Perspectives on a Small Sicilian Town



A few days ago, my husband and I arrived in Cianciana, the small Sicilian town in which we had bought our retirement home – we aren’t quite there yet, retirement I mean, but we have our plans all made.  The house we bought is 3/4 of the way up the hill on which the town stands.  You can see in this picture that we are surrounded by mountains and we look down on all kinds of interesting things in the town.  For example, there is the Sicilian-Argentinian lady across the way.  She was born here in Cianciana but grew up in Argentina and now spends 6 month here and 6 months there.  We can see into the top floor of her house from the terrazza on ours.  She is a widow now and for the first couple of days I was worried because she is elderly and seemed to be always alone.  But now I see that her son and daughter come and visit her as well as some of the ladies in the town.  We spoke to her two days ago.  She was so happy to meet us, but was disappointed that we didn’t speak Spanish.  Interestingly, in this town we get asked if we speak the following languages in this order:

  1. French
  2. German
  3. Spanish
  4. English

I took both French and German in school but I remember little of French and nothing of German.  I wish I had paid more attention in school!  (How many of us have said just that?)  So many times Nick and I are asked if we are American that it is kind of a treat to be asked if we are English all the time. “Siete Inglese? Are you English?”  “No, siamo Canadese. No, we are Canadian.”   “Canadese?  Mio fratello e’ in Canada. Montreal.  Canadian? My brother is in Canada.  In Montreal.    Si chiama Gaetano.  Lo conoscierli? His name is Gaetano.  Do you know him?”  It seems as if everyone has a family member in Montreal.  I had the same experience when I lived in Japan.  “You are from Canada?  My friend is in Canada.  He lives in Toronto.  Yuki.  Yuki from Toronto.  Do you know him?”  I should mention that we live on the west coast – thousands of kilometres away from both Toronto and Montreal, the two largest cities in Canada.  It’s unlikely we know either Gaetano or Yuki.  But, ya never know.

Anyhow, I digress.  One of the things that I noticed on our first morning on the terrazza was the tiled roofs of the houses on the streets below us.  They have interesting angles, shapes and colours.  I also noticed that many of them have rocks sitting on the tiles to, oh, keep them from sliding off and hitting people on the head I suppose.  Speaking of being hit on the head, I narrowly missed being hit by old cleaning up water as I walked home today.  A middle aged housewife tossed the dirty water out her 2nd (we would call it 3rd) floor window.  It hit the ground just as I was stepping onto the sidewalk and out of its trajectory.  Thank goodness because I had just taken a shower before I went out and God forbid that I have to take a second shower in one day!  But I digress again.

Back to the tiled roofs.  I took a number of pictures with different settings on my camera.  I would love to know what you think.












Weekly Photo Challenge – Up

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These are a few pictures that I have shared before but fit together so well with this theme.  It’s so true that we rarely take time to look up but when we do it can be magical.  Ten things I have seen by looking up:

  1. Clouds racing across the sky.
  2. An eagle being chased by a blackbird.
  3. Clouds morphing from one thing into another.
  4. Glimpses into other people’s lives.
  5. The beauty of days past.
  6. The creativity of someone now long dead.
  7. Unintended glimpses up someone’s skirt (I was at the bottom of the Eiffel Tower trying to take a picture – completely unintentional).
  8. Crazy geometrical shapes.
  9. The arms of trees reaching out  to each other.
  10. And very occasionally, because you really have to be in the right space, the hand of God.

And here are a few new shots of “up”.

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And the unintentional photo in Paris…


Gentrification on Commercial Drive

I grew up in Vancouver.  It was a great city to grow up in – as safe as any city could be, beautiful scenery, lots of interesting nooks and crannies to explore – Chinatown, Steveston (where the Japanese kept their fishing boats), Broadway (the Greek neighbourhood), Kitsilano (where the ‘hippies’ hung out), but my favourite was Commercial Drive – the Italian neighbourhood.

When I was an elementary school student, my parents would drive the 30 minutes that would take us from the North Shore to 1st and Renfrew where the Economart store stood and where my parents bought all our non-perishables.  This was on the edge of the Italian neighbourhood, only blocks from Commercial Drive.  If I didn’t whine or moan about how long the shopping was taking, my parents would wind up the shopping trip by going to Commercial Drive for ice cream.  Today, I know that what we were getting was actually gelato, but to my very Anglo-Irish parents who at that time didn’t even know what spaghetti was, gelato was ice cream.  Pretty damn amazing ice cream, but ice cream nonetheless.  While we were walking up and down the Drive, I would listen to the old Italian men arguing outside the coffee bars and to the Italian women chatting while choosing vegetables at the markets out on the street.  I had no idea what they were saying, I just knew that it was loud and exciting, far more exciting than my WASPy family.

Three weeks ago, when Nick and I were visiting Vancouver, we went down to Commercial Drive one morning to have espresso and a brioche for breakfast.  We went into the coffee bar Roma and surrounded ourselves with FIFA posters, the aroma of good Italian coffee, and the sounds of the elderly Italian men as they shouted at the soccer players they were watching on the large screen tv. It was like being back on Commercial Drive in the 1960s or being in Italy.  But when we left the coffee bar and walked along the Drive, what I saw around me were examples of the gentrification of the neighbourhood.  This is a hot button topic in Vancouver these days, particularly in the Downtown Eastside – one of the roughest neighbourhoods in North America but still one with a community.

I know that there are many supporters of gentrification, that neighbourhoods, like everything, change over time, that gentrification can infuse a poor neighbourhood with much needed funds.  But, there are so many reasons that I find gentrification distasteful.  The displacement of the original residents who can no longer afford to live in their own neighbourhood is the key issue in the Downtown Eastside.  Differing needs of the older residents and the newer residents creates conflict, and the smaller condos also increase density.  But on Commercial Drive, the change brought about by gentrification that disturbs me most is the loss of the character and culture of the neighbourhood.  So many of the little shops that catered to the Italian immigrants have been taken over by shops selling designer clothing or trendy antiques.

Yes, there are still some Italian restaurants, but there are many others that have been replaced by Vietnamese, Indian, Chinese, Cuban, Japanese, Salvadorean, and Ethiopean restaurants.  Please don’t misunderstand me.  I have nothing against Vietnamese, Indian, Chinese, Cuban, Japanese, Salvadorean or Ethiopean restaurants, people or culture.  I simply miss the wonderful feel of the Italian neighbourhood that Commercial Drive used to be.  <Sigh>.  I guess I am just stuck in the past.

Baring It All

Baring It All

Normally, I don’t do nude or even semi-nude photography. In fact, I didn’t even take this one.

Back in the summer of 2005, my daughter and I flew to London to visit my very dear friend Andrea. Andrea shared a flat directly on the Thames across from the Millennium Dome. While we were there it was someone’s birthday…forgotten now exactly whose it was. The party took place on what they called the front garden and what I called the “slightly larger than a shower-sized bit of lawn”. There was a barbeque with big hunks of meat and a cooler stuffed full of beer, wine and other such drinks. We were having a wonderful time, the weather was warm, the neighbours were forgiving, the view was lovely. After a good deal of merry-making, I handed my camera to my daughter while I ran up the stairs and into the bathroom. When I came down, there were a lot of sniggers and giggles that I attributed to the growing pile of empties next to the cooler.

Now, at that point in my life I didn’t own a laptop. This meant that I didn’t think to check what was on my camera until we got home and I downloaded the lot onto my desktop.

Yes, there were numerous pale, English, bare bum shots on my camera.

Moral to the story. Don’t ever, ever give your camera to your 12-year-old to hold while you are in the bathroom…


P.S.  Yes, everyone in the picture or not in the picture who bared their bums was over 18.  And yes, the next day, while they were all hung over we did have a friendly chat about what was appropriate to show a 12-year-old.  And of course, my daughter, the 12-year-old, woke them up with great glee for this chat by playing Eminem at top volume on the stereo.  Heehee.




Five years ago, my husband, who works with students with special needs, was assigned to work with a 10-year-old boy by the name of Adam. It was a year later that Adam first really came onto my radar.  Nick came home one day with a grin on his face.  Apparently Adam had started giving Nick relationship advice.  “You should bring her flowers, cook her dinner!  I bet she likes chocolates.  You should take her chocolates!”  “Hmmm, I like this kid!” I told Nick.  A couple of months later he started to encourage Nick to propose to me.  Propose and then to invite him to the wedding.  When Nick did propose and we began to discuss the wedding plans, we both agreed that the only person who could be Nick’s best man would be Adam and his twin brother, Blake would be a groomsman.  Adam and Blake looked wonderful in their new suits and both fulfilled their roles beautifully.


Adam is one of the sweetest kids that Nick has ever worked with – kind, funny, generous.  As an elementary student and then later as a middle school student he raised money for the homeless shelter in our small town, for the elders of the Cowichan Nation, and for the SPCA.  He always has a smile and joke for everyone around and this makes what might have been the most obvious thing about Adam the least noticeable – his wheelchair.


Like most special needs kids, very little has been easy for Adam – his legs won’t straighten and won’t easily hold his weight but over the years that my husband has worked with him, he has watched Adam struggle to stand and walk and now he can actually walk a short way with his walker.  School hasn’t always been easy for him but he has found his niche there – he wrote and acted in a short film and has a role in his school’s theatre production this year.  He has lots of friends and the girls love his lopsided grin.  In spite of his struggles, he never seems to lose his amazing positive attitude.  I think that a lot of this comes from a large and very supportive family.  His grandma, Darlene, has stood behind him and fought for him and his brother their whole lives.  In fact, everyone in their family has stood behind these two terrific young men and it shows.

Last week, Nick and I went to watch Adam in his first wheelchair rugby practice.  Adam was younger than the other players by a good ten years.  When they began to arrive, I could see that Adam was nervous – probably a bit by the idea of playing such a rough sport but I think more by the age of the other players.  I have to give them credit however.  The coach and the players gave Adam encouragement and instruction and lots of opportunities to play.  I watch the game progress and was at first quite intimidated by the aggressiveness of the sport but then I was so impressed by the enthusiasm that Adam showed as he played that I stopped cringing at every wheelchair crack-up.  The lessons he has learned in life to push himself and to move forward became very evident on the gym floor.  He quickly learned to manipulate an unfamiliar sports wheelchair.  He raced up and down the floor until he was covered in sweat.  He reached for every ball that was thrown in his direction.  And when the practice was over, he was greeted with a chorus of “Good game, dude!” from the other members of the team.


Adam may only be 15 years old, but he has learned lessons already that some people never learn.  He impresses the hell out of me.

Remembering Meekay


Today I read a post by Shay at asizCreatives called By the “Grace” of Cat.  Head over to her blog…she is truly inspiring!  She wrote about the healing that her cat has given her and it got me thinking about my sweet kitty Meekay.  Sadly, Meekay died last May at the age of 19.  She had been with us for 17 years – my daughter never remembered a time without her.  She was a cat that was happy with whatever we gave her.  She was happy to be cuddled, happy to sit with us, pleased with whichever food we brought home from the store.  There were only two times that I saw her unhappy:

1. When we took her to the vet. She would meow like it was the end of the world, and

2. When we left her with a house sitter one summer.  She was so angry at us that she crapped all over our bedroom.

Over the years, my life, like everyone’s, went up and down and I always found that sitting and cuddling Meekay made me feel better, happier, calmer.  Last May, Meekay stopped eating.  She got thinner and thinner but she didn’t seem to be unhappy or comfortable.  I kept saying to my husband, “I think I should take her to the vet.” and he would answer “Oh, she’s fine.  She’ll start eating again.”  I think he didn’t want to admit that she might really be sick.  A few days later my daughter came home from a year away at school and together we took Meekay to see the vet.  She meowed loudly and plaintively just like she always did.  We carried her into the exam room and held her while we waited for the vet.  When the vet arrived she made a great fuss over our cat and then examined her.  She looked at us with a serious face and told us that Meekay had a mass in her stomach and because Meekay was at a pretty advanced age for a cat, she didn’t recommend surgery.  She said that although she didn’t seem to be in pain now, it wouldn’t be long before the pain set in.  She gave my daughter and I a few minutes to decide what to do.  There wasn’t much to discuss.  As much as we loved Meekay, or rather because we loved her, we decided that we would give her a death with dignity and without pain.  My daughter and I cried as we pet her while she fell asleep.  A couple of weeks later, we got her ashes from the vet and we spread them under a tree – a tree that she would sit in the window and watch as the birds would fly in and out of the branches.  I know that the uninitiated to the joys of pet ownership sometimes mock those of us who dote on our animals, but they have not yet learned the sweetness of holding your loving pet in your lap.  I’m glad that I had that experience for the 17 years Meekay was with us.  I still miss her and expect her to come running up when I walk through the door.  So, today, I am sharing with you the sweet face of my little Meekay.

Life Lessons from a Descent into Dementia

Life Lessons from a Descent into Dementia

This is my favourite photograph of my Mom. It was the last time I saw her happy. It was April of last year and it was her 91st birthday. My mother has dementia and as I have watched her descend into confusion and paranoia and anger, it has forced me to examine my own life, emotions and motivations. Her dementia has taught me a few things:

1. No resentment is worth hanging on to.
2. Life actually is pretty good, if I choose to see the good bits.
3. What I used to view as people doing things “to me” was incorrect. People do things, even cruel or unkind things, out of their own motivations, history or pain. I have very little to do with it – I just happen to be in the way.
4. Just because I feel something uncomfortable, I don’t need to act on it. Guilt, anger, sorrow are just feelings that will pass.
5. I don’t need to act on other people’s expectations of me.

It is not easy to be a care-giver of someone with dementia and it has not been easy for me. While I would never wish this disease on anyone, I am grateful for the lessons I have learned. I wish my mother had learned these lessons before she was hit with Alzheimers. I believe it would have made her final journey now, a little easier for her.

Summer Sanctuary

Summer Sanctuary

In a few months this will be my view. I work as a teacher in a high school from September to June every year and I have been doing this since 1983. I have started teaching the children of the students I taught years ago! I love teaching and I love working with students. I still try to learn and improve my teaching practices every day. But, let’s face it, 30 years of teaching takes it’s toll. I have tendonitis in my shoulders from years of writing on the blackboard/whiteboard. I have tennis elbow from carrying books around. I have arthritis creeping into my hands from all the computer work. I have arthritis in my ankles exacerbated from years of standing in front of my classes and walking around to see how they are doing with their work, and I have arthritis in my neck and upper back worsened by years of bending over papers and marking. Yup, it’s official. I’m tired. But, there is something wonderful looming on the horizon! Last summer my husband and I flew to Sicily and bought a house. Nothing fancy, just a tall, four story stone house about 150 years old. It sits on a hill in a lovely mountain village, but if you are facing the right way you can get a glimpse of the Mediterranean. People I work with were talking about me in the staffroom when I wasn’t there (I have my spies, muahahahaha!) saying things like “Is she crazy?” “She’s really lost her mind this time.” “They are going to lose their shirts!”. I should say, there were people who were excited for my husband and I. From those people we heard “That’s wonderful! I wish I had the guts to do that!” But it didn’t take guts, it took a dream. A wonderful dream that Nick and I nurtured until we could make it possible. And so, this summer, and a few summers after, we will be spending summers in Sicily. Once we retire we will spend much more time there and I will sit on our terrazza, looking at this view and sipping il cafe’ every morning.

Who Wanders These Woods?


The other day when I went for a walk and took the picture of the crocuses, I happened across this tree.  Several messages had been carved into the bark – BADASS, HI MOM, and some statements of love.  It got me thinking about the people who wander these woods.  With the water rushing through the Cowichan River just a few feet away, the ephemeral-ness of time seemed to wind its way around me and the trees and the creatures nearby.  On this day, it is couples and families and seniors walking their dogs, but on the other side of the river is one of the local Cowichan reserves.  You see, this land is the traditional territory of the Cowichan people who are admirably fighting to keep and expand their place and visibility in this small town.  But they are the people who have walked these paths from time immemorial and I need to remember that I am only here because of their good graces and the power of the early colonialists and I am grateful.  Grateful to live in such a beautiful corner of the world, and grateful to have friends whose roots here go back farther than I can imagine.

I walked a few steps closer to the water and found this stone.  It was the perfect ending to a perfect moment.

Go Ahead Canada, Hate Me!

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There is a reason Canada is called ‘The Great White North’.  It is all of that.  Today in Edmonton it is -8 and snowing.  In Iqaluit, it is -13 and it will be snowing most of the week.  In Ottawa it is -4 and snowing.  But I live on Vancouver Island and today it is […]