Best of 2009 Challenge

So in Australia we are normally a  day ahead, but I guess in this one we are a month behind. While the rest of the web community is busy with new projects and so on, for me it is holiday time with the kids on school holidays, so not a lot gets down. Here is my rather belated Best of 2009 Challenge started by Gwen Bell. Some of them were instantly obvious and others required some thought and deliberation. It's been such an interesting and new year that in some cases it was impossible to narrow it down to a best. It is so late that Mr MckLinky is closed. Perhaps I should start on my 2010 list now.

Best Trip: This one is such a tough call as 2009 heralded the beginning of much travel but of course it was January in Vancouver which put on a stunning show of snow with its 40 year record of snow fall. We were so lucky.

 Best Restaurant Moment: Five Islands Restaurant, Koh Samui, Thailand, for my birthday. A magical day and night that started with a long boat trip, snorkeling, and ended with a banquet and a magical light show from the setting sun.

Best Book: I will not die an unlived life” by Dawna Markova, this one surprised me. I have read many books along these lines over the years but this one really touched on some truths at a time when I needed to find them. Will be read and re-read, quoted and turned to as needed.
May we all find the courage to offer ourselves fully to what has heart and meaning for us... May we all find the soil in which the seeds of our dreams can germinate...                     Dawna Markova

Best Night Out: The Stanley Park Train through the snow and Christmas magical display. This night brought all the magic of a childhood Christmas to my children as the snow flakes fell on my eyelashes.

Best Workshop or Conference: Unravelling with Susannah Conway. Susannah is a joy to unravel with, as are all the friends that I meet along the way.

Best Blog find of the year: Well this would just have to be blogs in general. Until 2009 I didn’t have time at all for finding and exploring blogs so a whole new world has opened up to me, filled with kindred spirits, new friends from all around the globe and much joy and inspiration. Thank you.

Best Moment of Peace: Early in the morning while the rest of the house sleeps and I can potter around quietly in my own thoughts and dreams. Bliss.

Best Challenge: Downsizing the studio was definitely the hardest thing I have had to do for along time.

 Best Album: Bliss Baby If you work with babies all day like I do (or if you have a newborn baby) you will  understand why. Anything to help settle a baby.

 Best Place: Snow, under the snow: British Columbia.

 Best New Food: Caper’s Pumpkin Pie- although technically I discovered it at the end of 2008, I searched for all of January for more of it and have been obsessing over it ever since mmmm….. Should come with a warning- "Is addictive and requires copious amounts of cream."

 Best Change made to the place where I live. The best and worse change made to home was to bring the studio back home. Still have such mixed feelings about it.

 Best Rush: Discovering traveling without children again.

 Best Tea- I don’t know about tea, I’m a coffee girl. But I do like the idea of tea so I’m always buying tea cups. Here’s the favorite of 2009

 Best Word or Phase: Without a doubt it was a quote which I took on early in the year and kept reappearing throughout the year all over the place, in case I hadn't paid attention the first time:
And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.  Anais Nin

 Best Shop: Etsy. Like blogging this is a whole new experience. My aim with my own Etsy shop is to somehow sell enough to cover the things on Etsy that I buy, so far I'm losing. Love having beautiful handmade things and the bonus of finding surprises on the doorstep- Christmas all year round.

 Best Car Ride: and the scariest. Sea to Sky highway in British Columbia.

 Best New Person: So many new people, all wonderful, have come into my life this year. I guess the best one is the old/new me that has returned allowing room for all these other wonderful people.

 Best Project: Back to me. This year has seen the start of many new projects, but all of them are part of the larger project of reconnecting with my own artistic voice, one that has been stifled over the years or motherhood and mortgages. So glad to see it coming back. So curious to see where it might go.

 Best Web Tool: Flickr. You’d think as a photographer I would have discovered this sooner but I was always too busy. Now I am enjoying connecting with other shooters around the world and being inspired by so many wonderful images and artists. It's a full time job exploring Flickr.

 Best Learning Experience: The process of downsizing the studio and all the space that opened up as a result.

 Best Gift: Our families Christmas gift to each other- a month in Koh Samui together.

 Best Insight or aha Moment: It was a year of insights, mostly about finding an authentic me and following my bliss and energy and a lot of it was fueled by this quote which was quite an aha moment (& a proverbial kick up the butt- thank you). I know I am always going to be my own worst critic and never know if what I am producing is any good, but still I must keep doing the work and (armed with the Nin quote) be brave enough to put it out there.
My love of music, words & creative expression... is the morning songbird at my window saying "Wake up & get moving. The world won't wait for you to decide you are brilliant. Get up and work anyway."  Stephaine Lee

 Best Social Web Moment: Secret Santa with my unravellers.

 Best Stationery: Journals, for writing, painting, playing, pasting, discovering.

 Best Laugh: Teary teary laugh with Haneka in my art class- thanks girlfriend.

 Best Resolution: 300dpi of course, perfect for printing.

Adventures in Relaxation: Scenes from Lotus Terrace

Thailand, Koh Samui, Lotus Terrace, Galia Alena Photography
    I’ve been stuck on writing about our time in Samui as I’m not sure I can convey in words just how deeply the place and the pace resonated with me at this particular time in life. Since returning home, I’ve felt out of time, out of sync with myself, a blur scattered between obligations and desires. In Samui there was only the moment, the quiet blissful moments stretched out gloriously in front of me like the sublime calm ocean. Two hours of yoga this morning and I feel a bit like some of the pieces of me have been pulled back into my center as I try to carry the peace of Samui back into my own life.
    You know when your booking a holiday, surfing the net and trying to decipher the photos from what the reality might be like. You don’t know the place your going to, you don’t know the location to stay at. You’ve gotten advice from various people about where to stay but your dubious, you still remember the time that you took the advice of a well meaning friend. No you won’t be making that mistake again. So you study the photos knowing only too well that it is the job of a photographer to lie, so you look for the seams and try to interpret them back to reality.
    What is it you want from your accommodation? Are you planning to spend much time there or is it just going to be a dumping ground for your luggage? Our trip to Samui was planned to be a relaxing, hangout by the beach, do nothing holiday WITHOUT CHILDREN.   A blissful holiday after the exhaustion of the last one where, as much as I loved it, snow and children, well it just ain’t relaxing. So this one was going to be a do nothing, chill, relax, regenerate, daydream, relax, and did I mention relax. So much expectation is invested into your holiday, planning, looking forward to it, etc etc, that you want it to be, you need it to be beautiful, and I’ve had the holiday that you just wanted to leave, to come home. You know, the holiday that leaves a bitter taste in your mouth long after you’ve finally paid it off the credit card.
Thailand, Koh Samui, Lotus Terrace, Galia Alena Photography

    Well this holiday wasn’t that. This holiday was perfect from the place, the people, the food to the accommodation. Even the airport was perfect, with it’s landscaped runway and buildings that looked more like the shacks on Gilligan’s Island than an airport terminal, dotted with orchids and lotus flowers.
    When we got into our taxi and asked him to take us to Lotus Terrace, our accommodation, he just shrugged and said “I don’t know that one, I’ll drive, you look for it.” Well its a small island but… A tour of the island later and finally we spot it as we drive past it for the umpteenth time (thank goodness we’re on a fixed rate cab fair or we would have been suspicious, as it was we just relaxed and took in the scenes of the island). The villas were down a driveway off the main road, nestled right on the beach. Perfect, we knew we had picked well.
    The lovely and very sweet Rosie, who will keep me in supply of coffee over our stay,  greets us, takes our bags and shows us to our delightful rooms. Everything is beautiful and I look around thinking “I could get used to orchids on my bathmat if I have to,” as Rosie gives us the lay of the land, where to eat, cars etc. (When we leave we try to smuggle her with us- she just laughs, its an old joke, all the guests try to seduce her away from her island home when they leave- no surprise).

Thailand, Koh Samui, Lotus Terrace, Galia Alena PhotographyThailand, Koh Samui, Lotus Terrace, Galia Alena Photography

    It’s late afternoon after our extended cab ride and we’re hungry after our mystery meal on the aeroplane. At Rosie’s suggestion, we trudge (such hard work) down the beach, and I do mean down the beach, along the sand, to the local restaurant on the sand. Part of the walk involves hitching up my skirt and getting my calves wet as we wonder which way the tide is going and whether our path home will be here later. I remember a similar situation on a childhood holiday which has taken on a childlike mythology  and until recently used to visit me in my nightmares. But I’m on holiday and I don’t care about such things as the practicalities of being able to get home. When we find the restaurant we sit outside on the sand and order cocktails and local snacks watching the colours get softer. Sunset over our new adventure.
Thailand, Koh Samui, Lotus Terrace, Galia Alena Photography

    Back at our villa, we lay claim to “Our Spot” which will be our spot for the next week: a couple of deck chairs and an umbrella between the little pool and what we affectionately come to call the big pool (the ocean).  We drink wine, listen to the waves and watch the sand move as tiny crabs scurry about. We get very comfortable.

    My agenda for the week is simple, it is basically not to move much from this spot. I had planned to read and write, take a few pictures, but really the place is too peaceful, too calm. Our villas are, thankfully, on the other side of the island to the main tourist trek, so sitting on my chair under the umbrella there is not a lot to watch other than the rhythmic waves and the weather. Occasionally a local will wade out to see what the sea will offer up for lunch or check the nets in the morning, but beyond that, the beach is pretty much ours alone. It’s a beautiful beach with coral like sand that massages your feet and gets softer the further out you go until its like walking on a very fine sponge. The water itself is clear and calm, you can see the reefs below as you walk out far with its crisp and sparkly turquoise embracing you. The scene is soft and delicate in the morning, heavy with fog and gets clearer as the sun rises casting shadows of palm trees on the water. Sometimes the weather engulfs the mainland across from us and you can literally sit here and watch the storms move past as they dance along the surface of the water.
    On the first morning we meet our hosts at Lotus Terrace, a gorgeous couple from Vancouver, who offer us the use of their Kayak and local knowledge. On their advice, we select the only tour on the island that we will do: The Five Islands Tour, which turns out to be perfect and a highlight of the trip (thank you). The tour involves being taken out in a traditional long boat by one of the local fishermen to cruise around the five islands off the coast of Samui, and then stopping at a deserted island to do some snorkeling amongst the coral and aquatic gardens. Did I mention that it was only the two of us on the tour. A fresh and cold coconut refreshes us as we race the setting sun back to shore. A quick shower and we are ready to sit and watch the magnificent light show of the setting sun from the best vantage point on the island, cocktails at hand followed by more delectable food than we can possibly muster the energy to eat. We look at all the beautiful food in front of us and wonder who else is coming to dinner.
Thailand, Koh Samui, Lotus Terrace, Galia Alena Photography

Thailand, Koh Samui, Lotus Terrace, Galia Alena Photography
 Thailand, Koh Samui, Lotus Terrace, Galia Alena Photography

    We hire a car and head out occasionally to explore the island, but I am always keen to get back to Our Spot and continue on the path of nothingness. The seduction not to leave the place, to sit and stare at the scene is too high. I am happy only to move in search of the next exquisite Thai meal. When we do venture out it is easy to navigate around the island as most of it is on the exterior outer rim, near the water, why wouldn’t it be, and there is one main road which takes you all around the island and delivers you back where you started. Impossible to get lost on this island- all roads lead home eventually.
Thailand, Koh Samui, Lotus Terrace, Galia Alena Photography

    Most of our time was spent doing nothing and being surprised just how easy it was not to think about our lives back home, including the children (oh dear, am I allowed to say that aloud!?!). We ease our guilt by promising to bring the children with us next time, the location is perfect for children with its calm deserted beach and gentle waters. We sat quietly with only our own thoughts and the insistant waves, thinking of adventures in relaxation. We leave knowing only one thing for sure and that is that we will return to this idealic setting, to this beautiful place and tranquil pace.

It whispers to me.

Thailand, Koh Samui, Lotus Terrace, Galia Alena Photography
It whispers to me.

    I stand here with the world at my feet literally. The whole world literally at my feet. I breathe deeply and stand taller. The waves beckon me with greetings from far off places, imagined and not. How like I imagined is this place? Only in it’s beauty not in it’s details. These endless waters that have the freedom of the tides, the currents, move freely yet with purpose around the world.
    I breathe deeply, I stand taller still. I imagine possibilities, alternatives, choices. A different life, in a different place, with different rhythms pulling me through my days as the moon pulls these tides.
    We’ve only been here a few days and already the place imposes new rhythms. A quieter rhythm, a softer rhythm.
    Soon the waves persistent urging will win me over and I will wade out far into this connecting ocean, this ocean that is here and that has been there. In silence I listen to it’s stories. It’s wisdom soaks into my skin, my bones. I absorb it graciously, deeply. I embrace it’s gifts. Cool and calm, gently bobbing around. Clear as crystal I see the soft velveteen sand below my feet, like walking on marshmallows. The light patterns dance upon my skin. Gently prodding me I feel lighter. I shut my eyes to let the other senses see and the sun hits my eyelids with a dazzling light show.
    I could melt into  this water and let it drift me gently along on its journey. I would beat the shores of far off lands, visiting by moonlight, by sunshine. This vast ocean tranquil and mighty at once. It whispers to me...