Our personal ‘Canada Day‘ falls a little early; we celebrated 8 years since we arrived in Canada as ‘landed immigrants’ on Sunday June 25 (of course, since then, we became Canadian Citizens in 2014).
In honour of the occasion we took in some history at Bellevue House, briefly home to Sir John A. MacDonald (Canada’s first Prime Minister), an unusual and rather impractical house built in the 1840s in the Italianate style. We were delighted that this visit included an exhibition of Indigenous Art in recognition that celebrating Confederation, particularly Canada 150, carries some discomfort about what it is we celebrate.
It was almost with trepidation that we took off for US WordCamp in Philadelphia at the end of November. In the wake of the Trump election victory, even before his inauguration and what has followed, US travel already seemed somehow less appealing.
Justice, equality and freedom of the press
In the event, I am really glad that we were there in that moment. It was a reminder of so much that is good in America. To stand beside the Liberty Bell was particularly poignant. To read of past success in the struggle against injustice and inequality was a heartening reminder that there always have been and still are many who will fight for the best of what it is to be human.
We had a day together in which to explore. The Liberty Bell was a ‘must see’. Benjamin Franklin’s printing press resonated well with our attendance at WCUS. After all, WordPress specifically seeks to democratize publishing. Franklin’s grandson’s statement on the freedom of the press is as relevant now as it as ever been.
We mooched around the historic area, delighting in Elfreth’s Alley, one of the oldest streets in North America, where some houses date back to the 1720s. Later, we ambled through the very elegant Society Hill.
The weird, the wonderful and the truly magical
As we wandered, we chanced on the fabulous Center for Art in Wood, as well as a weird and wonderful exhibition of pipes. This latter was somewhat outside our normal sphere of interest, but absolutely amazing glass work!
All the while, we were heading towards Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens. These are indeed magical, both for the immersive visual experience and the sense of art as driver for community regeneration. Isaiah Zagar is a mosaic artist on a huge scale, reminiscent of Gaudi but drawing on many other influences, in particular Folk Art. Started in 1994, the Magic Gardens form a hub for the regeneration of the South Street area of Philadelphia; Zagar’s first mosaics in the area go back to the 1960s.
We even brought our own small piece of Zagar’s work home with us. He titled it ‘Full Moon’, but we also make an association to the Blue Moon. Those of you who know our history will remember that this has a very personal significance for us!
The perfect end to a perfect day, Little Fish was one of the best fish restaurants we’ve ever discovered!
The next few days were conference days. In the evenings, though, we made the most of the seasonal spirit with a trip to the Christmas market and to Macy’s Christmas light show.
Passion, democratization, accessibility and community
WCUS itself was a fascinating experience for someone who functions at the edge of the WordPress community. What stays with me is the depth of commitment to making WordPress accessible to all. In 2016 there were 115 WordCamps in 41 countries, with close to 90% of the costs (though not the travel) covered by sponsors.
WordPress is available in 50 languages and there is a strong push for internationalization and accessibility. All this exists in the context of a code-base written by volunteers (Paul has ‘core commits’ in a number of WordPress releases).
The third day of the conference was ‘Contributor Day’.Hundreds of people gave a full day of their time to coding, bug fix, testing, review, documentation, translation and more. In five years, the WordPress market share has grown from 13% to 27% of the web and this effort is what underpins it. What a fantastic model for social co-operation!
While Paul focused on the more technical sessions and networking, I tapped into the wider content. Topics included ‘Version Control Your Life’, ‘Five Newsroom Tips for Better Website Content’, ‘Care and Feeding of Your Passion’, as well as a really helpful session on releasing a WordPress product.
‘Darth Vader wins over Yoda every time!’
Perhaps most pertinent to world events was a great talk on ‘The Dark Side of Democratization’. It seems that content that elicits emotional response is what goes viral, particularly if it arouses anger (hence the headline quote!). Therefore we all need to cultivate an ability to evaluate both our emotional response to content and the ‘facts’ in a post-truth world. An interesting suggestion was the importance of monitoring ‘news’ from sources that reflect the people who don’t think like you, engaging with understanding and tolerance, not judgement.
The ‘corridor stream’ is always a key element of any WordCamp and the after-party is a fun extension of this. In this case, we partied with dinosaurs at the Academy of Natural Sciences, making some useful contacts while were were about it!
A Sunday stroll
While Paul was delving into core code, I made a solo Philly foray. The Barnes Foundation, established by Albert C. Barnes in 1922 to “promote the advancement of education and the appreciation of the fine arts and horticulture”, houses a wonderful collection displayed in a quite unique style. The Museum of Art would definitely have been overload, though I did stand on the famous steps. Instead, I wandered on up the Benjamin Franklin Parkway behind the museum to the elegant Lemon Hill Mansion, all decked out for Christmas and picturesque Boathouse Row, enjoying the mild December sunshine.
In a year when I’ve been forced by a concussion (Easter Saturday; uneven pavements, a pitch into the metal door of the change room by the ice rink at Kew Gardens – not quite a hockey story) to avoid spending time at the computer, blogging has had to be largely shelved. Life has needed to be lived at a gentler pace and within tighter boundaries. At times, I’ll admit, this has felt constraining, frustrating even. But it has also been a powerful exercise in finding joy and fulfillment in small things, in the everyday; and 2015 has not been without its explorations and adventures.
Spring in Toronto is a case of ‘blink and you miss it’. This year I was able to live in intimate relationship with its unfurling, taking joy in the sunshine on my face and each new bud and bloom.
Thankfully we had already made the decision that we needed ‘cottage time’ this summer, opting for a tiny cottage right on the water at Newboro in the Rideau Lakes, about an hour north of Kingston.
Gina at the Cottages at Turtlehill
Heron on the dock
Our Cottage – Cottages at Turtlehill
Exploring Newboro Lakes Islands
Canal cottage – Lower Brewers Lock
Paddling on Charleston Lake – Whitefish Island
Waking, watching through our bedroom window a heron on our dock; lazing in a hammock strung between trees; easing into the water to paddle amongst innumerable islands, idly observing fish and frogs, osprey and loons, cottages and cabins; a fabulous country market in a C19th schoolhouse – fresh-from-the-field corn, dripping with butter; canals, locks and mill-houses, then wild, rocky vistas; and always water to catch and transform the ever-changing light. Is it any wonder that this is more or less the area in which we hope to make our home? Photos of our ‘Summer on the Rideau’ (Google Album)
For Paul’s birthday, we chose theatre at Stratford (Ontario). Considered comparable with the London or Broadway stage, Stratford Festival encompasses four distinct stages and many different styles. We saw ‘Possible Worlds’,partially performed in a pool of water (odd but effective), an absorbing rumination on alternate dimensions and social constructs. On Sunday, after luxuriating at Elm Hurst Spa, we abandoned wet waterfall walking in favour of a cream tea!
Albion Falls, Hamilton
Albion Falls, Hamilton
Paul at Albion Falls
Thanksgiving saw a glorious combination of early colour and unseasonable summer temperatures (75 F/ 24C); not wanting to travel too far, we basked in the golden glow at Toronto Zoo, which is set in rolling parkland. Focused as I was on giving thanks, I was particularly wonder-struck by the rich diversity of animal life. Photos of Thanksgiving at Toronto Zoo (Google Album)
Fall continued mild, with particularly rich tones, sunny days – even a mild, dry night for Halloween! We had a fine dusting of snow in November, but, so far, December has continued balmy, though we continue in the belief that winter will come . . .
Downtown from the Brickworks
Fall colours at the Don Valley Brickworks
Fall colours at the Don Valley Brickworks
Fall colours at the Don Valley Brickworks
From our window
2015 has undoubtedly been challenging. But, despite this, looking back I am grateful for the riches of these and other experiences and the new gifts of insight it has brought. Roll on 2016!
(You can click on any photo on the page to see it at a larger size, and flip through all the others in the same gallery too!)
Sailing Penobscot Bay at sunset, eating appetizers and lobster bisque on Schooner Heron, which became “Sanderson’s Yacht” in the Johnny Depp film “The Rum Diary”;
Rockport, ME - the calm after the stormOn board Schooner HeronHeading out to sea, Rockport, MEOn Penobscot Bay, MEHeading out to sea, Rockport, MEOn board Schooner HeronOn board Schooner HeronOn board Schooner Heron
. . . looking out from Mount Battie across the magnificent sweep of the bay, dotted with islands;
Camden Hills State Park - view from Mount BattieCamden Hills State Park - view from Mount BattieHiking in Camden Hills State ParkCamden Hills State Park - view from Mount Battie
. . . floating on our backs in Megunticook Lake whilst watching the Turkey Vultures ride the thermals overhead; lazing with our books on the beach at Birch Point and at our lovely home from home, ‘Wildflower Cottage’, small but perfectly formed, set in a woodland clearing in a garden that beautifully blurs the distinction between wild and cultivated.
Swimming in Lake MegunticookThe beach at Birch Point, METhe beach at Birch Point, MEWildflower Cottage, Near Lincolnville, MEWildflower Cottage, Near Lincolnville, MEWildflower Cottage, Near Lincolnville, ME
Shaker simplicity – beautiful benches and beds, first at the fabulous Farnsworth Art Museum at Rockland and then at the equally wonderful Windsor Chairmakers in Lincolnville; and the delightful discovery at the Farnsworth of American artist Andrew Wyeth, so rooted in place (a Maine summer person) and cinematic in quality.
The Farnsworth Art Museum, Rockland, METhe Farnsworth Art Museum, Rockland, ME Modern Shaker furniture at Windsor Chairs, LincolnvilleModern Shaker furniture at Windsor Chairs, LincolnvilleModern Shaker furniture at Windsor Chairs, LincolnvilleThe Farnsworth Art Museum, Rockland, ME
No trip would be complete without one or two memorable foodie moments; for Paul, the Whoopie Pie was an obvious hit! Then there were the pop-overs served with whipped butter and jam at Jordan Pond, an Acadian tradition that seems a little strange to those used to eating Yorkshire Pudding with roast beef and gravy. But the meal to remember was at Saltwater Farm, overlooking the harbour at Rockport – my Halibut with spicy borscht was exquisite.
Paul discovers the Whoopee Pie!Halibut and Spicy Borscht at Saltwater Farm, Rockport, ME The tradition of popoversPopovers at Jordan Pond, Acadia National Park, ME
Fairy tale castles and ice; quaint houses from the seventeenth century and city walls; seasonal decorations – from traditional ribbon and foliage to a very creative use of shiny colanders – and a magical festival of lights; ‘bols’ of coffee and hot chocolate, patisserie to die for (or from!) and wonderful ‘boreal’ food, both traditional and modern; and, above all, a gloriously festive feel.
Quebec City - The Fairmont Le Château FrontenacQuebec City - Aux Anciens Canadiens, the oldest house in Quebec City, built 1675-6Quebec City - The Fairmont Le Château Frontenac Festival des Lumières de QuébecQuebec City - ice!Quebec City - Novel decorationsFestival des Lumières de Québec Quebec City - Le Croquembouche - Boulangerie PâtisserieQuebec City - JA Moisan, the oldest grocer in North AmericaGina with a 'bol' of coffe at Cafe Hobbit
Although it was -27C on Christmas Day, the sun was shining and we must have walked over 8km through thesnow on the Plains of Abraham before a short skate a Place Youville, just outside the old city walls.
Quebec City - On the Plains of AbrahamQuebec City - On the Plains of AbrahamQuebec City - Place Youville
A definite highlight was the return trip on the ferry across the St. Lawrence to Levis, something a friend had suggested as offering wonderful views of Quebec City, which it did. But even more amazing to us was the experience of cutting through the ice, watching and hearing it crack – mesmerizing and meditative. It also amused us to see two ice canoe teams out practising for the winter carnival competition – only in Canada!
Quebec City - ice! Quebec City - ice canoeQuebec City - ice!Quebec City - Paul on the ferry
We also loved an innovative interactive journey through time at the Maison historique Chevalier and re-cap of the military history of the City at Le Musée du Fort using model soldiers and battleships, complete with sound, light and miniature explosions. After five hours at Les Musées de la Civilisation we were ‘museumed out’, but had played our way through the history of computer games, discovered Quebec artist Pierre Gauvreau, immersed ourselves in what it means to be aboriginal in the 21st century and more.
But for us, one of the real joys of any city visit is simply to wander, to notice the quirkiness and contradictions, to find small back-street restaurants and cafés.
Quebec CityQuebec CityQuebec City Quebec CityQuebec CityQuebec City - ladder for cats only!Quebec City
Quebec City will be hard to beat for an urban white Christmas!