Celebrating 95!

Our main reason for choosing this particular time to come to Vancouver was the fact that my father was turning 95. Rather than all three of we Alberta siblings visiting at once to help Dad celebrate this momentous occasion, we determined some time ago that it works better if we space our visits out giving him company more often. Thus it fell upon me to make this birthday a special one, but I certainly didn’t do it on my own.

On Dad’s actual birthday last Tuesday we took him to his favourite restaurant for dinner. There were four generations at the table that evening. We told Dad that our son, Matt, would pick him up after work and bring him to the restaurant where we would meet them along with Matt’s wife, Robin, and their two boys. What we didn’t tell him was that Matt would be driving the Beatrice, the 1983 Volkswagen Westfalia van that my parents picked up at the factory in Germany, lived in in Europe for over a year, and that Dad drove until just a few years ago when his sight began to fail! It’s now one of Matt’s most prized possessions and the grin on Dad’s face as they pulled up to the restaurant was heartwarming.

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Dinner out, as nice as it was, wasn’t enough to mark reaching such an amazing milestone, however, so we hosted a birthday party at Matt and Robin’s home yesterday afternoon, managing to pull together a group of sixteen relatives, again representing four generations of Dad’s family. There were cousins and second cousins and cousins once removed, though I’ve never really figured out for sure what those terms mean! I just call them all cousins. There were relatives who hardly knew one another and spouses that some had never met. It was truly an enjoyable occasion and though I’m sure he was quite exhausted by the time the festivities were over, Dad was delighted to see everyone.

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Taking time to play tourist

In recent years, whenever we’ve come to Vancouver, it’s been a balancing act trying to spend time with my aging father, my mentally handicapped brother, and our quickly growing grandsons (as well as their parents, of course!) We’ve spent very little time enjoying this beautiful city that was my home many decades ago during my teen years. This time I decided to carve out a little bit of time to play tourist.

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Deep Cove

Deep Cove, the easternmost part of the District of North Vancouver, is one of the most scenic spots on the lower mainland. Once a sleepy little village at the end of the road, it has become a major tourist destination. While there are many things to do and see in Deep Cove, the hike to Quarry Rock, which we did with our daughter-in-law and grandsons a little over a year ago, attracts so many people that the District has recently had to introduce more stringent parking regulations and put a cap on the number of hikers allowed on the trail at any one time. Not knowing this, we headed out to Deep Cove late yesterday morning and were lucky to find what might have been the only available parking space in the area! We wandered the two block stretch of Gallant Avenue that forms the community’s commercial core checking out some of the galleries and boutiques before stopping at a tiny bistro for a fish and chips lunch.

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This morning, we crossed the Lions Gate Bridge and drove through Stanley Park on our way to English Bay Beach, Vancouver’s most densely populated beach area.

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Not far from the hustle and bustle of downtown Vancouver, we walked the long stretch of sandy beach and I breathed deeply of the salty sea air. Continuing on under the Burrard Street Bridge to the foot of Hornby Street, we caught the colourful Aquabus and crossed the narrow inlet to Granville Island.

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While a person could easily spend all day on Granville Island, one of Vancouver’s most popular tourist attractions, we only had time for a quick wander through the Public Market and a few of the shops and galleries. After enjoying an outdoor lunch overlooking the water, it was time to cross the inlet again and retrace our steps so that we could spend the afternoon visiting with Dad and get back to North Vancouver in time to watch the boys’ Little League baseball game.

Just before we got back to the car, I had to stop and take several pictures of this Pacific Great Blue Heron near the water’s edge.

Choosing your Grandma name

When this hilarious video showed up on my Facebook newsfeed this morning, I couldn’t help laughing out loud! Those of us who have grandchildren have all faced the question… What will your grandchildren call you?

Next Tuesday I will have been a grandmother for ten whole years. That’s right! Our Drew is hitting the double digits! I can’t believe how quickly that decade has flown by. It seems like only yesterday that I was thinking about what I would want him to call me.

Growing up, I had a Gran and a Nana. I only have one clear memory of my Gran who passed away when I was five. Though she was younger than I am now, she had a serious heart condition and all I remember is a frail little lady who needed help from the car to the house when she and Grandad came for a visit. Tiny and frail wasn’t the kind of grandmother I hoped to be, so that name didn’t resonate with me. My Nana was robust and a woman known for speaking her mind. I think I must have inherited that trait from her! She was very much a part of my childhood and lived to see my first two children. The only reason I didn’t want to be called Nana was that some of my childhood friends didn’t know what a Nana was. I wanted a name that clearly identified me as a grandmother, but like the lady in the video, I wanted one that sounded younger and hipper than Granny.

I didn’t want to be called Grandma because Drew’s other grandmother already had three grandchildren who called her Grandma or Tiny Grandma because of her small stature. I wanted to choose a name that was different from hers and I most certainly didn’t want to end up being Big Grandma!

After considering many possibilities, I settled on just plain Gram. It’s simple and easy to pronounce, or so I thought. I was thrilled when Drew, at the age of 15 months, began to call me Am. Of course, we didn’t realize then that that was a symptom of a severe phonological disorder that caused him to drop the initial sounds off almost every word. As he began speech therapy and he and his Mom worked diligently at home, we began to see a marked improvement in his speech and finally the wonderful day came when he called me Gram! Thankfully, you wouldn’t know today that there had ever been a problem with his speech.

Now there are five children who call me Gram. Distance prevents us from all getting together very often so the photo is over a year old, but these are my treasures. That’s Drew in the top left hand corner with his siblings in front of him and their cousins to the right.

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Do you have grandchildren? What do they call you? How did you choose your Grandma name? If you don’t have grandchildren yet, but hope to, have you thought about what you would like them to call you?

I’d like your help

LogoEarlier this month, I had the opportunity to shop my sister-in-law’s closet again. Though I’m a little taller, Sue and I are very similar in size and can usually wear one another’s clothes without alteration. Before we arrived for our annual February visit, she had done another major closet clean out and had several large bags of clothing waiting for me to go through.

Today I want your opinion on 4 tops that now hang in my closet. Please be honest about whether or not you think I should keep them and tell me why.

#1

 

I actually like everything about this one from Cleo, one of my favourite Canadian fashion retailers. It fits perfectly and the soft polyester knit with a hint of spandex is oh so comfortable. Teal is one of the colours that suits every skin tone and the pattern doesn’t overwhelm me. The shirttail hem with ties at the sides takes it one notch up from a simple t-shirt.

#2

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Sue tends to wear dramatic colours and patterns while I favour neutrals. This one, also from Cleo, combines the two. Though fuchsia is also a colour that most women can wear, I like having the beige and grey tones closer to my face. I love three quarter length sleeves and this top is long enough that I can wear it over leggings. Though I love the look of the wide trim on the sleeves and the bottom edge, it does tend to catch on things.

#3

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I love the length and the fit of this button down tunic from Northern Reflections, another Canadian retailer. The lightweight polyester drapes beautifully, but I wonder if the pattern is a bit too intense for me. Perhaps it looks better under my denim waterfront shirt from cabi. What do you think?

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#4

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This silky blouson style top, also from Cleo, is actually a petite. It’s shorter than I usually wear, but other than that it fits well and the sleeves are long enough. It’s very lightweight and would make a good transition piece for spring (if it ever gets here!), but again, I wonder if it looks better under a sweater like my shirttail cardigan from cabi.

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Now that I’ve shopped Sue’s closet, please help me curate mine. Let me know your thoughts about these 4 tops in the comment section below.

 

Silver and gold!

LogoWhen I was young I wore only gold jewelry. I instinctively knew that it looked better on me than silver did. Sure enough, when I had my colours done in the 1980s, the analyst draped me in a gold metallic cloth and I glowed. Not so with silver. My skin had warm undertones and I was a Spring.

With the passage of time, however, I began to notice a change. As silver streaks began to appear in my hair, I realized that I could wear colours that I hadn’t been able to before, particularly black and white. I also began to add silver jewelry to my collection.

I particularly like pieces that combine both metals. I have several pairs of earrings and a favourite necklace that are part gold and part silver. I’ve always been especially thankful that the watch I received as a retirement gift from my employer is also both gold and silver as I wear it almost all the time.

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Until this Christmas, I wore three rings that I never take off (except when I’m undergoing medical scans that require me to remove all metal).  My engagement ring, my wedding ring, and my family ring are all gold. I’ve always thought that adding a silver ring would look odd, but my Christmas gift from my husband solved that problem! It’s both silver and gold!

 

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There’s a long story behind this beautiful and very unique ring. Last summer, we were wandering the shops in Jasper, Alberta with our oldest son and his family when I spotted a ring very similar to this one in Our Native Land, a gallery featuring authentic arts and crafts by Canada’s aboriginal artists. I fell in love with the concept; a wide band of sterling silver overlaid with a narrower band of 14kt yellow gold hand carved with a Northwest Coast motif. If you read my post about The Hazeltons last summer, you might remember how much I love the art and culture of the native peoples of the Pacific Northwest.

When our summer vacation was over, I couldn’t get that ring out of my mind. I began to do some research which soon led me to the website for Vancouver’s Douglas Reynolds Gallery. There I found a wide selection of wonderful rings including a couple of the style I had in mind. The website also referred to a book entitled Understanding Northwest Coast Art by Cheryl Shearar which is a detailed guide to the crests, beings and symbols used in Northwest Coast art. I had my local library bring it in and read it from cover to cover to help me decide what motif I wanted on my ring.

A Hummingbird Ring by Haisla artist, Hollie Bear Bartlett, was one of the ones that had caught my eye on the gallery website. The Haisla Nation are a subgroup of the Kwaguilth people, the group that I had focused on during my first anthropology course many years ago at the University of Calgary. According to Shearar’s book, the hummingbird isn’t traditionally a major motif in their art, but “it’s popularity today indicates that it has become a very important symbol of love and beauty.” Perfect!

I told Richard that this was what I wanted for Christmas, but the ring that was advertised wasn’t my size. He contacted the gallery to find out if it was available in other sizes and was told that they could have the artist make one in my size in time for Christmas. Even better! A ring made especially for me by the artist! Richard arranged to pick it up at the gallery on Dec. 23, the day after we planned to arrive in Vancouver for Christmas. By the time we arrived at the gallery, I was as excited as a little child waiting for Santa! After I tried it on, however, it went back in the box to be wrapped and placed under the tree at our son’s house until Christmas morn.

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The ring wasn’t the only piece of jewelry that I received for Christmas. Santa left this silver bangle in my stocking. I think he probably had some help from my daughter-in-law though! After all, she’s the wise young mom who tied a “courage bracelet” around her timid young son’s wrist to remind him that he could be brave and face whatever challenges come his way. My bracelet says “She believed she could, so she did” and I love it!

Please note: The individual ring photos are from the Douglas Reynolds Gallery website. The other photos are my own.

 

Snowshoe adventures

Until this week, the one and only time that I was ever on snowshoes was 43 years ago. While back home in Yellowknife, NWT for my Christmas vacation from university I joined a group of friends for an outing on Pontoon Lake, 34 km from town. The traditional wood-framed snowshoes that we wore that day were much more cumbersome than the sleeker, lightweight versions that are popular today.

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The outing was fun and I was glad I went, but it didn’t convince me that snowshoes were something I wanted to invest in and it wasn’t something I ever pursued doing again.

Then came this Christmas and a very special gift from our son, daughter-in-law, and two young grandsons here in Vancouver, an after dark Boxing Day chocolate fondue snowshoe tour on Mount Seymour! With 8 other people and our guide, we set off down moonlit trails through the quiet forest. The night was still, without the slightest breath of wind.  After awhile, we came to an enchanting hand-carved snow lounge in a clearing. Strings of lights twinkled in the trees above as we seated ourselves on the circular snow bench around the round snow table. Our guide provided “butt pads” to keep our rear ends from freezing as we indulged in delicious chocolate fondue featuring a variety of fresh-cut fruit. It was truly a magical experience!

This time, it didn’t take long for me to realize that snowshoeing was definitely something I’d want to do again, so yesterday Matt borrowed a couple of pairs of snowshoes for Richard and I to use and the six of us headed back up Mount Seymour where we snowshoed the First Lake Trail, an easy 2 hour loop. What a delight it was to be sharing a winter trail adventure with the same grandsons that we hiked with in Jasper in July. After a couple of days of heavy rain in the city below, the sun shining through the snow laden trees was absolutely gorgeous!

Snowshoes have now been added to our shopping list!

 

Ten years of blogging!

Ten years ago today I published my very first blog post! It was also the shortest post I’ve ever written and the message was very simple:

Richard and I have just accepted positions teaching conversational English in Japan. This is a one year commitment and we’ll be leaving in mid March. The main purpose of this blog is to share our adventure with friends, family and anyone else who’s interested.

Little did I expect to still be blogging ten years later! I anticipated that Following Augustine would only exist for the year that we would be in Asia. In fact, that’s why I chose the title. Augustine BeArce, a Romany Gypsy, was the first of my ancestors to cross the Atlantic Ocean from Europe and make his home in North America. 370 years later when I crossed the Pacific Ocean and settled for a time on the far side of the sea, it only seemed right to give credit to Augustine and the Gypsy blood that I inherited from him!

I’ve always been passionate about writing though and by the time our year in Japan came to an end, I knew that blogging was something I would continue to do indefinitely. What I didn’t know was what it would look like once I was no longer living in a foreign land. For lack of a better definition, I now refer to Following Augustine as a lifestyle, travel, and fashion blog, but one of my readers once called it a great advertisement for retirement!

Over the past decade, life has taken many unusual turns, some delightful and others deeply distressing. Following Augustine has been there through all the ups and downs.

We love to travel and the blog has recorded trips across Canada, into the United States, and to numerous other countries. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever expect to live in the People’s Republic of China though, but our five months there gave me plenty to write about. China’s internet censorship made it a bit more challenging to post from there, but thankfully, with the help of WordPress, I discovered a way to successfully break through or over the “Great Firewall” and continue blogging.

Cancer was never part of my plan either, but when it struck, the blog became a good way to process what was happening and to share it with friends and family. I’ve also used it as a way to raise awareness of NETS (neuroendocrine tumours), the little-known and often misdiagnosed cancer that I continue to deal with. My life is not all about my health, however, so neither is the blog. It’s about living life to the fullest in spite of all its challenges.

A couple of years ago, I became interested in fashion blogging and so the weekly Fashion Friday feature was born, not as a “look what I’m wearing today” narcissistic sort of thing, but as a way to connect with other women and to explore how the ways in which we present ourselves affect our lives. It has had the added benefit of ensuring that I write something at least once a week.

I am a Christ follower and I have fairly strong and not always popular or politically correct opinions on certain issues. I haven’t shied away from sharing those on the blog, but I’m committed to doing so with as much wisdom as God allows me, with integrity and with respect for those whose opinions differ from mine.

When I published that first post ten years ago, our daughter was expecting our first grandchild, so over the years five little people have appeared on the blog from time to time. I’m off to visit three of them this weekend and the other two for Christmas, so it’s possible that they might show up again soon!

What does the future hold for Following Augustine? I have no idea, but I’ve now written 882 posts and I don’t see them coming to an end anytime soon!

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