Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Characaro=Red-Winged Blackbird

Photo from Red Orbit
The mystery of the characaro may just have been solved, by none other than the artist himself - Louis Nicolas! The Queen's-McGill edition of the Codex is accompanied by Nicolas's Natural History of the New World, in both modernized French and translated English. There has been some debate over who was the actual author of this document, but through the scholarship of Francois-Marc Gagnon, Nancy Senior and Real Oullet, as well as Germaine Warkentin, it now seems pretty clear that it belongs to Louis Nicolas. His text is both studious and idiosyncratic, much like the drawings, and it roughly follows the order of images in the Codex, but not exactly.

Anyways, in the section of the Natural History where he is describing the other birds on the page in question - the grey jay, the blue jay and the American robin - he also mentions the starling, which he describes as being of two kinds, the first black with all the varieties of colours seen through a beautiful glaze; "and the second, much more beautiful than the first, for in addition to the beautiful plumage it has on the back of both wings a heart that is so distinct that there is nothing more precise, nor of a more beautiful golden colour, set off by a very fine bright red like a golden glaze on the whole surface of the heart, which is almost as large as the French double or liard coin on each side, in the place that I have indicated."

As is his custom, he also goes on to say that the flesh of the bird is tough and not very good to eat, while in the next sentence he says they have a beautiful song and he thinks they could be taught to speak.

Now, as you can see, the red spot on the wing doesn't really look like a heart. It certainly inspired quite a rhapsody from Pere Nicolas, though, so perhaps, as Jean commented, he had fallen in love. Not proper Jesuit behaviour, but then again he wasn't exactly a proper Jesuit.

Where the term "characaro" came from could be anybody's guess. My friend, artist, poet and bird lover Sue Wheeler suggests that it sounds like the name of a South American falcon, so maybe common names of birds were not as fixed as they are now, and certainly not as they were before Linaeus created his system of classifcation.

And finally, I discovered the other day that I am not the only fan of Pere Nicolas. A PhD candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Merideth Beck Sayre, has posted an article about Louis Nicolas. After my excited communication with her, she has also posted a lovely article about my work and the similarity of my process to her own research. Such a wonderful surprise for the Internet to bring to wrap up the year!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

With Heart and Hand

It's time to wrap up the blog for another year. I look back with a mixture of exhaustion and exasperation - Did I really accomplish all that? And how come I didn't do more? I always have more projects in mind than are possible to achieve, so I am constantly feeling both slothful and overextended. Who needs enemies when I have myself? It's amazing that my creative spark continues to thrive.

In anticipation of the New Year, I have put another panel of the Codex embroidery into the frame. It's the page of the four little birds that always makes people exclaim, because Louis Nicolas gave one a red heart. It's so unusual in the context of the rest of the document, both for the rare use of colour and the sweetness of the symbolism amidst all the sharp claws and gnashing teeth of the other creatures. What the heck was going on in Louis' mind?
Image from the Library and Archives Canada
The bird is labelled "characaro", which I couldn't find a translation or reference of anywhere on the web, other than the original source. So it is a mystery, but if anybody has some insight into the meaning of this name, I would love to hear it.

I also have a pile of five kangaroo style jackets that I have to turn into zip-front cardigans for a walking club, looming large in my sewing room. The dread of such a job is much worse than actually just sitting down and doing it,  and so I shall.

But I am also excited and hopeful that Sherri Lynn Wood will choose me to try out one of her quilt templates for her new book The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters. Sherri Lynn has been so inspiring to me with her heartfelt, holistic approach to pushing the boundaries of contemporary craft practise.

And what do I wish for 2014, other than world peace and the reversal of climate change? I would like to nail down a show for the Codex work. And although I won't stop working on the other two, that third wish just might be achievable .

Thank you, dear readers, for dropping by over the past year, and may all your wishes come true in 2014.

Monday, December 23, 2013

A Blast From the Past

The sad little junk store on the island is closing. Even though I am a thrift store devotee, I do have standards, and I'm sorry to say this particular establishment had all the cons (weird smell, crappy stuff) and none of the pros (hidden treasures!)  Everything is going for a dollar or less though, so I did stop in the other day after my neighbour said she had spotted a gorgeous christening gown there. Alas, the christening gown was polyester, but I was through the door and felt obliged by the shopkeeper's brave smile to buy something, anything. I picked up a few sewing notions and some vintage craft magazines, even though I have been trying to divest myself of the box of vintage craft magazines that is taking up some valuable real estate in the storage closet.

But a look through the pages of the Fall-Winter 1971 McCall's Needlework and Crafts did deliver up some clues as to why the whole handcraft sector crashed and burned so badly later in the decade. Women returning to the workforce may have had nothing to do with it.
Not only were the projects hideously ugly and unwearable, the recommended yarns were as well, albeit machine-washable. No wonder, look at where they came from. (Faithful readers will know that I have a bee in my bonnet regarding Monsanto, who has since switched from making yarn out of plastic to making terminator seeds and toxic chemicals that poison the Earth.)
I think this perky model looks a bit like Gwyneth Paltrow. But I'm sure lovely Gwynnie wouldn't be caught dead in such garments - although she might go for those groovy red lace-up knee high boots. (Sorry for the glare on the image, my fault entirely.)
Just the right little numbers for lounging around house! It's easy to make fun of such outfits now, but I do wonder how many got made at the time. Such investments of time and energy! Who could ever toss such a garment? And, since they are made out of acrylic, they would never wear out on their own.

The Editorial in this issue has some fascinating information about the magazine's readership. They surveyed 50,000 readers and found that 85% were married with children, 48% were under 35 years of age, and a whopping 94% sewed for their family or home. Incredible how things changed in a short time.
Could the decline in knitting and sewing be caused by such projects as cable-knit trousers? The horror...!
On the other hand, the paper crafts look remarkably current.
Knitting for Barbie and Ken - check out the shoulder shaping on Ken's jumpsuit and the fitted bodice on Babs' one piece. You'd have to be a very skillful Grandma to make these.
And the back of the magazine is filled with small B&W ads. I think Charm Woven Labels is still around, and their designs haven't changed a bit.
Here are a few booklets from the glory days of Canadian knitting and crocheting. The mills that produced these yarns and patterns are long gone. But then again, so have his-and-hers travel sweaters.
The choices for women at the time were fairly limited. Career Girl or Club Woman, what's it to be?
And, I have to admit, I am glad the well-dressed home no longer requires chair sets. But Evelyn Vance valued this leaflet enough to put her name on it. Ah, Evelyn Vance where are you now? Your name befits an Alice Munro story.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Envelope Please

It looks like everyone is a winner! I just had six entries in last week's contest, and I know I was only offering three prizes, so how can I choose? I was able to rustle up a few more wee gifties so there is something for everyone. Could Arlee, Deb , and the blogless Debby and Stephanie please contact me with your mailing address? I can be reached at true(underscore)stitches(at)yahoo(dot)ca. (Vanessa and Jean, I already have your addresses.)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Time is a construct, in reality everything flows, no past or present, only the now.

In a strange confluence of words and images, I seem to be focused on the subject of time these days. Maybe it's just that all my library requests over the last several months appeared at once, but it has made me wonder if time is on everyone else's mind, too. But then again it is something we all have experience with.

I listened to the audiobook version of Kate Atkinson's  Life After Life while I was doing all that sewing. Her ingenious structure of the story of a woman who lives her life over and over again was as pleasurable as watching one of my all time favourite movies, Groundhog Day.
“Time is a construct, in reality everything flows, no past or present, only the now” is a quote from Life After Life, but it could have just as easily come from Ruth Ozeki's wonderful  A Tale for the Time Being. I particularly appreciated Ozeki's note-perfect descriptions of Gulf Island life, which helped make all the other threads of the story seem just as credible and real.
And Claudia Hammond's non-fiction exploration of our perception of time, Time Warped,  is quite fascinating. You might want to save it for January, when you will have more of that precious commodity to savour it.
I do like the Yarn Harlot's idea for the Christmas gift of a time machine. From her December 16th post:
Gifts for knitters: Some Sort of Time Machine.

You've probably noticed that your knitter likes to knit. You might even have noticed that they like it a lot better than all of the other stuff they're supposed to be doing (see above re: bathtub scrubbing.)  I could be projecting here (but I am pretty sure I'm not) when I say there's nothing your knitter wants more than a few more hours in a day to knit - and I know what you're thinking. "Hey Crazy Lady who watches too much Dr Who, there's no such thing as a time machine", but you'd be wrong.  You can be the time machine for your knitter.  An awesome gift, as we come down to the wire, or you run out of money, is your time, given freely to your knitter.  A written commitment to doing some of the things that your knitter likes less than knitting to give them time to knit is an amazing gift.  A little note that says "I will be YOU for six hours" or "This coupon entitles the bearer to four undisturbed hours of knitting while I do chores they hate" or "This magic note can exchange 1 hour of cleaning for 1 hour of knitting" is going to be make you a rock star of gift giving.  Don't forget to use your best handwriting, and wrap it. 
And of course, speaking of Doctor Who, I have been catching up on the Matt Smith incarnation of everyone's favourite Time Lord on Netflix. Can't wait to see Peter Capaldi in the role - I loved him in another one of my favourite movies of all time: Local Hero.

And hey, time is running out to leave a comment on my Call it Karma post. Either I have very few readers or you are all too busy but the odds of winning a lovely prize are very, very good!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Review: Mark Making in Textile Art

I just borrowed Helen Parrott's Mark Making from the library and it's definitely going on my wish list. Her approach has developed over 20 years of quilting, embroidery and textile art, inspired by landscape and nature.
The cover of the Batsford (UK) edition actually reflects Parrott's work a little more accurately than the very colourful, ingeniously diecut Interweave edition, as her style is very much about repetition and texture.

The book would be an excellent text for an art school embroidery course, as it builds skills from the very basics, including the elements of design as per Bauhaus. It would also be interesting to use as a guide for a guild study group. Parrott makes some wonderful recommendations on tools and materials, and has a very warm, supportive writing voice. She is not aiming to turn her readers into imitations of herself, but encourages the development of a personal style. She also offers some solid ideas for keeping one's studio practice fresh and strategies for getting unstuck if felling caught in a rut.

It's a winner! And you could be too if you leave a comment on the Call it Karma Contest post I did a few days ago.

And, for another take on texile mark-making, do check out Judy Martin's latest masterwork .

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Westjet 1, BC Ferries 0

I got this email from my Mom this morning. She had been visiting my sister in Kingston, Ontario when she discovered she had made an uncharacteristic boo-boo regarding her flight home to Chilliwack, BC. Here's her story: 

Just wanted to fill you in on a lovely happening that started out as a mini disaster.  Spread the word - Westjet is a wonderful airline!!!!   Yesterday, the 10th, I asked Laura to see whether I had an email from Westjet letting me know I could prebook my seat, etc.  When she pulled up the email, the letter said my flight was the 10th!  I looked at my pocket calendar which said the 11th (I couldn't print out my flight schedule as I usually do from my hotmail - the new system or???? - so I didn't have that for referral).  I felt very annoyed at myself for making such a stupid mistake. 
So Laura said lets phone Westjet.  She did, explained the situation, asked the agent to see if there was another flight leaving about the same time for today - the 11th.  The agent looked, said yes, (actually a better flight, with only 1 stop instead of two that my 10th day flight had) and that it would cost $545 or so.  Laura asked if she could book it for me and asked her to ask her supervisor if some discount could be made for me.  The agent said she would do that, it would take about 6 minutes - could Laura wait on the phone.  Laura said yes.  6 minutes later the agent said the flight was confirmed and the total cost would be waived.  WE COULD NOT BELIEVE IT!!!!   I got on the phone to thank the agent who just said I was a special lady who was visiting her daughter.  So, pretty amazing eh????

So, home tonight, only a few minutes later than yesterday's flight.

Laura says I walk on star dust!   I believe her - I am so blessed in so many ways!!!!

love and hugs,

Isn't that sweet? Talk about a corporation acting in a human, compassionate way! And here's another amazing Westjet story.

So unlike BC Ferries - I attended their "public consultation" meeting last night, supposedly set up to get input about their latest round of cuts. Four cardboard cutout consultants representing BC Ferries versus 300 very passionate Gabriolans. I don't think the consultants listened to a word that was said - they just gave shrugs and stock responses to the questions put to them. Truly shameful.
Phillip Vannini wrote a really clever article about the evening over here at the Tyee.
Photo by Scott Cunningham CTV News
P.S. Don't forget to comment on the previous post for a chance to win a lovely wee giftie.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Call it Karma Contest

What the heck was I thinking? Setting up a shop on the blog? Forgive me for even considering such heresy! It must have been my recent foray into the seductive realm of the craft fair that had me thinking of dollars and cents. Picture this: Heather as automaton, repeating endlessly "Must make money." The need of which of course, I suppose, factors in there somewhere.

But hey, 'tis the season of generosity and gifts, so here's the plan:
Send me a comment telling me of your favourite seasonal non-commercial sharing. Perhaps you spend Christmas Day cooking dinner at a homeless shelter or maybe you have a huge Solstice bonfire with your friends and family. Maybe you do random acts of caroling, or shovel the snow from an elderly neighbour's front walk. Or maybe you have one of those 1000-piece puzzles that you put out on your dining room table and everyone who comes to visit can take part in putting it together.

Let me know and on December 18th I will blindly draw from the comments and send three lucky, generous people a gift of their choosing:
a lovely hot water bottle cosy, complete with hot water bottle;
  a fabulous pincushion,

 or a teeny-tiny jewel box for a special treasure (treasure not included).

Come on, let me know! Let's share the joy!

Monday, December 09, 2013

Selling My Wares

Here is my display at the Craft Fair: pillows, books, pin cushions and hot water bottle cosies. I thought of adopting a persona for the day: a little old blue-haired lady, selling off her treasures before moving to the care home. I even bought the blue hair dye, but decided in the end that it might clash with all the pastels.
The "Speed" pencil box is a re-make, using a vintage label found at the Lasqueti Free Store, pasted onto a beautiful cloth-covered box that I just learned how to make from one of Sage Reynolds's fantastic videos.
Here is a linen-covered coptic bound sketch book with one of my favourite vintage potholders on the front. It was hard to let this one go.
I was recently given a pristine copy of Mme. Therese de Dillmont's Encyclopedia of Needlework, and so I made a slipcase for it, again following one of Sage Reynolds's tutorials. ( I am so impressed with Sage's technique - I found his videos even more riveting than the latest George Clooney movie. But then again, I am a nerd for bookbinding.)
This was the scene across the aisle. The St. Martin's ladies totally cleaned up, selling almost every last crumb of their baked goods.

How did I do? Well, I sold about a third of my stuff, which was pretty good, I guess. And I think everything went to a good home, which is important to me. But I over-estimated my social skills, as I felt seriously overwhelmed by the crowds. I would have felt a lot more comfortable if I had known more people - it seemed like everyone there was having a good chat with some long-lost friend. Oh well, it's a small community, next year will be better, if I do it.

And what is happening with the stuff I didn't sell? I am thinking I might put it up for sale on the blog - I used to have an Etsy shop but have let that lapse. But if I can work out the logistics, there might be some goodies here the next time you drop by.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Baking Cookies Ain't What it Used to Be

Now that the season for holiday baking is upon us, I wanted to share a recent escapade of mine concerning this new gluten-free flour blend from Robin Hood. It was on sale in my local grocery store, and I thought I would try it and see how it compared to Pamela's gluten-free mix that I had been using. (The Robin Hood was half the price of Pamela's.)

Let me digress slightly and say that I'm not following a gluten-free diet, but so many people are that I have been making the odd batch of gluten-free cookies for friends when they come over for tea. Personally, I think that the reason so many are finding that they are sensitive to wheat is because the poor old wheat plant has been bred and hybridized and genetically modified and sprayed with chemicals for so long that our bodies no longer recognize it as edible. I prefer to stick with organic grains, preferably heritage varieties, but god knows that's a trend unto itself and maybe we should just be thankful that we have food to eat at all.

As I warned you, a digression. Sorry.

Back to Robin Hood's fancy new product. My first quibble was with the packaging. A plastic bag? Well, maybe it is more resistant to the carelessness of box-cutter wielding stockboys, but really, I like paper better. Slightly less harmful to the planet and all... ooops, digression nipped in the bud. (Pamela's also comes in a plastic bag, but one that is recyclable.)
But no, this package is not a mere bag! It is a grip-lock system!!! A velcro-like band seals the bag closed. Thank God! After years and years of struggle with rolling up paper bags, or wasting precious minutes transferring flour into a canister, I am ushered into a care-free new age courtesy of the patented Grip-Lock System!

Huh! I thought I would try the flour in a recipe that I had made many times and knew was a good one. I substituted the  gluten-free flour 1:1. The dough was suspiciously dry and crumbly, but I baked the cookies anyway. They came out of the oven looking like rocks. Sampling revealed an unpleasant gritty texture, a mouth feel of sawdust, and an oddly synthetic sweet taste.

The label says the flour is made with rice and sugar beet fibre. Sugar beet fiber?

Well, to back up a little, the venerable company of Robin Hood is now owned by Smuckers, one of a select group of conglomerates that control most the processed food available in North America. I would be willing to wager that another of Smucker's subsidiaries happened to find itself with a surplus of sugar beet fiber and head office got the guys in the lab to come up with some sort of flour-y substance that could be marketed as gluten-free.... But that would be cynical of me.

So, back in my kitchen, being the good little consumer Mrs. D'Avignon trained me to be in Grade 10 Home Ec class, I decided to call the 1-800 help number printed on the bag, er, excuse me, Grip-Lock System. I reached Emily, a lovely, very professional, customer service agent. She listened to my complaints, suggested perhaps I would have better success following the recipes developed specially for this flour blend, and offered to send me some coupons, which arrived yesterday.
Woohoo! Two $10 discount coupons for any of these products!! Well, it appears that not only Robin Hood, but Brodie, Purity, and Monarch flours are all part of Smuckers's empire now. And my childhood staple, Red River Cereal. And Golden Temple, which I am not familiar with but sounds like Asian noodles or rice. As well, Carnation and Eagle Brand milk, Crisco shortening, and Sugar in the Raw are in the Smuckers fold. And Folger's coffee. The list continues on their web site, listing fifity-two companies and product lines, including some that surprised me: Santa Cruz Organics, Crosse & Blackwell, Habitant, and sadly, since I almost live on the stuff, Adams Natural Peanut Butter.

To think it all started 115 years ago with apple butter sold out of the back of a wagon. I wonder what founder Jerome Smucker would make of where his company is now (taken from their Wikipedia page):
Throughout 2012, Smucker's contributed $485,000 to a $46 million political campaign known as "The Coalition Against The Costly Food Labeling Proposition, sponsored by Farmers and Food Producers". This organization was set up to oppose a citizen's initiative, known as Proposition 37, demanding mandatory labeling of foods containing genetically modified ingredients. Approximately 70% of the funding for the initiative was provided by a PAC and by companies with financial interests in the organic foods industry, with most of the remainder coming from a handful of wealthy individuals.[11] Following rejection of the proposition in the November 2012 referendum, organizers called for a boycott of companies funding the campaign to defeat the referendum.[12]
Chances are that I won't be buying Nutri gluten-free flour again. Or any of that other stuff. Sorry, Emily.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A Day in the Life

Welcome to another episode in the ongoing saga of "Tripping Down the Well-Trod Path", wherein Heather embarks on an easy project and proceeds to screw it up in every way possible, but eventually manages to make it all work.

Today our intrepid heroine decides to take a thrift store shirt and some scraps of curtain fabric and make a knitting bag, thus creating beauty and usefulness where previously there was none. In her eagerness to put it together, she accidentally cuts one piece of flowered cloth upside down, necessitating an on-the-spot re-design.
Then, in splicing the scraps of quilt batting for the interlining, she manages to join one of the pieces topsy-turvy. With an ironic bit of timing, just before discovering her error, she announces to nobody in particular that she is an idiot. And then sees her error: "Proof positive!"
She is able to redeem herself somewhat with an inspired label design, stitching her own name over the Banana Republic label that came with the shirt that is to be the bag's lining. No matter that the sewing machine is in dire need of servicing and skips a few stitches - it's still a fun idea!
The racy red interior of the bag is made from the front and back of a size small linen shirt. No need to remove the chest pocket - it becomes a handy repository for a few notions or even a cell phone. Never mind that it takes hours longer than it should have - the show ends with Heather squealing with glee at her finished creation.

Next week: Heather displays her wares at the local craft market and mayhem ensues.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Treasure Hunt

Just another drive-by posting to show off my finds from a visit to the local recycling depot yesterday. A Chinese workbasket, a beaded evening bag in perfect condition, two spools of thread - one silk!, and a stoneware jug made by Gordon Reisig - a Yarrow, BC potter who I remember visiting with my Grade 11 ceramics class! He appeared to be living the rock star lifestyle I aspired to at the time - little house in a small rural community, making art and hosting gaggles of adoring 15-year-olds. (Hmmm, I may have achieved my dream. Hardly a rock star though. But I wouldn't want to be visited by a bunch of teenagers anyway!)
The beaded bag inspired me to get out my little collection of fancy evening bags, most inherited from my Great-Aunt Margie. (And I am reminded that my friend Jean posted about such lovely little bags a while ago on her blog One Small Stitch.) Aunt Margie may have actually had the opportunity to use them. I, alas, don't get invited to the high society events that she did.
My favourite is this hand-beaded silk satin reticule. (The straps have fallen over each other, so this picture doesn't give the full effect. Maybe I can re-shoot with a model.) Quite old, I think.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Eating Local

Today was the last day of the season at Good Earth Farm, so I stocked up on squash, kale, carrots, beets, lettuce, turnips and parsnips. Yum! Roast veggies for supper tonight! Also picked up eggs from the friendly hens at Blue Sky Alpacas.
And, I got a 40 pound box of apples for juicing from Berry Point Orchard. Fodder for my new-to-me pre-loved Omega juicer.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Pincushion Frenzy

About 9:00 last night, I was suddenly seized with the impulse to make a biscornu-type pincushion. Following Kathryn Youngs's guidelines, and using some of the same fabrics from the previous tin-can pincushion, I began cutting and stitching. Even with all the dithering which is normal for the first time I make something, I was finished within an hour. It was fun to figure out the eight-sided construction, and I was pretty proud of my nice sharp points. Not a bad bedtime project at all!
 I used a sweet little button in the centre that reminds me of an amanita muscaria mushroom.
The other Victorian-style pincushion in the upper right of the top photo was made a couple of weeks ago. Just a simple circular cushion, with another fun button in the centre. And you can see that I am making good use of the remaining bits of pom-pom fringe.

Without consciously deciding to, I have created kind of a "line" of soft, pastel, vintage-y goods. I think they will look distinctive on my little table amongst the jumble of the craft fair, and it makes it easy to style a display. For the pillows and hot water bottle cosies I made up a hang tag with the story of the cloth, and I will do something similar for the pincushions.  Here's the hangtag (without the formatting):

Many years ago, in Saskatchewan, Hilda Armstrong made quilts for her family, thriftily using their old clothes to create warmth and comfort anew. Some of Hilda’s quilts came to me, and when I moved to B.C. I brought them along.  Years of use have left the fabric soft and worn, some parts tattered and threadbare, but other bits still with life. I have turned the best bits of these old quilts into one-of-a-kind pillows and other cosy items that I hope will continue to bring comfort to those that use them.
Love, Heather

The photo is of my great-grandmother, Sophie Ayres, taken in 1960. There really was a Hilda Armstrong, but I have no photo of her, so Granny is playing her part! I like the idea of telling the story of each piece, because that's really why I made them, not because I want to make money. I suppose it is marketing, but hopefully done ethically and with proper intention.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sweet L'il Thing

 Besides standing in front of the grocery store gathering signatures on petitions, I have been indulging a secret vice - a soft spot for cute little handmade things. I saw a tutorial for tiny zippered bags that look like macarons and couldn't help myself.

As it happened, that very day a package had arrived from my friend in Japan, Jean-Pierre. It contained some lovely bits of antique fabric from HIS friend Mrs. Mandu (#4 on the list of highlights of my visit to Japan, back in 2007). One of the pieces was a silk twill print that just murmured elegance, and I had a scrap of burgundy silk charmeuse to use as a lining, and the right zippers were on hand (the stash provides!), so I was off to the races.
 There will be just three of these little beauties, available at the Christmas craft sale. Enough to get my "cute" craving out of my system, and soon I will be back on the straight and narrow with the Codex. (The Codex!?! Remember that? Seems like years...)

Gray-Haired Lady

Photo by Byron Robb
What does one do when the world seems to be ever more quickly going to hell in a handbasket? Currently we have the B.C. premier blithely agreeing to fracking and welcoming the transportation of the dirtiest oil in the world through our pristine north. The Canadian Prime Minister can't keep his stories straight; over in Toronto there is a Mayor whose behaviour becomes exponentially more freakish on a daily basis; there is unimaginable destruction in the Phillipines; the leaky reactors in Fukushima are a complete horror show - the list just goes on and on. The other day I'd had enough of my safe little bubble and decided it was time. To do something.

Gloria Steinem is reputed to have said “One day an army of gray-haired women may quietly take over the Earth!” Well, count me in. I figure gray-haired women are the best chance the Earth has these days.

So I attended a Save Our Shores event that brought together a number of groups concerned about the transport of coal, crude oil and diluted bitumen through our waters. Guess who the vast majority of the audience were? You're right - gray-haired women. And a First Nations chief, Doug White, who spoke so articulately and intelligently about the dangers of allowing coal and bitumen to be transported through our province that I was ready to vote for him to be our next premier. (Unfortunately he's not running.)

But that event was more or less what I expected. What I didn't expect was that I would find myself down in the Village on a blustery Sunday gathering signatures for a petition to decriminalize marijuana. Not exactly gray-haired lady territory, or so one might think. Let me backtrack a bit. A couple of weeks ago I dropped by my neighbour's house and found her enlisting to canvass for Sensible BC. As I was all energized from the recent Save Our Shores meeting, I didn't think for a minute before saying, "Oh, I'll do that too." Not that I'm a pothead, but ..... why do I even feel I need to say that? Recognise that one of B.C.'s main industries is growing pot and the best thing to do is get organized crime out of it. Focus on that and don't ruin the life of a person with a half ounce in their glove compartment.

So there I am, a gray-haired lady, standing in front of the grocery store with Barb, another gray-haired lady, our clipboards in hand. We got over a hundred signatures in less than three hours, and only two people said they didn't want to sign. I was amazed at the wide, wide range of people who stood patiently for their turn to sign. There were the expected gaggles of college students, but there were also business people, librarians, tradesmen, seniors on three-wheeled bikes, and yes, lots of gray-haired women.

This particular campaign has no big political machine behind it, and, to be perfectly honest, it may be difficult to get the required number of signatures in the short time remaining. And, of all the pressing issues that need addressing in this world, is legalizing marijuana really the most important? I don't think so, but it is important for me, and perhaps many other first-time canvassers, because I am exercising my agency as a citizen, something I don't feel particularly recognised as in the current political vocabulary. Conservative politicians have managed to get the terms "taxpayers" and "hard-working families" to the front of the line when talking about the people who voted for them.

I have a low enough income that I don't pay much in terms of taxes. I don't have children (ie. up and coming taxpayers) and I don't work at a wage-paying job. I'm not part of the "system", but that doesn't mean that the future of my country isn't important to me, or that my voice doesn't deserve to be heard. I am still a citizen, last time I checked my passport. This Sensible BC stuff is just a toe in the water - who knows what's next?!