Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Joannie Rochette: A Bow to Bravery

WHAT COURAGE OLYMPIAN JOANNIE ROCHETTE showed to put on her costume and stand tall on Tuesday, let alone achieve what was her personal best skate to date ... despite the shock and heartbreak of suddenly losing her mother. Hopefully, worldwide encouragement will lighten her way throughout the Olympics and beyond. It is a story that captures us in the moment.

Although so many of us are expressing our condolences, the rainy day blessings she will receive when quiet times come around will be from her closest friends and family in the months that follow. They will give her the support and love she obviously will need after losing her staunchest supporter who, like so many moms, was no doubt her greatest cheerleader and the backbone of her achievements. Having lost my own mom too soon, I know people gather like flowers to help individuals through their losses. The essence of my mother’s love is with me to this day and I can turn inwardly to find her at any moment. This surely will eventually be the case for Joannie whose mother will infuse the rest of this young woman’s life with the fragrance of her love.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

2010 Olympics: Surrey's Got Soul

THERE IS A TOUCH OF OLYMPIC SPIRIT everywhere in Canada, including in North Surrey where I discovered a well-managed but lively party atmosphere scheduled to continue until Feb. 28th at Holland Park. I was there on Saturday and saw families with their children participating in mini Olympic themes. Big and little faux-snow slides had been set up for kids to zoom down. Skating and curling options were also available. Multiculturalism was in full force and First Nation artifacts were only a piece of the representations to enjoy.

Different cultures, tantalizing foods, jugglers, dancers and singers injected colour and spice into the unseasonably warm air.

The ever-changing entertainment was toe-tapping fabulous. Most notably, musicians Allez Ouest drew passersby in easily with their on stage charm and Franco-Canadian music which can be heard here. The Alberta singers and songwriters seemed thrilled at the opportunity to showcase their obvious talents throughout Vancouver and surrounding areas.

The Shimmy For the Soul, beautifully costumed belly dancers, came in all shapes and sizes and were, indeed, all lovely ladies who shimmered flawlessly to haunting Eastern rhythms.

The famous RCMP Musical Ride (free except for a suggested five dollar donation) was, of course, sold out for the two performances scheduled for that day. Lineups were incredibly loooooooooong for tickets for future performances. Peeking in at their musical ride through the tent they were in, I could see why. Marvelous as they are, my feet and I decided to skip the lineup to catch a luscious sunset in South Surrey before heading home.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

What To Do About Home Alone Pets

IS YOUR PET LOOKING a little lonely and scruffy these days? February is the month of love and a great time to show Rover or Fluffy that you still care by providing him with a trip to the groomers, a favorite treat or some special attention.

Although this might seem like excessive pampering to some, one little girl lets her Shih Tzu snuggle in bed with her as a special treat. Another pet owner unwinds after work by wrestling with his energetic Pug. And many responsible teenagers get up extra early on school mornings to walk their dogs and tell them how wonderful they are. It isn’t the words, of course, but the tone of voice and the good things you do for your pet that say I love you.

Pets thrive on meaningful attention that isn’t easy to get when mom and dad are at work all day and the kids are away at school. Even the most adorable kittens and puppies given as gifts for Christmas can find themselves home alone and starving for human interaction. By February the cute little critter you purchased is on the way to becoming an adult at a time when exercise is increasingly important but harder to get. Veterinarians have said that dogs, in particular, need exercise, exercise, and more exercise throughout February and March when people often pull back on walks because of dreary weather.

Feeding pets on an “ad-lib basis” often goes along with a lack of exercise. Although fresh water should always be available, leaving bowls of food in front of pets all day leads to unhealthy, overweight animals. I have read that the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association recommends two to three meals fed to growing pets daily. However, this should dwindle to one or two meals daily at 12 to 15 months. And although table scraps and between meal snacks are to be avoided, some vets suggest ten percent of your pet's meal can arguably be from the kitchen table to show Rover he IS part of the family.

Most pet owners know that giving chocolate to their scruffy Valentine is a bad idea. Chocolate contains theobromine, an alkaloid closely related to caffeine that is toxic to dogs and cats.

"Killing your pet with kindness by overfeeding and under exercising is like giving the kids five dollars to rent a movie instead of taking them skating," says one vet. "Kids who don’t flop in front of the television after school show true affection simply by taking their pets for a walk."

The alternative is problems, especially in hyper dogs. I was surprised to learn boredom can lead to scratching, a “pleasurable” form of pain that is not always flea induced as it seems. Pets not only chew themselves, they can chew your carpets and sofas if they don't get the chance to run and play. For home-alone pets, doggy doors and professional dog walkers are a practical solution, if location and budget permit. Involving your pet in a training program to stimulate intelligence, keeping your pet clean, providing medical care, and taking time to understand your pets nutritional and activity needs is equivalent to a bouquet of flowers and shows you care.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

2010 Olympics: More Precious Than Gold

MANY OF US WERE ON EDGE last Friday, trying to keep track of the ever-changing destinations of the fleeting flame.

It was the day of Opening Ceremonies in the wee hours of the morning when torchbearers, including music legend and broadcaster Dal Richards, traveled through Vancouver City streets to be greeted by hordes of happy and sometimes confused spectators uncertain of the route.

Nearby, a few unconcerned and budding hockey players glided on the ice and enjoyed good-natured competition.

Bands, such as The Left, kept the mood lively with their spirited on-stage presence and upbeat rhythms.

The images of well-known and somewhat "creepy" critters stared down from a distant building. Although I could NOT warm up to these three musketeers, the Olympic Mascots were easy to find and hard to ignore.

Signs of patriotism were definitely in the air throughout the City ... even nesting in some people's hair.

Rain started to sprinkle on the excitement in the afternoon when I left Vancouver to watch the Olympic Ceremonies from the comfort of my couch. The event was all one could hope for … sentimental surprises, exquisite and powerful voices, gorgeous extravagant scenes and astonishing feats to thrill world audiences, including the cynics.

But these were bittersweet moments tinged with sadness. Weather worries and protesters took a backseat to the accident involving luger Nodar Kumaritashvili from Georgia whose death haunted the ceremonies. On reflection, in some strange way, it seems right that one pillar of the indoor Olympic cauldron malfunctioned in the finale. Symmetry was ruined when not all four facets rose to be lit, reminding us of our imperfections, vulnerabilities, and ultimately of the devastating loss of an Olympian youth.

Humanity does not achieve heartwarming and heroic moments without heartbreak. When we confront challenges and stretch ourselves we encounter both joy and sorrow. Our inherent passions and yearning for superhuman conquests co-exist with the undying determination to succeed that the Olympic flame is meant to convey. The historic intent of the torch has taken unusual twists over the decades. But it has never NOT ignited passion, especially when famed hockey player Wayne Gretzky lit the second caldron (seen in my photo above) at the City's waterfront. Amid the happy enthusiasm of 2010, we were left wondering what elements in our zeal to reach incredible goals cut short an Olympic champion whose life was more precious than gold.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

2010 Olympics: Believe It!

BELIEVE IT OR NOT I sent Vancouver Tourism one of my Penelope Greeting Cards, along with a brief description of how my Penelope Puddle character could come to life at the Olympic Opening Ceremonies. I sent this proposal in 2006 soon after it became known Vancouver was the accepted location for the games. Although my ideas didn’t take wing, it is ironic that the card accompanying my proposal had only one word on it. That word was Believe ... the iconic theme that eventually promoted the Olympics and was reiterated in 2010 on a red painted rock in front of White Rock's City Hall.

It is difficult NOT to get into the spirit of things now that the big event is at hand. The White Rock area seemed freshly starched in anticipation of the torch coming through. The weather a couple of days ago was placid and the mood of the people strolling by was tinged with expectation. I parked my umbrella to explore in and around where the torchbearer would travel.

The Pier was pristine and looked roomy enough to receive hundreds of visitors from near and far.

The White Rock Museum and former Train Station was filled with historical items and giftware to please souvenir seekers from all parts of the globe.

Balloons decorated the entrance way of one shop, showing nearly all the five Olympic colours of blue, yellow, green, red and black.

Local artist Elizabeth Hollick wove her whimsical magic on a mural by illustrating balloons that were painted mostly in Olympic colours.

An enormous fanciful seashell was drawn on the lengthy wall to welcome the torchbearer and onlookers to come.

The famous White Rock, of course, was also depicted on the multi-coloured mural spreading across the face of a long cement wall.

The REAL White Rock continued to sit serenely by the shore in its usual state of Buddha-like bliss.

The second smaller rock beside the BIG White Rock wore its plaque proudly, explaining both the truth and legend surrounding the chunk of mountain that long ago apparently crashed onto the sandy shore east of the Pier.

The local historical church east along Marine Drive was where some might have gathered to perhaps say a prayer or send out good thoughts to the athletes who are under tremendous pressure to succeed. The hope and prayers for snow had surely long since passed.

Across the street a single unaffected seagull was straddling a railing of the pedestrian bridge that links White Rock to the Semiahmoo Indian Reserve.

A canoe whisked softly along the little Campbell River beneath the bridge, paddled by a couple of nature lovers who added a bright splash of colour to the weather-beaten foliage.

Picking up my buoyant umbrella, I planned my return to Marine Drive early Tuesday morning when the torchbearer was scheduled to come through.

When I arrived people had just begun to gather. I found the Museum beautifully lit. The leafless trees sparkled with Christmas lights. The clear sky was decorated with a perfect crescent moon. In the distance, the arc of lights over the Pier twinkled. The crowd started to build. We were strangers who quickly became friends huddled together in the morning chill with a common goal. Flashes blazing, many of us worried about our cameras not being able to capture events in the darkness. The cheering flag-waving crowd grew bigger and bolder as we giggled in amazement at the surprising turnout. It made us proud. Believers and non-believers were swept up in the magical moments while waiting for the Olympic flame to flutter down the road.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Homes Have Heart

THE RECENT TOPIC at Wet Coast Women called The Family Home got me thinking about the past and circumstances surrounding my own early family home.

Affordability was an issue, not because housing was overpriced at the time, but because my immigrant father, a university professor in Europe, failed at farming in Canada. He sold his land and soon after became plagued with serious health problems. Eventually, we were renters. Today, even though my adult life is different and I have my own family home, I enjoy revisiting the places were I grew up.

As a child, my wish for our very own house and treed yard was an impossible dream. But now rediscovering the sometimes reconstructed or torn down homes where we once lived makes me more than melancholy, it shows the rich tapestry of my life.

Whether or not we paid taxes and were responsible for the roof repairs on this or that structure now seems less important than the fact that these were the special places were we put down our transportable roots. When I miss the people I lost from the early years, I go to some of these places and relive the “epic” memories of my past. I guess that’s why the cliché says: “home is where the heart is” and NOT: home is where the property ownership is.

My dear mother wanted to provide us with a “real” home. But it is the taffeta dress she sewed for me, the French-fry Fridays and sun bathing on the hot apartment roof we DIDN’T own that brings back the love. To fulfill a dream, my older siblings eventually were able to chip in for a down payment on a house for mom where she lived for a few short years before passing away.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

There's No Business Like Snow Business


THE ONLY WINTRY WHITE I’ve seen this past several weeks is in the snowdrops springing up in my backyard. With Olympic dreams due to kick off on February 12th, Mother Nature, in a strange twist of fate, didn't repeat the heavy snow conditions of the previous year. Instead, it has given Vancouver what might be its warmest January on record. Consequently, organizers were forced to bring in snow from higher elevations to where the events will take place. Cost for this extra work isn’t clear. But as Kahlil Gibran profoundly once said: “We often borrow from our tomorrows to pay our debts to our yesterdays.”