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Friday, 5 January 2018

What if I Belong? Ok, Ok, Boulder IS the Best.

A few months ago, culture-shocked and buried in textbooks, I may have grouchily wondered,

"What's to love about Boulder, Colorado?"

Well, a whole heck of a lot as it turns out. I am beginning to buy the hype.  I mean, the place is basically perfect.  Check it out:

Playing outside!

I've learned that it's always beautiful in Boulder, Colorado. And that's annoying if you're in a bad mood or have a paper due, but otherwise, helloooooo, it's amazing.  It's like I'm just always in California. But I can still ski and show off my cute toque collection (for American readers, a toque is a winter hat).  Everyone here loves to hike.  And ski.  And climb.  And, and, and....

This is Anna.  We found each other at Lost Lake.                                                                         Photo Credit: Anna Causley

Check out these front-range Colorado Rocky Mountains below.  They call them the Flatirons.  People just whip up them before breakfast.  Oh, and don't get jealous, but I can see them from my bed.


The Best Chai in the World
(outside of India, anyway)

I love chai.  I drink it wherever I go and Boulder has been no exception.  And I don't quite know how to describe it, but the chai in Boulder is just....better.  It's a bit spicier.  With more ginger.  And you can specify just how much ginger or how much spice you'd like.  Almost every coffee shop in town has at least two varieties on tap.  My favourite so far can be found at Spruce Confections.  This is likely because I first found it on a sunny Canadian Thanksgiving day with a best friend. Oh, and there was a live band turning its courtyard into a magical gathering place.

And I can't forget the Dushanbe Teahouse, which was given to the city of Boulder by our sister city Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan.  Forty artisans took two years to build the teahouse by hand then shipped it in pieces to Colorado.  Its hand-carved cedar pillars, elaborate rose garden and beautifully tiled interior make a trip to the teahouse feel like a journey to another land.

The Music & The Yoga

I'll just combine these two fundamental parts of Boulder under one heading, because otherwise we'd require a month to address each of them.  Folks flock to Boulder for both of these things.  Let's just say that I went to a phenomenal yoga session tonight at the adorable Little Yoga Studio.  Accompanied by live music from Elephant Revival.  All is well.

Naropa University
(Founded by Beat Poets and Buddhists. Enough said.)

Actually, I need to say more.  I think I'll describe Naropa's 1974 founding gathering as a sort of "Woodstock West" for literary types.  Early faculty and participants included such illustrious creatives and rebels as Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, Anne Waldman, Ram Dass, John Cage, Joan Halifax, Herbert Guenther and Gregory Bateson.  And I must bow down to the school's founder, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, meditation master, 11th descendant in the line of Trungpa tulkus (important teachers of the Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhismand the self-declared (??) "bad boy of Buddhism".  This early gathering grew into a University and now you can come spend a summer writing at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, print your work on an antique printing press, then launch your degree in Interdisciplinary Studies focussed on let's say Peace Studies, Gender & Women's Studies and Social Innovation.  Cool?  I think so.  It's not for the faint of heart, but I'd argue that this is the kind of education that can change the world.  


Not being a beer drinker, some of the wonders of the million micro-breweries per square foot are lost on me. But I have really taken a shine to a place called The Rayback Collective.  Its an old junkyard converted into a delightful gathering ground.  There are food trucks, picnic tables, outdoor games and a fire pit with new friends everywhere.  Not to mention that it is literally in my backyard.

The people were right.  Boulder's pretty awesome.

What's not to love?

Saturday, 9 September 2017

US. Eh!(?): A Culture-Shocked Canadian in Colorado

I moved to the States one time before. Then it was to Boston and on to Berkeley, and that time too, I found myself in tears in the Bank of America.

I thought it would be different this time. I moved here for grad school, with a clear purpose and a ready-built community.

But there's still the matter of temperature. I mean, 101 degrees means nothing to me unless you're trying to say, 'just slightly over boiling'. That would probably be nice for a hot tub, but how am I supposed to dress to go outside? Nor have I overcome my resistance of the word 'restroom', or eliminated my 'eh' (may there never come a day!)

I'm constantly speeding or holding up traffic because I can't yet think in miles-per-hour, and my Alberta plates just don't fit in here (don't EVEN get me started on the DMV and the registry...)

The health care (and by that I clearly mean the lack thereof), banking and politics seem to sneak up on me daily, reminding me that as similar as my home country is, I'm really not at home anymore.

But back to the aforementioned matter of Universal Health Care. I know it wasn't popular when Kiefer Sutherland's grandpappy Tommy Douglas brought the concept to Canada back in the sixties. But now I'd hate to live without it. And I hate for my neighbours to have to live without it. You know what they told me at the International Students' gathering when I got here? 

'Don't go to the emergency room'.

Let's pray none of us have to.

Then there's my sexy Prime Minister. He's a hard guy to walk away from. I mean, look at him. Let's just call him JT. The man always says the right things. When asked about his motives for instating our first gender-balanced cabinet, he simply replied, 

'Because it's 2015'.

The phrase has basically now become a mantra amongst us for any step in the direction of justice.

After two weeks of irritation and self-imposed isolation, I finally stumbled upon a diagnosis for my current condition while researching a school paper. It seems that I'm experiencing culture shock. (I know, it's shocking. Borders, as we all know, are arbitrary and I've hardly even crossed any lines of latitude.) But it's real. I can check off every common symptom:

    • Extreme homesickness. (check)
    • Feelings of helplessness/dependency. (check)
    • Disorientation and isolation. (check)
    • Depression and sadness. (check)
    • Hyper-irritability, may include inappropriate anger and hostility. (check)
    • Sleep and eating disturbances. (check)
    • Excessive critical reactions to host culture/stereotyping. (check)

I literally feel like a plant that's been moved into a much bigger pot and my roots are still all tied up in themselves. (Also, my new pot has far less donuts and poutine and more actual pot. Oh, and much tastier burgers - READ: looser food safety regulations.) But now that I can name this thing 'culture shock', I'm finding it a whole lot easier to manage.

And it's really no wonder I feel this way, I mean I left a lot of really good folks behind.

And I've covered a lot of miles (kilometres)

But all for good reason. Like, check it out, this is my classroom.

We sit in circles and are actually required to meditate in order to graduate.

So I've learned one of my most valuable lessons before even setting foot in the classroom. An experiential reminder of how transition feels. Of how unsettling (and expansive) it can be to step outside of my comfort zone. That it's good to feel uncomfortable sometimes. That maybe that's where life (& growth, which is life, right?) actually happens.

And now that I can name my issues (oh, I know, there are many more there to name!) I have freed myself to fall in love with this place. And believe me, there's a lot to love about Boulder, Colorado. Stay tuned to this channel for the next instalment on what I love about the USA.

But for now, I'll close in saying that this move has been hard for me. Now consider that I have a ton of support and speak English. I can't even imagine what it would be like to arrive under duress, or to have to flee my home country. I will certainly be bending over backwards from here on in to roll out the red carpet for other newcomers. And I'm already emerging from this experience with a whole new level of empathy and compassion. And what could be better than that?

Monday, 7 December 2015


With a phenomenally talented cast and a message we all need to hear, this movie makes me want to stand up against injustice everywhere.  Either that, or hop straight into my bathtub to write something that matters...

Monday, 5 October 2015

I Am That.

The Grand Canyon with its unrelenting sun is really no place for a sensitive-skinned redhead.  Yet somehow this past August, our Grand Canyon trip was 19% ginger.  The odds of this are remarkable really, given that redheads account for only 2% of the global population.  More surprising perhaps is that one of us was actually even-tempered (what do you mean it obviously wasn't me?!?)  Most shocking of all is the fact that we were not the three who had to be evacuated from the trip.

Redheads on the Red.  Photo thanks to Larissa Travis

This in spite of off-the-charts high temperatures.

Record temps!  Surpising that Sarah Brown's camera worked under these conditions.


And not only did the three redheads make it to Day 16, so did this ice!

Can you believe it?

But it's only right that we were there.  For one, what's a party without a redhead?  And secondly, we share a name with this river.  'Colorado' is Spanish for red.  I know this because it's one of the many nicknames handed to me in my travels through Latin America alongside 'pecas' (freckles), 'la carpintera' (red-headed woodpecker), 'la peliroja' (the redheaded one) and 'banano' (for the freckles that make me look like an overripe banana).

But this isn't about me.  It's about a river.  And not just any river.  This is about the Colorado. The seventh largest river in the US, the mighty force that carved out the Grand Canyon.

The Colorado River stretching out below the Nankoweap granaries.  Thanks to Joe Daniel for the photo.

A river that's touched me more deeply than I thought possible.

A river that carries 30,000 people a year on her back as she squeezes through the Grand Canyon.

A river that moved filmmaker and photographer Pete McBride to spend his life fighting for her.
(What better way to spend a life?)

If you love the Grand Canyon, you really must check out his photographs.

It may just be that Pete McBride has best captured the majesty, mystery and modern day misery of his native river.  Being born on this river, Pete tells her story in a way I never could.

His stunning visual love poem to the Colorado speaks for itself.  He's called it I am Red.

The piece broke my heart wide open.

Before this trip I loved rivers, mountain people and being outside.  But after a moon in the canyon and my baptism by the grand Colorado, I am again reminded that I don't just love those things. 

I need them. 

I am full of that canyon. 
I am that river.
I am that canyon. 

I Am That.

Monday, 21 September 2015

What makes it a "journey"?

I'll tell you.

It's things like this:

Falling in love with a group of people in a magical place.

Getting to know them fast.  Learning what their laughter sounds like.  Letting them see you cry.

Sunrise on The Colorado at Lee's Ferry

We set out from Lee's Ferry under a new moon, celebrated by the Perseid meteor shower.  (You know that if you share a shooting star with someone you'll be friends for life?)  I shared my stars with fifteen new lifelong friends that first night.

At Redwall cavern, jumping for joy! 

Every single day on that river was amazing. 


And it was a journey alright.  I hear that pictures are worth a thousand words.  So to tell the story,  I'll share some photos for now and write a thousand words later.

Come, let's dive in - this is what a journey looks like:

Taking it all in.

Paddling our hearts out.

Making meals together.

Loving Charlotte and Jim.


And having to leave them behind.

Taking time to listen.


Regaining perspective.


Healing each other.

 And saying goodbye too soon.


Shining our lights.

Playing with child-like abandon.

Laughing every day.

Taking time out at the 'groover' - our loo with a view. 


Making music.


And enjoying the quiet moments.

We finished at Diamond Creek 16 days later with our hearts and the moon full.

Reflecting on the Grand Canyon. 

It was perfect.

It was magic.

It was like being in love.

I'll never be the same again. 

And that's what made it a journey.

Gratitude for these beautiful photos to the following members of the canyon crew:  Adam Lindenburger, Gerrit McGowan, Kaeli Benoit, Joanne McGrew, Joseph Daniel & Sarah Brown.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

The Edge of the Envelope

Lee's Ferry.  Mystical morning, Day 1.

Sometimes words aren't enough.

And, (those of you who know me well will be shocked), my recent journey on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon has rendered me speechless. 

So here today as I begin the lifelong process of recounting the soul-spinning, heart-expanding journey of a lifetime, I'll turn for help to the beautiful photography, paintings and poetry of my companions.

Cactus at Nankoweap overlooking The Colorado.  Photo:  Joe Daniel
Traffic lights, sounds of cities,
Alarm clocks and nighttime TV,
Left it all for a break from my mind,
Giving up my sense of time.
Floating downstream past the eddies of our minds.
It all began at a plug in the sand,
Days dictated by some far off demand.
Waters rose and fell through the night,
Eroding through the sands of time.
Flowing down through the currents we define.
Tracked the moon as it plotted our course,
From dark to light holding evening court.
Illuminating the grandest of sights,
As we drifted into night.
Shining down to light the stories of our time.
Wandering in this desert of dreams,
Unsure horizons present what they may seem.
Some fall fast past the depths of our sight,
Leaving misgivings behind.
Waters flow fast through the faults that we resign.
Sixteen heartbeats soon beat as few,
Three went down though each far too soon.
With toasts and tears we had to leave them behind,
Growing wiser through the trials.
Though we were less we grow stronger in our minds.
A final moon and one last sunset to view,
Nights of joy when libations weren't few.
The fortnight brought us to the end of the line,
Returning to the lands of time.
Roaring down through the annals of our lives.
In these canyons, finding friends for a lifetime.

~words & music, Gerrit McGowan


With deep gratitude to Kaeli Benoit for her paintings and heArtistry!
What I know is this:

Since being in the canyon, that red womb of the world, I cry more easily.  I feel more deeply.  All I want to do is to read desert poetry and write my own.  I am open.  Raw. 

I am drawn to those with the wild in their eyes - and to children - perhaps because, like me, they are still so fresh from the womb.

Those days on the water in that most magical of places reawakened me - brought me to another side.  And now, nearly three weeks later, I still find myself living close to the edge of that envelope - the 'knowing' place - fearful of ever letting it fall away again (yet knowing of course that it always does).

I feel the lessons of the canyon in my bones: 
        Sleep outside.
        Stick close to my tribe.
        Make space for magic in my life. 
        And remain ever vigilant to the call of the wild, immersing myself in those places that help me

You know what I mean?  Then come sleep with me under the stars...

This we must never forget: sleep with the stars.  Thank you for capturing the magic, Joe Daniel.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Just the Essentials

I'm no Martha Stewart.

But I did date a guy whose main claim to fame is that his mom is named Martha Stewart.  No relation.  But apparently she's also a good cook.

And my sister is named Martha.

So this gives me license to comment on cleaning house.

And comment I will!

Because, good people, sweet followers and random strangers who have stumbled across my blog (welcome! come back soon now, y'hear? and tell all your friends!? Thanks.) - what was I saying?  Oh right, because:

I hate cleaning my house.  Here's why:

1. I'd rather be outside.

2. And the chemicals conventionally in use freak me right out.

So I have tended to avoid the dangerous activity altogether.

Maybe it's my over-sensitive sniffer, maybe it's years of working in the environmental industry or maybe it's the regular updates I read from the Environmental Working Group, but I simply refuse to take my life into my own hands for the sake of a 'clean' house.  At least, it's been a great excuse for years.

Anyway, now that I find myself in my mid-thirties, not only have my hormones begun to balance out (thank God!) and my neck begun to sprout long hairs overnight (help me God!) I seem to care a little bit more than I did before about having a clean house.

And I don't want to die in the process.

So here's the solution - for a long time I looked to Green Calgary to guide me in terms of what I needed to know about household cleaners.  I found a favourite brand that I could pick up at the Calgary Farmers Market.  Great.  Then I learned to make my own.  Awesome.  And now, best of all,  I've discovered the magic BLUE BOTTLE!  

It's a love affair.  I've named him 'Little Blue'

Now it's all so easy.  The bottle tells me exactly what I need to do.  It has all the ingredients and amounts easily drawn onto the side.  Oh, and it's basically free - I simply use ingredients that I have in my kitchen (which means it's safe, praise be! and besides, it's the only time I do use ingredients from my kitchen.  See above re: not being Martha Stewart).  Little Blue just nestles nicely under my bathroom sink until three months later when I'm ready to clean again - what more could a girl ask for?

(Yes, I did say three months later.  That's an appropriate cleaning schedule, isn't it?  Come on!  A girl can only change so much - I mean, this actually causes me PAIN.  Don't  you believe me?  See: 2 Days in Purge-atory)

The product just went live on Amazon and Etsy - and I love it.

Check it out - Cleaning Essentials.  My new favourite.
p.s. now's your chance to win a free bottle - get on it good people!