Catching the spirit

*Disclaimer: this is a long one as I've been pondering this for the last two weeks. Read on at your own peril.*

Earlier this week I was feeling kind of weird. I really love the December season and I'm usually up for it all, but this year I just couldn't seem to find the spirit of it. I'm definitely looking forward to going home but that warm tummy feeling of the christmas season wasn't there!

First, a justification. I don't consider myself Catholic even though our parents raised us in the church. I just don't buy any of it and, for a few years, December was a difficult time for me because I tried and tried to reconcile the joy I do experience at this time of year with a high level of unease with and distrust of organized religion. But here it is: the christmas season and all its rites outside the churchy stuff are some of the few rituals left in my life that help mark the passing of time and that celebrate traditions. I've abandoned just about every other seasonal ritual upheld by the church like Easter, etc., but christmas for me still holds the comfort of annual repetition and celebration, of the family coming together and traditions maintained. I can support that! I'm at ease with my own beliefs now and christmas finally fits right in as a seasonal ritual that for me has nothing to do with spirituality and everything to do with love between friends and family.

Back to my first point, with all this loving tradition to look forward to, I was having a hard time catching the spirit which for me is unusual. Definitely it is the work looming ahead in January that is making it hard for me to take a break right now. It feels more like I should be riding the wave of momentum to work hard on the workshops and really gear down to get shit done. But suddenly I have to break the momentum and shift focus from work to seasonal ritual. It sucks but I was really finding that shift difficult.

So I pulled out the big guns. Last weekend I made a family classic, date snowballs, to take to a party. In our family when the house fills with the smell of melting dates and carmelized brown sugar it's an olfactory cue that the holidays have arrived. Maybe it was the organic rice crisps I used instead of good old Rice Krispies but the snowballs lacked a certain something so the spirit eluded me.

Rocco and I went to the Chor Leoni Men's Choir christmas concert on Tuesday night. They sang some beautiful gregorian chants and new carols by Canadian composers, and a children's choir came in for a few songs too. The Ryerson United Church was lit with candles and soft white light; ceramic doves were in every nook and cranny and the audience was dressed in its holiday best. How could this not fill me with seasonal cheer? Well I loved the concert, but it didn't do it for me.

A couple days ago I was puttering about the house doing some knitting and planning holiday food and I suddenly started craving the music of my mom's house around this time of year: Handel's Messiah and Pavarotti singing Oh Holy Night. I know, I know, back to the churchy stuff. But it's all part of the ritual! It turns out that Rocco has a version of the Messiah on his iTunes so I cranked it up. I could sing along with a line or two since we sang a few sections of the Messiah with my high school choir, and of course I remember going to see my mom sing the Messiah at Southminster United in Lethbridge as a child. Again, the strategy failed and instead I felt like my attempts at holiday creation were hollow and false.

But something did do it. I am in the spirit now and I even did the "going home for the holidays" dance this morning when I bounded out of bed. What on earth could have triggered it for me, you ask? Where Handel and snowballs and ceramic doves weren't up to the challenge?

Brussel sprouts! Rocco's office party was last night and every year they do a potluck. We signed up to bring an appetizer and a veggie side - mostly to ensure I would have something to eat there since a colleague had signed up early to bring an Entire Roasted Pig, head and all. Yes, I was concerned. Anyway, back to the sprouts. I figured if someone had the audacity to bring an Entire Pig, then I had the audacity to bring every child's family dinner nightmare, the dreaded sprout. When Rocco told one guy what we were bringing to the party the guy made the face we all know, brussel sprout face. He was not impressed. Oh well, sucks to be him!

Rocco came home at lunch yesterday to help prepare the sprouts for roasting. I bought 2.5kgs of fresh sprouts (!) and we sat at the kitchen table eating grilled cheese sandwiches and trimming and chopping this massive mound of brassica goodness. As we worked our way through the pile, I could feel myself starting to settle into the excitement of the season. The familiar feeling of anticipation and warmth grew in my belly as I imagined the table at home absolutely loaded with fabulous food, the kitchen steamy with great smells and frantic activity and the counter littered with short glasses of gin and tonic abandoned halfway through then replaced by a new glass when the original can't be identified. Yes, I'm ready!

I'm ready to see all my wonderful friends and family in Alberta. I'm ready to swill beer with buddies while their children wander around our legs and to play a game of Scrabble with Rocco on christmas eve while the house is quiet since others have gone to midnight mass. I'm ready to face the hordes of travelers at the airport and my mother foisting yet another christmas ornament on me as she tries to pare down her own collection. There will undoubtedly be an impromptu performance of a song or two from an MGM musical by me and my sisters, and at least one trip to Coco Pazzo for pasta chips and pizza when everyone is so over home cooking. My dad will sit on the edge of the sofa arm and get excited about a soccer game and we'll play pass the phone while yelling down the line at our Irish relatives who will be in their cups. Yep, I'm ready for christmas. Bring it on!

Happy holidays everyone!


Vermicompost update

You all remember when I started my vermicompost? It's been nine months now and, just like human gestation, the vermicompost is ready to harvest. Hahahahahah, I slay myself!

According to numerous sources, unless you're farming worms to be used as bait in fishing or to be applied to a garden, you don't actually have to harvest or split the worms in your vermicompost. The population will stabilize in response to how much and often it gets fed. Too many worms and some will die off - their bodies decompose and enrich the compost. Too few worms and they will start to lay eggs; you can see the small brown eggs that are oval and look a bit like small grain brown rice. Many people split their vermicomposts twice a year because they think it is necessary to maintain a healthy worm population but that's not actually the case.

So when you're not harvesting worms, you can harvest the castings (worm poo) and the compost tea (I like to think of this as worm pee even though it's definitely not). The 'compost' of vermicompost is both the castings and the tea. Both are rich in nutrients and can be applied to gardens and beds and potted plants. The castings are messier to harvest but the way I set up my vermicompost allows for very easy harvest of the compost tea. The lower bucket catches excess liquid that seeps out of the upper bucket through mesh screens so harvesting is only a matter of separating the two buckets and pouring off the tea that has collected in the lower bucket.

A number of smaller (teenaged?) worms made it through the fine mesh in the bottom of the upper bucket. Actually, maybe the eggs fell through the mesh and the worms hatched in the tea. Anyway, whatever way it happened, there were some worms in the tea and I had to strain the tea in order to collect it and return the worms to the upper bucket.

Now I have a large mason jar full of gorgeous, rich, dark compost tea. I already mixed some in a jug of water in a 1:10 ratio, tea to water, and all my plants are singing its praises. I'm kind of wondering who I can share it with for christmas. Wouldn't you just love to see a large jar of worm pee under the tree, tied with a big fat red ribbon? Well, be careful what you wish for!


Supervisor on CBC

Recently my supervising prof, Dr. John Robinson, was invited to participate on a panel with David Suzuki for a Sounds Like Canada episode with Shelagh Rogers.
Here's the blurb posted on the CBC website:

It was another successful "Shelagh on Stage" - this time a live interview at Vancouver's Heritage Hall with famed environmentalist David Suzuki, and sustainability expert John Robinson. The discussion ranged from the role of the media in the environmental movement, to the importance of optimism in the face of news about global warming, to the lack of access to nature in the city.

John is a thoughtful and inspiring man. We have our differences but overall I have a lot of respect for him and he has been stalwart in his support for my work through thick and thin (i.e., the very definition of stalwart - how redundant of me).

You can listen to the episode in three parts here. A little way down the page, look for November 27th. John and David have very different views on how a sustainable future can be achieved and how to communicate the urgency of sustainability to people. Any die hard fans of Suzuki (in my books, those wearing blinders) might find this interesting, and anyone curious about the tone of conversation we have in my department (Resource Management and Environmental Studies in UBC) should take a listen. It's not long and it's fairly entertaining.

Live long and conserve!


How to make this girl's day

A new friend left me a mixed disc on my desk at school this morning. It's a fabulous mix of soul, old skool r&b, jazzy stuff. Oh my god. So welcome today! I think she is destined to become a good friend over many years. Oh, yikes, I wonder if I should return the favour of a Liminal Me compilation. This gal is so much cooler than me, I don't know how it could achieve her standards.

The gift is so welcome today because yesterday was a massive professional embarrassment. A project I've been on for 3 years is finally moving into the data collection phase meaning we are holding a series of workshops, recording participant engagement and collecting surveys, and looking for more or less successful ways of communicating sustainability. The way things have progressed, I am responsible for a substantial portion of the workshop that will be tested against the control workshops. Yesterday we held a dry run of the experimental workshop and my portion totally, absolutely, distressingly bombed. Of course everyone volunteering as 'participants' for the dry run have heard me talk about the work over the last couple of months and attended the workshop in part to see how the work played out. So you see, everyone in the room knew that it was my part that failed. Plus the facilitators made a point of asking me by name what to do next when they lost their way; I was supposed to be a non-participating observer at the back of the room and the facilitation should have been well-prepared and professional. Ugh. Just disgusted with myself and with the research team right now.

You caught me on a bad day (though yesterday was worse) and the mixed disc arrived at the perfect moment for a little spirit boosting. Life usually figures out a balance, doesn't it? Cue the cheesy art print:


Ha ha ho ho ha

From the online Globe and Mail:

Microsoft turns off 'bad Santa'

Associated Press

SEATTLE — — Microsoft Corp. quickly shut down Santa Claus' Web privileges after it found out the automated elf it created for kids to instant message with was talking naughty, not nice.

Last year, Microsoft encouraged kids to connect directly to “Santa” by adding northpolelive.com to their Windows Live Messenger contact lists. The Santa program, which Microsoft reactivated in early December, asked children what they wanted for Christmas and could respond on topic, thanks to artificial intelligence.

The holiday cheer soured this week when a reader of a United Kingdom-based technology news site, The Register, reported that a chat between Santa and his underage nieces about eating pizza prompted Santa to bring up oral sex.

One of the publication's writers replicated the chat Monday. After declining the writer's repeated invitations to eat pizza, a frustrated Santa burst out with, “You want me to eat what?!? It's fun to talk about oral sex, but I want to chat about something else.”

The exchange ended with the writer and Santa calling each other “dirty bastard."

Microsoft spokesman Adam Sohn said the company's engineers tried to clean up Santa's vocabulary, but even after making changes to the software, the company wasn't comfortable keeping him online.

“It's not like if you say, 'Hello Santa,' he's going to throw inappropriate stuff at you,” said Mr. Sohn.

Mr. Sohn said Santa's lewd comment was sparked by someone “pushing this thing to make it do things it wasn't supposed to do.”

Santa is just one of many “agents,” or automated IM programs, that computer users can chat with on Live Messenger. Some are useful — customer service agents, for example — while others are frivolous, like an alien that responds to IMs with burbling extraterrestrial noises. Microsoft disabled Santa Tuesday. On Wednesday, northpolelive.com appeared to be online in one reporter's Messenger contact list, but Santa did not respond to her messages.


Contact Improv Grand Dame

Peter Bingham, Andrew de Lotbinière Harwood
photo : Chris Randle

When I was dancing, I really loved the Contact Improv form. Essentially, dancers throw themselves at other dancers, are picked up, rebound off, slide under and around, balance, and flow. It's wonderful to do and less interesting to watch just because as an audience member you know how good it feels when it's really flowing and you want to be a part of the dance but you only get to watch. Ah well, live vicariously for a while!

I just found out about a contact improv show happening this weekend at EDAM, a Vancouver company and school, with Peter Bingham - the company founder and a huge name in CI - and Nancy Stark Smith. Nancy is one of the founding figures of CI; they call her the Grand Dame of the form, and as far as I know she doesn't perform much anymore. The opportunity to see her perform locally, with Peter Bingham no less, is irresistible. I've reserved a couple tickets for Friday night's show - anyone in Vancouver interested in coming with me?

EDAM also hosts a contact jam every Sunday afternoon - a contact jam is a random collection of dancers who have varying levels of skill in the form. The point is to play and explore. I've often been tempted to go drop in and refresh my dance senses but I'm nervous. I'm out of shape in dance terms and it's been years now since I was in a studio. Still...maybe.


Exciting night in the bedroom!

No, you dirty, dirty readers, not exciting like that. Exciting like this:

I know, it's really hard to see that this is a firetruck outside our house at 5am this morning. It was a fairly stormy weekend in Vancouver with two days of wet snow that turned to heavy rain Sunday evening. Pretty mucky out there and surprisingly cold too with temperatures feeling like -9 at one point. I know that means absolutely nothing to the rest of the nation, but it was not usual for these parts.

So last night we're snoozing away to the sound of heavy rain and a bit of wind, when I kind of slowly wake up to an intermittent noise that I can't place. It's a kind of whump or deep hum sound happening every minute or so and lasting a couple seconds. I climb out of bed to look out the bedroom window, hoping to identify the sound. Nothing...nothing...whump! What? Is that sparking? ...whump! Oh my god the shed is sparking and fizzling! Behind the main house there is a large shed that used to be a garage. The landlords use it as a large workroom now with fancy power tools, and they also carved out a storage space for us where we keep our bikes and other odds and ends. The sparks are coming from the bottom of the door to our storage compartment. And they're getting worse!

I wake Rocco up and we both freak out a little then grab the phone and call the landlords downstairs. They had heard the noise too but don't have a window in their apartment that looks out back that way. Keeping an eye on the phenomenon, it seems like the sparking has started little flames that hang about for a few seconds then get doused by the heavy rain. The landlords call the fire department and the truck arrives really quickly, in minutes. Three firefighters go around to the shed - and here's where all the excitement dissipates, really quickly - they look inside the storage room, they look outside the storage room, one firefighter kicks the bottom of the shed where it was sparking, and they leave. It turns out there is an exposed wire at the bottom of the door to our storage room and it was shorting in the rain. So freaky!

Anyway, the landlord cut the power to the shed before the firetruck arrived so there really wasn't anything else to see. They'll get the situation repaired and there's essentially no damage except a small bit of charring on the outside of the door frame, but it was definitely scary for a while when all I knew was that the large wooden structure immediately behind our house was sparking and trying to flame up. We were both dressed in warm clothes by the time the truck came, I had an emergency bag packed with some food and juice boxes, toques and mitts, umbrellas and reading material, and the cat carrier was out and ready to go next to our raincoats by the door.

5:20am and we were back in bed trying to get back to sleep as the cats were slowly emerging from deep under the bed where they cowered after we managed to freak them out with our own worry. Like I said, an exciting night in the bedroom!