Friday, February 27, 2009

Celebrating My Friend Pam Today - Nova Scotia's Newest Eco-Hero

This afternoon I left work early, hopped on the bus and headed over to the Public Archives with my friend Patti. We used to work together at Land Registration with Pam Langille, my very dear friend who passed away last July. An email from Pam's sister Barb let me know about an award ceremony she knew I wouldn't want to miss.

Today Pam was posthumously awarded the first ever Langille Honour in the Woods Award. This brand new award was given by the Nova Scotia Environmental Network for her tireless efforts on behalf of the Acadian forest and sustainable logging.

There to watch her daughter Katharine accept the award were about a dozen of Pam's friends, her mother Norma, her sister Barb, her husband Rick, her son Chris and her niece Mary. Pam felt so present to me when her family and other friends walked into the room. Barb brought Pam's picture along for the ceremony, and Pam's beaming smile gazed across the room at all of us, as it would have done if she'd been there herself.

These Eco-Heroes were truly Pam's soul sisters and brothers. The first award was a Lifetime Achievement Award, given to an older man, while the Youth Environmental Leadership Award was given to an energetic and passionate group of high school students who had formed an association called Mind Shift.

The Cole Award for Excellence in Environment and Health was given to a man who has spearheaded a stop-idling-your-car initiative, while the Eco-Hero Environmentalist of the Year was given to another passionate and very humorous woman who works on behalf of renewable energy. The Award for Environmental Political Will was given to the provincial opposition environmental critic, who gave a wonderful speech about how scary his role can be, when he sees what goes on.

And then came Pam's award. Katharine spoke of her mother's Snowflake Theory, where every person's personal snowflake will break a branch if they all collect together. I thought about all the recipients in the room, about how each one had taken what resources they had, focused their passions and took action. And their actions have all made real, lasting changes in our province.

Four years ago, when I made it through the interview that started my employment with the province of Nova Scotia, I was so relieved on a personal level to get a contracted position with a possibility of full-time hire in the future. I went to work at Land Registration, giddy with joy just to be there. It wasn't long before I realized I'd been blessed with a new friend with whom I bonded deeply and immediately.

Every day I arrived at work, Pam greeted me with her mega-watt smile and a delighted "Hi, Julia!" And I had the same smile for her. We laughed our way through the work days, talked passionately during breaks about all sorts of things, sparred sometimes yet always with respect for the others' viewpoint. She was in my corner, and I was in hers.

As I listened to each person's speech today, I saw and heard Pam in the way they moved, in the way they connected to others in the room, the way they burned inside with the desire to stop the damage inflicted upon the air we breathe, the sea that sustains us and the woods that shelter us. Each Eco-Hero that came to the podium shared the same qualities of shining intention, ferocious spirit and single-minded focus that Pam showed me every day.

I'm lucky, very lucky in this life to know many courageous people. Some are artists shedding their blood, sweat and tears. Some celebrate quiet victories every time they make it through the day.

Pam was a dynamo. She spoke passionately and intelligently. She gathered facts. She showed up to question things and demand answers. She sought out alternatives and provided ways to implement them. Pam was an Eco-Hero, and I'm so happy to see the Langille Honour in the Woods Award launched into the world today in her memory.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Thursday Thirteen - 95 - 13 Reasons to Read ShapeShifter: The Demo Tapes Year 1 by Susan Helene Gottfried

Thursday Thirteen is back!!! Oh God, how I missed it! When the originators of the original Thursday Thirteen put it to bed due to a family illness for one of its creators, I felt its loss in my week like a gaping hole. I continued on with the basic format, renaming my posts Thursday Thoughts. I was just getting ready to put together my 8th version of Thursday Thoughts, when I discovered to my delirium of joy that Thursday Thirteen has been resurrected. Hallelujah!

And what timing, as I'm doing a book review for the incomparable Susan Helene Gottfried. I discovered Susan through Thursday Thirteen, so this is a real joy to be able to give you 13 Reasons to Read ShapeShifter: The Demo Tapes Year 1.

1 - ShapeShifter: The Demo Tapes Year 1 is a publication, under their Literature & Fiction category. This novella-length collection of episodic scenes introduces readers to the members of ShapeShifter, a metal band hailing from Riverview on the west coast of the United States.

2 - These scenes originally appeared on Susan's blog West of Mars between April 2006 and April 2007. She collected them into The Demo Tapes due to popular demand. Can't beat that!

3 - Susan's novel about ShapeShifter is called Trevor's Song, now being shopped to publishers. She began posting scenes about the characters in her novel to share their backstory with her blog readers. It didn't take long before Susan had her very own groupies, clamouring for more, more, more about Trevor and the boys.

4 - Trevor Wolff is by far the readers' favorite. He's the Very Bad Boy of Rock. The band's bass player has an acid sense of humor and a darkly attractive way with the ladies. Who can resist him? No one I have yet to meet...

5 - But Mitchell Voss is my personal favorite. He's the white-blonde, long-haired rock god - ShapeShifter's front man. He's also Trevor's best friend from childhood, a childhood that saw Mitchell pulling Trevor from the wreckage of his family and into the security of the Voss home. *swooning now*

6 - Daniel anchors the band from his drum set, as well as providing charm to the media when Bad Boy Trevor and Rock God Mitchell won't co-operate for the journalists. Eric plays lead guitar and lavishes long, thoughtful interviews on guitar magazine writers. They provide much-needed stability to balance the drama left in Trevor's and Mitchell's wakes.

7 - Susan's Demo Tapes begins at the very beginning, with a scene that brings Mitchell and Trevor together for the very first time. Mitchell thought he was just tagging along as an unwanted chaperone on his sister's date. Trevor thought he was checking out a new chick. Neither of them knew their lives would change that day in the lobby of the movie theatre. But a stadium-filling metal band was born the moment they met.

8 - Each scene works on its own as a brief snapshot from a larger work. The Demo Tapes delivers to readers what a real demo tape does for musicians. Susan shows us her chops. Her world of Riverview and ShapeShifter, the musicians, the road crew, the family relationships, the romantic entanglements - they're as real to me as the stubble on a tour bus morning. Having been a bass player's girlfriend myself, having done my share of lugging amp cords and gear into clubs, I recognize these guys every time I turn the next page.

9 - I really, really love Susan's dry humor. It shines best when she writes about Trevor.

"That didn't surprise Trevor in the least. He knew he was ugly. Trevor Wolff did not blame others for his own issues, thankyouverymuch. Not that being ugly was an issue; issues, you could fix somehow. Ugly, you were just stuck with."

10 - Susan creates truly distinct POV voices for her female and male characters. Trevor's world view is miles away from Kerri, the woman who wins Mitchell's heart from the adoring throng. She gives us Mitchell's middle class mom, dad and sister. We meet the early band groupies game enough to follow Trevor and Mitchell to a rather disreputable hotel. Then there's Val. She's Daniel's main squeeze, a talented chef who is picky about her ingredients, and a total bitch when she wants to be.

11 - The Thursday Thirteen format gave Susan a perfect platform to launch hilarious tidbits our way. Even if you'd never encountered a Thursday Thirteen before picking up The Demo Tapes, you'd assume a list of thirteen was dreamt up by ShapeShifter themselves, a la David Letterman's Top Ten.

This left me in tears of laughter, when I first read it on the blog, and again in The Demo Tapes:

"Thirteen Things Mitchell Used to Get the Green Out of His Hair

1. Lemon juice

2. Mountain Dew

3. Coffee

4. Milk

5. Tea (Might have worked better had they brewed it instead of rubbing wet tea bags on Mitchell's head.)

6. Toothpaste (Mitchell smelled minty fresh!)

7. Beer (Made it shiny.)

8. Honey

9. Mayonnaise

10. Mustard (What's one more condiment?)

11. Orange juice

12. Vodka

13. Corned Beef (This was Trevor's half-joking solution. At this point, Mitchell figured he had nothing to lose. Including, it turned out, the green.")

12 - Susan's backstory scenes cover an extensive range, from the boys' teenaged years just forming the band, through their 20's carving a place for themselves gig by gig, and into their prime as stadium rockers. The Demo Tapes gives us a little taste of every era. My personal favorite is their very beginning. Most likely because she's writing about my own high school years. And hits every target, every time.

13 - I leave you with an excerpt. Enjoy!

"The show tonight had been a disaster, there was no sugar-coating it. From the lead singer who fell off the stage and broke his guitar to the drummer putting a stick through the head of his snare and not having a backup handy to the lighting and the sound, there was only one good thing that could be said: not many people had been there. Patterson had counted about twenty, including himself and Sonya.

Trevor was, of course, grinning like the night had gone perfectly. For all that boy had been through, Trevor never stopped seeking the joy in life; it was that quality that Patterson had noticed the first time Amy had brought him home. It was that unfailing optimism that had led Patterson to take custody rather than let him face jail time.

Mitchell, though, was the opposite. Head down, shoulders slumped. It wasn't unreasonable to think that there'd be no more band come morning.

'Son,' Patterson said, trying to be gentle and not startle the boy.

It didn't work. Mitchell's head shot up and his eyes widened. 'Oh, hi, Dad,' he said when he recovered. He grimaced. 'You going to rub it in?'

'No,' Patterson said slowly, tilting his head at the empty spot on the bumper of his Bronco. As Mitchell sat, Patterson noticed Trevor hovering, just within earshot.

Well, Patterson figured, this would be good for Trevor to hear, too. 'Even if I could make it sound good, I wouldn't. You needed a night like this,' he said. 'You needed to know what it feels like to fall on your face.'

'What?' Mitchell half-rose to his feet, then caught himself, as if he was suddenly aware of who he was speaking to.

'You can't succeed without tasting failure,' Patterson said. 'If you never fail, you never get to find out what you're made of. So. What are you made of, Mitchell?'

Mitchell shook his head, his hair shaking and dancing, somehow as dejected as the boy.

Trevor tossed his own hair over his shoulder and lit a cigarette as he watched.

'Are you tough enough to suck tonight up, learn what you can, and move forward? Or is the band over now that you broke your guitar?'

'What am I supposed to play? You can't be a guitar player without a guitar.'

'True,' Patterson said. 'Is that the only problem?'

Mitchell cocked his head as he thought. 'I've been trying to save up for another one, but it's not doing so well. I had to dig into it to pay for the latest run of t-shirts.'

'Not taking your investment back out?'

Mitchell shook his head. 'I figured it was worth it. Didn't think this sort of thing would happen.'

'But it did, so where do you go from here?'

The boy grimaced. 'I figure out how to get a new guitar.'

'We'll steal you one if we need to,' Trevor said with a shrug. 'Sorry, Dad. You didn't hear that.'

'That's true. I didn't.' Patterson paused, noticing that Trevor had started to fade into the shadows.

Mitchell turned to Patterson. 'I want this.'


'The band. A new guitar. Hell, a better guitar.'

'Fame, fortune, and all the rest?'

Mitchell grinned at his father. 'You betcha.'

'Then, son,' Patterson said, turning to him. 'You know what it's going to take to get there.'

'Yeah,' Mitchell said, wiping a hand over his face. 'A shitload of work.' He stood up and fumbled in his pocket. 'I'd better get busy. Trev, you ready?'

'To do what?' Trevor eyed Mitchell and looked ready to bolt. Patterson bit back a smile. Getting that particular boy to do anything he didn't want to was impossible.

'Go home and get some sleep,' Mitchell said, possibly the only thing that Trevor wouldn't rebel against just for the sake of rebelling. 'We need to find me a new guitar.'

Patterson held out his hand, palm up. 'I'll drive. You two can start plotting.'

With a grin that said it all, Mitchell handed over the keys."

- Susan Helene Gottfried, 2008

Wordless Wednesday - 88

Photos by Heather Doucet

Monday, February 23, 2009

Through the Opera Glasses - 5 - My Top Ten Oscar Gowns From the 2009 Red Carpet

The Oscars is my second-favorite night of the year, after Christmas Eve. I'm still feeling the buzz!

Not only does it celebrate one of my favorite art forms - film - but I love the marriage between the film industry and the fashion industry: The Red Carpet.

For someone who doesn't bother much about what I look like day-to-day, I am someone who loves to dress up for special occasions. And I love haute couture. Oscar Night sends me into paroxysms of glee.

For today's Through the Opera Glasses, here are my personal favorites among the gowns that appeared on the Red Carpet Sunday night.

1 - My favorite: Evan Rachel Wood is stunning in this sculpted cream-colored Elie Saab gown.

2 - Natalie Portman is radiant in her pink strapless gown by Rodarte.

3 - Nancy O'Dell in a graceful white grecian gown by Pamela Rolland.

4 - Virginia Madsen in a dramatic red Kevan Hall strapless gown.

5 - Daniela Barbosa de Carneiro, Lady Kingsley with her husband Sir Ben Kingsley. She wears a frothy orange grecian gown whose designer I couldn't identify.

6 - Alicia Keyes in a beautifully-draped lavender Armani Prive gown.

7 - Diane Lane with her husband Josh Brolin. So elegant in a black strapless Dolce and Gabbana gown.

8 - Producer Susan Levin with her husband, Robert Downey Jr. She wears an artfully-draped red strapless Blumarine gown with a rhinestone belt detail.

9 - Taraji P. Henson glows in this white tiered Roberto Cavalli gown.

10 - Amy Adams is bold in a classic red strapless gown by Carolina Herrera.

Both Diane Lane and Amy Adams made my list last year. You can check out my 2008 picks HERE.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Poetry Train Monday - 89 - Turned in the Road

This is my latest found poem, taken once again from one of my works in progress. This story follows Jock MacKeigan, who survives the Battle of Culloden in Scotland, 1746. He comes across the family of the MacBean chieftain, whom he saw fall to several English dragoons. He is taken in and tended, discovering the daughter who nurses him so protectively is the fiancee of his commanding officer.

I decided to go for a bit more form this time. I've used the villanelle, but didn't hold to the rhyme scheme. I wanted to stick to the found poem category.

Turned in the Road

He felt a shudder erupt at images sprung to mind
The soldiers - the soldiers, if they fell upon them
He could hear Montford barking orders even now

Lieutenant-Colonel Montford, engaged to Miss MacBean
Her intended was a good man, as officers went
His voice booming through the clamour of musket fire

Not one to tolerate any loafing. No sloppiness. Unreadiness.
Jock and the others pressed on through the night march to Nairn
He could hear Montford barking orders even now

Montford’s regiment a fit one, not like some, plagued with desertions
Incredible folly, tiring them to the breaking point before battle
His voice booming through the clamour of musket fire

Surprise the English camp - their march halted so often
The grey light of daybreak came before they reached Nairn
He could hear Montford barking orders even now

A weary messenger appeared and Montford bent low in the saddle
So very long before he turned the Scots Royal in the road
His voice booming through the clamour of musket fire
He could hear Montford barking orders even now

- Julia Smith - 2009

You can read excerpts from this story here and here and here.

Ride the Poetry Train!

Friday, February 20, 2009

25 Random Things About Meme

Heather at Random Wandering Thoughts tagged me for this a little while ago. I think some one else or even a few people may have tagged me for this on Facebook. I'm going to do any and all Facebook tags here on my blog, because it will show up on my Facebook page as well.

My apologies for forgetting who tagged me besides Heather. I've been in the grip of The Unending Migraine From the Deepest Depths of Hell. It's a wonder I even remember my name.

Photo by Ryan Remiorz

1 - Did I laugh my ass off Thursday when President Obama arrived at Parliament Hill, shook Prime Minister Harper's hand, then basically ushered the Canadian PM forward to wave to Obama's adoring crowd of cheering admirers?

Yes. I laughed with giddy glee. Stephen Harper has been prime minister for three long, excruxiating years. He has the social skillz of Napoleon Dynamite. Does anyone line Harper's route in the freezing cold, cheering as if he were a rock star? No?

Photo by Tom Hanson

Photo by Pam Snow

2 - Yesterday three trapped dolphins were rescued by the community of Seal Cove, Newfoundland. Thank God for 16-year-old Brandon Banks, who took a 17-foot fibreglass boat out to the dwindling open hole in the freezing-over cove to create a do-it-yourself icebreaker. Brandon plus four other men rocked the boat back and forth to carve a path through the ice so the dolphins could make it back to open water. The entire town had heard the dolphins calling out at night. When their request for an icebreaker was turned down, when it was pointed out that nature culls its population in the winter, they grouped together, gathered what resources they had and found a way for the dolphins to escape. I'm so grateful to them for showing such innovative determination and compassion.

Read more - Globe and Mail

3 - I've been into serious Elvis gospel lately. Brad got me the Ultimate Gospel CD for Christmas last year. I've been listening to it over and over, the past few weeks. I get like that with music. My favorite tracks are So High, Milky White Way, I Believe In The Man In The Sky, Run On, I John and Take My Hand Precious Lord.

Photo by Glenn Meisner

4 - A few years ago, I temped for two weeks for the city of Halifax in accounts payable, and my manager was Joe Colley, who sings with a gospel choir in Preston, Nova Scotia. That's a town just a few minutes' drive from where I live (in Cole Harbour.) He told me his church was having a special prayer event with a visiting minister and Canadian Idol 2nd place winner Gary Beals, whom my mom and I just love. Plus Joe's choir, of course. My mom and I went out to St. Thomas Baptist Church in North Preston for what turned out to be an amazing, amazing night.

First of all, the small band that accompanied everyone (bass, drums and keyboard) just cooked. I mean cooked. They are the groovin-est band I've ever heard. The choir rocked the house. Gary made me cry, he was so emotional and passionate. And when the whole event started, when the congregation stood up and the church filled with song, my hands sizzled with electricity. I'm talking Science Centre Static Electricity Ball time. I kept staring at them, but the feeling did not go away until we left the church. Totally mind-blowing.

If you want a taste of what it was like, CLICK HERE and click on Track 6 - We Come to Praise the Lord in the right-hand sidebar.

Photo by Tom Hanson

5 - If I'm watching something on TV, like the news or a documentary, and someone mentions or shows the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, I start crying on the spot. Without fail.

6 - "The eight financial industry executives scheduled to testify before the House Financial Services Committee this past Wednesday learned a lesson from the Big Three auto makers: they flew commercial or took the train." - T.W. Farnam, The Wall Street Journal

*playing my pity violin*

7 - A guilty pleasure of mine is Rick Mercer's Talking to Americans. It used to be a regular feature on This Hour Has 22 Minutes, a political satire show on CBC.

Rick Mercer toured the United States, talking to Americans as if from a Canadian news program, asking them about 'Canadian issues.' The object was to see how little some Americans knew about their northern neighbours. The piece was so popular that the CBC had Mercer create a one-hour TV special based on the segment. It became the highest rated comedy special in Canadian television history when it aired on Canada Day, 2001. Mercer abandoned the concept after Sept. 11, 2001. - Wikipedia

I was just mentioning this bit to one of my co-workers yesterday:

Rick Mercer asked students and professors at Columbia University to sign a petition asking Canadians to discontinue the practice of abandoning the elderly on ice floes. - Wikipedia

Sadly, these man-on-the-street interviews showed tenured professors agreeing that yes, that was a horrible practise and should be stopped.

8 - I'm not a fan of the English-dubbed track on foreign films. *shudder* I need to hear the real actors emoting. So it's subtitles for me every time.

9 - I'm supposed to go get my breasts squished/screened sometime soon. Looking forward to that, of course...

10 - I really, really dislike being in the position that mimics hyper-extension of the arms behind the back. Some stretches move the body into this position, and a few times I've tried to do it but basically got very panicky and had to immediately get out of it.

11 - So far my favorite whisky is Glenfiddich. Neat.

12 - My favorite apple was Mackintosh, which I thought would be an unchanging feature of my life. But then my grocery store began stocking Pink Lady apples. And from that moment, there's been no turning back.

13 - One of my favorite stories as a kid was The Little Red Hen. Never liked that sense of entitlement the non-helpers had when they arrived to eat the hen's yummy bread. And how I loved it when she said, "Too bad. So sad." No bread for the ones who didn't help.

14 - There's a commercial on the air right now in Canada featuring a white shaggy dog outside on a chain through all sorts of scary, bad weather. It's encouraging dog owners to bring them inside when one would hope such a reminder isn't necessary. I can't watch this thing. I need a defibrilator...

Photo by Michael K. Harvey

15 - When herd mentality backfires... Thursday we had a bad winter storm, and most of downtown Halifax became an instantaneous gridlock of workers leaving early in slippery, unplowed snow. Meanwhile, I finished off my regular hours, got the ferry and bus, all the roads were plowed and salted by then and I actually got home ten minutes earlier than normal.

16 - Stewie Griffin makes me laugh. A lot.

Oh I know it hurts now Brian, but look at the bright side: you have some new material for that novel you've been writing. You know...the novel you've been workin' on? You know the the one, uh, you've been workin on for three years? You know the novel. Got somethin' new to write about now. You know? Maybe a, maybe a main character gets into a relationship and suffers a little heartbreak? Somethin' like what... what you've just been through? Draw from real life experience? Little, little heartbreak? You know? Work it into the story? Make the characters a little more three dimensional? Little, uh, richer experience for the reader? Make those second hundred pages really keep the reader guessing what's going to happen? Some twists and turns? A little epilogue? Everybody learns that the hero's journey isn't always a happy one? Oh, I look forward to reading it. - Family Guy Quotes

17 - I've had a lo-o-o-n-n-g week. All day I've been longing to get snuggled on the couch, curled up with Brad and my dog. Almost there...

18 - The book-blogging community I've encountered has an incredible rate of books they've read compared to me. I'm doing the Dewey Book Challenge, which gives me a year to read six books. I'm going to need that whole year. Meanwhile, some of the book bloggers have already ticked off their challenge books already. It's February, people.

19 - Brad asked me to check the waiting list at the library to see where we're at for the copy of Season 5 of MI-5. I checked. We're at 58.

20 - I'm very, very proud of Brad today. He walked home from his shift at Blockbuster. So what? you may ask. So - my husband has agoraphobia, which is an offshoot of his larger bipolar disorder. That's so what. Walking outside by himself is not one of his favorites. But he did it.

21 - Michaƫlle Jean, Canada's 27th Governor General, greeted President Barack Obama when he arrived on Air Force One in Ottawa yesterday. I get a huge rush of joy when I see how delighted they are to be in one another's company.

22 - Brad and I recently watched the first season of HBO's True Blood and totally fell in love with it. Edgy TV, melancholic vampire, shapeshifters, quirky townsfolk and a heroine cursed with hearing everyone's thoughts - just can't get enough.

Photo by Jim Ross

23 - Wait...I'm having a flashback to Canada's reaction to George W. Bush's visit in November, 2004...

Photo by J.P. Moczulski

24 - The good news is...we qualify for the GST cheque. The bad news is...we qualify for the GST cheque.

25 - If you're in the mood for a rollicking good gospel concert, join me, my mom and the rest of the Dartmouth Choral Society at Grace United Church, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia at 3:00 pm Sunday afternoon.

I won't tag anyone, but if you pick this one up, let me know so I can drop by.