Tuesday, December 31, 2013

We'll Take a Cup of Kindness Yet...

We'll Take a Cup of Kindness Yet... by gina.blank

Happy New Year :)

I am honoured to have had my image featured in this New Year's Motion Picture Compilation,
created by Carmen Ortiz, author of the blog Baking is My Zen.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Time to S-t--r---e----t-----c------h

Stretch the body.
Stretch the mind.
Stretch the soul.

"Stretch" into 2014.

Friday, December 27, 2013

One WHOLE Year

Gosh, how time continues to fly. How are we at the end of 2013 already, when in some ways, it feels as if it has only just begun?
whole adj. 
1. Containing all components; complete.
2. Not divided or disjoined; in one unit.
3. Constituting the full amount, extent, or duration.
4.     a. Not wounded, injured, or impaired; sound or unhurt.
        b. Having been restored; healed.
adv. Informal Entirely; wholly
As I entered 2013, I knew that the word whole would be one to guide me. Unlike my previous two OneWord365 reflections, however, this was not tied to any specific goal or task (e.g. I knew that "create" would apply to my photography, amongst other things); it was simply a way I wanted to practice being as I moved through the year.
  • Complete -- Recognizing that I am complete; I am enough; I am whole--simply because I was created that way.
  • Not divided or disjoined -- In community, the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts (members). Who are my communities? What is my part in creating the whole? What divides us? What draws us together?
  • The full amount -- I give wholly of myself; I receive fully from others.
  • Sound or unhurt -- Certain circumstances, situations, and relationships can fracture our heart. Sometimes these things are out of our control. Often, however, we can reframe how we see our circumstances, and we can choose to put ourselves into or out of unhealthy situations and relationships.
  • Restored -- When we are fractured, weary, burnt out, broken, we can be restored to wholeness through prayer, forgiveness, and being gentle with ourselves while God heals the heart.

"Individuality is only possible
if it unfolds from wholeness."

-- David Bohm

I am whole.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Communion (SOTC 80/365)

Communion (SOTC 80/365) by gina.blank
com·mu·nion (n): a close relationship with someone or something;  an act or instance of sharing;  intimate fellowship or rapport.

I was not even planning on being at church today. I was supposed to be shooting some family photos for a friend. They must cancel at the last minute; I switch gears back to my typical Sunday morning routine. I soon find myself ready for church with plenty of time to spare. And the sun is shining. And the sky is so blue. And it's +3C outside. So I grab my camera and head for one of my favourite spots to capture the sunny Edmonton skyline behind the snow-covered River Valley. I know from experience that this view of downtown is best in the mornings.

Alas, I overestimated the winter sunshine. The buildings were perfectly alight, while the snow-blanketed foreground was still asleep in the dark shadow of the hill behind me. over which the sun had not yet risen. Apparently, this view is best in the mornings that are not within a week of the winter solstice.

Nevertheless, the school where our church meets also backs onto field in pretty much every direction. A morning winter landscape was not out of the question just yet.

By the time I parked in the church (school) parking lot, it was 10:22. Communion would start at 10:30. After a bit of internal wrestling between my punctual left brain and my creative right brain, I gave myself permission to explore the area until as late as 11:00, which is when the church service actually started. It is often the case that I find myself humbled by some aspect of a nature landscape; the photography simply becomes an extension of worship.

This morning, I was caught by the way the sun was shining behind the elm trees, and after a few minutes, ended up with this picture.

There is fellowship I feel when I am out taking photos in God's creation.
There is an intimate joining of two* to create something new.
There is Light that overtakes shadow.

* Look closely. There are actually two trees in this image.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

SOTC 79/365

Baby Smile from a Baby Giraffe (SOTC 79/365) by gina.blank
Ya gotta admit, he's kinda cute :)

Monday, November 11, 2013

Winter Berry Silhouette II (SOTC 77/365)

Winter Berry Silhouette II (SOTC 77/365) by gina.blank
Still so many berries on the tree. Standing stark and slightly wrinkled against the winter sky. The birds had their fill over the summer, and have abandoned the berries as they move south for the winter, or burrow away from the cold.

Sometime in January, the birds will come out to play on an abnormally warm, sunny, winter afternoon. They will get drunk on the fermented berries, chirping and fluttering in a manner not so different from their human counterparts.

How many berries will still be on this branch when spring returns?

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Mind Stillness OR SOTC 76/365

Ever Tropical (SOTC 76/365) by gina.blank
"The point is that when I see a sunset or a waterfall or something, for a split second it's so great, because for a little bit I'm out of my brain, and it's got nothing to do with me. I'm not trying to figure it out ... And I wonder if I can somehow find a way to maintain that mind stillness." -- Chris Evans

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Dressed in Finest Gold (SOTC 75/365)

Autumn Towards the Sky (SOTC 75/365) by gina.blank
The elm trees form long, interconnected canopies up and down the streets of my neighbourhood. Season after season, the arched branches are dressed in nature's latest trends.

Winter tops each branch with frost and flakes. In springtime, sticky, shiny new buds of electric green burst forth from those same branches; a full cover of green evolves as summer's long days arrive.

Too soon, the days begin to shorten, and the air becomes crisp. By the end of September, a mottled mix of green and yellow decorate the streets. By October, the branches are dressed in their finest gold.

I stand there in the middle of the street, watching a soft and steady flutter of leaves trail down from the canopy above. In another week, this colour will all have vanished. In that in-between of November--after the leaves are gone, but before the snow has fallen--the trees will stand naked and colourless.

So I will stand for just another minute. And hold the colours as close as I can.

SOTC 74/365

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Sunday, October 6, 2013


I had a chance to step into my old role at work last Friday, working one-on-one with a little guy at a preschool. Well, sorta one-on-one. While he has limited mobility in his legs, and a bit in his hands, he is cognitively typically developing; a smart, confident young man. I was mostly just there to ensure driver safety with his walker.

He wanted to jump on the mini-trampoline at centre time. He bounces independently on his knees, a mix of straight up-and-down bounces with the occasional horse kick thrown in for good measure.

As I supervise just off to the side, we engage in conversation: about his full-size trampoline at home, about his older brother who tries to hog trampoline time, about how this little bouncer is harder on his knees than he's used to. 

It is quiet for a minute.

Then he comments, "sometimes people watch; they look at me a lot."

In an instant, my brain imagines all the scenarios where this little guy moves around on his knees, or in his walker, while the world around him moves unassisted on two feet. Expecting to hear him parrot whatever his parents have taught him thus far about how to respond to gawkers--and preparing myself to enter into a brief conversation about how it makes him feel when people act that way--I respond open-endedly with, "oh, yeah?"

"Yeah. It's cuz I can bounce so high."

Because the conversation was never about his disability to begin with.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

SOTC 72/365

A Touch of Citrus (SOTC 72/365) by gina.blank

Gee, my living room smells fresh this evening.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Shaft of Light OR SOTC 71/365

Silver Lining in Blue I (SOTC 71/365) by gina.blank

"Thank you, Father, for the beautiful surprises you are planning for me today. So often in my life ... an unexpected burst of ... sunshine has exploded through a black cloud, sending inspiring shafts of warm, beautiful sunshine into my life." 

-- Robert Schuller

Friday, September 13, 2013

A Tough Shot OR SOTC 70/365

I have mentioned before that portraiture is often a more challenging form of photography for me. I thoroughly enjoy portraiture--both shooting or just looking at the portraits of others--and my skill keeps improving. Still, it's not my truest niche, and I make a point not to shoot portraits for people I don't know well.

So when a gal from church asked me if I would do her engagement photos--at sunset--I knew I would need to practice first.

I do not have a lot of hands-on experience with off-camera flash and diffusers. I get the basic theory, but it's just not equipment I utilize very often. I needed to know how long it would take me to set up a shot, to move the equipment around from location to location, and how I'd need to adjust the settings as the sun continued to drop behind me. So I texted my best models and asked for help.

Very graciously, they joined me in the river valley, and thank goodness the weather has been so wonderful (sunny and 30C).

Evening in the Trees II (SOTC 70/365) by gina.blank
I shot for about 45 minutes at the location where I will be shooting for real next weekend. I was pleased to see that I was setting up the light fairly well most of the time. Some small touch ups here and there in Photoshop, as usual. The degree of necessary touch-ups has lessened over time, but nevertheless, I always expect to spend some time post-processing after a portrait shoot.

So I was quite pleasantly surprised when I looked more closely at this one image of my friend, C, and thought, "it's good!"* It's not my favourite of the bunch that came out of that session, but really only because she's not smiling as brightly in this particular shot. The colours are rich, the tone is warm, the composition is well put-together. And clearly, the lighting was set up appropriately.

It's good, it's good, it's good.

*A portrait critique would likely indicate that the dappled light on her arm and shirt should have been dealt with by using another diffuser, but it's far from distracting enough to be problematic.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

How He Thinks (SOTC 69/365)

How He Thinks (SOTC 69/365) by gina.blank
His eyes always squinty
Fingers in his mouth
not just a sensory habit,
but also
a sign of
his most thoughtful

He looks everywhere but the camera.
When I get him excited enough
to look at me
with his favourite song
or by counting,
then he is moving too fast
to get a good shot
(he gets excited with his whole body).
So I photograph him thinking.

I don't know what he's thinking.

They say a person needs to have language
to have thought.
He understands language,
but he is,
for all intents and purposes,

So what does he think?
How does he think?

Does he think like the 10-year-old he is,
or like the 3-year-old the assessments say he is,
or in the 2-3 word sentences
he shares out loud?

I have asked this question for years.

I have no answer,
so I talk to him like a 10-year-old,
like a 3-year-old,
and in 2-3 word sentences.

And then I sing his favourite song,
and I don't care about his thinking,
Because I can see
what he is feeling.

SOTC 68/365

Friday, September 6, 2013

On Epigenetics and the Drying of Herbs

I have been drying herbs in my kitchen since summer reached its half way mark. Dill, cilantro, mint, basil. Hanging in the windows, the sun has slowly crisped and browned their stems, their leaves. Tonight seemed like as good an evening as any to collect my now-dried spoils; rose hips and chamomile still wait to be tended to on the back porch.

There is something satisfying in the whole garden harvesting process. As I tended the herbs, specifically, there was something additionally comforting in the gathering process. Perhaps it is the rhythmic repetition of plucking each stem from the pile, one by one, the leaves all but disintegrating between my thumb and forefinger that run them down the length of the slender stalk. Fragrances fill my nostrils with positive memories of farm suppers, Dad's pasta, and--in the case of the mint--something like just having opened a new package of gum.

Epigenetics tells me that there are markers on my genes--little protein markers from my parents, my grandparents, and possibly other ancestors that leave a little trace of their experiences on my DNA, influencing the expression or non-expression of those genes as they intertwine with my own experiences.

I garden because I love the earth, and I want it to last; sustainability. Was there an ancestor so impacted by the rations and scarcity of wartime that it has driven my ever-growing preference to live simply, re-purpose, and take the time to harvest not just the fruit but also the seeds from what I've planted?

I garden because I enjoy less chemicals, and more natural products in my body; health. Was there a long-ago relative, lungs blackened by the Industrial Revolution, who witnessed the shortened life of her own working class family and friends?

I garden because I don't need research to tell me it's good for my mental health; well-being. With whom do I share introvert solidarity as I travel up through the family tree--those socially awkward comrades who nevertheless knew that the best thing for their hearts and minds was to spend free time with a book, a hammock, an art project, or with one's hands in the dirt?

Perhaps the comfort isn't so much in the rhythmic nature of the task, but in the connection to the long-ago. Despite technology, despite big-box convenience, the practice of gardening still exists--and, I would argue, is still necessary. Oh, that the DNA of future generations would not lose the markers that bring aromas into the kitchen, and calm the heart in the process.

Monday, September 2, 2013

SOTC 67/365

Big Beet by gina.blank
Big Beet, a photo by gina.blank on Flickr.
(Nope, not from my garden!)

SOTC 66/365

Ready for Harvest by gina.blank
Ready for Harvest, a photo by gina.blank on Flickr.

I ♥ Music (SOTC 65/365)

I Heart Music by gina.blank"Music is what feelings sound like." -- Unknown

SOTC 64/365

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Secular Music as Worship, Part III

"I've never been a swimmer,
but I know that I'll never drown."

Monday, August 19, 2013

Digital Evils

I've often said that I don't think I'd be nearly as good a photographer as I am, were I working only in film. Either that or I would be just as good, but completely broke with how frequently I would be developing. The immediate play-back of images on my LCD screen after I've taken them has probably played the greatest role in getting beautiful images.

You would think that, since I look through the viewfinder, I can see exactly what I'm about to get, so what's the difference? But this is only partially true. Sometimes I'm concentrating so hard on where I'm placing the subject that I forget to run my eye around the rest of the image before snapping. Sometimes I am not holding the camera as steady as I should be, and the image is composed properly, but is entirely blurry. Sometimes my camera is numerically set to all the "right" values, but artistically, the image just doesn't work.* Especially when traveling far from home, it is great to see any of these errors in the moment, while I am still there to take another shot.

Still, I have found that there are two instances where I am pretty much powerless to tweak the image in anything but post-processing software. I almost want to create a sub-category of images called VSOTC, as in, Virtually Straight Off The Camera. I'll show you what I mean.

Look at this image.

There is a small, unnatural spot in each of the red circles, the left more obvious than the right. Often, these spots are not immediately obvious, and they're not always invasive, but trust me, once you see them, you can't unsee them. It's dust on my sensor. I know what you're thinking, "well, just clean the sensor then, Gina." Oh, believe me, I do. I am good friends with canned air.** I also have a sensor-cleaning kit for extra-stubborn dust. I've even had the camera cleaned professionally once. But I've learned over time that keeping the sensor clean is kind of like raking the lawn. You can get every single leaf, but eventually, another one is going to fall. ...You can get every speck of dust, but change the lens again, and eventually more is going to sneak in there. Sensor spots are the bane of my photographic existence.

Second thing. And this is one of the major reasons why I am not a photo purist, and am okay performing minor touch-ups in Photoshop.

Because this:

Rolling Canola Hills by gina.blank

is just that much more visually appealing than this:

...I would love to know how much money Adobe makes off of people who buy Photoshop just to be able to get rid of cell phone towers.

Often times, people will look at a photo of mine, and ask if I Photoshop my images. I hate this question. Partly because I'm a horrible liar. My brain screams, "of course it's Photoshopped! Half my images are Photoshopped!" but what is harder to explain to the viewer is that by "Photoshopped," I mean I've altered maybe 1000 pixels out of the 10 million that make up the image. I prefer to think of it less as "Photoshopping", and more as "taking artistic license" to clean up a little bit of digital mess.

I am not a digital artist. I like to keep my images as true-to-the-moment as possible. Which is why any image I can get SOTC is that much more satisfying.

It's like raking up that last leaf.

* i.e. Correct exposure vs creatively correct exposure.
** If you are canned-air-phobic, settle down. I know what I'm doing.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Floral Choices (SOTC 62/365)

Tall, Petite (SOTC 62/365) by gina.blank
I spent some time at the Muttart this afternoon; I hadn't yet seen the current feature pyramid display, and was extra motivated to spend some time among flowers after helping a friend move onto her gorgeous new acreage this past weekend. 

Of the eight photos I ended up loading onto Flickr, all were SOTC; exceptional! It was hard to choose. I was absolutely floored by the gorgeousness of a hibiscus flower in the tropical pyramid. The photo will be stunning to look at on canvas, which is why I think the image at right is getting the SOTC spotlight today.

There is something in the petite-ness of the flowers, and the floral echo in the background...

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Experiment Continues

Earlier this summer, I mentioned that I was engaging myself in a gardening experiment, after learning about and being inspired by the concept of edible landscapes.

I can say with confidence that the snap peas loved growing up the chain link fence this summer. Despite their curling tendrils that self-wrap around the chain link wire, they still grew so tall and heavy that I had to support many of the plants with twist ties. And anytime I took some to share with friends, the comment (aside from "yum!") was, "they're so big!"

The snap peas were pretty much done this week, so I took the warm summer evening yesterday to pull the yellowing plants off the fence and out of the dirt. I filled half an ice cream pail with snap peas in the process--the last harvest.

And then I got a crazy idea.

Well, really, it's the next step in edible landscaping, but while it may seem unsurprising for a small community on Vancouver Island, BC, somewhere, it's a little bit more 'out there' in terms of Edmonton, Alberta.

But I decided to share my snap peas. With strangers.

Because while part of edible landscapes is about viewing my own space differently when it comes to growing, part of it is also about interacting differently with the people in my community, so they might view gardening differently, too.

"This is about sharing, and investing in kindness." -- Pam Warhurst
It was about 7pm when I put out my plate of snap peas. When I brought the plate back in before bed at about 10:30, there were only three peas left.


This may have been several evening dog-walkers or cyclists, or perhaps just a single group of teenagers enjoying one of their few remaining summer evenings before school starts again. Nevertheless, the peas were clearly enjoyed.

This whole thing gives me much anticipation and hope for next year, both in the growing and the sharing. I have already decided to try growing cucumbers again, now that I think I might be successful growing them vertically on the chain link fence. I tried several new plants this year, and have gotten to know how they grow, so I know if/how I want to plant them next year. And I want to look at re-landscaping my front yard to turn a good portion of the grass into garden, so I can continue to share a larger variety of plants with my community.

Maybe it's crazy, but a plate of snap peas can't be wrong, can they?

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

SOTC 61/365

Mountainside Meadow (SOTC 61/365) by gina.blank 
"Somewhere between the bottom of the climb and the summit is the answer to the mystery why we climb."

-- Greg Child

Saturday, July 20, 2013

SOTC 60/365

Tread (SOTC 60/365) by gina.blank
Tread (SOTC 60/365), a photo by gina.blank on Flickr.

SOTC 59/365

Reeds (SOTC 59/365) by gina.blank
Reeds (SOTC 59/365), a photo by gina.blank on Flickr.

In Loco Parentis

Several years ago (how is it several already?), N&S took then-infant A with them to the Angelman Syndrome conference in Whistler, BC, leaving me in charge of P&S for five days. I had the help of other respite providers and grandparents, but I was the main provider during N&S's time away.

I learned a lot of things about myself as a care provider that week. Respite in it's overnight, more long-term form is qualitatively different than short shifts a couple times per week, or even the natural routines I participate in now when I visit for an Aunty Gina weekend.

This past week, the other 'aunty', C, and I hung out with P in Saskatoon, providing respite, while the rest of the family took a much-deserved holiday in Maui*. I was very excited to spend my holiday time with my niece in this capacity.

The week was such a delight in so many ways.
  • I enjoyed knowing that I had become so comfortable and familiar with Saskatoon--my second-home-city--that I could navigate to many spots without the aid of Google Maps. And as N said, "you know a place is starting to feel like home when you're running errands in it."
  • I loved sitting out in "the Oasis" that is their back yard, sipping my morning coffee on the deck swing, and listening to the fountain trickle down into the koi pond. Don't get me wrong, I love my own back yard to bits, but theirs is no ordinary back yard.
  • I loved having uninterrupted time with P. S&A are a delight to my heart, but it sometimes means that P becomes relegated to the background of activities.
  • The weather--for the most part--was gorgeous. It meant sunny strolls, outdoor swims and water slides, bubbles in the back yard paddling pool, and many a meal in the late afternoon sun. Summer bliss.
  • P's laughter is contagious like nothing else.
  • My partner in crime this week, C, is a close friend, but we often have differing schedules that limit the time we get to hang out in Edmonton. So it was great to have uninterrupted time with her, as well. Plus, we make a great caregiving team together.
The week has also been a powerful learning experience, yet again. Among the sunshiney bliss of summer activities with my favourite twelve-year-old, this week has:
  • Affirmed the value of two-parent families. By this, I don't mean to say that single-parenting isn't valuable or doesn't work--I am not undermining that dynamic at all. Quite the opposite, actually. Raising children is quite the task. Several times, C and I talked in awe of how N does it on her own when S is out of town on business for up to a week at a time. Where's the other adult to talk to? To share the load? To share the giggles? To give you a break? To help keep a sense of humour and a level head on the days when the diaper explodes, the child has pulled your hair half a dozen times, is refusing breakfast, and two loads of laundry have been washed and dried, all before 9:30am?** Single parents--especially those of children with disabilities--are my new heroes. I'm sure I could have done this week on my own. But certainly not as well. And I wouldn't have really wanted to.
  • Re-iterated the necessity of subsidized respite for parents of children with special needs. Between home care and respite, N&S had something like 90hrs of funded care per month for P when they lived in Alberta, where respite hours are based on need.*** In Saskatchewan, respite is based on income. Given the relative affluence afforded by S's job, the family does not qualify for funded respite hours. While I appreciate that this approach attempts to ensure that families who struggle financially can still receive the care they need for their child, I have also worked with enough families to know that just because you make more money does not mean you need less help; nor does it mean you have the ability to pay out of pocket for the full amount of help you actually need.
  • Made me appreciate even more this time of being single. Somewhere in the last couple of years, I recognized that I really am at true peace with being single in a world where marriage-house-children is still the expected path for women in their pre and peri-thirties. Perhaps I will be single for another year, another decade, or the rest of my life. I am okay with any and all of that. I have enough trouble brushing my own teeth every day. Perhaps I don't need to be responsible for brushing someone else's.
  • Given me pause to consider the honour of being trusted to care for a child in this capacity. There are only so many people in a parent's world who they would consider to care for their child for a week. I feel as if that circle of people is narrowed when the child has a disability. I know I am aunty. I know I am considered family. But that doesn't mean I am not humbled yet again that I was trusted with one of their most precious people.
P often involves a lot of physical work and intuitive guessing. Paired with the right person, the right activities, and a space to balance that activity with rest, it makes for a lovely week--one I would do again in a heart beat.

* For those of you whose spidey inclusion senses are tingling as you read that, please put your judgement away. This family's story means that leaving P in Saskatoon on this particular vacation was a more meaningfully inclusive decision for the whole family than taking her with.
** That was Day 5.
*** The term 'need' sometimes being assessed a bit too conservatively by individuals unable to step into parents' shoes, but by 'need' nevertheless...

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Happy Birthday Canada AND SOTC 57/365

High Level Sparkle (SOTC 57/365) by gina.blank
It had been a few years since I'd last photographed Edmonton's Canada Day fireworks, so I figured the celebrations this past weekend would be a good opportunity for some new images. The weather had been glorious all weekend--I was anticipating a clear twilight sky would to showcase the event.

I was not disappointed. Fireworks are really quite easy to photograph--the only trick part I find is that no two fireworks burst in the exact same spot, and they come too fast to constantly adjust the camera on its tripod. As such, I have always used a wider lens to maximize the opportunity of getting the whole burst in my frame. Still, I often find myself cropping many of my fireworks images to some degree.

There are always a few, though, that burst to just the right size, in just the right spot. And this year, the [very] mild breeze was also in my favour, carrying the residual smoke away from the subsequent fireworks instead of further into their path.

Canada turned 146 this year. I am proud to have shared 32 of those years, and am looking forward to many more as a citizen of this kind, beautiful, and majestic country.

I you, Canada!
I ♥ Canada! by gina.blank
(No cropping here, either; woot!)

Stark Against a Fiery Sky (SOTC 56/365)

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Hidden Star (SOTC 55/365)

Lacecap Hydrangea in Pink II (SOTC 54/365) by gina.blank
I have felt lately as if I've been lacking both time and opportunity to work on my photography with the same frequency as is typical of the spring and summer months.

I was reflecting the other day on how I have slowed down my "Straight off the Camera" project, and I realized that I really never would have made it at a photo a day. My new roles and responsibilities at work this year have taken me on quite the learning curve. I was also been involved in a small group through church that provided much opportunity to search the heart with my Creator--always amazing, but often exhausting. I have had to be more intentional about where I've been putting my post-work energies. And when I'm running low on energy, my recharge time has looked different--the work and learning and growing has felt so big, and the recharge time has thus needed to be SO quiet.

That being said, I made a wise decision near the beginning of the year to purchase an annual pass to the Muttart Conservatory. I had a hunch that it would be a great place both to take photos on a frequent basis, as well as seek a little solace after work, when the crowd is thin [enough to tune out], and I can claim a bench in the tropical pyramid with a good book.

Realizing that I was due for a visit, I committed my late afternoon to exploring the latest colourful arrangements in the feature pyramid (with a short visit to the tropical pyramid, always a visit to the tropical pyramid!).

The hydrangeas were in bloom, and for an hour, I had the entire space to myself. Few other patrons strolled the building so near to closing, and they were clearly occupied in other areas. It was quiet, photographic bliss.

I need more days like this.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Snap Pea Experiment

Last year, I was a little bit inspired by this video:

I mean, not so much in the area of becoming an activist for an Edible Edmonton (though I think that would be really cool, and I would totally participate at whatever level I could). But more in using even my own space differently to maximize the way I grow food.

I already have a raised bed garden. When I saw the video last year, most of it had already been harvested, and the season was nearly over. But it got me excited for what I could do this year.

I've added several flower pots to my back yard to house herbs and vegetables. I cleared the front garden beds of their flowers, dedicating the space under the cherry bushes entirely to strawberry plants. But the thing I was most excited about was the snap peas. I decided to plant my snap peas (and some sweet peas) along the chain link fence lining my driveway, instead of in the raised garden like I've done in the past. It was a bit of a risky venture, given that the dirt is not exactly top-quality potting soil. Sandy with a bit of clay, I added some nutrient-rich compost soil to the mix, sowed my seeds, and hoped for the best.

Everything in the garden has been coming up over the last week or so, and wouldn't you know, the snap peas are, too! ...Looks like my snap pea experiment is a success!

New Journeys and Fond Memories

"Ok. Stopping. Damsel officially in distress."

This was the text I sent out, from the side of the highway in rush-hour traffic, the day that Aubergine finally died. She had leaked a lot of coolant, and my mechanic friend and I thought I could make it to his place so he could look at her.

She didn't make it.

My friends came and rescued me, we picked up a trailer, and towed Aubergine back to their place. After a quick look under her hood, I was given my options: I could repair/replace the leak and engine--which would cost more than she was worth--or consider getting a new car a few months earlier than planned.

I signed a DNR on Aubergine. Filled the online donation form for the Kidney Foundation. And prepared my bank account to go car shopping.

The whole experience was a mixed bag of feelings.

Is it weird to say that I grieved my car? Maybe not so much the physical car as much as all the memories and experiences associated within. ...Okay, maybe also the physical car.

I was aiming for September. That would be when I would get a new car. I had anticipated one last summer with Aubergine. A few more months of driving home from work with the windows down and the radio up. Iced coffee in the cup holder instead of hot. A child in the back a couple times a week, excited to go to the best spray park in the city. One more road trip to Saskatchewan. And in a single, overheated engine moment, all those visions became a grey cloud of unknown.

Over the course of the next seven days, I drove seven different vehicles. I borrowed two friend's vehicles to get to work, to the dealership, and run errands. I test drove two different cars. I was pleasantly surprised with the Dodge Dart, so I bought one. In red, even. But soon after driving it off the lot, I realized it was missing features that I was promised it had. Non-negotiable features. I was allowed to drive this car for the next few days while the dealership fixed their mistake, but it was clear that this car would not be a keeper.

The keeper turned out to be grey. And used.* But it had a ton of extra features that I would be getting at no extra cost. And as this was now day seven of not having a car I could call my own, I decided to cut my losses on the colour, and finalize the sale of the grey one. Driving him off the lot, I was admittedly a bit neutral towards him. He still smelled like the previous owner. He shifted a little differently than his red cousin. He was charcoal grey. It was a quiet ride home.

Truth be told, I wasn't all that fond of Aubergine when I first got her. I had spent the previous several years driving around in shiny, red cars, and the car my ex and I had had before her was quite a bit more luxurious (a luxurious lemon, but nevertheless...). Aubergine had a few nice features, but it took me a while to get over the loss of heated seats, a sunroof... and she was eggplant purple with a tan interior. Let's just say, it took some getting used to.

Clearly, Aubergine grew on me.

Early on, I remember the ball head on her gear shift was a little bit loose. Bored at red lights, I would often twist the ball head left and right--just something to keep my fingers busy. At some point, she had been in my mechanic friend's care for the day (tire rotation? Mysterious noise? I don't even remember). When I was driving her home, I came to a red light, and out of habit, gave a little twist. No give! My friend had obviously noticed it when he was driving, and tightened it for me. While I attempted to twist the ball head a few more times, the habit was quickly dropped, and I never really thought about it again for the next five years.

The Dart and I are slowly getting to know each other. He's not a bad little car. He still smells like someone else. And I don't know his name yet. But he likes the same music I do, willingly brings sunshine and fresh air in through his sunroof, and has already proved himself in the bags and boxes I've had to transport over the last few days.

Driving him home the other evening... I'm not even sure what made me do it, but I was waiting at a red light. My hand was tapping gently on the ball head to the beat of the song in my speakers. In the midst of that, my fingers grasped the ball head, and gave it a twist.

It's a little bit loose.

Yup, I think this car might grow on me.

* Considering the Dodge Dart didn't exist before this year**, 'used' is a relative term. It's still a 2013 car, just with a few extra kilometres on it.
** A footnote of my footnote. Can I do that!? I just learned that the Dodge Dart actually DID exist before this year. WAY before this year. My mom informed me, "I believe a Dart was one of your dad's first cars." ...Apples clearly still falling from trees, even when I didn't know the apple was growing.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

SOTC 53/365

Soft Blossoms (SOTC 53/365) by gina.blank
I sure do love spring at my house.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

A Car by Any Other Name...

Please tell me I’m not the only one for whom cars become like another member of the family. Growing up, our family cars always had names. Phrases like, “Can you go get the groceries out of Norm?” or, “Bonnie’s due for an oil change” were common language around our house. I purchased the Honda Civic that I currently drive back in 2005. She was eggplant purple in colour, with a sparkly shimmer. Oh, yes, I knew she was a girl right away. And yet, it was not until several years later that she had a name.

The name has to be right. I tried out a couple names early on, but none of them ever quite fit. And so—while I referred to her as a ‘she’, apologized to her when she got hurt (damn those bullies in parking lots), and kept her looking pretty both inside and out—she remained fairly anonymous. But with all we shared together, it bugged me that I didn’t know her name.

She and I have looped our way through pretty much every street and avenue in the City of Edmonton. We sit in traffic together each morning, breathing in the aroma of my coffee, sharing the sunrise and Mumford and Sons on the radio. Yet, in over 1,000 daily commutes, she didn’t have a name.

Living in Alberta, she has escorted me on countless prairie drives. We have raced the train to Saskatchewan, where I have shared birthday celebrations and Christmas concerts with my nieces and nephew. We have meandered hilly grasslands to spend quiet weekends in my mother’s rural community. She carried me home to Calgary to be with loved ones after my father suddenly passed away. She connects me to my family and closest friends, yet through all this, did not have a name.

We have shared a quiet twenty minutes with a good book when we were too early for work; we have shared ten minutes with that same book while waiting for the train to pass.

We have watched sunsets together, spotted the Northern Lights, driven under canopies of hoar frosted tree branches, and golden autumn leaves.

And still no name.

We have had many adventures together, too. She has driven clear across the city through November slush with a mattress on her head. She cuts through snow drifts as if they were butter. One all-night drive to Jasper found four people and four people’s worth of camping gear filling every inch of her trunk and passenger cavities.

Then there was the all-nighter across the border. In 2009, we ventured a long weekend road trip to Seattle for the first time. The sights of this artistic urban centre, the lure of the outlet mall, and the need for one last summer adventure took two friends and I through the starry night to get there on the Labour Day long weekend.

We let the full moon guide us down through British Columbia. My Honda performed beautifully on what was her first big road trip. She parked flawlessly in the tight spaces of Downtown Seattle on a Saturday afternoon, traversed the Washington Interstate system like a native resident, and did not complain as we loaded the car carrier on her roof with all of our shopping treasures.

The Coquihalla highway, granted, was a bit challenging. On a downward slope, it was all I could do to keep her from barreling along at over 120km/h. Upwards, however, was another story. She climbed as best she could, loaded down with clothes, shoes, and home storage. Still, it was a challenge to keep her above 80-90km/h. Somewhere around the 3rd or 4th incline, my friend riding shotgun patted her dashboard to encourage her. “Come on, little aubergine; you can do it!”

“Aubergine?” I asked.

“Yeah, it’s French for ‘eggplant.’”


It fit.

Her name was Aubergine.

I was so glad to finally learn her name. We have shared many an adventure together since that trip. As she ages, I know it’s only a matter of time before she goes to that place where old cars go. She has started to complain in the cold weather. She can’t see as well as she used to. She's had two knee replacements.* She has travelled far and she has travelled well.

I have already started researching my new car. I know pretty much exactly what I want. It's a bit exciting--I am already in anticipation of the newness, the freshness, the technologically-up-to-dateness. ...And then I find myself leaving work, spying Aubergine parked by herself in the distance, and all I see is her. I see the summer tires that I just put on, and I wonder if it's like trading boots for flip-flops to her. I see the very first dent someone left in her driver-side passenger door--wow, that was a long time ago. I see her dusty bumper, evidence of our spring streets that haven't been swept yet; Aubergine, you need a bath. And through the layer of dust, I can also see her purple frame, shimmering a bit in the sunlight.

Please tell me I’m not the only one for whom cars become like another member of the family. We’ve shared so much together—and while I am excited for new adventures with a new travelling companion, I look at Aubergine and think, not quite yet. We still have much music and morning coffees to share. We still have a lot of work to get to here in the city. We still have a couple of prairie road trips we need to take together. I am not ready to make miles with a new friend; creaks and dents and cracks aside, I feel that I still have quite a few miles left to finish with the friend I've got.

"Come on, little Aubergine; you can do it."

* Read: new ball joints

Saturday, May 4, 2013

SOTC 52/365

SOTC 52/365 by gina.blank
Nothing like the first night's sleep on a brand new [pillow-top, pocket-coil] mattress.

My back is loving it already.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Not What They Mean By 'Green'

As I was out and about today, I spied something. It's something I've seen in a few neighbourhoods. Do you see what I saw?

That house in the middle sure seems to have the jump on spring. Jarringly so, given the brown-ness of all the lawns and park surrounding it. Walk a couple more blocks, and there is another house, also seemingly well-tended to. I took a photo of his lawn compared to his neighbour's. Certainly seems like he knows his fertilizers.

But look a little more closely. 

Do the edges of those blades of grass seem rather... square to you? A little too clean cut?

They should.

They're fake.

This is the fourth or fifth lawn I've seen in the last couple years made of artificial grass. And it's one of those things that just makes my brain go, "seriously? Really, seriously?" It continues to boggle my mind, some of the things we come up with that serve only to propel our self-centred little lives.

On the surface, I can see the appeal. Save time, energy and money by not having to mow, rake, weed, water, etc. Always have a beautifully manicured, lush-green lawn (because to be fair, I could not tell you where the fake lawns are in the middle of June--they blend in very well). And as NewGrass.ca goes on to say, artificial grass also means no grass stains on kids' clothing, and apparently this stuff is "completely unaffected by snow or ice," so... presumably no snow mould?

Yes, some advantages.

But at what cost?

First of all, are you really saving money? I checked the Home Depot website. It's $189 for 50sq ft. Estimating my front and back yards combined to be about 1,000sq ft, that works out to nearly $4,000. NewGrass has a warranty of 8yrs, so let's say this grass lasts ten before needing replacement. So that works out to about $400/year that this grass is costing me.

Now, let's look at what real grass is costing me. I spend about $5 per summer on a jerry can of gasoline for my lawn mower. I'm supposed to tune up my lawn mower with an oil and filter change every year. I haven't thus far, but let's say I'm on the ball--that's about $50. I try to let as much rain as possible do the watering of my lawn for me, so for the last two summers, I've only had to use my sprinkler 2-3 times. I let it run for the recommended max of an hour each time. I'm not sure what volume of water this is, but knowing my overall water bill during the summer months, I'm guessing the lawn only soaks up $10-20 of that. Let's say $20. I spent $50 on ant and weed killer last year. And another $10 on grass seed to fill in the hole where the ants were. I need to aerate and fertilize, which will run an average of about $200.* So $335 altogether.

Sorry, who's saving money?

Artificial grass supporters would say the extra $65/year is worth it, simply for the convenience of not having to maintain a real lawn. Okay, just hold that thought.

Let's look at the cost to our earth. NewGrass claims their product is eco-friendly, because you save water by not having to irrigate, and because it's made of recycled and recyclable materials. Except... since when was real grass not eco-friendly? MY lawn makes oxygen, for Pete's sake! And while I know that the oxygen output of my lawn is probably not as significant as the tree on the boulevard in front of it--given the surface area of grass blades to elm leaves--my lawn still has its role to play. And not just in the oxygen cycle, but the water cycle, and overall circle of life.

Remove the grass from a lawn, and you've removed one more small piece from the ecological equation that holds our atmosphere together and keeps our climate in balance. Remove the grass from a bunch of lawns, or a few school fields, and it starts to add up to something. Something NOT eco-friendly.

Finally, let's look at the cost to our mental and physical well-being. I'm not sure how many calories a person burns by pushing a lawn mower, raking leaves and grass, pulling weeds, etc. But for me it seems to be enough that, in conjunction with my other favourite summer activities, I do not need to carve out extra time to be active, nor do I need to spend money on a gym membership (again, who's saving money?). I am also soaking up vitamin D from the sun, which is still the best way to get vitamin D.** 

As an introvert, my lawn and garden work is valuable recharge time. Sure, I could just as easily recharge with a book in my hammock, but remember, I'm also being physically active. That's two birds with one stone, people. Plus, the hammock is much more satisfying after all that yard work.

Speaking of satisfying, what a sense of accomplishment and ownership when I maintain my own lawn. Such a heightened sense of competence from all the different aspects of lawn care I can do independently. I have learned so much over the last two summers about the functioning of lawn mowers, how weeds grow, the process of edging, the benefits of mulching... I could go on. 

....What sense of pride and accomplishment does your extra $65 a year get you???

Socially, working in my front and back yards means I have a chance to connect with neighbours. It means I form a relationship with the "fertilizer guy", with my colleague's husband who will teach me how to change the mower's oil, with the greenhouse lady at Rona (I've gleaned her wisdom two years in a row, now). I'm building community.

There is one more aspect of our well-being affected here. When we lose our interaction with nature, we lose our connection to nature. And I'm not sure people realize how important that connection to nature is. Interacting with nature is a sensory experience. I understand the stubbornness of getting grass stains out of jeans--but there is something children learn when they roll around in the grass and feel it under their skin, when they feel and see what it takes to hit the ground hard enough to make a grass stain, when it squishes under their shoes after the rain, in being close enough to the earth to smell it. I'm pretty sure ladybugs and earthworms and the things of childhood discovery don't roam around in fake grass. And while I can't paint all parents with the same brush, I just have this gut sense that those who put artificial grass on their lawns are not the kinds of parents spending all their 'extra time' camping out in nature with their children to give them the experiences they're missing at home. Just a hunch.

In the same way that children are losing their ability to identify where food comes from as they eat more and more processed meals, they will start to lose their understanding of the natural world, and how it influences so many other systems. There is something precious in fully participating with nature in the seasons--watching the change marked by each one. When your lawn stays the same all year.... it's just not natural.

And this connection with nature is not just valuable for children, you know. Who doesn't link carefree summer days with the smell of fresh-cut grass? Who's ever felt the cool relief of laying in the grass after running around in the heat? Do you ever use wet grass to wipe mud off your shoes? Ever watch a robin expertly pluck a worm from the depths of the front lawn? Have you ever grabbed that stray piece of wild grass that's just perfect for blowing like a trumpet? Or ever sat in a remote corner of a field, after a romantic picnic, in that first really deep conversation with a significant other, on the cusp of taking that relationship to the next level, all the while plucking blades of grass beside you to give your nervous hands something to do while the words stumble out of your mouth and you decide whether you can handle looking up from the grass into his eyes?

Okay, Gina, you're diving off the deep end, here. It's just a patch of grass.

Yes, but that's how anything harmful starts. As "just a patch" of something.

Artificial grass is just one more thing that feeds our selfish, individualistic desires. Someone who wants to save themselves a little bit of time and energy. But at the cost of further damaging an already-broken ecosystem, and depriving themselves--and possibly their children--of the natural experiences that contribute to physical, mental, social, and emotional well-being.

Seriously? Really, seriously?

*Though I'm getting aeration and fertilization done for nearly half of that this year.
**Yes, only when I am also responsible about sunscreen, which I generally am.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

SOTC 50/365

SOTC 50/365 by gina.blank
Why would I ever invest in a gym membership, working my muscles on a machine that goes nowhere, when I could rake the back yard, and unearth spring?

Monday, April 22, 2013

May I Always Be Broken

Humble Creativity by gina.blank
"Remember how God poured His divinity into humanity in the form of a tiny, helpless baby. Don't consider yourself above Him by thinking that the sky is the limit and if you just had more time/energy/talent, you can get there one day.

The sky is only the limit if you are an airplane. If you are human, your feet will nearly always be planted firmly on the ground. That is where they must be for you to do the kind of work that keeps you touchable, broken, but somehow at the same time, unbreakable."

-- Emily Freeman (Read the full blog post here.)

Thursday, April 4, 2013

SOTC 49/365

Canal Columns by gina.blank

Canal Columns, a photo by gina.blank on Flickr.