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finding balance

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, July/August 2014

When life at home is overwhelming, find relief in all those global disasters.

Living in the global village means that your life ebbs and flows with the currents of the world, what with issues and developments everywhere continually unfolding and demanding tweaks in your own perspective, priorities and—inevitably—lifestyle. Last year’s tragic collapse of a garment factory in Bangladesh, for example, highlighted the need to reconsider the real cost of throw-away-cheap clothing. The smog over China—fuelled by our own natural resources—is now drifting back to mock our short-sighted greed and doltishness. Petition requests for every cause from dying bees to dying democracies fly out of our electronic devices whenever we dare to open them. It never ends.

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, June 2014

The garden is a pathway to a safer, better world.

Out in the garden I work the soil, divide perennials, pull weeds, spread compost, and let nature wash away the aches and scrapes that tag along with life and sometimes threaten to eclipse it. I’m fortunate to have a garden, a place where I can reconvene with calmness and well-being on days that threaten to bowl me over. I go unplugged, leaving behind the phone and all electronic devices. I am a child again, on my hands and knees peering into the heart of a frilly tulip, inhaling its extraordinary, citrus-tinged elixir. 

I know all winter that the spring bulbs are coming and yet their arrival is always a surprise, their colours against the backdrop of a garden just stirring out of hibernation always more intense than I remember. 

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, May 2014

Searching for a sensible solution to kitchen scraps—in our own backyard.

When Saanich’s new garbage truck trundled onto our street last week the neighbourhood was ready. We’d all stationed our new square “carts”like butlers along the curb, the larger grey ones full of garbage and the smaller green ones proffering a smorgasbord of kitchen and garden organics. 

The truck sidled up to the first grey cart and extended a huge orange arm that enveloped it in a bear hug and hoisted it high overhead. Dangling there, its unlatched lid yawned open and garbage spewed into the truck’s maw. The lid smacked shut again when the cart was set back down. 

“How long do you think the pails will last?” asked one skeptic to no one in particular. I silently wondered what people might start putting in them now that hands-on surveillance has been removed from the process. 

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, April 2014

Wood pellets are the latest resource BC is shipping west.

The air outside my window is cool and pristine but at the moment I’m struggling to breathe, thanks to a nasty, stubborn cold. Laboured breathing is a bad feeling but for me the ordeal is almost over. Not so for the millions of people living in Beijing and northern China who, for the seventh day in a row, are caught under a dome of smog so thick and toxic that the World Health Organization has declared it extremely hazardous to human health.

Don’t let my use of the word “dome” keep you from thinking big: The poisonous cloud covers a landmass larger than that of British Columbia and the Yukon combined. And that’s not the extent of China’s air quality crisis. More than a thousand kilometres to the south, pollution is also stifling the massive port city of Shanghai, home to another 14 million people.

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, March 2014

Gone: our freedom to live anonomously.

A few mornings ago I was rushing myself out the door while trying to decide if I needed a warmer jacket. “How cold is it outside?” I called out to my guy while rifling through the hall closet. He, being a hobby meteorologist, relishes any weather-related question. Out of the blue he’ll share that the roads are icy in New Brunswick or record heat is shrivelling Cairo or the temperature in downtown Victoria is three degrees warmer than at the airport. 

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, December 2013

Christmas can bring out the best in us.

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, November 2013

Is the government losing sight of “us” in its rush to exploit resources?

If my mother lived in this province I don’t think Christy Clark would like her much. She contributes so little to the economy that if every British Columbian was like her it would be hard to justify all the frenetic growth the government has planned for the next four years.

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, October 2013

A crucial link in the food security chain.

Today we picked about 50 pounds of pears from a tree that received hardly a drop of water over the dry summer. After trundling the boxes into our cold-storage room I had to stop for a minute and marvel at the bounty of our smallish, non descript backyard garden. What happens here every year is a miracle, really. Despite the dry summer, the apple trees have produced enough fruit to supply us with applesauce for a year, and the blackberry and raspberry bushes near the fence have provided a good stash of fruit for the freezer. (I should make clear that owning a blackberry bush is like owning a bronco—you have to keep a very tight rein. I allow just a single vine to run along the fence and keep everything else severely curbed. Every year my ruthlessness is rewarded with several litres of mouth-watering berries.)

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, September 2013

We have more holistic ways to measure our wellbeing than the GDP. Let’s use them.

In July I surmised on this page that the Gross National Product (GNP) is a clumsy tool for determining our wellbeing since it only keeps track of our economic activity and assumes that all growth is good. As the economy gets bigger, life gets better, goes the logic. Never mind that the GNP is currently being bolstered by the forensics, funerals, rebuilding, environmental clean-up and psychological support happening in Lac Mégantic, site of the horrific train derailment this past summer. You can see the limitation.

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, July/August 2013

Our standard measurement of economic success is at odds with most things we truly cherish.

Ah, the wily gross national product, the statistic that has government and commerce cheering each time it moves brightly upward like the fundraising barometers often seen around town. That’s the sign of a robust economy, and when the economy is healthy, so are we all, right?

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, June 2013

Most of us are lucky enough to be able to choose our health destiny.

A few months ago the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation released an ad that’s both jarring and profound. On a split screen the video streams two very different scenarios for life in the senior years—one from the vantage point of robust health and the other from the chronic sickbed. “What will your last ten years look like?” asks the narrator as the actor laces up his runners in the left screen but struggles his foot into a slipper on the right. “Will you grow old with vitality or get old with disease?” Wheels roll across the screen, those of the actor’s bicycle on the left and his wheelchair on the right. Dinner on the left happens at table with family over a glass of wine; on the right the actor is in his hospital bed, unable to lift a styrofoam cup without help.

“It’s time to decide,” the narrator says grimly.

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, May 2013

Keeping the bullies out of your garden helps protect local parks too.

After a few years of procrastination we’ve finally tackled a dreaded job in the garden, that of digging a deep trench and installing a root barrier between our vegetable patch and a neighbour’s cedar hedge. We knew the hedge was siphoning food and water away from anaemic vegetable plants and stunted strawberries—we just didn’t know to what extent. What a creepy surprise to find the invading roots everywhere, a vast and tenacious network of tentacles lurking just below the food crop.

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, April 2013

Tell us how society—not business and government—will benefit from smart meters.

One of these days, I suppose, the BC Hydro folks will send someone to our door to inquire why we’ve been so contrary with respect to the “smart meter.” They might be surprised to see that we don’t wear the metaphorical tinfoil hats that some critics, both local and away, have used to berate anyone who’s been hesitant about Hydro’s behemoth meter replacement project.

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, March 2013

If you wait long enough, your pink bathroom fixtures will be back in vogue.

How do you know that you’ve waited too long to strip your bathroom of the pink and grey colour scheme that was so popular here in the late 1980s? By flipping through the pages of a current décor magazine and discovering that the hot new colours for 2013 are…purple and grey as well as “fifty shades of pink.”

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, February 2013

Life is richest and happiest when shared, complexity and messiness not withstanding.

When the moving truck—or in this case, the decommissioned handyDART—rolled out of our driveway yesterday with two daughters and all their worldly possessions on board, emotions went off in my head like fireworks. 

First: The Girls. There they go again, the eldest with plenty of independence under her belt and the youngest who first left home last summer. I’m lucky they’re only going across town to where a cozy apartment awaits, but still. I miss them already and I know their empty bedrooms will start shouting at me as soon as I head back indoors.

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, January 2013

26,000 tonnes of garbage vanishes.

You know the holidays are over when the resulting glut of garbage appears at the curb in the dying days of December. How quickly the sparkle of special foods and beautifully packaged gifts is reduced to a sodden mass of organic and inert trash. The sight of it all is tarnishing somehow, as depressive as stumbling upon a dirty dumpster and furtive cluster of smoking employees at the back door of your favourite restaurant. There’s no getting around the messiness of being human, but really, does it have to be this self-indulgent? 

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, December 2012

The quest for peace begins at home.

For many people, the wish for world peace has become almost reflexive, a clichéd afterthought on our more palpable list of longings. And it’s a hopeless wish anyway, as out of reach as the top rung of a giant ladder when all the other rungs are missing. We might as well be wishing for the moon. 

Still, despair doesn’t sit well with us either, and in this coming season of hope, many people again find themselves daring to believe that we could make our browbeaten world a better place, if only we knew where to start. Well, take heart: it turns out our town is full of people committed to building rungs for that ladder. Here they share their insight and suggestions.

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, November 2012

A department of peace could help reframe our approach to conflict.

For almost a century the red poppy has been the prevailing international symbol for remembering the war dead and their ultimate sacrifice. It’s a very effective badge, a bright stain of blood that will be pinned onto the lapels of a few million Canadians every year at this time. Some will take time to ponder the little flower’s burden; others will wear it out of unparsed habit or the primordial desire to stay in step with the crowd. Mine compels me to try visualizing the 117,000 Canadian soldiers who’ve been killed in all battles to date (according to the Royal Canadian Legion’s website). The image both boggles and numbs my mind.

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, October 2012

Both mother and daughter survived the trip.

By the time this issue of Focus is out I’ll be counting down the last two weeks of our eldest daughter’s year-long adventure in Southeast Asia (The emphasis is mine: Who knew that time could be such a trickster, crawling through the endless hours of a loved one’s absence while flying through life’s usual rigours at the same time?)

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, September 2012

We’re very good at convincing ourselves we’ve progressed, not so good at the actual progress.

During the glorious days of summer I shamelessly abandoned a chronically thirsty garden and most of my other duties to join the legions of Canadians plunked in front of televisions everywhere to watch the Olympic Games. Cheering is a sport in itself, and I happily gave my best to our hardworking athletes who did a great job and made us all proud.

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, July/August 2012

Figuring out what to eat these days is getting darn complicated.

As the song goes, it’s summertime and the living is easy. Except at our house at dinner time, when everyone comes to the table with a different notion of what constitutes a healthy, tasty meal. There was a time I could select from a wide range of everyday entrée recipes, add a few veggies, a salad, a pot of rice or some presentation of potatoes, and everyone was happy. Or at least happy enough to eat what was offered, even if it wasn’t the expressed favourite. That distinction, for the kids, went to Friday night’s chicken nuggets and homemade oven fries. For their dad, a health professional with a lifelong passion for practising what he teaches, it was any fresh seafood surrounded by heaps of vegetables.

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, June 2012

How someone who dreaded running, learned to love it.

There’s nothing quite as empowering as the experience of having triumphed over something you never thought you’d be able to do. Such was my euphoria a month ago when I crossed the finish line of the Times Colonist 10K run, feeling tired but strong and probably grinning from ear to ear.

I’ve never thought of myself as a runner, not even in the days when I was an ill-trained member of my high school’s ragtag track team. I never liked the burn in my legs, the weight of exhaustion on my lungs, the nauseating thickness in my throat—all of which I took to be signs of my body’s demand to cease and desist. Over the years I easily brushed off many invitations to take up running, including those from a daughter for whom flying on her feet has long been a powerful elixir.  

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, May 2012

Power failures bring out the design flaws in our technology.

We’ve had our share of power failures these past few months, given that the island winds seem to relish throttling the tree tops and playing skip rope with the hydro wires every time the clouds loom low and sullen. You might as well haul out the candles and boil a last kettle when the strait turns into a herd of frothing, bucking waves all stampeding for shore. Soon the radio announces that the ferries have stopped running, and then the radio stops running too, unless you have one that can be cranked, which we did until the crank itself was inadvertently cranked off.

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, April 2012

Government and business interests are selling our country and its resources to the Chinese.

NORMALLY I'M QUITE AN OPTIMISTIC PERSON but this year it seems harder than usual to come out from under the winter. I can’t blame it on the weather, though the marathons of dreary days did add a certain weight. No, the bigger bleakness comes from what feels like a steady stream of news that points to a country and society—namely ours—on the downswing.

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, March 2012

Nobody wins when the environment and economy are pitted against each other.

Like most people, I’d never heard of Klaus Schwab, a German-born business professor and founder of the decades-old World Economic Forum for the ultra-rich and powerful. That is, I’d never heard of him until he opened his mouth at the Forum’s annual gathering in the Swiss Alps last January to announce to his exclusive audience: “Capitalism, in its current form, no longer fits the world around us.”

Sounding like a man who’d been doing some heavy pondering, he spoke of the growing inequities within and between countries and suggested the time had come to “embrace a much more holistic, inclusive and qualitative approach to economic development…A global transformation is urgently needed and it must start with reinstating a global sense of social responsibility.” 

By Trudi Duivenvoorden Mitic, February 2012

Despite the minor annoyances and even fiascos, life in this corner is pretty darn good.

As I write this, the Christmas interlude is rapidly being displaced by the Days of Disarrangement at our house, a season that unfailingly descends on us every year at this time, sometimes even before the tree is down. Suddenly everything around us seems to be coming undone. It’s gotten to the point where I fear the cupboard doors will fall off their hinges if I touch them, and I really shouldn’t even be on the computer right now.

The microwave leads the calamity parade this year, having belched an acrid whiff of electrical-fire breath as a way of calling it quits on Christmas Eve. Now it sits in my office awaiting disposal, as dead as the warranty that accompanied it off the boat from China just four years ago.

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, January 2012

Confessions from an introvert enroute to a more social 2012.

I had a good friend in high school who could connect with anyone. She had kind eyes, a beautiful smile and, as she would say about herself, the gift of the gab. She could speak about anything—within reason of course, this being high school—and unfailingly sprinkled her stories with the kind of self-deprecating humour that solicits the endearment of others. She cared about people and was comfortable socializing outside of her age and peer group.

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, December 2011

Meaningful gift-giving doesn’t have to be costly.

This year I want nothing for Christmas. On second thought, a gift certificate for the teamed-up services of Mr Clean and the clutter buster would be most welcoming. But no presents, please—I have everything I could possibly need and I spend more hours than I care to admit trying to keep it all organized.

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, November 2011

Let us find ways to honour the dead without condoning and exalting war.

I always get a bit uneasy as the country gears up for another Remembrance Day. Barely into November, lapels start sprouting poppies, bugles and speeches get polished up, and stiffly crafted, selfsame wreaths begin finding their way to the town-centre monuments. Then, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the country files into place and goes still as we remember our fallen soldiers.

This is all good and proper, but often a whiff of wartime nostalgia also furls through the typical Remembrance Day ceremony. Unavoidable perhaps, given the military nature and choreography of the event, but it confuses the clarity of the ceremony’s purpose: Are we gathered to honour the dead and lament their loss or are we unwittingly paying homage to the military paradigm as well?

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, October 2011

In some ways, country living in Victoria is better than the real thing.

My large family includes just two urbanites: A sister in Toronto and me, here in Victoria. My sister in Toronto—God love her, as the elders in our hometown would say in solace—has been trying to escape to rural Prince Edward Island for years. I, on the other hand, have been living country on my standard suburban lot for almost two decades.

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, September 2011

The constant interruptions of digital media are compromising our mental acuity and ability to concentrate.

Summer is my season for reading good books, but I must confess rather glumly that it never happened this year. The time-crunch epidemic is at least partially to blame—like everyone else, I seem to be caught in a perpetual flurry of stuff to do, fix, remember or be responsible for. Who even has time to stay focused anymore? Try as I might, my thinking invariably drifts to the jumble of task-bites cluttering my head. 

Maybe it’s hereditary: My mom recounts that when her kids were little, she found it tough to stay focused during her short daily meditation. “Give us this day our daily bread,” she remembers praying before the age of the microwave, which then segued into a mental note to take a loaf or two out of the freezer as soon as the meditation was done.

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, July 2011

Parents can call out for help during the turbulent years of raising teens.

Having last month assessed the media’s coverage of the horrific crimes committed against local teen Kimberly Proctor, it would be easy—no, tempting—to be done with the topic and move on. To some degree words in themselves are futile anyway, and a further million spent on worried introspection would still not lead to the enlightenment and resolve required to rid society of such wickedness once and for all.

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, June 2011

Sometimes turning the page is the most compassionate and sensible act.

There are many reasons to rage over the heinous crime that was committed against Kimberly Proctor last year, and, honestly, I hardly know where to begin. As a parent, I weep for her family and the endless, unimaginable burden of their loss and sorrow. I feel a white-hot anger against the cruel young men who took her life, but I’m just as furious with the families and systems—or lack thereof—that allowed them to evolve, seemingly unchecked, into sly and insidious barbarians.

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, May 2011

David Suzuki knows that Canadians need not choose between the environment and the economy.

In late March came the news that we would once again get to ride the $300 million election carousel—an exercise in stepping right up to go round and round and likely end up where we started. 

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, April 2011

The whispers of the elders grow louder: food is a valuable commodity.

Over the past two months I’ve been outlining our specific quandary with food waste here on the island. To recap: A family of four, in this land of both abundance and recession, wastes an average of 732 kilograms of food per year, according to Statistics Canada. CRD findings tell the same story, but from a different angle: Almost a third of the garbage we put out is food waste. Because it’s more than the Hartland Landfill can continue to swallow, organics will be banned from garbage by the end of 2013. 

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, March 2011

With the Hartland Landfill so overburdened, food waste is the next frontier.

This past month, each person in the Greater Victoria area has, on average, walked just under 10 kilograms of food waste to the curb. That’s the equivalent of every person having put two 10-pound bags of potatoes in the garbage. Or to put it yet another way, every day another 140 tonnes of residential food waste is trucked to the Hartland Landfill. According to my middle school math, that translates into almost 31,000 bags of potatoes.

Now picture all those heavy garbage trucks delivering all those spuds to the landfill. Every day. And imagine also that for every truckload of potatoes through the Hartland gates, two trucks of other residential garbage also come by to dump a load. No wonder our landfill is forecast to be full in 24 years.

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, February 2011

That’s costing us too much, in too many ways.

When my children watched Sesame Street years ago, one of the skits they especially enjoyed involved a group of items and a discussion on how these were interconnected. What do these things have in common, the viewers were asked by way of a singing ditty that still hums around in my head once in a while. Sometimes the humming starts when I see issues with a significant cause-and-effect relationship nonetheless presented as polarized stories in the media.

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, January 2011

Current economic models need serious retooling.

In Kenya, like everywhere else around the globe, the natural landscape continues to erode under the relentless pressure of urban encroachment. From a safari van in Nairobi National Park, home of some of the biggest and grandest animals in the world, you can now see the high-rises of Nairobi shimmering in the distance. Such trespass is not easily curbed because the city is the heart and hope of the country’s struggling economy. As a result, the park seems destined to shrivel to a bleak inner city greenway with little more to offer than the novelty of a few caged animals bumping around in one corner.

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, December 2010

’Tis the season when the heart softens and the world yearns to be a better place.

Winter has arrived once again, painting gloomy beauty on the city and sealing it in with a varnish of rain. The landscape has dwindled to its semi-dormant state and muscled clouds hang low on most days. Night falls early, long before the last tired commuter has made it back home.

by Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, November 2010

A food garden will give you even more to be thankful for next Thanksgiving.

Back in June I wrote about growing food in the backyard and asked you to share your own gardening stories at the end of the harvest. We can all agree this wasn’t the best year for a garden, at least starting out: Spring was a cold clammy hand that wouldn’t let go. Then, almost overnight it seemed, we entered the season of heat and drought, punishing enough to flag even the dandelions. Did a fledgling food crop even stand a chance?

by Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, October 2010

At least kids today don’t have to worry about being hit by a teacher.

Like everyone else, I get my share of forwarded emails about adorable animals, inspirational verse and assorted nostalgia, much of it overdone with animation and music. Every once in a while someone sends me fluff extolling the Perfect Past, when common sense reigned supreme and everything was reportedly settled to satisfaction with a pat on the head, a handshake or some good old-fashioned discipline. Those were the days when men were men, women knew their place, kids toed the line, schools delivered a great education and everyone lived a happy life.

by Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, September 2010

A new movement advocates simplicity and straightforwardness in our communications.

 

Years ago I was in a writers’ group that met monthly to ruminate on our varied poems and tomes in progress. Among us were those who loved elaborate vocabulary and convoluted sentences. The bigger the word the greater the genius behind it, the logic seemed to go. There was, according to this line of thinking, no greater evidence of a writer’s intellectual superiority than a confounded reader.

by trudy duivenvoorden mitic, august 2010

An elder shows the way to go the distance.

This month, a heart-warming story, perfect for telling on a balmy summer day and the first-year anniversary of my sister’s death. That day last August changed everything for my mom since she and my sister had shared a cozy home for more than 15 years.

My mom is no slouch, even now at age 85. She tends her home and garden and finds time to help others. She’s never stood out in a crowd because she finds the attention discomfiting but, like her mother before her, she’s always had a quick wit, gallons of optimism and the self-discipline of a 16th century monk. That’s probably why she managed to raise a gaggle of kids on a farm that had almost as many pets as dairy animals—a true menagerie if there ever was one. It likely also explains her determination to have us survive the hardships that befell our family, including my dad’s passing almost two decades ago.

Story by Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic. Illustration by April Caverhill. July 2010

It’s time to return to patient-centred care that includes fresh air, sunlight, plants…life!

In this halcyon summer day the wind is tousling the treetops and the early tomatoes are beginning to swell on the vine. I wander around my little sanctuary and think of places that offer no such solace. I think of the Victoria General Hospital. My friend—I’ll call her Rose—has been living there since Christmas.