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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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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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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.

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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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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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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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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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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.

Neon.

Neon.

Wine and sunshine.

Wine and sunshine.

Cute street scenes.

Cute street scenes.

Tomatoes!

Tomatoes!

Jorts!

Jorts!

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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30 Cakes (14/30)

I don’t know if you’ve been around since December, but it was in that month that I had a certain auto-versary. Rather than being filled with dread, the actual day of my 30th came and went riding on a pleasant sense of accomplishment. I decided it would be appropriate to continue the celebration and what better way to do that than to fill this year with 30 cakes.

Unfortunately it’s already the end of August and I’m falling behind. With the “heat” of summer (it’s Vancouver, but things are still pretty saucy out there) it’s just been too much to crank up the oven or encourage the desire for heavy-duty deserts. What to do? A little cool cheesecake seemed spot on, as they say.

Does this count as one or three?

Does this count as one or three?

Number 14 came in a set of three. I don’t know what it is about cheesecake that yields so popularly to sampler flavors – I have and always will prefer ‘plain’. Consumed in in the true spirit of things (with one bite of each to start) this little plate made a nice afternoon break from work the other day at a coffee shop around the corner. It even came with a kinda crazy sharp fork so hooray for that.

Now I just have to make sure I’m happy with my decision to count this as one and not three. Oh, and eat way more cake in the next few weeks! Anyone have a fun summer cake recipe to share? I’m thinking something fruity for number 15.

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Insta-bog

For plenty of reasons, Vancouver is a pretty green city: composting, greenways, community gardens, and Stanley Park (which is the subject of one of a couple of 2013 pet projects) to name a few. A green place that people don’t talk about so much is Camosun Bog located off, you guessed it, Camosun Drive in Point Grey.

It’s one of those places that was meant to disappear like the rest of the undevelop-able parts of the city. A piece of what was once a much larger bog habitat, it remains because a group of people stood up, volunteered to care for the place, and made sure (in work that still goes on every weekend and in writing on this bog blog) that at least this one little part wouldn’t be drained or disturbed.

Bogs are neat because they feel old. Ice age old. Remember that guy they found from thousands of years ago who pretty well looked as is if he’d just gone to sleep in freezer? That was the work of Sphagnum Moss, which has amazing qualities of preservation. It’s thick across the ground, but is easily disturbed. Like almost all little systems in nature, once the moss is uprooted, trees and shrubs move in and the place changes.

There’s also bog blueberries and huckleberries growing within the undulating carpet of green that rolls over rotting log and leftover stump. If you arrive in the morning or the evening thrushes, towhees and warblers can be seen flitting around in the nearby pines. They were mostly asleep in the heat of the July afternoon when I was there last. That emptiness worked to enhance the sort of eerie quality of the place. I’d (once again) forgotten my camera, but I did snap a few  photos on the phone and managed to find a few Instagram settings that seemed to give the appropriate sense of drama.

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30 Cakes (13/30)

This year had a good feeling from the start. Perhaps because the dread that afflicted me from about the day after my 26th birthday had finally worn off. Perhaps because it started as one of those years that felt like neat things were going to happen. Perhaps because turning 30 isn’t so bad after all.

Whatever the case, this year calls for more celebration than just one day. How am I celebrating, you ask? Well, by making, baking, or just plain ordering 30 different cakes before my next birthday.

A little more than halfway there, number 13 is one I made myself.

No. 13: Elderflower and Lemon

No. 13: Elderflower and Lemon

It’s been so nice outside lately that I wanted to make something to celebrate blue, cloudless skies and warm sunny lawns. Having recently purchased a new bottle of Ikea’s elderflower syrup and a couple of extra lemons, inspiration was right there in the fridge. The cake is Martha Stewart’s plain vanilla layer cake plus the juice and zest of one lemon. The butter cream has a not-so-little touch of elderflower. Together they turn out to be a perfect pair for the steadily strengthening summer!

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A Gift

I don’t often write about it, but since moving to Vancouver I’ve become a pretty intense knitter. I wear my own sweaters, can knit lace from a chart and also learned the basics of fiber spinning and yearn dyeing.

Most of my new ability comes from meeting people like the highly skilled artist behind Brothel Yarns. Recently I was gifted a little something from her hand-dyed, hand-spun collection. I’m totally into the bright colors and thickness that comes from this kind of fiber art and can’t wait to find a pattern to show them off.

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Two new hanks from Brothel Yarns.

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Internetsplorations in a Wet, Cold World

So it’s raining and cold and something like five days until June. There’s half a bottle of last night’s wine left over and I’ve spent the morning finishing that while cruising around the internet.

Favorite links?

On Pinterest, I spent some time grooming my collections of bunnies and ideas for the kitchen,  and built a new group of inspirational snaps for my other life on the practical wine drinker’s favorite site, Vinderful (which is also a great place to hang out day while drinking) took over a good bit of the morning.

I also found a bunch of new Instagramers to love including one from Sweden, a girl on an amazing trip, one person using a real camera, and a surf photographer who I’d gladly trade places with today.

On Brain Pickings I found a review of this book which I almost assuredly need to read and a great article on masculine charm over at The Atlantic. On the re-read list this morning was also a wonderful set of articles from S.J. Chambers about retracing Mary Shelly’s travels.

I’m also planning time for some time with Anna Karenina and a few cups of tea. One of these days the sun will come out. Till then I’ll be thankful for a grey, inside-time Sunday.

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Inside with wine and reading to ring in June-uary.

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Bathtub Scholar – “A Universal History of the Destruction of Books”

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“The Universal History of the Destruction of Books” by F. Baez is, simply, as sad as it sounds like it’s going to be. Written more like an encyclopedia than a typical pop history title, the author takes us painfully through the years listing instances of fear mongering, political maneuvering, back stabbing, deceit, religious tyranny, unfortunate accidents, and plain human foolishness that makes up the history of the lost written word.

Each instance is given but a cold retelling of events; the author’s lack of emotion in some instances reads like a coping mechanism developed after researching such a dark subject.

What have I’ve learned so far?

Mostly that humans seem to have always lacked recognition and respect for what should be preserved. A change in leadership? Everything from ‘before’ into the flames, if you please. New technology? Well, let’s just copy a few things over and throw out all that other old stuff. Or use them to light the laps (yes, this was the sad fate of many thousands of books).

Perhaps more interesting is the observed power of the written word that seems to permeate every culture, time, religion and political force–the book as a weapon. Since it’s inception, thee written word has been punished with more severity than a common criminal for its association with the ability to change us more than some of our leaders have thought acceptable. The fear is evident in the many instances of fiery ends that our books have faced and I’ve only read through the part on Early Christians.

I’ve been interested by the desire among humans to eat books in order to consume their knowledge that Baez lists. Sometimes done to protect a book, often in history this was seen as way to ‘ingest’ the knowledge contained within in a spiritual way.

Also interesting to read about are the major burnings outside the most commonly known ones (like the Library of Alexandria) including a massive effort to contain Christianity during its juvenile years. Sects like Euchites (proclaimers that the Devil could not be looked upon so harshly since he was, after all, a son of God)  and the Adamites (who wanted humans to return to their original, nude state) threatened to change the shape of the Church so their priests, and perhaps more importantly, their texts were burned.

Amidst the terrible accounts of, say, finding a catalogue of a long-ago-destroyed Ancient Greek library that details hundreds of titles we have simply never seen but now know to have once existed, there are also stories of great courage and beauty. My favorite so far is a story from a Swiss monastery where, in 926, one of the women had a terrible vision and buried the books from the library. A day later an attack came and the library was burned. The woman, Wiborda, lay mutilated and dying on the place where the books were buried. The first woman formally canonized Wiborda is the patron saint of bibliophiles.

I’ll end by quoting a deacon from Spain who was noted as shouting the following as he and his texts came before the flames: “The fire with which you threaten sacred letters will burn you in an act of justice!” As I read more (and save this book safely on my shelf… hopefully) I will certainly be looking for some possibly literal consequences of his curse.

 

 

 

 

 

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Adventures in Photography 2.0

Work Space

Work Space

Standing Man Rock

Standing Man Rock

Green

Green

Trinket

Trinket

I put it off for a long time, but the other day I started playing around with Instagram. Something about it still feels cheap to me, but it is fun to play around with your photos easily. I’m also impressed with the images of other Istagram-ers that are visible through connecting with photographers around the world. For now, I’ll stick to pictures of thing around my house and images that help me think about my Stanley Park Project. Check out more here and follow me @newnorthcountry. I’d love to see your photos too!

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