Friday, September 30, 2011

Free Burma

Sometimes you read a book, and you're reluctant to start another one, because you want to remember and keep fresh all the facts and details. Sometimes a book can change the way you think. Inspire you to action. Little Daughter: A Memoir of Survival in Burma and the West is one such book. It is the autobiography of Zoya Phan, a Karen refugee from Burma. I don't even know where to begin on this one, other than to quote Phan's summary of Burma:

Burma is in Southest Asia, with Thailand and Laos to the east, Bangladesh to the west and India and China to the north. The population is estimated at around 50 million. There are eight main ethnic groups, and more than 100 subgroups, making it one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world.

It is a country rich in natural resources, but also one of the poorest in the world, as the dictatorship spends up to half its annual budget on the military.

Burma gained independence from Britain after the Second World War, but even under democratic rule the central government oppressed and discriminated against ethnic groups.

In 1962, General Ne Win took power in a military coup, and the country has been ruled by dictatorships ever since. A student-led pro-democracy uprising in 1988 was brutally suppressed by the regime, and a new dictatorship—the State Law and Order Restoration Council—took over. A combination of internal and international pressure led the regime to hold elections in 1990, which it expected to win. But instead the National League for Democracy, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, won 82 per cent of the seats in Parliament. The regime refused to accept the results, and instead arrested and tortured MPs and democracy activists. As of December 2008 there were more than 2,100 political prisoners in Burma, many of whom are tortured, kept in solitary confinement and denied medical treatment.

Aung San Suu Kyi is now in her third period of detention, and is the world's only Nobel Peace laureate in detention. She is denied visitors, her phone line is cut, and she is not allowed to send or receive post. She has grandchildren she has never been allowed to see.

Burma is a record-breaker for all the wrong reasons. It has the highest number of child soldiers, the longest-running civil war, one of the highest levels of infant mortality in the region and the lowest levels of spending on health and education. The regime has been accused by the United Nations of a crime against humanity for its use of slave labour, the highest in the world. It is engaged in ethnic cleansing in eastern Burma, is one of the few governments in the world that still uses landmines, and denies international aid to its own population. Burma also regularly comes top in tables on corruption and media censorship."

(Since this book was published,
Aung San Suu Kyi has been released, some political prisoners are supposedly going to be released, though there it is still a long road to democracy.)

The ethnic cleansing Phan glances over in the summary is the primary subject of the book. The Karen being one of the ethnic groups that the government has been trying to annihilate for decades in brutal fashion. Phan spends the majority of her life running and hiding from attacks as her villages and refugee camps are attacked, burned, and her friends and neighbours are raped, shot, forced into slave labour, die from starvation or one of many treatable illnesses, blown up in bomb raids or by landmines. Any horror you can imagine, the Burmese army has been inflicting it on the Karen for years. What bothered me the most is how this was never on my radar until now, and how relatively mute it's been on the world stage, primarily because foreign investment has been a bigger priority. It's sickening. Also sickening is how long it took for the UN to get involved, because it was deemed as an internal problem and posed no threat to any other countries. And how difficult it was for Phan to claim refugee status.

I highly, highly recommend this book as a way to become familiar with the ongoing problems facing the Karen. I would lend you my copy, but better to buy it from the Phan Foundation where proceeds will go to support the Karen people of Burma as they struggle to fight poverty, provide education, protect their culture, and promote human rights.

UPDATE: I just watched The Lady, a phenomenal film about Aung San Suu Kyi and her years under house arrest. It's sad, frustrating, inspiring and enraging, and I highly recommend it. Here's the trailer:

Thursday, September 22, 2011


To celebrate our anniversary and enjoy the last few days before Mark started his new job, we went to Lake Placid for a long weekend. 

We did do a couple of hikes but no High Peaks this time, because it was colder than we anticipated, and there was actually snow at the tops! We don't have the right gear to deal with ice/snow (without hauling out our snowshoes), plus with the limited amount of daylight these days, we thought it best to relax and do some shorter hikes. So we did Baxter and Haystack Mountain (not to be confused with Mount Haystack which IS a High Peak). Here are a few of the many highlights:

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Wee fabric house

Small house for big dreams...

I made this little (6" tall) fabric house from new and upcycled fabrics. I wanted it to look very hobbit-like; a quaint little Pixie dwelling. Though it took a long time, it was fun to make, and hand-stitching the details was my favourite part (so zen!). I could have easily gotten carried away and pimped it out even more (shutters, curtains on the inside, more flowers: perhaps some climbing roses?). In real life, I think this little house would be one of these; specifically this one! 

This is the first one I've ever made, but I have plans for future wee fabric houses, perhaps with dormers, chimneys, and I've even contemplated turrets. Someone's going to have to stop me when I start thinking about moats and drawbridges...

The elephant "poster" is a fabric scrap from Umbrella prints.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Four years ago today

Was a good day.   :)

Photography by the wickedly talented Michael Moore.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Georgian Bay beauty

Narrow slivers of land. Gnarly west-wind trees. Dramatic rock formations. There is a special and stunning beauty that is unique to Georgian Bay. When you're on the edge of it, gazing out at the seemingly endless expanse of water before you, you feel the same humbling insignificance you feel when in the presence of a large mountain or a large tree. There is something incomprehensible about it. Mysterious. Something wise and knowing. But there is also something comforting about the starkness. The elemental simplicity resonates with me, especially on those still, grey days. I like to sit at the very edge, where the water meets the land, and just enjoy being there. (Pisces much?)

Georgian Bay is a chameleon too. At times dramatic and angry and thrashing, and others perfectly serene and still. And the water is never the same colour. Infinite hues of grey: steel, charcoal, pewter, silver, opalescent, shimmering metallic...

And then there's the rocks. With dramatic striations of a contrasting colour. Some look like soft peaks of whip cream, frozen. Some look like they've had giant scratches etched into their surface. Others are perfectly smooth and round, and still others look like many rocks melded together, with all of their colours and textures. And all of them spotted with delicate lace-like lichens. It's a beauty like nowhere else.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Climbing the walls

Go, monkey, go!

I went rock-climbing this week for the first time. It's something I've been wanting to try for years, but somehow it just never happened. But our friend ST suggested it, so we went! And it was so much fun! As a first-timer, I stuck mostly to the green routes, only daring to move outside of that almost-comfort zone to try a slightly tougher route at the end of the night. 

My first run up I started out over-confident and made it up the first quarter no problem, then past the half with no worries, but then the hand-holds seemed to get a little smaller, and a little farther apart, and then I looked down, and then I started questioning the ropes (is this gauge thick enough?), and the pulleys (I've seen Cliffhanger, those things break like a pretzel!), and the holds themselves (how are these things attached?)... Ok! Let me down now! I'm good! But to repel down you need to let go. And though you know this, you remain, stuck to the wall, muscles quivering, not letting go. I've got you, it's ok, let go, he says. That was the scariest part, letting go of the wall.

I can see how this can be a mental sport. There were several times where I was thinking too much and psyching myself out. But rather than call it quits, I just stuck to the green routes and it got easier (mentally), though my sit-at-a-desk-all-day-mouse-clicking muscles were freaking out. My forearms have never been more sore.

I think Mark has a natural advantage with a greater arm span combined with greater upper body strength.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Change is good

I love fall. I've said many times that it's my New Year. A time of change, of setting new intentions, slowing down. There is a great sense of happy hopefulness in the air. It makes me want to cozy up with a good book and some tea after a nice hike in the woods.

So, in this spirit of change, I say goodbye to my old header, and hello to a new one!
Old header: the fairy-tale mountain village of Meglisalp, in the Alpstein range of Switzerland.
New: the port town of Marina Grande on the island of Capri, Italy. A very dreamy place that is it's own island world.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Good morning!

It's a beautiful day! Eleven blooms this morning: a new record.

UPDATE: Though I couldn't capture them all in one photo, I counted 18 morning glories just the other day!