Sunday, July 31, 2016

W is for Wasted by Sue Grafton

Many moons ago, Sue Grafton started her Kinsey Millhone private investigator mystery series with A is for Alibi. Since then, she's continued producing books, one for each letter of the alphabet. Kinsey Millhone now has a long and chequered history.

Long ago, I read one or two. Though I usually burn though the opus of an author I like, for some reason, I didn't continue to follow Grafton's introverted PI from central California. I stepped back into Kinsey's life at T, then breezed through U, V and W.

Grafton published this novel in 2013. Now nearing 40, Kinsey is at the centre of a well-developed and eminently believable cast of characters. Unattached and living alone, she's recently learned that she is not the orphan she'd always thought she was.

When a homeless man dies and leaves her a fortune in his will, Kinsey discovers heretofore unknown relatives, distant and eccentric though they may be. She then proceeds to get a bit too involved in the problems of Terrence Dace's boon companions, also homeless.

Her all-too-human willingness to investigate the mysterious shooting death of a shady PI brings her up against an unethical  doctor. He uses homeless people for drug trials, and has a powerful vested interest in making his experimental results look good. This aspect of the story is well-researched, and feels a bit too real for comfort.

The reader can't help but love Kinsey's elderly landlord Henry, who is also her neighbour. A retired commercial baker, he plies his tenant with delicious baked goods and regularly feeds her his homemade soup. After all, as Kinsey says, "What's fifty years between friends?" William, Henry's brother, likes to attend funerals, a skill that proves useful in this novel. His wife Rosie is an oddball too, the Hungarian chef at Kinsey's neighbourhood tavern.

Each book features new and different minor characters that cast light on the intriguing Kinsey Millhone. I love Grafton's her of language and colourful turns of phrase. In a fight scene, Felix operates "on autopilot, converting adrenalin into action." Kinsey returns to her apartment to see "a plank of October sunshine" lying on her floor, and finds an ex-boyfriend who finds life "a slide show," and is "happy with the change of scene."

When she visits the landlady of the dead PI, Kinsey waits in vain for the woman to open a window. She doesn't, and Kinsey quips "I guess she didn't want to dilute the effect of all the secondhand smoke." Later, she reports how the same woman "reached out and removed the cash from his hand as daintily as a feral cat."

The "two dead guys" have to be buried, but when William says he's more than happy to make the arrangements, Kinsey retreats to her studio, "undone by the sudden prospect of tandem funerals."

Grafton's mastery of the first person narrator's voice invites us into Kinsey's thoughts and remind us of our own weaknesses. I smiled indulgently when I read the riff on the attachment of pack rats to the objects they find "irresistable," and cringed with a faint whiff of recognition at Kinsey's bald statement, "I hung up, which left her in the lame-ass position of not having my contact number so she couldn't call back and cancel."

Sue Grafton's description of the setting is nearly as good as the unerring choice of the most telling detail. Wondering if Kinsey's hometown of Santa Teresa is a real place? The answer is yes and no. However, Robert Parker, Ms. Millhone's favourite detective novelist, is completely real.

Respectfully submitted, Carol Tulpar

Saturday, July 30, 2016

It's the very beginning of the Trans-Canada. The world's longest national highway, this ribbon of blacktop covers 7821 km before ending in St. John's, Newfoundland.

In Kootenay National Park, it crosses the east-west continental divide. East of there, the rivers flow to the Atlantic.

Astonishingly, the halfway point lies near Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. In fact, St. John's is closer to London, England than to Victoria, BC.

There's symbolism at work here. In order to initiate the next journey, it is necessary to return to the beginning. Mile 0, with the next trip still ahead. It's a good place to be in life.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Stawamus Chief -- a mecca for rock climbers

Called the Chief by locals, it's a sheer granite rock rock that faces the highway near Squamish.

Though the front fact is a challenge even for rock climbers, there's an easy way up the back. If you call a steep trail with lots of stairs and rope pulls easy, that is.

Now, a Gondola allows less physically active visitors to enjoy the spectacular view of Howe Sound and the surrounding mountains without having to climb the steep trail.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Shannon Falls is a magical place

The falls itself is spectacular, and the short forested walk to the viewpoint is full of odd trees like these that grow from a nurse stump.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Queen's Feet want to be footloose

Riding the Spadina Streetcar in Toronto during the book summit, a writer friend Margo, my room mate for the conference, met children's author Sarah Ellis. When she told me Ellis had written a book called The Queen's Feet, I had to see it. Turns out the trouble Queen Daisy has with her feet is not physical discomfort. The conflict arises when they refuse to behave in "a royal way." A delightful read.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Eat that sock!

We have a new washer. It cleans the clothes well, but my favourite feature is the little door in front.

If you find another garment you want to add to your load, no worries. You can put the machine on pause, then open the special adding door, and put in that sock whose mate you know is already in there.

Close it up tight, then press the button and the interrupted cycle continues, complete with the second sock. Wonderful.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Summer evening views from Surrey City Hall plaza

The plaza flanking City Hall and offers pleasing views: the Skytrain station, the salmon stairs and an alluring peek through the window of Surrey City Centre library.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

A bend in the river near Hope

One of BC's great salmon rivers, the Fraser turns west at Hope. The bend that's visible in the center of the picture represents a major change in the flow. Downstream from this near forty-five degree angle bend, the river slows and widens as it flanks the fertile farmlands of the wide Fraser Valley. The narrow Hell's Gate canyon lies just upstream.

Friday, July 22, 2016

The astonishing versatility of bamboo

Look closely -- this is not a rocker, but a two-wheeled sedan chair. It's made of all bamboo, down to the wheels and the sunshade that can be pulled over the passenger.

In the same photo, we see baskets and fans. The shop, Coolite Bamboo Products, also carries a variety of bamboo screens that can be used indoors or out. Then there are hats, tables, chairs and blinds. And socks, of course. Bamboo socks are cool and comfortable.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Life-changing magic of tidying up by Marie Kondo

Image from Amazon

Marie Kondo vows that tidying up is more than it seems. Putting your house in order means discovering yourself, facing your issues, and making space for your happy soul to emerge.

For the doubters, she offers the hope that "even those who are lazy, extremely busy, "messy by nature," or "descended from generations of slobs" can learn to be tidy -- if they follow her rules.

It makes sense, even if her rigid storage methods are a bit extreme. Some might balk at her criticism of sock folding, or her insistence on hanging clothing by category in the closet to "rise to the right." However, this does not detract from the main message.

The order of cleaning up is important too, explains Kondo. Easy sorting tasks are done first: clothing, then books, papers, miscellany, and finally, things with sentimental value.

For me, the gem from this book is the idea of identifying possessions "that have fulfilled their purpose, expressing your gratitude, and bidding them farewell." During this rite of passage to a new life, says Kondo, we use our "intuitive sense of attraction" to handle our possessions one by one, and let go of things that no longer give us joy.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Wendel's Books in Fort Langley serves coffee and tasty food

Since the second annual Indie bookstore day, which I spent at Audrey's in Edmonton, I've visited a few more. Toronto is home to Ben McNally Books and Type Books (on Queen). Here is our very own Wendel's in Fort Langley, long a regular haunt of mine. Wendel's is across the street from the old Fort Langley train station, a stone's throw from the river, and mere blocks from the historic Hudson's Bay Fort. At Wendel's you can sit inside or out to read and enjoy your coffee or lunch. They also have toys for little people to play with while the adults browse the shelves.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Monday, July 18, 2016

Union Pearson UP express train passes pyramid on its route

That's a lovely symmetrical pyramid. At a quick glance, you'd be forgiven for thinking yourself in Egypt instead of Toronto.

On the other hand, upon looking more closely, the bilingual messages on train door are dead giveaways.

The UP Express ferries passengers between Union Station and Pearson Airport in under half an hour. The cost is reasonable, and the train makes stops at Weston and Bloor.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Goodnight Toronto, with your tall iced cinnamon bun building

Goodnight Toronto. I don't know what this building is called, but it looks a bit like a very tall cinnamon roll.

At night the white frosting of lights seems to be melting down the sides, like the glaze on a freshly baked bun.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Great Indian rhino at Toronto Zoo

The great Indian rhinoceros kept a determined back to me, but I was still able to see his pavilion and his tough but baggy-looking hide.

These creatures are enormous. Their babies can be born weighing up to 70 kilograms, and adult males are up to 2220 kg. However, the white rhinoceros is even bigger. In the animal kingdom, only elephants outflank them in size.

Friday, July 15, 2016

How big are elephant tusks?

My tiny toes tell the tale.

Those elephant tusks are a whole lot bigger than the human foot.

They're on display at Toronto Zoo.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Cheetah resembles a house cat -- nice kitty!

This kitty cat at the Toronto Zoo reminded me so much of a beloved feline pet we lost last spring. Our housecat, Professor Plum, was a lot smaller, and grey tabby rather than spotted. But the similarity in appearance and behaviour of big cats and small ones always amazes me.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Zoo macaques benefit from geo-thermal heating

Native to southern India, the macaques at Toronto zoo don't enjoy Canadian winters. Fortunately, the solution is both efficient and green. Heating and cooling are accomplished using thermal heating pumps that tap into the earth's natural energy. What little electricity is needed comes from wind and water, making this exhibit carbon neutral.

Monday, July 11, 2016

For an aardvark, a termite mound is an all-inclusive vacation destination


The aardvark in the picture is faux, and so is the termite mound. But the images convey an idea of how this animal lives. For a night out, it may choose occupy a termite mound - a temporary shelter with plenty of food.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Ostrich strides proudly through Toronto Zoo

The ostrich is the largest bird on earth. The male can reach up to 2.8 metres tall and the female can grow to 2 metres.

This bird is a member of Struthio camelis, and is native to southern Africa. They live on the savannah, and although they eat occasional invertebrates, these ostriches feed mostly on leaves, gourds and fallen fruit.

With eyelids the size of tennis balls, they have excellent vision, and can run at speeds up to 80 kmh. Like other ratites, including the emu, the kiwi and the cassowary, this bird is flightless.

Males have harems of three to five hens, and defend their territories.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Almost like being there?

The Toronto zoo is home to many African animals. The replica of a safari cabin, Kesho Park Headquarters is made to create the feeling of a real African experience.

The chance to stay in a safari camp and hear the nocturnal animal calls helps sustain the illusion, as do the traditional structures.


Friday, July 8, 2016

Hippo keeps nose to the ground -- literally

Feeling the heat, the hippo at the Toronto zoo rested unmoving, nose on the earth. For a confused moment, I thought I was looking at a plastic model. Only when he twitched his skin was I certain that he was real. The sign on his enclosure is in English and Swahili, promoting the illusion that one really is in Africa.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Toronto Zoo gorillas long on lifespan and artistic talent

Gorillas live about 30 years in the wild.

Josephine was born in Gabon in 1971, which means she's  45. The zoo reports that in spite of being mistaken for a silverback due to her gray hair, Granny Jo is the least aggressive of her troop. Unable to produce enough milk, she had to have her children bottle-fed.

Charles, who also hails from West Africa, is a a gentle giant who is nevertheless prepared to give his life for the group should the need arise.

A year younger than Josephine, Charles has fathered 15 children. He also found time to express himself through abstract expressionist paintings. In 1995, his artistic fame spread worldwide and generated $40,000 to help finance a new habitat for his troop.

The Toronto Zoo is active in protecting habitat for the critically endangered Western Lowland Gorillas. To this end, it encourages cell phone recycling, since coltan mining is a major threat to gorilla habitat. As well as donating money to protect gorillas in their natural habitat, the zoo supports Mbeli Bai, a gorilla research program in the Congo.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Yaks play dog in the manger

If I can't get out, you lot can't come in. That seemed to be the idea of the yak who stood in the gate, blocking the passage of the Zoomobile at Toronto Zoo. His pal just stood there dumbly, passive and depressed. I'll never get out of here

Monday, July 4, 2016

Indie bookstore Type in Toronto

The window of this wonderful Queen Street bookstore overlooks an overgrown back garden flanking venerable houses. Oddities for sale include a cup with the legend "The Age of Asparagus." Those who don't get the reference can hear the song here.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Ben McNally Books

Indie bookstores are gold. Have a moment for relaxed book browsing in the middle of downtown Toronto? Who could resist this reading chair in Ben McNally Books? My recent acquisition from there was The House of Two Wives, by White Rock playwright and novelist Simon Choa-Johnston. I'd just had a delightful conversation with the author and learned that the story was inspired by his family history.