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The tickets are bought, the travel insurance is in place, and the destination has been chosen! I am so ready to leave!

Ellen and I are leaving my parents’ place on Saturday morning, taking the bus to Vancouver. Our flight isn’t until Monday, but neither of us is comfortable risking inclement weather preventing our departure from the island. We’ve been delayed too many times in the past by floods closing roads, high winds keeping ferries in port, and fog grounding planes. The rain is continuous but not heavy, so we hope our good luck with weather continues.

We’ll spend the weekend in Vancouver, enjoying the last of our favourite West Coast cuisine like sushi and dim sum before we enter a new land of untried foods. We’ll probably hit up a local brewery like Steamworks or Granville Island to enjoy a couple of pints, just as a baseline for comparison, of course! And first thing Monday morning, we’re off to the airport to hop a flight to San Jose!

When we get there, we’ve decided our first order of business is to visit a beach and arrange some kind of tour to take place in our first week. Our friend in San Jose will host us in our second week, and from there we have no idea what we’ll be doing. Suggestions in or around Costa Rica, anyone?

Someplace like this looks perfect!


I have finally sold my car – she was a great vehicle, and I enjoyed driving her immensely. I hope she brings great joy to her new owner. I’ll miss you, car!

My faithful and reliable car has found a new home. Wish her luck!

One of my favourite rural fall activities is hunting for mushrooms. I’m not as outdoorsy as many people I know, but there are about half a dozen types of mushrooms I can identify and pick with confidence, and only one that I’ll go hunting for – chanterelles. Chanterelles are those yellow trumpet-shaped mushrooms that sell in the grocery store for $18 a pound in the fall.

Lots of delicious wild chanterelles to cook for dinner – today is my aunt Maggie’s birthday and we’re having fried wild mushrooms with steak.

You don’t need to be a local to hunt chanterelles on Vancouver Island. I can tell you exactly how to do it. First, you have to pick the right day to go hunting. You’ll need a damp, overcast day, after several days of rain, before the first frost. Hop in your car and start driving into the bush. Find a logging road where you can drive slowly, and watch the forest as you drive. It’s best to have a passenger to help you keep an eye out for the right kind of place.

What you’re looking for is a dense, dark part of the woods. In my experience, chanterelles tend to grow on steep slopes, especially north-facing ones where they rarely get a ray of sunlight peeking through the trees. If you can see undergrowth or brush under the trees, there’s too much light getting in and you won’t find chanterelles. You’re looking for a second-growth conifer forest. There are old rotting logs crumbling into the earth from the last generation of trees, but the live trees are tall and dense at the top, blocking all the light from the forest floor.

Nothing more beautiful than finding free, delicious, gourmet food just growing wild in the forest!

In the forest, chanterelles look like beautiful buttery-yellow-orange caps peeking out from a bed of pine needles. Train your eyes to scan for flashes of yellow on the forest floor. It’s rare to find one mushroom on its own – usually you’ll find four to six together, and then another group nearby. Look on the darker side of fallen logs, in little dips in the earth, and just under the ridges in the hills. If you find a group of chanterelles, try to imagine which way ground water would flow, and follow that direction – the spores will often seed mushrooms along that path. When you’ve searched up and down the slope, move along and repeat the exercise.

Chanterelles are easy to identify. There are no poisonous mushrooms that look anything like them, so even if you make a mistake, nothing that looks like a chanterelle can make you sick. They can range from warm orange to yellow. The underside of the cap is paler than the top of the cap. The gills on the mushroom go down the side of the stem, so it can be hard to see exactly where the cap ends and the stem begins. If the underside of the cap is darker orange or greyish, it might not be a chanterelle – chanterelles are definitely creamy yellow on the underside of the cap. Younger chanterelles are rounded, while older ones tend to become more concave or trumpet-shaped.

The darker mushroom is not a chanterelle – it’s an inedible (but not poisonous) similar-looking mushroom.

As you’re picking, use a knife to cut the stems, rather than uprooting the whole mushroom. I’ve been told that mushrooms can’t regrow if you uproot the entire stem. Also, I like to leave the very small mushrooms and the older, overripe ones behind rather than picking the entire patch of mushrooms. That way the older mushrooms can leave their spores, and the younger ones can grow bigger. It doesn’t seem right to pick every single mushroom in the forest at once.

And there you have it! Happy hunting, and enjoy your mushrooms!

I was in Quesnel this summer, walking along the side of the highway, waiting for a break in traffic so I could cross. I saw a convoy of military vehicles approaching me, which reminded me of when I used to teach for the Korean Military. Naturally, I smiled at the memory of old friends, and the driver of the first vehicle saw me smiling and waved at me. So, of course, I waved at him, which prompted the driver of the vehicle behind him to smile and wave at me as well. And so I returned the smile and wave, and so it went for about twenty army jeeps and trucks. I must have smiled and waved at fifty or sixty young soldiers in a row, and it tickled me that I just couldn’t let myself stop waving at them, because the guys at the end of the line might feel slighted if I didn’t return their greetings. I hope it meant something to them, to see a woman stop in her tracks to smile bemusedly at truck after truck, waving and making eye contact with each soldier inside. It certainly made my day.

I have a confession to make.

I don’t actually like watching TV or movies. I love people-watching. I’d much rather watch people watch TV than be the person watching TV myself. That’s why I love improv and stand-up comedy – I can see the interplay between actor and audience. I love to watch the comedian’s face as he gets an idea, formulates it, runs with it, and responds to the audience and other actors as the scene progresses. It’s much more interesting than the nominal theme of the show. I can go back on the video and watch the same scene again and again, seeing how it clicks and being impressed at how it happens.

On the other hand, watching a show that’s the product of long hours of effort – writing, screenwriting, acting, directing, producing, editing – doesn’t move me nearly as much. I can watch movies and TV shows like that, but I’d prefer to see them with friends or family, and pay attention to how others react to the scenes. I especially like watching someone see a movie for the first time if I’m familiar with it already. I’m not the person talking through it or giving spoilers (“Watch this part; it’s good!”) but I’m definitely paying more attention to my companions than to the screen.

One of my fondest movie memories was on a day when I’d been invited along on a girls’ movie night with some acquaintances. We were all to see some chick flick – I think it was Maid in Manhattan – which I wasn’t keen on at all. (Chick flicks aren’t my thing.) When we got to the theatre, there was a line-up out the door. I found out that Fellowship of the Ring was opening at midnight and there were still tickets available for the first screening. I ditched girls’ night and joined the fellowship of the nerds in the line-up.

Oh, what an experience, to sit in the audience of a much-anticipated movie on opening night! The show was late starting and the crowd was vocal in its discontent. There were jeers during the ads and cheers during the previews. After half a dozen trailers the screen went dark and the manager begged the crowd’s patience. The audience was buzzing – under control but full of energy. At about 12:35, the reason for the delay was revealed: Sir Ian McKellan entered the theatre – he was in town filming X-men.

Finally, the show was underway. It was such an amazing feeling, seeing this film with a few hundred hardcore fans. They called out advice to Merry and Pippin in the scene with the fireworks. They tried to mumble along to Bilbo’s speech, commenting on whether they felt it was accurate enough. They shouted out warnings to Frodo when he was in danger, heckled the dark riders when they were washed away in the river, booed Boromir when he spoke of keeping the ring. I was so engrossed in watching them watch the movie that I barely watched the movie myself.

I hope, wherever I go and whatever I end up doing in life, I get to continue audience-watching. Maybe I’ll start going to live comedy shows and theatre productions. Anything but watching TV at home alone.

This week, I visited my grandmother, and she shared this story.

Here’s Renee, my gran.

Renee (that’s my gran) was a young woman during the war, and she was living and working in a small town near Manchester in England, where her family and my grandfather’s had lived for generations. My grandfather was taken prisoner of war of the Japanese in Southeast Asia, and became quite fluent in Japanese and Malay. After the war, my grandfather went to Singapore for work, and after he had settled there, he sent for my grandmother and my 5-month-old aunt, Maggie.

At this point, Renee had never been farther from home than about 10 miles. She was a young woman with a child, and she had to make her way across the country to the port where a ship would take her to Singapore. She bundled up herself, her baby, and all their baggage, and found her way to the ship for the several-month-long trip. She was completely alone – none of her family accompanied her, and her husband was thousands of miles away waiting for her.

Albert, my grandfather, sent word that when the ship stopped in Cairo, she was to make her way to a certain store, where he had arranged for her to outfit herself and the baby with more appropriate attire for the climate. Renee walked into the shop, wearing her old winter clothing from England, and big clunking winter boots. She had never bought any clothing before – England after the war was rationing things and she’d never been able to afford new clothes anyway, as her family was decidedly working class. This was the first time she had ever had a chance to go shopping, and my grandfather had given her carte blanche to buy whatever she thought necessary.

Renee had absolutely no idea where to begin. She stood in the shop and gaped, and was quite incapable of thinking of what to buy. She, of course, had no idea what Singapore was going to be like, and had never experienced anything like its climate. The shopkeepers took over and assured her that they would make sure she had everything she needed.

“Let’s start with evening clothes,” the shopkeeper said, and brought out the most beautiful gown Renee had ever seen in her life. It was loose and flowing, soft and sensual. She felt like Cinderella, and declared that she could imagine herself dancing in it for hours. “Oh no,” the shopkeeper cried out in shock. “This is a nightgown! It is only for sleeping!” Gran was mortified, and kept her opinions to herself after that as the shopkeeper brought out dress after dress for herself and the baby. She left that day with trunks full of such splendours as she had never imagined in England.

And then, to arrive in Singapore and find that Albert had employed a whole family of servants, as was the custom for British families in the colony! Renee was struck with such culture shock by the whole experience. She still has a brooch, given to her by the shopkeeper in Cairo, to remind her of it. She wanted to bring it to lunch at her nursing home in a fairly small remote town here in Canada. But then, the people here are like she was as a young woman – they’ve never been more than 50km from the small town they’ve grown up in, and don’t have the faintest idea how to imagine places or stories like she describes.

But I appreciated her story, and thought it deserved to be written down and shared with people who understand.

At the beginning of August I broke my wrist at work. Note to others: Avoid breaking your wrist in a remote community on a long weekend, even with a festival in town.

I was working in Barkerville, a heritage attraction in northern British Columbia, as the kitchen manager at a restaurant. The head chef asked me to pull a box of lamb out of the freezer, and as I did so, the 40-pound box slipped from my hands and knocked my wrist into the freezer wall. It hurt, but I didn’t realize it was broken at the time. It was the Saturday of a long weekend, with the Arts Wells festival in town, so we were busy and I just kept on working, while favouring my arm a bit.

The following day, Sunday, it didn’t take me long to realize that my wrist was not happy. It was swollen and I couldn’t use my hand for anything. But, well, it was a long weekend and we’d all agreed that nobody was getting time off during the festival, so I headed into work anyway and busied myself with one-handed tasks like putting away dishes, inventorying ingredients, and preparing prep lists. The other cooks who were working, Patrick and Ashley, took over the line and were handling everything beautifully – until Patrick dropped a knife and caught it in his left hand. (I’d slow clap, but I couldn’t at the time.)

At this point, things were not looking good for our long weekend staffing plan. I asked someone to look up the first aid number and call for first aid, but there was no information by the phone on how to contact first aid. Someone called the main phone number for the park, but it went to voicemail as I’m sure everyone was busy with the increased traffic from the festival. Eventually, we flagged down the horse & carriage driver, who used his radio to call security, who called first aid.

The first aid attendant who showed up put a band-aid on Patrick’s bleeding thumb, and it was immediately soaked through. So then she put two band-aids on it and told Patrick to visit her office later to get a fresh one if necessary. I asked her to look at my wrist while she was there, and she glanced at it and told me it was swollen (thank you Captain Obvious) and that I should ice it. And, back to work we went, ridiculously short handed (har har har).

Well, after an hour or two, Patrick’s hand was bleeding again, and my wrist was killing me. He went off to look for the first aid office, but couldn’t find it, so he had a smoke and came back to work. Eventually, we had to give up on the idea of working, and I gave the restaurant keys to Ashley and Jamie, the 15-year-old dishwasher, and told them to do their best to keep the food flowing until closing.

Patrick and I decided to look for first aid at the festival – I’d seen an ambulance on the main drag on Saturday night, so we headed back there to ask for help. Of course, there was no ambulance there on Sunday. We did a quick loop of the festival, but couldn’t find a first aid tent either. Luckily, I remembered that there was an ambulance station across from the staff housing in Wells, so we walked over to the ambulance station to ask for help. Of course, the station was locked, lights out, ambulance inside, and no sign on the door explaining what to do if you needed help. However, it was next door to the police station, so over there we went, looking for medical assistance.

Naturally, the police station was also locked up, lights out, no way to contact the officers. We headed over to the gift shop next door to that, to ask how on earth to summon first aid in the Wells/Barkerville area. The woman didn’t know, but she told us to head on over to the restaurant next door to see if the owner, who had been there for decades, knew how to get first aid. He dialed the phone number for the festival organizers, but of course we got an answering machine.

At this point, we were getting pretty frustrated, but decided to head up to the festival one more time to find first aid. We checked out the festival organizers, but they were closed, but we found the volunteer booth and asked them about first aid. Of course, they didn’t know anything about that, and didn’t have a phone to call anyone to ask. They suggested dropping by the pub to see if anyone at the pub knew what to do. So, Patrick and I walked back toward the pub, when at long last, we spotted a police car driving by. We flagged the cops down to ask for medical attention.

I explained that we’d hurt ourselves, and the first officer asked, “What happened, did you fall down drunk?” Grr. Not impressed! And then he proceeded to tell us that they weren’t trained in first aid and couldn’t do anything for us. I expressed my disbelief that he couldn’t even bandage a small wound, considering small-town cops must surely be first on the scene to a number of life-threatening situations. He found a first aid kit in his trunk and handed Patrick two band-aids. The best he could offer me was to call on his radio to Quesnel, an hour away, to ask an ambulance to be sent to pick me up and take me to hospital. I declined.

At this point, Patrick and I gave up on first aid, and headed back to his place, where Caleb, the head chef at the restaurant, was waiting to see how we’d fared. I had had about enough of the run-around, and burst into tears. (Go me! Holding up under pressure!) Caleb got on the phone to a friend of his whose mother was an off-duty paramedic, and after four or five phone calls all over town, managed to track her down. Thirty minutes later, Patrick’s hand was being properly bandaged. When she finally got to look at my wrist, she declared it absolutely broken, and thankfully my friend Shanna arrived and offered to drive me to hospital in Quesnel.

By the time I was treated for my injury, it was midnight on the day after it happened (although at least 18 hours of that delay was my fault). However, I must say that WorkSafe BC, the Worker’s Compensation board, has been wonderful in making sure I was taken care of financially. I have had no complaints about my care since getting past the first aid stage, and a week later, when Patrick slipped and knocked himself out in the kitchen at work, we didn’t bother with Barkerville/Wells first aid, and called 911 right off the bat. Lesson learned!

I am cold. I don’t like being cold. I might expand on this topic further, except I don’t want somebody to google my name ten years down the road and find a laundry list of all my grievances with the world published for all mankind to see. Life is full of so many amazing, positive, wonderful things, and when I am warm and wearing a cotton sundress, I appreciate those things much more than I do when I am bundled up wearing a toque.

I am with my family right now – that’s something I appreciate. I am about to have dinner with my aunt Maggie and my parents. In a family where the average physical distance between our homes is about 2000km, these times of family togetherness are wonderful to experience. And, before the internet cut out (*&$%ing piece of *#@%) I was able to briefly see my young nephew’s face over Skype while chatting with my brother and sister-in-law. Really, it’s nice to be able to enjoy spending time with my family before going 7500km south to Latin America.

There are still flowers blooming in the window boxes at my parents’ place. They complement the changing leaves beautifully. I hope I don’t stay long enough to see them peeking up out of the first snow.


I have no idea what Costa Rica will be like when I get there. I don’t have any experience with Latin America to base it on. I imagine it will be similar to the Philippines and Thailand, minus the Buddhist temples. Warm climate, friendly people, unusual birds, animals, insects and lizards, and tourist areas set up for the many holiday-makers who rarely make it off the beaten track. I hope to spend my time away from those tourist traps and live with the locals.

I remember in the Philippines, staying with a family and eating local food. They didn’t have a fridge, so they bought fresh fish and vegetables at the market every morning, and the food was so… alive. Not literally, but everything tasted more real than it did in Canada. The tomatoes were so tomatoey, and the onions were the very essence of onion. I remember stopping with my friend Rudy at a roadside stand in Cambodia, ordering traditional noodles and being disappointed that they were instant ramen, but the taste – they were served with the chickeniest chicken I have ever eaten, even compared to our own organic hens on our farm. That’s the way I imagine food in Costa Rica – fresher and more real than what we find here in Canada.

Now, sitting here in my toque and slippers, smelling the curried squash stew for dinner, Canadian food doesn’t seem so bad. Yes, I look forward to fresh tropical fruits and avocados, but a nice winter vegetable stew is one of those pleasures that makes up for the winter.

It’s very hard to pack for a trip when you don’t know how long you’ll be gone, where you’re going, or what you’re doing when you get there. However, I’ve decided to go off on this adventure, and so pack I must. I’m sure in a month or two or six, I’ll be able to tell you what was useful and what I got rid of, but here is what I’m taking, so far. Keep in mind that besides an outfit or two for cold weather that I’m leaving at my parents’ place, I’ve gotten rid of everything I own that isn’t coming with me.

  • Clothing: 1 pair of pants, 1 pair of shorts, 3 dresses, 2 t-shirts, 1 long sleeved shirt, 1 thin cashmere sweater, 1 light hoody, 2 pairs of leggings, 4.5 pairs of socks (I can’t bear to throw away the half-pair because it’s my favourite), 2 swimsuits, and undies for seven days. 1 thin rain jacket, 1 toque (will trade for lighter hat when I get there), 1 pair of hiking boots, 1 pair of sandals, possibly 1 pair of light runners.
  • Toiletries: toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, chapstick, prescription painkillers, feminine hygiene, Q-tips, toothpicks, hand towel, deodorant, hand cream (might not take that), spare glasses, contact lenses + solution, condoms (thanks, mum!)
  • Gear: 1-man tent, sleeping bag, silk sleeping bag liner, collapsable water bottle, 2 knives, waterproof backpack liner, wrist brace (may abandon if physiotherapist says I won’t need it), purse (will trade for day bag when I get there), flashlight (manual wind-up powered), alarm clock (although my phone might do – we’ll see), miniature hot water bottle (I like to be warm when I sleep).
  • Entertainment: phone (with e-books and music on it), earphones, solar charger, computer (for blogging, writing, and movies), computer charger (too big for solar charger), camera (for Ellen to use – I’ll use my phone for pictures), camera charger, journal/sketchbook, a pen or pencil, a few sheets of watercolour paper, a travel set of acrylic paints and brushes (but I’ll do them watercolour style), a penny whistle (that I can’t play until my wrist heals better, and may get rid of, but not yet), 5 dice for yahtzee, a travel cribbage set, a deck of cards.

It seems like such a lot of stuff, and yet it all fits into my backpack, without anything strapped to the outside except my hiking boots. And then, it doesn’t seem like so much stuff if I consider that that’s EVERYTHING I intend to own for a while. I wish I could justify a pillow, though! What would you / did you take on a grand adventure?

I have had people ask me what the purpose of my trip is, and what I’m going to be doing when I get down to Costa Rica. I’ve had people ask me specifically where I’m going. Acquaintances want to know what my plans are. Well, it’s time for a confession:

Not with this trip, not with my life. I am, once again, at a crossroads in my life. All I know is that this trip is something I need to do. I’m not soul-searching, per se. I am happy with who I am; I don’t need to find myself. I have a variety of skills that I could transform into jobs or careers, and I have a variety of interests that I could pursue. I just don’t know what I’m going to be doing next. I can’t tell you where I’ll be in a month or in a year. I can’t tell you what will occupy my time next week or six months from now.

At the beginning of 2011, my New Year’s resolution was to go with the flow. At the beginning of 2012, it was to be more selfish. I’m still working on both of these things. I want to see where life takes me and enjoy the ride. I also want to take the time and trouble to seek out things that will make me happy. Both of these goals are leading me to get on a plane to Costa Rica with my sister Ellen, and see where we end up. We have parameters for the trip, but they are pretty vague.

  1. The trip should not be confined to specific travel dates. We will depart when we are ready, and return when we feel the need. Open tickets are apparently no longer a thing, so we will buy our ticket from Vancouver to San Jose when we are ready to leave, and upon our arrival in Costa Rica extend the return date to some randomly-picked date in the future, which we will change as necessary.
  2. We will go where interest and wanderlust take us. We know we’ll start in Costa Rica because our friend lives there, and we intend to visit our cousin in Colombia, but beyond that we’re open to relying on fate or chance or dumb luck to guide us.
  3. We want to immerse ourselves in the places we visit. We are not content to merely visit famous tourist destinations and take our pictures in front of them – in fact, we’d rather avoid those places altogether. I would like to eat what the locals eat, and enjoy the cultures of the places we travel. It will take longer, and we may miss out on some amazing destinations, but I want to BE, rather than SEE.
  4. We will do whatever inspires us on the trip. We’ve picked out a few ideas – we would both like to volunteer for worthy causes while we are away. Ellen specifically wants to do something with wildlife rescue, farming, and natural medicine, while I’m especially open to food production, tourism, and language learning.
  5. While travelling, I would like to record my experiences, through the written word, photography, and possibly painting or sketching. At the moment, I’m interested in some kind of non-fiction writing, with the possibility of making a career out of it if the opportunity presents itself.
  6. On this trip, I am open to the idea of making a semi-permanent home somewhere along the way. I’ve never liked winter, and as many of my friends and family are outside of Canada, I don’t feel it would be so bad to emigrate somewhere warmer. I am not saying I won’t come home, but if the right place presents itself, I am open to finding work and staying indefinitely.

So that’s what this trip is about, in a nutshell. Being open to what comes our way, and embracing the fact that we have no idea what we’re getting ourselves into.