Suburban Sprawl

superstore

Being stuck in the outer suburbs can create a disconcerting state of limbo. There is a sense of displacement between the city you are technically a part of and the actual location in which you find yourself. In this case, I know I’m meant to be in Vancouver but the reality is entirely different. Dorothy is not in Kansas any more, and this is NOT Vancouver.

The real Vancouver is one of the world’s most liveable cities, if you believe the internet an annual survey by the Economist Intelligence Unit (an organisation much more legitimate than its name implies). Vancouver is a busy metropolis home to skyscrapers and the Seawall, galleries, museums, beaches, markets and restaurants. It has Stanley Park, Granville Island, the West End and the Canada Place waterfront; Robson St for the shoppers, Granville St for the backpackers, and a variety of neighbourhoods from Gastown to Yaletown, Kitsilano to Mount Pleasant.

In Vancouver the air is clean, the trees are green, the bins are recycling, the bike lanes are wide. The inevitable coffee chains are balanced out by local business. Happy couples clean up after their organic children and well-behaved dogs.Everyone walks, runs, cycles, skates, and does yoga. People are friendly, and there is an overriding positive and inclusive vibe. Banks and post offices are open AND helpful. Even the ‘derelict’ side of town is helpfully contained to one easy-to-avoid area. The nightlife isn’t all it could be – happy hour was illegal until this year, and it can be easier to buy weed than a bottle of wine – but Vancouver is still a city with plenty going on.

I, on the other hand, am in Langley.

Langley is part of the massive sprawl known as Greater Vancouver: a distant suburb of that shiny city in the way that the strange, distant cousins you’ve never met would never be considered part of your real family. Langley lies about an hour’s drive or a miserable day’s public transport from Actual Vancouver, and is home to highways, car parks, superstores, mega-stores, chain stores, super-mega-chain stores, townhouse estates, fast food “family” restaurants, and more car parks. Some stores cluster together in shopping centres and malls, while the rest spread out wherever they find room. Langley is essentially a car park with highways running through it, flanked by rows and rows of huge, identical houses.

Of course, not ALL of Langley is the same; a small area exists in the middle that is neither highway nor superstore. “Downtown” includes the city hall and library, a plaza where shops are arranged in a line rather than around a car park, and a large square of grass which is apparently Douglas Park, but doesn’t fit any of the aforementioned categories so is probably a mistake. There is also a mall and plenty of parking space, because – come on, guys – Langley. The downtown area is actually quite nice; in the plaza you can find a whole street of locally-owned restaurants, shops and businesses that somehow remain afloat while being of non-gigantic size. There are also little flags hanging from the lamp posts to remind you where you are. The flags simply say “Langley City Centre” above a picture of two people running, giving no clues as to what the poor suckers are running towards or away from. My guess would be that they’re running through a car park, to a superstore, in the rain.

The city centre also has a nice personal touch of giving the streets names. Not so the rest of the area, which I was going to call “the suburbs” except that Langley is already a type of Vancouver suburb, so that confuses me a little. Nonetheless, this is suburbia – large houses that all look the same, kids on their way to school; trees, dogs, families, Christmas lights. And NO street names. Everything is numbered, and not in a charming “I’ll meet you at Lexington and 6th” way, but the rather more horrifying “We live at 6975 193B Street near the corner of 65th Avenue, just off 200th”. I feel like I’m playing a really bleak game of Battleships: Suburban Edition.

Then again, it did strike me as I was having this rant that perhaps I was being a little hard on this not-so-great pocket of Greater Vancouver. For one thing the people here are unfailingly kind, and as always I am grateful to have a comfortable place to stay. What Langley lacks in skyscrapers and sea planes it makes up for in other ways, even if I am yet to discover them. The rent is affordable, with a lot of young families starting out here. There are communities that exist despite the highways; within the massive malls and superstores are real people just doing their jobs, and every now and then you find the ones who are trying to make their mark. It takes a little longer to find the local businesses, but then I feel so proud to patronise them when I do. The first time I discovered the local cafe – ONE place for a latte that wasn’t That Seattle Chain or That Canadian Chain! – I was genuinely and ridiculously excited. I’ve also counted at least three op-shops in the immediate area, so that makes me pretty happy.

And so I climb down off my soapbox of derision, conceding that as with any place, Langley is what you make it. As long as I am staying here I will do my best to look on the bright side, and be willing to explore and discover all the good things this place has to offer.

And if that fails, there’s always Netflix.

Proud!

pride

Sunday August 3rd marked the 36th annual Vancouver Pride celebration, and the city hosted a massive, colourful parade attended by over 600,000 people. Unfortunately I wasn’t one of them, as I’d checked out of the hostel that morning and quite literally had a bus to catch. What I did get to experience, however, was one of the most inspiring church services I have ever attended.

It was my second time at Christ Church Cathedral, a beautiful church in downtown Vancouver offering an inclusive style of worship which celebrates the diversity of the inner-city community. Their motto is ‘open doors, open hearts, open minds’. I was won over on my first visit when the minister commented that to take the Bible literally is quite often to miss the point entirely – an idea that would have many conservative Christians tutting indignantly into their Old Testaments. I have grown up in the Anglican church, and while I’m aware of (and grateful for) the wide spectrum of values held across the population of its members, it does tend to feel overwhelmingly conservative, especially where I come from in Australia. When talking to someone about the fact that I’m a Christian, I often feel the need to follow up immediately with a disclaimer that I’m ‘not one of those ones’ that they might have seen in the media, blasting bigotry at full volume. Whenever I have the opportunity to meet, learn from and listen to other liberal and open-minded Christians, I do so with absolute joy and relief.

Sunday’s service was powerful in its simple and direct message. The minister who gave the sermon spoke clearly and openly; she showed a great knowledge and passion for the scripture (and a good sense of humour) as she explored the history of Jacob and his family, relating the message directly back to our lives in the present day. The story [Genesis 32:22-31] told of Jacob being set upon by a mythical being/unknown stranger as he slept, and then struggling and wrestling with him throughout the night. Jacob prevails, and demands a blessing from the stranger before he will let him go. The stranger, who turns out to be God, blesses him with the new name Israel. One of the translations of this is ‘God wrestler’, and a key point of the sermon was that as descendants of Israel/Jacob we are also ‘God wrestlers’, struggling in our faith and our lives with doubts and questions, challenges and adversity. There are also many who are wrestling and fighting for recognition and acceptance, not giving up until they receive their blessing. Jacob didn’t win the fight and prove stronger than God; he prevailed in that he remained undefeated after hours of struggle. As Laurel pointed out, the same can be said for ‘queer liberation’, which has neither succeeded nor been defeated.

When the church service was over the group of ministers/priests, men and women in their rainbow-decorated robes, walked out to the sounds of the choir singing a beautiful rendition of ‘True Colours’. I looked around at the traditional, beautifully old-fashioned building with its stained-glass windows and soaring roof, the organ and choir, pews, altar and candles that many churches have eradicated to appear more modern and accessible. To me, these touches have always been sombre and beautiful. But what I also noticed was the small arc of rainbow candles sitting front and centre on the altar; the sign language interpreter and the wheelchair ramp; the group of children playing quietly in a space at the front of the cathedral (behind the altar, traditionally a sacred space i.e. unheard of for commoners!) beneath a sign that read ‘Children are Valued’. Here was a place that truly welcomed and included everybody in the community. For the first time in as long as I could remember, what I felt most strongly for the church on that morning was pride.

Language Barrier

One of the greatest things about Japanese fashion is the creative use of English sprinkled liberally throughout the clothing and accessories of women, children and pets (sadly, not as many options for the men). The language is rarely correct, often highly inappropriate, and at times completely baffling. If I could, I’d buy it all, though I know deep down that it would be not only impractical but very, very expensive. I do have a few choice pieces that were impossible to refuse – I wouldn’t exactly model them in public, but it does make me giggle to wear them around the house! So pull up a chair, put on your best Mighty Kvell sweater and FAB cap, get your dog into an outfit that says KISS ME PANCK, and enjoy the image gallery below. [Click on thumbnails for larger and slightly easier-to-read pictures.]

Don’t forget, though, western society is not immune to the decorative foreign word … for example, thisthis or this.

Le Bon Voyage

A selection of pictures from a busy four weeks spent in France with my sister in October 2012. It was a great time of year to be there, and everything was beautiful, vibrant and delicious. Although we did our best to cover most of the country, we still felt there was much more left to experience. Perfect excuse to go back!

(1) St Malo to Angers
2. Bordeaux, Biarritz, bayonne

Flowers by Dolly

If you love flowers, you need to be checking out this budding Melbourne business. From weddings to festivals, race day to Christmas day, flowersbydolly has you covered. Local, affordable, and full of love.

Check out the website here, or find on facebook, Instagram & twitter

Food Manifesto

7.5 steps to help you change your attitude to food.

These are just some ideas and thoughts which I have come up with that I found helpful, and I share them here in case you do too.

1. It’s ok to love food and love yourself at the same time.

I think it’s fair to say that many people have issues with their self-esteem – myself included – and I’m not here to tell you how to reach self-actualisation and never feel down on yourself again. However, I do believe that we should cut out this idea that you can only love either food or yourself. How many times have we made this excuse to ourselves, or to each other? “I know I should be healthier, but I just love food too much.” A friend of mine who is young, fit and super-toned was recently describing her intense fitness regime before lamenting, “the only reason I need to work out so hard is that I just really love food.” I think we all need to stop thinking like this! Exercise and healthy eating are equally important, and they both need to be incorporated into our lives. But to enjoy, appreciate and be excited about food does not imply that we must then hate and punish ourselves. Fitness should be about feeling good and embracing a positive, active lifestyle to keep within a healthy weight range, rather than burning calories to earn food rewards. Loving yourself doesn’t mean you choose to sacrifice all the flavour in your life, in the same way that “but I love food!” is not a valid excuse to eat chocolate or pizza ten times a day.

Food can be source of passion, delight and social interaction for adults and children of every culture. Sharing a meal brings people together. Recipes passed down for generations create a treasured family history. Cooking for others can be an offering of love. To be interested in discovering, preparing, tasting and experimenting with food is nothing to be ashamed of. Trying new things is risky and exciting, and eating something delicious is a party for your taste buds! Negotiating food intolerances and other dietary restrictions can also be rewarding, as you take on the challenge and learn to approach food differently. We must learn to love our bodies and treat them with respect, finding a healthy lifestyle that works for each of us as individuals.

2. Embrace multiple ideas about what you eat.

I suppose it’s possible that life is one big food race, and at the end of the world God, Allah and Buddha will declare the winner to be the Mediterranean diet or the vegans, but it’s probably not very likely. I don’t think there is one simple solution to eating well; no one is forcing you to pick the label you like best, slap it on your forehead and live by it exclusively for the rest of your life. It’s ok to eat meat and also love vegan food. Your paleo and pasta cookbooks can stand side by side. Embrace and experiment! Try a dish you’ve never heard of in a restaurant you’ve never been to before. I am lucky enough to live in a multicultural, food-obsessed city with access to a wide variety of cuisines, but thanks to technology the world can come to you wherever you live. Search through recipes online, try food blogs and cookbooks for inspiration, or invent things straight out of your head. Don’t worry about perfection and plating up – it’s much more fun to make a big mess in the kitchen and see what happens.

3. Know your personal pitfalls.

We each have our own hurdles, some that frequently trip us up while others seem easier to overcome. Don’t try to copy someone else’s strategy if your strengths and weaknesses are different to their own. For example, you may be dynamite at resisting snacks between meals but find it tempting to go back for a second helping at dinner. You could be someone who does high-intensity exercise every day, but also suffers from an insatiable sweet tooth. Maybe you’ve been living off instant meals because you’re convinced you can’t cook. Not true! To paraphrase my mum, anyone who can read can follow a recipe.

I found that growing up in a big family encouraged me to eat very quickly which is a tough habit to break, especially when I’m busy or running late (so basically all the time). My instinct is to eat in a big rush, which is leaves me feeling hungry because I haven’t had time to notice that my stomach is full. Another pitfall is portion control;  I need things rationed out or there’s no stopping me. That packet of chips: I want it. The whole bag. I don’t care if it’s a single serving or super jumbo family size, I will eat those chips to the last crumb. So for me it makes sense to avoid buying in bulk , even if that would make sense economically. I also avoid having tempting foods in the house, and use my extreme laziness to help keep plenty of distance between me and ice cream.

Identifying your own personal pitfalls can help you find ways to navigate around them, and help to curb some unhealthy habits.

4. Make your food diary work for you.

Dieticians and personal trainers often ask clients to keep a food diary as a way to trace eating patterns or identify diet-related health issues. This can help you eat more mindfully, as you have evidence of all your intake, good or bad. I tried this successfully for a while, but soon my food diary became a whole new way to torture myself: all my failings were there in black and white – sometimes underlined in angry red. Recording my intake didn’t stop me from eating erratically, but it made me acutely aware of my mistakes as I looked miserably back over the pages. It also took me a while to realise that I was using the food diary as an excuse to eat more. Whenever I ate something I shouldn’t, I would feel guilty about it until I wrote it down, then I let it go and felt better. I would scribble down my sins as soon as possible, close the book, and breathe easily. Not very logical or healthy, and certainly not the outcome I had in mind! After a while I hit on a solution that held me more accountable: I can the diary to write a list in advance of what I plan to eat, and tick it off by the end of the day, adding extra items to the list if necessary. This helps me to focus on what is a reasonable amount to eat, aiming to minimise those additional extras. When I’m eating I can also be mindful of the list and know that I need to slow down if I’ve nearly used all my daily allowance.

If you do keep a food diary, consider how effectively it works for you – whether it keeps you mindful of what you eat, or you’ve switched to auto-pilot and write without thinking, or perhaps like me you were subconsciously using it as a loophole.

5. Be proud of your food philosophy.

I read an article recently that railed against the trend of ‘smug eaters’ going clean, green, gluten free, dairy free, raw, vegan, paleo, etc. The writer proudly asserted her right to “eat full-carb, non-brown, non-vegan pasta without guilt”, in a defiant rant that may have been tongue-in-cheek but still sounded pretty harsh. Rather than judging others or creating a war between diet factions, people should be free to establish a food philosophy that works for them. It may not come with a label, and that’s just fine. My approach is basically to be my own guinea pig and sort out from trial and error what works for my body; I’ve developed a pretty broad philosophy that incorporates principles from paleo to vegan with a dash of sugar-quitting. It’s not about high-fiving a vegetarian when they give in and try some chicken, or teasing your lactose-intolerant friend when you spot them gazing wistfully at an ice cream. Know what works for you and be proud of your own philosophy. Just remember, it goes both ways: you shouldn’t feel the need to apologise for your choices, but on the other hand don’t go beating people on the head with your spirulina smoothie.

6. Don’t hate on others for their achievements.

Disclaimer: I am totally guilty of this myself. When my housemate made the change to a healthier eating and fitness regime in order to train for a half-marathon, she started losing weight instantly and looked fitter and more gorgeous than ever, which drove me crazy with jealousy. Everything she cooked smelled heavenly, and I felt that for all my efforts to be healthy she had completely overtaken me and I was never  going to get there. It took a shamefully long time before I could consciously put aside my pet green-eyed monster, stop sulking and just be happy for her. It was irrational and petty to do otherwise; at the end of the day we both wanted the same things, so I needed to use her efforts to inspire me rather than kill my motivation. Just because someone else is “winning”, it doesn’t mean that you are destined to fail.

This section was almost titled “don’t hate on others for their success”, but it’s important to make the distinction here. You don’t just achieve success one magical day and then never have to work at being healthy again. Nobody is perfect, not even that super hot girl in your yoga class. The people whose lives we admire are still a work in progress, and they are overcoming struggles of their own. (You also don’t know the full story if you think anyone has got it perfectly together.) If someone has worked hard and made positive changes to their diet or exercise, those achievements should be congratulated rather than resented. We all need a bit of positive feedback, so don’t glare at Yoga Girl’s back and mutter to yourself that “she probably just has good genes” – go up to her after class, tell her she looks amazing and ask her how she does it!

7. The golden rule:
All things in moderation.

This classic, simple and effective motto for life was taught to me by my father, although I’m sure he wasn’t the first to invent it. I guess it speaks for itself.

Personally, I have also found that most advice is improved with the addition of: “…but don’t be a dick about it”.

7.5 … and to end, my favourite food quotes:

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. -Michael Pollan
We all eat, and it would be a sad waste of opportunity to eat badly. -Anna Thomas
There has never been a sadness that can’t be cured by breakfast food. -Ron Swanson