In case of emergency.

Up until the year 2000 (unless I misheard our tour guide), this was one of several consoles used to control the mechanics of the water filtration system at Hamilton’s Woodward Avenue Water Treatment Facility:

May 8 (4 of 4)

Hundreds of thousands of cubic metres of water travel through this facility daily, sourced from Lake Ontario and eventually distributed to the homes and businesses in the region.

In this particular building, water is contained in rows of massive tanks on either side of this surprisingly attractive corridor:

May 8 (2 of 4)

May 8 (3 of 4)

The old control panels are now just for show. Today’s routine water treatment functions, as well as the emergencies, are monitored and dealt with using sophisticated digital equipment.

Hanging in the corridor are a couple of circular dials that look like clocks, but aren’t. Here’s one:

May 8 (1 of 4)

I looked at this dial, then I looked at the vast amount of lake water filling the holding tanks to the brim. I thought about that water rising at a rate of 60 inches per minute. This instantly gave me the heebie-jeebies, likely due to my absurd and inexplicable longtime fear of overflowing bathtubs and/or toilets. Which then led me to more sobering thoughts about the folks in Quebec right now, forced out of their homes as they struggle to deal with large-scale flooding. And then of course to thoughts of the devastating floods of Hurricane Katrina and the Indian Ocean tsunami.

My overflowing bathroom fixtures are very, very small potatoes.

I looked at the simple lever labelled EMERGENCY, which, for some reason, reminded me of the sort of lever Wile E. Coyote would use during some ridiculous and unsuccessful ruse to capture the Road Runner.

I snapped a photo of the cartoon-ish emergency lever, reflecting on the fact that an “emergency” at this facility – never mind the flooding kind – could have the potential to make a lot of people very sick. I gave silent thanks to all the brains, hearts and hands involved in keeping this place running smoothly.

And, finally, somehow all of this led me to thoughts of this week’s theme for the WordPress Photo Challenge: Danger! (I apologize for the rather roundabout and perhaps obscure connection. Sometimes, much to the bafflement and frustration of those around me, that’s just how I roll).

If you’ve bothered to read this far – and if you have, thank you for your patience – you may be wondering why I chose to hang out at the water filtration facility. Last weekend, Hamilton was part of Ontario’s Doors Open program, a series of community events that offer free public access to some of the province’s unique historical and cultural spaces. Churches, art galleries, water filtration facilities, alpaca farms… you name it. Did I mention the events are free? Other than the access part, the free part is my favourite. There may be a future post or two based on our other visits (but don’t expect any alpacas, because we didn’t have time to make it to the farm, even if we’d wanted to).

Raring to go.

April 29 (1 of 1)

When you’re ready to venture out – near or far – on your own:

  • May you proceed with caution (this is your mother talking, after all).
  • May you find the courage to wander roads rocky and unknown.
  • May you relish the journey as well as the destination.
  • May you realize the value of experiences over things.
  • May you travel using all of your senses, an open mind, and your whole heart.
  • May you remember to call your parents once in a while.
  • May you always know your way home again.


For more interpretations of the WordPress weekly photo theme of Wanderlust, click here.

Hand in glove.

April 23 (2 of 2)

We know every day should be Earth Day, but we also know we’re guilty of taking her for granted, so this weekend we tried to get outside as a family to participate in Earth-y activities.

We grabbed gloves and shovels for community tree planting, which resulted in new living quarters for a slew of skinny sugar maples. We also donned the gloves as we formed a mighty family litter brigade, cleaning up a section of our neighbourhood strewn with junk food wrappers, bags of dog poop and at least one pair of frilly undergarments.

April 23 (1 of 2)

There are still so many trees to be planted and so much litter to remove. There are still so many ways in which we need to pay better attention to the connection between us and our planet, and the enormity of our environmental impact. But we wanted to show the kids (and remind ourselves) that even small acts, especially carried out as a community, can make a visible difference.

Hey, once we introduce them to such activities, the kids may not want to stop. Who knows? They could end up like bestselling author and humorist David Sedaris, who picks up so much litter that he had a garbage truck named after him.

Lofty goals aside, our true aim is to better cultivate an appreciation for nature in our children.

And we’ll try not to wait until Earth Day to do it.

You never know what to egg-spect.

With all the excitement about eggs this weekend – both the hard-boiled and chocolate variety – I thought about a connection to this week’s WordPress photo challenge of Surprise.

April 16 (1 of 1)

While colouring our Easter eggs today (a family experiment involving melted crayon shavings, stained placemats, and parchment paper accidentally set aflame…and which resulted in eggs that looked a bit like someone either threw up or bled on them), conversation drifted to the question of why eggs are symbols of Easter and of spring.

We talked a bit about the purpose of an egg, and the ideas of birth and renewal. All the egg/life/birth talk was enough to trigger memories of my own experiences – both physical and emotional – acting as the ‘egg’: carrying my kids during my pregnancies (which were, for me, mostly easy) and the ‘hatching’ events, so to speak (which were, for me, mostly not easy).

When a woman is ‘expecting,’ not much is certain. Sure, we’re expecting the arrival of a human, as opposed to a toad or a tomato, and science has given us the option of learning the baby’s sex, and sometimes the knowledge of the presence of certain medical issues. But beyond that, who this tiny person will become is a combination of factors including circumstances, choices, and the good old DNA lottery. We have only limited control of where this story is headed. We don’t really know what we’re in for, do we?

As they stood there at the kitchen table sharpening crayons and dipping eggs into cups of dye, I looked at these two similar but unique human beings that had exited my body not that long ago. And I experienced a flash of wonder that this is where we’ve ended up. It was complicated – a feeling of intense gratitude that we were all standing in the same room, safe and healthy and loved. A conflicted sense of both longing and relief for the days and years behind us, and of curiousity and hope for the days and years ahead of us. But it was also a feeling of acute irritation because they kept spilling crayon shavings all over the floor.

Then that moment was gone, and we were on to the next. And the next, and the next. Later moments included an attack of the giggles while I tried to make proper photos of our basket of splotchy Easter eggs.

Welcome, spring. We’ll try to be ready for what comes next, but in the meantime, we’ll try to pay better attention to what is now.

Things I learned by watching soap bubbles.

March 31 (1 of 3)

  • their existence is delicate and fleeting, and must be carefully observed and appreciated.
  • they’re incredibly adaptable and efficient in their use of space.


March 31 (2 of 3)

  • it only takes a little light to make them shine.
  • each one is a mirror to the world.


March 31 (3 of 3)

  • when one departs, the others cluster to fill the gap left behind.
  • big or small, and no matter how densely packed, they always make room for one another.

Fifty shades of green.

For this week’s WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge, we were asked to think about green. Easy – my favourite colour! I made some photos of the emerging daylilies, allium and tulips in my garden, thinking they’d be ideal to show off green’s welcome return.

Then I forgot about it. I took the kids to school. I washed the dishes. I went to Home Depot to buy some potting soil.

On the way to the garden centre, I passed through the paint aisle, where I made an abrupt halt. There, on each side, were rows upon rows of paint chips. In every colour and every shade – of beige, of blue, of yellow.

Of green.

Back at home, I spent an absurd amount of time photographing patterns of paint chips in various shades of green. I wasn’t really happy with my shots, and figured I’d go back to my original idea of posting spring flora for the challenge. In one last attempt, I purposely threw everything out of focus and, surprisingly, ended up liking the soft, abstract result.

March 28 (3 of 3)

March 28 (1 of 3)

March 28 (2 of 3)

And because my hands had been holding so many interesting shades of green (“Intoxication,” “Chard,” “Tuscan Herbs”), I pondered about this colour and its multiple personalities.

When green is ugly, it has a nauseating, radioactive glow. It’s the corrosion of the copper pipes in my basement and it’s the revolting squish of seaweed between my toes. It’s the fuzz of mold feeding on stale bread, and the soft rot of spoiled fruit. It’s the bitterness of Brussels sprouts and the wrath of the Incredible Hulk. It’s my exasperation with the immortal dandelions choking my garden and the embarrassment of spinach stuck in my teeth. It’s the blasted grass stains that refuse to budge from my kid’s jeans.

But let’s not forget: where there’s darkness, there’s also light.

Green is the shimmering, otherworldly gleam of the northern lights. It’s the crunch of a Granny Smith apple and the sinus-clearing freshness of peppermint. It’s the luck of a leprechaun’s four-leaf clover, and it’s squeaky Palmolive clean. It’s a crude but big-hearted animated Scottish ogre. It’s the traffic light granting permission to proceed, and the exit sign for those who can’t find the door. It’s the lush, humid heat of the tropics. It’s smooth, velvety moss and sharp, pungent pine. It’s the impossibly iridescent emerald feathers of a mallard duck, and it’s a seedling rising from the ashes of a forest fire.

It’s envy and greed, sickness and decay. It’s renewal and progress, opportunity and hope.

I think it may have a bit of an identity crisis.

No matter. Green: I will love you unconditionally.

Dear readers – let me know if you want to paint a wall green. I’ve got a few extra paint chips hanging around.