#1085 They sailed the seas; now they house low-income women

Atira housing units

Atira’s shipping-container housing development in Vancouver, B.C.

Those big metal shipping containers kick around the world on the decks of ships and the beds of rail cars. Sometimes they end their days as houses, as they have in Vancouver, British Columbia’s Downtown Eastside.

The Atira Women’s Resource Society had a small, unused space beside the heritage building they had purchased. At the 2010 Winter Olympics, they won BC Hydro’s ‘Home of the Future’ unit, (scroll down on the Container West site for photos). They plugged it into the small lot and built on top. The original, energy-efficient home was constructed from a shipping container. BC Hydro and private donors donated others, and Atira bought an additional 8 from Port Metro Vancouver. A total of 12 were designed, remodeled and turned into an attractive structure for low-income residents.

The small (280-290 sq. ft.), self-contained units are studio apartments, with a full bathroom, kitchen, and laundry. Half are rented for $375 to older women with minimal income. Rent for the others is on a sliding scale that stops at $850 per month.

Right next door, the heritage building offers 16 units for young women. That sounds like a forward-thinking housing developing, with old and young side by side, perhaps enriching each other’s lives through the intergenerational connection.

Atira has more container housing units in the planning stages. The first residence cost $85,000 per unit. In a city as high priced as Vancouver, that is something to celebrate. Attractive, affordable housing is still out of reach for far too many people. Atira is working to change that. They give me hope.


#1083 When his buddy needed surgery, this 7-year-old swung into action

Brayden and Quinn

Good buddies, Brayden and Quinn; photo clip from the fundraising video

Quinn Callander of Maple Ridge, British Columbia is the sort of friend we all need. He’s there for the good times and the hard times. So when the 7-year-old’s buddy needed $20,000 for special surgery in New Jersey, Quinn did more than sympathize. He started raising money.

Quinn’s friend, Brayden Grozdanich, has cerebral palsy. The surgery might give him a chance to walk without braces. A CBC story says he could have surgery in Canada, but it might consign him to a wheelchair. New Jersey is the only place where a different kind of surgery is offered. It has a good chance of giving Brayden a future free of braces or wheelchairs.

You know what’s coming, or at least a version of it. Quinn decided to set up a lemonade stand. You also know it takes a lot of lemonade to earn $20,000 USD.

That is where the story takes on a bigger life. Brayden’s dad is a firefighter. So his buddies showed up to help out with the lemonade stand. Quinn’s mom took another step, starting a crowdfunding initiative to add to the kitty.

The result? The initial goal was met in the first few days, but money just kept pouring in.  Once again, social media showed its strength, and a lot of strangers showed their goodness. Come August, Brayden and his mom will be in New Jersey for the surgery. They will have enough money to cover the survery, travel expenses and the followup physiotherapy.

Chances are very high Brayden will be walking down that airport ramp and into the arms of his buddy when he flies back to Maple Ridge. That gives me hope.

Thanks to my friend Judith for the link to NBC’s story about Quinn and to CBC for covering the good news.


#1082 San Francisco Burger King shows its Pride

Proud Whopper

When customers opened the wrapper of their “Proud Whopper”, this is what they saw; photo from Burger King’s Facebook page

San Francisco just might be the safest city in the U.S. for introducing a burger called “Proud Whopper”, timed, of course, to celebrate LGBT Pride Week. But that doesn’t mean everyone greeted it with open arms. You’ll see that in the video below.

The burger was the same old Whopper but with a rainbow wrapping. When customers peeled back the paper, they saw this message, “We are all the same inside.”

Good for Burger King for the gesture, though it would have been far more powerful if it had been expanded to franchises not along the Pride parade route. Still, our LGBT brothers and sisters receive only occasional support from advertisers. So when it happens, it is still worth celebrating.

One day an ad like this will seem quaint, a reflection of those old days when prejudice still dogged the lives of people born with identities different from the heterosexist majority. In the meantime, it gives me hope.


#1081 Have you heard your vegetables scream? These scientists have


Big fat green caterpillar; photo by Richard Wellis Sinyem, via Flickr Creative Commons

Years ago someone told me Joseph Campbell had said, “A vegetarian is someone who has never heard a vegetable scream.” I can’t verify the real author of the quote, but before anyone protests, let me just say he (or she or whoever said that) was on the right track.

Yet another study has confirmed plants have a far richer sensory life than we usually attribute to them. Heidi Appel and Rex Cocroft, both researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia, published their research in the July 2014 issue of Oecologia. They did not claim to have heard plants scream, but they did discover plants respond to sound.

The scientists sent some acoustic energy plantward. What that means is that they recorded the sounds of a caterpillar chewing a leaf and then played it to plants with no caterpillar in sight. The plants responded with defensive chemicals that warned the enemy to bug off. So when they put caterpillars on the plants, the greenies were ready, and the caterpillars turned up their mandibles in disgust. What’s more, the plants could tell the difference between the sounds of caterpillar vibrations and those of wind or non-attacking insects.

The findings conjure images of sound equipment in farm fields, maybe even replacing some of the chemicals used in agriculture. Appel told the university’s news bureau, “This research also opens the window of plant behavior a little wider, showing that plants have many of the same responses to outside influences that animals do, even though the responses look different.”

It opens a lot of windows for me. If we internalize the notion, supported by science, that every morsel of food we eat is capable of a far richer inner life than we ever dreamed, maybe we will be filled with gratitude for the gift. And if we are filled with gratitude, we will be better stewards of the earth.

This gives me hope.

The first video will introduce you to the researchers. The second is a satirical song from the Arrogant Worms. Be sure your sense of humour is intact before you watch it.