O.U.R. Eco Village

Ben, my husband, is spending the summer working at an intentional community on Vancouver Island, called O.U.R. Ecovillage. We visited O.U.R. for the first time in September, during one of their regular open houses.  We joined the residents for a public event about food security and by the time we left that day, we were hooked.  The way those kind and interesting people are defining community is where it’s at.

I grew up in the country and am ever grateful to my parents for deciding to move our family to Vancouver when I was 13.  I remember listening to the adults talk at the time about our big move to Lotus Land.  I had no idea what that meant but was scared and sad.  I was nervous about starting high school in a big city and scared about doing it with no friends.  I was totally intimidated by the huge school, the rich kids, and the diversity.  I had no idea what the hell was happening on the first day of school and I felt supremely uncool, but man, was I happy to be there.

All this to say that I never ever thought I would move back to the country.  Since visiting O.U.R., and then reflecting upon my experience of “the country”, I’ve realized that my memories are a long way from the kind of rural community I long for now.  Last summer, as I was pulling a carton of eggs from the fridge at Costco, I told my young daughter: this is where eggs come from.  As I listened to my own words, I had to stop for a minute.  An industrial fridge in a sterile warehouse is where eggs come from? Ouch.  When we visited O.U.R. shortly after my Costco moment, I pointed out a Jersey cow to Sydney and realized that it was the first time she was seeing a cow that wasn’t in a book.  And that Jersey cow was so beautiful, I wondered about the last time I’d seen a real live happy cow. Too long.

I’ve been thinking about the absurdity of the way we live for about five years.  Rushing to and from work, living in nuclear families in big expensive spaces, seeing friends and family when schedules permit and eating alone most of the time.  Since I’ve become a mother, the stakes of our decisions are higher.  I want my daughter to grow up amongst our loved ones.  I want her to understand where her food comes from and for her to care about her role in our environment.  And I want her to know our friends and extended family as well as she will know her immediate family.  In the same way, I want to know my friends and their children more than occasional visits permit.  I want all of our children to feel that they are surrounded by love, care and security.

That’s not our experience at present.  We have lived in our current home for six years and sure, we know our neighbours but we don’t hang out.  I would for sure knock on their doors if I needed to borrow something or if I was in danger, but that’s pretty much the depth of our relationships.  So over the last year, Ben and I have moved our philosophical chats about our reality and into practical conversations about our future. We know that we want to live differently than we are now.  Now we need to figure out how to make that happen.

Ben is in construction and is doing such cool work around green building, off-grid housing, and alternative energy that his path naturally leads to O.U.R. Ecovillage.  He’s managing a team of interns this summer and they’re all in for four months of building, learning and sharing.  We’re excited and incredibly grateful to the folks at O.U.R. for creating a space for this kind of community-building.  It’s a magical place, so be sure to check it out if you’re headed for the Cowichan Valley (ourecovillage.org).

Speaking of Lotus Land, I’ve just seen the Wanderlust trailer and it looks like my kind of film.  If you’ve seen it, please leave a comment and let me know what I’m in for.  Thanks!

Community on the Juan de Fuca Trail

47 kilometers of West Coast awesomeness!

Last week, John and I went on an adventure in the wilderness. After weeks of accumulating supplies, preparing menus, going on test hikes, and becoming far too acquainted with the staff at MEC, we set out on the Juan De Fuca Trail on Vancouver Island’s West Coast. Mentally – and somewhat physically – prepared for the 47 km, 5 day hike, what follows is a daily synopsis of the ups and downs (literally and metaphorically), our observations about community we found on the trail, and some stories and anecdotes that are just, well, funny.

Bear Beach looks good early in the morning.

Day 1: China Beach to Bear Beach

Filled with excitement and anxious to get started, we threw on our packs and headed towards the trail from the China Beach parking lot … only to be stopped in our tracks by a number of minor, let’s say, incidents. Incident #1: John realizing his water bladder, attached to his backpack, is empty … which subsequently made sense when we noticed that the back seat of the car was soaked. Incident #2: Michelle checking her pocket for the map to give it one last look, only to realize it’s nowhere to be found. Good thing it turned up … in her father-in-law’s pocket! Incident #3: Backcountry camping fees? Strictly enforced and payable at the start of the trail? Needless to say, we knew nothing of backcountry camping fees. To add to the confusion, we received five different answers from five different people about how we could pay and how much it was – luckily, the parents-in-law come to the rescue, making up for the near-fiasco with the map. Despite the multiple incidents, we head out on the trail (half an hour later than expected), arriving safe and sound about 4 hours later at beautiful Bear Beach.

This was one of the 15 or so times that Michelle walked up during the Day 2 experience. Also, love the pink!

Day 2: Bear Beach to Chin Beach

By 10am we had packed up our wicked awesome camp site – complete with giant table – and were striking out on the trail behind a group of Japanese tourists, Team Texas and a hardcore young man who was, apparently, doing the entire trail in three days. The kid was moving fast.

For seven hours – over about 12 kilometers – John and I hiked up and over about 15 different headlands. This basically meant walking up for about 150-200 meters, looking around at the gorgeous, lush and spectacular scenery, and then walking down for about 150-200 meters. And then we crossed a creek. And then we did it all over again. Other than expelling a combined 30 liters of sweat and starting to feel our packs weighing on our shoulders in achey new ways, this part of the trail was an achievement of epic proportions with very little collatoral damage to our bodies, minds and/or souls. By 7pm we settled into a delicious meal of quinoa next to a modest little fire and watched seagulls feast on shellfish under a misty sunset.

The 16 kilometer marker was a long, long, long time coming. Mostly because we either missed marker 15 or it's missing along the trail. Needless to say, we stopped for lunch here.

Day 3: Chin Beach to Sombrio Beach

MICE! That’s right. Focusing a lot – perhaps too much – on nefarious bears and cougars, we underestimated the chewy vigour of some other four-legged creatures who live on Vancouver Island’s West Coast. During the night, a gang of wild mice gnawed through our packs in search of delicious treats. Luckily, no trail mix or my candies were harmed.

This hike was similar to – but not the same as – day two. We went up, up, up a lot right away, but there wasn’t as much repetition. Also, a kilometer of the hike took place along about a flat and groomed old logging road. Quite a nice respite!

Arriving at Sombrio Beach, John and I learned a lesson about “maps” and “distances” at Sombrio. The 20.7 kilometers listed on the map got us to Sombrio Point, not the beach itself. No, to get to the beach we hiked with our tired legs (in utter silence, which says a lot) along a sheer cliff, through some slippery, smelly muck and up, over and around two coves. Though the trail wasn’t actually all that technical, this is the place where – because of sheer fatigue – we could’ve died quite easily because of one little misstep (or perhaps because we let our guard down against the roaming packs of radioactive ninja mice that the Juan de Fuca Trail might possibly yield).

Oh, and Sombrio is the place where we started having deeper conversations with our new friends, the Texans, who were particularly impressed by the awesomeness of our campsite and my very pink hiking attire.

John relaxes by our very awesome campsite and even more awesome fire at Sombrio Beach.

Day 4: Sombrio Beach to Payzant Creek

Before leaving Sombrio we stumbled across a family of sea otters.

Waking up to the sound of crashing waves might be the best sound. Ever. Follow that with a delicious Spanish Frittata breakfast (thanks, MEC!), coffee, and a flawless pack-up, and we found ourselves setting out happily for an apparently “moderate” (according to aforementioned “map”), albeit long (13 km), day. The day was, actually, quite moderate – if one were to compare it to the gruelling terrain of the previous two days. Compared to day one, it was definitely harder and almost twice as long.

The hike itself was gorgeous. We left the comfort of the coastline for the more mysterious woods, finding ourselves surrounded by old growth trees and cooler temperatures. Setting up camp in the middle of a rainforest, mist and sunshine streaming through the myriad of trees, was one of the memorable moments of the trip. Team Texas wandered in a few hours after us – we felt a bit better about how incredibly sore we were after seeing them limp and drag themselves into the campsite. As we weren’t allowed fires in the woods, Day 4 was an early night – we were asleep no later than 9:30pm (which was probably a good thing, as it allowed our bodies to recuperate from the pain we had inflicted upon them).

The towering trees around Payzant Creek!

Day 5: Payzant Creek to Botanical Beach

A bittersweet day – a mere 7 km and we would be back in the real world! While we were looking forward to a homecooked meal and mostly, well, not smelling, it was sad leaving the calm, relaxing and awe-inspiring wilderness. This short four hour hike out, with lots of boardwalks and more and more hikers as we got closer to Botanical Beach, included a permit-check by a BC Parks Ranger/Warden/Guide/Hero as well as many fun chats with our Texan friends as well as Jonathan, a lone hiker from Winnipeg who was just downright delightful.

 Final Reflections

Since monkeys jumped down from trees, crossed the svannah, killed all the dinosaurs, and turned into people we’ve had a very interesting relationship with nature. We’ve worshipped, groomed, destroyed, restored, protected, developed, and celebrated the Earth during our time here. And that might be the coolest thing about getting out into nature and away from so much urbanity – a simple and fun five days in the woods is enough to remind any city dweller that people are a part of the natural environment and it’s a part of us. Taking time to appreciate this relationship is as important as it is enjoyable.

Thanks, Juan de Fuca Trail for being so darn enjoyably natural!


Guest Shot: Jody Paterson

MusicFest brings out the best in people

(Editor’s Note: this article was recently posted by communications consultant and writer Jody Paterson. It was originally published in the Times Colonist newspaper. However, because it was so topical and co-editor John Horn and now lovely wife Michelle Horn have a particular connection to the region in question, I thought I’d reach out to Ms. Paterson to see if we at the Gumboot could republish the piece. Fortunately Ms. Paterson aka Jody, is all about sharing great writing and building community online. Jody – thanks; Gumboot readers, enjoy!

I always enjoy the annual Island MusicFest, and had my usual good time grooving to the tunes at the Courtenay festival last month.

But it’s the people-watching that’s the best part of a music festival. Pack several thousand people of all ages and backgrounds into a fairground for three days and nights, and things are guaranteed to get interesting.

Island Music FestA whole lot of people in tight quarters is a true test of our civility. Yes, there are rules at MusicFest, and quite a number of security guards and police on hand to try to enforce them.

But when that many people gather in one place, what really determines how things will go comes down to people’s willingness to be tolerant and respectful of each other. And the MusicFest crowd always delivers.

If you’ve been to a music festival, you’ll know all about blanket rules, and the strict but unwritten code that governs the sea of blankets stretched out in front of the main stage.

Blanket rules probably don’t occupy even a few seconds of your thoughts in your non-festival life. But at a music festival, they’re a major preoccupation. When the sun’s shining and the music’s fine, as it was last month, you’ll spend most of your day on a blanket on the grass in front of one stage or another.

So your blanket really weighs on your mind.

You think about how to set it up in the morning in front of the main stage so that you won’t need to check on it again until that night’s concert gets started.

You think about the sea of blankets all around you, and how to strike a path through them that avoids the trampling of other people’s blankets. You contemplate the space that your blanket takes up, and whether it could truly fit unobtrusively into that gap in front of the older couple comfortably positioned on their own blanket, or if it would be rude to even try.

Trivial stuff, sure. But the thing about blanket rules is that they work even though there are no actual rules. That they do is a small but heartening testament to the basic decency of human beings.

Camping at MusicFest is another major test of civility. With no reservation system and no designated spots, it’s essentially a free-for-all once you’ve made it into the fairgrounds and a supreme patience-tester just to get to that point.

The painfully slow check-in for campers is the first place civility is severely tested, but I didn’t see anyone lose it in the long, long hours of waiting to get into the campsite.

Once in, there’s simply no predicting what kind of neighbours you’ll get. Too bad for you if you inadvertently end up in the site beside a horde of drunk teenagers with a dozen coolers of beer loaded up for the weekend. (Thanks for the “Quiet Area” campground this year, MusicFest organizers! Loved it.)

Even if you’ve got the nicest camping neighbours in the world, you’re still going to be in each other’s laps for days on end.

You’re going to hear that nice young couple having a nasty fight, because their tent is right outside your trailer door. You’re going to get a ball bounced off your head from the kids playing soccer two campsites over. You’re going to be in the middle of life being lived out loud, and that includes those enormous snores coming from the guy in the tent less than a metre away from yours.

You’re going to line up for food, and for the porta-potty. Your bag is going to be searched regularly, and your wrist band examined at every opportunity. You’re going to be cheek-to-jowl with the young, the old, the beautiful, the weird and the vaguely creepy, and you might even end up dancing with one of them.

In other words, you and thousands of other festival goers will endure a series of inconveniences that you probably have little tolerance for in your regular life. But this time you’re just going to go with the flow.

To see it all unfold that way — well, it restores my faith. Rules and laws are all well and good, but it’s the unspoken agreements we make to tolerate each other that actually keep our world rolling along. How we behave when stuffed into tight and potentially unpleasant circumstance speaks to the essence of civility.

Group hug, people. And to all those volunteers and security staff who make MusicFest and all those other big public events enjoyable for the rest of us by riding herd on the handful of party animals who don’t get it: Thank you.

Tomiko Marton-Collins

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, welcome to an ongoing segment here at The Daily Gumboot. It’s called “Get to Know Your Community” and, basically, it goes like this: each and every Sunday we will profile someone from a community somewhere. Each person is asked the same five questions. At the end of the profile, the Gumbooteer (member of this blog’s Editorial Board) who found the person will list their three favourite things about the highlighted community member. Savvy?

Here are some ideas from everywhere. Here is one way that we try to build community. Have fun with it!

Who are you?

I am Tomiko Marton-Collins. I am a wife, daughter, sister, friend, student, teacher, runner, entrepreneur, philosopher, champion of justice, horrible driver and much much more.

What do you do for fun?

I love biking, running, hiking and cooking meals for my family and friends. Curling up with a good novel or movie is also a fantastic way of spending an evening. I find my work fun as well, I love everything that is creative and organization based!

What is your favorite community?

Courtenay, BC, Canada, my mom and dad’s street. I have lived, worked, and traveled all over the world. I have been lucky enough to spend extensive time in Asia and Europe, from mega cities like Tokyo to backwater country sides, from countries of amazing material wealth to places that left me feeling ashamed of my privilege and power. And this last year I returned home a little wiser, a little harder and with my husband, Michael in tow back to the town (and house) that I grew up in.

What is your superpower?

If I had to put a label on it, I would say my superpower is the power augmentation; I have the ability to strength other people’s powers. I surround myself with smart, thoughtful, positive people and say “yes” to them more often than “no”. This superpower has been known to get me in trouble at times as well.


How does your power help you build community?

The verdict is definitely still out on that one. I hope that I connect people and ideas and in some small way empower my people to believe in our potential. Practically, I love sharing my experiences and tools.

My three favourite things about Tomiko are…

1. Courtenay is her favourite community. I first met Tomiko in high school – we’re both products of GP Vanier Secondary School – and she exemplified creativity and leadership then and she does now. Tomiko also articulates some of the coolest thing about the coolest community on Vancouver Island.

2. She’s famous! For community-building alternative currency! I’d like to say the the Daily Gumboot got the jump on sharing with the world how cool Tomiko, Community Way Dollars and combining bicycles with coffee really is; unfortunately, some up-and-coming, indy magazine called Macleans beat us to the punch. Yeah, The Tyee really liked the idea, too. And, hey, it’s just a better idea to visit Tomiko’s bike shop instead of Wal-Mart’s – not sure if the latter does the whole local-currency and/or community-building thing.

3. It’s that smile. I mean look at it. One can quickly tell that Tomiko is kind, genuine, thoughtful, and passionate about what she does and how The Broken Spoke builds community in a myriad of ways. And why wouldn’t she be? When you combine two of the most amazing things in the world – bicycles and coffee – you should be smiling such a perfect smile.

Tomiko Marton-Collins is profiled in Macleans, one of those "print" political magazines.

Tomiko Marton-Collins is profiled in Macleans, one of those "print" political magazines.

…as told by John Horn

The Unraveling Traveler: Thanksgiving in Merville

From Friday, October 9 until Monday, October 12, intrepid explorers John Horn and Michelle Burtnyk – Team Bornk! is their official “adventure” name – braved BC Ferries, Northern Vancouver Island, 25 relatives, two turkeys, nearly 40 senior citizens, and a flip chart to bring you this amazing tale. What unfolds below is a breakdown of the weekend’s events. I encourage you to skim, because it’s pretty long. From shenanigans to tomfoolery to unconditional love of Grandmothers, we cover it all. What unfolds happened as told by John Horn with collaborative input from Michelle Burtnyk, and let’s get to it…

The road to The Compound during the "epitomy of autumn"

The road to The Compound during the "epitomy of autumn"

Friday, October 9, 2009

9:34am – 12:17pm: at work and the kids are alright. Better than alright, actually. The workshop on one-page resumes is actually nothing short of inspiring. It feels like a graduate seminar in which we’re discussing the literary turn and my main man, Dominick LaCapra. Can you take a post-structuralist approach to resumes? Yes we can! The students’ energy raised my energy and my fun level rises to maximum capacity.

2:55pm: I find myself on a Number 44 bus heading downtown jammed awkwardly between the window, a cushion/barricade and four people on one of the most crowded bus rides in the history of public transit; luckily, the passengers are mostly university students eager to get away for a weekend of real fun and real food, so the vibe is good and the energy is still of the enthusiastic sort.

3:44pm: arrive at corner of Georgia and Burrard to wait for the 257 Express and/or 250 “Slow Boat” busses to the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal. As I survey the swelling lineup and ever-stressing faces of the people within it,  I realize that I am standing amongst folks who actually think they are going to make the 5pm sailing to Departure Bay. As I speak with Michelle on the phone, I say, “…and there are people here who are yelling incredulously at full buses because they are trying to make the 5pm sailing, which is pretty funn – no offense, people standing around me.”

3:52pm: the budging starts. Subtly, at first, with people feigning confusion and incompetence – “oh, sorry, I didn’t know there was a line” or “ohhhh, this is the front of the line, not the back?” With little time to get to Horseshoe Bay, when the next 250 bus pulls up, well, the serious budging and pushing begins. Surely there is a better way to live than this, people!

4:25-5:21pm: I’m on the bus next to a talker named Kate; we become friends and exchange numbers with the noble goal of one day practicing our French together.

5:23-5:33pm: madness ensues at the BC Ferries terminal (shocking, I know) when it is announced that “all Nanaimo passengers taking the 5pm ferry please move to the front of the line.” What?! Nanaimo?! 5pm?! But it’s 5:23!! Yes, it is well past 5pm; however, the ferry was nearly 40 minutes late, so here we are. Frantically, I grab my mobile device telephone twitterberry and call Michelle. She is 20 minutes away and the bus, in spite of her sweetest smile, will not go faster and/or miss stops to suit her personal needs. So, by the closest of calls, we miss the 5pm ferry. Just like we planned.

5:53-6:59pm: decent meal of sushi in a restaurant that, ironically enough, was not prepared for a pre-sailing-dinner-rush. To quote my new friend and fellow unraveling traveler, Lyle: “why is it that restaurant staff will always emerge at 9pm and say, ‘wow, we totally got slammed!‘ – of course you did, it’s dinner and you’re a restaurant!” So, we hustled into the lineup for the 7pm boat (where we meet Lyle).

7:29-9:03pm: “Welcome aboard BC Ferries!” Madness. Utter and complete madness. It is delightful, though. Together, Michelle and I encounter no fewer than seven people we knew, including my friend from high school, Carl, who just makes you feel like a million bucks when you talk to him, as he laughs at every single sentence like you’re Seinfeld delivering an amazing punchline. So that was the upside, the people. The downside was also the people. There were many of us, and there was still a lineup for the cafeteria as we chugged into Departure Bay.

9:17-10:31pm: my sister picks us up at the ferry and showers us with homemade granola bars, banana-nut bars and indy rock music. Amazing. Conversation topics include, but are not limited to, wedding planning, clashing of worlds (tomorrow’s Thanksgiving dinner would mark the meeting of Michelle’s parents and my mom’s entire side of the family, including Uncle John…), politics (all varieties), “hotness”, ninjas, why panda bears suck, South America, and love.

10:37pm-12:03am: we arrive in Merville and quickly collect ourselves around my parents outdoor fireplace and get caught up on life, the universe and everything. And then we spend a few minutes going over the game plan for tomorrow – when the reality of feeding and entertaining 24 people who span the age of 1 to 85 years old actually hits us, we decide to head to bed.

The Horn Family Garden, where so many of the Thanksgiving Goodness came from

The Horn Family Garden, where so many of the Thanksgiving Goodness came from

Saturday, October 10, 2009

12:15-8:33am: dreams include, but are not limited to, eating turkey, being eaten by a turkey, giant plants, and dancing bears.

8:34am: arrive downstairs to see that my father has peeled and chopped nearly all the vegetables for dinner. So that’s what that sound at 5:31am was…

8:35-9:03am: put on gumboots, my Merville jacket, my Peruvian alpacca toque, grab a cup of amazing locally roasted coffee, and hit the deck with my dad to philosophize on life, the universe and everything.

9:07-11:32am: food prep! Highlights include Dad preparing brussel sprouts with garlic and parmesan cheese, Kim Horn stuffing two turkeys (while somehow making a delicious pumpkin cheesecake with Michelle), and Mama Horn supervising everything and everyone with humourously benevolent authority.

10:45-11:51am: emergency side-trip into town to pick up chicken feed, cream cheese and, most importantly, do some father-son bonding.

12:15pm: first turkey in the oven!

12:24pm: second turkey in the oven!

3:06pm: Michelle’s parents arrive. Fun fact about the parents known as “JED” – they will arrive to any social event within 15 minutes of the agreed upon time; for example, if you ask them to arrive at 3pm, they will role down the driveway between 2:54 and 3:06pm.

4:06-5:32pm: the rest of the Finnsson (my mom’s family) arrive in an epic, three-car entourage involving four kids, one teenager, snacks, husbands, wives, aunts, uncles, special man friends, cousins, great cousins, one dog, and four amazing pumpkin pies. The worlds collide as my fiance’s parents meet my mom’s side of the family for the first time. Wine is poured, beers are opened and the conversations begin. As the families mingle in the living room, my dad and I simultaneously carve the two birds, dishes are whipped and mashed and heated, brussels are glazed, beets are de-skinned, and Uncle John stirs the gravy.

5:34-7:29pm: given that we have one prominent senior citizen in attendance (my Grandma, Betty), dinner, of course, starts well before 6pm. And away we go! About 24 of us (my littlest cousin, Nathan, might count for half-a-person) gather around an elongated table (two tables and an old door made into a table, actually) and proceed to indulge in perhaps the best meal that I’ve ever eaten. In fact, this theme – “the best meal I’ve ever eaten” – seems to resonate amongst the attendees of Thanksgiving 2009 for days to come. As I film a video, snap pictures and liberate cranberry sauce from the microwave, my sister assembles a heaping plate of culinary delight that takes me over an hour to devour. No worries, though, as I am surrounded by interesting, hilarious and thoughtful family members, who make the time fly by even if my mountain of mash potatoes (with home-canned green beens hiding underneath) doesn’t.

7:41-8:00pm: hilarious story. Guess who gets put in charge of the Supply Chain Management position between the pie-slicing station and the dinner table? My four year old cousin, Owen. As another cousin, Terri, and her Special Man Friend, Andrew, divide no fewer than 30 pieces of pie, Owen confidently picks them up and places them around the dinner table. Whenever anyone questions him he simply replies, “no, we need more; this one’s for my mom!”

8:10-9:17pm: a big theme of the entire weekend was helping. Everyone helped. And I mean everyone. My sister and future mom-in-law handle the dishes, Uncle John spearheads all clean-up duties that fell under the “other” category, Uncle Geoff (my dad, but all my cousins refer to him as such) herds the kids, and I do my part by eating all the pie that Owen distributed around the table. Within a matter of moments, there are no traces of a meal for 24 people or the things we used to make it.

9:43pm: everyone is gone and the key members of the culinary committee (mom, dad, sister, fiance, et moi) are chatting about the night’s frivolities in the living room.

9:57pm: I fall into a deep, deep sleep, burrowing into Michelle’s lap. The combination of turkey, chatter and about eight pieces of pie has taken its toll on my mind, body and soul in the best possible way.

9:57pm-9:01am: dreams include, but are not limited to, turkey, pie and a crazy, flying turkey pie.

Sunday, October 11, 2009 (Betty’s 85th Birthday)

Happy 85th Birthday, Betty!

Happy 85th Birthday, Betty!

9:08-10:45am: breakfast, coffee and reflections on the evening that passed. Did I really eat all that pie?! Yes, John. You did.

10:51am-12:02pm: Michelle and I embark on an emergency mission into town. Buns, juice, milk, and a saucy Argentine malbec (we chose Trapiche) make up our collection of supplies.

12:17-12:59pm: we arrive home to see my main man, Sid (my Grandma’s best friend and former cook-for-the-navy) overseeing all the helpers for a birthday lunch that makes the previous evening look like a quaint, romantic dinner for two. Sid has casseroles in the oven, fruit platters on the go and is brewing enough coffee for even more than the 40 senior citizens scheduled to arrive at one o’clock. Sid is a benevolent dictator who, somehow, makes me feel good while yelling at me because he felt I wasn’t whipping the cream the right way (“John, the beaters are turning the wrong way!”). But they only go one way, man…

1:00-2:10pm: on the dot, the seniors show up in droves (perhaps they took a bus). The family forms a reception line, and we greet all partygoers and show them to their seats. Promptly at 1:30 or so, Sid gives the order to begin eating and nobody fails to disappoint. The 40 or so guests dive into the plates of casserole, pickles, olives, salads, deviled eggs, and fruit leather (freshly made the day before by Papa Horn – it looks like barf, but tastes amazing).

2:15-3:00pm: my sister and I – in collaboration with the entire family – deliver one of our most epic family-event performances. Inspired by the great intellectual comedian, Demetri Martin, Betty: 85 Years of Data and Findings is quite the hit. I mean, if stripping down to a mumu in front of 40 seniors doesn’t get a laugh, what will. My mom also wrote a song, and it’s this performance, which includes the entire family and is complete with hilarious signs held up by ridiculously cute great grandchildren, that closes the show. After all, it wouldn’t be a family gathering if my mom didn’t write and perform a song or poem. At the end of the day, there’s a lot of love here for you, Betty.

3:30-6:59pm: so much relaxing. For a few hours, after everything is clean, my parents, sister, Michelle, my cousin Erik, and I chill out in the living room, reflecting on the day. My Uncle Gary walks his dog and then takes a nap in his truck and nobody asks why, because we love Gary.

7:00-9:52pm: the Canucks beat the Dallas Stars and this makes people happy. While this unlikely victory is taking place, Kim Horn and Michelle play their version of the game Guess Who? called “Profile Who?” And it goes like this: instead of asking question, each player gives a one sentence statement about their two characters and then the other player has to eliminate their options based on that sentence. For example, “okay, one of my guys is big and possibly eating the other guy; the big guy is pretty happy about it, but the other guy is really, really sad about being eaten.” Obviously we’re talking about Bill and Robert!

11:44pm: a day of entertaining, hosting and eating has made us all sleepy; this time, though, Michelle doesn’t have to carry me to bed.

11:55pm-10:03am: dreams include, but are not limited to, work (stupid cover letters!), wedding planning, and my friend Justin Rutka dancing with a giant turkey.

Monday, October 12, 2009

10:05am-1:07pm: finally, a bit of sleeping in! With coffee in hand and fresh-this-morning-eggs, the core-team of Thanksgiving and Betty’s Birthday eat breakfast and reflect on some of the highlights of the epic event. The deliciousness of the mostly local food (forget the 100 mile diet, most of the stuff came from 100 feet away in the Horn Family Garden) topped this list, with particular celebration being paid to the brussel sprouts, beets and melt-in-your-mouth turkey. How the whole household became a giant, gleeful, chatty, helpful, creative organism that seemed to move and organize and deliver ideas and information and food all on its own was another key highlight. Finally, we laugh at the hilariousness of how all the seniors left within eight minutes of the skit and song about Betty being over.

1:10-2:00pm: I spend some time walking the property and photographing what my dad calls “the epitomy of autumn.” My good friend, Theodora, once told me that I need to go to Merville every few months to find myself and re-charge my soul. She’s absolutely right, as this is the place where I am most centred and most understand the community that I want to help build elsewhere in the world. Obviously, it’s a community of family, food and hilarious senior citizens!

3-4:15pm: we stop in for a quick visit with Betty at the Seniors Palace of Fun and Adventure (clearly, there’s a little spin going on at this Old Folks Home!). She thanks us for the festivities and we thank her for, well, being her. Hugs are exchanged and I return the mumu, its purpose having been more than served.

4:17-5:22pm: Mom and dad drive us to the ferry. The ride – like the conversation – is simply delightful and we chat about how autumn in Eastern Canada is far superior to Fall on the West Coast. We then agree that the West Coast is superior in nearly every other way. Again, we reflect on how organic, delicious and community-oriented the weekend was. We also joke about how, to function properly, my Uncle John must have a task to accomplish during parties; any task.

5:30-7:29pm: we arrive at the Departure Bay terminal really, really early and meet about 200 people who missed the 5pm boat. While we wait, Michelle and I chat as well as send thank-you notes to everyone who made the weekend so darn great.

7:32-9:05pm: the ferry, again, is jammed. We carve out a space and read about education, epidemiology and relationship-building. We also cajole Michelle’s sister, Sarah, into picking us (and our heaping bags of squash, eggs, beets, carrots, leeks, potatoes, apples, and turkey sandwiches) up at Horseshoe Bay. All it costs us is a lude picture of her dog that she texts our way and some vegetables to be named later. Thanks for the memories, Sarah!

9:30-10:01pm: we get caught up on each others’ weekends and thank Sarah for the ride. We barter for passage by offering her a squash, two eggs, a carrot, a phallic beet, and two brussel sprouts.

10:06pm: happy and so, so relaxed, I push the key into the deadbolt of our apartment. It’s open. In fact, both locks aren’t locked at all. In disbelief, I inform Michelle of her Friday afternoon oversight and cautiously enter the apartment, all the while thinking of the thousands of photos saved on our computers. Of course, everything is just as we left it. And why wouldn’t it be? After all, it was just that kind of weekend…

So there it is. An epic journey catalogued with too many words. We shared a magical, community-centered weekend and, if you want to repeat some best practices in your life, here are some tips:

1. Plan ahead – whether it’s making a ferry or cooking for 40, this one is key.

2. Smile and relax – nothing – not busses nor overcooked food – is worth getting upset over.

3. Talk to people – it’s hard to build a community of friends, family and business partners if you say nothing; besides, seniors have amazing stories!

4. Local is better – it looks, feels and tastes better and is much, much healthier for our planet.

5. Help out – if you aren’t sure what to do to prepare, serve or clean-up, ask!

6. Don’t take yourself too seriously – listen to others’ ideas and directions, respect elders, laugh at yourself when you make a mistake, and, hey, don’t be afraid to put on a mumu for special occasions!

7. Commercial Drive is a safe place - man, at least this time the community (karma included) took care of us…

Thanks again to everyone who crossed our paths during our unraveling travels from Vancouver to Merville and back again. In your own special ways, you made it an unforgettable experience.


Frolicking, Tofino and Gumboots!

Readers of The Daily Gumboot, your help is needed. Recently, Michelle Burtyk and I entered a contest on an up-and-coming Canadian radio station called the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (the kids are calling it “CBC” for short). Mark Forsythe, the host of BC Almanac (goes from 12-1PM on CBC Radio One), is spearheading a superawesome and amazing photo contest meant to showcase the spirit and beauty of the West Coast. As described by Mark and the CBC, BC Almanac “…connects British Columbians as they share stories and ideas about what they have in common and what makes them different.” Well played, Mr. Forsythe. Let the connecting begin!

So, here’s the deal (and here’s the link to the contest): the Gumboot’s correspondents need your help to triumph over the likes of “second beach” and “bull kelp” and a disgustingly romantic picture of a couple kissing on Long Beach at sunset. Our photo is called “frolicking at Tofino” and we would like you to vote for it. Here it is in bigger-version-format:

Frolicking at Tofino (click on the photo and vote today!)

Frolicking at Tofino (click on the photo and vote today!)

Still not convinced we’re worth your vote? Well, here are five reasons to give “Frolicking at Tofino” a chance:

1. The photo captures the spirit and beauty of the West Coast. Sandy beaches that go on as if forever? Check. Lovely couple running, jumping, dancing, frolicking, and loving all over the West Coast? Check. Smokey skies that make one reflect on the stormy possibilities of Long Beach, Vancouver Island and the West Coast? Check. Simple yet indescribable beauty that can’t truly be understood without a steaming hot cup of coffee sipped slowly as the Sun rises warmly over your shoulders while you feel the chilly, salty wind on your face and smell the fishy fresh air? Double check! Communicating the previous statement (more or less) through photography? Check.

2. My family won’t support me. What did my father do when I called him last night and asked him to spread the word about the contest and help us win? Well, he said something like, “Forsythe? Almanac? Right on, I love that show! Where do I upload a photo? We’ve got some great ones from when your mom and I went to Ucluelet!” No joke. My dad uploaded his own photo and is now competing against us. Incidentally, you can vote for Geoff Horn by selecting the “After the Storm” photo. Unbelievable. And people wonder why I’m so competitive!

3. It is a good, technical photo. Full disclosure. As Michelle and I frolicked towards the camera my mom, Janet, was snapping many, many pictures. And she snapped a great one here. Her shot is well framed, balances the background and foreground of the scene, makes great use of the backlight, and is a crisp, not blurry, dynamic action shot. Well done, mom.

4. Michelle and I are getting married, and the contest has a great prize! That’s right, everyone, the grand prize for this contest is a two-night stay at the Wickanninish Inn on the West Coast of Vancouver Island. This would be a wonderful way for us to celebrate our love, togetherness and ability to frolick. Also, by voting for us you will be able to give the gift of awkwardness! I mean, since my mom took the picture, she’ll probably want to come along if we win, right?

5. We’re having a really, really good time in the picture. This photo was taken during the holidays last December. Before leaving the West Coast, we stopped at Long Beach for a brief, shared moment of existential delight, which some call frolicking. We had fun with it, and our delightful leaping certainly inspired some smiles by a few people who shared the moment with us. And it was a beautiful thing we’re happy to share with you today.

So there it is. Our case for “Frolicking at Tofino” has been made and I hope it inspired you to vote for us and perhaps tell 10 or so friends about the contest, too. This CBC thing might go places, man – Forsythe knows his stuff. Once again, here is the link to the contest. Thanks very much for your time and consideration and, hopefully, your votes, too.

- John and Michelle