May 26, 2012

They Grow up so Fast

Raising children is fascinating. Just when I think I've got them pegged, they surprise me. I do love to observe them focusing on a particular passion, no matter how short lived. For our youngest at the moment, the passion is Greek mythology and those Percy Jackson the Olympian books. For our second youngest, film and photography have completely taken over from her previous obsession with horses. For our eldest, life is concentrated on songwriting, performing, and reading classic novels like The Great Gatsby and Hard Times. It seems just a few short years ago that he was absolutely fixated on hockey, until, instead of a hockey stick I put a guitar in his hands. For our second eldest, the passion is undoubtedly his violin.

It used to frustrate our eldest that his younger brother, Galen was faster than he. Ian would say, 'let's race!' and when his little brother would win, Ian would want to race again and again in hopes of finally beating him. Ironically, it was Ian who spent years playing rep soccer. I suppose that determination to beat his little brother motivated him.

Ian and Galen's first soccer team

Galen was always an agile kid, the kind who climbed everything in sight: walls, trees, fences, and any jungle gym in sight. He also loved to challenge himself to learn a skill. I remember him practising head stands on a pillow in our living room, then hand stands, then running on all fours like a horse and leaping over furniture. He could also squat for two hours straight building dinosaurs out of lego, and would only stop when his body finally told him to change position and stand up. I thought at that time he may grow up to be a gymnast or an architect. Perhaps it was that ability to focus intensely, but also to persist physically, that attracted him to the challenge of the violin. He has now been studying for ten years and is preparing for his grade ten Royal Conservatory exam in December of this year with a view to a career in music.

Galen's first time making it to the top of a friend's fireman's
pole. The opening at the top is to the second floor of the home.

I now call Galen's bedroom his 'cave'. He spends hours in there every day, moving between his laptop, his violin, and the elaborate sound system he has rigged up to both record himself in order to listen for ways in which he can improve his playing, and to listen to his large collection of vinyl records and CDs, most of them Classical music. In his room he is watched over by his collection of movie posters, The Godfather and Pulp Fiction among them, because when he isn't thinking about music and schoolwork, he is watching and researching movies. He does come out for meals, or to tell us something important he has just discovered. He also likes to go for walks, hikes (I almost have to jog to keep up with him - he has my dad's long stride) and bike rides, but other than some soccer and baseball when he was younger he takes little interest in organized sport outside of phys-ed. class.

Next Friday Galen will graduate from high school. He will put on his suit and his black bowtie. We, his family, will all dress up as well to attend the graduation ceremony in the high school gym. We will have to arrive early in order to find good seats because nearly the whole town shows up to the annual graduation ceremony. We will watch the boys in suits and rented tuxedos escort the girls in an assortment of beaded taffeta ball gowns up the aisle between the rows of chairs set up for the occasion. We will take photos when Galen receives his certificate and when he shakes hands with the district superintendent and the principal of his school. We will applaud for all his classmates as they do the same, and we will find out if he has won any of the many scholarships we applied for. When the ceremony is over, the usual routine is for the families to proceed to the graduation dinner party, but not this year, not for us. Last month, Galen found out the orchestra he plays with rescheduled their spring concert for the same night as graduation. Some would say graduation only happens once in a life time, so he should go to the dinner, but not Galen. "I have been waiting all year to play this music," which is a program of pieces in celebration of Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee. "I'd rather play in my concert than go to some dinner at the hotel (where his dad works.) Besides, I went last year when Ian graduated, so I know what it's like." When I brought up the fact that graduation won't end until about 7 pm, and the concert begins at 7:30 pm, he dismissed that as well. "The youth orchestra starts first. I will get there in time to play with my orchestra, and besides, I'll already be dressed for it." I could not argue with that.
Next year we will get a break from scholarship applications, graduation parent meetings, and the dreaded Graduation Portfolio project until our eldest daughter graduates in 2014. After that we will have a five year gap until our youngest says goodbye to her public school days. In some ways it is amazing to be at this point in our children's lives. When the four of them were little it seemed that the road ahead would stretch on forever until they left school, but here we are. When the eldest reaches a milestone the others are right behind him, on the verge of reaching it, too.

May 18, 2012

Joyriding with Iris

Once upon a time I had some extra money, so I bought a brand new bicycle. I had been wanting a new bike ever since I moved to this valley full of people of Dutch descent. I had watched them for years riding past on their bicycles, looking so upright and happy and comfortable pedalling around town. For years I had a mountain bike, which did not fit me properly, or vice versa, and I no longer could bear to ride it. The reach to the handlebars was too long and my back and neck ached after every ride. Besides, it was rusting out and the gears were grinding and the brakes hissing and squealing, and it was obviously time for a new one.

We went shopping to my husband's favourite bike store in the nearby city. The owner's assistant showed me several choices. Before long my choice was down to two: A Giant Sedona man's small frame in grey or a Giant Sedona woman's frame in white. A Sedona is meant as an inexpensive  crossover between a mountain bike and a cruiser. It features a wide seat and a frame built for comfort, but twenty-four gears for resistance and hill climbing, and tough enough tires for riding on gravel and over railroad tracks. My poor family waited and waited while I took one, then the other bike out for test rides down the side street by the bike shop. Finally, I had made my choice. I would buy the women's bike with the smaller frame to accomodate my short torso and the adjustable seat to accommodate my long legs. I have never regretted my decision.

That was two years ago, and I still get many compliments on my bike. On our first ride together, my youngest daughter and I came up with a name. I had never named any of my other bikes, but since this new one was special, and my daughter insisted, I thought I might name her. Since my daughter's bike was named Stanley, I thought I could name mine Iris (from the film Stanley and Iris). My daughter approved and the name suits my bike's upright elegance very well. All she is missing is a basket, which will have to wait until the next time I have some extra money or a birthday. Recently, I was at the bike shop getting a free annual tune-up for Iris. As I stood in the shop waiting with my bike, a couple came in the door. The young assistant approached them and asked if he could help them. The gentleman said, "My wife here would like a new bike." "What sort would you like?" asked the assistant. The wife looked at Iris. "That sort."

Now that it is spring, I find myself hopping on my bike several times a day, to zip down to the produce store for groceries or to the pepper farm to buy a two pound bag of 'seconds' for $2.50, to the bank or the library. Bicycling is quicker than walking, and more energizing and fun than driving. It is the perfect balance between the two, and it means one less car on the road. I am happy to see so many others biking around town, old and young, families and solo riders, but of course, there is lots of room on the roads for more cyclists.

The perfect opportunity came up a few years ago to widen the road to accommodate a bike lane between our town and the nearby lakeside resort community some ten kilometers north. Despite appeals to the municipalities and 'letters to the editor' the bike lane was never built, and the repaved shoulder remained narrow. My husband rides the road regularly in summer, as did my son last year, to his job in the resort community, but they have to be extremely wary of vehicles speeding past. I can't help but think how wonderful it would be for people, especially families to ride the relatively easy distance of flat ground for a day at the beach. Fortunately, until the powers that be come to their senses we have plenty of farm roads to cycle in our district. I look forward to many smooth and pleasant rides with Iris this summer.

Perhaps you may see me one sunny afternoon pedalling along, the wind in my hair, smiling all the way.

May 12, 2012

A Twenty Year Conversation

May 16, 1992

What did you first notice about me the night we met at the Elephant Walk Pub?

I liked the way you looked in that denim skirt.

It wasn't a skirt.

Sure it was. I remember.

No, it wasn't a skirt. I should remember, I was wearing it. It was a light denim jumpsuit
 cinched in at the waist with a belt.

Really? I could have sworn it was a skirt. Anyway, I remember it looked nice.

Don't you want to know what I noticed about you?

Okay, whatever.

You were very tanned, very smiling, and you talked about yourself too much,
impressing us with your world travels.
But I didn't mind that. I thought you were sweet.


Do you remember our first date?

Yes, I had tickets through work to the premier of that film made in Vancouver. 

The one with Gene Hackman and that woman on the train. Was it called Sudden Impact?

No, no, that's a Clint Eastwood movie. I think it was called Narrow Margin.

Oh right. Yes, you're right. I was so nervous. I didn't really want to go on a date. I was supposed to be concentrating on my studies. And then you came along.

Well, it happens like that sometimes.

Yes, yes it does. And then we fell in love.

Yes, and then you spent all my money. On cheesecake.

Well, I'm sorry about that. It was a small price to pay for my undying
love and devotion, though, don't you think?


Oh, ha ha. Very funny. Sigh...

What is it?

I was just thinking. Twenty Years. Wow! Where has the time gone?
I know exactly where the time has gone. Four kids, a few moves, and just, you know, LIFE.

But, it has been good, hasn't it?

Yes. I've been very happy with you, you know.

You make me sound like a vacuum cleaner.

Well, you have become rather useful.

Oh, now who's the funny one?

Shhhh...the show's about to start. Where are you going?

To the kitchen.

(Popcorn pops and I hear the hiss of a beer being opened and poured into a glass)

Another Saturday night, another murder mystery.


Just the way we like it.

Happy Anniversary, Sweetie.

Happy Anniversary to you, too.

(clink, smooch)

Now, sssshhh...

May 4, 2012

The Best of the Fest...and the Rest.

One of the great things about a short term intensive activity, be it a job or a weekend festival, or even one that involves both, is the looking back when the activity is over. The experiences of the event are wrapped up in a neat package for the memory to savour when life again resumes its normal pattern. The Tulips of the Valley seventh annual tulip festival wrapped up this past Sunday evening after two glorious weeks. The festival is put on by my friend Kate and takes place at the site where her husband's family grows the bulbs for their hothouse flower operation. For at least two weeks every April, Kate hires a group of us to help her with the festival. Some of us put up tents, fix fences, and make signs. Others handle the money and help people with their flower purchases and answer many questions. Others deal with parking and crowd control. My job is to assist Kate in managing the entrance gates, the staff and the store where we sell potted flowers and cut flowers, coffee and various local products such as candied hazelnuts and flavoured honey. I thorougly enjoy working at the festival, even when the weather is bad, because I enjoy the group of employees and the workplace is out of doors and full of the unfolding colour and beauty of early spring.

Another advantage of working at the tulip festival is that nearly every visitor who comes is happy to be there. They arrive with a smile on their face and exclaim over the wonder of those acres and acres of colour spread like a deep-hued rainbow on the gently rolling valley floor. Thousands and thousands of visitors came to the festival this year, mainly due to the beautiful weather on both weekends, and they, too were a rainbow of colours and cultures. We staff did a rough calculation and decided that, overall, about seventy-five percent of our visitors were of Asian descent. The other twenty-five percent were made up of those of Eastern European, East Indian, Middle Eastern, Anglo-Saxon, Dutch and other Western European nationalities. One gets used to interpreting the questions asked by those with strong accents or as is the case sometimes, those with no English at all.

The weekend lineups

photo-ops abound

Early on in the festival's history, Kate noted the great attraction the fields had for the Asian population and had a friend make up signs in Mandarin. Every second sign on the fields is in Mandarin and at the entrance gate we have a sign in Mandarin explaining the different levels of the entrance fee. One day during the first week of the festival, a group of seniors arrived to enjoy the sights. The women were friendly and interested in everything, and the group went for a walk down the path which heads the rows of tulips. When they returned the man in the party came up to me. "Why are all the signs in Chi-NESE?" - he said it like that, with the accent heavily on 'nese. He was not impressed.

"Why sir, all the signs are not in Chinese," I said.

"Every sign at the start of a row of tulips that tells what kind they are is in Chi-NESE," he said angrily, " and so we couldn't read them to find out what kind they were."

I supressed a smile. "Oh, I'm sorry sir, but we have no signs which tell the individual varieties. Those signs simply say what every other sign says in English, to keep out of the rows and not to pick the flowers."

"Oh..." he said, "but why the need for Chi-NESE signs at all?"

"Because a huge majority of our visitors speak the language and a great many of them speak no English at all. It is a courtesy to our visitors," I said.

"Harrumph," he uttered, and moved a bit away from me to look at something else. While one of the ladies of the party purchased flowers from me, the man in question noticed the sign in Mandarin, which was taped to the table we use as a till for the cash register. "See?" he pointed at the sign, "This is what I mean - all your signs are in Chi-NESE!"

I thought of telling him that there were about five signs posted around the place that said exactly the same thing in English, but I decided not to proceed. He was obviously determined to find fault with our efforts to make our Mandarin speaking customers feel welcome. For the rest of the day, I was particularly friendly to our Chi-NESE visitors.

Like I said before, most of our visitors were lovely people who are enthusiastic, eager, friendly, and often jovial. Many of them come from Greater Vancouver, and many on bus tours. Although our website specifies the fact that the tulip festival takes place on a farm, and visitors should dress appropriately, many visitors wear the same outfit to the festival that they would wear downtown on Robson Street where there exist seven Starbucks and several high-end shops including Tiffany's. While we staff arm ourselves against the elements in jeans, gumboots, hats and coats, many of our visitors arrive in expensive shoes, delicate skirts and thin jackets. We had a few days of pouring rain during our second week and the fields became saturated and muddy in places. One bus tour arrived and the tourists wanted us to supply each of them with plastic bags to tie over their shoes. Another group asked if we supplied special shoes for all our visitors. I was tempted to tell them we were not, in fact, a bowling alley.

appropriate footwear

slightly inappropriate footwear, though not quite as inappropriate as the
high heels I saw sink into the mud but unfortunately was unable to photograph

leopard footwear
On my last day of work, which was Saturday, the weather was fine and the fields were full of people. Visitors can walk all the way around the tulip fields, just not through them. It is a job to keep all the photographers following the rules and I took my turn patrolling the path. I was returning from the end of the main path when a woman with an Eastern European accent called me over. "Exuse me," she said, "can I ask you a qvestion?"

"Certainly," I said.

"Vat's vis all the Asians?" She said it like she had a bad taste in her mouth.

"They love tulips, I suppose," I said cheerfully. And then I asked her where she was from.


"Yes, but before that? I detect an accent." I tried to be polite, and smiled.

"Poland," she said somewhat defiantly.

"Really? I've noticed a real increase in the number of Eastern Europeans visiting the fields this year," I said.

She paused. " love flowers, too but..." she said hestitatingly.

"We all do. That's why we're here," I said with a smile, and moved on. Often times, this kind of thing leaves me rather speechless and bumbling. However, after two weeks of playing the tulip hostess I was practised at quickly finding answers to all sorts of questions.

On Sunday, I did not have to work, so my husband and I decided to circle the whole field, which I had not yet had a chance to do. I stopped to take photos about every twenty steps, happy not to have to worry about getting back anytime soon. We passed groups of tourists speaking a myriad of languages as we made our way in the sunshine. I felt like the tulip fields were a microcosm of the whole world that day, and I smiled at the wonderful impossibility of it.

Festival tents

Peeking peak