Monthly Archives: September 2012

On the Wonderful-ness of little white boxes and ribbons

I don’t do elaborate and fancy dinners or parties for my birthday anymore for a lot of different reasons. Just a few presents from close family and a nice family dinner. But I have a friend who always remembers and brings me a box of gorgeous mini-cupcakes from Life is Sweet. The sight of the white bakery box wrapped in red checkered ribbon always makes my eyes light up and puts a little spring in my step.

You see, the family dinner and birthday cards rolling in from extended family and friends around the world are slow pleasures. They draw out my birthday and make it seem like a month long celebration. And the “happy birthday”s on facebook are little happy blips in that, letting me know that my FB friends liked me enough to take a minute and wish me happy birthday when FB reminded them.

But that little white box is different! Just a glimpse of the box when my friend gets out of the car means my heart lifts because someone remembered me and went out of her way to get me something. And makes me grin because if you can’t smile at cupcakes, then you need therapy, and it’s cupcakes not a knick-knack or something I may or may not want/have a place for/know how to use or have to dust. And the simplicity is lovely – clean lines, crisp bow. Because it gives me choice among the dozen flavours where whatever I chose is the right choice. And because they are pretty cupcakes, but not too pretty to eat (whatever that is).

So the next time you want to send someone a complicated, complex, profound message – do it with cupcakes.

Yes! It’s a little white bakery box with a bow! Only good things can be inside!

Couldn’t get the bow undone, used scissors! Is that assorted I see?!

Sooo pretty, and yummy…..Started with the mmhn mint chocolate chip, but mmnnh the caramel looks mmsh good too

Mother Nature Packs a Punch

And I’m not talking about the windstorm that nearly destroyed my car and would have killed me if it had been 1 inch closer. No, this is the subtler-sneak-up-on-you kind. You go along in life and once in awhile stop and smell the roses or admire the way everything’s green in the spring or crisp and white in the winter. And then you turn a corner (literally) and get a shock. There I was, riding my horse, slipping down this slope behind the barn that leads to a little valley with a stream running through it (sounds really picturesque, right?). As Larry (the horse) and I start down the slope, there are two fat blue jays flitting just ahead of us from tree to tree like an honour guard to escort us. Near the bottom, we pull clear of the trees that line the path and we can see out to the valley and an absolutely gorgeous white tail deer some into view about 30 feet away bounding just to our left and a bit ahead. Well, you can’t get more pristine nature than this. This is truly a wake up and smell the granola scene while wearing your birkenstock sandals and your organic cotton pjs. But what was going through MY head as Larry came to a dead stop on the rocky slope and his head went up and ears went forward was “please, please, please don’t drop your shoulder, whirl, and through me on the ground, cuz that’s going to hurt!” – seriously, a lot can go through a girl’s head in moments like these. Thankfully, my horse is old enough that he thinks antics like those take far too much energy these days. He actually listened to me to move forward (towards the scary-horse-eating deer) off the rocks onto the grass. To the non-riders out there, this doesn’t mean that Larry wasn’t still thinking about bolting back to the barn, but at least if I fell off, the grass would hurt less (theoretically). I will give Larry some credit in that the deer was very large (the biggest I’ve seen on the property) and very loud (I never knew deer make a coughing sound reminiscent of old Chinese guys just as they clear their throats ready to expel …. well, never mind, mucus is involved in that story) and could very well have taken my poor horse in a fight. What was the point of this post again? oh yeah, that while we weekend warriors think ourselves fairly close to nature, every once in awhile, it sends something our way that slaps you upside the head and says “pay attention!”  I hope I never miss those moments.

Travel: Africa animals, lions, tigers, bears!

Ok, so I stole the line from the Wizard of Oz and there really weren’t tigers or bears, but you get the idea. There we were, our first day in the Serengeti. I had not yet learned the trick of peeing behind cars with strangers as we drove past an acacia forest. Having a past interest in the relationship between the acacia tree and ants, I asked the driver if we could get out and look at them. All 3 of us were shocked for about a millisecond when the driver said sure! And then we surged to the door beside me (it was the only one working). No sooner than the last of us put foot outside on the ground than we heard the driver say “Leave the door open in case the lions come”. No matter how calmly he said it, we all came to a dead stop and started scanning the horizon (as if we would be able to see them sneaking up on us!).  Not to fear however, all the lions we met were from the safety of our jeep with the top off and the windows down (gulp!). Lions are basically lazy cats. There was only one time we saw them moving and that was a lioness moving away from a kill with her cubs in the EARLY morning. (Safari tip 78: be prepared to wake up early to see the good stuff – if you want to sleep in, go to the beach.) The lions knew that we were no threat really. Staring at one who just didn’t care if you were there puts you in your place! Enjoy these photos…..

These cubs were no more than a couple months old. So very cute.

Our jeep had a window in the top that we could stand on the seats and look through the roof, but for this, I think I had my window down and was sitting in my seat. Probably not the best idea.

The Lionesses (there were 3) were all very relaxed with us no more than 20 feet away

Mmmmmm, milk

Adventures in Climate Change: Go where the Gas is

It is true that I got the privilege of seeing the world when I worked with climate change emission reduction projects (see posts here, here and here), but most of this work was done at landfills. It wasn’t all exotic locations where a bunch of professionals, grassroots organisations and public servants got together for a jolly (read: conferences), but rather, it was exotic locations where hard-working people got together to hold their breaths.

The idea behind the carbon markets is that you have to stop the invisible greenhouse gases from escaping. So, first you find the gas and then you plug it, burn it, bury it – whatever works. That’s what led me to landfills. To be clear, we’re talking about the big pit where all of human’s garbage gets dumped. Where the seagulls go to party. And because that stuff includes food scraps, Aunt Jane’s dead petunias, little Jimmy’s essay on paper, used tea bags, etc – it generates gas! So the first part of the job is solved.

Part of my job was to go see these sites and nod wisely as if it was a premium landfill! An excellent landfill! With just the right mix of organic and wet material to generate maximum gas (which could then be captured or burnt). Do you know how hard it is to nod wisely when walking by decomposing animals? (By the way, you actually don’t want large animals in the landfill because they decompose too quickly and then leave nothing behind to generate more gas – fyi) The problem is that as you walk up hill (landfills are wide and tall), you exert yourself, causing you to breathe more heavily, meaning you smell worse things, causing you to walk uphill faster, causing you to breathe more heavily….you see where I’m goin’ with this?

I know waste management has come a long way and landfill technology is very advanced and the reclamation techniques do wonders for land regeneration. But whoever thought that having an agave plantation within spitting distance from the landfill wasn’t thinking about his marketing. “Liquor do rubbish” anyone? And the cafeteria should really be sited upwind from the main operations. Of course, once the land is reclaimed, it’s usually beautiful. One landfill had their own forestry nursery for baby trees (so cute) and another had a collection of native plant species they were planning to use after (why can’t I find a job where I get to see the pretty things??) and the management was justifiably proud of these efforts.

So, anyway, now that you’ve found the gas, you need to plug is or burn it and once that’s done, I get to visit again to make sure all the documentation is in place. That part of the job isn’t bad really. It’s an audit, but rather than an audit that tries to find what’s wrong in order to fix it, it’s an audit to prove something went right and you get paid. So, most people liked to see me. However, I really wish they wouldn’t keep things from me even though I’m usually the only girl on the team and they all seem to think I’m delicate (ha, ask my friends about that one!). If a decapitated head is found in the landfill, I’d really like to know about it; if terrorists generally keep an eye on public gatherings like our info sessions this is also a good thing to know; and if rabid dogs are running loose a warning is entirely appropriate. I consider these things along the same lines of information need-to-know as knowing to bring a chocolate cake when asking a government official for a signature because it is her birthday. Because our projects are always based in emerging markets, these types of quirks were often part of the landscape.

However, as I mentioned in another post, the climate change industry is a tricky one because the premise is the absence of something (like the dieting industry) that you can’t see in the first place. So, if what we’re trying to do is contain or destroy these gases, wouldn’t it make more sense to not generate them in the first place?


Travel: Kew Gardens Orchids

Allergic to flowers? trees? grass? Doesn’t matter, take an anti-histamine and visit Kew anyway. I can’t remember what got me interested in Kew Gardens. The first time I visited London, I asked my friends if we could go and frankly, I don’t think any of us were that impressed. It had been a dry summer and the lawn just inside the gates was nothing to write home about. However, the glasshouses (greenhouses) blew me away and still do to this day. I don’t think I’d really seen a glasshouse before then. I loved the wrought-iron spiral staircases painted in white amongst the dark palm trees. And the tropical plants reminded me of home (Jamaica, not Canada!) even though I couldn’t quite properly remember them in their natural settings.

When I returned to live in London, I volunteered at Kew and it was wonderful to belong to the team! To wear the t-shirt that said “Kew” and the badge that said “volunteer” and to get the discount in the cafe! Although, when we were first given our uniforms, I was not enthused about wearing trousers that came up to my armpits (slight exaggeration) – it reminded me of the time I tried on men’s jeans by mistake and couldn’t quite understand why it fit so poorly.

I’m not sure what impresses me about Kew more – the size is enormous (travelling tip #456: don’t try to do everything in one day unless you really have all day and blister packs), the magnitude of the flora on the grounds is mind-blowing, the beauty is astounding (travelling tip #23: always have your camera ready) and the volunteer guides are remarkable.

Let me give you one example – the annual display of orchids (in Feb-Mar) is just stunning. I didn’t know that many types of orchids existed and seeing them enmass takes your breath away. These photos are from their 250th anniversary celebration but they do a similar, but smaller display every year.

Travel: Airports

Ever feel like a mouse? Go to an airport. You never really know what the big picture is, there are hidden pathways that you cant see, someone is always watching you and the cheese at the end is dubious. Some airports are better than others, but that’s more a reflection that you will be spending a lot of time in them and someone took pity on the poor travellers than any desire to make them destinations. Noone ever goes on vacation and raves about the gardens in the airport or the quality of the airport day hotels, but oh, to the business traveller, every bit of false normality is welcome.

There is the quaint airport in the little town. The one that still issues a ticket in a piece of regular paper. I carried that ticket with me to a major hub airport where they said that had never seen that and promptly tore it up and issued a regular one. The airport was also so small that the prop plane pulled up to the door and we just walked out and got on.

Then there are the airports that are too big to be quaint, but too small to really have a lot of the modern conveniences. So the bags were unloaded into a room and then the passengers fought to get in and out of the room and grab their bag. Or the ones where there was just one big room.

However, no matter the size of the airport, those uncomfortable scoop plastic chairs from the 70s are always in style. Seriously! who ever said that this was the era of globalization has not done a proper study of plastic furniture. These are the chairs that you stick to in hot weather, that give you a hemorrhoids in cold weather and that you slide off of if you’re not careful. And they are usually orange or dirty white.

But the airports you really remember and appreciate are the ones with business lounges. With hot free food. And hot showers with fluffy towels. Like the one in Madrid! Even the toiletries were nice almost to the point that you wanted to take them with you. Then there are amenities like in Schiphol in Amsterdam with a mini art gallery to while away the time between connections; but only if you are in the right area of the maze…I mean airport. The Singapore airport of course has the gardens and the pool and if you get the right angle your photos look like you visited the botanical gardens. The British Airways lounge in heathrow term 5 is very nice. It’s not new anymore, but it still rates a mention. And of course, any of the airports with the massage clinics rate high in my book.

Just because they are so cute

Larry is one of the cutest horses in the barn, but this is the most interesting shot when he’s in his stall and that’s not saying much!

I already posted about the barn kittens (see post here), so really this post is a review about better photography techniques for small, fast moving, furry creatures – at least that’s what I keep telling myself. The truth is, cats are often more photogenic than horses in a stall. There’s not much to a horse in a stall – they eat, they poop and sometimes they stick their heads out – more on that another time.

Bear’s (relatively) big head. There is no good angle for Bear. In the 10 years I’ve been photographing him, I still haven’t found it!

Cats, however, they play, they hunt, they don’t trample you when getting really close with a camera….so many more advantages! It doesn’t mean that you can just snap away and expect to come up with a good shot. And it doesn’t mean that every cat fits the bill. Take Claws (aka Bear) for example. He is the “it” cat. He’s at least 12 or 13 years old (ancient for a barn cat) and everyone does what he wants – he’s so cool, it’s hot. But he’s a horrible subject. He holds his head down all the time and it’s a little too large for his body so all his pictures come out looking kind of …. odd. (Sorry, Bear, you’re still my fave).

However, both Ally and Carson were cooperating with me on this day and they thought that hanging (literally) around was fun to do; allowing me to get under them to get these shots. Ally just sort of hung there on the fence doing her best impression of a kitchen towel drying….with fur. Carson found his tail and succeeded in catching in (well done, Carson!)

Ally doing her best dishrag impression

Carson’s tail is his fuzziest part so you may have to look closely to tell the difference between his paws and his tail.

The combination of their antics and the frequent pauses to look at something helped me get these shots. They are still kittens (almost 1 now) so they still move pretty fast. And unless you’re in full daytime sunlight or the equivalent indoors, getting the shot can be tricky. The shot taken indoors under fluorescent lights is not my finest moment but it would have been so cute. The shot outdoors is better as it allowed me to get Carson’s head in focus even if his paw descending rapidly on his sister’s head was too speedy for the twilight shot.

If I had gotten Simon’s head in focus it would be ok, but really, I had no idea he was so industrious in his cleaning. Maybe Carson really needed a bath?

Brotherly love

However, all good things come to an end and I just got this last action shot before the cats went off for their evening hunt.