Look at the stars

This morning I was supposed to be down at False Creek at a dragonboat regatta cheering on my former team, but this is what it looks like outside the window.

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Been there, done that mess! 10 years of dragonboating in Vancouver equals a LOT of time in the rain.  But I don’t paddle any more because I spend too much time on the road, so today I get a pass.   This was last years’ Rio Tinto Festival.  My friend C and I have been crew marshals at this regatta for 6 years;  she was out of town and escaped the wettest festival on record last year but there may be some karmic payback going on today!

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So instead I’m drinking coffee, catching up on the blog . . .hoping that the sun will peek out later and I can go put in a guest appearance.

It’s been quite the week.  Actually, it’s been quite the few weeks.  How is this for a stake in the ground!  House is for sale.

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If you have ever sold a house you will know the pain I’m going through right now.  And I don’t mean the pain of leaving, I mean the pain of keeping your home “showroom ready” all day, every day, for weeks on end.  I find myself vacuuming at 6am because I have to go to work and there is a showing that afternoon.  Dishes are immediately washed, dried and put away (no more “drying” in the second sink!).  Laundry done, folded and away.  I miss that basket of clean, lavender  scented clothes that always seemed to sit at the end of my bed.  We have 2 sets of towels in the bathroom: one for actually drying, the other for “show” – they are never used, they only get put out for showings.  Staging your home,  how I hate the phrase.  But it’s a competitive market in Vancouver so whatever it takes just has to be done.  The good news is that on the buy side there are lots of options.  Checking out a few open houses this weekend.

Things I had no idea about but have discovered in the last two weeks.  If you are relocating to the US from Canada, there are tax implications to almost everything you do.  My current home has to be sold through a US closing company and escrow process to avoid the tax liability.  I have to divest myself of pretty much everything that ties me to Canada: bank accounts, driver’s licence, health insurance and benefits I expected, but I should not own real estate in Canada and any investments outside of an RRSP need to be liquidated or I pay tax on the day I leave for the US – what the Canadian government refers to as my “deemed disposition date”.   Sweet baby Jesus.   I have a Canadian lawyer, a US lawyer and a tax expert in international relocations.   I’m still shaking my head and wondering how the heck my life got so complicated.  AND I’m STILL waiting for my US work visa to be approved.  I could show up at the border with the paperwork, force the decision and roll the dice, but I’m not that sort of high stakes gambler.

In between all this upheaval, a wonderful day on Thursday.  My beautiful, smart, talented baby girl graduated from the University of British Columbia with a bachelor’s degree in Geography.

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Her focus is environmental and sustainable geography, which will, I think, prove to be a great choice in an area of Canada whose economy is resource based.  Mining and forestry are huge economic drivers for our province, her skills will be in demand.   Of course she will be the one saying “you can’t log or mine here” – she is, after all, my little hippy girl from Salt Spring Island.  We have travelled a long and winding road together, my little girl and me. I couldn’t be prouder of her.

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The last couple of weeks have also been a time of renewing old friendships and bidding a sad (if temporary) farewell to new ones.  An old friend who hasn’t been in Vancouver in a long time unexpectedly arrived in town this week. What a great surprise.  We visited our old haunts and got caught up.  Being irredeemable music junkies, we whipped out our respective stashes of tickets and calenders and planned a fantastic summer of music.  We are blessed (or is it cursed!) with the same weirdly eclectic taste in music, finding equal enjoyment in the Gospel tent at Jazzfest or at a Foo’s concert.  Upcoming shows  include Ivan and Aloysha, My Morning Jacket, Bare Naked Ladies, Wilco, Alabama Shakes, Grace Potter, Avett Brothers, Dawes, Black Keyes and Bob Dylan.  What an AWESOME list!!!  I’m crushed to be missing both Of Monsters and Men and David Byrne (separate shows, same week) but you just can’t always be in the right city at the right time.  I will just make do with this frugal list!!  And we agreed we have to stop buying tickets (well at least for a while).  Up close and personal with BNL a couple of years ago at their first show without Steven Page.   Steven who?

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Earlier this month  I had to say goodbye, at least for a couple of months, to my friend A.  He had the extreme good fortune to get a buyout from a long time career and is now enjoying most of a year off, with pay.  It’s a bit like winning the lottery.  Of course at the end of that he will have to find gainful employment again, but for the first few months it’s amazing.  I’ve been in envy of his life every single day!  While I’m at work, he’s at the gym, hanging out at Wreck Beach, going for a bike ride or taking one of the cars out for a spin.  And now he’s gone travelling for a couple of months in South Africa and Europe.   Stunningly beautiful Cape Town.

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I am not discounting all the opportunity I have heading my way, but wow.  A paid year off work.  Sigh.  We talked a lot about living in the present while he is gone, enjoying every single day for what it has to offer and not getting caught up in worrying about what will happen once he is back, because it really is a once in a lifetime opportunity.  Be totally present in every day.  And of course there will be those inevitable days when the road is long, you are sick of living out of a backpack and talking to strangers, when all you want is to be in your own house, hanging with friends and sleeping in your own bed.  But those days pass, they always do. And if you make the mistake of coming home early – guaranteed you will regret it the minute you land back home.  I’ve never been on a single trip that I wished was shorter!!  I love the freedom of being out on the road, living in the moment, free of day to day responsibilities except food, shelter and fun.  Those two months will seem at once endless and then it will be time to come home and they will have passed in the blink of an eye.

Well the rain has finally stopped so I gotta go cheer on my team.   Stars from the amazing Grace Potter.

9 Days; 4 Cities; 1200 Miles and No BackUp Plan

Part 1: Richmond and Baltimore

Nine whirlwind days; four cities; 1,200 miles by air and road  And no back up plan.   Just got back from a fabulous visit to what may soon be my new home, Richmond, Virginia and I’ve fallen totally and completely in love with the idea of living there.  Only hitch – I’m still waiting for my US work visa to come through.  And I don’t have a back up plan if that doesn’t happen.  Crushed won’t begin to describe it.  This trip was a way of getting a feel for what it would be like to actually be living in Virginia, so I not only spent time working and touring neighbourhoods and properties with a real estate agent, I also took the time to catch up with friends in that part of the world. Did my best to stop thinking like someone passing through on business and more like this is what my life might be like if I lived here.  Well damn it, that worked too well, now I can’t imagine what I’m going to do if the US government turns me down.  Could I move myself all the way across the continent and into a new country and a completely different culture?  Leave my home, family and friends behind and start to build a new life for myself? Absolutely.  I am up for this adventure.

Richmond is not one of those gracious, antebellum Southern cities like Atlanta;  “gritty” is one of the words I’d use to describe it.  It also has some fabulous, historic neighbourhoods, but it’s seen hard times.  It’s one of the oldest cities in North America, first claimed  by the English in 1607.  The Christopher Newport Cross was erected to commemorate the date on the exact spot in what is now downtown Richmond.  It took about 200 years for a settlement to start to grow, but Richmond has been there ever since.  That’s old.

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Richmond has suffered economically and seen its downtown core boarded up and empty. The middle class fled to planned communities in suburbs like Short Pump. The 2008 recession was hard on it.  But the downtown is going through a major revitalization, people are coming back to live there, industrial and commercial neighbourhoods are being turned into arts districts with warehouse lofts. And the beautiful old mansions and row homes in historic residential areas like Church Hill and Carytown are being bought up for a song and renovated to create diverse, interesting communities and the people who live in them are passionate about living there. The real estate agent tried really hard to sell me on the benefits of moving into a planned community of “brownstones” and apartments in Glen Allen, but that sort of pre-fabricated lifestyle is just not me. And I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t find a lot in common, or friends among, the folks that live there.

West Broad

I adored Church Hill, but fell completely in love with Carytown. It reminds of the Main Street/Commercial Drive areas of my current hometown, Vancouver. Families, single people, art galleries, coffee shops, bakeries, music venues and restaurants all crowded in together in untidy and unplanned glory along Main St and Cary St.

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And the surrounding streets are all filled with fabulous, historic row homes, some gorgeously renovated, others still dilapidated and in need of some TLC. But the streets are busy with tradesmen’s vans and there are houses in various stages of renovation all over. I can see me living in a row home in Carytown.  Maybe not right away, but soon.

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It’s probably biting off a bit much right away;  I hope to lease an industrial loft in Shockoe Bottom for a few months, until I understand the real estate market in Richmond. What I learned is that buying is cheaper than renting; so many people were financially devastated in the 2008 recession and many of them can’t get back into the housing market. So rent prices are high compared to what it costs to buy. $150,000 buys you a lot of home in Virginia. A lot.

I saw a lot of rentals, but my favourite is what was the former smoking warehouse of the American Tobacco Company.  The original site.

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Today.

ATC lofts

It has been turned into industrial lofts and the architects have done a fantastic job of retaining those features, including the brick walls, old heart pine flooring, huge exposed beams and the original “Lucky Brand” smoking stack of the warehouse. Best of all, it has a rooftop deck with a pool that has fabulous views of downtown Richmond, Church Hill and Shockoe Bottom.

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It’s a three block walk to the farmer’s market and two blocks to the train station (should I want to head north for a weekend in DC or Baltimore). And surrounded by an active street life and arts community. Perfect!

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One of Richmond’s stellar virtues is its location in the US Southeast and direct access to the main north/south artery, the 95 freeway.

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I decided I should test the theory of how easy it would be to go to Washington, DC or Baltimore for the weekend, so I headed up 95 on Saturday afternoon to visit with friends in Baltimore and take in my very first major league baseball game.  I got to see the Orioles play at Camden Yards, an amazing ball park. Answer to the question = it’s ridiculously easy. Two hours of fast freeway driving put me right in Baltimore. The traffic on the beltway around DC got a bit dicey, but really no big thing. I got a huge kick out driving right past the Quantico Marine Base (having seen it in about a zillion movies and TV shows) and I can’t wait to go exploring in DC itself. I could spend a lot of weekends just at the Smithsonian.

Camden Yards

We walked down to Camden Yards, stopping at pubs along with way to visit with people I hadn’t seen in a while and they all made me so welcome. After the game I just had to have the cold smoked, fried chicken at Blue Grass and the a drop in at the local on the way home. Americans are a warm and welcoming bunch of people. We Canadians could learn a few things about gracious hospitality from them. It was a long and fabulous evening. Sunday afternoon was an easy drive back to Richmond. Theory proven, done and done. This I could live with!

I also went to Lexington, KY and Atlanta, GA on this trip – Part II coming soon.  But now it’s just a waiting game.  My home in Vancouver is listed for sale, open houses start this week.  I had planned to sell, downsize and move to a different neighbourhood anyway, this just got me really motivated.  And if the work visa doesn’t come through . . . well . . .on to Plan B.  Not really sure what that is . . .I can only hope and believe and enjoy the adventure.  And wherever I end up, I will always have a couch (and maybe even a spare room!) for my friends to come visit me.  Don’t think of it as losing a friend, think of it as having a whole new part of the world to come visit.  There will be a lounger on the roof deck by the pool for all of y’all!!

Was lucky enough to catch Billy Bragg at the old Neptune Theatre in the university district of Seattle a few weeks ago.   What a fabulous old theatre.

Mark Lanegan Jeff Feilder - Neptune Theater - Opening Night

I’ve  loved Billy’s work for so long, I was expecting a great show but this just knocked me over.   Here’s Swallow My Pride from Tooth And Nail.