The Month of June Trembled Like a Butterfly

Hammock

“Green was the silence, wet was the light, the month of June trembled like a butterfly.”

~Pablo Neruda, 100 Love Sonnets

Sometime in June while I was living in my car, I saw that piece of poem written on a sign. I sighed happily (as I often do when I encounter unexpected poetry) and then wondered if June was trembling because of anticipation, or fear or just speed…and then it was gone and I forgot all about it.

Maceo
I don’t remember the first time I saw the city of Vancouver. I was probably too young. I was born there, in Grace hospital (that burnt down and was rebuilt as Women & Children’s) but grew up in the suburb of Langley. The first few visits to the city that I do remember felt like a long journey – over the big orange Port Mann Bridge and then a seemingly endless stretch of nothingness until we were off the freeway. But even when I was asleep (probably most of the time), I always knew we had reached the city because I woke up when we stopped at 1st and Commercial and I would marvel at the gritty urbanness of the gun shop at that intersection, fiercely gated and barred up. Much later I lived right across the street from where it had been and felt completely safe, always wondering if I had just made it up. Our trips into town seemed to revolve around something my dad had forgotten at his office on Hastings Street or a Chinese food dinner at either Wok With Yan or the Beijing House. I remember trying so hard to get my hands around the chopsticks and playing next to the koi pond in the floor but I am suspicious of memory. Even though I can picture Wok With Yan’s restaurant where the White Spot is now on Georgia Street, I know I was very young. I feel like I must be getting something wrong – not least because I haven’t seen either of my parents eat Chinese food in maybe 25 years. To think of them making such a long drive into town with small children to eat it boggles the mind.

Vancouver
The last time I saw Vancouver was at Crab Park early in the morning. I took a photo because it was gorgeous out and it felt poignant but truly I have many photos of our dog park, a place that I have been to almost daily this past year. This time though, we were in a rush. We had cleaners to deal with, cars to pack, and then a whole lot of paperwork to fill out at the border because finally, after a long wait, we were moving to Seattle.

Riley
I went to university in Victoria but I’ve always thought of Vancouver as my home. I read a poem once in which ‘home’ was defined by wherever you had your heart broken. In a way, I think that’s true…it’s where you had your formative experiences. I lived in the West End, East Van, Cambie Village, Commercial Drive, Main Street, Oak Street and Gastown. I ate at SO many restaurants (sometimes even consecutive businesses in the same storefront), hiked in the forests, dove all over the coast, got married, worked for several different companies as well as started my own, and made lots of friends…for all of these reasons Vancouver will be home but also for all of those reasons it was also time to leave.

Moving van
It’s always been a dream of mine to live abroad and I’ve dabbled in it (multiple home-stays in France an Germany and a lot of travel) and prepared for it (I’m a certified TESL instructor and a dive master and I have a filing cabinet worth of books and maps) but there has always been something holding me back, usually a boy or a girl, sometimes debt, at times common sense.

Lake City
But we are finally here, just barely abroad, and that’s ok. It’s a step. From here we can go elsewhere and even this border hop has had its share of paperwork and problems. Had we moved to say, Poland or Japan, we would currently be standing in a drug store hoping we were buying toothpaste and not hemorrhoid cream, walking everywhere for fear of driving or taking transit and ending up in another city, and eating all kinds of interesting new food. Instead we are driving around in our same cars (minus one motorcycle and one truck), speaking English, eating sushi and burgers at the two decent restaurants in our neighbourhood and when we get lost, we pull up google maps to tell us where to go. Easy Peasy.

We are glad of the adventure, in any case, and ready for all the next ones.

Seattle

A better quote for this month might be this famous one:

“Throw your dreams into space like a kite, and you do not know what it will bring back, a new life, a new friend, a new love, a new country.”

~Anais Nin

Home
Wish us luck. And come visit.

 

 

Summertime Rolls

Chief

It has been a languid, lazy spring. The weather has been nice so I’ve been hanging at the dog park, reading some dense books* that I have always meant to get through and riding my bike a lot. But we have found a home in Seattle for July 1st – two weeks from now – and suddenly things are happening fast. Luckily we have handlers who are dealing with almost every detail for us so instead of freaking out, I am calmly just taking pictures down off the walls and unplugging appliances we’re not using. The movers are coming today to do an inventory and then they will come and pack everything up in 2 weeks and then we will have a few days of camping out with our animals and without our stuff and then we will be living in AMERICA!

There are many other details that need to happen in between all of that and of course a looooooong list of stuff to do after we have arrived but that doesn’t matter. At the point when we are sitting in our home in Seattle, we will have literally crossed the line and all of the waiting and dragging this process out will be at least mostly over – sort of. The career piece, which I will write about later, is still going to be dragged out until the end of summer because once I get my visa I STILL will not be able to work for 3 months – a detail that was not mentioned when we started this process. I’m not sure what kind of bureaucratic red tape that is about but it seems that there are still many more days ahead of riding my bike and reading and hanging out at the dog park. Or alternately, I may run away to Japan for a couple of weeks. We’ll see.

*Moby Dick really isn’t worth the trouble. 

Chief

In the meantime, there are people to see in Vancouver, things to do and especially places to eat. I decided this week that I am not going to do the Ride to Conquer Cancer for a handful of reasons, the primary being that it is just too busy right now but also it is going to rain and I don’t want to go out and buy a bunch more gear just so I can ride by myself for 2 days. It would have been different if I had had more of a team or if I had trained harder but I’m not going to get anything out of it other than stress at this point.

Instead, I have finally climbed the Stawamus Chief, something that has been on my “must do” list every summer since I moved back to Vancouver in 1999. How embarrassing, but also what a great hike. I’m sorry I waited so long to do it.

Heirloom

In a similar vein, I have also been eating at a ton of “new” restaurants this past month in a desperate attempt to get through them before we move. Almost none of these are actually new restaurants, but rather places that I’ve been meaning to check out over the years. A couple of these I have been roller coasters of emotions – delight and astonishment (something that hasn’t happened in while with me and food) at how good they are and then utter despair that I didn’t go earlier. For example, Via Tevere, Hog Shack Cook House, Laksa King and Octopus’ Garden. But others have been just ok and every time that happens, I just want to get up in the middle of the meal and go for laksa.

As of today’s count, I have 33 places left and 19 days to do it in so I’d better get going. Gulp!

Kilby

Between my food blog and my constant quest to check out new and interesting things, I think I am a pretty good ambassador for Vancouver. I go to art galleries fairly regularly and am at the Museum of Anthropology and the Vancouver Aquarium pretty frequently but as part of my volunteer work at the Museum of Vancouver, I got to take part in the Vancouver Tourism Challenge last month.

Aquarium

I went so many places! Of course I I went back to all of my favourites but Matt and Riley and I also took a trip up to Hell’s Gate Air Tram (so underwhelming) and I went to all of the gardens (Van Dusan and Nitobe are gorgeous) and up to the Squamish Lil’Wat Cultural Centre.  I made a point of going to everything I hadn’t already been to (except for the BC Sports Hall of Fame which I just cannot get excited about) and I also tried to ride my bike to as many places as possible, so that kept me busy.

Aquarium

It’s a great program and I learned a lot. As well, it has primed me for checking out all of the Seattle galleries, museums and such. I already have been to many of them and actually have already applied to volunteer at SAM but I’m looking forward to exploring.  Starting with – Ride the Ducks!

Victoria

Somehow we managed to sneak in a trip to Victoria too.

Victoria

Although I’ve been on the island a lot in the last couple of years, I haven’t been able to make it into town. I have found memories of Victoria from going to university there and I really wanted to go and check some things out, see some people and do some diving on the Breakwater. Rushed and moved around as it was (originally we had planned to go on Easter) we didn’t end up doing much other than eating and drinking and walking around but that suited us just fine.

Riley

Riley had a great time too. 🙂

Riley

What I’m reading and listening to:

April does what it wants

April 5

Around this time of year people around here say April showers bring May flowers. In Germany they say April does what it wants.  But in my house there is scarcely time to notice the weather because April is busy. It’s my sister’s birthday and then my birthday and then my dad’s birthday and then my grandmothers – and somewhere in there is usually Easter – and then when we’re through all that it’s our wedding anniversary. This year we upped the busyness by throwing in a trip to Salmon Arm to see Matt’s parents too. Today I had a nap.

English Bay

In keeping with the showers part of the proverb, it has been pretty spectacularly grey and wet in Vancouver. I took a break from riding my bike while it was wet because while there are many activities that I don’t mind doing in the rain, riding my bike is not one of them. Yuckity yuck. Except then I remembered that if it rains on the ride to Seattle, I will be riding in the rain for the first time and that sorted me out pretty fast. So I went for a long-ass ride in the rain and got soaking wet and cranky but it was still so much better than it was at the beginning because earlier in the month I got some new SPD pedals and toe clips, padded cycling shorts and a jersey that makes me look so fast – at least when I’m stopped at Starbucks. I also got my bike fitted by the fine experts at MEC and it turns out that it is way too small for me. So that would explain the pain in my sacrum and the way my hip clicks on long rides. I’m glad to have it sorted now.

Cherry blossoms

I’m also glad to have had some days of non-rain too. In between all the grey, it is suddenly summer. The flowers are out (tulips and cherry blossoms everywhere!) and all the patios are open and then that too comes to pass and we go back to the grey. Ah, springtime in Vancouver. April always does what it wants.

April 3

I’m still doing trash clean-up dives pretty regularly with my group (Divers for Cleaner Lakes and Oceans) and along with about 3000 lbs of garbage to date, we’re also raising awareness. Earlier this year the Coquitlam paper came to check us out and this month we were interviewed by a news crew and then for GreenPeace’s Mobilisation Lab blog. That feels pretty good, although it doesn’t quite compare to diving in Socorro.

Tulips

Another bit of awesomeness that happened in April is that I had a career coaching session with Penelope Trunk. I’ve been following her blog for ages and then took a couple of her classes including “How to Get Your Dream Job”, but my problem is not getting the job. I am pretty confident that I can sort out the resume / networking / interviewing pieces even in a new country and industry, as long as I know what direction I’m going in. It’s a blessing and a curse, being interested in everything and capable enough to consider it for a career so I got stuck several times with my last coach. With Penelope we  distilled down the things that were important to me and determined that corporate education / HR development training is a good direction. It is big and challenging enough to last me until retirement, provides the possibility of working for myself again (after I learn the ins and outs), and scratches my two itches of being creative and wanting to help people. So I’m excited about that. I have been doing lots of research on Seattle and training and education and re-writing my resume on a near weekly basis.

Spring

It’s pretty perfect timing because now that we’ve done all the travelling we had planned for this year, it’s time for the next adventure – our move to Seattle, slated July 1st. We’ve dusted off our visa application from last year and re-engaged the immigration people so now I’m looking for a place to live and a place to work and people to connect with and diving / hiking / climbing / motorcycling groups to join…and of course planning our going away party. Stay tuned.

Flowers

What I’m reading and listening to:

The Season to Be Sparkly

bokeh

Well, it’s been quite a year. The last time I wrote a holiday letter / year in review was at the end of 2011 and it started like this:

“Yowza, it has been a year. We travelled to Toronto, Montreal, Paris, San Francisco, Salmon Arm, Mexico, Whistler, Camrose Alberta, Lummi Island and a few more places I’m forgetting, we got married, we got matching Ducati motorcycles, we started working together full time at the technology company we started last year (Adience Solutions Inc.), and blew that out of the water. It’s been very busy but we’ve sure had a lot of adventures.”

2012 was quiet in comparison – the bit of calm sandwiched in between adventure and change – because in 2013 we travelled to the Bahamas, Kiev, Prague, Hawaii, Salmon Arm, Quadra Island, and Whistler. Matt got a job with Amazon and we went to Seattle a couple of times together but he’s been down at least a dozen more on his own too. Then we decided to move to Seattle and got all ready for that big change, only to postpone it until next June. I applied to, got accepted for, and then deferred my acceptance into the Masters in Digital Media program. We closed our company. We got a dog. I took the summer off to figure out what I was going to do and spent days hanging out in dog parks and hiking and diving and making art while Matt went to Seattle again and again.

Gastown

Together we rode curvy Highway 20 to Osoyoos on our motorcycles and learned to sail. I pressed on with sailing lessons and got my day boat captain’s ticket and I also earned PADI diving specialty certifications in wreck diving, deep diving, boat diving and shark conservation. Matt and I both dove with manta rays, turtles, hammerheads and sharks in warm water and  I saw so many orcas that it almost became expected. I dove with friends in Nanaimo and Barkley Sound and Port Hardy – three corners of the Vancouver Island dive diamond – and unfortunately missed the fourth to Victoria / Race Rocks but I did dive the Skookumchuck rapids in Sechelt Inlet which was quite an experience.

Gastown

We’ve already been up to Whistler this winter – we made it for the opening day on 7th Heaven for the second year in a row – and in spite of all the dive trips I did this year, the local diving season is really just getting underway. In terms of creative endeavours, I attended an incredible art workshop with Nick Bantock as well as with my regular teacher and mentor Jeanne Krabbendam, and learned many new things in terms of both perspective and technique. I started writing a book – a sort of memoir with recipes – that may never be finished but that is fun to work on in any case, and have continued occasionally updating SmokySweet.com and this blog. I’ve been cooking and baking a lot too, as well as attempting many food-related projects. Sourdough and jam are currently back in rotation now that the Christmas baking is done.

There’s no other way to write it other than as an incredible list of adventures. We keep a Jar of Awesomeness on our counter that we put moments in to as they happen to pull out and read on New Year’s Eve. I can’t believe how much we’ve done this year but I know there are lots in there that I’ve forgotten.

jar of awesomeness

Now it’s winter and dark from 4 PM until 8 AM. The crows have started to fill the alley and the square around Gassy Jack when I’m walking the dog in the morning dark and their cawing fills an otherwise quiet Gastown. The year has turned in on itself, bookended by these immense blocks of night but it is also nearly Christmas and the city has picked up a bit of an anticipatory bustle. On Water Street the storefronts are all dressed up in their finest and people are rushing here and there, dipping in and out of the dark and light patches made by the windows and lights. I was looking outside just now as the streetlights came on and with the huge tree outside our window also decked out in white lights, the street does feel sparkly and festive and a little bit magical. There are Christmas trees visible in several apartment windows across the street but those lights will come on a bit later, when people get home from work.  It’s snowing today for the second time this month – unusual for us this early – and I love seeing the city (nevermind the mountains) covered.

Gastown

We’re not normally big on Christmas but we wanted a quiet one this year and ended up actually having no plans at all. Surprisingly, that has brought out the Christmas spirit in me. I’ve been cooking and baking and even listening to a little Christmas music. Next week is Matt’s birthday and Christmas and we have plans to go to see the lights at the Capilano suspension bridge and VanDusen Botanical Gardens. Hopefully we will go to the German Christmas market tonight but in between I will be quite content to curl up and enjoy the quiet. I will bring out the sparkles for New Year’s but we’ll keep that low-key too.

After any year like this we have some work to do to bring things into balance – work on our budget, work on getting me a job, work on communication and balance, work on working out…but in spite of planning to keep 2014 low-key, I don’t see how it can be. I’ll have a new job, a new career, a new country, a new dive shop, a new set of friends…and I’m still not sure if Matt will be more or less busy if he’s in Seattle full time. But if I set my sights only on accomplishing those with some kind of grace and not add in too many stretch goals then I just might be able to pull it off.

Happy holidays to you if you celebrate them. Enjoy the sparkle.

And here are some beautiful words to bring in 2014:

“May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art — write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.

I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something. So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life. Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it. Make your mistakes, next year and forever.”

– Neil Gaiman

lights

What I’m Reading and Listening to this month:

October, November; Fall in Love

Degan
“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.” 
~Albert Camus

Leaves
I expected to see rain as soon as we got home from Prague but this fall has been so beautiful and crisp and clear  – the kind of weather that brings out the colours in the trees and allows them to stick around for a little while without melting… a.k.a the kind of weather we never get here. Matt and I were even able to get in a couple of extra (chilly) motorcycle rides up the Sea-to-Sky highway and I’ve managed to put off buying both a winter coat and umbrella a lot longer than I should have been able to expect.

Tea
So Riley and I have been taking advantage and heading out to the dog park every day and running and generally spending a lot of time outside where I have fallen in love with the way the sunlight streams through the trees, dressed in yellows and reds and golds. I can’t seem to go around the block without taking a photo of everything.

Degan
This isn’t new for me (I love fall and I am always taking a photo of everything) but I am also taking a self-portraiture class with Vivienne McMaster. It’s the second art class I’ve taken this year that was at least as much therapy as art but it’s been interesting to explore some new areas. Normally I hate taken photos of myself and I’m not really interested in taking photos that “reveal my gremlins” but the light and the leaves have been incredible and my hair is the bright red of a tropical fish or dying maple leaf so I’ve been keeping an eye out for photo ops.

Degan
Autumn is all about tea and toques, sweaters and boots, seeing your breath when you speak in the morning, having rosy cheeks and spending evenings reading (preferably by a fire). It’s my favourite weather when it’s cold enough to wear a vest and a toque but not raining so you can wrap both hands around a mug of tea. I should probably move somewhere where this season lasts longer than a week (as it usually does in Vancouver) and I am looking forward to winter but I’ve just been so in love with this fall.

Fall
I’m still on my “summer off” working – it seemed like we had just got back from Europe before we left for Hawaii – but I am starting to dig in and see what’s possible there before we move to Seattle in June. Everyone told me that I would know my dream career when I saw it, and I guess that’s true because I can say pretty confidently that I want to work at the Museum of Anthropology or at National Geographic but in terms of career paths and moving to Seattle, that means going back to school to do Anthropology or Museum Studies or taking a job, any job, at the Seattle Art Museum and working my way into a good fit. In preparation for that I’ve applied to volunteer at the Museum of Anthropology, the Museum of Vancouver, the Vancouver Art Gallery and the Police Museum and registered for “From Cabinets of Curiosities to the Modern Museum” and “In the Footsteps of the Adventurer Archaeologists” – day long classes at UBC’s Continuing Studies and looking in to taking some classes at the University of Washington next September. I’ve also started doing some work at the David Suzuki Foundation, which I’m really excited about.

Degan Walters
But right now I just want to get to work.

Matt’s been working long and hard so we’ve been laying low but we did get to two amazing concerts this fall – Ms Mr and Nine Inch Nails – and I got my octopus tattoo finished and cut my hair off (the shortest it’s been in a looooooong time) so some big changes there. At some point I guess I’m going to have to dye my hair back to a natural colour but the sun and sea and salt in Hawaii has stripped it down to a coral pink already so I’ve been having some fun with that too.

Tea

What I’m Reading and Listening to this month:

We’ve also been watching a lot of Big Bang Theory and incredibly, I’ve been loving it. It’s either going to be the show that turns me into a TV watcher or I’m going to go through withdrawal when it’s over.

Degan Walters

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

summer

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.

Summer

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.

Warbonnet

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.

Barnacle

Here are the photos from the Powell River trip: http://www.flickr.com/photos/degan/sets/72157634176861753/

Temple

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.

Walterses

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.

Osoyooos

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.

Keremeos

Here are the photos from our Highway 20 road trip: http://www.flickr.com/photos/degan/sets/72157634953729684/

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.

Walterses

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.

Sea

Here are the photos from our Quadra Island trip: http://www.flickr.com/photos/degan/sets/72157634951331674/

art

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.

Undersea

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: http://www.flickr.com/photos/degan/sets/72157635245601126/

wedding

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: http://www.flickr.com/photos/degan/sets/72157635239166625/

 

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.

The God of Frolic (and Naps)

Riley

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.

Riley

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!

Riley

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.

Riley

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.

Beware the Ides

March

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: http://www.flickr.com/photos/degan/sets/72157632980537281/.

Fresh

Boardwalk

  • 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

  • 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.

Bowl

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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.


Sunlight on the Water

Sunlight on the water

Today it has been 10 years since my mom died. It feels like a big day and I want to spend it doing something big to commemorate her. My sister and I talked about going back to Venice where we scattered her ashes, but over this years that plan has faded and instead I got back from the Bahamas late last night on a completely unrelated trip. In past years, on her birthday and mother’s day and the anniversary of her death, I’ve looked through photo albums or bought flowers and carried them around with me or threw them in the ocean, not entirely sure what to do. Usually I make a point of wearing the locket she gave me and end up at the beach – a place that was special to both of us – in contemplative silence, worrying the cool weight of the silver…but what I really want is to talk about her.

A lot of time has passed and while the grief has faded like everyone said it would, her death changed my life. Before she died I thought nothing bad would ever happen, or at least I imagined bad things happening in kind of a benign, abstract way. Life was golden. So it seems fitting that when I remember her, I remember sunlight. She was an incredibly warm person and she radiated that light in photographs and in person; when she smiled (which was often), when she fell over sideways from laughing (also frequently), when she was waving to me from the table in the restaurant where we met for wine on Fridays (I was always late so she was always there) or when she opened the door with a flourish of excitement when I came for dinner. Helen is Greek for “shining light” and it seems to me that she was always smiling. I know that can’t be true – no one smiles all the time, but when I think about her, I still feel warm. That hasn’t faded.

helen

Many other details have. I am losing the hard edges of memory and they details are overlapping on themselves as they disintegrate with time, like sunlight dancing on water. At one moment you see your reflection and then it’s gone in a glint of light or maybe the flash of a fish just below the surface.

It gets a bit complicated because while I do conisider her very much my mom, I’m adopted and she was my birth mother so I also have an adopted mom who I love with much. It matters because I met Helen as an adult and I only knew a couple of her friends well. Most of them I’ve completely lost contact with and very few of the friends I had then are still around. Stupidly I never introduced her to my adoptive family. So when I want to talk about her I have to rely on myself. I am frustrated with myself for forgetting but I haven’t been telling stories. There has been too many years of not talking about her and so I will start now with what I have left – her smile and her light.

When I was connected with her through the adoption agency, I wasn’t sure who she would be or what I was getting myself into but I did know that I did not need another adult to judge and criticize me. I agonized over that letter (possibly even more than I did over this blog post) but finally decided that I had nothing to lose and wrote everything out in detail. I tried to tell the whole story of who I was with my whole heart and when she wrote back full of warmth and love, I finally felt understood. I felt like I had come home. We met at the boulder on White Rock Beach and sat there talking until it was dark and cold – then we went to a cafe and talked until it closed. Matt is the only other person in my life that I’ve felt this close and connected to. I miss her so much.