Back to the Okanagan!

A week ago I left Ottawa and started my big adventure! Saying goodbye to my family is always tough, but I’m so grateful I got to spend about a month with them before I left. They’re all so important to me and I really value the time we spend together.

Robyn and I workin' it in our '80s gear
Robyn and I workin' it in our '80s gear

From Ottawa I went to the Okanagan Valley. After living there this past year, visiting my sister Robyn and her husband Chris felt like coming to my home away  from home. The mountains are so beautiful when they’re covered in snow. Our week was filled with good chats, great food, some movies, and a little bit of work.

The weekend was a different story. I was gearing up for a Zumba packed couple of days. On the Friday there was a Zumbathon in Vernon, which was an hour and a half class that cost $20, and the proceeds went to charity. There was a whole bunch of local instructors as well as my sister Robyn and her friend Tamara, who are both Zumba Education Specialists. I got to help lead the warm up with Robyn and Tamara, which was a really fun and cool experience. After I got over the blinding spotlight that was shining in my face, I eased into “Im’ma Be” and things got a little groovy (or gangsta. Little bit of both.)

On Saturday Robyn had a full B1 training that I helped out with, and on Sunday Tamara had an Aqua Zumba training. I got to participate in the Aqua master class, which was sweet. In one of my first blog posts ever I talked about my first encounter with Zumba and my awkward hips. Now I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable with the program, so I was like “oh yeah, Aqua Zumba should be great. I love Zumba.” It was definitely a ton of fun, but so different than regular Zumba. It’s a good thing my legs were underwater because otherwise everyone would’ve seen how much I struggled with getting my feet going in the right direction. Nevertheless, it was a great workout and so much fun. Tip: if all else fails, flail your arms and splash around.

Sunday night is when things went awry. We were all exhausted from the weekend and just stopped making sense.  After a little debate, we decided to get coffee for our ride home from Kelowna, cause let’s face it — life is just to short. However, the first time we went through the drive through we literally just drove through. We missed the speaker and there was a car behind us so we couldn’t back out, so after a quick hello wave to the counter person we looped around and finally got our coffee.

Little Barkley!
Little Barkley!

Once we got back to Armstrong I had to run into the store to pick up some sour cream. Let’s just say I was a little self conscious of my appearance. To put it lightly, it looked like a tired girl with crazy hair who had walked straight out the 80s. To make matters worse, when I came out of the store I beelined for the first truck

I saw and swung open the back door right away. Surprisingly enough, after seeing the startled driver I thought to myself “that isn’t Robyn” — it was a startled young girl. I don’t know what’s worse: this poor girl going through the shock of some

random person opening her car door, or having to look at my appearance. Meanwhile, Robyn and Tamara were parked a good 5 or 6 car parking spots away. I blame the high intensity aqua workout.

Overall, it was a very good week.

the end of a chapter/my friends are the best!

My going away party. Time to bust out the sassy hats!

Warning: The following posting contains severe traces of sentimentalism. Reader discretion is advised.

My time at UWO has officially come to a close.

I had been avoiding even talking about leaving London for months. I also proved to be quite skillful at avoiding saying goodbye to people. Let’s just say, if procrastination were my job, I would’ve gotten a raise.

Even though I tried to avoid thinking about it all, my body was a constant reminder. For the days leading up to my departure my stomach was in knots, and I had so much nervous energy I felt sick. It’s not even that I’m nervous about going somewhere new, but I guess the anticipation of leaving my friends behind was making me pretty anxious.

My brain was like “oh hey Grace, you should probably get ready to say goodbye,” and I was like “la la la.” So, to get my attention my body slapped me in the face. Awesome.

The beginning of a legacy. Sasha Fierce!

Even though I couldn’t sleep and I felt sick, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Now you’re probably thinking “uh Grace, that’s weird.” Don’t get me wrong — I’m no masochist. I hate being sick as much as the next guy, but if I hadn’t been sad about leaving, it would’ve meant I wasn’t leaving anything special behind.

I have had the most amazing past four years. When I reflect on them, I only have hilarious, good memories. I’m not exaggerating when I say I can’t think of anything bad. There’s Saugeen in first year, March Madness, late night DQ runs, drinking tea, the Master Plan, Gazette shenanigans, purple pride, Ceeps, shopping downtown, fondue for two, Christmas in October, Rupal, dance parties, and non-stop laughing. Not to mention ridiculous amounts of food.

Maddie is the second person I met at Western. This was at O-week in first year. Best buds!

My friends are actually the best. They are the most hilarious, fun, caring, talented people, and I am so happy and grateful that I know them. I know that there’s no way I could count my blessings. There’s far too many, and it would be out of my mathematical league (and yes, I passed calculus in high school.)

C.S. Lewis once said: “The pain I feel now is the happiness I felt before.”  First of all, C.S. Lewis is a genius. This pretty much sums up everything I feel about leaving Western. Yeah, it hurts now, but it’s so worth it. My experiences at Western have been amazing, and even though the circumstances are changing, I’m counting on these friendships to last.

I had, as the Black Eyed Peas would say, the time of my life. (WOO DANCE PARTY!)

Good times UWO. It was epic.

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ps… Sorry about getting so sentimental… there was no avoiding it!

When to use “Howdy”

“Howdy, can I help you with something?”

It was the first thing a Stampede staff member said to us. If one “howdy” wasn’t good enough, we were greeted by several other people, all giving us a friendly “howdy, enjoy your day!” I quickly turned to Robyn and Chris and mumbled under my breath, “I’m pretty sure this is the only place in the world where it’s normal for people to say ‘howdy.’ I wonder if I can pull it off?”

Don’t worry, I don’t greet everyone by saying “howdy” now. I did however give it a test run, busting out a cheerful “Howdy, ya’ll!” Shockingly enough, I wasn’t taken seriously.

I’ve only been to Calgary once. My visit was during the Stampede, so I don’t know if it’s always swept up in cowboy culture, but it sure was when I was there.

We stopped at an Earls (which is a popular restaurant out West,) for lunch after Robyn and Chris picked me up from the airport. We were immersed in a sea of cowboy boots, hats, and denim galore. All of the waitresses were decked out in cowgirl gear. Even the TV’s were set to the country music station — again, the ONLY place in Canada where that’s perfectly normal. Before you knew it, the three of us were chatting about where we could go to find ourselves a pair of cowboy boots.

After you count the number of cowboy hats, please note the guy in the white cut off shirt. .

When we finally got to the Stampede I was in awe of the amount of Western plaid, hats, and get this — CUT OFF tee shirts. I know it’s only clothing, but clothes represent people and cultures, and it was really neat seeing something totally different.

Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to check out the rodeo and see real cowboys do their thing. We did stumble upon seeing OneRepublic live though! They were playing at the outdoor stage so all you had to do was pay Stampede admission to see them play. They sounded amazing – even better than they do on their albums. Ryan Tedder’s vocals on the album do not do him justice — he had a lot more freedom live and we got to see how talented he really is.

Ryan Tedder workin the crowd.

Unfortunately my staggering 5 foot 3 inches frame didn’t quite cut it and I spent most of the time on my tiptoes trying to find an opening through the masses to catch a glimpse of the stage. There were a lot of “THERE HE IS!” moments, followed by breathtaking views of the back of someone’s head. I didn’t mind though because the band sounded amazing and it was great getting to hear them play.

The drive back home was definitely a highlight of the trip. I can’t even describe how beautiful the scenery was. I love mountains and getting to drive through the Rockies was amazing. We made a quick stop in Banff (another location I’ve added to my list of places I want to live) and we stopped to stick our feet in a beautiful river.

I got to see a lot of new things on our trip to Calgary. It was a really fun road trip!

Just leaving Calgary and approaching the Rockies
Banff! Please note the kilts behind us.

Skipping rocks
Since I didn't have my life jacket on me Robyn made sure I didn't get swept away in the river. Safety first boys and girls.

Almost home.

Note to self: refrain from saying “howdy” unless one is in Calgary during the Stampede…

Fire and Water

I got a taste of true Okanagan summer last week.

Until last week, it hadn’t really felt like summer — the weather seemed more like fall. It was still pretty cool outside and rained off and on a lot. Normally, Okanagan summers are extraordinarily dry. One of the reasons I wanted to come here for the summer was to get away from Ontario’s rainy weather (although I have come to the conclusion that it’s quite possible that the rain follows me, considering that Ontario has been dry and it’s been raining here).

Anyways, last week was sunny and really hot – we had an awesome day at the beach and everyday at work it felt like a heatwave under the layers of our uniforms.

Two days ago there was a fire really close to Armstrong. A wood plant  caught fire and on my way home from work I saw everything through a thin filter of smoke, which got more and more thick the closer I got to Armstrong. There were planes flying all around the area, trying to control the fire (you can watch a video of the fire here). It was pretty scary, because I had no idea if it was a wild forest fire or what. There was no local news on TV and the radio was playing the UK Top 40 (seriously?! I found out more about the UK than my own city that night. FYI, American artists are tearing up the charts over there, too.)

Anyways, it was a brand new experience for me because fires are not common in Ontario. I was sitting watching TV and out the front window you could see all this smoke floating around, and this is a pretty regular thing in the Okanagan.

The fire was controlled and I don’t think anyone was seriously injured. The next day the temperature cooled outside and it rained off and on all day. My drive home from work last night was a totally opposite experience from the day before — there was some sun peeking through the clouds while drops of rain splattered my windshield. To the left of me there was a beautiful, large rainbow shining.

At home, instead of seeing smoke outside the window, as I stepped outside the front door I was greeted by two beautiful rainbows. I guess everything works out in the end.

Spot the differences: Ontario versus British Columbia

So I’ve been in British Columbia for over a month now, which is just enough time to notice some differences between Ontario and BC. The following is a compilation of eight differences. wooooooo

1. Tim Hortons

In BC, you’re able to use your debit card to pay at Tim’s (whereas in Ontario there is not one Tim’s that lets you do that). Also, there is a wide variety of lattes and espresso to choose from. Starbucks is more popular here than in Ontario, so that may be why there’s an espresso option. Ontario needs to catch up cause our Tim’s is slacking!

2. Minimum wage/Maternity leave

Although our Tim Horton’s may be far behind the ones in BC, Ontario gets a couple of points for minimum wage and maternity leave. The minimum wage in Ontario is higher (even though I would wager a guess that the cost of living is higher in BC), and mat leave in Ontario is also way better than in BC. Don’t know why, just something I’ve noticed.

3. Ciders/1516

Okay, so at all of the restaurants I’ve worked at in Ontario, none of them sold ciders. I think I have one friend that drinks Strongbow, but besides that I’d never really heard of a cider. They’re so popular in BC — people drink them like it’s their job. Also, the most popular beer at one of my jobs is 1516…What’s 1516? Yeah that’s what I was wondering too. It’s a local, Okanagan Springs beer. We definitely don’t have that in Ontario.

4. Smoking/Drugs

Apparently there are a lot of drugs in BC, and I never really heard much about hard drugs in Ontario. People talk about them all the time and drug issues are constantly being brought up on the news. It’s interesting though cause one girl I work with comes from Manitoba, and she said that she thought that drug use was very minimal here compared to her hometown. I guess every province is different.

Smoking is also way more popular in BC than in Ontario — it’s still very common for people to smoke here. I think it might be because smoking was banned in restaurants earlier in Ontario than it was here.

5. Pronunciation

Okay, this is nit picky, but everyone here calls Cabernet Sauvignon wine “cab sav” instead of “cab sauv,” — refusing to acknowledge the “U”. Must be because there is zero French influence here.

6. Hitch hiking

I never ever see hitch hikers in Ontario, and the first day I got here we saw several. It was so uncommon to me, I thought they were being

Don’t try this on the side of the road. Only use thumbs up with caution.

friendly so I threw them a thumbs up back. Turns out they weren’t being friendly… (Unfortunately I’m not that ignorant and that never happened). Anyways, I see hitch hikers every day on my way to work. People say the reason why it’s more common is because it’s so much warmer here.

7. Laid back

In general, people here are super laid back. Have to wait in line for half an hour at Tim’s because everyone is paying with debit or feel like having a friendly chat with a hitch hiker? Meh, no big deal dude.

I work with a guy who is from London and used to work at a golf club there, and one of the first things he said to me was that it’s way more laid back here (which I’ve found to be incredibly true). The warm weather and beach type atmosphere must have something to do with it. I went to a job fair and a lot of the girls were wearing jean shorts and tank tops, whereas at job fairs in Ottawa people wear nice pants and blazers. In general, it’s a lot more “chill” than “formal” here.

8. Landscape

So I think the reason why people are okay with #2 (minimum wages/mat leave) is because it is so amazingly gorgeous here. The scenery is unbelievable. Every time we drive in to town I’m blown away by how beautiful the mountains are. Also, it’s been raining quite a bit too so everything is really green right now. I love when it rains because patches of clouds hang in the hills and you almost feel like you can reach out and touch them. It’s also neat that you can look at the mountains and see patches of sunlight and cloudy areas, and mean while it could be raining wherever you are…It’s different than Ontario because when it’s flat all you can see is wherever you are, whereas when there’s elevated land you notice all the differences in your surrounding areas. So cool.
Anyways, those are the main differences I’ve noticed so far. Both provinces are sweet and have their pros and cons. One excellent similarity is that the people are great in both places.

ZUMBA! Plus awkward hips, smiles, and inspiration.

Lately I’ve been immersed in a Zumba-filled environment. You might be thinking “uh Grace, Zumba isn’t even a word…I thought you work at a newspaper. Shouldn’t you know how to spell?” Correct — it’s not in the dictionary and I should know how to spell. It’s actually the name of a company. ‘Zumba Fitness LLC’ is a Latin/international dance fitness program — and people are going crazy over it.

My sister Robyn is a Zumba education specialist (ZES) and I met up with her in Edmonton two weekends ago for a couple of workshops. My sister Nadine and I were her assistants as she taught people how to become instructors.

Nadine, me, and Robyn selling Zumba wear. hollllaaa!

The next weekend when we got back to BC I ended up taking her workshop (so yes, technically I’m now a certified instructor. I still need an excessive amount of instruction though, so I won’t be instructing any others any time soon unless it’s on how to take a break.) No, this won’t be a blog post describing how awkward it is to do body roles and how my hips are a little too connected to the rest of my body. It also won’t be about the time when I was doing a Salsa move a little too aggressively and ended up knocking over a woman in front of me… (don’t worry. That was only a horrifying dream.)

The best part of the Zumba training was seeing someone doing something they’re truly passionate about. Robyn is passionate about dance and fitness, but her passion for people and developing relationships is ten fold.

During the lecture portion, Robyn talked about the importance of the role of an instructor. She said that as instructors, they have the responsibility and privilege to make people feel special. She pointed out that some people go through a whole day without being acknowledged or even smiled at — it’s important to remember that you don’t know what people go through and what their life is about. By simply smiling at someone from the stage, saying “hi, how are you” or “I love your new haircut,” you can make an individual feel really special because finally someone noticed them. This doesn’t only pertain to Zumba instructors — this attitude can be a lifestyle. We all know dance is the universal language, but I’d say smiling is as well. One of my favourite pass times is laughing, and I love that no matter what language people speak, smiling and laughter always mean the same thing.

I discovered that no matter what your daily routine is, you can make a difference in someone’s life in just a couple of seconds — and I know this works. Everyone in the room felt special because Robyn made sure she took the time to acknowledge each person.

Afterwords I was helping Robyn by typing up the evaluations that the participants filled out after taking the workshop. There were many comments that said participants left the workshop feeling “inspired.” Being inspired is one of my absolute favourite feelings in the world. I love when I become inspired by someone or something. Robyn has a job where she is a catalyst for inspiration, which is the ultimate goal for me. I hope that I end up doing something I am equally passionate about where I can ignite some inspiration in others. Robyn could literally introduce herself like this: “Hi, I’m Robyn and I’m a catalyst for inspiration. My favourite colour is purple and I think it’s hilarious when people shake a floppy fist when they’re angry.”

People always seem to ask “what do you want to do after school?” or “what’s your career going to be?” To be honest, I only have broad ideas and don’t have a definite answer — and I’m not too worried about it. The most important thing to me is that I make a difference in peoples lives, and I can do that in pretty much whatever career I choose. I can even accomplish this by letting the public witness my awkward hips while doing Latin dance. Who doesn’t like a good laugh at something ridiculous like that.

Robyn doing in her thang in Edmonton

Oh hey

So… this is my blog. I figured I should start one so that my friends and family can keep tabs on me while I’m out gallivanting around and raking in the adventures.

“Laughter: an instant vacation” is where you’ll find updates on what in the world is going on in my life. Hopefully some humour and a little bit of wisdom will grace its pages as well.

Straight up — I’ve never been good at consistently journaling, but I’m always up for a challenge. I’m a quality over quantity kind of person, so we’ll see how frequently this blog gets updated.

Well, guess I better go have some adventures now…Good thing I never leave home without my game face.