Design a site like this with WordPress.com
Get started

71: Birthday Week

It’s the first day of my birthday week off! This is a favourite tradition of mine; I take a week off with no big projects on the schedule and just indulge in doing whatever I feel like.

This week’s plans include tomorrow night’s Jazz Cats Social event, plus between 3 and 7 more live jazz and dance events. (I am putting in a range because I know myself and I can be very idealistic about how many things I can pack into my social schedule.)

For daytime activities, I have a few coffee dates set up with friends that I don’t get a chance to catch up with very often, and I am going to spend some time getting going on an art project that I have had percolating in my brain for a long time.

I am also signed up for a free online series that starts on Monday called the Extraordinary Life Course.

From their website, this is the course content over the 5 weeks:

  • Work out what extraordinary is for you and how to start working towards it
  • Learn the art of mini-experiments and apply it to your life
  • Set goals for the first quarter of 2023 and learn how to stay on track
  • Create an accountability group and work closely with them to make shit happen
  • Learn the power of action and how to create it
  • Have fun on the journey of creation not just waiting for happiness at the end of the success rainbow

Obviously, this is right up my alley! I’ll report back later, I’m sure.

Last year, I wrote a post about my plans for the year ahead (which I hadn’t really looked back at until just now) and I had 3 main things I wanted to do:

Spend more time making/creating/doing/practicing the things I enjoy

I am pretty sure when I wrote that statement I was thinking that I would be spending time on a variety of interests like writing, making art and dancing, but I ended up devoting all of my free time to dancing and it has been fantastic! I’m sure at some point things will settle down a bit and I’ll be able to think about following some other creative endeavours when/if the mood strikes.

Pre-pandemic, we had dance acquaintances from around the lower mainland, but the group of friends that we socialized with regularly was fairly small. This past year we have widened our circle a lot and we now have quite a large group of dance friends that we see frequently. We all have a similar appetite for live music and traveling for out of town for events, so whatever we decide to attend, we know we will have some familiar faces there with us.

Just last weekend we went to Victoria for Capital City Stomp, which was 2 days of swing dancing workshops and evening dances. We had a wonderful time dancing and chatting with a lot of lovely people we didn’t know, as well as our group of 20+ mainlanders that had made the trek over, and our Victoria friends, who we don’t see enough of.

As with Northwest Balboa Festival, which I mentioned in a previous post, the whole weekend was a joy and everyone was super friendly and happy to be there. I don’t know how long this post-pandemic honeymoon period will last but it feels like it will be a while before we get complacent again.

I think Birthday Week would also fit in this category.

Help build a community of dancers and jazz enthusiasts

I’m feeling pretty good about this one too, and while I have spent a lot of time and energy to encourage community-building, I also think a lot of it has been organic. As mentioned above, everyone is still so thrilled to be out enjoying themselves that it makes it really easy to connect with others.

As an example, with Uptown Swing Collective we have started offering some beginner swing dance lessons and more than one of the attendees came to just one single Jazz Cats Social event and immediately decided to look into lessons because they were so drawn in by the energy and enthusiasm they encountered. People need just the slightest little nudge and they’re all in, it would seem!

So far, all 5 of the Jazz Cats Social events we have organized have sold out of tickets and tomorrow’s looks like it is on track to do the same.|                             

Start turning my yard into a permaculture food forest

This is the one that fell by the wayside. We had a very successful crop of blueberries, raspberries and garlic this year, but other than that, we didn’t really do much on the yard. We just weren’t home enough.

Turn the garage into a studio space (left over from 2021)

We made a good start with the roof in the spring of 2021, but haven’t done anything since. We’re going to need to take a week off and dedicate some time to making progress this spring because it needs a big push to get the exterior work done before it can become an interior project that we pick away at on weekends as time allows.

2023 Plans

This is the point when I would usually list my plans, goals, etc. for the next year, but I am going to leave that for another day. I have tons of ideas and things I want to do, plus who knows what will come out of the Extraordinary Life Course? Pretty sure it’s a whole other post waiting to happen.

Advertisement

70: Fall Plans

It has been super rainy for the last few days (with an atmospheric river on the way), and today is the first day off I’ve had in months that has zero appointments or tasks scheduled.

Finally, I am getting that fall feeling that I love so much. It’s belated this year due to ridiculously long-lasting summer weather and a busy social calendar, so it’s nice to have a chance to curl up under a blankie and think about what I want to do over the next few months during the indoor seasons.

Here’s what I’m thinking:

Art

Over the past couple of years I have spent some time (especially during the lockdown/laid off portion of the pandemic) working on stained glass, drawing, printmaking, pottery and mixed media artwork. These things used to be part of my daily life until I went back to school for Interior Design and didn’t have any free time left.

After I finished school, I think I was a bit burnt out and also no longer in the habit of making art. It took me quite a few years to realize I missed it, and probably a few more to consider the idea that I might still be an artist.

A couple of weeks ago, Michel and I visited a few stops on the New Westminster Cultural Crawl. It was very inspiring.

We visited the house of a woman who had been a high school art teacher for the past 20 years and had retired during the pandemic. She now rents a space in Vancouver where she is prolifically making all kinds of art, including printmaking and mixed media work. I loved that she was doing so many different types of work and it’s definitely a use of retirement I can get behind.

We also stopped at a house that had several artists showing in the garage, adjacent to a beautiful, serene yard with a lovely covered patio and water feature. One of them is a collage artist that I had admired the work of at the last cultural crawl and I found out she sometimes runs workshops. Since I had already been planning (for the last year) to do some collage work, but have not been self-motivated enough to actually do it, taking a workshop might be just the thing I need.

I still have a big goal of turning our garage into a studio space to help facilitate spending more time making art. Fall and winter are not the best times to try to get back to this project since we will need to work on the exterior first, but I am really hoping that 2023 is the year that we can get this completed. It is really the only reno project on our schedule, so it should be feasible.

For now, I would like to get back to my 2022 goal of spending time listening to music and making art just for fun. I started off strong at the beginning of the year and then dancing came back and it fell off my radar. No regrets there, but I want to consciously make time for this again.

Creative Writing

This is another thing that I do in waves. This very blog started as a way to schedule more writing into my routine 3 years ago.

For my birthday week off this year I have some goals for a writing project I want to spend my time on, which should be a good trial to see if it’s something I am likely to do more of, or just a fantasy that I imagine would be enjoyable.

Beyond the fall, I also have some grande ideas:

Balboa

In case you are not familiar, balboa is a sub-genre of swing dancing that is my very favourite dance. It is danced in close embrace, usually to a fast tempo and, compared to other swing dances, it takes up very little space. The footwork is small and it is great for crowded dance floors. It is often jokingly (and accurately) described as hugging and shuffling. That probably doesn’t really make clear what the appeal is, but those who love it, love it a lot. Me included. (Here’s an example from a recent competition: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-d8zICnuJFw – as a fun side note: I have actually danced with 3 of the people in that competition video.)

For the past 6 months we have been part of a balboa practice group that meets every 2 weeks (or thereabouts) for a couple of hours. It has been very enjoyable and I would like to work on building a larger community of balboa dancers. I have tons of ideas for events, workshops and socials for 2023, and I know others in the group would be on board to help with the organizing so it is a very real possibility that we could make some or all of them happen.

Because I am already spending a lot of time organizing for Uptown Swing Collective, I would like this to be more of a grassroots effort with a variety of things happening due to different people’s efforts, instead of having one organization that runs it all and has to agree on how to move forward. I would rather just see a bunch of things thrown out there and the community will decide what works and what doesn’t based on whether or not they show up.

Permaculture

If the timing works out, I would really like to do the Permaculture Design Certificate next year. It is a course that is offered in various formats at different places and the one I have been eyeing is a few weeks of Fridays and Saturdays through Burnaby Continuing Education. This would have been a great thing to do when my calendar was blank and there were limited options available due to the pandemic but when I thought to look it up I had already missed the course for the year, and it’s only offered once each spring.

OK, that’s enough from me and all my big ideas. Time to get dressed.

69: Pentastic Returns!

After 2 years off, we went back to Penticton last weekend for the Pentastic Hot Jazz and Music Festival. It was everything we remembered plus more that we had forgotten about in the meantime.

I made a real effort leading up to the event this year to try to recruit more swing dancers to come out, and while I failed completely at drawing any new people*, we still had a good group in attendance and it was a very fun weekend.

* I did have a few people express interest at the last minute and mention that they might be up for attending next year, so whether they meant it or not, they have been noted and I will be on them next year when they announce the event.

Michel and I made the drive up on Friday morning and arrived at the Penticton Convention Centre in time for the first set of the event. Throughout the weekend there are as many as 4 performances happening in 4 different locations over a total of 18 time slots.

Some folks choose to settle in at one location and just see whatever band is playing at that stage, and I can definitely see the appeal of this method. It would allow you to see all the bands at least once, (and some two or three times depending on the venue,) and it would make for a relaxing weekend where you don’t have to make a lot of decisions.

This is not the method we use at all. Our decision-making involves several factors and the weight of these factors fluctuates throughout the weekend. It includes a lot of discussion and reviewing of the band schedule, as well as on-the-fly changes to our plans as we go. It also ensures that by the end of the weekend our mental exhaustion is equal to our physical exhaustion.

You may be asking, why make it so complicated? That is a good question and the answer is that we are determined to see all the best sets of the weekend, and to get the most bang for our buck. The problem is that there is no way to know if we have succeeded or not, so we just have to keep striving for perfection and hopefully we will know when we get there. I think we got pretty close this year.

Here are the factors involved in deciding what set to attend:

  1. Band – This is the most important one, for sure. It is best to see new bands as early in the weekend as possible so that you can determine whether they are ones you want to see multiple times or not. This year there were 10 bands in total, and only 4 of them were new to the festival. Of the remaining 6, there were 3 we didn’t really have an interest in seeing, so that helped narrow things down a little.
  2. Venue – There are 2 large venues in the Convention Centre, and two standalone smaller venues. Orchard House is our favourite because it is more intimate but still has room to dance. The SS Sicamous is a historic stern wheeler that is normally a heritage site and museum. It is a cool place to experience at least one set, but it does not have a dance floor, so we usually just pick one or two bands we’d like to see there for the atmosphere.
  3. Hunger – Refuelling is something we try to fit in around the must-see sets, but it doesn’t always work out very well for timing so we sometimes need to recalibrate as we go.
  4. Exhaustion – This can mean we decide to take a break, or we choose to go to something that we expect will include less danceable songs/venue/band, but we pretty much never plan ahead for tiredness, just adjust our schedule when we get there.
  5. Past experience – This one is very complicated because each set we watch could potentially affect our upcoming plans due to an unforeseen combination of factors that we didn’t think of.
Sunday morning at SS Sicamous

As a group, I think we all agreed that Professor Cunningham and his Old School were the darlings of the festival this year. They came all the way from New York and they were fantastic. They played 8 sets, all different from each other, including 3 special sets:

One was a Bobby Darin tribute that counted down some of his Top 100 hits, ending in Mack the Knife, which is one of my favourites. They also did a Count Basie set, which was good, but it was in my least favourite (and largest) venue, which I think takes away from the performance.

Their last set, which was also the last one of the weekend, was a tribute to New Orleans and it was super fun. For the last song we decided to do a steal dance. In a steal dance, you and your partner cut in on other couples on the floor and change partners throughout the song. We had 8 of us (4 pairs) left at that point, plus there were two other unsuspecting couples already dancing. It got a bit messy at some points, but that was part of the fun and in the end the other couples that we’d roped into our shenanigans were happy to have been included.

The other new band that was fantastic (actually, all the new bands were really good this year) was the Holy Crow Jazz Band. They are from LA and the lead singer plays a washboard while she sings. They have a very old timey sound and focus on songs from the 1900’s through 1930’s and they are extremely danceable.

One of the things we’d forgotten about since Pentastic 2019 was the Mardi Gras themed outfits! Many of the older attendees arrive in festive outfits including flapper dresses, feather boas, beads, jazzy suspenders and matching costumes. We’ll have to keep this in mind for next year.

Another thing we’d forgotten about was how much the rest of the attendees enjoy having swing dancers on the floor. It is nice to be appreciated and told how amazing you are, especially several times every hour of the day! By the end of the weekend we felt like celebrities. Of course, as soon as we get home we’re nothing special again, but it’s fun for a couple of days a year.

Personally, I also forgot one other important thing: dance shorts! Luckily I packed all dresses that don’t go flying up in the air when I spin, so it was okay, but what a rookie mistake that was. It won’t happen again.

By the end of the weekend we all agreed that we’d made excellent decisions and we were very pleased with ourselves. I am sure I didn’t come close to describing the weekend to full effect; I think it’s something you have to experience for yourself, and if you’re thinking of doing that, I would highly recommend going next year!

68: Dance Community

When I first started this blog I thought I was going to have interesting insights into things and that some kind of theme would emerge as my focus, but after 3 years it’s pretty clear that I am just into blabbing about myself.

I would like to blame the pandemic for that because the last couple of years have ended up being very introspective, due to the massive amount of time I spent sitting at home… yet now that we are going out and doing things again, I am so caught up in that that I still only ever write summaries of what I’ve been up to.

In the two months since my last post, our free time has been full of dance and social events. I actually feel like I am being neglectful of all the other things I wanted to do, like fixing up our garage, working on the yard, and all the writing and art projects that I was planning to do. I’m trying not to worry about it too much though, because I’d rather immerse myself in all the things I’ve been missing than get caught up in checking items off a list that I myself made up.

I recently read a book called Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals. The title refers to the average person’s life span and while I wouldn’t really categorize it as a time management book, in the self-help sense, it was an interesting read. It basically says that there’s no way we can ever optimize our time and become so efficient with our tasks that we’ll be able to fit in every single thing we want or think we need to get done. It’s just not possible, so instead of trying to fit more and more into a finite amount of time, we should instead focus on spending our time meaningfully instead of measuring our success by productivity and end results only.

In some ways this relates to other books and articles I’ve read and mentioned, like Depth Year and the Focal Points in Renaissance Soul, which provide an outline for spending time on a fewer things in order to immerse yourself in them more fully.

So for now, I am immersing myself in the dance community.

Aside from the usual events, there are two ongoing things that have been taking up a lot of my attention:

Uptown Swing Collective, which I have mentioned before, is the organization that I started with some friends. Our main goals are to bring people together around live jazz and dancing, and build a community that is intergenerational and welcoming to musicians and dancers of all experience levels, as well as people that just want to enjoy themselves from the sidelines.

PC: Sam Chua

So far we have had two Jazz Cats Social events, both of which sold out of tickets, and we have some weeknight dance practices lined up for August, as well as our next Social at the end of the month. We are also planning to offer some progressive workshops for beginner and intermediate swing dancers in the fall, and will continue to have monthly live jazz events.

The planning for all of these things has been taking up a lot of my time and most of my brain, but I am enjoying it and I am happy with the great response we’ve had. It is clear that there are a lot of people eager to be part of something that involves human connection and celebration.

The other thing I’ve been focused on is balboa dancing. This has long been my favourite dance and I have always wanted to put more effort into practicing and helping to build a stronger scene, but just as I started organizing some workshops in 2020, everything shut down.

You would think that having an abundance of free time at home during the pandemic (with a dance partner) would have been the perfect opportunity for us to work on our skills, but aside from one weekend worth of virtual workshops (which we greatly enjoyed and vowed to continue practicing the content of) we did not make good use of this time.

Since dancing returned last summer though, we have found a group of kindred spirits who are just as eager as we are for more balboa! We have been meeting for a couple of hours of practice every 2 weeks and it has been wonderful.

On the July long weekend, several of us went down to Seattle for Northwest Balboa Festival, which included 2 days of workshops and 3 nights of dancing. The whole weekend had a great vibe and it was the first big event for most of us after a long drought, which only added to the atmosphere.

PC: Gabi Rosenthal Photography

We have attended NWBF a couple of times in the past and always enjoyed ourselves, but this was the first time that I felt really comfortable at the evening social dances. I think part of this was due to the incredibly friendly crowd that was there; everyone was so grateful to be back that it was like a big reunion whether we knew each other or not. I’m sure it also helped that I had several more years of experience under my belt this time so I didn’t feel so intimidated by the more experienced dancers.

As we start to head into fall, I am expecting we will have a bit less on our social calendar and I can start to work on some of my other projects… but it’s also very possible that I will come up with a whole list of new things I want to work on.

67: Social Life

I feel like a very busy person lately, but in a good way.

I’m not someone that has to be busy all the time to be happy; in fact, I love downtime and I need it to re-energize. But also, after 2+ years of excessive downtime, I can’t help but want to do all the things that come along these days.

Mostly our activities have revolved around swing dancing. We’ve gone dancing in White Rock, Abbotsford and New West, and we’ve started attending a balboa practice group in Vancouver every couple of weeks, which I’m really excited about. We have also managed to have a few BBQ/ patio visits with friends, when the weather was cooperating, and last week we went to the movies and saw the new Downton Abbey.

We also had our first Jazz Cats Social last weekend, which is the event that I organized with some friends here in New Westminster. It took place on Saturday night and it was a big success by all accounts. We sold out of advance tickets and even ended up selling more than we planned to at the door because people were lining up an hour before doors opened and we didn’t want to turn anyone away.

We had the Josh Roberts Quartet, a 4-piece jazz combo, as the house band and the event was formatted as a jazz jam, which means that musicians can show up with their instruments and sit in with the band for a few songs. Our bandleader organized this aspect of the event and he did an amazing job of providing everyone with a chance to perform, while still making sure the music was suitable for dancers. We had a couple of drummers, a violinist, a clarinettist and a number of singers join in and they were all excellent.

Aside from having live music and dancing, our goal is to build a community of people that enjoy swing jazz and are interested in coming together and meeting people of all ages to socialize and interact. We are trying to bring in young musicians who may not have had the chance to play for dancers, as well as older folks who wouldn’t normally show up at an event if it was aimed exclusively at dancers. The crowd that attended was as varied as we could hope for, with a significant percentage of people coming from outside of the swing dancing community. Until we have had a few more events, it will be hard to say whether or not we can keep this mix of people coming back, but all the feedback we have had so far has been very positive!

This weekend we have 2 ticketed performances to attend, neither of which includes dancing.

Tonight* we are going downtown to the Commodore Ballroom to see Moist. They were one of my favourite bands of the 90’s and the first rock band that I saw in concert (also at the Commodore), which got me hooked on going to live shows. This is where the majority of my money went in the 90’s and 2000’s and I have no regrets about that except that it may have been a contributing factor to my overlooking the swing revival that was also happening at the same time.

Tomorrow we are going to a matinee of Hamilton. This show is part of our Broadway Across Canada 2020 season tickets. Of the 4 shows that were included in the season, we only saw one before everything shut down.

I actually don’t really know much about what Hamilton is, except that it’s something to do with American history and everyone seems to love it. I’ve decided to just go in without any expectations and see what I think.

I am also curious about how much I will enjoy seeing a musical again because I don’t feel like this is something I really missed doing over the past two years so I’m not sure whether I will renew my subscription for the next season.

*The concert was just now postponed until August because the band has been stuck at the Toronto airport since yesterday morning trying to get to Vancouver! Crazy times… I was looking forward to the show, and yet a small part of me is relieved because now I can go to bed early and I don’t have to stand for several hours tonight. I’ve grown accustomed to the homebody lifestyle and as much as I like doing things, I also love an evening in with some crappy TV and a bag of Cheezies.

66: Pearl Jam Tour

It’s been almost 2 months since I’ve posted and that is much longer than usual, so here is my excuse: Time just got away from me! I did sit down to write once or twice but my brain was too full of other things to be able to focus, so now I will tell you about the other things that have been taking over my headspace for the last few months.

Mainly, we just got back last week from our 12 day trip to California! This trip was a long time coming as it was centred on seeing the 5 Pearl Jam concerts that we originally had tickets to for April 2020. The new tour schedule was a bit more drawn out than the previous one, so after 25 months of waiting, this really seemed like a pretty epic vacation to plan.

The morning we left, we got up at 4am to get to the airport super early because of the crazy security line ups. That paid off nicely because we breezed through in no time and then spent a few hours having a nice visit with our friends, Ivana and Karp, who were flying to Denver about the same time as us from the same terminal.

We started our trip in San Diego. I know I went there once when I was a kid but I don’t really have any memories of it (just a vague recollection of SeaWorld) so it was a new place to visit for both of us and it was great. We stayed in the Gaslamp Quarter, which is the hotel and restaurant area near their convention centre, and found it very easy to get everywhere we wanted to go on transit. The weather was lovely and the people were very nice.

The day we arrived was the day of our first Pearl Jam show. I had been holding these shows at a distance during the whole planning process, not letting myself get too excited in case they got cancelled or we ended up not being able to go, and even as we sat in our seats that night waiting for it to start, it still didn’t really feel real.

When the lights went down though, it was all worth the wait! It felt like a homecoming with the whole crowd so enthusiastic for the first arena show in so many years. They played a lot of the big hits, which in the before-times I would have been disappointed in, but after this long wait and not knowing if we would ever get to go to another concert, it was perfect.

On our other days in San Diego we went to Balboa Park, took a bus to La Jolla, ate some excellent Mexican food and even went swing dancing. The whole city was full of purple trees in bloom, which are called Jacaranda, and I wish we had them here too. It was a great place to visit and I would definitely go back.

Next, we took the train to LA. It’s a 3 hour ride along the coast and it was very relaxing and beautiful, and much less stressful than driving. In LA we really had no other option but to rent a car, so that’s what we did. I don’t love LA, but there is a lot to see so it’s easy to pass a few days there.

We went to two Pearl Jam shows at the Forum. It’s a great venue, apart from the location, which is not close to anything and the parking is ridiculous. We lucked out with finding a $20 lot a few blocks away on the first night, and then the second night we actually managed to find a miracle spot on the street that was free! The two shows in LA had much more interesting set lists than San Diego did, and it seemed like the band was starting to get comfortable again. I’m pretty sure I saw Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively walk by my row, but I have no corroborating evidence to prove they attended.

During one of our days in LA, we visited the La Brea Tar Pits, which is such a weird phenomenon. It’s exactly what it sounds like, tar pits bubbling up out of the ground right in the middle of the city. We actually walked there from our hotel in about 15 minutes and looked at fossilized mammoth bones.

We also met up with a former colleague of mine and wandered around Hollywood Forever Cemetery. We had been there before but in the meantime, Chris Cornell had passed away and we wanted to visit his grave.

On our last day in LA, we drove over an hour to Irvine to go dancing at Atomic Ballroom. They have recently started a Sunday afternoon Balboa event called Bobby McGee’s and we wanted to check it out. It wasn’t a large event, but we both got to dance with some famous balboa dancers, so that was pretty cool.

From LA, we took another train to Oakland. That’s a full day ride, though the first half is mostly along the coast, so it’s very scenic. Shockingly, the train did not have wifi! That was a bit of a pain as we were planning to use all that downtime to catch up on some emails and things, but after a week of non-stop action, we still enjoyed having an idle day.

In Oakland, our AirBnB hosts picked us up from the train station, which was very nice of them. We had 4 days to spend here, and we’ve visited San Francisco several times before, so we hadn’t really made any plans for this portion.

We spent our first morning doing laundry, and then we took the BART into the city and hiked up to Coit Tower, because we like to visit there every time we’re in San Francisco. We love the weird little houses and gardens perched on the steep side of Telegraph Hill.

On our other days, we wandered around Berkeley, which is a very pretty campus with all kinds of different buildings spread out in a park-like setting, took the ferry to Sausalito and walked through Golden Gate Park. We had pizza in North Beach, which we remembered fondly from a previous trip, but in the meantime we’ve found such a great pizza place at home that it was a bit of a let-down.

The last two Pearl Jam shows of our trip really brought home how precarious this whole situation was. On the first night, we could see right away that Matt, the drummer, was not on the drum kit. After 3 songs, I was pretty sure I knew what was going on, and Eddie confirmed that Matt had tested positive for COVID and was not able to play. Luckily they currently have a touring member of the band, Josh Klinghoffer, who can play drums (among many other things) and they had him and another old friend, Richard Stuverud who is a music teacher at Berkeley, share the drumming duties. They also found a fan in the audience that could play, and they let him come up for the last song, which was pretty cool.

It was a crazy show to be at. The band seemed a bit tense at first, but the audience was super supportive and encouraging of the ‘new’ drummers and it turned out to be a really fun show. The second night, it was a similar situation. I checked several times that day for a cancellation notice, but amazingly they did it again and we actually saw all 5 shows we had planned.

We felt very lucky and grateful that we were able to do this whole trip without any major snags. It was definitely more stressful to plan the trip, not knowing if it would actually happen and ensuring all the reservations were refundable or flexible, but the actual trip itself was very enjoyable and it was nice to have almost 2 full weeks away after not travelling for such a long time.

When we got back, I jumped right back into planning the other thing that has been taking up all my brain energy for the last couple of months. I won’t go into detail now because this post is already way too long, but I will post a link to our website if you’d like to check out the Uptown Swing Collective. We are having a live jazz jam and social dance on June 11 in New Westminster. Please come, it’s going to be super fun!

65: Getting Back Out There

The past month has seemed almost… normal? I know I am likely setting myself up for disappointment if I expect it to be smooth sailing from here on out, so my plan is to just enjoy everything I can while it’s available to me.

White Rock Traditional Jazz opened back up again this month and we’ve gone dancing there 3 weeks in a row. Prior to the pandemic there would usually be just a handful of swing dancers mixed in with the older folks, but that seems to have changed. The first week back, we had 17 swing dancers! Everyone has been great at integrating into the scene and the regulars seem very happy to have some new faces around.

Dancing to live music again has been so reinvigorating, and as a first foray back into social dancing, it has been especially enjoyable.

We also recently did a daytrip to Victoria for a solo jazz workshop. It was our first in-person dance class in over two years, and the instructors were our former neighbours who had last taught at the Balboa Saturday workshop I ran just before all hell broke loose.

They were not at all rusty because they are the only people I know who practice dancing every single day. I, however, felt very rusty. By the end of the workshop I was pretty exhausted, but it was fun to get back into things in a group setting. Plus, we also got to visit with our Victoria friends, which is always nice.

Then last week, Pearl Jam finally announced their new tour dates, rescheduled from April 2020. This is the info I have been eagerly awaiting for many months so that I could start working out our vacation plans.

When they first announced the dates, I was trying to figure out how to squeeze in as many of the 5 shows we had tickets to as I could and still be able to go to Ireland for 2 weeks at the end of May, but it was just too much. We decided to postpone the Ireland trip to another time and prioritize Pearl Jam.

At first, I thought I could decide which shows were most important to me, and maybe sacrifice one or two of them to save some vacation time and money, but it turns out I can’t.

In Oakland we have the best seats, so I don’t want to miss those shows.

In LA, it’s the best venue, so I don’t want to miss those shows.

And San Diego will be the first concert of the tour, after such a long wait, I definitely don’t want to miss that show.

This means we’ll be going to California for 2 weeks in May. We have a few days in between each of the concert cities, and we’re still working out the details on what we’ll do, but hopefully we’ll be able to hit a few local social dances along the way. Most things have not started up again yet, but I feel like they will be back in action over the next month or so and then we can sort out the details.

Here and now, there is also a bunch of exciting stuff happening. I just spent the better part of an hour waiting in line for donuts (and not for the first time this week), which doesn’t sound exciting, but breakfast tomorrow certainly will be.

I’m sure I mentioned Yum Donuts during the earlier part of the pandemic; I was ordering from them and picking up at their house some weekends.  Now they have a storefront less than a block from my house. The whole neighbourhood is coming out to buy donuts. Doesn’t anyone work around here? I thought there would be no line up on a weekday.

This weekend is jam-packed with action too. Tonight we’re going to the first big swing dancing event of the new roaring twenties that’s happening in Vancouver. Two live bands!

Tomorrow afternoon we’re going to a musical at the Anvil Centre here in New West called Hey Viola! I just heard about it today but it sounded really good so I decided we should go. Here is the blurb from the website:

Hey Viola!, a musical exploration of Canadian Civil Rights hero, Viola Desmond. But who is Viola Desmond…? Other than the newest face on Canada’s ten-dollar bill. She is best known for her courage in refusing to leave the whites-only section of Nova Scotia’s Roseland cinema in 1946, a decision that made history, but she was also a feminist and beauty product icon. What was the fire within this successful black Canadian businesswoman that gave her the courage and confidence to stand up to systemic racial injustices in Canada?

And then on Sunday, of course, back to White Rock Jazz, which will be handy for working off those donuts.

64: Roaring Twenties

Is this it? Are the roaring twenties finally starting? I feel excited.

This week, for the first time in over 2 years, Michel and I took a trip to Seattle. Pre-pandemic, we used to go there several times a year for concerts and dance events. We definitely took it for granted how simple it was to hop across the border and drive down there for a day or two, and I’m going to try not to let that complacency happen again.

For this trip, I lost many nights of sleep and spent way too many hours over-preparing for all the possible things that could go wrong. The travel restrictions meant that we had to get COVID tests in the US when we got there in order to be allowed back home at the end of the trip. A positive test result would mean one or both of us staying in the US for 11 days – even though if we had tested positive in that timeframe we most certainly would have been positive when we left home. It makes no sense, but that’s the rule, so go on a 2 day trip but pack for 11 days and bring all your hobbies.

As it turned out, everything went very smoothly and it was a great trip. Was it worth all the stress leading up to it? Yes, definitely.

Going into the States, the border line up was super short and the border guard was very friendly and chatty, which is not usual, in my experience. We stopped in Lynnwood on our way in to get our pre-scheduled COVID tests at the CVS drive-thru, went to Trader Joe’s to stock up on snacks, and then rolled into Seattle to our home away from home, the Moore Hotel.

Until we were actually in our room, I don’t think I quite believed this trip was really going to happen. I had bought tickets to see Eddie Vedder and the Earthlings during a brief window of hope, right before Omicron shut everything down again, and since that time had been worrying as they increased all the restrictions and changed all the rules… and then things started to improve… but then, the week before our concerts, the whole band got COVID and had to reschedule some of the tour stops… Somehow though, the Seattle dates remained in place.

The last concert I went to before the pandemic also happened to be in Seattle; we saw Glen Hansard at the Moore Theatre and I wrote about it here. So this week, after 881 days, it was a momentous occasion to be back at a live show, surrounded by people again. Also, seeing Glen Hansard again, as he was the opening act, and also an Earthling.

I really wasn’t sure how I would feel when I actually got there, because I haven’t been anywhere crowded in 2 years. It was a little weird, I suppose, but I didn’t feel uncomfortable. Masks were required and most people (actually way more of them than I expected) were very good about following the rules. We were even given free masks with Eddie’s logo on them, which we’re keeping as souvenirs, or until the next pandemic maybe.

Everyone we met, from the people in line for merchandise in the afternoon to all the people in the seats around us, both nights, were super friendly and chatty. I think everyone was feeling a sense of community after such a rough couple of years.

Both of the shows were great. The band only has one album worth of material, so they also covered some songs by other artists, a few Pearl Jam songs and some originals that were written for a recent movie soundtrack. We also got to see Eddie’s daughter sing a couple of times, and of course, listened to Eddie ramble a little, which I always love. Overall it was very satisfying and it just made me even more eager to see Pearl Jam when they reschedule their tour dates.

Now I am home and de-stressed, not stuck in a hotel quarantining in Bellingham, and I feel like I have so many things to look forward to. Dr. Bonnie recently removed some of our restrictions, including the almost 2 year-long ban on dancing, and it really feels like we could be on our way out of this pandemic.

And if we’re not, at least we get to dance in the meantime! My brain is exploding with all the possibilities.

While most of the regular dances are still in the process of getting started again, I expect there will also be a lot of new events popping up and a huge resurgence of interest in social dancing. The absence of face-to-face interaction, social gatherings and physical contact over the past few years has left people desperate for community and fun activities, and swing dancing definitely fills that void.

So please, let the roaring twenties begin!

63: Value Circles

About a year ago, I read a book called Smart Couples Finish Rich, and while it wasn’t amazing, it did have a few good takeaways that made it worth reading. I have long forgotten most of the specifics, but it was essentially about making financial plans as a team and understanding why you were doing the things you are doing and what you are trying to achieve by doing them.

The reason I bring this book up now is that it had an exercise called Value Circles that is meant to help you come up with purpose-focused plans and goals for the next 12 months, which we did. Now it’s been about a year, so I thought it would be a good time to review how that’s going.

The basics of the exercise are:

  1. Come up with a list of the 5 core values that are most important to you. (Some examples would be security, freedom, happiness, peace of mind, fun, excitement, power, family, friends, making a difference, spirituality, independence, growth, creativity, adventure, fulfillment, confidence, balance, love, health…)
  2. Use those values to help determine what you want to spend your time and energy on for the next 12 months.

For my Value Circle, I chose Freedom, Creativity, Fun, Health and Community. Being in the midst of a global pandemic at the time of doing this exercise, I chose not to come up with very specific goals and plans. Instead, I jotted down some points about what those things meant to me and what I was doing to focus more time and energy on them.

Freedom

  • Finish house deficiencies
  • Create a bug-out house
  • 4 day work week

To me, freedom means I have enough time available to pursue my own interests and not feel like there are other things I should be doing instead.

The house deficiency list is essentially complete now. Of course, there will always be new things to fix or update, which I am fine with, and theoretically we will take care of them as they come up in our Bug-Out House schedule.

If you don’t know what a Bug-Out House is, I think it’s because I made that term up myself. The goal is to regularly go through every room in our house and assess the stuff we own, getting rid of anything we don’t use or need, and doing any minor repairs and things that need doing. Theoretically, this makes it easy for us to spontaneously decide to sell our house and live in the woods somewhere, or whatever. Not really planning to do that, but I like to have the option anyway.

My 4 day work week is probably the greatest decision I ever made in my life and I will never go back to working 5 days, if I haven’t mentioned that lately.

 Creativity

  • Pottery class
  • Time for writing & making art projects
  • Garage into studio

This goes hand- in-hand with freedom because having the time available to focus on pursuing creative interests is so important. Any time I’ve felt stuck and frustrated about how my time didn’t feel like my own, it was because what I really wanted to be doing was working on personal projects.

I am no longer taking a pottery class, but I have been doing a sketchbook exploration course that I am really enjoying, and I am consciously devoting more time to making art than I have in the last, say, 15 or 20 years.

Turning our garage into a studio space is a further extension of this because it gives me a dedicated space to focus on these pursuits. We made a good start on this project last year and intend to do a lot more on it this year. We might even finish it, but I’m not making any promises.

Fun

  • Having ample time to use for my own interests and activities
  • Not spending on ‘stuff’ so that I have money for experiences

I think the next time I do a Value Circle, I might not include this one because it is pretty well encompassed by Creativity and Freedom already.

That being said, I do think having fun is very important and this is the value that most relates to going dancing and enjoying experiences like live music, which are some of my favourite things. I think they could probably just as easily fit in under other categories though.

Health

  • Habit stacking for yoga, walking and future HIIT circuit
  • Get back to Eat To Live diet

I want to lead a healthy lifestyle and be in good shape to be able to enjoy all the things I want to do. This includes feeling mentally healthy and also making choices that are good for the environment as well as for me as an individual.

As for the specifics on this list, I haven’t done very well. This pandemic has definitely had a negative effect on my physical activity because I mostly stay home and my main form of exercise (social dancing) is not happening.

We did recently get back on the Nutritionarian Diet though, to try to clean up our act after a year (or two) of too many snacks and treats. So for the next few weeks or months, we are eating a ton of veggies mostly, and cutting out all animal products and processed foods. I do not intend to live the rest of my life without pastries, but going forward, I’ll be aiming for overall healthier eating to balance out the indulgences.

Community

  • Swing dancing and Secret Balboa Club
  • Involvement in jazz & New West

This pandemic has definitely made a lot of us think about how important the community part of our dance scene is, and while not much is happening event-wise, there have been a lot of conversations about what we want to see in the future.

During a brief window of optimism about the pandemic ending (this was last summer, so we all know how that turned out) I met up with some of my dance friends to brainstorm about what kind of community we wanted to be a part of. This led to applying for a grant with the City of New West to hold some events that would involve live jazz, local and emerging musicians, and dancing. We were approved for funding for 4 events, whenever dancing is allowed again. There are still a lot of unknowns, but it feels good to know that I am going to be contributing to a community-building project sometime in the future, and I’m excited to get started on it.

Overall, I enjoyed doing this exercise and I would recommend giving it a try. I think it’s a good assessment tool to evaluate if the life you’re living aligns with what’s important to you, and useful for providing direction if you find out that you’re all out whack.

62: Best Books of 2021 (Part 2)

This year I actually somehow read more books than I did last year, which was surprising. There were quite a few that didn’t leave much of an impression, but so many that were excellent that I had to make two posts. If you missed the first one, it can be found here.

These are the best books I read in the latter part of this year:

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer

I was on the library waitlist for this book for months and then when I finally got it, time got away from me and I ended up feeling rushed to finish it before it was due back, but despite all that, I really enjoyed it.

I don’t really know how to summarize this book better than its long title already has, so I will just say that it appealed to me on a lot of different levels. I have been getting more interested in plants lately, due to gardening and the little I have started to learn about permaculture, and I have been thinking a lot about climate change and how hard on nature our way of living is, and wondering how we can possibly get ourselves out of the mess we’ve made… All these things and a lot more are woven into the chapters of this book and overall it is very inspiring and beautiful. It doesn’t shy away from the damage we’ve caused or the ways we’ve gone wrong, but it did make me feel hopeful that we can do better.

The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this book but I saw it recommended a few times in various online groups I’m in, so I thought I’d give it a try and it was better than I’d expected. It’s very short and easy to read, and quite a few chapters focused on things I was already familiar with, but a lot of them had interesting insights that I had never thought of.

One that stands out is the chapter called “The Man in the Car Paradox”. Basically, it points out that when you see someone in a fancy car, you never think “Wow that guy is cool”, instead you skip immediately to thinking “Wow, if I had that car, people would think I was cool.” It’s a reminder that if you’re trying to get respect and admiration, it’s better to try to do it by being kind and empathetic and humble rather than dropping a load of money on fancy things. (I paraphrase, but you get what I’m saying.)

I actually started reading this book while I was finishing up Braiding Sweetgrass, and while they seem like they wouldn’t be a very likely combination, they did kind of complement each other in ways.

The Overstory by Richard Powers

This is an epic novel that weaves together the stories of quite a few different characters and spans over generations. The theme that runs through all the stories is trees – some of the characters become environmental activists that try to stop clear cutting, one of the characters is a scientist who researches trees, one is a video game designer trying to somehow recreate the wonder of nature in his games.

It’s a diverse cast of characters and the stories don’t all come together in the end like you might expect, but it is very engaging and makes you think  about the majesty of nature and how insignificant we all are in the grand scheme of things. I think it’s good to be reminded of that once in a while.

The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck: How to Stop Spending Time You Don’t Have with People You Don’t Like Doing Things You Don’t Want to Do by Sarah Knight

I think I’m already doing a pretty decent job of this, but I had heard good things about this book so I thought I would give it a read anyway. No regrets! The author describes her book as a “practical parody” (of Marie Kondo’s book, the Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up) and it is laugh out loud funny, but also, for those people that are finding themselves spending time they don’t have with people they don’t like doing things they don’t want to do, full of good advice. And it’s a short, quick read.

It may sound quite negative from the title, but the main reason to figure out what you don’t give a fuck about is so that you have fucks left in your fuck budget for the things you do give a fuck about, which is actually a positive.

Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty

I’ve read all of Liane Moriarty’s books and they are always good, but this one I found particularly enjoyable. It’s a story about a family with 4 adult children whose 70-year-old mother goes missing.

The narrative goes back and forth between the present day and the previous year, when a strange event impacted the family, and as it moves along the timeline of the past advances forward to the present day as everything comes together.

It is a good page-turner mystery, but what I liked the most was the complex relationships between all the family members and the way they interact. It was funny and insightful and it keeps you guessing until the end.

The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis by Christiana Figueres & Tom Rivett-Carnac

Everyone should read this book. It starts off pretty dishearteningly, by describing the future we’re currently on the path towards, but then it gives an alternative future that we could create, if we start making changes now. Only the first chapter is really depressing, then it’s inspiring and thought-provoking.

The intent of the book is to illustrate that we do have the chance to turn things around and save ourselves, if we make big changes and do it soon. It’s a reality check, for sure.

It was written before the pandemic, which is interesting because it talks about some of the dangers we face, such as misinformation, which would slow down potential changes by dividing us, and about how momentum builds until an unknown tipping point and then change can happen really quickly. We have seen these things happening around the world on a massive scale over the past couple of years, providing real life examples that what they’re saying is correct.

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

This one is about two people that work opposite schedules and make an agreement to share a flat and the bed in the flat, without ever meeting. Of course, they end up meeting! The premise is kind of goofy but the characters are quirky and fun and the writing is entertaining.

It’s not all silliness though; one of the characters is dealing with the trauma of an abusive relationship she just left, while the other is working on helping his wrongly convicted brother with his upcoming court appeal, so I wouldn’t say it’s only light-hearted fluff. It has serious aspects as well as humourous, and (spoiler alert) a happy ending.