Happy Boxing Day

Every year in December, sooner or later, I happen to glance at a calendar and notice that it designates December 26th as Boxing Day, usually with “U.K., Canada” in parenthesis after it. But what the heck is Boxing Day, anyway? I’ve always wondered, but have been too lazy to find out up to now.

I’m ashamed to admit that until extremely recently, I assumed it had something to do with the sport of boxing, and I always found that a bit jarring for the day after you’re supposed to be celebrate Peace on Earth, Goodwill toward Men. But I’d just sniff and say, “Well, those crazy Brits, you know…”

It turns out that I got it all wrong.

According to Wikipedia, there are several theories about how this holiday came about, but the most popular one seems to be that it was a time for the upper classes to bestow a box of money or gifts on their servants. The poor servants, of course, had to stick around and serve their masters on Christmas Day, so they were allowed to go home and see their families the day after. The rich people, probably to assuage their mild guilt for having treated these servants abominably all year long, would give them a gift to share with their families, pat them on the head and send them on their merry way, with the expectation that they’d be back to scrubbing by the day after.

I can see why this holiday never caught on in the U.S. While we have pretty much identical and outrageous income inequality, we would never admit this publicly. We certainly wouldn’t celebrate it. All Men here are supposed to be created equal, after all. The fact that we cling to this myth is why we don’t get a handout every December 26th. Yay us.

But Boxing Day has evolved over time. As fewer families had servants, Boxing Day turned into a day where you would relax and spend time with family. I’m told by a Canadian friend that it was also known as a day when you passed on gifts you don’t need to people whom you think could use them. You might slip a discreet envelope of cash to the postman. It also became a time to watch and participate in sports, and a time to raise money for charities.

For a while, it was also a big day for fox hunting in Britain. For the uninitiated, this was dressing up in finery, tearing up the countryside on horseback with your buddies, as a pack of your dogs chased down and wore out a poor unsuspecting fox for its ultimate demise, for no good reason other than that it was tradition. I mean, it’s not like people crave fox meat after all. But fortunately, that sport has been banned. Now people still do the riding bit, but without the killing bit, which must look just as appalling even without the blood.

For an equally gory take on Boxing Day, check out this article, which describes what they used to do in Ireland. There, it was known as St. Stephen’s Day. Good old Steve was apparently stoned to death for believing in Jesus. So what did the Irish decide to do to commemorate this man? A group of boys would go out, stone wrens to death, and then carry their little bodies from house to house asking for money. I’m glad that tradition has fallen out of favor. But much like with fox hunting, these Wren Boys still do the parading about town bit without the crushing in the birdie’s little skulls bit. Go figure.

I wish Boxing Day had ended there. But no. In recent years it has turned into a time to take advantage of sales, with the same kind of horrifying frenzy of consumerism that we Americans indulge in on Black Friday.

This transformation mirrors that of society at large. First, your betters throw you a bone. Then you passively celebrate, perhaps with a macabre twist. Then you trample your neighbors to buy things that you can’t afford and don’t really need. Because Capitalism is just wonderful. ‘Tis the season.

Happy Boxing Day.

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A Celebration of Light

One of the things I’ll never get used to here in the Pacific Northwest is that there is nearly 8 hours less sunlight per day in the winter than there is in the summer. In Florida, the difference is only 4 hours. But that means that people here really appreciate the daylight when they have it. It can’t be taken for granted. There is a definite morale change from summer to winter, and with it comes a lifestyle change. People seem to hibernate here in the wintertime.

Therefore, it doesn’t surprise me that Vancouver, Canada, our neighbor to the north, has a three day celebration of light each summer. The funny thing is, this celebration takes place at night. That’s because it is a fireworks competition.

Each year, three countries are chosen to put on a fireworks display over English Bay on three separate evenings. These displays are set to music, and they’re judged. They’re always spectacular. The event comes with food trucks, too, and usually draws about 400,000 people per night.

This year, India, Canada, and Croatia competed. Canada, the home team so to speak, won. Croatia won the people’s choice award. (Click on the country names to see full Youtube videos of the events. They’re incredible.)

I was lucky enough to experience Canada’s effort, and I must say that it was, without a doubt, the best fireworks display I’ve ever seen in my life. I saw at least 5 types of fireworks that I’d never seen bfore. They were wonderfully creative, surprising, and delightful.

If you’re ever in the Vancouver area in late July, early August, don’t miss the Celebration of Light. But please don’t bring your dog. If I lived in Vancouver, I’d probably take my dogs and leave town during this event. War veterans might want to give it a pass, too.

But everyone else… wow. Just wow. Three cheers for light!

Celebration of Light 2019

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Vancouver for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner

I just love Vancouver, Canada! I’ve visited once a year since I moved over to this side of the continent, and I suspect that will be a long-standing tradition for me. It’s a ridiculously short drive from Seattle, and it feels familiar and exotic at the same time.

It’s such a vibrant big city, full of art and quirkiness, and you hear so many different languages on the street that you genuinely feel that you’re at a cultural crossroads. Each neighborhood has a different style and personality, which makes it a great deal of fun to explore. And the food… My God, the food…

I’ve been a visitor in this fair city enough times to have discovered several dining favorites. What follows are my picks for all three meals of the day.

Breakfast:

Le Petit Belge. I stumbled upon this little restaurant because it was a short walk from my hotel. It got quite a few bonus points for also serving delicious food in a delightful setting. This place makes very light, flavorful Belgian waffles, and offers a variety of toppings. I tend toward the sweet toppings, such as strawberries, whipped cream, chocolate, mixed fruit, or ice cream. But they also offer savory toppings such as prosciutto, asparagus, salmon, avocado, cheese, and bacon. In addition, they serve other breakfast fare such as eggs, omelets and breakfast bowls. And you get to eat these delectable things while sitting in their cute little dining room and watching the city’s denizens walk by. A great Vancouver experience.

Lunch

For lunch, I suggest two possibilities.

If you’re looking for a casual and filling meal, and are not averse to fried seafood, then you absolutely have to check out Go Fish. It’s a little outdoor establishment on the banks of False Creek. Their menu is simple. Eat your crispy cod, salmon or halibut, fresh off the dock, with the delicious fries, or try their Tacones, all while gazing at Granville Island, just across the way. The only down sides are that they are closed on Mondays, and since the seating is outdoors, you’ll want good weather for this dining experience.

If you’d prefer something healthier, I highly recommend the Granville Island Public Market, which is open 7 days a week. You’ll be overwhelmed by the variety of fresh fruit and vegetables, and your mouth will water when you contemplate the abundance of desserts. You can also pick up fresh baked bread, cheeses, and meats, and create your own picnic, right on the spot. Or if you’re feeling lazy and want someone else to do the food prep for you, there’s an international food court with some wonderful options. After you’ve eaten, you can shop for unique gifts amongst the stalls that are overflowing with handcrafted art.

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Dinner

I discovered this restaurant on my most recent visit. Since Vancouver is known for its seafood and Asian cuisine, and since I had enjoyed Go Fish for lunch, I asked my hotel concierge for his recommendation for a Chinese restaurant. Without hesitation, he recommended Peaceful Restaurant on Seymour Street. (They have several locations. That just happened to be the nearest one.)

Oh. My. God. This turned out to be the best Chinese food I’ve ever eaten. It made me want to move to Vancouver, just so I could eat there once a week. Specializing in very flavorful Northern Chinese cuisine, this place has gotten several awards.

I was anxious to try one of their noodle dishes. You have a choice of “hand-pulled” noodles which are thick and round, or the “knife-bladed” which are, of course, flat. I had the stir fried beef and veggies with hand-pulled noodles, and my goal in life is to fill my above ground swimming pool with the stuff, and just dive in every night at around 5pm. Dear husband had the Peaceful House Stir fried noodles with spicy seafood and pork. The menu is extensive at this place, and the Dim Sum gets raves as well, but we didn’t try it this time around.

At the end of the meal, dear husband practically had to peel my fingers off the door frame and carry me away, kicking and screaming in protest.

Incidentally, they have franchising information on their website. If someone in Seattle takes them up on this opportunity, I will kiss that person on the lips, on camera, at the top of the space needle.

I have no idea why I left Vancouver. Please remind me.

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Glacier National Park, Montana

I’ve been wanting to see Glacier National Park for many years. As the glaciers are rapidly disappearing, I feel as though time is of the essence, so I planned a trip for this August. (Climate change waits for no blogger.)

Just my luck, a few weeks before our visit, the park caught fire. The western portion of the park is STILL closed, as of this writing. I can’t even begin to tell you how profoundly disappointing that was.

And yet, even greatly reduced in size, even smoky, Glacier National Park caused me to fall in love with it. When we woke up on day two, after the rain had poured down all night and the temperature had dropped to 35 degrees and all the mountain peaks were covered in snow, it was even more stunning. I’m so glad we went.

It didn’t occur to me that there would be so many gigantic, gorgeous lakes. (Duh. Glaciers do melt and carve the landscape.) And on many of them, you can take boat trips. There’s also horseback riding and rafting in the park.

None of which we did, because we had three dogs with us. While dogs are allowed in the national parks, they are not allowed on any of the trails, and technically they’re not supposed to be left unattended. They were quite comfortable in their cozy dog beds in the SUV, because heaven knows it wasn’t hot, but we didn’t think it was a good idea to leave them for more than 10 or 15 minutes. So we did a short hike to the beautiful Baring Falls, and then visited every overlook and visitor center that we came across. (I was once told by a park ranger that 99% of all visitors never get farther than the overlooks, so hey, we were still ahead of the game by taking that one, gorgeous hike.)

We also didn’t go to the portion of the park that extends into Canada, again, because of the dogs. We hadn’t gotten the right paperwork for them. But we got so close to the border that my phone assumed I was roaming. That counts for something!

It seems like I’m always in a fantastic mood whenever I cross the continental divide. I’d do it again and again if I could. I’d also love to get a closer look at the buffalo I saw on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, which borders the park. I wasn’t expecting such a huge herd. There were at least a hundred, which is even more than I saw at Yellowstone. I was so glad to discover they were there. I could imagine a time when they covered the entire prairie.

I was left with a tantalizing taste of this awe-inspiring park. I hope to go back again someday. When I do, I won’t bring the dogs, and I’ll focus on the Western side and Canada, and I’ll take that boat trip and go horseback riding. Something to look forward to.

So do I suggest a visit to Glacier National Park? Heck yes! Again and again! In the meantime, you can help preserve this valuable natural resource by donating to the Glacier National Park Conservancy at glacier.org.

Here are some pictures we took, to whet your appetite.

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Civil Trade War

So now Trump thinks Canada is a security risk? Oh, come on. Those people won’t even jaywalk at an intersection. Seriously. There could be no cars for miles, and they’d still patiently wait for the crossing signal.

Trump imposing tariffs on Mexico, Canada, and the European Union is like walking up to your three best friends in the school yard and punching them each in the throat. Just ‘cuz.

As if we weren’t already convinced that this man is an idiot, he now decides to do something that has absolutely no upside, even for him. But oh, yeah, it certainly has taken our focus off of Russia, hasn’t it? He does like to stir shit up.

Smoke and mirrors. It’s all smoke and mirrors. The next election can’t come fast enough.

For some reason, though, a lot of people don’t quite get (yet) what a global pissing match Trump has just set off. So let’s scale it down a bit for easier comprehension.

Let’s say the Governor of Maine doesn’t like the Governor of Georgia. So Maine decides to impose a tariff on all peaches. This means that it gets a lot more expensive for Georgia to get their peaches to consumers in Maine. This causes the Governor of Georgia’s head to explode, and he says, “Fine! We are now putting a tariff on Lobsters! Take that!”

Well, messing with Lobsters in Maine is like touching the third rail. This cannot be borne! So Maine says, okay, now we’re going to put a tariff on airplanes. (You may not know this, but Georgia’s top export is airplanes.)

But hold on. Airplanes are also the top export in California, Arizona, Washington, Kansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, Ohio, Kentucky, North Carolina, Florida, and Connecticut. So they all sit up tensely and blink, too. What’s going to happen next? They all start looking around to see how they can hurt other states who might hurt them. Everyone is poised for battle.

That’s really how the civil war started. Only back then, the commodity was slaves. Not only won’t we buy your slaves, but you can’t have them either. And before we knew it, hundreds of thousands of Americans were dead.

This trade war? Worst idea ever. Thanks, Trump. Way to go.

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My Book is in Another Library!

During my last trip to Canada, I stopped in to visit the Vancouver Women’s Library. I’ve blogged about this great organization before, and I remain very impressed with their mission. Because of that, I was really excited to add my book, A Bridgetender’s View: Notes on Gratitude, to their collection. They’ve invited me to do a book reading at some point. I am waiting until my second book is finished. (And I’m making slow and steady progress on it, so please bear with me!)

So now my book is officially in two different library systems in two different countries. I happen to know it’s in other countries as well, including Mexico, Argentina, Great Britain, Germany, and Australia. People have also sent me pictures of my book on their nightstands, vacation cabins, and various book shelves, and it always makes me smile.

One person even donated my book to a Little Free Library, so I’m sure it’s been on some interesting adventures. I also gave one of my favorite authors, David Sedaris, a copy. I’m sure it got abandoned in either his hotel room or the airport, but still… he touched it!!! Another interesting adventure.

Here’s a recent pic of me visiting my book in the Renton branch, just south of Seattle, in the King County Library system. (Because, yeah, I do that. More often than I care to admit.) I would be really honored if you added one to your bookshelf or requested that my book be included in your library system as well. You’d have much more influence with your library than I would. Just sayin’.

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Emily Carr, Canadian Modernist

Emily Carr (1871-1945) is one of Canada’s most renowned artists. I am embarrassed to say that I’d never heard of her until I stumbled upon a permanent collection of her work at the Vancouver Art Gallery a few years ago. I’m so glad I did. It keeps me coming back.

She was a native of Victoria, British Columbia, and is best known for her paintings of the forests of Vancouver Island, as well as the totems of the First Nations people of the area. When I look at her work, I see lush greenery, and the type of natural majesty one only sees in Canada. Clearly, she had a deep and abiding love for the natural world.

Her paintings make you feel tiny, a little bit nervous, and yet somehow welcome at the same time. You can almost smell the fresh air and feel the moisture on your skin. You want to explore.

I encourage you to check out her full body of work, but below are some teasers to whet your appetite.

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