Monday, January 30, 2017

The Trump solution

As the Trump regime gains speed and fury, sending world politics into a chaotic spiral, I admit to being a bit obsessed. There are so many juicy Trump stories, it's hard to stop at just one. But I was grateful to my cousin-in-law Janice on Monday for pointing me to an article that does a better job than most of explaining the Trump phenomenon. Even better, it suggests solutions, which are in short supply these days.

The Harvard Business Review article (link below) by University of California law professor Joan C. Williams argues that it was class, not gender or race, that fueled Trump's rise to power. She cites her father-in-law as the kind of white working class person who supported Trump. He quit school in Grade 8 and worked incessantly, rising to middle-class comfort through a stable, well-paying factory job, which he hated, but stuck at for 38 years. He was ahead of his time for a blue-collar worker -- he was a Republican, and he hated unions -- but now he is legion.

White working class people like him resent professionals but admire the rich, says Williams; they feel the rich have earned their money but professionals are condescending phonies. They like straight talk, which they see as manly. Their dignity, bound up in their paycheques, was shattered by the recession and the loss of their jobs to cheaper countries. Trump is rich, talks straight and promises them jobs; Hillary Clinton did none of those things.

Both the Democrats and Republicans need to deal with the issues raised by this large, resentful, poorly educated population, says Williams. They need to understand the working class is middle class, not poor, and stop devising policies that help the poor at the expense of the working class.

Both parties need to put economics at the centre, she says, noting that both supported free trade deals because they raised the gross domestic product, but overlooked the resulting job losses. Trade deals "are far more expensive than we've treated them, because sustained job development and training programs need to be counted as part of their costs," she says. What's needed -- from both parties -- are economic programs that ensure good, solid, middle-class jobs, and the education programs that will qualify people for them.

The best thing about this article is that Williams is not blaming people like her hard-working father-in-law for Trump. Instead, she is pointing the way toward avoiding the Trumps of the future.

The article can be reached at

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Sunday photos

Across the country from drizzly Vancouver, my sister Betty sent me this snowshoeing photo from Quebec on Sunday. It's taken  on the lake in the Laurentians where she and her husband Bert live. Like me, Betty loves trees, walks and being out in nature. 
Meanwhile, in Vancouver, John and I were waiting for Betty and Bert's son Etienne and his family to arrive for brunch at this restaurant on West Hastings. We were told it would be an hour's wait. It was raining.  Photo by John.

We wondered what the attraction of this particular restaurant was, but perhaps all is explained in this sign.

The wait wasn't as long as expected, and  a highchair was all set up for Etienne and Aya's  daughter Emi when we got inside. I think Emi enjoyed her brunch.

At age two, Emi is getting good at feeding herself.

But a little help from mom is always appreciated.

After brunch, the rain had stopped. John demonstrated for Etienne  the amazing capacity of his full-length raincoat to fold up into a little pouch with  straps so he can carry it like a backpack.

After brunch (with coffee), what do you do? Stroll the streets of Gastown until you find a good place for more coffee. Actually, I think Aya and Emi are sharing a rooibos tea. Photo by John.

Emi makes a break for it at the coffee shop. Photo by John.

After another stop at Etienne and Aya's place for dessert, John and I headed home to Dunbar from downtown on foot, which took nearly two hours. En route, I noticed these curious humps of dried gunnera leaves with their stick-like stalks in the gardens of south False Creek.  A different scene from Betty's, but the walk and  a look at this unusual plant life nicely rounded out the day. 

Saturday, January 28, 2017

The marvel

"For man, the vast marvel is to be alive. Whatever the unborn and the dead may know, they cannot know the beauty, the marvel of being alive in the flesh. The dead may look after the afterwards. But the magnificent here and now of life in the flesh is ours, and ours only for a time. We ought to dance with rapture that we should be alive and in the flesh, and part of the living, incarnate cosmos."

D.H. Lawrence, lover of beauty, of nature, of being alive, wrote that in 1929, when he knew he was dying from tuberculosis. The famous English author died in 1930 in Vence, France, at the age of 44, after a life of poverty, ill-health and disappointment at the suppression of his books.

In Portrait of A Genius, But..., Richard Adlington paints Lawrence as a troubled and difficult man, but a bright and unusual spirit who lived life to the full. As Lawrence's longtime friend Catherine Carswell wrote after his death, "he did nothing that he did not really want to do, and all that he most wanted to do he did. He went all over the world, he owned a ranch, he lived in the most beautiful corners of Europe, and met whom he wanted to meet and told them that they were wrong and he was right. He painted and made things, and sang and rode."

Adlington writes that when the young Lawrence took people for walks in the countryside, he made them seem so thrilling that the participants remembered them decades later. "However much Lawrence might be absorbed in talking on such a walk he noticed everything, 'the first to see the baby rabbit or cock-pheasant, the first primrose' as he walked 'briskly along with his lithe, light step, tirelessly observant, his eager eyes taking everything in.'"

I've seen a few snowdrops popping up in my walks in the last few days, but this little patch in my neighbour Audrey's garden is actually blooming.  The sight of the spring's first snowdrops came as I finished a biography of  D.H. Lawrence, who loved nature and always appreciated and noticed flowers. I thought D.H. would have paid attention to these.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Savary Pie shuffle

I'm amused by the fierce competition for good tables at the Savary Island Pie Company in West Vancouver, where John and I often share a vegetarian sandwich. On Thursday, John beat out another couple for this prized window spot. I then watched while they plotted to snatch the second window table as soon as the occupants left.

Our window table as we leave. Somebody has probably been waiting for our departure for awhile. 

There's nothing wrong with the common tables, especially with such a beautiful bouquet. But people do like their privacy.

It's an interesting dance that goes on at our favourite West Vancouver restaurant/bakery -- like that old game of musical chairs where you never know if there'll be a seat for you when the music stops. The Savary Island Pie Company's dining area is small, a jumble of tables and chairs of varying sizes and vintages tightly squeezed together. There's usually some seating, but often it's at big common tables instead of the highly prized separate ones.

As a result, experienced patrons like John and I have a routine. I line up to order while he finagles a seat. The drill is to find something, anything, while keeping an eagle eye out for better ones -- the surveillance of empty sandwich plates, coffee lingerers, and putting-on-of-coats that happens in that place must be worthy of MI5.

When we went in on Thursday, the only spots were at a common table, where several people, including another couple, were already installed. But when I turned around from ordering, I saw John moving into one of the two prized window tables. A miracle! Something that happens to us maybe once a year.

Turns out his quick eye -- honed by all those years of photography -- had spotted the coming vacancy while the other couple at the common table were distracted. But they were not to be defeated. I watched while they paid close attention to the second window table, patiently waiting -- some eye-rolling was involved -- while a couple there took turns using the bathroom, slowly donned their coats, and then began taking their dirty dishes to the counter. But once they were a foot past the table, the waiting pair were there like a shot. Possibly they had learned their lesson from John. Well before the music stops, you must be ready to pounce.

This is the couple -- with a blue coat and a black jacket -- who were at the common table when John snatched our window spot. I could see them watching for the second window table to come open. 

The original inhabitants of  the window table get up to put on their coats.

And carry their dishes to the counter. On the right, you can see the woman in the blue coat standing up, ready to make her move. John ignores the whole thing.

Ms. Blue Coat moves in.

Mr. Black Coat brings his plate to the new table. 

The new tenants of the window table settle in. John ignores it all. 

The exterior of the Savary Island Pie Company, scene of all the drama. And good food.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Evolution of a Dunbar house

This old-fashioned house with stained-glass windows, white picket fence and a witch-hazel tree in the corner once occupied the lot at the end of my block. This was what I saw every time I walked up the street to shop on Dunbar.

This was the side view, with its old-time garage, and a garden full of flowers and  greenery. The old man who lived here moved  to a seniors' residence and his house was sold last spring.

This is the excavator at work this fall, demolishing the house and all the greenery except for a holly and laburnum tree in one small section at the front. (Photo by John Denniston)

The lot all flattened and ready for construction.

This is the corner where the witch hazel once stood. It's been replaced by the pole for the power connection during construction. 

The foundation for the new house shows it will likely be the same size or a bit bigger than the new yellow one beside it. 
The B.C. government's 15-per-cent tax on foreign buyers of Greater Vancouver real estate is supposed to have slowed down the red-hot market in the city, but there is no evidence of that in the Dunbar area. Here, houses are being snapped up just as fast and demolished as enthusiastically as ever, as far as I can see.

According to a CBC report earlier this month, the number of houses being sold in Greater Vancouver is dropping, as are prices -- a teeny-tiny bit -- since the tax came in last summer. But this applies to the whole region, not specifically my area, which has long been a bulls' eye for foreign buyers.

(The Greater Vancouver Real Estate board said in the CBC report that the number of homes sold in Greater Vancouver in December dropped more than 22 per cent compared to the previous month, and nearly 40 per cent when compared to the previous year. However, crazy-high prices haven't fallen much. The benchmark price of all residential homes dropped 2.2 per cent in the last six months, but prices are still nearly 18 per cent higher than in December 2015.)

In my area, I see new "for sale" and "sold" signs every day, and the demolition crews are as busy as ever. I get a graphic reminder of this every time I walk up my back alley, where the old-time house on the corner has been demolished, along with all its greenery. I miss the witch-hazel that used to scent the whole neighbourhood at this time of year: It has been replaced by a power pole for the new construction.

Two other big new houses already built on our block have featured three-car garages like this. I expect this is what will eventually replace the picket fence and the witch-hazel on the corner lot.
 I passed this house on my walk today -- another old-time place will soon be gone. 

The reason I photographed it is that it has a witch-hazel, now in bloom. No doubt it will disappear just as quickly as the one on my block.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Mom's biscuits

It took awhile to find a recipe and learn the tricks of making the kind of baking-powder biscuits mom used to make on the farm. After a few tries, I think I'm getting there.

One of the reasons recipes like this were popular in farming communities is that people milked their own cows and had their own cream, a major ingredient.

John gets ready for a taste test.

Trust John to adopt a good pose for the photographer!
Mom made baking-powder biscuits as effortlessly as she brewed a pot of tea. She'd throw flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl, add cream (from cows milked that morning) until the dough stuck together, toss it on the counter to roll it out, cut circles with a water glass, put them in the oven -- and 20 minutes later, voila! Light, tender, warm rounds of biscuits.

Because it was so easy for her, I assumed I would have no trouble if and when I ever wanted to make such biscuits myself. But I didn't get her instructions (her recipe was probably in her head) before she died, and every version I could find included at least some butter instead of straight cream.

Eventually one popped up as part of a magazine article on making excellent fried chicken. "Cream Biscuits" are apparently considered an appropriate side dish for same, but I didn't care -- the recipe looked exactly like mom's.

My first attempts did not go well. The instructions are to "pat" the dough into a circle about an inch thick before cutting it into wedges. Taking this as a warning to treat it gently, I eschewed a rolling pin, and depended on my hands to squash it down. It was far more than an inch thick, it wasn't a circle, and it didn't cut well. The result? Odd-shaped towers of triangular biscuits, uncooked in the middle.

On Tuesday, I channeled mom's no-nonsense attitude. A rolling pin, firmly applied, got the dough down to an inch, and a water glass cut out even-sized circles. The resulting biscuits were tender, cooked through, and with butter and jam applied, almost as good as mom's. Not as easy as brewing a pot of tea, though.

Flaky, tender and warm, with a bit of butter melting on it. Yes, I know it's incredibly indulgent, but John and I both preceded it with  a bowl of kale salad.  

Raspberry jam adds the final touch. This is bought jam, but what made the biscuits memorable on the farm was home-made jam from wild raspberries. No other jam can approach it. 

The recipe, which I found in a magazine article about making fried chicken. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

Fishing for farmers

An interesting construction caught my eye as I passed the City Farmer demonstration garden in Kitsilano on Monday.  Turns out the garden people have taken creative advantage of the dismantling of the adjacent railway tracks  to open a new entrance into their facility from the Arbutus Greenway.
Bits and pieces of the railway have been used to create the new gate for the garden. Critters like dragonflies and snails, and even a unicorn have been twisted out of the iron.

The top of the gate features what look like garden tools, plus a couple of birdhouses. 

A closer look at the gate, which has primroses and a flowering cabbage threaded through the metal.

Maria, a longtime City Farmer worker, is passionate about the plants, insects and birds that make up her working day.

What do you do with leftovers from a railway that once ran beside your demonstration garden? Create an ironwork gate, of course. Twine bagged primroses and birdhouses into it, and invite the curious to pass through. That's what Maria did when I happened to walk past the City Farmer's demonstration garden at Sixth and Maple on Monday.

Maria was digging away at what will be a bark-mulch path aimed at drawing pedestrians from the recently dismantled Sixth Avenue railway tracks (now the Arbutus Greenway) into the garden, a teaching and demonstration facility for Vancouverites interested in composting, raising their own food, and catering to the city's wildlife.

Even though the non-profit facility, run under the auspices of the city of Vancouver, has been around since the late 1980s, I've only dropped in a few times over the years, mainly for information on composting. But the impromptu tour by an ultra-enthusiastic Maria -- plus the inviting new entrance -- makes it likely I will drift through every time I walk that stretch of Sixth.

The garden is asleep for the winter right now -- but through Maria's eyes, I could see the cherry blossoms drifting over students in the outdoor classroom, the mulberry tree full of fruit, the hops vines climbing to the skies, the unstoppable wisteria in bloom and the kids' garden full of children exploring the fairy picnic area under the uprooted cottonwood (it toppled in a windstorm). Maria hopes the new gate, with vines and flowers twisting through it, will draw lots of visitors this summer. "Like those nets that catch all the fish," she said. "You mean driftnets?" I asked. "That's it," she said.

In wisteria season, the vines over this interior garden archway will be heavy with scented purple blossoms. Maria has trained the wisteria into a holly tree nearby. 

The little cob house, built in 2003, adds a Hobbit touch to the garden. It's used as a tool storage shed now, but it has served as a tiny -- very cold -- office in the past.

A stained glass window sheds a lovely light in the cob house interior.

Outside detail of  the cob house. 

Outdoor classes are held in this section of the garden. When the cherry tree above is shedding its pink blossoms on the students, Maria says it's like teaching in paradise.

The uprooted cottonwood tree in the children's garden.. Maria has scattered fairy-size paraphernalia below it to fuel young imaginations. 

Hives for mason bees and other good insects that pollinate the garden and help make things grow.

Part of a rake sticks out among the objects that make up the gate into the garden. Maria points to another of the little objects made from railway leftovers.