Author Archives: Shelley Hrdlitschka

On becoming Mother-of-the-Bride

At any given time we can each describe ourselves with a number of different labels. In my life I was first called daughter, sister and niece. Then I became friend, student, girlfriend, fiancé, teacher, wife, aunt, mother, author. Now I can add one more, at least for a short time: mother-of-the-bride.

Danny and Dani’s engagement photo

Mother-of-the-bride. What is my role in my daughter’s wedding preparations? At one time a wedding was an event where the parents of the bride (and lesser so the groom) threw a party to invite their friends to celebrate in the marriage of their daughter.  Now brides and grooms have taken over the planning and the tendency is to throw themselves a celebration, possibly with some help from the parents. This change probably came about when couples began choosing to live together before marrying – often for years – so the wedding is more of a formality, a chance for the couple to declare their love and intention to remain together, always. They’ve already created a home and life together which is different than it once was. As the mother-of-the-bride I look forward to the parties, the planning, the preparation  (I surprised myself by embracing the wedding dress shopping!) but my role has certainly become more of a background player than it would have been in years gone by.

Although I love celebrating birthdays and book launches for my friends I have never been one to enjoy them for myself. I  feel uncomfortable when the focus is all on me. However, a Unitarian minister I respect once explained why he always celebrated his birthday – and all other occasions – in a big way. As he said, there is so much tragedy and sadness in the world that when there’s an occasion to celebrate, he likes to do so with a splash. It makes good sense.


So I’m looking forward to celebrating Dani and Danny as they make this important commitment to each other and become a new family. It’s  a wonderful reason to dress up, celebrate and dance the night away.

And then, in the morning, I’ll exchange the label mother-of-the-bride to mother-in-law and I’ll wear the label proudly.

Photo credits: Cara Lee Hrdlitschka

 

 

Flushing Away Our Forests: The Issue With Tissue

.

“Only when the last tree has died and the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realize we cannot eat money.”

–Cree Indian Proverb

So many of our shopping choices are ones we make by habit. We continue to buy the same products simply because they’re the ones we’ve always bought, or because they’re on sale. We don’t stop to consider whether we could be making better choices.

Take something as simple and common as toilet paper. Did you know the average American (and probably Canadian) uses almost three rolls of toilet paper per week? According to the Vancouver Sun (February 26, 2019) the majority of toilet paper (and tissue and paper towel) comes from virgin fibre pulp from Canada’s old boreal forests. This is to meet the demand of us consumers who want the softest, most absorbent tissue we can get. (A number of really cute commercials spring to mind.) These manufacturers do not use recycled materials or alternative fibres and this comes at the expense of our forests

There are, in fact, less well known tissue manufacturers that use recycled materials or sustainable bamboo and sugarcane instead of pulp from trees

Bamboo tissue (with sugarcane fibres) are 100% free of all wood fibre. They are biodegradable. And they are soft.

Trees are essential to our existence. They  provide oxygen and clean air for us to breathe and help moderate our climate.  When trees are re-planted it can take several decades  to reach full maturity. Bamboo, on the other hand, grows quickly and produces 35% more oxygen than trees. 

Switching to a different paper product is just one small change we can all make to ensure the survival of our forests.

Consistent, Persistent & Insistent

In the research I’ve been doing on trans youth, I’ve discovered that one of the ways professionals recognize a transgender child is if they have been consistent, persistent and (possibly) insistent on their cross-gender identification.

This list of rhyming words came back to me predawn this morning as I lay in bed dealing with my wide-awake cat. (Jim has dubbed her ‘Cat Annoyance’). She has a very sweet nature, is loving and affectionate, but not at appropriate times!

Too early every day she starts to head-butt, purr loudly and clamour all over me.

You slept all day yesterday,” I growl at her. “It’s my turn to sleep now .” I drop her to the floor, but she consistently, persistently and insistently jumps back up and starts the routine again. If I lock her out of my room she cries (yup, you guessed it ) consistently, persistently and insistently at the door.

It’s a good list of words, helpful for gender therapists and trans youth. It’s also very descriptive of my cat.

Has anyone found a solution to  silence an early-waking cat? (And no, please don’t suggest I get up earlier!)

 

A Disconnect: Pelts vs Pets

My newspaper is open on the table in front of me. On the left page is a story about  trappers  bemoaning the fact that there is a general decline in their target species, whether it be beaver, mink or bobcat. “The price for lynx pelt – about $70.00 – is “disappointing” considering the amount of work required to catch and process the animal,” the article says.

It continues. “Fur remains popular with increasingly affluent buyers from Russia and in China – the fur industry there is worth $22 billion – but the vagaries of fashion and waning economic growth in those nations have depressed prices for pelts for the past several years.”

On the facing page is a human interest story about a puppy whose face was severely damaged by corrosive acid thrown at him in his homeland of Iran. He was rescued and put up for adoption, hopefully “by someone in North America who could afford the care” and surgeries it required. A Vancouver woman did adopt him, she set up a GoFundMe page and raised over $7,000.00 to pay for the veternarian costs.

What is wrong with this picture? One animal is considered a ‘pet’ and thousands of dollars are spent to keep it alive. Another animal is seen as a pelt for someone to wear, so it is only valuable dead. There is a huge disconnect here.

I, of course, am on the side of the animal. Wearing pelts for fashion seems ridiculous in this day and age.  I saw a mink coat valued at $40,000 in a Vancouver store last weekend.  I wonder if the person who would buy such a coat might also be carrying a small dog under her arm.

Yes, a serious disconnect.

(Quotes were taken from the Vancouver Sun, January 28, 2019.

Fahrenheit 11-10 – Classic Michael Moore

Using shock tactics, brilliant editing and disturbing material, Michael Moore once again sheds light on some very alarming events happening south of the Canadian border. Although a lot of it may not be ‘new news’ to the viewer, the events are spun in a way that makes them seem even more frightening than ever. The opening scenes – which give background info on the last American election, as well as the scenes portraying the hideous contaminated water situation  in Flint, Michigan  – will stick with me for some time. Emma Gonzalez’s powerful speech at the anti-gun rally was another poignant moment in the film. My only complaint would be that there were so many different stories that the movie lost focus, and the way it was edited – sensationalizing certain events – made me feel somewhat manipulated.

I do appreciate and respect Michael Moore’s work. He puts himself out there, shedding light on some ugly truths in a way that will be accessible to so many.

I wonder what future generations will make of such a film? Of such events?

 

Look ma, no tailpipe!

It’s 2019 and I’ve turned over a ‘blue Leaf’.  Nissan Leaf that is. I’ve made the leap to electric. Zero emissions. The electricians are in the garage right now, installing the correct hardware (220 volts.)  The car salesperson assured me that the “range anxiety” new electric car owners experience would dissipate in just 24 hours. It will take some time to get used to plugging it in each day, but I won’t be watching  gas prices anymore. What will take the most getting used to is the larger sized body. My little red Smart car (Ladybug) was so easy to parallel park and maneuver in tight spaces. Suddenly I feel like I’m driving a mini van again. But it drives so smoothly, so quietly. So far I’m loving everything about it, especially the no emissions part.

I think I’ll name it ‘Dragonfly’ as they symbolizes change, transformation, and adaptability.

Fitting, no?

Favourite books of 2018

It was a good reading year. I read 37 books for personal pleasure, research, or for one of my 3 bookclubs. I ‘assessed’ (which mostly means ‘read’) another 137 books as a committee member for the Governor General Literary Award for Young People’s Literature.

There were a lot of excellent books, but, looking back, the most memorable books of the year for me are these seven books for young people and one novel for adults.

Young People:

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and her Monster by Jonathan Auxier. This is a stand-out book for readers of all ages and the winner of this year’s Governor General’s Literary Award for Young People. Sweep is the story of a girl and her monster.  These two outcasts carve out a life together – saving one another in the process.  A multi-layered masterpiece.

The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis. This story has huge heart, is funny and painful. Curtis is a master storyteller.

Ebb & Flow by Heather Smith. Told in free verse, this is a poignant story of healing for a troubled young boy and his eccentric Grandmother. Stunningly beautiful.

Dodger Boy by Sarah Ellis. This story of a Vancouver Quaker family in 1970 covers a vast number of themes from draft-dodging, coming of age, friendship and censorship. Ellis has a gentle hand and nothing comes across didactic or preachy. The conversations between the various characters are lovely and insightful. It’s a smart novel without being pretentious.

No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen. This story also has huge heart. It explores homelessness in Vancouver. Mom and Felix live in a van. Things go from bad to worse because of Mom’s behaviour. The story is funny and poignant. The pacing and writing are excellent.

Louisianna’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo. DiCamillo is truly a master of the genre. As with her other books, in this one she puts her young protagonist in a very difficult situation but the story is told sensitively with a light hand and humour.

Miles to Go by Beryl Young. This tender story is compulsively readable. Set in the ’40’s two prairie girls have very different lives but they cling to their friendship despite the obstacles. I was moved to tears by the loss one of the girls endured. Heartwarming.

Adult:

This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel. Witty and wise, this is a big-hearted novel about a family with a transgender child. Sensitively written and often funny.

 

Season of Symbols

I posted the following message years ago but I think it bears repeating…
I’ve never been much of a ‘Christmas’ person. There are just too many expectations at this time of year and most of these things I’m not good at. If I had my way, I’d ‘unplug the Christmas machine’ and create simple, family-centered traditions that wouldn’t include shopping malls or racing from one event to another. However, when it comes to Christmas, I don’t have my way.
 But….
A couple of years ago I came across a list of Seasonal Strategies written by Harold Rosen who was then the minister of the North Shore Unitarian Church. With this list, Harold invites us to “look behind the all-too-familiar things, and see the Larger Reality they represent.” I review this list at the start of each Christmas season and I’m now far more successful at keeping my “mental and spiritual health intact.”
I offer Harold’s list here, an early Yuletide gift for anyone who takes the time to read my blog.
May your ramp-up to Christmas be only as frantic as you wish it to be.
Season Of Symbols
Gifts – they are more than stuffed boxes covered with shiny paper and ribbons; they are tangible tokens of all those thoughtful things we wanted to ‘do’ for our loved ones and friends, all year long, but never got around to it.
Cards – the are more than donations to Hallmark and overtime pay for the postal service; they are humble hints of the much we’d like to say if only time, emotional strength and eloquence abounded.
Lights – they are more than electrical fire hazards and jobs for the handy-person in our midst; they conquer the darkness of season and soul with a glimpse of celestial spendour.
Carols – they are more than memory-markers and excuses for extra choir rehearsals; they are auditory proof that heaven is nigh, and that the layers of tradition can heal the layers of our pain.
Angels – they are more than plastic ornaments on trees… they are those whispers we hear just in time, saying “you have what it takes.’ ‘Good deeds can be fun.’ ‘Things pass, but Love abides’ and ‘all will turn out well, despite appearances.’
Happy Holidays!

A Fifteen Year Gestation Period (but worth the wait!)

Rainbow Reunion celebrates cultural diversity – within one family!

I wrote the story fifteen years ago. The basic idea was told to me by a very dear aunt who has grandchildren from  various cultural backgrounds. She was reflecting on how lovely it was that  each family had a different name for her, for ‘Grandmother’.

I took her story and combined it with a quote from a Unitarian minister: “The rainbow symbol celebrates the many distinctive colours of humanity, and the beauty of bridging cultural and faith barriers.”

(The rainbow has symbolized many things over time, the most recent being LGBT Pride. It is always a beautiful symbol no matter what it stands for.)

I threw in a child-like lifeguard (Levi), six culturally mixed families looking for their grandmother at the beach and, finally, the reunion with the creation of the rainbow crescent by the families  (each family is wearing  t-shirts depicting one colour of the rainbow). The family even adopts a new member, Levi, who is wearing violet – the final colour of the rainbow – to make it complete. The book ends with a glossary of grandmother names in other languages and the family tree of the characters in the story.

I sent this manuscript off to a contest that was looking for stories for children that celebrated cultural diversity within Canada.  To my utter amazement (I don’t usually write picture book stories) I won the contest and received a nice cash prize.

From there I began the oh-so-slow process of submitting my story to publishing houses. After a bunch of rejections I decided to take matters into my own hands. I contacted an artist acquaintance whose work I loved and asked if she’d be interested in illustrating my story. She agreed. This wonderful artist is Julie Fox.

Julie took my story to a whole new level with her illustrations. They far exceeded my expectations. Rainbow Reunion is now one of those picture books that is multi-layered. Each time a parent and child read it they will discover more of the rich details that represent the culture of the families depicted. These details are shown through sand-castles, beach toys and many beautiful details in the sand and sky. The colours are vibrant and warm at the same time.

This has been a labour of love, especially for Julie who, after completing the art began to  grapple with the layout, the format and so many other book-producing decisions.

Fifteen years. You can practically raise a child in that time, and I’m relieved that human pregnancies don’t last that long.  But as the award committee said, books like these “help young children everywhere” so I’m glad I persevered.

The book should be out in December. Please contact me for a signed copy.

 

Fear of heights? What the…?

Because I’d viewed this photo before we hiked up to the cliffs it never occurred to me that there’d be a problem. I knew what I was getting into. Our competent Irish guide, Gerry Greensmyth, led the way. It was Day One of our hiking adventure and we were on Achill Island on the west coast of Ireland. Spirits were high.

As we crested the ridge I caught a glimpse of the sheer drop-off down to the wild coast below. It hit without warning, a physical response, a dizzy light-headedness as all my blood seemed to rush to my  heart which just might have stopped beating for a moment. Next came a floating sensation and I hoped I wasn’t mid-faint. I think it was a panic attack, but I don’t know if that’s the correct label. All I knew then was that I absolutely could not stand there on that cliff-top with my friends to admire the view. I felt sure I would pass out and fall over, or worse, hurl myself over. Then, to further increase my anxiety, one of my dearest friends stepped oh-so-close to the edge to peer down. And it was a LONG way straight down. And did I mention that the wind was blowing hard? That really stirred up the strange physical sensations I was experiencing.

“C’mon, Shelley, come a little closer,” Gerry urged, wanting me to experience the full magnitude of the vista. After all, we had climbed this steep mountain for that very reason

I tried to cover up my embarrassing reaction by making light of the situation. “Did we sign any waivers before we took this hike?” It was supposed to be a joke, but my face likely conveyed my fear.

“Waivers are meaningless. C’mon, hold my hand,” he said and grabbed it without waiting for a response. He tugged me closer to the edge. That’s when I lost it.

“We don’t know anything about you!” I cried out, trying to put on the brakes. “For all I know you are a crazy man, luring naive tourists up here and then pushing them over the edge.” (Novelists have vivid imaginations.)

He may have experienced hysterical women before, I don’t know, but he remained calm and did manage to drag me close enough to the edge that the full beauty of the coastline unfolded before us. I am grateful for that. But as quickly as I could I took a mental photo and scrambled back to relative safety on the other side of the clifftop.

Admittedly, this was not the first time this has happened, so I should have been better prepared. It happened in the wind turbine on Grouse Mountain. When I stepped out of the elevator into  the observatory at the top, it hit me equally as hard and as unexpected.  I had to turn around and step directly back onto that elevator that returned me to the ground instead of walking around to enjoy the 360 degrees of  magnificent views.  Suspension bridges are another trigger. I won’t be crossing those anymore.

I didn’t have this fear of heights until fairly recently,  I don’t know where it came from but I would really like it to go away. Does anyone know any strategies?

Anchll Island photo credit: Gerry Greensmyth. http://www.walkingguideireland.com

Eye of the Wind Photo Credit: Grouse Mountain Resort