President’s Choice brand Nanaimo bars!

September 28th 2013.

I made some Nanaimo bars today!

Nanaimo bar

Nanaimo bar

The other day Housemate came home and happily exclaimed that he had purchased some Nanaimo bars and triumphantly plopped this box down on the counter:

President's Choice brand Nanaimo bar baking mix

President's Choice brand Nanaimo bar baking mix

“Uhm… those aren’t Nanaimo bars,” I tell him. “It’s just the mix to make them!”

“Oh damn! You’re kidding right?” he asked.

“Of course it’s a mix,” I exclaim. “Who the hell stores Nanaimo bars in a box on a store shelf? They are full of butter for crying out loud. They need to be refrigerated!”

Perhaps Housemate can be forgiven as he’s originally from Vancouver and Campbell River – not Nanaimo! One of the best things about being from Nanaimo is that people across Canada associate my hometown with a dessert.

What is a Nanaimo bar? The Wikipedia article describes it as a dessert that’s made from a “wafer crumb-based layer topped by a layer of light vanilla or custard flavoured butter icing which is covered with melted chocolate made from chocolate squares.”

But there are many different recipes.

During a performance of his song “Nanaimo” on CBC Radio One’s North by Northwest in the late ‘90s, for example, Gabriola Island folk singer Bob Bossin claimed that Nanaimo bars contained: smoke and peelers, cocaine dealers, redneck loggers, non-stop talkers, and hookers with daughters.

Here’s all the stuff I used to make it with:

The Nanaimo bar mix out of the box

The Nanaimo bar mix out of the box

But the recipe I made came from a prepackaged mix that was shipped in from Ontario. The recipe also calls for a en egg, a bit of milk and butter. Lots of butter.

Unfortunately we didn’t have any butter so the very non-Nanaimo Housemate actually suggested I use margarine instead.

It’s been a while since I’ve lived in Nanaimo but I know that the secret to a good Nanaimo bar is good fresh butter. So, Housemate kindly offered to drive me to the store where I got managed to purchase this essential ingredient.

The egg and most of the butter was used in the base mix:

Nanaimo bar base

Nanaimo bar base

The filling powder was mixed with milk and some butter and then spread across over the base:

Nanaimo bar filling

Nanaimo bar filling

The remainder of the butter was mixed with a packet of chocolate chips in a saun pan which was then poured over the top of the filling:

Nanaimo bar topping

Nanaimo bar topping

It’s actually a very good Nanaimo bar that’s as good as anything you might find at your local bakery. It’s much better than the Starbucks Nanaimo bars. My only complaint is that they don’t give you enough custard filling. I like a lot of filling in my Nanaimo bar.

Thank you Housemate for making this treat possible!

Ice cream tub art!

September 19th 2013.

Usually the companies who produce four litre tubs of ice cream don’t put a lot of thought into the design of the lids so I was pleasantly surprised to see the incredibly cute and whimsical “lid art” on the four litre tubs of Western Family brand ice cream when I was shopping at Save-On-Foods last week.

The good people at Overwaitea Food Group, which owns Save-On-Foods, have gone above and beyond the competition in awesome ice cream tub art and I feel they deserve recognition with their vanilla, chocolate, Neapolitan, tiger tail and chocolate tubs.

Western Family Chocolate Ice Cream

Apparently cute robots need Western Family Chocolate Ice Cream in order to function!

“The characters make it more fun and attractive and we certainly like to have fun in our department and had a lot of fun picking the characters out for the tubs,” says Brian Heppell, general manager of corporate brands at Overwaitea Food Group.

Heppell notes that the lids were designed to appeal to both adults and children – especially mothers who have children aged one through 12.

Western Family Vanilla Ice Cream

The Abominable Snowman deals with his depression by gorging on vanilla ice cream.

“A majority of our shoppers, about 80 per cent, are female and we think of someone who is buying a four litre tub as a ‘heavy user,’” he says. “They are mostly female, many possibly have kids and they might be getting ice cream for a birthday party”

Western Family Tiger Tail Ice Cream

That cat's gonna get fat... and diabetic! Just like Khan!

Heppell, who has been with the company for nearly 40 years, says they designed images that are identifiable by children and parents but not trademarked.

He says that the lids were designed by a Richmond graphic design company which has worked with Overwaitea for nine years.

Western Family Neapolitan Ice Cream

The ice cream matches the clown's hair! Hah! He kinda looks like my brother Gino...

“We pride ourselves on the local aspect,” says Heppell who points out that the product beneath the lid is produced in Chilliwack from Canadian ingredients . “We have been around for nearly 100 years and we like to engage with local suppliers and services and so we work with a local design company. We live and work here too.”

I love Overwaitea!

Vancouver Island University launches first-of-its-kind tuition waiver for former youth in care

August 26th 2013.

Youth who grew up in foster care are welcome and wanted at university.

So says Vancouver Island University (VIU) in Nanaimo which recently announced that they would waive tuition fees for former youth who grew up in foster care.

Partners in VIU’s Tuition Waiver Program include (left to right) MLA Parksville-Qualicum Michelle Stilwell; Ralph Nilson, VIU’s President and Vice-Chancellor; Advanced Education Minister Amrik Virk; Minister of Children and Family Development Stephanie Cadieux; Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, B.C.’s Representative for Children and Youth, and Bill Yoachim, Kw’umut Lelum Child and Family Services, Snuneymuxw Councilor, VIU Alumnus & Governor. (Vancouver Island University)

Partners in VIU’s Tuition Waiver Program include (left to right) MLA Parksville-Qualicum Michelle Stilwell; Ralph Nilson, VIU’s President and Vice-Chancellor; Advanced Education Minister Amrik Virk; Minister of Children and Family Development Stephanie Cadieux; Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, B.C.’s Representative for Children and Youth, and Bill Yoachim, Kw’umut Lelum Child and Family Services, Snuneymuxw Councilor, VIU Alumnus & Governor. (Vancouver Island University)

In a speech titled “Listening to the marginalized to address inequality” given at the University of Victoria’s Congress conference in June, Representative for Children and Youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond called on post-secondary schools to offer free tuition for B.C. youth who spent time in the foster care system.

VIU was the first and to date only university to accept the challenge.

“We hope more public, post-secondary institutions in B.C. follow VIU’s lead,” says Turpel-Lafond. “Earlier this year, I challenged B.C.’s post-secondary institutions to waive tuition fees for children in care and I’m extremely pleased to see that Vancouver Island University has taken the lead in responding to this challenge.”

VIU President Ralph Nilson says the university’s long history of inclusivity contributed to this decision.

“We have a whole set of values at the institution that we have identified in our planning which go to the core of who we are,” Nilson tells me by phone. “We recognize importance of accessibility, support and education to create equality in society whether it’s in our Aboriginal population or people with socio-economic disadvantages.”

Nilson points out that many people living within the communities that VIU serves live below the poverty line. He also notes that 63.8% of youth in care on Vancouver Island are Aboriginal and that VIU has more Aboriginal students than any other university in the province

“I have a firm and enduring belief in the power of education to dramatically change a person’s life,” says VIU’s Chancellor Shawn A-in-chut Atleo. “It opens up opportunities, boosts confidence and of course gives people the chance to secure better, more fulfilling employment opportunities. A program such as this, where tuition is waived, is a great step forward in opening”

Nilson says that education is an important part of both individuals and communities as a whole and hopes to involve youth in care in many areas of VIU life including work study positions.

“People that work at VIU are dedicated and we as an intuition want to make sure that all members are welcome to attend not just the select few,” he says. “We recognize people coming in may not have everything they need but we can help give them everything they need to graduate on merit and that’s what we are proud of. These investments are relatively small when you think of the benefit long-term over a person’s life relative to the cost to the system if you don’t provide it. It’s very minor relative to the real cost and again, it’s so important.”

This is the Tamagawa Gardens at Malaspina University-College in 2004. This beautiful and tranquil space was built as a gift for the school by Tamagawa University in Machida, Tokyo, Japan. When I was a child I used to come up here to read, write, draw or just sit and reflect on my life and the future. I still make a point of returning to this spot whenever I visit Nanaimo.

This is the Tamagawa Gardens at Malaspina University-College in 2004. This beautiful and tranquil space was built as a gift for the school by Tamagawa University in Machida, Tokyo, Japan. When I was a child I used to come up here to read, write, draw or just sit and reflect on my life and the future. I still make a point of returning to this spot whenever I visit Nanaimo.

As a former youth in care who grew up in Nanaimo I know from first-hand experience that the VIU community has a long and laudable history with respect to the advancement of marginalized youth – especially youth in care. Many of my workers and teachers were graduates of VIU which was then known as Malaspina University-College.

When I was a teenager I attended a weekly drop-in for LGBT youth which provided a brief respite from some of the harsh realities of being a queer youth in Nanaimo at the time. It was a supportive place where I felt free to wear my favourite glittery shirts, talk openly about dating boys and really, for the first time, get to know other queer youth as well as adult volunteers. It was the first opportunity I had to speak with openly gay and lesbian adults who included social workers, child care workers, teachers, and university instructors.

Two of the volunteers – Dawn Thompson and Kym Samis – were instructors at Malaspina. They told me that my past was not a detriment but a part of a life journey that lent depth and authenticity to my interactions with this world and that I would make a very good university or college student.

Here is a note of encouragement that Dawn wrote on a card when I moved out from Nanaimo in January 2000.

Here is a note of encouragement that Dawn wrote on a card when I moved out from Nanaimo in January 2000.

I was never a student at Malaspina/VIU but I did end up going to university thanks, in part, to the support and encouragement of these two Malaspina instructors who were incredibly supportive throughout my entire academic journey. They remain a part of my life to this day.

I graduated from Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario in 2005 with a bachelor of arts in Canadian Studies and from Langara College in Vancouver in 2007 with a post-graduate certificate in journalism.

The support I received from faculty, staff and students at those institutions was instrumental in my success.

Me and my awesome friend Lindsay on graduation day at Trent University in 2005.

Me and my awesome friend Lindsay on graduation day at Trent University in 2005.

Unfortunately the provincial government had cut post-secondary funding for youth from care shortly before I started university. Without any support from family I had to take out large student loans to fund my education just like most other youth from care at that time.

Student loan debt really sucks, particularly when it is owed to the same government that was supposed to be your guardian.

I am glad, however, that today’s leaders understand the importance of making post-secondary institutions accessible and affordable for youth in and from care.
This new program at VIU will allow youth from care to focus on their educational and health needs and hopefully break the cycle of poverty. I believe it will also go a long way in making VIU a more universal, well-rounded and loving community.

The pilot project called the Youth in Care Tuition Waiver Program begins in next month

My letter from Kim Campbell!

August 25th 2013.

When I was 12 I received a letter from the Right Honourable Kim Campbell who served as Prime Minister of Canada from 25 June 1993 until 4 Nov. 1993.

“It looks like you got something from Ottawa here,” said the man behind the Canada Post counter at a Nanaimo stationary shop.

“Oh wow, it’s from the prime minister!” I exclaimed.

“Ah, she’s probably after you for taxes!” he said with a chuckle.

I walked out of the store and across the parking lot without taking my eyes off of the sturdy white envelope which had the Canadian coat of arms and the words “prime minister- premiere minister” embossed in gold.

Here’s the letter which was dated 20 years ago today:

August 25, 1993  Dear Nathaniel,  Thank you very much for your kind letter.  It is always a pleasure for me to receive mail from young people such as you.  My colleagues and I now look forward to building an even brighter future for all Canadians.  We recognize the responsibility we have to you as part of the generation who will be affected most by the decisions we make today, and I appreciate your support.  For your interest, I have enclosed a package on Canada's symbols which I hope you will enjoy.  With warm regards,  Yours sincerely,  [signed] Kim Campbell

Letter from Kim Campbell

It was an exciting time to be Canadian and there seemed to be an emphatic push for all things “Canada” in many areas of popular culture. In the previous year the government had sponsored big public observances of the 125th anniversary of Canadian Confederation, the Toronto Blue Jays won the World Series, and the Barenaked Ladies’ debut album “Gordon” hit number one on the Canadian Albums Chart.

Many adults in my life seemed fairly cynical about one aspect of Canada: the federal government. The Progressive Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney was highly unpopular in British Columbia and as children we sang a parodied version of the Tiny Toons Adventures theme song that went: “We’re Tiny, we’re toony, we can’t afford a loonie all because of Brian Mulroney and his stupid G.S.T.”

The tone changed, however after Kim Campbell won the 1993 Progressive Conservative Leadership election becoming the first female prime minister and the first to be born in British Columbia. She had previously served in the federal cabinet, the B.C. legislature and the Vancouver School Board.

I recall watching news footage of her speaking to cheering crowds in B.C. schools with one newscaster describing her reception here to that of a popular rock star. And for a time she was. An August 1993 Gallup poll revealed she enjoyed an approval rating of 51 % – the highest of Canadian prime minister in 30 years.

The honeymoon was short lived and many Canadian best remember her in connection with the 1993 Canadian federal election which reduced the ruling Progressive Conservatives from 169 to two seats in the House of Commons.

But she is also known by many as an eminently accomplished Canadian with a strong Vancouver Island connection.

From 1992 until 1993 I lived in a foster home in Nanaimo’s Old City Quarter. One of our neighbours who had lived in the same house her entire life told me that Kim Campbell’s grandmother Elizabeth Hill Gardiner used to live in a house one block away. Gardiner, who had been a teacher, married Carlyle Edward Cook in that same house in 1920.

Kim Campbell's grandparents' marriage certificate.

Kim Campbell's grandparents' marriage certificate.

Cook’s family had settled in Nanaimo in the early 1870s and lived in a large house down the hill on Wallace St. They had to delay their wedding, however, until he finished dental school as married women were not allowed to teach then.

Here is that house on Goolgle Streetview:

View Larger Map

They both went on to live very rich lives and were a huge credit to their family, community and country.

It was affirming to know that the community where I grew up had played a role in the lives of the prime minister’s family and I like to think that Campbell’s Vancouver Island roots helped inform the person she is today.

I treasure this letter as a reminder of all the cool things that can and do happen in life.

Here’s an awesome video of her discussing American exceptionalism on Real Time with Bill Maher:

A history of British Columbia Day

August 5th 2013.

“Wheras, divers of Her Majesty’s Subjects and others have, by the Licence and Consent of Her Majesty, resorted to and settled on certain wild and unoccupied Territories on the North-West Coast of North America, commonly known by the Designation of New Caledonia, and from and after the passing of this act to be named British Columbia, and the Islands adjacent, for Mining and other purposes; it is it is desirable to make some temporary Provision for the Civil Government of such Territories, until permanent Settlements shall be thereupon established, and the Number of Colonists increased…”

An Act to provide for the Government of British Columbia August 2, 1858

Today is British Columbia Day – BC’s incidentally named civic holiday which is observed on the first Monday of August. Unlike Canada Day or Fête nationale in Quebec which are highly visible celebrations, B.C. Day seems to be little more than an Administrative afterthought that was intended to bring British Columbia into line with the rest of Canada.

John Innes' 1925 painting "James Douglas Taking The Oath As First Governor of BC, A.D. 1858" on display at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby.

John Innes' 1925 painting "James Douglas Taking The Oath As First Governor of BC, A.D. 1858" on display at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby.

The August holiday came about as a result of the British Columbia Day Act which was introduced in 1974 by Ernie Hall who then served as Provincial Secretary in Premier Dave Barrett’s cabinet.

“August 1, or the closest working day to it, is a statutory holiday in every other province in Canada,” he said. “By coincidence, an Act to provide for the Government of British Columbia, which changed us from the Colony of British Columbia, was passed by the parliament in the United Kingdom on August 2, 1858. That was before Social Credit, I think, but only just.”

Since the proposed holiday closely aligned with the anniversary of the passing of “An Act to provide for the Government of British Columbia” the Barrett government dedicated it to the memory of “the pioneers who built the colony of British Columbia into the great province it is today”.

Other members, including, Vancouver South MLA Daisy Webster, praised the proposed holiday for its practical benefits.

“Mr. Speaker, I, too, am very much in favour of having a holiday on August 1,” she said. “I was brought up in Manitoba, and there we used to have a civic holiday on August 1. When I went to Ontario, they had a civic holiday there on August 1. I came to British Columbia and I felt I was deprived.”

The Act to provide for the Government of British Columbia.

The Act to provide for the Government of British Columbia from John Innes' 1925 painting "James Douglas Taking the Oath As First Governor of BC, A.D. 1858."

Langley MLA Bob McLelland, however, stressed the historic importance of the summer observance and reminded his fellow members of Douglas Day, British Columbia’s other provincial holiday.

“Mr. Speaker, I certainly don’t intend to oppose this bill, but I want to recognize that the drafters of the bill have correctly included a tribute to James Douglas who, on the 19th day of November, in Fort Langley, British Columbia, proclaimed the Act setting up the Government of British Columbia,” he said. “I want again to get in an annual plea that the cabinet continue its regular cabinet meeting in Fort Langley on the 19th day of December. Perhaps, while it’s in a holiday mood, it might think about extending the celebration of Douglas Day to the rest of the province instead of isolating it at Fort Langley, recognize that famous day for what it is as well, and recognize, of course, that Fort Langley was the first capital of British Columbia.”

That proclamation took place over three months after the Act received Royal Assent in London.

In delivering the speech of the Lord Commissioners to the House of Lords Frederic Thesiger, 1st Baron Chelmsford as Lord Chancellor expressed a vision of British Columbia, not as a distinct society or nation, but the westernmost extent of British North America. The establishment of British jurisdiction, he argued, was an urgent matter.

“The Act to which Her Majesty has assented for the Establishment of the Colony of British Columbia was urgently required in consequence of the recent discoveries of Gold in that District; but Her Majesty hopes that this new Colony on the Pacific may be but one Step in the Career of steady Progress, by which Her Majesty’s Dominions in North America may ultimately be peopled, in an unbroken Chain, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, by a loyal and industrious Population of Subjects of the British Crown,” said Lord Chelmsford on August 2, 1858.

The name of the colony, one of the most remote and least populated in the British Empire, was selected by Queen Victoria.

“If the name of New Caledonia is objected to as being already borne by another colony or Island claimed by the French, it may be better to give the new colony West of the Rocky Mountains an other name,” wrote the Queen in In a letter to Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton, the English novelist, poet, playwright, and politician who served as Secretary of State for the Colonies on July 24, 1858. “New Hanover, New Cornwall and New Georgia, appear from the maps to be the names of subdivisions of that country, but do not appear on all maps, the only name which is given to the whole territory in every map the Queen has consulted is ‘Columbia’ but as there exists also a ‘Columbia’ in South America and the Citizens of the United States call their country also Columbia at least in poetry ‘British Columbia’ might be in the Queen’s opinion the best name.”

Letter from Queen Victoria in which she recommends the name "British Columbia" for this land.

Letter from Queen Victoria in which she recommends the name "British Columbia" for this land.

During the Second Reading of the Bill in the House of Lords Henry Pelham-Clinton, 5th Duke of Newcastle, who felt the name “British Columbia” was neither very original nor very felicitous, stressed the importance of establishing a permanent colony on the Pacific.

“Steps should be taken to lay out a town, and to adapt the lands to agricultural pursuits, and prevent the colony from becoming the receptacle for ruffians; steps should be taken to introduce habits of decency and order, to establish a certain amount of force, such as would keep the inhabitants in decency and good order, and thereby obviate the difficulties that attached to the first days of a colony of this description,” he said.

Henry Herbert, 4th Earl of Carnarvon was a more sentimental about the new colony and expressed his hope that British Columbia would prove to be “one of the most loyal and devoted of those which paid allegiance to Her Most gracious Majesty”.

Fort Langley today

Fort Langley today

“A complete revolution had recently taken place in that country, which was bounded on the west by the Pacific, on the east by the Rocky Mountains, on the south by the territory of the United States, and on the north by a chain of hills, lakes, and rivers, and which embraced an extent of about 400,000 square miles,” said Lord Carnarvon. “That district, but a short time since tenanted only by wild beasts and still wilder savages, with here and there a hunter, had suddenly become the scene of gold discoveries, and was already the theatre of action, enterprise, and adventure.”

My treasured teacups from the B.C. Centennial in 1958

My treasured teacups from the B.C. Centennial in 1958

A a fifth-generation British Columbian I view this province, especially the coast, as not only my home but my homeland. It is no Canuck hinterland or Imperial link for me. It is the centre of my world and while I am Canadian I can’t deny the deep affinity, connection, and synergy I feel with certain wild and occupied Territories on the North-west coast of North America, commonly known by the Designation British Columbia.

Trans and Genderqueer Liberation and Celebration March [Video]

August 4th 2013.

Yesterday I attended the Trans and Genderqueer Liberation and Celebration March in East Vancouver which attracted an incredibly diverse and engaged crowd of transgender and genderqueer people and their allies.

Here’s the sign I carried:

Transgender and genderqueer sign

The one on the left says "TRANSPHOBIA BELONGS IN THE LITTERBOX" and the sign on the right says "MY CAT LOVES ALL GENDERS".

People from many walks of life walked, wheeled, or rode down the northbound lanes of Commercial Drive from Clark Park at E 14th Ave. to Victoria Park at Salsbury Dr. And Grant St. to ensure, as one sign read, that the “T” in “LGBT” was not silent.

The focus and tone of the event is markedly different from the mammoth Pride parade which takes place today. Firstly, it’s much smaller in scale and I think it’s more of a grassroots protest than the Pride parade. There are no floats or advertisements, for example, and media coverage of the event was minimal by comparison.

I am, of course, not suggesting one is better than the other. They are two very different celebrations each wonderful in their own way.

I have attended previous transgender and genderqueer marches in 2010 and 2012. I was in San Francisco during the 2011 event.

It’s very important for me to show up at these marches as I have several friends who are transgender and genderqueer and I strongly believe they are entitled to the same rights and freedoms as every other Canadian. Rights which they have thus far been denied.

As a gay person I am protected by both the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as the British Columbia Human Rights Code. My transgender friends, however, are not.

Both the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the British Columbia Human Rights Code preclude discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation but not gender identity. The BC Human Rights Tribunal, however, has expanded the protected class of sex to include transgender people through successive rulings dating back to 1999. But protection for gender expression is not explicitly written into the Code’s section protecting people from discrimination.

During Pride weekend I think it’s important to take a moment for people to think about ways we can ensure that ensure that society is a safe and inclusive space for the “T” in “LGBT”.

Here’s my video of the event:

The summer of cake

July 22nd 2013.

“Happy birthday Doris!”

This summer I took a creative non-fiction continuing education course at Langara College. For the last class the instructor thought it would be a nice idea if everyone brought an item of food to share with the class. I wanted to bring something nice so I went  to Maple Leaf Bakery on Davie St. in Vancouver as they sell excellent baked goods.

I looked in the glass display case and noticed a round chocolate mousse cake that had “Happy Birthday Doris!” written on the top.


Doris' cake underneath the glass

Doris’ cake underneath the glass

“Oh no, you probably want to get a blank one,” she says as she points to an identical cake right next to it. “I can write anything you like on this!”

“Well… I would like you to write ‘Happy Birthday Doris!’ then.”

And she did!

The class instructor thought it was a wonderfully random idea and at several times throughout the evening she toasted Doris. We don’t know who she is or where she lives but for one night at least, she was a friend to a class of engaged and inspired writers.

My cake in the class

My cake in the class

It was a delicious mousse cake with a chocolate crumble crust, iced in some kind of delicate chocolate coating, and topped with these Belgian chocolate wafers that are affixed to the cake with dollops of butter cream mocha icing.

It really has been been a summer of cake!

I had my birthday in late June and my neighbourhood friend Kate made all six layers of a mammoth rainbow cake. It was a work of art and a feat of engineering! How did it she keep it all together? Easy! Icing, eggs, and four knitting needles for good measure!

My six-layer birthday cake!

My six-layer birthday cake!

My friend Peter kindly drove me and the cake home and I somehow managed to keep it from tipping against the motions of the car or melting in the heat. I carefully cut it up into about 16 chunks which I kept in large casserole dishes in the fridge.

But apparently the cake gods thought I needed more!

The next morning I received an unexpected knock at the door. “Delivery for Nathaniel from Janean!” said the friendly delivery person who seemed about as happy to give me the cupcakes as I was to receive them. Of course, who wouldn’t love a job that entails handing free cake over to delighted strangers?

They came from Elwin at the amazing Bluebird Cakery in Vancouver.

Cupcakes from Janean

Cupcakes from Janean

The butter icing, I could tell, was prepared from quality ingredients which render a very pleasant taste and consistent texture. I enjoyed three flavours: red Velvet, creme brûlée, and Chocolate with salted caramel. They were all delicious but I enjoyed creme brûlée the most.

I lived with Janean in my second and her first year at Trent University in Peterborough. She moved out to British Columbia several years ago now and always been a thoughtful friend.

We exchange birthday cards every year and last year she fulfilled my lifelong dream of appearing on a postage stamp by mailing me this sheet of personalized Canada Post stamps:

Nathaniel's stamp!

Nathaniel’s stamp!

And last, but not least, are the cake and cupcakes served at a friend Lee’s wedding in Nanaimo last week.

The bride’s sister – my dear friend Stephanie – made three varieties of cupcakes including: sticky toffee double chocolate with salted caramel frosting, vanilla bean with vanilla butter cream frosting, and white chocolate coconut with coconut cream cheese frosting. The wedding cake itself was a chocolate gluten free cake with cream cheese frosting was made by the mother of the bride, Sandy whose experience as a professional wedding cake decorator shone through in this delicious work of art.

Lee's wedding cake

Lee’s wedding cake

More than cake, however, I cherish the happy memories of the wonderful people and celebratory events that seem to come along with it. I’m sure Doris can relate!

Truth in advertising: frozen dessert

June 23rd 2013.

Recently Housemate came home with a big smile on his face. “Ice cream sandwiches were on sale at Safeway for only $1.99!” he exclaims.

I don’t even need to turn around and look at what he bought to know that it’s just too good to be true. Heavily discounted “ice cream” is always a bad sign.

“Yeah, look at the box before you get excited,” I say without turning away from my computer.

“Oh crap!” he says. “It’s expired!”

“Look closer at the box!” I tell him knowing that he routinely buys frozen dessert that he assumes is ice cream.

“Oh! Frozen dessert! I’m sorry – I’ll buy some real ice cream next time,” he promises.

Here is what he bought:

Lucerne Frozen Dessert Sandwiches

Lucerne Frozen Dessert Sandwiches

According to Dairy Farmers of Canada frozen desserts are made with oils such as coconut oil or palm kernel while ice cream is made with milk and milk ingredients such as cream, milk powder, and whey powder. I wrote a complaint to Breyer’s about this before and this was their response. I don’t like frozen dessert – I think it tastes awful.

And this is what the real ice cream sandwiches look like:

Lucerne Ice Cream Sandwiches

Lucerne Ice Cream Sandwiches

When I looked at the box of the frozen dessert sandwiches I was astonished to see that Lucerne, Safeway’s in-store brand for dairy products, featured the words “frozen dessert” in the same stylized font as their ice cream sandwiches. This sort of honesty in product labelling is refreshing as ice cream manufacturers have a tendency to obscure the fact that some of their products are frozen dessert.

This tub of Breyers frozen dessert is a perfect example:

Breyers frozen dessert

Breyers frozen dessert

“Rich and creamy” and “French Vanilla” are written in prominent text while “frozen dessert” is buried in the corner in the smallest text on the front of the tub. It’s easy to see how many shoppers might buy this product assuming that it is, in fact, ice cream. I detest this form of deceptive marketing and I believe hat Unilever (which owns Breyers) is doing this intentionally in an attempt to bilk consumers into buying their inferior product line, thus lowering our standards for dessert.

I always read the fine print to ensure that my ice cream is ice cream and I do appreciate that Lucerne has made this process so much easier. While it may not seem like a big deal I believe it’s a symbolic gesture that shows respect for the consumer.

And yes… Housemate is forever banned from purchasing any dessert for this house!

(Re)united with my biological brother

June 16th 2013.

These were my father’s glasses:

My father's glasses

My father's glasses

They are the only possession of his that I own.

When he died in 2003 the prison hospital shipped me his remaining possessions which amounted to a box of papers, a few books, some cards, photos and those plastic prison-issue glasses in a brown vinyl case.

In 2002 my father looked through these lenses when he saw my face for the first time.

My first and only meeting with him took place in the visitor’s room at Indiana State Prison in Michigan City, Indiana.

I was a pensive but determined 20-year-old university student with the same eyes as he.

Yes, I was definitely related to this man but I would never call him “dad” and I think that hurt him.

He made poor choices in life and many of these choices meant that he could never be a parent to his children. He did, however, wish to have contact with all of his children including his first son who was born in the summer of 1971 and later put for adoption.

It was me who eventually made that contact – very recently, in fact.

This son is my brother. Robert Russell Burton of Henderson County, Kentucky.

Robert Russell and his father Tommie Robert Henderson

Robert Russell and Tommie Robert Henderson

“Hello, Robert. Are you there? You can go ahead now,” says the executive director of the Georgia Adoption Reunion Registry. “Thanks, Peggy,” says the man on the other end.

His voice is several octaves deeper than my own and he speaks in a drawl indicative of someone who has lived their whole life in the American South.

“Thank you,” I say to Peggy who tells us that she’s going to put the phone in the drawer while we talk. “I guess I should tell you that I’m Nathaniel and I’m your brother,” I say. I’m nervous and I am aware that this is a really life changing moment.

A moment over 40 years in the making.

Before he came to Canada in 1973 my father was married to a woman from Marietta. They married in the days immediately following his release from the US federal prison in Atlanta. Car theft was the charge on that one, I think. Their marriage was brief. His wife, Evelyn, gave birth to a son she named after my father on 15 Aug. 1971.

“Your name at birth was Thomas Robert Henderson,” I tell the man identified as “Robert” on the other end of the line.

In Georgia adult adoptees do not have the right to access their original birth certificate and I figure that if our line gets cut off,or I get hit by a meteorite he should at the very least know his original name.

I’m only hearing my own thoughts. I’m nervous but decide to tune myself out for a moment and treat this conversation like one of the many telephone interviews I do as a journalist. Cool, in control, and a bit disengaged. I ask him about his interests, his family and life experiences.

He is originally from Georgia but currently lives in Kentucky with his wife and two children who are 13 and 14 years old. He loves hunting, fishing, as well Civil War history. His name is Robert Burton. He was always aware that his original name was Thomas Robert but nobody told him his last name.

He was absolutely delighted to hear from me, is very enthusiastic about the (re)union process and bears a striking resemblance to our father

I’ve spent a lot of time on the phone with him and I’m getting to know a very interesting, fun and oddly familiar person.

The cultural differences between us are quite pronounced. His accent, lifestyle and worldview are all a bit different than my own but I have noticed many similar personality traits.

I first found out about him when I sent away for my father’s criminal record in 2002. I was in university and the family I was live with, who wanted me to succeed in life, were worried about me digging into the past.

They are good people who did not want to see me sink my roots into a story that would only bring me hurt. “Look ahead,” they said.

Still, the knowledge that I had a brother out there somewhere always nagged at me. I felt that I couldn’t know my own story without knowing at least what happened to my father’s first son.

So, I went through the Georgia Adoption Reunion Registry and applied for contact and requested that they do a search for him. Under Georgia law this was about the only way I could ever get in touch with him as his original birth certificate was “sealed” and I had no way of connecting his original name with an adoption file.

I am incredibly happy to have found him and look forward to getting to know him better over the months and years ahead but I wish I had been able to pull this off while our father and his mother were still alive.

I never knew our father so I couldn’t say much except what I’d heard and read. But I did mail him copies of every document I have on our father as well all of our family photos. I also enclosed some handwritten letters from our father as well as his parents’ original marriage certificate and our father’s glasses.

Robbed of any opportunity to know his father I felt that he should at least have something that once belonged to him – I know our father would have wanted him to have something.

“Robert, here are your father’s glasses,” I write in my letter. “When you hold them in your hand try to imagine the kind of father you wished he could have been and be that father to your children. And yourself.”

Unfortunately I can’t send him a very happy family history but I think our future looks pretty bright.

I am glad to have found my brother. He’s a good guy.

Elizabeth May mailed me a photo of her cats!

April 23rd 2013.

I just received a big letter from Green Party leader and Saanich – Gulf Islands MP Elizbaeth May! Here’s the photo she sent me of her cats when they were kittens:

Elizabeth May's cats when they were kittens.

Elizabeth May's cats when they were kittens.

Last month my friend Janean sent me a link to a story about a guy who wrote a letter to Stephen Harper to ask about his cats. In response he received a signed letter as well as a photo of Stephen Harper’s cat Stanley. A photo of the letter was posted by Reddit user MyLastNameIsHO.

Suffice to say I love cats a heck of a lot more than Stephen Harper and I thought it would be nice to see if other party leaders had cats too so I decided to write a letter to Janean’s MP and Green Party leader Elizabeth May.

25 March 2013

Dear Ms. May,

I am writing this letter as a friendly and light-hearted inquiry about any cats that you may have.

A few days ago my dear friend Janean Sharkey, who also happens to be a wildlife biologist and one of your constituents, posted a link on Facebook about Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s cat. Apparently someone wrote the prime minister to inquire about his cats and Harper replied with a letter and a large glossy photo of his pet.

While I love cats I am not a big fan of Harper or the Conservative Party of Canada. I will, however, admit that I was touched by his expression of affection for his feline companions but feel that there is room for other political cat stories on the Internet.

I don’t know if you currently have a cat but I am writing this letter with the assumption that you like them. After all, would an educated and committed animal person like Janean live in a riding represented by someone who doesn’t? I don’t think so! Hehe.

Would you please send me a photo of your current or former cats? I would also like to know what cats mean to you and why you believe, if you do, that cats are especially important to British Columbians and Canadians. Furthermore, what do you believe our leaders should do to support housecats and their owners? I intend to post your reply on my personal website at

I have enclosed a photo of me and my cat Khan which was taken at the Sears portrait studio in 2011. Khan is an eight-year-old diabetic domestic shorthair and he’s pretty much the centre of my life. He loves sushi, cake, houseguests, and the sun lamp. He’s a very friendly and mellow pet who gets along with just about anybody and the vet even describes him as “very Zen.”

Kind regards,

Nathaniel Christopher

The photo I sent to Elizabeth May.

The photo I sent to Elizabeth May.

Today I received a reply! In addition to the photo she also sent me a lovely card that she purchased in support of the Western Canada Wilderness Committee as well as really sturdy vinyl photo holder with the House of Commons logo on the front.

The stuff I got from Elizabeth May! The brid on the card is a black-throated green warbler.

The stuff I got from Elizabeth May! The brid on the card is a black-throated green warbler.

This is what she wrote in the card:

Dear Nathaniel,

Thanks so much for your sweet letter. I do love cats. The enclosed photo is of my cats when they were kittens!

Thanks for your photo with Khan.


Elizabeth's letter to me.

Elizabeth's letter to me.

The binder thing that Elizabeth May sent me!

The binder thing that Elizabeth May sent me!