Art and How it Can Make the Difference

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I have never considered  myself to be an artsy person.  But I want to challenge that feeling.

When I look back onto my childhood, some of the fondest memories I have in school are in the art room.  Many macaroni men, clay “something or others” and construction paper turkeys have been created by none other than me.  My grade eight graduation featured silhouettes of each of our heads displayed proudly on the wall around the gymnasium, all of us facing the next step in our lives.

How many stories were told with pictures to enhance the plot?  Nearly every one in the early years.  And many drawn by the story tellers themselves, myself included.

I was also involved in countless plays, choirs and assemblies.  There was a particular story that for some reason I didn’t understand until we were fortunate enough to create a play based on it.  Without that opportunity, I would surely have missed out on what that author was trying to get across.

And the best thing we did?  Sit in the gymnasium every morning on the week leading up to Christmas and sing songs together.  I think this experience has created in me my love for choral music, especially around the holidays.

It is safe to say that in my elementary years the arts played a significant role in building my confidence and encouraged me not only to replicate that which was shown to me but to branch out on my own and try things that were different and even to put myself in very uncomfortable situations in a safe and nurturing environment.

As budgets are cut to public education it is the arts that are in danger.  Of course math, science and languages are equally important but I think our instruction should be balanced with arts and physical education.

Enter donorschoose a website designed to get project materials directly into teacher’s hands.  It’s simple.  Supplies that teachers cannot get through their school board due to lack of funds, can be acquired through donation.  As a donator, you choose how little or how much you want to give to any particular project and once the fund goal has been reached, the materials ship to the teacher who will then send photos and a letter to every person who contributed, no matter the dollar amount.

Donorschose does not limit its resources to just art; teachers can request supplies from pencils to microscopes.  I think this is a brilliant way to give children the invaluable gift of a better classroom.

Perhaps my own artistic creativity is not as active as it once was but I can safely say that it is there and I owe a debt of gratitude to the many teachers who helped my fledgling talent.

Micro Lending and How You Can Help with Kiva.org

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Microfinance can help people from all over the world.  In a world where the major banks are not the answer for most of the world’s impoverished, the solution to their problems can sometimes be solved with your help.

You might ask how you can help someone from another country.  Someone you will probably never meet.  One way is through Kiva.

Kiva offers a platform for the poor from around the world to seek a loan.  As little as $500 can dramatically alter their life.  Their requests are carefully thought out.  They have a plan to pay off their loan once they begin to earn the money back.

They do not always manage to pay back their loans but the success rate is high: over 98% to date and money paid back is often re-invested with another loan applicant.  In my opinion, it is a great way to contribute directly to somebody’s well-being.

Kiva does an excellent job of providing the back story, how the person plans on using the money and how the loan can change their life and the lives of their family.  You can pick from a wide variety of people, donate as little as $25.00 and watch as the person raises money for their goal.  Once the borrower receives their loan and puts it to use, you can also track the money coming back in.  The lender’s account is credited as the loan is repaid and can be used to help another borrower, donated to Kiva or the lender can withdraw their contribution.

The steps are simple.

  1. Choose a borrower
  2. Make a loan
  3. Get repaid
  4. Repeat!

Use your money to empower people.  Make a difference.  Change a life.

Rain Rain Go Away…or if it won’t…Things to do in Vancouver in the Rain

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The rainy weather has set in and I wouldn’t be lying if I said I missed the sunshine.  Most of North America looks forward to the fall.  I know I did; the changing leaves, starting school and new outfits all have a way of slowly working us up for winter.  It felt good to want to cuddle up in a warm sweater, don toque and gloves and start sipping hot chocolates.  But, I must confess, Vancouver does not lend the same feeling.  First off it’s wet and cold and secondly there isn’t much to the promise of snow.  Instead, we can look forward to months of rain or drizzle and a cold that chills to the bone.  Luckily we are surrounded by mountains that do get snow so an escape to winter wonderland is a possibility and most of us are glad for the opportunity.  What’s more, we hardly ever have to shovel!

In the spirit of fall and all things rain, I’ve devised a quick list of activities that can be enjoyed in the rain.  I am not saying you’ll stay dry, umbrellas are strongly advised for outdoor activities as are rain boots and jacket but sometimes even us rain forest dwellers need a little push to get out in the rain.

Nature:

Work up a sweat:

Arts and Culture:

I hope that gets you started.  The area is so beautiful that the rain can’t keep us from enjoying it.  Many people get out every day to walk their dogs, stroll through amazing forests, bike, run and shop.  And it wouldn’t be Vancouver without a trip to the local coffee shop.

ps. I hear there’s an excellent hot chocolate at Blenz!

Recovering from Disaster

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My heart goes out to everyone effected by the recent hurricane.  I cannot imagine losing a loved one or my home.  Unfortunately, this won’t be the last time a calamity strikes and there has to be method to prepare your community for such an event.  Luckily, there is.  Enter recovers.org, software designed to get people in place where they are needed doing the tasks that can be done directly after a major crisis.

Founders Caitria O’Neill and sister Morgan O’Neill have experience dealing with the aftermath of a natural disaster.  This experience along with the research they did after taught them that people want to help but often the system to do so is not in place yet and that because of the gap between being able to accept help and the desire of the public to give, many donations and help are not useful, the window closes and the public moves onto the next story.  Unfortunate but true.

Watch their presentation here.

The software available through recovers.org helps communities by offering them a place to start.  Ideally, the website is established prior to an event but can be implemented following one as well.  The tools that come with the software are Volunteer Management: including liability waivers, hour tracking and sign up; Donation Item Databasing; Case Management; and lastly, an Information Hub which would help get crucial information out to the community and provide a space to post messages.

Available for as little as $0.03 per person per year, recovers.org has been featured on Forbes, TED, CNN and many more.  There is certainly a value in being prepared and you can always count your blessings if your community never, ever has to put the software to use.

Interested in helping with the current disaster after Hurricane Sandy?  Here are the links to the communities with a recovers.org site in place.

God Bless

https://lowereastside.recovers.org

https://redhook.recovers.org

https://astoria.recovers.org

https://statenisland.recovers.org

Altitudes Bistro at the Peak of Vancouver’s Grouse Mountain

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Having just outlined what makes Grouse Mountain so special, I thought I’d share the dining experience we had at their casual restaurant, Altitudes Bistro.

The room has the benefit of glass walls on the west and south walls, providing some of the best views and making your dining experience about more than just food.  There are traditional booths and tables but the room also has a good collection of low tables with armchairs, perfect for après-ski.

The large patio is currently under construction and with any luck it will be open for this year’s ski season.  Nothing beats a roof-top patio, well nothing but a mountain top patio with city, mountain and ocean views where you can enjoy a beverage and some great food after hitting the slopes!  Let’s hope I’m right about their timeline.

Now, for the eats.  To start, we had a pitcher of Granville Island Lager, a local brewery which supplies to many lower mainland restaurants.  Always crisp, clean and easy drinking.  To fill our starving bellies, we enjoyed a pulled pork sandwich, the burger and a pasta dish.

The pulled pork on a bun was moist and flavourful, the brioche bun was fluffy  and balanced by a crispy onion ring and moist coleslaw and pork.  I love coleslaw and I really like it on sandwiches so I can’t complain.  I thought about getting this sandwich without the onion ring but wanted to experience it as the kitchen intended.

We also ordered the Angus Beef Burger, again featuring a brioche bun and came dressed with aged white cheddar, bacon and barbeque sauce.  The burger looked so good that we were prompted to order it after we saw it at neighbouring tables and after we had already ordered a dish each!  The burger was juicy, tasty and lived up to its presentation.

Both sandwiches came accompanied with greens.  I was pleased with the salad; it was fresh, had plenty of veggies, olives and both the goat cheese and dressing were light and in perfect amounts.  Where sometimes the salad is an after-thought for me, and I think to myself how much I prefer my own salads, this one had me longing for more.

The pasta dish was done well but it was not on the menu as they had to accommodate our allergies.  They did a great job handling this and we felt well taken care of.

I don’t think this is a restaurant you go out of your way to go to.  If you have a pass it certainly makes getting up there more tempting but the cost of food plus the Skyride would be an expensive night out for most.  Generally, patrons are already up the mountain and need to satisfy their hunger before going down.

Pulled pork with coleslaw and a thick onion ring

Angus Beef Burger

Linguini pasta dish created especially for us

Sunset from the top of the world

Located at the top of Grouse Mountain, North Vancouver, BC where the view reigns supreme.

Altitudes Bistro on Urbanspoon

Incredible Adventure Awaits on Grouse Mountain

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The Lower Mainland

One of my favourite views of Vancouver can be found from the top of Grouse Mountain. Billing itself as the “Peak of Vancouver”, the mountain is actually located in North Vancouver, just across the Burrard Inlet.  You can distinguish this mountain from the others on the North Shore by the enormous, wind turbine near the top, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

First, you must get to the top and there are a few ways of doing so.  Take the road up the mountain passed the Capilano Suspension Bridge, to the main parking lot at the base.  There is plenty of free and paid parking if you choose to drive or you can take public transit.  The more adventurous of us pedal their way up but be forewarned, the road is quite steep.

Once there, you can climb the infamous “Grouse Grind” or you can take the gondola, also known as The Skyride.  I’ve done the climb and I must say it really is exactly as advertised: “Mother Nature’s Stairmaster”!  Open only during the summer months, the Grind is not for everyone and certainly worth trying once.  Many people do it all the time and there is even a system to time your efforts.  Check out the board at Alpine Guest Services to see your results or those of your fellow climbers.  Daily best times are also posted on their website.  For most, the hike will take an average of an hour and a half, but the daily bests are much faster than that.  It took me about an hour last time I did it.

The Grind can be pretty hectic, more like a motorway.  If you want to enjoy the hike as well as get some exercise, there is an alternative route that runs close to the main trail. Taking a bit longer and covering more ground, this trail, called the BCMC, can be found roughly 200 metres up the Grouse Grind where a junction splits the trails.  The GG heads up to the left but you will keep straight here and cross a dry creek bed. On the other side of the creek bed there is another junction (the Baden-Powell trail heads straight), turn left here heading up the hill, following the markers.  A word of caution: the North Shore mountains are steeper and more rugged than they appear; never leave the trail and always tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return.  Many hikers have found themselves lost on these mountains and not all have lived to tell the tale.

If you didn’t bring your hiking shoes or the GG sounds like your idea of a bad time, then the gondola ride may be more your style.  You will need to pay a fee to ride but the view is worth it.  If you’re a local, you may want to consider a pass.  If you have dinner reservations at The Observatory, the ride up and down is complimentary.  The Skyride is actually a fun ride, if you don’t mind riding a bit like a standing sardine and swaying to and fro occasionally.  The staff do their best to entertain and inform the groups on the way up and if you’re lucky enough to secure a window spot, the ride provides you with your first opportunity to see Vancouver as it gets increasingly smaller.

Waiting for the Skyride

At the top, there is plenty to do no matter what time of year you visit.  In the summer you can: observe animals, watch a lumber jack show, head up the turbine, watch a movie, paraglide, zipline and of course, eat.

There is a grizzly bear habitat on the mountaintop and these large animals amble about their enclosure for our viewing pleasure.  Both bears were found as cubs, one orphaned and the other seemingly so.  Now they are full-grown and living side by side, which is not normal bear behaviour but fortunately works for them.  There’s an interpretive program if your interests run more towards learning than observing.

If you’ve never seen a Grizzly up close, behind a fence is the best way

Relieving himself of an itch

New to Grouse is the Remarkable Raptor program.  Featuring owls, hawks, a vulture and an eagle, the objective is to experience these birds of prey through the Birds of Motion show or via a guided eco-walk through their natural territory.  Grouse Mountain is also doing their part to raise awareness for BC’s rarest bird: the Northern Spotted Owl.  Nearly extinct in the region, the owl, which lives primarily in old growth forests, is being breed in captivity in hopes of repopulating the wild.  For more information visit the Mountain View Conservation and Viewing Centre‘s website.

On your way up the Skyride, you may have noticed what you thought were dogs, just off the parking lot.  You would be greatly mistaken though as these are actually wolves. Hand raised for the entertainment industry and no longer needed, these wolves now call Grouse their home since releasing them into the wild was not an option.  Be sure to check them out from the parking lot.

The wind turbine or The Eye of the Wind, as it’s called is the only wind turbine to have a viewPOD allowing for a 360° view of the surrounding area.  The glass pod is only metres from the spinning blades but an ongoing dispute between BC Hydro and the mountain means that the wind turbine is often off, which is a shame since it was built to generate 25% of the energy that the mountain uses.

Eye of the Wind

Notice the ViewPOD near the blades

I have not tried the other summer activities, which include ziplining and paragliding, but paragliding is on my list for next summer.  I’ll tell you how it goes, I expect it will be amazing.

The mountain provides just as much value in the winter with skiing, snowboarding, and ice skating taking centre stage.  There are also sleigh rides, Snow-Limo, zipling and the turbine to explore.  Not to mention having a cup of hot cocoa in the lodge.

Speaking of drinks, there are several places to eat at the top.  There’s Lupins, a cafe style eatery, Beaver Tails for an iconic Canadian Treat, the Altitudes Bistro for casual dining and lastly The Observatory for fine dining.

You can spend an entire day here, regardless of the season and you will feel miles away from city below.  Head up on clear day for the best views but even in the fog, the adventure can be worth the trip.

Grouse Mountain is located at: 6400 Nancy Greene Way, North Vancouver, BC and is open daily from 9 am to 10 pm 365 days a year.

The Grind is a one-way trail, so be prepared to pay for the Skyride for your return trip. Alternatively, you can hike down the BCMC trail.

The buildings at the top

Mount Baker in the distance

The red roofs of Seymour Mountain, another North Shore Ski area

Art Goes Digital with Google Art Project

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Sometimes, when I find myself in need of some other worldly inspiration, I take to the Google Art Project.  Have you done this?  I can literally spend hours focusing on one painting, something I probably wouldn’t do if I was in the museum itself.

If you haven’t heard of the site, let me give you a quick overview.

Originally launched in 2011, the project partnered with 17 museums to digitally capture artwork to be viewed online.  You can stroll the museums using Google Street View, zoom in for a surprisingly detailed, crisp brush stroke close look, create your own virtual collection all while learning more about these incredible pieces of art.  The project has since expanded, it now features works from over 150 art collections from 40 countries, with more than 30,000 pieces of art to view.

It might not be the same as being in the museum looking at the original piece, perhaps nothing can compare to that, but it does allow more people access and in that way, can be a helpful contributor to fueling art appreciation.

Harrison Hot Springs

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View of the lake from the main street

East of Vancouver is a small resort community known as Harrison Hot Springs.  Famous for its naturally hot water, tourists have been flocking to the area for some well needed r&r since the Canadian National Railway built their mainline a short distance away in 1886.

The springs have been used by the First Nations people who live nearby on the Harrison River and gold miners discovered the hot water on their way to Port Douglas over 150 years earlier.  Today, the resort and town offer pools where you can enjoy the water without the smell of sulphur in your nose, which you will appreciate since this spring, one of a few up the Lillooet Valley and Harrison River, has the highest mineral content of almost any spring.

We stayed just one night at the Harrison Hot Springs Resort and Spa, located just steps from the lake front.  They have three pools to enjoy the water, several on-site restaurants, a spa, and outdoor activities such as tennis.  The outdoor bar provided us with fresh beverages as did our pool side room.

The lake itself provides a beautiful backdrop to the resort, with stunning blues and tree-lined mountains.  A small enclosed swimming area within the lake gives swimmers a safe place to play without threat the many motorized boats.  Speaking of which, the boat dock was located at the far end of the beach and was busy all day long.  There are facilities on the beach and restaurants and food shacks line the boulevard that runs parallel with the water.

A circular pool is formed by a sand breakwater creating a safe swimming spot

It looked like a fun place for kids too.  There was a giant off shore play structure, boat rentals, bumper boats, jet skis, kayaks, canoes; you name it, they had it.  They also play host to a sand castle contest every year.  Kids were scooting up the roads on rented tricycles and families took to the four-person pedal powered quadracycles.

For recreation, we decided to hike up the mountain nearest our hotel.  We learned that many of the hikes traverse rough terrain with steep climbs and can last an entire day.  Since we didn’t have the right kind of equipment for that type of adventure, we found a trail that lead us passed the point where the spring emerges from the mountain and concluded at a secluded beach called Sandy Cove.  It was perfect.  Just a small amount of exertion, fresh mountain air, breathtaking views down to the lake through the trees, a fern filled forest walk and a small stretch of sand away from everyone.

Eyeing the trail, supplies on the ready

Glimpses of the lake from the Sandy Cove Trail

If you look closely, you can see the giant floating water structure in the distance

Sandy Cove

A deserted beach just for the two of us

Kayakers and windsurfers in the middle of the lake

I feel like I need to share this little hike with you so here are the directions:

Leaving from the Harrison Resort, the easiest trailhead is found 30 metres passed the Hot Springs source on the left hand side.  A short switch-back will take you to the main trail that climbs the mountain.  The first 150 metres are the most difficult. After reaching the first plateau you will have a great view of Harrison Lake.  As you turn back from the view to the trail it appears to head right, around the massive rock in front of you, in fact the actual trail forks off to the left climbing the hill on this left side.  This is a short, hand-over-foot climb (fairly difficult and you should have good shoes) for roughly 25 metres.  Once you reach the top the rest of the hike is comparatively straightforward.  Follow the trail as it winds its way around the mountain until you hit a “T” junction at the bottom of a hill.  Head right to get to Sandy Cove.

Head back if you have had enough or continue along the beach and at the far end you will pick up the Whippoorwill Point Trail.  Another 300 metres will bring you to Whippoorwill Point.  Keep your eyes open as it can be difficult to spot as it is somewhat overgrown.  Whippoorwill Point is a rock out cropping that marks the entrance to the Harrison River.  Back on the trail, you will follow the Harrison River until the trail brings you back to the original “T” where you originally turned right.  Turn right back up the hill and head back the way you came to the village.

There are two paths to start the hike, one behind the yellow cement Hot Springs source building and one further up the gravel road on your left hand sides just before the road ends in front of the wire fence gates.

The only really tricky part of this hike is after the first climb to the lookout over Harrison Lake.  Be sure to climb the rock bluff on the left hand side when facing the bluff.

Our room at the resort provided us with the essentials for an overnight stay and the easy access to the pools was definitely a plus.

At sunset

From Harrison, we were able to explore the local area a bit more.  We drove into Hope, toured the Othello Tunnels and visited Bridal Veil Falls.

Getting directions to the Othello Tunnels at the Hope, BC Tourism Office

And just in case you didn’t know, they filmed Rambo in Hope! Here I am doing my best Sylvester Stallone

For a quick, last-minute weekend getaway, it was certainly a win.

Tips:

  • The drive was about two hours from Vancouver
  • The resort had a lot of children playing and splashing in the pools.  If this is a romantic get-away be sure to stay in the adult pool and ask for a pool-side ground level room if you want easy access to the water
  • Come prepared for a rigorous hike if that’s your thing but always tell someone when you expect to be back
  • Visit http://www.tourismharrison.com for more information
  • Count on driving one hour north to the Othello Tunnels
  • The Bridal Veil Falls were a short thirty minute drive from the village of Harrison

Moments in Time

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This is a post about a book, but it so much more than that.  It is about humanity, sacrifice, happiness, the meaning of life, parenting, family, appreciation, love, loss and time.  These are the things that I thought about while spending several hours wandering around Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.

But the book set it off.

After disembarking one flight only to realize I had four hours until the next, I stopped at the first book store on my path and made a purchase.  Little did I know that the story inside would stop me in my tracks and turn my whole world upside down, if only for a moment.  Have you ever found yourself touched by something that completely changed your views or pushed you to think and analyze yourself and your life?

What this story did for me might not be the same for you.  I was starved for emotional and sincere connections having just spent a week with colleagues who only offered surface conversation.  The narrative of the book and the moral implications went far beyond entertainment for me.

What amazes me most is that someone created this.  Whether it be artwork, literature, film, a play, song, or any other form of human expression, someone had to pour their emotions and creativity out and expose themselves for who they are so that collectively, we as a whole can partake in that feeling.  It must take a lot of courage to do this.

I gazed at the art I passed along the way, thoughtfully appreciating it.  Hurried travellers whizzed by, as I photographed what I saw.  I know I’ve been that person before, time is not always on our side.  I found myself crying over the slightest thought or because of another human interaction I witnessed.  These were not tears of sadness, these were tears of joy and awe of life itself.

I wasn’t finished the book yet and I had music if I wanted it but I didn’t.  Once at the gate I spent my time waving to the little girls that were seated near me and contemplating my time in the airport.  Just before boarding, I noticed the three young girls had all fallen asleep and that their mother would find it impossible to carry them and all their stuff on board.  I was concerned for her, how was she supposed to get on the plane without help?  So I went over and asked her if she needed a hand.  It turns out she wasn’t getting on that flight but the conversation I had with her was priceless.  It reaffirmed my thoughts that day and made me think about the roles we play with the people we love.

It turns out that the book I purchased to “kill time” was about time itself.  Why would we ever want to kill something so precious?  From now on, I will try to remember this.

Many thanks to Mitch Albom and his newest novel, The Time Keeper.

Have No Narrow Perspective by Ryan and Trevor Oakes. A concave drawing of Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate sculpture.

Incredibly, this is drawn free hand by the identical twin artists

Fran Volz’s Lincoln Memorial Replica. Standing 10 1/2 feet by 9 feet and made out of environmentally friendly EPS, this replica is nearly half the size of the original marble statue.

Even a walkway becomes art if you allow it

West Vancouver’s Lighthouse Park

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The last stand of old growth trees in the lower mainland is located in a quiet park on the edge of West Vancouver. This is where the Burrard Inlet meets Howe Sound and is formally known as Point Atkinson as named by Captain George Vancouver in 1792. Ten kilometres of shaded trails wind their way through 75 hectares of terrain with frequent elevation changes and rocky outcrops that provide amazing views of the surrounding area.

There has been a lighthouse here since 1874. The current building was erected in 1912 and can be seen from several different vantage points throughout the park. No longer requiring manpower, the house I assume was once home for these brave souls still stands and looks lived in. If you could handle the numerous people visiting to view the lighthouse, it would be a fantastic home. Several buildings stand in the park as part of the Department of National Defence and serve as a reminder of the importance that this area played in World War II.

The trees you will find here include Western Hemlock, Douglas Fir, and Western Red Cedar. They stand on rock that varies in age from 96 to 187 million years old! There are numerous animals, birds, lichens, fungi, mosses, insects and sea life that call the park home. The area is extremely fragile and all visitors are asked to remain on the trails. Conditions in the park can be hazardous; cliffs, tree roots and mud all pose serious risks as does the threat of getting lost. It is easier to lose your way than you think so it is suggested that you never wander from the trails and come prepared for the weather.

The park has scattered picnic areas throughout and full facilities. Follow the maps located at the park entrance and look out for the signs throughout the park.

Located just off Marine Drive on Beacon Lane. The sign is hard to see if you’re unfamiliar with the area. Drive slowly as Marine Drive is windy and used by cyclists.

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