Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Portland, I Think I Love You Part 2 – The City

In the past we have shied away from taking the kids to cities. They always seem to get whiny and tired after about 5 seconds. Then they start dragging their feet, they’re tired, they’re hungry, can they leave now etc etc. It’s just a nuisance. So we would plan trips to locations outside of big cities and plan the odd day trip into town. But recently the kids have really started to appreciate what a great city has to offer. And I always know that a city is great when my kids actually like it. Additions to the ‘great cities according to my kids’ list include London and Paris (see earlier posts), Seattle, Toronto (Jacob’s choice), Edinburgh, and most recently, Portland.

I’m not sure if it is the floating cabin we stay in that so endears them to Portland or if Portland’s charm has rubbed off on them all on its own. Either way, both Jacob and Zoe love it here, and so do I.  Like everyone else I know, I had driven past Portland on the I-5 and glanced over to see a bunch of bridges, but I had never actually spent any time here until we came for a few days last August. We had bumped into some friends on the ferry last year who were also heading to Portland. They were staying at the Jupiter, a super cool boutique hotel on the east side of town. It is also the home of a great restaurant, the Doug Fir. This place is so kitschy inside it’s awesome – all mirrors and wood and a bar made out of fir. The food is delicious, too! We had a great dinner there with our friends last year and that was the start of my love affair with Portland.

If I had to use a word to describe Portland, it would be ‘under processed’. The city seems to have achieved a level of coolness without trying too hard at all: neighbourhoods of old character homes butt up against reclaimed warehouses and gentrified industrial sites. At first glance, many of these warehouses seem to be unoccupied and then you catch a glimpse of a sign or a stretch of garden and you realize it’s actually a day care or a restaurant or a design house. It’s just so cool. There’s also an awesome 50s feel to many parts of the city with retro neon signs everywhere and what appears to be original 1950s signage on many of the shops. Newer stores and restaurants are also using retro fonts for their signage as well. There’s also a big movement afoot to grow your own food. Everywhere you look, people have reclaimed space on the boulevard or in parks and planted vegetable and flower gardens and fruit trees line many streets. Add to all this a critical mass of twenty-somethings who appear to be running the place and it’s a great combination.

The Portland Arts scene thrives in this environment: arts collectives are everywhere, theatre is abundant and the music scene is enough to make you drool. On our last visit, my friend Sandy called us en route to say that Jack White and his new band The Dead Weather would be playing in Portland while we were there and that we should go. Kent and Jacob are huge Jack White fans and ended up getting tickets and going to the concert. This would not happen in Victoria! Or if it did, it certainly would not be an all-ages show. When he got home, Jacob said his ears were ringing and that the lead singer was ‘totally crazy’ but that he loved it. What a great experience for him.

I”ll just say here that I don’t think it’s a coincidence that one of my favourite all-time songs just happens to be “Portland Oregon” by Loretta Lynn and Jack White:

a crazy combination that works like a charm. It’s from one of my favourite albums ever: Loretta Lynn Van Lear Rose. Check her out at she is an icon.

Anyway – I digress. Portland also has possibly the best bookstore ever anywhere. Powell’s Books is 68000 sq. ft and takes up an entire city block. The store is divided into ‘rooms’ that each have their own colour and categories of books. Zoe is a book worm and so we spent a great deal of time in the ‘Rose’ room with the kids books. The thing I love about this place is how they offer new and used right beside each other on the shelf. What a great idea. Unfortunately, Jacob, at 13, is still not that interested in reading despite my best efforts to entice him. It was a frustrating experience that I did not handle well. Parenting FAIL.

Me: ‘Why don’t you choose a book, Honey?’

Jacob: ‘Ummmmmmmmmm’

Me: ‘Look they have Robinson Crusoe. And Tom Sawyer

Jacob: ‘No thanks. You bought me that book last year. Remember?’

Me: ‘How about this one: Everything in the World that is Interesting to a 13yr old Boy’

Jacob: ‘That sounds boring’

Me: ‘Ok how about  ‘Make it Yourself 13th century Doily Patterns’?

Jacob: ‘Mum don’t be an idiot’

Me: What about ‘Birding in the Antarctic – More Than just Penguins?’

Jacob: ‘Hey how about this one: The Complete History of the US Marines’. What do you think of that one, Mum? Come one, Mum. I’m sure you would like to get me this book, wouldn’t you mum?’

Me: ‘Alright alright you don’t have to get a book’

Jacob has come by his sarcasm honestly anyway and I guess I had it coming to me.

Portland also has great neighbourhoods and Multnomah has to be one of the best. We browsed the main street with all its great little stores and cafes and had an excellent lunch. I could have stayed all day but it was time to leave Portland as we had to be in Port Angeles by 9pm.

I am happy to report that the trip back was much better than the trip down. The traffic on the I-5 was bad leaving Portland but fine after we went over the bridge into Vancouver, Washington. Zoe actually fell asleep and we made it to Port Angeles with time to spare. The Coho was fast and customs a piece of cake and we were in bed by 11:30pm.

I can’t wait to go back.

Thanks for reading-








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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Portland, I Think I Love You Part 1 – The Market.

I love how life has a way of turning around. One minute you think it’s going to implode and the next you are positively exploding with delight and joy. I have had such an experience over the past 48 hrs. The hell part happened on the way down to Portland (see my last post) and the heaven part happened at the Portland State University Farmers Market. The market happens on Saturdays and is held in a leafy square between university buildings in downtown Portland. We came to the market last year when we were here and I have nothing but happy memories of deliciousness from that visit and I am happy to say that this experience was even better than last year.

The market is huge – I’m not sure how many stalls but we were there for two hours and didn’t really get to all of them. This may have had something to do with the fact that many stalls offer samples and friendly staff and it’s easy to start chatting about how exactly the cherries are covered with milk chocolate, or how the carrot blossom honey is collected, or the venison pate made. You get the picture.

As we started out, my first feelings were of amazement at the abundance and sheer variety of produce. Stalls were literally overflowing: every variety and colour of peppers, huge bunches of basil, enormous sunflowers, 10 different types of tomatoes, sweet raspberries, blueberries, huge local blackberries, elderberries (!), juicy plums, round red peaches and the melons! A word about the melons as they really do deserve their own mention. I have never encountered as many varieties of melons as I did at this one particular stall: sweet honey melon, musk melon, juicy yellow-fleshed watermelon that was to DIE for (just ask Zoe – she had about a pound just in samples with the evidence all over her mouth and face). We did hang around the melon stall perhaps a titch too long but they were so generous! It would have been just plain rude to refuse their samples. They clearly went to a great deal of trouble cutting up slices and I, for one, was not going to be the rude woman who said no at the market. Yeah, whatever, it was delicious and I would probably still be there if Jacob hadn’t drawn my attention to the flower stall. Huge bunches of the dahlias, roses, sunflowers, to name a few filled buckets of water and everyone was taking pictures, And so cheap! A large bunch that would fill my arms was only $5! And thanks for not commenting that anything that would fill my arms mustn’t be very big.

After I got over the flowers, it was on to the bakery, charcuterie and dairy stalls. We stopped at one bakery stall to sample something called a Big Dawg which is a delectable combination of gooey cinnamon yumminess, whole wheat bread, and a mix of sesame, sunflower, pumpkin and who knows what else. Roll it all up together and bake it and it’s ALL GOOD.

Next was the Chop charcuterie/pate stall where I sampled venison pate (delicious) and a farmhouse country style pate that was so good I could hardly speak. There were two men next to me sampling a soprasetta (which is a kind of dry-cured salami) that the guy was out of. They wanted it so badly they were discussing (out of range of the stall owner) if it would be appropriate to ask him where he lived and if they could go there and buy some from him after the market. “Would that be too much like stalking him?” asked one of the men. “No”. was the emphatic reply of his friend. This stuff was that good.

Of course it was only right that I then moved on to one of the many creamery stalls. I love how they call them creameries. It just sounds so good! And surprise, it is good. I sampled, and then bought, a log of sheep's milk cheese that came wrapped in white paper twisted at the ends with a stalk of rye stuck in the end. It looked like the most delicious Christmas cracker ever. At another creamery stall we sampled little dabs of unsalted butter spread on tiny crackers and it was here that I learned that all butter is not created equal. This butter was amazing! It was almost sweet and had none of that cloying after taste that I dislike so much about butter. Another stall was selling little squares of the most amazing sheep’s milk cheese. The cheese maker was right there on site and he sliced off a piece for me. It melted in my mouth and I was forced to purchase some (Oh OK if I must!) and then forced to purchase a loaf of ciabatta to accompany it – any other course of action would have been cruel to both the bread and the cheese. They MUST be together!

It was by now lunch time and so we stopped browsing long enough to enjoy home made biscuits with your choice of topping (I chose the home-made marionberry jam because really, who wouldn’t?) while Kent enjoyed a delicious shitake mushroom gravy with his. Say no more except that it exceeded all expectations.

After lunch Kent sampled a few of the wine stalls (BC Government take note – ordinary people like you and me were sampling glasses of wine at a public market and…NOTHING BAD HAPPENED). The kids and I somehow made our way to a honey stall and sampled a few (8!) types of honey. I highly recommend the carrot-blossom honey. Who knew?

There were many other stalls that I am just not doing justice to here but I will briefly mention the lovely ladies from The Cherry Country stall who were plying their chocolate covered cherries to us unsuspecting customers. These are dried cherries covered in unbelievably delicious milk chocolate (you can also get them covered in dark chocolate but those of you who know me will know that I think dark chocolate is a bit of a crime so I’ll just leave it at that). I’m actually eating one right now as I write this and I believe the word I am looking for is ‘orgasmic’. (Yes, I’ll save you one;) Really there should be a warning at stalls like this as the noises you make when sampling are somewhat uncontrollable. It’s a bit awkward really.  Anyway… I digress. Did I mention the hazelnuts? Or the old man from the root vegetable farm. He had a table full of all sorts of root vegetables and as I stood at his table, I overheard him giving out direction to his farm to a couple of tourists who ‘really wanted to see a farm’. ‘No problem’ he told them. “Just follow them directions I give ya (and I quote) and come on up the road to the gate. Come on through the gate and then just start hollerin’ for me. I’ll be in with the vegetables”. How cute! “In with the vegetables”! Just as if they  (the vegetables that is) would be in learning their ‘figurin’ or something and the farmer would be in to help them if they got stuck.

We rolled out of the market a couple of hours later a very happy group. I had bags of home-grown, unprocessed deliciousness in my arms and two very happy and well-fed kids. Jacob declared it ‘the best place ever’ and even Zoe was content. Although she did ask if we could take one more look for the homemade ice-cream sandwich stand that we had encountered last year but could not locate this year, as if we would have had any room anyway.

The rest of the day passed in a sort of happy dream-like state. Stay tuned for more on exactly how much I LOVE Portland.  For now, I’m off for more chocolate covered cherries.

Thanks for reading:)





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Road Trip FAIL

Well I guess I shouldn’t write off the entire trip yet completely but I feel fairly confident in declaring the first 14 hrs of our road trip to Portland a FAILURE. We have done this trip before except that last time we took the Coho from Victoria to Port Angeles and drove the rest of the trip down the Olympic Peninsula and straight to Portland in about 4hours. The whole thing including ferry time took 7 hours. So when I tell you it took 14hrs today that may go some way to explaining why it was a day from Hell.

To start, we thought it would be smart to take the Anacortes Ferry from Sidney to, well, Anacortes which is somewhere south of Bellingham, and north of Seattle. Don’t ask me exactly where because frankly I wasn’t paying attention. More on that later. But anyway it wasn’t smart at all. First of all, I thought it would be smart because unlike the Coho, it does not leave at the crack of dawn (6:10am) and does not, therefore, require you to be there at the butt-crack of dawn, 5am. No instead it leaves at the very reasonable hour of 11:20am. Oh, you have to be there at 10am and spend 90 minutes crawling through lanes of traffic and answering inane question from the customs officers, but otherwise it leaves at 11:20 and deposits you in Anacortes at 1:20pm.  And while the ferry itself looks like a rusting hulk that was last used as target practise in Beirut, it’s more or less fine inside and the fact that you can order a beer and bring your dog make it feel a little more relaxed than BC Ferries. Not that I have a dog or drink beer for that matter but there was a Lhasa-apso that looked like it was enjoying its Pabst anyway. No I’m kidding. It was a Stella. No self-respecting Lhasa apso would be caught dead drinking a Pabst.

Anyway, I made it through the ferry trip despite Zoe trying her hardest to make it a miserable experience for all involved by fixating on the fact that she was denied a pop in the restaurant. I’m such a terrible mother. The trip was also improved by a t-shirt spotting (I’m always on the look out for excellent t-shirts – send me your favourite t-shirt sightings!) This one was purple and said ‘When I was your age, Pluto was a planet’. Excellent.

So after some lovely scenery, we headed back to the car and got ready to get off the ferry and on the road to Portland. So we sat in the car and waited, suffering slightly from ‘is my lane moving yet’ syndrome which can be identified by a slight craning of the neck and a complete disregard for anything anyone else is saying, coupled with an anxious twitching of the hands on the car keys. And we sat and sat. And sat some more. Finally our lane was ready to go and we drove off the ferry…and into another line up. Apparently even though our passports were checked before we got onto the ferry, the US department of Homeland Security considers it highly possible that we somehow  changed our identities and/or smuggled contraband en route as they deemed it necessary to check them again and ask all the same questions again except this time it must be done in the burning heat and only one car lane may go through at a time. It took us an hour and a half to leave the terminal.

All was well for some time until we hit a slow-patch of the I-5 just north of Seattle. 3 hours, and several psychotic episodes later, we made it past Seattle. When we finally rolled into Portland it was 10pm and I had come within an eardrum of jumping out of a moving vehicle, and had seriously considered whether or not it was feasible to relocate myself to the trunk by pulling the rear seat forward and climbing through to the back. There’s a light back there. It’s carpeted. How bad could it be?  It certainly couldn't be any worse than sitting in the car with ZoĆ« freaking out and Jacob trying to stretch his ridiculously long legs and Kent trying to listen to the radio with the volume at 11.

Well I didn’t climb in the back or out the window and we survived and it was a treat to arrive at the floating cabin. We’ve stayed here before and I LOVE it! It’s a cute little cabin with a loft and a deck and it sits looking out on the Willamette River. The kids can fish right off the deck for catfish, bass, and trout, and the swimming is excellent. The only thing that mars the peace is when a train comes roaring along the tracks that run up behind the cabin but whatever!

Stay tuned for more on how I went from road trip to hell to food heaven at the Portland State University Farmers Market.






Monday, August 17, 2009

Journey Girl!


Back in the 80s when I was a girl, I used to listen to records on my dad’s turntable. For those of you who are under 20, go Google ‘turntable’ and then get back to me. I had a few tapes as well (yes go Google ‘cassette tapes’ as well) but I remember so well the feel of a newly bought record, the smooth but slightly rough cover, the static electricity that crackled the slip cover of the record as you took it out of the cover. Then there was the whole process of putting the record on the turntable, sorting out the arm and getting the needle in the right place. I think I must have ruined a few needles in my time. I always thought I knew how to do it but then the needle would slip and make a sound sort of like ‘ERRRRRAAAACCCKKKK’ like a badly amplified fart, and then the needle would bounce around on the turntable and I would hurriedly try and grab it before it my dad noticed. I suspect he knew exactly what was going on. Sorry, Dad. Well actually I’m not that sorry about a few of them.  I’m not sure what my parents were thinking with some of the records in the collection. Like Leo Sayer or Barry Manilow. God save me from Barry Manilow. Or Crystal Gayle. Ugh. Or, my mother’s favourite: Johnny Mathis who always sounded like he had just taken a hit of helium before singing. Or the dude with the pipes Zamfir (‘hauntingly beautiful – well, haunting anyway, I don’t know about beautiful.  And Nana Mouskouri who sounds like the love child of Johnny Mathis and Zamfir. Not good.  I also liked the feature where you could stack a few albums up at once and then the stereo would drop them down one after the other. But only one side at a time, of course. How quaint!

With a few noted exceptions, those were the days of dancing around the living room to such music greats as Eric Clapton, the Eagles, Dr. Hook, and Meatloaf. How many times did my friends and I play ‘Paradise by the Dashboard Light’ over and over until we knew all the words. Too bad we didn’t know what they were talking about until we were all grown up. Could have learned a lesson there on the way it is with boys and girls. I am pleased to say that I still know the words off by heart. So if anyone wants to sing it with me, I’ll be the girl…

But it wasn’t until the 80s hit that I really started spending all my money on music:  my favourite purchase ever? Escape, by Journey. You know the cover – some sort of weird escape pod hatching out of I don’t know what that is. See the image above (if you didn’t recognize it). I dare say that I may have had a thing for Steve Perry. In fact, I still might. Well I’m pretty sure I do. Does anyone know him? Although I did hear an interview with him and Jian Ghomeshi and all I can say is that I was super disappointed that he didn’t sing. WTF, Steve? OK so it was a phone interview. Whatever! But I am glad to see Jian is also a fan although why pick bones over whether or not there really is a ‘South Detroit?’ Apparently there isn’t. Details, Jian, details.

I didn’t even really know I was such a Journey fan until I found myself singing Don’t Stop Believing one day a few years ago. Then I realized I could sing the entire song from memory, plus about eight other Journey songs. Yes! I ROCK!  I kept this little secret to myself for a long time. It still wasn’t cool back then to like the 80s. Then one day recently I thought ‘enough is enough I am out of this closet!’ and I publicly declared my love for Journey on my facebook page. I’m pleased to report that the response to my now numerous posts on the topic of Journey has been excellent, especially from the Class of ‘88 and in general the 30-something crowd and I have since been declared Journey Girl which I LOVE! Thanks Rochelle! All of you keep up the excellent work of introducing your kids to Journey and singing along to Faithfully and Open Arms in the car.

Part of my motivation for this blog is a recent comment from my English cousin Julie who asked me ‘what is journey’. Akk! I had to put her straight asap but I think perhaps there are more of you out there who also need some help. Check out and I’ll just say here that the lead singer now is some new dude and NOT Steve Perry. I’m sure he’s fine but just so we’re clear, that is NOT Steve Perry. How could it be? He looks like he is about 12.

For those of you hoping to read about my usual ramblings with children or ferries, I’ll be back soon.

I appreciate you taking the time to read my blog :)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Overheard on Gambier – The Jump (or Lack Thereof)


Gambier Island is not known for its sandy beaches. It does have a ‘beach’ but it is a titch on the rocky side and also a titch on the barnacles/sharp broken shells/seaweed side as well. It does have warm water for swimming but this requires a walk across the aforementioned sharpness to reach the beach and usually seems like too much of a bother. On the odd occasion when I do decide to stumble across the rocks to the water, I am always too aware of how much I must look like some sort of rag doll hopped up amphetamines jerking my arms every which way in some sort of mad windmill fashion to compensate for the fact that I can only seem to put pressure on each foot for about half a second before it must be retracted quickly to avoid severing an artery. This of course puts pressure on the other foot to step up, as it were, and take the weight of both feet. This action then causes some sort of balancing nightmare for my arms which must then flail uncontrollably, scissoring madly as I try not to fall and crack my head on a rock, or, worse, send a barnacle straight into a main blood vessel in my foot, causing sepsis, and more or less instant death.

All this crossed my mind as I walked down the hill towards the beach. And so it was that I skipped the beach and kept going toward the dock. The dock is more my style: smooth wood, gentle rocking motion, slightly intoxicating smell of creosote on pilings, and an assortment of interesting people/kids involved in whatever they feel like doing: fishing, chatting, swimming etc. On the day in question, all the kids were at the dock (Jacob (13) and Zoe (7), and their two cousins Aleisha (9) and Claire (5) for a spot of swimming and fishing. To get to the dock, you  must first walk down a long pier. You can branch off to get to the lower dock, as I’ll refer to it here, or keep going down the pier to the end where you will find a smelly metal shed that has been there for as long as I can remember, a small crane with a hook on the end of it used for swinging stuff out over the water and presumably, into a waiting boat. (I have never actually seen it be used for this but that’s the rumour - we use it to gain distance when jumping off the pier).

One of the rights of passage of any self-respecting visitor or resident of Gambier is to leap off this pier, preferably at the lowest tide possible when the drop is probably close to 3 metres – maybe more. It requires some nerve and some people have more nerve than others. Some like to wait until the tide has come in and reduced the drop to 2 metres or less. And some people like to climb on top of the shed and jump from there, adding another few feet to the whole ordeal and sending their mother into a bit of a state. (Not me. Nope. I’m nothing but encouragement as you shall soon come to understand.) And some people just watch.

On this trip to Gambier, Zoe declared that this was the year of the Jump. She hadn’t quite managed it last year (she was only 6 at that point) and so this year, as she was 7 almost 8, she was definitely going to jump. It would be no big deal really, said the tone in her voice. She was ready. So on the day that I managed to make it off the deck and down the hill, she was really psyched to make it happen. She had tried briefly the day before without much success. Well, without any success really who am I kidding. But she was back on her horse and ready to go. We started  down on the lower dock with an easy jump in and swim around. Then the girls headed up to the pier and that’s when the action really started. Aleisha had no problem jumping at all. I wish I could say the same for Zoe. The tide was at the mid-way mark so the jump was probably 2.5 metres or so. I actually could probably have counted up the exact number of millimetres of the height with the time I had waiting for Zoe to jump.  I could also have memorised the Vancouver phone book, learned an obscure Brazilian Indian dialect, classified the entire barnacle population on the beach, lost 10 pounds, rebuilt the Eiffel tower, and climbed Mount Fuji (including flight time) in the time it took for Zoe to not jump off the pier.  We all tried various psychological tactics: reverse psychology: “I bet you can’t do it” (I was right); encouragement: “You can do it!” (OK maybe not); nonchalance:  “I don’t really mind one way or the other, Honey, it’s entirely up to you” (whatever just JUMP already); Authority: “Now, Honey, we’ve all been waiting for 62 hours for you to jump and we’re all getting a bit frustrated/hot/hungry/tired/old, including you, so lets get on with it” (where was I going with that one – FAIL).

In the end, nothing worked. And many was the time I regretted my promise not to push her in. Why, Jacob wanted to know repeatedly, had I said I wouldn’t?? (I couldn’t remember as I had developed Alzheimer's in the intervening years between promising not to and her not jumping) Could he? he asked hopefully.  Finally, out of pure exhaustion, I suggested that she climb part-way down the ladder that hangs off the edge of the pier into the water, and jump from there. And while I’m not that proud of it, I’ll admit here that I did also mention at this point that the promise of not pushing her off the pier did not apply to the ladder and that if she decided to go down the ladder, she was jumping off or I was going to come down there and push her off. Anxiety was all over her face but cold heartless mother did not seem to notice this fact. In fact, it was not until I reviewed my photos later that night that I saw exactly how anxious she was. See exhibit A. I’m not sure that I would have actually had the heart to wrench her poor little hands off the cold iron bars of the ladder and fling her unceremoniously into the depths, but it sure seemed like a good idea at the time.

I’m happy to report that she did jump from the ladder. We all cheered as well as we could in our old age with our gnarled fingers, but Zoe was not buying it. She was still pissed off and upset with herself and it was then that I finally turned back into loving nurturing mother. She looked at me with her little face, and burst into tears. I did too, and we held each other for a few minutes. I told her it was all Ok and always her own choice and that I was sorry if we had pressured her. We walked back up the hill to the house where, trying desperately to salvage something from the situation, I talked about how, in her life, there would be many times when she would get that same feeling in her stomach that she had standing on the pier, and that life is all about deciding whether or not to take a risk. And that she should trust her own feelings. She looked at me, looked past me, and asked if she could have a cookie. Then she got up and bolted out of the room after her cousin before I could even answer. Apparently she was over it. Well I wasn’t. I walked, sighing, into the dining room muttering something about parenting. My Uncle just looked at me and said “Just you wait until she’s teenager. You haven't seen anything yet!”

Perhaps he’s right and when she’s 16 and swearing at me, I’ll long for a problem as simple as whether or not to push her off the pier.



Exhibit ‘A’


climbing back up the ladder


Whatever, mum, can I have a cookie?

Three Little Girls

Whenever I tell anyone that I’m going to Gambier Island, they often nod & smile and say ‘Oh that will be nice’. Sometimes they admit up front that they have never heard of it, and sometimes they mistake it for The Gambia. I think it is no small coincidence that so far, the only people to have made this somewhat charming mistake, are Brits with good strong accents (and I can say this with impunity as all my family members are British). You know what I mean – they switch around the endings on words that end with ‘a’ and give them an ‘er’ instead, and vice versa. India becomes ‘Indier’, Australia turns into ‘Australier’, and Gambier Island, somehow shifts into The Gambia. And as The Gambia is a former English Colony, it occupies a place in English schoolbooks and minds and therefore it somehow seems possible to them that one could in fact be going to The Gambia for a summer holiday.

I had a wonderful conversation on this very subject with a certain very English Gym teacher with whom many of you will be acquainted, who asked my son one year what his travel plans were for the summer. He duly repeated the list of local destinations, which included Gambier Island. The next day I was flagged down by this teacher who wanted all the details on our ‘fascinating trip to The Gambia this summer’. I must have looked very surprised and indeed we went back and forth for some time before finally reaching an understanding that it was an island in Howe Sound not far from Vancouver that we would be visiting and not a small west-African country.

Gambier Island itself is about as far removed from The Gambia as you could possibly imagine in both distance and culture.The Island is home to approximately 120 full time residents and I am indeed very fortunate that two of those residents happen to be my Uncle and Aunt, Richard and Louise. For as long as I can remember I have made my way to Gambier every summer to hang out with the cousins, jump off the dock, swim in the warm water, scratch the bottom of my feet on the barnacles, fish for shiners, climb the hill back to the house, drink tea on the deck, eat delicious food, and sleep in the absolute darkness and profound quiet that can only be found many miles from streetlights and traffic.

My Uncle and Aunt’s house is a labour of love, transformed from a tiny little cabin (how on earth we all used to fit I don’t know) into a beautiful home, with a stop along the way as a Bed and Breakfast. The garden is all roses and lavender and a huge Bay Laurel grows by the door to the workshop. Rocky outcroppings give way to flowers and ponds, and stairs lead down to a vegetable garden (the source of Potter Organics which may be found at the dinner table on any given night) and a young orchard. And all around are huge fir, cedar, maple and alder trees. If you are lucky, sometimes a raven might fly low out of the forest; the swoosh swoosh of its wings beating through the air makes an unmistakeable sound. As I sat on the deck, two came croaking and cawing out of the trees, upset I think by the fort building that was going on in the forest below them. Perhaps a certain high-pitched voice?

I should admit here that I spend a fair bit of time on the deck. The ‘schedule’ of the day seems to encourage it and unfolds something like this:

whenever: wake up, wander to kitchen for fresh bread, homemade jam and tea. Wave goodbye to kids as they head to dock to fish. Chat with Kent, my cousin Mel and Uncle Richard and Aunt Louise

10:30ish: tea on the deck

11ish: wander outside, inspect garden, sit and ponder what it is to be a dragonfly, or not, or just sit.

12:30ish: Lunch (on the deck of course)

1pm: wander to dock, jump off pier, fish for shiners, lie on the dock, play on the beach, convince daughter to jump off dock (more on this later), wonder who that big guy is over there and then realize it’s your own son

3:30pm:  wander back up hill to house for, that’s right, tea on the deck. Chat with whoever is still awake. Pride self on not feeling sleepy at all

4:00pm: read book

4:02pm: fall asleep

5:00pm: wake up and wander to kitchen to help with dinner

5:30pm: wonder where the kids are. Decide it doesn’t really matter and hey it’s kinda nice without them right now

6:00pm: kids show up, dinner is served, dishes are washed

7:00pm: whatever

8:00pm: put kids to bed

9:00pm: watch tv/read a book/go to bed

What can I say, it’s tough.

Gambier Island does have one small store/restaurant and no summer trip is complete without a visit. So one evening my cousin Mel and Kent and myself took the kids over to the store for dinner. My aunt had made a ‘reservation’ which was hilarious as we were the only ones in sight. We walked inside and there was the largest table, with a handwritten note ‘reserved for Potter’. How quaint! But regardless of all the jokes, it turned out to be an excellent dinner. I highly recommend it! Especially the Shepherd’s Pie. And also the Prawns and Scallops in Pernod. And actually while I’m on the topic the quesadilla was also very good. And I believe the pasta with chorizo and tomatoes was also excellent. No, I did not eat 4 dinners that night but there was a fair amount of sampling going on. Whatever!All meals/trips to the store must end with ice cream, so ice cream it was all round. This is necessary as it provides the appropriate fuel for the trek back to the house.

I am happy to report that in all ways, ice cream included, this year’s visit was essentially no different from the previous 30 or so years that I have been making this pilgrimage.  There is, however, one gut-wrenching difference and that is that my cousins and I are now all grown up and those three cute little girls running ahead of us on the gravel road with ice creams are our children, not us!  If somehow we could have known all those years ago that we would be watching miniature versions of our grown selves at exactly the same place on the road, picking blackberries from the same bushes, jumping off the same pier, and playing in the same trees as we did when we, too, were three little girls, I think it would have blown my mind then like it did today. I guess that’s the beauty of childhood – to be unencumbered by thoughts of the future and instead to embrace the exact moment of the ripe blackberry, to fall through the air into the water, or skip along a path through garden to your secret fort. I’m so glad I had it, and I’m so glad to see it in the faces of three little girls.




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Saturday, August 8, 2009

It’s all about me…

Hey sorry about the blatant self-promotion but if you are enjoying my blog (and thank-you SO much for all the positive feedback – you are so encouraging!), please consider becoming a follower. No, this does not mean you are joining a cult. I actually don’t really know what it means other than you will appear in my list of followers and apparently, the more followers I get, the greater my chances of becoming a Blog of Note on the Blogger site. Yes, it really is all about me. But I am enjoying this whole thing so much and I hope you are too.

To become a follower, I think you have to click on the ‘follow’ button, and then sign up with Google. I hope this isn’t a cumbersome process…

Anyway – thanks for considering it!



Dear BC Ferries…WTF?

Dear BC Ferries,

I feel like you and I have known each other a long time. I’m 39 and have lived on Vancouver Island nearly all my life so we go way back. I even remember the old days when smoking was allowed and the floors were covered with that funky green and beige patterned carpet. I’ve spent many an hour in the parking lot waiting to board a ferry at Swartz Bay on my way to Vancouver. Seen many a market stall come and go.

When I was a child, I loved taking the ferry. It meant we were going somewhere exciting or interesting. I guess back then I was too young to notice my parents’ building anxiety as we approached the terminal. This was in the days before the $17.50 reservation fee was available. Would we miss the sailing? Would we get to hang out in the cafeteria for an extra hour? Oh Joy.

Now that I have my own kids and busy life, taking the ferry has a whole new meaning for me and frankly, it’s not that good. Sure I know what you’re thinking: If you don’t like it, then don’t live on an island. Well, BC Ferries, it’s not that easy and really you want to be careful with that kind of an attitude as it’s people like me who pay your bonuses every year. I should note that I do have some happy memories of trips on BC Ferries. Like I really appreciate it when you arrange for killer whales to make an appearance. And Active Pass is spectacular so thanks for that, too. Oh wait, that was mother nature. OK strike that. I’ll let her know instead.

As I write this I’m sitting in an arm chair in my Aunt and Uncle’s house on Gambier Island. Gambier Island is in the Howe Sound, near Gibson’s Landing on the Sunshine Coast. I’ve been coming here every summer since I was a girl and I love it. It takes me approximately 7 hours and three ferries to get here which is plenty of time to really immerse myself in your culture, BC Ferries. I’ve been looking for a way to really let you know what I think so here’s my top list of ways you could help me, your customer, out:

1. Have one of your staff try to drive off the Nanaimo – Horseshoe Bay Ferry in Horseshoe Bay, and then drive back to the terminal to take the Langdale Ferry. Go on. Just try it. I defy you to do it without wondering at least 12 times if you are going the right way. Let me know how that goes and whether you need any help or not with perhaps some SIGNAGE. And then envision someone from another country trying to do this. I only say this as there may be a few extra people here from other countries next year. In February, to be specific.

2. You may also want to put someone on the Sea to Sky highway just at the point of the exit to Horseshoe Bay and count the number of near-misses as cars realize at the last second that actually they were planning on going to Whistler, not the ferry terminal, or vice-versa. I could be wrong but I’m pretty sure this may be a bit of an issue in a few months. Like in February 2010 for example. Might want to take  a look at that one before then. I saw three cars zip across the lanes at the last second, right in front of me. I’ll leave that one with you and Highways.

3. While we’re on the topic of Horseshoe Bay, may I suggest you invest in some re-numbering of the lanes. Telling someone to proceed down lane 10 when in fact there is no lane 10 is…well…confusing. And I don’t know if you’ve done it lately, but the other thing that happens after you muddle your way through the imaginary lane 10 is that you come out into a large area with even more lanes, and a sign that directs you to lanes 73 – 84. WTF, BC Ferries? And then there was an employee with the gall to actually look frustrated with me. I asked him about the sign that says ‘this way to lane 73-84’ and why there wasn't a lane 10 and he just shrugged and told me to proceed. Yeah. Sure. Whatever, Buddy.

4. My next point is on behalf of the other parents who have small children who still use the Children’s area. Dude, it’s lame. Get some new stuff in there. I know I know, people will take it if it’s not nailed down but you can still do better than one plastic boat. I know you can.

5. Dude, the food. $8.49 is too much for a salad. But what I really want to say is why are you trying to poison my children? Just so you know, BC Ferries, most parents prefer not to feed their child a hamburger or hot dog or chicken strips PLUS a chocolate pudding, 2 cups of pop, and greasy French fries. And why do you put that sign advertising said poison at child height? Here’s a newsflash: parents prefer their kids to eat things like cheese & crackers, tuna sandwiches, whole grains, FRESH fruit, milk, water, that sort of thing. And there’s these things called vegetables. I know you know about them ‘cuz you sell a bowl of them for $10. They are generally considered a healthy choice for kids  - one that is not potentially going to cut their precious lives short like pudding or pop. I’ll think of them as my children, but you can think of them as future customers if that helps.



So that’s enough complaining out of me for now. I just thought you should know.

Yours sincerely,



Until next time…

Friday, August 7, 2009

Overheard on Hornby Part 4 – Top 10 Reasons I Love Hornby Island

10. Cardboard House Bakery. What a great spot – tables scattered around an orchard, delicious food, one of the best outhouses around (as outhouses go), a sweet garden, live music if you’re there at the right time, a ‘bring your own wine’ policy (always good), lots of room for kids to run and friends to hang out, and the BEST chocolate cheesecake around (and I should know as I had it on three separate occasions over 7 days. Was that wrong? Who cares.)



9. The natural sandstone sculpture. Shaped by the tides into caves, dunes, waves, and mushrooms, these rock formations are magical. Best at the end of a hot day when the tide comes in over the warm rocks and swirls into channels and pools.


8. The Saturday/Wednesday Farmers Market. I was wary about going as the last time I went, it was hot and dusty and trudging around a parking lot while waiting 30 minute for a taco was not my idea of a good time. So I was thrilled to see that the market had moved into the shade of the forest. I was also happy about the chocolate covered bananas, frozen Mango on a stick, and the Persian food found at a little stall by the entrance to the market - the best dolmades I have ever had, and several other delicious pastries and sweets. Something about pomegranate paste and I don’t know what else but it worked! Divine. The girls got Henna tattoos, the mums shopped for jewellery, and all was good.


7. The deck at our rental house. The site of much laughter, love, good food, stories, wine, an amazing hammock (that nobody fell out of, especially not Lisa and not twice in 20 seconds), laundry, wet towels and bathing suits, flowers, a shocking amount of empties, singing, silliness, good friends, and general happiness.




6. The deck at Leanne and Darren’s. A great place for a  44th birthday party & a rousing game of ‘How to Put your Partner on the Spot’ (that’s not what it was called but that’s kind of how it worked in a very hilarious way). Overheard at the party:

Question: What is the most embarrassing thing you have done while drunk?

Answer (from birthday boy Jivko after some thought) ‘I shagged a goat.’

Response from Darren: ‘Oh yeah? how many kids have you fathered?’

Hysterical laughter from all…

Also a great place for a bottle of Prosecco at 11am in the morning. It’s just too bad Leanne and Darren weren’t there to share it with us:)


5. Tribune Bay. Amazing beach, warm water, tonnes of space…it’s all good.



4. The joy on the faces of all my friends returning from mountain biking. Personally, I haven’t ever done it (not that good on the bike and would probably fall off and break my head or something) but apparently it is almost as good as chocolate, if the extreme joy radiating off their bodies is anything to go by.


3. Helliwell Provincial Park. There’s something about the full sensory experience one gains while walking in this most beautiful of places that makes it a completely joyful experience. The Garry Oak savannah smells deliciously sweet, the yellow of the dry grass stands out brilliantly against the blue sky, the deep blue water swirls and eddies, and the tall trees dwarf me. The swimming is also excellent (If you don’t mind a few seals for company. Like about 20). I had a mystical experience here once a long time ago when some friends and I camped illegally. I woke up early in the morning to a swirl of mist and sunbeams. I walked the bluffs and came across a deer who watched me come within two feet of it. I fell in love then and still love it today.


2. Swimming at Whaling Station Bay Beach. Here, the water is crystal clear, and the perfect temperature. The sand is expansive, the view to die for and except for the excessive seaweed on the beach, the place is practically perfect. I walked out into the water and started swimming out from the beach. The water got deeper, sand dollars were scattered across the bottom and I felt like I could see for miles. I wanted to stay out there forever. Bliss.

1. How much fun I had with such an excellent group of friends and family. Love you all:)