Tuesday, September 27, 2011


I feel like I've been through the ringer, which is perhaps an over-reaction, but that's how I feel.

In June I received a request to edit and resubmit my young adult manuscript to a independent publisher. I spent three months working on the edits, trying to address the comments made and, in general, improve my manuscript. I resubmitted my work just before Andrew and I hit the Juan de Fuca trail in August. I spent much of my vacation checking my email in anticipation of the response. Then it came: still not quite right, keep trying, if you wish, resubmit when you're done.

Okay. Fine. I've spent the last month trying to 'trim the fat' as it were, from my manuscript. Meanwhile, Andrew kept suggesting I talk to the U of A writer in residence. Okay. Fine. I caved. I made an appointment. I need to make sure I have it right this time before resubmitting.

The advice from the writer in residence was not what I'd been hoping for. Actually, it was somewhat opposite to what I'd been told by the independent publisher. The writer in residence doesn't think Nora herself is 'unique' enough (NOTE: not that the story/writing isn't good enough). Not only is that heartbreaking (or at least heart-cracking), it doesn't really help me. To me Nora IS unique. I wrote her. I think with all her flaws she's great and interesting. How am I suppose to make her more special?

I don't know what to do. I'm being told that what I've written is pretty good, just not good enough and I don't know how to fix it. Sure, I could try to send it off to another publisher or agent in the hopes that they'll see things differently, but I feel like that method is akin to a patient diagnosed with terminal cancer, who doesn't want to face the facts so just keeps seeing different doctors in the hopes that someone will tell them differently. I have to do something, except I don't know what or how, and I generally just feel small, weak, and lost.

I'm not asking for help or suggestions, or pity, I'm just stating how I feel. I'll figure something out at some point.



Monday, September 26, 2011

Dinner and a show: Blue Chair Cafe featuring Roxanne Potvin

One of the great things about going to Staurt Mclean's Vinyl Cafe Christmas Show is hearing the generally unknown Canadian musicians he features. Four (or was it five...six?) years ago when we attended the show (I know we saw the show in Kitchener, but we were living in Edmonton by then) the featured solo artist was Roxanne Potvin a singer-song writer from Hull. At that time, her newest album was The Way It Feels, and I remember that she performed La Merveille, her French-language song from that record. Since then she's released Iron and Solder, which got a fair bit of play on CBC (and we have a copy of), and most recently Play. For some reason this record didn't receive notice on CBC so I was unaware of its release. I found out about the concert by checking the website for the Blue Chair Cafe. Since we went to a couple of concert's last winter I've been watching the site for other groups we'd like to see, so when I saw Roxanne's name come up I was pretty excited.

On Saturday, September 17th, we headed over to the Blue Chair, starting with dinner, since it's sort of the thing you do when you go to a restaurant for a show. I had the vegetarian enchiladas with delicious corn tortillas, while Andrew had the pud thai. I was feeling a bit off over the weekend, so I wasn't able to finish entree, or my desert--which is a rare occurrence indeed (have I ever mentioned how much I love desert?). Desert was a giant chocolate chip cookie, which is baked fresh when it's ordered. We also partook in the special brew Alley Kat, which was an Octoberfest-style beer, (a taste of home, perhaps, with Octoberfest approaching in Kitchener?).

The concert started at 8:30, although Roxanne was milling around the restaurant beforehand. I find it a bit strange to see the musicians I've come to hear wandering about, having dinner, etc. At one point she walked right passed our table before I was 100% sure she was who I thought she was (I did say 2 posts ago that I rarely have any idea of what my favourite musicians look like) and I just sorted of nodded and smiled. I'm not sure why I should find it strange. Musicians, of course, are human. I know lots of them, but I guess I feel like, if I'm paying to go see someone play they're at a different echelon of performers and therefore I should only see them at a distance on stage. I suppose this doesn't make any sense, but there you go.

We were seated perfectly for the show, centre, just a row or two back, so when the music started I just had to shuffle my chair a couple of inches to settle in for the evening. Roxanne didn't do much chit-chat, which is fine. If musicians aren't very good at it, or don't feel comfortable talking to the crowd, they might as well stick to what they're good at--the music. When I saw BNL, and the Arrogant Worms, I almost wished they would do more ad-libing and chat because they were so funny. Then again, after listening to the live album of Little Miss Higgins, I've realized she told us the same stories as what is on the CD. So, Roxanne mostly just played and sang with only the occasional brief story. Songs came from all three of her albums.

I'm not sure if Roxanne has a 'normal' band, but she was accompanied by a drummer and a guitarist (who I think played electric, acoustic, slide and possibly bass, although I can't remember for sure). They seemed to be having fun and as she joked at one point, all of her songs are two minutes long, so they had to learn a whole slew of songs for her two, half-hour sets (not quite fifteen songs per set). It was a fun concert, although it strikes me that it must be difficult for the performer to play in a restaurant where people are eating, and drinking, and talking during their show. There was a table behind us that was rather talkative, although they quieted down during the second half. I'm also guessing that at least some of the audience members were there more because they were regulars of the Blue Chair, than because they knew who Roxanne was as we heard people make comments suggesting they'd never heard of her before.

I'm looking forward to November. Two more Canadian songstresses are performing in Edmonton at the Myer-Horowitz theatre on the U of A campus. Sarah Sleen will be in on November 16th, and Jill Barber will be performing a few days later on November 22nd. For now I have a couple of new CDs to buy (yes, I still like them in hard copies).



Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Acrobatic fun at Firefly

You could say that when Andrew and I get into something we really go whole-hog. When we took the intro to aerials in May, we loved it right away from the first class. I went so far as to ask our instructor at the end of the class when the next level would be starting up--I liked it that much. We took a stretching class in July. There were a bunch we were interested in, but being a wannabe writer and a PhD student means that we can't be out of our home every night of the week or we'll never get our work done. We also started going to the drop in sessions after the end of our intro class. We were by far the least skilled at the drop ins, but whatever, we wanted to practice the skills we'd learned so that we wouldn't be completely rusty be the start of our next class. So, when we were at one of the drop in sessions we heard about the special classes being held in September by a guest instructor. One week, 3 different classes. Which ones to take?

I think one of the reasons I love skating is the 'human powered flying' that can be achieved in jumping (I've always been a much better jumper than a spinner). Therefore, I knew right away I wanted to take the 3-night acrobatics course. The other classes sounded nifty too (Chinese pole--not stripper/pole dancing, and duo trapeze), but I wanted to do tumbling, handstands, etc. I think I send in my request to sign up about five minutes after we received the official announcement email (go smartphones with email alert). Classes were scheduled for 2 hour blocks in the evenings (M/W/F), the week of September 12th.

There were nine of us in class in total (several seemed to be signed up for the other courses as well) all with varying skill levels, although I think Andrew and I were the newest to Firefly. We worked a lot of handstands on the first day, plus back arches, and worked on assisted back walk overs. I know we also got some cartwheels in, although I don't remember what else. It was a pretty tiring class, but fun. The instructor, Chris Taylor, was very good. He teaches in Toronto, and is also a circus performer. He was very positive and energetic and was good at breaking things down so we could understand  how to do (or attempt) to do the moves. Our second and third days were in fact, quite similar, although we got to go in a harness and attempt back tucks.

By the third day I was tired.We'd been physicially active every day of the week and Andrew's stomach seemed to be quite unsettled, causing him to miss half of the class. A couple of people got to try back tucks without the harness (I was a bit disappointed that I wasn't one of them, but again, I was pretty tired by that point anyway). Andrew and I got shown a new balance/lift move (we had done a couple on the second day when we were just practicing the various things we'd been taught), but again, my arms were really tired and I couldn't get myself into the right position to achieve the lift. We've heard that Chris might be back in the winter, so we'll almost definitely sign up for more classes and hopefully I can work on my handstands and back arches until then.



Thursday, September 15, 2011

Kaleido Festival: free music and a good time

This weekend we (Andrew and I) and a friend of ours went to the Kaleido Festival, an outdoor street festival held on 118th Ave. It was our friend who suggested it, she wanted to go see the closing band Dehli 2 Dublin and was rounding up friends to attend. Since I'm pretty much always up for live music (despite having never really heard the band--but had heard of) we decided to go. Thankfully the good weather we've been having continued into Saturday so we only needed a comfortable hoodie to keep us warm as the sun went down (apparently last year was rather cold and everyone huddled around the bonfire). A large stage was set up in what I think was a parking area, with several rows of bleachers arrange out in front.

We got there a little after 6:00 pm and caught the tail end of Joel Lavoie's performance. He's an acoustic guitarist in, what I'd be inclined to say is, a soft rock style. I certainly found it easy listening and enjoyed the performance. At this point there weren't a lot of people around, but the crowd was appreciative with a few people even getting up to dance. An 'in between act' filled in a few moments between Lavoie and the next act, the Secretaries. I forget what they were called, but they were meant to be a sort of incognito performance where one guy pretended to be a sound check guy, while a group member sitting in the audience started yelling at him for taking to long and holding up the show. It turned out there were maybe a dozen or so group members sitting in the audience and they all got up and joined in a rap about how everyone thinks they're a sound technician. It was funny, but went on a trifle long for my taste.

Although I'd never heard of the Secretaries, I rather enjoyed them (and as it turned out the parents of the lead singer were sitting in front of us). They were accompanied by the Brass Holes (2 trumpets and a tuba) who also turned out to be their back up dancers--it was quite hilarious. They mostly just sort of swayed back and forth 'Diana Ross and the Supremes'-style, but it was made the more amusing because it was three guys. They also occasionally played tambourine. The bass player and turned out to be Colleen Brown. I've never seen Colleen Brown before, but I'd certainly heard her played on the CBC. As with most music I listen to, I have no idea what the musicians actually look like. I tend to go to a lot of classical concerts, not rock/folk/jazz whatever concerts, so most of my favourite musicians could walk by me on the street and I'd have no idea. That's probably still the case for Colleen, even though I enjoyed her performance and valiant effort to continue singing even after swallowing a bug.

The follow act wasn't my favourite. It was some sort of fusion jazz. At one point Andrew and I got up and checked out a nearby bakery which turned out to be delicious (I got a slice of cheese cake, Andrew an eclaire). We did dance a bit during this performance since they were turning out good beats. The warm-up before Delhi-2-Dublin was a local Japanese-style drumming group called Kita No Taiko. As it turns out, one of the drummers is also a Firefly student and is taking a 3-night acrobatics course with us. She explained that the show as a bit weird for them, as they weren't expecting to be preforming outside, and then were required to preform on the space in front of the stage rather than on the stage (so that Delhi-2-Dublin could set up). We enjoyed their show anyway. The drumming is quite energetic with lots of dancing around, switching drums and deadly precision.

The last act was Delhi-2-Dublin and by this time the concert area was packed. As the deejay introduced them, people were filling the aisle to get into the dance area at the front then flooded the space when the band came on. Delhi-2-Dublin is a Vancouver based band, made up of 5 members (4 guys, 1 girl), performing on a range of instruments that include guitar, sitar, violin/fiddle, 2 types of ethnic drums (the names I've forgotten), one guy handles sound mixing, and one guy does the lead singing. As you might guess, they have an eclectic sound that probably most profoundly borrows from Celtic and Indian music. They were super fun and super energetic. I'd wanted to dance, but when I saw the crowd go for the dance floor I was momentarily disappointed. This didn't last long since pretty much everyone in the rows in front of us also stood up to dance--problem solved. The played for seventy-five minutes pretty much none stop. There were a couple of slower songs in the middle where not all the band was required so the unused members slipped off for a quick break.

All-in-all a good show, and a pretty good night.



Monday, September 5, 2011

Juan de Fuca trail: hiking the west coast of Vancouver Island

From August 24th to 27th, Andrew and I traversed the Juan de Fuca trail, a 47-kilometre hike along the west coast of Vancouver Island. The trail starts at China Beach (about an hour's drive from Victoria) and ends at Botanical Beach (2.5 km from Port Renfrew). There are a number of camping sites along the way, several on beaches, and you can more-or-less evenly stretch out your hike over several days in order to complete the trail. If you're not the hiking-camping sort, you can also just visit one of the sites (although you'll still have to do some marginal amount of hiking to get there), park your stuff there and go out for short day trips, or just hang out on the beach. We opted to take 4 days, and 3 nights, which I think was about right, although Andrew keeps saying it would have been better over 5 days, but I disagree. I'm generally not the sit around and do nothing type, so I think covering shorter distances each day would have made for boring afternoons (we have to carry everything we take with us, so it's not like we could have loaded up on books and games).

Anyways...the hike. When we got back people asked if we enjoyed the hike, or if we had a good time--I find this a difficult question to answer. Was the scenery beautiful? Yes. Was it awesome to camp by the ocean? Yes. Did we run into any aggressive wild life like bears or cougars? No. Did we have to climb enormous hills, just to go back down them and repeat 4-5 times in one day? Yes. Did we slog through mud (ankle deep at times)? Yes. Did I enjoy all aspects of this? No, not exactly, but would I do it again? Yes, without a doubt. I want to do the 75-km West Coast Trail next year, where Parks Canada requires you to take an 1.5 hour orientation session before you can enter the trail. So why, if I can't say I exactly enjoyed myself would I want to do something like this again? Because, as I repeated to myself several times while hiking up and down those hills: I choose to do this not because it is easy, but because it is hard (yes, that's what JFK said about getting to the moon). Also, it appeals to my sense of adventure.

We spent the morning of the 24th running around picking up things we still needed, such as a stove (which we had to leave at the Edmonton Airport--see lesson learned No. 1), pants and gaiters for Andrew, bear spray, etc. Then we also decided to pick up new poi (again, see lesson No. 1), which meant we didn't get to the China Beach parking lot until almost 2:00 pm. Thankfully, the beginning part of the trail isn't too challenging, so we were able to reach our first campsite by around 5:30 pm. We set up our tent, pulled out our food and settled in for the night. There's tons of drift wood on the beaches, which make for reasonably comfy chairs--a good thing, since there weren't any actual picnic tables (which there were on the Jasper Skyline). We had to eat off our knees, but we didn't mind since dinner was delicious (quinoa salad, with dried fruit and bacon). We tried to get a campfire going as well, but the wood was too damp and even dousing it with a little kerosene didn't result in a steady blaze.
Me, right at the beginning of the trail, the first suspension bridge we approached.
Also near the beginning of the trail, one of the first log-steps/ladders that we encountered.
An example of some of the beautiful scenery we viewed on the first day of our hike.
Seagulls hanging out at Chin Beach, the first site we stayed at, approximately 9 km into the hike.
We had great weather for pretty much the entire hike. It was misty most mornings, as can be seen below, but cleared everyday for the afternoon. Thankfully, most of the trail winds through the forest so we were never fully exposed to the sun; therefore I never needed sunscreen, and we also rarely needed bug spray--which was kind of nice. During the second day we covered the most difficult territory. At least four or five major climbs (I don't know the altitude gained, but it was pretty significant) were trekked and it took us 5 hours to complete 12 km. When we got to the beach at 3:00 pm we were worn out. Plus, that day my pack was really bothering me. I felt bad about taking less than Andrew (I get all the food, but he gets the tent, the cookware and many other bits and pieces) and had taken a couple of extra pieces of equipment leaving my shoulders and hips quite sore.

At Bear Beach (21 km into the trail) we soaked our feet in the icy water of the Pacific--it felt great despite the cold. We set up at an awesome site where the tent was enclosed with tree which was connected by a short path to a sort of 'living room' set up with large pieces of driftwood centred around a fire pit. We sat on the logs for almost an hour just watching the waves before we made dinner. This night we were easily able to get a fire going, a relief since it was colder than our first. It also got very misty and from our spot we couldn't quite tell if it was raining or just really foggy as we were sitting under tree cover. We ended up going to bed early. It was wet-ish, and cool, and we decided we were going to try for a longer hike on our third day and would therefore need to get up earlier.
The morning of our second day, before we'd managed to get packed up on Chin Beach.
An example of the scenery on the second day. There were lots of ups and downs this day.
The ocean at our second stop, Bear Beach, 21 km into the trail.
Our third day was a bit hectic. We'd planned to hike 12 km to the Little Kutchie campsite at the 33 km mark, which would have left us 14 km on our last day, plus a 2.5 km trek into Port Renfrew where we would catch a shuttle back to our car. Andrew was worried that we'd have to push too hard to make the 5:00 pm pick up time (the bus only ran once a day), so we agreed to carry on to Payzant Creek located at the 40 km mark. On the blessing side, once we got passed Sombrio Beach, the terrain eased out--a bit. Actually there's a lengthy section before the beach (probably at least a kilometre long) where the path is completely flat. It looked like it might have been some kind of access road. Andrew and I were able to walk side-by-side; however, after that short oasis, the ups and downs returned, although there were fewer and not as drastic, and it got really muddy. Thankfully I opted to wear my gaiters that morning (due to the weird mist the night before), so it helped keep my pant legs clean and dry.

I was exhausted by the time we reach Payzant. The last 3 km (we had a break at 37 km, unfortunately the spot was only a parking lot, not a campsite) were a blurr and it was pretty much just determination that kept me going. It took us 8 hours to cover 19 km, reaching our destination around 6:00 pm. The mud probably slowed us down a bit (pausing to look for ways around, instead of through it) and it left my feet really damp and unpleasant by the time we reached our site. I basically had the start of 'trench foot' developing and would have been in serious trouble if I hadn't been able to let my skin air-dry. Fortunately it was fairly warm at the forest campsite, so I was able to sit and make dinner without wearing socks, which helped immensely. My feet were more-or-less okay (aside from a bit of blistering on my heels) the next morning.
Sun shining through the trees on the morning of our third day.

One of the log bridges we crossed. This one had no hand rail, and hadn't been evened out on top.

The really big suspension bridge we crossed leading up to Sombrio Beach on our third day.

Another example of the great scenery to be had along the trail.

The Payzant Creek, the location of our third and final campsite 40 km into the hike.
We took our time pulling ourselves together on our last morning. We had a mere 7 km to get to Botanical Beach, the end of the trail, and another 2.5 km to Port Renfrew--the whole point of slogging through the mud the day before. I think by the time we'd had breakfast, cleaned up, and packed up, it was 9:30 am. This section of the trail was considered the easiest, which was a relief, although still quite muddy. We crossed a number of hikers in the opposite direction. Some out for just day hikes, some starting the full trail. A little after noon we reached Botanical Beach, by which point the sun was coming out. We sat on a log and had lunch--I had to put on sunscreen for the first time the entire hike (as it was the first time I actually sat in the sun)--and dipped out toes in the ocean again. Some time after 1:00 pm we agreed we ought to carry on and head into Port Renfrew.

The final 2.5 km was a breeze--along a paved road with only a couple of gentle hills. We probably could have attempted to hitchhike, but I figured we could manage the last bit on our own. It only took us 40 minutes to reach the town (village?), so we probably could have stuck to our original plans after all. We took advantage of our extra time before the shuttle arrived to relax at the Port Renfrew Hotel Pub. It was the prefect treat after 4 days of eating off our knees out of doors. The beer was good and cold, while the food was hot and tasty. We demolished a giant plate of nachos, then we each had a entree as well. We had plenty of time to hit the washroom, pay, and get to the shuttle pick up on time.
The scenery at Tom Baird Creek, just a km or two away from Botanical Beach. We sat and had a quick rejuvenating break before finishing off the trail.
Me and Andrew at Botanical Beach. We sat for an hour, had lunch, stuck our feet in the Ocean, relaxed before finishing the last km of the trail.
The ocean at Botanical Beach.

The pub at Port Renfew. Delicious!
Notes about the Juan de Fuca Trail:

1) There are covered outhouses at all of the campsites, which include toilet paper.

2) There are also food cashes (heavy metal boxes with giant clips to keep them closed) at every campsite, usually near the outhouse.

3) There are creeks near every campsite, so there's a source of water (once filtered) for drinking/cooking.

4) It was extremely muddy when we were there, so gaiters are a good idea.

Lessons learned:

1) Airlines do not permit camp stoves even as checked luggage, even if you're not packing fuel. We had to purchase a new stove at the MEC in Victoria.

2) 19 km really is too much to hike in one day (for us at least) while carrying packs and going over hilly, muddy terrain. We ran into this problem last year as well, but the lesson clearly didn't stick.

3) Camel packs are way better for hydration than water bottles. You don't have to stop and unscrew a lid to drink, encouraging more water intake; however, when you're sweating rivers, it's hard to keep properly hydrated no matter what.

4) I really shouldn't feel bad about carrying less than Andrew. At least one of the figures I've seen suggests that women should only be carrying about a quarter of their body weight, and men a third. Andrew weights more than me, and is a man, therefore he should carry more.