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Pieces (Places)…

Years ago I read a book (I think it was Amnesia by Douglas Cooper) that inspired the way I think about place. I especially remember one passage that suggested every physical place holds the memory of the people, objects, events and emotions that have ever filled it. 


I can think of many places where this rings true for me. The apartment my grandmother lived in most of my life has long been demolished (“little boxes…”) but when I drive down the old street I feel strongly the spirit of that space. 


The neighbourhood I work in has evolved over the years – it used to be Middlegate and now it’s called “Highgate” to reflect its elevated status – but the spirit of the old 1970s bowling alley hangout still seeps through the sidewalk cracks here and there. 


Driving past an old east Vancouver park that was updated years ago I think of the welded steel-pipe rocketship that transformed the space for my own childhood – how many other children travelled with it to imaginary places?

I think about visiting my husbands Nonna and her hundreds of years old Italian stone house. How many layers of history are built up there, or in the back alleys of Venice or the mountains of Switzerland?


Thinking about the places that have meant something to me, and the people who make and occupy those spaces, has transformed the seed of that idea of place. I am imagining that every physical place I have passed through, lingered in, been inspired or influenced by has left an impression on me somehow. 

As much as the places are layers of emotion and experience, I am a patchwork of places. Each piece has been influenced by people and events – my whos and wheres are wrapped up in eachother and without them I wouldn’t be me…


Until I was 9 or so I moved quite often with my family. I was used to changing places and carried a sense of wanderlust with me as I grew into myself. I left home (and changed cities) at 17, and continued to move from place to place for more than ten years. My grandmother declared me the “moving-est girl”, and refused to keep updating my status in her address book… 

I was collecting places. 

Ironically, although I was voted “most likely to travel the farthest” at the end of high school, my collection of places has circled back on itself. Every day, sometimes more than once, I drive past several of my former schools and many of the other places I have lived, worked, and played…


In some cases the places have multiple layers of memory. The childhood/school years/adult versions of myself that echo through the places I pass through every day remind me how the layers of life and experience of place have brought texture to my now. Without the time spent in each of those places (even the painfully difficult ones) I wouldn’t have a complete picture today.

As my path continues to wander and wind, I know the places I have been will always hold a piece of me – I have left a layer of love and learning on my way. And as I go, I add the love and learning left by others to my own …

Places to Go

Riverboat Cruise…

“Time is a sort of river of passing events, and strong is its current; no sooner is a thing brought to sight than it is swept by and another takes its place, and this too will be swept away.” (Marcus Aurelius)

Not far from our home in the “suburbs” of Vancouver is a city with a rich history of its’ own and a personal connection too; New Westminster, the “royal city” and (sadly) the deposed provincial capital of British Columbia has the distinction of being the birthplace of two consecutive generations of our family on both sides.  This is remarkable in a country of immigrants and in a family that, on both sides, has had wanderers for many generations.  Although the family has all moved on (wanderers…) the history of the city still makes a great impression on us and we feel a great connection to it (even G.Jr. who “loves the pointy houses” for their unique character, and is always up for a visit to the park…)


This summer we had the chance to see the city from a different angle – the river front.  On a gorgeous sunny Saturday we headed out on the Fraser River via vintage paddlewheel boat and had an amazing time…

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We took some amazing photos of the many bridges that make up daily life here…

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“I grew up in this town, my poetry was born between the hill and the river, it took its voice from the rain, and like the timber, it steeped itself in the forests. ” (Pablo Neruda)

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“What makes a river so restful to people is that it doesn’t have any doubt – it is sure to get where it is going, and it doesn’t want to go anywhere else.” (Hal Boyle)

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…and were reminded of many of the things that made New Westminster an important city in the first place: the Fraser River is a working river – the log booms and rail yards that take up real estate along the banks were the beginning of industry that brought the (eventually) 3 million people to use its’ bridges daily…

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“Have you also learned that secret from the river; that there is no such thing as time?” That the river is everywhere at the same time, at the source and at the mouth, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the current, in the ocean and in the mountains, everywhere and that the present only exists for it, not the shadow of the past nor the shadow of the future.” (Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha)

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This tiny little red building was new to me – I have seen it from the other side but never realized its purpose.  This building housed the fuel for the New Westminster penitentiary, and served as a transit point for prisoners moving in and out.


This is the last remnant of the original prison structure… the rest of the property (the legendary haunted house of my childhood) has been overrun in true Vancouver style with townhouses and condominiums…


Purple loosestrife – wildly invasive – grows happily along the riverbanks in front of log booms waiting for a lift…


A day out on a river boat is just the thing to inspire… What farfetched stories is Miss G. dreaming up this time?


The river is as timeless and romantic today as it was to my childhood imagination all those years ago.  I love that we were born just steps away from it – its’ ribbon of industry connects us in space and imagination.


“May what I do flow from me like a river, no forcing and no holding back, the way it is with children.” (Rainer Maria Rilke)

Places to Go

Granville Island (Volume 3)…

Another gorgeous day, another chance to get out into our city… (so grateful for the people and places that make it wonderful for us…)


We try to get to Granville Island as often as possible.  It is one of my favourite parts of my hometown, probably because I have so many happy childhood memories of wandering around the market and taking in all of the sights and sounds.  I want my children to have the same happy memories and connections to the places that keep Vancouver alive for me…


I have shared pictures from visits before (twice actually) but every time we go I love it and (of course) take endless photos.

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Boats, sunshine, saltwater, sandy beaches…


I have the best memories of declaring as a small child that I would live my grown up life right here, in False Creek…  I haven’t had a chance to follow through on that promise yet, but there might still be time…


I hope your day, wherever it takes you, has a tiny bit of sunshine and flowers to carry you through.


Places to Go

Fort Langley (Volume 3)…

One thing (of many) that I appreciate about where we live is the crazy abundance of really diverse places to visit without driving more than half an hour or so – hauling children around on “adventures” has limits!  One place we love to visit (I have written about spring and summer visits before) is Fort Langley…  Every time we go I find new things to photograph and endless things to investigate.

On our most recent trip we managed some time searching for antiques and oddities before we headed into the museum.  I  captured my personal favourites for you:

…a BC Highway sign (which I still regret not buying…)


…vintage tins…


…carousel horse…


…and some bowling pins…


Our next stop was to check out the Fraser River’s Bedford Channel…


…before heading into the fantastic museum.  Forgive me if you’ve been reading for awhile and these photos seem familiar – I always find myself enthralled with every nook and cranny and end up taking tons of photos – it’s a very photogenic place to hang out!

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We did take a break from taking pictures to pan for gold…

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…and Miss G. spent some free time playing a few tunes on the old upright.

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Of course I loved the library – they have two vintage editions of Uncle Tom’s Cabin in the big house…

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The children always love the animals – the fort has a small replica of what would have been a functional farm.  Fresh eggs, goats milk, fruits and vegetables growing in the garden…

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        Spending a day at the fort is a little bit like travelling back in time, but mostly I love the way it makes us look at the little details – the most important things to notice are usually the smallest.    

“Find beauty not only in the thing itself but in the pattern of the shadows, the light and dark which that thing provides.” (Junichiro Tanizaki)

Places to Go



Our summer is almost over, but it has been an amazing one.  Now that G.Jr. is growing up we are able to cover a lot of ground in our favourite town, and have really taken family field trips to the next level…  The weather has been wonderful, and we had many days of sun and exploration to take advantage of.  I have written about many of our favourite Vancouver hangouts over the last two years, but this year we ventured even further afield.  New to us this year: the Museum of Biodiversity at the University of British Columbia.  (I owe this one to one of our Kindergarten students last year.  If he hadn’t gone and loved it so much we would never have gone… we’re so glad that we did!)

The museum is right in the middle of the university campus, and the building is built around an amazing blue whale skeleton which is more stunning in real life than these pictures can convey:


The first thing we did after going in to the museum was watch the movie about the search for, discovery of and excavation of the skeleton – shockingly we were all enthralled for the entire 45 minutes, and my little people are still talking about the amazing adventure the scientists had to get the skeleton across the country and installed in the museum.  Wow!  (Side note: we were stuck in traffic on our way off campus and got passed by the lead scientist from the movie on his bicycle.  The kids wanted me to roll down the windows so they could yell “we loved your movie!”)

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The rest of the museum is even more fun… there are (almost) endless things to look at and so much to play with too.  A little history…


…a little art…


…a little craft (we made these origami butterflies to hang up on the museum display – so I guess our work is hanging in a museum!)…


…and a lot of fooling around:


For quieter moments there are games to play… (ladybug bingo?)…


…and scientific pursuits…


…but the best part is the opening and closing of the specimen drawers, scientifically classified and endlessly entertaining with tiny treasures and curious collections:

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On our way out I paused to admire the little wilderness they have created in the middle of the (seemingly) never ending university expanding construction…


“We should preserve every scrap of biodiversity as priceless while we learn to use it and come to understand what it means to humanity.” (E.O.Wilson)

Find out more about the UBC Museum of Biodiversity here, and keep fighting for the diversity of life in those tiny wildernesses that are disappearing day by day…  it seems like the littlest things are in need of the greatest champions.

Places to Go

Europe… Boats

Over the last few months (since Christmas!) I have been going through the fun but time-consuming process of organizing our most recent travel pictures for the “albums”.  (I guess I should say “photo books” – so modern these days…)

It has been a very slow process sorting through photos from weeks on the road in multiple countries with various cameras but every minute I spend looking at the pictures it brings me back to the trip, and I could spend every minute doing it with pleasure!

Some time in the last few months the author of a lovely travel blog I enjoy reading posted some photos of boats that completely stole my heart… the light she captured in her pictures brought back summer for me completely.  Some of our favourite “family scavenger hunt items” when traveling are boats.  As I discovered them again when going back through the (seemingly endless) photos, just for fun I thought it would be nice to post them all together…DSCN2771 DSCN3091 IMG_0598 IMG_0631 IMG_0632 IMG_0633 IMG_0637 IMG_0638 IMG_0639 IMG_0928 IMG_0929 IMG_1332 IMG_1693IMG_1220

G.Jr. was a boat lover on our trip too – wearing his captain’s hat he proudly saluted (and was saluted by!) sailors in the street.  (Sailors are a common sight in the many port towns around the Adriatic…)  Maybe he has a little sailor in him, passed down from his Papa.


I hope you enjoyed looking at the boat shots as much as I have… they put me in the mood for another adventure.

“I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.” (Louisa May Alcott, Little Women)

Places to Go

Queen Elizabeth Park – Bloedel Conservatory…

Vancouver is a beautiful city… the grey wet winters sometimes cloud our vision but the promise of early spring makes up for it every year.  One of my favourite sights – inherited from my grandmother – is the moment the cherry blossom trees burst forth with wild, reckless abandon.  They are a symbol of life and optimism that can’t be ignored…  as if their personal motto is “why do it when you can overdo it?”


There are a few places in the lower mainland to hang out with the blossom trees… This year we went to see them at Queen Elizabeth Park.  On such a sunny, temperate late winter day we weren’t the only ones with that idea – the park was filled with locals, tourists and countless cameras.  My photo taking was mild by comparison; there were photographers everywhere!  Still, we found a few quiet places to enjoy the flowers and sunshine.

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The view down to the quarry garden is gorgeous – even at this time of year when not much is blooming.  I was instantly reminded of many many visits to the park and gardens as a child with Oma and Opa – this was one of their favourite places to visit.  We would come on sunny Saturday afternoons to marvel at the flowers and the colourful wedding parties visiting the park for photographs…

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The north facing view over Burrard inlet and toward the mountains is also lovely.  Notice there is no snow on those mountains.  No snow!  What a year.

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At the top of the hill is the Bloedel Conservatory.


This space like dome is the home of some incredibly beautiful birds and flowers – with half an hour left on our parking ticket we gladly spent the 15$ for our family of four to tour the garden inside…

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The birds roam free through the garden and are quite tame – they are comfortable with the visitors and we were able to observe them eating and grooming at very close range!


Who are these crazy birds?

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Something about birds makes them seem so human.  They have a way of looking right at you as if they’re thinking “Yes, I’m beautiful. Of course, I’m intelligent. I’m a bird.  Don’t worry, silly human, you can be intelligent and beautiful too – you just have to work a little harder.”  I’m afraid I have my work cut out for me – I feel this spring may be a transformative moment.

“It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird; it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.” (C.S.Lewis)

Outside the fountains of my childhood still burst forth in celebration of the coming spring too:


Are you starting to feel it too?

Places to Go


This one is for Ms.K and Ms.J who, in spite of their own busy lives and to-do lists, took an hour to wander the streets and see the sights with me.  (They may be the only people besides my own family who are patient enough to put up with my constant camera use…)  As we were in the city with some “free” time we walked through Vancouver’s historic Gastown neighbourhood.


Gastown was Vancouver’s first downtown core and is named after “Gassy” Jack Deighton – a Yorkshire seaman, steamboat captain and barkeep who arrived in 1867 to open the town’s first saloon.  (You know a city is fun when the barkeep is important enough to name a neighbourhood after…)


The statue commemorating Gassy Jack stands on another historic spot:


There is no shortage of history or character in the area.  Between the historic buildings and the interesting shops (art, fashion, furniture, etc.) there is a lot to look at:

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Vancouver’s own flatiron building…


Every town built around a bar is going to need a jail…

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My favourite sign…


(because Ms.K pointed out the back side…)

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This one functions as a self portrait…just realized I can see my picture taking self in the window reflection…

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The local businesses are interesting too – my favourite Vancouver shoe legend John Fluevog has returned to Gastown where his Fox and Fluevog shoe business began decades ago, and architects, galleries and studios mix with the restaurants, clubs and street people.  Gastown has always been an artsy fringe area, which makes it  interesting but not always neat and tidy… There are many stakeholders and often disagreements about how the area should be developed (or not).  The tensions between new and old, business and social development or government and culture have always seemed a part of the local character.

A riot between the hippies and the police in 1971 over marijuana has become legendary – the incident is commemorated in a grand way with an art installation by Stan Douglas on the site of the old Woodwards building.  (I’m expecting real life anecdotes from those of you who were there in the comments…)

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These old Woodward’s signs get me every time… we have a lot of family history tied up with that store… (Mimi?  Comments?)

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Sentiment aside, Gastown is a great “wander”.  The mix of old architecture and modern life never fails to entertain.

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The traditional favourite place to stop in along the way is the Cordova Street store Salmagundi West…  My mother brought me here when I was young and I have returned over and over again.  The store hasn’t really changed, but it is always different…

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Everything you never knew you wanted… (taxidermy bear, anyone?)

On the corner of Cambie and Water Street stands Gastown’s beloved steam clock.


The clock was built in 1977 to cover a steam grate as a way to harness the steam and to prevent street people from sleeping on the spot in cold weather.  (Again, long history of tension!) The original design was flawed and after a breakdown the clock was powered by electricity.  However it has become a major attraction in the neighbourhood and so, with the financial support of local businesses, the clock was temporarily removed and completely restored.


I have to admit I’m a sucker for that Westminster chime…

Thanks to my lovely companions for the time to reminisce and explore – it reminded me (once again!) how lucky I am to live in such a colourful, interesting, evolving place…


Places to Go

Bowen Island…

Bowen Island is a special place.

My grandmother moved to Bowen in 1934 – just after her wedding  –  and raised her first three daughters in a tiny house with no luxuries or modern amenities.   Both my grandparents are on the island still – their ashes were left on the beach below the tiny house they lived in for the first 20 years of their married life…

These days when I visit the island it is with love in my heart for the family history that unfolded there, but also to show my own children how different life can be in other places, even a short distance from our own home.  it takes us less than an hour to get there from our house, including the very short ferry ride, but it is like entering another place and time completely.

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The Bowen Island ferry leaves from Horseshoe Bay – just outside of downtown Vancouver at the bottom of the Sea to Sky highway…  it is the only ferry I know that you can walk on and walk off right into the village proper… no car or other transportation required.

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Even on a (sort of) drizzly day we loved the very short ferry trip for the view and the wind!

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The village of Bowen Island is completely walkable – you can get off the ferry and wander up the hill past boutiques, artists studios and restaurants as you go.  I always take a picture of the Union Steamship sign to remember Papa Lawrence and his time in their employ…

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We wandered for a bit before stopping for lunch at the Ruddy Potato…


By this time we were ready for eating (having spent all of our hunting and gathering energy on the slight climb up the hill…) and so we ordered just about one of everything from the café.  Thai seafood chowder, grilled cheese and turkey sandwiches and hot cocoa all around (plus banana bread, because it looked delicious…) – well received by all:

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Finished just in time to run back down the hill and catch the ferry back to the mainland…

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Places to Go

Europe… Street Art

For the last few days I have been reminiscing about our summer holiday and posting some fun photos of our traditional family scavenger hunts (food, cars…) but this  post might be my very favourite… On this last trip, more than any other, I was struck over and over by the abundance of informal “street” art everywhere we went.  By the end of the summer all of us were joining in the search and sharing our discoveries.

For your entertainment:


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Firenze…(Art installation)

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(Street Art)

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(Renaissance paintings – reimagined with a scuba theme?)

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(Altered Street Signs)

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Have you noticed any amazing urban art lately?  I am loving the way it surprises me in unexpected places…

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” (Edgar Degas)