Toasting 2013

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” Ernest Hemingway

Seven countries, a serious romance, and a full belly. 2013, you’ve been good to me.

My mind was blown when I saw One Republic at The Olympia. I felt like a true local when I laughed at the Dublin jokes during the performance of Once at the Gaiety Theatre. I clapped and bopped along during the Jersey Boys Broadway production in London. I embraced summer while Glen Hansard and The Frames serenaded me at the Galway Arts Festival. With a glass or two of wine and bubbly I toasted Christmas with my love and wonderful friends at the National Concert Hall during the Baroque Christmas performance. I was frequently blessed by stumbling across great artist performances on Grafton Street. I stood in awe at Rodin’s sculpture of “The Kiss” in Edinburgh. I walked amongst glorious architecture in Barcelona, Paris, and Edinburgh.

2013 was the year I got a taste for traveling Europe. Here’s a quick summary of my travels:

Stockholm, Sweden was snowy and stunning, filled with warm memories in the hostel and laughter everywhere we went.

Brussels, Belgium indulged my taste buds, reunited me and my roommate from Gold Coast, and constantly surprised me at how wonderful a place it is.

Barcelona, Spain was sensory overload. We were shocked at how affordable wine was at restaurants, had a great night out on the hostel pub crawl, and were overwhelmed by Gaudi’s architecture.

London, England was a double trip destination. Both trips reunited me with old friends (one from Brisbane and one from university in Canada), both were filled with delicious coffee, never ending markets, an awe of how well the tube works, and leisurely strolls in Hyde Park.

Paris, France was a living dream.

Edinburgh, Scotland was also a double trip. Less than an hours flight and at about 20 euro round trip it’s too good to pass up. Edinburgh is an everything city — great food, beautiful hills, enchanting streets, art and culture. The variety of food was so good both times I was there it was like a trip for my taste buds. The Gothic architecture seems to be inspired by the natural landscape — the tall, dark buildings were made to stand amongst the black clouds and mist.

Sliema, Malta was the trip where I finally got my summer. Me and my wonderful 2013 travel partner gallivanted across the entire Island, drank a bottle of wine with each beautiful dinner, sunbathed just a little too much, and were mesmerized by the many colours of the crystal clear, sparkling Mediterranean Sea.

As for my token Before 30, here’s what I crossed off:

#19. Attend an orchestra performance

#44. Eat chocolate in Belgium

#61. Drink wine under the Eiffel Tower

#76. Celebrate St Patrick’s Day in Dublin

#77. Visit Stockholm

In 2014 I’m hoping to cross off a whole lot more items and also experience things that I never even knew should be on my list. I like to have goals because it makes me feel like I’m working towards something, however a lot of the most spectacular things I experienced this year I never could’ve planned. The best thing about New Years is hindsight. You’re given an opportunity to reflect, appreciate, and understand the things you went through during the year as a whole rather than dwelling on individual instances. And of course there is the beautiful promise of a New Year, destined to be whatever you decide to make of it.

I think this excerpt from my favourite post of the year “Not all those who wander are lost” summarizes 2013 for me,

“There are so many countries to explore, coffees to drink, songs to sing, and people to  learn from. I can’t wait. Life is thrilling and utterly unpredictable, and I’m enjoying every minute of it.”

A quick trip out to beautiful Ballybunion, Kerry

A quick trip out to beautiful Ballybunion, Kerry

Beach side sangria in Barcelona

Beach side sangria in Barcelona

Rooftop terrace in London

Rooftop terrace in London

Reunited with UWO friends in Dublin

Reunited with UWO friends in Dublin

Being a tourist in London

Being a tourist in London

Drinking wine under the Eiffel Tower

Drinking wine under the Eiffel Tower

Smorgasbord at dusk on a summer date

Smorgasbord at dusk on a summer date

Rodin's "The Kiss"

Rodin’s “The Kiss” in Edinburgh

Wandering through Paris with a best friend from Canada

Wandering through Paris with a best friend from Canada

Embracing summer in Malta

Embracing summer in Malta

Hours spent in this chair during summer days

Hours spent in this chair during summer days

Swimming in the Blue Lagoon

Swimming in the Blue Lagoon

Feast upon feast at home

Feast upon feast at home

"Once" at the Gaiety

“Once” at the Gaiety

My 2013 travel partner

My 2013 travel partner

Surrounded by long grass, rolling hills and vicious wind

Surrounded by long grass, rolling hills and persistent wind

Markets in London

Markets in London

Picnics in the park

Picnics in the park

Attending an orchestra performance

Attending an orchestra performance

Edinburgh romance

Edinburgh romance

First Christmas in my first studio apartment

First Christmas in my first studio apartment

Countless good coffees

Countless good coffees

Barcelona

Barcelona

2013, thank you.

Cheers, 2013. It’s been a slice.

Advertisements

“Not all those who wander are lost.”

I’m a contemplater, which means I often get really philosophical about life and simple realizations tend to blow my mind. I turned 24 on Saturday, and leading up to my birthday I was bombarded with feelings of awe and wonderment at life.

I had a moment of clarity while thinking about where I was a year ago and how I thought the next year of my life would look at the time. On my 23rd birthday I was living in Armstrong, BC, having just left Australia suddenly, and I had my first shift at a job that I quickly learned to hate. My “plan” was to live in Canada for three

My good friend Candice and I at Lake Louise last summer.

My good friend Candice and I at Lake Louise last summer.
I’m sure Banff is one of the most beautiful places I’ll ever see.

months while waiting for my new Australian visa to be approved then catch the first plane back to sunny Queensland. I never could’ve predicted what was in store for me, and in hindsight I’ve realized that life is truly what you make of it. I chose BC rather than move back to Ontario partially because I didn’t want to settle in too much and uproot my life and my relationships when I left Canada “in three months”. Eight months later, my current relationships deepened, I started a brand new, sure to be life long friendship, I was stunned daily by the glorious mountains surrounding me, and I discovered new passions. What started as a transition stage of life turned into a major chapter, a chapter where I learned to be more open minded, that I love to cook with alternative food, and that I’m obsessed with mountains. Most importantly, I learned to never sit still and let life pass you by. I learned to find something good about every day — whether it was going for a walk with my sister and brother in law, having a delicious coffee, reading a good book, waking up and seeing sunshine flood through the windows, or witnessing hoarfrost twinkle on the trees, there is always something good in every day. I had a regular customer at a restaurant that I worked at in Vernon, and without fail he would always say “every day is a good day, and some are better than others.” It’s those simple things that are what’s best about life.

Now I’m 24, I live in Ireland, and I have no idea where I’ll be in a year from now. It’s an exciting age, because I’m starting to figure out what kind of

Coffee time in Stockholm.

Coffee time in Stockholm.

person I want to be and what I want out of life, but I still have time to change my mind a whole lot. I could settle down at any time or I can keep globetrotting. I can party all night or I can stay home and read a book. I can wear my nose ring and still be taken seriously. I can dance like crazy or sip on wine while discussing philosophy and values. I’m finished my degree but could still get a Masters. The options or endless, and I’m so grateful.

I want to be the kind of person that follows through. If I say I’m going to do something, I’ll do it. I said I wanted to move in October, so when I was offered a job in Dublin I did some research and applied for a visa after five days. I said I wanted to travel Europe this year, summer specifically, and I have flights booked to Edinburgh, Brussels, and Barcelona, and plans to see many more countries in the warmer months. I’ve been talking about getting a tattoo, so I went for it. I said I wanted to be settled in Dublin in a week — I did it in five days. I’ve found my favourite coffee shops. I’ve seen Irish countryside. I’ve had a pint of Guinness and different kinds of whiskey straight. I can sing along to a few token Irish tunes. I say “half three” instead of “three thirty”. I live in Ireland, and after having Australia snatched out from underneath me, I feel a sense of urgency to enjoy each day and every cultural experience. I can’t waste any time.

The world is at our finger tips and all I have to do is seize the good opportunities, have some music ready to make the soundtrack to my life, and bring a water bottle and maybe an apple or two. There are so many countries to explore, coffees to drink, songs to sing, and people to  learn from. I can’t wait. Life is thrilling and utterly unpredictable, and I’m enjoying every minute of it.

The amazing Wicklow Gap.

The amazing Wicklow Gap.

A season for change

Dah dah dah dah! Spring is here.

It’s currently 8 degrees outside, and I couldn’t be more pleased.

I went for a walk today because I had to say hello to the sun. It’s been so long since I’ve spent some time with the sun, and it would’ve been rude to ignore it.

I’ve been thinking lately how frustrating it is that I’m in Canada for my two least favourite seasons – winter and spring. However, since I’ve been here I’ve been reminded of the beauty in both seasons.

View from the kitchen window.

For me, winter’s best quality is its outward beauty. Snow covered mountains, snowflakes drifting from the sky, and hoar frost covered trees are some of the most naturally beautiful things I have ever witnessed. Winter completely transforms a scene, magically covering yesterday’s mistakes and replacing them with sparkling beauty. It’s a treat for the eyes.

Outwardly, spring is muddy, wet, and not yet warm enough to bare any skin. However, it’s exciting because it holds the promise of summer. The children that live on Robyn and Chris’ block have been taking full advantage of the warmer weather and snow-free pavement. They’re always biking, playing basketball, or drawing pictures with chalk on the pavement. When I was a child I didn’t think about the mud or the fact that spring isn’t as “good” as summer. I was thrilled with the change and loved it for what it was. As soon as the weather warmed up I would shed my coat, put on my rubber boots, and bike all around the farm for as many hours as possible. Once the snow melted, I’d spread a quilt out on the damp grass and read a book. I only saw the positive, not the negative.

It’s the time of year when I become inspired to make changes, probably because the change around me is so stark I can’t help but feel like it’s possible for me to change as well. I find myself thinking maybe I will head back to school one day for a post-grad program. I catch myself imagining all the different cities I want to live in and possible careers I could have. I even go so far as to picture myself settling down in my own home, planting a garden, and writing a book.

Spring is special, even if in the beginning it’s not as beautiful on the outside. It does something to people. Gives them hope.

Spring warms my heart and fills me with inspiration — even if I do still need to bundle up in three layers.

Dear education: thanks for the brain workout.

This is the first semester that I haven’t been in school. After a lifetime of education, I finished my university degree in June. Even though my excitement to be done was tangible, the last day I walked around campus I thought about all of the things I would miss.

University is a place where people come together to think, create, and stretch their brains in uncomfortable ways.There’s something about walking around campus and being surrounded by people in different disciplines. While standing in line for a much needed caffeine fix, in front of me is an engineer crunching numbers that mean nothing to me, behind me is a medical student who knows exactly what that fifth coffee is doing to her body but orders it anyways because she’s running on little sleep, and at the front is a couple of philosopher’s arguing over who summed up human sexuality the best: Freud or Foucault. And then there’s me – a journalist whose time spent observing people standing in line for coffee is every bit a part of my education as the news writing and ethics class that I’m running late for.

Sure, I went to unversity to get a degree that will hopefully help me get the career that I want one day. However, the part of school that I loved the most isn’t the paper I received at the end. It’s the way different topics open your eyes up to parts of the world you never knew existed. It’s that teacher that is so passionate about what they’re teaching that they can inspire you to change journalism for the better, get you excited about fonts, or burn into your memory how different chemicals affect your brain. It’s that person you roll your eyes at because it’s the seventh time they’ve raised their hand in the past hour and they’re sharing another story about what their boyfriend thinks about an unrelated topic, like soup. It’s the sports teams, friends, Tim Hortons, early mornings and late nights.

During my last weeks I was excited at the thought of being done assessment and starting “real life.” However, I am going to miss being on campus because  of its unique atmosphere. There’s always more learning to do. After all, I never did sit in on an engineer class.

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.

Something awesome that I learned today

Sometime last year I decided it’d be a sweet idea to have a “something awesome that I learned today” wall. I love quotations and thought it’d be sweet to have awesome things to read while brushing my teeth.

Some of the stuff written down is from my academic readings, some from church, a lot from things I come across online, and then a bunch from random people. Don’t be surprised if you see something you once said!

Please note Steph’s insights concerning our crazy kettle. Very valuable information.

This is one of my favourite pages. I had the privilege of covering a Raps/76ers game this year, and I was blown away by how tall they all were.

I also love the fun fact about pointalism. Steph and I were thrilled when Elyse explained this to us. We still need to do a huge wall-sized pointalism self-portrait. Look for it in your closest art gallery.

“Be intentional” is one of the best life lessons. I wrote some features  for The Gazette this year, and I was always so inspired by people who had solid, well thought out answers for questions I would ask them. I have so much respect for people that do everything with a purpose.

I took a course called “The Culture of Containment: Post Cold-War America” and I remember my professor trying to explain containment by drawing a whole bunch of shapes inside of other shapes with a bunch of fancy words describing 1950’s America… The gist of the whole production was that consumerism acts as a container for Western culture. Interesting to think about when you’re not distracted by a guy with a bow tie squiggling things on a white board.

Another thing that I really learned this year was that if you take action, you’ll get results. Don’t sit around contemplating good ideas — act on them!

Oh Yoda. So wise.

After Liz explained debt to us with the porridge analogy, it made perfect sense! (Not really though…I still don’t know what she’s talking about. All I know about porridge is that it’s delicious.)

I thought the knowledge quote was really cool because as a student I cram so information (or “knowledge”) into my brain before exams only to forget most of it a couple of days later. Knowledge is only truly useful if it impacts you enough for you to be able to recall it, or as it is so eloquently stated, if it is “written on the soul of the learner.” (I read that quote while I was studying for an exam in April…I don’t remember which course it was for. Ironic?)

I read a cool article by Roland Barthes about how writers are special because they never stop “working.” I can absolutely relate to this. I’m constantly thinking about what I’m going to write about next and topics for the future. It’s not a bad thing though — it’s kind of nice.

Hmm… there’s a definite “goals” “dreams” and “take action” trend happening…

It was awesome when I realized that people change their minds. Change is healthy, and often exciting. Although change can be difficult when things are already good, it’s nice to remember that everything happens for a reason (right Iz?)

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