On love and loss

On Friday May 8th 2015, I took a nervous skytrain ride out to Surrey after work.  My boyfriend of about three weeks picked me up from the station and drove me to his house where I met his parents for the first time.

I remember a few details from that dinner.  I can vividly recall kicking myself for not bringing anything, even though Colin told me not to.  I remember meeting his pets for the first time and deciding that two cute dogs and a sunbathing cat were a pretty good perk of this relationship.  I remember stepping out onto the back porch and thinking I had stepped into one of those House & Garden magazines.

We all sat out at the back table; me, Colin, his mom and his dad.  Of course, the dogs joined us too hoping for table scraps.  Before dinner, Colin’s dad, Randy, gave me a bit of a family history explaining that the Marriott clan had started as wealthy land-owners in England. I don’t remember all the details but I think he was eluding to some royal lineage.

But I do remember feeling very welcomed. I was even invited to join them for a Mother’s Day lunch that weekend, which unfortunately I couldn’t attend.  And that feeling of being welcomed and very quickly loved by the Marriotts is one that has stuck for the last year and a half. I walk into their house and I feel like I’m coming home.  I’m always being invited to grab a plate of food or attend another family event.  I don’t hesitate to unload the dishwasher, put my own clothing into the washing machine or bake with ingredients I’ve decided they have in excess.  Heck, even the cat is comfortable sleeping on my stomach all night long.  In short, the Marriotts are my family.

And I don’t have the words to explain what it is to lose a member of my family.

Colin’s dad, Randy, passed away this Thursday.  It doesn’t even feel real to type that.  He arrived at the hospital on August 28th with severe back pain which turned out to be a very aggressive and advanced cancer. 11 days later, he was gone.

It felt – still feels – like we’re living in some kind of a movie. Who has cancer for 11 days? Who arrives at Emergency hoping for some pain killers and never leaves? It was like they made a mistake. We didn’t get enough time. No one was prepared. No one got to process any of it.

There wasn’t even time to step back and try to comprehend what was happening.  There were tests to do, family and friends to inform, pain to monitor and prognoses to hear.  Everyday brought slightly different news with depleting levels of hope.  Goals changed from managing the pain and bringing him home to making him as comfortable as possible.  Timelines varied from two years to a couple of days.

Time seemed to blur while we sat by his bedside at the hospital.  No one could ever recall what day it was or what time something happened.  When did he say that?  What day was that test?  Stories of his alert moments and words of wisdom from the doctor were told and retold to the point where I couldn’t remember if I had heard it firsthand or not.  Everything was present.  We couldn’t think back to the past when the past was only a short 10 days behind us.

To their credit, the staff, and in particular the nurses, at Surrey Memorial Hospital were the most kind and concerned people.  They held our hand through every blood test, pain killer administration and call button we would press when something just didn’t seem right.  They kept us informed, kept us calm and kept us cared for.  And, above all, they kept Randy comfortable, which was all we had left to wish for at that point.

Wishing someone comfort and nothing more is one of the most selfless things I can think of.  To hope for someone to simply be pain-free with no expectation of recovery, a final goodbye or prolonged life is, what I have witnessed to be, the ultimate sacrifice.  It’s putting aside your own needs, accepting the hole in your life and treading into waters you never thought you would have to learn how to swim – without a life jacket.

I was amazed by how Colin and his mom, Margie, jumped headfirst into those waters. They were the biggest proponents for lessening Randy’s suffering as soon as possible, even if it meant elongating their own.  Colin was his dad’s greatest advocate; he defended him and pushed for his rights and wishes when Randy no longer could.  I believe that these convictions and how powerfully they were followed through are the true definition of strength.

I don’t believe that tears make you weak – tears are a sign of compassion. And I don’t believe that fear makes you weak – fear means you have something to lose.  You can be strong when you are trembling with fear and tears are rushing down your face.  The strength was in saying goodbye and knowing you wouldn’t get one back.  The strength was in saying, “We’ll be okay,” and understanding you would have to work everyday for that to be true.  The strength was in saying, “Let go,” and truly meaning it.

I only knew Randy for 1 year and 4 months – 489 days.  Google tells me there were 140 weekend days during this time and I would reckon that I spent most of those under Randy’s roof.  It wasn’t a long time of knowing him, but it was a rich time.  I spent more time with Randy in the last year and a half than I have with my own parents in the last five years.  Arriving Friday after work to Randy, lying on the couch watching Pawn Stars or a baseball game with a glass of red wine in one hand and a furry animal under the other, was a common sight. I knew I was home.  When the TV blared from the other room or the smell of a “good breakfast” seeped under our door, I knew it was time to wake up.  Every weekend brought new DIY projects from spray painting the back fence to moving couches, including bringing one all the way to my place in Kitsilano.

I’m sure people who knew Randy a lot longer than 489 days have countless memories and stories.  But even in my short time I have many to treasure.  Like the time Randy decided to join the 20-something year old rugby players at his niece’s wedding in taking off his shirt and hitting the dance floor topless.  Or our big night out with Randy, his brother and his two sons where we hit the Cactus Club and the first Canucks game of 2016 – a night with Randy’s favourite guys. Opening Christmas gifts together on my first ever Christmas away from home, introducing my mom to Randy and Margie, enjoying the evening campfire at Pender Harbour and playing boardgames after a few rounds of drinks are just a few happy memories that come to mind.

Being a lover of words (as evidenced by the 1200+ words I have typed for this post thus far), it’s the words Randy said to me that most stick with me.  I remember giving him and Margie a card for Christmas and Randy going on about how sweet it was and that it brought a tear to his eye. He also spent the next few hours of Christmas day eagerly reading the book I had just gifted him.  After meeting my mom, Randy and I were chatting and he said that I must get my sweetness from her.  In fact, he often complimented my mom, despite only meeting her once.  And when he found out my dad was running for councillor in Toronto, Randy would tell me that he was going to call up one of the local radio stations and endorse my dad, even though they had never met.  The Marriotts even had a Canning for Councillor magnet on their fridge.

At the hospital, I got some special words as well.  On one of our first days visiting, one of Randy’s sisters told me that Randy had called her after Father’s Day and mentioned how touched he was that I had given him a card as well.  She told me that he really loved me.  On another day (I couldn’t say which), I came back into the room where Margie and Colin were holding Randy’s hands.  Margie told Randy that I was there and he asked me to come over to him.  I was kind of shocked that he was asking for me personally.  He pulled me in close in a big hug and whispered, “God bless you, thank you for taking care of my son.”  All I could do was nod through the tears.  But I think he knew that my nod meant, “Your son takes such good care of me, his mom and everyone else in this family. The least I can do is try my best to take care of him.”

Eventually, I did get in some of my own words at the hospital. They say that hearing is the last of the senses to go and the nurses encouraged us to talk to Randy, even when he was in a sleepy state.  So I got to speak with him and say everything that was left in my heart.  While 11 days isn’t a long time, it was enough for everyone to say their goodbyes and know that Randy heard them.

I don’t really know where to go from here.  There is a numbness that clouds our daily life.  Colin and I decided it’s kind of like a wall that is blocking us from feeling everything because it was all too much and too fast.  Cracks of reality and grief have already started to chip away at the wall.  I noticed the mantle in Colin’s house the other day that still has sympathy cards from his aunt’s passing in June. How cruel is it that their mantle is about to be covered in sympathy again only 2 months later?

I’m not sure when it will all hit. It still doesn’t feel real.  My brain knows what happened but my heart hasn’t fully felt it yet.  I’m worried about how it will hit.  And I’m worried for Colin and his mom, who I think still have their walls up pretty strong.  I keep saying there is no right or wrong way to feel but at the moment it’s as if there isn’t even a feeling.

I titled this post, “On love and loss.” Fairly self explanatory: we lost a loved one.  But now I’m realizing that there is more to that title.  Love also speaks to the emotion du jour over the last two weeks.  Every person who visited Randy, who held his hand and sat by his bedside, told stories of how much he meant to them.  Every person gave his hand a squeeze or kissed his head and told him how much they loved him.  I honestly don’t believe that room had ever known more love than the ever-present family and friends of Randy Marriott.  And it reminds us how important love is.  I’m pretty sure Colin and I have said, “I love you” to each other more in the last two weeks than we have all year.  With meaning and intention, it’s something that can’t be said enough.  It’s a comfort, a promise, a support and a bond.

Loss is also taking on a secondary meaning.  We lost someone and now I feel lost. I feel like I am just going through the motions.  I feel like I’m stuck in certain parts of my life and want to make a change. I still feel helpless and heartbroken – feelings I have kept since those first few days in the hospital. I feel at a loss for the right emotion; I’m clouded over and can’t find an emotion to cling to.  I’m sure I’m not the only one feeling this way.

So literally, this post has been on love and loss.  I’m sure in time, there will be other feelings. I don’t know when and I don’t know which ones.  I don’t know if I will write about them.  But writing has always been my love and how I find my way out when I am lost. So for now, thank you for allowing me to share.  To share the experience, my struggles and a small glimpse of the extremely loved and too-soon lost, Randy Marriott.

 

When your best friend gets married

When my best friend first told me she was going to be getting married, I didn’t quite believe it. Sure, weddings were always something we talked about – we fantasized about our dream engagement rings and criticized the crazy people on Say Yes To The Dress.  But marriage? Our conversations never got quite that adult.

But we are adults. I tend to have a hard time believing that. I often feel like I’m just playing pretend; that eventually someone will come by and force me to start meal planning or learn how to fold a fitted sheet. And when I’m unsatisfied at work, it’s easy to get swept up in the very non-traditional options of quitting my job, travelling the world, writing a novel, etc.  Getting married, buying a house, contributing to an RRSP? Not really on my radar.

But for my best friend, marriage was absolutely on her radar. And suddenly, it didn’t seem so foreign.  Suddenly, my life became a little bit more real.  People my age were – are – getting married, buying houses, having children, progressing in their careers, etc. But people my age are also going to school, living at home or making plans to travel the world.  I’m realizing that your mid-20s is almost an undefinable age for my generation.  I don’t think there is a typically 24 year old, at least not among the 24 year olds that I know.

My best friend flew out to visit me shortly before she became officially engaged. For all intents and purposes, she was engaged; she just didn’t have the hardware yet.  It was exciting to be next to this girl I used to skip class with in order to follow boys to basketball games who was now a woman armed with wedding magazines and an impressively detailed spreadsheet.  But it was also a little scary.

I left Toronto after graduating high school and have been living in Vancouver fairly consistently (minus my international stints) ever since.  When I left Toronto, the biggest things in my best friend’s life were her new short haircut (which she rocked, by the way) and fitting all of her stuff into her university dorm room.  Every time I visit Toronto we hang out with the same group of ladies, sleepover at the same house and even visit the same restaurants.  Sure, our talk has changed from English quizzes and spare periods to university finals and vacations, but the people and the places are still the same.  While I know my best friend has graduated, gotten a job, has a professional degree and now a husband, it’s separate from the life I have led with her.

When your best friend gets married, you realize she is so much more than just your best friend.  She is a business woman who meets with vendors, negotiates prices and signs contracts.  She is the epitome of grace and patience as she deals with a last minute dress disaster.  She is a role model to her younger cousin who sometimes drove her a little crazy as the only teenager in the bridal party.  She is an only daughter who makes her mother cry at every turn on the wedding day.  She is an accountant, making small talk with people from her office, and an alumna, catching up with university friends on the dance floor.  She is a bride tossing a bouquet over her shoulders and taking to the dance floor for her first dance.  She is a daughter in-law, hugging family members unfamiliar to me and listening patiently to a language she doesn’t speak.  And of course, she is a wife.  My best friend found the person she wants to spend the rest of her life with and the rest of her life is starting right now.

Seeing my best friend in all of these roles, I thought I might miss her.  I thought I might lose who she is to me.  But I didn’t.  When your best friend gets married, you get to witness all that she is to all of the people who love her.  I got to see her shine all day through the smiles, stresses, shakes and sore feet.  I got to spend the entire day marveling not only at what a beautiful bride she was but at her composure in dealing with the little hiccups, her ability to stay standing till the last song despite a sore back and bad cough, and the way her hand always found her husband’s whenever she needed a little extra support.

When your best friend gets married, she is still your best friend.  Despite all of her roles and obligations on her wedding day, she still took time to make sure I was okay.  As the last person to walk down the aisle before her, she was sure to whisper back “I love you too” right before we parted.  During my section of the speech, when I turned to address her, we both instantly began crying – something we’re known to do in emotional situations.

The night was littered with emotional tear-inducing hugs between my best friend and I.  For some reason, hugging goodbye this time felt more final.  Yes, I will be seeing her when I’m home for Christmas in 4 months, which is not the longest we’ve been apart.  But this time the hugs lasted longer, the tears flowed faster, almost as if we were saying goodbye to something else.  Or maybe it was just all of the emotion of the day creeping up on us.  But I think a little part of us was saying goodbye to a piece of our past.  Of course, we will still be best friends.  We’ll still text and Skype, send each other snail mail, and catch up over brunch or late night dessert when I’m home. But things will be a little different.  And they should be.  My best friend is a wife now; that is pretty life changing.

When your best friend gets married, things change.  And they change for the better.

Lucky Me!

I never used to consider myself a lucky person – I wasn’t someone who always caught the bus right on time or never had a bad hair day.  But, in looking back, I suppose I am a lot luckier than I thought.  Here are a few of my big wins…

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$100
Now, $100 might not seem like a ton of money but this prize started off a year of pretty sweet contest wins for me.  My friend Andrea and I entered a Halloween contest through Canada’s Luckiest Student. To win this Halloween contest, you had to submit a photo of yourself in costume and then the photo with the most likes would win. So Andrea and I both decided to go for it; she dressed up as a minion and I dressed up as Minnie Mouse. The funny thing about this contest was that the creators had sent out a message saying they had only received six entries and the contest was closing that night.  So Andrea and I figured we might as well enter, since our chances of winning were pretty high. But because we only had the night, our costumes were pretty much scraped together from whatever we could make or find by running up and down the halls of our dorm. Anyway, Andrea went full tilt on Facebook, got a ton of likes and ended up winning the $500 grand prize.  But guess who won the $100 random draw? This mouse!

Twilight tickets
Shortly after winning as Minnie Mouse, I won tickets to the Twilight premiere in Vancouver. Now, this was 2012 and the final movie of the series so excuse me for being pretty pumped about it.  There was a red carpet and I think we might have gotten some swag to take home as well.

Round-trip flight to Australia
Easily my biggest win and also in the same year as the two contests above, I won a round-trip flight to Australia through an Air Canada Facebook contest.  It still sort of blows my mind that I won this one.   No one ever wins those free trip contests! But I did.  I had to fill out a form on Facebook describing my dream trip and out of all the entries, they picked mine! I used the flight a year later to spend a month in Australia visiting the Gold Coast, Sydney and Melbourne.

After that crazy year of contest winning, things sort of cooled off. I must have lost my four-leaf clover.  But then last fall, I started entering contests more actively. Instead of just clicking on the occasional contest that would pop up on social media, I sought out contests (my favourite contest curating website is contestgirl.com).  Now I know daily contest entering isn’t for everyone.  For me, it’s actually kind of fun to see all the different things I could win.  I have auto-fill on Google Chrome so I don’t actually spend forever typing out my details over and over again. And I am very diligent about clicking “unsubscribe” as soon as I receive the first contest-affiliated newsletter.  So since starting my contest entering last fall (and not actually entering everyday but as often as I remember), I have won:

Free movies
I’m not sure exactly which contest this was but I got on some list where almost bi-weekly I am sent free tickets for advanced screenings of not-yet-released movies. Half the time it’s a movie I don’t care about or the invite is sent too last minute and I already have plans but it has worked out a few times.  Colin and I have probably gone to 4 or 5 free movies since.

Dyson vacuum
This was a pretty sweet win. I entered a BestBuy contest by commenting on a Facebook photo and I won a free vacuum worth $600. My apartment is all carpet so this baby was actually pretty life-changing. It makes vacuuming so much easier and works way better than the used Dirt Devil Sophie and I picked up from Goodwill last year.

Vancouver staycation package
So for this I won a little Vancouver tourism package. I actually won this back in April, right before Colin and my first anniversary, and was hoping to utilize it for our celebration.  Unfortunately, there was some fine print and blackout dates but we will be using it later in the fall.  The package includes 3 nights at the Granville Island Hotel, $200 to Dockside restaurant, ferry tickets and theatre tickets. Our plan is to do a whole weekend using the giftcards and playing tourists on Granville Island.

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So I think that about sums up my contest winnings.  It’s become part of my routine now to enter contests at the start of every work day – hopefully that translates into a few more wins!  But even if it doesn’t, I still have fun entering and I still know I am incredibly lucky in so many other ways.  Lucky to have a job that supports living in the priciest city in Canada; lucky to wake up to trees, mountains and the Pacific Ocean; lucky to have friends and family who love me from near and far; lucky to have a sweet and silly partner in Colin; and just really lucky on a basic level to have the privilege of being healthy and happy in a free country.  I know this post is a little silly – I’m talking about a bunch of contests I’ve won and the many more I’ve missed out on.  But I also know in comparison to so many people around the world, I am a winner – despite not getting that all expense paid trip to Cuba – and it’s important that I remember and am grateful of that fact everyday.

 

 

Fixed life or a big trip?

Today Colin, my friend Malindi, and I stumbled into a few open houses after grabbing lunch in Olympic Village.  Every time we see an “Open House” sign, I always joke with Colin that we should go in but today we actually did it.  And even though we are no where close to being able to afford a house, it was interesting to walk through and consider what it might be like a few (or maybe a dozen, given Vancouver’s housing market) years down the road.

We ended up looking at three places: two one-bedroom condos in Olympic Village and then a three-bedroom here in Kits.  That last one was a bit more serendipitous than realistic; I kept saying we had to see three places just like they do on House Hunters and we happened to pass an “Open House” sign on our walk from the bus stop to my apartment.

And, oddly enough, the prices didn’t really shock us. Sure, half a million for a one-bedroom sounds horrendous but after all of the Vancouver housing market horror stories we’ve heard, it really didn’t seem that outrageous.  And after talking to the real estate agents, it became easier and easier to picture us house hunting for real.

But just a few days before this, I was knee-deep (aka on the 4th page of my Google Doc) into planning a 2-week Central America vacation for Colin and I: exploring the jungles and mountains of Costa Rica and then relaxing at a resort in Cancun.  And the night before that I was researching Alaskan cruises.  And then just yesterday I got all caught up in figuring out how Colin’s x-ray technologist certification would transfer abroad if we were to say, live in the UK for a year.

Travel has been a huge aspect and aspiration of my life for the last 5+ years. It’s been tough living full-time in Vancouver since I returned in Sept 2014 and not having a plan for a big trip anywhere. I can feel myself sort of grasping at straws to make any kind of vacation or travel plan come to life. I just want to go.

But at the exact same time, I love it here. I love that I have my own place, relationships, a job.  I love having a community and a cute neighbourhood (that’s not too far from the beach!). And while I know I could find all of those things abroad, I’m also starting to love the idea of a permanent fixed life in Vancouver.  Yes, real estate prices are insane but this city has really become my home and I do find myself wanting to put down roots here for a future.

So basically, I don’t really know what I want! I mean, in an ideal world, I have the money to take big trips, experience living abroad for a while and then return here to settle permanently.  And maybe that ideal world will come to be one day.  But for now, I almost feel like I have to make choices between enhancing my fixed life or planning for something bigger farther away.  When I put money into my savings account am I saving for a down payment or for a plane ticket?

Maybe the answer is both? A down payment is not a reality in my near future but a two-week trip to Central America definitely could be.  So maybe I save a bit for both of those things. And then maybe we put off moving abroad for a longer stretch until we’re more settled.  I guess I just don’t want to miss out on anything. I don’t want to have a mortgage but look back and wish I had traveled more or taken that opportunity to live overseas.  But I also don’t want to look back on years of travel and wonder why I can’t afford to buy a home or figure out my career path.

I think about my Aunt Deborah in times like this.  She traveled extensively when she was younger: living in Australia, backpacking through China, studying abroad in Europe.  But she also got married, had children and bought a house in Etobicoke. And despite having met those fixed life goals, she, and her family, still find the time to travel.  Deborah and my Uncle Chris took their first child Nathaniel backpacking through Southeast Asia when he was still being carried in a sling.  And right now, they’re on a house exchange in Europe with their two children for the summer.  So, I guess it can be done. Maybe I just need to call up Deb for some tips🙂

 

A birthday weekend in Harrison Hot Springs

This past weekend I celebrated my 24th birthday by living my dream of pretending to be one half of a well-off elderly couple AKA spending the weekend at Harrison Hot Springs!

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I’ve been lucky that I’ve gotten to spend a lot of my birthdays in some really cool places. I’ve never been the person who wants a huge dinner or night out a club for my birthday. I always prefer to get away somewhere and just spend the day with a couple of special people.  And then stretch out the celebrations by going for lots of birthday brunch dates🙂 My favourite blogger has a goal to spend each birthday of her 20s in a new country. And while I haven’t quite hit that milestone, I still love the idea of celebrating in special places.

Where I have celebrated so far:
1) I turned 15 at a beach resort in the Philippines with my Aunt Hayley and her family.
2) I turned 18 during my internship in Sosua, Dominican Republic. It was our day off so we spent the day horseback riding and picnicking.
3) Technically I turned 19 and 20 in Toronto but 19 was after spending a month in Peru and 20 was only a week or so after getting back from my first ever Europe trip!
4) I turned 21 in Mbabane, Swaziland and then took off to Cape Town for some more celebrating.
5) I turned 22 in Tokyo, Japan amidst lots of humidity and a delicious sushi dinner.

But back to turning 24!

Colin and I drove out to Harrison Hot Springs on Saturday morning. Our original plan was to be in Calgary this past weekend for the Stampede and to visit with Colin’s family.  Unfortunately, that trip didn’t happen but fortunately it’s because Colin started a new job! Even though our Calgary road trip got postponed, I still wanted it to feel like a bit of a road trip so I got Colin to fill up his phone with a new road trip playlist featuring a lot of 90s/00s hits.

We arrived in Harrison around 1pm and had just enough time to check in, grab lunch and walk along the beach. I was amazed at how tiny and cute the town was! After check-in, Colin suggested a place for a quick lunch. I asked if we should drive and he laughed because it was literally across the street.  Everything in Harrison seems to be right across the street.

The beach! Unfortunately, we didn't get a ton of sun.

The beach! Unfortunately, we didn’t get a ton of sun.

At 2:30pm we had our spa appointment at the Harrison Hot Springs Resort and Spa – a birthday gift from my mom. I love spas. Everything is so indulgent and you get to strut around in a flurry of aromatherapy oils and terrycloth robes.  Colin had never been but trust me, he’s now a convert.  We started with a mineral spring soak with lavender mud and then a couples’ massage. We were both in heaven – thanks, mom!

Post-spa bliss

Post-spa bliss

As guests of the spa, we were also able to use the resort’s hot springs pool. What a nice end to our spa appointment – soaking in a warm pool outdoors and sipping on frozen drinks!

Pretending like we're in the Caribbean or something

Pretending like we’re in the Caribbean or something. PS: this is the lap pool; the other pools were much prettier!

After our pool time we returned to our hotel (a whole 3 min walk from the resort) to get showered and ready for dinner. We had reservations at The Copper Room which is, according to online reviews, the nicest restaurant in Harrison.  Most of the reviews raved about the food and made note of the live band and elderly clientele. I couldn’t wait🙂

And, it totally lived up to the reviews! Colin and I got the chef’s prix fixe menu that included an antipasto plate, raspberry sorbet, entree plate of meats and sides, and a trio of desserts. It was all really tasty (except the mushrooms and artichokes on the antipasto plate, but mainly because we are picky when it comes to vegetables).  We were stuffed but even the next day kept talking about the tender beef and delicious chocolate hazelnut square.

Enjoying our dessert

Enjoying our dessert

But the best part was the dancing. Colin and I didn’t dance but I loved listening to the live band (picture 4 guys in their 50s/60s) who played songs by request so couples (also in their 50s/60s) could get up and dance.  There were lots of birthday and wedding anniversaries being celebrated that night and it was so cute to watch couples celebrating their 30th or 50th wedding anniversary slow dance to their wedding song. And these couples were killing it! It’s obvious they have been taking lessons and practicing just to show off their stuff at The Copper Room.

They requested "Moon Rive" - Awwww!

They requested “Moon River” – Awwww!

After dinner we walked along the beach and around a little lake.  Back in our hotel room, I was content to spend my last hours of 23 watching House Hunters on HGTV.

The next morning I woke up to lots of texts, calls and birthday cards.  I thanked all my well wishers while Colin slept in.  When he finally got up, we walked over to a cute mom and pop restaurant for a nice big breakfast.  After our meal, we walked out to see the actual hot springs sight.  It wasn’t actually much to see but the smell was pretty memorable (and not in a good way). Finally, we said our goodbyes to Harrison and started our journey home with a short detour at Bridal Falls.

Bye Harrison!

Bye Harrison!

Bridal Veil Falls is a cute little mini-hike (don’t worry, I still complained the whole walk up as if it were a real hike) to see these gorgeous waterfalls that are meant to look like a bride’s veil. It was a nice stop and only 20 mins outside of Harrison. From there we got back into the car and I introduced Colin to the musical “In The Heights” as we drove back to his house in Surrey.

Bridal Veil Falls!

Bridal Veil Falls!

Back at Colin’s, his mom had planned a really nice birthday dinner for me.  Unfortunately, she had pinched a nerve in her shoulder and was bed-ridden.  We had a delicious BBQ chicken satay with corn and potatoes.  For dessert, she had made a jello cake for me – I had never had one before but it was so tasty! We walked it into her room so they could sing happy birthday to me all together.  It was a really sweet end to a wonderful birthday weekend! And to make matters even sweeter, my friend Andrea sent over a delicious box of chocolate covered fruit.

Jello Cake with exactly 24 candles!

Jello Cake with exactly 24 candles!

Chocolate goodness from Andy!

Chocolate goodness from Andy!

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Here’s to another year older and (hopefully?) wiser!

A weekend in Pender Harbour

Every year, my boyfriend’s family gets together in Pender Harbour on the Sunshine Coast.  His mom’s cousin, Larry, and his wife, Marnie, own a water-front property up there.  Every July long-weekend they invite everyone and their dogs up in trailers, RVs and tents for a week of kayaking, fishing, marshmallow-roasting and drinking. The highlight of the week is the big horseshoe tournament and roast dinner where the winners get their names added to the coveted trophy.

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Last year, after my China misadventure, I came home and was lucky enough to be able to join Colin and his family for the last few days of their 2015 Pender Harbour trip.  It was the perfect China antidote: clean air, lots of love and family, and a perfect escape back to nature. I elected to keep my phone off and just enjoy the people and the place.

This year, Pender Harbour fell just one day after we returned from our Toronto wedding and quick trip to Montreal.  We arrived back in Vancouver around 10pm on Tuesday, I worked Wednesday and Thursday, and then Colin picked me up Thursday after work to drive to the ferry terminal.  It was a crazy week for sure but Pender is the perfect place to relax after some crazy.  Unfortunately, Colin and I were only able to stay for the long weekend as we both had to work Monday, so it wasn’t quite as long and relaxing as we would’ve liked.

View from Marnie & Larry's deck

View from Marnie & Larry’s deck

We arrived Thursday evening and got to work pitching Colin’s brand new 8-man tent.  He had previously bought a 3-man tent but I nagged him relentlessly until he upped the size.  8-man may have been a bit large but it was nice to stretch out and have lots of room for our stuff.  Colin forgot our bedding, but we were able to borrow lots of blankets, sleeping bags and a miraculous piece of foam to keep ourselves dry and comfy.

By Friday morning, most of the other relatives had arrived and everyone had claimed their spot around the property.  We took a quick walk down to the dock and spent the rest of the morning watching the guys chop down some trees, enjoying Marnie’s homemade fish head soup and playing with baby Kennedy. After some lounging, we decided to drive over to Skookumchuck and hike in to see the rapids.

Colin's Instagram shot of the Skookumchuck Narrows

Colin’s Instagram shot of the Skookumchuck Narrows

I’m not a big hiking person but this actually wasn’t a terrible time.  Looking back (and acknowledging that I have probably repressed the worst parts), I actually enjoyed myself.  The hike was really pretty – there were Jurassic Park-like glades, a beautiful lake and it ended with the natural phenomenon: the Skookumchuck Narrows where differences in water levels creates insane rapids and whirlpools that a handful of brave kayakers take on. There were a few moments of uphill that my thighs were upset about and poor Colin got stung near a very active wasp nest but all in all, it was a great time.  In fact, the hardest physical part of the hike was being squished into Colin’s backseat with his two 15 year old cousins who were all limbs for 30 mins there and back.

Colin and I after the first couple hours of hiking

Colin and I after the first couple hours of hiking

My favourite part about Pender Harbour is ending each night by the fire. I love looking up at the stars and just taking in the quiet with everyone in lawn chairs seated around the fire.  Of course, making s’mores is part of that fun as well!

The next day was all about the horseshoes and the roast! More friends and family poured in for the annual tournament that would consist of 30 games and last apx 7 hours (with a dinner break) thanks to a 2-loss elimination rule.  This is also where I learned that my horseshoe skills have not improved since last year but had, along with my enjoyment level, seriously decreased. But the partner that I bailed on after two games (sorry, Dave!) did go on to win the tournament with his new partner, so I really did them both a favour🙂

On our final day in Pender, we didn’t get up to a whole lot. We had a nice breakfast and then started taking down our camp, packing up the car and saying our goodbyes.  Unfortunately, we never did find the time or perfect temperature to go swimming and Colin missed out on the guys’ big fishing trip.  So hopefully next year we’re both able to take a little longer off work and extend our stay.  But it was still nice to have our short and sweet visit this year.

**I decided to go phone/internet free for this Pender visit as well so unfortunately I only have a couple photos snapped on Colin’s phone to share**

9 Things I Learned as a Maid of Honour

Two weekends ago, I had the absolute honour of standing next to my dear friend, Kimberley, as she vowed to spend her life with her best friend, Joe. Kim and Joe have been together for over a decade so it was really no surprise that they would make it to the altar one day. But I didn’t know how special it would be to witness their day up close. And by special, I mean exciting, tear-inducing and incredibly exhausting!

For their wedding, I served as one of Kimberley’s co-maids of honour (co-MOH) along with our childhood friend, Sasha. Sasha and I have both known Kim for over 20 years – which is pretty insane to think about.  Together with the other two bridesmaids, the four groomsmen, twin ring bearers and twin flower girls, we made up the wedding party. And while I have attended many weddings and even been in a few as a flower girl, junior bridesmaid and unofficial best man (as a 9 year old at my dad’s wedding), I’ve never been in one as an adult with actual responsibilities. So here is a quick run down of what I learned:

#1. Weddings are expensive
Before this year, I never really thought about wedding costs. I remember vaguely hearing that my parents had spent $10,000 on their 200 person wedding (which now sounds incredibly cheap) but over the last few months I have learnt just how much things add up – and I’m not even the one getting married! But after gifts, a dress, alterations, hair/makeup and travel costs, a wedding will leave a pretty significant dent in your wallet. For more on bridal party expenses, I wrote a few pieces on what it all costs and how to save money

The dresses!

The dresses!

#2. You can do a lot on a little sleep
The night before the wedding we were up until past 3:00am folding programs, fixing seating charts and helping Kim write her vows.  Now 3:00am doesn’t sound too bad, except that our hair and makeup team arrived the next morning at 5:00am! Meaning a few of us were up around 4:30am to shower and wash up before it was our turn in the chair. I was terrified that the <2 hours of sleep would result in me passing out mid-ceremony but luckily the adrenaline kicked in (that, or the McDonalds coffee we guzzled). And with a full day and night of go go go, it’s hard to even find a moment to be tired. It probably wasn’t until closer to 11:00pm that I realized how exhausted I was. But even then, I managed to find a second wind to get back on the dance floor and eat leftover lobster in bed back at the hotel.

#3. Aisles are really long
Like seriously loooooooooooong! I couldn’t believe how long it took to walk down and how long people were staring at me.  Luckily, I had some familiar faces in the pews and thank goodness, I didn’t trip! And I guess the long aisle was just preparation for standing throughout the longer ceremony.

#4. Your main job: keep the bride calm!
Getting married is super stressful.  I knew going into this that I would want to do whatever I could to keep Kim as calm and worry-free as possible. Which is why, when we were running super late for the ceremony (it was supposed to start at 11:30am and we arrived closer to 1:00pm), I received all of the worried calls from the wedding coordinator and made sure to relay the information to the hair stylist and photographer, not to Kim.  This job also involves trying to make the bride eat something, staying with her when she just wants company and trying to fix any issue that comes up without letting her know. As I kept telling Kim, her only job that day is to get married; we’ll handle the rest.
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#5. Your next job: remember the little things
I was actually really honoured to be standing right next to Kim at the church and to have the important job of holding her bouquet, fluffing her train and hanging onto her vows.  It also fell to the bridesmaids to make sure we had Kim’s shoes (there were a few pairs worn throughout the day) and helping to get them on and off her feet, adjusting the veil, and always having a supply of tissues at the ready.

#6. Make time for tears
Speaking of tissues, one thing I found really important about being a co-MOH was taking a break from the tasks of the day to think about why we’re there and what we’re celebrating.  It was so nice to participate in the worship songs and to watch Kim and Joe sing them to each other. And it was very sweet to hear the loving words the fathers of the bride and groom had to say about their children. At the end of the day, we’re there to celebrate Kim and Joe’s love and it’s important to make time for that, and the face-ful of tears that follow.

The father-daughter dance

The father-daughter dance

#7. The speech isn’t all that terrifying
Sasha and I wrote the majority of our MOH speech via Google Doc. We would both post ideas and then leave comments for each other. It was probably the most effective way to do it with us living three time zones apart but it was a little scary delivering it on the big day knowing we hadn’t really practiced saying it out loud. But it went well! Or I was too hungry/drunk/squished into my dress to realize if it went poorly. But we got laughs, cheers and applause from the audience, which is a success in my book.  And the game that followed, which we put together the night before, was also a huge hit!

#8. The day is never over
As soon as I saw the schedule with hair and makeup starting at 5:00am, I knew it was going to be a long day.  But the day truly did not end.  We went from getting ready to the ceremony to pictures to set up to the reception with only a quick limo nap in between.  And even when I thought it might be over, it wasn’t.  Sure, it’s easier to rally when everyone is doing shots and they’re playing a fun song but trying to pack up the sign in table, load gifts into the car and distribute leftover cake at the wee hours of the morning is no easy feat.

Always time for a silly photo!

Always time for a silly photo!

And then a nice photo

And then a nice one🙂

#9. It’s all worth it
But despite all of the exhaustion, money spent and meals missed, it was so worth it.  All in all, I had an amazing time. I loved being helpful and taking care of little tasks on the big day. And I love that Kimberley wanted me there by her side as she said her vows.  It’s pretty exciting to be standing at the front of the church and sitting at the head table – front rows seats to the most magical moment in your friends’ lives.  And it was also really cool to see so many people from my childhood who I hadn’t seen in many years.  The dinner was delicious, dancing like a fool with everyone on the dance floor was hilarious and the entire day was beautiful.  For every task I took on, Kimberley had to take on 1000 more just to make the whole thing possible.

 

Can’t wait to see what new lessons I learn when I  try it again in a few weeks serving as a bridesmaid for my friend Andrea’s wedding!

Montreal for a minute

A week ago Colin and I drove from Toronto to Montreal for a quick 36 hour stay in the French Canadian city. It was a bit of a whirlwind coming off of our wedding weekend in Toronto and knowing we had to fly back to Vancouver just two days after we arrived but I think, despite the heat, we both had a good time.

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We left Toronto shortly after 12pm on Sunday and didn’t arrive in Montreal until closer to 7pm. The trip was pretty smooth sailing for the most part: we listened to the Hamilton soundtrack, counted roadkill (11 and 1/2 on the way there, 8 on the way back) and stopped in Belleville for lunch. But things turned hectic as soon as we entered the outskirts of Montreal.  It seemed like almost every road was under construction and our GPS didn’t know to route us around it.  Poor Colin, who had already been driving for 5+ hours on little sleep, kept getting thrown onto different freeways and one-way streets until we finally made it to our hotel (which we had to circle twice due to lack of parking). Once we got checked in, we flopped on our bed for a quick breather before heading out for a late night dinner.

A couple friends had recommended we visit Montreal’s famous smoked meat restaurant, Schwartz.  We walked the 20 minutes from our hotel and found ourselves in a packed, hole in the wall diner sharing a table with two large Russian men. We ordered a smoked meat sandwich each while admiring the countless newspaper reviews and celebrity photos on the walls. Verdict? Colin loved his sandwich and I was just meh about it. I don’t think smoked meat is really my thing.

First stop: smoked meat!

First stop: smoked meat!

We headed back to our hotel and cut through the Place des Arts.  This outdoor area is completely pedestrian-run and taken over by festivals in the summer. Unfortunately, there weren’t any festivals going on while we were in Montreal but it was fun to stroll through, listening to street performers play their instruments and watching little kids run through the fountains.

Heading out the next “morning” (I think it was past noon by the time we left), we were met with a bit of muggy weather. We decided to walk down to Old Montreal. From a handful of trips to Montreal, I think this might be my favourite part of the city. I love the cobblestone streets and cute little shops. We stopped at Chez Suzette and indulged in some delicious breakfast crepes. So yum!

YUM!

YUM!

After eating, we walked up to Notre Dame and I was pretty blown away. It reminded both Colin and I of the gorgeous churches in Europe. We paid $5 to go inside and I think it was well worth it. From there, we strolled down to the Old Port.  We happened to stumble upon this really cool amusement park-type thing that had a bunch of inflatable bouncy castles – except they were all different pirate ships. And on the other side, it had an insane ropes course (easily 3-4 stories high with 20+ obstacles) that ended with a zipline across the water. If Colin and I weren’t scared to death of heights, it would’ve been a lot of fun to give that a try.

Notre Dame

Notre Dame

We walked back to the hotel for a mandatory air conditioning break.  It took quite a lot of cajoling by Colin to get me back outdoors but we finally did make it back out. We took an Uber (because Colin was done with driving in Montreal) to Mont Royal to check out the scenic viewpoint. And I guess all of Colin’s cajoling was worth it because the view was stunning!

Overlooking Montreal from Mt. Royal

Overlooking Montreal from Mt. Royal

From there we took another Uber to St. Joseph, Montreal’s most famous church. When we first got there, the sight of the stairs almost had me turning back but I made it up and we found an escalator for the last bit.  To be honest, I wish we had seen St. Joseph before Notre Dame as I was actually a little unimpressed. This is the church where Celine Dion was married but I didn’t find the inside nearly as spectacular as Notre Dame.

St. Joseph

St. Joseph

One cool part about St. Joseph was the gardens outside. You follow a path through a dozen or so statues that depict the crucifixion of Christ. It was actually really interesting because they set it up so that you’re walking uphill just as the statues would show Christ carrying his cross up a hill.

After all that sight-seeing, it was time for dinner. We headed to La Banquise so Colin could get his much sought after Montreal poutine. We had planned to visit another poutine place but our hotel concierge insisted that La Banquise was the best poutine in the city.  The restaurant itself was really cool and, of course, really busy. We managed to snag a table and ordered our poutine. Colin got a smoked meat version (he’s hooked on that smoked meat) while I opted for one with cheese sticks and marinara sauce instead of gravy (I don’t actually like poutine, so this was my compromise).  And since I’m not a poutine lover, I’ll have to trust Colin’s verdict that this was the best poutine he has ever had.

Colin enjoying his poutine!

Colin enjoying his poutine!

Following dinner we dragged our full bellies one store over for  dessert at La Fonderie.  We got a small chocolate fondue and it was delicious. I’m sure there is better (and cheaper) fondue to be found in the city but we were satisfied – so satisfied that after our fruit was gone we kept sticking our fingers in the bowl to get more of the yummy chocolate!

The next morning we had to pack our bags and get started on our long drive back to Toronto. While we didn’t get super lost this time (just one wrong turn out of Montreal), we did hit some crazy traffic coming back to Toronto making our journey another 7 hours.  But before we left Montreal, we had to sample some Montreal-style bagels!

Bagels for the road!

Bagels for the road!

We headed to Fairmount Bagel, the oldest bagel shop in the city, and picked up two poppy seed and two chocolate chip bagels.  They were extremely dense and we both enjoyed them.  Though eating them in the car without a knife to spread the cream cheese did prove a little difficult.

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And that was Montreal! It was a short little trip but fun to play tourist and fill our bellies with all of Montreal’s finest.  I hadn’t been to Montreal in about 7 years so it was nice to head back and Colin definitely enjoyed his first trip. We were both big fans of the architecture and the food but decided that the humidity and language barrier would be enough to discourage us from moving cross-country permanently.

My week in China, one year later

About a year ago, I was  packing for a six-week trip to China where I would be facilitating two groups of youth sight-seeing and volunteering in Rural China.

Except, one week later and I was back home.

Even though a year has passed since this trip-that-never-was, I still find myself going over things in my head, processing events and questioning what happened.  I have told my story about why things happened a million times to a million different people – I don’t care to tell the story again at this point. But there’s definitely still a lot I haven’t made up my mind about.

One thing that really shook me up was that this was a “travel failure”. I’ve had lots of mishaps and changed plans on past trips but I’ve never really cut a trip short – I’ve never failed a trip. But this one, I failed. And it wasn’t just a personal trip, this was a work trip.

That freaked me out. Actually, it still freaks me out. Travelling was my thing. I prided myself on my travel stories, my countless airplane rides, ability to pack everything in a carry-on bag, etc. How could I be bad at travelling?

And, if I’m being perfectly honest, it embarrasses me. Like most humans, I don’t like to fail. Those next couple of months at work were really hard.  Everyone knew I was supposed to be in China for 6 weeks but all of a sudden, I was home and no one, including myself, could quite explain why. I hated coming into the office everyday and I hated telling the story of what happened to every other person in my life.

Now if I’m being really really honest, this whole thing scares me.  My experience in China was a first time for me. I’ve never been so emotional, have never had so many uncontrollable events happen and have never wanted out or needed out so badly. And that terrifies me. What if that happens again on my next trip?

The idea of relationships comes up a lot when I think about China.  While I was struggling over there, I relied so heavily on my friends, family and co-workers. I had many a teary Skype conversation with my parents and boyfriend, and countless messages of support from my friends and co-workers. And after its all happened and I’ve left my job there (not solely due to the China trip), I definitely feel that I’ve lost the closeness I had with those same friends and co-workers. I guess that is a natural part of leaving a job but I miss those wonderful people being such a huge part of my life. The last relationship part about China is one of the fears I’m not even ready to admit to myself: a small part of me thinks my new relationship was pulling my heartstrings home a little too hard and I hate that I may have let that happen.

A year later and I’m still full of questions. I haven’t finished processing this whole thing; I don’t know exactly what it means. And I don’t know exactly why it happened. I don’t know if I made the right choices. I don’t know if my emotions got the best of me.  I don’t know if I will feel this way again with some other experience in my life.

I do know that I’m a lot happier a year after the China debacle. So much in my life has changed since then: new job, new apartment, new neighbourhood, new friends, etc. that I’m not sure would’ve happened had I stayed. I had a great summer with friends and Colin in Vancouver – something I would’ve missed if I was in China.  I have some regrets, and definitely some questions, but I do think, overall, that coming home was the right decision for me.  I’m slowly learning to think of my week in China as less of a travel failure and more of a life lesson – I just don’t think I’ve figured out all of the teachings yet. And I’m confident that one day in the future I’ll be able to look at a flight deal for China or picture of the Great Wall and not cringe🙂

Victoria Day in Victoria!

Since moving to Vancouver in 2010, I’ve been to Victoria a handful of times.  It’s always a quick day trip (except one overnight for work, that doesn’t really count) where most of my time is spent commuting. Which is probably why I’ve always said that my favourite part about Victoria is the beautiful ferry ride.

Now, the ferry is no longer the favourite.

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That’s not to say I don’t still love the ferry, because I do! I love the giant soft serve ice cream, strangely alluring need to browse the gift shop and ability to always see some awesome aquatic wildlife from the deck. But now I’m coming around to so many other cool things in Victoria itself.

I convinced Colin that it would be really fun for us to spend Victoria Day in Victoria.  Sorta like how my dream is to eat a nanaimo bar in a Nanaimo bar. So we decided to head over to the island for a quick Sunday/Monday trip.

A few highlights from our trip:

We arrived early on Sunday afternoon and got to check out a cute outdoor market and the famed Munro’s Books. I love outdoor markets – I would literally plan my days in Europe around which markets were open when. And Munro’s Books is a place I could spend hours and millions of dollars in.

Munro's Books

Munro’s Books

Our next idea was to find a brewery. We had one selected, but it ended up being closed on Sundays (one of the downsides of Victoria – there was also a high tea place I wanted to visit that was closed Sunday/Monday). So we headed to Phillips Brewery. To be honest, I was expecting a cool little tasting section but it was just a place to fill up growlers. Oh well, next time!

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After that we stopped for lunch at this cute pizza place with giant glass windows. I think it’s a chain but I’m forgetting the name of it. Anyway, it was delicious!

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After pizza we walked towards the Empress Hotel. One day I want to really splurge: spend the night there and go for their $80 high tea.

From there we walked over to the parliament building. I’m always struck by how gorgeous our parliament building is – to be honest, it sorta puts the Empress to shame.  We were really lucky that just as we were strolling by, a high school band was setting up. We figured it might be fun to listen to a song or two. We actually ended up staying for their entire set and having the best time. The band performed modern songs, like Uptown Funk, Bang Bang and even the Game of Thrones theme song, and the kids were loving it. They were all dancing and really getting into their music. It was so much fun – maybe the highlight of the weekend!

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Next we walked over to Fisherman’s Wharf. I didn’t realize Victoria also had a Fisherman’s Wharf and it was sorta reminiscent of San Francisco’s. And there were seals!  Three gorgeous seals were hanging out right by the dock and putting on a little show for us tourists who were only too happy to buy them fish to eat and snap their photo.

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We walked around and checked out all of the float homes on the wharf with our ice cream cones. The homes are really cool! Though I can’t imagine the home owners appreciate a bunch of nosy people walking within feet of their homes at all times of the day and night.

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To finish off the night we got some mouth-watering fish n’ chips and took a cute little water taxi back to our hotel. We watched Game of Thrones on a very tiny phone screen and then headed to bed.

Selfie from the water taxi

Selfie from the water taxi

The next morning we headed out to watch the Victoria Day parade! I love a good parade. I’m hesitant to call this one a good parade, but probably because I was raised on the crazy float-abundant Toronto Santa Claus parade.  But what the Victoria Victoria Day (VVD) parade lacks in crazy floats, it makes up for in marching bands.  Whoever said quality over quantity, clearly was not a part of the VVD parade committee. We watched from the sidewalk and again from our breakfast table at Cora’s and saw no less than 8 different marching bands.

After breakfast, we headed out of town and stopped at the Highland Games festival. We watched Scottish dancing, sword fights and a strangely enticing goose maze where an elderly Irish man and two dogs would very slowly attempt to herd a group of scared geese through various obstacles.

And that pretty much wraps up our trip! From the Highland Games we drove back to the ferry. Being a long weekend and us not having a reservation, we were expecting a long wait. And we did wait for a couple of hours, but we managed to squeeze in (second last car!) on the 3:00pm ferry back to the mainland.

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Next up: I serve as a co-maid of honour (co-MOH) at my friend’s wedding in Toronto next weekend.  Stay tuned for details on that adventure!