welcome to my (mis)adventures

2018 in Review

I’m sat in a LBD (a term that is officially in the dictionary, a little black dress), on the couch in the living room of the coast house, listening to the waves hitting the beach and a cool breeze coming through the screen door. There’s nowhere to go and nothing to do. And it’s perfect.

I think this must be a sure sign I am growing up. Or maturing anyways. I remember times in my teens and twenties when I’d feel so disappointed at my lack of plans for new years eve, as if this one night were a reflection of my greater social standing in the world. But now, after two surfs, a run on the beach, a swim, an afternoon nap and a nice dinner made by Sean, there’s not much else I want to do. I turned to Sean over dinner and said that it sounded lame, but I just wanted to stay home, watch a movie and do what we always do. Nothing all that special. I don’t even really care about staying up till midnight. Then, as I heard myself saying it, it dawned on me what a fantastically happy thing it is to want to continue one’s regular life regardless of occasion.

Reflecting back on 2018, this all makes a lot of sense. Sean and I rang in the year back home at Shell Lake, Saskatchewan, lighting fireworks on the ice of the lake, in a heated curling battle with old friends. From there we spent the next month in the Rockies, me teaching Sean to cross country ski and learning how to handle powder at Kicking Horse. February found us in Colombia, with the Mamo at Busintana and the Princesa in Bogota. March we returned to south coast NSW (Australia), and April had us inland at the farm for the picnic races. May was New Zealand. June were Wallabies and Waratahs rugby games. July was the refugee ration challenge, winter swimming, and ski-camping trips in the Rav4. August a solo trip back to Canada to bring the whole Hiebert family together again. September, after a lot of effort, I received the first stage of a partner visa for Australia. October we bought a rental property, hosted Canadian Thanksgiving and I really dove into teaching yoga in senior care. November we started renovations and spent a week riding bikes down the beach at Byron Bay and putting on shows Lismore with Karim’s Mojo Disco.

December saw us living down the hill from our apartment, spending Christmas at Cambewarra Farm and surf trips down the south coast.

2018 has been a big beautiful year. I don’t spend too much time with resolutions but instead like to take this time to pause to really remember just how lucky I am and that I’ve got all – and more – that I’ll ever need. As for advice for the new year, I like this bit from Neil Gaiman:

Be kind to yourself in the year ahead. Remember to forgive yourself, and to forgive others. It’s too easy to be outraged these days, so much harder to change things, to reach out, to understand.Try to make your time matter: minutes and hours and days and weeks can blow away like dead leaves, with nothing to show but time you spent not quite ever doing things, or time you spent waiting to begin.Meet new people and talk to them. Make new things and show them to people who might enjoy them. 

Hug too much. Smile too much. And, when you can, love.

Neil Gaiman

January 2018

February 2018

March 2018

April 2018

May 2018

June 2018

July 2018

August 2018

September 2018

October 2018

November 2018

December 2018

And finally, January 1, 2019:

New Years Day 2019 Surf!

Renovating is Spiritual Work

Sean and I have been renovating our apartment for the last 6 weeks. When we started, everyone said to expect the work to take longer and to budget (much) more more than expected, but no one said anything at all about doubling down on chutzpah and emotional fitness to get through it. 

Six weeks is slightly misleading as really it’s been 6 months. We started back in June (maybe earlier) when we met with a contractor who agreed on the job and agreed on the price. In September, a week before the sledgehammer was scheduled to fall, he quoted a new price that was more than 3 times higher than the original. So it was back to the drawing board and we started scrounging for contractors once again. 

Along the way we also met a wacky woman named Susan who picked us up while we were window shopping at a home renovation shop where she works (everything about that sentence sounds wrong). She sweet talked her way into our pocket book as we hired her to draw up our her plans. When she told me she’d lived for a year on a boat off Salt Spring Island, BC, I thought she must be pretty cool and therefore a great person to add to the renovation team. In retrospect, I realise that living alone in a 12sqm living space is not really a reason to hire someone to design a home.

Nine different sets of contractors traipsed through our house before we finally settled on Luke. He promised to get the work done before Christmas, but after demolishing a couple of walls the apartment sat empty and unchanging for a few weeks. Fastforward to now, and it’s T minus 3 days before we’re meant to move back in and there’s still no sign of the apartment being liveable any time soon. It’s a mess. There’s no kitchen (that’s Thursday), no floors (that’s Thursday), no carpet (that was supposed to be Thursday), no toilet, sink or running water (also supposed to be Thursday). The builder’s Christmas party is on Friday.

Delays are bound to happen – everyone tells you that – but I think it’s the interpersonal stuff that sends people crazy when renovating. For example, the designer (think a faster-talking, pushier Samantha á la Sex in the City) insisted on a bathtub that wasn’t what I wanted and  suspected we would be problematic. It arrived and immediately we needed to send it back because the plumber couldn’t make it work. Then she went off plan and told the contractor to tile the bathtub, a wall and the floor of the bathroom with the same patterned tile, along with a feature wall and a cupboard. It’s the busiest bathroom you’ve ever seen. When we saw it the other night we knew it was wrong but she insisted that we had agreed to it back in August. It doesn’t seem to matter that there’s two of us who remember different compared to her one – she’s sure there’s absolutely no way she could be mistaken. We’ve had to rip out the tile today and start fresh… costing us three days (bye bye Christmas finish date! {interjection from Sean: “Let’s face it, that was never gonna happen”}). When items that were meant to be onsite in advance were rush-ordered, incurring extra charges and losing items due to backorders, she blamed the contractor for not telling her when the job started 5 weeks earlier, even though she’d visited the site several times in the interim. On the other side, the contractor blames the designer and an utterly pointless cycle ensues.

Add to all this we’ve been living under an acquaintance’s roof for the last 6 weeks. We have a room packed with stuff and find ourselves talking in hushed tones after 7pm and dealing with karmic retribution in the form of a jackhammer that starts at 7:30am each day and ends at 5pm (the house two doors down has been demolished and they, too, are starting again). It’s a funny thing to live in someone else’s space… I always feel like I’m somehow responsible for a mess that isn’t there. 

So I’ve learned a lot. About renovating, about signing contracts and about making sure I speak up on what I want. In other words, I’ve learned about breaking down to build up, fostering goodwill in difficult circumstances, and letting go of resentments. All the while remembering that it’s small stuff. All of it. And that some day fairly soon it won’t matter that much any more. And that some day a little farther on it won’t matter at all. It’s serious spiritual work this renovating stuff. 

Good Vibrations

Recently I took on teaching yoga to seniors in nursing homes. Initially I thought it would something nice to do, and was happy to pick up a few more teaching gigs. It’s quickly become much more than that.

The classes are small, ranging from 2 to 15 participants aged 75 to 97. One of my yogis is a beautiful woman (we’ll call her Sheila – not her real name). Sheila is 96 years young and always has impeccable makeup and carefully selected outfits – she wears a lot of matching two piece pant suits in pastel colours and the same button-up printed shirts my grandmother used to be fond of. Despite being 96 and wheelchair bound, Sheila is the heart of the class. She entices and coerces her peers into the yoga circle and tells them to stretch higher, move more – don’t be so damn lazy! It might sound like she’s a bit bossy, but Sheila is an absolute gem of a woman with a heart of gold. Her life story – from what I know of it – sounds like she is a total pioneer. It’s an honour to know her and be approved of by her (as long as I “work a bit harder and reach farther – you’re still young, dammit!”).

In another care facility, the day after I see Sheila, there’s another woman, Lucy (also not her real name), aged 97. In an environment where people are often frustrated by the changes in life that brought them to the home, Lucy has a beautiful sense of acceptance and hope for the future. She was brought into care 12 months ago after having a health scare and wasn’t even allowed to return to her house before entering care permanently. That’s a concept I can’t imagine for myself and her grace is humbling. Similar to Sheila, Lucy is the driving force behind morning yoga, recruiting other residents and friends to join in, and makes sure everyone gets back to their rooms alright following yoga. The first day I met Lucy I had the group doing leg exercises in what I call “dance steps” (everything we do is based from a sitting position). Lucy turned to me, an apologetic look on her face and said “I’m so sorry this hip doesn’t go as high as the other one. I’ve got a touch of arthritis.” High expectations seem to be a common theme amongst the longest-living and healthiest residents.

Following seeing Lucy I head downstairs and work with residents who have progressed in dementia. I have to say that initially I was intimidated by this ward, and unsure of how I would connect and motivate this group, but I really had no reason to worry. Dementia patients have good days and some less-good days, but everyone loves enthusiasm and a smile. Another perk is that I get complimented on the same “new” outfit every week.

I’ve found little keys to working with these amazing people. The use of story and imagination is a wonderful thing and we’ve started to weave a good yarn in with our exercise. We make up adventures  as we lift our feet and knees, making broad strokes with our hands like we’re clearing bush and walking through a jungle. Sometimes we have to climb trees and hold on for dear life when a storm comes. (Last week when we were in a tornado one of the residents cried out that she could see a cow that had been picked up by the wind and was sailing across the middle of the room!) Eventually we always reach a sunny beach and go for a swim, doing backstroke from our chairs, feeling the sun on our faces. Sometimes the Beach Boys are even there and we have a little dance.

It’s a lot of fun, and not in that saintly, not-actually-fun-but-it-sounds-good kind of way. Maybe having these great connections to older people is normal for those who grew up closer to their grandparents, but for me it’s something special and I’m really grateful.  I feel like they’re teaching me how to age, and do it with class.

Sharing Time

It’s been a while since I was last an employee. Over a year, actually and it’s been great.

I’m incredibly lucky to have had breaks in my career. When I left Europe to go on my 2 year long sabbatical, I found it took me 6 months away from my job before I began to stop thinking about it. After a year I’d finally stopped looking at job postings “for fun”. Once I let that go, I finally felt creativity I didn’t know I had, start to bubble up within me. I began writing in earnest, I learned how to draw, and when I rented places for a month or more I really enjoyed sourcing local ingredients and cooking up new things. Music and dance had a new shine for me, and my yoga practice finally started to click as I allowed myself more enjoyment with much less effort.

Despite having been through these phases before, I still have the tendency to worry that I’m not doing enough and subconsciously my focus shifts from relaxed and happy, allowing things to be effortless to concern that I should be doing “real work” (ie: going back to corporate, making loads of money and having a fancy title to fan my ego with).

This morning, however, rooted me back on the good side of my own positive values. Volunteering at a local cafe run for “people from all walks of life” (in reality this means there’s a high population of people who are homeless and/or suffer from mental illness, addiction, etc), I provided very basic service, preparing and serving food. There was no expectation of perfection or improvement. Instead the value was in just being there, in connection with other people. The capacity to share time for a common goal, to have the chance to talk with people – cafe patrons, staff, volunteers – is surely one of the most effective ways to feel rich. And the common goal is so simple – just to be happy, have shelter, get fed. When you break it down, happiness can be pretty simple even for those who don’t seem to have many reasons for it. A good reminder for me who has so many.

Investment Strategies

We had a wonderful 1 1/2 days of spring skiing, followed by a detour down the coast to Narooma. The south coast of NSW is one of my happy places. Forests of eucalyptus trees, cackling kookaburras, empty beaches spanning miles of coastline. It’s a wonderful, magical place to be.

While fun, the trip was not just for leisure. Sean and I have been very seriously (and adultly) considering investment options. We’re considering buying real estate, and have been mulling over two properties – a studio in Bondi Beach we affectionately call “Garage View” and a cute apartment down the coast in Narooma.

In considering this major decision, I reflected on past good investments, and thought about what had brought me joy while also being useful and profitable. The electric kettle we purchased for our snow excursions came to mind, and the rebellious part of me that doesn’t want to get hemmed into a committing, unwieldy land purchase began to  compare the experience of owning a very handle kettle to owning a pricey and bulky plot of real estate.

Kettle ($15)

Real Estate ($more)

Portable Immovable
Dividends paid within 3 minutes Pays back in years if all goes well
Warms you up – essential for survival Has a sundeck
Requires electricty Requires a lot of stuff
Can be stored without a thought indefinitely Takes taking care of, management
Sense of security and well being Sense of risk
Maintenance free Not.

Clearly the kettle was a bargain.

Anyways, we continued to consider the matter. The real estate agent was from Whale Realty and the apartment used to be called Daisy Street, which I quite like the sound of. While mulling over our choice, we pulled over on the side of the road overlooking the ocean and got out of the car. Sean picked me a handful of wild daisies, and while looking at the water a whale breached in front of us.

We took it as a sign and bought the apartment.


Spring Season

Canadians tend to look forward to spring skiing. Warmer (but still freezing temperatures), some sunshine, fewer crowds, late season dumps of snow.

But Australia is different. Spring season is equivalent to water skiing in Canada. Okay, fine, that’s an overstatement but not too much of one. Temperatures rose this last weekend to 9 degrees (yes, that’s +9, not -9), making for a lot of melt and lot of water.

Good news is that car camping is only getting more comfortable, and a half day of morning skiing is better than none.

Warren Miller Wannabes

During our Western Hemisphere Tour 2017-18, we had a brief stop going through Seattle.  When we go to a new place Sean always knows what’s going on because he habitually collects the local paper. It was in this way that we learned of the legendary Warren Miller, film maker and ski outlaw.

Warren Miller is well known for being the first to make high-adrenaline skiing movies, starting with his initial compilation in the ’50s. There are stories of how he lived in his his van, stealing packets of ketchup from fast food restaurants and mixing them with water to make tomato soup – partly because he was broke and partly because he was a total bandit. Miller didn’t pay for lift passes, but instead would snag a ride up a chairlift only to outrace the ski patrol chasing after them all the way down the mountain. And repeat. All day long.

For obvious reasons, Miller captivates both of us. While we like to think of ourselves as Lifestyle Bandits, but Miller took it a few big steps further. He started filming his ski bum friends doing wild things, compiled the footage into movies, and took it on the road, traveling around North America to ski-bum cults hungry for adrenaline-fuelled ski debauchery that Miller effortlessly provided.

Taking a page from Warren’s book, Sean and I figured we should find a way to simplify going to the snow. It’s a 5 hour trip from our place in Sydney and accommodation is both highly in demand and very pricey. Besides, it’s always more fun to be outside anyways. Taking this into account, Sean took the seats out of the back of our Rav 4, padded the floor with a foam mat and we threw our ski gear, sleeping bags, food and kitchen camping supplies into the back.

Before leaving town Sean stopped by Kmart and bought an electric kettle. I thought this was going a bit far, but I’ve become a tea drinker since coming to Australia and agreed it would be nice to steal some electricity for hot water if we could find it.

In our first debut as Millerites, we had the best weekend. Arriving at the snow on Saturday midday, we enjoyed the runs until lift close at 4:30pm. From there we stopped by the car, dropped our gear off and picked up our gym gear and the kettle before heading to the leisure centre. We did another work out, had a swim, a shower, brushed our teeth and boiled the kettle in a corner before meeting some friends for dinner at their fancy lodge. After a wonderful dinner, we arrived back at the car around dusk and drove to the campground down the road.

The campground is well used in the winter (I’m very impressed by the other Aussie Millerite’s tenacity when it comes to the snow), and since we arrived after dark our choices for a park were limited. We pulled off the road and put the skis on the roof, clearing space to sleep, and even though it was still quite early, I promptly fell asleep and didn’t wake until 6am the following morning.

Straight away we went to the gym again and boiled the kettle. There’s something about fellow ski bums that makes them agree with our thinking that there’s something a bit awesome about bypassing the usual resort system. People who saw us with our little kettle and the packed Rav 4 would alway smile and say ‘Good on ya’, or tell us some story about their youth when they’d done the same. Then they’d frown and say ‘I’m not too old for that. Maybe next winter…’

The following night we had no dinner dates, and instead were back at the campground before dark. We lit a fire, heated up some supper and enjoyed watching night fall. The stars were incredible and the critters scurrying around at sunset – wallabies, kangaroos, ducks – were fun to watch. The moment was just as good or even better than being on the hill.

Sadly, being latecomers to downhill skiers, we only learned of Warren Miller by way his passing when we saw an article in the Seattle Times. His obit reads like an adventure novel and is thoroughly inspiring. It gives me feeling of a kid who’s gotten away with something and  makes me want to earn the same kind of biography at the end of my life.

A midday break for lunch…

Going Home from Home

I’m finishing up a spontaneous 12 day visit back home in Saskatchewan. It was a last minute decision to leave Sydney, but a good one. My brother is in the midst of moving from Pakistan to Nigeria, with a brief stop back in Sask, so when another bureaucratic error meant I’d have to leave Australia on a visa run,  it seemed a good opportunity for a family visit.

Being home – as in family home – is always a different experience, regardless of whether a lot or a little time has passed. There are always things that have changed. With people, with places, with myself.

Whenever I go home I catch up with my childhood bestie, Megan, and her three daughters. Our lives could hardly be more different – Megan has a family, a farm, a business, and at least 15 chickens. I, on the other hand, live in a city on the other side of the world, and am barely responsible for keeping myself alive (Sean does a lot of the cooking in our house). The girls are getting older, as apparently is normal for kids, and as I see them grow I realise I’m getting older too. This is weird because I don’t feel much different than last year or 5 years ago, but the girls are entirely new people every time I see them. Other people’s kids really stick it to me with the way they reflect the passage of time.

It’s a bit ironic that never having felt I had a home in any other place I lived, I now have two. It’s nice, but at the same time when I leave Sydney for Saskatoon or Saskatoon for Sydney, I can’t help but feel a bit adulterous. Sydney could never understand what I see in the quiet, living plains and skies of Saskatchewan, while Saskatoon couldn’t relate to the temperate, bustling, ocean life of New South Wales. They are two extremely different lifestyles, but somehow it really works. I’m really lucky that both of them take me.

This was my last trip home to Sask as an unmarried woman (dun dun dunnnn!). Before leaving Australia, people pointed this out to me as though it was significant, as if this particular trip should have a deeper meaning than an excuse to burn things in the fire and eat Saskatoon berry pie for breakfast. I didn’t think of this once while home, but now that the time is over and I remember their words, I suppose it is a good moment to pause, and reflect on the shape life is taking. In some ways, it’s a bit depressing – it’s become impossible to deny that the time-space continuum applies to me, just like everyone else on the planet. Life, with its growing, changing, ageing, dying, involves me too. That’s kind of heavy. But at this moment, I’m grateful for the pause to see it – at least for a very small moment – and appreciate the perspective.

Australians and the Snow

We are in the Snowy Mountains this week with Sean’s family. It’s winter here in Australia and we’ve left the chilly 15 degree July temperatures in Sydney for a frigid -2 degrees here in Thredbo. (Those of you reading in Canada will pick up on my sarcasm).

In an ironic twist of fate, my love affair with downhill skiing started here, in Australia of all places, only a year ago. It’s school holidays so crowds are horrendous, and the runs and snow quality are nothing like the Rockies, but I have a fondness for this place that provided the foundation for our western Canada expedition last year.

Many Australians have never seen or touched snow, so it’s almost as much fun for me to watch them in it as it is to play in it myself. There are many annoyances: unruly crowds, new skiers who can’t figure out the chairlift, parking lots full of anxious drivers circling at 4km/hr, but it’s all worth it to see them meet Snow for the first time. People laugh and draw their hands back, shocked at the cold. Kids throw snowballs, make snowmen, are overwhelmed by wonderment. It’s rare to get a glimpse of that kind of virgin awe in a world where information is always at hand and anyone can know everything. Seeing someone touch snow for the first time gives the observer a rare chance to view unrestrained glee and astonishment that can only come from experience. Watching them, I realise I’m fortunate to have grown up with so many cursed winters in Saskatchewan.

Australians don’t really “invest” in winter the way Northern Hemispherians do. With few exceptions, kids wear the same coloured coats: red and black for boys and pink and blue for girls. Aldi, a low-cost department store, sells these, keeping the same colours but changing the patterns each year. After 2 seasons on the snow I can effortlessly determine what fashion year any Aldi ensemble comes from.

The trip has been fun, with us exploring the mountain further now that we’re more proficient on skis and can go anywhere we like. We reached the highest lifted point in Australia the other day, with a view overlooking the brown valley of Snowy Mountains beyond (there’s really not that much snow, even with this being an absolute bumper year). Just like last year, I turned to Sean and said “Baby, this is cute!” Last year I hadn’t meant it sarcastically, it really did seem cute to me that thousands of people from around the continent flock to these big hills for a taste of the snow. This year however, after acclimatising the the constant climes of Sydney, I said it with affection. Even for a Canadian girl – perhaps especially for a Canadian girl – the snow holds a lot of magic.


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