Dear Summer…

I think it’s time for us to say good-bye.

Don’t think I don’t still love everything you had to offer. You were full of surprises. It was fun. Every single day was a new adventure, and I never knew quite what to expect. Sometimes we were lazy and spent the whole afternoon reading fantasy novels in the hammock under the apple tree. Sometimes we worked hard at making beautiful things. We explored new trails together, wrote beautiful poetry, and made all our friends jealous. You kept me on my toes. It was glorious. You were so full of hope and optimism, and a little bit crazy. Not really crazy, of course. Just a comfortable amount of crazy.

But everything has an end, and I think this is ours.

I respect you, so I’ll be honest. I’m seeing someone new.

Autumn has been hanging around my back door, making promises, and I’m intrigued. Cool nights? Changing leaves? Even a pumpkin spice latte? Yeah, I’ve been seduced.

But I hope we can still be friends, Summer. Maybe it’s time for us to explore new places and discover new things about ourselves. Maybe you could head south of the equator for a few months — I hear Australia is beautiful this time of year.

Love and kisses,

Kim

Review: Ethical Bean Lush

I’m so swayed by packaging. I’ll admit it. I saw the silver-and-purple sleek package for Ethical Bean’s Lush coffee, and let out a little ooooh of delight. I’d wear these colours! I’d even wear the little fern motif that adds a hit of natural joie de vivre to the bag.

But the coffee itself is… *shrug*. Good. Serviceable. Hot. Coffee-flavored. I don’t know, I can’t get into it. It’s not that it’s bad, but rather, that it’s not memorable. It tastes like a million other cups of coffee I’ve drunk in a million coffee shops on the dark rainy streets of Vancouver.

It’s dreadfully OK.

This coffee is destined to fade into the background hum of my life, providing sustenance and warmth but no defining zing to distinguish it from everything else. It can dress itself up in sparkly purple and silver all it wants, but the taste is decidedly beige.

This fills me with sadness. No one wants to be forgotten.

Great, now drinking this cup of coffee is giving me existential angst. All is for naught. *sip* We shall expire and turn to dust and blow away on the wind, *sip* vanishing as singular threads into the ragged tapestry of time. My regrets for choosing this coffee are only fleeting points on an endless wheel, eternally turning, never reaching a cosmic destination.

Two beans for bringing me down on a Monday morning.

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Review: Camano Island’s Papua New Guinea

Transparency: A few months ago, I received an email from Camano Island Coffee in Washington State. They are so confident of their coffee’s deliciousness that they offered to send me a package, to drink and review. Would I be interested? Well, heck, yeah! So guess what I found in my mailbox yesterday?

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Now, I know what you’re thinking: receiving a free sample could mean a compromised review. Do I feel beholden to give them a generous review in exchange for free coffee? I myself struggled with the ethics. Is it my nature to be nice?

No. No no no. I decided before I even opened the package that I would not be nice. I would not be kind. I was going to be impartial and fierce in my critique, a coffee-drinking tiger. If I’m going to be bought, it’s going to cost someone a lot more than a pound of coffee, so no, I remain free and opinionated, and I refuse let any feelings of gratitude cloud my judgement. They were confident, so am I. If this coffee demanded a one-bean rating, then I’d give it and hold my head high.

But as the post mistress gave me the package over the mail counter, she and I traded a look: the smell that wafted from the box was gorgeous. I think she was hoping I’d invite her over for coffee after work. (Sorry, Jane.)

I brought it home and opened the box, and my kitchen filled with a heavenly perfume, and as I’m the only one in the house who drinks coffee, I was filled with the greedy joy of knowing this is mine, all mine, NO SHARESIES! I made a cup, sat down, and sipped.

Camano Island’s Papua New Guinea Medium Roast is mellow and smooth, with a slightly fruity tone underneath that reminds me of spring nights, when the maple sap starts to run and the salmonberry bushes sprout little magenta flowers. It’s a subtle sweetness that rejuvenates and lends a light, happy note to the deeper, richer body. Plus, there’s no acidic tang on the back of the tongue, and I could happily drink multiple cups of such velvety smoothness. If Camano Island’s Papua New Guinea was a song, it would be a mellow ballad about a lost love sung in a woman’s contralto, soothing and soft and a little bit sensual.

I’ve since served this coffee to my mom, my father-in-law, and one of my clients. All three specifically asked for the name of the coffee brand and where they could find it. I’m not joking; this sounds like some terribly cheesy 1970’s ad, but it’s true. They all want more. The fact that the company is dedicated to an ethically-sourced, shade-grown, community-friendly business model makes it even better.

Camano Island, you were right to be so confident about your coffee. I say this as a fierce, impartial coffee-drinking tiger: Papua New Guinea Medium Roast is awesome! Four-and-a-half beans for you!*

 

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*To be clear, five beans is reserved for the coffee that that whisks me into the cosmos and fills my heart with a sense of transcendent calm while boasting an almost impossible level of deliciousness. It will be The Coffee, spelled with a capital ‘c’. This came the closest of any of the coffees I’ve tasted to such an impossible goal, but I may never find the five bean coffee, ever. Lo, the quest continues!

Review: Lavazza Kilimanjaro

I’m still on my quest to find the perfect cup of coffee. I didn’t think the journey would be so complex, but of course, I was naive and foolish. I should’ve realized that there’s an entire universe of new and exciting flavours, of subtle combinations, of techniques for growing, roasting and brewing. Honestly, I could spend my whole lifetime experimenting with coffee and never discover the best of the best. As I sit here, contemplating the endless variations of coffee experiences, I am simultaneously thrilled and demoralized.

Will I ever find the perfect cup of coffee?

Today, I visited my grocery store. It’s not an exciting grocery store; it doesn’t have any philosophy or higher purpose or try to make me feel like I’ve become an evolved, compassionate world citizen. It’s a large, soulless chain store, and when I visit, I become an anonymous ant browsing its aisles. The stock is neither urbane nor progressive. It promises nothing more than to be a place where I can buy cheap toilet paper and a jug of milk, and pay a reasonable price for the sheer banality of the experience.

When it comes to coffee, this store has all the old standbys, like Nabob and Folgers, and only a few interesting options, most of which I’ve already tried. But I’m out of coffee, and as I’ll be commandeering a child’s birthday party tomorrow, I knew I needed fortifications. I figured I ought to pick up a pound, but I’d tried everything that looked remotely interesting, except for one: Lavazza’s Kilimanjaro blend. It had a calming, black-and-copper package, and I am highly influenced by packaging, and I already know I’m going to need plenty of calm tomorrow.

So, into the basket it went.

Kilimanjaro promised to be crisp and fruity, which for some curious reason, has left me craving dessert, but I’ll be honest, I’m not getting the fruity-vibe. It has a sour tang that lingers on the back of my tongue, and it isn’t as smooth or seductive as I prefer. It’s a medium blend, and it exhibits a sweet, light colour that promises a gentle taste, but the first sip is a bit too harsh, too sharp. Maybe that’s the ‘crisp’ bit they mean?

It’s strong, too. Much stronger than I anticipated. It’s like a playful slap to the back of the head: wakes you up, maybe makes you a little angry, but it doesn’t leave lasting damage, just a few trust issues. It looks calm and chill, but it’s got a furious little bite to it. I would drink this when I need to wake up fast, but I wouldn’t drink this for enjoyment or reflection. It leaves me jumpy and wary.

Again, like a slap to the back of the head.

I’m sorry, Kilimanjaro, but you aren’t right for me. I’ve enjoyed Lavazzas coffee before, but this isn’t the right blend for my taste buds. Two beans for you, because you have guts and moxy, but you need a little more tact.

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Review: Kicking Horse Grizzly Claw

I’m going to start my review with a little story.

Two years ago, I bought a 1992 Mitsubishi Delica van, and in an uncharacteristic but enthusiastic fit of outdoorsiness, we took the van on a road trip through southern British Columbia. It seemed like the perfect summertime vehicle, with plenty of room for the kids and camping gear.

What we didn’t realize is this: old Delica vans are very very very SLOW. There’s no power in the poor thing — it just plods along, generously allowing you to admire the scenery, while scooters and VW Bugs race passed you on even a moderate incline. Our top speed as we came up the hill towards Hope? 60 kph.

We decided not to risk driving the Coquihalla Highway, because we were bound to roll backward if we tried to ascend those mountains, so instead, we chose to drive through Manning Park, a longer route but also quite pretty and whatever, we’re on vacation, right? We toddled along empty roads, bounded on either side by icy turquoise creeks and thick evergreen forests, as slow as a turtle.

And I guess, because we were so slow, we were also sort of quiet, because as we rounded one curve, we surprised a GRIZZLY BEAR eating roadkill in the middle of the highway.

Up to this point, my bear experiences had extended no further than the little cute black bears that inhabit Vancouver Island, which I can scare out of my apple tree with a shout and a hand clap. But this beast! HOLY URSUS MAJOR! The hump on its back was higher than the windshield of the van. The Delica has no motor in front, so suddenly, the only thing separating my knees from this cinnamon-colored Godzilla was a dashboard, a bit of glass, and a windshield wiper.

Grizzlybear55

It looked like this, but with more of an ‘OMG!’ expression.

Lucky for us, this mighty bear was not a fan of the Japanese automobile industry. It took off running down the middle of the road, and we found ourselves driving behind a gargantuan grizzly butt. It was huge. It was really, really huge. (Clarification: Not just the butt, but the whole animal.) I was much humbled by the speed of the bear, by the ease and grace with which it ran, and above all, its immense size and power. Man, those bears. They’re awesome. It made me love and respect them even more, which I didn’t think possible.

Anyway, all this to say, I’ve been sipping on a cup of Kicking Horse Coffee’s Grizzly Claw blend, and as I think back to the size, speed, and power of that wondrous creature, I’ve decided that this coffee is aptly named. It’s robust. It’s got a powerhouse swing. It’s fierce and ferocious and confident, with a clout that leaves you a little breathless. Grizzly Claw has a dark chocolatey sweetness surrounding an indomitable strength. I couldn’t possibly drink it all the time – it’s too strong for that – but when I need a little reminder of the brutish nature of the wilderness, a cup of Grizzly Claw will do just fine.

Final Verdict: If you want a bold coffee that savages your tastebuds and fills you with feelings of wild exhilaration, I’d recommend Kicking Horse’s Grizzly Claw. Plus, added bones: it’s safer than bumping into a real grizzly in the middle of the road.  Four beans!

 

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Big Wide World vs. Little Island

I live on an island, and sometimes it’s easy to forget that there’s a huge beautiful world on the other side of the strait, bustling with people and things and ideas. I know that sounds terribly isolationist. I grew up on the island and so my childhood was defined by water; if we went on a vacation, we had to take a ferry, so boat rides became synonymous with venturing into the great unknown.

When I was a teenager, I knew the farthest I could drive was two hours (either north or south), and then I’d hit water, and if it was after 10:30, no ferries would be running and there’d be no option to go any farther. I had a friend who’d never left the island – ever – and she didn’t exhibit any great desire to leave. Maybe we just knew we couldn’t afford to take the ferry, so we convinced ourselves that the island was enough. Or maybe we liked the sense of security that those ocean boundaries gave us, even if they were an illusion. (When a particular serial killer was stalking Vancouver’s children in the 1980s, I remember some of the adults talking openly about how we were safe here on the island, as if the Georgia Strait was a weird wall with the magical ability to keep out murderers. Not true, of course. Even as a kid, I sensed that was a strange level of bullshit to calm terrified minds. People are so good at lying to themselves, aren’t they?)

When I lived in Vancouver, I shed this sense of borders and boundaries, but not quickly. For a long time after moving to the mainland, I would wake in the middle of the night with thoughts like, “If I got in my car right now and drove east, I could go all the way to New York! Right now!” That sounds silly, now that I’ve written it down, but it’s true. It gradually lessened. Eventually I lost that insular sense of disconnection, and I became part of the larger world without the need to consciously remind myself that I was part of the larger world.

But when I came back to the island, I fell easily and effortlessly into the island mindset again. My environment became clearly bounded. Travelling anywhere becomes a financial consideration and a scheduling hassle — I can not simply pick-up-and-go, but must make sure I can (a) afford the cost of the ferry and (b) work to their timetable. There is a strong sense of who is an islander and who is a mainlander, because mainlanders have a capriciousness to their travel plans that seems so very innocent. They haven’t had to spend 8 hours in a ferry line under a hot August sun with two unhappy children. They do not seem to recognize the importance of packing snacks, juice, and comic books.

That friend who never left the island? She left. I think she lives in the prairies now, where the widest stretch of water is a river you can throw a rock across. I like to imagine she got to the other side of the strait, pointed her truck east, and just kept driving until she ran out of gas. Late at night, I wake and wonder what it must be like, to live in a place where you can see forever, and know that if you wanted to go in any direction, there’s nothing that nature can do to stop you: no cliffs, no ocean, no mountains, no jungles.

Y’know what? I think it’s time for a road trip.

Ancient Chinese Poetry & Bird Watching

In my humble opinion, it goes together like chocolate and peanut butter.

On Friday, I spent the afternoon with a camera, wandering along the beach and planning a short video to celebrate the poem ‘Travelling Again’ by Chinese poet Du Fu. You know, as one often does.

Winter is a great time to view migratory birds on Vancouver Island – ducks, geese, swans –  and there’s even been a rare redwing spotted in the region, which has whipped up the birding community into a frenzy. By sheer coincidence, I recently discovered the poem ‘Travelling Again’ by Chinese poet Du Fu, (which was written in 761, so it I guess it only took me 1255 years to find it) and there was something in the placid nature of its words that reminded me of the feeling of birdwatching…. a sense of slow excitement, of patience and acceptance, of being simultaneously moving and resting. So we set it against Shawn’s serene song ‘Winter Chords’ and it came together rather harmoniously.

Yes, it’s an ancient poetry bird watching piano mashup. Awesome!

I don’t always put our Fox&Bee stuff up here, so if you’ve like it, why not come and join us? And if you have other ancient poets you’d like to recommend, I’d love to hear your suggestions. I’m always looking for new voices from the past, especially works about birds, nature, and the great outdoors.

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