac stands proudly overlooking Moose Jaw’s tourist information centre, in full view of the Trans-Canada highway, Toronto’s moose are scattered throughout the city like a “Where’s Waldo” game.

image
Image via Toronto.ca

Although many of the moose were auctioned off in 2001, there are still some hanging out around town. They serve as reminders of the project’s legacy – according to the Toronto.ca website, Moose in the City attracted 2 million tourists, injected $400 million into the local economy, and raised $1.4 million for Canada’s Olympic athletes and local Toronto charities.

For my friend, they also serve as a reminder of a prairie home far away, where you are more likely to run into a real moose than a fibreglass one, unless you’re talking about the one named Mac who’s larger than life.

img_0305-1
Mac the Moose (image via CBC.ca)

"Make New Friends but Keep the Old"

I love moving to new places. There’s something exhilarating about dropping everything and starting a new life in a new city. I don’t like packing, however, and all the work that goes into moving. Sometimes I think it would be great to just leave everything behind, but I’m sure at some point I would miss my wedding photos, books, and comfy furniture.

And one thing’s for certain – I always miss the people I leave behind.

When I was a kid, my family moved every few years, and in every new house I hung the same plaque on my bedroom wall.

It read, “Make new friends but keep the old. Those are silver; these are gold.”

With good intentions, I usually tried to write to friends I left behind in different cities, but sometimes I got too lazy or too caught up in my new life to keep in touch, or I had disagreements with people and never said I’m sorry. I found a box of stationery in my drawer once that contained letters I had started but never finished – “Dear So-and-So, How are you? I am fine….”

So life went on, and now that I’ve reached middle age, I’ve rediscovered how priceless both new and old friendships are and how important it is to be able to say, “Remember when?” Not just “Remember the good old days,” but also “Remember those hard times and how we made it through.”

For a long time, I couldn’t find anyone I had lost touch with. But enter the 21st Century and social media, and all that’s changed.

Most recently, while recovering from a painful knee injury, I suddenly had more time to write and interact on social media, and I could never have guessed how valuable that experience would be. What began as a really lousy time turned into a rich, golden time of reconnection. As my knee healed, my heart became full as long-lost friends found me and vice versa.

So I’ve taken a bit of a departure from my usual themes of art and language to pay tribute to reconnecting. My previous post Dancing from Rădăuţi to Regina helped reunite me with my old dance group from Regina, whom I had missed for decades.

And the topic of my next blog post will be based on an idea given to me by a dear friend from elementary school who reached out to me last year. Think fibreglass moose – a country moose and 326 city moose.

Until next time!

Dancing from Rădăuţi to Regina

When people ask me what my cultural background is, the first thing I say is “I’m Romanian.” Then I pause and add, “Well, actually I’m one-quarter Romanian and three-quarters British… but I was born in Canada, so I’m Canadian.”

The reason why I’m so quick to identify with my Romanian roots is because as a child I had a great opportunity to learn about and experience this part of my background through music, dance, food, and language. My great-grandparents were part of a group of Romanian settlers who immigrated to the Kayville-Dahinda area of southern Saskatchewan in 1907. They were originally from the town of Rădăuţi, located in northeastern Romania in the historical region of Bukovina.

Kayville, Saskatchewan

According to the Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan, there was a loss of Romanian identity among the descendants of these settlers for various reasons; however, in 1965 the second generation of Romanian Canadians formed the Eminescu Romanian Dance Group in Regina, Saskatchewan, to help bring their cultural background to life.

I feel very blessed to be one of the third generation Canadians who got to spend many years of my childhood learning and performing the dances of my Romanian ancestors. We were taught by Maestro Petre Bodeutz, a wonderful instructor and artistic director whose attention to detail and authenticity were impeccable. Each dance was a living snapshot of a different region of Romania.

This is a video of my sister and I performing in 1985 at Mosaic, a cultural festival that still takes place in Regina every year.

The senior level dancers were amazing and travelled throughout the world to perform. In this next video from Mosaic 1985, they’re doing a dance that originated in the Mures Valley of Romania.

I have many fond memories of those days. Dancing is a unique art that exists very much in the moment. Dance steps can be mapped out on a piece of paper, but unless a particular dance is captured on video, there’s no real way to preserve the movement, colour, and music that permeate the senses of both the dancers and audience.
That’s why I’m very grateful for the skilled instruction of Maestro Bodeutz. He and the rest of the Romanian Canadian Club in Regina helped pass on cultural knowledge that my fellow dancers and I carry with us to this day.
I’m also grateful to my Romanian relatives for teaching me how to speak a bit of Romanian and how to eat Romanian food. (I’d say cook, but really I just asked for the recipe and then let them cook it so I could eat it.)
And finally, this post is lovingly dedicated to the memory of my Romanian ancestors, especially my Great-Aunt Rose, who passed away on April 30, 2016. She was the last surviving member of the first generation who grew up on the Saskatchewan homestead settled by my great-grandparents when they arrived in Canada.
Rose was an avid square dancer, and it is she who told me that her mother, my great-grandmother Agafia, was a Romanian folk dancer herself. I’m proud to have been able to carry on my family’s legacy by following in the dance steps of my ancestors.

 

Memories of Closed Captioning and Magnum, P.I.

One day in 2000 I was offered a very cool job recommended for people who had a knowledge of linguistics and experience playing the piano. It involved using machine shorthand to create closed captioning transcripts for television programs. Since I love TV and anything involving language, I was immediately intrigued and didn’t hesitate to accept the offer.

Piano playing experience was considered an asset because machine shorthand involves typing syllables instead of single letters, so you end up pressing multiple keys at a time, kind of like piano chords. All this was done on the type of steno machine that court reporters use.
I worked as a closed captionist for eight years, and it was one of the most enjoyable jobs I’ve ever had. One of my favourite memories was the time I got to caption nearly every episode of Magnum, P.I. I became so hooked on that show, I started to beg the scheduler to continue sending me episodes as long as she could. Amused at my enthusiasm, the staff sent me a special Magnum, P.I. t-shirt to commemorate my fandom.
As a captionist, I was required to transcribe all the dialogue and sound effects in a program. Since I wanted people to have a great television viewing experience whether they could hear or not, I was very careful to transcribe the dialogue accurately, and I strove to put as much detail into the sound effect descriptions as possible. In essence, my mission was to paint sound with words.

Describing sound effects was very challenging sometimes, especially when I had never thought about a particular sound before. Once when I was captioning Lawrence of Arabia, I frantically searched for information that could tell me what sound a camel makes. I think I settled on the word “groan,” but it was such an unusual noise, it probably needed a whole new term of its own.

Laughter was also fun to caption because people don’t just laugh – they chuckle, giggle, snicker, guffaw… and the list goes on and on. There were many different ways I could use words to paint human voices and ambient noise.

As I reminisce about my career, I am very grateful for the opportunity I had to work as a closed captionist. During those years I learned how to listen better, to notice details in speech and sound, and to appreciate the importance of  communicating dialogue and sound effects to those who can’t hear them. I hope I did a good job so that they were able to enjoy Magnum, P.I. as much as I did.

"Let’s Make Sure History Never Forgets the Name… Enterprise"

When I was in university, I was always the last person to leave the room during a final exam. I could be the only one sitting there, the invigilator could be yawning, and a janitor could be starting to sweep under the desks, but I wouldn’t leave until the time was up. I wanted to be sure I had checked all my answers so I could get as many right as possible…

Except for that one time I needed to get back to the dorm to watch an important episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It was the year 1992, and there were no VCRs in our common room, so we had no way of recording anything. Netflix and online apps were just twinkles in someone’s eye, so we couldn’t watch shows at our leisure the next day. Our only hope of seeing the second part of a two-part episode involving Captain Jean-Luc Picard being kidnapped by the Borg and renamed Locutus was to strategically place someone in the common room to claim possession of the TV and then be there ourselves when the episode started.

Needless to say, I rushed through the exam and ran across campus to meet my fellow Star Trek fans in front of the TV. It was great. And as a bonus, I later discovered I had passed the exam too, despite my quick departure.

Now years later I find myself quoting Star Trek as much, if not more, than Star Wars, and so do many of my friends, so on request I’m writing this as a companion post to my earlier one on Star Wars (May the Fourth Be with You).

Once again, it was fun to see how my friends have assimilated (to use a Borg term) a lot of Star Trek lingo into their daily conversation. I posted a question on Facebook asking them to share any quotes and in what context they use them.

Here are some examples from the original Star Trek series:

  • “Dammit Jim!”
  • “My brother used to like to parody the original series with ‘Dammit Jim, I’m a doctor, not a physician!'”
  • “Not logical… according to Spock.”
  • “If something’s going on in another city and I don’t want to miss it, I usually say, ‘I wish Scotty could beam me there.'”

And here are some from Star Trek: The Next Generation:

  • “Make it so.”
  • “Engage.”
  • “Tea. Earl Grey. Hot. (every time I drink earl grey tea!)”
  • “I used to say ‘Engage’ when the old Westy would start up, but we don’t have her anymore, and it just isn’t the same with an F-350.”

Well, it’s time to bring this post to a close. If I understood how to create a stardate with the current date, I’d end with “Captain’s Log, Stardate something or other,” but I can’t quite figure the numbering system out, so instead I’ll sign off with a familiar greeting from Mr. Spock.

Live long and prosper, my friends.