To indulge, unrestrained

When I am finished with my graduate studies, there is one life’s pleasure in which I will indulge, without restraint and without guilt, deeply and utterly.

I cannot wait to read. Fiction, non-fiction, poetry, fanfiction, it’s going be a veritable OCEAN of words that I will dip into. And it will be SO enjoyable. The Kobo reader will never leave my side.

Just a glimpse of some of the books in my to-read list:

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Oh, Rdio, Rdio, how do we love thee

A few weeks ago, we had a family outing to the cinema for the first time in years. We watched Guardians of the Galaxy, and all of us thoroughly enjoyed it. I was also enchanted by the 70s music vibes, a period whose music I almost never listen to. We got home from the theatre and I opened my music app, typed in a few words, and voila, we had the soundtrack playing in our living room in seconds.

In 2011, our family became a subscriber to streaming music. The selection of services in Canada for streaming music at the time was very limited, and we ended up joining Rdio. I’ve not regretted it at all, even with the $9.99 a month we’ve been paying for years.

Not only is it a company that keeps on improving its offerings to users every year, but it really does have one of the nicest designs among similar services and offers a very logical, clean user interface experience across all platforms (web, Android, iOS, Mac), since very early on. Three words: so – dang – gorgeous.

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The best part, of course? It’s brought us hours and hours of soundtracks to our lives. Some of the specific occasions we turn Rdio on include:

  • while doing housework
  • expanding our repertoire of French singers and musicians
  • blocking out life noises in order to read and study
  • for occasions of just dancing (all ages!)
  • providing us with road trip tunes
  • keeping le Petit occupied during a 15-hour trip to Hawaii
  • setting the scene for dinner parties
  • providing emotional, angsty backdrop tracks for restless late nights
  • and lately, filling our house with groovy 70s tunes.

On walking and noticing

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We had a small car accident that rendered us auto-less for the weekend. On foot, we had a chance to enjoy the city of Kamloops on footpaths not normally part of our routes, and change things up to fulfill our everyday tasks in a manner not usually part of our routines. It was rather wonderful.

The experience reminded me of Alexandra Horowitz’s book, On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes. Just changing our form of transportation, having to do things on foot and giving up activities that we couldn’t access, made us…slower, more aware of time and doing things NOW, rather than planning for and looking five steps ahead. When we pay attention, when we have singular focus on the here and now, we become aware of so many things we miss, to our detriment, in daily life and all around us.

Turn of the season

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There are signs of the turn of the season everywhere. Summer to autumn. It’s lovely and brings anticipation of the sight of glorious fiery foliage, of warm cinnamony baking smells and rich harvest meals together with friends.

This is also my first post using WordPress on the iPhone since the iOS 8 update, and a new photo app, Pomelo.

It’s always a bit nerve-wracking committing to an update, especially on a 3-year-old phone that is practically ancient in technology time.

Happily, I can say that it’s been fine so far on my 4s, contrary to many online writers bemoaning the hit to speed and productivity and usefulness of iOS 8.

The feature set I wanted the most was the ability to edit photos using app features, directly from the stock photo collection without having to open an app to do so.

Lucky me, this works – but with limitations. Newer apps, Fotograf and Pomelo, for example, work fine with the “open in…” function. Alas, my favorite app, Afterlight, does not probably due to hardware limitations of my older gadget. I still use Afterlight the “old” way: open app, import and then edit and save back to Camera Roll.

Which brings me to: the new absence of Camera Roll in favor of photo Collections. To see all my photos, I can only view them in groupings organized, inconveniently, by location/date, rather than one massive collection ordered chronologically. I much prefer the old way, as do scores of other iPhone users, according to Internet forums and posts. Errrrrrr. This is a gripe, and one I fear I will have to come to terms with as Apple steamrolls user options in favor of whatever new features they are attempting to integrate.

(There is a whole other discussion here about how users are conditioned or trained to use technology in particular, prescribed ways, but let’s save it for another time, or for my other blog.)

But regardless of this one rather big downside, in general I am very pleased that my (old) iPhone is not functioning any less efficiently or smoothly since the iOS 8 update.

Recapping a first-time American road trip

Yellowstone Norris

I am so bummed out that I haven’t posted since June! But at least we had a summer full of interesting and time-consuming activities, if not all productively undertaken.

Certainly, the highlight of our summer was our long-planned trip through the American northwest to Yellowstone, something we’d envisioned for over a year, that at last became reality at the end of July. Eleven days on the road, then a few days resting at our friend’s place in Vancouver, was a totally do-able trip that wasn’t exhausting (like some camping outings are).

We had pre-planned some camp sites and motel nights in Yellowstone Park, and then winged the rest of our itinerary, other than a general idea that we would drive through Washington towards Yellowstone and meander our way back to Canada somehow. We had couple days where we didn’t move – just stayed longer in one spot, no driving, no into-town visits, just reading, resting and playing in the water – and I think that was crucial to helping foster a sense of vacation, versus the pressure to get somewhere, to see something.

The best part of the trip, aside from the wonder of discovering the varied and rich geography and history of certain parts of the USA with le Mari and le petit, was the visual feast that the different, sometimes surreal landscapes provided. Yellowstone Park especially blew us away – it was much more interesting and beautiful than we had expected. We stayed 5 days here, but if we go again, we would stay longer to explore the various corners and less-travelled quiet places all over the park that we didn’t have a chance to visit this time.

In addition to the fascinating geological features of the hydrothermal basins of Yellowstone, I loved seeing: rippling wheat fields, dry hoodoos and red rocks, flat plains, and rolling dry hills, and this all in just one tiny northwest/central region of the vast US. We are planning for another trip further south in another couple of years next time.

Idaho Plains Grand Canyon of Yellowstone Yellowstone Lake Grand Prismatic West Yellowstone Norris Hills of Montana Larrabee Park

A space of one’s own

The writing process is so unpredictable – sometimes the words and ideas just flow, and other times they just stutter and stall and the screen or page is left blank, or in my case, some words and phrases have been jotted down, only to be deleted.

Today’s Daily Post is so timely to working out my own process – it asks us to think about our writing space. Place can be so important to writing. In our current living conditions, I don’t have an ideal place in my home or city for writing, but at least I’ve identified some minimum requirements to make a space to call mine, even for a short period, to be able to grapple with ideas and words and get them out into some tangible, logical sense.

The minimum requirements for a writing space are:

  • room enough for my laptop, notebook, articles
  • room enough for a drink without worry of knocking it over
  • quiet – low music with no lyrics is ok, conversation is too distracting.

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That’s it. Things I bring along to help with the environmental factors include:

  • headphones, to block out external sounds and sometimes listen to music (I love Klipsch in-ear headphones with inline mic for controlling volume and music, and for providing some barrier to external noise)
  • my laptop charger, though I prefer to leave it behind, since my recent MacBook more than lives up to its claim of 8+ hours of battery
  • fruit jelly candy, which tides me over when I’m a bit hungry, to finish that paragraph or section until I take a real meal break.

Places I’ve worked lately include: our dining room table, university library, public library, upstairs at an art studio, on the living room floor, my office desk on the weekend, a corner table at 3 different coffee shops, an airport waiting area during a 6 hours stopover, and a hotel room.

The best location was the hotel room, because I could spread out my research materials and supplies, without having to tidy them up or move them for the duration of 5 days straight, which helped with the visual organization which I’ve learned is a part of my thinking process.

Not my ideal set-up, but we make do the best that we can! Here’s to writing well.

 

Fictional dreamboat

In British Columbia, there is currently political turmoil in the form of a public school’s teacher’s strike – a long time coming, that arrived at last, 2 weeks before the end of the 2013-2014 school year.

While teachers are taking action for improved employment and work terms (I think rightfully so), parents all over the province were and are still, this week, looking for ways to manage having the kids at home a couple of weeks before expected.

While le mari took on the little one last week for a few days, I finally took a vacation day to spend a day looking after le petit, and come on, it’s June at the start of summer. It gave le mari a break, and me, a day of happiness engaging with the little one.

We dropped by my office, had a Chinese food lunch date, shared a meal with good friends who are moving to another province, and most notably, went to the movie theatre together. Not only did we sneak in gummy worms and jelly snacks, we got to watch the long-awaited How to Train Your Dragon 2 . We only get to the theatre maybe 3 or 4 times a year, so the whole 3D, big-screen experience was a blast, for both le petit and for me.

Something else that was utterly enjoyable about the film?

If I were: 1) single  2) fictional  3) 20 years younger (maybe 25?) and  4) animated, Hiccup, the central character in the film, would totally be at the top of my potential future squeeze candidate list. (Other than the fact that he’s not, er, actually single in his storyline.)

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He’s a heroic, clever, still slightly awkward (from the first film) but endearing young man, who can have romance without being cloying, and who is depicted in this installment as working through identity issues to discover what he wants to do and how to find the strength to do so.

It’s been a while since I so thoroughly enjoyed an animated film, but voila, we heartily recommend this one.

A maiden voyage to India

It’s already mid-June and I’m catching up to post about the previous month. May was a wild month, which included a couple of unexpected events, the most prominent of which was an unscheduled trip for work.

It was my first trip to Asia since 2003 and my first visit ever to India.

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Brief background: In my first year of university, I had a year-long immersion into Indian literature and culture, including an in-depth study of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, the Mahabharata and parts of the Bhagavad-Gita, a sacred Hindu text. There was also an Indian drama in which I was required to act, and a lot of poetry, examinations of film and group discussions. While I received a thorough cultural, scholarly introduction to the subject, the country and its people seemed to be too…too everything: too bright, too intense, too sensually rich to the extent that reading about it made me feel overwhelmed, too violent, too passionate. It put me off to ever visiting India. I was just not interested.

Four things since that university introduction eventually changed my thinking about visiting India:

  1. During the first month or so of our acquaintance, the man who eventually became my partner expressed that the country that he MOST wants to travel to and experience is India. Huh.
  2. During the past 12 years or so, there has been a revival of interest and media coverage of western (meaning North American and European) Indian writers: Rohinton Mistry, Kiran Desai, Jumpa Lahiri, just to name a few, whose works I read and completely fell in love with.
  3. I came across William Darymple‘s travelogue/history books about India : City of Djinns, Nine Lives, The Last Mughal among them. His stories and his telling of various events in the history of India, plus his obvious passion for the country and its people lit some kind of interest in me, to see for myself the places and people that moved him so much that 6 or 7 books later, he was still writing about it.
  4. Bhangra. Indian students at my work introduced me to it and we just completely love it at our house.

So, when I was asked to go to India, I was happy to do so and it was everything I’ve ever read about it. A month later, I’m still processing some of the experiences I had, and I may share it in a later post one day. But the thing that stood out, clearly and notably, was the kindness and genuine interest and drive of the people that I met.

Practicing flight

It’s been an overwhelmingly wonderful, fast and exhausting two months. I clearly recall moments of joy, success and productivity, but I also remember a kind of stasis, lethargy and a sense of just SO much going on that it made me want to cry.

Some of the lows:

  • Le Mari got the mumps. Yes, MUMPS. As if any grown person who has already received the vaccine in this new century in the western world would get that. Well apparently there are some cases in Canada and it looks like he was one, according to all the symptoms. Fortunately, like chicken pox, he just had to ride it out and after 5 days of being quarantined, it passed and he was fine, and we in the household were all fine.  But it threw a week off its normal track and made for serious discomfort and misshapen-ness around the house.
  • Projects at the office sometimes just…stalled. I think I felt discouraged because the obstacles seemed bureaucratic, unnecessarily existing because of practices implemented 25 years ago that CLEARLY need updating for the current day. Yeah, there were a couple of moments like this in the recent weeks.
  • Oh, the state of the house. Enough said.
  • Oh, the state of my thesis. I was on a roll, on a roll, then hit a bump, wrestled a bit, then a while, then opened that darn Archive of Our Own fanfiction Avengers Marvel universe fandom, and then got sucked in and…KAPUT. Days of engaging in an incredibly articulated fictional world of  superheroes, alternative plots and some very great writing.
  • The actual, dumb struggle of feeling like a suck in not being the kind of mom that engages her son in the activities that 5-year old boys are clearly supposed to be doing, if a glance around me was any indication – i.e. ALL of le Petit’s peers in soccer or baseball – and I, being so caught up in our tasks and daily life completely MISSED ALL DEADLINES for the entire year for these team activities. I never thought I’d see the day that I would rue NOT being a soccer mom, but I felt like I had missed out on providing him with something very key for his age group and development.

Some of the highs:

  • Got over the soccer mom struggle fairly quick. A second glance around me showed that families could choose to put their kids in the kind of activities that engage their sons and daughters in healthy, socially encouraging and developmental play – like team sports. Yes, I would LOVE le Petit to play. Yes, I would love him to learn to engage in team activities. But at the same time, WE were and are not ready for the commitment that sports leagues in Kamloops, and everywhere else in North American suburbia I imagine, requires – practice + games twice, sometimes thrice weekly, special events, weekends devoted to league activities, and if your child is good, away games, not to mention the equipment, the drives, the fundraisers and the precise scheduling that is needed to manage this lifestyle. Well, GREAT for people who can manage this, but at this time, we cannot. When I realized this, my sense of not quite achieving what I thought I should be doing as a mom vanished. (We decided to encourage le Petit to try out karate next month).
  • SPRING. At looooong last.
  • Some, if very sparse, practice with the Sony NEX camera (I remembered my promise to Le Mari)
  • A beautiful Easter choir and performance of A Tale of Three Trees by 15 or so children, ages 5-12, at Summit Drive Church, in which le Petit took part. One dedicated, super-loving lady took on this project out of love of music and teaching, and she lead, encouraged, and spurred these kids on to bravery and performance in a musical that had a wonderful message.
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Need I say more?
  • Serious progress on my thesis: the section on mobility and the research method has been fleshed out, the literature been covered. Very happy to cover these sections, and also IMPRESSED with the scholars and the research happening in the cross-disciplinary field of mobility.

Well, last night, I went for a quick after dinner walk with le Petit in our neighbourhood. Ironically, we went for a walk in a field that was beside school ground where 2 soccer teams were practicing. It was a gorgeous evening, my first one out with just a short-sleeve T, though I brought as sweater. I didn’t need it in the warm evening air, but oh, did we make good use of it.

Le Petit took my sweater and ran with it. Then he flew. And soared. And then landed back to earth. What a GLORIOUS reminder of how things are.

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A beginning hobbyist’s camera, at long last

Oh I am SO stoked. And yet so screwed.

Stoked because I got my first true beginner’s mirrorless micro 4/3 camera, the lauded Sony NEX-3N just recently, on sale from Costco, of all places. It’s not the best nor the latest of the NEX line (now dubbed Alpha, dropping the NEX moniker) – that belongs to the incredibly decked out Sony Alpha 7R. But for someone who has never had to work with F-stops and manual aperture and shutter controls before, this little gadget with its automatic AND some manual settings sounds like it will be just perfect.

Screwed because I made a promise to Le Mari that I wouldn’t engage all my interest/time/practice on this long-shelved desire UNTIL my graduate thesis is done, and I intend to keep this promise. But it’s hard, it’s really hard to restrain myself, as the little-but-powerful-image-capture device beckons.

In the meantime, here are two shots from my ONE day of practice and testing it out:

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NEX (1 of 1)-7Oh, I can’t wait to try my hand at snapping shots with something other than an iPhone.

If anyone in the community has tried out or currently shoots with the NEX-3N, I’d love to hear about your experience with this camera.