On the move again

So it seems like since I came back to Canada in August of 2014 with no lingering travel plans, I’ve still managed to do quite a bit of moving! I’ve been back and forth between Toronto and Vancouver, on vacation to the Dominican Republic and down to the States.  I’ve moved from my parents’ places in Toronto to a 4-month sublet near UBC to my own mini bachelor pad in northeast Vancouver.

And here I go again!

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That’s right, I’m moving! After just two and a bit months in the Closet, I’m packing it up and heading elsewhere.

I have loved living alone and I really enjoy my space.  It’s small, for sure, but it’s also modern and has everything I need; I’ve been spoiled with insuite laundry, a dishwasher and cable.  And my 15-20 min commute to work couldn’t be more ideal.

So why am I moving? A few reasons: 1) While I think the rent I’m paying is fair for what I’m getting, it is a little steep for my liking.  Working two jobs means my current rent is affordable, but I definitely could be saving more.  2) My current place is the perfect location for my Monday to Friday job but….far from pretty much everything else! It’s just a bit too far northeast, especially when I’m working late on the weekends. 3) Lastly, my place isn’t pet friendly.  I thought it was for a bit, but turns out, it’s not.  Now I may not be ready for a dog right this second, but it is something I want to consider in the near-ish future!

Luckily, I’m on a month-to-month lease with my current place.  My landlords are wonderful and completely understand that I’m looking for something dog friendly.

How did this happen? So this whole moving thing came about kind of suddenly; we’re talking like two weeks ago.  My friend Sophie, who works at Free The Children with me, just moved to Vancouver in January.  She’s got a place of her own, but isn’t crazy about the situation.  She caught me on padmapper one day (my favourite website) and asked if I was looking for a new place.  I told her I just check (daily) for dog-friendly places.  She joked that we should move in together: she was looking to leave her place, I was looking for a place where I could get a dog and we were both looking to save some rent money.  I laughed and then thought, wait a minute….

We both decided to mull it over.  “Mulling” quickly became sending each other craigslist links of available apartments which ballooned into emailing landlords to set up viewings.  Our first, and favourite, viewing was two Saturdays ago.  It was fun to be apartment searching.  Over the next week and a half, we visited a handful of places and chatted about our lifestyles and roommate preferences.  Despite how quickly everything was happening, I felt, and still feel, really excited!

Where am I headed? After seeing about 5 or 6 places, Sophie and I kept coming back to that very first place.  Even though they say never to go with the first one! It’s a small place but very modern and right across from a park (where I can walk a dog). The landlord seemed really nice and while it’s a bit far south, it’s right on the bus line to work! So we were thrilled when we heard back from the landlord a few days ago to find out we got the place!

So in two weeks time, I’m going to be getting the keys to my new place! I still have my current place till the first, so it’ll be a gradual two week move.  Which is perfect, because it gives me time to buy some furnishings.  Who knew a bed was going to be so expensive?

I’m really excited for this next little adventure! I’m excited (and scared for the credit card bill) to buy some new stuff and furnish a new place.  I’m stoked to be moving in with the wonderful Sophie, whose running, yoga and cooking skills I hope will rub off on me.  I’m thrilled to be heading to a new neighbourhood and get to discover some local gems.  And I’m psyched for the possibility of getting a dog!

Look out for your house-warming invite :)

Down by the bay

This past weekend I decided to tack on a few vacations days to our Family Day holiday and spend them down in San Francisco (aka Frannie) with some lovely ladies who I first met in Amsterdam a year ago!

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Carlie and I ventured down from Vancouver to meet our friends, Stephanie and Candy, who both live in Frannie and go to San Francisco State.  I’ve been to Frannie before but it was Carlie’s first time. And lucky for us, we had our own tour guides! It was the perfect way to see the city: enjoying the tourist highlights while also getting a bit of a local perspective. And while the forecast called for mostly rain, we did luck out with some awesome rays of sun. My blissful 5 days in Frannie were filled with friends, sights, fabulous food, photos and so many laughs.  It was an awesome way to catch up with people I haven’t seen for a while and recharge before going into a pretty busy stretch at work.

And here is Frannie in photos:

Alcatraz!

Alcatraz!

Chilling with the sea lions on Pier 39!

Chilling with the sea lions on Pier 39!

It doesn't get more Frannie than clam chowder in a bread bowl on Fisherman's Wharf

It doesn’t get more Frannie than clam chowder in a bread bowl on Fisherman’s Wharf

JUMP! Our classic "jumping shot" from Europe made it to the Golden Gate Bridge.

JUMP! Our classic “jumping shot” from Europe made it to the Golden Gate Bridge.

Take me back to the beach please!

Take me back to the beach please!

<3

<3

According to Candy, the most authentic Mexican tacos in all of SF!

According to Candy, the most authentic Mexican tacos in all of SF!

Welcome to the Castro district!

Welcome to the Castro district!

That one time we ended up at a comedy show in a hidden bar in the Mission

That one time we ended up at a comedy show in a hidden bar in the Mission

One of my favourite Frannie neighbourhoods with my other favourite: a puppy!

One of my favourite Frannie neighbourhoods with my other favourite: a puppy!

Winding down Lombard Street!

Winding down Lombard Street!

Golden girls by the Golden Gate

Golden girls by the Golden Gate

The stunning view from Twin Peaks! Our first sight of Frannie was off to a good start :)

The stunning view from Twin Peaks! Our first sight of Frannie was off to a good start :)

The gorgeous Moraga steps!

The gorgeous Moraga steps!

Am I ready for a dog?

So if you’ve spent any time with me in the last year, you know I’ve spent a majority of that time cooing over adorable puppies on the street, stalking dog shelter websites and longing to bring home a fur-ball of my own.

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But am I ready?

I grew up with a dog, the beautiful and berserk Yoda.  Yoda was a big puppy – over 100lbs! He was a barker and a shedder.  But he was also the most lovable goofball and definitely added a lot to our family.  It was amazing growing up with a dog.  However, I’m the first to admit that our parents did most (all) of the work with Yoda: morning walks, grooming and buying huge bags of dog food all fell within their responsibility.

Yoda & the fam - circa 2006!

Yoda & the fam – circa 2006!

So am I ready for a dog of my own?

What kind of dog? As much as I love Yoda, I know I’m not ready or inclined to bring home a dog of that size.  Ideally I’m looking for a small dog with a shorter coat.  And I really want a senior dog! Senior dogs have a harder time getting adopted, because they aren’t as appealing as the puppies.  I love the idea of being able to provide an awesome home for a dog’s final years.  Senior dogs are also usually lower-energy, housetrained and (lucky for me) more affordable!

Where will the dog live? So I’ve recently moved into a new apartment. And while I love my new place, it’s definitely small.  I don’t know if this is a deal-breaker for a dog or not.  Some dogs, especially small senior ones like the kind I want, are more than happy to have their little dog bed area and don’t need much more than that. I think as long as I’m able to give my dog the time he/she needs outside, having a small inside space will be okay.

Am I allowed to get a dog? Right now my landlords are in the “considering” phase, due to a bad dog experience with a previous tenant. I definitely want to be respectful of the other tenants here and would never go against my landlords’ wishes.  Their concerns (not letting the dog do his/her business in the front yard, not having a dog home who barks all day) are valid and things I would need to consider before bringing someone home.

Do I have time? How will the dog fit into my schedule? This one is a bit of a pickle.  The FTC office I work at actually allows dogs, so I would be able to bring my buddy to work with me.  However, I wouldn’t want to bring my dog in everyday, so I’d need to have a back-up plan.  Do I bus home at lunch (do-able, but not ideal)? Hire a dog-walker (expensive)? Or hope my dog can make it without a bathroom/exercise break during the work day (possible but uncomfortable)? And then there’s my shifts at the Arbutus Club on the weekend, where I definitely can’t bring a dog.  Would my dog be okay if he was walked at 3:00pm and then not again till I got home at midnight or (if either of us are too tired) the next morning?

Can I afford it? While I’m far from rich, I do think I would be able to afford a dog.  I understand that there would be some big ticket items at first and then monthly/yearly expenses.  The dog sites I’ve looked at estimate anywhere between $700 and $1200 per year for proper dog care.  And proper dog care is obviously something I wouldn’t want to cut corners on.  It would be a big expense, but I’m confident in my current income and ability to manage money.  However, senior dogs do tend to err on the more expensive side of healthcare…

And what about my travelling? One thing that’s kept me from clicking the “adopt” button on all the shelter websites has been my near-constant nomadic status over the last year. Now that I’m more settled, I feel a bit more ready for permanent changes to my life, like a dog. In the next two years, I don’t see travelling for longer than a couple of weeks (crazy, right?), during which my dog could stay with a dog-loving friend or at a doggy daycare.  Of course, a dog, even a senior dog, is more than a two year commitment.  And right now I don’t exactly know where I’ll be in two years.  A big contender: moving to London.  But regardless of where I go (or if I stay), I think my next move would be long-term.  I learned while living in Amsterdam that I prefer slow travel with a homebase.  So wherever I go next, I plan for it to be a long enough move that I could do the work to bring my dog with me!

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So, am I ready?

Getting on board with on-boarding

I spent the last week back in Toronto (again) for Free The Children training aka on-boarding.  I was also able to fit in a few dinners with friends/family and experience some frighteningly frigid temperatures.  The whole week was kind of a whirlwind, but I’m flying back to Vancouver (literally, I’m typing this on the plane) with a ton of information about FTC, new co-workers I’m happy to call friends, an extra blanket of love from my friends and family, and a re-invigoration for my job.  Not bad for a week in -11 degrees, eh?

*****

Bianca (my co-worker from the Vancouver office) and I arrived in Toronto on a rainy, mild afternoon that looked and felt suspiciously like the Vancouver we had just left.  But Toronto was quick to show its true colours: we bundled up in double socks, mittens, hats and scarves every time we left the hotel room that week.

On-boarding started Monday at 9:30am where we met the rest of our cohort (Cohort 34 – what up!) of new (or new-ish) FTC and Me to We employees.  We were also introduced to our on-boarding leaders: Matt and Nabeela.  The rest of the week was a series of sessions designed to give us a greater understanding of the organization’s history, the different departments that make up FTC & M2W and how we fit into the bigger picture.  Needless to say, it was a lot of information!

Coming from a very small regional office – the BC office is currently 17 people strong – it was incredible to get a taste of the 400-person operation at our Toronto headquarters.  I had no idea how big FTC and M2W were! We own 13 buildings in Cabbage Town and are still bursting at the seams.  I love that in an age of charitable exhaustion and tough financial times, I’m working for a charity and social enterprise that is thriving and expanding, without spending more than 10% of any donation on admin costs.

I learned A LOT this week.  Some of it I already knew.  But most of it was brand new and extremely eye-opening.  We were introduced to a bunch of different departments, most of which I had either never heard of or had very little idea as to what they did.  It was incredible to see how every facet of the organization works together so seamlessly to support Free The Children’s mission: working internationally to free children from exploitation and poverty, and working domestically to free youth from the idea that they can’t do anything to change their world.

Raiding the M2W Style closet!

Raiding the M2W Style closet!

One of the most incredible parts of on-boarding was meeting so many of the superb staff in Toronto.  Every person we met was full of energy, full of information and so full of passion and purpose for their work.  It’s equal parts intimidating and inspiring to work alongside such a high caliber of person.

A few moments of on-boarding were particularly impactful for me: the quick friendships I was able to make with my cohort; the dedication, familiarity and wisdom of our leaders, Matt & Nabeela; getting to hear from Spencer West in a casual and conversational environment; meeting FTC senior leadership staff like Scott & Dalal; taking part in facilitation training with Morgan, who the day before agreed to meet with us (and stay late) purely out of the kindness of his heart; and learning about the incredible M2W trip experiences we offer to youth.

I was seriously so blown away by Jeff’s presentation on the service learning trips we offer to youth.  Not only do the trips allow young people to visit Free The Children communities and take part in meaningful service, but they give youth a chance to immerse themselves in a new culture, make connections with community members and go through leadership training.  My own experiences with travel have been beyond transformative in my life.  And it all started with my service trip to the Dominican Republic at 17 years old.  It would be an absolute dream for me to be able to take any part in facilitating that life-changing experience for another young person.

And after full-days of inspiration and information, I spent my evenings catching up with a small number of friends and family members.  It was kind of funny, since I had just been home for Christmas, but I will always take advantage of any opportunity to see my loved ones.  And, who knows when I’m going back to Toronto? At this point, it may not be till Christmas!

So on Monday, Bianca and I joined my mom and cousin Megan for indulgent steaks and other yumminess at The Keg.  Tuesday I met up with Kimberley and Sasha for tacos, overly alcoholic drinks, popsicles and board games! Wednesday I got to see Andrea, Pamela, Lea and Zab for pizza and dessert.  And then on Thursday, my last night in the city, I went to dim sum with dad, Ali, Jade and Lee and then on to more board games and dessert.  I didn’t get to see everyone (sorry!) but I tried my best to squeeze in as many people as possible in my very quick 5 night stay!

Board games & dessert with the Canning family

Board games & dessert with the Canning family

Yummiest tacos at La Carnita!

Yummiest tacos at La Carnita!

And during that 5 night stay, I had a few different thoughts about Toronto.  Walking around Cabbage Town with the afternoon sun, finding an adorable card shop and amazing sandwich store – that’s the Toronto I love.  A Toronto full of sunshine, shopping, cute neighbourhoods and new friends.  But that quickly turned into blustery cold nights, waiting for unreliable transit, streets filled with traffic and lots of work waiting for me when I returned to the hotel.  I guess if there’s any city I have a true love/hate relationship with, it’s Toronto.  As much as I rag on the weather, crowds and lack of majestic scenery (what do you mean there are no mountains or an ocean?), I can’t help but keep Toronto in a warm spot in my heart.  In fact, I had a physical defensive reaction when a friend of mine expressed how much she doesn’t like the city.  No one can talk bad about my city….except for me! ;)

<3

<3

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So that, in a very long-winded and detail-overloaded blog post, was my week in Toronto! Now it’s back to my 2 jobs (and very full inbox) in +9 degrees, rainy Vancouver.  My next few weeks will be catching up on the work I missed while in Toronto, trying to take advantage of Vancouver’s Dine Out and getting ready for my next short excursion…to San Francisco!

And I’m off again!

So after anticipating a slow travel year for 2015, what with my full-time job in Vancouver and no convenient school holidays to take advantage of, it struck me that I’m already off to a not so slow start.

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In less than 24 hours, I’m headed back to Toronto (wasn’t I just there?) for a week of training at Free The Children HQ.  I’m pretty excited to go through this FTC process and meet a bunch of new long-distance colleagues in our Toronto office.  But I’m a little nervous for keeping up with my on-going work in the Vancouver office at the same time.  And the onslaught of out-going people I’m sure to meet is a little daunting.  However, I am really looking forward to catching up with a few friends and family members during my short 5 day visit.  If only the frigid negative temperatures could stay away for those 5 days!

And then I’ll be back in Vancouver for a week and a half before taking off to… San Francisco! I found a pretty cheap flight (less than $200 roundtrip, leaving from Bellingham) and wanted to take advantage of our Family Day long weekend.  It was a fairly spontaneous decision, and I’m sacrificing 3 vacation days (of my 10 for the year), but I’m so stoked to be going to SF.  I first visited “Frannie” back in 2012 with my mom.  In fact, it was one of my first blog posts and moments of solo travel.  I’m really excited to revisit a city that I love and to spend time with some awesome friends who call Frannie home.

I cross back into Canada during the wee hours of the morning on Feb 10, only to return to the States two days later! This time, it’s for work.  And, it’s only to Mount Vernon (2 hours from Vancouver).  But I’ll be meeting with some of my Washington State youth and educators for the first time and get to practice some facilitation skills. Plus, I’ll be going down with my Team Washington crew and rumour has it we might stop at the outlet mall on the way back :)

Granted these upcoming trips (to Toronto, San Francisco and Mount Vernon) kind of pale in comparison to where I was headed in Jan/Feb of 2014 (5 days in Iceland before moving into my new apartment in Amsterdam and spending a long weekend in Milan).  But that’s okay.  Now that I’m more settled, I anticipate many more small trips to closer places.  There are a ton of places around Vancouver I’ve only been to once (like Victoria and Whistler) or haven’t explored at all.  And with my position at FTC, I have the opportunity to head down to Seattle a few times a year.

That’s not to say I’m turning my back on big trips and far off cities.  My scratch-off world map isn’t going to scratch itself! But I do plan to appreciate the more local travel opportunities that I can take advantage of at this point in my life.  I get to be a tourist in my own backyard and keep the ever-present travel bug at bay!

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Holy blog updates, Batman! Seriously, this is like the 3rd post I’ve written this week! I doubt I’ll keep up this publishing schedule, or stick to any schedule religiously, so bare with me during my wordy weeks :) 

Resolutions?

Now that we’re halfway through January, I figured it was about time to put some resolutions out there.

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Or is it?

In 2013, I forwent the grandiose resolutions in favour of 8 mini-resolutions. And they actually went pretty well! Now, two full years later, I have made some headway on those goals:
1) Write a novel: Okay, I didn’t do this one. But I have written stuff and definitely want to keep at it. Maybe this year?
2) Actually get in to tea: Success! My time living in Amsterdam with two tea-addicted roommates definitely helped and I now have a full tea cabinet all of my own.
3) Pick brown/wheat bread: Currently in my fridge: half a loaf of multi-grain bread!
4) Floss/stretch daily: All right, I could probably use some work on this one. I’d say I’m at once a week right now.
5) Write more letters: Another success! I’m a huge snail mail fan and can’t wait to keep writing more letters in 2015.
6) Budget: Better late than never, but I now have a budgeting app on my phone that I use religiously.
7) Finish the Bible: Speaking of religion! I actually haven’t made too much of a dent on this one – but I will!
8) Accessorize more: And ending on a high note: daily I add some sort of earring, ring, necklace combo to my outfit.

So that was 2013.  In 2014, I didn’t even bother to make any resolutions! Whoops :)

But what do I have planned for 2015?

Once again I’m bucking traditional resolutions.  This year I’ve got two, I guess themes, I want to keep top of mind:

Gratitude and Mindfulness

Practising gratitude has long been something I’ve strived for.  Every night, as part of my prayers, I list ten things I’m grateful for that day.  Some days, I get all the way to 20.  And some days, I really struggle to come up with 10 – which is crazy! I live an extremely fortunate life, so coming up with 10 daily gratitudes should never be a problem.  But counting my 10 daily blessings helps me remember how lucky I am even on bad days.

This year, I wanted to take on a gratitude project and found the perfect one (courtesy of Buzzfeed): Rememberlutions! Instead of ending 2015 by looking at resolutions I didn’t keep, I’ll end it by looking back on all of the amazing memories that made 2015 awesome.  And I’m sure that will result in a huge dose of gratitude :)

The other part of my 2015 plan is more like a resolution…or maybe like a mantra? I’m not quite sure how to categorize it, but here it is:

I want to be purposeful with my time and money.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I enjoy crappy reality TV, celebrity gossip, impulse buys and anything on sale. I don’t realistically think I can cut those things completely out of my life. But, I do think I can cut them down.  It’s so easy for me to waste a night in front of the TV or filling out Buzzfeed quizzes.  I don’t think twice about going out for lunch a few times a week or picking up, yet another, cheap sweater at the mall. And while those wasted nights are relaxing and there’s definitely some instant gratification from my impulse buys, they don’t make me feel happy, satisfied or accomplished. It bothers me to go to bed at night and not feel like I’ve done something meaningful that day.

So, I want to be more mindful with my time and money! I haven’t exactly worked out what that will mean – but I’m sure I will figure it out soon. I think just in publishing this, I’m taking the first step in holding myself accountable.  And I’m giving myself another reminder to think critically before I waste an hour or a dollar on something I don’t actually want or need.  So far I’ve started adding a few things to my day to give it a bit more purpose: I’ve been learning a little Spanish with daily exercises on Duolingo.  I really loved using my extremely limited Spanish when I was in the DR, and I’d love to learn more.  I’ve also started a daily stretch and meditation with another fun app: Headspace.  I’ve started reading before bed again.  I applied to volunteer at the SPCA animal shelter.  And, I’m even trying to get into cooking!

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So those are some things I’m working on for 2015. Wish me luck!

2014: A Year In Review

Is it 2015 already?

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Actually, it’s been 2015 for a little while.  You can tell I’m a bit behind on my blogging – whoops!

One reason I keep a blog is so I can look back on all the wonderful things I’m fortunate enough to experience in my life. It’s kind of incredible to sit back and scroll through the year.  2014 took me to a lot of new places, let me meet a lot of new people and accept new opportunities.

For the last few years that I’ve had this blog, I do a post at the end of each year that sums up what happened and predicts what’s to come in the new year.  It’s a chance for me to take stock, count my blessings and get excited for the year ahead.  Today I looked back on my final post of 2013.  My predictions for 2014 were pretty accurate.  I did spend the most incredible 5 months wandering around Europe with some of the coolest people I’ve been lucky enough to meet.  And I did come back to Vancouver to finish off my courses at UBC.  But there were also a few surprises: I took a job in Tokyo, Japan for the month of July, I fit in a number of visits to the always-lovely Toronto, I got a job serving, I finished at UBC and I got the full-time job of my dreams at Free The Children!

2014 was a year of movement and maturity. I travelled to a huge number of new countries (10!) and a few old favourites (aka my 5th trip to London).  I called 5 rooms in 4 cities home throughout the course of the year. I logged a scary number of hours on planes, buses and booking those planes/buses online.  I learned that my entire life can fit into two large suitcases, and I love that.

Maturity came in heading to Amsterdam by myself for 5 months.  This wasn’t my first solo trip, nor does a semester abroad really count as solo, but it was certainly a growing experience.  I lived with two complete strangers, who became amazing friends.  I navigated my new city of Amsterdam, and then a dozen or so other new cities on weekend jaunts around Europe.  And, most impressively, I cooked for myself for 5 whole months without developing scurvy or burning down the house (we did come close a few times).

Maturity was found again in my role in Japan.  I chaperoned a group of high school students learning a language I didn’t know in a country I had never been to. It was a whirlwind (and humid!) 4 weeks, but I’m so glad I jumped on that opportunity.

And a final dose of maturity hit in these last 4 months in Vancouver.  I was back in proper school, which I hadn’t been in since 2012.  I was living and working outside of Residence Life for the first time in my Vancouver life.  And I was setting things up for the greatest wave of maturity: finishing my undergrad at UBC, living by myself in Vancouver and starting an amazing full-time job at Free The Children.

So coming up in 2015…. I don’t really know what predictions to make for this upcoming year.  My plans now seem a lot more stable; no more continent jumping every few months.  I’m set up in Vancouver with house & job for the next 2 years.  It’s rare for me to describe a new year without talking about the big trips I’ll be taking. But it’s also kind of exciting! I’ve talked before about not having an upcoming trip and how I’m pretty okay with that.  I’m okay starting and ending 2015 in Vancouver – more than okay, I’m stoked about it! I’m sure my life is going to take on so many more facets I don’t even know about yet.  So while I plan to be living in Vancouver and working at FTC for all of this year, I’m certain there will be new opportunities, new people and a few surprises thrown in to make 2015 just as wonderful as 2014 was!

The Lees take The Dominican Republic!

Christmas is my favourite holiday. And I’m a pretty big supporter of spending the holidays back home with family and not escaping to some Caribbean resort.  But this year, I got to do both!

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I had a whirlwind tour of Toronto that lead straight into a sleepless Christmas Eve and 4am airport arrival on Christmas Day for our flight down to Puerto Plata.  14 Lees, including 4 under 8 years old, boarded the plane to spend a week stuffing our faces, sunning our skin and enjoying one another’s company. It was busy, humid and blissful – all at the same time!

Highlights of our trip:

Pools, beaches & endless drinks: Everyday was some lovely combination of wading in the Atlantic Ocean, playing in the sand, swimming in the pools and complimenting all of that water time with delicious strawberry daquiris (poco rum por favor!).  I especially loved watching Lee and Nathaniel dig huge holes on the beach (for hours!), doing hilarious aqua aerobics with my dad (who was the only male in the class), and catching our resident Water Baby, Lara, as she flung herself tirelessly back and forth in the pools.

Jade living the island life

Jade living the island life

The boys & a bird

The boys & a bird

All that food! Suffice to say, we ate A LOT in the DR. I honestly don’t remember feeling hungry at any point during our trip.  Some of the food was better than others; some was a lot better.  My favourite meal was our night at the a la carte seafood restaurant where I was ready to marry my salmon entree.  A few other dishes, like the warm bread pudding, chicken parm at the Italian restaurant, or the daily omelette station at breakfast were close competitors, but the salmon won out.  However, the insane feast they put out for New Year’s Eve (complete with ice sculptures, a sushi station and multiple roast pigs) was probably the most impressive to witness.

Nightly shows: Every night our resort put on a show.  And most nights it wasn’t that spectacular.  The magic show was creepy, the African show was a little culturally-insensitive and we never did make it to the tropical show.  But Michael Jackson Night was, surprisingly, stellar! We were blown away by the MJ look-a-like, the amazingly talented dancers and the perfect compilation of Michael hits.  We were that family clapping and singing along in the back row.  We’re sorry.

Jade & the cast of the Michael show!

Jade & the cast of the Michael show!

Dune buggies! While I opted out of the waterfall outing (it involved hiking and leaping – no thank you), I was pretty stoked for dune buggies.  Our family of five headed out to drive over bumps and through puddles on a course that took us into a forest, village, field and beach! It was crazy messy and a huge adrenaline rush to be going so fast.  I even put my fears aside and took the wheel for a stretch of it.  The whole morning was a ton of fun and I would definitely recommend it.  However, don’t wear flip flops to drive – big mistake.

Dune buggies!

Dune buggies!

A ride up the cable car: We headed off the resort one day and up the cable car (of which mountain, I couldn’t even say) to get a great aerial view of Puerto Plata.  The views were awesome and the cool trails at the top made for a very scenic mini-hike.  After the mountain, a few of us headed into the city centre for lunch, a walk and a visit to the Amber Museum.  Lunch was a bit of a gong show, but all in all the day was enjoyable.  It was nice to spend some time away from our resort and to practice my Espanol!

The views of Puerto Plata

The views of Puerto Plata

Shameless mountain-top selfie

Shameless mountain-top selfie

Ocean World: Another off-resort activity took us to Ocean World, where we snorkelled in a pool with fish, took in sea lion, dolphin and shark shows, played with birds and hung out on the beach.  Sure, it was a bit overpriced and definitely catering to tourists, but that didn’t stop us from being in awe of the amazing animals. Jade even has plans to get a degree in marine biology and return to work as a trainer!

Jade & Lara are all smiles!

Jade & Lara are all smiles!

Awesome family moments: The best part about our trip was spending so much time with this side of my family. Jadey and I roomed together, and got to bond over hilariously loud shower songs, early morning wake-ups and helpful sunscreen applications.  Dad worked hard at improving his (very limited) Spanish during our week in the DR and it was really fun to help him out with that.  Staying up late and drinking with our uncles will always be a fun time that Jade and I won’t forget.  And bringing out the girly side of our adorable cousin Lara by painting her nails and singing Frozen songs at the top of our lungs is easily one of my favourite memories.

Jade & baby Lara :)

Jade & baby Maddy :)

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From getting all dressed up for nightly dinners and dancing at the New Year’s Eve party to walks along the beach at night and a luxurious visit to the spa, this trip was certainly awesome and unforgettable.

Coming home?

Okay, I’m way behind on blog posts. Like 3 weeks behind. But in my defence, I’ve been really busy!

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In the last couple of weeks I’ve flown to Toronto, celebrated Christmas, flown to the Dominican Republic for a family vacation, rang in the new year, flown back to Toronto and (finally) flown home to Vancouver.

And while I’m no stranger to flights and coast-hopping, this time felt a bit different.  To start with, it was a whirlwind visit.  I only had about 4 days in Toronto before we left for the DR.  In those few days I managed to squeeze in quite a few family and friend catch ups.  My Toronto days essential broke down to: gift wrapping, brunch with James & Zab, gift shopping, x-mas dinner with my high school girlfriends, Brantford visit with my grandma and cousins, dinner with Auntie Hayley & Kaitlyn, brunch with Shelby, more gift shopping and wrapping, dinner with Kim & Sash, lunch and shopping with Simon, hair cut, dim sum dinner and sleepover with Pamela & Andrea, brunch with mom and, finally, Christmas Eve dinner with the Angs before getting to the airport for 4am for our DR flight! So, you could say things were busy :)

Christmas Eve with the Angs!

Christmas Eve with the Angs!

Donated 10 inches of hair!

Donated 10 inches of hair!

Dinner at Origin with Kaity, Mom & A. Hayley

Dinner at Origin with Kaity, Mom & A. Hayley

Headed to Brantford full of Christmas cheer

Headed to Brantford full of Christmas cheer

Christmas dinner with PRALM

Christmas dinner with PRALM

Brunch with my favourite Toronto boys

Brunch with my favourite Toronto boys

But busy was beneficial; I got to see so many people who I love and haven’t seen for a little while.  My dearest (but not necessarily nearest) are still in Toronto and it’s so important to me to be able to catch up with them whenever I can.  But, something did feel a bit different this time.

Toronto will always be my home. I’ve spent most of my life there.  All of my family and childhood friends are there. But this time didn’t feel like a homecoming. It felt like a tour.  Part of that is definitely due to the crazy schedule of dinners and brunches I set up for myself.  It’s hard to feel like you’re home when “home” is a series of meals with different people all around the city.  But the other part was my new definition of “home”.

Home has always been a bit of fluid term for me.  I attach it pretty loosely to just about anywhere.  The hostels of Europe became home to me in the Spring, my tatami mat bedroom was home for a month this summer in Japan and now, Vancouver is definitely home.  I don’t know if I could rank one home as more “homey” than the others, but there is definitely a new permanency with my Vancouver home that is pushing the status of Toronto home.

Now that school is done and I’ve started a full time job and am living in my own apartment, my Vancouver life is a bit more established.  My residency here is no longer determined by a four month school term.  There isn’t a set date when I’ll be leaving Vancouver.  And there isn’t a set date when I’ll be returning to Toronto for anything more than a week-long visit.  That both terrifies and excites me.

Sitting in my apartment, lunch packed for work tomorrow and a mountainous recycling box staring at me, I do feel at home. I’ve put up some photos, and my treasured scratch-off map, and things are really starting to feel homey.  I’m excited to get into a work routine and start some non-school after work activities.  But that doesn’t mean I don’t miss my family and friends in Toronto.  And it doesn’t mean I’m done with Toronto or closing the door on ever living there again.

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Because no matter where in the world I’m calling home, Toronto will always have a huge part of my heart.

Welcome Home

When you’ve moved 20+ times in your life, what’s one more? Well, turns out it’s still a little exciting when that move is to a place all of your own!

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On Dec 14 I officially moved into my new place, affectionately nicknamed “The Closet” due to it’s incredibly small size. But what it lacks in quantity, it makes up for in quality!

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The Closet is conveniently located a ten minute bus ride from Free The Children. I now get to leave the house at 8:05, instead of the ungodly 7:25 departure I was doing at my old place. However, my new digs are a pretty far hike from my weekend job – but I never have to be there before 4pm!

Rent is not cheap in Vancouver, period. So no, my place isn’t inexpensive. But it’s also not over my budget. And, it conveniently includes utilities, internet and cable!

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For a tiny place, The Closet sure comes packed with amenities. The place came fully furnished (and pretty cute furnishings, I might add). It has an in suite washer/dryer, gas stove, coffee maker, large screen TV and dish washer! I’ve yet to use the dishwasher as anything but a drying rack….but I’m sure that’ll change once I start (attempting) to do some cooking.

Lastly, while The Closet is the size of, well, a closet, it’s perfect for just me. My previous roommate Courtney was wonderful, but there’s something kind of nice about living alone. Being able to play embarrassing music, walk around in questionable outfits, leave the dishes dirty for too long or go to bed at a scarily late hour (or more like scarily early hour these days) is kind of freeing. There’s a fun sense of independence that comes with living alone – and knowing I am solely responsible for any leaks, creaks or visiting spiders!

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So I moved into my new pad just 2 days after my final final of my undergrad at UBC (yay!). Which means I didn’t start packing until the Friday night before my Sunday morning move. Luckily my lovely roommate and her boyfriend helped me load 3 suitcases into his car so Sunday wasn’t a series of painful bus trips. After the move, I had 4 nights in my place before flying home to Toronto. And I spent each of those 4 days working. So while I was pretty rushed and busy, I did manage to unpack and get a little settled. But I think my busy schedule was a good excuse for not buying any groceries and living off of takeout for those 4 days!

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But I am so excited to get back to my place in January. I’ve got a list of really thrilling things I want to buy – like a bath mat and tissue boxes! I’m looking forward to walking around the neighborhood and finding cool restaurants, family-owned produce markets and some sort of 24 hour takeout place. It’s a part of Vancouver I’ve never discovered and a type of independent living I’ve never experienced – I’m stoked, but cross your fingers for me!

Note: this was written and uploaded on my phone, so apologies for any crazy formatting or typos!