Harvest dinner: Good for the heart in more ways than one

I went to an annual harvest dinner on the weekend, hosted as it is every year by friends Penny and Gwen. Each year, for the past five years, about eight to 10 women gather around Penny’s dining room table or  to be more specific, a menagerie of hidden tables pushed together and covered by matching cloths.group2016

Penny always does the hosting because she loves to host. She may also be the most experienced hostess and she has all the accoutrements in the form of china, plates, glasses, vases and the artistic touch of an interior decorator.

We each bring a dish made using vegetables that we either grew in a community garden plot or on our patio or off the windowsill with, at the very least, herbs adding to the flavour of the dish, even if it wasn’t grown from scratch, wrenched from the dirt, with our own citified hands.

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And just to be clear, nobody is acting as the food police. We don’t get stopped on the way in demanding to know what part of the dish we have in hand that we grew ourselves. We all know who the guerilla gardeners are.

It’s always such a nice treat because it’s about the conversation and the gathering, the tasting of the food, and the kind of back and forth that happens when people (who want to be together) come together across a table. Devices are scarce, except for the hurried photo taking right before we dig in. We’re engaging and listening.  We’re admiring the dishes and the way Penny has creatively styled the table for the gathering.

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Silently, as the evening unfolds, I know all sorts of memories must get whetted from the experience. Memories of childhood meals and romantic dinners between two. Meals that we hated as kids. Francis told a story about two meals that her mother actually allowed them, as kids, to hold their noses while they shoveled in the food because she knew it wasn’t very good. There’s even the memories of the people who may not be around the table this year who always enlivened the experience in the past. To name names, Shona is working through CUSO on a new social enterprise of a working farm, the first of its kind in a specific area in the Philippines.

I always walk away thinking, Why don’t I do that anymore? And the answer has to do with how I feel about my current apartment. I dream of what it would be like to actually live in a space where hosting a dinner party would really make sense because of the size of the kitchen and the size of the table.  I enjoyed having people over in the past.doukka

I think of that as another fallout of real estate prices in Vancouver that doesn’t get talked about, that is, the number of people, especially those who don’t own, who live in places that are not very amenable to socializing in the way that’s conducive to entertaining.

It’s easy to say, it’s all about the company, but in fact, that’s only partly true. In reality, the entire package – friends, food, and environment – create the experience. I know that because I think of the dinners that really stand out for me.

I think of my friend Anne who lives on the Sunshine Coast and all the incredible meals – rack of lamb, sockeye salmon, pork medallions – that her husband Bob and her have cooked for me over the years in their beautiful homes.

I think about Donna, a former co-worker, and what a fantastic cook she is and how much she always puts into every meal she cooks for company. I think of when my eldest sister was alive and the meals she hosted.

Of course I think about Pauline on Salt Spring and how I managed to gain 10 pounds when we’d wiling away the winter evenings that first winter at her table.  I think about how spoiled I was by Linda and Tom on Salt Spring. Linda busy preparing weekday dinners in the kitchen while I dropped by after work and hung out with Tom in the living room catching up on the week’s news until dinner was ready. Brat. I’m a brat! But they liked doing it. I didn’t make them. Honest! They kept inviting me.

And recollections of the occasional fancy dinners that Don cooked at Christmas in his tiny cabin on Gail and Michael’s property. And then, most significantly, I can’t help but think of my own mother and all the meals she cooked over her lifetime.

Being single, I have not had to experience the drudgery of the daily getting dinner on the table for a large family, not to mention cooking for the annual special occasions. The amount of shopping, prep and clean up that went into that reality is mind boggling. I look back at those rituals that I observed as a child, so far removed from my current reality, and I marvel at how my mother didn’t just collapse.  She had my elder sisters to help but still, she had to orchestrate the entire production. And multiply that scene across the world. Women working. Men mostly showing up, eating, then retiring to the sofa. It was a time when Sunday dinners with the silverware, white tablecloth and good china, because company was coming, was not the exception but a bi-weekly routine.

This year, we were asked to bring a Food Rule, an idea that Gwen had because she had read Michael Pollan’s book, Food Rules, an eater’s manual.

  • Avoid food products that contain ingredients that a third grader cannot pronounce
  • Don’t get your fuel from the same place your car does
  • Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food
  • It’s not food if it arrived through the window of your car …

These make me laugh. Others are more serious.

At these gatherings, we’re usually asked to share something – a poem, a drawing, a thought – focused on the year’s theme and of course this year’s request was to bring our own Food Rule.

I’ll leave you with this one: Think lovingly about the people you are cooking for because making food for them and sharing it is a form of love.

Got any of your own food rules? We’d love to hear them in a comment.

Walking and social media and a blast from the past

About six weeks ago, I had a gallbladder attack so severe that I had to call an ambulance. I don’t know if you’ve ever had to call an ambulance for yourself but it’s a really hard thing to do. It always seems to be required at 3:30 am when the dark and the silence closes in to make the decision even starker.

Now, I figured out pretty quickly that it must be a gallbladder attack because three years ago, I thought I was having a heart attack that turned out to be a gallbladder attack. This time though, I just put two and two together. Besides, I’d made the horrible mistake of eating an entire bag of Salsa Fresca rice chips that night and I don’t even really know what Salsa Fresca means but to my gallbladder it meant, “Are you #@!! kidding me?”

About a week afterwards, the episode still vivid, and the tenderness of my right side subsiding, I decided to make a few changes. They recommended surgery but I’m kind of a surgery-over-my-dead-body kind of gal. Especially when lifestyle and food choices are the problem. Why convict my innocent, abused gall bladder? How about taking some personal responsibility?

I Googled extensively. I punched in the words gallbladder and liver and all sorts of “natural” remedies popped up.  I settled on assembling this beet, carrot, apple juice, apple cider vinegar concoction which required boiling the carrots and the beets first and then blendering them so as to drink it through a straw (so as not to stain my teeth). I chose to forego the natural remedy that required the ingestion of Epsom Salts but claimed to rid the body of gall stones, in contrast to medical papers that refute such a thing is naturally possible.

I started taking a Milk Thistle supplement for my liver. I stopped drinking alcohol, except if the social occasion and my mood dictated that I felt like one drink. Everything in moderation. Even moderation. I stopped drinking coffee, at least on a daily basis, as a way of not starting the morning with a spoon full of sugar because black coffee is not something I desire to ever acclimatize to. Now I just put on the kettle and squeeze an organic lemon of its juice and drink that first thing. Good for the liver.

I’ve started eating much better, following the philosophy of that guy Michael Pollan and the example of my friend Gwen. “Eat. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

And, I started walking. I bought a pair of Skechers which helps me to feel like I’m walking in slippers. I put on a pedometer (because I’m old school and don’t want to send the money on a Fitbit) and marked off the days that I walked. In August, I walked between 2 and 4 miles, sometimes 5 miles max. on all but four of the 31 days, not including the tiny steps around the apartment, around the block walking.

I also knew I would need some accountability and inexplicably the first person who popped into my head was Gary. It’s kind of weird that I should choose him since I haven’t seen him in 18 years when we met on a trip through the Yucatan and into Chiapas.  We hadn’t even kept in touch in the last decade although I did see him for one day sometime around 2005 when he came to Squamish for an Outward Bound course.

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Gary, 18 years ago in Chiapas

He seemed like the perfect accountability buddy to me: super fit and on the other side of the country. He couldn’t really get in my face should I get lazy. I’m sure it seemed alarmingly weird that I should contact him for such a thing but to his credit, without missing a beat, he was ready to play along.

It took just one sentence from him complaining about someone he knew to really drive home my lack of commitment to exercise.  He said, and I quote, “I have to get up and go to work every day and drive, sometimes 90 minutes back fighting traffic and she can’t even spend one hour of her entire day getting some exercise.” Hello! Was he talking about me? He might as well have been. And that’s how it began.

Now six weeks later, I feel like I’ve really hit my stride. Five miles takes about 1.5 hours. The  circumferences that my legs are carrying me is ever-widening the way circles push out from the center when you drop a pebble into a pond. At this point I have to remind myself that I’m not aiming for Forrest Gump wannabe, I’m just trying to get a little exercise on a mostly daily basis and it’s working. At the same time, I’m experiencing the beautiful side effects of all sorts of weird and interesting ideas flowing through my consciousness that seem to be a direct result of the body’s physical movement.

I text Gary when I’m done. “5.1 miles. 10,817 steps. Fav time to walk? Late Sunday afternoon. Just got back” He texts me back. “Wow.”  “That’s great.” “You’re getting more exercise than I am.”

And, of course, we text about more than walking. We’ve learned a lot more about each others current lives in the process. In the meantime, I’ve lost 9 pounds and my gallbladder has been happily silent.

Communications in the 21st Century: You can never have too many skills

jugglingIf you work in Communications then I don’t know if you’re feeling the way I am but it seems as if the number of skills required to do the job well has exploded in the past decade as a result of social media.

In the past you might have needed to be able to think about, and execute, some marketing strategy and communicate in words through writing on the page and through oral presentations. You’d put together endless PowerPoints and work with other people, usually graphic artists, to make sure annual reports or marketing materials came together. You’d focus on branding exercises (maybe hire a consultant for that) and tag lines and work with interface designers (or whatever they call themselves now) to sort out web development stuff.

You might have interacted with the media to try and get some publicity at a time when the term “earned media” didn’t even exist to distinguish “earned media” from the interest you now generate from your social media feeds. It’s helpful to know Photoshop and Adobe InDesign to manipulate images and layout newsletters or marketing materials if you’re on a tight budget and definitely you should know some form of blogging software such as WordPress. For e-mail marketing you should know something like Mailchimp or ConstantContact and let’s not forget every app required to organize yourself and set up meetings and communicate with all those other people you need to communicate with and oh, do you know how to put together an e-book and sell it on Amazon? Don’t,  just you don’t, forget to put that bounce back message on your e-mail when you leave, thoroughly exhausted, on vacation.

It’s as if working in Communications means you better be constantly acquiring skills, which is a good thing that I’m all on board with. Everyone should be doing that as a routine part of self evolution, but honestly, there is a limit to what one person can bring to a job.

I believe that I actually do have many skills and at a high level and I still feel like I don’t have enough. If you work for a larger organization then I’m hoping you’d work with a dedicated social media strategist. But if you don’t, you’re pretty much the whole shebang. And the thing about social media (like most things) is that a little knowledge is actually a very dangerous thing because the less you know about it, the more you don’t realize how little you know about it, and therefore you’re actually clueless about just how complicated it can be to be really good at it.

Now you have to be able to write for so many different mediums. You need to review and edit and source appropriate graphics that enhance, or at least complement, your copy. You need to work with other creative people. You need to coach key people on media messaging. You better have some clue about Hootsuite and take video on your phone and oh, can you edit that on IMovie by tomorrow? You need to write strategy and set up a budget for Facebook and Twitter ads and figure out what audiences to target for sponsored ads and review Google Analytics and understand what the heck to do with the information you’re seeing on there in relation to what’s turning on your audience and whether you’re even reaching the audience you want to reach and can you create a report for that?

You need to ensure a consistent Instagram account aligning images with brand but first you need to decide what social media apps you should even be using based on your internal resources and whether you can even keep on top of those.  You need to be on top of all the most used latest technology and apps in order to keep on top of knowing exactly what you don’t know and wondering where you’ll ever find the time to learn about THAT.

Do we have a Crisis communications plan? Is there a phone tree for that? Could you whip that up by setting up a meeting and have that done in two weeks?

It would be helpful if you knew how to write to pictures so you could write script for video and coach those people who are going to be in the video who have never been in front of a video camera in their lives but they were the best you could come up with because they know what they know and needs to be communicated and Take 356. And cut!!!

Did you order the tent for that special event outside? and oh, if it rains, what then? and are you getting the harried, harried picture?

Honestly, at some point as a Communications’ person, am I going to have to be your personal chef, your hair stylist and your spiritual advisor as well?  Do I really need to be Oprah, Tony Robbins, Ekhart Tolle  Deepak Chopra, Seth Godin and Guy Kawasaki wrapped into one?

I need to lie down. Is it nap time yet?

I’d like to know if other Communications people are feeling this way. I’m also wondering if the same sort of skills explosion requirement is happening in every other field.

It’s enough to make me a little depressed and hey, I should make an infographic because there’s nothing I like more (sarcasm) than the terminology that makes fairly straightforward things sound super complicated and infographic definitely fits into that category. So I signed up for a free app, and fooled around, and figured it out and here’s my first attempt.  Just in case you’re experiencing a little case of the blues racing toward a full out depressive episode, my infographic might be just what you need. Depression: Fiction vs. Fact

Happy finalist of Canadian Writers’ Union Short Prose Competition

nonfictionThis is pretty much the last place I have to plaster this news. Yeah, I know, I know. But, hey, it may be the first and last competition I ever get recognition from, so I’m running with it.

It came as a shock and a very nice surprise that I was recently shortlisted as one of 12 finalists in the Writers Union of Canada Short Prose Competition. This year there were 253 entries of both fiction and nonfiction stories of 2500 words or less. The contest closed in March so by the time the announcement happened in mid June, I’d almost forgotten about it. Almost!

It was very exciting to hear a voice on the other end of the line relaying such a positive message about a piece of my writing that I really believe in. That tells me that it’s important to listen to myself as editor, as we all must, because inevitably, what we feel about something in a story that is or isn’t working usually ends up being accurate, especially if we’ve been doing this writing thing for quite some time.

I’d written about a childhood friendship and its impact on me with references to the Japanese internment because my friend is Japanese Canadian and her mother and family were interned in the Slocan Valley during WW II. My story’s title is “My Perfect Friend”.

The pieces went through a first judging by a lot of volunteer readers who are writers and members of The Writer’s Union. The final jury was made up of writers Gail Bowen, Shauntay Grant and Eric Siblin.

The winner, Deepam Wadds from Sebright, Ontario won for her piece “Tender Fruit”.

The thing about being shortlisted is that it really sparks the motivation to keep going, although writing is just so much a part of my life that regardless of what’s going on externally, I’d continue to write. If that wasn’t the case, I would have given up a long time ago like a sane person. Definition of insanity. Einstein. Right. You got it.  I’m guessing, if you’re a writer, you can relate to this sentiment.

I read the short comments back from some of the readers with some very positive feedback. The comment I found most useful, however, was this one   “Engaging and visual, the story evolves smoothly and keeps the reader interested in the plot. However, midway into the story, the reader begins to look for focus – purpose for the story. The ending saves the story – provides the purpose – the comparison to the narrator’s own father. One way to improve the story would be to introduce the comparison earlier – and to develop it. Otherwise it seems an afterthought – only stated at the end. Fresh voice – with a bit of work, could be a very good story.”

I believe it’s the most insightful about what needs to be fixed. How I’m going to do that will take a bit of thought because I think it could end up changing the story quite a bit in terms of length and what needs to be written into it.  I won’t know that for sure until I get down to it.  When I feel like it. And I don’t really feel like it right now. Not that mood is ever the reason to not get into a piece of writing. Get back on that horse! That’s the correct thing to say. I often believe that way of thinking isn’t wholly accurate, however. I think mood should be listened to more often than not. But everyone’s got a different process. Follow your own. Nobody else has the right answer. I think when you figure that out, that revelation is a milestone.

And recognize that even when a story gets published, it’s pretty likely that you’re going to have wished you’d done something different. We hear about writers being beyond humiliated when they look back at some of their first storytelling attempts.

Is anything every really finished when it comes to the endless perfecting of the written telling?

Congratulations to the other 11 finalists. Might as well keep writing.

Osprey Village a delight of a day trip

You’ve probably all seen that gorgeous little magazine published in Vancouver with the great photography called Edible. I was flipping through the summer 2016 issue on Sunday morning when I came across the pull-out of the Self-Guided Circle Farm Tour 2016. It’s a guide that lists all the areas of interest related to food and alcohol in locales up the Fraser Valley to Chilliwack and Maple Ridge Pitt Meadows; a great little day-tripping guide.

As I was skimming it, my eyes landed on the words Osprey Village, a place about 20 minutes from where I live, nestled along the Fraser River in Pitt Meadows. It always amazes me that I could have lived in the Lower Mainland most of my life and see names of places that I’ve never heard of, often because like this place, they’ve sprung up as a result of development.

I’ve always been both excited and forlorn that there are so many pockets of life in the world where people live their entire lives that I’ll never know about and never get to see. Beautiful places with Tuscan-coloured walls and grapevines or hand painted ceramic tiles of sunny yellows and cerulean blues, dusty roads and market stalls crammed in beside humanity, hips to elbows to shopping bags, in walkways or places on sidewalks where people eke out a living selling local food that you might be a little wary to try. Do you know what I mean? Places you and I would love so much but don’t even know exist and never will. That’s what makes travel so fantastic. It delivers those types of places. And it leaves me wanting more, more, more.

I’m long overdue for another trip it would seem and as usual, I digress.

In trying to satisfy the adventure dragon and slipping it mere morsels, I do the occasional day trip as I did on Sunday and I was captivated by this Osprey Village. Where art thou?

Freeway from New West.  The 7 out to Mary Hill Bypass (Maple Ridge) across the Pitt River Bridge and then a right on Harris road, drive to the very end, marvel at how much Pitt Meadows has changed. A short walk on a leafy trail parallel to the Fraser River and suddenly beautiful townhomes, meticulously manicured with hanging baskets, patios and balconies, and tranquility pushed back from a grassy knoll and there it is.

At first glance, like something out of a 1950s movie. Both off-putting in the uniformity of its newness and yet desirable (to me) at the same time. Yes, you can like both Finn Slough and Osprey Village. There’s room for both as long as the latter doesn’t completely destroy the former which, as we know, it not only tends to, but it too often has and continues to.

A Bistro. A community centre. Salons. An ice cream parlour. A doggy daycare. Little businesses lined up awaiting customers. At first glance it’s a real chick flick of a place if you know what I mean. A girl’s getaway.  I walked down the white street perusing the services on offer and was greeted as I walked by, by a woman inside the Blue Heron Gallery. I was talking to the very warm Soledad Avaria and I’m not exaggerating when I say that her name has to be one of the most beautiful names I’ve ever heard. Her mother was German and her father was Spanish or vice versa, I can’t really recall. She now lives in Ruskin, B.C. and she paints these wonderful acrylic paintings. If you’re out in Maple Ridge on July 16/17, she’s exhibiting at a show called Two Painters and a Potter at the Red Roof Art Studio, 9702-284th street in Maple Ridge from 9-5 pm.

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Artist Soledad Avaria at Blue Heron Gallery

I also met artist Roberta Combs who was dropping off a tulip painting that had been sold. Here’s some of her work on display.   RobertaCombsforweb

Of course, being me, I couldn’t resist the Sweet Tooth Creamery. Dropped in for a gelato and to get some cool on the 30 degree day. sweettooth

Sat down out front and took in this scene and was eyeing the woman out front of a flower shop across the street called Ode to a Bloom.

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Joanne at Ode to a Bloom

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Ice cream devoured, I walked over, and went inside and stepped over sweet Cappy, a wire-haired terrier and I met Joanne.

After some conversation, I asked her whether she’d be open to a photo for my blog and we started chatting about this and that and she told me how often synchronicity is a part of her life. I handed her my card and when she read a quote I have on it, “Creativity takes Courage,” she said, “That’s the saying that’s on my journal that I write in every day.” It’s not that I’m a stranger to synchronicity, no sirree, but it was just odd and struck me as significant given that I’d just finished reading Betsy Warland’s new book, Oscar of Between, and she makes a lot of references to various events of synchronicity, or I’d actually call them pre-cognitions, that I found really interesting.

It was a nice relaxing interlude on a slow-poke of a Sunday.

Have you been anywhere new on your walkabouts lately?

I’m not the C-word police [but I could be]

female anatomyIt’s not every day you get pulled aside by a 75-year-old woman celebrating her birthday who wants to read you a poem that she wrote and wants your opinion on whether the c-word should be left in or removed from a stanza.

“I removed it because I didn’t want to offend that older lady,” said the birthday girl nodding to the woman across the room fiddling with her hearing aid. I found that amusing since the even older woman with hearing difficulties wouldn’t have heard it anyway.

It’s weird that she should pick me to ask my opinion. Or maybe not. After all, I am sometimes referred to both affectionately and derisively by one close friend as The Presbyterian Nun.  Therefore staying true to my virtuous (uptight?) nature, I’m not about to be a big fan of the c-word even though I have read many of the arguments about how its reputation as the most shocking and taboo word in the English language derives from and represents misogyny and therefore we should, as owners of said part of anatomy, take it back. We should take back the c-word in a march or something and if we took back ownership of ourselves “down there” we’d happily be flinging out the c-word in casual conversation because we could, dammit! And with pride!

Of course, on closer examination, it’s not about us at all, or our anatomy. It’s about inequality and belief systems related to women’s sexuality and I guess we’d  known things had finally, actually changed in the world when the c-word loses all potency as the absolute worst thing to say to a woman.  It’s unlikely you or I will be alive to see that day.

For the record, I don’t like the b-word either. It’s probably my age but I’m regularly annoyed by the use of the word Bitch. Then again, I can’t say I typically throw around the word dick either but saying that to a guy certainly has less impact than the slap-across-the-face feeling that the c-word can provoke. Some guys would actually take it as a compliment.

I guess for me it’s more about feeling that such aggressive and angry language should be curbed in a world that’s elevated aggressive and angry to an art form, the Kama Sutra of anger.  If each one of us refrained from using these aggressive words, we could, to use an overused phrase that makes me feel somewhat ill, even if I wholeheartedly agree with it in principle: “Be The Change We Wish to See in the World.” PUHLEEZ!

So my vote was take it out. Nix the c-word from the poem.  In hindsight, I realized that it was actually the sentence that didn’t make sense and to C or not to C, was the secondary factor.

On a lighter note, I found this great joke off the First Presbyterian Church of Oneida New York website.

THREE NUNS WERE ATTENDING A YANKEES BASEBALL GAME.

THREE MEN WERE SITTING DIRECTLY BEHIND THEM.
BECAUSE THEIR HABITS WERE PARTIALLY BLOCKING THE VIEW,
THE MEN DECIDED TO BADGER THE NUNS,
HOPING THEY’D GET ANNOYED ENOUGH TO MOVE TO ANOTHER AREA.

IN A VERY LOUD VOICE,
THE FIRST GUY SAID,
“I THINK I’M GOING TO MOVE TO UTAH .
THERE ARE ONLY 100 NUNS LIVING THERE.”

THEN THE SECOND GUY SPOKE UP AND SAID LOUDLY,
“I WANT TO MOVE TO MONTANA .
THERE ARE ONLY 5O NUNS LIVING THERE!”

THE THIRD GUY YELLED,
“I WANT TO GO TO IDAHO .
THERE ARE ONLY 25 NUNS LIVING THERE!”

THE MOTHER SUPERIOR TURNED AROUND,
LOOKED AT THE MEN
AND IN A VERY “SWEET” AND CALM VOICE SAID,

“WHY DON’T YOU GO TO HELL…
THERE AREN’T ANY NUNS THERE.”

Oh, and for more information than you’ll ever need in this lifetime related to the C-word, check out this site by Matthew Hunt.

Michiko Suzuki packages dreams and secrets into Hope Chests exhibit

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Fabric tents with image of girl by Michiko Suzuki seen here explaining about her art.

When I was a kid, my childhood friend Phyllis gave me a Japanese doll in a tiny glass case. It was a small plastic woman with a white plastic face, not even brown skinned, wearing a typical silk kimono. I can’t recall now what colour the kimono was. I think it was red. It was probably made in China even though the gift was given in the 1960s. The case stood about six inches tall. A mirror on the inside back of the display case highlighted the back of the kimono. And there was that little knapsack-styled bulge on the back of the kimono, the name of which I had to look up and have now discovered is divided into many segments: Senui. Obiyama. Otaiko. Tare.

I kept that case on my dresser for years. It sat in an esteemed place where I could look inside it every day. And there was something symbolic about part of my white face, looming in comparison to the doll’s, reflecting back at me from behind the little figurine.

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The top of the flat, wooden hope chest with the girl’s name, the artist’s name on top.

Finally, and I don’t even recall when, after so many moves, I finally let it go. It might have been in my 30s or 40s.  I do recall the outside plastic was beginning to peel away and brown stains were forming on the back of the little silver box and that contributed to my decision. When it comes to stuff, I’m pretty good at letting go, too good in fact, inevitably as an afterthought years later wishing I could examine specific things long gone just one more time.

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The collage of photography and fabric and printmaking that folds into the bottom of the box.

Phyllis used to tell me that I was more Japanese than she was, my interest in all things Japanese greater than hers at the time. I’m not sure what it was exactly that appealed to me so much. Was it just viva la difference? Was it how everything in Japanese culture seems to be done with such pristine consideration and exactness and that way of being is so opposite to my somewhat fractured, spontaneous dabbling? Was it that secrets and privacy dot Japanese culture and who doesn’t love a secret, not in the form of gossip, but in the form of hiding places? Spaces that beckons us with the promise of mystery across a divide. The folds in origami. The aromatic and culinary delights lying in wait inside bento boxes? The fine manipulations of rolls to create sushi with the delectable tastes snugly molded into seaweed rugs.

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Peering inside, the image of a girl on the fabric tent and the bottom of the hope chest with the art inside.

So when I heard about this exhibit called Hope Chests at the Burnaby Art Gallery, I knew I wanted to go. Saturday afternoon, the artist Michiko Suzuki was there. A small group gathered round and she spoke in Japanese dropping in English phrases  doing her best to explain through an interpreter about this unique work.  We followed her from one fabric tent to the next as she explained a little about each girl she had chosen and the rationale for the colours of the girls’ hope chests and their interests.

There was something so delightful in the gentle pulling back of the panels on the white fabric tents, each girl’s image on the front, and peering inside to where the bottom part of the hope chests lay. A collage of images and fabric represented what the artist had learned about each adolescent girl, eight girls in total.

The project began from a much sadder place. The artist was thinking of young girls in the sex trade in S.E. Asia (Cambodia specifically) whose hopes for their futures have been so darkened and dashed and of the girls in Fukushima whose exposure to radiation has impacted their futures through others’ perceptions of them, almost as if they may be Japan’s untouchables.

If you live nearby, it’s definitely worth a visit to June 12th, 2016.  Michiko Suzuki is a well known print maker in Japan. Her husband,  Wayne Eastcott, also a printmaker, is originally from Trail, B.C. They split their time between Vancouver and Tokyo where the exhibit will go next.