The passing of a dear friend and brother

A couple of weeks ago, mon mari called me at work and asked if he could come see me. This kind of call usually heralds an impromptu lunch date, but from the tone of his voice, I knew it wasn’t one of those times. When I met him, M told me that our friend Josh had called him, and shared the news that another friend of ours, Matt, went out running the previous morning, and then had died. Since I met M over 10 years ago, I’ve seen him in tears less than 5 times, but he was weeping as he told me about Matt, his voice was full of grief.

Of all of our acquaintances, there are very few who have better exemplified the saying, “he has heart.” We met Matt and Jill during our first month in Kamloops at the church we had just started attending. We ended in up in the same small group and this introduction turned out to have a deep impact in our lives, because while we have a lot of friends – many of whom we share similar interests and pursuits (social, spiritual, physical, mental), there are a lesser number of people that truly stand out as those we want to emulate. People we want to emulate are usually older, or are celebrity writers or teachers or leaders, not so much people in our immediate social circles. But I can say with certainty that Matt is one of the people in real life that mon mari respected and admired, and who inspired in both of us – by his zest for life, by his genuine interest in people that shone through and through in his words and actions to both friends and strangers, and in his whole-hearted pursuit of his love for God and his Christian faith – the desire to pursue a sincerity and honesty in our own spiritual seeking and in our everyday choices and decisions.

During the first year of our life in Kamloops, we purchased a house that had a couple of wonky electrical switches. Matt volunteered his time and technical skills to help us out. I remember him in a beat-up blue workman’s suit crawling in between some narrow (and gross) spaces in our walls, only to emerge dusty and smudged a while later, declaring loudly with a bright grin that all should be in working order now.

To this day, every time we turn the switch on in our living room, we have light, made possible by Matt’s generosity. What a completely fitting and perfect metaphor for how Matt will be remembered.

From his obituary:

IN MEMORIUM

October 13, 1978 – May 26, 2015

Matt Vollans, age 36, of Kamloops, B.C. died suddenly on Tuesday, May 26th. He was a loving husband, to Jill, and father to his son Seth, and daughter Keziah. He also leaves behind his mother, father, Oma, brothers and sisters, as well as many family and friends.

Matt had a passion for life. He loved the outdoors and enjoyed challenging himself in mountain climbing, hiking, running, and many other sports. Matt was sensitive, loving, kind, loyal, and a dear friend to many. He always made everyone he met feel encouraged and valuable. One of his greatest joys was spending time with his family.

Above all, Matt lived his life to the glory of God and encouraged everyone else to do this to the fullest. His favourite bible verse was “Be imitators of God” and to this end he strove.

The funeral service will be held on Friday, June 5th, 2015 at 1:00 pm at Summit Drive Church, 1975 Summit Drive, Kamloops. Viewing from 12:00 to 12:30 pm. Should friends desire, donations to the New Life Mission would be appreciated in Matt’s memory.

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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.

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

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.

Learning to give things up

I looked at the calendar this morning and was flabbergasted to realize that it was the LAST DAY of September. The LAST! Where did this month fly?

I had just gotten into a great routine, what with the little one starting school, getting to work earlier, which meant getting home earlier, which meant time to make better (read healthier, more varied) dinners for the first time in ages, sleeping earlier, feeling better all around, too.

Then WHAM: what happens to all kids in the public school system, happened to mine. He got sick. Pink-eye, cough, minor fever. And he’s not a sick kid. Very healthy, very active but suddenly physically very afflicted.

So then, the morning routine flew out the window, I went back to getting to work late, and sometimes later (thank God for a flexible department/manager). Plus night conference Skype sessions with India for work. In this week, of all weeks. So there was NO more routine, with late nights, PLUS the fact that Downton Abbey resumed (that’s for me) and Breaking Bad was ending (that’s for Le Mari) and a colleague of mine informed me of the new season of Sons of Anarchy and I just couldn’t resist checking out the guy who got the role of Christian Grey…

Time basically got away. And with that, I  realized that I did not hit my loosely-held goals for the month, not at all. Goals which included: invite so-and-so family over for dinner, finish that chapter of my thesis, create that photo album for that friend, keep up my blog (this one I had great hopes for since I had Kickstarter app Pressgram, which is supposed to make sharing photos on WordPress much more seamless).

I’m not fanatic about goals, but it made me sad that I didn’t keep up with my fall targets. Also sadder that I absolutely didn’t keep up with my 2013 daily photo project. I was stressed about it sitting on the backburner online, where, God forbid, people might come across it and realize that it hasn’t been updated for MONTHS. I was bummed out about it for a day, but then BAM: it struck me that I could just LET IT GO. Let it GO. Release that defunct blog and wipe the slate clean. Like all things when it comes to letting go, it isn’t, it wasn’t easy, but doing so, I feel a lot better and feel motivated to start anew, next time with terms that leave me room to NOT be so exacting, to be more flexible with time.

So, RIP, Theo did this. Here was its burning start, and this post now is its swan song. No regrets, just letting it down softly.

Inspired by lots of awesome blogs and Flickr projects, I’ve re-started a 365 photo project for the year, having skipped 2012.

I originally started adding the snapshots to my own blog but didn’t want to necessarily post everyday here. So I started posting pics for this project here: Theo did this.

If anyone else is doing a 365-type photo blog for the year, I’d love to hear about it.

T getting clean

One thing (well, two) that counts 365 days a year

I don’t know if it’s the influence of Mary Oliver’s poetry, but I’ve been thinking lately that when it boils down to it, what’s important in life is very very simple.

It’s just a matter of taking time out in our daily lives to take stock of what we have and what we do and gleaning the extra from the necessities, and then honestly looking at the necessities to figure out what’s really important.

No matter what comes or happens every day, there are 2 absolutely solid, simple realities and basics of who and what I am these past few years:

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I’m not only defined by my relationship with these two and being loved in return – there is more to me, to women, and to individuals, than being known only in relation to another person – but without them, I would be a much different person than I am today.

A great Saturday

You know those days that are just terrific? That start slowly, one gradually awakening to the smell of roasted coffee, the patter of feet and hushed laughter outside the door? Lazing about until one is good and ready to work, and then getting good work done?

Today was one of those days.

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It felt like a day of accomplishment: house chores, progress on the thesis, discovering new play with le petit (rubbing for coins with broken crayons), and still having time to go to the local university library.

It was also a good day with my man: coffee together, giving each other the gift of free time, having a family dinner outing at Cornerstone, a local sushi/Korean restaurant, and catching up on Downton Abbey, a show that both mon mari and I are actually fond of.

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It was a day where I’m not left feeling like things are left undone when I lie down to go to bed.

A day well spent

I missed out le Petit’s first sledding experience of the year last week because I was ensconced at the public library reading about place and consumption.

So it was great to be able to go out today to a local park, just a walk away from our house, with a number of slopes that were really well suited for our crazy carpet. At first we were the only ones, but within an hour, there were 10 or so teenagers and later a few younger kids all out doing the same thing: enjoying sliding down the soft white snow on a perfect winter’s day.

Today fulfilled the meaning of winter holiday for me.

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Grateful

Even though the Thanksgiving holiday has passed a while back here in Canada, so many of the blogs I follow shared posts today on the theme of thankfulness and gratefulness that I was really really inspired to reflect and write down the things that I am grateful for today.

There were just so many. I also noticed that so many of them had to do with our little guy. I didn’t plan on being the mommyhood-fulfill-me-type of woman, but in some ways, so much of my contentment and joy in life these days is linked to le Petit. Mon Mari has shared that it’s the same for him, too. It’s amazing how the power of a bit of love from a little creature can fill us. just. so. so. much.

So, my list of grateful:

20 things I am really grateful for

1. Having a job
Despite union issues, no wage increase (well, really really minimal) in 4 years, pretty sad maternity coverage and lack of professional development opportunities, it’s pretty sweet that both mon Mari and I have jobs throughout potentially financially uncertain times.

2. My son

ImageJoy. Every. Single Day.

3. Great music. Currently, it’s the Sons of Anarchy: Vol 2 soundtrack.

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Blues, rock-country, alt-country – really, check it out.

4. Great TV dramas
This surprised me. But recently, I’ve noticed that the storylines of good shows compel, move, enrage, uplift and stimulate me. I’m now a believer in series and have resorted to Netflix (having NOT been a cable subscriber for 11 years now) for my drama fixes.

5. This man

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6. My parents-in-law

They are in good health, are in good spirits, and are full of joie de vivre. We visited them in September and it is one of my favorite vacation memories, ever.

7. These gals

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8. Skype and Facetime
Seriously. All those sappy ads about keeping loved ones near? Totally true.

9. Rediscovering old friends
I’ve reconnected with 2 in particular over the past year and it’s sweet sweet sweet. I’m not good atmaking/keeping friends so they’re all the sweeter.

10. Car is still working well

11. Access to food closeby
Really, I love that I don’t have to go out and pick my food from the field or drive 20 minutes to get milk. It’s made such a difference to be able to pick up staples and specialities only 15 minutes away on foot or 3 minutes by car.

12. My iPhone
My hub of connecting and visual creativity.

13. Music subscription services
Yeah, it costs $10/month, but it’s music everywhere in the house, in any room, any genre and oldies and new releases,, and synced to our devices, we can take the music with us whenever we travel. Genius idea.

14. Korean friends in town
I’m not as particularly close to the 4 or 5 ladies in town I’m thinking of as I would like to be, but I admire each and every one of them for their bravery in moving to another country, figuring out finances, working out immigration, being moms, being wives, being single moms sometimes, being students, learning another language… the list of what they are doing goes on and on and I can’t say how much they deserve to be respected and admired.

15. Eyesight
Vision is so essential to my experience and enjoyment of life. I’m so appreciative of my unfettered ability to see and to see clearly. Not all people are so lucky.

16. Really nice work peers
Really, people have worked with devils and ogres. Not so in my work place. Thank you, thank you.

17. Great fellow grad students
Helps me keep going, spurring me onward, reminding me of the end goal.

There are so many more things, but these are what came to mind first today.