Water Water Everywhere

“Water, water everywhere / Nor any drop to drink”

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Like a thirsty mariner adrift at sea, it is one of the ironies of life in BC’s lower mainland that we live in a temperate rainforest yet are annually called upon to conserve our water use.

Two summers ago, the region flirted with water restrictions so tight that public pools would be closed and sprinkling your vegetable garden would be illegal. A gloomy June prevented similar issues last year, but the question remainswhy are we so worried about saving water in a place where more than metre of it falls from the sky every year?

The simple answer is cost.

The City of New Westminster receives all of its drinking water from our regional government, Metro Vancouver. The regional water utility collects, filters, treats, and delivers about 1 billion litres of water per day to the municipalities of the Lower Mainland. They take 30,000 samples of the water every year to ensure its quality, and operate more than 500km of pipes and related infrastructure.

The City pays for this water by the cubic metre, just under nine billion litres annually. That amount has gone down quite a bit over the last couple of decades, as our per-capita consumption has dropped faster than our population has grown. The shifting of our local economy from large industry to commercial and service industries is a big part of this drop, as is the trend towards apartment living and smaller households. The end result is that New Westminster has one of the lowest rates of water use per capita in the Lower Mainland. This is reinforced by society-wide efforts towards conservation, from summer-time watering restrictions to building more efficient appliances.

The cost of delivering that water, however, continues to increase. This is in part a reflection of inflation, and the increasing cost of energyit takes a lot of energy to move water, which should be obvious in BC, as we extract so much of our energy from moving water!and part of it is the ever-increasing demand to provide the highest quality water possible.  

In the industrialized world, especially in Canada with our abundance of fresh water, we take for granted what is one of history’s greatest public health interventions: the widespread delivery of pathogen-free drinking and washing water. Through a century of infrastructure investment and public works, residents of greater Vancouver receive an almost limitless supply of pristine, clean water to their home for a fraction of a penny per litre. The ubiquitous nature of the resource makes us neglectful of its actual value to society, and the cost related to its management.

The recent completion of the Seymour-Capilano Filtration Plant and extensive upgrades to the Coquitlam Treatment Plant alone constitute more than one billion in infrastructure spending. They are part of a complex, multi-tiered system (backed by 30,000 analytical samples collected and tested per year) to assure that every drop of water that comes out of your faucet or garden hose won’t make you sick if you drink, bathe, or wash your food with it.

This is at least part of the reason why the City of New Westminster and Metro Vancouver try to encourage alternatives to watering lawns and washing your driveways with it. Water may be limitless, but the high-quality drinking water we expect and rely upon is not.

A basic truth of resource management is that you can’t manage what you don’t count. When it comes to managing our limited resource of clean, potable water, water metres are a basic tool of conservation.

In New Westminster, all commercial and industrial users are metered, and pay for their water per cubic metre consumed. Every multi-family residence is also metered, and residents may pay by the cubic metre or a bulk rate to their property manager. Only single-family residences are currently not metered, with all houses paying a flat fee for a year of water service, regardless of their actual consumption.

According to a 2008 report by City staff, about 80% of the City’s water hook-ups go to single family homes, and are unmetered. However, almost 75% of water use is metered, as it is delivered to multi-family dwellings or commercial users. We therefore have a system where the largest pipes are metered, but not the majority of pipes. This points to why we New Westminster has not been all that motivated to implement a potentially costly universal-metering program for single family homes.

Putting water metres on the 8,500 single family homes in the New Westminster is an expensive proposition, for the utility and the homeowners. The added costs of billing and system maintenance create a long-term expense the utility will have to include in water rates. The 2008 study by the City determined these costs were not warranted. Simply put, it was cheaper to pay for a little more water every year than to invest in a complicated system to (perhaps marginally) reduce consumption.

It is yet to be determined if these numbers have shifted significantly in the past ten years. The cost of water from Metro Vancouver has risen significantly, and continues to rise, as a result of the major capital investments required to keep the system running. Similarly, the cost of treating our liquid waste is increasing, and reducing the amount coming out of our taps brings a concomitant reduction in the amount going down our drains. The cost of metering may also be going down as more cities implement universal or voluntary metering programs, and the technology becomes more ubiquitous.

Ultimately, Metro Vancouver may force the City’s hand. The regional utility is studying whether mandatory residential metering should be required for all customer municipalities. The 2015 water shortage, increasing capital costs, and expanding population are putting the pinch on them to find affordable solutions to the supply problem. Meters may prove to be a more affordable short-term solution than building larger reservoirs.

Placing a cost on a valuable resource can be an effective way to manage it, however, cost is only part of the public policy conversation. Some argue that pricing water “commodifies” it, and turns a public good into something that is distributed based on wealth, not need. In this sense, municipal water can be placed alongside health care and schools. Alternately, there is an increasing call to use pricing to control the overconsumption of many things we typically consider free: the use of public roads for driving, and the use of our atmosphere to dump pollutants.

In New Westminster, we currently have a “two-tier” water system. Those in single family homes are free to consume at will, and are not incentivized to conserve except in times of severe restrictions. Condo dwellers, renters, and businesses are forced to pay increased costs for their metered supply, in part because of limited conservation of non-metered properties.

The conversation about what is “fair” is not a simple one.

However, this is a dialogue we need to have in New Westminster. Trends suggest that climate change will bring hotter, drier summerseven as our winters become wetter and population growth is not expected to slow any time soon. Beyond pitting neighbour against neighbour in conservation shaming (and bringing a new meaning to the phrase “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence”) and decrying the “cash grab” of increased supply costs, we need to talk about how valuable this nearly invisible resource is to our quality of life, and whether we can afford to pour it on grass.

Water, by the numbers

1,000,000,000 Litres of water treated and delivered by Metro Vancouver every day
500 Kilometres of water mains operated by Metro Vancouver to deliver water
30,000 number of samples collected of Metro Vancouver water every year to ensure quality
24,000,000 Litres of water used in New West on an average day in 2015
39,000,000 Litres of water used on New West on 2015 “peak use” day (July 1)
8,700,000,000 Litres of water consumed in New Westminster in 2015
$5,500,000 Amount New Westminster pays Metro Vancouver for water per year (2015)
$0.00063 Metro Vancouver cost of delivering that water, per litre
$0.0011 City of New Westminster cost of delivering water, per litre
966 Litres of water used per day per capita in New West (1990)
343 Litres of water used per day per capita in New West (2015)
280,000 Litres of water used per year in typical New West household (2015)
560,000 Litres of rain that fall annually on a typical 6,000 sq ft residential lot in New West

The Ghosts of Havenholm (Part Six)

This is an ongoing series written and illustrated by JJ Lee. New to Havenholm? Start at the beginning!


The story so farOscar and his ghostly friends Tough Tom and Willa, find themselves trapped on the creepy wood hill of Havenholm. A river, created by the wizard Maurais, prevents them from crossing into the afterlife. Many years before, Willa’s parents had been sent to find Maurais and break his spell. Before they could, the wizard set fire to Havenholm, killing Willa and her parents. Now, she and Oscar dig through the ruins of her burnt-out home in search of the secret to defeat their enemy. Oscar discovers a rusted cash box. Monsters attack.


       

Chapter 8, Part 6

        They hurt her first.

        The animated bird-like tangles of twine, twigs, and black feathers beat their wings and took to the air. Some climbed high above the treetops then tucked and dove at Willa. Others darted straight at her.

        Willa, who could walk on air and pass through walls, felt each blow. They struck her head and face, her arms and stomach. They hit her and fell to the ground. Then, like marionettes pulled by invisible strings, they lurched back to life. They flung themselves again. Only at her.

 

She raised her left hand to protect her eyes but held on to Oscar with her right. He wanted to lash at them. He tried to wrench away and pulled, but Willa would not let go. The more the black missiles rained down, the tighter he felt her on hold him. The things with black feathers clawed at her hair. She pulled him through the woods toward the safety of the Great Tree. If only they could make it to the Tree. One of the black feathers crashed into her gut and she collapsed to the ground. They swarmed Willa like rabid vultures.

        Oscar screamed, “No!”

        Early on in their friendship, Simon (who was Oscar’s first and only real friend before he moved and met Willa) tried to roughhouse with Oscar. He punched Oscar in the shoulder. Oscar, as an only child and because of his heart condition, was warned by his parent never to engage in the ritual of cruel, companionable contact. He understood that this particular mix of pleasure and pain was one of the stages of developing boyhood bonding, but he couldn’t bring himself to punch back. His response was tentative, restrained. Oscar tapped on Simon’s shoulder as if he were a door he did not wish to open. Simon realized the futility, and never attempted to play rough with Oscar again.

        Outside of the time he kicked Willa in the face, Oscar never really let go and hit something well and hard. He just did not know how to fight but, indeed, he was fighting now. He freed his hand and wielded the rusty cash box as a weapon with left and right. His fingers crumbled the hard dirt that encrusted it. He began to bat away the creatures away from his friend. He stomped and bellowed and kicked. He crushed as many as he could until they retreated to branches beyond his reach.

   

 

Oscar knelt down beside Willa. Her arms covered her face. He said, “Are you, okay?”

        She did not answer. He watched her chest heave up and down, at first fast, but then it slowed and deepened. He expected her face to be covered with tears and snot. “Willa?”

        She unfolded and rose. He only saw rage. Her eyes looked past him and into the woods. She snarled through gritted teeth, “Maurais.”

        A tremor whipped through the flock of black feathers. She shouted out her tormentor’s name again. Fists balled, feet stamping, she yelled in all directions, at the birds, at the trees, the river, the world, “Maurais!”

        The echo of her voice faded. Oscar saw deep in the woods, moving from behind a trunk, a man in a long black coat, his hair white, his face narrow, his grin cold and mean. He tapped on Willa’s shoulder and pointed. “Willa?”

        The stranger looked left and right and then trudged towards them. Willa unleashed a wail no mortal could make, a piercing call that belonged to the dead and otherworldly lost. It was a sound that made children hide under their beds and parents bolt the front door. Her voice cut through the cold air and through Oscar’s dead heart, “Maurais.”

        The ground shook. The man’s leer was now replaced by a frown. Again, the hill rumbled.

        He turned to look behind. He staggered a few steps and then began to run toward the friends. He drew, from over his back, a long dark gleaming sword. Oscar said, ‘Willa, maybe we should go?”

        “No,” she replied. “We drew Maurais out and Tough Tom is coming.”

        Tough Tom, who looked like an eight-year-old, was the oldest ghost among them. Oscar believed Tough Tom was the most powerful being, living or dead, he had ever seen. Oscar thought of Tough Tom the way he had thought of the Hulk or Superman, except Tough Tom was real.

        The hill trembled. The man lost his footing. He looked back one more time and got back up. The trees behind the man in the long black coat, quivered, cracked and fell. The black feathers, nearly forgotten, became agitated and began to knock against themselves and, as they did before, against trunks and branches. It was not Tough Tom. What came bashing through the woods was a giant mass of mud, ferns, rocks, vines, and roots, a shambling creature, lifeless like the black feathers but much larger, as big as a car or a small van. It took giant strides, thumping its way towards Willa and Oscar. It extended a coil of twisted roots and tried to ensnare both children. Willa dragged Oscar back. It lunged again. Oscar bashed it with the cash box.

        Willa said, “No.”

        She pushed Oscar in the direction of the Great Tree. “Bring it to Tough Tom.”

        “What about you?”

        “Just go.”

        “Where’s Tough Tom?”

        “I don’t know. Just go.” She gave Oscar a hard shove that hurt him, though not physically. “Run, stupid.”

        This time, it was Oscar who was determined not to lose his friend. He tried to clasp his hand over hers, but she slipped from him. As he was about to grab at her again, the heaving mass of mud splayed open to reveal an inside writhing with beetles, snails, millipedes, spiders, deer bones, and larvae. Oscar quailed, let go, and sprinted like a rabbit pursued by weasels. “Come on. Come on.”

        Willa did not follow. The black feathers, however, did. He cradled the box, shut his eyes, lowered his head, and plunged through the woods, hoping he was going the right way. Everything, the branches, the bramble, the creatures ripped and clawed at him. Still he ran. He broke into the clearing. He could see the Great Tree, home and safety. The black creatures honed in on his legs and feet. He tripped and cartwheeled. The box flew loose.

        Maurais’ flock swooped under him. The flying things swirled around and lugged Oscar high into the air, away from the ground, away from the Great Tree. They carried him to the north side of the hill, to Maurais’ house. The sick feelings of terror and shame gripped him. All he could think was he had abandoned Willa. He was a coward.

 

Remembering

Chelsea Comeau is the winner of the Arts Council of New Westminster’s Lit Fest New West Fiction Contest, sponsored by Dale Darychuk and us! Chelsea’s piece was selected from a number of entries, by a panel of judges, and first appeared on our April 2017 print edition. She is the artist in residence at Anvil Centre in April 2017. 

 

Lilli is unsure, at first, if the voices in the other room are coming from her television. The conversation she hears is hushed, and could easily be an intimate moment shared between two characters whose lives have been written for them weeks in advance. Perhaps they discuss conspiracy. Perhaps they are in love.

But then one of her daughters mentions the funeral home, which is named for a poisonous flower that grows in humid places like Los Angeles, and nowhere near New Westminster. Lilli realizes her children have finally begun to talk.

She takes her hearing aids from the glass dish on the nightstand and hooks them around the backs of her ears. Everything comes, at once, to life: the sound of traffic below the window, spoons in the living room colliding softly with the sides of tea cups.

“Dad wanted to be cremated,” Janice tells the others. “He said so after they diagnosed him.”

Lilli couldn’t remember ever hearing that, but her other two children concede easily because neither one of them wants to ignite an argument. Not when everything is so fragile. She imagines the precise way in which Janice is sitting, one leg crossed over the other at the knees, the tight line of her mouth commanding her younger siblings’ attention the way it always had.

“I think we should show Mum the brochures tomorrow. The home on Eighth beside the high school is taking new residents.”

Trina’s voice, which has always been the softest, is barely audible above the sound of a pickup truck driving by.

“It’s expensive, don’t you think?”

“She’s ninety-four. Does it matter? She won’t be there long.”

There’s an intermission of quiet while Trina pours herself another cup from the teapot that Lilli and Gerald received sixty-eight years ago as a wedding gift. The design painted onto it is royal blue, the windmill so perfect amongst shrubs and brush-swept grass that if you sat and stared long enough, it seemed as though the thatched blades actually moved.

Daryl, however, is not lost in the teapot’s realism. He is the first to breach the silence with a calmness rehearsed for three hours on the plane.

“I think we should give her a few days before we start bombarding her. She’s in spectacular physical shape. She could live another ten years, for all we know.”

“Husbands and wives who’ve been together as long as Mum and Dad typically die within short periods of one another.”

Janice is indignant, as though this is a scientific inevitability, and Lilli’s days are most certainly numbered.

“That’s really messed up, Jan.”

Trina bristles in her seat, but offers nothing to the conversation. Lilli remembers bringing Trina home from the hospital in the middle of August, how bored the other two seemed with the idea of diapers and endless howling. Trina spent much of her early years engaged in the solitude of an only child, and very little had changed over time.

Daryl drains the rest of his tea in one bulging gulp. Lilli hears the hardwood groan as he crosses the living room into the kitchen. He stands next to the sink, and considers the peppermint grains left behind at the bottom of his cup, adrift on the little puddle that lingers at the bottom of any drink, no matter how deep the final swig. He wonders what a fortune teller would have to say about the arc of them, if the shape might have something to do with one or more of his chakras.

He is quickly forgetting the tranquility he practised so carefully before coming home, and the crowdedness of everything begins to creep up on him. Every corner of Lilli’s apartment is full, the suite straining at its seams with useless souvenirs. There are stained-glass hummingbirds suction-cupped to the kitchen window, and ceramic archangels in a row on the sill: Michael brandishing his sword, Gabriel bearing a slender trumpet.

“Packing this place up is going to be a nightmare,” he remarks, to no one in particular.

Janice brings the serving tray and empty tea pot to the sink. She turns the metal stopper at the mouth of the drain and fills the sink with hot water. The dish soap is a purple syrup that smells of synthetic lavender. “We’ll never find a place with room enough for everything. It won’t be packing so much as throwing things away, or selling whatever’s worth money.”

Daryl unclasps his watch and sets it on the counter before plunging his hands into the water. “Dad’s lucky,” he says. “You hear all those stories. People getting lost, freezing to death. At least he never wandered off.”

The kids didn’t know, of course, about the night Lilli found Gerald a block away from the apartment, without his shoes. He’d tried to open a locked car that wasn’t his, and sat on the curb with his hands over his ears to muffle the alarm.

“I hope I go in my sleep, too.”

“Yeah, but then someone’s going to wake up next to your corpse,” Janice reasons. She opens the cupboard beside the stove, finds a clean dish towel, and begins drying the cups. This is all Lilli has ever wanted for her children, domestic intimacies peppered with family banter. “How long do you think Mum was sleeping next to a dead body?”

“Jesus Christ, Jan, shut up!”

“I’m just being realistic.”

Janice puts the tea cups in the cupboard above the sink. She keeps the pot out a moment longer and turns it over in her hands, considering its value, allowing her imagination its brief wildness. Suppose it was worth something, after all…

“I’m going back to my hotel,” Daryl announces, then. He has spent every measure of tolerance within him. He dries his hands on the legs of his sweatpants, leaving two dark smears behind. “I need to get some sleep.”

Lilli listens to their vague good-byes, the obligatory ceremony between siblings obligatory, like communion at the end of mass.

Daryl phones for a taxi and leaves to wait for it outside on Carnarvon Street. Lilli smells the cigarette he lights as soon as he exits the building, a thin curl of smoke creeping in through the crack in the window. It’s early winter, but she can’t abide how closed the room seems tonight without fresh air.

“I love how he shows up in a crisis and acts like he’s son of the year,” Janice snorts, joining Trina again in the living room. “You and I are the ones who came in every week to check on Dad. We drove him and Mum to all the appointments.”

“And now we’ll probably be the ones to find Mum a new home.”

Lilli unhooks her hearing aids again. They shriek until she pops the batteries out their bottoms, and puts them back in the dish on the nightstand. Without their echo, the room becomes a soft womb of quiet.

She thinks the bed has grown larger, somehow. The gully of distance between her side and Gerald’s, which had seemed narrow before, now expanded into something so huge, it is almost frightening. She turns onto her side and, draws the duvet tightly over her shoulder.

The morning Lilli decided something was very wrong with Gerald, she’d found his car keys in the vegetable crisper, and phoned their doctor to make an appointment. She knew the diagnosis before it was given to them from across the small white table, and there was some comfort in that. She would not be steamrolled by astonishment. The news would not break her.

But it seemed as though, in the days after, the word itself was enough permission for Gerald to relent to the disease completely. He began to depend on Lilli for everything, and often left their room in the middle of the night to rearrange things throughout the apartment. She brought him into the bathroom with her while she showered, sat him on the closed toilet seat and hoped the locked door was enough to slow him down before she noticed he was trying to leave. Sometimes she wept quietly behind the curtain while she washed herself, thin veins of soap unraveling between her breasts.

How awful it was, everyone said, to forget your children, your wife, to forget how to eat and tie your own shoes. Friends visited on weekends, their eyes brimming with pity and that little gleam of relief to know that they could soon go home and live different, undamaged lives.

But none of them considered how awful it was to be the one to remember. How could Lilli explain to them the thin sound of her husband’s voice, its pleading in those luminous moments to let him die, his quick forgetting of that, too. The wildness in his face before the white pillow between Lilli’s hands closed over him. His flailing, and the long night that followed. Its silence.

 

Q10: Businesses Building Community

Picture this: soft blues on a low hum, floor-to-ceiling windows hugging a small stage filled with musicians, knee-tapping, and wide-mouthed smiles taking it all in. Local art graces every inch of available wall space. This feels like home. And that’s just night one. Come back the next night and savour the soft, rhythmic flow of imagistic poetry being shared in a cozy space in the back room where each artist revels in the fact that they have this place to be artists. And, if you still want to mix it up, come back again the next night and you’ll be taken on a rock ‘n’ roll journey where local bands own the stage doing what they do best. A place for music, theatre, art, and more. Finding a place is half the battle for most artists, and we’ve been holding our breath—until the Heritage Grill. Exhale.

On May 28, 2005, a gem was born. Located at 447 Columbia Street in downtown New Westminster, the Heritage Grill opened its doors to an already thriving and close-knit community. From day one, the Heritage Grill catered to every type of artist conceivable. Finally. A spot that wasn’t only about food and quickly “turning” over tables, but a place built on the promise of being a second home for anyone who wants it. This is—in my opinion—a rarity in a city all about “making a quick dollar.”

With a background in nightclubs and looking for a way out, Heritage Grill owner Paul Minhas— who grew up in Vernon and came to the lower mainland just after high school—arrived in New West with visions of jazz clubs, blues bands, and creating that “place to be.” When asked what he did in his spare time he replied, “what spare time?

“New West wasn’t ready for what I had in mind,” says Minhas. From live poetry, improv comedy, and blush shows to drag shows, the Heritage back lounge has given first starts to so many, including The Heritage Artist’s Society.

Paul Minhas has been advocating for artists in every single intersection for twelve years. Candice James of Poetry New West, (a local reading series that takes place every Sunday afternoon in The Grill’s back lounge, former Poet Laureate for New Westminster, and newly-dubbed Poet Emerita of New Westminster), speaks highly of Paul and The Grill. “I consider Paul Minhas to be the foremost “Arts” corporate citizen in the city. He has been a solid supporter of all my literary and artistic endeavours by donating time, space, and funds to the events I have held at the Heritage Grill. Poetry would never be as highly-visible in the city as it is now without Paul Minhas’ generous spirit and support.

We are living in a time where diversity and the idea of inclusivity sits heavy on the tongues of leaders in the arts. Paul Minhas doesn’t blink an eye when reaching out to support local artists because it’s something he does naturally, a goal for many of us as leaders in our given fields. “I don’t want to be just another restaurant.The people that support us wholeheartedly support us. Statistically, if I was just another restaurant, I wouldn’t have made it,” says Minhas.

“Times are changing, people are changing, demographics are changing.” The Heritage Grill is keeping up the pace without ever losing its original appeal. In addition to the Grill, Minhas also owns Judge Begbie’s, which is just down the street. While maintaining the sports theme, this pub is definitely a reflection of the Heritage Grill. Where else will you find a Celtic Acadian night where the crowd is encouraged to join in? One of the most intriguing nights, in my opinion, is Friday’s Memphis to Orleans. Although a different vibe and space, there’s no doubt in my mind that Judge Begbie’s will be a game-changer for new people moving to the city.

With the pace at which neighbourhoods change, New Westminster is proud of the Heritage Grill, and for good reason. In thinking about the city as a whole, strolling past the heritage houses that line the blocks in Queens, I think about Paul’s words: “New West is a small city within a big city. We want to stand out. Kits is Kits, Commercial is Commercial.” It’s obvious to me that New West has a unique voice of its own and exudes this unexplainable energy that is in no way muted by the shouts and screams of its surrounding big sister cities.

If you haven’t yet been inside the Heritage Grill, one of the most immediate things you will notice is the mirrors lining the entire right side. This is a very intimate thing: watching yourself come in, and watching yourself leave—changed. There’s something to be said about leaving with a sense of place and knowing that if you look back on your way out that it won’t be your last. There’s a trust there and, for the most part, it’s unspoken. I thought about the motivation behind lining the walls with mirrors, and wondered if it was an intentional thing. I almost stopped in my tracks to turn back around and ask, but I kept walking, hands deep in my pockets, thinking about the mirrors and how many people in this city stopped to enjoy the space, even if just for a moment, and how many have just stopped to reflect.

Before I left, I asked Paul what he would do if he wasn’t running the Heritage Grill. His answer was perfect: “I would buy a one-way ticket somewhere, pick up my backpack, and never look back.

 

On Being a Vegan Mom

I am a tattooed, vegan, babywearing, bedsharing, crunchy mama to a biracial toddler. Guess what part of the above sentence usually gets me the most heat? Choosing to raise our son vegan wasn’t an easy decision; my husband is an omnivore but does not cook or keep meat in our home and I am a vegan. We respect each other’s dietary choices but live a mainly vegan lifestyle. Feeding our son what we already make at home was only logical and it forced us to put a lot of thought into what we actually feed our child. And let me tell you, he is a big eater and has tried more foods than I have in my entire life. I am working on that. But that isn’t enough for some…  

I have heard it all. “child abuser,”, “bad mother,”, “you should be in jail!” “you should have your kid taken from you!” You name it, I have heard it. Pro-tip from an alternative parent: stay away from comment sections. (Actually, just stay away from the comments period, for your sanity.) Vile comments from parents who feed their kids fast food and other junk—which I would never dare judge them for—who then have the nerve to judge us for feeding organic veggies, fruits, tofu and the occasional cupcake. “You do you” apparently does not apply to a vegan parent. And I take that to heart because my kid is going to be at the receiving end of these uneducated comments once he starts school. I’ve heard the rhetoric many times:“how dare you impose this on your child who cannot make his own decisions?” Well, because they can’t. That’s why they have parents to help them make those decisions. Much like you do with yours, and you deem it fair to feed them whatever you think is good for your kid. So do I, and with probably more thought because I do have to make sure he gets enough iron, B12 and—yes—protein. My answer is, how dare you would think I would voluntarily put my child’s life in danger for what you consider a diet fad. Instead of wondering where he gets his protein, why don’t you ask how I am able to feed my two year old broccoli and kale?

We live with two silly (that’s the polite way to put it) dogs. One of them—a beagle —is the reason I became vegan in the first place. Beagles have long been test subjects in labs because of how trusting and kind they are for their size. I have since been on a long and slow journey toward a sustainable, cruelty-free, vegan-as-much-as-I-can (I mean, electronics made in countries full of conflict, amirite?) and, eventually, zero-waste lifestyle. To me, veganism is much more than food. It’s in line with our current societal and environmental issues and needs and a vision that we all share deep inside— a better place and a better planet. To me it’s only logical, but I will not force it upon my child.

We are raising our kid to be compassionate, understanding, and able to make his own choices. At home, we eat vegan. If my son chooses to venture outside this dietary realm I will not stop him. I will support him and show him kindness. I will educate him on the reasons why his mommy is a vegan and why we made this decision for him, but I will not restrict him. No matter how much my little heart will break, and no matter how hurt my sense of ethics will be. My love for my child must overcome it and not become an inhibitor. I did not impose this lifestyle on my husband. He took on the challenge on his own and is now our household’s sole chef, and a fantastic one at that. The kid has his work cut out for him with growing up in today’s society in general, so I don’t need to repeat my father’s mistake and be so restrictive with foods. I grew up on meat, mash, and veg in a can. We ate whatever my father liked.

My husband grew up with junk food and had soda and chocolate bars in his packed lunch, how lucky! I didn’t really drink soda until I was a teen. To this day, our opposite life experiences impact us both. Hubby is a serious cola addict and I am overcoming being a picky eater. This causes divide and judgement on both sides of the family and, in my case, a lot of anxiety. So we pack lunches and snacks and try to educate, but we cannot expect them to know that even stuff that seems like it should be vegan (margarine, for example, has milk products in it) sometimes isn’t, and that carefully picking the cheese and pepperoni off a slice of pizza does not make it vegan.

As a couple, as parents, we come together to compromise and raise our child in this new world we live in. A new world where we care for other lives, the environment, and our bodies. He’ll follow suit. Kids are usually inherently vegetarians and, well, being vegan is so hot right now.

 

Where The River Runs

 

I have been reflecting about home a lot lately, and what that concept means. Despite living in the lower mainland my entire life, I’ve never felt a deep connection to any place of residence. My comprehension of home is much more abstract. My home is my mum; she is the durable foundation of my being, her support creates the beams that hold me up, and her praise allows me to always feel valued. But if I was to think of a more concrete setting, the space that I have built a meaningful friendship with is the New Westminster Quayside neighbourhood. When I was a kid, my mum would take my little brother Andrew and I to the Quay Public Market (now known as the River Market at Westminster Quay) several weekends a month. The moment our car crossed the Pattullo Bridge over the Fraser River, I would shake with excitement.

These visits were more frequent during the summer when warm weather typically equals consistent ice cream treats. Andrew and I would press our faces against the glass and try to decide what flavour to get; it was always mint chocolate chip or blue bubble gumthe two flavours that generated the most prismatic mess. After ice cream, we got to play on the stationary tug boat. Our sticky fingers from residual ice cream blended with other children’s as we eagerly pressed the boat’s buttons together. Kids love pressing buttonstangible ones as well as their parents’.

Face painting was another activity that we were enamoured with. Bubbles the clown would be there on most Sundays with her collection of pigments, ready to take requests. My cheeks either became decorated with glittery rainbows or striped cats; a declaration of love to my tabby Lucky.

But the memory that is most clear to me is the trek to the “cool playground.” As an adult, that walk is approximately ten minutes from the market, but as a child, that walk feels like for-ev-er. On days that my grandma joined us on our riverside adventure, she would teach us the names of the ever-changing botanical arrangements that lined the boardwalk: rhododendron, fuchsia, chrysanthemum. My curious fingers always gently touched their petals, my way of saying hello. These greetings temporarily took our minds off of the time. After what felt like hours, the playground became visible to our impatient eyes and we ran. We were in a rush to make friends and collect scrapes and bruises: a sign of a successful summer. We’d play hot lava and sincerely believed the ground was viscous and would melt our light-up sneakers. This firm belief allowed us to jump far, swing long distances, and shriek; imagination is a powerful tool.

I am now in my late twenties. I walk riverside every weekend on my way to work. The walk is made exciting once again as I reflect on my childhood memories. Each time a community member waves, smiles, or nods hello, I momentarily pause my nostalgic thoughts. I like to start my stroll from Pier Park where I stop to sit on a hammock and watch the mighty Fraser move. As I grow older, I am critical of selfishness. The Fraser watched me grow up, but it was, and is, a sustainable friend to many before me and will be, after me. I think about its tributaries and the Indigenous communities it has traveled through since time immemorial: the Coast Salish, the Nlaka’pamux, the Tsilhqot’in peoples and so many more. The river communicates through movement.

How can I practice reciprocity to this prosperous body of water? I reflect on author/poet/activist Rita Wong’s relationship and camaraderie to water, her poetry, and her collaborative paper with Dorothy Christian’s untapping watershed mind: which encourages folks to embrace the intrinsic value of water instead of practising commodification. I can begin by offering my stories and express gratitude. I stand by the river and introduce myself: who I am, where I am from, and what I want to be. I promise the river that I will always acknowledge the land and do my best to take only what I need. Land extends to the plants, trees, animals, water, the wind, the sun. This land has allowed me to collect countless memories that I so deeply cherish. My mum will always be my home, but Quayside and the river will always be where my memory resides with countless other stories.