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Sometimes just stepping off, or jumping, into the unknown is in and of itself the victory. Sometimes venturing out of our comfort zone is really what it’s all about, no matter the result.

Last week was a bit of a test for me in this regard. For the first time ever, I submitted a piece of work to a writing contest. Actually, I submitted pieces to two contests.

The first one was easier for me. It’s the CBC non-fiction contest. The only criteria was a word count of no more than 2000. And clearly, it must be non-fiction. Done. Submitted. I like that little story – but then it’s about my life, or rather a certain experience I look back at fondly. So of course I like it. To this competition, I even submitted a second piece! It’s much shorter, and about my first memory.

Cool. Felt good to submit.

Now comes the waiting to see what, if anything, comes of it. And I do mean wait… The “long list” gets published in September. Ugh. I’m sure there are a great many entries, so it’s not that surprising. Still, I’d like to know sooner than that! Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I expect to win or even be long-listed. I’d just like to know. I guess I still need to learn how to just let it go and accept the not knowing. Always a work in progress!

Then there’s the second competition. A piece of fiction, which had to include a black notebook and a $20,000 windfall, and be between 600-2000 words. For some reason, this one felt uncomfortable. So much so, I nearly didn’t submit! I went back and forth in my head – I will, it’s a good little story. I won’t, it’s just a silly story. I will. I won’t. And on and on.

At the last minute, I did. Why not? I’d done the work, so might as well. And this one is actually already published online. Maybe that’s why it made me feel uncomfortable – knowing it would be there, living online. It’s a site called Vocal – a forum for writers to submit their work, build readership, enter competitions (with prize money) and even make a little money. The more your work is read, the more money you make. It’s not a lot of money, mind you – it certainly won’t make you rich, but hey. Why not?

Shameless self-promotion side-bar. Would you take a few minutes to read my piece? As a new contributor to the site, it would be good for my profile. And if you want to “like” my piece, that would be awesome too. And really, NO PRESSURE! Apparently you need to sign up to be able to “like”, and that could be taking things too far. If it is, just step away.

Ugh…enough of that.

If you had told me a year ago that I would write and submit three pieces to two competitions, I would have looked at you sideways and said “really?” I’ve always enjoyed writing, but hadn’t put much thought into it. Now that I have done this, I feel a sense of accomplishment. That’s right, whether my work is deemed worthy of a prize or not, it feels amazing simply to have sent it in.

Sometimes you just need to take that step. Even if it feels like you’re jumping off a swing into the abyss. What’s the worst that can happen? People won’t like what I’ve written? Oh well. Not everyone’s going to think my pieces are fun, or good or exciting or well-written. I’m not trying to please everyone. I’m just writing, and putting it out there.

And the putting it out there feels good. The putting it out there is the accomplishment.

I can’t seem to help myself these days – I’m still thinking about travels past and future. Why not? So here are a few more fun and whacky moments that make me smile.

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1.Ever receive a call at a phone booth, that you weren’t expecting?

Okay, I promise there will be stories from places other than London – but this one, this one is something else. One of my best friends had come to visit, on her way to backpacking through Europe. Just before leaving Canada, A.M. had started dating T, but he was not on this trip. One evening we were hanging out at my apartment in St. John’s Wood. Allison’s brother C and my boyfriend R walked in, announcing there was a call for A.M. What???

Every day A.M. would call T from a payphone at the park right across the street. He would call her back so that she didn’t have to keep loading the phone with change. T was missing her, and his friends at work told him to call. He resisted at first, knowing she wouldn’t be at the phone booth waiting. Then he figured why not just call?

As the pay phone rang, C and R were walking by, and decided to answer. When they heard someone ask for A.M., they told him to hold on and came to get her.

Crazy. Funny. Awesome. We could barely believe it, and still laugh at the memory. FYI, A.M. and T are still together, happily married.


2.Dutch passport control.

I was in Belfort, France for work, and heading to Amsterdam for a quick visit before flying back to Vancouver. I left my little inn in the mountains at about 5am, which in and of itself felt strange. It was dark out, nobody was up but me, and feeling like a spy in a novel, I slipped out the door.

I decided to take the train from Belfort, as I love train travel. The journey took me from Belfort to Brussels, where I boarded the train to Amsterdam. In Antwerp the train would split into two separate trains, both going to Amsterdam, but by different routes. Before we got to that stop, the conductor looked at my ticket and told me I needed to change cars to be in the train that matched the route on my ticket. I did what I was told.

Once we crossed over into Holland, Dutch border patrol came on to check our passports and tickets (ah the days pre European Union!). The conversation that ensued when I showed them my passport and ticket was this:

Him: You are on the wrong train. You need to pay XXXX more (I can’t remember what the amount was, somewhere around $40 Canadian). Cash, of course.

Me: But my ticket is for Amsterdam, and this train is going to Amsterdam.

Him: But you should have been on the train going via the western Dutch border, and this train is going via the eastern Dutch border.

Me: But we are still going to Amsterdam, and my ticket is for Amsterdam.

Him: You are from Canada, right?

Me: Yes, I am.

Him: Sighing….It would be like if you bought a train ticket from Canada to Mexico to go along the western border, but got on the train that went down the eastern border. The price would be different.

How the heck was I going to argue that one? First of all, Holland is the size of a postage stamp – unlike Canada. Second, who takes a train from Canada to Mexico? Third, if there were trains from Canada to Mexico, would you have to board in Winnipeg…and decide if you wanted the east or west coast route? I had to bite my tongue not to laugh in his face.

I paid. The experience was well worth the cash. I hope he enjoyed a nice dinner…

3.Airport transfer in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

I have a full post on this little story, so I won’t go into great detail here. Suffice it to say that it remains one of my favourite experiences. Sometimes you just have to trust that the universe has your back and that all will be well – despite someone taking your passport and boarding pass because you apparently needed to have your luggage tags changed, even though they were checked into your final destination when leaving Bangkok.

It was a good reminder that in this day and age of technology, where travel is easy and you don’t have to stop and speak to locals, it is always better to actually do so. They might even buy you breakfast, just because.

4. Lufthansa special treatment.

It’s not often you are met at your plane and chauffeured to your next flight! We had left London an hour late, which meant I landed in Munich at the time I was to be boarding my flight to Rome. I asked the attendant if I would be put on a later flight. After looking into it, she told me a vehicle would meet us on the tarmac, I would be taken to border control so they could stamp my passport, then driven to my plane. I would make the flight. I asked her if my luggage would also have a car – she didn’t think it was as funny a question as I did.

It was something else. When we got to the plane for Rome, we arrived at the same time as the busses of people from the terminal. The busses would not unload until I got out of the vehicle and on the plane. Instead of not making my flight, I was the first one on. Mind blown.

My luggage did not get so lucky. It arrived the following day.

5. Columbian Adventure – my first military check point.

While in Bogotà, a friend and I were invited to a little island off the north coast called Isla Fuerte.

We flew from Bogotà to Montería, where we were picked up at the airport and driven through the countryside to the coastal town of La Rada. From there we would take a 30-minute boat ride to the island.

On our way to La Rada, we were stopped by Columbian military for a “routine check”. Andrés (our host) asked us to give him our passports, and get out of the jeep (we all had to). He assured us there was nothing to worry about. This is a man who worked in government and was involved in the sport/Olympic world, and has a house on the island. He was no stranger to this. To me, being out in jungle like countryside, with military officials and their machine guns checking our documentation felt surreal.

Thankfully, he was right. It was “business as usual” for them. And we were quickly back on the road. Phew!

6.That time I got to sit in the cockpit for landing.

Clearly this was pre-9/11. I was flying from Vancouver to Paris via London and couldn’t sleep, so asked to go speak with the pilots. The airplane was a Lockheed 10-11, and the cockpit had a crew of three – pilot, co-pilot and navigation guy. There was also a jumper seat behind the pilot, which I was invited to sit in while we chatted. Eventually a flight attendant came to get me as they were about to serve breakfast before landing. I said my goodbyes and thank you’s, and the pilot said “see you again on your way home.” I mentioned I would be flying back to Montreal, not Vancouver, and he said he flew that route as well. “Then I’ll see you, and maybe be in here for take-off and landing?” I figured it didn’t hurt to ask.

As breakfast ended, the flight attendant came to find me and asked if I wanted to go back into the cockpit. I nodded as my insides screamed HELL YES! I buckled myself into the jumper seat, which gave me a clear view out the window. Our pilot had asked the co-pilot which runway we were assigned. It was runway “5”. He requested a change to runway “1”, and I watched as the city approached. Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, St. Paul’s Cathedral all came into view. The crew was pointing everything out to me, and I didn’t have the heart to tell them that I’d lived in London for a year and knew what I was looking at. The plane was on auto-pilot for much of the approach, and then the pilot took over and landed us safe and sound. As they did their post-flight communications and checks, I whispered a thank you and silently left, not believing my incredible luck.

As I look forward to the days where travel will be allowed again, I marvel and chuckle over some of the experiences I have had. Travel is truly a wonderful education.

Get out and see the world – if and when you can. There’s so much to experience. You don’t have to go far, and it doesn’t have to cost you much. You just need to open your eyes, ears and heart and see what’s out there for you.

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Have you been flooded with Valentine’s Day ads, junk emails, “Valentine’s Day gifts for you” notices, etc.? I mean really – laundry detergent Valentine’s Day special? WTF???

As much as I am a romantic at heart, this day confounds me. Why do people get so excited about a greeting-card-mandated day of romance? When we are in love with someone, do we need to be told to celebrate that and each other? Do we really need to be reminded to throw a little romance into our days? Don’t misunderstand me…in my 20’s I was right in there, wanting flowers and dinner and gifts. Now, not so much. Even if I wasn’t currently single (“he” is very elusive….where the hell is he hiding anyway?), it wouldn’t be my thing.

Valentine’s Day hasn’t always been kind. And I’m fairly certain it’s still not always kind to everyone.

Years ago I was working at a really fun, small, creative office. We had staff events regularly – any excuse was a good one. Then came the Valentine’s Day event, where we were going to go back to grade school and put anonymous Valentine’s cards in a make-shift post box. We’d meet for snacks and the cards would be handed out. When I first heard of this my whole being went into total panic mode – my body started to quake, and I felt sick to my stomach. And I’m pretty sure something along the lines of “Ugh, I HATE this idea!” came out of my mouth.

Why such a violent reaction? Grade 6. Grade 6 Valentine’s Day. I went to school that day happily armed with cards for the class. And I received…ZERO…in return. That’s right, a big fat zero in return. I remember thinking “Even LE got cards! Even he didn’t give me one!” (he was a little different, and the one everyone loved to make fun of – lord knows what was happening in his home life, but in Grade 6 that’s not something you think about. Most of the time I just felt sorry for him.) A few of my classmates came to see me with cries of “I’m sorry, I just forgot about yours.” Right…like THAT made me feel better. Me being me, I shoved the feelings aside and got on with things. I didn’t even really think about it again, as I got busy with high school, university, and everything else after that.

Then came Valentine’s Day at work. I was suddenly thrown back into the Grade 6 memory – and mentality. Yuck. I figured it hit this hard for a reason. The memories and feelings had broken through the surface to be processed and let go. So I worked on that.

Rest assured, I am not sharing this story to get sympathy of any kind. I am all good. And I am sure many have similar experiences. Likely there was a lesson I needed to learn and this was the way I was going to do so. One thing is for sure, I came out of that with a lot more empathy and care for those on the fringes, those not in the “it” crowd. Who knows, maybe I would have been a snooty little pain in the ass if I hadn’t experienced this. I like to think not, but you never know.

I did participate in the work event, and I even had fun. Come to think of it, this office, with these people, was one of the very best places to work. I still look back on those days fondly.

All that said, I don’t see why spending three times as much for flowers, chocolates and dinner on a date determined by someone else, has such an allure. Give me flowers any other day of the year, just because. I’ll appreciate those more and you won’t drain your wallet. As for chocolate, you can buy me that every day! Just make it dark chocolate – pure and simple.

When I was living in Vancouver, some friends decided that instead of a romantic dinner alone, they wanted a “Valentine’s Day for friends – for everyone we love” evening. They wanted to break the usual Valentine’s Day mold. What a fabulous idea. And maybe that’s another reason I’m not big on this day – I don’t generally like being told what to do and feel and when. I’ve always resisted being labeled or categorized or told I can or can’t do something. Hmmmm…may need to ponder that some more. There’s always more to learn.

But enough of my ranting over Valentine’s Day. As it approaches and you are inundated with ads and junk emails about it…take a moment and think about:

  • all those you love, and how lucky you are to have them
  • those who love you, and how lucky you are to have them (and how lucky they are to have you…seriously!)
  • those you have loved and who for whatever reason are no longer in your life – send them gratitude and love

Spread a little love….Valentine’s Day and every day.

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Oh travel adventures, how I miss you and look forward to having new ones again.

This is the longest I have been in one place in over seven years. I’m grateful for the time to “nest” and be still. And yet, I miss the adventures – the excitement of experiencing something new, meeting new people, or going back to old favourites. So as I sit here waiting for the pandemic to end, and to be able to travel again, I can’t help but look back on some of the trips and times abroad. So many discoveries, adventures, beautiful moments, and experiences that were a little out of the ordinary – ones that still make me give my head a shake – and smile. I love these quirky moments.

Here are some of my favourites.

Me, just before my departure to London. This is the hat that came with me to the UK. Wish I still had it!

1.First trip abroad – London. Warm and fuzzy airport arrival (not so much!).

I was 19, and it was the first time I got onto an airplane. I was London bound. At the time the IRA was active and Thatcher was still in power. When we landed at Heathrow and the plane came to a stop, I got up out of my seat still half asleep (a quick overnight flight from Montreal) and made my way to door. I was surprised to see that we were still on the tarmac – close to the terminal, but not actually at the terminal. We had to walk down the mobile stairs and make our way in. And what was there to greet us? The British Army, lined up, with their machine guns in hand. Yikes! Not exactly a warm and fuzzy welcome – somewhat intimidating for this kid from Canada. I was suddenly, very much, wide awake.

2.Meeting my first friend in London.

After a short mini panic session, I got out my backpackers’ guide and figured out how to get to a youth hostel. You see, I got on the plane without any idea of what I would actually do and where I would go upon arrival. I knew I would head to a hostel, but hadn’t figured out which one, nor pre-booked anything. I found one that was fairly close, and accessible by Tube. It was too early to get into the room (they shut them during the day, and you had to be back in by 1:00am, if memory serves). So I sat on some chairs with my hat over my eyes trying to nap, until I could go in and get settled. The chairs were set up by a pay phone, in a quiet corner away from the desk.

Suddenly I could hear the following: “I’m fine, mum, just send money…… I’m fine. I’m fine mum, send money. I’ll see you next week.”

I opened my eyes, and was greeted by a smile and a “mums!” (said with a shrug and a laugh). My introduction to JB, who was in London on his way back to Detroit, having sailed across the Atlantic with a Polish tall ship. My first week in London was his final week of adventure before heading home. It was the perfect way to arrive – spending time with someone else who wanted to discover the city.

3.Bail money?

Still in my first week in London, I met two Irish guys and another Canadian girl at the youth hostel. One evening we headed to a small, posh pub in St. John’s Wood. Just before last call (which was 11:00pm), a crowd came in – so they could be seen to have been at the pub, though they could only afford one drink. All of a sudden there was a rush towards the door. I stepped onto the stairs that we were standing in front of, so I wouldn’t be swept away, and looked left. There was a fight starting – a “skinhead” and a “new wave”. Police were quick on the scene, and as they walked past us, one of the guys I was with said “We need to leave now. See the skinheads outside? Do not make eye contact, just walk past and keep going”. There were five skinheads standing by the pub entry with sticks and bats in their hands. They had sent one member of their little gang in to pick a fight, while they waited for the unlucky target to come out, at which point they all would gang up on him and beat him. The idea of this being a way to pass time still makes me feel sick. The two guys I was with would have been considered “new wave”, so no eye contact was key. Once we were far enough away, one of my Irish friends said that he had heard a police officer quietly mutter “anyone who doesn’t leave now, will be taken in.” Can you imagine? Me in my first week, calling my mum and saying “I’m fine, but can you send bail money?” Ha! Thankfully that did not happen.

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4.More pub fun.

My second week in London. I was in another pub, this time near Piccadilly Circus. It was still afternoon and we had stopped for some food. A man came in and went to the bar, but was refused. He was already drunk so the barkeep decided not to serve him. The man didn’t say much, and left. A few minutes later….a brick came flying in through the window about three feet away from my head.

Seriously, all of the above in my first 10 or so days in London – my first time out of Canada! Was this a test? A challenge to see if I would stay? I did stay, and I didn’t see anything remotely like this again. If it was a test, I guess I passed.

5.Confusion over my accent when I speak French.

Well into my time in London now. I was living with four other people in a house in East Finchley. We decided to have a house party, as one does. While out the night before, one of my roommates and I met a rugby team from a Parisian economics school, who Alison invited to our party. They all showed up. I was surprised and somewhat impressed that they were able to find their way to our house. While talking with some of them, in French of course, this….this eventually happened:

Dude: It’s very odd…. (with an utterly confused look on his face).

Me: What?

Dude: You speak like a peasant……….but you do not look like one! (still a very confused look on his face).

Me: Um, yes, well….probably makes sense if you think about it. Who left France in search of a better life?

Seriously dude… So freakin’ funny! The look on his face was just something else.

6.Ferry ride to France.

Alison and I decided we wanted to go to Paris for a weekend. We took the train, which also involved an overnight ferry ride from England to France. At the time the ferries were run by a French company. As we tried to get settled on board, it was dark and cold out. Yet all the seating was partially outdoors. We made our way around the boat and eventually found an indoor room – a dining room all set up, but completely empty. The sign on the door said “No Entry”. Hmmm… I decided that wasn’t going to do, so I started chatting with some of the guys working on the ferry. I’m telling you, this is not the only time speaking French and being from Canada has helped me on my travels. We were soon invited into the dining room, and when one of the guys said he was worried they would get into trouble for letting us in, another said “It’s okay, we’ll just tell them she’s my cousin from Quebec.” Yes, yes we will! The next thing I new someone else showed up with a bottle of Malibu and juice. Not a great drink, by any means, but we emptied it, and spent the ferry trip chatting in the coziness of the “no entry”, indoor room. We arrived in France warm and happy, said thank you, and off we were.

I love to travel, and if I can help it, there’s no need to go without at least a little comfort, even if I don’t have any money 🙂

Friends, roommates, parties, travel around the UK, goofy times….lots of wonderful memories. Unfortunately the camera I had was crap. Fortunately the memories never fade.

I hadn’t intended on this being all about moments during my first time abroad, however the more I thought about it, the more I remembered. There are so many more fun, quirky stories from various trips. I’ll have to keep them for another day.

The things you experience, the people you meet, when you go beyond your day-to-day routine, comfort zones and country borders. No wonder this broad loves to go abroad!

London is still one of my favourite places to visit. I’m looking forward to being back there again.

If you have any favourite quirky travel experiences and feel like sharing them, please do so in the comments. I’d love to read about them.

Or what I like to call “Reinventing My Wheel

Transformation. Re-invention. Re-definition. Mid-Life Crisis. Call it whatever you like. There are times in one’s life when one decides they want something different. There’s something about a new calendar year that can prompt these thoughts. This year, with the “slow down and breathe” aspect of the pandemic, it might even be more of a thing.

I have experienced a few of these moments – not all of them coinciding with a new year. Allow me to speak a little about some of them.

I graduated high-school at 16. Living in the province of Quebec that would normally mean two years of CEGEP before going to university. But that wasn’t for me. I knew what I wanted to study – Journalism – and I knew where – Carleton University in Ottawa. If I could get into university and study what I wanted, why spend two years of my life in CEGEP? 

It’s not like my high-school years were so fantastic that I wanted to extend those. I was awkward, a little nerdy, shy, and lacked confidence. One day the boy I thought was the cutest in school asked me why I wasn’t going to CEGEP in Lennoxville, “that’s where everyone’s going,” he said. I just looked at him and replied “that’s exactly why.” 

I don’t know which one of us was more surprised by my answer (he knew how I felt about him).

Even at 16 I was aware that I could go to a different city, away from those I had spent my high school years with, and completely change who I was – nobody would have any pre-conceived ideas about me. And I liked that.

Time For A West Coast Transformation, via London…of course…

After my three years at Carleton University I decided to go on a UK adventure and spent a year in London (I fell in love with the accent in grade five when I saw an English movie called “Melody” on t.v. – I’m still a sucker for the accent). It was a fabulous year of discovering a new city and country, hanging out with friends, going to nightclubs (mostly The London Hippodrome by Leicester Square, which has since been turned into a casino…yuck), and experiencing my first real love (did I mention I am a sucker for a British accent???).

I was able to enter the UK on a “working holiday” given that I am Canadian and part of the Commonwealth. The money made really mostly went to hanging out with friends in pubs and going to nightclubs…and hair product (clearly!).

I remember the moment I decided it was time to come back to Canada – I was at a Brian Adams concert at the Hammersmith Odeon theatre. As soon as he and his band came onto the stage wearing jeans, t-shirts and boots I thought to myself “it’s time to go home.” But I didn’t want to go back to Ottawa, the Eastern Townships in Québec, and I didn’t want to go to Montréal.

So with a bag of clothes and $200 cash, I flew to Vancouver. I had never been, however it just seemed like the place I wanted to be.

New city, new life, “new me”.

I stayed in Vancouver for over 20 years; gathering new friends; getting married (and divorced); working in the art world, design world, and eventually the world of the Olympic Games. 

Taking advantage of the West Coast and Vancouver’s lifestyle, I developed a love for swimming. I had always loved being in the water, and decided to take swimming lessons so that I could improve my technique, and actually know what I was doing when it came to swimming lanes. I also started running with a group of friends, and managed three half marathons. I started working out in a boxing gym, which I miss like crazy (don’t worry, I do not spar, as I detest striking humans, but give me some pads to punch and kick and wham!). And of course I got into yoga. I used to say that the combination of boxing and yoga kept me in balance – one to take out my frustrations and another to get ‘zen’. 🙂

Kits Pool – my favourite spot. 137.5 metres of swimming bliss.

Nobody who knew me as a child would have described me as “athletic”, including myself. I loved all sports, was an avid fan, knew just about everything there was to know about them, but I wasn’t any good at them – the proverbial “last one picked for the team.” This was definitely a “new athletic me” (and I still do all of this as much as possible).

International Adventures.

After 3 ½ years with the Vancouver 2010 organizing committee, I decided I liked the nature of working in events – you work hard for a pre-determined amount of time, the event is delivered, and then you can take as much time off as you want before moving onto the next event. So for the past 7 years this is what I have done.

This time the “new me” was an international events specialist, and I was able to discover new countries like Turkey, Azerbaijan, UAE, Qatar, Argentina, Columbia, Greece, Russia and Japan. Seeing so many different countries and cultures really does enhance one’s overall life experience – giving new perspective and appreciation for a great many things (not the least of which is the sheer luck of having been born a Canadian).

Sunset over Sultanahmet. I started calling Istanbul “the love of my life”. I get back there as much as I can. Well, pre-Covid I did. Now I wait until I can do so again. If you go deeper into my blog you will find many on this city. I can’t seem to write enough about L-Istanbul.
I was fascinated by Moscow’s onion domes the first time I saw them on TV. It felt surreal to see them in person. So beautiful! See my Moscow blog for more info – if you feel like it.

Covid-19 Induced Transformation.

With Covid-19 and the postponement of the Tokyo Olympic Games to 2021, the project I spent a year working on came to an end. 

This time I chose to come back to Montréal, and found myself contemplating my next “re-invention”. 

I decided to take some writing courses. I’ve always enjoyed writing and have wanted to get back to this blog, which I started some nine years ago (but wasn’t really writing in, at least not consistently). When I first looked at the courses offered by Concordia University I saw that writing and sharing one’s writing for review and critique by the class was part of the programme. 

Oh oh…what???  People will read what I write and critique it…to my face? Not sure I am comfortable with that idea! 

The thought of this really made me nervous and uncomfortable. However, I have come to see that it really is quite fun. We all write and share, and there is a lot to be gained from having people react and comment on what you have written. You also gain as much by listening to what others write.

Although much of the work is done on computer, I still love the physical act of putting pen to paper.

While I still continue to be involved in events, I feel the winds of change. So the question is “what’s next”? In my previous re-inventions, I have always had a clear idea of where I wanted to go, or what I wanted to do. This time, not so much. 

So I am concentrating on doing things that I enjoy, and will see where that leads to. Sometimes you just have to jump and see where you land.

If you are feeling the itch to change things up again, here is what I “know” – based on my experience:

  1. When you hear a little voice inside telling you to make a change, try something new, try something you have always wanted to do – do it. Follow that voice. 
  2. Do NOT follow the voice in your head that doubts, questions and tells you “you can’t do that!” Although it sounds like that voice is trying to protect you, it’s really only curbing your potential. 
  3. Talk to a few trusted friends. We all need a few key people to be our supporters, cheerleaders, and sounding board.
  4. Some people will tell you what you are doing is crazy – and that is just fine. Lots of new things are viewed as crazy. And remember, we all have different values and comfort zones.
  5. If it feels a little uncomfortable, that’s okay. Moving through that discomfort is what helps you grow and see what you are really capable of.
  6. Do it safely – on your terms and in your time. 
  7. As long as whatever you are doing does not hurt you or anyone else…it’s all good.
  8. Know that the only person that gets to decide who you are is….YOU!

At the end of the day, you are not actually becoming someone “new” – you are tapping into one of the many wonderful things you are. No need to label it.

I heard something recently that put a smile on my face… If you don’t try, then you will never know where try will lead you. So give it a try…see where it leads you and have a shit load of fun along the way!

On the ferry from the Europe side to the Asia side of Istanbul. If I hadn’t listened to that little voice inside that said I wanted to try working on events (instead of a “steady” job with a company) I would never have discovered the beauty of Istanbul. I would not have the amazing friends I made there – and what a shame that would be.

This week I feel the need for a little levity. So here’s another dabble at some creative writing. I had a lot of fun writing this one.

I hope you enjoy!

Ooohhhh is she reaching for me? Yes…I think she is…

Wait…

No…

Not me…

She went for the spatula again. Ugh. Why the spatula? I can mix those scones just as well as the spatula can. Even if I am made of wood and not rubber. 

I may be crazy, but I think there’s just no replacement for a wooden spoon, and I’m so happy that’s what I am. 

I love it when I am called upon to soften butter – even cold butter is no match for me! My favourite though, is when I get to mix chocolate chip cookies. The creamy batter and the nuggets of chocolate are a joy to swirl around. Chocolate chip cookies are also a guarantee that I’ll get tickled by the kids in the house as they lick the batter off me. One of these days I am going to laugh so hard I’ll split, I’m just sure of it!

Every now and again I get to take a bath in a pot of hot soup or sauce. I especially like that when it’s cold outside. The days where curry or chili is on the menu, I bask in the spices and and hope that I get to lounge in their warmth for a while. I always feel like I have had a spa treatment on those occasions. Although, I could do without the turmeric and how it turns my natural wood tones yellow.

There are a few of us wooden spoons in the kitchen and I like that. When I wake up from my recurring nightmare of being used to spank a naughty child and breaking in two, they understand and can calm me down. We aren’t sure this ever really happens, or even where we heard about it, but we know it’s not something we ever want to experience. We would all much prefer to remain here and in use until we’re just too tired to work again.

It’s bad enough we get thrown into the dishwasher and have to put up with hot water forcefully splashing all around us, almost to the point of drowning. I can’t begin to imagine how much splitting in two after whacking someone would hurt. I much prefer it when she decides to gently wash me with in the kitchen sink with her hands and the washcloth. A bath, a massage and a warm cloth. Now that just feels good.

Hmmmm. As I lay here and wait for her to call upon me again, I’ll just think of that – a bath, massage and warm cloth.

Aaaaahhhhh bath time!

***

Special thanks to A Simple Sketchbook for bringing Sammy to life!

Happy New Year everyone!

I may be a little late in saying that – it’s because I have been struggling somewhat with this post – what to say, how to say it.

It seems there is more to ponder this new year than in previous. 2020 has been a challenging one for many. I have heard and seen a lot of “good-bye to the worst year ever” type of messages and posts – and mostly from people who do not have to struggle to put a roof over their heads, food on their tables, and who don’t have to worry about whether or not they will make it back alive and unhurt, every time they leave their homes.

Perspective…. Perspective is key.

I know that this is different for all of us – and whatever our feelings and fears are about this pandemic we need to understand each other.

As much as it is okay to say you are scared and depressed and need help, it is also okay to say that you are doing quite fine. I spoke with the Ladies Who Dine last weekend, and when I said that for me 2020 was actually a pretty okay year, one said she was happy and relieved to hear me say that – because it is the same for her. Why can’t we say it’s been an okay year???

Every year has its ups and downs, struggles, delights and lessons learned. Every year has moments of “the worst ever”, “the best ever”, and everything in between.

It certainly didn’t end up being the year I thought it would be – with the project I was working on coming to a halt and a return to Canada much sooner than expected in April. Thankfully my circumstances are still very good. And I am keenly aware that I am very fortunate. I have also not lost anyone to Covid-19. I know a few people who have caught it, for some it was really rough, for others not so much. Yes, I am indeed lucky. And I am grateful.

I have been working full-time since I graduated from university at 19. I’ve worked hard, been lucky, have seen and done a lot, and met many amazing people – in many wonderful places.

So as I look back at 2020, I see in it the gift of time.

Time to just “be”, relax and restore.

Time to get back into the regular, morning, practice of breath work and meditation.

Time spent with family and friends – all physical distancing precautions taken when in person, and lots of video chats.

Time out in nature – walking, running, cycling – moving my body and marvelling at the beauty around me.

Time to do things that I enjoy and am curious about – like writing, taking a few courses and heck, why not try some voiceover coaching sessions? It’s fun.

Time to read…actual physical books, which has always been my preference. With travelling so much the past seven years, my tablet was best for reading – but it’s just not the same as holding a book in my hands.

Time to have all my “stuff” taken out of storage, unpacked and put into place – which is leading to precious moments reliving what I have been calling my “charmed life” for years now. Ooohhhh the 80’S!!!

Time to just slow things down for a little while and enjoy things like canning fruit, baking, a little home DIY, and of course some quality (and not so quality) streaming of movies, shows, etc.

It is my hope that we can all remember to slow down a little, enjoy and be grateful for the many blessings we do have – the so-called “little things” that are much greater in meaning and worth than we sometimes remember. When things “get back to normal”, let’s remember to stop every now and again, and enjoy and be grateful for what we have.

Let me leave you today with two of my favourite prayers/meditations. I highly recommend taking a few quiet moments regularly to just sit, breath and repeat these words to yourself. It creates positive, loving energy – and there can never me too much of that! Let’s face it, the world needs a lot of it right now (and not only for pandemic-related reasons…).

1: Buddha’s teaching on loving kindness:

Whether…

Weak or strong

Long, medium or short

Tiny or enormous

Visible or invisible

Nearby or far away

Born or unborn

…May all beings, without exception, be joyful and happy

2: Loving kindness meditation. Think of someone, see them clearly in your mind’s eye and send them the following thoughts/wishes:

  • May you be safe and protected (repeat 3-10 times)
  • May your body be healthy and strong (repeat 3-10 times)
  • May your mind be clear and at ease (repeat 3-10 times)
  • May you be loved (repeat 3-10 times)

You can do this for: someone you really love, of whom the mere thought fills your heart; someone you love, maybe not quite as much as the first person; someone to whom you feel indifferent; someone who really challenges you; yourself (don’t forget to do this for yourself too!). You can do all of these, or a combination, or one of them. You can even just send this out to the world, without focussing on anyone in particular.

Then sit with the loving energy you have just created, and take that with you for the remainder of your day or night.

Stay safe, be smart, stay healthy.

Let’s work together to move past the pandemic.

Let’s work together to create a world where EVERYONE feels safe, seen, heard, cared for and given every opportunity to have a wonderful life.

And let’s get to a point where this single lady, living alone, can hug her friends again! I miss hugs….

As I’ve written before, I love me some HGTV. And when I can’t find something I like there, you might just catch me watching something on the Food Network, or The Great Canadian Baking Show or The Great British Baking Show. I have always loved cooking – be it a main course or dessert. I think I was about six years old when I baked my first cake by myself (mum wasn’t far, but I did it alone). So I guess it’s no surprise I love a good baking show. For that matter, I also love watching Nailed It, where people who can’t bake…try. It’s so funny, and I have to give them props for attempting the crazy stuff they are asked to bake – I’m not sure I would!

A few years ago, I spent the better part of a three-day bone broth cleanse watching the Food Network. I couldn’t eat anything, but I sure could watch people cook and bake all day! No wonder I came out of that cleanse and immediately made brunch for about 20 people – even though only ten or so were actually in attendance. Oh, I do make myself laugh.

I went a little crazy with the baking when I got back from Tokyo – taking full advantage of having an oven once again. Thankfully I calmed down a bit on that one (eating too much of it myself!).

This summer, a friend mentioned the desire to can peaches — I was all in. I love peaches, and when they are in season – so amazing. So why not try to preserve some of that summer goodness for cold winter days? We looked online to see what equipment we needed, and find instructions. Couldn’t be much easier – a massive canning pot, pot-lifter, and jars – lots of jars.

Although I am saving most of the peaches for the dead of winter…I did open a jar. I must say, they are DELICIOUS! The only mistake we made was not canning enough of them. Next year, three times as much!

While working on the peaches I mentioned that I have another friend who married into a large Italian family, and they can tomato sauce every year – and I mean A LOT of tomato sauce. V was interested in doing this too, so I called A.M. to get the details on what to do. This also seemed easy enough. All we needed to get was a food mill – and more jars, of course.

When I saw these bushels of roma tomatoes at the Atwater Market I got super excited! I wasn’t going to be doing 15 bushels like A.M. though. One, let’s start with one bushel, and see how that goes.

The process here is a tad more involved and laborious than the canning of peaches.

1) Boil the tomatoes until the skin cracks.

2) Put them in a colander and press out the water (so the sauce won’t be too liquid).

3) Run them through the food mill to remove the skin and seeds. Our one bushel took four hours of food milling…manually cranking the mill for four hours! Next year I’m definitely splurging the $100 or so for an electric food mill.

4) Once all the tomatoes have been put through the mill, cook up some onions and garlic in olive oil, add the tomatoes, some salt, and let it simmer for a few hours.

5) Put some fresh basil in the bottom of the jars and fill with sauce while it is still super hot (when you put the piping-hot contents into a jar, you don’t need to boil the jars to seal them).

6) Place the jars upside down on the counter and let them sit for at least 12 hours.

There’s something very satisfying about hearing the ‘pop’ when the jars seal.

Fresh tomato sauce is now ready for pasta of all kinds. And let me tell you, it is pretty damn tasty!

I’ve been making my own apple sauce for years now. I have it almost every day with oatmeal or granola for breakfast. Normally I’d be making it every weekend. But then with all the jars I have, I thought to myself why do this every weekend? It’s apple season, get a bunch and can it!

All in all, pretty pleased with the canning this year. And looking forward to doing more of it in future.

While doing the canning, I found myself thinking that our ancestors really were on to something. Okay, I know a lot of it was out of necessity, however having the freshness of available fruit canned and at the ready for consumption during winter is just smart. Plus it feels good to make this myself and reach into the pantry to get some more once a jar is done. Next year I’m adding pears to the mix. Yes, it’s “convenient” to buy it at the super market, but it does not taste like this! It is also very satisfying to see the fruits of your labour.

Now that we are well past the canning season, and with Christmas around the corner, you know that means — time for baking! Even though Covid-19 means Christmas won’t be quite the parade of dinners and time with family and friends it usually is, you can still bake and share that love. So V and I decided that we would bake, exchange recipes and baking. Because I am in V & P’s bubble, and they are in mine, we decided to bake together. Also, I live alone, so for sanity reasons am allowed to visit someone or have someone visit. I mean, I love my own company, but even I get tired of hearing myself talk sometimes! It’s great to throw in another voice or two every now and again.

A quick chat revealed we wanted to make:

  • Chocolate Chip Butter Balls
  • Candy Cane Cookies
  • Date Pinwheels
  • Ginger Cookies
  • Lemon Cookie Sandwiches with Lemon Curd and Meringue filling
  • Caramel Candy
  • Shortbread Cookies
  • Hello Dollys

This was a two-day endeavour. Next year we will start sooner and spread it out more!

The lemon cookies are delicious – however they take a while because of the lemon curd and meringue. I strongly recommend making the curd the day before (which we did, thankfully). And although the recipe says you can make the meringue the day before too, I’m not sure I would – putting it into the piping bag when it’s a day old and has been in the fridge overnight might be a little messy and challenging.

The caramel candy – well that was another story. Day one’s batch became some awesome caramel sauce to have with ice cream. Day two saw V headed to a local kitchen shop in search of a new candy thermometer as the one we used the day before was cheap and not so good. Day two’s batch was a success. Woop woop!

Day one’s results!
A quick look at all the different items baked. Some from my childhood, some from V’s, and a few new recipes thrown in.

I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been in the same place for a while and I’m nesting – big time – but it’s feeling really great to do all of this. Makes this woman want a little house with a little land, enough for a veggie patch and hopefully a few fruit trees (what kind will depend on where I find this little bit of paradise). An old barn or church or house that needs some loving, preferably close to water, would be perfect. I know that sounds like a lot, but why not ask for a lot and see? Things to ponder…. We shall see what happens next.

Almost seven years ago I packed my belongings and put them into storage while working abroad. At that time it no longer made sense to keep a home in Vancouver as I wasn’t going to be there for a year and a half. I had no idea then that my stuff would be in storage for so long.

Having decided to make Montreal home (for now…), it was time to have all that stuff taken out of storage and delivered. Time for me to look through the boxes and remind myself what was in there. For the most part I knew what was there – it’s just that when you haven’t seen something for a while, well, it’s exciting to see it again. After all, I gave away or threw away a lot, and packed only the items I really wanted to keep.

In no particular order…here are the items I found myself most excited to see again.

Ohhhh my vacuum!

I’m not sure if it is funny or sad that I was (and am) so happy to have my vacuum cleaner again. My home has hardwood floors, as you can see. I know plenty of people prefer a broom and a swiffer or mop, but not me. To me a broom just moves dust and dirt around. I much prefer watching the vacuum suck it all up. Knowing that this was on its way I didn’t want to buy another, so I made do with a broom until it got here. Now I can vacuum to my heart’s content!

What feels like a few lifetimes ago, I worked for the Buschlen Mowatt Gallery in Vancouver. My years there saw me work most closely with a handful of artists from France, and one from Montreal. I knew these pieces were safely tucked away and one of the reasons I wanted to paint all the walls before the shipment arrived was so that I could unpack and put these up immediately. During my time at the Gallery I was fortunate enough to travel to Paris and other parts of France to visit the five artists we represented. Bernard Cathelin was one of those artists, and a generous soul. It was impossible to leave a meeting or visit without him insisting on gifting a piece, or two. I have a few framed and up on the walls, and these two are among my favourites – a little burst of colour in the kitchen, and a little café corner, which reminds me of the many wonderful times and meals shared with Bernard and his wife Régine.

Then there’s Chaki. He was really the only Canadian artist I worked with regularly, as most of my time was focussed on international artists. Lucky for me, Chaki’s studio is about a 10-minute walk from my apartment here. I always visit him when I am in Montreal, and now it’s so easy….well, when COVID-19 doesn’t throw a wrench into things…. I can’t visit him these days, but I stay in touch. Chaki recently had a show open at the Musée des Beaux Arts here in Montreal. Unfortunately it had to be a virtual opening, however the plus side of that is you can all have a look. This is important work and near and dear to someone that is near and dear to me. I won’t say any more here, as I could never do it justice.

Then there’s that one piece that I took out of a box and thought…what? Why is that here? It’s not mine….Yikes! I took and photo and sent it to my friend Sherri and asked her if she was missing her piece. Long story about how it got mixed up with mine. All I will say here is that it was a big surprise, and made me laugh. Now all I have to do is get it back to Sherri in Vancouver.

Fond memories of buying the three photos on the left with my brother J while in Merida, Mexico. An amazing city! I literally walked around a corner and almost bumped into a woman who looked exactly like the one in the top photo. Gorgeous. And the photo on the right was taken by an extremely talented photographer, whom I was lucky enough to work with on a few occasions, Rick Collins. This image is from a trip he made to Pakistan. I LOVE it.
Aaahhh, my Corrine Hunt pieces!

I met Corrine Hunt while working for Vancouver 2010. She created the artwork that was used as the design on the Olympic and Paralympic medals. We also ended up gifting the athletes a printed piece – that way if you were an Olympian competing at Vancouver 2010, you received the print in your room at Olympic Village. Then if all went well on the day of your competition, you received a medal with a crop from the print. Each medal was a different crop. Oh man the lengths we went to (just ask the designer who had to create all those crops…)! All worth it though, for sure! I finally got these two prints framed and now they are on the wall, along with another Corrine piece called Flow, that she created for my super-talented film writer and producer friend Carla, to help fund the making of her short film Bona Fide. Clearly I now need to take Flow to the frame shop to have the glass replaced with anti-reflection glass so we can actually see this piece!

And there are more pieces – more art – each with its own story. What a gift.

I am also really happy to see my kitchen stuff again. I didn’t keep a lot – good pots and pans, some wine glasses, my cutlery – you get the idea.

I’m not sure what it is about these dessert cups….but for whatever reason they just bring a smile to my face.

My Starbucks mugs – I have more, but they are at my brother’s in Germany… One day I will be able to go back for a visit, and pick them up.

Every now and then I like a little champagne (Veuve Clicquot s’il vous plait!), sipped in the old, traditional glasses.

As the quote on the package of bath salts says, sometimes you just need to take the plunge! A friend gave me these and yes, I’ve used the bath salts. I hold onto the packaging because it is beautiful, and a good reminder to be someone who takes the plunge instead of wades…

This one both warms my heart and makes me giggle. Oh to be 19 and living in London! What a year that was. I turned 20 while there, and found out that those whacky Brits like to celebrate Guy Fawkes (who tried to blow up parliament) with fireworks on November 5th. Worked well for me as it meant there were fireworks on my birthday, marking the end of my teens with a bang! As I write this, I think I should go back to London for my birthday again – maybe the next milestone one. I mean, why not take advantage of the fireworks!

After posting this photo on social media a friend called and told me how much he loved my “Duran Duran” photo. Funny, and fitting, as I taught myself how to put on eye makeup by looking at photos of their keyboardist Nick Rhodes. True story people, true story.

And that is pretty much it for the items I “rediscovered” while opening my boxes. Thanks for the trip down memory lane (or lanes….).

It seems that COVID-19 has made us pause, look, listen and reflect a little as our “normal” daily life has been interrupted, upset, stalled, sent into spiralling — some or all of that and more. Looking through my stuff intensified the reflection – both on what was, and on what might be going forward.

Most of all, it’s been another great reminder of how privileged and lucky I have been to have a kick-ass family, amazing friends, the opportunity to work in really creative industries, and to travel for both fun and work. I am humbled and grateful. #charmedlife for sure.

About time I came back for part two of my time in Tokyo isn’t it? This woman’s been busy… 🙂

Everyone always talks about the “quirky” nature of Japan. I think that if you live in a society where everyone pretty much wears the same clothes throughout school and is then expected to fall in line with the ‘norms’ while working…it’s no wonder they get creative whenever and however they can. Friends and I marvelled over the fact that when you walk by a dry-cleaner what you see in the window is ALWAYS the same – white shirts, dark suits. ALWAYS. It was so exciting for me when one of the people I worked with wore bow ties instead of a regular tie. He found a way to show his creative side, even in serious meetings. Thank you bow-tie-guy!

Another thing you always hear about are Japanese gardens. And yes, they are beautiful.

I love how they find ways to ensure there are peaceful gardens and green spots in the middle of the towers. No matter where you live, you can find a little respite from all the crowds and the hubbub. They also build around old temples – they don’t destroy them.

Luckily for me Shiba Park is right beside where I lived. It provided me with a wonderful place to go run through, walk through, sit in, and just go to when I wanted to get away from my computer, work and apartment. It was a lovely way to start the day, take a breather, or end the day.

Speaking of work and home….That was pretty much all in the same, roughly 400-square-foot, apartment.

Small, yes. Super-functional, definitely. I actually quite loved this little space. I have to say they really know how to make the most of every square inch – no wasted space here at all. Even though I spent most of my work time here (except for meetings with the local agencies), it really was my little sanctuary.

For the last three months of my time in Tokyo, I had a co-worker (she lived in the apartment below mine). That’s right – two of us working at that little table-come-desk all day long! Thank goodness we are friends as well as co-workers.

I found this place through a company called In The Hood. They were amazing. Extremely helpful in finding the right apartment and ensuring that I had all I needed. As their name suggests, they want to create a neighbourhood of travellers – enabling those who have common interests to meet and exchange ideas, conversation, travel experiences and generally fun times. Having traveled a lot themselves, they understand what people are looking for. On top of all that, when I traveled away from Tokyo for more than a few weeks, they stored my luggage and rented out the space to someone else – saving me from paying rent while I wasn’t there. If you, or anyone you know, are looking for a furnished apartment in Tokyo, I highly recommend In The Hood.

I was in the Higashi-Azabu area. Very central, easy access to the metro system (which is simple to use and amazing), and a great mix of both local and international inhabitants. Everything I needed was close by, including three grocery stores and a multitude of restaurants. There was this little spot that always had a line-up around lunch time – and I mean little – two customers at a time at most. So one day we decided to go check it out. It ended up being a little bakery/dessert spot. We still have no idea why people lined up to get in though. Let’s just say that with all the great food in Tokyo…dessert is not their forté. At least not that I could find. When I did, it was a “French” bakery…

My favourite neighbourhood restaurant. Sushi rolls are not the norm in Japan, so the fact that this tasty little treat was in my neighbourhood was definitely a nice surprise, and perk.
And right around the corner was this place. The hairdresser was a very cool looking, long-haired, well-dressed man. So I decided to give it a try. Let me tell you….it is custom in Japan that when they wash your hair during your appointment they also give you a really lovely head massage. I could have gone every day…and when I told him that he laughed. Most people think it would have been really expensive, however my first trip to a hairdresser in Montreal cost me more….What’s up with that???

Up the hill from my place you will find a very busy tourist attraction….

As you saw in my Tokyo Times Part 1 post, I didn’t spend ALL of my time in my neighbourhood. I even had some guests come to town. One of the first places everyone wanted to see was Shibuya Crossing.

And this isn’t at a terribly busy time…at night there are even more people crossing every which way. You’d think there would be tons of people bumping into each other, but no. Somehow it all just works.

Once you are done having fun in the crazy crosswalk, there are a myriad of little streets and alleys to explore. It is very easy to get lost. Luckily it is also very easy to find fun spots and great food.

Shibuya Crossing at night. There’s definitely something about night time – an additional layer of energy provided by the dark skies and flashing neon lights.

Another popular spot was Team Lab. They have a few locations, and Borderless is my favourite. I first went with a friend who had lived in Tokyo for 12 years, and wanted to make sure I saw it while she was in town. Just about everyone who visited while I was there wanted to go, which means I went four times. I also saw their larger installation once, and didn’t enjoy it as much — too many different rooms, no real path to follow which meant you ended up in the same place more than once. I think it was just sensory overload as well.

If you want to calm your senses…I recommend Meiji Shrine and the surrounding parkland and woodland. There is just something about walking amongst tall, majestic trees, green space and flowers, that both calms and feeds the soul. Being a Shinto shrine, we are able to enjoy the pure, simple beauty of it all.

One really could go on and on and on about Tokyo. Wait…maybe I already have! 🙂

So, I will close again with some random fun photos to give you more of a feel for some of the experiences I have been lucky enough to have. #charmedlife for sure.

And if you have made it this far down the blog post – thank you! You deserve something extra-special for that. I present you with……The Robot Restaurant!

Thank you Tokyo. Such good times with some amazing people. As much as I wish I hadn’t been feeling like such crap most of the time I was there (I alluded to this in my Why I Run post), I really did enjoy discovering as much as I did. Thank you to LH for bringing a much-needed breath of fresh air to my last three months there, and to AK and SG for your constant support.

See you again Tokyo…one day….