Monday, October 31, 2016

Our Halloween

My parents always planted a few pumpkin seeds every year so us kids would be able to choose our own home-grown pumpkins from the garden. Today, this is where I'd go if I was looking for a pumpkin.

A smile and two holes for eyes was the standard pumpkin creation in my day. On Sunday, my nephew Etienne and wife Aya chose this idea from their smartphone, and imitated it perfectly.

A CBC show today about Halloween said it's become the second-biggest "holiday" of the year, after Christmas. There were discussions of scary clown and inappropriate costumes (no Pocahontas! no dreadlocks!) and one caller railed bitterly about the onslaught of store-bought costumes and the "tons of plastic garbage" Halloween now seems to entail.

It's certainly a different experience today than when my father used to drive us into Lougheed on the night of Oct. 31 so the five of us could tour the town, yelling "trick or treat" at as many doors as we could manage. Razor blades in apples hadn't been discovered yet, so our parents never checked the stash we brought home. Our costumes were home-made; the only store-bought part I remember is the rubber witch's mask one of us would don every Halloween (the nose collected liquid in the freezing cold, so had to be emptied often). We were on our own; our parents never accompanied us door to door like parents do today, and they certainly  never dressed up in outfits matching their children's as seems to be the trend now. Decorations were minimal -- the most I recall is a pumpkin at people's doors -- compared to today's all-out displays of skeletons in odd positions and hissing pumpkins, ghosts and monsters full of pumped-in air.

But some things haven't changed. My nephew Etienne, his wife Aya and toddler Emi carved a pumpkin at our place tonight, and the tough orange flesh is just as thick and hard as I remember. The  innards are still stringy and full of seeds, and the candle-lit result exudes the same organic-flesh smell that I recall. The day before, I watched as the children of Dunbar, dressed in colourful costumes with their attentive matching parents, flooded up and down the street collecting candy from merchants. Their outfits may have been store-bought and their parents may have been hovering, but the thrill of wearing something unusual, behaving differently and collecting a whack of treats from strangers was the same.

This garden full of ghosts, pumpkins and other critters is one of the many well-populated Halloween displays that will be greeting city kids tonight. 

This air-filled creation on a trampoline hovers over the street as part of the same display. It looks quite menacing.

Another view of the same display, which is across from a Kitsilano park. There was a constant stream of parents and children at the gate. Many of the pieces in this garden are plastic and filled with air. 

I don't know who decided cobwebs were part of Halloween, but they are as standard now as pumpkins. This whole high hedge got the cobweb treatment. 

In this garden, the rocks got the cobwebs.

This pretty house on the hill had a full range of ghostly creatures and many signs, like the "ghouls gone wild" in this photo.

I like this display because of the way the ghostly figures are interspersed with the greenery. The house has a bit of a gothic feel, so it all fits together.

I like the "spooky" sign at the roof line, and the high-flying ghost figures around the house and in the tree.

These air-filled figures and orange Halloween lights along the sidewalk make a simple display for a simple bungalow.

Another view of Etienne and Aya's pumpkin.

And how it looks in the dark. Good Halloween night!

Friday, October 28, 2016

Skulls and skeletons

There are bones, lots of bones in the Halloween decorations in Vancouver yards this year. I have seen skeletons sitting on house tops, climbing up the side of houses, skulls decorating the tops of houses, and skeletons in pieces poking out of flower beds, lying on lawns and clambering out of coffins. I don't know where the skeletons come from -- I suppose a discount store somewhere has racks of them -- but I've never seen such a lavish display of bones before. Here are a few I've encountered in the last few days:

A red tree, a red shawl, a red hat, and beneath it all, a skeleton. A colourful surprise just up the street from me. 

On the same property, two skeletons on the roof. One  is supposed to be a male figure, with a hat and a guitar. The other is likely supposed to be his female listener, with her red scarf. Maybe just two old rock 'n' rollers still having fun!

This house at 26th and Ontario has everything -- spiders, zombies, a coffin with a skeleton trying to climb out, tombstones, warning signs, and bats flying on invisible wires. As I watched, smoke puffed out from somewhere on the deck to add to the ghostly atmosphere. This house is across from a school so I assume the homeowner's efforts are well appreciated. 

There is no shortage of skulls to decorate the fence of the Ontario street house.

This imaginative use of skeletons, who are climbing up the side of the house,  caught my eye. Beneath them is a coffin with yet another skeleton struggling to get out.

Another view of that same house, showing more of the ghoulish figures. The black object is the coffin with the extra skeleton.

At the gate, beside an archway of spiders, yet another skeleton  upside down and wrapped like a mummy. Along the sidewalk is a row of little animal skeletons. Let them be fake. Let them not be cats or dogs!

And yes, it's all in a good cause. Donations to BC Children's Hospital accepted in return for the hours of work and all the supplies that somebody put into this. 

Mud, sunshine

John took his mountain bike into Pacific Spirit Park near our place today, and returned so splattered with mud that he spent half an hour sluicing down his bike and washing his riding gear. When he finally came upstairs for lunch, I thought something horrible had happened to his face. The plague? Then I realized the black spots were mud. In his earnest ablutions, the only thing he'd missed was his face.

It's a sign that the winter rains have begun in earnest, but up until now, this has been an autumn for the books. The fall colours have been more beautiful than I ever remember, and probably because I'm taking pictures now, I've been noticing how the sunshine lights up the trees as if they're glowing from within. During my walks, I often stop in my tracks and wish I could gather the whole scene together and put it in my blog for everyone who can't see it first-hand.

Failing that, here are some of things I've enjoyed in the last couple of weeks, beginning with John's muddy face.

It took John nearly as long to wash his bike and riding gear as it did to go on his ride today, but he forgot something.

A few days ago, we had a beautiful sunny afternoon. I took advantage of it to walk down to the ocean, and caught this glowing tree en route.

Everything was shining that afternoon -- clouds, water, ships.

An avenue of red-leaved trees were catching the sunshine too.
Another view of the water and the North Shore mountains, a bit further along from the first photo. The park was quiet that afternoon, but it's popular with families and dog walkers.

Whatever the red tree is, it turned this street scene into a picture. Notice the blue port-a-potty far down the sidewalk. Port-a-potties are part of Vancouver's outdoor furniture now -- every block has one or two to accommodate the builders of the many houses under construction.

Autumn leaves and red toadstools made a nice combination on a boulevard.

On a walk home from the north side of False Creek one day, I took this picture of the painted silos at a cement plant on Granville Island. 

A man was shepherding three dogs down this beautiful Vancouver street. Nobody was paying any attention to the colours around them.

This is an outdoor swimming pool beside a rental apartment building on the south end of the Burrard Bridge. The vines covering the concrete wall around the pool have turned it into a thing of beauty.

Another picture from my False Creek walk. The tide was so high that day that it reminded me of Venice. 

People have been planting palm trees in Vancouver for awhile now, and some are getting quite gigantically high. They're giving streets like this a tropical air.

These  red toadstools  with their white bumps are probably poisonous, but they are very pretty.

This row of golden trees has caught my attention every year. I try to make sure I walk this route several times every fall.

It was getting toward dusk as I headed up the hill home, but the sun was raising a glow over the city, the mountains and the clouds behind it. I hoped the camera could catch a bit of  what I was seeing. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The angel we can't quite kill

In 1854, a man called Coventry Patmore wrote a poem called The Angel in the House. It was about his wife, who apparently fulfilled to the highest possible degree the Victorian ideal of women as submissive, sympathetic and self-sacrificing; women who treated their husbands like kings. About 50 years later, a writer called Charlotte Perkins Gilman took the opposite position. Making half the population economically dependent on the other half, turning them into unpaid house servants and reproduction machines -- with no alternative but contemptible, poverty-stricken spinsterhood -- was a horrible idea, she said. In an 1899 book called Women and Economics, she argued that women's brains are no different than men's, and women need challenging work and interests outside the home just as much as men do.

We can only imagine what Gilman would have thought of  The Angel in the House, but Virginia Woolf leaves no doubt. In a 1931 essay called Professions for Women, she injects a heavy element of satire into her description of Patmore's angel.

"She was intensely sympathetic," wrote Woolf, who brought just such a figure to life in her novel To the Lighthouse. "She was immensely charming. She was utterly unselfish. She excelled in the difficult arts of family life. She sacrificed herself daily. If there was chicken, she took the leg; if there was a draft, she sat in it -- in short she was so constituted that she never had a mind or a wish of her own, but preferred to sympathize always with the minds and wishes of others."

When I used Woolf's quote in a presentation to my classmates about feminism this week, everyone chortled. But it wasn't long before the group -- mostly women -- were admitting their own sneaky "Angel" behaviours. If there isn't quite enough of something at a meal, said one, she takes a bit less to make sure everyone else gets a full portion. Others had similar confessions, but I think mine beat them all: If my cat's home-cooked free-range chicken breast is getting a few days old in the fridge, I'll eat it myself and cook him up a fresh one.

Woolf described having to kill the hovering angel with an inkpot so she could write freely, without worrying about offending the male authors whose books she often reviewed. But even in 2016, it seems that for many of us, the Angel is still fluttering her wings.

Mr. Darcy and his free-range home-cooked chicken breast. He's condescending to eat this plateful, but when the remainder in the fridge starts getting old, guess who finishes it off?

Here's a little excerpt from Coventry Patmore's The Angel in the House: Enjoy!

Man must be pleased; but him to please
Is woman's pleasure; down the gulf
Of his condoled necessities
She casts her best, she flings herself.
How often flings for naught, and yokes
Her heart to an icicle or whim,
Whose each impatient word provokes
Another, not from her, but him;
While she, too gentle even to force
His penitence by kind replies,
Waits by, expecting his remorse, 
With pardon in her pitying eyes;
And if he once, by shame oppress'd,
A comfortable word confers,
She leans and weeps against his breast,
And seems to think the sin was hers; 
Or any eye to see her charms,
At any time, she's still his wife,
Dearly devoted to his arms;
She loves with love that cannot tire;
And when, ah woe, she loves alone,
Through passionate duty love springs higher,
As grass grows taller round a stone.

Frances Margaret Volkart, Feb. 19, 1920--Oct. 26, 2014

On the second anniversary of mom's death, what better way to remember her than with photos of some happy days in her life? Except for the first, they're all John's. Always have a professional photographer in the family!

Frances Margaret Allen, as she then was, at age 22. During the war, she spent time at home helping out on her parents' farm near Red Deer.
This photo, with "Feb. 1942" written on the back, was in dad's wallet when he died, along with his social insurance card, driver's licence, veterans' affairs card, two American $1 bills, a key to a Ford vehicle, and some foreign postage stamps. Since he and mom didn't meet until after the war, she must have given him the picture after they met. I wonder if he carried it with him all those years, moving it from wallet to wallet, until his final one?

Mom was never keen on having her photo taken, but posed nicely for this one with me when she visited  me in Vancouver in 1975. In this picture, she's a decade younger than I am now!
 This photo was taken a couple of years after I'd moved from Edmonton to work at The Vancouver Sun. Dad wasn't a great traveller, so often when one of the kids moved, mom would visit us by herself. Whether it was Halifax, Vancouver or Greenville, she wanted to know we were okay.

Mom was always good at showing surprise, and this time she didn't care that John was waiting with a camera.
This would have been taken at Christmas, 1981. John and I were settled in our jobs and feeling flush, so we decided to send my parents to Hawaii. The look on mom's face was worth every penny! Unfortunately, a few weeks later, dad had a gall-bladder operation in Chilliwack that went awry, and had to be sent to Vancouver for the operation to be completed. There were further health problems that year, and mom and dad didn't get to Hawaii until December of 1982. On the plus side, they enjoyed it so much that they took a second trip in 1986.

Tea in the backyard in Dunbar. Notice the fancy garden furniture.
This photo would have been taken soon after we bought our Dunbar house in 1976. (The laurel hedge hadn't grown up yet -- you can see the house next door.) I had just served tea, judging by the mugs in my hands. Mom has the newspaper in her lap, along with the case for her reading glasses, so she is probably about to read a story that her daughter had written for the paper. We are all looking pretty happy, so maybe it was on the front page!

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Two meals, one conclusion

A Room of One's Own is only 108 pages, but I think these two passages say it all. One fine October day, Virginia Woolf's narrator has a luxurious lunch at a beautiful, well-endowed college built for men. In the evening, she dines with a friend at a nearby women's college. It isn't nearly as beautiful; the funding for the college was so skimpy that it was barely built at all. The two meals reflect the importance accorded to educating men as compared to educating women. Woolf wrote this in 1928, but from Donald Trump's iniquities to the fact that women are hit particularly hard by the lack of affordable childcare, we are still talking about how differently women are treated from men.

Lunch at the men's college:

"[T]he lunch on this occasion began with soles, sunk in a deep dish, over which the college cook had spread a counterpane of the whitest cream, save that it was branded here and there with brown spots like the spots on the flanks of a doe. After that came the partridges, but if this suggests a couple of bald, brown birds on a plate you are mistaken. The partridges, many and various, came with all their retinue of sauces and salads, the sharp and the sweet, each in its order; their potatoes, thin as coins but not so hard; their sprouts, foliated as rosebuds but more succulent. and no sooner had the roast and its retinue been done with than the silent serving man . . . set before us, wreathed in napkins, a confection which rose all sugar from the waves. To call it pudding and so relate it to rice and tapioca would be an insult. Meanwhile, the wineglasses had flushed yellow and flushed crimson; had been emptied; had been good life seemed, how sweet its rewards...."

Dinner at the women's college:

"Here was the soup. It was a plain gravy soup. There was nothing to stir the fancy in that. One could have seen through the transparent liquid any pattern that there might have been on the plate itself. But there was no pattern. The plate was plain. Next came beef with its attendant greens and potatoes -- a homely trinity, suggesting the rumps of cattle in a muddy market, and sprouts curled and yellowed at the edge, and bargaining and cheapening and women with string bags on Monday morning. There was no reason to complain of human nature's daily food, seeing that the supply was sufficient and coal-miners doubtless were sitting down to less. Prunes and custard followed. And if anyone complains that prunes, even when mitigated by custard, are an uncharitable vegetable (fruit they are not), stringy as a miser's heart and exuding a fluid such as might run in misers' veins who have denied themselves wine and warmth for eighty years and yet not given to the poor, he should reflect that there are people whose charity embraces even the prune. Biscuits and cheese came next, and here the water-jug was liberally passed round, for it is the nature of biscuits to be dry, and these were biscuits to the core. That was all."

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Fall at VanDusen Garden

I've made good use of my VanDusen Garden pass this year, as blog-watchers will note. Alone and with my friends Linda and Ros, I have recorded the seasons come and go. In fact, my first blog post in May was about the laburnum trees in golden bloom there. This week, Linda and I were back to see what happens in the garden in the autumn. Here's what we found:

A beautiful explosion of a reddish orange bush was worth having Linda pose beside, but unfortunately we didn't get its name.

The wooden walkway through the lake is always one of my favourite spots. In summer, the waterlilies are pink and white. Now they are yellow and green, matching the foliage of the trees around them.

My friend Linda under her umbrella at a favourite picture-taking location in the garden. I never come away without several shots of this patch of water, this time with a background of red and orange trees.
One of the things I enjoy about visiting the garden is that I always find spots I haven't seen before. We discovered this cave-like avenue -- a little creepy -- just in time for Halloween.

The colourful Japanese maples turn this familiar entrance to the garden into a fall scene.

Water is intriguing any time of year, but the fresh green growth under the water makes this seem more like spring than fall.

I'm not sure what kind of trees create this splash of colour behind Linda, but I wish my garden was big enough for a similar stand.

I've seen coleus in colourful planters all over the city this fall. VanDusen has a few fine specimens at its entrance.

There's a big green patch of rhubarb-like gunnera leaves to the left of the waterway. They don't seem to be shrinking any as the season progresses.

This colourful scene is probably thanks to different types of Japanese maples.

I didn't see any water birds in the ponds this time, but with all this vegetation, there should be lots of food down there for them.

Just a nice tree with red berries, with water in the background. It looks like a scene from an English country estate.

A closer view of those succulent green plants that look like they might be edible. Where are the birds?

And back to my favourite spot, the walkway with the yellowing waterlily leaves.