Sunset on Christmas Hill

People who know me know that I’m not very outdoorsy. On weekends you’re more likely to find me curled up with a good book than see me hiking up a mountain. But the great thing about Victoria, BC, is that it’s possible for a bookworm like me to look like I’ve climbed a mountain, even though the climb took about 10 minutes.

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One evening my husband and I decided to climb Christmas Hill, part of the Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary. It was almost sunset, but we knew we were close to the trail, so we gave it a shot. And we made it up to the top with time to spare.

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As the light changed, we saw gorgeous views of Victoria from above. Each moment, the deepening sunset highlighted another aspect of the landscape.

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We couldn’t believe our short, relatively easy hike led us to this height! Not bad for a couple of bookworms! 🙂 But that’s the special thing about this nature sanctuary, nestled in the midst of a residential area.

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According to the sanctuary website, the rock faces were moulded by glaciers, which gives them a stunning texture.

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We snapped photos as long as we could, until the light became dim and we needed to make our way down. If you’re in Victoria and would like information about hiking Christmas Hill, I highly recommend the Victoria Trails website. It has a map and some great tips for enjoying the nature sanctuary.

And if you enjoy photography, it’s one of those places where you can almost close your eyes, point the camera anywhere, and be guaranteed a beautiful picture.

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’90s Nostalgia and the Ogden Point Breakwater

Last week the University of Victoria Alumni Association published a post called “YouTunes” that talked about students’ musical memories from their time at UVic. It’s a fun post to read if you love music and the memories certain songs and bands hold.

It got me thinking about the ’90s again, which is the era when I attended UVic. I often think of the ’90s with fondness, and most of the music I listen to is from that decade. It isn’t that life was necessarily easier back then. But there was a certain excitement and freedom about being a student with an unwritten future still ahead of me. And there was a certain comfort in the familiar routine of school.

I met some great friends when I lived on campus, and one of my favourite memories involves the Ogden Point Breakwater. One evening a few of us were sitting in a dorm room talking about it, and then all of a sudden one of us said, “Let’s go there now!”

So we piled in a car and headed down to Dallas Road.  I didn’t know much about the breakwater back then, except that it was a narrow concrete path that stretched out into the ocean and gave me a bit of vertigo, so it was therefore an exciting place to be!

If you’re looking for some more practical facts, according to the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority, the concrete breakwater is 762 metres long and was built in 1916.

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Handrails weren’t added until 2013, so back in the ’90s we felt very daring as we headed down the narrow path with a steep drop and ocean waves lapping on either side. I remember it being a blustery evening, and as we reached the very end of the breakwater, we stretched our arms out and leaned into the wind.

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Nowadays, with the handrails, the Ogden Point Breakwater is a fantastic walking trail for people of all ages. I was recently looking at the Victoria Trails website, and it gives a great overview and tips for safely exploring the area. According to this guide, it will take you half an hour to walk to the end of the breakwater and back. You can bring dogs as long as they’re on a leash.

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On the sides of the breakwater you can also see the Unity Wall Mural, showcasing the art of local First Nations.

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So although my memory of that windy evening in the ’90s will always be precious to me, I think I enjoy this beautiful Victoria attraction even more now with its new vibrancy and accessibility. With the handrails, you don’t have to worry as much about the steep drop at the sides, and your eyes can open to the beauty of the area. August sunsets are particularly glorious.

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If you’re visiting Victoria, I highly recommend taking a stroll here. But wherever you are right now, I hope you have a chance to turn on some favourite happy tunes from a bygone era and be transported down your own musical memory lane. I know I’ll be listening to some Spirit of the West songs after I finish writing this post. 🙂

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The Many Skies of Dallas Road, Victoria, BC

Going for a walk on Dallas Road can be like visiting an art gallery, especially in the summer and winter. Before blossoms or coloured leaves become the stars of the show here in Victoria, the skies put on fantastic shows of light, and our eyes are drawn upwards.

I hope you enjoy this collection of photos taken from various locations on Dallas Road over the years.

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The calm after a storm on the Salish Sea – June 2012
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I haven’t seen a storm like this since I left the Prairies – July 2012
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Summer sunset over the Olympic Mountains – July 2014
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Winter sunset on the Dallas Road Walkway – November 2012
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Stunning sunset near Ogden Point Breakwater – January 2015
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Pre-sunset glow – February 2017

Soon I know I’ll start pointing my camera at cherry trees, rhododendrons, and rosebushes, and for a while I’ll forget about the sky. But it’s good to remember that there is beauty in every season, and we can find it wherever we are.

A Stroll down Dallas Road, Victoria, BC – in photos

Spring is arriving in Victoria, BC, slowly but surely. And one of my favourite places to see its arrival is on Dallas Road. It shows up in daffodils.

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From a distance, they almost look like dandelions, until you get close up, and they look like this.

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And they’re just one of the many beautiful things I love about Dallas Road. The explorevancouverisland.com site provides a description of the location and features of the Dallas Road Walkway. It’s a place where people of all ages can stroll along oceanside trails.

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The nearby body of water is called the Salish Sea, and if you stand on the trail and look straight across, you’ll see Port Angeles, Washington. You can also catch some amazing sunsets and everchanging rays of light playing on the water.

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Even when it’s stormy, the ocean is beautiful.

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And in the evenings you’ll often see people just standing at the edge of a path, gazing at the sea and sky.

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The evening I took this photo, I was struck at the silent kinship my husband and I felt with others on Dallas Road. Most of us didn’t know each other, but we were all taking photos and sharing a kind of silent awe at the amazing sunset in front of us. No one spoke, but we all knew what had made us stop in our tracks.

Dear readers, wherever you live, I hope that spring brings you great weather and time to enjoy a stroll in your favourite place.

Remembering Stuart McLean and the Vinyl Cafe

Like many Canadians, I felt a profound sense of loss last Wednesday when I found out that Stuart McLean had passed away. He was a bestselling author, journalist, and host of The Vinyl Cafe radio show, a wonderful program that introduced us to a series of humorous, heartwarming stories about a fictional family and their friends and neighbours. Stuart’s storytelling brought these characters to life and made us love them and relate to them.

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When I heard the sad news, it hit me almost as if a family member had passed away. My family members and I even called each other and talked as if we had lost someone close to us. Stuart McLean’s storytelling enriched our lives, and his loss will leave a great hole in the fabric of Canadian culture.

The Vinyl Cafe family summed it up perfectly in their Message to the Vinyl Cafe Community:

Stuart connected us – to our country and to each other. He entertained us, he made us think, he made us smile. Occasionally he made us cry. And, through all of that, he reminded us that life is made up of small moments. We never know which ones will be forgotten and which ones will stay with us forever.

So, in the spirit of celebrating life’s small moments, I just wanted to share a simple way Stuart McLean’s storytelling touched my life.

In 2005-2007, my husband and I were living in Calgary, Alberta, and I was working as a closed captionist. It was the job I talked about in a previous post, Memories of Closed Captioning and Magnum, P.I. Every Saturday morning, a package of VHS tapes would arrive by courier for me to transcribe over the following week. Not being a morning person, I’d set the radio alarm so I’d be awake in time to receive the delivery.

Normally I’d feel a bit stressed out about having to wake up early on a Saturday. But not this time. The radio was set to CBC, and the show that woke me up was The Vinyl Cafe. So every Saturday began with laughter as my husband and I sat and listened to Stuart’s stories until the delivery arrived. Thankfully we weren’t laughing loud enough to miss the sound of the doorbell! 🙂

I could talk about many other moments, but I’ll leave it here for now. I’m thankful that through The Vinyl Cafe recordings we can continue to laugh and cry as we listen to the adventures of Dave, Morley, and their family and friends.

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As Stuart said, life is made up of small moments. Some will be forgotten, and others will stay with us forever. Thank you, Stuart McLean, for reminding us of that. May we make all those small moments count.

Memories of White Christmases Past

It snowed in Victoria, BC, this week, great big fluffy flakes that created a winter wonderland overnight. This is very unusual weather for our little corner of the world, and I was eating a lot of humble pie because of my previous gloating about how warm and snow-free we were.

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But I wasn’t always such a cold weather Grinch. When I was a kid growing up on the prairies, I always dreamed of a white Christmas, and usually my dreams came true. My memories are a bit like snippets of home movies running through my head, and this week’s snow brought many of them to mind.

One year we went to a Christmas concert in Old Wives, Saskatchewan, where my aunt, uncle, and cousins lived. That night the temperature was a chilly -30 degrees Celsius. I’ll never forget that moment when the door at the back of the community hall swung open, a frosty breeze gusted into the room, and Santa Claus burst in among clouds of mist and blowing snow.

My favourite Christmases were spent at my grandparents’ houses, and the cold winter weather outside was always contrasted by the warm, cozy interior. I still remember the feeling of getting out of the car and walking through the chilly air towards the warm lights shining in the windows. Then the door would open, and we’d shake off our boots and coats and be embraced by people we loved more than words can say, with the smell of cooking and evergreen in the background.

With both British and Romanian ancestry, I remember an eclectic mix of foods. On the British side, there was turkey dinner with Christmas pudding and hard sauce, which confused me a bit when I was a kid because Christmas pudding didn’t seem anything like the chocolate pudding I ate for lunch, and how can a sauce be called hard when it’s soft? Now I love it, though.

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Image via BBC Food
On the Romanian/British side of the family, we ate a turkey dinner supplemented with cabbage rolls and perogies. My sister and I also had the privilege of performing Romanian Christmas carols with the Eminescu Romanian Dance Group in Regina, Saskatchewan. We performed them both for an audience and also at people’s homes. I didn’t realize it at the time, but in doing so, we were continuing an important tradition from the old country.

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We sang two songs: Steaua sus răsare and Sorcova Vesela. Recently I’ve been researching these songs and the customs surrounding them so I can understand them better and write about them in a future blog post.

In the meantime, no matter what kind of weather you find yourself in, I hope you have a very Merry Christmas that becomes a beautiful memory to look back on. Now that the snow in Victoria is gone, I’m looking forward to a Christmas that looks a bit more like this. 🙂

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Writing about Writer’s Block

I’m attempting to combat writer’s block by writing about writer’s block. As Calvin and Hobbes would say, I’ve had a block on top of my desk for two months that’s prevented me from writing there.

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But not really. To be honest, writer’s block seems to strike me for one of these three reasons:

1.  Fear – that I’ll sound stupid and my new post will be pure drivel.

2.  What I like to call the 1984 Grammy Awards syndrome – if one of my posts does fairly well and people seem to enjoy it, I feel like I’ve just won 8 Grammys and wonder how I’ll ever be able to match that accomplishment.

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3.  Discouragement – if one of my posts doesn’t do very well, I feel like I should throw in the towel and stop writing.

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So really, it is a bit like I’ve bought a block from Calvin and Hobbes and placed it on my desk. None of the above feelings are any reason not to write.

While I’ve been procrastinating from writing, I’ve had a chance to connect with many authors and writing coaches on Twitter. At its best, Twitter can be a very encouraging place. This week I was thrilled to connect with an author named Lauren Sapala who wrote a book called The INFJ Writer: Cracking the Creative Genius of the World’s Rarest Type.

According to the Myers-Briggs test, my personality is definitely INFJ, so I’m really looking forward to reading this book. The author was even kind enough to respond to my message on Twitter and told me to let her know if the book helps.

According to Sapala, many writers have trouble writing, especially INFJs and other introverted personalities. In an encouraging blog post, Why INFJs Have Trouble Writing, she outlines many of the reasons why and gives us this great piece of advice:

And regardless of whether you’re an INFJ, if you’re reading this, the time has come for you to step fully into yourself, and claim confidence in your writing. The only way to do this is to get to know yourself through your practice of writing.

And to do that, you have to write.

So that is why I’m combating writer’s block by writing about it. 🙂

With Courage and Grace, Too

Last weekend I did what millions of other Canadians did – watched The Tragically Hip’s final Man Machine Poem concert broadcast on CBC Television.

It was hard to overlook the significance of that evening. Lead singer Gord Downie was up there performing with the same passion, wit, and wisdom as usual, but with one difference – we all knew that he’s been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. What a courageous, generous man. And what love there was between the band members who stood up there with him.

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Image via CBC.ca

I have to confess I wouldn’t win an award for being the most loyal Hip fan. I’m mostly familiar with their music from the late ’80s and ’90s. I don’t own any posters or life-size cardboard cutouts like I did for another singer who shall remain nameless, one who inspired me to learn the moonwalk… Oops, I think I just gave it away! 😉

But the Hip provided the soundtrack for my life in another way. I first heard their music in 1994, when I was in my fourth year of university. That was the year I finally started to feel like I could take my nose out of the books once in awhile and enjoy life. Over the next few years, their songs are intertwined with my memories:

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  1. Listening to the album Fully Completely in my dorm room in 1994 – commenting on how every song is good, but what is “Locked in the Trunk of a Car” really all about?
  2. Attending Another Roadside Attraction at Thunderbird Stadium in Vancouver on July 13, 1995 – marvelling at how witty and entertaining the Hip were onstage.
  3. Riding in a van to Swan-e-Set golf course in Pitt Meadows to work as a television assistant during the 1996 West Coast Classic golf tournament – trying to politely listen to the driver’s storytelling and hear “Ahead by a Century” on the radio at the same time.
  4. Taking a Greyhound bus to Kamloops in 1997 – listening to a cassette of Road Apples all the way there.

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Recently I found a great article on The Georgia Straight website that matches all my memories of the Roadside Attraction event. Author Steve Newton describes Gord Downie’s performance way better than I could, so I’ll share a quote:

As usual, concertmaster Downie held the Tragically Hip’s reins in a loose grip, mostly allowing the riff-driven beast to run wild, but reeling it in when the time came to lecture some goof on the hazards of tossing shoes at the stage. At one point, the charismatic crooner gestured at an airplane that was circling intrusively above, trailing a banner advertising a fast-food franchise. “Hey, look everybody,” he proclaimed, “[Band manager] Bruce Allen!”

Now cancer has tossed shoes on the stage and interrupted life like an intrusive airplane overhead. But with his signature charisma and wisdom, Downie has cared for his audience and kept the show going.

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Image via CBC.ca

A common saying is that we can’t control what happens to us, but we can control how we respond to things. I’m inspired by the way Gord Downie has responded to his health challenges by sharing The Tragically Hip’s music and poetry one more time – with courage and grace, too.

 

 

The City Moose and the Country Moose

I love telling people I was born in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. Little kids laugh at how funny the name sounds, and adults who have only ever known me as a British Columbian often raise their eyebrows in surprise.

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Main Street, Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan

I love that my favourite hockey player, Theoren Fleury, played for the Moose Jaw Warriors WHL team. I love that a giant moose sculpture named Mac stands proudly at the outskirts of the city. And I love that the best poppyseed loaf in the world (in my opinion) has been baked at the Maple Leaf Bakery on South Hill since my Dad was a kid. (I don’t think I’m allowed to say how long ago that is.)

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A slice of Maple Leaf Bakery poppyseed loaf and one of my Mom’s delicious coconut macaroons

But most of all, I love the fact that a dear childhood friend and I bonded over our discovery that we were both born in Moose Jaw in the same year, same month, and same hospital.

My friend lives in Toronto now, and she recently mentioned how the Moose in the City art project in her new hometown reminds her of Saskatchewan and of our Canadian heritage. In the year 2000, the City of Toronto began a campaign where 326 life-sized fibreglass moose sculptures served as blank canvases for local artists to decorate.

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Image via Toronto.ca

These colourful city moose bear a striking resemblance to their cousin Mac in Moose Jaw, but with one important difference. While Mac stands proudly overlooking Moose Jaw’s tourist information centre, in full view of the Trans-Canada highway, Toronto’s moose are scattered throughout the city like a “Where’s Waldo” game.

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Image via Toronto.ca

Although many of the moose were auctioned off in 2001, there are still some hanging out around town. They serve as reminders of the project’s legacy – according to the Toronto.ca website, Moose in the City attracted 2 million tourists, injected $400 million into the local economy, and raised $1.4 million for Canada’s Olympic athletes and local Toronto charities.

For my friend, they also serve as a reminder of a prairie home far away, where you are more likely to run into a real moose than a fibreglass one, unless you’re talking about the one named Mac who’s larger than life.

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Mac the Moose (image via CBC.ca)

"Make New Friends but Keep the Old"

I love moving to new places. There’s something exhilarating about dropping everything and starting a new life in a new city. I don’t like packing, however, and all the work that goes into moving. Sometimes I think it would be great to just leave everything behind, but I’m sure at some point I would miss my wedding photos, books, and comfy furniture.

And one thing’s for certain – I always miss the people I leave behind.

When I was a kid, my family moved every few years, and in every new house I hung the same plaque on my bedroom wall.

It read, “Make new friends but keep the old. Those are silver; these are gold.”

With good intentions, I usually tried to write to friends I left behind in different cities, but sometimes I got too lazy or too caught up in my new life to keep in touch, or I had disagreements with people and never said I’m sorry. I found a box of stationery in my drawer once that contained letters I had started but never finished – “Dear So-and-So, How are you? I am fine….”

So life went on, and now that I’ve reached middle age, I’ve rediscovered how priceless both new and old friendships are and how important it is to be able to say, “Remember when?” Not just “Remember the good old days,” but also “Remember those hard times and how we made it through.”

For a long time, I couldn’t find anyone I had lost touch with. But enter the 21st Century and social media, and all that’s changed.

Most recently, while recovering from a painful knee injury, I suddenly had more time to write and interact on social media, and I could never have guessed how valuable that experience would be. What began as a really lousy time turned into a rich, golden time of reconnection. As my knee healed, my heart became full as long-lost friends found me and vice versa.

So I’ve taken a bit of a departure from my usual themes of art and language to pay tribute to reconnecting. My previous post Dancing from RădăuĹŁi to Regina helped reunite me with my old dance group from Regina, whom I had missed for decades.

And the topic of my next blog post will be based on an idea given to me by a dear friend from elementary school who reached out to me last year. Think fibreglass moose – a country moose and 326 city moose.

Until next time!