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.

A cup of kindness

It’s pretty crazy to think that we are only two days away from beginning a new year.

I don’t know whether time is speeding up, or if I am slowing down, but events seem to be happening at a much quicker pace, than say, ten years ago.

So, to whomever turned up the dial on the world’s treadmill, could you slow it down a tad friend? I need to catch my breath and get my bearings!

I find that doing something that really pushes your physical and mental limits is a great way to help both time run away from you, and yet somehow make it hang suspended in mid-air, like some crazed escape artist, hanging from a tightrope wire.

For instance, yesterday, M, my dad, and I climbed Mount Haystack, all 3560 feet high and 8.6 miles long of it.

DO IT.
Just a hop, skip and a jump to the summit!

It was an adventure and a half, especially seeing as though for the actual ascent we didn’t have a marked path.

I have never scrambled up so much loose rock in my life.

I have never been pricked by two different types of cacti, nor have I ever seen a coyote while mid-mountain descent ( they are usually only skulking around my backyard back home).

Nor have I ever seen a view quite like this one before:

This is the definition of man-made (and man-maintained).

We started out at 7:30am, to get a jump on the crowds (there weren’t any) and the heat (there was quite a lot of this).

It was a seriously fun, seriously taxing hike.

Other things that I learned while out on the trail:

1. Barrel-head cacti always grow leaning to the south, and look like giant prickly cucumbers.

Keep those barrels rolling. ROLL HIGH!

2. An oasis will crop up in just about the most remote, random place that you could ever imagine.

Yet not a drop to drink.

3. Making your sandwich with a tomato in it the night before is never a good idea, even if you think you’ve protected the bread with both lettuce and cheese, because the lettuce and cheese will also make it grow soggy.

I don't have a photo of my sandwich so please accept this glowing cactus.

4. I am the queen of the world.

Leo ain't got nothing on me.
A room, erm, peak with a view!

It’s quite insane to really mediate on 2012 as a tangible, real thing. I remember ringing in 2000 as if it was yesterday.

You've got to put one foot, in front of the other...

It’s not that I am weary of the new year, but more curious, filled with a subtle sense of wonderment about all the new (and completely bonkers) adventures I will embark on next.

So here, in no particular order are my resolutions for the approaching three hundred and sixty-five days:

– Run the Victoria marathon in 3:30:00 – Begin training in April, qualify for Boston in October.

– Travel, explore and take on the (sometimes scary) unknown with the love of my life, Mr. M.

MISTER M!

– Continue having a positive relationship with food and my body, because without this, there is no way I will be able to accomplish numbers 1 and 2.

I am also so happy to be writing regularly again through Rant and Roll.

Many, many thanks to all of my fabittyfabfab readers and subscribers. Your encouragement, comments and support mean the world to me! Without a doubt, you all make my little, slightly daft heart smile!

I wish you all a brilliant and beautiful coming year, free of prejudice, and bias, but always REMEMBER: should you encounter any of this in your daily life, do not despair, for after I wrench myself from the corner from whence I have curled myself up in the fetal position, I WILL TAKE THEM ON AND I WILL CRUSH THEM!!!

FOR I AM THE ERADICATOR!!!

Erm…

Smile, little heart. SMILE!

Happy New Year to you all!

– Ethel the Dean.

Please shine down on me

Hi friends!

I am writing to you from balmy and beautiful Palm Desert. Here the sun dances across the sky, all day everyday, the lemons taste like candy, and the cacti will jump up and bite you (if you don’t take care to treat them nicely.)

Palm trees at night, Ethel's delight!

It’s been a pretty excellent experience so far, and since we’ve only been here for a day, I am apt to believe that the trip is just going to keep getting better and better.

This morning we hiked the three-mile “Randall Hendersen Trail”, marvelling at all the different vegetation that was on display (so very different from that of our temperate West Coast rainforests) and giggling at all the little critters that would scurry about, looking for a rest stop, or perhaps shelter, from the strong, relentless sun.

The sky here is so blue, it is difficult to describe. It has an almost thickness to it – a blue that shouldn’t actually exist, save for in crayon packages, or on Caribbean beach fronts.

After our hike, M and I walked to the pool, where we swan the early afternoon away, alternating between the tepid waters of the pool and the searing warmth of the hot tub. Then we stretched out on the deck chairs and read our books until our skin began to blush pink and our eyelids grew heavy.

Orange you glad I didn't say banana?

Walking back to the house I picked some oranges off of one of the many fruit trees that populate the golf course. It was a pretty surreal experience. I don’t think that I have ever imagined a day when I would just reach up and grab an orange right off a branch, simply at my own pleasure.

I will need to see, but I think I can wager a guess that there might not be anything quite like looking out your window, only to see grapefruits hanging low off of a tree so close, you could probably reach and out touch it if you really tried.

I will have let you know.

One strange thing that I have to say about Palm Desert is that I don’t think that anyone here walks, you know, to a destination, therefore making it an extremely rare, and perhaps perplexing sight, to actually see two individuals who are going somewhere on foot.

M and I decided to stroll (who am I kidding – we don’t stroll anywhere – in fact we motor places. Seriously, we have Barney and Fred feet here.) over to the Westfield’s to try to find him some shoes and maybe a treat or two.

We received a few confused stares along the way.

Luckily, we managed to make it there in one piece and found both treats, shoes, and SO MUCH more.

M scooped up a sweet pair of Steve Madden’s for a great deal, drank some Jamba Juice and I got to eat my fill of Tutti Frutti.

(All I have to say about that is we NEED serve-yourself frozen yogurt in Canada and we NEED IT NOW. SERIOUSLY HARPER, GET ON THAT SHIT.)

After shoes and treats we stumbled upon one of the craziest things I have ever seen. Seriously folks, let me introduce you to the magic that is: Lipo Illusion!

ERM...

Holy frick.

WHO WOULD WEAR THIS!? This is why humanity is in a decline. NO ONE needs this. PERIOD.

Well, if you thought that the 19th century girdle would never make its long-awaited triumphant return, heck, you thought wrong!
I can imagine the advertisement now, voice over and all:

Have you never wanted to be your natural shape and are desperate to try to mold yourself into a new person? Spanx not working? Actual Lipo too expensive? We thought as much! Come to Lipo Illusion where we will outfit you with industrial strength spandex, that will not only make sure all your fat pools in your shoes, but ensure a streamlined, thinner you! Because remember folks, while everyone likes you – they’ll like a thinner you EVEN MORE.

Yeesh.

There is good news however, because after seeing that grim fandango of a display, we encountered a Forever XXI and I learned that

To keep the homesickness at bay...

they use the same models as the one at Metrotown.

Excellent show you crazy bastards!

Man, I need to find out where they purchase these mannequins and get a couple for our house. I can only imagine what the neighbors will think once I start to outfit them with my wackiest clothing and display them in rotation from our guest bedroom window.

Instead of a PhD, THIS will be my next project.

Oh, and one more thing.

Do you have a football fanatic in your life? Do they also love blankets, warmth and the word “COMFY”? Are they willing to try anything once? If you have answered yes to all three of these questions (or just have someone you kind of want to screw over in a secret santa), then friends, have I found the buy for you.

Introducing – THE NFL SNUGGIE.

YES.

Seriously dudes, DISCUSS.

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.