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“…And because there is nowhere to go but everywhere, keep rolling under the stars…” Contiki Honeymoon Part 1 of 3

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I’m back. I’ve been back in Winnipeg for about a week now, after a much-needed adventure overseas in lands vast and beautiful. J. and I had booked our honeymoon long before I lost my job (ironically scheduled to take place at the time my vacation days would kick in),  and though this meant zero employment insurance for three weeks (despite having used up my vacation payout to, well, survive since August), I tried my best to put aside my feelings of guilt and anxiety, leave the stresses of the preceding month behind, and venture off with my new husband who’d worked extra, incredibly hard to take care of us. We had three back-to-back Contiki trips planned (seriously, after last summer’s trip seeing what I think ended up being 14 cities in 16 days and meeting some of the best people I’ve ever known, this was the only way to travel – yes, even for a honeymoon!): Mainland Greece, a cruise through the Greek Islands, and a week in Ireland. #diversity.

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After a bit of a surprise getting to Winnipeg Airport, we soon discovered we wouldn’t be flying Air Canada, but instead Air Canada Rouge, their best kept secret for travellers on a budget whose retro idea of in-flight entertainment included such joys as Name That SmellAdventures With Strangers (Because You Aren’t Allowed To Sit Together), and Cake in the Face (and other surprise wake-up calls). Slightly baffled that a two-hour domestic flight came with a nice glass of wine and TV screens for all, yet 8+ hours across the Atlantic was to be spent wondering if that green sauce was actually food and playing the world’s most limited edition of I-Spy, we promptly took a couple of sleeping pills and attempted to knock ourselves out until we got to Greece.

We arrived in Athens to clear skies, warm temperatures, and the happiest taxi driver in the world, who ended up taking one of my EPs! We were dropped off at the lovely hotel a few hours before check-in, so ended up crashing in all our jetlagged glory with our suitcases in the lobby. We were to meet the rest of our group later that night, and after getting in to our room, taking in the view from the rooftop pool (no Ibis here!), and discovering iced coffee wasn’t going to be hard to find at all (“uhh, we’re kind of famous for it”), we met our first tour manager Alex and our group of fellow travellers for the next few days.

Our first day spent as a group started in Athens, where we ended up walking through the city centre, exploring the Plaka area and ending up at the most picturesque Greek scene for dinner, at a restaurant built over several areas up some steps canopied with a roof of open-air ivy and vines. Traditional dancers and ALL THE CATS (Greece = cat lady heaven) provided a gorgeous atmosphere, we dined, made new friends, and got to see the Acropolis all lit up under the moonlight. A beautiful first night topped off with a walk back where poor Alex was trying to give us a bit of a tour by night but we all got distracted by playing with the dog with a ball instead of paying attention to the story of the monument in the city square (oops).

Day two was pretty chocka. We began by hiking it up to the Acropolis and the Parthenon itself, which was nothing short of breathtaking – both in terms of view and for the less fit of us. Being at this spot, next to these impossibly big old structures (constructed in 447 BC and finished by 438 with no modern-day machinery? Somebody get those Greeks time-zapped over here to maybe do something about our roads!) completely reinspired my love of Greek mythology, and everything we learned was a brilliant combination of folklore, myth, belief systems, and history itself. We then trekked over to Mycenae to visit some cool tombs, took in Agamemnon’s Palace, where we learned tales of murder, incest, treachery and Troy, and ended the day in Olympia, where we spent the evening getting to know our new friends, played tonnes of games, drank one too many Mythos, and climbed a tree. My scrapes from falling out of it were nothing compared to the misadventures that ensued after we’d gone to bed – apparently poor Alex had been called at 3:00 a.m. to be informed that some of his group had launched themselves heroically from their second-floor balcony in an attempt at subterfuge so a fellow dedicated adventurer could go skinny dipping in the (very much closed) pool. Love you guys 🙂

Our second-last day of this trip began in Olympia, and the spot of the very first Olympic games in 776 BC. I wish you could capitalise numbers; the history of some of these places is mind-blowing. We had a really in-depth tour of the site of the games, met Olympic Dog, visited the temples of Zeus and Hera, and the exact spot the Olympic flame is lit every four years. Some of the guys took it upon themselves to have a race (James!! You’re supposed to win!), which was tonnes of fun, and we had a bit of time to ourselves to pick up some goodies and our first real gyros of the trip – HEAVEN! (They even put chips in them over there!) We had a stop in what might have been my favourite spot on this leg of the trip, the relatively untouristy little town of Nafpaktos. We all enjoyed the most turquoise water ever, splashing around, soaking up the sun, and a quick margarita before heading off to Delphi for a night of dancing in a local bar (we are feeling our age a bit on these nights, but I’ve decided that the Aussies are just born with the superpower of being able to drink copiously and constantly and still manage to be upbeat and functional the next day regardless), and a surprise – because it was our honeymoon, they’d arranged a special room for us in the hotel there – the actual Presidential Suite where Hillary and Bill had stayed!! It was breathtaking. I only wish we got to enjoy it for longer!

The final day of Spotlight on Greece I spent hanging with the girls at the Temple of Apollo in Delphi. Everyone was feeling slightly rough from the night before, but we had in front of us one of the most magnificent sights and amphitheatres, so we went for it and climbed as high as we could to enjoy the view!

After making our way back to Athens, we picked up some last-minute souvenirs, ate more gyros, and transferred to our new tour group for the Golden Fleece. Only three of our group were moving on to this next cruise, so we said our goodbyes and made our way to the next spot, where we’d be joining a new group to set sail through the Greek Islands on board the beautiful Celestyal Crystal. We’d already packed so much into four days I couldn’t believe we still had over two weeks left, and though I was sad to say goodbye to a couple of really awesome people (AJ, Steve, we’ll meet again, and Ashleigh and Carime, all the hugs in the world to you ladies), I was excited for another two Contikis and thirsty for more sun, sea, and mythology.

Stay tuned for parts two, three, and compilation video! 🙂

 

The Horizon Is My Home

“What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people, and they recede on the plain ’til you see their specks dispersing? It’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s goodbye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.”
– Jack Kerouac

I sit here with a thousand words inside me, and a thousand more memories on top, all bubbling away and zipping about, weaving themselves together in some sort of attempt to make chronological sense of the past three weeks, desperate in their endeavours to not be forgotten. I don’t know where or how to begin, as I sit here, freshly back from the trip of a lifetime, my regular world a stark contrast to the fantasy I was just lucky enough to experience. I left stressed, lonely, and hopeful. I return with a heap of new friends I grew to love dearly, memories of labyrinths and gas lamps, vast skyscapes, breathtaking architecture, soul-wrenching emotion, near-kidnappings, film festivals held on the walls of minsters, giant underground cathedrals, haunted houses, ruins turned into a bohemian revolution, the actual Moulin Rouge, epic EDM dance parties in enormous thermal baths with lasers in the sky, romance, friendship, highs, lows, stories you couldn’t possibly make up, and the ultimate in adventure.

Our time began in Amsterdam, where we’d planned on spending a night before heading over to join our Contiki group in Berlin the next day. Thanks to a bit of a cock-up at the Winnipeg end, our luggage didn’t make it off the plane with us, so we had to stay at the airport for a while trying to explain that our bags would also like to spend the night. Exhausted and eventually with suitcases in hand, we made our way to the hotel, which thankfully wasn’t too far away. After a bit of a nap, we realised we only had a few hours left in this beautiful city – so we did what any newly-on-holiday person would do and head out to the Heineken factory! The tour was fantastic (as was getting free beer for trivia), and we hit the streets (packed due to it being Pride day) in search of the I amsterdam sign to be massive tourists with. We walked through the city, stopping briefly as I was overwhelmed with deja-vu: I don’t often remember my dreams at all, but a recurring one I’ve had for years involves a rapid descent through a castle being chased by robots and escaping into a town square covered in cobblestones by a clock tower – the very place I found myself in that night in real life. It was bizarre enough to move me to tears. After snapping some photos, we found and climbed all over the sign, and went for a lovely dinner by a canal.

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Our first adventure came that night when we found ourselves separated on the streets of Amsterdam – unable to find J. and with no telephone on me, I tried for a while to hail a taxi, none of which would stop, and being me, promptly burst into a fit of tears. Eventually a man came up to me and asked what was wrong – and in my panic,  “don’t go with strangers in a strange city in the middle of the night” won over “you can do this”, and I followed this man, who kept assuring me he was taking me to the spot the taxis stopped. Knowing nothing about Holland but clogs, tulips and bicycles (none of which were available to help me get out of my predicament), I figured maybe there was some sort of taxi central, but after forty minutes walking around with him asking me if I wanted to drink wine or smoke pot with him (and occasionally asking people for money), we ended in an alleyway. Still sobbing, and at this point terrified, I told him I didn’t think the cabs came there, and that I was going to go and wait in the road. I ran. I ran fast. I hailed the first car I saw and hoped desperately the driver would know where my hotel was. Miracle of miracles, he did, I had enough money for it, and I arrived to find J. safe in bed. Lesson learned: NEVER wander off in strange cities in the middle of the night. Never go with strangers, never forget your phone, and always, always remember how lucky you are to have someone that cares about you. Never let them go.

So our time in Amsterdam was brief, but we head onward to Berlin the next morning to meet up with the fifty-two people that would become our best friends for the next two weeks. We had a couple of hours to kill before the official group meetup, so we found a very German sounding restaurant named Andy’s and sat with a pitcher of beer in the sun, making each other laugh and sneaking video clips of each other answering impromptu philosophical questions. After changing and heading to the hotel, I met a girl I knew instantly was going to be an amazing friend. She ran up to me and introduced herself as “Jackie, like Chan”, and said how she’d been following my stuff on Facebook and “had to meet this girl”. She was lively, bubbly, full of hugs, dance moves, and good vibes, and we became fast friends. Getting to know 50+ people didn’t take long at all, and over a traditional German dinner, very quickly, very good friends were made.

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berlThe next day we went on a walking tour of Berlin in the beginning of what proved to be a giant European heatwave. We saw the Brandenburg gate, street art, grabbed some currywurst, almost made it onto a hot air balloon, took in the Berlin wall (where I cried at a message of love graffiti’d on it), and head out that evening to two German bars. The first didn’t last long, as it was basically in a boiling hot, airless room, but the second was surrounded by deckchairs in the park under the stars, where J. and I sat hand in hand looking at the stars. The next morning, we went along the East Side Gallery (longest remaining part of the Berlin Wall), and headed on to beautiful Dresden, which was stunning. The town had been completely rebuilt after being destroyed in World War II, and was full of beautiful, baroque-type buildings. We climbed a tower, took in the views, and head across the border into the Czech Republic.

I must say Prague was the city I was most looking forward to, but it didn’t even end up making my shortlist of favourites. It was absolutely stunning, but it was also packed with people who don’t move and shove you out of the way, scary traffic, pickpockets (luckily we were safe), and in a case of horrible timing, my PMS followed by two entire weeks of ‘that time of the month’ (two months ago I’d had a miscarriage – something I don’t want to go into; but my hormones were definitely all over the place) in addition to heightened emotions and heat exhaustion led to a big fight I read too much into and almost wanted to drop it all and go home. After a difficult night, neither of us wanted to miss out on getting up to see the sunrise over Charles Bridge, and we rose at about 5:00 to walk through beautiful parks and cobblestoned streets to catch the skies over the city bursting with colour. That morning, we joined the group for a bike tour through the city – which was absolutely wonderful! We learned so much, saw gothic cathedrals, began our adventures in speed photography, and spent some time in the beautiful old town square, where historic buildings and churches surrounded cafes that spilled out onto the streets. Here we had quite possibly the best pasta I’ve ever had in my life – at Coyote’s of all places!! We toured a nuclear bunker, dressed up in gas masks, and spent the evening with the rest of the group at a traditional Czech restaurant, where I bonded closely with a beautiful girl named Irene, shared drinks with new friends, and watched some fun dancing and games.

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Next up was back on the road toward Vienna, with an amazing pitstop at the Sedlec Ossuary – something I’ve wanted to see my entire life!! I’d always imagined it bigger, but it was a smallish chapel basically built with the bones of over 40,000 people arranged to form chandeliers and decorations inside. Nothing can describe what it was like to be surrounded by such immense beauty made purely of human bones. When we got to Vienna, we stopped at the beautiful Schönbrunn Palace for a quick jaunt and some fun group photos, and then head off toward the Schnaps Museum for a fun tour and lots of tasting 🙂 That night we were dropped off at the city’s Rathaus (city hall) – a stunning gothic cathedral upon which had been hung an enormous projection screen, surrounded by rows upon rows of seats. It happened to be the Vienna Film Festival, and we had our pick of glorious food and drinks from an open-air eatery to enjoy it with. Afterward, a dream was realised: when J. and I booked this trip, we realised we would have the opportunity to live a Frank Turner lyric (the song this post is named after, the one I dedicated to my busmates, and the one I’ll attach to the video I’ll be making of the whole trip) and “drink with drifters in Vienna” – we all went down by the riverside and sat by the water enjoying a beer. Amazing 🙂

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The next day was a much welcomed free day – so a small group of us joined forces and began the day at a very fancy cafe, trying out their famous cake (I can’t remember what it was called, but it was VERY chocolatey!) and cream-filled, wafer-covered ice coffees. We went to the Sisi Museum at the Hofburg Palace, which moved me once again to tears – I’d never heard of Empress Elisabeth of Austria (“Sisi”) before, but her tale and her writings were so tragic they tugged at my heart. Here, as I read quotes of hers in big letters across the walls, I vowed to write a song about this character – a carefree young girl who was thrust into the spotlight at fifteen years old, marrying a king who loved her unconditionally, living in splendour, yet eternally searching for some unattainable solace, miserable, and yearning for death… eventually assassinated in the late 19th century. Having in the past been in some very dark places, her words of such beauty and loneliness struck a chord, and I bought the only English book available on her and her writing. Our group lay on the grass in the palace grounds, taking photos (myself getting a massive bruise I ended up rather proud of after launching myself into the air and tripping trying to take a group shot), sharing stories and lots of laughs, and from here we went into town to climb over 300 steps in blistering heat to the top of a tower. Totally worth it! We found a pretty little tea house close by and grabbed a bite and a beer, and J. and I celebrated our half-year together by going on an adventure, finding a wonderfully creative restaurant with a big sign saying “we’re all mad here” on the outside (throwback to Fringe festival last month!), had epic conversations and pizza, and reconvened with the group as they took us to Prater amusement park to end the night, where we rode rollercoasters, and I shot myself into the sky with Jackie on a giant slingshot. It was brilliant.

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Next up, we headed for what became my other favourite city, Budapest, stopping in Bratislava, Slovakia on the way. Again, words fail to do justice to just how incredible Budapest was. This was the city going into the trip I knew the least about, but became the one that stole my heart. I had no idea it was two cities rolled into one; Buda and Pest sit on different sides of the river Danube and brought a fusion of exotic romanticism filled with architecture, castles, parties and adventure. By night we first went on a sightseeing tour, getting a spectacular view of the entire city, and taking in the royal palace. Then came a highlight: a dinner cruise down the river, seeing the city completely aglow from the water as we ate a feast of local specialities. At first we thought perhaps birds were circling a giant cathedral, lit up in gold, but we soon realised they were bats as we stood on the bow of the boat in each other’s arms. It was nothing short of magical. Before we left, J. and I had hoped we’d have time to visit the thermal baths in the city – little did we know that the one night we were there just so happened to transform these baths into a massive EDM dance party!! “Sparty” (terrible name, but I bet whoever came up with it was high-fiving himself pretty hard, haha)… how does one go about describing Sparty? The Széchenyi Baths are the largest in all of Europe, its water supplied by two thermal springs. Usually, people flock to the waters for their “healing” properties – but this time, people showed up by the hundredfold to party. I’ve never seen anything like it. Great music, cheap drinks, fireworks, and a laser light show that created 3D objects in the sky and made you feel like you were in the Matrix… all in the warm water while under the stars. This was an experience I’ll never forget for the rest of my life.

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Not too many people made it up in the morning for the walking tour, but around 11:00 we all started filtering out of our hotel rooms and into the corridors, where a small group of us teamed up and went on a mission to find a beer bike we’d seen the night before. These bikes can sit up to eighteen people, with ten sets of pedals. Everyone teams up together and drives the bike around the city with the assistance of one guide, whose responsibility it is supposedly to stop the bike ending up in a ditch or the river, as it’s also attached to kegs of beer and an unlimited supply! We were slightly disheartened when we found them all booked up, but lucked out when we found one on its lunch break, whose operator agreed to let us hop on for 45 minutes. It was perfect – we made it about halfway through the town square, haha, but enjoyed just being in such a beautiful part of town (Hero Square), relaxing in the sun in amazing company, then wandering through parks and learning about Dracula. We’d heard rumours that the labyrinth under the castle was de-illuminated after six p.m., and that it was still open for exploration for another hour afterward… by gas lantern. How could we resist?! We showed up at the castle only to find another handful of friends, and together we went down into the Labirintus on the adventure of my dreams. Lamps in hand, we went through sprawling dark hallways, thankful for the cool air and slightly terrified we weren’t going to get out. We took turns being tour guide (J.’s tales of Dracula in the best Schwarzenegger voice I’ve ever heard went down brilliantly), kissed in cages, and visited torture chambers, caves and cellars 16 metres under the ground. My love for these people grew so incredibly much as the trip went on, and I find myself so sad today wondering why some of the world’s best people must be so far away.

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That night, we went to an incredible place called Szimpla: the”ruin pubs,” a cult bohemian open-air collection of bars through which we roamed, marvelling (and trying not to collapse in 40-degree heat!) at the bric-a-brac-erie, the Christmas lights strung haphazardly across walls and tree branches, the live bands, the DJ who commanded a simultaneous spirit of chill and excitement, the various paraphernalia that adorned doors and walls, seating made from old bathtubs with mattresses in them and fairy-lit bicycles strung from the ceilings. We had what became my new favourite drink (which J. and I will make you at our next cocktail party), but escaped relatively early due to the heat.

Szimpla Kert in Budapest

Szimpla Kert in Budapest

After leaving this beautiful place, we found ourselves en route to Poland, where the entire coach took part in a music quiz (which we won hands down! Thank you, useless ’90s pop knowledge!), stopping briefly in Banská Bystrica. We were soon in Krakow, and first thing in the morning, explored (and got stuck in) the Wieliczka salt mines, once again heading underground into a labyrinth of tunnels, licking salt off the walls (Anthony: “So where’d they get the salt from?”) and learning about the oldest mine in the world. This place was incredible: we saw dozens of statues carved out of rock salt by the miners (including Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, whose words make up a portion of my text tattoo) as well as several underground chapels complete with chandeliers. It was stunning, and the size of it too immense to begin to describe. Our small group of adventurers got separated from everybody else somehow, and we found ourselves not on the lift for normal people up to the exit, but squeezed in through a gate onto what felt like some kind of coal chute, shot back up to the surface. We grabbed food (I never want to see another sausage again) and danced in sprinklers in the heat until finally everyone was together again.

Krakow was also the place J. and I were determined to discover something called Lost Souls Alley – definitely not on the tour, but ranking hugely high on TripAdvisor! Escape rooms these days are all the rage (and with good reason), but imagine one located in a haunted house instead, at the end of an alley where your two choices were either strip club to the left or screaming and chainsaws coming from upstairs. Unfortunately they only had a single slot open that day and could only take up to eight people – so after feeding pigeons and splashing around in the beautiful market square, the most dedicated of us head over to the alley itself. Solving puzzles while being chased by monsters through room after room of absolute terror? Brilliant. We emerged alive, and went on to join the rest of the group for a traditional perogy dinner. I believe Krakow was also the place of the $1 shot bar… after our friend Danny bought at least a hundred, I’m pretty sure we’re all either barred for life or we’ll go back to find they’ve erected a statue of him. This may also have been Warsaw. I’m getting my Polish lines a little blurred.

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Quick sidenote: Poland was where I had to make an emergency stop for hair dye after Sparty destroyed all the beautiful purple in my hair and turned it grey! Do not buy hair dye in Poland! It does not come with all the supplies you’ll need, and your choices will be one of three. I grabbed the red one and ended up having to mix it with my own hands in the hotel sink and plop it on my head, hoping for the best. Rescue mission to come.

On our penultimate day, we found ourselves in the actual Auschwitz concentration camps. What to say about this place? It seems wrong to even utter words, instead taking the time to reflect once again on the horrors that took place in these factories of death. I walked past barbed wire, listening to our tour guide tell horrific tales of what could have easily happened to me or you had we been born in a different place at a different time. I saw endless shoes, spectacles, and luggage, stolen from real people who were gassed and burned. I walked through gas chambers and read about the experiments, and walked down hallways of photographs of those that lost their lives. Labourers. Hairdressers. Students. Ordinary people. I cried silently as the tortures were described, imagining there could be nothing more terrible than this happening to someone I love. These people were loved. And they were killed. My choice in atheism was affirmed again in this place: the religious among us may wonder where was God at this time of evil. The rest of us may wonder where was man. As we walked toward Auschwitz II (Birkenau), I told J. that when I got home, it was going to be so difficult taking part in our normal again. Seeing people complain on Facebook. Filling out spreadsheets. Things that, compared to these atrocities of broken bodies and deadened hearts, of faces without names whose souls reached for the sky as their physical shells of bodies plummeted into ash, mean nothing at all.  Nobody deserves to suffer, but nothing could possibly be anything close to what happened in that true nightmare of history. Be so, so very thankful for the life you have today.

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Last on our Contiki tour was Warsaw, and by this point most everybody was running out of steam and getting the dreaded Contiki Cough, yet all were filled with an eagerness to spend as much of the little time left we had together. J. and I spent the day eating perogies, wandering through a magic garden, enjoying a beer in the sun and packing up before heading out for one last night with our new friends.  We feasted, we drank, we danced, we embraced, and we all got up bright an early to say our teary goodbyes. I can’t handle goodbyes at the best of times, but when you’ve seen some of the most brilliant sights the world has to offer with these people, danced under the stars, sailed down rivers, launched yourself into the sky, got lost in labyrinths and witnessed the brilliance of human imagination as well as the madness of a man who changed history forever… when you spend every waking moment with these wonderful souls, these fellow dreamers, travellers, explorers and adventurers who flock from across the globe… you truly do leave a piece of your heart with each and every one of them. Saying goodbye was the acknowledgement that those pieces had shone brighter than ever, and as they splintered off back to their respective corners of the galaxy, life would from then on be that much duller. But, at the same time, each of those wondrous souls left a piece of themselves with me. New, glorious, exciting, brilliant friends with whom I’ve shared the memories of a lifetime. People I’m determined to do it with all over again. And that hope, that dream… shines on in its own way. A beacon to sail toward. I’m crying just thinking about how fantastic they all were.

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J. and I finished our trip by first heading to Paris, where I saw quite possibly my favourite sight of the whole trip: his face when we turned the corner and he saw the Eiffel Tower in person for the very first time. It lit up like a Christmas tree, and I was at once surrounded on all sides by beauty and wonder. Of course we ventured over and climbed it, despite the protest of our legs, which were at this point about to fall off, but we made it to the second storey and took in the brilliance of the city from above. A warm rain began to fall, and I pulled out the only umbrella I had – one covered in Union Jacks, of course, which quickly threatened to get us kicked out of France! We enjoyed a beautiful French dinner with a fantastic waiter, hopped the Metro to our hotel, dolled ourselves up as best we could in ten minutes and head for another wonder: The Moulin Rouge itself. I have to stop for a second here and express my heartfelt gratitude for the man I’m so lucky to be in love with. A Moulin Rouge show, in Paris, with him by my side. I felt like the luckiest girl in all the world. The show, Feerie, was absolutely packed, and the streets were lined with people queuing to get into this magical place. As we filtered in, we were transported to another world, one lit by warmly quiet red table lamps and veiled by drapes that hung across the ceilings like a great circus tent. We were seated, champagned, and treated to a show the likes of which I’ve never seen.

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Three hours later, we were due on a train to London, so we downed a couple of giant Red Bulls and hopped the Eurostar over the channel where we were met by my dear friend of 19 years, James. He’d planned the entire day for us, and treated us to breakfast, a ride around the London Eye, a trip through the Dungeons, a brilliant pub lunch in a pub that was restored in the 1600s, where we were joined in person by the lovely Elly, with whom I’ve been blog friends for probably near a decade! Great conversation and great food were enjoyed by all, and with our remaining couple of hours, we traipsed through the Tower, taking in the ravens, the crown jewels, and various instruments of torture. (Of course.) We ended the day back at the station, all I think holding in tears, and both of us feeling an immense sense of gratitude for the kindness and friendship we’d been gifted.

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I’m sitting at over 4,000 words right now (Contiki book deal, anyone?)  so I’ll wrap this up. Fifty-two new friends. Fourteen cities in sixteen days. Chickie Chickies and dead guinea pigs and Holas. “Moisto bene.” Memories, sights and experiences that made my heart soar and my soul occasionally sink, all of it coalescing and transforming me into something new. Coming back to where you started is infinitely different to never having left, and though materially I may be poorer, experientially I am blessed with the wealth of riches money couldn’t possibly buy, and more thankful, reflective, educated and inspired than I’ve ever been. The Eastern Road may have come to an end, but these friendships, these memories, these dreams… these are just the beginning of a whole lot more.

I’ll be working on a video of the whole thing over the next few weeks, and I can’t wait to share the spirit of this trip with everyone. Until then, here are about 700 photos!

On not blowing myself up, and how digital serendipity forever changed my heart

I’m sitting a few hundred thousand feet in the sky somewhere between Alberta and Manitoba, having left behind that magical city once again. I remember the very beginning of summer, when I found myself unemployed and was gifted (along with the time to do so) a surprise trip out to Vancouver, and I fell endlessly in love with it. The end of August, when I’d booked my original first trip, seemed so far away. Now both trips are behind me and I’m filled with a sadness that it’s all over, but a sadness that’s infinitely outweighed by gratitude, wonder, and hope.

If we’re Facebook friends, you’ll probably know that the lead-up to this trip was a little on the Sod’s Law end of crazy. I’d just started a new job, which I absolutely love to pieces and has made me feel incredibly welcome, appreciated, and has given so much in the way of encouragement, freedom, and patience. I feel creative, connected, and thoroughly enjoy each and every day I spend there. (Seriously, they let me run with this idea my first week on the job – just wait until you see what I get to do for Hallowe’en!)

10383006_10152662721309171_274438477794558083_nThey’ve also been ridiculously kind and patient with All The Things – lending me a vehicle when I accidentally spilled nine litres of kerosene all over the carpets of mine and spent two weeks driving around inhaling it; helping me with a rental car; allowing me the flexibility to make up time I had to take for, you know, being horribly ill and having to go get insurance and convince MPI I wasn’t an insane person. (The bulk spillage of fuel after carrying it around in your car for old-timey writing by oil lamp purposes apparently isn’t the most common of situations.)

So, the car almost blew up. I kind of poisoned myself. I had to spend a bunch of money to re-paint my entire apartment in order to be able to sublet. I had to pack up, hire movers (who showed up while I was still asleep and not finished packing or painting), and then spend the rest of the day frantically packing everything else and transporting it over myself (with the help of my wonderful father). The cleaner I’d hired did her thing, only to have my walk-through with the caretakers the next day fail miserably in that she’d taken the money, done an atrocious job, and I subsequently wasn’t going to get my damage deposit back. I couldn’t fix it, because I was getting on a plane. Then my mail redirection started being sent to my father’s house, because apparently having the same last name means we are the same person… didn’t have time to unpack in my new house, left my cat with a new environment, new people, and basically got onto the plane to Vancouver a complete wreck. Huzzah!

But oh, the difference twenty-four hours can make! I arrived, met by my best friend at the airport, and we laughed as my suitcase came off the plane vibrating loudly enough that it sounded like drilling from below. I had a little bit of a cry on the beach… but it was a beach. It was 11:00 at night and my face was kissed by a warm sea breeze and my eyes by glittering stars. We lay on the sea wall and broke open some emergency car wine and plastic cups, and I went off into the night to begin a BC adventure all over again.

Sky

The Artist and I spent the first day basking in the sun, devouring the best food in the world (when I inevitably move there, I like to think I’ll be healthy, with all the hills and walking and stuff, but I know I’ll turn into the poorest, fattest foodie on the coast). We sunbathed, and I began my mission to have a selfie with a seagull (preferably with one stealing food from my hand. It’d be awesome!). We ate sushi covered in coconut, sat on a beachside patio at an Irish Pub while tourists waved at us all covered in our tattoos, and met with friends to watch the most glorious of sunsets before a catch-up movie night. Every sense was set alight that day, and I felt an even stronger sense of belonging than before.

Cloud

The next day, BFF and I spent a day with the goal of touching the sky and the sea in the same day. We went up a mountain and wandered around in actual clouds. I can’t describe how awestruck I was by the whole experience. Walking, outside, as clouds slipped through our fingertips and swathed over the trees and fellow explorers, was enchanting. I felt like I should have worn black and taken some badass goth horror shots up there; a silhouette against the mist that swallowed up the trees. I touched the sky, and then we went to the complete opposite of a mountain: Lynn Canyon.

Canyon

The scale of these trees is far too immense to describe, but we trekked through them, down woodland steps made of roots, across a suspension bridge, down into the valley where we sat on rocks with our ukuleles and I slipped and fell and learned that my brain’s reflex is to save the camera, not myself, which was rather amusing, even if I was left a tad bruised and soaking wet. We ran into musicians in the forest, who asked us to play with them, and we headed for the beach to end the day with our toes in the ocean. All these things in a single day. Have I said yet how much I love this city?

Uke

I was so thankful to get to spend time with The Oneironaut and his beautiful lady, with whom I’ve taken to exchanging postcards and letters through regular mail. We had a fantastic writing session, and I was gifted a lovely notebook, inscribed with a message I’ll cherish, and I learned a few new exercises to get the creative juices flowing before settling down for a full-on writing session. We had the most incredible sushi under strange sculptures of mythical creatures hanging overhead, and though our visit was brief, it was wonderful. It’s funny how much you can come to care about people you’ve only met twice in person through a random encounter with digital serendipity.

GastownI revisited Gas Town, the closest place to York I’ve come across since moving across the Atlantic. Took in a ghost tour, and spent the rest of the night on cobblestoned streets, hopping from pub to pub, drinking expensive Pimm’s at bars lined with gas lamps and cocktails made with antiquey-looking tonic water. I may have stolen a little bottle to keep with my ever-growing collection of Vancouver mementos. We visited the steam clock, and I felt thoroughly at home talking with strangers about ghost stories and travel adventures, wearing things I might feel uncomfortable in in Winnipeg, but so very comfortable in there. I felt like some kind of time travelly, Victorian, sciencey artist-type, and that it was okay to be one there.

I visited the magical places where video games are made, saw my friends make great music and great art, went to an awesome comedy show, reconnected with the lovely lady I met on the plane last time I visited (who was reading the same fantastic book as me!), and we shared a hipster lunch and fancy Italian coffee. I went to geek heaven, in the form of the INSANELY cool Storm Crow Tavern (seriously, can I get on this? I’d be a great nerd pub owner), where you could roll a 20-sided die for a random nerd shot (including the – be still my heart – Sonic Screwdriver!), dine under the Temple of Cthulu, and the bar had a battle-axe high above it, in a broken case, with the words “in case of zombies, break glass.” The entire menu, design, layout, and feel of the place was incredible (from the TARDIS back door to the multi-gender, multi-species toilet signs), and I would very much like that to be my local.

I realise I’m already sitting at over a thousand words here, but I have another story I need to tell involving one of the biggest instances of Decent Human Being-ness I’ve ever experienced. Two days into the trip, I lost my laptop. The machine I take with me everywhere that has all my writing, every photo, memory, and every piece of art I’ve spent hours making on it. Luckily, my skills in Sherlockery are pretty fantastic, and I narrowed down the place I was sure I’d left it pretty quickly. Unfortunately, this place was closed for the long weekend, not opening again until the day after I was set to return to Winnipeg, so I spent the rest of the trip feeling a little bit like I’d lost an appendage, and hoping desperately my powers of deduction weren’t going to fail me.

Flash back a little while, and shortly before I arrived in Vancouver I’d received a message, from a perfect stranger who’d happened to find me online, read my blog, and sent me a beautiful message that made my heart smile.

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love new friends! And lo and behold, I just so happened to be in Vancouver. I went for brunch with this person, who was one of the most genuine people I’ve ever had the pleasure of spending time with, and we talked about the laptop, amongst other things. He had a bit of an old clunker and was in the market for a new machine, and asked what I’d been using, the specs, etc. We went to the Apple store and I recommended the Macbook Air wholeheartedly. Soon enough, he bought one, and I told him how much he was going to love it. He said I needed something to be able to keep doing what I’m doing, and said “how about this: I lend this to you, and if yours shows up next week, you can just send it back to me. If it doesn’t, then hang on to it, and you can pay me back if you want to.” I didn’t know what to say. An act of pure human kindness – I was kind of speechless, and I hope very much it wasn’t taken as anything but gobsmacked gratitude! I assured him he’d be seeing it again, and came home with a new machine I could keep creating on, and a new friend.

Sometimes we become so used to the world just being full of the mundane, full of people doing shitty things to each other, full of drama or heartache or bad luck, that genuinely pure acts of human decency and generosity take us by surprise. I’ve always found it slightly sad that sincere kindnesses are such a rarity they raise eyebrows, or evoke questions of ulterior motives. It’s been a personal mission for a long time to do everything I can to change this “norm” – to tell important people I love them, to send postcards in the mail for no reason, to pay for a stranger’s coffee or to give a lift to someone without a car. These little things are questioned, but I do them anyway. And to be the recipient of something so immensely good and kind took me by surprise, and words cannot describe my gratitude. The good news is that my detective skills were as sharp as ever, and my original laptop was found safe and brought home by a friend who was visiting the week after I’d left – every piece of art in tact (and desperately begging to be backed up!).

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I’ve been to Vancouver twice now in two months, and every time it burrows its way into my heart even harder, painting the walls with its warmth and beauty, kindness and brilliance. That place is full of some of the most talented, creative, genuine, wonderful souls I’ve been lucky enough to meet, and as a result of clicking on one artist’s page somewhere on the Internet back in January, my life has forever been changed for the better. Wonderful new friends. Magical experiences. Tattoos, sights, and a burning fire of inspiration. Now to try not to think about the fact that my favourite band in the world are going to be in that city in four short weeks… this is going to be quite the test in willpower 🙂

“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.”

As of next week, I’ll be flying to Baltimore, MD (home of the grave of a certain Mr. Poe!) for a work trip to attend the largest LGBT corporate conference in North America. Close to 3,000 LGBTAs will be in attendance, and I, a little Winnipeg Administrative Assistant, was somehow chosen as one of fifteen colleagues from across the world to go. This wasn’t without its challenges – Administrative Assistants don’t usually get to travel, aren’t really supposed to take on extra-curriculars, and definitely don’t have corporate credit cards. When I was asked, the immediate response locally was a hesitant yes, on the condition that I did all prep work for it on my own time, and earned the hours in advance to cover the travel days. Nobody else had to do that. But because of the unusual circumstance of somebody at my level being offered this opportunity, I did. Which I reluctantly decided I was okay with – I wasn’t going to miss out on something this awesome just for the sake of having to work through lunch hours! 

Something I’ve struggled with throughout my career are the limitations determined by job title. Possibly appearance, too, but I’ve talked about that before. I have a pattern of entering organizations at the administrative level – reception, admin assistant, etc. and quickly expanding the role as much as I can to reflect my actual capacity. I wasn’t given a brain to answer phones and file papers, and I’ve proven myself more than capable in writing/marketing/graphic design, social media, group facilitation, and all sorts of communications functions. At my last job, I initiated, designed and delivered entire curriculum for a series of workshops, gave corporate presentations to promote services, wrote radio/print ads, and managed two corporate videos from the ground up. Yet my title was not permitted to reflect how much more I brought to the role.  I always suspected it was due to looking young, but now I’m experiencing it again, I’m certain it’s the case. 

I’m 27 years old. I still get asked if I’m 18 and told how young I look. People joke that it’s a good thing – and I’m sure one day when I hit forty, it will be – but in the meantime, it’s a curse. People judge you based on what’s on the surface. They don’t take the time to read over your accomplishments or look at your work ethic. They don’t spend time investing in hearing your ideas or asking your opinion. They see someone who looks new to the workforce with an entry-level title. Someone inexperienced and therefore unworthy of being heard. I’ve come up with countless proposals, ideas and process improvements, I’ve expanded my network, I’ve initiated communications and social media strategies that have gone national. I’ve been asked to be part of a global steering committee for a corporate diversity network. Outside my office walls, I’m recognized and valued. But locally, I get the sense I need to stop thinking outside the box, get back in it, and stay there. Consequently, the flame on my desire to do more is waning. And how is that good for a company as a whole?

In addition to titles and physical appearance, I’m sure some of this is generational. I always have been one of the youngest members of the office, and it is hard to “teach old dogs new tricks”. But how do you get those tricks to be acknowledged when the very position you’re in is the obstacle? I’m struggling a little with this trip. I’m going as a corporate ambassador, to promote the company and how it encourages diversity, respect, and innovation. I am proud to work somewhere that supports these values – I just wish there was something I could do to help them become more of a priority.  Still, I am incredibly excited (and nervous!) for this trip. I’m going to be meeting colleagues from across the world I’ve been getting to know and befriend over the last few months. I’m going to be surrounded by people who have the same values I do, who share the same passion for equality in the workplace. It’s going to be incredibly inspiring. But I’m nervous about how to get my learning heard when I return home. I have felt disheartened – but one of my US colleagues encouraged me recently to keep doing what I’m doing. Keep standing up for what’s right, doing everything I can to promote inclusion, diversity and equality. He reminded me that I may only reach one person – but that that in itself is one more person touched than had I given up. I’ve tried to take that message to heart and keep it there for when things get tough. 

At the end of the day, I don’t want to look back and say I was defeated. I want to stand strong, though perhaps having taken a fair share of knocks, perhaps a little scarred, and perhaps slightly saddened by the discrepancy between how the world is and how it could be. But I want to be able to say I never gave up. I know my capabilities, and I refuse to be caged by others’ resistance to change and innovation. And I know my intentions are always to better things around me. It’s hard, sometimes, when your efforts are stifled and quelled, but I think that’s where personal accountability comes into play: it’s easy to become the product of other people’s expectations, and it’s alarmingly more so to believe something just because it’s continually reiterated – but you have to find your own truth, stand your ground, and remember the wise words of Albert Einstein: 

Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds. The mediocre mind is incapable of understanding the man who refuses to bow blindly to conventional prejudices and chooses instead to express his opinions courageously and honestly. 

I’ll update again soon – this summer/autumn have been incredibly eventful, and I have stories of tattoos, space parties, new kittens, love, ridiculous Halloween costumes, music, bookwriting and flesh-eating diseases to share, along with a post-conference update on how brilliant Out & Equal was. Oh, and why am I going to a giant LGBT conference anyway? No, to answer the colleague who asked my boss if I was “coming out”. I’m going because I’m proud to be an ally, and I want to do everything I can to change the corporate culture to one of equality, where people can feel comfortable, unafraid, and free to be their true selves.

Stay strong, stay real, and see you on the other side!

Edit: In a case of fantastic timing, I saw this article posted by a friend of mine today: When did Gen Y become Gen Y-Can’t-We-Take-You-Seriously? “I hate that adage that youth is wasted on the young. It’s so defeatist, and it comes with a whiff of patronizing bitterness and jealousy. Usually, it’s uttered by people who are older, who somehow resent the young – the beauty and possibility they possess, and the fresh intelligence that threatens those in positions of authority.” It seems I’m not alone after all.

Temporal anomalies, meeting my heroes, and horribly inappropriate Easter baking

Ahoy!

I’ve been meaning to write since getting back into Winnipeg on Monday, but said arrival was at about 3:30 AM and the last few days have been a whirlwind of playing catch-up to all the paperwork I didn’t do while I was gone, and all the sleep I didn’t get on my big American adventure. I’m still working on the latter. This past weekend’s trip was something I’d tossed out to a few friends a few months ago, primarily as One of Those Things you’d really love to do, but logistically would likely never happen – you know, stuff like travelling through time, solving a murder, raising your own ninja turtle or having David Tennant’s baby. So when it actually happened, it was pretty much the equivalent of waking up one day and finding out you’re Batman. Actually, let’s go with SuperTed, because he had cool rocket boots and a best friend voiced by the third Doctor.

This weekend, my best friend, her man, the Professor and I headed to Minneapolis to see my favourite band in the whole world. We got to the US border and were met by a typically burly and angry looking guard who proceeded to stand in front of the car with his arms crossed, not saying anything. Not having travelled by land to America in the last ten years, and definitely not having driven there myself, I had no idea what his problem was. He apparently had a series of problems, namely my Britishness, the fact that we had “lots of antiques” in the boot from the photoshoot (if a Dollarama decorative trunk that cost all of $2 and the complete works of Shakespeare count as antiques), that we didn’t know his silent frown clearly meant he wanted our passports, and most impressively, that we’d gone to the wrong border and didn’t have a map. We’d borrowed a GPS, not having realised you could choose between routes (shortest distance, fastest time etc.), and had followed the directions on the setting we’d presumed was the default. (Why would anyone want anything other than fastest time?!) It then took us an additional two hours driving through an endless time loop of several kilometres on US59 followed by a right on US59, a continuation on US59 and another left on US59, then a few more turns down the road on US59 (seriously, I’m pretty sure the name of certain area in the middle of a southern Nevada desert was a typo), but after heading due west to the Interstate, we finally made it to Minneapolis – two hours before show time!

The show itself was phenomenal. There’s nothing in the world like being in a room of people who share the same enormous passion for the same thing you do, enjoying the fact that people who make music that sets your soul on fire are ten feet away. I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited in my life. We bundled our way near enough to the front, and I took hundreds of photos and a few videos (on my new iPhone – why did I not get one of these before?) and then ran off to the side of the stage where they were packing up after the show. This was the part where I became possessed by the spirit of a twelve-year-old fangirl, lost the ability to voice anything resembling coherence or sanity, told them all how amazing they were and reached out to stroke the lead singer’s shoulder. What a creep! But my creepiness paid off, and after my friends interjected and showed that we actually were quite normal, we spent the rest of the show watching the other band, standing with my favourite band, talking about how they met, the fact we’d driven ten hours to see them (they felt awful!), and just music in general. I even had a photo taken with the whole lot – something I’m sure will rocket its way to the top of my list of Best Moments Ever and crash land there permanently. We all wandered around afterwards in a giddy euphoria, ordered the most amazing burgers I’ve ever had (delivered straight to our hotel room!) and collapsed in a happy exhaustion.

The next day, we checked out at noon and headed for the Mall of America, and learned that in America, speed limits mean absolutely nothing. First of all, they were in miles, and secondly, people seemed to add twenty to whatever the sign said showing no regard in the slightest for the safety of fellow humans. When we finally made it, we spent the day (yes, the entire day, and not the three hours that would’ve had us home before midnight) running around the indoor theme park, exploring shops made for writers (I want a dress made of stationery!) and sipping smoothies under the starry skies of the Rainforest Cafe. It was absolutely wonderful.

The ride home was faster,  but pit stops to toilets in the middle of nowhere (in the dark), the GPS guiding us off the road onto a grass hill surrounded by sleepy little houses that looked like the set of a horror movie (in the dark) – and then into a solid rock wall, added to high speed wakes of very large, very fast vehicles made it a little unnerving – but we made it back after hours of great music, plotting, copious amounts of sugar and a very bright Venus in the sky to guide us home.  We arrived at about 3:30 AM thoroughly exhausted, but it was so, so worth it 🙂

Now onto more adventures: in a couple of weeks, I shall be leaving Hobbit House and moving into a giant, sprawling, thoroughly haunted and brilliantly post-Victorian building. The apartment is the biggest I’ve ever seen – with three bedrooms (potentially four), two living rooms, a sun room, and a hallway longer than a bowling lane. The building has a courtyard inside (!) and is full of staircases leading to nowhere, doors opening onto brick walls, and it houses the oldest and creepiest cage elevator in the country. It has gorgeous wooden panelling halfway up the walls, an actual fireplace, and the bedrooms are probably bigger than my whole suite. I’ve already begun dreaming up evenings spent with typewriters and Merlot, covering my walls with the words of Shakespeare, and watching thunderstorms over the village this summer. It’s beyond perfect, and within a fortnight, it will be my new home 🙂

Hope you’re having a wonderful long weekend – and learn from my mistake: using pink icing in butterfly cakes unintentionally pays tribute to the whole fertility side of the Easter holiday, and may render your festive treats slightly NSFW. Oops!

Take me to the docks where there’s a ship without a name, and it’s sailing to the middle of the sea

In two days, I am going to be leaving the bitter streets of Winnipeg, and hopping on a plane that will take me to what looks to be one of the most beautiful places on earth. I still can’t believe it’s happening. I’ve had visions of the airline going under, the ticket not being valid, my Permanent Resident Card expiring, the hotel having no record of the competition, or losing my passport – it’s one of those genuine too good to be true moments, and I don’t think the reality will sink in until I actually set my suitcase in the suite, I pinch myself hard, and I am still surrounded by sparkling ocean and sunny skies. If this is actually happening, there are no words to describe how incredibly thankful I am.

I’ve been lucky enough to grow up seeing a fair bit of the world. Living in England, everything was a mere stone’s throw away – you could see Paris, Spain, Cyprus or Turkey in a couple of hours, and it didn’t have to break the bank. My parents introduced me to other countries, other cultures, and history thousands of years old. I’ve seen galleries housing the most famous paintings in the world, temples dating back centuries, amphitheatres and natural hot springs, castles and cathedrals and national monuments. The seed of the travel bug was planted early and has blossomed big – to this day I seem to have an insatiable appetite to see the entire world. I read blogs from people who live on the road, surfing couches and making a new home every day, and I think it’s incredible. I have friends who travel so often their home is a parking spot for a sailboat, forever at the beck and call of a new horizon; a new city to fill with imagination, storytelling and art. I wonder if, in a past life, I was a bit of a nomad.

To the heart, to the heart there’s no time for you to waste
You won’t find your precious answers now by staying in one place
And I’ve driven across deserts driven by the irony

That only being shackled to the the road could ever I be free

I wonder if Frank Turner’s really onto something. I’m so fortunate to have been able to see so much of the world in my twenty-five years. I have colleagues twice my age going on their first international trip this year, and here I sit struggling to think which countries I’m going to be able to cram in before I start “settling down”. Quotes intentional; I refuse to believe I won’t travel anywhere for over a decade after bearing children. Which definitely isn’t on the horizon any time soon! I have more than a few big places left on the wishlist – Australia, New Zealand, more of England and Ireland, and Prague…. I would love to see India, too. 🙂  Last year, I went on four different trips, taking me to five different countries on two different continents. Do we see a pattern here yet? If not, here’s a hint: it begins with “p” and ends in “oorness”! After next week’s trip, I doubt I’ll be able to afford to go far this year – I definitely plan on visiting Ontario, and possibly Chicago once more – but international destinations are temporarily on hold.

Until 2012. I hope. If I can keep up saving the amount I was each month for the damned wedding, I can use it toward saving for the next big holiday – Italy and Greece, perhaps? And probably a stop in the UK, provided it’s non-Olympic season. (Got to visit home, defined on the first Google hit as “a town populated by 14-year olds and their children“, welcoming visitors with testimonials such as “though 90% of the population are chavs, the remaining 10% aren’t such shits” – I don’t know if an extra 908,000 tourists, coinciding with the predictions of dear old Nostradamus, makes for the wisest timing for a visit…) I’ve only ever seen the Greek island of Corfu, and, being about nine, my interests back then probably lay more in the extra flavours of Calippo than in the Achillion Palace, but these days, I would love to see the sunsets of Santorini… explore ancient Olympia, and hop on over to the wonders of Rome and the canals of Venice. My heart definitely belongs in Europe, and I think this is one trip I can justify saving up for! So next time I’m tempted by January sales or a fancy new camera (which may or may not have been purchased recently…), I’m going to make it a habit to ask myself: do you want an extra top you don’t need? A new nail polish? Or do you want to see the world? And I’m hoping what follows next will be easy. Even if it takes a little while. 🙂

I leave you with the song whose lyrics comprised the title of this post – one of the most desperately romantic and beautiful melodies I heard in all of last year. Turn it up, close your eyes, and dream of faraway places… and I’ll see you in just over a week! 🙂

From Avatars to Allies

Whirlwinds of activity and excitement seem to be becoming somewhat of a theme this year, and this long weekend was another fantastic ride through foreign streets accompanied by friends from afar. I left the city late Friday afternoon (on what was possibly the most claustrophobic, teensy little plane I’ve ever been on – we had to move three passengers plus luggage to the back of the jet so the weight was spread evenly enough for takeoff!) and watched an orange sun illuminate the sky as we rode, sandwiched between two layers of cloud, through a glowing dreamscape down towards the coastline of Chicago. There’s something to be said about solitary travel – it’s a great time, with no distractions, for seeing the world from a new perspective, and for inner reflection. I arrived in O’Hare airport where I was soon met by two ladies I’ve known only in the realms of cyberspace for the last year or so, who greeted me with a gigantic squeeze and my first ever welcome sign, made with the help of our fabulous hotel concierge, Ian.

We took the L train (JUST like in Time Traveller’s Wife!) downtown, noshed up, and soaked up the experience of finally meeting each other in the flesh for the first time. In the last year, I’ve exchanged (sometimes daily) emails, text messages, phone calls and Skype dates with these girls more often than I have most people I know in real life. Seeing a relationship built through technology come to life in the real world was a surreal and wonderful experience, and we spent the next three days taking on the Windy City in style.* We walked for miles, taking in landmarks, amazing food, my first sangria, and truly breathtaking architecture. My heart was literally swooning as we trekked through downtown, surrounded by culture, life, and gorgeous towers soaring toward the sky. Every American I met was an absolute sweetheart, especially our fantastic doorman at the hotel, “Showtime”, whose enthusiasm and genuine love for life spilled out at the seams. He sent us off every night with a hug, a laugh, and a coupon for something wonderful.

We explored fancy shops and dreamed of being able to clean out places full of beautiful clothes and ornate houseware. We found original Glee costumes, had movie pyjama parties (complete with an unfortunate case of The Titanics, in which I bawled my eyes out for a good twenty minutes and proceeded to get VERY much laughed at :)), soared 103 storeys into the sky and braved the glass bottomed boxes looking down on the city below. We adorned ourselves with silk roses and crystal penguins, and I realised that five inch heels can simultaneously be a girl’s best friend and mortal enemy. We got lost in countless book shops, both modern and vintage, where I found myself wishing luggage would come in TARDIS form. We found the most amazing little sci-fi coffee house, plastered with oversized eighties film posters, with stuffed models of ET and ninja turtles perched atop every surface. I met even more bloggers, old friends and new ones, toured the local brewery, and witnessed the fastest and most inopportune blackout I’ve ever seen. The three days went by in a flash, but there was something quite magical about this trip.

If it weren’t for blogging, I would never have met five of the people in this photograph. I’ve always written, but I’ve only been properly blogging for about a year now, and some of the relationships I’ve been blessed enough to develop have become some of the most treasured in my life. Friends who are on speed dial, ready to cheer you on, or to defend against runaway snotrockets (new readers: yes, it happened, yes, it was in the face). Friends who’ve given me opportunities to help make the world a better place. Friends who send surprise cards, letters, and handmade gifts in the post, and friends who’ll happily exchange nerdy Doctor Who stories for hours on end. The world can seem an awfully vast place, but thanks to this online community, can seem rather comfortable… and not quite so big after all. Seeing the voices you’ve known so long through words and photographs on screens come to life was an amazing experience, and I only wish I’d had more time to fully spend with each and every one of these fantastic people. Chicago was an absolutely stunning city, and I have no doubt I’ll be heading back before too long. I arrived home after a plane ride accompanied by snapshots and science magazines, in one happy, exhausted, and exhilarated piece. Thank you Chicago, for capturing my heart, and thank you to everyone I was lucky enough to meet this weekend… who proved once again just how brilliant this online community really is.  Until next time… 🙂

Sometimes, when we fall, we fly

It’s been almost a quarter of a year (blimey!) since I posted the list of things I wanted to do before I turn 26. This means I’ve used up 25% of my timeline! Unmonitored resolutions can end up being lost in the universe, never having had the chance to have an impact on a life. I think it’s a good thing, when you make goals for yourself, to check in every once in a while, and make sure you’re still on track. Especially when the whole reason for doing it is a big one. I look back at old posts, sometimes, and see that scared, frail girl, and it propels me to keep trying – every tiny victory, no matter how small, is another slap in the face of fear. I know anxiety and worry are things that plague so many people, and I know how helpess they can make you feel. I want to do everything on this list, everything that ever terrified me, and hopefully one day, be free of it all – it’s been my biggest dream for a number of years now. I feel like I’m in a way better place – I still can’t get over the fact that my job title is now Facilitator – but it doesn’t mean I’m what I’d consider confident yet. I still wonder why I was picked. But it’s an ongoing process of choosing fight over flight, and I’m hoping, with enough practice, one day, it’ll feel natural.

So, that list? Here’s the lowdown on the progress so far:

1. Get in crazy good shape.
2. Become a hot yoga person.
These were the “physical” sort of things on my list – as we established last week, fitness isn’t something that’s been a big part of my life, and I’ve always used back pain, being too busy, or not being able to afford memberships as an excuse. Over the last three months I’ve told myself to stop being such a princess and suck it up: I’ve been doing exercises for my back several times a week. I’ve also begun sticking to my goal of running more than once a week, and took an introductory month of hot yoga (while it was cheap). I even got Sweet started too – he totally fell in love with it and ended up going more often than I was! Unfortunately the price has gone up – so right now, I’m exploring other options in the city, and hopefully finding somewhere less riduculously priced. I loved hot yoga – it was incredibly calming – the first session was done by candlelight with a live acoustic musician! – and I can’t deny it helped my back significantly while I was doing it.

5. Get my driver’s licence.
I renewed my learners, and the card came in last week! Which means I’m legally now able to be behind the wheel. I’m going to start taking lessons with my Dad ASAP – I only have another 8 weeks before the snow hits!

7. Meet new people.
Since I made the list, I started going to local Meetup groups and sought out some new local penpals (despite the potential to look a total weirdo in the process!). In the last few months, I’ve been blessed to have met some incredible people – people who bring joy, inspiration, encouragement, and real friendship to my life. One of them had to move away – which was pretty tough, but the texts and long distance phone calls make it that much easier. Another couple of them, I soon found out, live a few blocks from us, and have become friends with Sweet, too, and the last few months have been filled with many a night of great conversation, laughs, song, life stories, and dreams, and I’m so incredibly excited they said yes to being part of our wedding party in December!

9. Plan meals, be healthier, and cook better.
Adjusting to planning meals a week ahead of time has been a challenge, but luckily Sweet is a whiz in the kitchen and has been whipping up all sorts of healthy, delicious stuff! (Note to self: share recipes!) I’ve also been good nutritionally, and have been starting every morning off with a Green Monster full of spinach, fruit, vitamins and nutrients. Blended fruit and veg is so much more convenient than eating it. And, thanks to your AMAZING outpour of advice, I’m learning to snack healthily throughout the day too, and not starve myself.

15. Teach a class full of people without being scared.
I’d taught small groups before, but last month, I had my first full on class. THIRTY. ADULT. LEARNERS put up with me for a couple of hours, teaching them about customer service and good habits of successful employees, and actually enjoyed it. The feeling I got after finishing was indescribable – I actually felt like I’d made a difference, and I couldn’t wait to start developing the rest of the materials. Self awareness, communication skills, interview techniques… are all modules I’m going to be responsible for in the coming few weeks. I’ve been given a position where I can pass on information that could change people’s lives for the better – and I have to remind myself that’s so much higher a priority than my own fear ever will be.

18. Go on a blogger meetup.
I was thrilled to meet Stephen and Aly in London a few weeks ago, and this Friday, I leave for 4 days in Chicago! I will be sharing pyjama parties, sightseeing, brewery tours, secret bars, skydecks and fancy dinners with some of my favourite people in the world – words cannot express how excited I am to meet Ashley, Brittany, Nate, Jen and Phampants – two more days until they get the BIGGEST HUGS EVER.

19. See more of the world and soak up every last drop.
England and Spain were amazing, Chicago next week will be so much fun, and Mexico will be jaw-dropping. As will, perhaps, my bank account balance at the end of this year, but you only live once.

20. Do more home decor.
We rent our house, which, though wonderfully homey, has rather bare cream walls. Last month I splurged and bought some of my favourite pieces of art, framed them, and hung them around the house, replacing some old TV and band posters (sniff). I also printed some pages from medieval manuscripts and had them blown up and framed, so all along wall beside the stairs is now historical artwork that indulges my nerdy side – and looks just lovely.

21. Finish my tattoo.
After the disastrous results of attempts one, two, and three, I finally found someone who’s going to finish the thing – make it completely different, completely beautiful, and completely new. T-35 days until the appointment!

The verdict: I think I’m doing okay! I’m far from being close to the finish line, and I’m not going to deny, some of the hardest ones are still to come. Some are going to be fun, some scary, and some still seem near impossible – but I’m determined to try. Doing this experiment has been a rollercoaster of emotions, so far, but I think it’s worth it. I just feel I need to prove I can be the person I want to be – and not the person I was. Yes, the past helps us become who we are today, but it also has no control over how the future unfolds unless you let it. A blog friend of mine said it well last week:

Too many of us live behind walls of our own design. We hide our true selves because we feel weird, or that we won’t be accepted. We feel that we need this acceptance to live; we need to feel normal, related-to, and understood. Many of us, however, don’t feel understood. We might feel loved, appreciated, welcomed, and accepted, but rarely do we feel understood.

So many of us let this fear of nonacceptance rule our lives. We keep our hopes and dreams and true selves locked away, worried about what other people might think if they were ever to see the light. And it’s a shame. It’s a waste. And it leads to an unfulfilling, unmeaningful, hollow existence.  I think we can all choose whether or not we allow those walls to stay up, or if we want to break them down and put ourselves out there. If you’re met with adversity from putting yourself out there, you have the choice as to how to take it. Is it going to dictate the way you live your life, or are you going to take control of your own? At the end of my last day of being 25, I don’t know if I’ll have achieved everything I set out to do. I might try and fail miserably. I might get hurt. I might get laughed at, and I might get gossiped about. But at the end of the day, I’ll have tried. And if, somehow, I manage to do it? I want anyone who’s ever lived by the reigns of fear to believe they can break free too. For now, I’ll keep trying. Fight over flight. In the eternal hope that, as a favourite blogger shared, “first, you jump off the cliff, and you build wings on the way down.”

Did you set goals for yourself this year? New Year’s Resolutions, or Four Simple Goals perhaps? How are you keeping yourself on track?

History and Hauntings (Part Two of Two)

Continued from Tuesday’s post

So after a stunning (yet exhausting!) whirlwind trip to Madrid, I arrived back in Stevenage, a bit later than expected, since some genius managed to get his luggage on the plane and then couldn’t actually find the plane. Which resulted in missing the last bus back! But I eventually made it, and spent a bit more time with Nan, who distressingly, had had a pretty bad accident right before we’d walked in, and had injured herself severely, causing her to be laid up in bed the rest of the trip. In all her stubbornness she refused for us to call a doctor, but consented by Friday, when both a nurse and doctor visited and thankfully declared that though bruised and in a lot of pain, she hadn’t broken anything. It’s things like this that make it so incredibly difficult to be so far away, but my Dad is heading over within a few weeks, which will mean the world to her, and hopefully something can be done to help make sure she is as safe and comfortable as possible.

The next day, I visited some beautifully kept gardens at Hatfield House (where Elizabethan history began!), with another good friend, Shareen, and her boyfriend, who was great! We had afternoon tea and scones, Victoria Sponge (well worth the three pounds I put on in the last week), and talked travel, memories, and Extreme Ironing – a venture yet to come! That night, another one of my oldest friends, James, took us out to an historic little town just outside Stevenage, where we spent hours talking about everything and anything, learning about life in the military, reminiscing, laughing, and sharing hopes of the future. It still blows me away that someone I sat with in school over a decade ago, who I’ve only seen once or twice since, can still be so close and so comfortable to be around. Nights like that truly make me count my blessings.

The next day, we made way to Leeds, where I learned that booking train tickets in advance is crucial. Clearly I hadn’t; and discovered it was consequently going to cost about $200 to travel there and back! C’est la vie, I suppose – didn’t let it spoil the time I had with one of my oldest friends, who I’ve literally known since I was about nine or ten years old, and her fiancé, who was incredibly hospitable and such a laugh. After a night of dinner, exploring the city, cat cuddling and zombie fighting, he drove us into our final destination: York.  London may have a piece of my heart but I have to say York has a little part of my soul, too. It’s the most haunted city in the UK, and the sense of history that consumes you the second you cross the city’s walls is just awe-inspiring.  Surrounded on all sides, York’s streets are made of cobblestones that date back hundreds and hundreds of years. Lining them is an assortment of speciality shops, boutiques, and small pubs, one of which is built without foundations, giving rise to an inside full of warped nooks and twisted crannies with no regard to symmetry or balance at all. The walls were lined with newspaper clippings and framed ghost stories – the perfect place for a good English beer and a bite to eat on Friday the thirteenth! I squeezed the day dry, exploring the Dungeons, learning about Highwaymen, conspirators, plague and witchcraft, not to mention being scared witless as a group of us made our way through the dark. I walked a recreation of 10th century York and learned all sorts of Viking history, as well as the Shambles, an ancient street of mismatched buildings recorded as early as 1086, leading to Europe’s largest Gothic cathedral. I was led on an award-winning ghost tour where I laughed, cried, and was left wondering if I’d capture a glimpse of the plague girl abandoned by her parents, or the medieval army of ghosts. It was perfect.

I made my way back to Stevenage for a last goodbye with my Nan, a night with family friends in London, and onto the flight back – bags packed with sweets, souvenirs, and photographs, eyes heavy and jetlagged from a whirlwind of excitement, and hearts full of memories and contentment that would soon be making space for nostalgia and wanderlust.  Times like these may be few and far between, but the lifelong memories and friendships make them more than worth waiting for. This week, it’s back to work, back to reality, back to ROSE KITTEN, and back to catching up with all of you who I missed terribly! I took a look at my Reader, which is pretty close to 300 unread. Not going to lie – that’s a pretty scary number. So tell me all what you’ve been up to for the last two weeks – and I promise, I’ll get round to catching up on everything ASAP. 🙂  And as an ad said quite aptly on the plane:

Onto planning the next trip! I don’t think I’ll ever get the travel bug out of my system, not ever. Prague, Italy, more of Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, and India are all very much still on my list, and I have every intention of exploring every one inside out. One day…

Oh England, my Lionheart (Part One of Two)

Oh England, my Lionheart,
I’m in your garden, fading fast in your arms
Flapping umbrellas fill the lanes
My London Bridge in rain again
Oh England, my Lionheart
Peter Pan steals the kids in Kensington Park
You read me Shakespeare on the rolling Thames
That old river poet that never, ever ends
Our thumping hearts hold the ravens in,
And keep the tower from tumbling
Oh England, my Lionheart,
I don’t want to go

– Kate Bush

WARNING: This WAS going to be my longest post ever, and there was going to be a serious high five waiting for you if you made it all the way through – I did SO MUCH on this trip, I couldn’t leave anything out! However I think breaking it into more manageable pieces is probably for the best, so this is just part one. 🙂

It seems I’ve arrived back in one piece, and I cannot begin to describe how quickly the last two weeks seemed to pass. Or how mortified I was to have had to go back to work on extreme jet lag and a throat which may as well have been full of razorblades the morning after landing!  The trip was nothing short of breathtaking – visits with friends I’ve known over half my life; the feeling of pure belonging while roaming the streets of London by night, high on post-West End Musical awe and excitement while simultaneously thrilled at the feeling of sharing the grandeur of thousand year old monuments. Getting lost in a country not speaking the language and exploring another culture; seeing family and loved ones and moving on again in a whirlwind journey to the country’s most haunted city, full of gothic architecture, cobblestones, and ghosts. It was perfect, though all over far, far too fast.

The trip started in one of my favourite places in the world: London. I don’t know if you’ve ever been away from home before (though I suppose London is a train ride away from the place I should truly call home), but every time I see a reference to the city on Doctor Who, have BBC radio playing on a Friday morning at work, or hear another English accent, my ears perk up along with my heartbeat and I feel an enormous sense of longing to be back there again. Sweet and I arrived at our hotel, which was a stone’s throw from Big Ben, the London Eye, and all things iconic and dreadfully, wonderfully touristy. Which, after a brief nap, I threw myself into headfirst.

Initially, I went on my first international blogger meetup with the lovely Stephen Ko, where I overindulged in proper sausages, mash, and copious amounts of gravy. We then headed off to explore the city’s museums, which Stephen was kind enough to lead us to, though I must admit an hour’s sleep in over 24 hours didn’t make me the most brilliant of company! That night though, I must have got a second wind, and set off for what was certain to be a highlight: Wicked! I’d seen the show once a few years ago, and it was the best thing I’d ever seen, and once again, it was nothing short of gobsmacking. Dazzling costumes and special effects combined with incredible songwriting and world-class singers, and by the end of it, I was so thrilled with the evening ($12 for a drink aside – forgivable, since it was Pimm’s!) I decided to walk back through the streets of London by night. Illuminated monuments and landmarks were at every turn, and I arrived back, perhaps a hundred photographs later, and collapsed in a happy heap. Roaming London after dark should very well have been dangerous, so I hear, but I felt no sense of fear, only an incredible feeling of belonging. I must say a good part of my heart will forever lie in that city.

With the next day came my NEXT blogger meetup – brunch with Aly, who was absolutely lovely (she even left me with a little koala bear!). She took me to a favourite place of hers, where we talked for hours, feasted on pancakes, fruit and clotted cream, and discovered an amazing secret: our little table was in fact an old desk, and was the only one, it appeared, with a drawer. Aly opened it and found a secret stash of notes – on receipts, napkins, notepaper – little notes of love, hopes, appreciation and dreams, to which we of course added our own. It was quite remarkable, and made for quite the magical morning.

After moving on to Stevenage, my home town (as well as teen pregnancy and chav capital of England), I was shocked at its deterioration. The walk from the train station to my Nan’s should have been filled with little shops, friendly faces, a picturesque duck pond and flower gardens at every step. I’m not sure if it was a trick of the memory of youth, severe degradation, or a combination of both, but the streets I grew up on were no longer as I remembered. The pond was caged off; a rank quagmire of mud, shopping trolleys, and birds no longer able to swim. The shops had all closed down, and the streets were covered in rubbish and trodden-in gum. But I was going to see Nan. The last time I’d visited was two years ago, when she was still very much herself; in a sling, yes, but in good spirits and perfectly able to come out with us, to cook, and to hug. When I walked into her living room, I almost didn’t recognise her. She’d lost a lot of weight, as well as her glasses, and her hair had grown out, shining and white, making her look small, frail. She’d broken both shoulders, and was unable to extend her arms, and seemed consumed by the armchair which I’m certain hadn’t moved in years. But then she opened her mouth to speak, and then she was Nan again. Fiesty and opinionated as ever, and beyond thrilled to see me. Everything was okay once she spoke, and the next day we went out with her wheelchair, her first exposure to the outside world in two months. It meant so much to be able to do something for her.

That night we met up with Kier, one of my oldest friends in the world, for some drinks, pub food, and hours of talking and reminiscing. It felt wonderful to be able to share in his company again and I only wish the time didn’t have to be so fleeting, or the distance quite so far. We met again for a brief brunch later on in the trip, where he surprised me with a gift – a Star Trek bottle opener and a star ready for naming up there in the beautiful night sky. The thoughtfulness was incredible, and I must admit I shed a few tears on the way home that such good friends must be so far away.

I didn’t spend much time in one place – I only had nine days left of holiday time from work, and two of them were spent on the journey there and back, so I REALLY crammed everything in. Next day I headed off to Madrid, Spain – a city I’ve never seen. After a plane ride where I was sat in front of two of my least favourite things in the world (a seat-kicking, screaming baby), I arrived in the middle of siesta time, when everything shuts down for a few hours and people retire for a brief nap to energise for the night ahead. I hadn’t realised my hotel was in The Dodgy End, either, so the initial impression of deserted, streets covered in graffiti was slightly disappointing – until I asked reception what there was for evening entertainment, and was pointed to the Metro station, similar to London’s Underground, which took me to the heart of the nation’s capital.

Elegant, ornate building fronts combined with enormous billboards to envelop us in a city of culture. Nobody seemed to speak a word of English, but I’d been told of a hidden little Michelin Star restaurant, considered one of the “top 1,000 things to do before you die”, where I’d find fantastic food and see some of the world’s best flamenco dancers, which was supposedly a 10 minute walk from the train station. 10 minutes ended up being well over an hour, which had been filled with getting lost and exploring streets full of cathedrals, cityscapes and architecture (not to mention rather sore feet), but eventually, we found the Corral de la Morería, found my seat, and experienced a night of breathtaking entertainment. The next morning, I got up bright and early to visit the grand cathedral and the Palacio Real, where I was heartbroken to find I wasn’t allowed to take photos. A REAL PALACE, from the outside in, where I saw such elaborate decor – gold embellished walls, ceiling frescos, a dining hall which very well could’ve been a mile long, and the thrones upon which King and Queen sat only a few hundred years ago. It was remarkable, and I left thoroughly satiated in beauty, history and culture, before arriving back to a shocking and distressing surprise…

Going to stop here, as this marks about halfway – the rest to come on Thursday, along with stories of the most incredible, most haunted, most beautiful and one of the oldest cities in the world. Thanks for your patience 🙂

I’m a Legal Alien

I don’t drink coffee, I take tea, my dear,
I like my toast done on one side
And you can hear it in my accent when I talk
I’m an Englishman in New York…

Sting said it so well twenty years ago, and this past Monday, the 19th of April, marked the ten-year anniversary of my living in Canada.  I still vividly remember how I was the day I left home: a young, impressionable, nerdy teenager whose sadness at leaving behind family and friends was balanced by the excitement at the prospect of everything a new continent had to offer.

My parents had taken us to visit Canada once before we moved – three weeks in mid-August, where the city was bathed in sunshine, culture and crowds. We explored neighbourhoods and schools, in one of which I was taken on a tour, soaking in the cliques, the bright colours, the mohawks and the compliments on my accent.  The houses were enormous – I’d be going from living in a house attached at the seams to neighbours we’d hear day and night; children crying, music blaring. The houses here were castles, with basements and three storeys, hardwood floors and space on either side. Approaching  fifteen, I was excited for this adventure.

Soon after we officially arrived, the novelty wore off. I didn’t know anyone. I was put into the IB Program, where the students who actually liked school were given opportunities to fast-track their education, reaching university level courses by the end of high school, and were taught a more challenging, more interesting curriculum. I loved the education, but I didn’t feel I belonged. I watched the “regular program” kids form their friendships, talking of their weekends together, laughing in the hallways, while I sat in the science room eating my lunch, watching the world go by.  I was the quiet new girl, on the outside of something that seemed to have finished forming before I got here.  And, eventually, that was okay.

I spent some time over the next few  years in university, searching for myself, for friends, for a sense of belonging. Anyone who showed the slightest bit of romantic interest in me was given my heart in a hurry, hoping it would be returned in a sense of finally belonging somewhere – to someone. I learned those life lessons the hard way, and my past is littered with naive mistakes, and people, who to this day, continue to define me by them. Yet still, I stand by the belief that those experiences taught me huge amounts about myself, and fuelled my desire to become worthy in my own eyes – to become okay with who I am as a person, and comfortable knowing I’m doing the best I can to be the best person I can.

This city, above everything, has given me an education. An education in school, where I learned how much I loved to – well, learn. Opportunities to learn more about other people, and subsequently about myself. An education in life. And that is quite possibly the most valuable thing I could ever have. But still, ten years later, this city doesn’t feel like home. I don’t look upon it as comforting, nor do I look upon it as something I’m particularly proud of belonging to.  It’s full of things and people that hurt me. It’s bitterly cold for at least six months out of twelve, with temperatures plunging to minus thirty, where people are surrounded by darkness and cold and don’t venture out of their homes unless they have to. The cold kills my back so much. A huge percentage of people here are on social welfare, and choose to remain that way, rather than taking advantage of the resources available to help them achieve independence (I sound horrid, but I’ve worked in the system). I carry leaflets with resources in my purse instead of change. The sidewalks are covered in spit and litter, and the air is filled with cursing and inanity. On 20th of April every year, hundreds of people gather at the city’s legislative building and advocate for smoking marijuana and the stoner lifestyle – lazing around, getting high, and wasting away their lives rather than taking in real life, learning, growing, and contributing to society.  For two weeks in June, the city’s abundant trees (which line every street) are taken over by something bizarre called the canker worm – small green worms that build webs down from the leaves and hang from them in the air, resulting in getting caught on your clothes or in your hair. It’s terrifying. The summers are beautiful but are sabotaged by mosquitoes – I moved into this house in January, 2009, excited at the thought of soaking in the skyline view on summer evenings, on the bank of the river… These thoughts remain dreams, as the skies are filled with blood suckers and the house is covered in fish flies.  There are no historical buildings dating further back than maybe a hundred years – no history, no culture, no identity. No feasts for the eyes – the whole province is flatter than Gwen Stefani’s stomach and any road trips are a test in consciousness.  Elsewhere in the world, whole nations band together with pride at what their country has to offer – beautiful architecture, great music, literature – This place seems to have little to offer the world except Neil Young and Slurpees.

It’s a daily goal of mine to count my blessings, and I am lucky to live in a place that isn’t worn-torn or disease-ridden, in a place where I have a good job and a handful of incredible people. For all these things, I’m truly thankful. But I can’t help but feel I belong somewhere else.  A decade is enough to give somewhere, is it not? To try and make it home? I long for the days of living in England, a country of which I remain proud to this day. A country that offers incredible imagination to the world in the form of entertainment, that is proud to preserve historical sites thousands of years old, that has produced some of the greatest literature ever written.  I know there are places elsewhere in the world where I wouldn’t be haunted by people who insist on reminding me of my past. Places where the arts are treasured and promoted, and where the days are long, sunny and warm. Where there’s culture, and mountains, and sea; beautiful buildings, museums, and open skies.  Somewhere to fit in and soak up and feel at home. Somewhere people will welcome me. Somewhere I can feel proud to belong. I feel such a strong calling to get out of this place, but it’s hard when I don’t know where I’m being called to. Australia? A whole new adventure in Ireland, or New Zealand?

My ten year anniversary here is indeed bittersweet, but it’s a chapter of my life I will always cherish, for being full of growth and of learning.  My eyes are open to the possibilities the future may hold, and I’m fuelled by a desire for more. I’m hoping this summer’s trip to England will open my boyfriend’s eyes to the world outside our little city, and who knows, maybe together, we’ll be working towards a common dream… one that isn’t solely mine. It’s so hard to settle when there’s such a big world out there.

Happy ten years, Winnipeg – and thanks for the education.  In the words of the ever-poetic Jason Webley: you may not be my lover, but you’re the map I use to find her. One day, I’ll find somewhere I can call home again.  Until then, I’ll wish hard on my shooting star, and hold onto it tightly until it lands me somewhere I truly belong.

Quickhits of Happy

This week has been going all sorts of wonderfully, and I had to share with you guys – in bullet-pointy goodness:

  • On Tuesday, I officially started in my new position at work. I arrived like a total keener at 7:15 after the long weekend, and the first thing I did was not setting up my computer… it was decorating!!  I have two big windows, blinds, tonnes of space for photos and plants… I absolutely love it! I must admit that it is a little different having my own space and I do miss my old officemates, but we’ve started making plans outside of work. Which is lovely 🙂 I’m learning tonnes in my new role, too, and am being given all sorts of marketing and promotion responsibility – which is perfect!
  • I also secured some contract work through a good friend, which has been keeping me busy and allowing me to be creative, and gain some more design experience (for a pretty big company, too), all adding to the portfolio. Three hurrahs for networking, and big thanks to ItStartsWith.Us’s Nate St. Pierre!
  • Great Skype dates with blog friends and surprise packages in the mail are awesome. Thanks to Jen for the beautiful handmade apron!
  • Tonight I start my Creative Writing class – as much as I love blogging and writing articles, I’m looking forward to more imaginative writing opportunities too, and hopefully I’ll meet some new people while I’m there. I’m excited, but I kind of feel like a bit of a noob never having attended the college before 🙂
  • More good news came this week regarding Nan – last time I wrote, she’d taken a turn for the worse, but this week, after speaking to my dad, it seems our prayers were heard – the reason for her confusion was because she was being put on morphine and sedatives constantly – which was awful. She’s been moved to a different place, where she has the option for pain killers but is choosing not to take them, and is being given rehabilitation exercises to help her get better. My dad spoke to her this week, and said she is sounding much like herself again – I’m thrilled!! Thank you SO much for all your kind thoughts and prayers…
  • And perhaps the best news of all this week is that Sweet and I will be visiting her in August. We decided instead of taking a honeymoon after the wedding, it was more important to go see Nan so they could both meet before the wedding, and I’ll get to see my friends, my home, my country… and show Sweet where I grew up. We leave for England on the 5th August for ten days, and already have our first day planned sightseeing, taking in a West End musical, museums, and staying over in a posh hotel. Ooh, and Stephen? International blogger meetup? 🙂  The rest of the trip will be spent visiting Nan, travelling by train like proper tourists, catching up with old friends, and hopefully a day trip or two to Ireland or France while we’re there. Our pockets are definitely hurting, but I think it’s most definitely worth it. I can’t wait to tell Nan the news, and to see her again – she’ll be over the moon!!

What are some highlights of your week so far?

Glee karaoke, pulled muscles and the best 24-hour trip ever!

I sit here after spending the last two days running on coffee and adrenaline, glad I took the rest of the day off – this past Valentine’s day weekend was an absolute whirlwind of adventure, but I’m glad to be back (and to not be flying anywhere else for a good little while!)!

The week leading up to V-day was pretty crazy.  The situation at work is – well, I’m still totally in limbo and there’s been no word on whether or not I’m staying yet, and as of right now, I heard we may not even know until the first week of March – which, if I wait to hear, means I have only three weeks to job search.  I don’t want to start early and have to worry about going to interviews while I’m still working and could very well be told I get to stay at my wonderful place – but at the same time, I don’t want to leave it too late and be unemployed at the end of my term if I’m not being kept on.  It’s pretty stressful there right now, but I’m holding onto the hope that whatever is meant to happen will, and praying that it’ll be revealed to me sooner rather than later. Sweet had a crazy week at work too, so by the time the weekend rolled around, we couldn’t be happier to be spending the long weekend relaxing and then heading off to TORONTO to see one o my favourite bands in the whole world!!

Saturday night we went to see Valentine’s Day, hoping it was going to be just as good as Love, Actually.  It wasn’t; it was kind of a ripoff, pretty pointless, but sappy enough to get us both in the spirit, and we came home and shared wine and Rock Band sing-offs until we fell asleep.  We awoke on Sunday morning to fresh snow, and spent the morning snuggling inside, cooking breakfast, and watching episodes of Glee.  Can somebody tell me why I only discovered this show now?!  We’re almost done the first season (so no spoilers!) and we’ve both been blown AWAY at how amazing it is.  It’s hilarious, wonderfully cast, and gives me more goosebumps than standing outside for more than thirty seconds, and we went straight out and bought the first volume of the soundtrack that afternoon.

We also had a kind-of couple’s massage – I’d apparently left it too late to book (I thought a week would be plenty of time!) so the couple’s room was fully booked, but we both went at the same time in separate rooms for some relaxation. Well, for him, anyway.  I took advantage of the fact that this massage therapist stopped halfway through to examine my spine and leg movements and diagnosed me with something that’s evaded countless doctors, chiropractors and therapists for years.  Because he’d had the same thing.  It’s been about ten years now of this pain becoming increasingly worse, and now chronic, and I’ve tried more stretches, exercises and tortuous methods in the hope of relief than I can even count.  He explained what he thought the problem was with complete certainty; something I’ve not seen in the vague and frantic diagnoses of other specialists who’ve been quick to get this anomaly out of their offices.  I’m going back weekly for the next month (exhausting my coverage for the year, but for some reason I totally trust this guy), so fingers crossed.  I left however with my hip flexor going into TOTAL spasm after being shown a stretch, and hobbled out in tears barely able to walk, but remaining hopeful!  At home, Sweet set me up with blankets and an ice pack, and after a few hours it calmed down enough for us to carry on with our Valentine’s day plans.

We exchanged gifts, and ended the night with a fancy dinner at The Keg. This past week I’d read a great deal of blog posts about how Valentine’s day isn’t a big deal for people, how people shouldn’t need a Hallmark holiday to tell people how they feel about them… but I think it’s a lovely holiday.  Even when I was single I took the opportunity to send cards to friends and family telling them how much they mean to me, and yes, people should do that throughout the year, but if Valentine’s is the one day some people do – then for one day, maybe the world can feel that much more love.  I feel naive and childish in feeling this way, in a world so quick to condemn February 14th as invented, saccharine, money-grabbing rubbish – but I see it as just one more day in the year when the world focuses on love instead of hate, and I count my blessings for having an amazing fiance, family, and friends like you reading this right now.

The night was wrapped up with packing, in eager anticipation for our early morning flight to Toronto!! I’d never been before, and luckily here in Winnipeg it was a holiday, and we were heading out to see the almighty Mumford and Sons. I’d come across them about a year ago, and ordered in their album from the UK as soon as it was released last year, and soon wrote a 5-star review of it for Frequency Magazine.  They were heart-wrenching, foot-stomping, banjo-picking masters of the poetic, and we couldn’t pass up an opportunity to see them live – even if it did mean red-eye flights and a couple of hundred dollars to get there.  My heart jumped a little when I saw they’d sold out, and at the singer’s surprised happiness to see everyone singing along, despite the album not yet being available in North America.  There was an excited, energetic buzz filling the room; they commanded the crowd dressed in vintage waistcoats, rotating instruments, and had the crowd jumping up and down pumping fists while on the edge of their seats two tracks later in awe at the raw passion, soul and mastery of lyricism in front of them.  It was nothing short of stunning, and I hope they get the worldwide recognition they deserve. And let’s hope so – today, they were talking about them on CBC Radio 2 (apparently the album is finally out this side of the pond!), and tonight, they’re going to be on The Late Show with David Letterman.  PVRs at the ready! 🙂

I uploaded the videos I caught last night here on my YouTube account 🙂 It was the perfect end to a wonderful day of exploring the city on foot, seeing old friends, enjoying a city so full of culture and singing our hearts out.  We went up the CN Tower (very scary!), checked out the CBC building, did a little shopping (nice hats?), ate amazing food and explored Chinatown.  Between getting back to the hotel at midnight and having to be up at 3:30 to walk to the nearest airport express bus stop we’d completely exhausted ourselves with adventure. This was such a great weekend 🙂

Don’t judge a book by… oh, bugger it, go ahead!

Some of you might remember when I got back from the Dominican, I mentioned a couple of interesting characters that popped up alarmingly frequently during the trip.  We first met Louie and Peter on the bus from the airport to the resort.  They sat separately, but both wore Large Gentleman On Vacation Hawaiian shirts and hats.  We sat behind Louie, who kept looking back and making obnoxious comments and asking far too often “where the rum was”.  It was dark, and we couldn’t tell if he was addressing us, or someone at the back, so we found ourselves with tightly-grasped hands, smiling and nodding through gritted teeth.   Whoever this bozo was, hopefully he was being dropped off at the next resort.

The first morning there, we attended our “briefing” meeting with the rep, who told us all sorts of helpful things about booking tours through her (which we ignored), where to go, and when to check the binder on our last day to see when our bus was coming.  It was about 10:00, and we sat, with another couple behind us… and a couple of loud oafs in front.  When we heard the Chris Griffin-esque whiny voice complaining and asking what time the bar opened, we looked at each other in panic.  Louie was here to stay, and he disappeared for a few minutes, returning with two drinks firmly in hands, making the meeting start a full half hour late.

Sweet and I had quite the game of “Name That Oaf” on the first day, making observations about where they could possibly work, if they were together, why were two mid-fifties gentlemen out on their own in the middle of the Caribbean pretending not to be together anyway, and what their names might be.  We decided on “Roy and Norm”, before we were introduced, the second night in, when we found ourselves seated at the table elbow-widths away at dinner.  I’d gone to the loo, and Sweet and I spent the first half of dinner making faces and grinning at each other as we listened to obnoxious inanity – and I returned to a grinning Sweet, who introduced me on first-name basis, which not only put my poker face to the test, but made it lock itself in a room and replace all meals, sleep and social activity with a pile of Cole’s notes.  It was too funny to be happening.

Days in, they kept popping up here and there, maybe the funniest of which was when I was popping upstairs for some sunscreen, and I saw two older blokes racing toward the resort on scooters, slowing right down to go over the sleeping policemen – bump, bump – and whizzing off up to the hotel.

On our last day, we were all packed and had, as per the rep’s instructions, checked the binder to see when we were being picked up.  7:15 pm, it said, so we packed up in the morning, relaxed by the pool, had some lunch, showered and were getting ready for dinner at about 5 when we had a phone call.  “It’s 5:00 and you’re still in the room!” a curt female voice informed me.  “You know you’re going to have to pay a $50 late checkout fee.” Click. Sweet and I didn’t know about checkout times – he’s never travelled, and my last few trips have involved staying at company villas, Hollywood sailboats, and relatives’ homes in the UK.  We went down, and she insisted the rep had told us in our meeting, which she hadn’t.  She got her on the phone, and she talked to the manager, insisting she had, and the phone was just about to be passed to me when I saw, out of the corner of my eye, our two resident oafs by the pool, talking to a lady half their age.  I ran over, and told Louie the situation.  “Of course she didn’t tell us! We had to go and ask two days ago!” Proof! Glorious, unexpected proof from our resident entertainment.  When we next spoke, we had a note put in The Book.  Louie walked past us and whispered “raise hell”. We didn’t have to pay.

We later went back to the poolside to thank him for saving the day, when he left us with his words of wisdom: “The squeaky wheel always gets the oil, folks!” We looked at each other, baffled for a second, while he went to get another drink.  Did he just tell us that the more of a pain in the ass you are, the more likely you’ll get what you want?  We couldn’t help but laugh – this was clearly his motto in life, and despite the exterior loutish behaviour, he’d done pretty well for himself.  We smiled, and asked him where he was headed home. “Toronto,” he told us.  “But there’s been a lot of snow this week, and we have a lot of Asian and BROWN people who don’t know how to drive in the snow; they’re going to make the roads hell.”  And off he went, leaving our jaws planted and rooting firmly on the floor.  The moral of the story? Even if you do judge a book by its cover, it can still enclose a pleasant surprise.  But it’ll probably end up being a jerk anyway!

It’s times like these when I desperately want to learn and explore more about the world of physiognomy – something I learned about in literature years ago, the study of what people’s physical face structure and external appearance says about them as a person. To judge a book by its cover based on exterior observation – or to dig deeper? Even after dear Louie, I still like to explore and be surprised.  Seeing Susan Boyle first open her mouth and sing so beautifully, putting all pre-judgers firmly in their place, was enough to move me to tears.  And I love when people are surprised when they first get to know me that I have tattoos, love all things sci-fi and nerdy, and listen to Scandinavian power metal as a guilty pleasure.  People can often surprise you in wonderful and interesting ways –  but I find, just as often, end up being exactly how you imagined.  What are your thoughts on first impressions?

Back!! Holiday recap time

Well after a week of sun and 24 hours of gruelling late night flights, early morning connections and more than enough hours’ worth of time spent lying on an empty airport floor, I finally made it back in one piece! Thank you so very much to Brittney, Nora and Floreta who helped keep everything going here – you ladies are too wonderful, and I’m so very excited to get back to my reader and to catch up with everybody!

So where to begin? We left on the 22nd at a rather unfamiliar waking hour, leaving behind cat instructions (complete with picture guide), TV for cat accompaniment, and a relatively mild (for Winnipeg standards) winter.  After a day of running around in airports eating ice cream and racing each other down the “trottoir rapide” (which for some reason we both found way too hilarious), we arrived in Puerto Plata.  The instant I stepped off the plane I immediately grew pretty much an afro, but it was late night, and the current temperature, our pilot had told us, was 33 degrees C.  This was going to be awesome.

We took a night bus into the resort, about 20 minutes from the airport, and were greeted at our hotel room window with this beautiful view of one of the pools with a swim-up bar.  Screw jetlag, we thought – we immediately got ourselves dolled up and went exploring! We found three pools, four bars and four restaurants, as well as nightly entertainment (whose novelty wore off after day three, and we moved to a slightly less noisy building!).  We also found we were two minutes’ walk from the beach, and in the morning headed down to see what came up with the sun.

The water was the most incredibly clear, blue-turquoise I’d ever seen.  I never imagined it would look just like an advert in a travel brochure, but this colour was real.  The whole trip was full of blue skies, a hot sun, and just breathtakingly beautiful horizons.

Early in the week we decided to book a couple of tours.  “Beware the Beach People!” our holiday rep had warned us on arrival.  But we were instantly met by a Beach Person selling tours, and we figured what the heck – he was charging quite a bit less than she was, and I’m a sucker for a charmer.  We booked a day trip to Paradise Island, the “only coral island of the Dominican Republic, a perfect circle-round reef in the middle of the ocean with amazing untouched coral reef – the best place in the Dominican for snorkelling.”  We also booked a trip to Ocean World, which ended up being THE most amazing day out – infinitely superior to the former.

We hadn’t been told it would be a rickety old 3-hour bus ride with no air conditioning and singing jerks just to get to the beach.  I’d had a bit of a dodgy tummy the first few days and wasn’t getting on great with the food, so bumping up and down for 6 hours out of the day wasn’t the most fun I’d ever had.  But then we got to the beach. And we got on a speedboat.  And we were sped over the bluest water yet over to an untouched island in the middle of the ocean.  It literally was in the middle of nowhere, so this meant the water got deep, fast.  I decided to try snorkelling  – this of all places would be the place to do it! But my initial nerves got the better of me, and I spent most of it flapping about, gulping down saltwater and worrying something would fly down the tube and into my mouth.  The moments I did manage to keep my head under the surface however were spectacular – I was swimming amongst what looked like hundreds of exotic fish, all within touching distance, over an incredible coral reef.  I wish I could’ve held it together to enjoy it for a little longer, but my nerves got the better of me, and in a desperate attempt not to get lost at sea, I gave up and went back to shore.  Several hours later we arrived exhausted back at the resort, and set our hopes a little higher for Ocean World.

We didn’t need to worry.  It ended up being the most wonderful day out ever!! It was 20 minutes from the resort, and we arrived to the sunniest day yet, and a schedule for the day.  First stop? DOLPHIN ENCOUNTER.  That’s right, we got to be in the water with an amazingly clever, happy and fun little dolphin, and it was one of the best experiences of my entire LIFE! We got dolphin kisses, fed him, hugged him, watched tricks and even held onto his fins as he stood and danced with us.  I lapped up every precious second of it, enormously impressed with their intelligence and the sheer joy of having held one in my arms.

We also saw bird shows, seal shows, sharks and tigers, and had a wonderful lunch by the sea. By far the most wonderful day of the trip, and of a very long time!

Other days we visited the hotel’s restaurants – they had a grill, an Italian restaurant and a seafood one, all of which were wonderful – but you could only visit each one once per week, and the rest of the nights (, mornings and afternoons) were spent at the Buffet.  Which was fine – if you’re a fan of Mystery Meals.  My stomach wasn’t, and unfortunately I spent a day laid up a little out of commission, but it did give me a chance to finish two wonderful books (Jen, we can finally discuss HFS now!! And Juliet, Naked was the perfect light read for beside the pool), and to catch some horribly compelling shows on MTV España.

Much amusement was provided by a couple of late 50-something gentlemen (I’m being incredibly generous with the word), who were so incredibly crass and bigoted it was almost beyond belief; the first day included a joint game of “Name Those Oafs” (with “Roy” and “Norm” becoming our favourites), but funnily enough they ultimately ended up getting us out of some unforeseen trouble… I think I’ll leave it at that, since they gave enough material for a blog post of their very own!  Watch this space.

The last day was slightly traumatic, however – we ended up stuck next to a howling, kicking and screaming, writhing child sitting across from us for five hours up to Toronto, and stuck in an empty airport for a sleepless six hours before our early morning flight back to Winnipeg, where the captain informed us, it was a brisk minus 27 degrees.  Saturday was a blur of daylight-induced insomnia in the face of exhaustion, and poor Sweet had to head straight from the airport to work to mark hundreds of exams before Monday.

It’s been a bit of a shove back into reality, but a week seemed just about the perfect time to get away, full of sun, laughter, and time together which was all the more precious after the whirlwind of a year we’ve had with more than enough job changes, house changes, and long hours.  It almost felt like I was living in a dreamworld, where we had time together disconnected fully from day-to-day responsibilities, chores and interruptions – we had seven glorious days, finally, to share incredible experiences, laughs, and wonderful conversation.  I felt carefree – no nagging in the back of my head about chores I had to finish, about dishes that needed doing, about putting on makeup or bothering straightening my hair.  I felt entirely comfortable, just to abandon everything and cherish every second with which we were blessed.

It was our first trip away, just the two of us – and these are memories we’ll share for the rest of our lives.  I couldn’t have imagined a better way to start 2010 – and, as they say, I’m going to start is as I mean to go on.  And I cannot WAIT to catch up with every single one of you! 🙂

PS. For those who wanted even MORE pics – here you go 🙂
PPS. A massive thank you to everyone who commented on my last Weddingbells post in the contest.  New one is going up this morning – it would mean the world if you could comment over there again! 🙂

One year later

Today the foot situation was a little more dire than I’d antitipated yesterday, and after not being able to walk out of the bedroom and reluctantly calling my boss at 6:45 this morning, I’m sat at home, with a morning of British TV behind me, an evening of a brand new book to accompany me, and right now, with a warm cup of Chai, I’m reading back over my old blogs.

This time one year ago, I’d just got back from a trip that changed how I felt about living in Winnipeg forever. This time one year ago, I’d spent nine days and nine hours on a plane back thinking about nothing but how excited I was to see one person, and upon my arrival home, found that person unbelievably felt exactly the same way, and began the most amazing chapter of my life. This time one year ago, I felt rejuvenated, independent, excited and inspired. I’d gone on a trip to a country I’d never been before with someone I hadn’t seen since high school. I’d gone halfway across the Atlantic by myself. I’d seen London again, wonderful, beautiful, full of life London that I love so very much. I’d seen friends I’d kept since I was eleven years old and still had conversations that made me feel like the luckiest girl in the world. I was just about to start a new relationship with someone I’d felt I was meant to be with since I met him six years ago. I’d got a 36% raise at work just by saying I had an offer elsewhere. Things were going brilliantly.

Re-reading my post from a year ago got me thinking. I’d vowed to myself I was going to take another trip in a year’s time. That being now. Unfortunately, in a year, things happened. I quit that job, found myself unemployed for a month, and took a hefty pay cut. Old anxiety issues surfaces and I found myself slowly becoming more isolated. I still haven’t fixed my back problems and it’s prevented me from doing a lot of activities I’d love to be able to throw myself into. The love of my life is away sixteen hours a day, seven days a week. Things aren’t the way they looked a year ago.

But with the changes came lessons on how I really should be looking at life. Sure, it was tough not having a job, or money for a while. It was really tough. I had an opportunity which I walked out on after three days based solely on moral values, putting me out of work for another month. But in the end I found somewhere that I love to be, an environment of warmth and support, fun and encouragement, and that’s ultimately in place to help other people and change people’s lives. That’s something I think was worth waiting for. I’m still with the love of my life, things are still incredible and I still consider myself blessed for our paths to have crossed again. We’ve got a few days in late August that are going to be just magical and full of adventure, another wonderful Christmas season and a vacation to die for early next year. My recent low points have brought my true friends so close to me, and I’m excited for countless fun times and long conversations with all of them. So things might not be how I imagined a year ago. But it’s been a year of learning and growth, and I can’t wait to put the whole experience into continuing to do just that.

Clubby McGee, re-inspired

Since Thursday I’ve been affectionately addressed by my boy as Clubby, after I fell down my exciting shiny new stairs (whose novelty has since very much worn off) and broke my wrist. It’s been a few days since I’ve got used to my uber-cast and felt okay enough to write, but I’m off today and figured I’d spend it with a combination of blogging, watching a girly movie, and with my current love, The Time Traveller’s Wife.

Tomorrow, at work, is the end of my 30-day probationary period. I believe this comes with some kind of Employee Review. I’m hoping my boss looks more at me showing up with a broken arm, sick, offering to redesign the corporate image and getting referrals from my old work rather than missing 2 out of my first 30 days and going home because my throat hurt so bad nobody could understand what I was saying. I’m not hugely worried – I’ve had lots of positive feedback and I get on well with everyone, I’ve just had a bit of bad luck… right?

Other than work, I’m happy to say I’ve reconnected with a couple of very dear friends who both recently took (separate) extended trips away; one to Germany, Amsterdam and Rome and the other to Egypt and Morocco. Both these people arrived back in Winnipeg in the middle of a bitterly cold winter after experiencing new cultures, new people, and entirely new ways of life that are all happening all over the globe this very second while we sit here in a city so cold nobody wants to leave their bed for 6 months of the year. It reminded me of when I got back from England and Ireland last summer – I’d gone to a place I feel at home, I’d seen historic sites, spent a day in a wonderful city full of life and colour, visited a university I spent the next few months researching in a desperate attempt to find a way to attend and live in, and saw manuscripts over a thousand years old that moved me to tears. Seeing my friends again who’d taken trips come back into the Winnipeg Blues brought it all back; I heard stories of camping out under the stars in the Sahara desert, taking trips down the Nile, standing next to enormous pyramids that defy historical engineering, and how their way of and thinking had changed entirely after seeing the value of food, of water, and of people in places so far away from the life we lead here on a daily basis. Me and the boy had a Big Talk soon after, about how badly I wanted to go somewhere and experience something like that again, and how desperately I wanted to share it with him. I admire his way of thinking and finding positivity in everywhere he goes in this little city, but I so badly want to explore and learn and just take him with me. We talked about taking a trip, maybe in a year or two, but then we talked about maybe doing a World Vision trip.

I get the e-mails every year. $1,000 – $1,500 and you can take a “Destination Life Change” trip. You join a group travelling to either El Salvador, South Africa, Ecuador, Indonesia or Rwanda. You get to see child sponsorship first-hand and really experience what it’s like out there. I think I want to go. I’ve been sponsoring a little boy in Ghana for the last few years and in just over a month I’m doing a 30 Hour Famine to try and raise money for the charity. Right now I’m sitting at $35 in donations. A lot of people are giving me their apologies, which is fine – but all I’m asking for is a few bucks. If everyone chipped in the cost of a Starbucks it would go a REALLY long way, and I just really want to not only spread awareness, but try and make a little bit of a difference too. So I’m doing that on the 3rd of April. But I’m definitely thinking about looking into one of these trips. How life changing would that be?

Holy Crap

I decided to entitle this post as above because I haven’t written in a good few weeks and I know what’s about to come may very well be pretty lengthy. I’ve got so much ground to cover it’s ridiculous, and I usually do an “end of year” post, but being away over the new year made that slightly difficult so I’m going to attempt to cram everything from the last few weeks into this post. Grab a cup of tea.

Let’s start with Christmas. I can pretty much say this was the best Christmas I’ve ever had in my entire life. It all took place between Christmas Eve and Boxing Day (as Christmas tends to), and involved playing fun games with one side of the boy’s family, my first Catholic Christmas service (which involved a beautiful communal rendition of ‘Silent Night’ in a pitch dark church), seeing my own family (and playing Rock Band with my little brother who I talk to maybe five times a year), and meeting the entire extended French-Italian other side of Sweet’s family all for the very first time. I’m just glad I know enough French to be able to understand what’s going on – there was probably over 50 people there for an enormous Italian feast out in the country, and it was quite the evening!

After it was all done, I packed my bags and the next day headed out on my own to California. I had to go through the “we don’t like non-Canadians” customs, involving retina scans, thumb and finger prints, and countless questions about why I was going and why had I not got my Canadian passport yet. Two planes and several screaming babies later I arrived at midnight in Los Angeles, and spent my first night on Shelby’s boat. I’d heard lots about the boat, but I had no idea what to expect. It was a cosy little thing – he put it as “kind of like camping” – there was no heat or lights and barely enough room for one person, but it was in the middle of Marina Del Rey, surrounded by palm trees, boats with Christmas lights on the masts, and a sky so full of stars I could’ve sat out on the dock forever.

We didn’t spend much time in the boat anyway, and the next few days were packed with bike rides down Venice Beach, healthy lunches in the park, improv shows with Sarah Silverman, jazz clubs, photo ops with Jeff Goldblum, Universal City and Rodeo Drive. It was a whirlwind of a couple of days and then I packed my bags and hopped on the Greyhound to Palm Springs, where I found my boy and his wonderful family waiting for me.

The next few days were spent in the enormous Great West house. It had four bathrooms, two living rooms, a hot tub and a pool which we decorated with candles for New Years Eve. We explored the vast Indian Canyons – an enormous forest of palm trees, went shopping, swam, and just spent a glorious time in the sun with some of the loveliest people I’ve ever met. Our flight home was delayed because we had to wait for the plane to be de-iced, but spending the delay sitting in first class was nothing to complain about at all, and we got home, safe, cold, exhausted, and collapsed in each other’s arms for a little while before parting ways and getting some much needed rest.

I started my new job on Monday – I’d spent most of the Sunday crying and fretting, which was very bizarre because I’d never been that way about a new job before. I worked for three days but decided on the second that the reason I’d been in such an awful mood and so upset and stressed since we got back was because I just wasn’t comfortable working for a place that encouraged and promoted the idea that if you want to be beautiful, you come to us and we’ll give you as many boob jobs, facelifts and botox injections as you can handle, and then you’ll be attractive. It went against everything I believed about beauty and I felt pretty much like I was betraying myself in working there. It was a nice environment and the people were nice, but I couldn’t let myself be okay with working in a role that contributed to one of the things I consider wrong with the world today. So after a few sleepless, tear-filled nights, and consequently being a huge cow to my wonderful boyfriend who stood by me for standing up for my morals, I quit. I felt like I was letting everyone down. But I have an interview in an hour with Manitoba Music – they asked me on the phone if I had an interest in music and the arts. HELLO. This place sounds like HEAVEN! So fingers crossed, next time I write it’ll be about my awesome new job.

I’d also really like to say how grateful I am for a certain few people in my life right now, and you know who you are. Love to you all.

Off to Edmonton!

I made it! I over supplied myself for the 22 HOUR BUS RIDE – which actually wasn’t even half as bad as I thought it was going to be. My entire carry-on bag was packed with every cd I own, Harry Potter, a pillow, and my journal. And some granola bars. All I needed was the music, really… I had an amazing pair of headphones that were kindly lent to me, and they played movies too, so it was over pretty quickly. I must say I think that’s the most independent thing I’ve ever done. It was really neat, stopping in all these little cities I’ve never been to, and exploring around on my own all the way here. I got some writing done, and I’ve also decided that Kate Bush is one of the most incredible artists in music history.

I got here Saturday morning at about 5am, and spent the next day at the Fringe site meeting people and seeing shows, and enjoying the last of the creative spirit, and indeed the sun. Saw some great outdoor shows; Andy Zap was hilarious! Met up with all the cool sound techs from last year (Mike the Nightwish Tech was back!), saw “Timmy’s Sexual Adventures” with Jimbo, and then headed off to Calgary, where I write from now. I LIKE Calgary. I hear so many people putting it down, but I prefer it to Edmonton completely. We got in close to midnight and drove around downtown for a bit, and it was BEAUTIFUL! I find cityscapes amazing, having never really lived in a big city, and it’s so full of great architecture and a cool atmosphere as you go through the city streets. Today we spent meandering around downtown, having amazing gelati, and taking pictures of cool buildings. Tonight I’m going to relax a bit as the boys spend one last night together playing poker, and then tomorrow we’re headed off to Banff or Canmore. It’s supposed to be beautiful… I’m quite excited about that.

The drive home should be about fifteen hours or so, but I’ve got lots of great music thanks to all my friends and family who burnt cds for my trip. I’ll be back either wednesday night or thursday morning, and I’m looking forward to seeing everyone again. 🙂