Late February Field Notes

I have the windows of my house flung wide today, letting in the scent of sunshine and Fraser Valley fertilizer.  Fertilizer aside, it’s been a pleasant afternoon of dumping rainwater from my empty garden urns, pulling last year’s dried stalks from the lavender plants and inspecting the new (early!) growth of my chives. Spring things are beginning to happen everywhere; my bridal wreath spirea is sprouting feathery red bits that will soon burst into the hazy white veil it takes its name from, my hydrangeas are budding leaf pods and the bare tree branches, if you look very hard, are noticeably pregnant, ready to deliver any day now.  I’m waiting for Spring with the anticipation and attention of a new mother. Spring, like the birth of new babies, just never gets old.

Last week I took a little imaginary trip to Latvia.  (Sorry, I went without you, it was quite unexpected.)  To be honest, Latvia has never been on my radar before.  Which is remiss of me, since its capital city, Riga, was the European Capital of Culture in 2014. Latvia is bordered by Estonia, Lithuania and Russia and is perched on the edge of the Baltic Sea, (more romantically known as the Amber Sea) in case you’re scrambling to place it on your mental map. It’s also one of the best Eastern European budget travel destinations ~ with all the history, charm and incredible architecture one might expect of a European Capital of Culture.

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But now that I’ve enticed you with Art Nouveau architecture and baby animals, let me show you the reason I ended up in Latvia in the first place. These girls!

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Oh, is there not something sublime about  girls in white dresses? (Can you hear strains from the Sound of Music? “Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes!”  Rodgers and Hammerstein must have been similarly inspired.)

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I chased their ethereal beauty to a Latvian luxury children’s clothing company, Aristocrat Kids,  whose handmade dresses are inspired by fairy tales.  This line is called A Royal Tale, featuring European vintage detailing and fine fabrics.  If that doesn’t quite capture your imagination, perhaps the Royal Garden or the Magic Bird collection might?

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As lovely as those photographs are, I have mixed feelings about children in the fashion and entertainment industry.  I loathe to think the unpretentious innocence that so captivates us, may be lost to our adult commercial pursuits. I dug long and hard through photo archives to find kids who didn’t look like they were modelling.  I think that says something about the effect of projecting our fantasies upon kids. Beauty and privilege, even in story book form, shape our expectations of our lives and ourselves.

That said, I’m still rather a sucker for fantasy.  I’ve spent much of February on imaginary journeys to Suffolk,  St. Petersburg, Paris & Latvia, filling my house with blush tinged silk roses from the craft store and making a paper mache princess cat via an enchanted online class with the lovely Laetitia of Merveilles Enpapier.  I suppose there are worse ways to spend February than in fantasy land.

And now comes March.  An old friend and I, both who waited out the winter months in a fog of confused neurochemistry, wrote a little verse we’d chant in unison to encourage ourselves through to Spring.

“January! February! March! March! March!”

Keep marching.  Only 22 days, 12 hours and 55 minutes until the official start of Spring!

 

 

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Photo Credits: Baby animals: casajacaranda.tumblr.com, www.wewomen.com, pixdaus.com, Architecture: Luigi Nasi, Aiga Redmane for Aristocrat Kids, Penguins: this-is-wild.tumblr.com

 

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Come Away ~ Paris Shop Windows

My brain control centre has been  clamoring for a pleasure rush this morning. Did you know that no matter what you crave, it can all be traced back to your neurons and really has little to do with what you think you desire?   Knowing this, I suppose I could have satiated myself otherwise. But was inspired instead to a double glazed chocolate croissant and cream puffs for breakfast. Really, who am I to refuse the control centre?

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I’ve been thinking about Valentine’s Day this week, since it’s right around the corner.  I like to consider Valentine’s Day a season, one that lasts pretty much all year.  Blush tinged roses, decadent pastries, new books. I’m an unabashed consumer of lovely things. And sometimes, I’m the lucky recipient of them. Like my new imaginary travel journal, which has taken up residence on my coffee table.  Because who knows when inspiration may strike next?

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Golden calligraphy makes any sentiment look good, don’t you think?  And as they say, self affirmation is an important practice.

I’ve been debating taking an imaginary trip to the City of Love. It’s a bit passe though, isn’t it?  Everyone’s flocking there this time of year. But I can no more resist Paris shop windows than I can cream puffs. So I’m afraid we’ll have to go anyways.  Don’t worry, we’ll be quick.  I only have an hour before I have to return to my imaginary job as a Printemps Paris window designer. Oh, the headaches I’m having with this display! (I should really see my therapist soon.)

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Printemps, which alludes to Spring in french, is not only a department store, it’s a historic monument.  When it opened in 1865, it boasted the latest in everything ~ electric lighting! electric heat! ready made dresses! imported fancies! For an intriguing fictional exploration of 19th century consumerism, check out  Mr. Selfridge , the story of  Harry Selfridge’s Flagship Department store in London.  And  PBS’s The Paradise, based Emile Zola’s  novel, Au Bonheur Des Dames,  which describes “the poetry of modern activity.” Both  series are available on  Netflix. I’ve spent many evenings power watching each in the name of history.

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But we’re not here to talk about television series.  We’ll barely be able to peek into the windows of a few lovely shops, but we’ll power walk, ok?  The Hotel Costes’ shop is a dedicated rose boutique inspired by  Josephine Bonaparte’s love of roses.  It always has a must see display of roses.  (Do follow the link and take a longer look. Divine.)

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And what’s not to love about wild, romantic tangle of petals and foliage tumbling out the open door of 360 Degrees?  I’ll take one of everything, gift wrapped!

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Or Odorantes, which I’ve been lusting after simply forever… How many times have I fancied myself a floral shop owner?  But this line between reality and fantasy is becoming more and more blurred and I must get back to work.  My window display awaits me.

Oh look! A petite Parisienne outside the flower shop pulling petals off a rose! Tres jolie! I must get a picture even if means my job.

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What a lovely lunch hour it’s been.  Thank you for accompanying me on this fanciful (if hurried) jaunt. And Happy Valentine’s Day, where ever it finds you.  Be sure to indulge yourself in some beauty.

 

Photo credits: Creampuff: n/c, Printemps window: n/c, Printemps signage: pinterest, n/c, Hotel Costes: Aryana Francesca Urbani, 360 Degrees: via pilgrimandpie blogspot, Odorantes: via awhitecarosuel.com, Petite Parisienne: Pinterest, n/c

Come Away ~ St. Petersburg

I know, I know ~ it’s just been a week since our last imaginary escape, but really, what’s the harm?  Real travel, imaginary travel; both expand our worlds. Tell you what, I won’t tell your psychiatrist if you won’t tell mine.  How about a little trip to St. Petersburg?  To winter palaces, gilded domes, opera length fur coats and tree lined, snow dusted boulevards?  This isn’t twenty first century Russia, this is the Imperial Russia of Tsar Peter the Great, in all it’s golden and winter white baroque splendor. Continue reading “Come Away ~ St. Petersburg”

Come away ~ Suffolk

I’m thinking it’s about time for an escape.  An imaginary one, albeit ~ but we can dream, right?  How about we leave misty, provincial British Columbia and head over to a manor house and luxury cottages in Suffolk, England?  True, it’s likely equally misty there this time of year, but it’s English mist and that’s different.  Allow me to introduce you to the Sibton Park Wilderness Reserve, a private country estate where we can immerse ourselves in 4,500 acres of sprawling, quintessential English landscape, only two hours from Central London. Continue reading “Come away ~ Suffolk”

Oh January,

…with your wan light and heavy skies.  I’m thinking of making some potato salad and grilled hot dogs today just to mock you.  I’m done with the broken eave outside my bedroom window spilling its contents onto the cold concrete below like a westernized version of Chinese water torture. And with trying to warm my soul on hearty root vegetables and chai tea.  My pink and black hooded leopard print rain coat, the one that seemed so cheerfully suited to west coast winters, now hits me like a visual assault. Where are my flip flops?  Where is the sun? Where are the robins? Whence cometh Spring?! Continue reading “Oh January,”

Monday Evening…

So here it is, my last night in the city.  I’m sitting in the garden, a glass of sparkling rose in hand, peppered salmon and basmati rice waiting to be heated.  It’s been a lovely four-day retreat from everyday life; early morning coffees, a trip to Granville Island and the Steveston dock,  a tour through Shaughnessy to ogle mansions, lots of time to ponder, contemplate and dream.

And oh, amazing food ~ chocolate crusted cheesecake piled high with blueberries and whipped cream, Hagen Das ice cream bars,  crusty bread and Tillamook cheese, garlic prawns drenched in butter, spicy Mexican soup with cilantro, roasted corn and black beans… I’ve read for hours, polished my toes, watched four movies, a few historical documentaries and written to my heart’s content.  I am nothing if not satiated.

It’s easy to forget how important it is to make time every now and then to refresh. Sometimes just getting out the front door is the hardest part, those loose ends and unfinished tasks nipping at our ankles as we try to leave. Even though my family is well able to take care of themselves now, I still have to shake off mild pangs of guilt and separation as I go.  That mother thing runs deep.

But it was good to peer through the window of the Arts Club Production Centre at the theatre props; bicycles, hoses, globes, couches, rope ~ the tools of imagination!  Almost more exciting than seeing an actual production. Or to gaze at the lofted ceilings of Emily Carr University and contemplate the Mixtape (black holes, trauma and leather) exhibition ~ “What exactly does that black hole mean?” Just seeing the artful displays of fruit and pastry at the Granville Island Market gave something back to me that I didn’t even know was missing.

I’m thinking it might not be too indulgent to plan a regular monthly getaway. Ideally an overnight but at least a day. I’m going to take seriously Anne Lamott’s observation on ‘hydrating our lives’.   I’m heading back to the valley tomorrow with my city girl roots deeply watered.

And next month is only three days away.

Think Different…

Up with the birds, sipping coffee alone in the city.  The night shadows are beginning to lift; the outlines of the trees of Central Park are reclaiming their daylight shapes. Fortunately, no imaginary intruders scaled the glass atrium roof outside my bedroom window overnight.  My brother’s bedroom window actually.  I’m in Vancouver for a few days, watering plants, visiting galleries and bookstores and walking in the park.  No time to waste sleeping with such reverie to indulge in.

The valley is beautiful, but the city thrums with something.  That same something also thrums in other cities I’ve visited; Vienna, Paris, Berlin, Florence, Marseilles.  Is it the pulse of universities, libraries, opera houses, theaters and museums reverberating silently through the air? Or maybe it’s the melding of culture that cities attract; the exotic foods, colours, music?  I’m talking to my son who’s holidaying in Vietnam as I write.  I asked how he was liking Vietnam, he replied, ‘Great country, “F’ing great country.  Maybe my favourite one yet.”  I haven’t been to Asia but his enthusiasm is contagious.  There’s something so enlarging and invigorating in stepping out of our ordinary lives every now and then. I used to think travel was a luxury, now I consider it an imperative.  Even a day trip to somewhere new can help us see and ‘think different’.  (Thank you Apple.)

This is my view this morning.  I’m watering (and eating) mini heirloom tomatoes for breakfast.  They’re pairing nicely with the remains of last night’s Lebanese shawarma and dalmades. (My gosh, have you ever had a dalmades?  Explosive.)  I’m going to walk over to the library shortly and pick up another coffee and some sort of decadent pastry on the way. Maybe a honey soaked baklava from the Ottoman Empire to continue the Middle Eastern theme.

I think it’s going to be a good day.

Remembering Mayne…

We’ve had a flash rainstorm in the Fraser Valley after weeks of blazing sun and uncommonly hot 30 plus degree days.  The grass in my front yard is an unearthly shade of burnt umber.  It looks like an African Savannah, I half expect to see wild boars and hyenas chasing prey across the cul de sac. My four a/c’s and five fans have helped in abating the apocalyptic heat, but most days I’ve melted into the couch, dreaming of the bright, cool air of Spring.

m7I was looking back through some Spring pics this morning; a trip my brother, sister in law, daughter and I took to Mayne Island earlier this year.  We stayed for a couple of days with my cousin in his tree house overlooking the ocean, collecting clams on the beach, eating fresh, beer battered cod and catching up on the twenty years it’s been since we all last got together. Someone might even have pulled out a pipe with a little homegrown to go along with the view and conversation.

My side of the family are oddballs.  Hippies, seekers, escapists, artists and fishermen who find, or perhaps lose themselves in remote places.  We pick up after decades as if no time has passed and joke about how it has.  The only thing that seems different is how much older we look to each other.  We have such a good time together, we enthusiastically plan future reunions that most likely will never happen.  More probably, we will retreat back into our own worlds, revisiting memories with affection; hiding away like hermit crabs.

Mayne Island is breathtaking in its wild, remote beauty. It’s home to a small community of 1,100 full-time residents, a refuge for introverts, organic gardeners, glass blowers and writers.  Even the summer months see only a small percentage of visitors to the island. We left the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal on a stormy March morning, and arrived to sunshine on the other side.  The Gulf Islands enjoy 30% less rain than the mainland, which makes it seem much further away than it really is.

The Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal is surprisingly welcoming.  Lined with gourmet bakeries, coffee, jewelry and art shops, it’s a pleasant prelude to the short 45 minute ferry ride. We stopped for vanilla & chai tea lattes, seated on tall stools across long pine tables.  I ran into an old friend and her daughter on their way to a Salt Spring Island retreat. Little indulgences and surprises all become part of the unexpected magic of a trip.

On the other side, we met up with my cousin.  I’m pretty sure our last get together was at a wake, so it was good to connect on a happier note.  After much bear hugging, back slapping and unsuccessful flat tire fixing at the town’s only gas station, we headed out into the bush.  The winding paved roads gave way to gravel before approaching my cousin’s tree house.  I suppose it isn’t really a tree house, but rather a sprawling bungalow with a top floor addition.  The bachelor suite addition where my cousin lives, sits high amongst the cedars and eagle nests overlooking the ocean and the Gulf Islands.  It’s one of the most incredible views I’ve ever seen. I would surely live upstairs also if I owned such a place.  An artist or writer’s loft above the treetops is such a romantic notion.

They say you can see everything there is to see on Mayne Island in a day, and that may be true.  But you certainly can’t experience it without a few days to ease into island time.  The tapestry of island life is different.  The days are marked by the growing foliage, whether the clams are stuck to the rocks (and thus not ready to be harvested) and the deer droppings on the front lawn.  Neighboring dogs are welcomed like visiting emissaries. The daily itinerary is set around delivering some of last night’s fish and chip dinner to 90 year old Mabel, who lives next door.  Even though Mabel’s sort of out of it, it makes her day and that’s what matters. Maybe even share a noon time corona with her family while you’re at it.

It’s important living on an island that’s only serviced by ferry twice daily, to own the tools of self-sufficiency. My cousin’s hydraulic pump came in handy fixing the flat tire on my car and his espresso machine pumped us up with the necessary fuel for a day’s jaunt into town. “Town” is a library, a hardware outlet, a gas station (whose air pump doesn’t work) a grocery store and a coffee shop where the locals gather to catch up with each other. The very effusive grocery boy, who’s also the town mechanic will fix your car for a case of Blue.  “But”, we were forewarned, “Don’t make eye contact or we’ll be here all day.”

A trip to the island wouldn’t be complete without some beach combing, light house gazing and a seafood lunch at the local golf course.  I can’t even remember what we did afterwards, but it likely included socializing with the neighbor’s dog, potting some strange island plants – which are now growing as a mini ecosystem complete with weeds in pots on my back deck – and maybe a bit of afternoon napping.  Followed with more food, tales of India, Osho and lots of gut splitting laughter.

All too soon, the weekend was over and we headed back to the drizzle of the mainland.  But these kind of trips, the ones where you kick back with people you love and don’t do much of anything, leave you with a sense of family history, renewal and connected-ness. There’s much to be said for short getaways and simple pleasures.

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Just thought I’d introduce myself…

I always appreciate a visual of the people I’m meeting online, so here you go, too.  This is my daughter and me high in January, above Marseille, France on the Ferris wheel.  (…no, that’s not right – that’s a perfect example of words in the wrong order skewing meaning!  We weren’t high in January above Marseille, we were high above Marseille in January!) What an awesome ride, view, experience.

If you’re ever in Florence…

…and your name is Lori, here’s the spot to look for. 😉

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Back in January, my daughter & I met up with my son, who was studying in the South of France, and took a three week whirlwind trip around Europe. We began in Paris, then on to Vienna, Florence, Marseille and the French countryside. It was beyond anything I could have imagined, historically, architecturally, artistically.  Sometimes I wonder how I can possibly last another day without packing my bags and spending the rest of my life exploring Europe and refurbishing a chateau or villa.  Such a sweet dream…