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Archive for the ‘Thinkings’ Category

Make Bad Art and get unstuck

In Feelings, Thinkings on June 19, 2013 at 6:34 AM

Bad Books

The ArtStar Props studio in Burnaby is a creative oasis. The first time I stepped inside for a Make Bad Art evening, the rush of traffic disappeared and the rainbow of art supplies enveloped me like my mother’s hug.

The studio’s typical white walls are hung with untypical installations of collage and photography, framed on one side by a small kitchen (complete with espresso machine and platters of cheese and fruit) and on the other side with a lush, bright red sofa (dotted with children’s toys).

Turn towards the south-facing patio and you’ll see (in addition to Mount Baker on a clear day) long tables covered in heaps of supplies, from pipecleaners to lace, door knobs to wood scraps, drill guns to glitter. The wall of ‘inspiration’ beckons you like a kid in a mud pit:

You can’t help but get stuck in.

Dolls Gone Wild

Maybe it’s because I’m blessed to have a mother who maintained an ‘arts and crafts’ space in my childhood basement. Maybe it’s because the 25 strangers who showed up at the studio responded in the same way.

What I’m certain about is that after I transformed an instructional dance book into a schmushed, illustration-gutted Wicked Witch of the Glitter, I felt challenged, reconnected and pleasantly surprised.

Who knew making something so awful could make me feel so unstuck?

Josh and Amber knew.

That’s why I’m so excited to have them facilitate a Make Bad Art workshop at the next Community Catalysts retreat this July.

keller boorman family

The Keller Boorman clan taking a break from making ugly Christmas sweaters at the December 2012 Make Bad Art evening.

Josh and Amber met at the Seattle Art Car Festival. His Mazda was covered in Moorish tile designs. Her 1970′s monster was augmented with 3D googley-eyed flames and giant fins. Their cars (and their lives) were meant to be together.

Since that festival ten years ago, Josh and Amber have relocated to Vancouver where Amber leads ArtStar Props, creating custom art for film and events, and Josh teaches English. Together they host Make Bad Art Nights for their community and raise two boys.

They are my friends. They are my creative guides. They are my Community Catalysts. And I can’t wait to make more bad art in just three weeks!

To make some bad art with Josh and Amber, join all the Community Catalysts for the Living Wellness summer weekend retreat on Gambier Island, July 12–14. More info here: communitycatalysts.ca

Don’t be lazy, exercise your vocabulary!

In Thinkings on March 6, 2013 at 7:08 AM

Screen shot 2013-03-06 at 7.02.15 AM

There are so many compelling and powerful words in our English language.

So many options to describe what upsets us, what scares us, what makes us uncomfortable, what puts us in a foul mood.

Feelings are important. As a species, we put great value on conveying our emotions. Just look around at every communication channel in your world – be it cable TV, Facebook or your spiral-bound notebook – and there is an emotional story being told.

But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that when we describe our feelings about something, that something is suddenly personified. Our sentiments about a thing do not make that thing us. A thing is an object and is separate from our feelings.

Just because your morning workout made you feel pain doesn’t mean it ‘raped’ you. A workout is not a human. It is not capable of such a horrific action. So why use a horrific feeling to describe something that is not horrific?

Let’s also not fool ourselves into thinking that our feelings are caused by something or someone other than ourselves.

A thing does not make you feel. You make yourself feel!

Just because you struggled to find a parking spot in time for the movie to start, doesn’t make the parking lot or the movie theatre slow. A parking lot is not a person! This thing did not make you slow. Rather, you are the person and you made yourself slow. So why turn to your friends and say, “That parking lot is retarded!” when really you mean to say, “I am delayed and feeling frustrated!”

Even then, is ‘retarded’ or ‘rape’ really the most appropriate words we can use? Our feelings of not being punctual, or our feelings of defeat, are indeed important feelings to express.

But must we limit ourselves to single words that not only misrepresent our sentiments but which carry with them histories of phobia and struggle?

Perhaps we’re defaulting to laziness rather than exercising our extensive vocabulary.

These thoughts build on Ash Beckham’s Ignite Boulder presentation, “Eliminating the word ‘gay’ as a pejorative from our lexicon” (see below).

In her five-minute video, Ash challenges us to reflect on our use of the word ‘gay’ as a derogatory or abusive way to describe our feelings.

And she challenges us to say something.

We have more influence than we give ourselves credit for. It speaks volumes in our society that we’re more comfortable seeing a picture of two men holding guns than two men holding hands. And the way that we right that is to make sure that the words that we use to describe the latter are never used in a way that is less than or demeaning or inferior to.

Now I’m not perfect. I can’t say I challenge every person (every friend) that I hear use the word ‘gay’ pejoratively.

But as Ash was inspired to talk to 850 people at an Ignite talk, I am inspired to write to my online network of readers, Twitter followers and Facebook friends to get the conversation started.

And I can’t think of a better group of folks to make change happen – to exercise our extensive vocabulary – than the people in my online network.

For the sake of your own feelings, and the feelings of others, choose your words mindfully. Sticks and stones do break bones, but words can save us.

The connection economy

In Thinkings on November 4, 2012 at 8:39 PM

So, if I’m applying Seth Godin’s latest blog post correctly to my latest blog post, do thank-you cards have additional value in “the connection economy”?

Bad performance, good performance and the other two kinds

In the industrial age, the boss defines a good job as one that meets spec. If you do what you are told, on time and on budget, it’s a good job.

A bad job, then, is one that requires repair or rescheduling or produces a shoddy output.

In the connection economy, the post-industrial age we’re moving into now, there are two other kinds of work worth mentioning:

remarkable performance is one that exceeds expectations so much that we talk about it. (Remarkable, as in worth making a remark about). In just about every field, it’s possible to be remarkable, at least for a while, and thanks to the increasing number of connections between and among customers, remarkable work spreads your idea.

It’s difficult to be remarkable every day in every way, though, because expectations continue to rise. Which leads to a fourth category:

personal performance.

A good job is largely anonymous and forgotten (but still important). A personal job, on the other hand, is humanized. It brings us closer together. It might not be remarkable, but it stands out as memorable because (however briefly) the recipient of the work was touched by someone else. Often, remarkable work is personal too, but personal might just be enough for today.

An idea for the educated job hunters: Work across disciplines

In Thinkings on May 21, 2012 at 9:28 AM

The other day, I published a piece of work I produced while in university. Finding that paper in my closet reminded me I’m on the right path to working at what I love. It also reminded me why I believe it’s important for any student enrolled in an education institution today to study across disciplines.

For the university student, I say, don’t just study one thing. Take advantage of this academic haven and study everything that interests you. By selecting a variety of courses from traditional disciplines (biology, women’s studies, computer science, history, fine arts, etc.), today’s students — our future socio-economic drivers — learn to see where they can apply their skills from one discipline to the issues of another discipline to create fulfilling, needed work. And that’s something the Canadian economy could always do with more.

Anyway, I digress. Here’s a personal example.

In my final semester at Simon Fraser University, having had become frustrated and bored with my major (Communications) and wanting to get credit for my passions (education and children’s media), I decided to enroll in EDUC 465: Children’s Literature and Culture.

This was a common elective taken by other graduating students, and I was told it was pretty easy. Read a few kids books. Write down your opinions. You could even take it online, avoiding the commute up the mountain.

But I didn’t need another boring course. I wanted something tangible. Plus, I had just gone through one of the most isolating programs at SFU (Communications) and I really wanted community in my final semester. So I registered for the in-class section of Dr. Elizabeth (Beth) Marshall’s course and made my goals known: I wanted to use my critical thinking skills (as taught to me through Communications) and dive into the fascinating, self-reflective world that is children’s literature. And meet some teachers.

Instantly, the course and the professor met my needs.

Beth is an academic by trade, a mother by fascination, and a pop culture feminist by exploration. She was the first professor in all my university years that I ever took the opportunity to meet for more than 20 minutes.

Since my own childhood, I have been fascinated with the stories adults tell children through all mediums: television (Sesame Street), magazines (OwlKids), and books (The Giver, just to name a few before the Internet age). Having nearly finished my Bachelor’s degree in a modern discipline that essentially taught me how to research and write my way out arguments, I now had the skills to analyze these children’s texts, back up my findings, and propose changes with plausible applications. (I wanted to produce children’s television programming.)

I attended Beth’s course every week and grew became increasingly overwhelmed with anticipation to get out into the world and start contributing to these stories and to the kids/families/communities they influenced.

The majority of my classmates, however, weren’t as keen. Beth encouraged all of us to speak out with our critical thoughts and to question each other, but it was often dead air between her lectures and presentations. It baffled me. I felt like that annoying kid sitting in the front, using one arm to hold up the other arm high into the air, while most of my neighbours stared out the window or down into their computer.

Ooh, ooh, the 9-year-old keener Jocelyn implored. Let me tell you why I think Marilla is reserved towards Anne of Green Gables! Can I ask everyone’s opinion as to why Twilight is so damn popular?

I was a keener. A keener for dissecting things. For questioning popular culture. And for suggesting alternatives. I was a Communications keener. Oh gawd.

But that kind of ‘Communications’ thinking seemed to be what Beth was missing in her classes. She actually asked me to ask more of my Communication colleagues to enroll in her course. “The education program here teaches curriculum development and planning activities,” she said to me once. “But it doesn’t get future teachers asking why.”

In that semester, I grew to appreciate what my Communications program had taught me. It also solidified my suspicion that teachers need support and should not be expected to educate a child alone. It made me think, maybe there was work out there I didn’t know about, that others didn’t know about, but was really needed.

Since graduation, I’ve made it my goal to continuing working across disciplines. If I could feel the same success as Beth’s course out in the ‘real world,’ then I was sure to find fulfilling, needed work. In the last three years I’ve gained experience in event coordination, professional development programming, administration, outdoor education, advertising, marketing, public relations, project coordination, and online community development. I’m not advocating that contract and fixed-term work is for everyone, but I am advocating that keeping an open mind to other disciplines can be eye-opening.

So study across disciplines while in school, and look and work across disciplines for the rest of your life. It will help all of us see where convergence can be made, where innovation is needed, and what skills we can bring to this new work. Ultimately, it will help create jobs where they didn’t exist before.

From childhood to university: How Maurice Sendak still guides me

In Learnings, Thinkings on May 19, 2012 at 7:52 PM

There are many reasons to publish to a blog. You can publish highlights of current events, you can share photos of your dog, or you can help your Modern Vancouver Family find a house. But today, as I weed through stacks of collected papers and prepare to move house, I want to publish a paper I wrote in university.

Don’t yawn yet. The paper’s topic is actually quite timely and, in my biased opinion, quite interesting. It’s about the work and impact of influential Maurice Sendak, who passed away Tuesday, May 8, 2012.

But first, some context:

Since my own childhood, I have been fascinated with the stories adults tell children through all mediums: television (Sesame Street), magazines (OwlKids), and books (The Giver, just to name a few, before the Internet age). But sometimes you get caught up in life (i.e., university and hopes for a job) and forget what excites you (a clever illustration). So in my final semester of university, I enrolled in an elective course called EDUC 465: Children’s Literature and Culture. It was the reminder I needed to work at what I love.

Halfway through the semester, we were assigned a take-home midterm exam. Choose a children’s book illustrator. Review the illustrator’s critical reception. Discuss the illustrator’s signature style. Analyze one picture book that you think best exemplifies the illustrator’s work. Use explicit examples to support your ideas. Quote directly from the courseware. Provide a copy of the illustration. 

In short, it was the best assignment ever. 

So to celebrate the late Maurice Sendak, and to show my gratitude for having been set on a path towards working at what I love, here is that paper. (Note: Since I am the author and the publisher — hooray for self-publication — I’ve taken the liberty of editing out some of the academic reference brackets and page number junk so that it doesn’t induce an early bedtime. But, c’mon, it’s still academic. So I’ve included pictures!)

Maurice Sendak 

Prepared for Dr. Elizabeth Marshall
EDUC 465, Summer 2009

One of the things a visual narrative can do,
perhaps more truly than words,
is to replicate the logic of dreams.
– Jonathon Jones, 2008

Maurice Sendak is not just a children’s book illustrator and author. He is arguably “one of the most powerful men in the US” (O’Doherty). He has the ability to “give shape to the fantasies of millions of children” and to retain “a vivid sense of what life was like from the viewpoint of a child.” Two of Sendak’s books in particular, Where the Wild Things Are (1963) and In the Night Kitchen (1973), exemplify these arguments.

Both books are part of Sendak’s ‘trilogy.’ Along with Outside Over There (1981), these were a group of books he wrote and illustrated to explore his own ‘inner’ subject: that is, how fantasy acts as a coping mechanism for children. Both books are “fantastical dream narratives” in which the protagonists, Max and Mickey, enter their dream worlds, perform symbolic tasks and eventually return to their own rooms. According to Sendak, these two books are variations on this theme: “How kids get through a day, how they survive tedium, boredom, how they cope with anger, frustration.”

Critical Reception

Sendak’s depiction of fantasy in Where the Wild Things Are and in In the Night Kitchen received significant criticism, both positive and negative. The negative came in the form of adult fear and censorship: Where the Wild Things Are was deemed too frightening for small children while In the Night Kitchen was attacked for its cartoonish style (as it was distinctly different from his previous work) and his use of nudity.

Positive criticism of these books described Sendak’s work as “revolutionary” and “heroic.” Public opinion suggested that ‘ordinary’ children should not behave like Max, Mickey, the Wild Things or the Oliver Hardy bakers. Rather, Sendak “reminded us that the world of children’s fantasies is one of their best-kept secrets” (Silvey).

Sendak’s work repeatedly challenges assumptions about children. His work invites adults to “recognize their detachment as parents and look inside the child’s mind, to learn something” (Zornando). He is known for his versatility and for his belief in matching his illustrative language with the author’s textual narrative (Alderson). Critics repeatedly recognize Sendak’s “unusual gift” of maintaining his “child self”and creating “a kind of map of the emotional and visionary terrain of childhood.”

Style

Due to the variety of his works, Sendak’s signature style is difficult to pinpoint. From the flat, comic-book style of In the Night Kitchen, to the richly detailed pen-and-ink drawings of The Juniper Tree, to the detailed crosshatching of Where the Wild Things Are and the soft, lyrical watercolours of Outside Over There, Sendak’s style maintains subtlety, superb control, sensitivity and a “deliberate sense of responsibility for the child for whom he is writing” (Swanton).

His style is precise and firm in Wild Things: “Max can dream a thing so forcefully, it is real. Sendak finds a way to express this visual as graphic robustness” (Jones). His work uses surrealism, a “rich fabric of references,” and has been paralleled with New York surrealist Joseph Cornell and Andy Warhol (Jones).

Sendak’s influences: Andy Warhol

Though drawn in different media or moods, Sendak’s work often makes use of “clots of characters who resemble one another but who function rather as a Greek chorus” (e.g., the Oliver Hardy bakers and the Wild Things themselves). Sendak’s work “unscroll[s] with a resemblance, page to page, but no repetition: things are subtly different each time they’re drawn.”

His style has a “distinctly European flavour” and is influenced by nineteenth century toys, books and illustrators, such as George Cruikshank and John Tenniel.

Sendak’s influences: George Cruikshank

Sendak’s influences: John Tenniel

Even hints of Picasso and his 1937 Minotauromachy can be found in Sendak’s work, particularly Where the Wild Things Are.

Sendak’s influences: Pablo Picasso

Maurice Sendak is also heavily influenced by music and theatre: “I hoped rather to let the story speak for itself, with my pictures as a kind of background music––music in the right style, in the best taste and always in tune with the words.” Perhaps then Sendak’s style can be described as flexible and adaptable but always a “consistency of motifs and images…you could call it theme and variation, range and repetition…impressively varied” (Maguire).

Case Study

Of the two books I’ve chosen, I believe In the Night Kitchen best exemplifies Sendak’s work as an illustrator because it contains many aspects of his flexible yet referential style. In the following analysis, I will offer examples from various pages in the book and will refer to one in particular, the only text-less and double-page spread on which Mickey has ascended into the night sky and the three bakers watch him from below, increasingly distanced from each other, setting up “a rhythm of approach for the eye to work up to the leap above the milk bottle” (Maguire).

Maurice Sendak creates meaning through the use of borders, specific typeface, placement of text relative to pictures, and pictorial dynamics.

Comic-book frames are used in Night Kitchen to indicate scenes and sequences. The initial and final pages in which Mickey is leaving and returning to his room, include much more white space outside the comic frame borders than the middle pages. Nodelman & Reimer write, “Events seen through strictly defined boundaries imply detachment and objectivity, a fact that many illustrators of fantasy world use to advantage.”

Along this vein, Sendak’s use of strict borders and obvious white space emphasize when Mickey is within his fantasy and when reality returns. Sendak also breaks his borders with dialogue bubbles and parts of his characters to, as Nodelman argues, amplify tension. This is particularly useful in conveying the intensity of Mickey’s wrath when he shouts, “QUIET DOWN THERE!”

The typeface used throughout the book is handwritten, by Diana Blair, and is incorporated effectively into the illustrations, making the entire book visually smooth yet tactile. Type size varies during dialogue and is always upper case which insinuates that the story is told from a third-person narrative perspective. The placement and relationships of pictures and words, such as the dialogue bubbles and narrative boxes, are contained within the comic frame borders. The hand-drawn text is seamlessly blended into the pictures, permitting them to not only work together but become co-dependent.

Other illustrated objects derive “much of their significance…from within a picture itself, particularly from the ways in which the objects relate to one another” (Nodelman & Reimer. Sendak uses (and equally avoids) shape, size, grounds and changing focus to achieve this significance. “Square shapes are rigid, round ones accommodating,” say Nodelman & Reimer, yet Sendak’s use of square and round challenge their conventional significance by breaking his characters and objects out from their rigid frames.

“Larger figures tend to have more weight [read: importance] than smaller ones,” (Nodelman & Reimer, p.288) yet when Mickey is being stirred into the cake batter, only his small hand or forehead is visible but the reader is drawn to search for him, raising his importance over the larger bakers. Sendak does drawn on the conventional significance of figure and ground as Nodelman & Reimer describe: Mickey and the bakers are outlined in thicker black lines than their surroundings to emphasize their importance; and characters are shown “against fuller grounds” of the ‘night kitchen’ so to emphasize “the effect of the characters’ environment on them” but also Mickey’s effect on the night kitchen.

“Variation in focus also affects the way viewers respond to a scene,” and Sendak changes the focus throughout Night Kitchen, moving from middle-distance (Mickey in bed) to close-ups (page-height bakers) to long shots (double-page spread of Mickey above the milk bottle). Despite these variations, Sendak seems to maintain “a shallow depth of field, where the main action of the page…is never more than an implied eight feet deep” (Maguire). This is perhaps Sendak’s way of achieving what Nodelman & Reimer call a balance between intimacy and distance.

Sendak creates mood through colour (hues, shades and saturation), shapes, lines and his chosen media, watercolour paints. Predominating hues in Night Kitchen include white, browns, yellows and blues. Shades of these hues tend to be darker, creating a “gloomier” mood. However Sendak’s use of bright white and yellow for the moon is so bold and jovial that this contrast in shades creates an appropriate mood for a victim-turned-hero story.

Sendak’s use of shape and line follow Nodelman & Reimer’s assertion to create a sensual texture to the book: round shapes, such as the bread dough and the chubby bakers, “are soft and yielding” (the dough is malleable and the bakers fear Mickey eventually). Angular shapes, such as narrative text boxes, are “rigid and orderly” while uncompleted lines, such as the ‘beam of light’ text box which guides Mickey down into the cake batter, are “energetic.”

Finally, Sendak’s choice to use watercolour paints as his medium creates mood through its translucency, creating “the impression of light” (Nodelman & Reimer). His avoidance of “absolute opacity…acknowledges the presence of the paper” (Maguire). Perhaps Sendak wanted this effect so to remind the reader that despite his bold, believable pictures, the book is just a book: a visual depiction of a dream.

Conclusions

Through his use and manipulation of these artistic conventions, Sendak expresses his attitudes about his audience, both children and adults. Perhaps this is his most unique contribution to the field of children’s literature: he initiated a revolution, “turned the entire tide of what is acceptable, of what is possible to put in a children’s book illustration” or in a children’s book as a whole (Silvey).

Sendak assumes that children are “fantasy-plagued” and that adults have forgotten this coping mechanism but should not fear it. His works, particularly his personal trilogy, repeat a thematic structure in which fantasy is deployed to handle frustration and anger. Through my research of Maurice Sendak, I found most significant his versatility and range of impact on so many ages of people. His significance to children’s literature is his “tremendous bond of sympathy between text and illustration;” a steadfast belief in the “total effect of the book” (Swanton).

To this day, critical reviews are being written about Sendak’s work and it is to his credit that so many children and adults are continually challenged to explore their personal ‘night kitchen’ and to discover ‘where the wild things are.’

 

Bibliography (if you care to know more)

Alderson, B. (1993). Maurice before Max: The yonder side of the see-saw. Horn Book Magazine, 69(3), 291. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier.

Answers.com. (2009). Maurice Sendak: Biography. Accessed June 25, 2009 from http://www.answers.com/topic/maurice-sendak

Hunt, P. (2003). Literature for children: Contemporary criticism. New York: Taylor & Francis. Accessed via SFU NetLibrary.

Jones, J. (2008, April 12). Wild things, I think I love you. The Guardian. Accessed June 25, 2009 from http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2008/apr/12/booksforchildrenandteenagers.features

Maguire, G. (2003). A Sendak appreciation. Horn Book Magazine, 79(6), 667–682. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier.

NNDB. (n.d.). Maurice Sendak. Accessed June 25, 2009 from http://www.nndb.com/people/275/000023206/

Nodelman, P. & Reimer, M. (2003). The pleasures of children’s literature (3rd ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Sendak, M. (1970). In the night kitchen. Harper Collins Publishers.

Sendak, M. (1963). Where the wild things are. Harper & Row.

Silvey, A. (2002). The essential guide to children’s books and their creators. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin. Accessed via SFU NetLibrary.

Swanton, A. (1971). Maurice Sendak’s picture books. Children’s Literature in Education, 2(3), 38–48. Retrieved from http://www.springerlink.com/content/r58n4p8768p18749/

Zornando, J.L. (2001). Inventing the child culture, ideology, and the story of childhood. New York: Routledge. Accessed via SFU NetLibrary.

The train

In Doings, Thinkings on April 19, 2012 at 9:14 PM

My view, the last time on board The Canadian.

A summer-altering announcement was delivered to my yesterday’s inbox. With so many Groupons, LivingSocial and Kijiji deals stacking up daily into a pile of Gmail noise, I’m surprised I chose to open this one rather than delete. I must’ve smelled the heavy discount. Indeed, VIA Rail wanted to give me a whiff of their 50%-off deal.

It was winter 2009/2010 the last time I rode The Canadian. I was one reflective passenger in a car of just a handful of others. My ticket was economic and so were my on-board lodgings: with two seats I made a fine nest. I ate my picnic breakfasts in the Dome Car with coffee bought from the canteen, and wrote blog posts around photographs to document my thoughts. I heard stories from Australia, from Winnipeg, from Halifax. I saw every form of water (including ice) and felt the sun rise in every province.

It was a journey tailored perfectly to my post-university, post-relationship state. Solo travelling but never alone. After those five weeks, I vowed to take the train again. And thanks to VIA’s gift of savings, my adventure partner and I will ride the rails this August to Jasper.

On a sad note, I’ve discovered that the blog I attentively maintained that winter (hosted by VIA itself) has been disabled. So I have some reactivation to do!

and the life-learning continues

In Doings, Thinkings on January 18, 2011 at 8:30 AM

Friends, forgive me. It has been two whole months since my last post. But I bet you were up to some good fun in that time too so hopefully I wasn’t the only one spending less time at the computer.

In the last two months much has happened. I lost two of my jobs based in windowless offices and gained a wicked fun job on a mountain. Turns out I’m a better person, mentally and physically, when I get to hike around in the fresh air with a team of people on a daily basis. So what felt originally like a blow to my confidence was actually a blessing. I’ve been given the chance for a career change; a change I’m not sure I would have taken on my own accord. (Because a job is a job, right? Mmm, not.)

at work in my festive kitchen

Christmas and New Years celebrations provided a dusting of happiness and love over the last two months. My family gathered in early December and I spent the actual holidays with my dear friends and lovely guy here in Vancouver. I hope, wherever y’all were, you were surrounded by love and delicious food too.

linocut wrapping paper

family feeding

faux fire on Christmas day

For 2011, self-education is my personal phrase. Having never been an outdoor education guide, my learning curve has been as tall as the mountain I work upon. From determining Amabilis Firs from Mountain Hemlocks, to leading power hikes, to informing Brownies about the adaptations of snow fleas, snowshoe hares and red-breasted sapsuckers, my mind is exploding [gleefully] with new content! Not only are my co-workers supportive and eager to help me learn, they are just my kinda people: quirky and keen. And we’re all foodies! Work is good on a mountain.

 

Oh, and I built my very first website!

obligatory cat photo included

I’ve registered myself in an Introduction to Web Development and Design course at the downtown campus of a local technical institution, BCIT. I just finished my second week and all I want to do is code. Like a maze, you can get lost in the opening and closing of tags, but boy is it fun problem solving how to display content by XHTML rules. (You have my permission to call me a nerd.)

 

New years also coincided with some personal decisions.

  1. I’m moving.
  2. I’m going to do a big bike trip this year. At least one will be with my dad.

The first decision came down to timing. And the opportunity for cheaper rent (an offer one cannot refuse when one has recently lost work). My OBSV pal, Natalie, has been living with a few friends in a Kitsilano townhouse for a few years and six months ago there was talk of me filling the room of one departing friend. That departure didn’t actually materialize back then but on January 2, 2011 I got an inquiry text from Miss Natalie asking about my living situation.

Was I happy where I was?

Meh, I’m ok here in my converted attic. I love the view of the mountains and the large, well-lit kitchen. But it’s been getting lonely living alone. And the heat is next to nothing up here. Oh, and it’s 700 bones a month.

Being in Mount Pleasant has been, well, pleasant, and I admit, the rent is a sweet deal for this highly-demanded hipsterville. Yet I’ve been here a year and I like to keep things different. The townhouse friend is moving out so I’m moving in. To save $200 a month, to live with friends, to have ensuite laundry, and to enjoy co-loving a chihuahua (you’ll hear more about Riley in the future).

The second major decision represents a change in my personal outlook. I announced to myself (and to those who care to listen to me) that I was not going to focus on a career. That is, a path of employment that seems to follow one industry, or one area of expertise. It’s just not for me. I love too many things and enjoy learning too much to stick with just one profession.

With that quiet announcement came a wave of relief. No more stress. Just the need to make money by doing anything I enjoy. And not even needing to make a lot of money. Just enough to live. To enjoy living. In relative comfort.

Sure, this choice comes with compromises, but everything does. It has not only reduced my stress but has freed up my time. And time savings, I find, are just as valuable as money savings.

So, with time opening up, I want to materialize the ideas I’ve been stacking up in my mind for ages. One of those is doing a big bike trip.

Originally I was gung-ho to join Global Agents for Change on their group ride down the Pacific coast of North America, from Vancouver to Tijuana, Mexico. A couple friends have done it over the past few years and I’ve been thinking about doing it myself ever since I once volunteered with the non-profit back in university.

But after doing what I do best — thinking, a lot — I realized a big group ride wasn’t for me. (Also, and no offense to GAFC, I don’t agree with fund raising $2000 for a cause I am not personally connected with by virtue of geographic displacement. How can I pitch to you, my friends and family, to throw $20 each at a Kenyan youth poverty alleviation organization that I know little about but that my bike ride organizers have decided is the place our funds will go? Nah. I’m into local community building. I can speak passionately and act fervently for my immediate community and country, but not so easily for another. I will contribute to the global citizenship in other ways.)

Plus, there’s this guy in my life who I’ve known since birth and although we have a pretty good relationship, I’d like to know him more. And cycling is kind of his thing.

You see, my dad has already cycled across this vast country — solo. He’s done ‘credit card’ tours with his buddies where all they pack is their plastic monies, some snacks and water, and take off from from their families to the Rockies for a couple days. He’s completed an Ironman. He’s run The Death Race across three mountain summits. He broke his foot recently taking on a new sport, Cyclo-cross. He taught my sisters and I how to cross-country ski. He helped my ex-boyfriend try adapted skiing, no questions asked. He’s won multiple races, all various versions of 24-hours of adrenaline, mountain biking, intense nonsense. My dad loves to be outside, being active, and eating.

Sound familiar?

A couple years ago I logged away the dream of doing a bike trip with my pa. In that time he’s supplied me with two bicycles and been quick to help answer any of my maintenance questions or curiosities. I started commuting by bike to work last summer and have always enjoyed going home to visit my parents for a bike ride and some communal cooking.

This year, with time allowance for enjoying life, I asked my dad if he’d do a trip with me this spring or summer. His reaction was so positive, he’s already drafted some routes around BC for us!

So that’s me, relatively, to date. How about you? Did you make resolutions or decisions intentionally or just by chance this new years? How is your January starting off? I hope you’re keeping life interesting too. And I hope you’re ridding yourself of stress. That stuff’s no fun.

this pie’s for you

In Doings, Eatings, Thinkings on October 5, 2010 at 11:59 PM

For Cam,

who questions as much as I do.

We are ok as we are — I promise.

Tuesday evenings are turning into a ritual, ever since Fox and CBC unknowingly scheduled two of my favourite shows on the same night, back to back. Glee and Being Erica have initiated a girls’ evening of dinner, drinks and drama (and high school show tunes, of course).

Tonight was my night for the recipe. On the weekend I had picked up a leek and some crimini mushrooms (so sick of the standard white mushrooms, I am). I’ve been picking from my idea bank based on the first that comes to mind. And I had pie on the brain.

Memories of hearty steak-and-ale renditions enjoyed while spending winter breaks in Southwest Wales must have influenced this craving, as did the taste of Cam’s vegan shepherd’s pie still lingering in my kitchen. Plus, the orphan roll of puff pastry in my freezer was singing to me.

It no longer had to suffer, for tonight we had pie! Here’s what you do for…

Mushroom and Leek Chicken Pie

These measurements are based on a standard Google search for the above title. Brianna and I tweaked it to fit our pie plate, and dealt with a lesser quantity of puff pastry quite well! So take this list and quantity of ingredients with a grain of salt. Or actually, don’t add salt. There’s enough in the chicken broth.

3 large chicken thighs
1.5 cups finely sliced leeks
1.5 cups sliced crimini mushrooms
tbsp olive oil
tbsp butter
tbsp flour
2 cups chicken broth
lots of ground pepper
heavy teaspoon of dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
sheet of butter puff pastry
an egg, beaten

  1. Take chicken thighs. Chop into pieces, fry for about 5 minutes in the heated oil. Remove, but leave the oil in the pan.
  2. Throw in sliced leeks for 3 minutes until soft; remove. Then do the crimini mushrooms for 2-3 minutes, letting them breathe and lose some liquid.
  3. Place both veg in pie plate with chicken.
  4. Into remaining oil put a tablespoon each of butter and flour. Blend until creamy.
  5. Stir in two cups of chicken broth until a gravy forms. Pour over the chicken and veg.
  6. Cover gently with a sheet of butter puff pastry. Curl hanging pastry edges over the pie plate.
  7. Glaze with the egg. Make light score marks diagonally across the pastry (this will help it puff up during baking).
  8. Bake at 400*F for roughly 30 minutes, until that darling is golden brown.

Serve it hot with some steamed broccoli and equal helpings of red wine and television.

book trailers got nothing on LeVar Burton

In I like, Thinkings on September 10, 2010 at 12:38 PM

You may have seen one on Indigo’s website. Or maybe you peruse your favourite romance publisher’s blog from time to time and saw a, what, trailer? For a book?

I think it’s a pretty neat marketing tool. Simple too. Essentially like a movie trailer, these short videos act as viral advertising, targeting our highly visual readers (a paradox, I realize).

But do book trailers ‘spoil’ the raw experience of reading? Does it fill in the blanks for the reader, where she creates images in her head, of her own accord, based on her own tastes, experiences, etc.? You know, like when some producer turns a book into a film. A lot of readers exclaim, “That is so NOT how I pictured him” or “I pictured her more plump, with redder hair”.

I’ve also noticed that many book trailers use animation rather than actors. Though this may seem a little Second Life-ish, I suspect it’s a budget-smart choice. Seeing as marketing budgets for books are set around $1/copy (that is, if the book even has a marketing plan), the affiliated professionals have to spread those pennies far and wide.

Anyway. Enough critical thinking. What my real point about book trailers today was how they got me remembering Reading Rainbow. Do you remember that show? When LeVar Burton from Star Trek: The Next Generation (minus the sight-permitting headband) would bring two-dimensional stories to animated life. And the show did it so simply too, with Burton’s soothing, dynamic voice and the slow zooming in, out and around the illustrations. Oh, and there was some animation too.


Did you know Burton also lent his voice on Captain Planet? Yeah, yeah, he was Kwame!

Geez, I love that man’s voice.

And for your viewing pleasure, which theme tune do you prefer? My heart is with the older version.

versus

what can’t be packaged in pop music?

In Feelings, Hearings, Thinkings on August 9, 2010 at 9:51 AM

The other day a best girlfriend introduced me to the new Eminem and Rihanna track. Though I hold my preferences, I’m fairly open to new music. So in her car, I opened my ears to her recommendation.

First I just paid attention to the well-produced, tried and tested beats and the sweet, pained call of Rihanna’s chorus vocals. I liked it. Catchy. Then I started to take in the lyrics.

“Love the way you lie?” I queried, perplexed, double-checking I wasn’t hearing incorrectly.

“It’s an awesome song. It’s the words. They makes sense to me.”

My friend has been on and off with a guy for over the last year. We all have friends like this; perhaps we’ve been that friend. Perhaps the relationship’s foundation was rocky; perhaps you’ve broken trust; perhaps the commitment isn’t balanced; perhaps someone isn’t being honest with themselves; perhaps the communication just isn’t there. But you want it to work. So you make up, calm down. But the next flare up hits and the cycle begins again. You know in your gut that you’re not yourself or the best of yourself when you’re in the relationship. But for whatever reason, we keep coming back.

My friend and I listened to “Love the Way You Lie” several times that weekend. Each time I heard more and more of what I was scared to voice: she was in an emotionally abusive relationship.

And now there’s a song for that. That scares me.

It’s not the subject that scares me. I’m quite aware that such relationships exist. And I’d rather people talk about their relationships, use our friends for support, get our worries out into the open so we’re not bottling them alone.

I also get that passion and rage are of the same cloth, and many of us feed off both emotions in a relationship. Vampire sex is hot right now. Sex and biting, feeding off pain, etc. We’re watching it, reading it. We like it. And it’s been written about, sung about, made movies about before. I get it.

What does scare me is the way pop music wraps up volatile subjects in catchy tunes and then gets pumped into public places (Tim Hortons line up!) for men and women of all ages to consume passively.

Is this ok? When such a subject is masked in pretty packaging, does the subject matter become acceptable? Does it become status quo? Does it become, ugh, normal?

Let’s not forget the fact that Rihanna herself was in a high-profile abusive relationship — what is this saying about her, that she’s now professing her desire for such cyclical pain and insanity? I don’t care if she means it personally or not. This isn’t even about the young girls who look up to her. It’s about our society in general and how relationships are normalized and consumed.

Why is this my business, anyway, you ask. If I’m not in such a relationship, and if I’m so snooty about my music choices, I don’t have to listen to this. I can change the radio station, not download the track, not Google the video.

But I have to care because it’s out there. Because I know this cycle too; I know it’s hard to break. And because I know people in such relationships right now, and they are my best friends. These are strong, passionate, caring women who, like myself, are not immune to the urge to care for a broken man. But, like many of us (myself included), find ourselves in patterns that we are acutely aware are not good for us, yet we don’t change.

And I care because I want us to start talking about what’s happening to us in our relationships. There’s not enough of it. Call up your friends, tell them what’s confusing you, and listen to how they respond. Don’t be ashamed of confused emotions, don’t be scared to voice doubts. Best friends are the most honest. We love you enough to tell you the truth. And we know it’s hard to hear the truth, but really we’re just echoing your gut.

So let’s not just package the issue up in pop production techniques. Let’s talk. Please.

To clarify, I have spoken openly with my friend who I refer to here. This post isn’t a not-so-subtle plea for her to realize what’s going on in her relationship. She knows and has identified it herself. This post came about because of my introduction to this song. There have been other comments and criticisms on the Rihanna-Eminem video.