Seventh Week of Birthday and Writing Interrupted

The Writer Nourished by Gourmet Birthday Package

The Writer Nourished by Gourmet Birthday Package

My six weeks of birthday celebrations turns into seven, stretching into April, with the arrival of a personalised gourmet package of souvenirs from my good friend in Hamburg, Germany—some serving as reminders of our travels together—including, among others: Dutch Advocaat (egg liqueur, or ‘ajerkoniak’ as I know it from Poland), which we sipped from the lids of Nivea creme containers in our budget Amsterdam hotel; Ginger Beer, which we looked for in Southeast Asia to sooth an upset stomach; and truffled cheese for the Orange Cardamom Soup recipe that my Hamburgerin friend sends me, and which I finally can try.

Flower-Adorned Bicycle Basket Bearing Mini-Roses

Flower-Adorned Bicycle Basket Bearing Mini-Roses

I extend my birthday celebrations also to my bicycle, treating my new basket to a new bouquet of imitation flowers that my Hamburgerin friend sends me as a replacement for the original ones she sent several years ago. Preparing for my Thorny Roses adventures, I take my basket shopping and stock up on a few pots of miniature roses to give out as gifts of appreciation.

Another friend contributes to my seventh week of birthday celebrations by treating me with a gift card for breakfast smoothies at the Musette Bicycle Caffè, where I sometimes spend my mornings writing down my stories. I promptly go there later in the week, inspired by this idea to do some writing, only to discover that they no longer serve smoothies at this location. I opt for a cranberry turkey sandwich and a vegetarian chili, instead, which I savour while contemplating a particular point in my story that I endeavour to capture in words.

The Writer's Workspace at Musette Bicycle Caffe

The Writer’s Workspace at Musette Bicycle Caffe

Yet another friend brings in the end of my seven weeks of birthday celebrations by treating me to glass of Pinot Noir at The Wicklow Pub, while we recount our various serendipitous chance encounters that appear to guide us along our paths, if we choose to take notice of them.

The Writer Finds Inspiration over Lunch Picnic Cycling through Pretty Cemetery

The Writer Finds Inspiration over Lunch Picnic Cycling through Pretty Cemetery

In early May, I set off for a mini-writing retreat in nearby Victoria, where a work colleague (and friend) invites me to stay in her charming garden suite, and where my Developmental Editor—who has just returned from living abroad—lends me her fancy pregnancy bike to get around on in my own, somewhat compromised, condition. I am working on two projects during my Victorian sojourn: one is a longish chapter in my book; the other is a soliloquy of sorts, which I may share when it is completed. My creative juices are further inspired by delicious breakfast fruit, cheerful potted gerbera, and tasty picnic lunch that I stop to enjoy while cycling through the pretty Ross Bay Cemetery from the Moss Street Market.

Mini-Writing Retreat in Victoria

Mini-Writing Retreat in Victoria

Although my writing is interrupted as life—and potentially new book content—get in the way, I manage to squeeze in a book writing and publishing class and several Artist Dates over the months of April and May.

The recent The Tyee Master Class on “Build[ing] Your Winning Publishing Plan” gives me an opportunity (and, essentially, a deadline) to work out another summary of my book concept, as we are asked to come ready to explain and workshop our intended projects in order to hone our book pitch. I present version 5.4 by now, which I draft with the editorial assistance from my Developmental Editor and my new Strategic Researcher. I am grateful for my Strategic Researcher’s suggestion to use my Spokeman voice amplifier (a glorified term for a personal microphone and speaker) when presenting my “story pitch” to the 20 or so participants in my soft but even voice without causing an urge to strain it for volume.

The Writer's Workspace at Publishing Workshop

The Writer’s Workspace at Publishing Workshop

Still not fully trusting my improved voice, I use the belt-and-suspenders approach—throwing in a few safety pins, just in case, too—to my preparations for reciting the 200-word synopsis that takes me about 3.5 minutes to say.

I write out my book concept summary, in large font, underlining the key words to make it easier for me to read (or to hand to someone to read for me, if my voice proves particularly uncooperative); I ensure my Spokeman batteries are fully charged and check the optimal distance between it and the microphone to avoid the screechy feedback; and I pre-record my reading of my book pitch on my iTouch Voice Memos App, testing the external speaker add-on for sufficient volume on my voice and for battery functionality, in case I need to lean on this strategy. I pack all this electronic kit into my bicycle pannier and basket—along with my notebook computer, camera (for the requisite photo for my post), sliced apple and few dark chocolate squares—and am rewarded for all my efforts—technological and literary—by an appreciative applause from my fellow classmates following my successful performance.

Although I am not yet comfortable sharing the details of my written story, I use this opportunity to gently stretch my comfort zone—and with an open mind, I receive small-group and individual feedback to the details I choose to share in the relative safety of these strangers, bound by writers’ inherent agreement of confidentiality. Two feedback themes emerge for me from the day: 1) it is possible that my story may be too big for one book; and 2) my story personifies for others the ideas of transformation and getting on with life. Next, I need to hone my book pitch into 1-2 sentences—mercifully, they are allowed to be long(ish) sentences!

While not actually writing down much of my story in these recent months, I continue to shape the intent of what I want to express with parts of my story—and the few Artist Dates that I take myself on, support me in my feat.

In particular, the Edward Burtynsky exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery, entitled “A Terrible Beauty”, leaves me further grateful for living where I do; for having the opportunities that I do; and for having the challenges that I do. I would not want to exchange those with anyone appearing in the photographs and in the documentary “Watermark” that are a part of the exhibit.

All the while, my heart continues to long for a little bit more of the French heaven.

Six Weeks of Birthday and Chance Encounters

My six weeks of birthday celebrations (turned into seven!) are nearing their end, but hopefully the serendipitous chance encounters I am also experiencing lately are not. And I am having lot of fun with both. These and other life, job and health goings-on are more or less connected with my book writing endeavour—and they certainly keep me sufficiently busy to not be also writing about them more regularly in my story posts. Some I now recount in this post, and others will perhaps be shared in future posts or will form more content for my book.

What is the story behind the six weeks of birthday, I have been asked a few times? Usually, I “just” celebrate birthday month, but the idea behind both is to make the birthday target big enough so that my birthday wishes are never early and never belated, and by making my birthday celebrations virtually impossible to miss, everyone can just feel good about my birthday!

BIrthday Potluck Mexican Dinner

BIrthday Potluck Mexican Dinner

This year, my birthday celebrations begin mid-February with a potluck Mexican dinner prepared with a couple of friends, in commemoration of the Book Writing Retreat 2014 Barra de Navidad, from which I had just returned.

We feast on spicy tomato and avocado guacamole and sweet corn and black bean salad as appetiser. For the main course, we enjoy corn tortillas filled with deeply green spinach and cilantro rice, sweet peppers stir fry, grated cheese and sour cream (Americanised Mexican food variation). Dessert turns out to be extra-rum flambé bananas. It truly is a feast for all senses!

Birthday Thai Dinner Fit for a Queen

Birthday Thai Dinner Fit for a Queen

For another birthday celebration, a friend treats me like a queen, allowing me to assume my position in a strategically placed arm chair—which feels more like a throne—while she prepares for me a Thai curry dinner and showers me with the most thoughtful gifts of two kinds of dark chocolate, red French wine, handmade porcelain clay dish, and a hand crafted Pisces-themed birthday card. Not being one for accepting or giving material presents, I delight at my friend’s thoughtfulness on this occasion. During the evening we also enjoy a brisk walk down to the Fraser River to whet our appetites.

On my actual birthday day, I invite a friend and prepare a French Charcuterie Board dish, in commemoration of the Book Writing Retreat 2013-2014 Nice, from which I had returned earlier in the year.

On another evening, two friends join me for an adventurous experience of dining in complete darkness at the Dark Table restaurant. The experience is designed to emulate performing all but one activity without the sense of vision, allowing a new perception of reality, where the senses of touch, taste, hearing and smell are intensified. I experience a temporary sensation of vertigo when I sit down, before I regain my sense of balance through the sense of touch by feeling my way to what is vertical (the wall beside me) and what is horizontal (the table in front of me). I also find that it is my sense of hearing rather than taste that is the most intensified. I complete my experience of walking in other people’s shoes by taking a trip to the washroom, where I need to be lead by a visually impaired waiter, much more skilled at finding their way without seeing with their eyes than me—and I redouble my gratefulness for my sight when I reach the toilets, which are fortunately, for me, fully lit. No meal pictures from this experience as they would have been rather dull without an infrared feature on my camera.

A steady supply of wine and tea with various friends nearby, as well as wishes and gift packages from friends abroad, see me through to the end of March.

Why would anyone ever stop celebrating their birthday just because they don’t like the number attributed to a particular year’s festivities?!

I continue my education on the book production process and industry by attending a self-publishing fair, once again organised at the Vancouver Public Library. There, I meet and listen to an apparently successful self-published author, Martin Crosbie, who very generously shares his discoveries of strategies to dramatically increase his books’ sales on Amazon. It is a little too early in the process for me to apply any of his findings, although it is encouraging to know that Amazon is not such a book selling mystery after all.

The Writer's Workplace at Just Write Vancouver Meetup Weekend Retreat

The Writer’s Workplace at Just Write Vancouver Meetup Weekend Retreat

I also partake in an in-town, 1-day Writing Retreat, organized as part of the Just Write Vancouver Meetup group. I am grateful for the chance and for giving myself permission to dedicate this day to writing, which I rather enjoy, but sometimes—with a lot of other life going on—I find it a challenge to get to. I have a chance to network with other writers, sharing writing craft and industry tips over refreshment breaks and a healthful, delicious, seasonal, mainly local and organic lunch at Tractor Foods restaurant.

Keeping up my French ameliorations is one of the many activities competing for my time, attention, and sense of enjoyment—I really do enjoy learning and using this fabulous and romantic language. One evening, I go with a friend—with a similar passion for French—to see the movie entitled “Gare du Nord”. This movie is naturally quite artistic (i.e., a little confusing), and incredibly well done. It tells a story of the people, the ghosts, and the people who feel or are made to feel like ghosts, whose lives intersect at this Parisian jewel of a cross-roads that is Gare du Nord. On another evening, I head to a Vancouver French Meetup event for some conversational practice after work, only to find myself crashing a retirement party for a Federal Government colleague and serendipitously connecting with a Francophone acquaintance, with whom I parler en français for a good 45 minutes.

The Writer's Garden Cottage at Xenia Retreat Centre

The Writer’s Garden Cottage at Xenia Retreat Centre

My serendipitous encounters also take me on a search for the Celestine Prophecy book—which fortuitously is about apparent coincidences, their meanings, and possible ways of living life if one chooses to follow the path that these reveal.

This, in turn, leads me to finding my amazing, past yoga teacher, and to partaking in the Ocean Breath yoga retreat, which she leads the following month on Bowen Island near Vancouver. This turns out to be precisely the relaxing, meditative, peaceful, and insightful weekend getaway that I crave at the point that it takes place. I stay in this amazing little Garden Cottage that reminds me that “Everyday is a Gift”.

The Writer at Her Garden Cottage

The Writer at Her Garden Cottage

Between some relaxing and some invigorating yoga sessions; fantastic and healthy meals with inspiring conversations; nature walks that include a visit with Opa—the 1000 year old cedar—a walk around a secluded lake through a forest, and a walking meditation at a rock labyrinth: I spend time at my little cottage writing through my thoughts and working on my book, as I am kept company by a pretty pewter ferry and a friendly pewter humming bird in the windows.

Opa - The 1000 Year Old Cedar

Opa – The 1000 Year Old Cedar

I experience a new for me sensation while hovering my left hand over a round of white crystals—the air between the underside of my hand and the crystals feels cold, but only with my left hand. On the other hand, the air feels the same temperature below and above my hand when I try this with my right hand. I am not sure what, if anything, this tries to tell me.

The Writer in Her Natural Environment at Xenia

The Writer in Her Natural Environment at Xenia

My healing energies are invigorated by a resident energy healer and a couple of sociable sessions in a wood burning sauna. Having recently read another kindred spirit’s mantra about “When cloudy pool of water settles, it becomes clear”, I make it my intention for the retreat weekend. Though clarity does not fully crystallise just then, my time and encounters at Xenia make space for my spirit to breathe and calm my mind and body.

Back at home in Vancouver, I continue to inspire my senses with Special Dishes for the Week that include Rainbow Life Salad with Quinoa and Red Lentil Dhal with Smoked Paprika Eggplant.

What a delicious six weeks of birthday this has been!

Les offres de la vie – Offers from Life

The week after I return from my Book Writing Retreat 2014 Barra de Navidad, I share in my French class a short homework assignment that uses French vocabulary for “offering, accepting, and refusing”. Mine turns out to be a poetic piece, which I come up with while lounging one day on the Mexican – Barra de Navidad beach.

(French original and English translation)

Les offres de la vie

La vie nous offre des choix :
vivre; ou mourir;
faire quelque chose avec elle; ou passer à côté.
Nous pouvons accepter les choix
et l’offre de la vie,
ou nous pouvons les refuser
et croire que nous n’en avons aucun.
Mais ce qui sera, sera.
Généralement, l’acceptation des choix offerts
nous donne plus de contentement
que leur refus.

French Poetry Inspiring Barra de Navidad Beach

French Poetry Inspiring Barra de Navidad Beach

Offers from Life

Life offers us choices:
to live; or to die;
to do something with it; or to squander it.
We can accept the choices
and the offer of life,
or we can refuse them
and believe that we don’t have any.
But whatever will be, will be.
Generally, acceptance of the offered choices
gives us more contentment
than their refusal.

Book Writing Retreat 2014 Barra de Navidad

I spend a week mid-January adjusting to the time change and unpacking from my Book Writing Retreat 2013-2014 Nice while also packing for my month’s-end Book Writing Retreat 2014 Barra de Navidad, in sunny and warm Mexico. Somehow I feel more balanced in my emotionally draining writing, which demands the re-living and re-digesting of painful thoughts and memories, when I am living more intensely in the present as well. Writing in less familiar and differently inspirational surroundings feels like more intense living. It keeps me motivated to write, and to live.

The Writer's Beach and Patio Workspaces / Sunrise Rooftop Artist Date

The Writer’s Beach and Patio Workspaces / Sunrise Rooftop Artist Date

This organised group writing retreat offers outdoor morning, nearly “hot yoga” classes, followed by writing classes and personalised coaching. Being instructed in the mechanics of storytelling is perhaps useful in the long-run; however, it reminds me too much of high school English class—and I was not a big fan of it then either. I park the information for future reference, but at this stage, I choose to concentrate on discovering where the organic telling of my story takes me. However, inspired by some feedback to a short piece of my writing, and supported with some clarifying instruction, I find that the piece I am working on during this retreat possibly lends itself to applying the technique of “showing”—through a dialogue between the characters—over the descriptive and explanatory “telling” technique that I, thus far, predominantly apply in my storytelling. It goes quite well.

Fellow Retreating Writers (and Food Lovers)

Fellow Retreating Writers (and Food Lovers)

This interesting experience also allows me to reflect on the notion of re-writes. I can see that my dialogue form will need a second look, at least to make it sound more like speaking than the complete sentences I currently have my characters expressing. No one speaks in complete sentences. All manner of speech is indeed imperfect. Spurred in part by this experience, I realise that my view of editorial re-writes of my story is evolving: I am more open to the idea that I will not get my story down perfectly the first time and that drafts will be necessary. I realise that this will be necessary, not only to improve the writing, but also in order to get it written at all. Aiming for perfection, particularly in one-go, tends to be paralysing.

The Writer's Apartment Workspace

The Writer’s Apartment Workspace

Sometimes writing from my apartment, sometimes from the apartment’s rooftop, other times from oceanfront drink bars and restaurants, I look for opportunities to be inspired in an Artist Date kind of way. I am rewarded with at least two.

After one mid-day writing session, I take a short walk to the end of my street, to peruse the world-renowned, tiny hovel: Beer Bob’s Book Exchange, where I find several (book) gems. On my way back to my writing task, seeing my initial carved in ficus-tree in the street prompts me to take notice of an elderly woman on a second-story balcony. She is painting, clearly for the sake of pure enjoyment, not knowing her activity is being observed and is inspiring another person. I take a leaf from this tree of worldly wisdom for my book endeavour.

Book Exchange and Painter Encounter Artist Date

Book Exchange and Painter Encounter Artist Date

My second Artist Date reveals itself during my rooftop smoothie breakfast and writing session at sunrise. I notice the dew beaded across the table to keep me company, thinking myself alone. I take a picture of this one of nature’s beauties, and only when I look at the dew through the lens of my camera do I notice that I am joined for breakfast by a tiny red creature sipping from a dew drop. In that moment I am reminded that sometimes much is revealed when one changes the lens from which one looks at the world.

Mexican Delicacies

Mexican Delicacies

My evening meals, and some of my mid-day ones, too, I spend in the company of my fellow retreating writers. And the food is amazing: delicious, (mostly!) healthy, and oh, so colourful. I simply cannot get enough! My favourites become guacamole and salsa with corn chips, chased with a lemon laced Corona cerveza, particularly on a warm oceanfront patio, shared with my new friends.

Homemade Mexican Breakfast in Vancouver

Homemade Mexican Breakfast in Vancouver

Upon my return home, I keep the memories of being warm and of eating delicious Mexican dishes fueled by keeping my apartment warmer and by reproducing the luscious guacamole, salsa and taco experience from my trip.

In my French class later in the week, I share a short homework assignment that uses French vocabulary for “offering, accepting, and refusing”. Mine turns out to be a poetic piece, entitled Les offres de la vie” (“Offers from Life”), which I come up with while lounging one day on the Mexican – Barra de Navidad beach.

Book Writing Retreat 2013-2014 Nice

Though my relationship with Christmas is evolving, and perhaps because of it, I find myself engaging with others more during this Season this year. I continue my Christmas visits with friends and family, on Skype and in person, taking in this year’s solstice lantern festival at Sun Yat-Sen Garden with a few old friends and new. Inspired by several Christmas letters, I decide last-minute to prepare my own—taking stock of my 2013 year’s achievements and blessings, some more in disguise than others—in the form of a Christmas poem.

Lantern Festival at Sun Yat-Sen Garden

Lantern Festival at Sun Yat-Sen Garden

Following a few ancient Polish traditions, and developing some new ones, I celebrate Christmas Eve with a small gathering of friends and the requisite multi-course meal. I try to give up sledzie (the pickled herring) as one of the courses, but simply cannot—and am happy that my dinner companions enthusiastically indulge in this delicacy with me. I greatly enjoy our after dinner activity, too—a game of pick-up sticks, which I had not played for years, perhaps even not since becoming more shaky. With some trepidation at first, I find I thoroughly enjoy it and even do alright with it. Then, most thematically for this Holiday of new birth celebration, I spend Christmas Day dinner with my relatives that now include 3 new babies, all born on the same weekend!

Christmas Eve 2013 Wigilia Dinner

Christmas Eve 2013 Wigilia Dinner

Nice Book Writing Retreat Supplies

Nice Book Writing Retreat Supplies

I spend the next few days packing for my first of two upcoming writing retreats—although I run out of time, and steam, for identifying what specifically I want to work on writing while there—so once again, I improvise. With a few days remaining in the year, I commence my Book Writing Retreat 2013-2014 Nice, in the South of France. I bring along a couple of writing support books among my book writing retreat supplies—and this time, unlike the last, I remember to pack some posted notes and a highlighter. Forgetting, though, to pack the red tape, a roll of scotch tape gets added to the book writing supply kit.

The Writer's Nice Workspace

The Writer’s Nice Workspace

Inspired by fresh fruit and veggie markets of Provence, and reinforced by seeing the movie by its title, I make Ratatouille as my Special Dish for the Week in Nice. There are two daily markets in Nice: one at the Libération tram stop, catering perhaps more to the locals, where I pick up some miel de lavande; and the other in Vieille Ville, so a little more touristy, but that one has the olives and dry herbs and spices! Both markets, a true sensation for the gastronomic and visual senses!

Nice Market Inperations

Nice Market Inperations

New Year’s Eve dinner celebrations see my writing retreat companion and I sharing a charcuterie board of cured meats like prosciutto jambon and speck; a selection of goat cheeses and some camembert; hardboiled egg (left over from my journey there); delicious green olives with garlic and herbs; some nice and spicy Dijon mustard; and a cornichon pickle. Accompanied by a fantastic artisan baguette, with Bio butter (that does not cost $10 per pound like it does in Canada!), and sipping on a small bottle of delightful Châteauneuf du Pape, this feast completes with a piece of Belgian chocolate and a macaroon. We partake in the traditional promenade niçoise (though not quite down to and along the fully traditional for New Year’s Eve Promenade des Anglais). We bring in the New Year 2014 by sipping on wine and watching the film “Amélie”, en français.

New Year's Eve Charcuterie Board Dinner in Nice

New Year’s Eve Charcuterie Board Dinner in Nice

Vieux Nice et Palais Lascaris

Vieux Nice et Palais Lascaris

Throughout my Nice Book Writing Retreat, I weave my hours of daily writing together with exploring the charming narrow streets of Vieux Nice, ducking into souvenir shops and taverns for some vin chaud when the uncharacteristic deluge comes upon us, stumbling onto the Palais Lascaris filled with baroque instruments, and not very successfully avoiding tourist trap restaurants in this off-season period. I do not, however, get the opportunity to experience the Vélo Blue bike share, because I fall in love with the Nice tram. And if there is a cemetery to be found, I will find one—or two—on a hilltop, when possible. I feign a statue at the one in Nice on The Castle Hill (Colline du Chateau), and marvel at the other in the medieval hilltop village of Èze.

Nice and Eze Cemetaries

Nice and Eze Cemetaries

Day Train Trip to Ventimiglia, Italy

Day Train Trip to Ventimiglia, Italy

As I wipe away the tears when I write about the time when I nearly gave up, I keep engaged in life now by taking a day train trip to Italy for the Ventimiglia Friday market, and drop into Monaco for a crèpe and a glass of rosé, at the medieval hilltop Monaco-Ville, on the way back to Nice. How fortunate am I to experience life at such extremes, oscillating between death and life?!

Ventimiglia Friday Market

Ventimiglia Friday Market

Crepe et Rose in Monaco on Return from Ventimiglia to Nice

Crepe et Rose in Monaco on Return from Ventimiglia to Nice

My writing is inspired by following, for a distance, the footpath of Nietzsche to the medieval hilltop village of Èze, along which I picnic in solitude on my croissant de jambon and disguised rosé—as though the surreal Èze was not inspirational enough. High up, towards the skies, the ghost of Nietzsche and I rendez-vous for an Artist Date.

Artist Date Picnic on Nietzsche's Footpath

Artist Date Picnic on Nietzsche’s Footpath

Medieval Hilltop Village of Eze

Medieval Hilltop Village of Eze

The Writer's Workspace at Frankfurt Airport

The Writer’s Workspace at Frankfurt Airport

On my return flight to Vancouver, the frigid weather in Toronto—where one of my two plane connections takes place—delays my flights by a couple of hours. I feel a little annoyed by the inconvenience of the trip lasting 2 hours longer than the regularly scheduled 18 hours of flights, until I realise that the Frankfurt airport makes for as good a place to keep writing as some of my other inspirational nooks and crannies around the world, and my contentment returns. The delays prove to be a bit more trying once I get to Toronto—where my return gets stretched by another 4 hours—but the lovely mid-air chance encounter with a good-looking and kind-hearted Francophone and “Art of Living” breath teacher—who is captivated by my story, and I by his—makes for a gratifying ending to my 30-hour journey back.

Though as usual, while engaging in my Nice Book Writing Retreat, I constantly feel that I am not doing enough: enough of writing; enough of exploring; enough of living. Taking stock of my achievements and experiences like this, in a post, brings a more balanced perspective to my endeavours—and I am glad for having made the trip.

Special Dish for the Week: Ratatouille Provençale de Nice

For the last Special Dish for the Week of 2013, I prepare an authentic version of this favourite dish in one of my favourite places on Earth—Provence in the South of France:

Ratatouille Provençale de Nice

Ratatouille Provençale de Nice

Ratatouille Provençale de Nice

When in Provence, where I currently am over New Year’s for my Book Writing Retreat 2013-2014 Nice, I take advantage of the local produce that my retreat companion picks up from the daily market while I make my way in from the airport, and make the colourful, nutritious comforting ratatouille.

Following the recipe now well-ingrained in my mind, I peel, grate, dice and slice some garlicgingeronion and red pepper. These I sautée, till soft, then browned, in generous amounts of cold pressed virgin olive oil. I add some chopped cilantro stems to enrich the base flavour. Plus some slices of red Thai chili pepper for a little added spice. Next is coarse dicing of zucchini—or courgette—and eggplant—or aubergine—which I add to the pot to make tender and juicy. Then, I coarsely chop some tomatoes, adding them towards the end, along with some chickpeas. I add more chopped cilantro, fresh basil, herbes de Provencethymepepper, and some salt—from my dried spice travel stash! I let all the veggies cook—covered, to soften, releasing and intermingling their plentiful juices—for about 1/2 hr.

For protein and carbohydrate source, I separately cook some jasmine brown rice with a dash of cinnamon. I serve the ratatouille next to the cinnamon rice, for a change of pace rather than on top, and enjoy with a glass of rosé.

Macaron and Baklava Dessert

Macaron and Baklava Dessert

For dessert, I enjoy macarons for the first time in all my travels in France (a little beat up by the time I get them to the apartment, but still tasty), with a side of baklava morsels left over from my journey from Vancouver.

Ratatouille Provençale de Vancouver

Ratatouille Provençale de Vancouver

Ratatouille Provençale de Vancouver

Back in Vancouver, for the first Special Dish for the Week of 2014, and in an attempt to keep fresh the memory of my visit to Nice, I make another Ratatouille Provençale.

This time, the cinnamon jasmine brown rice also includes the sweetly moist and delicious raisins. To the base ratatouille, I add some turmeric and black pepper for some variety and more anti-inflammatory action.

The star of this meal, however, is the wine glass from which I sip my red wine. It comes from Europe—Hamburg, to be more precise—by mail, no less! A gift for Christmas from my good Hamburgerin friend. It is customised specifically for me, and intended to accompany my Special Dishes for the Week. It has engraved on it a memory from our South East Asia travels: Santé, machine à manger! Yes, “the eating machine”—c’est moi, bien sûr ! How thoughtful—and how incredible that it made it all the way from Europe in the post, in tact!

Post-Writing Retreat Time-Out

Pseudo-Parisian Style Baguette and Smoked Mackerel Dinner

Pseudo-Parisian Style Baguette and Smoked Mackerel Dinner

Following the recent Writing Retreat Weekend, I take a little time-out—about a week long—from trying to write my way out my log jam of thoughts. Instead, I take a long, overcast walk on the beach with a friend, and give the back of my mind a chance to possibly make some unconscious progress. Also, in my on-going search for a Parisian-style baguette in Vancouver, I come close to finding one at the market when I try “A Bread Affair” bakery’s “Naked baguette traditionnalle”. I enjoy it for dinner one evening with some organic butter, smoked mackerel from the Granville Island market, and a tomato salad with mixed greens, basil and cilantro from my herb garden, and some cooked spinach.

Likewise, while on the prowl for various duck meats for the French salade Landaise—which I featured in my final story post from Paris and reported in my return to Vancouver story post as being a challenge to assemble here—I decide to give the gizzard-containing chicken giblets a try instead. I may need to try cooking them in water for about an hour next time, instead of frying them up like chicken livers, to see if I get a better, softer result. Though edible, the giblets are rather knuckly in texture, such that the steamed peas and asparagus, with a side of tomato and mixed greens salad, make a welcome completion of that dish.

Chicken Giblets in Faux-Salade-Landaise, Take-One

Chicken Giblets in Faux-Salade-Landaise, Take-One

The following weekend, I organise a 3-hr mini writing retreat with a friend at the Vancouver Public Library. With this dedicated book-writing time, and the week-long time-out I had given my conscious mind, I return to more actively working my way through the challenging point in my story that has been demanding much of my current energy. Having decided to do so during the recent Writing Retreat Weekend, I print about 75 pages of notes and narrative writing, and begin reading and marking it with coloured stickies and brief hand-written notes. Thus, decorating my desk and getting up close and personal with the typed words, as well as consulting my journals from the past decade, I re-commence my attempt to comprehend my present and my past.

The Writer's Printouts-Covered Workspace

The Writer’s Printouts-Covered Workspace

On Saturday morning, I head down to the downtown farmers market in search of carrots and chicken livers. I get lots of carrots, but they are out of chicken livers, so I decide to try the turkey livers. These remain to be explored, perhaps in a future Special Dish for the Week. At the market, I also learn what kind of day it is going to be for me that day. From the reactions of people around me, I can often tell how wiggly is my body and how unintentionally expressive is my face. I seem to be upsetting many people on this day, so I must be more wiggly and grimacey. I reach out for my new tools to deal with these unwelcome reactions and my instinctive but unproductive feelings. I am relatively successful, but I still look forward to getting back home, away from the prying and confused eyes.

That evening, I resist the temptation to keep hiding in the solitary safety of my apartment, and I brave the bus and the night club atmosphere, to go dancing. I haven’t been in several months, not since before my Book Writing Tour 2013. I try to relax, but instinctively, I am on the lookout for unsolicited commentary, knowing from the morning’s market outing, what kind of day my body is having. I have a mixed experience. I am not successful at giving my name to someone who introduces themselves to me. However, it gives me an opportunity to successfully practice reminding myself not to care too much about what someone may think of me when they react badly to me for not being able to get my voice to work, especially under very challenging (loud) conditions. I actually feel ok about it within minutes of the incident. The rest of my evening is similarly mixed: one unpleasant moment is, in turn, offset by another enjoyable one, till I return to my place of refuge and my bed. I survive another day in the urban jungle, and even feel content at the end of it.

The next day, on Sunday afternoon, with the Fall season upon us and sunny but chilly weather abound, I make some warm and comforting Carrot Ginger Cashew Lentil Soup as my Special Dish for the Week.