And miles to go before I sleep

Hi Friends,

Is it just me, or are any of you itching for an excellent and exciting escapade in a fantastical foreign landscape? It’s been two weeks since my return from the land of palm trees and face-lifts, and while I very much enjoy my employment here on the West coast, (I actually really do love my job) I am already daydreaming about the next big trip Monsieur M. and I will take together.

Or small trip.

There is just something undeniably awesome about international travel and intrigue…

I'm like a bird, I want to fly awaaaaaayyyyyy.

So pip pip, my passport is expiring at the end of March and I am putting together my application for a renewal.

Because everyone knows that a top spy-cum-adventurer needs two things at her disposal at all given times:

– valid passport

– excellent sense of humour and improvisation. (Okay, this might qualify as two things in some circles, so I beg of you to cut me some slack.)

A cute outfit, a quality camera and an ever present willingness to take on the unknown probably never hurt anyone either (in my experience at least.)

I’ve been surfing the internets quite a bit, researching all sorts of magnificent and mesmerizing locales – everything from Sweden to Salt Spring Island; Costa Rica to Colorado; Morocco to Montreal.

Seriously dudes, as much as I rail against the morally bankrupt ways of that ever elusive one percent (has anyone been able to find a contact number for them yet?), sometimes I can’t help imagining how lovely it would be to live with unlimited funds.

Sweet cash dollars would not only buy me many terrific trips, but countless beautiful shoes and a villa in the South of France.

(Lest you think me superficial, these are but other must-have accoutrements for said previously mentioned spy. Plus they’re pretty!!!)

This fantasy, however, always comes crashing to a (rather spectacular) halt once it veers into the territory of what I would actually have to do or condone in order to get that wealthy.

This knowledge alone would undoubtedly ruin all the splendor of that villa (and those shoes) and eventually turn me into some tragic pseudo-Lady MacBeth.

All in all, pretty darn grim.

And that is why I am happy sitting and planning out The Next Great Travel Thing! (Copyright Ethel the Dean, 2012).

In the meantime, let me share with you three snapshots of times past, spent in brilliant places, with beautiful people.

Someone once asked me: why do I love to travel? why do I need to travel? The following are just a part of the answer.

Hawaii 2007

M and I travel to Oahu’s North Shore where we stay in a beautiful one-floor, many bedroom-ed beach house with five hilarious, and very accommodating friends.

The view from our house. Heaven.

We end up sleeping on the sofa bed in the main room and I fall asleep every night to the sound of the breaking surf, just steps away from our lanai, while our friendly neighbourhood gecko makes quick work of the few flies that made it past my feverish guarding of the patio bug screen.

We go swimming with sea turtles and sting rays, eat chunks of fresh pineapple and laugh as the juice trickles down our cheeks, tan ourselves brown (such a contrast to the white of the sand) and learn that Vancouver’s Starbucks obsession doesn’t hold a flame to the ABC stores in Waikiki.

The shell my ring was hidden under.

On the third day of our visit, M asks me to accompany him on a sunset walk. There, on a beach, a few miles outside of the quaint seaside town of Haleiwa, with the sky the colour of one big Shirley temple, he asks me if I will spend the rest of my life with him.

I cry. And cry, and then I cry.

And then because he is just sitting there, looking at me, I tell him yes, of course yes.

I will.

I will until the end of the world.

Greece 2008

M and I have been married for exactly one week.

We set out on our honeymoon, travelling to a place the two of us have only read about in books (he especially, and we’re not exactly talking about contemporary literature either. I mean, say what you want about the relevancy of Ovid, et. al. but we’re not exactly getting any younger here.)

Greetings centurion!

The weather is excruciatingly hot, but we travel light, and from the moment we arrive it is as though we have been instilled with a boundless energy – so eager we are to explore and experience and indulge in the decadence of this dream-like world, that we walk until our legs our coated with a fine dust, our lips chapped dry.

We came early to get good seats.

An ancient city, a modern time.

During our time on Crete we visit King Minos’ home, pay homage to Theseus (and the Minotaur) and visit Matala, an ancient Roman graveyard.

Old spirits greeting newlyweds, teaching us the secrets to a long life, but longer lasting fame.

Switzerland 2009

Christmas in Geneva. The streets are frosted white and the mercury dips lower, and lower with each passing night. The air here in the city is so much crisper, so much cleaner than that of Birmingham, our home for the past four months.

People look healthier hear. (People sound healthier too.)

There must be something said for chocolate and cheese.

(And I’ll be the first to say it.)

We stay with M’s cousin. The way she speaks French is a bit difficult to describe. It sounds almost as though she is singing. The tone and cadence so gentle yet lively – a quality particular to the Genevois people and I love it.

On our third day in the country we travel to Bern.

The beauty packed into the city’s old town is as striking, as it is astounding. The history of this place is breathtaking to behold, but the so is the cold, as it sneaks into my boots and down my coat and around my ears.

Be still my heart.

I munch on roasted chestnuts as M and I walk to Einstein’s old apartment.

We watch out for bears. But on this day, it seems there are none to be seen.

Holding hands, we catch snowflakes on our tongues and I whisper sweet French nothings into his ear.

Just like a song.

Beam me up Scotty

This morning, I felt the cold in my bones.  We have been lucky for the most part this winter – while it has been colder than usual, it has been remarkably dry, a nice change from the expected (and therefore, albeit grudgingly accepted) monotonous rain and overcast skies.

Sun, Sun Mr. Golden Sun IS ON VACATION

Growing up in Vancouver you acclimatize pretty darn quickly to the damp. If you’re not careful enough, you may start to sprout mushrooms sometime around mid-March, due to the relentless onslaught of drizzle and murk.

Constant vigilance and a darn good umbrella are needed to combat this problem.

Well, that and a good pair of rain boots.

Remember folks, it’s the reason David Duchovny forced X-Files to move down to L.A. (And boy did that show ever go downhill after that.)

Anywho, this is the first Christmas in three years that M and I are sticking around town (at least for the big day) which is pretty darn exciting. The past two years we have been far and yonder – first in London and then in Halifax, respectively, where we not only enjoyed the fantastic seasonal flavour of these two brilliant cities (and the people who live there), but the always enjoyable stress overload of travelling on Christmas Eve.

Nothing makes giant masses of people, into giant masses of asses, er – I mean, as jolly as they can be, like overcrowded, delayed airlines can!

We are however doing our (small) share of travel this year, having been invited to go check out all the sights and sounds of balmy Palm Desert – my father and step-mom own a time share and live there for part of the year and this will mark the first time we have visited them in their fruit-treed, half-year-home.

I’ve never actually been to California, other than Disneyland when I was eleven years old, and I am not ashamed to say that the thought of twenty-seven degrees and sunny skies, tickles my little, frozen-solid heart silly, especially in the wake of today’s cold.

Now to find that pot of gold...

Yet on days like this, I also cannot help but be transported back to the streets of Edinburgh, where M and I walked and walked and walked and then walked some more in October of 2009.

The moment we exited Waverly Train Station, the skies opened up and just as the rains began to fall, a rainbow spread its way clear across the sky.

For the rest of the trip, the rain and wind whipped and lashed our bodies in earnest – every night as we fell asleep in our little hostel, tucked away off of the Royal Mile, I was so exhausted I could actually feel my heartbeat inside of my calf muscles.

We climbed to the very top of Arthur’s Seat, and then to other side of the Old Town, up to the national monument; we drunk ourselves silly doing our own version of a pub crawl, beginning at the famous Oxford Bar, the favourite haunt of the fictional Inspector Rebus, and his creator Ian Rankin. We day-travelled up to St. Andrews, where M ran across the sand à la Chariots of Fire, and took part in an underground tour of Mary King’s Close where we readily accepted “gardy loo!” into our everyday vocabulary.

Really excited! REALLY DRUNK.

(I am also still trying to figure out whether or not I could fashion a plague doctor Halloween costume if I put enough energy into it.)

Nova Scotia! The gift that keeps on giving.

I had never been to Scotland before, and yet I somehow felt as though the country was home. I knew for so long that I had some sort of innate connection to the land and the people, whether it was forged from spending time in Nova Scotia, or through my highland dancing, or my fascination with Celtic music and mythology – I’m not sure, but I always felt that I just needed to go.

I can still smell the salt air.

And just being there, I felt very grounded and safe.  Like it is a country where I could live a life with less anxiety and doubt – or at least feel as though I could lay down some serious roots.

We had such a brilliantly amazing visit and did in fact walk so much that I had to purchase new shoes – shoes that to this day remind me of the visit each time I put them on.  (My old ones had developed a serious case of the heel-mouths and the water trickling down the cobble streets had begun to seriously trickle down my stocking feet.)

Even in the face of a bloody gale, I kept turning to M and saying to him, “Isn’t this the most enchanting city you have ever been too?”

I truly felt as though there is magic there, running through the air like an invisible current, transported along those fierce, fierce winds because it feels as though its blowing right through you, right through to the depths of your being, penetrating deep inside your soul.

Be still my heart.

But instead of cold, it warms you.

So on days like today, where I feel the dampness in my bones, I doesn’t bother me.

I think about my ancestors, and my travels, and I take comfort.

I take comfort in it all.

Another little piece of my heart

Do you have a place that you like to visit, because no matter what may have happened in your life (or may be happening) – as soon as you get there, you suddenly feel better?

You feel healthier?  You feel whole?

I have such a place.

This past Friday night, M and I adventured up to the Sunshine Coast where his parent’s have a brilliant little getaway that they very generously let us make use of for the weekend.

I will never tire of this view for as long as I live.

This place is amazing for many reasons.

From the spectacular view of the waterfront, to the epic record collection, to the amazingly comfortable beds, to the new wood burning stove – it really is a piece of heaven.

I feel the earth move...SING IT CAROLE!

I’m not sure how many times M and I have visited this unique and beautiful spot, but I can without hesitation say that each stay has, and forever will, occupy a special place in my heart.

Before I regale you with some of the finer (re: hilarious) moments of our brief, just-passed sojourn, here are three snapshots of past-times spent at this haven of dreams.

1.Sepetember 2003.  M and I have been dating for approximately two months and I am completely head-over-heels in love with him.   I am in first year at UBC and he is in third, and one day while we’re eating breakfast at my dorm’s cafeteria, he asks me if I would like to go away with him at the end of the month.

Yes, I tell him. Unequivocally, without question, YES.

My heart practically implodes in my chest upon hearing that my father is willing to let me borrow his car for the weekend.  My excitement knows no bounds.

We arrive early the Saturday morning because M ends up having to work at the movie theatre that Friday night. I am too restless to fall back asleep once we arrive, so after the inaugural tour we make peanut butter and jam sandwiches with thick slices of French bread and head down to the dock to suntan and “study.”

After lunch, we take the canoe out for a long afternoon paddle.  I marvel at how quickly our boat is skimming along – that is, of course, until I take a brief rest and realize we haven’t slowed down at all.

M just laughs at me.  I laugh too.

The weather is so hot I want to take off my clothes and dive right into the water. Instead, I dip my fingers into blue-green depths one at a time, and let the droplets run down my forearms and drip off of my elbows.

That night, against our better judgement, we light a fire and roast ourselves silly as we eat our dinner and grow tipsy off of red wine and Cat Stevens.

I remember thinking how I never wanted our dance to end.

2. New Years, 2006. M and I invite eight of our closest friends up to the Coast for a New Years raclette feast.  We eat (what seems like) pounds of the delicious Swiss cheese, drink good wine, and laugh ourselves crazy playing charades, dancing to Boney M, and lighting sparklers and banging on all the pots and pans we can find when the hour strikes twelve.

HAPPY NEW YEAR YOU CRAZY LOONS!

The next day we set out for a brisk, first-day-of-the-new-year-hike, letting the gale-force winds blow right through us – it sends the last year packing, and makes sure we are fresh and clean for all that awaits us in the coming months.

As we round the corner at the end of the trail, the winds are so strong that my ear muffs are blown from my head, and the only thing that saves them from an ocean swim is the lone, bare-faced tree, clinging for dear life on the cliff edge, twenty meters on my right.

M gallantly saves them, but in the process, almost gives up his place on earth in exchange.

Next time, I tell him, just let them go.

When we arrive back at the house, the power goes out.  We spend the rest of the evening cooking chilli and garlic bread on the wood burning stove, and playing balderdash by candlelight.

I know I still have abdominal muscles from laughing so hard that night – believe me, they’re in there somewhere, I just need to find them.

3. August 2010. Having defended my master’s thesis in May of that year, for the first time in (what seems like) my entire life, I am not stressing over, or thinking about school.

Mother Nature’s summer-stat has been set on full blast, and every day looks like a photo-still from a Richard Attenborough documentary.  Everything looks as though it has been kissed by magic.

My swimming hole.

Each morning I wake up and run a 10km loop that winds from the house to the local provincial park and back. Each morning upon my return I race down to the dock where I strip down to my underwear before jumping into the drink for a refreshing post-run swim.

I am sure the neighbours think I’m bloody bonkers, but I don’t care.

I feel light.  I feel fabulous.

I feel love.

When we arrived at the house on Friday night, the place was pretty darn freezing.  No word of a lie, I am fairly sure that I lost the feeling in the bottoms of my feet within the first fifteen minutes of our arrival.

PJs + sweats + winter coat + tea + fire = defrosted me

Thank goodness I am married to a mountain man who managed to quickly get a roaring fire going – but for a little lass such as I, with very poor circulation, I was hard pressed to get out of my winter coat until the place reached sauna status.

After that though, I was fine.  After that I was on fire!

Over the weekend, in preparation for Christmas, M and I decided that we would whip ourselves up in a baking tizzy.  Initially it was pretty difficult deciding on what we wanted to accomplish, but eventually we managed to cull the original list of must-dos down to three choice items: cheese sticks, sugar cookies (reprised from my culinary adventure from the other night) and cinnamon stars.

Cheeeeeeeeezzzzeeee sticks! So good!

The cheese sticks and the sugar cookies were by far the more successful undertakings.  I not sure how many of those cheesy delights I’ve scarfed down since M removed them from the oven – but it’s safe to say that we will definitely be making a few more trays of those before the holiday season is over.

Also, I think I will just become a sugar cookie making machine, in so far as they are super easy to make and way fun to decorate.

At first M and I were all, “ERM..?” because he inadvertently purchased the neon food colouring, but we’ve come to understand that if psychedelic Santa doesn’t say HO HO HO, that we don’t know what does.

(Don’t tell us.)

All the colours that you had on your snowsuit in the 80s!

The cinnamon stars weren’t so much a failure as they were a reinterpretation of the definition of star. (I mean, cupcakes aren’t too far off, right?)

Yes. I am drinking prosecco out of a Swiss anniversary brandy snifter. There’s no shame here!

We topped off the night with a sunset down at the dock, stellar homemade pasta, and a crisp prosecco that danced on our tongues, although our feet did the actually jigging as we boogied down to Rod Stewart, Neil Diamond and the Rolling Stones.

Seriously, guys, if you start us up – if you start us up, we’ll never stop.

Tomorrow, tomorrow

Seeing as though I got my rant on yesterday (and get it on did I ever), I am trying to look at the bright side of things on this rainy December day.

I feel really fortunate to have so many solid individuals in my life whom I can count on to comfort (or at least abide) me when I am at my utmost dejected. Without them, I would probably slink off the forest and live out my days in obscurity, becoming feral and losing my ability to speak and maintain healthy (if any) human relationships.  I would either end up in the National Enquirer, or have Jodi Foster play me in some Oscar-winning biopic, scored by Howard Shore.

Like my blood pressure, the sun will rise again...

So thank you my friends.  Thank you for your support and for helping me rebuild my humpty-dumpty confidence in humanity (or at least chose to stay in society for a little while longer.)

(Man, speaking of that nursery rhyme – what the heck were all the King’s horses going to accomplish? THEY ARE HORSES. If anything, they were probably responsible for further smashing up Mr. Egg Wall-sitter’s remains.)

Anywho, yesterday night I met up with my Little Sister (I’ve worked with Big Sisters for the past three years) and hanging out with that little firecracker of genius was exactly what I needed to regroup and refocus.

Working with my Little has been life changing in many different ways, and knowing that as much as she has transformed my life, I have had a positive impact on hers, is something I very much cherish.  When I am overwhelmed to the point of tears by what I see to be insurmountable, soul-crushing obstacles, I have to remember that little by little, constructive actions are capable of chipping away at the our society’s monolithic, and firmly-rooted ills.

So remember kids: Only you can prevent further reinforcement of institutionalized, overarching destructive norms!

That, and you know, forest fires.

As they say, baby steps.

Either way, today I am focusing on the positive!

Case in point, a couple of nights ago I was invited to a friend’s house to bake sugar cookies and watch The Muppet

Rolling pins are good for getting out stress.

Christmas Carol.  It was a gas and a half: munching on junk food, laughing at Gonzo (playing Charles Dickens, of course), loving Michael Caine as Scrooge, sharing the bizarre and equally funny parts of our day.

Sometimes you cannot get any better than that.

Of course, our first batch of cookies wasn’t hugely successful.  We tried to fit two sheets on one rack at the same time.  It wasn’t until I started to see smoke seeping out from the top of the door that we decided we might have to exercise some restraint and only do one batch at a time.

I would be lying if I said we didn't eat quite a few of these anyway...

(This worked to varying degrees, as the more we talked – and the more we laughed – the harder it seemed to be to actually make sure we timed the baking process properly.)

Now, I am not by nature a very visually artistic individual, but years of dedication to cookie decoration has left me with a particular prowess in this department that I am not afraid to talk up.

Oh what fun!

Back home in Halifax my mother goes absolutely bonkers in the kitchen every Christmas, whipping up batches of (sometimes) up to two hundred ginger bread men.  I will spend hours hunched over the kitchen table, painstakingly decorating cookie after cookie, to the point where it is almost a little heartbreaking to watch people cart them off, or even worse, scarf them down without properly admiring their long-endured edible beautification process!

Yeah.  That’s definitely a little sad on my part.

But I don’t care!  Love live the cookie decorator!  PEACE, LAND, BREAD!

Erm…

Nom nom - WAIT! Tell me how pretty they are!

I mean: ICING, SPRINKLES, SMARTIES!

I hope you all have a wonderful, rage-out-free weekend.

And if not, I’ll do my darndest to put you back together again.

One odd duck

Hey Kids!  In lieu of the regular Friday Fry-up, I have a little something different planned.

Now, before I get into the crux of the matter, I feel as though I need to explain myself.

I, contrary to past (and current) posts, am not a completely deranged animal-cum-water fowl fiend.  I just happen to suffer from some kind of faulty construction (birth defect?)  in so far as I incapable of stopping myself from becoming momentarily paralyzed every time I am found in the presence of these beings.

Seriously, I almost start crying every time I read an article on polar bears.  (DAMN YOU COCA COLA!)

What can I say?

I also just really, really like ducks.

Like, a lot.

So it pretty much makes my day, but also sort-of takes my breath away and makes me tear up a bit every time I walk into the lobby of my office building and see this:

I’m trying to figure out how to 1.) get one of the geese up the elevator and into my office and 2.) jerry-rig the electronics so it will still be able to move and not, you know, blow my place sky high.

But nere you worry – I’m working on it.

Man, is it just me or is it that any way you slice the mandarin orange these days, things are looking pretty darn festive?

I don’t know if the daily increased swelling I experience in my chest is due to 1.) the holiday spirit 2.) the daily inclusion of mechanized ducks from an old Woodward’s window display 3.) angina or 4.) all of the above.

Two nights ago I was speaking with my sister on the phone and we were laughing (nay cackling) about an incident that occurred a couple of Christmas’ ago that concerned her, a Christmas-cracker hat, and a bowl of bran buds cereal.

It is definitely one of our favourites and a total go-to memory when we are in need of a good laugh-until-you-cry moment.

So do it I shall.

Cry tears of happiness.