Soundtrack of a Sabbatical Summer

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While on sabbatical I’ve had a few songs on repeat as I’ve been reflecting on the past, processing the present, coming to terms with some big changes in my life, and trying to just be. Hard stuff, but this music has helped.

Alanis Morissette – Unsent

I was inspired to give Alanis another listen after seeing Tranna Wintour’s homage Dear Alanis: A Musical Comedy. Theme song of this post.

Sara Bareilles – Armor

I’ve loved this song since I first heard it on CBC Radio and realized it was a new track from one of my favourite singer-songwriters. In a strange twist, I only first watched the video this week, and it clicked that the song shares the title of one of my favourite posts from last year, and echoes similar themes.

Tegan & Sara – Where Does The Good Go

Theme song for my Year of Big Change. Also my Year of Binge-Watching Fifteen Seasons of Grey’s Anatomy. (Still have several seasons to go. Holy moly they made a lot of episodes.)

Pharrell Williams – Happy

A new, but welcome, feeling for me lately.

Visiting Villa Kitty

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When my beloved cat Sophie recently escaped, I postponed the departure date for my sabbatical trip to Southeast Asia – and seriously considered cancelling it altogether. I didn’t feel right leaving with her still out there somewhere, and certainly couldn’t imagine enjoying a vacation.

When Sophie joyously returned home, I went ahead and took the trip, only having to delay my departure by a few days. One of the things I’m so grateful I still got to do was visit Villa Kitty.

♦ ♦ ♦

When I was planning the Bali portion of my trip, I knew I wanted to try to get off the beaten tourist path a bit. Beaches and waterfalls and temples are lovely, but what do I really care about most? Animals are high on the list. And of course, more specifically, cats.

Tabby basking in the sun

In the process of researching photo tours, I learned about Villa Kitty, an Ubud cat rescue founded by Elizabeth Henzell. Reading about their work struck a chord, so I wrote to Elizabeth, who graciously invited me to spend some time volunteering. While the rescue pays staff like vets and animal technicians, there’s never enough time to cuddle and play with all the cats and kittens, to help heal and socialize. That’s where volunteers come in.

Elizabeth Henzell, founder of Villa Kitty

Elizabeth Henzell, founder of Villa Kitty

When I got to Villa Kitty, Elizabeth welcomed me warmly. The whole operation blew me away – a huge serpentine maze of brightly coloured corridors and open spaces full of cats and kittens playing, sleeping, curled together in cages, quarantine rooms, and play areas, depending on their age and health status. The place is currently bursting at the seams, housing 300 cats, but the space is well organized and efficiently run.

Molly Parr Isolation ward

People walk into Villa Kitty with tiny kittens found in gutters, ditches, and river banks; cats who are injured, orphaned, or abandoned; and every other heartbreaking scenario you can think of. Staff bottle-feed the littlest ones, perform free sterilizations for the community, and continually spread the word about caring for cats responsibly. They place kitties in foster homes and find adoptive homes for as many as possible.

One-eyed cat in cage

I wish I’d had more time to spend with all these cuties, but I know I’ll return if I’m ever in Bali again. And if you’re a cat lover who finds yourself in Ubud, your cuddles are needed at Villa Kitty – so don’t hesitate to reach out!

♦ ♦ ♦

Visit Villa Kitty on the web, Instagram, or Facebook.

White and tabby kitty meowing in cage

Pasar Ubud

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When I was planning a sabbatical trip to Southeast Asia, I looked around to see if there might be any photography-related excursions along my route. I stumbled across a morning market photo tour in Ubud, Bali, that sounded intriguing. As it turned out, not only did the person offering these tours run them on a donation basis – with money going toward local animal charities – Mark Chaves is also a WordPress developer with a site hosted on WordPress.com! It seemed meant to be, so I signed up for a tour and hoped for clear weather.

When Mark asked ahead of time what kind of photography I’d like to focus on, I mentioned that I’d like to get better at street photography, but tend to feel shy about taking photos of people. He said this was a common problem, and that he’d compile some tips in a blog post. Within a few weeks he made good on his promise, and I found the post about how to approach “making” photos in public places extremely helpful, even inspiring: Strangers Are Friends We Haven’t Met Yet. I vowed to put into practice what I learned.

♦ ♦ ♦

It was my last day in Bali and I met Mark at 7am outside the bustling Pasar Ubud. While I’m far from a morning person, I knew it would be worth it!

Mark seemed to intimately know every nook and cranny of the market, pointing out details and interactions I never would have noticed on my own. He encouraged me to take lots of photos quickly, which helped me avoid overthinking and capture more spontaneous shots. He knew many of the regulars working the market, and made people smile when he asked if it was OK for me to take photos. We even stopped to greet some of the resident stray dogs and feed them the treats he’d brought along in a small plastic container.

Mark feeds a local stray dog

I’m so glad Google led me to Mark’s site that fateful day. It was a memorable experience, and I love the photos that resulted.

Lessons Learned from a Lost Cat

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As a longtime indoor-cat mom, my worst fear is one of my cats escaping outside. It’s something I’ve always been paranoid about – my front vestibule is called “the kitty airlock,” and I watch visitors like a hawk when they open the back patio door to make sure no feline slips out.

About a month ago, my nightmare scenario became an awful reality.

When I was forced to leave my house with my three year-old tabby Sophie following an exterminator visit, street construction noise caused her to panic and throw herself repeatedly against the sides of her carrier. She literally broke the plastic door hinge, and it popped open. She immediately took off like an elite parkour athlete. I watched her dash down the street, darting into people’s open doors, through houses under renovation, onto balconies, and most horrifyingly, along narrow window ledges. I immediately dropped everything I was carrying and went after her, but I simply couldn’t catch up, and she disappeared. A neighbour came out to help, bringing cat treats as an enticement. Construction workers stared at me like I was an alien.

I was utterly devastated, filled with guilt that I’d failed her. I’ve had cats before, but Sophie and I have a special bond. She’s offered steadfast companionship and affection over the last year, always by my side as I’ve made my way through a difficult personal transition. And I’d let this happen to her. Many tears were shed.

I won’t keep you in suspense. Early one morning, Sophie sauntered in the door I’d been keeping open, after four days of outdoor adventuring – more likely four days of hiding, terrified, tucked away in some nook under a nearby neighbour’s deck or shed. More sobbing ensued as Sophie stared at me, looking perfectly fine, if a tad confused at my outburst.

The experience was a surreal and harrowing one, but it did spark several intense epiphanies that I can’t stop thinking about, and that’s really what compelled me to write this post.

Community of Caring

Over the course of the ordeal, I experienced the most unbelievable support from friends, family, and acquaintances. People brought food and drink – and reminded me to consume it, since I had no appetite. They went out searching nearby streets and alleys – early in the morning, in the scorching midday heat, and even taking a bus to my place at 3:00am, when a local vet said people tend to have the most luck finding missing cats. They made posters and put them up, talked to strangers and neighbours and shopkeepers. They brought flowers, hugged me tight, and rubbed my back while I cried. They slept on my couch so I wouldn’t wake up alone. People who couldn’t be with me in person sent heartfelt messages, checking in on and encouraging me, expressing their sadness at my loss, sharing their own stories of cats lost and found, telling me they’d be there if they were closer. They reminded me it wasn’t my fault, even though I felt I’d utterly failed a creature I love with an intensity that’s hard to describe.

The outpouring of support floored me, and I was and am so grateful. People I knew only casually stepped up to help in ways I never would have imagined. Their warmth and caring and hands-on efforts were the silver lining that helped me get through the devastation of losing Sophie. I am incredibly lucky to have these people in my life. Not everyone does, and I will try to never take it for granted.

Why Worry

To say I’m a worrier is an understatement of immense proportions. Anyone who knows me reasonably well would probably describe me as an anxious control freak. I worry about logistics, minute details, things I can’t control. Little things, mostly. But a lot of little things.

In the middle of the ordeal I felt two giant hands reach down and grab my shoulders. Although I was alone in the house, there was also a voice. And it said something like this:

Stop worrying about all this stuff! It’s not important and things will work out somehow. You’re wasting so much energy. Life is short!

The experience was a wake-up call, reminding me that I invest way too much energy in worrying about the little things, and that it sucks time and energy away from what’s really important. I knew this already, of course, but this was such a visceral experience, and it shook me.

Next

Now that Sophie’s back, I’m trying to hold onto what she taught me by disappearing for four days. While I hope never to repeat the experience, the lessons learned will stay with me forever.

Appreciate my friends and family more. Talk to my neighbours more. Sweat the small stuff less. Yes.

A Liberated Lady

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You’re 17. You’re supremely insecure about yourself, yet somehow preternaturally confident about the life you’ve only begun to experience. You ask your close (male) pal’s best friend to go with you to the grad, not because you’re interested in him, but because you think it’ll be fun to have him hang out with your gang of friends. When the one-year-younger guy you actually have a crush on shows up after the main event, adolescent shenanigans ensue.

Some names have been changed. Tortured sentence structure and abominable punctuation presented as is.


June 3, 1986

Dear Diary –

It’s unbelievable! Another year of high school has ended – I remember when I wrote about my 1st day of h.s.! (actually I remember rereading it & thinking about how much things have changed!)

I guess I’ll start with GRAD NIGHT (May 16-17).

About a month earlier I had summoned all my confidence & guts (& with infinite prodding & encouragement from my friends – i.e. Sherry’s “CALL STEVEN” sheet), I asked Mr. Shapiro (shall we say, Steven) if he would like to come with me to Rizzo Hall. “What,” he replied.

“In other words, would you like to be my escort at my grad!”

“Oh,” he said! “Sure!”

He actually said that he was flattered & honoured that I’d asked him.

(Actually, he was going out with someone at the time, but she was going to escort Steven’s best friend to his grad, so I guess they had an open relationship – they (Steven & the girl) broke up a week before my grad.)

Anyway – on grad day, it had to be rainy & cloudy (of course!)

I took the metro to mom’s work & met Steven there. We drove (in my car) back to my house.

There, he played the piano (his primary activity at my house), we got “dressed” (he had a b&w tux & red cumberbund & bowtie), complimented each other – (his 1st comment upon seeing me all decked out (“You’re wearing makeup & everything!”) & exchanged corsages – (he got me, after having asked me what kind I wanted – “It didn’t matter,” he informed me,” they all cost around $8 to $9 anyway” – a large assortment of cream coloured rose buds & baby’s breath.) I got him a simple (classic!) red carnation (the florist’s expression when I had asked him for his opinion on a red & white carnation convinced me that this was not the occasion to try to be avant-garde here!

Then we set off….

Being a liberated lady (besides, his car was to go to the pound that day) I drove.

We were going to Melissa’s cocktail party. Of course, on the way, we realized we’d forgotten both our ticket & the map to Rizzo! But we were later reassured by Melissa that the ticket wasn’t necessary & gave me an extra map.

Music – posing for photos – munching on hors d’oeuvres – punch (non-alcoholic, I later found out) – gawking at the limo & standard chauffeur followed.

The cocktail party

The cocktail party

Then we departed for the Grand Rizzo Hall.

Got there & stood in line for ages to get “professional” photos (free since the same co. botched our grad photos).

Spent time waiting watching people arrive, gossiping about who was with who, who was wearing what.

7 course meal. Pretty decent, not spectacular. Music okay (except too much funk at one point) – danced a bit. Sitting at my table (counter clockwise): *me*, Steven, Rory, Cathy D., Robbie B., Kathy K., Michael M., girlfriend Alissa (now ex-girlfriend – apparently Michael ended up with Kathy K.! Oooh), Tracy L., Dan S. (whose knee was in my leg throughout the whole meal!)

Left Rizzo at around 12:15 – dropped Melissa & Sherry off at Melissa’s house, then went to my house (with – or met everyone at my table, sauf Michael & Alissa & Rob & Kathy).

Changed into downtown clothes (star shirt & earrings, black pants).

Went back to Melissa’s. Met up with Liam & Hoe (& Peter L. & crowd who we later met downtown) who came with us in my car.

When I had found out at Rizzo that Liam was going to come with us, I nearly died! I couldn’t believe it!

Well, we went downtown & saw millions of other grads (alot of French kids actually wore their tuxes & gowns in Burger King! Oh brother…) We couldn’t decide where to go. Bar hopping (we knew we wouldn’t all get in)… Bowling (on grad night? Boring!) Rory tried to get his sister to let us all into DJ’s (she works there) but to no avail.

Okay guys – let’s hit the Annexe. We’ve got nothing to lose.

So we started walking, I was following Rory into this place & was about to ask him where the bouncer was when I noticed this man with his arms crossed on the sidewalk in front of the place. Could he be him? Oh well, he’s not stopping me.

By this time I’ve followed Rory into the downstairs part. There’s a tiny mirrored dance floor & DJ booth, & small tables & chairs.

I turn around & realise that the rest of the gang hasn’t followed me in! They come in soon & tell us that the bouncer asked Hoe for ID! (no surprise!) Luckily he had Basil Chan’s drivers license & medical card (he’d just turned 18 that night (morning) too! So the bouncer let them all in!

Some of us ordered drinks (beer, screwdrivers – but since Rory & I were driving, we didn’t touch the stuff. Rory, Tracy, me & Steven danced to Tequila (Pee Wee Herman’s theme), Bryan Adams & Bruce Springsteen. Then I was so hot that I went to sit down. I was next to Liam & Hoe & when a slow song came on I summoned what was left of my guts (after I had asked Steven to the grad) and traded a piece of gum with Liam for a dance! Of course he couldn’t refuse…

kp & date formal photo

Awkward.

So we danced slow – & when that song was over, he didn’t let go for the next! (Later Sherry told me she had been dancing with Hoe then, too & Hoe had, weeks later reproduced some of the lyrics of the song in her year book – Howard Jones’ “No one is to blame”. Every time I hear it….)

It was slightly awkward because he’s so tall (& I’m no Kareem Abdul Jabbar myself) but besides that I felt very at ease & comfortable in his arms (so romantic – ahh!) He asked me if I was wearing “Lauren” but I didn’t understand what he was saying until he had said it about 5 times (the music was so loud).

But then when I finally understood what he was talking about I had to say no –

He asked me what it was & I hesitated in answering – I guess it just seemed like an embarrassing thing to tell at the time. But I told him….

It was soon closing time (3:00 AM) & the waitress practically had to kick us out of the place.

After walking about downtown a bit, we decided to meet at Steven’s house, where he’d get some beer (ugh – not again!)

We got the stuff & he told us to go to a certain park near his house in Côte St. Luc.

As Tracy & I were spreading out a sleeping blanket under a shelter in the park (it was drizzling) & Steven was putting the beer in the fountain to keep it cold, Dan said something like “Uh – guys, there’s a cop car over there.” We peeked around the corner & sure enough saw a police car inching forward towards us. Panic!

Tracy, beer in hand, & me – sleeping bag in tow – ran like hell to the car!

(Rory & guys had gone off to make a phone call.)

Soon after, Steven & Dan came back to my car with the case of beer – Steven had told the police his fridge was on the fritz & he had to keep the beer cold!

The police told him to have a good grad but to drink the beer somewhere else.

Ooookay!

We waited for Rory & guys & then proceeded to the Mountain.

There, it was like a giant get-together. Millions of grads were there, all congregated for the same purpose. To celebrate!

I just wanted to sleep! I left my car, popped into the back seat of Rory’s plush machine, & put my head down on Liam’s lap! I must have been in a daze…

The early morning proceeded… no sun rise, but it did get brighter awfully fast!

Lent Melissa my sneakers for a trek up the mountain which I declined to participate in! (found out later that Sherry had ended up hand-holding with Steven – musical grad dates was fine by me!)

Had my arm stroked by Mr. Silver [Liam] – much to my… well I guess I was too tired for it to register fully at the time!

We went back to Steven’s so he could get his car (which hadn’t been sent to the pound yet after all) since mine would be occupied later (out of commission).

Steven & Sherry went off to buy Dunkin Donuts, & I went with the rest of the gang back at my house.

Lying on the living room couch with Liam – he was tickling my arm again – I must have been really out of it!

Then the rest of the gang (Rory etc.) showed up & I got out some sleeping equipment (blankets, etc.). We pigged out on munchkins when Steven & Sherry got there & then we slept a bit (at least some of us did!

Wow, what a day! (night/morning)


Postscript

I don’t think I ever saw Steven or Liam again, but I never had regrets about the evening’s escapades. And I’m still a liberated lady, who’s still no Kareem Abdul Jabbar.

Sabbatical, Part I

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The last month has been an unusual time. I’m on sabbatical from my job at Automattic, an amazing benefit offered once you’ve worked there for at least five years. The sabbatical is no-strings-attached, so in these three months I can do whatever I want. What it’s allowed me to do is start to discover who I am without work, a state I’m getting more used to, more quickly, than I thought I would.

And who is this non-working person? Someone who’s restored by being in nature – particularly mountains and forests. Who values long conversations with old and new friends, beyond the superficial. Who thrives on art of all kinds – both the appreciation and creation of it. And who can even remember how to use the manual settings on a camera with enough repetition.

I’ve given up hope of doing anywhere close to even half the things I had optimistically put on my “sabbatical projects” list. Between two major trips – highlights from the first below – and regular heat waves that inspire nothing more than hibernation in cool air, it certainly won’t be a time of massive productivity, but you know what? I think I’m OK with that.

Saskatoon

I’d never been to this smaller Canadian city before, but I can see the appeal of everything on a smaller scale, while still having access to good restaurants and some arts and culture. Loved catching up with my good friends Jeff & Rachel and their kids here.

Edmonton

Edmonton, you impressed me with your vibrancy and funkiness! My friends Sarah & Elliott kindly hosted me, and introduced me to some of their favourite spots for brunching, shopping, and hiking. We also explored a few new attractions together, like riding on a restored Japanese car on the adorable and quirky High Level Bridge Streetcar line. I think their sweet doggo Munroe even remembered me from when they lived in Montreal. (At least that’s what I like to tell myself.) I also had dinner with three of my Edmonton-based colleagues – an enjoyable perk of travelling while working for a distributed company is that I have people to potentially meet up with all over the world.

Hinton

On the drive from Edmonton to Jasper lies a small mountain town called Hinton. And that’s where I stopped to meet up with Paul, a friend from elementary school, who now happens to live there! It’s a strange series of events that led us to reconnect, but we had a good time reminiscing over Mexican food and walking along one of the town’s claims to fame: the Beaver Boardwalk, where we abided by the signs like obedient Canadians and did not break the dams. (Who would do this?)

Jasper & Banff

I explored gorgeous Jasper and Banff National Parks for a couple of days, getting my fill of beautiful mountain landscapes. Wildlife abounds, and I saw plenty of bears, elk, mountain goats, and big-horned sheep, with the elusive coyote, osprey, and bald eagles also making appearances.

Let’s start with the big-horned sheep because they’re adorable and fascinating and grotesque in their moulting:

And a cross-section of other creatures:

Everywhere I went, the surroundings were breathtaking:

I went on an unforgettable adventure on the Columbia Icefield at the Athabasca Glacier:

And I even got a quick taste of Calgary before heading to the airport – including its spectacular new downtown library – thanks to my friend Sarah’s lovely father David:

I would return to any of these places in a heartbeat. Thanks to everyone who helped make my time out west so memorable.

 

Letters

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When was the last time you wrote someone a letter, by hand, using pen and paper?

I’ve recently been going through some old documents, and unearthed two specimens I had to share.

That Time I Installed Family Mailboxes

I had forgotten all about the incident when, as a 12 year-old, I was inspired to set up mailboxes outside my mother and brother’s rooms, as well as my own – for important inter-bedroom deliveries, I guess? I wish I could remember the details, because really, I can’t imagine what I was thinking.

mailboxes (see text below)

June 11, 1980.

Dear Mom,

As you see, you have a new mailbox made personally by Kathy Presner, (me). I am going to tell you how to use it. It’s very easy:

1. First you take what it is that you are sending.
2. If it’s a letter or anything flat, put it in the person’s mail folder.
3. If it’s something that won’t fit in the folder, leave the parcel at the bottom of their door.

p.s. If you have any questions, feel free to ask me!

Truly yours,

Kathy Presner (signature)
Kathy Presner

That Time We Were Obsessed With Stationery

Here’s a letter – circa grade five, I’m guessing – from an era when we were obsessed with a limited set of things, including stationery (this letter was written on a frolicking-kitten-adorned notecard), who-liked-who, Shaun Cassidy, and each other’s handwriting.

Dear Kathyn (see text below)

Dear Kathy,

Thank you for the stationnary!!! I hope you get stationnary for my birthday. About that barbie camper Debbie got for her birthday, when everyone left, we started on it and we finally finished it. When we went swimming, the garde said the pool wasn’t open. Then we phoned pools, and more pools, but all of them were either closed or you needed a membership card. (Which we didn’t have. Do you really love [boy’s name]? And if he asked you to go out with him would you? Have Stephanie and you ever had a big fight?

Who’s your favorite groupe and single singer? My favorite groupe is kiss, and the B. Gees. My favorite singer is Shawn Cassidy, and Andy Gibb. Have you read “Iggie’s House?” I’m only on the 2nd chapter. What are your hobbies? Right now my hobbies are collecting stationnary. I think your mother is very pretty. And your dog is very cute. Do you like [another boy’s name]? Well, I don’t. I love your hand writing. And I hate mine.

Your friend,
[Girl’s name]
xoxo!!!

p.e. Please answer all my questions on your next stationnary