"at your library" in the north island eagle: did you know your library is steam-powered?

Your library is STEAM-powered.

STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math. But STEAM is much more than those five subjects. It’s an approach to education and learning. STEAM is a way of looking at the world around us, discovering how things work, and working together to create.

STEAM activities use Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math to promote discovery. A STEAM program doesn’t ask you to memorize a list or a chart. STEAM learning happens by doing – tinkering, working with others, problem-solving, tapping into our own creativity.

Whether we realize it or not, STEAM learning is all around us. LEGO and other building kits are STEAM activities. There’s no step-by-step guide requiring us to join LEGO pieces in a certain way, no directions to follow. When we build with LEGO, we use our imaginations and creativity, and experiment to see what works.

STEAM learning is growing a plant inside a jar, using a telescope to see the night sky – then using the internet or a book to identify constellations, experimenting with food colouring and baking soda. Coding – learning how to program a little robot, or create a basic website – is an important STEAM activity, and much easier than you might think.

These days, many jobs are STEAM-based, so we want our children to develop these skills. But even if your children aren’t heading for a STEAM field, STEAM activities are still important. STEAM learning fosters curiosity, creativity, confidence, and the ability to work with others.

The Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL) supports STEAM learning in several ways. Library programs such as Minecraft, Code-A-Pillars, Gears Gears Gears are classic STEAM activities. You can also take STEAM home! Search for “Tinker Totes” at virl.bc.ca, or ask at your library. VIRL Tinker Totes are complete kits to use at home, so you can experiment along with your kids.

Your library has hundreds of books to support STEAM learning, from crafts to coding to the limits of your imagination. E-resources like Lynda.com and Kanopy include a huge variety of STEAM learning, from coding to robotics to science experiments. And of course, these are all free with your library card.

If you know about a STEAM program you’d like to see at your library, let us know! We’ll try to make it happen.


weekend trip with mom: a few days in the comox valley

I thought it would be fun for my mom to see a different part of Vancouver Island. I didn't want her going home thinking the whole island is a sparsely populated rain forest! Plus it's more fun stuff to do together. I booked an Airbnb in Royston -- just south of the town of Courtenay -- and we did some exploring from there.

Saturday: driving and eating

First there was the drive down-island, which included our obligatory stop at Ideal Cafe. We contrive to eat there whenever we go to Campbell River or beyond -- which means anytime we go anywhere out of the North Island. After another great breakfast, we found the Airbnb, a two-bedroom cottage with a patio, surrounded by pear trees and blackberry bushes, and steps away from the water.

Courtenay sits on an estuary, directly across from the town of Comox, and the cottage was only steps away from trails along the water. Estuaries are supposed to be paradise for birders: there was a bench hidden in tall grass, and our host leaves binoculars out for guests to use. We didn't see any exciting birds at the water, although we saw many herons flying, and I spotted a red-tailed hawk on a wire. We had dinner in Courtenay -- not a rave review so I'm omitting the details -- but we had a good time.

Sunday: sand art and trees, food trucks and ice cream

On Sunday we took another beautiful drive, down to Parksville for the annual Sand Sculpting Competition. This is held in a section of a beautiful community park, with immaculate gardens and landscaping, an absolutely amazing playground, tennis courts, volleyball nets, and all kinds of other fun, adjacent to a beautiful sandy beach. Well done, Parksville.

The competition is held in a fenced-off area. They had a scavenger hunt going on for kids, and each visitor is given a poker chip to vote for their favourite sculpture. The art and expression were quite amazing.

Those are all sand -- no other material allowed except water. The sculptures must be built on the spot in a set number of hours: rules are here.

We picnicked from food trucks, which boasted fresh, local ingredients and some seriously delicious eats. One notable truck was Farm to Fire -- two guys making individual pizzas in a wood-fired stove. In a truck. Wow.

From there we ventured west on Highway 4, the only road that goes across the island from coast to coast, beginning near Parksville and Qualicum Beach, and ending at the Pacific Ocean, near the surfing-resort towns of Ucluelet and Tofino. We had never driven on 4 before, so that was kind of cool.

The town of Coombs had its fair going on, which looked incredibly crowded and touristy, so we were happy to drive past without stopping. Coombs is known for the store with goats on the roof. We saw them. We kept driving.

We were heading to MacMillan Provincial Park, an accessible bit of forest, and home to Cathedral Grove, said to be the only original-growth forest on the Island. There were many cars and many people. Not the ideal way to experience the woods, but I love that it's accessible to all, and I'm glad that so many people want to experience it.

On the way home, on another great tip from a co-worker, we stopped at a gas station for ice cream, a local favourite. Totally worth it.

We were too tired (and had eaten too much!) for another dinner out. We stopped at a supermarket, and later had a picnic on the patio, then spent the evening reading and relaxing.

Monday: the towns

We started Monday with a few errands in Comox. Comox has a lovely, cutesy main street and beautiful views of the estuary. When it's clear enough, mountains are visible in two directions. (The running theme of my mom's visit is "There are snow-capped mountains in that direction... but you can't see them." Those bright-blue skies with sparkling mountains in the distance don't seem to happen in summer.)

We stopped at the I-Hos Gallery, which I'd read is "like a museum" full of gorgeous Indigenous art. No and no. It is a large gift shop, and not even a particularly nice one.

After a brief walk in Comox, we had another picnic lunch on our patio, then found the Royston Seaside Trail. Exactly as advertised, it's a lovely flat trail along the estuary -- water on one side and huge houses with elaborate gardens on the other.

Apparently people like to look at old rusted boats and call them "shipwrecks".


I was hoping to visit a local-history museum in nearby Cumberland. The area was once a mining region, and that naturally includes radical labour activism. The museum website makes me hopeful for something not sanitized -- but I'll have to wait for that. It is closed on Mondays.

Instead, we visited the Courtenay Museum and Paleontology Centre. Don't let the spiffy website fool you: in person, it's a bit of a wreck. Note to curators: display cases with fossils do not need to be strewn with decorative sea shells. Posters for Jurassic World do not belong in a science exhibit. Not recommended.

But no matter, we saw a bit of downtown Courtenay, had a caffeine break in a laid-back local cafe, then drove into some beautiful hilly outskirts to find Spirits of the West Coast Native Art Gallery. This is a small gallery with unique and stunning artwork created by Indigenous artists. I was especially taken with work in argillite, a black stone quarried on Haida Gwaii. The Haida artists who work in the stone leave some areas rough and some polished, giving it depth and texture, and use tiny bits of abalone and mother-of-pearl for accents. It has an sharp, austere look, very beautiful and powerful.

Later on, we had dinner at "The Roy" -- Roy's Towne Pub, right up the street from our cottage. There's a mini-mart there, too. When we first got in, we were surprised that the host had left no coffee or tea, so we went down the street to pick some up. The store looks like a run-down bodega; I thought I'd have to drive to a supermarket to get decent coffee. But lookee here, in the middle of the junk food, a huge selection of organic, fair trade coffee, beans and ground, plus an impressive selection of wine. The owners of this little store know their customers.

Tuesday: back to reality

We left very early on Tuesday morning, so Allan could clock into work at noon. On the way, we had our first-ever disappointment at Ideal Cafe: they were out of shreds! No shreds?! On Vancouver Island, when you order breakfast, the server asks how you want your potatoes: cubes or shreds. Many places also ask if you want green onions in the shreddies. Shreds! Soooo delicious.


island day trip with mom: sointula

This week's day trip with my Mom was the town of Sointula. One of my libraries is located in Sointula, so I've been there a couple of times, but had never had an opportunity to explore the town or surrounding Malcolm Island.

Sointula has a fascinating history: it was founded as a socialist, Utopian community by dissident Finnish coal miners! Their vision was equality, community, and self-sufficiency. You can read more about this at a wonderful site that documents Utopian societies in Canada: Canadian Utopias Project.

Allan and I always find it interesting that Vancouver Island tourism info about Sointula omits the words strike and socialism. The radical history of this proud little village is diluted to "people who were searching for a better life" -- which is true, but not quite accurate. And boring! It's as if the very mention of the word strike is enough to incite anger -- or longing, perhaps? -- in potential tourists. In this way and a million others, radical activism is hidden from us.

The town itself is proud of its Finnish and socialist roots. Some families still teach their children Finnish, although it is supposedly one of the most difficult languages in the world to learn. We were pleased to see a photo in the museum showing an event in an old community centre -- the hammer-and-sickle symbol and the words WORKERS OF THE WORLD UNITE clearly visible behind the performers.

Sointula is still a world apart, with its own social-political vibe. Self-sufficiency, independence, and cooperation are the watchwords; in political compass terms, they are left-libertarian. Sointula residents have chosen not to have police on the island. They have a public school, but it's run almost as a community project. The children are all what is now called free-range, but no one calls it that, because it's just normal.

The Sointula library branch does the same amount of "business" -- circulates as many books -- as a typical community four times its size! Their supermarket is a co-op, founded by the original Finnish community in 1909, the oldest, continuously operating store in the province. Instead of a tourist information centre, they have a "resource centre" that serves tourists and residents alike, to help organize borrowable equipment and expertise.

For the tourist, Sointula is a beautiful place to explore. The tiny main street has a cafe (one of two restaurants in town), the co-op, some artist studios, and the building that houses the museum, library, senior centre, and thrift shop.

Bere Point Regional Park gives you incredible mountain views, gorgeous campsites adorned with driftwood art, and a beach where it is said whales come to rub against the rocks. (We went. Obviously we did not see whales, or this would be one hell of a buried lede.)

You can stop along the dirt road and play a game of beach checkers.

There was a small wooden enclosure that housed tourism pamphlets and a few romance novels left behind by previous campers. You could also learn a little bit about the local birbs.

The town is dotted with artist studios, tiny, informal spaces that are open when the artist can be there. In our trip to Newfoundland in 2007, we did a similar art trail in Woody Point. Sointula's is less extensive and more informal, in keeping with the culture there.

There are several hikes and cycling routes that seem wonderful. We drove around and did a few small walks in various places.

On the ferry to Sointula, the bay was completely fogged in, but while we were having lunch at Coho Joe, the fog lifted to reveal a picture-perfect day, cloudless but cool. On the ferry back to Port McNeill, we had beautiful views of the town and all the islands in the area.

We had dinner in Port McNeill, then on the way home, saw a bear and her cub munching grass on the side of the road. Allan spotted it, and we turned around and drove slowly back. The big bear looked up at the car -- and then a tiny little head poked up, too! They went further into the bush before we could get the camera.

And what North Island day would be complete without seeing several bald eagles?


toni morrison, rest in power

I was so shocked and saddened to learn of Toni Morrison's death. I've been reading her work since a university creative writing teacher recommended The Bluest Eye in 1979. I've read all her novels. Although Beloved is her masterpiece, most of her work is phenomenal, and every book is worth reading.

Morrison's work is a window into the African American experience. But what sets Morrison apart is her language. The New York Times obituary mentions:
Ms. Morrison animated that reality in a style resembling that of no other writer in English. Her prose, often luminous and incantatory, rings with the cadences of black oral tradition. Her plots are dreamlike and nonlinear, spooling backward and forward in time as though characters bring the entire weight of history to bear on their every act.
That's a beautiful description, and it echoes my feeling that Morrison's style was -- literally -- unique. Her work has been compared to that of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but I haven't been able to get into Marquez, and I haven't been able to put down Morrison.

Besides Beloved, I recommend The Bluest Eye, Sula, A Mercy, and Home.

With the exception of Morrison's 1993 Nobel lecture, I haven't read her essays or other nonfiction, nor her plays, children's books, and various other forms. I would like to.

It's terrible to think that all Toni Morrison's novels have been published, that we'll receive no more gifts from her. I'm grateful for what she gave us.


extended mom visit

My mother is visiting from Oregon.

That visiting from Oregon part still looks weird to me, since for my entire life -- and her entire life until a few years ago -- my mother has lived in the New York/New Jersey metro area. After her first great-grandchild (my great-niece) was born in 2015, my mom sold her apartment and moved to the other side of the continent. She now lives in a retirement community in southern Oregon, minutes away from her son, daughter-in-law, grandson, and the lovely Sophia, plus a few hours away from two other adult grandchildren and their partners. She is loving west-coast life.

Mom, whose name is Connie, arrived in Port Hardy last week, on July 22. Allan and I had a week of vacation planned. The weather was uncooperative, but we spent a lot of time getting more settled into the new place, talking walks, and driving around. On July 25, we celebrated Connie's 88th birthday at Cluxewe Waterfront Bistro -- the best food on the North Island. (Sadly, or perhaps fortunately for our budget, they are only open June 1 - September 30.)

I'm also using some vacation days to take three-day weekends while Connie is here. We have a day trip planned each weekend, plus one weekend "down Island": Sointula, Comox Valley, Alert Bay, Telegraph Cove (whale watching), and Grant Bay on the Pacific coast. (We've decided Sanjo Bay is too strenuous for her.) We've connected with a teenager -- the daughter of a casual library worker -- who has become our dogsitter. Frankly, it's the Best Gig Ever: two fun and easy dogs, a big fenced-in yard, and a covered deck.

We've also signed up Connie for a membership in the Hardy Bay Senior Centre. There's a weekly lunch, a knitting/social group, and a dance/movement class, plus some special events. Membership is only $20 per year -- and that includes lunch every Tuesday! The weekly lunch is funded by a government grant; the food is great, and the place is packed.

We're also spending a lot of time reading and relaxing. Connie loves our dogs and finds them endlessly entertaining. Except when they're not: we've taken the dogs to Storey's Beach a few times since Connie is here, and each time it's been an adventure getting Cookie back to the pack. More about that when I can get a video uploaded.

Connie will be here until September 10. So far the time is flying by. It helps that we have plenty of room and don't have to share washrooms or any of that stuff that sometimes makes having house guests challenging. I'll report on each day trip, because why not.


wallander, roddy doyle, one of us is lying: what i'm reading between massive biographies

These biographies are taking me a very long time to read. The list of books I want to read continues to grow, as always, and it feels wrong to use so much time on just one title. I wish I read faster. I wish I spent more time reading. I wish I had a parallel life in which all I did was read.

Back in the real world, in between these massive nonfiction tomes, I need to read something lighter, but my lighter reads still have to be quality.

Roddy Doyle, one of my favourite authors, has written an improbable novel. Funny, smart, sweet, compassionate, with all the signature crisp dialogue and perfect understanding of human motivation that we expect from Doyle -- and then you fall off a cliff. The author pushes the reader off a cliff. It's confusing and disorienting. It's shocking.

I don't know if it works. I have to read the book again to decide. But one thing: it's a bold choice, a daring and ambitious choice. I can't imagine the Roddy Doyle of The Van or Paula Spencer writing this book. More power to him.

That's all I'll say. I'd want to kill anyone who spoiled this for me.

* * * *

I continue to read Henning Mankell's Wallander series. I don't read genre books, but I love finding writers who take the form and do more with it -- complex characters, interesting relationships, political context, a strong sense of place. Mankell does this for me.

* * * *

A locked-room murder mystery set in a high school? It hardly seems possible to pull this off, but Karen McManus does it. One of Us is Lying is a rare treat: a young adult mystery that really keeps you guessing. It's also about the media, rumour-mongering, secret-keeping, and of course, coming into your own. There's a lovely coming out story of an athlete destined for professional sports, and very credible subplots of friendships across label barriers.

I liked it so much that I'm actually going to read the next one: Two Can Keep a Secret. I very rarely do this with YA.

* * * *

Next up, The Nickel Boys, Colson Whitehead's new book. A new book by Colson Whitehead is always a cause for celebration, but when every reviewer gives it a flat-out rave, it's extra exciting.

I didn't actually read the reviews, though. I always go in cold. I'm just so happy that Whitehead is finally getting the recognition he has always deserved.

I also have several graphic novels waiting to be read, including the graphic adaptation of The Diary of Anne Frank that Allan included among my birthday gifts.

When I'm ready, the next biography is Ali: A Life by Jonathan Eig.


frederick douglass, susan b. anthony, and the ridiculous (and dangerous) quest for moral purity

Reading David Blight's monumental Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom, I learned some facts about both Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony that were very unpleasant and, at least in Douglass' case, baffling.

This brought me back to a topic I've revisited several times on wmtc: the rejection of art or culture or historical admiration, based on some moral or ethical failing of the individual.

I only want to know about perfect people

I was amazed to learn that Douglass himself could be racist! In his speeches, he used the stereotype of the drunken Irish immigrant to bolster his case for universal suffrage: if this lout is allowed to vote, why not the Negro? Douglass also had a huge blind spot regarding Native Americans. He would contrast the civilized, educated Negro with the Native American who preferred their own savage and backwards ways to that of the white settler.

Douglass did (verbally) to Native Americans what white oppressors were doing to African Americans -- while Indigenous people were being slaughtered, herded into death marches, and forcibly displaced at the very time he was speaking!

Susan B. Anthony was classist. Her entire life was dedicated to the cause of universal suffrage, but at some heated and contentious points in the struggle, she was willing to throw working class and poor women under the bus to achieve suffrage for the educated classes, as long as that included women.

It was difficult and disturbing to learn this.

From what I've read and seen, many people, knowing this, would now write off Douglass as a piece-of-shit racist, and dismiss Anthony as an elitist, therefore unworthy of their time, thought, education, or admiration.

Douglass and Anthony were both brilliant, radical activists, light-years head of their time. They fought ceaselessly for the good, and they changed the world -- they changed the status of women and African Americans in the world. In an era when change moved more slowly, their activism was even more radical. Their obvious flaws do not outweigh their achievements. Nor should the discovery of these flaws alter their prominent place in progressive history.

It's not possible to understand the movements for African American and women's freedom and equality in North America without knowing the work of Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony. Their individual flaws don't change that.

One strike and you're out

Back in the 21st Century, two feminist writers and social critics -- women whose work I have read, loved, and admired -- have recently made me cringe, one with a racist "joke", the other with transphobia. This hurts me. I don't understand it. I wish it were otherwise.

It also doesn't change the good that both women have accomplished, their excellent thinking and writing on other topics, the work they have done for the greater good. But many outraged leftists are ready to (metaphorically) burn their books and boycott them altogether.

I didn't realize how far this trend had gone (typical me) until I read a letter in a newspaper. The letter writer was sad, baffled, and a bit frightened after hearing that a university student "had thrown [famous writer]'s book in a trash can" because he learned the writer had made racist statements in the 1920s. Don't admire the man? Sure. Refuse to read his work, because you don't agree with all his views? Time to re-think.

To experience art, I must approve of everything the artist has done and thought

People who reject books, music, paintings, essays, any created work, because of the revealed misdeeds and opinions of the creator will soon find themselves in a very small world of narrow opinions. This is a sad way to go through life -- and a dangerous one. Great art has been created by flawed people. Why is it so difficult to separate art from artist? In the political and social justice sphere, why is it so difficult to accept that great deeds have been (and will continue to be) accomplished by people who were not perfect?

When I last wrote about this topic -- dylan farrow and woody allen: a feminist, a rape survivor, and a woody allen fan weighs in -- I included this.
I was talking about books with a friend from the library. I mentioned I had re-read Ernest Hemingway's For Whom The Bell Tolls before I went to Spain, and how much I enjoyed it, how it made me appreciate Hemingway in a whole new light. My friend said, "I won't read anything by him. He was a bad person - a womanizer, a drunk, a disloyal friend." She had read The Paris Wife, a novel based on Hemingway's relationship with his first wife, and now she will not experience the man's art.

Let's leave aside the fact that The First Wife was a novel; in this case, it doesn't matter if the novel was 100% factual or not. I was amazed that someone would choose not to experience art because of something they know about the artist. The implications of this are enormous - and absurd. Shall we lay bare every artist's life story, examine their motives, their worldview, their moral code, pass judgment on them, then if we find the artist to be upstanding moral citizens, read their books, see their plays, view their paintings? I don't subscribe to a stereotype of the artist as outside the bounds of morality, but neither do I set myself up as judge and jury. When it comes to art, I'm not there for the artist's personal life. I'm there for the art. An artist may choose to infuse her work with morality, but the personal moral code of the artist is irrelevant.
(If you bother to read that post, more good and valid nuances are discussed in comments.)

As I've written in the past, no one will die if they don't read Hemingway or see a Woody Allen movie. But who will be read? Who will be deemed pure enough? How much must we know before we decide that we can engage with this person's work?

Bear in mind I'm not referring to work that is overtly sexist, racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, and otherwise bigoted. Picasso may have been a misogynist, but Guernica is not.

If  we continually stomp off because Famous Writer made a racist statement or Agent of Historical Change was a flawed human being, how will we experience the larger world -- the world outside our own heads?

Holy, holy, holier than thou

I have many questions for people who take this position.

Can you not disagree with someone and still appreciate their art? Do you only experience art created by people whose worldview you share? Do you vet the artist before sampling the art? Whose art will be pure enough for you?

As your world shrinks, as the variety of ideas and creativity that you engage with diminishes, aren't you engaged in something that is the opposite of progressive thought? Do tolerance and compassion come into play? Does the zero-tolerance policy you hate in the right wing look better on the left?

And above all, I want to ask, For What Purpose? What does this moral indignation give you? How does it benefit you, or benefit the world?

Do you imagine you are more just, more moral, because you seek to purge yourself of association with the morally imperfect?

At bottom, I see this behaviour as self-righteous, limiting, and utterly useless.

No need to be extreme

Of course there are extreme examples (or we can invent some) that blow a hole in this line of thought. There are opinions and associations that are so grossly repellent that we can never admire the person or experience their art without the knowledge of those opinions intruding.

That has always existed and is not the problem.

The problem is discovering a shred of unpleasantness, a non-perfect person, a person with prejudices -- especially a non-feminist man or a racist white person -- and shunning them from your mental landscape.