We’ve been reflecting on the past ten years and we’ve decided we’ve got our work cut out for us topping the last decade.
All work and no play makes… between our design and printing practice and our partnership in the Canadian Chefs’ Congress, the first few years of the decade were very nearly all work. Except for the fact that we worked, collaborated and partnered with pretty special folks and we got to travel a lot around this beautiful country of ours meeting a whole lot more so we can’t say there was no play. With our Congress partners, we bought and renovated an old International School Bus, turned it into a kitchen and dining room on wheels which transformed into sleeping quarters for eight by night and we drove it to Grand Pré, Nova Scotia and back hosting dinners in Ottawa, Montreal, Carter’s Point and Lunenburg. When our friend, partner and leader, Michael Stadtländer, in the Canadian Chefs’ Congress suggested we take on a Boston Hedge Fund to fight a proposed Mega-Quarry north of Toronto which threatened to forever alter farmland and affect the water table we met more incredible people that would become our friends. Tens of thousands of chefs, farmers, activists and people who just plain care about the environment joined forces to protest twice, 28,000 of us showed up at Foodstock in Melancthon and then an estimated 40,000 of us showed up at Woodbine Park in Toronto, finally forcing the Hedge Fund to abandon the Mega-Quarry project. When we began travelling in the van we were hosted in driveways, homes and restaurants of several of the chefs we met through the congress. We even met up with our guest chef from New Orleans when we were visiting that beautiful city in the van. Congress photos: Margaret Mulligan @megmulli
Now we’ve never shied away from hard work. In fact, our motto was if there’s a more difficult way to do it we’ll find it. And our other motto which has hung in our studio since we opened Pantry Press is an Elbert Hubbard quote, ‘The mintage of wisdom is to know that rest is rust and that real life is in love, laughter and work.’ The truth is we’d been burning the candle at both ends for some time and so at the beginning of January 2013 inspired by designer, Stefan Sagmeister’s take on sabbaticals, we decided to do just that which set into motion six months of travel, mostly to places we’d never been. We hiked an Incan Trail and spent time in Peru’s Sacred Valley, visited Macchu Picchu, Puno, Lake Titicaca and Lima. We drove the Mother Road, Route 66 from Joliet, Illinois to the Santa Monica Pier with side trips to the Grand Canyon, up the Pacific Coast Highway, stopped in Las Vegas, and hiked Zion National Park. A month later we left to spend two months in Europe, first Ireland, followed by Corsica and finished up in Italy where Julie celebrated her 50th birthday. We spent more time outside, hiking and swimming than since we were kids. We found inspiration, felt exhilarated, questioned everything, sought answers and made big decisions. This sabbatical would become a major turning point in our life.
Oh, and before that, we visited Japan for the first time and spent a couple of glorious weeks in Okinawa with our friends Nobuyo, Michael, Adam, son Elia hosted by pretty much all of Nobuyo’s extended family.
The Biggest Change
The result of our sabbatical was a massive life change. We sold all of our letterpress printing equipment, our home and studio in Toronto with the goal of a simpler life that included more freedom and time to travel and potentially a more portable working life. We ended up storing what was left of our belongings since we were unable to find what we were looking for (a smaller house with space for a small design practice in Toronto) and we bought a 1990 VW Vanagon Westfalia Campervan a month before the closing of the sale which we ended up calling home for three years while we explored about 120,000 km of the North American continent. That was the start of Folksblogen, ‘Folks Blogging from their Volkswagen,’ travelling, living and working from our van and using the blog as a way to keep in touch with family and friends.
The Artist Residency
Well into our second year of travelling in the van we stopped to spend a couple of months in Victoria, BC. While we were stationary one of the things we worked on was our application for Spark Box Studio’s 2016 National Artist Residency. Having sold our printing equipment we knew we wanted to remain creative and productive but needed a new medium. We had also accumulated about 40,000 photos and 35 hours of video from our travels around North America in a van. Some of you may not know this but Christian had a career as a video and performance artist when we first met so we wanted to access some of that experience in the making of video installations. And much to our delight we were not only awarded the National Residency but also their first annual Dawson Bursary. So, in September 2016 we spent a month in Picton, Ontario working on video, printmaking and planning an installation which culminated in a three-night, multi-media installation entitled Shangri-La. Using our own camper van as a platform for our work in photography, video, printmaking and sculpture it was our goal to document and elaborate upon a Utopian state of being that many “Roadsteaders” dream of and live. We left Spark Box and lovely Prince Edward County with renewed inspiration and a strong desire to continue creating new projects and acquiring new skills.
A Pied À Terre
During our month-long residency at Spark Box, we were reminded just how much we missed having a dedicated workspace with all of our tools close at hand and being members of a creative, supportive community. That is partly what lead us to purchase a co-op apartment in Toronto, the city we called home for our entire adult lives and where most of our family and friends reside. We’d also been discussing the idea of a pied à terre for a while. We moved in following a four-month renovation in June 2017. It became evident right away that we’d need to continue to edit our belongings since very little of what we’d stored actually fit into 500 sq ft. We only lived there for 5 months before inheriting a very ill MacDuff. It turns out living alongside his favourite human, Julie’s dad, in the memory care unit of a retirement home was very bad for his health – a combination of generous oldsters giving him lots and lots of ‘treats’ and far too little exercise for a spry terrier. Long story short, dogs were not allowed in the apartment building so we put it up for sale and moved back into the van and travelled south for the winter with a recovering MacDuff. We returned for a few months in the spring of 2018 while the apartment was being shown and sold, packed up our belongings and once again moved them into storage while Duff hung out in Detroit with cousins, Cami and John, and their dog, Spud. By August the three of us were reunited and overheating together in what must have been Ontario’s hottest summer on record in our non-air conditioned van, and once again bidding farewell to Toronto.
Our return to Vanlife and…
We spent roughly a month darting to and fro around Ontario enduring intense heat and seemingly unsolvable mechanical problems with the VW. We felt we were becoming far too reliant on CAA’s towing services. Feeling a little soured on real estate we decided it was time to upgrade to a more reliable van, one with air-conditioning, a toilet and a certain level of comfort when it came to working in any type of weather. Enter the 2018 Hymer Aktiv Campervan, our fourth home of the decade. We put down a deposit with a promise to pick it up two weeks later. And then, on our umpteenth trip to Amherstburg in a few short months, we happened upon an apartment for rent overlooking the Detroit River, in the centre of town and a short walk or drive to the retirement home where Julie’s dad, Bill, resides in memory care. It was to be the perfect pied à terre that we didn’t know either existed or that we needed. It was not our plan to simultaneously purchase a new campervan and rent an apartment however, we now divide our time between this rented apartment interrupted by spurts of travelling by campervan. Sometimes it’s just a matter of being in the right place at the right time.
Our growing family
We watched the young people in our life grow, excel in music, sport, academics, art-making. We witnessed a few graduations. Our daughter, Annie, and son, Elia, both got married, bought houses. We became grandparents, twice, to Harriet and George thanks to Annie and Declan. We lost loved ones. Julie’s dad was awarded the Queen’s Jubilee Medal for his lifetime of service to his community. A couple years later Bill’s diagnosis of Dementia changed all of our lives. It was also the impetus to move to Amherstburg in 2018.
We are ready for a whole new decade, especially one people are already referring to as the roaring twenties! Here comes the future.