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

Villa Kitty kid's drawing
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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.

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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!

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

White and tabby kitty meowing in cage

Pasar Ubud

smoke-filled back room
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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.

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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.

Sabbatical, Part I

Peyto Lake
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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.