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Tracie Skarbo was motivated to write by her father, who was her biggest supporter. “He was always behind me, rallying me on with my writing. I would always see him with a book in hand. He gave me a great appreciation for the written word, and the power and responsibility that writers have to shape those who read their words. He also taught me to respect nature and to value the beauty within it; my reflections on my environment are just an extension of this.” Skarbo was raised on Vancouver Island and is working on her next two books.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Marshland


This Marsh is a favorite area for me for photos and nature walks. There are many different species of birds and frogs to look for and many different types of fauna to identify as well.

I love bullrushes when they stir in the wind. They have such a wonderful sound to them. The birds punctuate this with their shill calls to one another. The warm winds and sun brought the earth's perfume up from the moist soil.

I really enjoy the trees around the marsh, most are tall old grandfathers looking over the waterways and giving shade when needed, others are dead and gone but still reach out of the soil like skeleton fingers.

Apple Blossoms were everywhere to the delight of the local honey bees, their pastel pinks were a wonderful compliment to the blue skies behind.

I love sunlight on the petals of flowers. It reminds me of candle light on satin, and you can really see the smoothness of their impermenant nature.

This is where most of the frogs find residence, although today proves to be too warm for them to come out of their hiding spots for their photo debut.

This is one of the old trees that have given up their reign to the new younger trees, but the birds still find respite in the dark grey branches.

I love the contrast of the bright sun coming through the viens of the tree branches and trunks. I find myself mezmerized by what is above me as well as on the ground and about me.


The pathways weave in and out of the bush and trees, and it is a wonderful feeling to walk along them and listen to the birds as they flitter and flutter here and there thoughout the bushes all around you. It is like they are having a great game of hide and seek with you as you walk through the dappled sunshine.

I am not sure what kind of tree this is and I am not sure what kind of blossom this is but I could not resist the urge to take a photo of the fragile petals reaching for the sun.

This is one of the dragonflies that were landing on me all through the walk today, I wasn't wearing perfume, so I am not sure why the attention, but I was happy to get this shot.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Christmas Baskets

~~One of my mother's Christmas stories...           
“I’m going to start counting!  Come back here and get your shoes on!”  I threatened down the hall to the source of the sounds of the scuffle.  Please God… let me get them out the door!   I implored with the ceiling. 
Reluctantly my two children emerged from the dark hallway; hair tousled, cheeks tearstained and flushed.  I gave them the look, which prompted the quick lacing of their shoes and then they ran out the door with coats in hand.  My husband was right behind them with a smile and a wave, they were on their way to who knows where.  Probably hitting the malls for their own Christmas shopping, I hoped that my husband would keep the candy to a minimum.
Not much time, I thought.  I raced up the steps to my bedroom and closed the bedroom door behind me.  Quickly I went to the window, a burgundy Buick leaving the driveway confirmed they were on their way.
Uncovering the gifts that needed wrapping from under the bed, my thoughts turned inwards. 
I thought about various things I had yet to do: the planning, the lists upon lists, and gathering personal items, sure to make those I love smile.  Christmas is my favorite time of year.  When the house is filled with family, everyone in good humor and forging new memories nothing could be better.  The house was fully decorated: the wreath on the front door, the tree set “just so” in the big bay window, the handmade center-piece for the Christmas dinner table.  
While wrapping some of the gifts, I pondered the homemade baskets I had made some of my friends.  Each stuffed with goodies I had made myself: Biscotti, wine, candles, almond bark, an angel tree ornament; and some I had not made but thought would go well with the theme, store bought salmon and cheeses as well as some specialty coffee.  All wrapped up in red and green cellophane paper, and tied with a huge glistening red bow and gold ribbon.  Proudly they stood at side of the room lined up like little soldiers, dressed in Christmas attire. 
           
A look at my watch told me that I had been daydreaming again. 
Focus, you need to focus if you are going to co-ordinate the paper to the person...now, what bow would be best with this? 
Crinkle...crinkle, crinkle... I looked up, confused by the soft sound.  What on earth could that be?  I perched in one position intent on listening for the sound.  Crinkle, crinkle...
Oh no.  No, it couldn’t be.  Dread filled me as I looked once again to the side of my bedroom.  How could this happen after all the work I had put in?  How could fate fall on me like this?  Everything under control everything in its place, what an illusion!  How could I have over looked such a blatant possibility?  I watched as Bandit, the household cat, found his way out of the cellophane. 
The little ginger tabby left a trail of little chocolate paw prints as skirted past me, an angel ornament hanging from his mouth.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Gardening Love

Over the ages food has always been a way to express love, or to get your loved ones to come together so love can be expressed. 
In my house growing up it was no different.  Both my parents were firm believers that the key to a successful family was to gather around the table over food.  These would be the times where over mushroom pork chops, mashed potatoes, and peas we would get to know each other as people.
Our lives were often busy.  For my parents life was full of work and life’s responsibilities, and for my brother and I it was school, friends and the responsibilities of being kids.  Soccer practice, swim club or other activities sometimes swayed the timing of our daily gatherings, but my parents always seemed to pull off delicious wholesome meals, while finding out about what was going on in our lives. 
My parents also thought that gardens were a great idea.  They taught us that vegetables didn’t actually magically appear in the supermarket and that a lot of time and work goes into cultivating a garden, again this was family time well spent while learning responsibility and developing life skills.
One day when we were quite young, I can remember my brother working in the garden.   I was laying out on the grass sun tanning with a friend so I wasn’t paying him much attention.  I couldn’t really see what he was doing, just that he was picking out some little bits here and there and throwing them to the back part of the garden.  I figured he was weeding so I went back to my Archie comic. 
After half an hour of this, I noticed that he began to pick things out of the garden, take them to the house and then go back to the garden and repeat the trip several times.  Over and over again he did this, and my friend and I were trying to guess what he was doing. 
“I wonder if he is getting worms to scare your mum with.”  My friend said.
“That would be funny, but look he is carrying plants from the garden, he is probably just gathering the things that needed to be picked.”  I said trying to convince myself more than my friend. 
I put my head down and thought no more of it.
The next thing I knew I heard my mum yelling from the top deck.  My friend and I raced over to see what was wrong. 
When we got to the deck we were shocked by what we saw.  Little carrots were stacked neatly to one side, then the romaine lettuce next to that, the peas, beans and tomatoes piled up with care, and my brother stood beside them with a big smile on his face. 
“Look mum, I saved them all!” He said with pride.
“What have you done?” My mum asked with exasperation.  “Why did you pull all of these out of the garden?”
“The garden was shrinking so I pulled them out to save them for you.” He explained, the smile replaced by confusion.
“Shrinking?”
“Yes there were so many carrots yesterday, and now there are many missing.  I had to pull them out before they all went underground again!”  He pointed to the garden to make his point.
My mum put a hand to her temple and looked at her son.  “The garden is not shrinking, your dad pulled out some of the carrots to make more space for the little ones to grow.  It is called thinning out the garden honey, the vegetables weren’t disappearing. “
My brother looked down at his toes.  “I’m sorry mum.  I’ll go put them back.”
“That is a nice thought, but I don’t think that is going to work.  It’s ok you were only trying to save the vegetables, I didn’t know you liked them so much.” She smiled and tousled his hair.  “I know you were just trying to help out, come and help me carry all of this into the kitchen and I will figure out something to do with all of it.”
We all grabbed handfuls of the vegetables and carried them inside, then helped mum wash, peel and slice them up for vegetable soup, which we enjoyed in the weeks to come.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Jets, Fairies and Egg-salad Sandwiches

They were special times when we would pack up the yellow station wagon and go for the hour and a half trip up Island to my Grandma’s.  My brother and I would watch the landscape rush by with egg salad sandwiches in our thoughts.  Grandma made the best egg salad, served in huge Buns Master Kaisers, with pickles and Old Dutch potato chips on the side.  A glass of cold grape Kool-Aid in Tupperware cups to wash it all down. 

We would watch her prepare these as the adults caught up on the latest family news, our mouths salivating.   She had a glass cutting board with game birds on it, built into the countertop.  I can still remember the sound of the serrated knife she always used as she cut through the buns and hit the beveled top of the glass.  It was music to our ears.  Just like the constant sound of the jets taking off at the air base down the road.

I was always drawn to her living room, which was done in a Spanish motif.  Everything was in red and black, the woodstove in the corner, the furniture, the carpet; she even had a beautiful Spanish doll with black hair and vibrant blue eyes. 

After lunch we were allowed to play outside or find something else to do while the adults continued to visit.  I would watch the constant march of the big black Carpenter ants while my brother went out onto the long asphalt driveway beside the barn shaped house and raced his Hot Wheels.  I remember him crying when one of his favorite cars had veered off to the side, and did a huge jump into the bushes.  Our searches turned up nothing; it was lost to the Salal.   I wondered if the forest fairies would come and find it and play with it when we were gone.  Grandma’s house just seemed magical, the way it was back from the road, and surrounded by forest, it was a likely place for fairy to play. 

I remember constant smiles, and my grandparents ready mirth shining in their brilliant blue eyes, and Grandma taking her false teeth out in the downstairs bathroom and then making us laugh with her toothless funny faces. 

Grandma always had the best and most interesting things in her house, like the “If you sprinkle when you tinkle, be a sweetie and wipe the seatie.” sign in the downstairs bathroom.  In the upstairs bathroom there was lilac colored shag carpet, the only place I ever remember with carpet in the bathroom.  The books of shelves in the family room had a whole range of topics, ghosts, UFO’s and other strange things, and her six children would tease her about her constant purchases of the tabloids.  They also had cast heads of men on the walls, in all different kinds of professions, a sailor, a captain, a baker, just to name a few.  I was enthralled with these and could look at them for hours.  They seemed so life-like and full of detail.  Upstairs in the bedrooms there were slats of pine on the walls and the sloping ceilings, and when we stayed over, like the time the road washed out from a mudslide, and I couldn’t sleep, I would count the dark brown knots in the wood. 

I remember watching Grandma knitting when commercials came on TV, her old dog Brandy, and snowball her white cat with green eyes. 

I remember at night when it was time to leave, my dad, brother and I had to wait in the car for Mum and her long good-byes.  We would sit and listen to the singing bats and the peals of her laughter.  Then my brother and I, on the long drive home, would fall asleep in the back seat, dreaming of egg salad sandwiches, jets, and fairy.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Hallelujah Hot Water!

It started when my hot water tank went.  I guess I shouldn’t call it mine though because I rent an old character house built in 1932 that has a wonderful big yard and a glorious view of the Pacific Ocean.  So when I began noticing that my showers were becoming shorter and shorter, I knew that this was just a little glitch that the universe had sent me to teach me patience and to appreciate being born in an era that spoiled me. 
So I called the agency that is the go between for myself and the owners and talked to “My Guy”.  My guy is a young lad who is part of the family that owns the property management business that looks after this house, and somehow he always seems to remind me of a blonde Don Johnson from that old TV show Miami Vice.   My guy shows up at my door well dressed and professional for inspections and when things go wrong or need to be seen to. 
I love this whole set up.  I love the fact that there is this middle man between the owners and me.  I never have to track anyone down, or wait for things to get done like I have experienced with other landlords in the past.  In the past four years the dryer, fridge and now the hot water tank have had to be replaced, and no matter what needed to be done my guy always had it fixed for me within hours or a day when parts needed to be ordered.
The hot water tank was no exception.  I called in and within hours he had a plumber here with a brand new tank.  I was ecstatic both with my new tank that was only supposed to take another three hours to heat, and with my guy for getting another job done so fast.
But lo and behold, when I got back from that nights run and hop into the shower I get three minutes of hot water before it goes flesh numbingly cold and I am screaming, doing the blind wet squirrel dance because I have soap in my eyes and I can’t find the taps.
To top it off, I can also now hear running water, even though I have turned off the taps and there is no other water running in the bathroom.  Once I take care of the remaining shampoo situation, I make another call to my guy.  However it is now the weekend and my guy is not in the office until Monday.  Ok, no problem, I am a big girl, I can manage.  This is just a little bump in the road when we look at the big picture.
The good news is that I can still wash clothes with cold water, I do that anyway, and one of the heating elements works so at least I am getting some hot water.  I just have to use my hot water wisely and time things, a little differently.  I began to wash dishes after filling the tub so that when I was boiling water for the tub I could use the time wisely and not drive myself crazy watching the water come to a boil.  I found that four big pasta pots was about right to get things done, but I was beginning to feel like a pasta noodle myself or like a boiled egg, I hoped that getting the tank fixed wouldn’t take much longer. 
Then all of a sudden, surprise, the phone rings and it is my guy.  Even though it is the weekend he is calling me to make sure that everything is on the up and up.  I tell him all about what has transpired and he gets on the phone to find out what can be done.  About thirty minutes later I get a call back, it is a different plumber asking for a time to come by to look at the tank.  He is one of the stores maintenance warranty guys.
When he shows up, I am looking up, I mean way up.  This guy has to be about six four and I was thinking to myself how does this guy get into nooks and crannies if need be?  He stayed for about ten minutes, and then told me that one of the heating elements had to be ordered and changed.  So we made arrangements for Monday.
Monday is now here and the plumber has come and gone again.  Lucky me, he showed up twenty minutes early, and only took about 45 minutes to do the job; my son, in his glory as he watched the young man work.  Suddenly all his home schooling work was out the window, I didn’t mind too much as long as he stayed out of the man’s way.
Good news, the running water noise in the bathroom has mysteriously vamoosed; I guess it must have been air in the pipes.  After my run tonight, I hope that there will not be a second squirrel incident and I will just have a deeper appreciation for being spoiled by appliances that work.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Laced Up Confessionals Part Six

No two injuries are ever the same.  ~~ Anonymous runner
You might be thinking that running or walking long distances might be a fun thing to do, but you have sustained some sort of injury over the course of your days that makes you wonder if some of your body parts would be up to the challenge, the biggest culprit being the knees.
I too have gone through such thoughts.  My knees have become quite banged up and bruised over the years, but the biggest injury came in the year 2000 when I was living in Calgary. 
I had been living in the city for a couple of years by this point and coming from the west coast of Canada I was no novice to driving in the snow.  I was however new to the blizzard conditions that would blow in and dump massive amounts of snow.
On one particular night we left work early because of one of these said storms.  Instead of following my regular route, a co-worker schooled me on a better way to get to my side of the city.  Why I would follow his advice when it would be a wiser choice to stick to my familiar route in such bad weather, is a question I still ask myself today. 
For whatever reason I took his advice and listened to the echoes of his directions in my mind while ticking off the left and right turns on streets whose names were quickly becoming buried in white flakes.
I surprised myself when I was almost home and on familiar territory once again; I had not become lost, my car was still on the road while others littered the sides, and I had avoided the freeway.  Only ten more minutes and I would be warm and cozy and I could forget about the -29 temperature outside.
Five minutes away from home I began to relax my white knuckle grip on the steering wheel, my confidence returning, but let it be said here and now that I never let my guard down.
I approached the last intersection on my trip, and as I am about half a kilometer away from it and the light is green for all cars going my way, so I don’t tap the brakes at all.
I watched in complete horror as a black sports car in the oncoming left hand turning lane starts to move into the intersection.  “No!” I breathe incredulous to how this person could think that they would have enough time to cross my path and make it to the other side of the intersection before I came through. 
This is where things start to slow down visually for me, yet in my mind my thoughts begin to take on a rapid fire machine gun like quality and somehow they seem louder as they fight for control. 
I first try to pump the brakes to slow the impact.  I can’t stop it, that would take an act of God at this point, but I did slow it some.  While I was managing that I was cursing this person I didn’t know for their sheer stupidity.  Then when I saw the other car spinning its wheels as the driver became aware the inevitable, the curses turned to a brief anger at the unfairness of it all.  I wanted my warm apartment, not a hospital bed that it looked like I was in for if I was lucky.
I remember saying, “Oh shit, this is going to hurt.” as my acceptance of the situation settled in.  Then at about 68 kilometers per hour, I t-boned the black sports car.  I spun around in the intersection 3 times and crashed again into a Mercedes Benz and a cab.
Things after that were shards of time for me.  I seemed to be in and out of things.  Not totally unconscious but not completely there all the time either.  Suddenly I was aware of a man behind me in my car holding my head and on the phone telling what I supposed were the paramedics where we were.  Then he was on the phone again telling someone he was at ground zero and would be late.  Ground zero?  Who used lingo like that?  And how did he get into my car?  I began to fear I had really rattled my brain.  I could feel something warm running down my leg, I could hardly breathe and I was shivering violently.
“I am so cold.” I told him, this stranger in my car with his hands about my neck.  I wondered if he was a soldier or a cop, who else would say ground zero? 
“I know Hon, they are on their way, just sit tight.  Is there anyone you want to call?”  I gave him my home number and he informed my partner about what had happened and what hospital I would probably be transferred to.  In the distance I could hear sirens.  The biting cold was like needles jabbing into me with no remorse.  I tried to focus on the man behind me and the puzzle of who he could be for a distraction.  I no longer thought he was a soldier, I didn’t think Hon was in a soldier’s vocabulary, and it would be a bit of a stretch for a cop too.
“Is the other driver ok?” I asked.
“I think so.”  Came his reply, “There are people with that driver now.”
“I’m sorry about your car.”  I said.
“Luckily you didn’t hit me, but you did a number on someone’s Mercedes, the other one was a cab, everyone looks ok there too.”
I was relieved, but I continued to shiver and those siren cowboys could not come quickly enough!
“What is taking them so long?” I asked.
“They have to weave through the backed up traffic the accident caused.”  He answered.  What a political answer I thought.  He didn’t say the accident you caused, which led me to believe he was married and knew something about women and how they react, or he understood the impact of his words in general and was in some sort of a management position.  Either way he was becoming more of an enigma as the moments passed. 
Finally the flashing lights of the medic wagon drew near, and I was never happier to see them.  Those lights meant I could get out of this freezing steel mash that had a vague resemblance to a vehicle, and perhaps I would not lose my fingers and toes to frostbite.  I just prayed it would not be my ex-boyfriend who would be tending to me, because just like injuries, no two break-ups are the same.  I would definitely be feeling the sting if any needles were needed.
When they came to take over the situation, the man in the back told them what happened and how I was doing, then he was going to leave and become a shadow in the blizzard, but I called him back while the medics assessed my injuries. 
“I need to know why you said ground zero before.”  He was a handsome man with glasses and a goatee.
“Oh that,” he smiled, “I am a reporter with the Calgary Herald, guess you could call it geek speak.”  Then he tossed me a little wave and turned to the cop who wanted to question him.
Well that mystery is solved I thought as the medics and firemen put a brace about my neck and put me on a backboard as gently as they could.  I tried not to shriek in pain, but I was sure they had heard it all before.  It was uncomfortable at first but after a couple minutes it was excruciating.  The hardness of the board bit into the back of my skull, but just on one point where the two made contact, so it was like a pressure point of pain.  I have since only experienced one thing worse, which was labor for thirty one hours, but that in itself is another story.
Once they got me rigged into the back of the ambulance we head out with sirens blazing.  I am not impressed as this does nothing for my headache, but I am too happy about getting some warmth and the pain in my knee is quickly becoming more of a concern. 
“What is wrong with my knee?” I ask the guy beside me.  I feel rude not looking in his eyes while asking, but I am strapped to the board and the choice is taken from me. 
He puts down the chart he is writing in, “Right or left?” he asks.
“Right.”
He cuts up my pant leg with a pair of blunt bent scissors and I grimace because I can’t remember if I shaved my legs the night before. 
“Which side was the ignition on in your car?”  He asks.
I had to think about it a second, “On the same side.  Why?”
“I think your keys punctured your knee.”  He told me, “I would bet money on it.”
Immediately I know I am going to have to lay up the running shoes for a while.  I wondered how bad it was really going to be at the end of it all.  After we got to the hospital and the various tests and x-rays were seen to and analyzed, they finally un-strapped me from the board and I found that I no longer had any feeling in the back of my skull.   
Good news though, only soft tissue damage throughout my neck, back and knee and after some stitches and being fixed up with some crutches I am released. 
It took over seven months of physiotherapy and medical procedures to get my knee, which after the accident was the size of a small cantaloupe, to regain its normal size again and for me to walk without a limp.  It was much longer to regain the freedom of lacing up regularly without the knee swelling again, and that is something I still have to be careful of today when I rise from a crouched position. 
I am so grateful to be out there on the roads still plugging away and logging more kilometers under my soles.  Perhaps next time I will tell you what happened to my other knee.  After all no two injuries are ever the same but some can be quite funny.




Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Laced Up Confessionals Part Five

Monday started off like so many others in the past 3 months, fat drops of rain racing each other to annihilation upon the face of the earth.  Some hitting so hard that it made it look like it was raining skywards.  Warm mugs of coffee couldn’t chase away the yawns that percolated through my day, nor could they cure a chill that had me donning layer after layer of cotton and wishing I had fur. 
I picked up the local paper only to be informed that we had now crossed over into days of water restrictions.  I smirked at the irony of it all.  Wondering why such a concept would be needed in the rainy season of rainforest country.
Run time came closer and the rain refused to release its squeeze on the big pouty clouds.  I envisioned some of the drops making sure others were on their way down before making their own kamikaze dive through the cold air. 
On the drive through town I wondered how many would show.  I knew I would not be alone in my efforts because it was a clinic night which meant a talk on a certain subject or a guest speaker, and these seemed to draw a larger crowd no matter what the weather.
Tonight’s topic was Safety.  What to wear to be seen by traffic, which places were better to run then others and why.  What to do when running alone, and lots of advice to run in pairs or packs,  especially around one of our most picturesque lakes which also doubles as the running Mecca of the city.  The instructors warned us that the resident male flasher was still at work.  Although this man had been caught and charged several times for his outdoorsy breeches of etiquette, he continues to return to the same place as before, business as usual.  Apparently not much more can be done about this man and his mental illness until he ups the level of his actions.  This of course upset most of the runners in the clinic, but I’ve known about this guy for a year and a half and have yet to see his antics.  I am not a regular of the lake though and perhaps this is why.
Still, we as runners have to know that there is risk out there.  There are cars, bikes, skateboarders, roller-bladers, dogs, doggie doo-doo, and people to dodge and there are the elements and injuries to be dealt with. 
Even so, steps can be taken to reduce conflicts where they arise, making enjoyable and worthwhile.
So lace up, and join the throng of walkers and runners in your area.  Whether for fitness or the social aspects of the activity, you will be so glad you did!