The Weather’s Got Me Down; A New Job Has Me Looking Up

July 1, 2012 at 8:46 pm (Gardening, goings-on, Other, permaculture, Vancouver) (, , , , )

Vancouver is notorious for its wet weather, but by this time of year I’m usually so enthralled by the stunning beauty of clear summer skies, I forget all about the gray time of year and think there could be no finer place on the planet.  Well, not this year…

I thought last year’s cool, wet spring leading to a late start to a short summer was a bummer, but this year has been even worse, especially for my garden.  I have had to reseed many things that are usually very easy to grow–lettuces, arugula, brassicas, radishes even!  I mulched too early, causing an explosion in the number of slugs in the garden and they’ve decimated everything.  On top of that, I’ve lost tray after tray of indoor starts when I put them into the greenhouse to harden off and apparently rats from the junkyard next door found them.  I’m not surprised they ate the nutritious broccoli and collard starts, but they helped themselves to Ellie’s wildflowers too!

On the bright side, the garlic is going strong; we’re eating the scapes now.  The strawberries are producing prolifically; unfortunately, the lack of sun has resulted in quite tart fruit.  At least when it comes to raspberries and tayberries, tartness isn’t a bad thing and these are now starting to bear fruit as well.  I got my corn transplants in the ground much later than I wanted; now I’m concerned that the heat of summer won’t last long enough for the corn to mature.  The pole beans, which ought to be really straightforward to grow, are getting off to a really slow start due to slug damage.  I have, since realizing the problem, removed the straw mulch from the newly planted areas, but it hasn’t seemed to help much.  Likewise, beer bait traps haven’t curbed the onslaught.  I just keep hoping for sun and warmth (show me some global warming!) and checking the long-range forecast.  Sun always seems to be a few days away, but it doesn’t materialize and I’m starting to lose faith in meteorology.  Weather like this has me wishing for a heat wave like they’re having in Atlanta right now.  Ahhh… What I wouldn’t give to bask in 100-degree heat!

I’d like to think the pitiful state of my home garden is just an indication that I’m spending too much time in other gardens, all of which have been way more successful.  Last weekend we wrapped up the Landed Learning year at UBC Farm with a volunteer appreciation dinner and I said goodbye to the beautiful plot my kids had tended all spring.  Every time I’m at the Mt. Pleasant Family Centre, I stop in to see the community garden plot I helped start there, and it’s growing beautifully as well.  Even the garden plots at the Charles Dickens Annex Children’s Garden, to which we added almost no compost and can hardly stay on top of the weeding that needs to be done, are off to a great, albeit late, start.  There, the lettuces and radishes were well timed for me to harvest a huge bowl of salad for the kindergarten kids to share (since they’re the ones that planted it) with their friends and teachers on the last day of school.

The only high point for me this early in the summer has been the start of my new job at the Vancouver Homesteader’s Emporium.  The store hasn’t opened yet, but we made an appearance at the Main Street Car Free Festival to let people know what we’re all about and that we’ll be opening soon.  Basically, we’re a store specializing in all manner of urban homesteading materials–from everything you need to keep bees and chickens in the city to any supplies you need for canning, fermenting, baking, and making your own cheese and soaps.  And, don’t worry if you don’t know how to do all those things yet; we’ll be offering workshops to get you started!  I’m super excited about the opening of the store because it’s a chance for me to learn more as well as share what I already know.  Also, it’s great to be involved in the store from the beginning.  I went in on Friday to help unpack inventory and clean up the construction mess.  The space is looking awesome and I see so much potential for this store as a viable, profitable business!  We’re located at 649 E. Hastings St. in Vancouver, right across from Dan’s Homebrewing Supply store, so come check us out.  We’re aiming for an auspicious opening date of Friday, July 13th.

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Family Road Trip: 1200 Km. in 48 Hours!

April 18, 2012 at 7:18 pm (goings-on, travel) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Leaving Friday night around our usual dinner time, we thought we’d eat on the road and our ten-month-old baby would just zonk out the rest of the way.  That night, he proved to be a rather unsettled car-sleeper, waking and crying often, us wondering if we were out of our minds to be attempting a whirlwind road trip with two kids.  Our six-year-old daughter pulled out a loose tooth about five minutes into the drive and had nothing for the blood save Mommy’s scarf.  Finally, with the kids both sleeping in the car, Mom and Dad had some quiet time on the road in which to discuss the wisdom of Mom committing to an unpaid (and therefore technically illegal, I’ve learned) farm internship for which she had interviewed that afternoon.  We pulled into Tumwater, WA (outside Olympia) well after midnight and, as if there wasn’t enough to do to before bed, Mom had to will herself to stay up long enough to play Tooth Fairy (good thing our rummaging for American cash before leaving the house had resulted in exactly $1 bill).

The Interstate was great for making good time to this point; now we hit the back roads.  Saturday morning we drove west toward Aberdeen.  To Raymond and South Bend–oyster capital of the world or something–and south to Astoria, OR, a beautifully run down town I could totally live in except that it’s just about too hilly for biking.  Drove for a bit admiring the old houses and downtown buildings.  Stopped at a coffeehouse in a restored old building under the bridge that had originally been a Finnish meat shop.  We needed wi-fi and we needed to ask a local where to get a memory card for our camera (can’t leave home without leaving something important behind).  Found a Walgreen’s, then headed to Cannon Beach, where Ellie got a kite, purchased from Mr. Cherry Garcia himself at the Kite Factory.

Found a playground.  Flew the Mermaid kite way up high while Henry crawled in the sand looking for tasty morsels to stick in his mouth.  Puzzled over the scene at the end of The Goonies where the ship comes out from behind Haystack Rock, which appears to be to the right, but in reality is to the left.  Ate fish ‘n chips.  Got salmon jerky.  Back in Astoria, we found the Goonies House overlooking the Columbia River where sea lions barked loudly.

Both kids asleep in the car, we drove the twisty, mountain roads once again looking at all the old houses, some beautifully restored to their Victorian colors, most not, most sagging and peeling.  Found a park with a merry-go-round, Mom insisting that Ellie get to experience the thrill of an authentic, high-speed merry-go-round like I haven’t seen since I was a kid.  The prevalence of blond hair on the playground gives away the town’s Scandinavian roots.  The Lewis and Clark expedition was stuck at Dismal Nitch (back on the WA side of the Columbia) for a week; not us–we stretched our legs, looked at the map, and decided, despite the late hour, to forge on to Long Beach, which was the original destination of our trip.  On the way, we got gas at a country bait store where the pumps were so old the price of gas couldn’t be set higher than $3.99, so they priced it by the half-gallon.

Mermaid, the kite, came with us as we strolled the boardwalk and saw an immature grey whale skeleton, “rearticulated.”  Henry learned to fall easily asleep in the car by this point.  Missed Marsh’s Free Museum, which Dad remembered going to as a kid and being freaked out by “Jake the Alligator Man” (maybe another time…).  Treated the kids to McDonald’s PlayPlace in Raymond since we’d never do it here.  Got a Big Mac.  Gross.

Back to Tumwater to sleep, Ellie so excited about bunk beds in the suite.  First thing Sunday morning, Big Box store the only place open to get swimsuits.  While Mommy and Ellie swam, Henry got a real crib nap, Daddy got to ‘relax.’  Checked out, went to Olympia Waterfront…

…got marjoram, peppermint, and bay laurel tree, cumin raw milk cheese (de-lish!), pink poodle balloon animal, and Mexican food for lunch at Farmer’s Market.  Saw port, state capitol view, decided Olympia waterfront leaves much to be desired as far as sight-seeing goes.  Henry had first ice cream.

To Snoqualmie Falls, which appears in the intro to the early ’90’s show Twin Peaks; the hiking trail was closed.  After studying the map there, Mom convinced Dad we should drive to Meadowbrook Farm Preserve, which we never found, but serendipitously came across Twede’s Cafe (exterior also used in Twin Peaks), which hosted a nice fan wall, and a motel that was also filmed for Twin Peaks.  Drove by Railway Museum, Dad realizing miles down the road that the old railroad cars had also made an appearance in the show… and that spontaneity can be fun.

Hit the road for Seattle, then north for Vancouver.  Little hold-up at the Border, but no problems bringing my undeclared plants into Canada.   Got home so late, I should have just gone straight to bed, but checked email instead, and was surprised to find (because I hadn’t expected him to be so prompt about it) an offer for a paying position at a really cool new store, The Homesteader’s Emporium.  So much for that unpaid internship!  I went to bed that night absolutely elated from the thrill of the trip followed by the excitement of this great news!  What a weekend!

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Gentrification in Vancouver

March 1, 2012 at 6:01 am (goings-on, Other, Vancouver) (, , )

My house (on right) is owned by a property development corporation and will be redeveloped in the next few years--rightly so, given the high traffic volume on Knight St. The view from the backyard is of the King Edward Village tower.

Over 180 concerned residents of the Mount Pleasant community were registered to speak at Monday night’s Vancouver City Council meeting to state their concern for the re-zoning and development of the southwest corner of Broadway and Kingsway.  The developer, Rize Alliance, wants to erect a 19-story luxury condo tower (down from the 26 stories initially proposed), which residents contend is completely out of scale with surrounding properties and will ultimately signal the beginning of the end of affordability for the area.  For more details on Rize and this project in particular, see the Mainlander’s article on Gentrification in Mount Pleasant.

Unfortunately, since the development proposal and opposition hearing was item six of six on Monday night’s agenda and since there were so many people signed up to speak, only one of the 180 citizen speakers was given a chance to speak before the meeting adjourned.  The rest were invited back the following night to speak, if they could make it, but it must be assumed that not everyone could come back for round two.  So, while City Council goes through the motions to appear sensitive to citizens’ concerns, gentrification marches on.  Even if the re-zoning application is denied and Rize agrees to build a comparatively modest mixed-use development of only 5 to 10 stories, what the neighborhood will end up with will be a glut of one- and two-bedroom condos.  Why no three- or four-bedroom condos?  A three-bedroom may have the same floor space as two one-bedrooms, but the developer can’t double the sale price on it.

For those who do not reside in Vancouver, a one-bedroom condo priced under $500,000 is what passes for “affordable housing” here.  City Council talks a lot about creating “affordable housing,” but it only ever seems to result in more market-rate condos.  The character of a neighborhood can’t stay the same when all the families are forced to leave, which is the pattern in Vancouver: so-called “affordable housing” moves in and families stay as long as the kids are small, but inevitably move east when they outgrow a two-bedroom condo.

What’s taken for granted is that home ownership is achievable and desirable for all families; none of these new developments include affordable rental housing (except that many of the units do sell to wealthy international investors, who profit from renting them, further exacerbating the upward pressure on rental rates).  A kind of middle ground exists between owning and renting, but non-profit co-operative housing has all but disappeared from the city’s vocabulary–this, despite the fact that units in the existing co-housing developments, built in the 70’s and early 80’s, are in high demand and co-op applicants can be waitlisted for years.

I’m not proposing that development should be altogether halted; but the rampant over-development that is driving Vancouver families to the financial brink, just before driving them out completely, is ultimately going to rob this city of its designation as one of the most livable cities in the world.

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Three-Day Gardening Extravaganza

February 24, 2012 at 7:21 am (Eleanor, goings-on, Other, Vancouver) (, , , )

Apart from a five-minute hail storm that caught me out yesterday, the Vancouver weather has just graced me with three consecutive days in the garden.  Days one and two were transplant-and-cover days.  I’m using bent heavy-gauge wires to support a layer of landscaping fabric that should protect the young plants.

In The Winter Harvest Handbook, Eliot Coleman writes that keeping winter crops covered with cold frames or row covers boosts their micro-climate by one USDA zone (two, if you grow them covered in a greenhouse).  Besides keeping crops warmer, cold frames protect them from drying winds and direct sun that can thaw frosted leaves too quickly and cause cell-wall damage.

On day one of the extravaganza, I transplanted young mixed lettuces, spinach, and some onions (to maybe deter a few of the buggies).  On day two (yesterday), I transplanted lots of leeks and a kind of romaine lettuce called Cimmaron.  I spaced them closely to quickly provide cover for the soil, as well as edible thinnings over a period of time.

On the left--interplanted cimmaron and leeks; on the right--spinach and mixed lettuces under cover.

Today, day three of my garden extravaganza, I finally got around to shoveling the last of the truckload of soil we had dumped in the driveway last spring.  It went on the hugel bed!

There wasn't enough soil to cover the whole bed; I'll have to grab a few bags.

The soil layer is only superficial for now, but I’m really pleased with how the bed is coming along.  I went ahead and sowed a cover crop of clover, which, if it gets covered with more soil later, will just decompose and add nitrogen to the soil.  I also have a tray of lupins started under lights in the basement to plant on the hugel bed.  (Lupins are said to fix nitrogen the way members of the legume family do.)

As I was shoveling soil onto the hugel bed, an older gentleman from the neighborhood stopped in the lane to appreciate my garden.  He was European and had such a thick accent that I barely understood him, but he seemed immediately to understand what I was doing.  He recommended adding manure, which I really ought to do throughout the garden…  One more thing for the spring garden to-do list!

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Permaculture Diploma Class Winter Solstice Meeting

December 18, 2011 at 12:41 am (goings-on, permaculture) (, , , , , , , )

I know, the actual solstice hasn’t occurred yet, but the group only meets once a season and we try to do it as close to the solstices and equinoxes as possible.  Last weekend’s meet-up took place in the city, for a change.  Previously, we’ve met up at Rolling Earth Farm and the Heart Gardens in Roberts Creek and Elphinstone Provincial Park–all on the beautiful Sunshine Coast.  I didn’t make it to the second class because the June 26th meeting was too close to Henry’s due date and I sure as heck didn’t want to be in labor on the ferry back to Vancouver.  I did, however, take two-month-old Henry to the third meet-up, which was also on the Sunshine Coast.  I couldn’t leave him for a whole day because he was exclusively breastfeeding at the time and wouldn’t take a bottle, even if I had been able to pump enough milk for the day.  He was a dream–he slept every time we got in the car to caravan to the next location; he slept snuggled up to me in the wrap as we tromped through the forest; he nursed discreetly in the sling while I hiked down a cliff; and he was very pleasant for the short time that he was awake when we stopped at Delvin’s to view a permaculture video.  I never thought taking a baby on a trek like that would go so smoothly!

Anyway, last weekend’s meet-up took place in Vancouver.  First on the agenda, we met at Strathcona Community Garden, which is one of the oldest in the city.  It is quite large, sprawling in a delightfully ad-hoc manner, and boasts a mature espaliered apple orchard consisting of several dozen dwarf heritage varieties.  While there, a couple of us shared with the group on the progress of our mapping projects.  Mine were very well-received.  I think my architectural background shows in the readability and quality of detail of my base map and sector diagrams.  The mapping component of this course is an exercise to get the designer thinking about the different properties of a landscape–sun and shade; wind and water flow; circulation of people and animals in the space; and, in the case of an ultra-urban environment like mine, sources of noise, litter, and pollution.  Understanding how these affect the landscape helps the designer know how to mitigate negative effects and use available energy and resources wisely.

Our next stop was the Purple Thistle Center in East Van.  They’re a non-profit, youth-run center for arts and activism.  After checking out their guerrilla garden across the street, we went inside to get warm, had some snacks, and did a design exercise focusing on the suburban environment that most North Americans have inherited.  Environmentalists like to blame the suburbs and the extensive sprawling network of roads they necessitate for the twin  problems of traffic and greenhouse gas emissions (not to mention millions of collective man-hours wasted every year by people sitting in traffic).  It’s been said that the suburbs kill culture and art and community… But, maybe it’s time for a re-visioning.  Maybe the suburbs aren’t so bad in themselves, if people would or could stick around during the day and create a community, by bringing in businesses and shops, by encouraging home business and start-ups–ways of working that don’t entail an hour drive into the city.

One thing suburbs have going for them is lots of fairly cheap land that could be used for food production.  Let’s face it: farming isn’t exactly a lucrative enterprise and land for urban farms and community gardens is constantly under pressure from the urban real estate market and property development.  Until society chooses to value wholesome agriculture and uphold its place in our communities, farming will by and large continue to be relegated to the cheapest, most marginal lands further and further out from the center of human culture… as if agriculture can be divorced from culture.  Besides encouraging the conversion of every lawn to food-producing gardens, other ideas we came up with for “greening” the suburbs included: creating pocket markets for the swapping of goods, crafts, or produce between neighbors; weekly or monthly street closures for music and arts festivals to bring people out into the streets; creating community kitchens; using permeable surfaces for parking to increase rainwater absorption and mitigate flooding by run-off; using old rail-road rights-of-way for walking and biking paths; adding bike racks; getting schools involved in gardening; planting fruit and nut trees in the boulevards; reforesting vacant land; painting traffic-calming street mandalas a la Portland; creating space in local strip malls for a local-only store, micro-loan credit union, and co-operative where residents can rent space.  I’m sure I’m forgetting some, but you can see from this list alone how many low-hanging fruits there are to start greening the suburban landscape.

While the class went back to Cottonwood Community Garden to compare it’s permaculturally master-planned lay-out with the more organic (no pun intended) flow of Strathcona Garden, I had to rush home to nurse Henry down for a nap.  I got back just in time to caravan to the next location, SOLEfood Farm on the Downtown Eastside where our lovely hostess, Sara Dent, runs an urban PDC course.  A group affiliated with the organization United We Can started this inner-city farm in 2009 on property leased from the Astoria Hotel next door.  It consists of dozens of long and narrow raised beds on an old parking lot. 

Despite consulting a landscape architect on the lay-out, they have significant drainage problems–proof that even the pros are sometimes still learning as they go.  The gardens looked somewhat dreary on a cold almost-winter day; everything was covered in plastic hoop houses, so not a lot of color until you peek underneath and see beautiful stands of collards and rainbow chard.

The greenhouses they use for growing tomatoes in the summer were chock full of seedling trays yielding an abundance of salad greens.  Throughout the fall and winter, they’re still seeding something every single week!  What a goal to set in my own garden!

Once the sun set, it started getting really cold, so we wrapped up the day with a tea and snack at Organic Lives, a vegan raw-food cafe and store at Quebec and 2nd Ave.  The food looked great, if a bit pricey.  But, hey, you get what you pay for, right?  It’s not easy finding places to dine out that are in keeping with the ethics of permaculture.  Two thumbs up!

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On Being a Full-time Mom

July 3, 2008 at 4:15 pm (goings-on, Other, parenting) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

So, I finally quit my job.  Yeah, I’d been thinking about it for a little while, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go the route of full-time mommyhood.  Why?  Because of so many societal and cultural pressures to always do more: to work more, make more, be more.  Especially as an educated woman of a certain class, it’s as if I’m expected not to fritter away the workplace opportunities that countless women before me had to fight a political and cultural uphill battle to gain.

That we farm out chores like housework and childcare to women of a lower socio-economic class than ourselves belies how much we really value the most intimate functions of domestic life.  I’m not arguing that cleaning toilets and mopping floors is for everyone.  (Although, housework can easily burn as many calories as a trip to the gym, so why not save money on the maid and the membership?)  Childcare, on the other hand, performed full-time by loving and invested parents, has got to be better than institutional care for a young child’s social and emotional development–their confidence, self-esteem, and sense of security in the world.

Ultimately, I think, children value your time and attention more than the things you can buy them and the shiny wrappings in which they come.  Young children who haven’t yet attended school and have no experience yet of peer-pressure and cultural cues, do not care that their clothes aren’t name-brand or that their furniture and toys are second-hand.  In fact, they don’t even know what a brand is or what consignment means.  So, what better time to be poor than when your children are young?

People are always congratulating Stephen on making it through his Master’s program having had a baby in his first year, but we say grad school, with it’s flexible and autonomous work schedule, was the ideal time to have a baby.  Stephen was always able to work around me, whether I worked a solid and stable two full days like at the bakery or a random and ever-changing schedule of afternoon demos like with Horizon.  In the end, though, me working full days was better for Stephen because when he had to come home early for me to be off to do a demo, the commute-time meant he only got two or three hours of work done on some days–hardly even a half-day.

This summer, Stephen landed a job with a hedge fund manager that not only pays amazingly well, but that he really likes and looks forward to doing part-time even when he has to return to school in the fall (if he returns to school in the fall).  Since Stephen is able to make at least three times more than me per hour and since he can easily make all of our financial ends meet, my work was just cutting into our time together as a family.  When Eleanor was four months old, I went back to work because we needed the money and I’ve been working Saturday or Sunday–sometimes both–ever since in order to not cut into Stephen’s work week too much (since we don’t have a nanny, me going to work means he has to stay home with Eleanor).  Only having one-day weekends–our “family fun day”–was a sacrifice we were willing to make when it was financially necessary and now that it isn’t, it’s a sacrifice I can’t rationalize making any more.  We were starting to wonder how we’d spend all the extra money we were making, anyway, and then it occurred to us that we didn’t need to make money that we can’t use.

Things would be different if my job at Horizon was something that really fulfilled me on more than a financial level–my ego, my soul, my future.  Don’t get me wrong, Horizon was a great company to work for, the job I was doing was engaging, my boss was really flexible, and the pay was great.  I certainly got a lot of practice speaking off the cuff and to groups of strangers and, in general, dealing with the public.  These are valuable skills that I can take with me to any future position and, on a personal level, I feel more confident with the experience of this job under my belt.  But, alas, I was in sales and marketing–a department I was never quite comfortable with, although I didn’t have to be an aggressive salesperson because I never worked on commission.  That I was “marketing” to the public made me feel, sometimes, like I was just out there hawking products.  Sometimes, the products were awesome–organic, local, independently-owned, something I’d actually buy–but a lot of the time I was demoing products that I didn’t personally like or regard as being particularly healthy or eco-friendly.  On those occasions, I made it my personal mission to at least use the demo as an opportunity to discuss with members of the public the environmental impacts of their food choices and why they should consider paying the little bit extra for quality organic products made closer to home.  But, let’s face it, I mostly worked in Capers and Choices markets, which are the Talley’s Green Grocery of Vancouver–meaning, if you’re shopping there, you already care.  So, basically, I came to feel like I was preaching to the converted.

So, what’s next?  Well, in the fall I want to start volunteering at the Aquarium again.  Maybe this time I can be a presenter or group leader or something a little more engaging than data entry, not that I didn’t learn a lot about the coastal geography of the Pacific Northwest by entering data for the Cetaceans Sightings Network.  Also, I’m thinking of enrolling in a yoga teacher training program; there’s a dearth of child-friendly yoga classes in my area.  Ultimately, though, this move to not hold a permanent paid position for the time being, allows me to spend every glorious day of summer with my little girl and what could be better than that?!

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Saturday was “Family Fun Day” for real

February 5, 2008 at 6:15 pm (goings-on, Other) (, , , )

Last Saturday was only the second day since returning from our Christmas holiday that Stephen and I have had a day off work together. He, of course, works Monday through Friday and I work, well, sporadically, but it just happened that I had to work Saturday and Sunday of the previous three weekends, leaving little to no family fun time. So, needless to say, having Saturday off together for a much needed “family fun day” was much anticipated. We had everything planned out so that we wouldn’t waste a minute of the day:

Bright and early–well Eleanor generally sleeps in until about 9, so it wasn’t that early–we set out for a great little place called The Little Nest. It’s a funky and very family-friendly little cafe on the Drive that features yummy, healthy food for adults and kids alike, using sustainable and organic ingredients! They open at 9 and we got there around 9:30 so as not to be the first but early enough to get one the primo tables right beside the kids’ play area. The food was great, the coffee was great, the wait was great! It’s the only place I know of where you can go with a small child and just let them run around and play while you have a leisurely adult conversation over coffee. And, the price is extremely reasonable for what you get, including a little peace. This was the second time we’d gone to The Little Nest with Eleanor (I don’t think anyone goes there without kids, it’s so crazy) and the first time, it was so packed it was only by dint of a miracle of timing that we ended up with a table beside the play area. We will definitely be going back there, but early.

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So, then we took a stroll up Commercial Drive. We stopped in a pet store because I can’t go by a pet store without looking at the fish. I think this stems from rainy days with my grandmother–she would take me and my brother and cousins to the mall to “hang out” and one of the places we always went in the mall was the pet store where there was a darkened nook lined with aquariums, the only light being the bluish glow from the water. Anyway, this store just happened to be running a sale–45% off!–on the very water test kits I’ve been in need of. It was truly a lucky day!

So, then, we headed off to Science World! For Christmas, my mother was kind enough to give us a gift certificate for a one-year family membership and we thought we were going to hold off until somebody’s upcoming 2nd birthday, but we couldn’t resist. It was, after all, “family fun day.” At first it seemed that it was going to be a little over Eleanor’s head, despite what I’d heard from other tot-gym moms, because there were tables with brainy puzzles and games that even Stephen and I couldn’t figure out (luckily, they have staff wondering around offering clues). Then, we wandered into a room with some turtles, snakes, and bugs on display (in cages, of course) and Eleanor thought crawling through the fake beaver dam was way cool, especially because it had a stuffed beaver she could pet. She wasn’t scared of it, which is surprising because she was scared of the plastic blue heron in the pet store. Then, in the next room, we really had some fun…

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That last picture is of Eleanor looking amazed at the ball she just threw into a current of water. I’m not really sure of the scientific principle on display here, but this particular exhibit had all the toddlers in histerics. The cool thing about Science World is that, for kids this age, it doesn’t even have to be sciencey, it’s just plain fun! And, now that we have a membership and it won’t cost us an arm and a leg to get in, we can go back whenever we want. It’ll be a great way for us to entertain Eleanor when it’s too cold and wet to go outside. Yay! Thanks, mom!

So, Science World really wore Eleanor out and it was nap time as soon as we got home, which Stephen and I always use to relax:) After nap time, we went to the park and played for about 10 seconds on each piece of equipment (does ADD set in so soon?) and when Eleanor got cold, which was inevitable as it was nearly freezing outside, we went to a coffee house close to home to warm up. Stephen and I relaxed, yet again, with a nice warm cuppa joe and Eleanor had the perfect child’s hot chocolate–not too hot and not too strong. With the help of a play tool set and work bench to occupy her, Stephen and I were able to relax and read the paper for nearly an hour before we had to get Eleanor home for dinner. We fed her, bathed her, read to her, and put her to bed, all with no fuss. Ahhh… And, then we ordered sushi from our favorite, Zipang… the perfect end to the perfect day!

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Getting Back Into the Swing of Things

January 17, 2008 at 5:35 pm (aquaria, Eleanor, goings-on) (, , , , , )

Well, I know I had kind of neglected my blog, before Christmas. I was just so busy–the time got away from me. And, then there was the necessary and anticipated absence of Christmas vacation when Stephen and I took little Eleanor down to Atlanta and Charlotte to show her off to all her family. And, now that we’ve been back in Vancouver for two whole weeks, I have not taken the time to catch my readers up. What a bad blogger I am!

It’s not that I don’t make time to get online–I do!–but, to be honest, I found a new addiction right before Christmas. Mom, you may recall that one of the items on my Christmas wish list was a subscription to a magazine called Practical Fishkeeping. Well, it turns out, I don’t really need the magazine in print because, not only are all the articles available online, they have a very active forum that just keeps drawing me in. In a month of membership I’ve put up almost fifty posts! Granted, they’re not nearly as long as ranty as some I’ve written here, but still… 50! First thing every morning, I have to check my forum. Seven a.m. is still peace-and-quiet-coffee-break time (Eleanor doesn’t usually get up until until 8 or 9). And, at this time I have every intention of updating rainraingoaway (especially because we’re in the thick of the rainy season and the rain rain just will not go away), but because I’m 8 or 9 hours behind the majority of the members on the UK-based PFK forum, there are always multiple replies waiting for me, and of course I just have to reply to those and then I just have to check out all the new posts that magically appeared while I was sleeping. Is this crazy?! No, it’s just that fishkeeping is a darn addictive hobby. Ask anyone on the forum, having a single successful fish tank doesn’t last long–you want another one and then another… In fact, two is no longer enough for me. I added a pair of German Rams yesterday to my larger aquarium, bringing that one near completion as far as stocking goes, and already I’m planning on a third, much bigger one… and maybe a small brackish water tank–I’ve never kept a brackish tank before–and maybe also an extremely low-tech tank in which I follow all the “don’t’s” of the fishkeeping hobby (like don’t use soil for substrate and don’t use sun for light–sounds silly doesn’t it?) Well, there’s only one way to find out; I’ll just have to set up that tank…

Well, any plans for a much larger aquarium are on hold for now because we are waiting to hear back from a local housing co-op where we’ve applied for membership. If we get in, and I’m fairly confident we will–it’s just a matter of time–there may be a big move in store for us soon and I don’t want to have to move a really big fish tank in addition to everything else I own. If we can make this move, though, it’ll be good. We already know a couple people in the co-op because they have children the same age as Eleanor. There’s a daycare for 3-5 year-olds on site and a really good primary school right across the street. I’ve got my fingers crossed…

And, hey! if we get in–when we get in–maybe we’ll have a little more room to accommodate some of my “new” furniture! I’m the proud new owner of a worn-out, but still very classy Eames chair–the classic leather and bent-wood rocker. This Christmas was, in part, a sad one for me because I had to say goodbye to my childhood home. Plans have been made to store some of the more memorable pieces of furniture for me (and I am so grateful to those who made it possible to do so), but I will never go back to 1914 again.

One of the neatest things about an old house like that is the history that it comes with; unlike with new construction, an old house has a life of its own. That house was and always will be part of my life, but I was part of its life, too–and an old house always has a life beyond just “housing” its owners and their things. That house in particular had little pieces of history–little flourishes that were not built for me or for anyone else, but simply to give the house Quality–little things like the telephone shelf with a hide-away for the cords and phonebook. And, then, there are little touches that get added over the years that were never part of the builders plan but that, nevertheless, result in a certain irreplaceable Quality. (I’m capitalizing the word Quality here to emphasize that I do not just mean that it was quality; rather, I’m speaking in the vein of Robert Persig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.) The house at 1914 was literally a diary that spanned close to forty years. A previous owner’s daughter started writing on the basement wall in the early 70’s when her family moved into the house; her first entry read “Hello House!” She didn’t flesh out the details of her life by any means, but she dropped by every so often to record her height, the day she got her braces off, and, twenty years later, the day her parents moved out. Her last entry was “Goodbye House.” Realizing that this was something special, my family renovated the entire house and left this one wall alone. I added a few entries to the diary wall over the years that I lived there and this Christmas when I was “home” for the last time, I added my own goodbye to the wall. My hope is that future owners will have the good sense to leave the wall alone.

That being said, Christmas was good. The most exciting part, the part that I most looked forward to, was showing Eleanor off to all of her adoring family. I guess every parent feels this way, but I am so proud of her. I think the world of her and I was excited to have everyone else see the Eleanor that I see everyday. I think she more than impressed everyone! And, of course, we are so appreciative to have all the new clothes and toys for her. She has been so much better than before about entertaining herself with her toys (I think she had out-grown all her old toys). She especially loves her new Duplo blocks. Personality-wise, I think all the cousin-exposure (for those on my side of the family that may not know, she is one of 12 grand-children on Stephen’s side) was good for her; she really matured a lot. It’s like she’s a two-year-old now! When her birthday comes around–on Valentine’s Day!–we’ll be taking her to Science World for a fun treat (as if her scientist father and my aquariums aren’t already fostering a regard for science in her). In a similar vein, we took her to the new Georgia Aquarium while we were in Atlanta. It was amazing! It made me want to resum e my volunteer work at the Vancouver Aquarium, if only I had the free time…

Getting back into the swing of things work-wise and Ellie-wise has been quite an adjustment. No one really wants to return to work after a holiday, but we were so spoiled over Christmas having so many other people around that we didn’t have to entertain Eleanor every second of the day, that the real adjustment has been getting back to the daily grind of child care. I know it’s worth it, though. Speaking of, it sounds like my peace-and-quiet-coffee-break is over. Eleanor beckons.

I hope to keep you all updated more regularly from now on. I’m not making any resolutions about it, but here’s hoping!

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Flea Market Find

November 30, 2007 at 4:17 pm (goings-on) (, , , , )

This is an original woodblock print by a west coast beat artist named McGregor Hone. I spotted it peeking out from behind some rather eclectic paintings and posters in a corner stall at the flea market. We talked to the rather eclectic oddities vendor, who gave us some background info on the print, and we told him we’d “have to think about it” because, to be honest, we didn’t come to the flea market expecting to spend that much! Not that it was expensive for an original piece of artwork… And, who knows, it may appreciate with the recent death of its creator.

Thorn Fruit

Well, we didn’t actually buy it Saturday when we first went to the flea market, mainly because Eleanor turned out to be a brat that day and we just wanted to get out of there. But, we just couldn’t stop thinking about it and talking about how we needed something beautiful to brighten up our quarters, so we returned Sunday to purchase it, our first piece of real art (no offense to Marshall’s They Might Be Giant Bone Formations).

Everyday I love it more and more. The colors are so vibrant. We’re actually thinking now of painting the room to compliment this piece–maybe pick up the dark blue that adorns the thorn on the left. By the way, it’s called Thorn Fruit. Stephen really likes that it has a simple, almost Japanese look about it. It needs a new frame because the one it came in is kind of ratty, but that can be done in time… We intend to keep this baby around for a long time.

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Thanksgiving Number Two

November 30, 2007 at 4:17 pm (goings-on, Other) (, , , , )

One of the cool things about being an American in Canada is that you get to celebrate two Thanksgivings. Actually, I didn’t realize there was a separate Canadian Thanksgiving until I moved here. The food is the same: turkey, stuffing, typical autumn harvest fare. But, Canadians only get one day off work instead of two and their Thanksgiving takes place in early October so it doesn’t have that same kicking-off-the-Holiday-season feeling as American Thanksgiving. Historically, though, the Thanksgiving celebrated by Canadians was the first ceremony to give thanks in the New World. It took place in 1578 in the colony of Newfoundland and Labrador, whereas the thanks-giving feast honored in the US first took place in the Virginia colony in 1621.

Lucky for us, Eleanor’s passport arrived just days before our slated trip to Seattle where, every year since we moved out here, we have been graciously invited to join Stephen’s aunts and uncles for Thanksgiving dinner. We’re officially an international family now with Eleanor traveling on Canadian documents. (A child’s passport in Canada was just so much easier and cheaper than jumping through the hoops we would have had to jump through to get her an American passport.) I don’t want to name the border crossing that we use, lest it not be so easy-breezy getting through next time, but we go an alternate route bereft of tourists and security threats and sail through every time. Even on Thanksgiving Day, when you’d think there might be a handful of other Americans out there trying to make it down to the homeland for turkey, there was not a single car in line. Now, coming home was a different story. We sailed through going north, but even at our little out-of-the-way border crossing that nobody knows about, there was a line-up half a mile long of Canadians heading south to spend their Big Dollars (that was for you, Dad) on cheap American goods. I wondered what they were going to do–camp out in mall parking lots to be the first in the doors when the stores open at 5am?

Thanksgiving dinner was wonderful, thanks to Aunt Sandy and Uncle Wes. They do a great job every year. This year, with little Eleanor about, Sandy got to practice being a grandma and boy will she be a good one one day! She’s the chocolate and ice cream lady, the band-aid-bearing boo-boo fixer. And, she’s got drums and doesn’t care how much noise you make! Eleanor liked banging on the drum set and even made a little music on the piano. By the end of the night, Eleanor was really fond of Sandy. She wanted to be held by her and gave her a hug when we left. She was a perfect little angel.

Uncle Ralph and Aunt Ruth came over from Vashon Island. Ralph presented Eleanor with a beautiful stool that he had made years ago and left to collect dust on a shelf in his shop because he wasn’t pleased with it. He fully disclosed all of its minor imperfections, but I thought it was beautiful and it will get a lot of use by a little girl too short to reach the sink but too fastidious not to wash her hands thoroughly and frequently. (She actually requests to wash them sometimes.)

All in all, it was a really nice gathering. I only wish we could get out of the city for longer than a day at a time. But, alas, Stephen had to get back for the final presentation of his Master’s Thesis the very next day. That was yesterday, so he’s done with phase I of his graduate studies! Now on to the PhD.

And, we didn’t arrange it like this on purpose, but we actually have a two-day weekend together, so we’re going to check out the Vancouver Flea Market and a winter-harvest farmer’s market that we just heard about. Just counting down the days now until our next big adventure: Christmas in Atlanta with all the Ingrams and a chance to see my own family for a too-brief get-together!

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