Fire in the Belly

I was going to post about something completely different today, but you know how sometimes an idea captures you?

When I was in grad school, Darren and I had a prof named Ken Coates.  Ken is an historian of northern Canada who has published dozens of books on a wide range of topics.  He is an engaging speaker and professor and a juggernaut of an administrator.  We used to say that Ken was the standard to which we all fail.  Darren and I were privileged to work for Ken during our time at the University of Saskatchewan.  He gave us the extremely enjoyable assignment of researching the Kemano Completion Project, which meant spending three weeks traveling to all the relevant archives and museums in Victoria, Vancouver, and various small communities between Prince George and Kitimat.  It was really rough.

We talked to Ken a great deal about our futures, trying to discern whether we, Darren in particular, should go on to do a PhD in history and try to get a professorship.  One piece of advice Ken gave us was to follow our “fire in the belly.”  In other words, follow your passion. It was good advice.

Lately, I’ve been feeling the “fire in the belly,” or rather, the desire to really refine what I am passionate about.  And then, audacious dreamer that I am, I want to act on it.

Here is a bit of what I mean. Lately, the approach that Simon Sinek takes really resonates with me.  Please watch this if you can.  I basically wanted to send this to everyone I knew when I first watched it.  I guess I just did.  What is your “fire in the belly?”  What drives you?  What is it you want to do?


(Wow. Simon speaks about his experiences in going to Afghanistan.  Intense and amazing.)


Documentary: Philosophy and the Matrix

This documentary is Philosophy and the Matrix: Return to Source, which can be found in the Ultimate Matrix Collection. I knew that the Matrix had philosophical underpinnings to it, but I hadn’t ever heard/seen them explained thoroughly. I especially appreciated the discussion of Matrix 2 and 3. I have only seen those once (maybe twice) and so it was interesting to see how they developed different aspects of the first film. My academic background is history, so it is nice to come across these short introductions to other disciplines.

(Incidentally, while taking a shower this evening, Benno was singing a song he made up featuring “Mount Zion” and “ions.” I though that was pretty witty. And appropriate for the documentary as well.)

Utility gets an upgrade

Suburban landscapes in North America have the potential to be bland and unappealing. I remember being at my parent’s house in the wintertime – they lived on the side of the mountain so you could stand on their back porch and look across the valley and out at all the houses below. One morning I woke up and it had snowed. I looked out the window and saw a sea of…beige. Everywhere you looked there were neutral-toned houses topped with white. The green of the evergreens was all that kept the view from being totally boring. (Well, okay, the majestic mountains in the distance helped too, I suppose.)

Suffice to say, suburbia is not necessarily the first place one would look for dashes of colour and visual innovation. However, the outlying areas of the Greater Vancouver Regional District have embarked on an initiative that adds whimsy and interest to a functional, mundane item: the utility box. Here’s what I mean…

Various utility boxes around the GVRD have had images added to their exterior. However, what I really like about this project is that the images reflect unique aspects of the community. Here’s what I mean:

Produce: this references all the farms and fresh produce available in the Fraser Valley.

This one is located near historic downtown Cloverdale.

An assortment of items near the local flea market.

A scene from the Cloverdale Rodeo.

A BC lake. Not sure which one…

Lush BC forest. Ahhhh…..

These revamped utility boxes are a wonderful example of adding beauty to a functional item merely for the sake of beauty. It doesn’t increase their usefulness, but it sure is a welcome break from suburban neutrality and large green boxes.

Most beautiful thing: sun and pseudo-sea

The “most beautiful thing” of this past week is awarded to two things: sunshine and swimming.

Sunshine is obvious. While the rest of Canada has been basking in above seasonal temperatures, we in the Lower Mainland have had a lot of rain and very little sun or +10 degree weather. This past couple of days have been wonderful. The kids have played outside and Cate even got a bit if a sunburn.

The second beautiful thing is that we went to the wave pool on Saturday evening and had a great time. It is really fun to see how the kids adapt to the water. Benno is a fish, Cate still doesn’t like getting her head wet, but enjoys the water, and John loves sitting in the water and splashing hard with both hands. Lots of fun.

Unfortunately, I forgot to take photos this weekend, so I’ll leave you with some recent photos of the kids.


Brothers in the morning. (Yes, I know John is in a pink sleeping sack. He barfed on the smaller green one. I forgot to get a gender neutral colour when I bought it for Cate, so once John grows out of the medium size, he is stuck with sleeping in pink. Oh well, Cate wore boy sleepers and she survived.)


Princess Cate. Look how regal she is! I love that she has an intuitive sense of dignity and ceremony. She swanned around like that all day.  Wonderful.









DIY: Kindle cover

One of the great challenges of my marriage is figuring out what to give Darren for special occasions like birthdays and Christmas. He has very simple tastes, doesn’t like being made a fuss of, and is fairly particular. All of that means that I can’t just head out to the mall and purchase whatever first grabs my attention. I really need to think about what he wants and needs. This is probably a good thing. It means that I need to take the time to be thoughtful. It also means that finding an appropriate gift is a challenge.

This Christmas, after much discussion, I bought Darren a Kindle. This was a definite splurge for us and (thankfully) also takes the place of a birthday present as well. After shelling out money for the Kindle I wasn’t too excited about spending even more cash on a case. But Darren commutes to work, so he needs a case for the Kindle.

First of all I thought about hollowing out a book like this. Then I saw an IkeaHack for an iPad case that used a $0.99 NEDDA chair pad and I thought that it would be fairly easy to adapt for the Kindle. And that’s what I did.


This is the chair pad. You can get them with designs punched out of them, but I knew I wanted the Kindle to be as protected as possible, so I got the plain kind.


I sized up the Kindle and chopped off the edges of the pad.


There. Perfect fit.


Next I folded up the felt, pinned it where I wanted it, and left it under a heavy object (minus the Kindle inside) overnight. In my case I used a collapsed playpen, but I’m sure a stack of books would work as well.


This is what you are left with. So, I got to work, sewing up the sides and adding some Velcro until it looked like this:


After attaching the Velcro with hot glue, I wish that I had some black Velcro so the glue wouldn’t show through, but oh we’ll, we make do with what we’ve got.


See? Not so pretty. Just as I was finishing up I realized that while the red thread provides a nice contrast, I really would have preferred a darker color so that the Kindle looks wrapped in a seamless form of felt. So I am probably going to re-do this with grey thread.


But, it looks not too bad right now, and it is definitely better than just throwing the Kindle in a backpack unprotected.


There it is, all cosy in its Kindle cocoon. Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday, my Darren.

Documentary: Why Beauty Matters

It’s funny how things come around again and again.  I watched this a few months ago, and I was impressed by Roger Scruton’s argument that we are slowly destroying everything that is beautiful in the world in favour of convenience, commercialism, and self-indulgence.

Within the past week or so, two friends have linked to the documentary on Facebook, and I thought I would post it here.  It is well worth an hour of your time.

The dishes experiment

What is the function of a dishwasher? To clean the dishes. However, when your counters seem to be a permanent home for soiled dishes, something needs to change.

As you may have noticed from a previous post, our sink area tends to get a little cluttered:


This is a continual problem. Even though we have a dishwasher, dirty dishes seem to inhabit our counter on a regular basis. And I do try to keep up with the mess, but it always seems to get the better of me.

A few months ago our dishwasher bit the dust. That’s actually the second dishwasher we have gone through since we moved in. It would be great just to get a whole new set of appliances, but that isn’t a financially responsible option right now.

As I was floundering amidst the dirty dishes last week I remembered that the kitchen seemed to stay much cleaner when the dishwasher was gone. I don’t think this is as counterintuitive as it sounds. When there was no dishwasher, I was forced to clean as I went otherwise there would be a huge pile of dishes at the end of the day. There is still a huge pile of dishes at the end of the day, despite the dishwasher.

Dishwashers present unique problems. I found myself planning meals around what dishes would fit into the dishwasher. Darren and I would differ in our dishwasher strategy. I would hold off loading until we had a full load worth of dishes, while Darren would put the dishes in and then repack at the end of the day. I would then feel hesitant about loading things in the wrong place because Darren usually does the dishes at night while I take care of my work. So, you see, it isn’t as simple as just loading the dishwasher, never mind making sure that we have the time to unload it every morning.

So here is the experiment. I am going to try hand washing dishes during the day for one week. The goal is to get all the dirty dishes off of the counter, especially so that I am not making dinner in the middle of a disaster area. I took this for a test run on the weekend as we were packing to head out to Chilliwack to see my parents and it worked pretty well. So, next Wednesday I will tell you how it went. I hope it works because, frankly, I am really sick of a messy kitchen and trying to accommodate the dishwasher during the day is not working.



Wednesday went pretty well.  I washed dishes during the day and then we loaded the supper dishes into the dishwasher this evening.  Clean up went really quickly tonight, which frees up time for Darren and I to finish watching a movie together this evening after the kids are in bed.  Now just to get them into bed…

From renting to owning

Making a house into a home can be a challenge, especially when staying in one place is a novelty.

When Darren and I were married in 2003, we started out as many young couples do, renting a variety of places and living as economically as possible. The need for economy was exacerbated by the fact that we both chose to go to grad school. Darren finished his MA (Canadian Aboriginal History) in 2005 and, despite delays that included working part time and having two children, I defended my thesis in 2009.

In nine years of marriage we have moved ten times: Fort Langley; Saskatoon, Aird St. Apt#1; Saskatoon Aird St. Apt#2; Saskatoon, 5th Ave; Chilliwack; Walnut Grove with my parents; Walnut Grove, basement suite; Surrey, basement suite; Walnut Grove, basement suite; current townhouse. (Can you tell we were dying to get out of basements?)

We bought our current townhouse just over two years ago and got the keys on Halloween. I spent our first week or so of ownership dropping Ben off at kindergarten, driving to the new house, putting Cate down for a nap, and repainting the accent wall on the main floor. The tomato red looked striking, but it didn’t match any of our stuff and the red grated on my nerves. It was too close to orange.

We moved into the townhouse in the middle of November. Aside from retiling the shower because the grout had failed and the walls were so saturated that you could move them with one finger, we haven’t done any major renovations since then.

The transition from renter to owner has been difficult. Whenever we got into a new rental I would put up all of our photos and pictures, using as many old pin holes as possible. Out came our knick knacks, wedding presents, everything that we could use to make the place our home.

But since we have moved into the townhouse, I have felt paralyzed. Pictures go unhung, windows are curtain less, bedrooms unrefined. It isn’t a total disaster, but it could be so much better than it is.

I have come to realize that part of the reason for this blog is to help me get things done as I continue to make our house a home. Just a month and a half into this I have accomplished so much more than I thought I could, just because I need stuff to write about!

One of my New Years’ resolutions was to hang up our pictures. I hereby resolve not to be afraid, to take chances, and to be willing to question everything. I resolve to make a beautiful, functional home for my family that frees us to live our lives rather than burdening us with unnecessary obligations.

There. Now I’ve said it.

Most beautiful thing: crocuses

This weekend Darren and I got out for a walk on our own, courtesy of my parents. After a few false starts, mostly caused by an exhausted little girl who refused to nap, we got out on our own. While last Saturday’s family excursion was fun, this walk reminded us of how much we need to take the time to reconnect with each other. Being able to communicate with each other without interruption allowed us to troubleshoot, brainstorm, and just enjoy each others’ company.

And we saw this:


And these…


Spring has sprung. I’m ready for it.