Monthly Archives

February 2016

The Sunday Letter

Sunday Sundries, Vol. 36: Selfies vs. Sharks

The was a winning week! It started off with my photo of Stewart on National Geographic’s YourShot being chosen for their February 23 Daily Dozen, and included me getting to record some audio for a documentary I’m working on and sharing a big pot of chili and fresh focaccia with friends. Yesterday we had sushi with friends and then hot pots with more friends.  Life is good! Spring is coming! London is coming! Bosnia is coming! Continue Reading


“The Year of Magical Thinking,” by Joan Didion

Didion’s reading on grieving and loss should be required reading for everyone who dies. That is to say, everyone. Period.

Examination of personal grief is often shoved out of sight and out of mind. It’s a scary boy in the basement who we attempt to defeat by not looking at it directly, or using prescriptions as missile strikes. The loss of civilian lives we encounter, our own.

“Life changes fast.

Life changes in the instant.

You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.

The question of self-pity.”

So begins the book. Didion is making dinner one December evening when John Dunne, her husband, creative and romantic partner of 45 years dies of a sudden heart attack.

In the wake of John’s death, she finds herself alone, old and caught up as many of us should be in the frustration of no longer having a loved one in our lives to talk to, made amends with, question or rely on.

She inquires for us into medical literature, spiritual guidance and the company of friends as to how to solve this problem. The problem of grieving. What do we do with ourselves when we find ourselves unable to function because of a loss? For Didion, the answer lies somewhere between letting it go and seeking control through knowledge.

The book captures the portrait of their marriage. Two artists who working as partners as individually, as novelists. Who loved a child together. Who fought and reconciled and wondered as people who make their lives together do.

Didion is a quick thinker and the book moves swiftly. It’s only about 240 pages. Go out, read it. We might not all experience death in the relatively comfortable socio-economic net that Didion does. We won’t all have our New York Times obituaries arranged, bills paid for, work easily to be put on hold and friends flying from around the country to comfort us. She doesn’t have to deal with the economic frustrations that a lot of people also deal with when death happens.

Despite that, I would still recommend her book to anyone, because no matter what your circumstance, (as she examines in her book, even animals) grieving hits us all equally hard.

Happy reading,

Mel Hattie Signature 2016 - Final - Mel Only






The Sunday Letter

Sunday Sundries, Vol. 35: Let’s do the time warp again!

Onward to yesterday! Isn’t it fun when life gets busy? This time of year I know I’m not alone on my nutshell. University students are cramming for exams and essays they don’t want to write, academic fatigue begins to set in. Even people who aren’t in school are tired – they’re done with winter, Valentine’s and February holidays are over, March breaks are done with and it’s more than a month until the next statutory holiday.

On the bright side, less than a month until St. Patrick’s day. So, here are your sundries, a day late, but still full of love! Here are some of the great things on the Internet these days:

And that’s it, wonderful people! Thanks for tuning in and I’ll see you back here at the same time on Sunday next week. Until then, happy week eight of 2016!

Mel Hattie Signature 2016 - Final - Mel Only





Canada Destinations

Touchdown in Tofino

On this day we finally reach the ultimate stop of our westward journey across North America.

It was also the day I saw a sea lion poop.  So it was remarkable, in many ways.

We woke up in Sayward, in the back of our van in our friend’s lawn. We were just in time to catch the dawn.


We had a four and a half hour drive from Sayward to Tofino and wanted to make the most of the day. Thus the early start.

We snuck into our host’s house to brush our teeth and quietly take some sandwiches out of the fridge we had prepared the night before for the road. Then, we were off.

The way from Sayward to Tofino happens to run through one of Vancouver Island’s most stunning natural features: Cathedral Grove.

It houses some of the oldest and tallest trees in Canada. The oldest are around 800 years old, but most sprung up about 300 years ago when a large fire opened up the area.

A short walk directly off the highway takes you around a quick loop of some of the oldest trees. You can do the quick loop in less than 20 minutes, but if you want there are longer walks.



When Rob touched the oldest Douglas Fir, the largest tree in the forest, he turned to me with tears in his eyes and said, “I’m having a serious religious experience right now.”

He was kind of joking, but kind of right. It was amazing breathing air being filtered by ancient trees and walking amongst this Jurassic-Park-esque foliage. Even the ferns were huge.

We returned to the car and discovered even though our radio fuse was still blown, (it blew up on our way to Sayward) somehow the alternator had come back on. This meant we could charge our phones and camera batteries again. Woo! 

In response to this good discovery, Rob shouted, “The Tree! The Tree has blessed me!”

Rob also overcame his fear of spiders to hug the tree. It was crawling with them. This is a man who run from the room when there’s spider and makes me throw it outside. That’s a miracle in itself.

For the rest of the drive I mostly stretched out in the back (perks of having a mattress in the van). 

Finally, we arrived.


Twenty-five days after leaving home we finally dipped our toes into the Pacific Ocean.

I didn’t want to go home.

I imagined us rowing the van out into the ocean, paddling west and eventually we’d get to Japan and then keep going.

The next most sensible thing to do was to have a beer.


Luckily, the Tofino Brewing Co. was only five minutes away. Our decided favourite was the bull kelp stout (made with real bull kelp). Their sour was good too – almost like a cider.

The area around Tofino is a series of inlets. It’s known as a surfer’s paradise. It’s also a paradise for anyone who wants part-time work in the summer. Our friend Sandy Powell who is a wonderful writer and outdoor adventure wunderkind was living there and we were lucky enough to have him show us around the place.


Always good to be reunited with old buddies! Rob knew Sandy from high school back in Labrador. Sandy was an Australian import student.

The first place we headed (for another beer) was Jack’s waterfront pub. It is at this very locale that I glimpsed some of the beautiful inlets and islands that make up the Tofino coastline.


And, this beautiful creature:


Yes. That’s what it looks like when a sea lion poops. So majestic. I’m sorry if you were eating.


Said sea lion was hanging out around the wharf because there’s a gutting station position perfectly. All the lazy thing has to do is wait until the fisherman or tourists throw the fish offal down the disposal shoot where it ends up in the water. Occasionally the sea lion would receive a spray with the hose from the fisherman.

Tofino was 100% lovely. I can see why some people come back there to work summer after summer. Hearing the town gossip from Sandy was entertaining in itself. I won’t share it with you here though – that’s why YOU need to get to Tofino, so you can hear the stories firsthand. Hearing them secondhand through me (making you the third hand, in effect) just wouldn’t be the same. Rest assured though, as with many small towns there’s an entertaining tale or two (or ten) about the local colour. Ask about the drugs. Ask about the characters. Ask about all sorts of things.

Actually, do this no matter where you are. Do it in your own hometown. Keep throwing out lines to people and fishing. You’ll probably be surprised what you come up with.

For dinner we ate at what is possibly my favourite restaurant in Canada. Seriously. I spotted Kuma on Tofino’s main drag when we first pulled into town and KNEW that I would love it.


Are you kidding me? Can I get married here? The food was so good that I literally bought the t-shirt. It’s so good that I’m going to dedicate an entire post to it instead of going into detail here. Because I would get side-tracked. Forever. And then this post would be obscenely long (and it’s already pretty long).

Post-dinner at Kuma we went for a walk, grabbed some beers and then headed down to the dock to watch the sunset. Perfect. A glorious day. A glorious trip. Then it floated into my mind: “Oh, yeah. Now we have to drive all the way back…

Nah, better not think about that just yet. Better just enjoy the sunset.


Day 25 Costs

  • Tofino Brewing Company Swag: $84.00
  • Tofino Brewing Company Flight of Beer and Growlito: $37.33
  • Victory Dinner at Kuma: $70.00
  • Souvenir T-Shirt at Kuma: $28.61
  • Beer at Tough City Sushi: $12.94


Lifestyle Tea Reviews

Muse Monthly Tea Box Review and Giveaway

Happy Tuesday! I’d like to welcome you to the second day of the week by introducing you to a cool company I found for literature and tea lovers while scanning the Internet. I reached out to their CEO and Creative Director Christina who was obliging enough to send me a box to test and also offer a box for a reader giveaway.

Muse Monthly is a subscription service box that sends a hand-picked pairing of tea and book to your door every month.


The February Box

This month’s box featured Yann Martel’s The High Mountains of Portugal and paired it with an organic banana coconut rooibos tisane from Amitea.

The light and fruity, caffeine-free drink reminds me of driving around Cuba in the heat and pulling up at a roadside shack for a piña colada. Except in reverse. Here it’s freezing outside and the beverage is hot. Still, it’s a nice reminder of the tropics during the winter months.

On the package Amitea recommends trying it brewed double strength with a shot of rum. That’s an idea I can get behind. And also reminds me of Cuba.


I haven’t had a chance to read The High Mountains of Portugal just yet, but a few days ago the New York Times released their take on it. Martel is known for his 2001 book Life of Pi that won the Man Booker Prize.

Muse Monthly is based out of New York City, so I was excited that Martel, who is Canadian, featured in this month’s box. Inside the box Muse Monthly did a great job of presentation: the tea and book were each wrapped separately in black tissue paper and presentation did not not disappoint. This would make a great gift for someone (like me).


So how much do these boxes cost? Well, from what I can tell they’re priced very reasonably. For example, a one-month subscription will cost you $21 USD. The list price for Martel’s book is $27 USD. Plus, you also get the tea. You can read in my interview with Blok below how they work with publishers.

To look at it from a Canadian perspective, right now The High Mountains of Portugal is listed at $32 CAD. You can find it discounted right now at Chapters for $20 CAD. Right now with the low Canadian dollar the $21 USD cost of the box equals about $29 CAD. So the pricing is still a pretty good deal considering you’re also getting the tea and the whole artisan experience.

You can buy a subscription in bulk (3,6 or 12 months) for a slight discount.


Interview with CEO and Creative Director Christina Blok

What made you want to start Muse Monthly?

Muse Monthly really stemmed out of the idea of comfort and relaxation – after a long day at a stressful job, all I wanted was to curl up with my book and the most gigantic cup of tea possible. I knew I wasn’t the only one, so Muse Monthly was born!

When did you get started?

The Kickstarter ran in May, and the first box was delivered in June, with Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller & Mt Hood Vanilla tea from Townshend’s Tea.

You work with some big name publishers (Tin House Books, Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Bloomsbury)! How did you establish those connections?

It was really much easier than expected. I started out researching books that were coming out for the rest of the year – book that were getting some buzz already, or just ones that looked really different from the usual thing you’d find at Barnes & Noble. And from there I just sent emails to publishing companies explaining the concept and asking if they’d be willing to work with me. I’ve been fortunate enough to form some really great relationships since then.

Christina Blok, CEO and Creative Director of Muse Monthly. Photo provided by Muse Monthly.

Christina Blok, CEO and Creative Director of Muse Monthly. Photo provided by Muse Monthly.

You support female, LGBTQA, trans and POC writers, as well as writers from around the world. What goes into choosing the book of the month?

The first thing I look for is strong writing. That is always the most important thing. I look for stories that are exciting and different, not what everyone else is going to be reading. I think it’s really important to offer books that are challenging and might open readers up to a different worldview. I try to support debut writers as well.

What about the tea?

The tea is paired with the book by what I call “atmosphere” – they’re meant to create an experience. For example, The December Collection included a story called The Blue Between Sky & Water by Susan Abulhawa, which is a story about a Palestinian family. We paired that with Green Tea and Mint from Teapigs, because mint tea is the traditional way to drink tea in Palestine. The hope is that the reader will be transported!

What comes first – book or tea?

Usually the book comes first, but not always!

What’s your favourite kind of tea?

Personally, I really loved the Earl Grey Lavender from Rishi tea that we included in the August box!

Why are books awesome?

Books are awesome because they expand your mind and expose you to new thoughts and feelings! Books make you smarter, and being smart is badass.


Giveaway – One Free Month of Muse Monthly’s March Collection!

We’re so lucky! Christina has agreed to give one reader the March box for free! Just enter below by February 21 to be entered to win. For March they’re teaming up with author V.E. Schwab who’s upcoming novel A Gathering of Shadows will be released on February 23.

A Gathering of Shadows is the second book in her Shades of Magic series. The first book, A Darker Shade of Magic, has just been acquired by Gerard Butler’s production company, G-Base, for tv series production.

There are a few ways to enter. Each one you do puts your name in the draw! Do one or all four for your best chance of winning.

Enter to win the March Collection from Muse Monthly featuring author V.E. Schwab:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Lifestyle Tea Education

“The Book of Tea,” by Kakuzo Okakura

Kakuzo Okakura’s classic 1906 long essay about the east, west, tea and everything in between is less about tea itself and more about the history and philosophy of the east, west and cultural differences as explored through the lens of tea.

His essay links the role of tea, or teaism, in Japanese aesthetic life. It was written by Okakura in English to be read by a western audience. He learned english as a boy and was known throughout his life for writing and explanation Japanese culture to early 20th C westerners. You can feel the cultural tension in his writing.

“Those who cannot feel the littleness of grea things in themselves are apt to overlook the greatness of little things in others. The average Westerner, in his sleek complacency, will se in the tea-ceremony but another instance of the thousand and one oddities which constitute the quaintness and childishness of the East to him. He was wont to regard Japan as barbarous while she indulged in the gentle arts of peace: he calls her civilised since she began to commit wholesale slaughter on Manchurian battlefields.”

  • Kakuzo Okakura, The Book of Tea, p.10-11

Sometimes his writing is pretty tongue-in-cheek. This is a guy who was known for his eccentric habits. His prolific writing and visibility in the pop culture of the time gave him a high statue in Japan. This stature was marred by the fact that he had an affair with his patron’s wife.

His patron was a man nammed Ruichi Kuki and the woman was named Hatsu. She was a former geisha whom Kuki asked Okakura to accompany from the US back to Japan when she was sickly. When the affair became public, Okakura had to resign from his position as Principal of the Tokyo School of Fine Arts. Just some background for you.

Back to tea. Okakura gives a nice historical account of the bringing of tea to Japan for cultivation (near Kyoto) as well as a good nod to Sen no Rikyū who almost 500 years before had brought the way of tea to Japan, and made it a cultural necessity. His poetic description of Rikyū’s final tea ceremony and death and breathtaking. It sent chills down my back.

Okakura speaks at length about the art of tea and the ideals of tea masters. How to appreciate tea. How they select good tea. How the cultivation of a good tea practice becomes really a microcosm to examine the art of living.

I loved reading Okakaura’s explanations of how we fail to appreciate what is in front of us. He talks about people who refuse to live in the present because of nostalgia. This and other societal habits he addresses make me smile in a way because it reminds me that people have been dealing with the same shit since the 1900s. How many Facebook memes do you see today that say something akin to, “Live in the now.” That’s what Okakura was saying. A hundred years ago.

This is why reading is so important. The cure for whatever you’re dealing with now is out there now, written by some philosopher, ages ago. We’ve been fighting the same age-old battles since the dawn of humanity. We only fool ourselves into thinking they’re new.

I would recommend this book to anyone who’s interested in the history of tea, the art of tea or the history of Japan. It was entertaining and educating. The essay itself is broken up into several chapters. You could read them out of order and still take away the same message. They do relate to each other but don’t require chronological progression to be understood. Sometimes he goes on rants, albeit, very nicely-phrased ones.

Occasionally while reading I pretended I was scrolling through the Tumblr of a well-read 1900s philosophy student obsessed with tea. I think that’s the best way to describe it.