O Canada, O kay

FireworksCanadaDay2013A cursory glance at my blog posts over the last few months may lead one to believe that I don’t like Canada anymore. Maybe it was this post, or maybe it was that one. The truth is, I’ve been so busy being angry at the federal government for their various scandals, shortcomings, and transgressions that I kind of forgot the reason that I care so much about what happens to this country in the first place.

The reason is because Canada is awesome. I know there are problems, and I know there is so much work to be done to build a country that is fair, safe, productive, environmentally sound, and culturally rich. With the multiple shortcomings of federal, provincial, municipal, and corporate leadership in this country, it’s sometimes hard for me to look past the bullshit and be optimistic about the land I call home. Basically, I couldn’t see the forest for the few a-holes who’d dumped their stinky garbage bags in it. That doesn’t mean the forest isn’t lovely.

Case in point: my Canada Day long weekend. TC and I spent two days on Salt Spring Island with good family and good friends. We walked along the rocky seashore. We saw eagles and blood orange sunsets. I met Raffi in the Saturday market, and he gave me a sticker (for those of you not familiar with the musician who brought us “Baby Beluga”, he was pretty much a rock star to me when I was six). We went kayaking and sat in deck chairs drinking summer-y beer. In line for the ferry home, a stranger overhead us whining about the arduous transit journey from the Tsawassen terminal into Vancouver, and offered us a ride (which we accepted–thank you Derek!). Back in Vancouver, I tried pho for the first time and read Can Lit on Wreck Beach. In the evening, we sat in a beautiful park and watched the light fade behind the mountains until the Canada Day fireworks started. Drunk people serenaded us with their renditions of our national anthem, and I couldn’t have been more proud.

I know my posts about Canadian issues can be a bit depressing, a bit pessimistic even. But I am happy that I live in Canada and am a Canadian. I am happy that I can travel the country freely and safely. I am happy that my fellow citizens still do favours for total strangers. I am happy that our famous folk aren’t too big-headed to give their fans stickers (thanks Raffi!). I am happy that I am totally free to bitch about my government all day long, whenever I want, without having to worry for my job or security. I am happy to have had access to education and healthcare. I couldn’t be more happy to be surrounded by gob-smacking natural beauty almost everywhere I go.

I suppose what I am trying to say with my quick and dirty belated Canada Day post is that despite my whinging, despite my worries, despite my indignation at this, that, and the other, I am happy to be making a life in Canada with my TC. This place is a good place. And I’ve got my fingers crossed for a beautiful summer.

Just look at that rugged Canadian charm!

Just look at that rugged Canadian charm!

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The Story of my “TC” (and Salt Spring Island)

I’ve been using the moniker “my TC” or just “TC” to refer to my, well, TC, for so long that I sometimes forget what it originally meant or why I chose those initials in the first place.

Taking a trip down memory lane (and into my archives), “TC” actually stands for “travel companion”, a label I originally made up so I could mention TC when he brought me to visit Salt Spring for the very first time (March 2011). Even though we hadn’t gone abroad or anything, I needed to invent a label because at the time, TC was not my boyfriend, technically. It was all about convenience.

Back then, I hadn’t quite expected two things:

  1. That I would shorten it to “TC” and continue using the term a year and a half later.
  2. That a year and a half later, my TC and I would still be making little travels ’round the province/country together, and living together, and being in love.

You see, I wanted to be practical. I needed a label–I found one. I liked TC and enjoyed his company. And I respected him. So sure, let’s go to Salt Spring, I could really use a weekend away. My heart was feeling grey and pinched in the grey and pinchy city. Away, away!

And then–ocean. Space. Looming rocks and weather-beaten piers. And then–a small yellow-painted cafe. Tea. TC’s fun Australian aunt and two little cousins lifting big shy eyes to look at this new lady (me!). And then–a house with a fireplace and full of books. The girls’ shyness falling away and sudden overwhelming energy taking its place. Sock puppet shows and board games. Scotch for the adults. Bed for the girls. Reading Goodnight Moon to TC’s (then) four-year-old cousin and nearly crying over it. Telling TC that I was glad he brought me here because now I knew the hard choices I’d made in my life thus far were the right ones.

The second time we went to Salt Spring, I needed it badly then too. I’d heard only two weeks before that one of my childhood friends was gone–suddenly, tragically, irreversibly. I snuck away to look at the view and have a cry. TC found me and sat quietly with me until I was done and I had to go inside to change because there was tree sap on my pants.

During our third visit to Salt Spring, TC and I acknowledged that we were officially “in a relationship” with one another, not that we hadn’t been unofficially for months anyways.

By the our fourth visit to Salt Spring, TC and I were officially “in love”, not that we hadn’t been for months anyways. I watched a blood red sun rise over the Gulf Islands. TC was sleeping so I shared the moment only with a little brown rabbit who was hopping by. I was terrified by the idea that because my TC loved me, it was possible for me to hurt him. Could I continue under the threat of this possibility? The thought stopped my heart.

By our fifth visit to Salt Spring, I had moved in with TC and his rabbit, who has an actual name, but whom I prefer to call Bunny. I had returned from my month travelling in Europe by myself, and I knew that TC was a choice I wanted to make. Everywhere I went, I had carried him with me, and at the end of that month we were carried back to each other.

We visited Salt Spring for the sixth time in April. Spring was busy this year–sometimes I would have only 15 min at home after work to change or grab a bite before rushing off to class or a rehearsal. During these times my TC would have a grilled cheese sandwich waiting for me so I wouldn’t starve. I never slept enough. I was irritable most of the time. Emotionally I was very fulfilled but mentally and physically I was exhausted and feeling grey and pinched in the grey and pinchy city.

And then–ocean again. Playing “C is for Cookie” on the ukulele with the girls. And then–a silence so present and soothing I slept for ten hours. Waking up and drinking tea in the sun on the back deck. So much fresh air I begin wondering how I could ever breathe anything else.

August. Our seventh Salt Spring visit. This one a little more hectic than usual, much of it spent helping TC’s parents move into their new summer house on the island. The sunny window seat in the dining room is dubbed “Lauren’s Spot” because I spend as much time as possible there, napping or telling stories to one of TC’s cousins. I’m struck with the realization that I have been accepted into TC’s family–they like me and care about me. Suddenly, in addition to my beloved own, I have a whole other family who wants the best for me. It’s such a gift and such a responsibility.

Labour Day weekend. Visit number eight. Through the window of a little Salt Spring Air float plane, my TC and I wave to his parents and (visiting) grandparents who are waiting on the dock and step out of the plane into a flurry of hugs.

This time, I’m not visiting the island merely to be rescued by its beauty and tranquility. Sure, we’re a little sleepy from our early flight but our eyes are bright and our hearts are smiling. This time, no euphemisms or nifty monikers are required.

I know just what to call my TC. On his own, he’s a lot of great and interesting things. To me, he is my partner in everything, my confidante, my support, and my best friend. But to use a quick term, I’ll just call him my fiance.

[P.S. Of course, I’ll still use TC. It’s worked out so well so far.]

Salt Spring 3: Nifty Takes Flight

The first weekend in June dawned bright and beautiful and my TC and I took off (quite literally) for another dream-like weekend on Salt Spring Island. Instead of sailing on the slow pokey ferry, we enjoyed a gorgeous 25-minute flight with Salt Spring Air.

I’m not gonna lie: what masquerades as a blog post this week will actually be my attempts to make everyone jealous of my awesome life by sharing photographs of my splendid adventure.

Salt Spring Air - cutest planes in the west

Burrard Inlet - Look at all my boats!

Aerial view of the Lions Gate Bridge

Pacific Ocean - more boats!

YVR - Ever seen a plane taking off from above? I have!

Gulf Islands ho! (Nearing our destination....)

Helloooooooooooo Salt Spring!

Upon our arrival (and a very smooth touchdown) in Ganges, we promptly dined with my TC’s family at a quaint little restaurant just off the marina called “Cafe Auntie Pesto’s” (250-537-4181). Punny name notwithstanding, Auntie Pesto’s is actually a very fine (and slightly pricier) establishment. The service was excellent (our server was attentive and prompt without being annoying) and my Muscovy duck confit (with asparagus, spinach, and Gorgonzola ravioli) was excellent too. Magnifique.

Our first morning on Salt Spring was a scorcher (compared to the very cold spring we’ve had on the West Coast this year) so we made good use of sun screen before visiting the Saturday Market. I avoided buying myself anything (I tell myself I don’t need anything!), but I did have the pleasure of sitting on the grass in the sun eating a fabulous Ukrainian smokey (and the yam fries belonging to my TC’s four-year-old cousin). For dessert, I decided to consume a daunting creation called a “Dough Boy” which is essentially dough fried in hot hot oil and covered in sugar and cinnamon. My arteries cried but my taste buds were delighted.

Dough Boy: A heart attacky snack

Not surprisingly, I reserved much of the rest of the afternoon for napping and sitting.

Time flies when one is having fun, and alas, alack, our Sunday morning came too soon. Luckily, we didn’t take wing again until 5 o’clock so my TC and I were able to take in some capital-N Nature courtesy of the neighbourhood walking trails. TC took all the photos of the nature excursion. I just used my eyeballs.

Salt Spring sunshine breaking through the canopy

The trees are so big and I am so small!

We wandered off the trail and frolicked in the woods. I pretended I was a dinosaur, naturally.

TC thought it would be a good idea for me to climb this tree. And it was. Until I tried to get down.

I would like to tell you more about my latest adventure in the Gulf Islands, but I don’t believe I can be more eloquent than these images can be. If a picture is truly worth a thousand words, let’s just say you’ve just finished reading a 12 000-word post about my weekend.

And that makes you a good friend.

Adventures in BC: Salt Spring 2

Ruckle Park, Salt Spring IslandThis year, I was able to stretch the Easter holiday into a five-day weekend. Naturally, my travel companion (TC) and I headed back to Salt Spring Island the Thursday before Easter to enjoy some BC nature and awesomeness.

Good Friday was a beautiful sunny day so after a pleasant lunch at the Rock Salt Restaurant & Cafe with my TC and his sweet relations, we took a little trip to Ruckle Provincial Park, at the southeast corner of Salt Spring. My burgoyne burrito at the Rock Salt was everything I expected it to be though I think I prefer the Mexicana grilled naan I had on my last visit. Once again, the Caesar salad was beyond reproach. One note about the Rock Salt for my readers who have a powerful aversion to cilantro: many of the items on the lunch menu include cilantro aioli so read the ingredients on the menu, or ask your server, before ordering.

Ruckle Park, Salt Spring IslandRuckle Provincial Park is a lovely place for a little afternoon jaunt and I think it definitely deserves further investigation in the future. My TC’s little cousins and I spent most of our time clambering on the rocks on the seashore, looking at sea stars, barnacles, and welks (I called them snails but was corrected by my TC’s little cousin).

Love knows no colour, Sea stars, Ruckle Park, Salt Spring Island

Love knows no colour

In addition to exposure to seaside life and beautiful views, Ruckle Park provides camping year round (even in the off-season for adventurous campers who don’t mind that several of the park’s amenities would be unavailable). Unfortunately, it is not possible to reserve individual campsites at Ruckle Park so if you’re planning a weekend camping trip on Salt Spring be prepared to duke it out for the first-come, first-served sites.

I was not obligated to duke it out for off-season camping because once again I had the hippest, happenest hosts in the whole world who housed and fed us for four nights. On the evening of good Friday they took us to the village of Ganges for dinner at the Oystercatcher Seafood Bar & Grill. I remembered that my TC had amazing fish and chips the last time we were there so this time I got a plate of my very own. Hooray! Amazing! The raspberry mojitos were amazing too. A downside of the Oystercatcher that I have not only heard about but read online as well is that the service there is quite slow. Which is fine if you want to spend a long evening with good friends and good food and good drinks looking over the water. Less fine if you’re out with hungry kids who don’t find adult conversation stimulating. I enjoyed myself all the same. I even coloured a picture!

Saturday dawned warm and sunny. A perfect day to check out Salt Spring’s Saturday Market, held in Ganges every Saturday from April to October. With such great weather the place was buzzing. Kids with painted faces and balloon animals were everywhere. I spent a goodly amount of time sitting in the sun on a grassy knoll thinking warm sunny thoughts and eating a real blackberry popsicle. Afterwords I did some browsing in the market and was impressed by the sheer amount of goods for sale: jewellery, crockery, textiles, soaps, food…. I wanted to buy about a hundred things but I remembered just in time that I don’t actually need anything new and my wallet stayed put in my purse. Financial crises averted. I enjoyed the atmosphere, and the sun, and looking at neat things, and a blackberry popsicle. I’ll buy myself some crockery some other time. Like when I have a fancy cheese that would necessitate the fancy cheese dish I wanted.

I slept in on Easter Sunday and so I missed watching my TC’s little cousins have their egg hunt. It was a good thing for me that the Easter Bunny left me chocolate right there on the bureau that I didn’t even have to hunt for. It was unfortunately grey and rainy most of the day, but these were perfect conditions for staying inside to rehearse and perform a play written by my TC’s 8-year-old cousin. This particular piece of theatre was about four siblings who rise above their poverty by forming a hit rock band. I got to “play” the drums for our musical finale: an airband to “Judy is a Punk” by the Ramones. Our performance was a resounding success and I was able to keep a copy of the script, signed by the precocious playwright.

On Monday we made one more stop at the Rock Salt for coffee and desserts before boarding our ferry home. It was a delicious send-off (lime cheesecake!) but I was not looking forward to real life (and going back to work) in the city.

I sleep so well and feel so relaxed when I’m in the Gulf Islands that I never want to leave. It makes me think I should just quit my 9 to 5 job, pack my things, catch the next boat to Salt Spring, pitch a tent and make my living by…………um………..

Crap.

I guess I’ll keep my 9 to 5-er in the big city for now, and really get serious about my plans to win the lottery. In the meantime, I will try to be comforted by the fact that Salt Spring Island really isn’t that far away. Ho hum.

P.S. Check out the view of the Gulf Islands from my hosts’ backyard:

Gulf Islands, Salt Spring IslandSweet.

Adventures in BC: Salt Spring Island

I think by now I have made it pretty clear that I love Vancouver, and East Van in particular. But sometimes, this city is a drag. Day after day of grey sidewalks and grey skies makes even my imagination grey.

Enter a very appealing proposal that I use my recent three-day weekend to go to Salt Spring Island. I had never been before. I said yes. I may have even said, “Hurrah!”.  I was pleased.

Apparently, one can take a little float plane from downtown and be on Salt Spring in under an hour. The CHEAP way to get to Salt Spring involves ferries and several hours. On the way there we took the ferry from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay and hopped onto what can only be described as a cute but dumpy little ferry to Fulford Harbour. Once landed we were literally twenty paces from a lovely little eatery called the Rock Salt Restaurant & Cafe.

I wish I had taken a picture of the interior of this restaurant: yellow walls, big windows, and stained glass everywhere. It was a children’s drawing come to life. Although Salt Spring was all aflutter that Raul Pacheco had recently posted a very positive review of the Rock Salt’s Burger Deluxe in his blog Hummingbird604, I decided to go with the Mexicana naan sandwich and it was delightful. I don’t consider myself much of a foodie but I think it’s worth noting that the Caesar salad that came with it was good too. I have been to many restaurants that served great main courses but sub-par salads and the Rock Salt was not one of them.

The view from the home we stayed in.

Our hosts for the weekend were relatives of my travel companion: a very hip couple and their two adorable and energetic daughters. Within 20 minutes of arriving at their house, we had listened to three radio plays, watched two hip hop dance routines, and one incredibly literal sock puppet show. I really must take the time now to thank our hosts whose warmth, humour, and hilarious children made my weekend.

My first evening in Salt Spring was spent in good company, dozing in front of a wood stove and listening to Joanna Newsom. There was also some drinking of Glenmorangie. I know nothing about scotch. Apparently this was a very good scotch. I believe I have tried scotch, once before, on Mayne Island (what is it about the Gulf Islands and scotch?), and I had a few sips of the Glenmorangie this time, but unfortunately, not having acquired a taste for scotch, the quality and the glory was a little lost on me. Made me feel quite warm though. Warm and tingly. And oh-so-fancy.

I slept through my nights in Salt Spring in the kind of deep dark you can only have far far away from the city. The wind was howling in the trees and I was snuggled in a comforter. I cannot think of a more cozy arrangement.

As beautiful as Salt Spring Island is, one cannot control the weather. In March, the weather is rainy. This meant a lot of indoor visiting (more dance routines) and naps. My little outing for this particular adventure on Salt Spring was a trip to the village of Ganges to have lunch and poke around in the shops.

One shop that was a particular favourite of mine was Black Sheep Books, a used book store with two floors. This place is literally stuffed floor to ceiling with books: new(ish) books, antique books, travel books, children’s books, all carefully shelved in their own labelled sections. The shop also had several out of the way nooks, perfect for those who have always dreamed of having a romantic tryst in a book store. The upper floor houses a collection of books and original prints by Nick Bantock, an artist and author of the “Griffin & Sabine” trilogy. According to Wikipedia (and our hosts for this adventure), Bantock is based in Salt Spring. Sadly, I did not see Nick Bantock (whose work I know through his book “Averse to Beasts”) but I feel as though I have had a brush with literary fame all the same.

At the marina in Ganges. I love boats.

For lunch, we stopped in at the Oystercatcher Seafood Bar & Grill. I had the Biltmore Chicken Burger which was fabulous (can’t resist any sandwich with pesto) but I think next time I will order the fish and chips. I tried a piece of my travel companion’s and it was perfection, as far as fish and chips go. The texture and the taste were exactly what they should be. It’s probably worth heading back to Salt Spring just for that.

It was a sad day when we had to say good-bye to our amazing hosts and head back to the busy city. This time, we took the ferry that stops on Mayne and Galiano before heading to Tsawwassen. The trip between the islands was beautiful but the crossing over the Strait of Georgia was a little rough for my liking. I spent a lot of that time squeezing my eyes shut and wishing I had taken the float plane.

Seasickness aside, if I had to sum my adventure up in one word I would say it was restorative. I am not from the city. A city is not the home of my soul. No city, no matter how beautiful, can make up for how fully relaxed I felt the moment I reached Salt Spring. I have a feeling my little weekend excursion was the beginning of a long and beautiful friendship with a charming and beautiful island.

Passing through the Gulf Islands on the ferry home