Nesting dolls

Things I knew about Ukraine before this trip included: the painstakingly decorated Easter eggs,  the traditional women’s dress is a heavily embroidered white tunic with garlands of flowers (sadly, it occurs to me that I probably know this because of the Olympics), it is a former Soviet republic and this is the land of perogies, borscht and vodka and Chicken Kiev.

I had wanted to travel somewhere I had never been this fall. And more than that, I wanted to travel somewhere I didn’t know much about. I was searching for a place to explore and in doing so spend some time exploring myself and thinking about what my next steps are for my career and work. I had narrowed it down to Japan, India and Israel when Matt proposed another option: Kiev and Prague. He was going on a business trip and invited me to come along. Obviously I jumped at the chance.


After being in Kiev for a week I feel like I know a lot more but I’m still not entirely sure where to start. It’s a strange town. In place of the easter eggs, flowers and Soviet stuff (although there traces of those too) is some incredible architecture. I’ve been running every morning that it’s not been raining and even on the side streets outside of town there are enormous, beautifully decorated and colourful buildings, some recently revived, some in need of repair and some in progress – with printed scaffolding over top to shop what the building is meant to look like. Probably there are modern buildings somewhere in the city but I haven’t seen many.


The next thing of note are all the churches. The beautiful golden domes of the Russian Orthodox churches peek out from the colourful buildings at every turn, or at least it seems so from our hotel, which is positioned right between St. Sophia’s cathedral (an almost 1000 year old cathedral with its wedding-cake bell tower) and St. Michael’s Golden-domed monastery. St. Andrew’s is a short walk away and looks like it should be some giantess’ jewelry box but the inside is not my favourite – it’s too red and ornate and comes off looking a bit gaudy. Instead I love St. Volodymyr’s which on the outside is a pretty standard issue Neo-Byzantine cathedral but inside is all black and gold and candlelight, making it hard not to feel the glow.


But Kiev Pechersk Lavra monastery / Kiev Monastery of the Caves is HQ for Russian Orthodox churches in Ukraine. They believe it is one of four places in the world where the Virgin Mary lives and there are also 73 “imperishable relics” – the bodies of saints who were buried in the caves and who have been deemed uncorrupted. That belongs firmly on the list of things I didn’t know about Ukraine before this week. The top part of the complex is maintained by the church but feels fairly secular – there are many churches but also souvenir stands and a series of museums. I wandered around there for a bit and then went to the lower part, it was obvious that something very different was happening…by now I had noticed that women cover their heads when they’re in the church and so I had been trying to do the same on my visits but here all the women’s heads were covered and everyone bowed and crossed themselves coming through the gate. But there were no tourists, no English words anywhere and I had no idea what was going on, so I went back up to the gate and bought a tour.


The first order of business was getting dressed to go underground. Women have to have covered arms, a covered head and wear a long skirt and there are wraps to be bought or borrowed for this purpose. My tour guide was lovely and patient with all of my questions but as she explained all the mysteries of the saints to me and how they died and how to pray to them, I couldn’t help but feel awkward. It was unbearably hot in the catacombs with all the people and my jeans / skirt / shirt / wrap / headscarf combo, not to mention that there are no lights – just a few candles above the relics – so everyone carries a candle in their hand, trying not to get beeswax all over the place as people jostle against each other in the narrow corridors. But that’s not what made me uncomfortable , it was because I was the only tourist in a place packed with pilgrims waiting patiently for me to get out of the way so they could access the relics.

I’m so glad I went but I will be processing it for a while….what it means to be a tourist and what a privilege it is. No photos were allowed down there (and I wouldn’t have taken any in any case) but Wikipedia has one:


There is PLENTY of perogies, borscht and vodka. Actually they are no perogies but varenyky (or vareniki), the difference being that perogies seem to be baked or fried after they’re cooked and varenyky are simply boiled or steamed. There are no perogies that I have seen but varenyky are all over the place, in all kinds of flavours, as well as pelmeni – which are filled with raw meat and then cooked whole. So far I’ve had mushroom (pelmeni and varenyky), and cabbage, potato, meat, sour cherry and blueberry varenyky and you would think that I would be getting tired of them by now but I assure you that I have a very high dumpling threshold. My favourite by a long shot are the sour cherry and I want to try the poppyseed ones before we leave but I’ve had sour cherry three times now and I’m not sure I’m going to be able to come away from it.

Borscht is predictably delicious and slightly different everywhere but it always comes with a side of garlic brioche and sour cream. Actually everything comes with sour cream and you always get a basket of bread with a meal (including with the borscht and brioche). Chicken Kiev is apparently Russian in origin but Ukrainians have either adopted it or they share a common love of cutlets because there are plenty of similar items on the menus under different names. All of the fried things I’ve had in Kiev thus far have just tasted like oil though, so I am not a fan.

And of course there is vodka. We have had lots of local beer and been happy with it (Stare Misto and Bitburger are the favourites) and there is wine from the area but vodka is everywhere. So far we’ve had regular, organic, honey-pepper, cranberry and horseradish. The horseradish smelled like it came out of a barn but on the palate it was beautiful – infused with horseradish for certain, but also honey and raisins and some other things. I’ve been told that no one drinks vodka for the taste but I might have to argue for this one because it was amazing. Unfortunately it is house-made and not available in store but our other favourite is honey-pepper. It’s infused with honey and a bird’s eye pepper and is so perfectly balanced between sweet and spicy that shooting it feels smooth and natural. This one was hard to find but I was able to source a couple of bottles. I guess it really wouldn’t be that hard to make either.

What else? There is so much bread that I’m beside myself, lots for breakfast along with cold cuts, sausage, cheeses and two kinds of smoked herring. There is also kasha, a mushy Russian granola / porridge which is interesting. For lunch I’ve been having beer and dumplings and in between there are amazing pastries – my favourites are raspberry or the new-to-me combination of pineapple and ricotta or cottage cheese. Sounds weird but it’s delicious. Almost every restaurant has shashlik – barbecued shish kebabs – cooked over an open fire and salo (lard) shows up a lot too. Basically it is just pork fat, so that takes some getting used to but it does help with all the vodka.


The thing that has made me the most sad is that the people have not been kind. My favourite thing about travelling is meeting new people and finding out how they live but in Kiev Matt has been working and I have spent most of the week alone. It might be that I have bright red hair now and tattoos (although I’ve tried to keep both of those covered) or that we’re staying in a luxury hotel that alienates us from both the hoi polloi and the nouveau riche, or that I don’t speak a word of Russian OR Ukrainian…or that they don’t have a culture of tourism here. But I don’t think so. I had been warned that smiling was not part of the culture but I thought that people would still be nice under their stoicism. I know many Ukrainians in Canada who are incredibly warm and I have no doubt that they are friendly with each other so I have spent a lot of time thinking about it as I move from park to cafe to park with my book.

The season has definitely turned here and there has been a beautiful fall breeze rustling the chestnut trees. For the most part I’m happy to be outside and I’ve spent a lot of time reading and thinking. What must it take to make an entire nation of people shut down and turn inward? What has the cost been of being kind to strangers? We come from a place of enormous privilege in North America, not only because we are able to afford to travel and stay in a golden hotel and speak our own language to the locals but because we can even afford to have a culture of tourism that enables us to travel to places only to see them. Being part of a culture that is welcoming to strangers is a privilege. Smiling easily is a privilege. I purposely skipped the Museum to the Great Patriotic War (WWII), the Chernobyl Museum and the Babyn Yar mass grave site because I am too sensitive but being sensitive is an enormous privilege. I have a lot more thinking to do about this but there will be no sitting in parks today; it is pouring rain in Kiev and we leave for Prague in a few hours.

Art market

Here are my photos from Kiev:



I’ve always loved Gastown, even when it was seedy – maybe especially when it was seedy. My friends and I used to come downtown from Langley and sit for hours in the Talking Stick Cafe (now Cork &Fin) or La Luna (now Smart Mouth) with our sketchbooks and finish off the night at the Irish Heather (now l’Abattoir). Ah, we were always at the Heather, except when we were at the Cambie. In more recent years I have dearly loved and frequented all the cocktail bars that go so perfectly with brick and cobblestone and ghost writing and secret spaces and history in this town. Now we live here and we got married across the street because we love it so much. Of course I write about it often.


But while it has changing and growing, I’ve realized that I am really starting to like it as a community. The fact that people live here is probably missed by most of the photographers in front of the Gassy Jack statue and that’s okay – I love hearing all the different languages in the street while I’m walking my dog and I even love catching snippets from the tour buses going by under our window in the summer. I could not give a Vancouver recommendation to a tourist that didn’t involve a stop in Gastown, but I also love the locals and the pace of the neighbourhood.

Salmagundi West

Since we got Riley we’ve spent a lot more time hanging out in alleys. I’d already seen all the gritty things that New York writers put in their books to be shocking, but now I know the names of some of the people and I leave jackets and toques out on days it isn’t raining.


Recently I thought I should do more and I wanted to spend a night working in a soup kitchen so I signed up for the Union Gospel Mission’s volunteer information session. On my walk to the meeting in the DTES I passed several people who offered me drugs, and then a flurry of ERT lights in front of a meth lab that had blown. At one point I yawned, nothing remarkable here. From a nearby bus stop a woman standing in the pouring rain yelled, “hey that’s contagious!” I looked around for the onslaught of germs and it took me a moment to realize that she meant my yawn but when I found her face in the night she gave me the warmest smile I’d seen all day.


Unfortunately the UGM turned out to be entirely too religious for my taste so I’m looking around for some new opportunities (work and otherwise) but more and more I’ve been sticking close to home.

Gastown was built on a bar so it’s only fitting that so many of the best ones are here and we’re not in them as often as we used to be but still love  l’AbattoirWildebeest, Alibi Room, Pourhouse, Clough Club, Boneta, the Diamond, Bambuddha and Cuchillo. The Irish Heather is still here, thank goodness, it’s across the street now. We even have a David’s Tea and our own East Van Roasters coffee roaster now while we still frequent Milano and Revolver for coffee. I am in Opus way too often for art supplies and then in Salmagundi West and MacLeod’s Books for wandering and art inspiration. My One Yoga studio is only a block away, as is Gastown Tattoo and have a dog park with a beautiful beach just on the other side of the tracks.


The Ballard neighbourhood is on the top of our list for when we move to Seattle and in many ways it reminds me of Gastown but I’m sure going to miss this when we’re gone.

What I Did on My Summer Vacation


You know those summer days when you were a kid that stretched on an on? You would ride your bike to the store and then a friend’s house and entire days would pass where nothing happened except being hot. And then just when you thought you could not be more bored, it was time to go back to school and you instantly wanted to take back all the bad things you said about sitting around doing nothing. My summer was not like that at all. So much happened this past spring – we decided to move to and did all the prep for moving to Seattle and then deferred it until next year, I applied for and was accepted to the Masters in Digital Media program at the Centre for Digital Media in September, I went to Tofino for an epic spring break to go surfing and diving, and we got a dog and closed our company – that I planned a summer off to recover from the burnout.

I’m not very good at sitting around, I know this about myself, but I planned to hang out at the dog park every day and read books, except for the days that we went on hikes in the mountains and swam in lakes. It was going to be lazy, hot and glorious.

But let’s start with the basics – small white puppies can’t spend all day outside at the park. They get sunburnt and are too excited to sit on a blanket while I’m reading. They also don’t know how to swim and can’t go on hikes longer than an hour (although we did get in a couple of laps around Buntzen before I learned that). So I did a lot of reading, but it was mostly on patios close to home while she was having a nap. (Ah, the joys of being a new parent!)

I can’t blame it all on the pup though. I am an awful person to travel with if you like beach vacations. Before the tickets are even booked, I will inevitably have a long list of places I want to visit and have no problem zig-zagging across town or eating 2 or 3 lunches in order to fit it all in. So I should have known that faced with a vast expanse of summer days, I would get antsy and start finding exciting ways to fill them up. We went to puppy training and we learned to sail, I started Crossfit, deferred my MA until next year, took about twenty classes online, and read a lot of books.

We had some adventures too (see below). It was, in fact, glorious.


Diving Skookumchuck

So in June I went on a dive trip to Powell River with friends. We did a couple of dives in Mermaid’s Cove at Saltery Bay before heading to Egmont and doing some wreck, drift and wall diving at Agamemnon Channel, the wreck of the HMCS Chaudiere, and the rapids at Skookumchuck Narrows. I find the mermaid statue (the star attraction of Mermaid’s Cove) to be a little creepy and for all the talk of Skookumchuck being some of the fastest water in the world, I think one of our dives in Browning Pass last year was faster but this was a fantastic trip.


We were in the water with orcas not very far away (although we didn’t see them underwater), I got a chance to try out my new underwater camera that Matt had just bought me as well as to test out my new Deep and Wreck PADI diving specialties. The life out here is amazing and the hospitality at Porpoise Bay Charters is so homey and welcoming I could have easily stayed.


Here are the photos from the Powell River trip:


Visiting the International Buddhist Temple 

I was at a bit indecisive at the beginning of summer – get a dog or go travelling – but I figured with Matt working so hard getting a dog would be some joy (and pee!) that he could share. I was (and still am) hungry for travel though, so I took myself to Richmond’s International Buddhist Temple for a mini-adventure. It has the largest gold Buddha in North America and many beautiful murals and gardens and once inside, I really did feel transported. I would have loved to stay and read my book or meditate by one of the pools. There’s also a restaurant on site where you pay by donation and that was pretty exciting for me although they brought me way too much food.


Riding Highway 20

In July we checked an item off of Matt’s life list – to ride Highway 20 through the Cascades to Osoyoos and then home through Manning Park. He wasn’t in it so much for the stunning mineral-rich turquoise lakes, beautiful wastelands of flooded river banks, mountains or valleys but rather for the sexy S-curves and the lack of stop lights. When I stopped to take a photo of the scenery, Matt took one of the road. It was hot but we were both so happy.


We stopped for lunch in Winthrop, a delightful gold-towny surprise and then stayed in Osoyoos, which is much more of a dump than I remembered. “Are those real leathers?” the guy at the front desk asked when we checked in and then goggled a bit when we wrote “Ducati” on the vehicle registrar. Needless to say we had not made it up the valley to any of the wineries but we wouldn’t have had anywhere to put bottles anyways. – same problem with fruit from Keremeos – but we were just there for the road so next time we’ll stay in Winthrop and ride it all the way back too.


Here are the photos from our Highway 20 road trip:

Quadra Island

Visiting Quadra Island

We had tried and failed to go camping a couple of times so Matt finally found us a cabin on Quadra Island for the August long weekend. Quadra Island is pretty far away but in exchange for a bit of a car ride (which Riley would give half her breakfast for anyways), we got an enormous house (sleeps 10!) with an enormous patio, a hot tub and a bbq. Hell yes, this is the life! We were so stoked about it even before we saw how clear the water was (I could see urchins 60 ft down and REALLY regretted leaving my dive gear) and the porpoises playing in the channel or went canoeing out to our little island and exploring the bluffs. Riley was equally stoked about being able to run around outside by herself and explore under the deck and she did go in the canoe and in the water with a little coaxing but we weren’t there long enough to get the ‘city’ out of her – she still peed in the driveway every morning.


We liked it so much that we’re planning on coming back next year, although it’s going to be even more of a slog from Seattle…we might have to come for a week. And I still want to go camping at some point.


Here are the photos from our Quadra Island trip:


Nick Bantock Art Workshop

The next weekend found me on another ferry, this time to Sidney-by-the-Sea by the Swartz Bay ferry terminal. I went for an art workshop with Nick Bantock that was even more awesome than I could have imagined. It was less technique heavy than the workshops I’m used to with Jeanne Krabbendam but provided enough ideas and energy to get me started on several projects – which I will probably have to revisit in winter.

Browning Pass

Diving Browning Pass on the Mamro

I lasted about seven months after the last trip to Browning Pass before I had to book it again, this time on a liveabord. I wanted to go back with a camera but now I think I may just have to go back every year. I’ve been diving in some amazing warm water places but this has got to be one of my favourite places in the world, mist and mountains (and more orcas!) topside and a world or colour down below – corals and sponges covered in fish and invertebrates – stretching as far as the eye can see.


There were only 6 of us on the boat which was nice and cosy. We had an opportunity to stop at Telegraph Cove  – an old whaling station – on the way up to Port Hardy and have a look through the museum. The whole town is on boardwalks around the cove and the museum has whale skeletons of all varieties. You think you understand how big whales are but it really hits home when you can stand inside a jaw with other people or use a vertebrae as a stool.

Whale vertebrae

Here are the photos from my Browning Pass dive trip:


Jenn & Jordan’s Wedding

And then even before my gear was dry we were off to Salmon Arm for Jenn & Jordan’s wedding. It was a beautiful ceremony with lots of lovely people in attendance and the rain just made it a little more interesting.

Here are the photos from the wedding and our trip:


I had planned to settled in in September and get a job but Matt’s going to Europe for a couple of weeks so I’m going to tag along! We’re certainly going to need home for a rest after all this.

Sail Away, Salty Dog!


I have wanted to learn how to sail for approximately forever. There had to be a boat somewhere in amongst my many forms of love for the sea and power boats just seem like marine cars to me so I have known since I was a child that at some point, I was going to learn how to sail. Having time off and no real direction seemed like the perfect time to start checking things off my life list so Matt signed us up for the Crew course at Cooper Boating on Granville Island.

Matt & Degan

We had done a half day “see if you like it” sail with them back before we got married. This is us about to go out, pretty sure we’re going to like it.


And we did like it, in spite of the grey days and having to be rescued on the way back in because the engine had run out of oil. Of course sailing through the Bahamas didn’t do anything to dissuade us either so we rode our bikes down and prepared to learn the ropes with two other women in our class.


Most of the what we learned in the crew classroom sessions was what was required for the PCoC (Pleasure Craft Operator’s Card) exam but we also learned the language of sailing.

I thought I already knew how to talk like a sailor but there is a different name for every single thing on a sailboat and many parts of that language have made it into this one. Some people would find that infuriating but I think it’s delightful and I have lit up with a big smile in the middle of several conversations lately when I come across a new crossover term. Some are obviously nautical, like knowing the ropes or loose cannon and some are so lost that we only know the expression –  like the only thing most of us know about gunwales is that they can be either full or packed – but the really glorious ones are the ones you say all the time, without really thinking about they came from. Like, slush fund or bitter end and so many more: taken aback, hand over fist, high and dry, by and large, hard and fast, make my way home, etc. I don’t think I’ve ever used between the devil and the deep blue sea but I love it so I’m going to have to rig a conversation where I can work it in.


We also learned how to sail, in spite of being out in 21 knot winds (a storm warning) on our first day and almost ramming another boat. We got through it though and brought our bruises and rope burns to Day 2 where our instructor filled in all the knowledge gaps and we got to know our points of sail, how to recover a object (man overboard) from the water, how to tack and how to dock. It was very exciting but we still only knew the basic basics* and weren’t really qualified to do anything other than crew on other people’s boats. So with Matt’s urging, I impulsively registered for the Skipper class the week after. He was unfortunately in Seattle, so he’ll have to take it next month.

Well! The Skipper class was a whole different ball game (there’s got to be a nautical term for that), because instead of just knowing what to do when the Captain asks, now we were learning to make the decisions and call out to the crew to get things done. This involves knowing your points of sail, knowing your  plan, knowing your boat and keeping close watch on the sail, sheets, lines and tell-tales to make sure everything is ship-shape. I have no trouble giving orders but I discovered quickly (with the help of the instructor yelling at me) that I am tiller challenged. Tillers work in the opposite way that steering wheels do and being tiller challenged means that I invariably move the tiller in the opposite way that I want to go. On a tight turn with the sails hardened, this can be pretty dramatic and by the end of the day I was exhausted, embarrassed and questioning whether I should even bother going back the next day.



It’s hard to not be good at it when you’ve wanted to do something for so long and I was so frustrated that it didn’t come naturally. I thought maybe I needed to crew under some good skippers for the summer to get the hang of it but Matt was very encouraging and especially as the other girls had spent a lot of time on boats it seemed at least worth trying. And a day sailing has got to be better than a day at home on the couch so I practiced my bowlines and studied up on my theory.

Skipper Degan

And the next day I got my Day Skipper certification! Thanks to Drew, a much better and very patient teacher.

I was still embarrassed but pretty proud and when I got home I saw that Seth Godin had published this:

The ludicrousness of embarrassed: I understand why we may have evolved to have the automatic, out-of-control feeling of embarrassed in some situations. But is it useful? Has being embarrassed ever helped you accomplish anything useful? We can (and should) work to eliminate it from our emotional vocabulary. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth not being embarrassed about. And if it’s not worth doing, don’t do it. One reason to avoid doing something is because it leads to embarrassment. A better reason is because it’s not the right thing.

It was the right thing and I’m really glad I went back to finish it off. I still need to spend a lot of time practicing and Matt needs to get his certification but we’re making way. We’ve got time. And when it’s time for us to buy a sailboat, well, we’re just going to get one with a steering wheel.



*Our instructor told us the 4 stages of learning, which I hadn’t heard before but quite like:

  1. Unconscious incompetence – you don’t know what you don’t know
  2. Conscious incompetence – you do know just how much you don’t know
  3. Conscious competence – you can do it but you have to think about it
  4. Unconscious competence – you know it so well you do it without thinking

Let’s Save Sharks – Now

stop_shark_finning …Actually, it’s more like 100 million and could be as much as 273 million. That’s 11,417 sharks killed every hour, primarily for their fins – a fuck of a lot. It’s hard to imagine killing that many mosquitos every hour, never mind an apex predator / endangered species / animal that has survived for 400 million years (but there’s a handy infographic at the bottom of this post that will help a bit with visualization). We’ve been warned that if declines in marine species continue at the current rate, the world will run out of seafood by 2048. Susan Carey, author of ‘Devil’s Teeth‘, puts it another way:

“The aquatic environment is being altered radically before we’ve even begun to understand it, an insane game of brinksmanship with potentially catastrophic results. And even as $10 billion is allocated for interplanetary exploration, ocean conservationists – monitoring 71% of the earth – struggle for funding. Meanwhile commercial fishing remains a zero-sum game, habitats are being destroyed, species lost forever.”

This is obscene. I didn’t know whether to start with the facts or with a heart-felt plea but now that there are several statistics in play, here’s the plea: let’s save sharks NOW. We are killing them faster than they can reproduce and we are well past the point of a sustainable shark fishery. We have to get on this before there are no sharks – or fish! – left at all and while the issue of over-fishing and the collapse of regional fisheries is a big one (and well worth being informed about), sharks are close to my heart so I’m starting here.

Finning is a barbaric where the dorsal and pectoral fins of a live shark are cut off and the shark is tossed back into the ocean where it drowns. 90% of the meat is wasted. While shark meat is not uncommon in some cultures, most of the sharks being killed now are killed by being finned in order to maximize the ship’s haul with the most valuable parts. The fins are destined for shark fin soup, a centuries-old Chinese delicacy that used to be reserved for royalty but in more recent years the demand for shark fin soup has risen exponentially with the rising nouveau riche to a point where it is severely impacting the balance of the ocean.

Stop Shark Finning

Sharks grow very slowly and have a long gestation period, sometimes only birthing a couple of pups every few years, so they don’t stand a chance when they’re being killed off in such record numbers. Not surprisingly, many shark species have declined by more than 90% in the last 50 years and more than a third of all shark species (more than 500 in total) are facing extinction.

For a soup that apparently doesn’t even have a distinct taste, this is just not okay.

Sharks are important to healthy marine life because as the ocean’s apex predator, they keep the food chain in balance and the oceans healthy by preying on sick and weak animals, keeping the next lower level of fish stock in good shape. Without sharks, the lower carnivore classes would bloat and become disease-ridden, degrading the species and over time these species will die out and we’ll be left with only algae and jellies. Susan Carey writes in ‘Devil’s Teeth’ that, “Monkeying around with the balance of nature is the ultimate fool’s game. Strip away the top of the food chain and the bottom is likely to sprawl with opportunistic animals dominating and breeding unchecked. Worms, viruses, parasites and their ilk having a high old time. Oceans without sharks would be a pest-filled affair, and that’s only the most obvious side effect.”


This is happening. Not everyone is lucky enough to be able to go and see what there is to see under the sea but in the years that I’ve been diving, I’ve already noticed the decline and I spend far less time in shark-infested waters than other experts. One of the first times I saw a shark was in 2005 at the Blue Hole in Belize. And I didn’t just see one shark. As we descended to 130 feet we saw huge sharks all the way down and back up again (with a couple of huge groupers thrown in for good measure). They were interested in us divers as a curiosity, swimming past at a distance to get a better look (or smell) but posed no danger. I wasn’t afraid. Instead, I was grinning into my regulator but the dive master I was swimming beside me was going out of his mind, pointing to all the sharks and making the sign for “shark” and then “big fucking shark” over and over again. On the surface later, I learned that despite coming to this site regularly for work, he had never seen so many sharks. Neither had I, obviously, and sometimes I think that I’m not likely to again. This shark research program (that I hope to participate in) writes about Belize, “My team has deployed baited remote underwater videos (BrUVs)—underwater video traps to count sharks and other fish—on reefs where gillnets and fishing are allowed, and found that sharks are nearly absent on these reefs.” In the Bahamas we scoured reefs that, while healthy, were quiet. No sharks for days and when they did show up it was a handful of tiny ones. And this in a place that has banned shark fishing in favour of promoting shark tourism.

Why are we allowing this to happen? Is it only because we can’t see to the bottom that we assume the sea will keep providing, no matter how much we take out of it? Is it because sharks have an image problem and no one cares if they’re killed by the thousands? No one eats lions or gorillas any more. Worldwide awareness have helped to protect them enough that those species are stable. Whale populations have been able to bounce back from the brink of extinction now that most of the world has agreed to stop whaling. Sharks can be the new whales

There’s been some progress. CITES  (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) have granted three hammerhead species, the porbeagle shark, the oceanic whitetip, and both types of manta rays protected status along with the basking shark, whale shark, and great white shark on Appendix II, which requires permits to export.

CITES plenary today accepted Committee recommendations to list five species of highly traded sharks under the CITES Appendices, along with those for the listing of both manta rays and one species of sawfish. Japan, backed by Gambia and India, unsuccessfully challenged the Committee decision to list the oceanic whitetip shark, while Grenada and China failed in an attempt to reopen debate on listing three hammerhead species. Colombia, Senegal, Mexico and others took the floor to defend Committee decisions to list sharks.

In addition to protecting those shark species, this plenary has generated a lot of increased awareness in sharks and shark conservation. There’s hope.


An interviewee in The End of the Line (a documentary about over-fishing) says, “Man is not going to change and the sea is going to be dead because man is crazy.” I don’t believe that. I can’t. I believe that people are generally good and that they’l make the right decisions if they’re informed. I believe that if enough people are informed the social pressure will change culture. I believe we have a chance, but we don’t have very much time.


What You Can Do


Sharks killed 12 people last year. We killed 100 million sharks – that’s 11,417 sharks killed every hour. Joe Chernov created this infographic to help visualize that number: Shark-Attack-Stop-Finning-Infographic

The God of Frolic (and Naps)


The last two months have been an exercise in decision-making, with so many options brought out to help decide so many things. It’s tiring! And while it’s hella exciting, it’s also pretty unsettling not knowing what your life is going to look like from one week to the next. With all of the uncertainty and change, I needed something constant – and so we got a dog.

All the dog books will tell you that when your life is in chaos is the last point that you should consider adding a dog to it, but we’ve been talking about getting one for a while now (that is, I’ve been talking and Matt’s been listening) and we wanted to wait until after the Bahamas and then that became after the move to Seattle but at some point it just seemed like a little routine and a lot of love wouldn’t be the worst thing right now. Plus, I’ve got lots of free time for training now that we’ve closed our company.


So after a few false starts we picked up Riley on our way back from Seattle. She’s an American bulldog, which means that she gets mistaken for a pit bull or a Boxer puppy about 80% of the time, with paws so big that she trips over them fairly regularly. She was 10 lbs when we got her at 8 weeks but she’s been growing steadily and won’t stop until she’s somewhere between 90 and 110 lbs. That’s a lot of dog!


Having a dog has been good in all of the predictable ways; being around something so pure and full of love, getting up early, going for lots of walks and spending time outside, taking lots of naps… and I maintain that even though many days we’re wall-eyed with fatigue and have gone through many, many paper towels. And she’s been keeping me busy, which was one of the stated purposes. With all the walking and hanging out in parks I’ve had plenty of time to spend thinking about what I want to do next for a project or career (although I’ve not decided yet) but not much else. I always thought that I wasn’t any good at just hanging out but dogs are experts and Riley is already teaching me that being close to home and slowing things waaaaay down has been alright. It is the mark of a mad person to attempt to plan one’s day around a puppy and that has been good for me too. I am looking forward to going on longer hikes and being able to put her in the crate for longer periods of time so that I can go diving or out for dinner but I feel the calm settling in.


And slowly, decisions are being made and things are becoming less certain. We’ve decided to wait until next June to move to Seattle because the visa is that much better but that opens up some new options; whether to move houses or stay in Gastown, where and when I will work or go to school but we have a dog now, and I have started Crossfit in an attempt to get into some kind of shape. Next I’m going to start working on the creative bits.

Time Defeated by Hope and Beauty

CelebrationIt was my birthday earlier this week – I turned 37 – and while I don’t really begrudge the start of grey hairs, wrinkles and extra pounds, I do resent the contributing factors. 2012 was a hard year. I’m tired. Every year on my birthday I set a theme for the year and try to pick goals from my life list that match it. This year won’t have any epic travels or key milestones checked off but if all goes well we’ll have a new country, a new city, a new home, new jobs for both of us, a new dog and some new friends. That’s enough.

It’s going to be busy; we’re getting a dog and moving to Seattle. Jenn and Jordan are getting married, I’ll be travelling to Port Hardy and California for diving, I’m working on a new art project, will probably start grad school in the fall and already have some exciting ideas about What’s Next. Additionally, I’ll be working on building personal strength through vulnerability, building physical strength by getting back into shape and re-defining what success means to me.

Time Defeated by Hope and Beauty is a painting by Simon Vouet that caught my eye in the Prado last year (it also appears to have a different translation in the online catalog) because I like the idea. Living an unfulfilled life has always been my greatest fear and now that my grandmother is deteriorating so quickly in her care home, it’s become a regular reminder to approach everything wholeheartedly and live life to the fullest. This month alone has been full of some incredible adventures.

Keeping busy is not time defeated by hope and beauty though – it’s time flattened by my usual means of filling it full to the brim with exciting things so that sometimes it feels as though I’m living 6 lives instead of 1. I’ve just finished Brené Brown‘s book, “Daring Greatly” after being enthralled with her TED talk on the power of vulnerability and I will probably write more about that after I sit with it for a while but one thing that she wrote that resonated with me is that, “Hope is a function of struggle.” People who have experienced adversity are more likely to have high levels of hopefulness and so it’s not just for style that Vouet’s Hope is brandishing a weapon in his painting. It also speaks to the process – of letting go, of being grateful for what you have, of learning to be joyful. The hope I feel like I have always had in spades and the beauty is something I’m always working on; to live my life with my whole heart, to be open and connect with people, to be grateful for all the moments and not just the exciting ones.

Along with all of the busyness, I’ve been gifted a lot of time. Unexpected, unstructured time of the sort that spins me right into a panic but my theme for this year is to take that and turn it into something beautiful for what it is, not for the amount of things I can fit in it. Bear with me, I’m not good at this, and if I see a cheap enough flight to Africa I’m not saying I won’t get on it, but I’m trying. It’s a process. While I was shopping for cards the other day I saw one that resonated in amongst all the self-depricating ageist ones. It said, “Some people call them decades. I prefer to call them my life’s work.”

I forgot to take a picture of myself on my birthday but here is one that my friend Cyndi took of me with Matt and Stacie. We are in one of my favourite cocktail bars surrounded by friends while in the background one of my favourite bartenders is whipping up a delicious custom cocktail that he created for my birthday. Take that, Time.

Spring (break)

Long Beach

Certainly somewhere girls were going wild last week but I spent my spring break being relaxed and restored; surfing, sleeping, diving reading, walking in the woods and on the beach. I had a trip planned to go surfing in Tofino with some girlfriends that got extended into a dive trip to Barkley Sound with some personal time at the Black Rock in Ucluelet in between. Spoiled, right? I know. I often lament that I don’t spend enough time exploring B.C. and in a way that seems laughable because more than anyone I know, I am the one who will hop in a car and head to Cape Scott (just to see what’s there) and who has stopped to fill up my motorcycle at most of the small towns within a day’s riding distance. But where I excel at going, I lack at sitting and soaking. Holidays for me are a time to see all the things there are to see, and then write about them on the train to the next place. This drove me nuts when I was a kid, that we would vacation over and over again in the same place and stay for weeks at a time, but it’s come to be something I appreciate and it feels good to settle in to some of the places that I’ve been visiting for a long time (starting with Seattle) and settling in a bit farther into myself too.

Good friends

Spring means ducks and bunnies and flowers and rain and enough cat hair in my apartment to make an entire second cat but of course it also means new life. The Persian new year celebrates spring and renewal and I just think that makes so much more sense than trying to be resolute and rejuvenated in the middle of winter when everything is dead. I may adopt it. I LOVE spring and inevitably I change my Facebook picture to the one of me playing in the cherry blossoms and post something about the world being mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful and run around all giddy, but I found this quote recently that I just love:

“Spring, spring! Bytuene Mershe ant Averil, when spray biginneth to spring! When shaws be sheene and swards full fayre, and leaves both large and longe! When the hounds of spring are on winter’s traces, in the spring time, the only pretty ring time, when the birds do sing, hey-ding-a-ding ding, cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-wee, ta-witta-woo! And so on and so on and so on. See almost any poet between the Bronze Age and 1805.”
-George Orwell, Keep the Aspidistra Flying

because everyone loves spring!


And you could see it on the island. There were many people out on the beach and in the waves, shedding winter. The goats weren’t on the roof in Coombs yet but the dogs were bounding up and down the beaches, full of joy and later in the week I saw grey whales on their migration north, a black bear out of hibernation and a transient mother orca with her calf.

Wild Pacific Trail

Surfing in Tofino felt like summertime, it was so nice out and we had a beautiful cabin with a hot tub and filled it with great people and lots of wine. I didn’t realize that it had been so long since I was surfing last and I was quickly reminded that I’m out of surfing shape but surfing is one of the only activities where you can have fun no matter how good you are. Even just bobbing in the water in the sun, it feels like a great day. But I decided take a lesson a few days later and not only was that very educational but my instructor was great and we had a fantastic time in the surf. We even saw a grey whale breaching.


Then the weather turned stormy and I sat on my deck at the Black Rock (or in the hot tub) watching waves pound the rocks over and over again. I read my books and wrote. I also tried to work in a hotel room without a desk but just never mind that, the rest of the week was great. I was hoping to be able to dig deep and think about some things on the horizon; my acceptance into grad school and the MDM program and how that would shake out with our move to Seattle and Adience, an art project I’m working on, etc. but all I realized was how burnt out I am. Whenever I tried to think about what I wanted to do, all that came to mind was surfing and diving (because I am almost never too tired for that), making bread and reading and walking dogs. So more resting is on the horizon, as well as a puppy.


For stage 3 of the adventure, I went to pick up Talia from Nanaimo so that we could go diving in Barkley Sound. When I was hiking around the Wild Pacific Trail in Ucluelet, I realized just how close we were to Bamfield (16 nautical miles across the bay) and that just made me laugh* to think about driving all the way across the island and back to almost the same spot but there you have it. The drive was beautiful in any case and although it’s an active logging road with several clearcut areas on it, there are also many stands of silver birch and some rivers and lakes. On our way out we saw some beautiful deer in the trees.

*Now that I’ve seen Revolution about how I’m not laughing anymore. Go and see it please, it’s important.

The cut

Diving in Barkley Sound has been on my radar for a while but there are no operators in the area any more so you have to team up with a trip going from somewhere else. We went with Amanda, a photographer I know, and Ogden Point and stayed in a cabin owned by the operator. The town is divided into east and west, with the west side only accessible by boat and has some interesting amenities – there’s the marine research station which puts on talks and events and a bunch of cat cabins built for the feral cat colony. It was my first time in Bamfield since I hiked the West Coast Trail in university and I had forgotten how beautiful it was. Of course back then I didn’t even get out into the sound, which is where I really fell in love. By the end of the weekend I was noting prices and locations of cabins for sale. It’s a bit far from Seattle but I’m still thinking about it.

Undersea garden

Underwater was even more beautiful. Incredible surge on the first dive so that when we were sometimes moving 6-9″ back and forth through the water, and rounding the rock to swim through the cut where the surf anemones are, we were flung through so quickly that all we saw was the wall of green. I was tempted to go around and do it again but surge in another direction pushed me too far up to the surface (this was a very shallow dive) and I saw a wall of mussels and kelp blocking my way back down again so I waited for Talia and we went over to the another rock for a similar ride. I described it afterwards as like being at the aquarium and Playland at the same time and kept giggling into my regulator I was having so much fun. The rest of the dives were considerably calmer (although far from flat) with still the same amount of colour. Pink and purple urchins up against blue and orange sunstars, bat stars, leather starts, lime green surf anemones, soft purple corals, pink and purple hydrocorals, iridescent blue seaweed, green eelgrass and red-tinged kelp, huge abalone, lurid orange scallops, nudibranchs the size of rabbits and so many more things.


For dinner the first night we had a moose roast (my first time eating moose) and then we were back out again in the morning for more of the same underwater splendours. A huge sea lion came and played with us for a while, jumping completely out of the water three times after we had surfaced to see where we were at, and then on our way to the next dive site, we encountered the orcas and spent some time with them before moving on. In every photo of me coming out of the water, I have a big grin on my face. It was just so incredible and I can’t wait to go back. Our captain described the sound as a place where you could dive every day for a year and still not dive the same site twice (see my earlier comment about buying a property there).

Beautiful BC

A friend described it as a perfect B.C. vacation (especially if I could have snuck in a trip to Whistler!) and it was just so wonderful to spend that much time out on the water surrounded by amazing beauty with some great people. I’m very grateful.

Here are all of the photos:

Beware the Ides


We were in Seattle last week, for Matt’s first week at Amazon. He had to come down for orientation and other meetings and I tagged along for a change of scenery. I came because I love Seattle and while I’ve been to this city more times than I can count, it’s usually only for a couple of days – a business trip or a concert or something like that. The opportunity to spend a week down there, working remotely and checking out neighbourhoods and cafes and wandering around was too much for me to pass up.

And I came because I thought the change of scenery would make the transition a little easier. Matt’s started a job, in an office, so that’s obviously a big change for him but it affects me pretty profoundly as well. We’ve been working together for almost 2 years now and for the last year that’s been out of our home. I’ve gotten used to sitting beside him at our desk all day so tomorrow when I sit down and start work by myself it’s going to feel a little weird. And then there is Adience, which I am running now. So much is different and a lot of things are up in the air. What do I do with my day? With my company? Do we move to Seattle? If so, when? Where? When can I pack? They have handlers for this kind of thing but who handles the handler? It’s in my blood (or at least my neuroses) to collect information and organize and plan. I’m looking at a spreadsheet of Seattle with the things I want to see divided up by Neighbourhood, Time of Day, and Rating. I’m good at this. What I’m not good at is waiting. No one ever called me patient and being poised to go in one of 16 different directions at any moment is a special kind of awful. Never mind Caesar’s foretelling about the ides, what gets me is the uncertainty.

We’ll know more soon, we keep saying, but for now we’re in Seattle. Or at least we were.

Seattle is so grey. Dishwater grey. Tom Robbins, local author and the envy of weathermen describes the sky as like “the color of Edgar Allen Poe’s pajamas” or “cottage cheese that had been dragged nine miles behind a cement truck,” or “passages from Les Miserables, threadbare and gray.” He’s so right – I’m from Vancouver and I’m telling you that this place is grey. Somehow I didn’t notice how persistent it was before. But at least it didn’t rain much, so I’ve been able to go running in the morning and explore some neighbourhoods that I’d previously only driven though. I like it a lot. It’s impossible not to compare it with Vancouver, as two large North American cities on the wet coast are cut from a very similar cloth but there are as many differences as similarities. It’s grittier, with more old neighbourhoods, old neon and ghost walls because they haven’t torn down all of their old buildings. There’s more art, but also more traffic. There’s lots of Mexican food, but not so much Chinese, Japanese or Korean. Our aquarium is better but theirs has a more awesome Great Pacific Octopus tank. Our music doesn’t compare with what happens in Seattle garages and oh, how I love Happy Hour.

These are my neighbourhood-specific notes and thoughts. The rest of the photos are on flickr:



  • Downtown: Not a candidate for neighbourhoods we would live in (or even that are new to me, for that matter), but an area that I’ve spent a lot of time in, because that’s usually where I’ve stayed. I went running through downtown a couple of times (and realized just how steep those hills really are) and visited the library quickly before checking out Pike Place Market, a place that I try to make a point of going to regularly – to check out what’s in season or to get a snack. This time I also went to the Seattle Aquarium for the first time and was a bit disappointed in the layout and some of the displays but as I mentioned above, they have a very prominent octopus tank with an octopus “crossing” and the most active Great Pacific Octopus I’ve ever seen, in captivity or out. I don’t know if that’s normal for it (they do do a public feeding there) but it was worth the price of admission and the migraine from the screaming children. We also ate downtown one night, at RN74, a Michael Mina steakhouse. The cocktails were some of the best we had all week and the food was good too but I think I’d rather just sit in the lounge and snack next time.


  • Ballard: I spent the early morning walking along the water and visiting the locks before settling into a cafe on the high street. Ballard has a busy main street with a movie theatre, a Walgreens, lots of coffee shops and restaurants, etc. and then an historic area with boutique shops, restaurants and bars that reminds me a lot of Gastown. People were nice, although the wifi in the cafe was close to unusable and everywhere I wanted to eat was either closed for lunch or closed on Mondays (or both). I had lunch at Bitterroot, a BBQ and smoker restaurants and then Matt and I went back for dinner at Ocho which is a Spanish tapas place that makes their own amaro and absinthe and has a tiki cocktail party on Monday nights. Our friends from Canada who now live in Seattle called it “squeaky clean” in terms of crime but with its working shipyard and metalworking mixed in with both boutique and mainstream businesses, it felt more real to me than Gastown somehow. It’s pretty far from downtown over only one bridge, and not super close to the freeway either but I liked it the best.


  • Capitol Hill: Grungy and gritty but lots of cool shops and restaurants. This is the neighbourhood that I’ve spent the most time in so I know it pretty well but that just means it has some of my favourite places in it; Quinn’s, Canon Whiskey and Bitters Emporium, Barrio and Tango. It’s fully of art galleries and tattoo shops and an excellent bookstore. Because I’m usually here in the evening, I wanted to check it out in the day time and went to Boom Noodle for lunch. It was my first foray into Seattle Japanese and not bad, but a pan-Japanese chain is only going to be so good. Afterwards I took a wander through Melrose Market, which is as close a thing to something I think every neighbourhood should have –  butcher, cheese shop, sandwich shop, flower shop, full service bar and wine shop, cocktail bar and a small restaurant. I could totally live here. It seems unlikely that we would find a place with a garage in such an urban hood, but not impossible. Close to downtown and freeways.


  • Fremont: Quirky and cool with lots of public art projects and a couple of good restaurants. It has one of my favourite restaurants in it – Revel – but I didn’t go there this time. Instead I decided to continue on the Japanese theme and checked out Chiso for happy hour which was an actual disappointment. a gift from the chef of some marinated salmon and onions that was okay but not meant to be cold, followed by a roll and actual bite size pieces of sashimi that I liked the idea of for a snack but the chef seemed drunk and no one thought it was unreasonable that it took 20 minutes for the gyoza to arrive. For dinner I grabbed a sandwich from Paseo but I think I can only handle one giant, incredibly sloppy sandwich a week and I had already had a pulled pork sandwich and a cheesesteak by this point. Fremont felt a lot like Commercial Drive to me, there’s a used bookstore but not too many stores and although I didn’t see anything noteable, I got the feel that there is a strong sense of community here. Close to downtown and freeways.

Gasworks Park

  • Wallingford: I’m sort of lumping Wallingford in with Fremont, except that it’s more residential and closer to the university. I didn’t eat there or do any wandering but I did drive through it a couple of times. Close to downtown and freeways.
  • Montlake: A residential area pretty close to downtown that our friends recommended we check out. I only drove through it so didn’t see a high street but the houses were nice and didn’t seem too ostentatious, so that’s all good. Plus it’s close to the dive shop.
  • Green Lake: Pretty far from downtown but a truly beautiful neighbourhood centred around a lake with lots of activity on it – boats, joggers, dogs, etc. It’s also close to the dive shop and freeways but I didn’t see any shops and the only restaurant I saw was a generic Chinese (i.e.: white people Chinese) restaurant in a pagoda shaped building, so it might be too much of a transition for us (me).
  • Madrona: I set out determined to like Madrona because it’s a cool name and the name of an excellent dive site in Nanaimo and also because they have a full service wine bar and shop, which is another thing awesome about the America that we can’t have here, but it turned out to be very residential and moneyed. The streets are beautiful with large shade trees and shore access and I can’t wait to come through here on the Ducatis but I don’t feel like it would suit us at all.

Mezcaleria Oaxaca

  • Queen Anne: Do not like. Lots of churches, lots of gift shops, lots of self-righteous stuck up women who don’t really work. Is it fair to say that? I had an awesome lunch at the Mezcaleria Oaxaca and then spent some time checking out the high street before settling into a cafe to work. The first gift shop was Christian and no one made eye contact. The second gift shop the owner and her staff were addressing how a pie cutter was the cutest thing they had seen in their LIVES but it was far too sharp to be in a drawer in case a child got a hold of it. The bookshop was full of  motivational books – although they did also have a copy of Lucky Peach – and I was about to buy a couple of items but the woman working behind the counter kept complaining about how she had to move her car every two hours and had already gotten two $100 parking tickets that month (the free parking on the street is limited to 2 hours, for short-term visitors. There are parkades available for people who are willing to pay for them). Very steep hills (which means views) and nice houses. It’s ostensibly close to downtown and freeways, but only on certain streets. I got turned around three times trying to get there (albeit without a map).


  • Belltown: We ate at Mama’s Mexican Kitchen with some friends which I’ve been to before and is decent. The decor is eclectic and fun and two grandfather guitarists were making the rounds singing to the crowd. Afterwards we went to The Rabbit Hole for some whiskey and skeeball. Skeeball! I asked Matt before we left if I should change but he was too bagged from work to play so we’ll have to go back. Also I want to take him to SPUR – a gastropub I love – and some of the other speakeasies around there. Close to downtown and freeways but it’s both a little too polished and gritty for my liking. We’re up to our ears in gentrification in Gastown and it would be nice to take a break from that for a while.

the Bahamas

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Boaters have a saying that if you’re lucky, you go to the Exumas when you die. Not only had I not heard that saying before we booked our trip, I hadn’t even heard of the Exumas. But after spending a week on board Blackbeard’s MV Morningstar, a 65″ sloop sailed by Captain Red and an excellent crew, I feel like there may be something to it. There are  365 cays and islands in the Exumas chain alone with any number of coves and reefs to explore – and yes, the water really is that colour.


It was our first liveabord experience so we were a little startled when we saw that 29 people (23 guests – and all their gear – plus 6 crew) were going to be sharing such a small space but we soon got into the routine of getting up early, getting in the water, and exploring. By evening we were so spent from exercise, heat, fresh air and the early hour of darkness that it only took a beer or two to send us off to bed.


I would have liked to see some more and bigger sharks but it was a great trip and we had so much fun with our friends. It was an excellent intro into what it can be like at sea and on a liveabord, as well as some more diving experience for Matt. Some other firsts:

  • Matt’s first (and several more) shark sighting
  • Matt’s first time in a blue hole (below)
  • Our first time traveling with someone else, my awesome dive buddy Talia (who took that photo of me, above).


It set the stage for some exciting trips that we’re already planning for next year but I’d also like to make it an annual thing where we travel somewhere warm with some awesome people and without any internet access. Here are all of the photos: