Going Home: Part 1 (Surprise Trip to Salt Spring)

One of the best parts of growing up in Victoria was being so close to the Gulf Islands—an archipelago in the Strait of Georgia, between Vancouver Island and the mainland. IMG_0767If you’re into camping oceanside, hiking through dense forests covered in moss, checking out paintings and pottery in artist markets, hanging out in cozy cafes (that serve organic, delicious everything) and buying fresh berries and flowers from little roadside stalls, the Gulf Islands are pretty much heaven.

The one closest to Victoria is called Salt Spring, and it’s a place my brother and I visited with my mom when we were kids. She hadn’t been back in decades, so for her 60th birthday, we decided to surprise her with a weekend trip. I found this super cute cottage called Tantramar


and we booked it. The problem was, her birthday was last December, and at the time I was still waiting on my green card, which meant if I left the US, I wouldn’t be allowed to re-cross the border and get back in. (Side note: if you ever plan to immigrate to the US, prepare to not book dates for anything for a good year and a half. Just put your life on hold and pray to the green card Gods.)

When we realized my visa issues wouldn’t be sorted out in time, we postponed the trip, re-booked the cottage, and finally went this past May. The weekend we chose turned out to be Mother’s Day, so the timing was perfect. Joe and I rented a car in Portland and drove to Port Angeles (only a 3.5 hr trip!), then caught the ferry to Victoria, spent the night at my mom’s, and whisked her away the next afternoon. She was told to pack a bag and that we were meeting Noel (my brother) and Johanna (his fiancée) for two days and two nights. The destination was kept top secret…until we got to the ferry and parked in the lane headed for Salt Spring.

My mom was thrilled.



She loves Joe. Couldn’t be happier with who her daughter married. It’s very sweet.


Having a “I love where I’m from” moment on the ride…

On the drive to the cottage, my mom kept saying, “Oh, I love it here. I could live here.” I was excited just to see her enjoy a weekend of nature and family time, eat some great food, and relax on a porch with ocean views. Tantramar is on Vesuvius Beach, on the northwest side of the island.

IMG_0712 IMG_0723 I wish I had taken some interior shots to show you guys! It was beautiful and homey, with hardwood floors, a glassed-in porch, and wood-burning fireplace. It sleeps up to 6 people and they allow dogs. (Noel and Johanna brought their pooch Rose.) I would definitely recommend it for a family trip or getaway with friends. You can see more photos on the website here, if you’re interested.

Joe and I went for a little stroll soon after arriving… IMG_0713         IMG_0717 IMG_0721And that night we grilled prawn and veggie skewers and lemon garlic potatoes on the BBQ. Johanna is a trained chef, and we knew she’d be cooking some delicious meals the next day, so Joe and I did our best to impress on the first night.

Saturday was gorgeous…the beginning of amazing weather we lucked out with for the rest of the week. IMG_0732 IMG_0733 Johanna whipped up a breakfast frittata for everyone and then we spent a few hours in Ganges, the town on Salt Spring, checking out the weekend market and stopping for gelato. My mom had told me a week or so earlier she’d been craving curry, so Johanna treated us again with her skills, making a huge pot of spicy curry and a salad with strawberries, greens and goat cheese for dinner. We’re all pretty stoked to have a chef in the family!   IMG_0746Sunset chats on the deck after dinner. (Island life at its best.)

On Sunday morning we decided to take my mom to the top of Mt. Maxwell, one of the highest points on Salt Spring. But not before setting up the self-timer for a family pic…


We didn’t realize how steep (and bumpy) the drive up Mt. Maxwell was going to be—the gravel road was a bit much for our rental car!

But the views were worth it.

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One of my secret dreams is to have my own little cottage on one of the Gulf Islands…or some other magic spot by the sea. (I could live in Indonesia very, very easily.) I think my mom has the same dream. I knew she’d be sad to leave Tantramar, and she was, but she said a few days later that the trip had kickstarted her life again, given her a fresh spark to pursue the things she loves to do.

Do you have a favourite place you love going back to? Somewhere that recharges you? (I’d love to hear in the comments!) I like the idea of returning to the same cottage year after year, but for me, discovering new places always seems to win over. Though Joe and I really loved one of the campgrounds we stayed at on our honeymoon, so much so that we’re going back with friends in a couple weeks. (The first time we rented a yurt, but this time we’re tenting it.)

After Salt Spring, we spent six days in Victoria, so a few more “Going Home” posts to come. :)


ps. 3 Cute Cottages to Rent in Oregon and Mom Turns 60: A Thank You

*First Tantramar photo via Salt Spring Cottages

Portland Minute: Pride Parade, in Photos


A couple Sundays back, Joe and I met up with Sam, Bryan and José on the corner of Broadway and Davis for Portland’s Pride Parade. Other than the one I have a vague memory of attending in Victoria over a decade ago, this was the first Pride I’ve been to.

As some of you probably know, Oregon recently legalized gay marriage, joining 18 other states who have made marrying your partner possible no matter who you are or who you love. Hopefully the U.S. will catch up to Canada eventually, and legalize gay marriage nationwide. I would LOVE to see this happen in my lifetime.

In light of the progress, it felt like a particularly exciting time for a parade.




A friend mentioned seeing a naked dude in red heels at the last Pride she went to in Portland, so I wasn’t totally sure what to expect. But I was really impressed by the huge cross section of the city’s businesses and organizations that participated, showing their support for the LGBTQ community.







One of the coolest aspects was seeing so many different churches taking part. It’s often perceived that most organized religious groups don’t support the LGBTQ community, so it was wonderful to witness people from a range of churches participating in the event. I saw one man holding a sign that said “Walking with my boyfriend and supportive Mormon mom.” A woman from another group carried a sign that read, “Who am I to judge?”

These paraders are from the First Congregational United Church of Christ.


This car was representing Hillsdale Community Church, United Church of Christ.


And these are Unitarian Universalists.


I’m pretty sure these guys weren’t with their church group.



A few more folks who caught my eye…




And this was our parade posse. :)


If we’re in Portland this time next year, I definitely want to check out the parade again. Joe works at OHSU, one of the city’s main hospitals which was a participant, so maybe we’ll even walk in it in 2015.

What about you guys? Did any of you see or walk in the Pride Parade where you live? I’d love to hear!

Coming soon, notes and photos from our Victoria vacation…we lucked out with amazing weather the entire 10 days we were there.

Have a great Sunday, friends.


The Cacti + The Family: Arizona, Sans Grand Canyon

IMG_0682According to my dad, I’ve been to the Grand Canyon, camped overnight and spent a day exploring it with him, my brother, and my mom when I was five. I have no memory of our Canyon excursion. Until this past April, when I flew to Phoenix to spend a few days hanging out with my dad, stepmom, and sister Abby during their vacation, I thought I’d never been to Arizona at all. When someone mentions the Grand Canyon I always think of that scene from Thelma & Louise, when they’re driving through the desert on the run from the cops and Louise suddenly realizes what’s ahead and says to Thelma, “It’s the goddamn Grand Canyon!”


Turns out the scene was actually filmed in Utah, but that’s beside the point. It was an at-the-edge-of-death moment undoubtedly more dramatic (and clearly more memorable) than my own Canyon experience, in part because of the intense bond between these two women, but also because the scene was preceded by those ones featuring Brad Pitt as J.D., the hitchhiker who showed Thelma/Geena Davis how to rob a bank . . . among other things. I think I was about 12 when I first saw the film. Afterward I swore to myself I would watch every Brad Pitt movie that came out from then onward in the theatre (instead of just on VHS). It’s a commitment I haven’t kept up but one I still think was worth trying for. My pre-teen movie star crush. He deserved the big screen.

So in my mind, Arizona was a first for me this spring. We stayed an hour outside Phoenix, at my aunt Nita’s house, a two-bedroom bungalow in a gated community landscaped with palm trees and cacti. Mornings were spent poolside, drinking coffee with my stepmom Colleen while my dad puttered around the property and my sister—thrilled to be out of the Saskatchewan winter for a week (because April in Saskatchewan is still winter)—worked on her tan.

We also wore muumuus.

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I felt a little like Helen Roper (sans Stanley) in a good way. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you are clearly either much younger than I am or didn’t feel the need to watch Three’s Company reruns every evening of your early childhood.

We didn’t go to the Grand Canyon this trip (not enough time to do it justice). But we did head into the city for a baseball game—my first MLB game ever—on a Sunday afternoon, where we sat in the sun sipping beer out of ridiculously oversized cups and watched the Arizona Diamondbacks lose 2-0 to the Philadelphia Phillies.

The next day, we drove to Sedona, a town a couple hours north of Phoenix known for its galleries, crystals and vortexes


and then hiked for a couple hours in Red Rock State Park.







The Park views were Canyon-esque. On a much smaller scale, of course.

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The thing about Arizona is that the landscape is so dramatic—the red rock, the cacti looming every few metres along the highway like lone soldiers guarding the horizon, the massive sky—but it’s also so dry.



Don’t get me wrong, I love experiencing terrain that’s vastly different from what I grew up in (and I’m a huge fan of cactus plants) but on this hike it struck me how much the lush vegetation of the Pacific Northwest has shaped my sense of beauty. It’s why I like jungles, why I always stop to touch the moss carpeting the sides of trees. I felt dazzled by the natural environment in Arizona—it’s stunning. But while walking this trail I kept finding myself thinking, ‘the scenery is so cool, but I don’t think I could live here.’ It was a such a strong sense of feeling separate from my surroundings, as if I didn’t totally align with the landscape.

Have you ever felt that way in a place you’ve visited? It fascinates me what creates the connection between a person and place. When I look back, the parts of the world I’ve always been happiest living in are near forests and the ocean. But I wonder if I would feel that way if I hadn’t grown up on Vancouver Island, if that draw to coastal elements would be less prevalent.

Arizona’s purple cacti was particularly amazing, and new to my eyes. And how about that yellow flower, bursting out the side?



That’s my dad, Curtis. Not sure why I was hiking in a sundress, other than we didn’t really plan to walk a long trail, it just kind of happened. It’s my dad’s birthday tomorrow. He probably wouldn’t want me throwing numbers around here on the blog, but let me just say this guy does not let age, the fact that he’s had a hip replacement, or the blazing Arizona sun slow him down. He has instilled his love of travel in me since I was a kid, and I can’t thank him enough for it. Happy Birthday, Dad!

I’ve been strongly urging him and my stepmom to take a trip to Indonesia ever since Joe and I went two years ago, and this July, they’re flying to Bali for a month. They’ve got their first two nights of accommodation booked, and then they’re going to ‘wing it’ as my dad would say. I’ve really talked the place up, so I’m hoping they love it as much as we did. If I know my dad, he’ll be daydreaming about buying land and starting a business there within the first couple days.

Well that’s it, friends, my April Arizona Adventure. I leave you here, with way too much alliteration and a little more cacti…



Those spikes are nuts.


Highway scenery, en route to Sedona.

I have a feeling I’ll be back to this part of the country one day, maybe with a kid in tow, showing them the Grand Canyon and hoping they’ll remember it.

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone.


On My Reading List: In the Slender Margin

Remember the interview I did with the wonderful, talented writer Eve Joseph?

Her new book In The Slender Margin was released this April, and I’m really excited to read it.


Okay, so a work of non-fiction with a subtitle that reads “The Intimate Strangeness of Death and Dying” may not be typical fodder for a summer reading list, but if this excerpt from Eve’s award-winning essay “Intimate Strangers” is anything to go by, her ability to write about death in surprising, compelling ways is going to keep me turning the page, no matter what season it is.

An excerpt from the essay:

In North America, we don’t quite know what to do with our dead. We plant trees and engrave the names of our loved ones on memorial benches overlooking the ocean; we gather as families to scatter the ashes but are not quite prepared for their weight and texture or for the way the wind doesn’t disperse them as we had imagined. In movies, human ashes seem more like stardust; the bright dust, in the night sky, we imagined as children.

The reality is somewhat different. When we scattered my mother’s ashes off the dock in front of the Cannery Seafood Restaurant on Burrard Inlet they didn’t lift in an ethereal manner; rather, they turned a luminescent green as they sank in the water and swirled downwards. It appeared as if my mother had turned into a fish and left us abruptly with a flash of her new emerald scales.

I love the image of her mother, transformed, flashing her scales. It’s such a unique way to describe that moment and transition from life. This kind of writing makes me want to curl up with a stack of poetry and get lost in it, the way I used to when I was in the depths of my creative writing degree. It reminds me of why I wanted to become a writer myself.

I don’t have an excerpt from In the Slender Margin, but it’s official description says this:

“Part memoir, part meditation on death itself, In the Slender Margin is an exploration of death from an “insider’s” point of view. Using the threads of her brother’s early death and her twenty years of work at a hospice, Joseph utilizes history, religion, philosophy, literature, personal anecdote, mythology, poetry and pop culture to discern the unknowable and to illuminate her travels through the land of the dying.”

Sounds intriguing, right? And it’s getting excellent reviews…

From National Post:

“[Joseph's] meditations take her, and us, into the many rooms death inevitably visits. The darkness is never quite made light, but in her careful prose her encounters with the dead, dying and mourning take on a kind of grace. Blending elements of memoir, reporting, and bookish contemplation, In the Slender Margin is an intricate and beautiful essay on approaching that good night we all go into, gently or otherwise.”

The Vancouver Sun

“The wonder of personal essays is their meandering nature. The author has questions, may find some answers, but mostly she writes to find out what she is thinking. That’s the case with Joseph’s exceptional book, divided into short essays within four sections. She called on everything in her experience in order to be with the dying. We can be grateful for that work, calling upon everything to give sorrow a voice . . . Joseph’s words are the language of a poet, deliberate, careful and distilled.” 

And author Bill Gaston wrote:

“With a poet’s honest eye, from decades on the slender margin, Eve Joseph has done the miraculous, shining a light into everyone’s ultimate darkness. Her quest is respectful, wise, and contagious. In all seriousness, I have never enjoyed death so much.”


Eve Joseph. Photo via evejoseph.wordpress.com


What do you guys think? Want to read In the Slender Margin with me? (For my readers outside of Canada, the book will be in print in the U.S. in 2015, but you can order it now through amazon.ca.) What’s on your summer reading list? I’d love to know—feel free to share in the comments!

For those of you in Victoria, the launch of In the Slender Margin is this Wednesday, July 11th at Munro’s Books. If you go, please tell Eve I said congratulations :)


ps. My interview with Eve Joseph, and Eve’s interview with The Coastal Spectator, discussing The Slender Margin.

A Portland Minute: Almost-June Picnic

It was Joe’s idea.

I just sent the message.

Hey friends! We are overdue for hanging out. The time has come. Joe and I would love to get together with you all this Saturday afternoon for a picnic. Around 1ish at Washington Park? Who’s in? Dianna has already said yes, so it’s officially happening/going to be a party. I’m envisioning food, blankets, frisbee, a dog or two… Let’s DO THIS. Let us know! xox

Magically, everyone had the afternoon free, so this happened:


A gathering which involved nine of us and a messy picnic table with curried egg salad, brie and crackers, Juanita’s chips and homous, far too many chocolate chip cookies, a baguette, spicy guacomole, moscato, strawberries, and a variety of beers and ciders, which we were quickly told by the Washington Park ranger dudes needed to be out of sight. Someone was smart enough to bring red plastic cups. Thirst quenched.

Also, there was frisbee (which I had every intention of playing but never did due to prioritizing chatting on the grass with Sara and Bryan) and three dogs: Oscar, Italia, and Charlie. A toddler-age boy named Milo who belonged to the family of picnickers next to us spent over an hour tracking down sticks and calling out, “Charlie! I got a stick for you!”, then throwing them to the pup—a little black cocker spaniel who belongs to our friends Dianna and Evan. They got engaged the next day. (Congrats, guys!). This had nothing to do with the picnic or the toddler, but is very cool news on the Portland front.

End of May/early June last year I was in Saskatchewan, still fending off winter. I mean, I was born a prairie girl, but seriously, my feelings are that this time of year should look pretty much exactly how it does in this picture.

Spring in Portland: Thank you.


(Photo credit: Samuel Dunlop)


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