Friday, May 31, 2013

Camping in B.C. Part Two

Picking up where I left of in Camping in B.C. Part One,  the next stop is:

5. Otter Lake Provincial Park. 
From looking at this photo of myself in the long-departed red camping pants that never fit me after having babies, we must have camped here pre-children. It's about 45 minutes outside of Princeton, just past the little town of Tulameen. The things I remember most about this park were falling asleep to the magical but slightly eerie call of the loons on the lake every night, and the "creature". In the wee hours of the morning, we heard a creature of some sort galavanting through the campground. We heard the hooves on the pavement first, and then a very unsettling wild noise coming from the animal. I still don't know what it was, but I was imagining a dinosaur head on a moose's body from the sound of it. 

This is the public beach in the town of Tulameen.

And this is the rocky beach at the campground.

It was a lovely little spot, but we didn't feel any great inclination to return again in the near future.

6. Lac le Jeune.
Situated close to Kamloops, Lac le Jeune was a lush, beautiful park the first time we visited in 2004. By our next visit in 2006, the park was vastly changed from the mountain pine beetle infestation. The dense forestation was reduced to a sparse collection of surviving trees. All of the pine beetle damaged trees in the park were removed because they became falling hazards, and many healthy trees of other varieties were taken down too as well because they weren't strong enough to withstand strong winds without the pine trees standing around them. I would be curious to see if the forest has revitalized at all in the last seven years.

Here you can see all the brownish-red dead and dying pine trees.
Moonlight on Lac Le Jeune

7. Cultus Lake
Ironically, the two campsites that were closest to our home for the five years before our last move are the only ones that I have no photographs of. Cultus Lake is always a popular place for camping and day use in the summer. Be prepared for noise: power boats and large groups of happy people abound! The water is a bit dirty for my limited lake-swimming inclinations, both with bird excrement and feathers, and boat fuel. Also, you can see the copious volume of washed-off sunscreen floating around people in the water.

8. Chilliwack Lake
Chilliwack Lake, while colder and a bit more remote than Cultus Lake, is surrounded by much more scenic views and is generally less noisy than Cultus.

9. Rest in Peace, Nicolum River Provincial Park
One of our favourite all-time camping spots was Nicolum River Provincial Park. It is a great misfortune to camping enthusiasts that this campground has been "closed indefinitely" for the past several years. Located just outside of Hope, it is far enough away to feel as though you are really "away from it all" and close enough to drive there on the spur of the moment (which of course is a foreign concept once you have kids). There were only nine spaces in the park, all of which were non-reservable, so even if you aren't one to plan ahead three months in advance, you could still go camping.

Nicolum River Provincial Park

Nicolum River Provincial Park
We spent hours by the Nicolum River, just steps away from our tent, reading and talking. 
Finding balance
I used to read poetry on camping trips. Camping with kids is wonderful, but oh so different!
I can't find any reliable information as to why the park is closed, but I sure hope that the whisperings of selling this jewel to private developers isn't true. In any case, while the campground is closed, there are some very worthwhile places to visit in and around Hope.

The Othello Tunnels are one of the best kept secrets in B.C. I'm not particularly interested in trains, unless you count the obligatory interest in Thomas the Tank Engine of every mother of boys, but these former train tunnels are stunning. The tunnels cut through mountains of granite, and then the former tracks cross over 300ft gorges cut by the river below. The series of tunnels were built in 1914 by a Shakespeare aficionado, so all the junctions and stations were named after Shakespearean characters. On a bright, hot sunny days, the tunnels are so dark in the middle that you can scarcely see your hand in front of your face, and it's cool enough to wish for a sweater.

Othello Tunnels
Although my boys would probably love to see train tunnels, the combination of boys who like to climb and 300+ foot drops into a raging river make me morph into anxiety girl, the superhero who can jump to the worst conclusion in a single bound. We haven't been back since having kids.

If you time your summer visit just right, you can look down on the river and see fish fighting the current and wildly jumping out of the water. Again, I'm not terribly interested in fish per se, but I could have watched them for hours.

See the fish?

If you are looking for a perfect swimming hole on a drive through Hope, check out the Lake of the Woods, also a well-kept secret. The water is clear and relatively warm, and enjoyable even for those who normally don't enjoy swimming, especially in lakes (that would be me). There isn't a really nice beach area there, but there are some picnic benches.

Another stop worth making is the rest stop at the Hope Slide on the Crowsnest Highway. It is the site of the largest ever recorded landslide in Canada, which happened in 1965 after a couple of earthquakes in the area. The massive slide buried a lake and killed four people. Some of the boulders from the slide are the size of delivery trucks. The scope of this disaster is truly sobering when you see it in person.

Finally, in Hope, there are several places to explore the shores of the Fraser River. You might even find some gold that the prospectors left behind.

Another couple of points of interest:
If you drive to Osoyoos, be sure to take a peek at the Spotted Lake, just northwest of the city.

image from Wikipedia
And, if you are in the Whistler area, definitely take a rest stop at Brandywine Falls Provincial Park, located between Garibaldi and Whistler.

Brandywine Falls
So...what is your favourite campground in B.C.? Anything to add, positive or negative to the sites I've mentioned here? Recommendations? Favourite sights to see along the way?

Happy Camping!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Planting a Seed: Why I Marched Against Monsanto Today

My formal introduction to Monsanto began in 2009, when O was just one year old and we were living in Chilliwack. We lived a few blocks away from an elementary school, and often went there to play on the playground and pick the wild blackberries in the summer that grew along the fenced perimeter of the schoolyard. On one warm summer evening, July 30th to be exact, we were shocked and disappointed when we literally stumbled upon a sign indicating that the blackberries had been sprayed that day with Roundup, a herbicide. The sign was small, laying on the ground, and obviously not visible from all entry points onto the schoolyard. In the relatively short time period during which we were at the school, I stopped four kids and teens from eating the blackberries and pointed out the sign to  them. Each of them was equally shocked and, understandably, felt concerned about having ingested berries freshly sprayed with toxins.

Wikipedia commons
I quickly sent an email to the principal of the school, and to the Chair of the Chilliwack Board of Education about my concerns over the lack of adequate signage, and the use of a toxic herbicide on an Elementary school playground! To their credit, both were quick to respond with shared concerns over the incident, and the Chair indicated that he had intentions to investigate a ban on all herbicides on school grounds. He also indicated that Roundup had been used on the plants already that year in the Spring. My heart sank when I thought of all the sprayed berries I had been feeding my one year old.

In the past, we used Roundup in our own yard to deal with unwanted plants.  However, I have researched this product, and numerous studies point to troublesome effects of exposure to this herbicide on human and animal health, and on our environment.  Such effects on human health include severe eye and skin irritation, impaired lung function, and gastrointestinal problems.  Breakdown products of Roundup include formaldehyde, a known carcinogen.  Roundup has also been implicated in increased risk of miscarriage and premature births in pregnant women.  Here are a few links that can explain the health and environmental concerns:

Glyphosate Formulations Induce Apoptosis and Necrosis in Human Umbilical, Embryonic, and Placental Cells

New evidence of dangers of Roundup weedkiller

What's Wrong With Roundup?

If that information isn't disturbing enough, the public has been deliberately mislead about the safety of this product. Monsanto, the maker of Roundup, has been fined in the USA and in France for false claims about the safety of Roundup.

Monsanto is fined by the Attorney General of the State of New York for false claims regarding safety and environmental impact of Roundup

Monsanto is fined in France for deliberately misleading the public about the safety of Roundup

You may have heard Monsanto's name in reference to GMOs, Genetically Modified Organisms. The connection between Roundup and GMOs, other than the obvious fact that they are both produced by Monsanto, is that much of the GMOs produced by Monsanto are created specifically to withstand applications of Roundup to crops. For example, "Roundup Ready" canola is a genetically modified version of the canola seed that is resistant to applications of the herbicide. This way, farmers can spray their crops with Roundup, which will then kill all the weeds and leave the canola doused in herbicide, but alive and ready for harvest. Here are some of the concerns that I and millions of other consumers have:

1. We are consuming products that have been treated with a toxic herbicide.
2. We are consuming genetically modified food, the safety of which has never been proven. The burden of proof should be to prove that GMOs are safe, not to prove that they aren't safe.
3. We are dealing with a corporation with a documented history of dishonesty.
4. We are dealing with a corporation that is responsible for Roundup, Agent Orange, and Bovine Growth Hormone.
5. We are dealing with a corporation who, in some countries, owns the patents to living organisms, even to genes in the human body.
6. In Canada, we have no legal right to know whether the food we purchase is GMO or not.

There is much to be written on the subject of Monsanto, their absence of ethics, their quest to amass the patents to the very building blocks of food and even the genes in our own bodies, but this post is intended to plant a seed. If you haven't thought about these issues before, please do. I marched today to generate awareness, and discussion. I marched against Monsanto, and in recognition and lament of my own complicity in supporting them. The list of food companies that use Monsanto products is astoundingly long. I don't have all the answers, but I hope that as more people become aware of the questions and legitimate concerns, we can work together to secure a better, healthier future for our children, a future without Monsanto.

It is not radical to oppose the pursuit of profit when it deliberately jeopardizes our health and our very lives. It is not radical to fight for your children's right to health and a good future.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Training a Diplomat

Today, while T was napping, I was performing a masterful trifecta of multitasking: cuddling O, watching a movie that will probably embarrass him later on in life if I document it for all eternity here, doing some work on the computer, and thinking about how short life is. I suppose that is more than a trifecta, but what is the equivalent of trifecta when you have four items?

In any case, I paused the movie to chat with him a little bit. It was one of those moments in which I just felt overwhelmed at the gift of being a mother, which is always a welcome change from feeling overwhelmed by the noise and the requirement for patience of motherhood.

I talked with O about how much I love him, and then I touched his little nose and told him how cute it is. I tend to overcompensate with O on the nose compliments because I had a few people make comments to me when he was a newborn about the size of his nostrils. Maybe he just flared his nostrils a lot when he was a baby, because they are perfectly normal to me.

At a recent birthday party, I saw the guy who made the most blunt and rude comment about his nose, and the hair of the back of my neck bristled when I saw him. I forgave him in my mind though, especially since I know and everybody else in the entire world knows that O's nose is perfectly proportionate to his face. Also, he now has two kids of his own and chances are some equally unaware person has made as big of a gaffe in regards to one of his kids. My mom told me once about how she has always remembered how all the nurses in the hospital made a big deal about the size of my feet when I was a newborn in the hospital. One nurse called all the other nurses over to look at my freakishly large baby feet. My feet are now a respectable size 8, thank you very much, neonatal nurses. Clearly, the protective instinct a mother has for her offspring extends to matters of personal appearance. In case nobody has mentioned it to you before, commenting on somebody's new baby, especially in light of the work and pain that is involved in pregnancy and childbirth, should include nothing but compliments and diplomacy. Anything else is license for Mother Bear to emerge from even the most demure of women.

O touched his nose and then said: "Everyone's nose is the same. Except some people have different coloured noses if their skin is a different colour." We then spoke about how neat it is that God made people with all different colours of skin. We talked about families whose members have different colours of skin. I then showed him that even he and I have slightly different coloured skin. He smushed our arms together and said "No, Mom. See, we are the same colour. Your skin is just really old. Because you're so grown up. When you were a little girl, your skin was beige, but now it's just so old." At that point he looked up and saw the look on my face. "I mean, you're just really big."

I think we'll have to work on compliments and diplomacy a wee bit more.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Oh, British Columbia.

The other evening, I hosted a book club at my house. There are ten of us in the book club, and we were all supposed to brainstorm ideas in the preceding weeks as to which book to read, and then decide together when we got there. To my surprise, several of my friends had "totally forgotten" about our plans when I called the day before. I offered to give them rides, arrange babysitting, or help them figure out work schedule changes so that they could come. I asked them to email me their choice for the next book if they couldn't be there that night, so that we could take their opinion into consideration. In the end, there were only four of us at my house that evening. Some of those who didn't show up offered their apologies.

Sorry, I'm just so tired today. 
I can't be bothered to figure out where your house is. 
There are too many books out there and none of them are true anyway. 
I'm sure you'll pick a good book anyways. 
My opinion doesn't really matter. 
It won't affect my life.

Those of us who showed up had thought about our choices. One friend was still deliberating up to the last minute, but made a choice right before we met. The four of us debated amongst ourselves and finally agreed on a biography of a tyrannical historical figure. It's a beast of a book, the kind of book that looks like it will take four years to slug through. I was unhappy with the choice, but at least I had raised my opinion and it had been considered.
The next day, the six friends who had not shown up to our meeting were notified of our choice. Two of them were so disillusioned that they promptly announced they were leaving our group. Apparently the choice didn't suit their values or priorities. If only they had communicated that when we were choosing. One friend actually said "Oh, was that meeting last night? I guess I missed it!" The other three stayed in the group, but complained about the choice that we made endlessly. The ironic thing is that they probably would have agreed with my book selection, or perhaps even a better selection. Pity they didn't show up or take the opportunity to send in their advance selection.

If you haven't guessed already, this is just an allegory. What are the chances that ten mommy friends would have time for a book club anyways? My friends are much nicer and more considerate than those make-believe friends too.

Our province, beautiful British Columbia, held a provincial election last night. We decided, not upon a book selection, but who will govern our province for the next four years. Guess what voter turnout was?

Fifty-two percent! 

Absolutely shameful. I'm bitterly disappointed with the outcome of the election. I'm exponentially more disappointed by voter apathy. Here is just a snapshot some things to consider when you think your right to vote doesn't matter. The following quotes are all taken from the Elections Canada website (

From 1867-1885, the following groups of people were not allowed to vote in British Columbia:

"Any person of Indian origin.
Any immigrant of Chinese origin.
Any person holding one of the following positions:
-employee of the customs department
-employee of the federal government responsible for collecting excise duties
-judge of the Supreme Court or a county court
-stipendiary magistrate
-police constable or police officer
Any employee of the federal government paid an annual salary (except postal employees).
Any employee of the provincial government paid an annual salary.
Any teacher paid by the government of the province.
Any person previously found guilty of treason, serious crimes or other offences, unless he had been pardoned or served his sentence."

"In 1920, only one province – British Columbia – discriminated against large numbers of potential voters on the basis of race. British Columbia excluded people of Japanese and Chinese origin, as well as "Hindus" – a description applied to anyone from the Indian subcontinent who was not of Anglo-Saxon origin, regardless of whether their religious affiliation was Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or any other."

"British Columbia had a long history of such discrimination: when it entered Confederation, 61.7 percent of the province's population was of First Nations or Chinese origin, while people of British origin accounted for 29.6 percent of residents. Under successive provincial governments, measures excluding First Nations people and people of Asian ancestry from the franchise were extended as immigration increased toward the end of the nineteenth century."

"Denial of the franchise had far-reaching implications, because provincial law also required that pharmacists, lawyers, and provincial and municipal civil servants be registered on the voters lists. As a result, Canadians of Japanese and Chinese origin were barred from these professions and from contracting with local governments, which had the same requirement."

"Several religious groups were disenfranchised by the War-time Elections Act of 1917, mainly because they opposed military service. Most prominent among them were the Mennonites and the Doukhobors. This disenfranchisement ended with the end of the First World War, but the treatment later accorded the two groups in the development of the franchise varied enormously."

"First Nations people in most parts of Canada had the right to vote from Confederation on – but only if they gave up their status through a process defined in the Indian Act and known as "enfranchisement." Quite understandably, very few were willing to do this."

"By 1960, when all Status Indians were finally granted the unconditional right to vote, disqualifications on racial and religious grounds had been eliminated altogether. At the same time, legislative and administrative change was making it possible for more and more Canadians to exercise their right to vote in various ways."
From The Native Voice, July 1949.
Link to original source

Women in British Columbia only won the right to vote in April, 1917. The above quotes don't even address the more complicated land-owning requirements that were in place in various forms during our elections history. Can you imagine if only land-owners in Vancouver were eligible to vote?

link to source
Perhaps for the next election, we should change electoral law to only allow a small group of people to vote, based on a ridiculous set of criteria. Only people who have green eyes, or live in purple houses, or hail from towns of less than 2,000 people would be allowed to vote. Perhaps, at the following vote, people would understand that their opportunity to vote is a sacred responsibility, a road to equality in the electoral process paved by the toil of countless people before us.

On any given election day, there is a small percentage of people who will have a valid reason, in my opinion, not to vote. Perhaps you or somebody in your family dies or has a medical emergency, or...actually, I can't think of any other reason. Get informed, make a decision, and vote! Engage your friends, neighbours, and family in the issues and let your voice be heard. I guess I should have written this yesterday, but I mistakenly had faith that after twelve years of disregard for the environment, ethnic groups, and public services, the voting population was as eager as I was to make their voices count.

A democracy (or, technically, a constitutional monarchy) is a terrible thing to waste. Your vote is a terribly powerful thing to waste, much more so than a book club book selection.

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Tulip Girl

Four and a half is special. It's full of spunk, sensitivity, sweetness, and imagination. Sometimes, I worry about five, about kindergarten changing my firstborn. Then I remember that praying does wonders compared to worrying. Worrying is such a waste of time, but when you are a parent, trying not to worry is kind of like trying not to blink your eyes. Ever.

A couple of days ago, the boys and I were walking around downtown (downtown of our suburb, not Vancouver proper) and O spotted a girl about his age standing by the tulips in the town square. Her mom was on her cell phone, pushing a stroller, and so O sidled up next to her and said "Hi! Would you like to be my new friend?" I wasn't surprised because that is what he says to most new kids he meets, even though we've told him that he can just say hi and start playing. As cute as it is to hear him say that, I've seen him be rejected or ignored with the ensuing tears too many times. I figure it's better not to give the other kid the opportunity to say "No, I don't want to be your friend"!

I wanted to keep walking to get home for lunch before T had a hunger meltdown, so I called O to come along. He scooted back over to my side with a pout and said, barely audible, "But I love her." I stopped walking because I thought surely I must have misheard him. When I asked him what he had said, he looked up at me and said "But I fell in love with her, Mommy." It was very matter of fact, and he looked back at the little girl, who was starting to catch up to us on the sidewalk with her entourage. It was all I could do not to laugh, and I pulled our stroller out of the way and let them pass. I might have had a very disappointed, lovelorn little four and a half year old on my hands, but luckily we then heard a familiar voice call out "Hey, there's my family!" It was the boy I fell in love with and married; my husband just happened to be walking down the sidewalk with a group of students from his youth group. It was perfect timing to mend O's little heart and he was silly and happy again.

One day though, I hope he falls in love for real, and has that love returned, albeit hopefully not as quickly as with tulip girl! Is it wrong that I made him promise to call me every day? I'd even settle for once a week. Today, out of the blue, O said to his brother "T, when you grow up and live with your new family, can I come and visit you?" Even though I'm pretty sure T had no idea what O was saying, he had an uncharacteristically serious look on his face when he said yes. Hooray for establishing lifelong family ties. Or maybe passing anxiety about the future onto my kids? I missed that section in the parenting manual.

We couldn't resist this abandoned lot full of "blowing flowers." I'm sure the neighbours loved us for releasing trillions of dandelion seeds into their yards. Hmm...I think we'll take a different route home for the next few days until they forget our faces!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Camping in B.C., Part I

In the past week, we've tasted the first delicious offerings of summer. I know that summer is yet another month and a bit away, but in Vancouver, the first truly warm day of the year is like an appetizer for what is surely to come: the sumptuous main course that is summer in Vancouver. I finally trudged my box of shorts and capris that had been sitting in a corner in my bedroom for the past number of months into the crawlspace only about six weeks ago, thinking that summer was still a ways off, and I didn't even begrudge crawling in there again to retrieve them last week.

This warm spell has me anticipating our annual camping trip. As great as the Vancouver area is in the summer, there is a whole beautiful province to explore. Our pick this year is Bear Creek Provincial Park just outside of Kelowna. We somehow lucked out getting a spot there. My husband and I were both on our computers at 6:50 a.m. and counting down the seconds until the reservation system opened online. Within five seconds, all the spots were taken. We've never been to this campground before, but it comes highly recommended from friends who have. I like the fact that there doesn't seem to be a day-use parking lot, so I'm hoping that the beach area will be less busy than parks that also accommodate non-campers. Sure, I teach my kids to share, but...I don't like to share my campground.

If you are looking to go camping this year because like us, you can't afford a "real" vacation you love the great outdoors, here are some of the places in B.C. that we have camped in recent years. We camp almost exclusively at the provincial parks because we're exclusive like that. Actually, we tried private campgrounds a couple of times, once in Oliver, and once in Osoyoos, and were astonished at the small footprint of space on a grass field that was supposed to be our camping spot. In my humble opinion, provincial campgrounds provide much more value for your vacation dollar, even though we campers all  reminisce about the days when $6 per night fees and free firewood were the norm. Most campgrounds now range between $15 to $30 a night. Bring your own firewood if you don't have a mini-van packed full of essential kid-equipment, or be prepared to pay for wood.

1. Kettle River Provincial Park
This is definitely one of our top picks. The scent of Ponderosa pine trees, the sound of the river while you are drifting off to sleep, and the occasional deer ambling through the park are some of my favourite highlights. Nestled in the town of Rock Creek, it is about a half-hour drive east of Osoyoos. I just about cried for joy when I discovered the newly built shower building last year, as it was the only thing really lacking here.

The best part about this campground is, of course, the river. Before we had kids, we would spend hours floating down the river together on air mattresses. The river curves around the campground so that there is only about a ten minute walk on either side of float down the river. In past years, the river was very calm and it took about two or three hours to float down. Last year, the river was so high and fast that it took only about twenty minutes! It was too dangerous to let the kids float down, which is part of the reason why we chose a different campground this year without a rushing river!
The trees kind of make me hungry. They always remind me of giant, cinnamon and brown sugar crusted breadsticks.

One of the old train bridges that is now part of the Kettle River bike trail.

These things remind me of the Muppets for some reason.
View from the train bridge.

2. Monck Provincial Park
About 22 km North of Merritt, Monck Provincial Park was the other stop on our camping trip last summer. Some highlights were the Forestry services helicopter landing and visit from Smokey the Bear, and the oodles of Eagles and Osprey in the trees. The campground is set on the shore of Nicola Lake, which was nice enough for swimming and such if you are interested in such things. It had an older, but decent playground for kids.

3. E.C. Manning Provincial Park, Lightning Lakes
My numerous camping stays at Lighting Lakes in Manning Park have been feasts of natural beauty for the senses. It gets very cold here, even in the middle of summer, but the spectacular scenery is worth the sacrifice of summer heat. 

What do you call baby loons? Cute.

Woody Woodpecker

Across the highway from the campground is a winding road up to an amazing alpine hike and breathtaking lookout points.

4. Haynes Point
As the only provincial park campground in the summer playground of Osoyoos, Haynes Point is probably one of the most coveted campgrounds in BC. It takes some serious mouse-clicking skill or good luck to get a reservation here. We have only been lucky enough to stay here once, although, come to think of it, we only tried once. I guess we just have good luck! The thing that I remember most about this place was that we spent over two hours stringing up tarps for shade, and setting up our new tent-gazebo-thing over the picnic table, and about five minutes cutting the tarps down that night in the middle of a wild wind storm. The tarp would fly higher than the tree tops and then come crashing down on top of the tent. I remember waking up a few times having to push the tent up off of our faces because it was bending so hard from the wind. The next day was sweltering hot without the shade of our downed tarps by ten in the morning.

The wild wind can probably be attributed to the fact that the campground is a small peninsula jutting out right into the middle of the lake. The biggest draw for this campground is just the fact that it is in Osoyoos, which has some fun amenities,'s Wine country. I actually don't even like wine, but that sounded kind of grown-up, like something they would say on a travel segment on the news, right?

One of the only shots from our stay there. I was afraid the wind would blow the camera away, I suppose.

This lookout over Osoyoos wows me every time. I think Haynes Point is just to the left of hubby's shoulders.

Stay tuned for part two of my camping reviews! You might just give up being this person:

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