July 29, 2012

Time to Get Goin'

We are off on holiday tomorrow, and even my husband gets to come this time. It has seemed like a long week trying to paint ourselves out the door (figuratively) at work and at home, and I am hoping for a decent sleep tonight for both of us before we hit the road...good sleeps have eluded us lately. I hope all my friends and readers have a good and happy week and I will be back to read posts and write posts before too long.

In the meantime, why not head on over to my other blog Stella's Virtual Cafe and check out what's being going on there this week? It involves a swarm of cyclists and a French sandwich.

So, here's a little song to help you, and me, get on our way:

In the meantime, enjoy the London Olympics if you are a fan. If not, then enjoy everything else.

July 22, 2012

Water Water Everywhere

Only weeks ago, we in the Fraser Valley were keeping a close watch on the rising level of the river. Experts said those living inside the diking system were not in any real danger of flooding, but with the water table risen to only six feet below the surface, many with full basements had pumps going full time to keep the water out. When we first moved to this community we noticed in June that many homes seemed to be draining water by hosepipe onto the road. Not being familiar with life on a floodplain, we thought it strange that so many people seemed to be draining their hot tubs or backyard pools at the same time. When a neighbour and friend who happens to have an underground basement began talking about needing two pumps and a backup generator during a year of high runoff, we began to understand the reason for all the hoses to the road. We also began to understand why, after 1975 no houses were allowed to be built with any more than four feet below ground in our town, and were grateful for our house built on a concrete slab with a lawn sloping away from the house.

 A few years ago, our area was in very real danger of flooding, according to all the media reports and the provincial authorities. There were even town meetings in the high school gym to discuss strategies for emergency response should the dikes break. I gathered 72 hours worth of food supplies, including several packages of Cadbury mini eggs. No emergency kit, in my opinion, should be without chocolate. We made sure we had plenty of batteries for our short wave radio and flashlights, and kept the car full of gas at all times in case we needed to leave town in a hurry in search of higher ground. My husband always has our camping gear well organized, so I felt confident that we could get it together quickly if needed. I was so stressed about the possibility of flooding, it was difficult to concentrate on my job coordinating the local festival's children's day, and I made changes to our insurance policy to accommodate flooding in our house. A lot of people did. I even called my mother to ask if we could come to them 500 kms away, should disaster strike. I think she thought I was hysterical.To calm my children and myself we walked down to the river and looked at how far the water would have to rise to breach the dikes. It would have to rise an awful lot by the looks of it, and I felt better.In hindsight, I should have listened to the experienced local farm families from the get-go, who calmly smiled and said they'd believe a flood when they saw it. We never did flood that year, but it was a good test for everyone involved. This year, the water was just as high with flooding in some low-lying places outside the dikes, but the level of hysteria in the media and in the community in general was much more subdued. Our dikes had been tested and had proved worthy.

We did not flood this year and in fact, are enjoying a beautiful July so far. The water is still high as it is everywhere in our province, but without the incessant rain of June, it is gradually going down and people with basements have been able to relax a little. However, it seems that if one part of the world is enjoying good weather and calm waters, another part is experiencing the opposite. The Kootenay region near the Alberta border of British Columbia, and the stomping grounds of my youth, continue to have the wettest summer in recent memory. 'Monsoon rains' are a common term to describe their weather in the emails I have received from my parents' home, and again today I hear of recent and fierce storms in the region. Last Thursday afternoon, the rain fell so hard and so fast that the my hillside hometown of Nelson had temporary flooding in the downtown area - the storm drains just could not keep up with the amount of water rushing down the hills and into the level areas of the town. Several photos were posted on Facebook, and someone added the fact that Nelson had seen this kind of water before, back in 1973.

Robert Neufeld of Nelson took these photos
 on the day of the flash flood

Pulling together to push

The water did drain into the lake before long and the town was apparently dry and open for business by the next day. Flooding, yes, but somewhat manageable. West of Nelson, however, and on the same day, a mud slide had flowed onto the road near Castlegar and there was concern about the stability of one of the slopes above the college I attended for two years. The concern was well-founded as just the week before, a large mud slide had occurred in Johnson's Landing, a small, isolated community northeast of Nelson, crushing three houses with a wall of concrete-like compressed mud carrying trees and rocks as it careened down the slope. Four people were confirmed missing and the rescue efforts were hampered by a second slide and thus a frighteningly unstable area in which to search for the missing people - a father with two daughters and a German tourist. Sadly, after a weekend of extensive searching and the best efforts of personnel, the rescue efforts were changed to recovery efforts, and although I did not expect the news to be good by Monday, it still hit me hard when I heard the cold fact that the body of the girls' father had been found. Two days later, another body had been found, and so on.

 Any time something like this mudslide and flooding happens it is cause for concern, but it becomes personal when it occurs in a place you know well and where events such as this are rare. We are used to seeing footage of flash flooding and mudslides in places like Asia, but in the southeast corner of British Columbia? We are more likely to hear of people perishing in avalanches when skiing out of bounds, or from drowning in a boating accident on the many lakes in the region. The news becomes even more personal when the people involved are known and loved by people you know. That is what happened in Johnson's Landing. The slide occurred twenty-five meters from the home of  a young woman I knew when she was a baby, and her parents. I found this out on the radio one morning when the young woman was interviewed - she was friends with the two missing young women who had been her neighbours and was distraught but impressively composed in the interview. I contacted members of her family and shared the story, as did others, on Facebook. Many of my friends shared my concern and we all prayed and hoped for the best outcome before we knew the worst. Then we prayed and hoped the area would be saved from more disaster from excess rain.

I hope the Kootenays have seen the last of this 'biblical weather,' as a friend called it. Next week we are all going to Nelson to attend the wedding of our niece. The guest list is quite a long one, so I hope the weather will be accommodating to all these visitors from near and far as we gather for this most happy occasion. One thing is clear however. From recent events Mother Nature has let us mere mortals know in no uncertain terms that she is in charge, and we will just have to take whatever comes and make the best of it.

July 16, 2012

Local Family Enjoys Festival to the Fullest

The annual local ten day arts festival is over. Today the beach tents are coming down, the information booth and the signboards are being dismantled and packed away into storage. For much of the week our eldest son and the rest of the crew will be packing up and putting away all physical traces of the festival for another year. On Thursday evening, the festival society will hold a party for the two hundred or so volunteers who make this annual event possible, and then the organizers will finish up the paperwork before going off on a well deserved vacation.

Our little festival was thirty-four years old this year, and our family has been here for nine of them. I worked for the festival as a staff member for five years, coordinating the Children's Day, and various members of my family volunteer each year. Volunteers are treated extremely well. For a few hours of service we gain free entrance to every one of the ten evening shows and as I mentioned before, a party at the end of it all to thank us for our help. Amazing.

During the festival I read and wrote very little. I ran even less. Those particular habits, and habits they are, were replaced with other pursuits - listening to live music, dancing the nights away with my husband and various festival friends, and driving to and from the festival, which takes place in the resort village ten kilometers down the road. For me, the festival is a highlight of the year and a chance to see a typical beach resort community completely transformed into a place where the arts take center stage. Not only are free concerts on the beach provided by the festival to be enjoyed on the two weekends by hundreds of people who pack the lawn above the beach with blankets and lawn chairs, but an art market is set up all along the esplanade and is full of vendors selling everything from the ageless tie-dyed t-shirts to natural skin care products, to pottery and handmade silver jewelry and copper garden ornaments. The festival becomes a place one wants to be as much as possible, but of course, meals still have to be made and laundry done at home. Somehow we manage to fit that in between concerts and visits with other friends who gather to enjoy the music and art of the festival.

Over the ten days, a sort of mini community is formed among the regular festival goers, and it is a wonderful thing. I know one woman in particular who books her holidays every year to accommodate her attendance at the festival, and it is the only time I see her. Every year I get to know her a little better - she is part of the fabric of that colourful festival banner as are so many others. I know the festival is not everyone's cup of tea, but for those of us for whom it is, we are lifted up by the event, by our volunteer efforts for the festival, and by a sense of a common purpose to bring and to enjoy this ten day expression of the joy of living, the beauty of the arts, and the miraculous ability of music from many different cultures to bring so many people together: families, elderly people, teenagers, individuals with special needs (many of them love to dance), hippies, business people, community leaders and often people who have never been exposed to this kind of event - like the young man from Vancouver I spoke to when I was volunteering at the beach stage, who said he had come to the resort village for the day at the beach and been surprised and impressed by the festival. He is making plans to attend again next year. As the artistic director said in her closing speech last night before the last concert, "If only we could have that sense of community all year round." 

At the Friday night concert, a fantastic band called Mike Farris and the Cumberland Saints brought their southern gospel blues from Nashville up to our northern shores. Their music transcended gospel blues to bring everyone in the building to their feet in celebration of the contribution of black gospel music to rhythm and blues music and to rock and roll in general. You did not have to be a 'believer' to appreciate their concert, and if you were, you appreciated it all the more. After the concert I got to talk to the members of the band. One of the backup singers said to me in her wonderful southern drawl, "When we were coming up here, we didn't know what to expect. We thought, 'resort town?' 'Spa?' 'Canada?' We thought y'all would be sitting up in your chairs with your hands together like this", and she performed a hilarious imitation of a prim sort of person with pursed lips and one hand on top of the other. "But y'all were ready for us. It was crazy beautiful to see! What a surprise!" That night in the hall was magic. I lost a few pounds dancing and was still dancing the next morning. 

As life returns to its natural summer rhythm, I find myself re-energized. I feel fueled up and ready to carry on with all there is to do over the next few weeks. Sure, I am a bit weary from all that dancing and I know my husband will take a few days to recover from long days at work and concerts at night, but our festival fatigue is a small price to pay for all the benefits we get from taking part. Festivals are a celebration of all that is good in life, and they, despite government cutbacks have to continue some way, somehow. Communities need festivals to remind them to rise above political squabbles, put aside differences for even a short time, and allow a new and positive element to arise and give the community a renewed vision of itself.

Long live the festival!

The photo of festival tents on the beach is courtesy of our local newspaper. I know I should name the paper to give them proper credit (sorry Jessica!), but that gives a bit too much away, even if only symbolically in this day and age of social networking. I kept meaning to bring my own camera but would forget each day. 

July 7, 2012

Another Day, Another Blog

What does a busy person do with her precious extra time? She starts another blog of course. Why does she even contemplate doing this? Because the idea has been creeping up on her for some time and when she mentions it to her daughter, her daughter says, "I'll help!" The cooperative project begins, the mother secretly hoping the new blog doesn't end up like the proverbial new puppy, when the kid says "I'll look after it, I promise," and then after the first few weeks of earnest pet tending by the kid, the mother ends up holding the leash, not to mention the little plastic bags.

As regular readers of Letters to the World know, I am quite passionate about food and have been known, on occasion to post recipes and photos of creations I have made for my family's enjoyment. Early on in this blog's life, I wrote a post about a fictional coffee shop and its fictional owner, Stella. Stella is somewhat of an alter ego for me, for in an alternate universe I would own and operate a coffee shop where I would welcome customers, play them good music and feed them very well with my fresh baking and light lunches, organic espresso and sweet chai lattes.The fact of the matter is, owning a real coffee shop is not a practical idea at this juncture in my life. I pretty much run one at home 24/7 as it is, so the idea of doing it all day long for even more people is daunting to say the least. A much more attractive idea was to set up an imaginary one where my daughter and I could post recipes and photos of the baking we do at home on a regular basis, share ideas and stories about Stella and her customers, and just have fun doing it.

So, without further ado...may I direct you to a quaint little shop down the street? It's called Stella's Virtual Cafe, yes that's right, the one next-door to the second hand book store, the one with the polka dot coffee cup on the sign and the two little tables outside now it's summer. Let me recommend the pan bagnat if you are hungry...Oh well, let me show you myself....I'm going there now for a 'shot in the dark.' What's that? Oh, it's a dark roast coffee with a shot of espresso added. I have a long day ahead...