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I voted in a mall!

I like voting. It’s a fun, easy and affordable way to participate in the democratic process.

And it just got a lot easier here in Burnaby ‘cause we get to vote at the mall!

I’ll be out of province on municipal election day (Nov 15) so I voted in an advance poll at Brentwood Town Centre on Nov 1. Advance polls will also be open on Nov 5 and Nov 8 at Brentwood Town Centre, Metropolis at Metrotown, Lougheed Town Centre, Shadbolt Centre for the Arts and Edmonds Community Centre.

I have only ever voted in a school, community centre or church. These are places that I wouldn’t otherwise go to. This year, however, it really felt like the election came to me as I was able to cast my vote while I was doing my weekly Brentwood shop.

Aside from the novel location it was just like every other municipal election. I presented my voting card to the poll clerk who handed me a ballot. I marked and cast my ballot and then went on with my day. The entire process took less than two minutes.
It was easy and convenient.

The location used to be an Athlete’s World shoe store where I bought my current runners in 2012.

I also got this fun purple sticker which I placed on Khan:

Sadly, cats are not eligible to vote in this election. That being said, I think Khan’s vote does count – especially when tuna is on the ballot.

For more info on the election check out the City of Burnaby’s election page.

Dump truck blocks Capitol Hill (Burnaby) sidewalk

I recently missed my bus because this dump truck was in the way:

I was not impressed!

It was parked across the sidewalk in front of the site of a townhouse development at 5161 Hastings St. Near Springer Ave. Workers were clearing the site of garbage before the existing buildings were demolished. The sidewalk and bus stop were obstructed.

Apparently there wasn’t enough room in front of the property to park their dump truck without obstructing the sidewalk so the driver decided to just their giant dump truck across the sidewalk forcing pedestrians to walk against traffic on Hastings St. to get around them.

The front of the truck.

The sidewalks along Hastings are not just a convenience to get from a parking lot to a car but vital thoroughfares that link people to services and amenities such as grocery stores, medical appointments and bus stops.

Blocking this right of way without the proper city permits is wildly unacceptable, a violation of bylaws and a middle finger to the people in this neighbourhood. Especially those people like myself who rely on their feet or public transit to get where they need to go.

This is an urban area and many residents including myself rely on transit and their feet to get where they need to go. The 135 Burrard Station/SFU bus that serves this route for example is one of the top 10 busiest routes in the region serving 6,227,000 passengers in 2013.

The City of Burnaby classifies Hastings as a primary arterial street and one of the most important east-west corridors in the region with approximately 40,000 to 45,000 vehicles a day.

Unless you’re somehow immune to the impact of huge buses, trucks and cars barrelling down the street at 80 km an hour it’s not the safest place for an afternoon stroll.

Timeless Developments had to pay for the construction of this bus stop as part of the approval process. My brother Gino looks on.

I’ve never filed a traffic complaint in my life and I had no idea who to report this to. Consequently, the truck was fled the scene by the time I figured out who to call. So, I decided to just blog about it instead!

A company called Timeless Developments is building a 22-unit stacked townhouse development with underground parking at 5161 and 5191 Hastings. This is the developer:

Timeless Developments 3724 McGill Avenue Burnaby, BC V5C IE9 (Attention: Michael Bosa)

I am not opposed to redevelopment in my area. Granted, I wish more of them included affordable rental housing for low-income folks like myself but that’s a discussion I will save for another day. I just think developers should exercise more respect for public safety.

The remains of a four-plex that was constructed in 1956 at 5161 Hastings. It was home to renters like me as well as friendly cats that used to greet me from time to time. It was listed in “fair” condition in 2007.

I understand that developers may need to obstruct a street or sidewalk in order to complete a project. But there are proper ways to do that. Take the example of Censorio. They are a real estate developer currently building some condos three blocks away at 4719 Hastings.

A few months back they were pouring the cement into the foundation. I think. Anyway, they had this big machine that obstructed the sidewalk which meant pedestrians like myself would have to walk around. Would we get killed? Probably not. They posted signs, placed tall traffic cones around the obstruction and a few workers in hardhats and bright reflective vests courteously directed pedestrian traffic.

Those are the kind of neighbours we need.

Mission San Francisco Solano

I recently went to visit my good friends Michael and Paul in beautiful Marin County, California. I hadn’t been down since late 2011 and figured now was as a good a time as any to pop in for a visit.

“What do you want to do while you’re down here,” asked Paul.

I’ve done all of the tourist things in San Francisco and this visit I was content to relax and enjoy the company of my dear friends. There was, however, one thing I wanted to see while I was there.

“Can you drive me up to Sonoma?” I ask Paul on a whim. “I’ve always wanted to visit Mission San Francisco Solano!”

The end of the Mission Trail at Mission San Francisco Solano!

I have long been fascinated with the Spanish and Mexican history of California which was at one time known as Alta California. Although the Spanish and Mexican period ended long ago it still lives on in the 21 missions that extend from San Diego to Sonoma.

Established in 1823 Mission San Francisco Solano was the northernmost and last of the California missions. It was also the only one established after Mexican independence.

Without hesitation on his part, or a solid plan on my end, Paul graciously agrees to facilitate my geeky obsession with history.

Paul, who is quite organized, assumed I had everything figured out. The night before we drove up there, however, I had no clue what we would be doing. Other than the mission I had no idea what else there was to see or do in Sonoma.

This original bell from the mission was cast in Mexico in 1829.

I was kind of freaking out so I did a frantic Google search and was delighted to discover that the mission is part of Sonoma State Historic Park which is comprised of a series of historic attractions located in several sites throughout Sonoma!

Better yet the US$3 entrance fee gives one access to all of the sites including: the Sonoma Barracks, Casa Grande Servants’ Quarters, the Toscano Hotel, Vallejo Home (Lachryma Montis), the Chalet Museum, the Blue Wing Inn and the mission itself.

Before my sleeping pills kicked in I converted the Wikipedia articles for these sites into .epub files and loaded them on to my awesome Sony PRS-T1 e-book reader to read on the drive to Sonoma.

Michael and Paul enjoy a relaxing moment outside the mission.

The park itself offered a full day of what I felt were exciting activities and I figured I had the know-how to make the excursion at least somewhat interesting to my gracious hosts.

It’s not the most famous or imposing of the mission but I love San Francisco Solano as it blends Spanish architectural elements with a rustic elegance that conjures images of the American Frontier.

Chapel roof at Mission San Francisco Solano.

It’s situated near several intact structures from the Mexican era as well as more contemporary buildings and this lends the mission and the surrounding neighbourhood an aura of history that is readily accessible to all visitors.

And access historic sites I did!

Seven flags at Sonoma City Hall.

“I will never go to Europe with you,” Paul told Michael as I was reading every plaque and historic display. “We’d never make it out of the first museum over there!”

One the staff people there – a rather handsome park ranger who appeared to be my age – shared my enthusiasm for the fact that the mission is part of a state park.

“I love that we’re secular, man!” he said after I expressed my relief that this was not a church owned building. “Your admission fee goes to the state.”

Nathaniel in front of the mission!

I should point out, however, that these are my own thoughts. The handsome ranger made no comment on church affairs and was completely professional.

Interior of the Sonoma Barracks.

After the mission we went to the Sonoma Barracks which is a two-storey adobe barracks that was built in the 1830s to house Mexican troops. Unfortunately, it was a very dusty and musty old building and both Michael and I had a pretty severe allergic kind of reaction to something in there.

Also, I was getting a bit woozy on account of the sun so we decided to call it a day.

And what a day it was!

I had a great time in California and I hope to return for another visit soon.

That new bus seat smell!

There’s nothing quite like that new furniture smell – especially on your bus!

I recently boarded a 135 Burrard Station bus outside my home in North Burnaby and noticed the bus smelled like new vinyl. Upon closer investigation I discovered the seats appeared to be brand new. This was nice!

From New bus seats!

Coast Mountain Bus Company which manages 96 per cent of the bus services in the Greater Vancouver area have, in fact, replaced the seats on the New Flyer Industries D60LF low floor articulated bus that serves my route.

“The 135 bus you are inquiring about did have its seats replaced as part as part of the midlife repair in December 2013,” says Vic Carreira who is the director of fleet maintenance at Coast Mountain Bus Company. “TransLink is committed to keeping our system in a state of good repair. We have strict maintenance practices where in the long run, it will help our buses run better and ultimately service our customers better. Thanks for noticing our efforts.”

I don’t drive so I rely on public transit to get around. I spend at least an hour a day on the bus or SkyTrain so a hassle-free and pleasant transit experience contributes to my quality of life. I like it when the buses and trains are clean, arrive on time and have enough seats for everyone on board.

From New bus seats!

They installed the comfortable Model 6484 (City Service Bus) seats which are manufactured by American Seating. Their website describes them as follows, “Superior comfort and styling define the fully upholstered 6484 design. This comfortable and refined seating solution is built and tested for durability, safety, comfort and style.”

From New bus seats!

The old seats were also the 6484 design but they were getting quite ratty and greasy with age. The new seats, however, are comfortable, clean and sturdy.

From New bus seats!

“As a regular maintenance practice, the interior and exterior of our buses are cleaned on a daily basis, this includes sweeping the floors and washing the exterior of the buses,” says Carreira. “In addition, approximately four times per year, we fully clean the interior of each bus by vacuuming the seats with a hepa filtered industrial vacuum and then spraying the seats with disinfectant. Also, our buses go through a rebuild near the midpoint of their 17 year life. Depending on the condition of the bus the midlife repairs can include seat replacement.”

Fine bone china, cats and a flying teapot!

I absolutely love bone china.

The Canadian Oxford Dictionary defines it as “fine china made of clay mixed with the ash from bones.” In other words, the really expensive dishes that your grandmother kept behind glass.

Bone china tends to be delicate yet very strong with a high level of chip resistance that engages the senses. I find that a bone china teacup feels much smoother against my skin than a cheap ceramic mug which can strain the fingers. Furthermore, bone china is frequently decorated with beautiful designs that are sometimes hand-painted and embellished with gold.

My prized hand-painted fine bone china teacups that were specially made for B.C.'s official centennial celebrations in 1958. The cups on the left were made by Royal Stafford and the cups on the right by Roslyn.

My prized hand-painted fine bone china teacups that were specially made for B.C.'s official centennial celebrations in 1958. The cups on the left were made by Royal Stafford and the cups on the right by Roslyn.

I have a lot of beautiful pieces of china which lend tea and social gatherings a touch of beauty, continuity and a certain loving dignity that transcends the ages.

It’s a gesture of love and respect on my part when I serve my friends tea in my best china and it’s not lost on me when others do the same. My friend Jacqueline, for example, is a fellow bone china lover.

I own two British Columbia themed pieces by Royal Winton Grimwades including a salt and pepper shaker set and this well-used mug that once belonged to my great-grandmother. I drink tea from this mug every day.

I own two British Columbia themed pieces by Royal Winton Grimwades including a salt and pepper shaker set and this well-used mug that once belonged to my great-grandmother. I drink tea from this mug every day.

Whenever I visit her she takes great delight in telling me the stories behind her many beautiful pieces. None were more beautiful and haunting, in my opinion, than her lovely cat pattern china.

“This particular china pattern is a bit of an obsession for me,” says Jacqueline as she carefully pulls a whimsical fine bone china mug from the safety of a corner cupboard.

The cup depicts tasteful and well-executed transfer-printed images of cats: an orange and black tabby on one side and black and white domestic long-hair wearing a cute daisy-chain necklace on the other. The rim and handle of the cup are both embellished with the same daisy-chain motif.

The front side of the kitty daisy chain mug.

The front side of the kitty daisy chain mug.

Jacqueline purchased two cups as well as a teapot sold by Marks & Spencer under its St Michael brand at one of their Vancouver locations in the late ‘90s.

“I bought the teapot and two cups for about $120 and spending $120 on china was a lot at that point in my life,” recalls Jacqueline. “But I simply fell in love with them immediately and thought they were the coolest cups and teapot that I’d ever seen.”

Unfortunately the other matching cup as well as the teapot were destroyed long ago. She can’t remember how the other cup was lost but the demise of her the teapot is still a vivid memory 12 years after the fact.

“My boyfriend was sleeping on the couch and he had his feet right near the side table where the teapot was resting,” she says. “Seeing the danger I warned him to be careful and he said, ‘okay, don’t worry!’ He then accidentally kicked the teapot off of the table and it flew across the air and smashed into a bunch of pieces. I was very upset.”

The back of the kitty daisy chain mug.

The back of the kitty daisy chain mug.

She was in the dining room at the time and unable to save the teapot. She did, however, witness the smash that was heard around the world.

“You have to understand that this was a carpeted apartment we lived in at the time,” she recalls. “There was only one non-carpeted surface in the apartment which was a 3 ft. by 1 ft. tiled area in front of the gas fireplace and that’s where the teapot landed.”

Undeterred, she has doggedly searched for a replacement ever since. She checks eBay “continually” and has even called various Marks & Spencer locations throughout the United Kingdom.

The bottom of the kitty daisy chain mug.

The bottom of the kitty daisy chain mug.

“I called them every six months until finally I was transferred from someone to someone else until finally someone who knew what I was talking about said, ‘oh yes, the daisy chain kitty cups!’” she says. “She knew why I loved them and said they were adorable but had no idea where I might them. That was about five years ago when I finally gave up. I figured that if the one person who knew what I was talking about said I would never find it I might as well give up.”

While Jacqueline still holds out hope that she may find a replacement she is not holding her breath.

“I would like to replace my teapot and have at least one more cup so I can use it someday with friends,” she says. “I can’t spend hours every nothing trolling eBay – it’s a waste of time.”

Have you seen this pattern anywhere?

National Coming Out Day

My Facebook feed tells me that today is “National Coming Out Day” and as a self-identified “professional gay” I thought it’d be good to write a little post.

Happy National Coming Out Day!

Happy National Coming Out Day!

I consider myself visibly gay. A lot of people – at least in my culture – assume that I’m gay based on how I talk, my mannerisms and interests. I’m perfectly fine with that. In fact, I often tell people that I never had to come out.

As soon as someone explained what homosexuality was to me in a mature and adult fashion I immediately identified with that and realized that yes, I was gay.

My first sexual education class took place when I was in grade five at Chase River Elementary School in Nanaimo. Some health nurse came in and explained to use how babies are made and what condoms were and so forth. At the end of the class she handed us all a yellow booklet which explained puberty and sexuality in a very straightforward and age-appropriate fashion.

The most helpful information was contained in a glossary of terms in the back which included definitions for homosexuality, bisexuality, and heterosexuality.

Me in 1991

Here I am at the age of 10 in 1991 when I first learned what being gay meant.

After reading that information I spoke with a college student I knew named Martin. He had moved to Nanaimo from Toronto but was originally from the Netherlands. His observations on the world and life had a profound impact on my young mind.

I presented him with the information I had just learned and he told me about a friend he had in Toronto.

“He was gay but he really wanted to be straight to fit in, please his family, and so forth, “said Martin. “He tried dating girls and said ‘I’m not going to be gay anymore’ but it didn’t work. It was in his nature and eventually he came to realize this and was much happier. It’s okay to be gay if that’s what you are”

“Oh, okay. Well I’m just like your friend then,” I said. “I’m gay or a homosexual too!”

Martin immediately told me that if I was gay then that’s okay and there would be no point in trying to change it or feel bad about it so I never did and I never have.

That being said, I didn’t really want to broadcast my sexual orientation to everyone. I waited until I was 18 to officially come out to everyone and I decided to do so by writing an article in the Mind’s Eye which was (is?) a youth newspaper in Nanaimo.

Anyways, National Coming Out Day seems like a perfect opportunity to revisit my big “coming out” which took place 14 years ago this month. I’ve included some links that reveal a bit more about who and what I was talking about or against!

A personal account of being gay in Nanaimo

Mind’s Eye (Nanaimo BC), October 8, 1999

My name is Nathaniel and I am gay and proud of it!

Two years ago I wouldn’t have been able to say those twelve words to myself never mind announcing it to all of Nanaimo! I am on the B.C. Ferry wearing my pride necklace, all dressed up to march for Nanaimo’s Youthquest! In Vancouver’s annual gay Pride Parade. On the boat children are staring at me, and old people are shaking their heads, this finally prompts my brother to exclaim “Yes he is!”

Marching in Mondo Pride ‘99 as it was called was an unforgettable experience. Rather than stares of ridicule and disgust I received looks of admiration, love, and respect. Pride flags adorned every balcony and store window, thousands of people were cheering for me simply because I am who I am.

Young, gay and proud! My big "coming out" article from 1999.

Young, gay and proud! My big "coming out" article from 1999.

I have yet to receive such acclaim in Nanaimo. It is alarming how many people still believe it is still okay to verbally, and even physically assault people simply because of the fact that they are “faggots”.

One Saturday night I was walking down a Central Nanaimo street when I realized that I was being followed a car filled with four young men. Before I could evade them they preceded to call me derogatory names, and threaten to kill me because they thought that I was a “fag”. The following night a car full of teenage girls harassed me! They drove past me several times screaming derogatory names, attempting to throw eggs at me.

The discrimination against Gays and Lesbians is evident in many areas of Nanaimo. In the May edition of this publication I conducted an interview with three of Nanaimo’s important elected representatives. When I confronted Mayor Gary Korpan on the issue with a nervous chuckle exclaimed that he had never thought of Nanaimo’s Gay and Lesbian Youth.

Okay, I wouldn’t expect the man who is elected to represent and act upon the best interests of the entire city to not have even thought about ten percent of our youth, but when I go to the polls on November 20 maybe I will not even think about a certain mayor. Ignorance is not restricted strictly to government officials however; it creeps up everywhere in society, even at the schools and the workplace.

1999 portraits

Here are some photos that were taken around the time I wrote this article. The clip-on tie was not mine.

I am in my final year at Nanaimo District Secondary School, it being very diverse many people consider it to be the most open minded school and as such the best for gay and lesbian students. Homophobia still lurks in the school. I believe that most of the students at NDSS are accepting and open-minded. The staff is wonderful. I have received nothing but encouragement and support from all teachers that I have encountered. Although homophobia does exist at my school I have never had a problem with harassment there.

Although I have received a few ignorant comments from younger students it is not what is being said at that bothers me, it is what is not being said. Every year grade ten Career and Personal planning students listen to a guest speaker talk about homophobia. This may not sound like lots but take into consideration that many high schools in the district won’t even do this. In all of my years at high school I have never once heard a teacher address the issue of homosexuality, everything else but that (I didn’t do CAPP 10 at NDSS).

I am starting a group at my school for gay and lesbian students. The purpose of this group (or club) will be to combat homophobia, support students who are already out of the closet, make the process of coming out easier for future gay and lesbian students, and to make NDSS an understanding, nurturing environment for gay and lesbian students. I have received encouragement and support from the staff. that I have approached regarding this issue.

The educators in School District 68 need to teach their students that gay and lesbian people exist, that there is nothing wrong with who they are, and that it is not okay to treat someone with disrespect because they are gay or lesbian.”

On notable example of homophobia would be some of Nanaimo’s less enlightened churches. One night I went to a downtown church for a “Dance” and people were coming up to me lecturing me on how homosexuality was a “sin” and that I should change my lifestyle in order to get into heaven.

Individuals and institutions alike are all entitled to their opinions and beliefs; However, I feel that those kind of attitudes are extremely ignorant and ignorance leads to fear and hostility which in turn can lead to violence. I believe that the ignorant homophobic ideology propagated by these kinds of churches contributes to the violence and oppression against gay and lesbians in our society.

This is definitely not be said about all churches; Many churches are very supportive. I saw some churches marching in the gay pride parade! I have had several friends have same sex marriages in their churches. I have faith that the religious leaders on the twenty-first century do not subscribe to the same ignorant attitudes that their predecessors in the twentieth do.

The Mayor of Nanaimo needs to recognize the fact that we exist, and all three levels of government should do anti homophobia campaigns. I think that if we want change it is up to us, not just the “queer” community, but also our friends, families, co-workers, and supporters. We need to create some kind of organization for the entire gay and lesbian community in this city. We should have a gay and Lesbian newspaper, and I think that it would be wonderful idea to hold an annual pride march! The Federal Minister for Multiculturalism told me that if Nanaimo were to have a Pride March she would love to attend!

As for the rest of the city I would like to see a little pride sticker in every business window, I would like to see gay and lesbian couples walking down the street or seawall holding hands without the fear of being bashed, I would like the word “fag” to vanish from the English slang, most importantly I want everybody to accept gay and lesbian people for who they are without trying to change, deny, or repress them.

I have been very fortunate for having the close friends that I do; they have always accepted and supported me in whatever I have done. They have made me realize that being myself is the highest thing that I can ever aspire for.

I could write an article about the incredible support that I have received from Youthquest! (The gay and lesbian youth society of BC). Many incredible men and women volunteer four hours of their time every Thursday night so that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender youth have a safe place to hang out free from harassment. I love them all very much for what they do. Their support has meant the world to me.

I would like to thank myself for having the courage to come out of the closet, be proud of who I am, and share that sense of pride with others.

New White Spot at Kensington Square in North Burnaby!

A new White Spot just opened for business in my neighbourhood and I thought it’d be a perfect excuse to write an impromptu restaurant review.

For those of you who don’t know White Spot is a chain of restaurants in British Columbia and Alberta and today I enjoyed an appetizing and delicious lunch at their newest location at Kensington Square in North Burnaby.

If today was any indication of what to expect in the future I am confident that this location will do very well. The food was good, the service was excellent, and the whole place had a very nice ambience.

The Kensington Square White Spot.

The Kensington Square White Spot.

This is in stark contrast to the ABC Country Restaurant that once occupied this location. Housemate ate breakfast there every week but I didn’t like it. I thought the food was disgusting, the service was piss-poor, and the atmosphere left a lot to be desired. They really seemed to cater to senior citizens and people coming out of church. I was not their demographic and the servers let me know this…

Those days are no more!

One of the White Spot managers explained that they hope to attract a diverse crowd of customers including seniors, students, young adults, and everyone in-between and I told him that I had no doubt they’d achieve their objective.

The people at White Spot completely gutted the old ABC location and essentially rebuilt the entire restaurant from the inside out. Back when it was ABC a large portion of the restaurant was sectioned off for some reason and I never saw anyone use it. The new White Spot, however, has filled the entire place up with booth seats and a very attractive bar area.

The bar area at White Spot. The servers said there is no booze on the shelf yet!

The bar area at White Spot. The servers said there is no booze on the shelf yet!

And yes, the food was delicious! I’ve been sick for the last week and this was the first actual meal I’ve had in days.

I ordered some tea, a Legendary Combo (a hamburger with some kind of salad), and a vanilla milkshake.

I am pleased to say that the burger was made from local ingredients and that the patty was fresh – not frozen. The salad was salad. I’m sure someone who likes salads would say that it was delicious but I only eat them because they contain essential vitamins. And yes, the tea and the milkshake were also delicious!

The servers were very attentive, friendly, and prompt. I will definitely make a habit of eating here and Housemate has also indicated that he will join me on future visits!

The tea was excellent!

The tea was excellent!

The Legendary Combo with a salad!

The Legendary Combo with a salad!

A close up of the burger! Tee-hee-hee!

A close up of the burger! Tee-hee-hee!

Vanilla milkshake!

Vanilla milkshake!

President’s Choice brand Nanaimo bars!

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!

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

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