Thursday, February 18, 2016

a little film (the south of france)


c'est moi.

(that's a little francais Adele for you.)

Euromoon travel posts had to fall by the wayside for a while because of school, but I've been putting in ten minutes here and there of my Creativity Time for this sweet, little video. (We will talk about CT later, k.)

FRANCE. There's nothing else to say. When I watch this film, I get a big, dopey grin on my face. I wish I had multiple lifetimes, so that one of them could have been spent living in some perfectly imperfect French village, where baguettes and butter are God.

Will disclose more about our itinerary in the coming travelogue, but just know that if you rent a car and eat peaches and little goat cheeses every day, your life will be better.

Watch! Some goofball does an elaborate dance at the end in a modern/architectural vineyard.

b + j in: south of france from Joann Liu on Vimeo.

Song: Ingrid Michaelson's "You and I"

(The rest of our Europe films are linked below if you click on the tiny tag that says "little film")

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Of late: January Musings

1/ Sometimes OKAY, sometimes not   2/ Hollyburn and cross-countries again X X

3/ Brisket benny brunch with Sister       4/ Following my anxiety remedy: go outside!

5/ From where I'm standing, Pt. Roberts edition        6/ New hobby

7/ Learning to use a curling iron        8/ Blood pressure lowers, jest looking at this

Of late...

January was// that sound you hear in the movies when the fast car squeals to a complete, utter stop.




Meaning: all the Stuff, the speeding, the stress of the past few months caught up to me, and I ran out of wiggle room.

I hit my crash-test-dummy wall. 

Despite how resilient you are, I am, no one can do a zillion things at once, and still expect to do any of them brilliantly. 

All the peace that the few days in Saturna provided seemed to disappear on the realization that Back to School + Work Monday (Monday, which signifies Adulting, anxiety, the yanking of total freedom) was at hand. 

And thus, began a month of little, little sleep.

Some panic.

Much discomfort. 

Out sick from a cold for a week.

Stepped in dog doo doo on my way to work.

That kind of trajectory, you know?

At exactly the halfway point of the month, exhausted and sad, I took a walk with myself and along the way, closed my eyes.

Me: Hey body?

Body: Yes?

Me: What do you need from us?

Body: Well. (a breath) It would be so, so, so nice if we just... didn't work for a while. Just concentrated on school. Is that okay?

Me: (Gulp).

Shall we segue?

Body// went on strike, in the most loving way possible.

It's always frustrating when she does that. At least at first.

You, who have been with me a long while know the details, how it's uncomfortable, how it impacts my esteem and general joyfulness.

I clench. I ask: Why? Why me? Why are you doing this to me? 

But then I settle down. I know why. I know why by now. 

Despite my attempt to heed her call from last month, I still was moving too quickly with all my to-do lists giving me paper cuts. 

Soooooooooo, she put me in time out. Forced hibernation.

 I did not like this--


-- but I can't.

So I stopped.

What Did You Love?//  

♥ Darcy at Poke Acupuncture. She's been on my healing team for the past five years.  I go see her when I'm particularly sideways. She lets me cry and sometimes tears up with me and makes me feel brave and true.
♥ Walking along the beach, below the bluffs of Point Roberts, in the company of my favourite person. So many shiny stones. Seeing ocean everywhere, and only a fistful of people, sparsely spread out. It is expansive to see more nature around you than human bodies, sometimes. Going to dirty ol' White Spot and getting a clubhouse afterwards.
♥ Ron Swanson + Tom Haverford + Leslie Knope and all my friends of Parks & Recreation. 
♥ Deeper talks, longer walks. Reaching out to those who "get it", will let me be.
♥ My parents, for always offering to take good care of me.  
♥ Plant therapy with sister
♥ Picking up calligraphy, and buying myself my first sketch book. 
♥ Admiring my husband, who is such a committed and loving teacher, for kicking ass at his new gig. Rest assured, we are both tired and bleary-eyed, and have our hands full-- but I sure do get a kick out of witnessing how he is living up to the memory of his momma, who I hear had a fierce, beautiful teacher heart just like he has.

On Productivity//  

This month, it was really hard to accept the notion that I wasn't going to be able to work as much as I did last semester. I took on three courses this term-- all of which are heavy duty for the brain and heart, and there was just no way I was going to be able to continue working 2-3 days a week.

On paper, it was easy to spit that out. But in practice... so, so hard. I felt an immense sense of guilt or self-criticism for not being able to 'pull my weight' as a breadwinner. I felt like I had disappointed an unnamed and unspecified "someone"; because certainly, B was in full support of me concentrating on my studies, and this impacts literally no one else. So, this ancient voice, this inner Boss, speaking with incredulity: "Oh come on. You can at least work two days a week."

That's all me.

Well-- culture and DNA and society, amalgamated together within me, in a You Should! state of pointing fingers. 

Isn't it fucked? Why do we all get trapped in this pattern? As children, didn't we have the wisdom of knowing that being busy and earning money isn't and can't be the most important thing?

I don't want to live that way. Should-ing yourself is a very messy business. 

I may need many reminders, but somewhere in here I know that I am working the hardest I can with what I've got, and if I work less for a while, life will go on. 

We all deserve to treat ourselves like our own best friends, and say with tenderness: you did enough for today. The world doesn't need your over-worked, overwhelmed work ethic. It wants your big, big heart that has room in it for smiling and crying and caring and noticing. 

Go lie down.

Words that Resonate//

I read a lot. Sometimes I share books I've loved here.
But just as often, little turns of phrases, or whole paragraphs from articles, or tiny poems will leap out at me. This month:

With That Moon Language

Admit something: Everyone you see, you say to them, "Love me."

Of course you do not do this out loud, otherwise someone would call the cops.

Still though, think about this, this great pull in us to connect. Why not become the one who lives with a full moon in each eye that is always saying, with that sweet moon language, What every other eye in this world is dying to hear?


I step into my vulnerability. I dare myself to stay where I am uncomfortable emotionally, instead of turning off the feelings. 

I love myself as if I were a baby, a tiny little girl who deserves all the care any of us deserve. 

If any of this tugged at that smaller being within you, the one who has been asking for you to slow down, I say: you are enough, my friend, just as you are. We think you are the sky and the stars.

With all my love,

Your pen pal

Saturday, January 23, 2016

2015 in Pictures

This will be a weird reflection for me because Nikki is no longer by my side.

First self-portrait of Nikki and her Mama, 2009

She was ten years old, and had stopped responding half of the time. I sadly made the decision last winter that she had given us all the beautiful photographs she could muster, and was ready to rest. It was like saying goodbye to a faithful pet, in the sense that only you and other people who love their animals and fur babies like a daughter or son could understand-- yes I know she was just a Thing, but she was like my metal baby.

She who was with me when I got in a blue truck to drive up to the Yukon for the very first time, with a man that was to become my husband

She who was with me when I flew to London with my best friend to teach feral students and explore so many countries

She who has been your eyes and guide through the birth of this blog, from the first post four years ago, to all the sun-drenched days and dark nights of our time in the North after that

In a fitting way, Nikki's last adventure with us was being there to capture our bittersweet departure from Haines Junction, as we road tripped our way to our next home in Vancouver, towing a dusty U-Haul all the while. Like maybe leaving the Yukon was her last able breath, and it was time to stop.

For faithfully documenting the beginning of These Northern Times to the end, and for always reminding me about what is the sweetest in life, we salute you Nikki.


Feeling forlorn, I almost didn't do a '2015 in Pictures'. None of my pictures from last year had her at the helm.

But, I rallied because looking back at my year is an ancient ritual for me. Maybe it doesn't much matter whether a photo is taken with a DSLR or an iPhone. Maybe what is central is that it tells a story of where you've been, to hint at where you're going next.


With that in mind, I give you our year--

(which, to be sure, was a mixture of light and dark and gravity and levity as always. One thing I do know, is that our roots in BC and Vancouver grew with each passing month. We feel strong here now. My heart is back home with me.)

Enjoy the review!


Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Of late: December Musings

1/ Winter windshield art, early morning   2/ Snake Plant Christmas Tree

3/ Unicorn Twin comes to visit   4/ Precious additions to the collection

5/ Iona Beach walk at sunset    6/ Hollyburn Mt. on a bluebird day, cross country skiing

7/ I outdid myself!   8/ Self-portrait of artist

Of late...

December was// so much. 

Much as in love
Much as in fun
Much as in hectic
Much as in overwhelming

(What is neat, as I get to know myself better, is that you don't have to feel this or that. Usually, it's this and that, and both are true true true.)

Looking at my calendar for December, every day was scribbled with something. Thank goodness my last grad school class ended on the 3rd, but man-- even with a month of UBC-free evenings, we were like hummingbirds flitting about towards our sugar water. When December hits, I am always like this. The excitement of the hunt for the perfect Christmas present, the final push of school/professional obligations (three huge papers, for three different classes), the friends and family I don't get to see when I'm cooped up with life. I go twice the speed in Dec.

Sometimes, I forget to just sit down for a while. That's all my heart needs really-- a chance to make a butt- indent on the teal couch, before hurtling back out towards the revolving front door of parties and brunches.

In last month's pen pal letter, I exclaimed that December is my favourite time of the year, and in so many ways that is true. My compassion for others, especially those outside my specific frame of experience, gets wider; my thoughts get soft. There is that seasonal amnesia I get though, where I always forget that the weeks leading up to Christmas, and the week after can put me flat on my back. 

Just watch. Next year, I'll shout from some rooftop in November that I can't WAIT for December to come, and you will have to pull me down from my rainbow ledge and say, "That is very nice and good, but please do absolutely nothing from Dec. 19th to 22nd in order to prepare your selective extroversion tank. Thank you."

What Did You Love?//  

♥ The satisfying feeling of making things with my hands. The meditative nature of using watercolors in a sparsely lit room, with Christmas carols on repeat.
♥ Supporting local companies and makers for 90% of the presents we gifted this year.
♥ Cold walks in Stanley Park with a far flung friend, where you see the sun set and glimpses of each other's heart.
♥ Getting to tuck my nephew-in-law back into bed, after he snuck his little bum down the stairs after Christmas dinner, and getting a snuggle and kiss.
♥ Picking from my parents art collection of the paintings and prints they made when they were my age, and taping it to my walls. History. 
♥ Family assembled from all over, for a brief collision of chaos and conversation and food.
♥ Having my husband's toe back!!!!!!!!!!!!! Which meant resuming our adventures out in the cold winter air, with long walks on Iona Beach.
♥ Making the spontaneous and could-have-been-way-too-much-but-everything-fell-into-place decision of waking up early on the 31st to go cross country skiing for the first time in forEVER, and then throwing clothes and food and essentials in bags and hopping on a late ferry to Saturna that same evening, so we could ring in the new year with just us and quiet. (Gratitude to T+K for helping to make that happen). Is there anything better than rugs and records and candles and a roaring fire and books?

Body// is sending her messages louder. She knows that I am so much Brain these days--I live there, I stand at my command centre all day long, making analyses and prognoses and synthesizing new information. She is patient, has tried to be patient, but knows that when I'm in my Brain, it's so much harder for me to listen.


She prods a bit more this month. She changes color and shape and form. She doesn't make things easy; not because she doesn't love me, but precisely because she does. 

She has run the distance with me from the start of school to now, giving me a vessel and fast legs for all of the places I have to be. But she is saying now: Enough. I am speaking. 

I'm trying to heed her call. 

On Finishing a Semester//  Time to process some things.

I haven't had an easy time of it. My A+ student kind of took over. I was excited. I had good intentions. But it is not so very possible to be the Best Student, Best Teacher, Best Wife, Best Friend, Best Daughter, Best Cook, Best Domestic Goddess, Best Writer/Creative Person all at the same time. 

I... sort of thought I could.

And even for some weeks this semester, I was rocking all those things.

It's not very sustainable though, as you can imagine. You can't be all those things and still be your Best Self to your verymostimportant person. Namely, you. Me.

So I'm reflecting, and trying to be gentle with this knowledge (instead of berating, instead of DUH you dummy) and trying to accept that it has been in my pattern to try and control all my outcomes, and for the outcomes to be perfect and impressive. 

Undoing a lifetime of a a way of being is very tricky stuff. I mean, you possibly don't have to unravel all of it. There is a reason why it existed in the first place, and even probably served you for a time.

So I acknowledge that I've been pushing myself to be my very best, my most thorough self, and feeling let down by myself when it proved to be too much. I felt resentful that I was overwhelmed. I compared myself to others that I know, thinking, but she and he and they do all this AND more! What's wrong with me that I can't?

With some heart in my throat, as I try to climb down the ladder that leads out of my brain... I know this much is true:

I can't ever know why some things work for others, but not for me. I don't know all the facts of why others seemingly can do so much, with so much ease, and I can falter if faced with having to write a paper while there's no more clean underwear in the house.

 All I can be certain of, is that in order to live with generous friendship to myself, I must repeat often "Good for you. Not for me."

Good for you. Not for me.

A Recipe//

Here's something I kicked ass at this month: I made a really, really good meal. 
So good, I think you should recreate it immediately.

It's the bottom left picture at the top, and while that is a fuzzy, questionable photo, know that our mouths were VERY EXCITED.

I seared a couple duck breasts, seasoned them with S+P and Chinese All Spice, then stuck them in the oven for another 5-8 minutes to finish them off. Then they rested and were eventually sliced.

I combined tamari and a bit of rice vinegar and honey, brought it to a slight boil until it thickened, stirring all the while. 

This went on top of buckwheat soba noodles, bok choy, red pepper, green onion. Sesame oil to finish it off.

We don't often give ourselves enough pats on the back in this life, so excuse me while I shout:




I will tell you how Semester Two fared differently. I will tell you how I tried, am trying, will continue to try my best to honor my own self first, and how having some categories of my life become messy or neglected can be okay. This is the hope. Send me luck. 

2016. Whoa, man. Another year to be in it with you!

With all my love,

Your pen pal

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

travelogue: venice, we go

Stop # 4 of euromoon: Venice, Italy

Somehow, it feels like cheating to put up a post for a trip you did not like.

So many people love it! We met a woman on this trip that has summer-long vacations in Venice every year.

Every. Year.

We didn't last 48 hours before we were imploding and exploding in a furnace of sweat and rage.

Everything smelled like pee.

Very, very hot pee.

(I should mention that I can't handle extreme heat)

(I sort of melt like a wicked witch. Very dramatic and yowly.)

Who knows, maybe this post will be a nice change of pace! You're so used to my over-the-top fawning at all the places we go to; all these adjectives involving magic and light and impossible beauty.

Why not a post about pee instead.

Before I get too cynical, I must admit that looking at these photos we took, makes me second guess myself. 

I mean, Venice is a city FLOATING ON WATER (this may not be the exact, er, engineering term for it.) That's pretty neat. The architecture is stunning, given the modern landscapes we hail from. And even in spite of the fact that I am not the biggest fan of Marble Statue Things, I stared at some of these stony faces and stony fingers and stony lions for a long time. 

This was my second time in Venice, and Bry's first. I had gone a decade or so prior, when my family and I took a five week trip around Italy. I remember being fond of Venice. This may have been due to reasons such as:
  • air conditioning 
  • staying in a super ritzy hotel for free (parent-journalist connections)
  • being well fed
  • pleasantly mild weather

That is my jaunty 21-year-old self in Italy in 2005. She seems very smug to me. Also, she is not sweating.

On the other hand, 31-year old-Joann was full of sweats as Venice experienced a heat wave at 35C for the two nights we were there. Staying in the city centre is expensive, and we had opted for a room in our host's house that was up four flights of (very steep) stairs. Hot air rises. Suffice to say the nights were not much better than the scorching days, and we lay in bed with the pitiful desk fan trained on our bodies, while feeling like we were being slowly prepared in a sous-vide cooking contraption. Leaving the cool mountains of Cortina felt a bit like a mistake.

After one night of this, I decided that we would go to the Peggy Guggenheim museum the next day--yes for the incredible art collection she amassed, which I was impressed with on my previous journey here, but moreover, for the air conditioning. 

I love you, AC.

The museum was solid, just like I remember. It's worth the admission fee even without the promise of cool, artificial air. We spent the rest of our last day wandering around Peggy's collection of Dali's and Picassos, before heading off for dinner (where we got swindled to pay $90 CDN for a baked sea bass, AKA our new inside-joke / warning of staying away from "basshole" situations where we may get charged an arm and a leg for no reason. Usage in sentence: "Should we add gravel insurance protection to this rental?" "No, we're being basshole-d.")

I'm not used to being so candidly negative about any city, so after this paragraph I am going to use an internet gadget that will give you amnesia as your look at the rest of our photos. You deserve to look at these canals with wonder.

Imagine it when it was old and ancient, with no threat of gelato-frenzied tourists. Get lost in the labyrinth of passages that seemingly make no sense.

Go walk around a city where water is your sidewalk.

Just make sure you bring nose plugs if you go in the July/August heat! Kekekekekeke.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Of late: November Musings


1/ Sunny walks in Port Moody   2/ Snow dappled mountains at Joffre Lakes

3/ Sablefish on date night with momma    4/ Ninja Turtle! 

5/ My favourite tree    6/ I stare at these during all the stress of life 

7/ A week later, toe broken :(   8/ The wise fox at Savio Volpe

Of late...( Late again. Let's just say these may be late for the next two years. )

November was// a Richter scale 7.

It was up
and down
and zig zags
and anything but linear. 

November is historically a pretty tough month for many people in my life: it gets so dark out, you're fumbling out the door when the sky is still pitch blue for work, and then slumping back home under that same but different dark ceiling. Not to say that nothing good happens in November (so much did!), but it is something to take notice of, the way that the outside world influences our present biology. 

You're not crazy. It's just dark. And cold. Your body responds.

I really try to resist saying "so busy" when someone asks me "How are you?", but sometimes that is just the wide open truth. My month continued on from October, and it was full of end of term Things. Due dates. Deadlines. 1" margins, or two marks taken off. School Joann is a slightly different creature than the usual one you see here. Same soul, different intensity.

Take me to the Goods!//  Okay. Yes. Remind yourself of what was gold, ponyboy, or you do forget.

♥ The newest member of our family: Ninja Turtle, the forest green Subaru. We love him. This means        freedom! This means the ability to venture out into wide open spaces! 
♥ Sunday adventures: leaving the city for nature, three weeks in a row. Getting out of my head, and out from behind my desk, and ignoring my assignments in favor of sanity. Discovering the peace of snow again on the Joffre Lakes trail, and having birds land on our heads and hands. 
♥ Binge watching Master of None and seeing diversity on screen 
♥ Kisses from nephews-in law
♥ Witnessing the play Nirbhaya, based on the incident of the gang rape in India. A reminder that keeping     silent serves no one. Powerful, chilling stuff. The most intense play I've ever seen.
♥ The loveliest date with Husb at the newly opened trattoria, Osteria Savio Volpe: Tavern of the Wise Fox. A stone's throw from our house. A killer farro/squash/parmesan salad. 
♥ Finishing my last class of the term on the last day of the month. PHEW.

Body// is elastic. Did you know, it walks alongside you when you're struggling, and then again when you soar? It listens and responds. It can bounce back, and it does. This is something I didn't know for a long time, and not knowing would send me to the land of Doubt. I'm so glad that I know to say to myself now: Everything passes.

Recipe this month: when feeling overwhelmed, sneak out for air as often as you can. Even in a full day of teaching, you can find time for some cold against your face.

On juju//  On the way back from Pemberton and our wonderful day, we hit a set back. Somewhere along that black stretch of highway home, B's wallet and phone had gone missing. The detour to go back and find it was windy, and dark. A bit harrowing. I discovered driving at night in a speeding bullet with a bend called Suicide Hill is... not my favourite. The phone was found smashed on the side of the road, the wallet lost. 

A week later, B broke his toe. This is very not good. I know, you think: that's like... the smallest thing on your whole body you can break. Is it that bad? And yet, you can't walk with a broken toe. And if you can't walk, that means your hands are preoccupied with crutches. And if that's the case, then: mobility. Autonomy. Snowboarding. Sunday adventures. Asking for help for little things. 

It's not about the break; it's about the loss that comes after it. 6 weeks of being off your feet seems like a long time when the snow reports are epic. So.

Please send good juju, care of a pigeon or just a beam of healing vibes, to Bryan Green's right pinky toe. Thank you. 

Wearing// Black. Sometimes all black, head to toe. Blue. Brown. I'm not gravitating towards colour as much as I used to. A product of living in East Van, of feeling more quiet lately, I don't know. It possibly means nothing at all. What is new to report is that I continue to buy very little in the way of clothes, which would surprise two years ago Joann very much. I buy doughnuts instead.

Best bites of the month// 
Deli sandwiches from La Grotta del Fromaggio on the Drive, drizzled with oil and balsamic vinegar. Get them to pack them up, grab some Italian pastries from next door, and go for a hike.

The meatballs at Savio Volpe.

The miso sablefish at glowball. 

I usually get the vegetarian burrito at Sal y Limon, but one time this month, I had the chorizo con queso con huevo burrito (which B usually gets) and it was stars in my eyes.

Erin Ireland's coconut lemon poppyseed loaf. I order it through SPUD.


MY FAVOURITE TIME OF THE YEAR! Let me find an almond milk egg nog! Let there be white twinkly lights! Let me hold babies and hug friends and eat everything and sleep past 7am! Let me skype all those people that matter. Let me do nothing at all, and possibly love it. 

One month in 2015 to go. Have you chosen to learn the lessons of this year yet?

With all my love,

Your pen pal