Summer Time Hiatus

It’s that time of year again when things call me outdoors, so friends, I regretfully admit that my virtual pen shall remain temporarily down as I head into the sunshine. I tried to keep up this year, but summer bloggin’ is but a unattainable goal.

Adieu till the leaves fall, friends.

Adieu till the leaves fall, friends.

Happy summer to all and will catch you again in when things turn chilly!


Arts and Sciences

Last week was the end of DOXA fest here in Vancouver and, while I’d planned on putting up a little post about it while it was still on, I happily spent all my spare time casting shadows in the flickering light of the projectors at the Cinematheque and the Vancity Theatre watching intensely beautiful and, sometimes scientifically themed documentaries.

In the well-planned variety of films chosen this year, I saw men driven mad by probable government agents feeding them stories of aliens so as to distract them from the stealth bomber testing they’d observed, a wordless scenes of a life and death in a rural Brazilian village, doom metal from the apocalyptic landscape of post-financial-crisis Las Vegas, and astronomers peering up from the Atacama desert in to the past life of stars while old ladies searched the sand with small shovels for the bones of their loved ones taken from them during the ‘disappearances’ common under Pinochet’s rule.

The theme of the festival – secrets and lies – ran through all these films. But something else surfaced from within the stories of the people and the places on screen. Something linking science to art. Through the science most of us are exposed to today, we know so much about the way the world works. Whether it be tourism, astrophotography, animal husbandry, or government atrocities, there’s a reality that can be studied and documented.

What I felt was being captured in the festival – the art of it – was the showcase of how individual’s emotions fit into the documentable reality, and, more importantly, how they sometimes don’t. The resulting pictures are of sorrow, longing, and misplaced happiness and how people fit their own emotional lives into the reality of the world.

Not too long ago I saw another kind of artistic capture of something from the world of science in the photography of Rose-Lynn Fisher and especially in her studies of human tears. I won’t copy the images here, but her site has a series of pictures which capture the differences of tears between persons and between feelings. I was especially struck by an image called “Tears of change” where a large, squared rather solid-looking crystal is surrounded by a sea of shattered wavy ripples. Each image is unique and I’m sure connected to the person’s thoughts and feelings at the time the tears were shed.

So now I wonder if this is the role of the artist – to capture the emotional life of a being’s living reality. How much of this reality is based in our surroundings, our situation? How much of that situation does the artist need to show in order to help the viewer understand the emotion? The documentary format is, of course, the ideal platform for the kind of presentation that provides that context.

In the images of tears, we have to wonder about the person’s situation based on the title of each image. This is powerful too – in order to identify the situation that could have caused the tears, we look inward to an experience of our own we could conjure. Something our reality has included that made us cry similar tears.

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‘Chain Letter’, or ‘the one where I talk about my writing process’

One of the finest human interactions is that simple, thrilling moment when you share a secret. A memory, an aspiration, your true opinions, a thought you’ve kept to yourself. You blurt the out sometimes. Others you keep forever. For me, secrets typically crawl out slowly like new roots that grow and turning past obstacles seeking nutriment. They live just under the surface.

When asked recently by a good friend and storyteller, Selena Chambers, to discuss writing as part of an unfolding chain letter style response to a question writer’s often put off, I began to think about the root system of my secrets. In this post, I’ve tried to unfurl what’s hidden and to share a little about the process of digging the secret things up and handing them over at the surface.

1) What am I working on? Followers of this blog know that I’m a transplant. First from the Midwest to the South and, more recently, from the South to up to True North, or Vancouver, British Columbia. When you move, there’s lots of anticipation about what will happen to you there. I anticipated all kinds of thing, but never how much of my thinking would turn to comparison and exploration here. My writing, both on and off line, centers around defining the concept of home now that I live somewhere dramatically different.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre? This blog seems to be capturing the change in scenery that I’m used to reading about once it’s been lived through. As in, what I’m trying to do here is to keep a record of how things around me change – how I’m changing – as it’s happening. I’m trying to be an observer of what I would otherwise come back to in ten years and describe to you as something that happened to me in the past.

3) Why do I write what I do? This particular project happened as mechanism for helping me figure out what I was noticing around me. The place I was in, new trees, new climate, new people, plastic shoes, all these things felt a little too whirl-wind-y. Taking those experiences down, photographing them, and logging them here has helped me to identify what it was that I liked about this new place I live. Instead of random ideas floating around me, I’ve used this place to grab them as a would a butterfly with a net. To examine them rather than simply ‘look’.

4) How does my writing process work? I’m a journalist by training, so I write about things I have actually seen, but I am cultivating the imagination at the same time. It’s this second part that alludes me most. I would argue that if – like me – you can’t answer this question in a straight-forward manner, then you aren’t treating writing as work. If you can answer it, then I’d argue that you shouldn’t, because you’ve found a way to wrangle down fleeting thoughts, to gather the wandering herds of imagination. No matter how close to the surface that gets, it should stay a secret. So far, I’ve found myself between these two places – there’s a bit of a process, but I could be better to define it for myself, not for others.

One thing that’s true about the writing process is that it depends entirely on reading. Lately I must admit that I’ve been absorbing all sorts of paper-based reading material from Lacan lectures to a wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest identification manual to a novels about an old man in Guernesey. When my hands aren’t full of paper, I’ve been finding real pleasure looking around which always has great, often literary posts. And, if you’re in the mood for reading material, do stop over at – the author of which has inspired some of my most excellent real-life moments and – happily – this post.



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Spring Breaks

If summer is for vacation, then spring is for weekend trips.  Longer days are here and I’ve got the urge for going, but the weather isn’t right for long day in the sun just yet. Luckily, there’s lots of neat little places to explore nearby and we’ve been making the most of the weekends lately. It’s still a bit gloomy out, but a few recent excursions have made taking on the last  of Vancouver’s days of rain more of a pleasure than a burden.

Washington, the Evergreen State, the place who’s unofficial motto – Alki , or “Bye and Bye” – has been especially good at taking some of the sting from my summer yearnings. Recently we visited Blaine – a town where you can ride in historically significant ferry boat and then get coffee from a building shaped like a boat. A little further south, a nice little rainy Sunday found us in Edison – a little town named after an inventor and the former home of Edward R. Murrow – eating some delicious Irish soda bread from the bakery and watching ducks in the sloughs. A little later, we thought about out friends in Ireland as we talked the cliffs at Deception Pass.

Blaine Harbor's The Plover

Blaine Harbor’s The Plover

Coffee from a building shaped like a boat

Coffee from a building shaped like a boat

A drive over Deception Pass

A drive over Deception Pass

From the cliffs near Deception Pass

From the cliffs near Deception Pass

But all travel hasn’t been southerly. In fact, one of the nicest spring days yet was spent east in the Chiliwack Valley where we trekked along the Trans-Canada Trail. Further up the elevation rise outside the Fraser Valley, we got pretty significantly snowed upon for (what I assume will be) the last time this winter.

Snow over the Chiliwack

Snow over the Chiliwack

River in early spring

River in early spring

There have also been some neat in-town events lately too that are occupying the weekends. At the Museum of Anthropology I was happy to visit the dream world of Mexican artist in a dramatic show called The Marvelous Real. Paintings, sculpture, music and more all pointed to observations of this world by some of the most culturally creative artists I’ve seen in a while.

I always feel gross taking cell phone shots in the museum...

I always feel gross taking cell phone shots in the museum…

I also stocked up on all things animal hair at Fibers West which always makes for a nice way to spend a spring Saturday. Here we heard all about skinning goats and combing fleece and even took home some to spin. Best of all, we got the news of a sheep festival of sorts complete with shearing demos and info on farming coming up in September. My fantasy farm-living self can’t wait.

A display only a knitter could love.

A display only a knitter could love.

So much yarn I'm spinning!

So much yarn I’m spinning!

As the weather warms, I’m still hoping to visit the Gulf Islands and maybe even head out into the Washington rainforest. Does that mean I’m finally coming to like the rain? I’d have said so except for this lovely little Sunday sun shower we got this afternoon. Don’t worry, sunshine. I still like you best.

soon, sunshine.

Soon, sunshine.

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Bathtub Scholar

Ever notice how our facination with hobbies tends to move and circulate? You take up a new hobby and spend loads of time exploring whatever new  thing you’re interested in, but then you circle back around to something you knew from before. Something that used to take up your Sunday evenings. Something you and your oldest friends have in common because that’s what bound you up all that long ago. With me the thing that I come back to always seems to be digesting books.

Newer distractions took up most of last year, but since Christmas I’m back to an old habit – reading. Last year I knit a dozen hats, made dinner almost every night, started to play the ukulele, tried to learn computer programming language, painted, and hung around in a park. This year, my hands have been full of paper including that of Simon Schama’s “Landscape and Memory” which is a curious recounting of man’s history with the natural landscape.

His argument seems to be that we need to understand how much of our consciousness is based in the landscape around us and that we need to interact with the land in order to understand our culture. Beyond something to anchor ourselves, the landscape makes us who we are. He starts in the forests of Poland recounting the various tribes and villages that used to run wild – and manage the wild – in the woods. Then it was on to the discussion of the great English oak and the tree’s impact of what it means to “be English”. But the forest’s natural state is doomed to the greed of man, just as it is in in America and in Germany, and the book chronicles all those who have tried to possess and control it. I’ve only finished the chapter on the woods, but will be spending a good bit of tub time with the other subjects to come including stone and, fittingly, water.

Reading in the water.

Going to read about the water in the water.

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Vocabulary Lesson

Sometimes I get to feeling like an underaged grandmother. This modern world and all it’s trendy concepts and mash-ups has a way of putting me directly in touch with my further eighty-year-old self – you know, the one where I get to grumble out loud without consequences and tell people I think their ideas are dumb without consequence. Even though I’m closer in age to a 15-year old than to my grandmother, I don’t know what a bitcoin is and I don’t want my eyeglasses to tell me whether or not I’m about to have a heart attack or look at buzzfeed posts about the some-number-of-things that something or another. I want to shop at thrift stores and have to take out  shoulder pads from 80s blazers and bake things with whole wheat flour and read books made out of paper.

I do, however, want to see people act better do nice things for themselves and the other creatures on this planet so, when I learned about two new words that, on first glance, sounded like the kind of thing that normally makes me shudder, I had to admit maybe new, buzzworthy concepts aren’t always all bad. The words? Flexitarian and rewilding.

The first one I think I am. Having spent the last ten years going on and off a completely vegetarian diet, I’ve landed somewhere comfortably on the side of vegetables but without the commitment. ‘Flexitarians‘ eat soup made from chicken stock, sometimes grill up some hotdogs, and maybe grab fish tacos once in a while. What they don’t do is have meat every meal, or even every week. That’s important for all the right reasons – health, the environment, your wallet, the ocean, animal rights – and it’s more realistic for people than straight-up vegetarianism might be. There’s plenty of reasons, obviously and obviously, to become a vegetarian, but most people still eat loads of meat so I thought this was a pretty neat concept. Maybe even a starter kit for self-improvement though food choices. I wouldn’t be a true flexitarian unless I asked you to try it, but I do draw the line just before proselytizing most times.

A flexitarian's dinner.

A flexitarian’s dinner.

The other word that’s interesting is ‘rewilding’. I heard this first on one of those radio interviews you catch the end of but don’t remember what station or who was speaking. Then I read about this group who wants to see Europe return to a more wild state. My muddled memory of that radio piece plus what I’ve learned since spells a case for returning (at least parts of) the world as much as possible to the wilderness. And more so than just to an environment similar to the one we had before the industrial revolution – these guys want to return things to the actual open wildness that was before people. This is interesting to me because it seems a drift from the conservation ideas I have come to know as a 21st century human. Not just ‘let’s recycle and eat locally’ but ‘let’s tear down these old buildings and let the trees grow back’.

So the chant is to reintroduce wolves and grizzly bears, connect huge tracks of land  to other huge tracks of land in a way that follows how animals move naturally, and let’s get people back to working the land in harmony with the natural world. Coppicing and harvesting, rather than bulldozing and fertilizing. These people are thinking big and that I can respect. With news like scallop die offs and rhino extinction, it’s probably time for some renegade action in addition to all those re-suable water bottles we’re so proud of here on the west coast.

I’ll still probably keep avoiding facebook games and a new cell phone for as long as mine still works, but I’m happy to have been exposed to some pretty cool new ideas. Good to take your attention away from re-stitch these shoulder seams, I suppose, no matter your age.

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Snow Falling on a Blog Break

February draws to a close and I realize that, without my realizing it, 2014 has started off with a bit of a blog break, but a lovely little snowstorm this  past weekend reminded me of how much I do  miss sharing things with you, dear readers.

This winter has been a cruel one for most of North America – including my home town in Florida – but here in Vancouver things have been thankfully forgiving. Sunshine makes it into at least a few afternoons each week and, while the wind is cold, the irises and witch hazel are already in bloom and the rain hasn’t gripped with the strength it had last year.

That said, last weekend in rolled a wonderful little snow storm that, in true Vancouver fashion, dusted us for a few days then quietly slipped away. Not, however, before letting me take a few little snapshots of a cold, white evening layered with all the eerie loveliness of the woods in winter.

Cedars with just enough snow to show off their architecture.

Cedars with just enough snow to show off their architecture.

Snow clouds catching city light.

Snow clouds catching city light.

It’s a shame that house things and work  has let two months slip by already with me barely keeping up, but I  hope to see you again more frequently soon. In the meantime, keep warm out there everyone, wherever you are!

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The Differences

Dear Readers. I have ventured far from home and have neglected this space in favor of Florida. This holiday, I sunk into a deep relaxation unlike any I’ve known. I went home. The other home and, for the first time in a long time, settled in.

The holidays are always a bit emotional, especially for those of us who live far from those we love, but this year all of that was hidden under the extended time we had to be there. The weeks wrapped me in the contentment of an old quilt and was strong enough to give me time meditating on the differences.

Things are different down in America, down South, and in Florida. People talk differently, dress differently, spend their time differently. As far as I can tell, it’s these differences that make us like or not like something. ‘I’m glad to be here because here people do this or that thing. I like this or that thing better that that other thing from over there.’ Does that make ‘here’ better? More ‘my speed’? I was on this idea so much that I made a list.

Junebugs, pick up trucks, state roads, and styrofoam. Lizards, restaurant inside gas stations, spanish moss, trailers, sandy feet. Screen doors, coolers, creeks, cypress knees, and sensor lights. Saying ‘hi’ to everyone you pass. Waving with your first to fingers to people you pass while driving a car. Vegetables cooked in salt water. Drive through liquor stores. Parking lots. Sweet tea in a to-go cup. Wind chimes. Sand dunes. Woods with floors lined in pine straw.

Then I thought that is this very desire – the need to classify differences – that should be avoided. These things, the strange things, or, in my case, familiar things, are not all there is.  Can we not turn our sensitivities, our perceptions, to what we have in common instead? Would we even want to?

Today, back in Vancouver in the rain and the grey, I’ll make a little promise to look instead  for commonality. The noise of the water on the shore, flip flops, people who like boats. Sea gulls and sunburns to come. My list so far is short, but I’m working on it. Perhaps this will ease the sickness for the homes I have and, if I’m lucky, maybe those I’ll have in the future.


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Number 30 on number 31 (Oh and 29 too)

A whole year gone, and I’m excited to say I’ve completed my mission – to taste, make, eat, and share 30 cakes  from birthday No. 30 until birthday No. 31. The last few weeks I was quite anxious that the whole thing might fall apart, but thanks to a delicious (and nutritious?) breakfast on my birthday morn’ and an English treat at one of Vancouver’s finest pubs, the Cheshire Cheese Inn, I can officially stop pestering everyone with photos of cake.

No. 29: Mini, cloud-topped double  vanilla beauties.

No. 29: Mini, cloud-topped double vanilla beauties.

Brambleberry Trifle

And, finally, Brambleberry Trifle.

Double vanilla I won’t sour with an explanation. Just promise you’ll try it… maybe even for breakfast. The trifle, however, I feel keen to explain. Wikipedia says some of the first trifle mentions date as far back as the 1590s and I though that fitting to celebrate my grown-up-ness. Custard,  liquor-soaked bread, brambleberries and a heap of whipped cream makes for an impressive cake indeed, especially when it follows a pint of celebratory lager.

As this  took a whole year to complete, I feel like I should be able to offer more fanfare, but the soft landing of some of our most worthy endeavors often fails to be easily described. The best I can say is that I got to share this year-long celebration of me with some of the very best people I know – sister, husband, friends, and a few quietly with me, myself, and I.  So here’s to being older and to accomplishing even the silliest of goals.


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30 Cakes (26, 27 and 28/30)

This week I’ve had a familiar cake from a stranger, and some unfamiliar cakes baked with love by friends. The first one, the carrot cake, was nice enough and made for a happy little afternoon tea-time treat, but made me miss my sister and her version made with apple sauce and a lot of shaved carrots. Shaving carrots takes some commitment, but watching as the roots are stripped and fly like mad confetti into a big bowl is actually one of my favorite culinary experiences. This version is from one of Vancouver’s many great not-Starbucks coffee shops, Koffee. While this was delicious, I’m now really looking forward to getting out the vegetable peelers and talking my sister into making her version while we’re home for Christmas.

Eat your vegetables.

Eat your vegetables.

The second cake, well ‘cake event’, was happily found at the annual holiday party of my wonderful knitting buddies. This Knitmas, the table was filled with sweet treats which included an anise and almond cake and peppermint brownies both made by some really talented knitters I’m happy to know. With a pile of friends celebrating a common interest, a plate full of cakes,  and other holiday parties on the way, it turns out the end of the 30 Cakes is nearly here.

2013-12-01 17.40.40

The superstars are there on the bottom left and top-ish-middle  buried around a few assorted “not cakes”, am I right? Let’s call it a ‘cake event.



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First glimpses of winter

November’s end has brought a smack of winter weather and it’s that time of year when I usually mis-gauge the weather and leave the house dressed inappropriately. It’s raining. It’s really raining. It’s windy. It’s dry and cold, but the ground is wet. We’ll take the bus. The bike. There’s a cold front. The sun is out. How other people seem so comfortable these is beyond me even after living three winters here.

I get it right sometimes, but more often than not that’s because I’m carrying a pile of hats and mittens and extra socks and a different coat, which, if you’re doing much on-foot traveling, is a pain. It’s usually when I’m getting ready for a day like this when I miss the ‘Floridian lifestyle’ – not so much because of the cold, but because things are easier when the only pair of shoes you need are plastic flip flops and a hoodie is your go-to coat.

But to the diligent goes the reward I suppose, and the rewards of winter are already peaking out from behind grey clouds. I’ll be making some trips back upstairs to switch jackets for a while and I’ll probably step in at least one puddle in shoes that I forgot to waterproof spray, but at least I’ll be greeted with beautiful views.

Yesterday, we hung out at Acadia Beach for a while looking at winter’s visiting ducks and spotted some of the first snow on nearby mountains. The thin winter clouds are also here now and make for some really beautiful skyscapes.

A big white monster.

A big white monster on the Sunshine Coast.

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The view from a different kind of beach paradise.

And winter has a way of making us appreciate things familiar in a new way. Take the Bloedel Conservatory where we went for the first time in the dark the other day. You know, because it’s dark at 4:15 now. Good thing we have a secret tropical garden right here in town that happens to look like an alien ship in the right kind of fog.

2013-11-30 16.36.04

Bloedel looking almost alien in a winter sky.

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30 Cakes ( 24 & 25/30)

So, this whole time, since I turned 30 nearly 12months ago, I’ve been foregoing seconds of any type of cake I have already gotten/cooked/or otherwise received. That means no more cheesecake at my  knitting group, no more doughnuts, no more walnut frosted.

I’m preparing to make a concession.

Since moving to Canada, something I’ve really come to enjoy is celebrating two Thanksgivings. One in October, the Canadian one, doesn’t have any of the normal family obligation for us so we usually take advantage by doing something a little out of the ordinary. Black and white monster movies from the 1940s, turkey dinner at a diner, naps and Indian delivery, these kinds of things. The last few years, we’ve been taken in by our Canadian buddies and treated to incredible vegetarian feasts of squash and oh-so-incredible tofurkey. One thing I’m sure to have twice is pumpkin pie.


Leftovers from the “Canadian” feast with a Charley Harper puzzle – sounds like Thanksgiving to me.

Now that we’re on our way towards American Thanksgiving, formerly known as “Thanksgiving”, I think I’ll go ahead and give number __ to another round of this holiday classic. With every day this week at regular work hours, scrambling to make some sort of acceptable mini feast for ourselves, and make the most of the weird, electronic connection to our families that Skype will offer, I think a little comforting repetition is in order.

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Tips from a Jazz Kitchen just in time for Thanksgiving

Not long ago, I wrote about how many hobbies I’d picked up since moving to Vancouver and since I’ve had a small desire to streamline some of them. For one, I’m going to shut down, or at least stop posting to, my blog about food called Jazz Kitchen. I’d started it in the hopes of figuring out what kind of cook I was and, in defining a set of rules for the kitchen, I think I did. Now I feel like running a separate blog from the kitchen might be a bit much. I’ll repost some of the highlights over the next few months, and then keep up with anything new and interesting from the kitchen here.

Thanks to everybody who checked out the good vibes of stress-free cooking, inspiration, and improvisation of Jazz Kitchen. I’ll see you around here from now on. In celebration of Thanksgiving this week, here’s a re-post of my de-stressed Thanksgiving dinner summary last year –

Originally Published over on Jazz Kitchen on Nov. 22, 2012

– Thankful for Rule #1 –

Today I’m thankful for food on the table and, frankly, the table itself. We  Also for my mom for relentlessly keeping us well-fed every day and for passing on her rational curiosity for food and cooking. On tonight’s menu: roast turkey, home made cranberry sauce, my sister’s version of green bean casserole, sweet potatoes (southern style, as in, with the marshmallows) and a pumpkin pie.

Roasty, toasty.

Roasty, toasty.

This is the perfect day to begin this blog project as Thanksgiving can encapsulate everything fun and good about cooking. You know the food, you can plan in advance, you have room to play with tradition and ultimately you’ll be feeding people you love. I realize that for some, it’s more like hours and hours of prep work and a kitchen full of chaos, but this brings us to Rule #1.Although it’s part of many recipes, I say it’s OK to Skip the Added Stress in your cooking.

Cooking for a large group is hard and can get complicated, but part of this rule entails not taking on more than you can manage. Budget appropriately and don’t decide to try something requiring skills you don’t have. I’m not making a whole turkey cause this year there will only be two of us. This means that instead of the stuffing that I do love, I’ll actually end up with more time to prep casseroles and have a glass of wine. The celery sticks with cream cheese that are always a part of mom’s dinner also got the ax because I don’t see myself cutting up and dressing individual sticks and I don’t really have the fridge space to do it advance. Leftovers are great, but I’m only making half portions so we don’t have them for ages. These decisions made shopping easier and will eliminate frustration during cooking and clean up too. Best of all, the dinner is still going to be delicious!

Turkey for two.

Turkey for two.

Here’s the plan:

Home from work at 4:45 (in Canada now so no time off today!)

Potatoes in the oven – sweet ones just stabbed with a fork and in foil, savory ones cut in half then bathed in a little olive oil, salt, pepper and oregano.

Turkey prepped with a good rinse and dry then a salt and pepper and butter rub with rosemary under the skin. This will probably be about an hour or so in the oven as it’s a smaller size but will need to check on that as we go.

Cranberries cooked up following this recipe. I was super excited about quite a few other ones out there many of which called for liquors, uncommon spices or soaking over night. I’m aiming for simplicity here so this should be a good basic recipe to start with – the more steps and the longer the ingredient list the more time you should give yourself.

I already prepared the pumpkin (split, gutted, roasted with brown sugar for about an hour) so the pie will be home-made delicious and a cinch. The author of this recipe cut out the crust for calorie concerns; I’m more excited about the time it will save!

Two cans of green beans + one can of classic Campbell’s mushroom + s&p into a casserole. This just needs to warm up a bit so it gets last priority in the tiny oven. A few of those crispy onions on top and broil.

Potatoes out – sweet ones mixed with sugars and maple syrup and topped with jiffy puff and then broiled for a few minutes. Savory ones are ready to go.


Lovely, lumpy marshmallows.

Herbs in the oven.

Herbs in the oven.

Then just a few slices of yummy bread, glasses of wine or maybe cider, and time to call mom back home.
What do you think… Thanksgiving dinner by 7:30? :) Happy Thanksgiving to all!


 (with my thanks to a very good friend and dinner guest for taking these photos of dinner and being there to celebrate!) 
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30 Cakes (23/30)

So I’m trying to get busy with making sure all my favorite cakes make it into the year. One of those I thought of while cruising the aisles of our nearby grocery, No Frills. When it comes to grocery stores in Vancouver, there’s this kind – cheap prices based on eliminating ‘amenities’ like grocery bagging and nice floors –  and then there’s are Whole-Foods-esque – as in chocked full of fancy mushrooms and helpful staff and very nice floors – boutique ‘urban lifestyle’ boutiques. This makes me miss Publix, the perfectly in-between-the-extremes grocery store Floridians sometimes take for granted. There’s plenty of reasons to miss it, but one is surely Tres Leches cake picked up from the deli. This weekend I made my own version based on a great recipe I found over on Mix and Stir. Not the easiest to make, but certainly worth it.

Three-milks lovely.

Three-milks lovely.

30 Cakes (22/30)

Of all the phrases we hear (and use) too often, and I think ‘pleasant surprise’ is one of the ones I like least. This is only because when I actually do encounter one, the phrase kicks in and I immediately stop considering what makes the surprise pleasant. Like the other day when I ordered apple pie and coffee at a sandwich shop as part of my endeavor to eat 30 Cakes in this, my 30th year. It’s a deli so, low expectations, right? Wrong.

Apple pie and sweet surprises.

Apple pie and sweet surprises.

Turns out this sandwich shop (it’s called PHAT, you know, like pretty, hot and tasty) has an apple pie good enough to be tagged as a pleasant surprise. ‘Pleasant’ in that it’s nice to be presented with a something the maker of which cared about, took their time with, and wanted you to like. ‘Surprise’ because we spend so much time noting the petty problems and annoyances of a day, so when something nice comes at you, it’s probably better to drop the over-used phrases and just enjoy it.

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Responsibility, and an Otter.

A couple of weeks ago in a conversation with my sister, she told me that she and a friend of ours had been talking about me living in a big city. The friend asked how I was getting along. My sister’s answer wasn’t a yes or no – she told our friend that, since moving to Vancouver, I’ve developed a ridiculous number of hobbies. No way, I said. But then I counted.

Knitting, painting, exercise (yes, it counts), wool spinning, blog writing, other kinds of writing, cooking regularly (yes, I think this counts too), photography, Twitter, amateur film historian research, meditation, jewelry making, dedicated reggae music fan, cake eating, and altering my own clothes. That’s fifteen new hobbies. Oh wait, I forgot volunteer work. So sixteen, which is a little ridiculous.

After admitting she had a point, I though about why I’ve become so active given that I think my actual real favorite thing to do is drink coffee, read and then take a nap. I’ve landed on the idea that I think it comes down to responsibility.

What I mean by that is, I’m afraid I’m responsible only to myself. I don’t have any kids and I’m something like four thousand miles from family or friends who’ve been around long enough to have earned the right to be disappointed in me if I screw up. You know, the people with the highest standards. Maybe I got it from them and have carried it here, but somehow I’ve wound up being pretty strict.

This has turned into one of those thoughts that keeps slithering its way back into my head – when I leave this place, if  we move away, I’ll have to report out. ‘What have you done?’  ‘What have you to show for this?’ myself will ask.

As a thirty year old person, this is supposed to be a regular part of my day, right? Pick up some mushrooms for dinner, run by the bank on the way to work, contemplate the meaning of existence, fold the laundry. Or, wait. Is that what your twenties were for? Ever since that conversation with my sister, I’ve been upset by the triteness and complication of what I assumed would be my explanation of my time here. Last night, while I stood holding a net  in a little cage built around a plastic tank with a blue tarp to keep out the rain, I think I found a simple answer – future me can say, ‘When I lived in Vancouver, I helped take care of a sea otter that someone shot’.

I don’t know how much you know about sea otters, so I’ll spare the biology lesson in favor of summary: they are furry, they float, they eat shelled things, and they are obsessed with grooming hair that, not so long ago, was coveted enough that people killed nearly all of them. Apparently, if you too like to eat shelled things, you might consider them a pest. Somebody near Tofino did and, for reasons I don’t understand, shot him which  blinded him, tore up his  flipper, and left him unable to feed himself.  He’s still got some shrapnel (is that the right word? I don’t know a lot about guns, obviously) in his head.

You can read about Walter, or Wally, here on the Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue site. These are the people you call when you’re out on the beach and you see an emaciated sea otter with bloody flippers. It’s where, in my apparently frenzied onslaught of acquiring new hobbies, I started volunteering. Over the summer, I grind up fish for baby seals to eat, clean buckets of salmon oil, scrub dog kennels turned seal carriers. On a couple of chilly November nights, I help watch over a blind and underweight sea otter and net the shells and shrimp he drops because he can’t see them.

While I didn’t expect it, this kind of thing fills me with a nerdy sense of purpose that I normally try to minimize. The kind of person who talks about that one good thing they did one time is not the sort of person I intend to sound like. I didn’t plan on a once-a-week volunteer gig becoming something major. I did it because I was bored and afraid that my whole adventure might coming to nothing.

I’m sure the person who hurt the otter didn’t plan that out either. I’d bet it was a joke, or perhaps something that happened faster than you can think through. Maybe the person was angry, or pressured by something else. Or maybe that person is terrible. If we go with my fear that the only responsibility we hold is to ourselves, I guess none of that matters at all.

So, when I come home from watching the otter, I knit. A lot. And I spend loads of time looking at foodgawker. I’m probably going to watch five movies this week. If I make it to the art supply store, I’ll get a couple of canvases and paint pictures of birds while I watch movies. Maybe it’s all a coping mechanism, like my sister thought (in kindness, mind you – she and I both are small town girls and getting lost in a world like this is easy).

But from now on, if I get to feeling silly for entertaining myself here, I’m going to remember that sea otter and the people who are spending thousands of hours and dollars (turns out he likes to eat expensive shellfish) to help a furry critter that won’t get to see again and probably won’t return to a wild ocean. Perhaps if I help out I’ll have something to show for Vancouver – I’ll have taken a little responsibility back from someone who I think showed very little of their own. Maybe this makes it so that I’ll get to be responsible for more than just me.

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30 Cakes (20, 21/30)

This time last year, I had a little mini obsession with thinking being 30 would be hard. Days of dread, anticipated shame, and fear of having to start spending more time looking at wrinkle products drove me to finding something fun to ring in the year. What did I decide? That for something as eventful as turning 30, a single cake didn’t seem fitting. Thirty cakes, however, did. 

When the day finally approached, none of the bad feelings had really materialized and , 300 or so days later, I can this has turned out to be one of the most fun challenges I’ve set for myself. I say challenge because managing the cake schedule has turned out to be harder than turning 30 every even dared to be. Rolling toward the end of this endeavor, I’m  two cakes closer to the goal with an eight item to-do list ahead of me.

I swear I almost always eat hummus and pepper sandwiches at work because I’m super cheap, but sometimes I wind up in a little cafe watching the rain and all the downtown business people out an about. Doing so over a latte and lemon cake for number 20 is a pretty nice way to spend a half hour once in a while.

Number 21 is a bit of a cheat but it feels right in my heart – after all, what’s not cake-y about confetti cake batter? Thanks to a recipe found over at Tasty Little Crouton and a wonderful guy who understands that an ice cream maker is a romantic gift, a frozen version of my either birthday is now sitting happily in my favorite mug. 

Lemons for lunch.

woah, icecreamy.

woah, icecreamy.



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Impending Gloom

So, at the risk of sounding like one of those people who creates a problem and then complains about it, the time has arrived where things outside turn, as my favorite Irish buddy would say, ‘a bit grim’.

This will be, I think, our third winter here in Vancouver. I say ‘I think’ because it might actually be our fourth. At this point, Vancouver and I are in that steady phase of a relationship, not yet five years in but longer than two, where time has started to pass in unrecognizable ways. The kind where, when the time is actually counted up, you don’t feel like what’s happened in your life matches the resulting number. It feels a bit like when you are dating someone for longer than you normally do. On most days it’s nice – things have gotten comfortable, you know each other pretty well and can hang around happily without doing much. Then there’s the days when you see that lingering weird thing about the person that you don’t much like. Maybe they have an anger problem. Maybe they have smelly feet.

With me and Vancouver, it’s this:

Impending gloom.

Impending gloom.

Last week you were so nice with your warm sun and views of a mountain. Today you are grey. And I mean one-hundred percent grey. Grey skies, grey buildings, grey piles of soaked leaves all over the sidewalk. Grey.

Here’s the part where I’m complaining about something I caused myself. Who doesn’t understand that this is stuff of which the Pacific Southwest (or Northwest, depending on your perspective) is made? Who doubts the power of a literal rainforest to produce days and days and days of clouds and light rain? Who moves to British Columbia without a rain coat? That’s right, an idiot. From Florida.

This year, I’m determined not to fall victim to the gloomy bubble that is the sky above me and not to spend months complaining about it. How then will a sunbathing, flip-flop wearing, jean-shorts making girl like me combat impending gloom blues? Well, after some number of years, I can tell you it starts with a sunny breakfast.

2013-10-20 11.32.58

Thank goodness for my local grocery store owner who maintains a perpetual supply of grapefruits.

It also takes lots of candles, evenings with cool tunes on CITR or the turntable, puzzles, coffee at any hour, rain boots, fresh flowers, breaking up dark hours after diner with a walk up the street at Delany’s for hot chocolate, knitting, hockey, poutine, a sketchbook.

These will be the core strategies of my plan, but I’m open to additional research, suggestions, and, above all, not complaining. Happy grey days, Vancouver. Happy winter to us all.

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Falling leaves, falling temperatures

For a person who grew up in a place where driving 400 miles north to “see the leaves change” was something we considered tourism, being in a city full of deciduous trees is a sort of treat every October.

The skinny pines of north Florida don’t offer much of  a show any time of year – steadily they live in needle-floored forests usually towering over palmettos that don’t turn for fall either. We did have a single Turkey Oak tree in my yard as a kid with leaves that reddened and then crisped up to to make one little corner of our yard a hard place to sneak around in for the noise of crunching leaves. Other than that, things were pretty green most of the year.

Here in Vancouver, the leaves are turning all around us. Orange, green, and golden showers of leaves pulled down in the wind litter the streets. Bags of yard leaves line the streets during what the city calls and “unlimited leaf collection period.” While others rake, I look up for color, deeper into my closet for  warmth, and on the ground for the found fruits of Autumn.

Green turns to red.

Green turns to red.

Blazes of orange.

Blazes of orange.

Golden and blue.

Golden and blue.

Other fruits of Autumn.

Other fruits of Autumn.


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30 cakes (19/30)

Stitches and pumpkin cheesecake.

Stitches and pumpkin cheesecake.

Normally, I’m not a believer in organized fun. Events at work, group concert attendance, meeting strangers at coffee shops to discuss a common interest, none of these are what you might call “up my alley”. Thankfully, I seem to have usually had a nice little circle of close friends – people who are up for whatever and don’t need to plan things in advance. When we arrived in Vancouver, that circle shrank considerably, so I started looking for places to meet people outside work.

Adding to or building up a group of friends can shape your impression of a place. Even on vacation, we often judge the entire place we’re visiting on the few interactions we have with the locals. Where I grew up, people would often say that they didn’t like New York after visiting – “Everyone was so stuck up and busy,” “No one would talk to us” – these kinds of comments are thrown around as the official judgement of an entire city.  Whereas, if you have pleasant encounters on a trip, you tend to head home with warm feelings and happy stories more so than I think we often realize.

Vancouver is sort of notorious for it’s icy attitudes. People I meet here who are from other places often describe their friend-making experience as a challenge. Vancouverites have a class to attend or special interest group work to do or allergies to wheat, all of which can make going to grab a beer with someone more complicated than I’ve certainly ever encountered. Also, it’s a transient city, and that’s something I do know about. Living in a beach community as a kid meant summers filled with new kids to hang out with and weird, empty feelings when everyone went back home. In Tallahassee, where we lived last in Florida, the college atmosphere seems to make people want to “move on”. It was a place where attending going-away parties was pretty common. Since moving here, I’ve said good bye to a half dozen of the buddies who were drug away by work permits, calls to their home town, or jobs far away.

What I did find is one totally excellent group of knitters who are brought together by stitches and coffee and Thursday evenings. This is, technically, organized fun, but I have to say that seeking a interest group pretty soon after we arrived has been one of my best decisions yet. Found originally on (Eek! How organized does that sound?) this group has strengthened my appreciation for how good we can be to each other without even knowing it. What you might call general chit chat and laughs over this or that thing we all experience in our knitting or in our lives has made a lovely little impact on me over the last few years. In the midst of people not making eye contact on the side walk or talking to their neighbors, there’s a little cluster of us who bring our own backgrounds and stories while we happily step away from our various jobs and kids and partners for a brief moment.

For this reason, I’m super happy to have indulged in cake #19 with my knitting buddies. When this sweater finally gets finished, I’ll be reminded of a chilly October evening with friends at Trees coffee shop where, by the way, you can get an absolutely delicious pumpkin cheesecake. And, if you’re someone living somewhere new, let me take a moment to tip my hat to those to are pulling together strangers at some coffee shop on some corner in your town. The work of connecting people sure isn’t easy these days, and a little appreciation to the talkers and the planners was given with each of this cake’s bites!

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30 cakes (16, 17, and 18 / 30)

Homemade plum cake, heavy on the egg whites.

Homemade plum and strawberry cake, heavy on the egg whites.

Lucky's doughnuts - lemon creme!

Lucky’s doughnuts – lemon cream!

My own invention - coconut pistachio with brown sugar caramel!

My own invention – coconut pistachio with brown sugar caramel.

September made for a strange collection of cakes – plums from BC made into a egg-white-heavy cake, a delicious treat from Lucky’s doughnuts, and an invented (as in, thrown together from whatever was in the cabinets) coconut and pistachio cake drenched in brown sugar caramel. Not too bad for a month, but still more work to do!

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Summer, according to my phone.

Recently, I was asked what thing about people bothered me the most – as in, did I have an irrational fear of the elderly or an instant dislike of people who perpetually told you the gritty details of their health problems. It was one of those things that you can only talk about with close friends, but we all have ‘peves’ with each other and it makes for pretty good fun to identify the minimally terrible and often hilarious things about your friends that you so enjoy.

One of the things we didn’t bring up was over-use of cell phones that seems to have become socially acceptable. It’s a practice of mine that I don’t use my phone when I’m talking to, sitting with, or generally in the same area as someone I know. Right next to hand written letters, I think people sharing time with each other is one of the greatest things about friendship and family. These days, so many conversations between two or more humans is perpetually stopped or distracted by looks into pockets or screen-based chats. Hopefully this is a trend that will die out as we realize how rude we are being to each other. Not trying to sound like a bossy old lady, but one can only hope.

In the meantime, I must admit that I remain undecided about the addition of phone cameras into our lives. While I’m certainly no professional, I have appreciated photography since I was given access to my dad’s old 35mm Cannon with detachable lenses when I was eight or maybe twelve. Seeing the working mechanisms of a little dark place that made printed copies of things that otherwise exist only in memory made me want to take pictures, study photographer’s styles and techniques, and generally appreciate thoughtful and interesting documentation of the world.

Perhaps mistakenly, I often don’t carry a camera these days because I can rely on my phone to take snapshots. This brings me back round to the over-use issue and, like I said, I actually don’t know where I stand on this. Yesterday, I purposefully didn’t bring a camera or my phone to the release of a hand full of Harbor Seals that I had helped care for as a volunteer at the Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Center. This was the annual volunteer-led release where the people who have helped feed and clean and grow and heal get to carry cages down to the water and release now-healthy seals. The beach is usually cluttered with friends and family and yesterday was no exception. The dry beach where we were was pretty shallow and everyone was standing as close as they could almost piled on top of each other. Amidst the crowded bodies, all arm were up and out; everyone was ready with their phone cameras.

What I’m afraid of is that this sort of photography removes us from the moments we are experiencing. There’s no zoom on those things, after all, so we must push our way to the front and sometimes get so close that we loose the perspective of a regular camera man – one where you take the whole scene into account, where the background matters too.

On the way home, I looked though the things I had photographed this summer and found another layer to the argument – I had not remembered several of the events documented with a quick snap, or should I say finger press, of the camera phone. For this, spy-camera-sized and instantly obtainable photo ability, I guess I’ll have to say I’m glad. But I still think we should put phones down more often and really look around, listen to each other, and try to remember the events of our lives. Here are a few that, thanks to having the phone,  I’ll remember from this summer.

My first 'swim' in BC waters. Can you believe it took so long?

My first ‘swim’ in BC waters. Can you believe it took so long?

Weird things downtown.

Weird things downtown.

That afternoon we went to a neat forest on the riverside with some good friends.

That afternoon we went to a neat forest on the riverside with some good friends.



Wine and sunshine.

Wine and sunshine.

Cute street scenes.

Cute street scenes.





A day at the pool in Stanley Park.

A day at the pool in Stanley Park.

Visits to a muddy border.

Visits to a muddy border.

A picnic at Green College.

A picnic at Green College.

A paperweight at the Vancouver archives embellished with the humor of an antiquarian.

A paperweight at the Vancouver archives embellished with the humor of an antiquarian.

Finding this map of what Coal Harbor was going to look like once.

Finding this map of what Coal Harbor was going to look like once.

The plan I made for my Green Streets garden.

The plan I made for my Green Streets garden.

The walkway into the Anthropology museum.

Appreciating the walkway into the Anthropology museum.

Finding a view of the fireworks form our bedroom window.

Finding a view of the fireworks form our bedroom window.

Meeting this guy.

Meeting this guy.

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Looking up

One of the best things about fall in Vancouver is the weird little sunny days that creep up out of the rain. On these days, the grey blanket of October’s sky gets pulled back like a cover too thick for a early fall sleep and we get thin, wisps of clouds that remind us the sky is still blue. Here’s to looking up!

In the day.

In the day.

In the evening.

In the evening.

At sunset.

At sunset.

And, to carry in the night.

And, to carry us into the night.

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The Woods Down Another South – dispatches from Kerrisdale

Vancouver is a funny place in that a five mile difference in your address can feel like another city all together. From here, the south end of the city, we’re halfway to the southern parks we like, but don’t visit as often. The traffic or the early sunsets of winter, which keep us closer to home most times, have temporarily released their hinderance, so we’ve lately been walking in Pacific Spirit, romping in the low tide at Iona Island, and visiting the bottom end of the Fraser.

Pacific Spirit feel like a silent sister across the water to Stanley Park, which I know much better. It’s bigger, lots bigger, so people seem more spread out. The woods have a left-alone feeling and it’s so quiet. The only creatures I’ve seen so far have been slugs taking advantage of the wetter days. There’s a pleasant lack of tourist attractions making the people traffic minimal – we’ve bumped into  the occasional guys on bikes or joggers, but the walking trails are pretty empty.

There was a nice little moment the other day when we came across a guy walking a big black dog. We were walking south and they were both standing for a long time in a path that cut across and out to the west. They didn’t really move as long as it took us to see them from before the crossing, navigate the fencing to keep bikes out, and cross back into the deeper forest on the other side. The sun was coming down through the hole in the trees the path. I don’t know if was the beauty of the orange blaze  of sunset or something else all together, but the way they were both stopped in contemplation, no cell phones, no companion to speak to, made a lovely little scene.

Iona I have visited many times both to look for birds or just to be in a different landscape for a while. A big, flat place, the island has a long beach at low tide and is free of forest for the most part. The muddy flats look almost alien compared to the rocky beaches I’ve come to know. There are also neat little rolling meadows covered in grasses and moss. Interesting ducks or reed-dwelling birds can be found on the lakes and the little alder (I think) thicket at the back end of the park has a feeling like little fairies could be living under the leaves and branches.

The other neat thing nearby is the bottom end of the Fraser River. Over the summer we visited it further north and east, so it’s neat to see where the water ends up. There’s a little park that follows it along the opposite shore from Iona with an old grey-wood board walk and lots of people brining playful dogs down to the beach. While the criss-crossing trails of the other parks in town are lovely, it’s nice here because there’s only the one place to walk along the river. The other evening, we watched the tide pulling out long grasses from the shallow places under the walkway and the sun going down over the water.

We’re also close to VanDussen and we caught the rare plant sale there last week. It was a neat little scene, but I knew precious little about what I was looking at. I did recognize some tropical plants and also the native Gary Oak, but the flats of tiny-leafed berries and succulents were like little black cups of  mystery. I’ve been reading on one seller’s site and hope to better understand the beauty of these specimens by next year’s sale. By then, we’ll be back home in the West End, so will have to make more of a trek. Somethings, it seems from our short stay in a different kind of south, are worth the journey.

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Dispatches from Kerrsidale

One of the biggest changes moving to Vancouver brought for us was life in an apartment. Each of us had previously in apartments, technically, but the buildings were more like town houses and the highest floor I ever occupied was the second one.

Our first place here was on the 19th floor and the entire place could probably have fit into the living room of the last Florida  house. The apartment we live in now is a bit bigger, but there’s still an elevator and it’s definitely cramped by my former understanding of living space.

That said, you probably don’t need all that stuff you have – small spaces force you to think about what’s important and I’ve grown to really enjoy the little place we now call home. For the next little while, I get to test that out cause we’re house sitting an actual house in Kerrisdale.

My immediate review of the neighborhood – no big park, no beach. The houses in Vancouver have all been built out almost to the property lines, so not much of a yard either. It is quiet and the houses are all really cute with features like rounded doors, angled porch stoops, and second floor bay windows. It’s also nice to not know exactly where the other person is because, unlike our apartment, there’s more than just one other place to be in a house. The other day it took us nearly a whole minute to find each other in here.

There’s also a hangout kitchen. For anyone like me who has been living in a galley-kitchen apartment lately, I’ll explain. A hangout kitchen more than just a kitchen big enough for people to be in at the same time someone is cooking. It’s a kitchen so inviting and spacious and functional that it is actually the best room in the house.

Other changes -the garbage has to get sorted, the windows have to be locked, and when you walk at night you can see into the separated homes of neighboring families.

We’re also closer to the south end of things now, so I’m hoping to do some exploration of this end of town. Southlands, Boundry Bay, Iona Island are all just a few minutes away now, so, while I will miss the beach, I’ll be happy to see what there is to see from this end. And, when we return to our little apartment, perhaps we can learn to squish back together into a small space again.



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