How to visit everyone you know in 4 days flat*

*So “everyone” might be a slight exaggeration, but let me have it

In the last week of August, my guy and I headed back to my hometown of Toronto for an absolute whirlwind trip of family, friends and (of course) food.  We also had to sneak in a few tourist highlights, as it was someone’s first trip to #the6ix.

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Wednesday (Day 1)

We started with a delayed red-eye on Tuesday evening that didn’t have us flying out of Vancouver until 2 in the morning! My family met us at the airport and greeted our groggy bodies and blood shot eyes with giant hugs.

Back at home we dined on a lovely homecooked breakfast before passing out hard for a much-need mid-morning siesta.  By 1:00pm we were awake and on our way to the Toronto Zoo with my siblings.

Getting to know the wildlife at the Toronto Zoo!

Getting to know the wildlife at the zoo!

The zoo was actually a great time. I’m not always a huge fan of zoos and I hadn’t been to one in about a year, and not to the Toronto one in many years.  We took in the special exhibit on the Giant Pandas and then made sure to see everyone’s favourites: gorillas for me, wolves for my sister, careful following of the map for my brother, and a Beaver Tail snack break for my guy.

After a few hours at the zoo and right about when we had had it with Lee’s complaints of sore feet, we headed back to the car and home for a Lee Family BBQ!

It was so nice to catch up with my aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents from the Lee side. I love our family get-togethers and know I had missed quite a few. It’s always tough to find time to actually chat with everyone especially when there are dogs trying to steal food, baseball games to watch, adorable babies to play with and way more food than necessary waiting to be consumed.

After all that family fun, our fivesome (who were six for the night) decided to fit in a little more bonding over a friendly game of Texas Hold ‘Em. My sister and I spent the majority of our childhood trying to convince our parents to play boardgames with us or attend disco parties we had planned.  It was kind of nice to spend a few hours doing the adult version of that.  Everyone enjoyed it, even Lee, who I think ended up winning a few hands and then pulling a Robin Hood (stealing from the bank to help his sisters out).  I don’t know who won but I’m pretty sure I came top 3 :)

Day 1 recap: arrival, zoo & family bbq
Day 1 total # of fam/friends visited: 14

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Thursday (Day 2)

We had to head out straight away Thursday morning to make it downtown in time to join the Ladies Lunching (my mom, aunts and a few cousins) at a cool spot between the financial and entertainment districts.  The food was a bit strange and the company was all female, but my guy pulled through.

After lunch, we loaded my mom up with our suitcases (sorry, mom!) and headed over to The Hockey Hall of Fame. I was preparing for 3-4 hours of absolute boredom.  Turns out, it was actually a good time (and only 2 hours!).  I needed a lot of interpreting but even I could appreciate some of the awesome trophies, the 4D movie and the interactive areas.  Partners of hockey lovers: do not fear! The HHOF is not all that bad!

From there we headed up to Nathan Phillips Square to pose with the newly iconic Toronto sign (courtesy of the Pan Am games) and to meet my wonderful friend, Kimberley, over a few beers.  We got to catch up with Kim, I got asked to be a co-MOH and then we jumped on the subway en route to the Annex.

 

#typicaltourists

#typicaltourists

Reunion over board games!

Reunion over board games!

In the Annex we met up with some more of my high school friends for a great night of cheap food and board games at Snakes and Lattes. I’ve been to S&L lots of times but it’s always more fun with a big group. The 7 of us thoroughly enjoyed ourselves over a number of fast-paced and quick-witted games.

Day 2 recap: lunch, HHOF, beers, boardgames
Day 2 total # of fam/friends visited: 13

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Friday (Day 3)

Friday started with Toronto’s must-do tourist attraction: The CN Tower! Again, I hadn’t been for years so it was a kind of cool (and horribly expensive) experience for me to go back up.  The security is tight (at one point, you walk through a machine that blasts air at you while supposedly searching for explosives) and the views are awesome.  It was fun to get a great view of the city on a non-cloudy day and to try and point out different spots (“I used to live right there!” “Where?” “Look where I’m pointing!”)

View from the top!

View from the top!

We stopped for lunch at the Jack Astor’s outside the big ScotiaBank Theatre and then carried on to Yonge and Dundas where Buskerfest was in full swing.  It was a pretty great time to experience the area, though the mob we got stuck in on the way home (when I desperately needed to pee) was not the best.

Back at my mom’s, we packed up our stuff and caught a ride with my cousin.  Thanks to rush hour traffic, we got to Mississauga about 90 minutes later.  In Missisauga we picked up my other cousin and then headed on to Fort Erie where the Ang Family would be cottaging for the week.

Around 9pm, we pulled into the cottage site and got to explore our new home for the weekend. It was too dark to head down to the beach so we lazed around the living room and got our butts handed to us in a few rounds of Big 2 by my pre-teen cousins.

Day 3 recap: CN Tower, Buskerfest, cottage
Day 3 total # of fam/friends visited: 9

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Saturday (Day 4)

On Saturday morning we woke up and got to appreciate the beautiful lakefront cottage we were staying in.  Our room that night looked right out to the water and we decided to take our breakfast out on the lawn.  A little while later (because it takes a while to get 10 people going) we headed out to Niagara Falls!

Another off the tourist bucket list: seeing the falls! We got to experience them up close with a ride on the Hornblower (formerly known as the Maid of The Mist which apparently the US has copyrighted for boats leaving from their side). I remembered the Maid of The Mist as, just that, misty.  I knew you got the plastic ponchos but I didn’t remember actually needing them.  Well, either I was wrong or something has changed because on the Hornblower we got SOAKED! Even in our ponchos, it felt like we had gone swimming. But it was a great time and no better way to appreciate the beauty and power of Niagara Falls.

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We followed our swim with a walk up Clifton Hills and lunch at the world’s slowest burger joint.  From there we headed back to the cottage for the main festivities: Grandpa Ang’s 80th Birthday! The rest of the family started pouring in and the cooking began in earnest.  We feasted on fish, chicken and 4 different cakes until our stomachs ached.

When you turn 80, you get 4 cakes

When you turn 80, you get 4 cakes!

Family by the fire

Family by the fire

After dinner and dessert, we headed down to the beach so my man could earn his keep by building us a campfire.  12 years in the Boy Scouts proved useful and soon we were roasting marshmallows, singing along to a ukulele and praying the rain would stay away.  There’s something about singing with my family, whether it be to Jason Mraz tunes around a campfire or classic carols on Christmas Eve, that always warms my heart.

Day 4 recap: Niagara Falls, birthday dinner, campfire
Day 4 total # of fam/friends visited: 8

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Early the next morning my extremely kind cousin drove us to Pearson so we could catch our noon flight to NYC.  I love every opportunity to see my family and I think we really made the most of four very short days in Toronto.  We got to see a lot of people and fit in a few tourist classics.  Granted, it wasn’t the most relaxing trip and it sucks that I could only see most people for a single meal, if that.  But any chance to be with my loved ones in Toronto is always worth it.

Grand total: 44! We managed to see 44 members of my friends/family in only 4 days! And that’s not double counting; 44 different people were graced with our presence ;)

Until next time, Toronto!

<3

6 months worth of updates

So about a year ago, I realized I had been neglecting my blog.  It kind of made sense, since this blog was born out of dream to travel and I wasn’t doing too much traveling a year ago.  But I found new things to write about: simple pleasures of everyday life, moving to a new home, family vacations and enjoying the on-going adventure that is living in Vancouver.

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And then in March, I forgot I had a blog again.

This time, it wasn’t for any lack of travel or adventure.  In fact, too much was happening in my life and I kept forgetting to write it all down.  So here are a few of the biggest updates from the last few months:

March: In March, I moved (again!) into an adorable and cosy 2-bedroom with my wonderful friend from work, Sophie.  Sophie and I had only met in January but barely a month later we were already looking at places together.  While it was rushed, here we are 6 months later and I couldn’t be happier.  Living alone was exciting, but I do tend to hermit when I’m solo (read: late nights in front of the TV with take-out and week-old dishes in the sink).  But now I have someone to watch TV with! We’re in a bit of a suburban neighbourhood of East Van but we’re enjoying it so far.  This was the first time either of us had signed a year lease and was the biggest step in settling that I’ve ever taken.

The bed I ordered and put together myself in my first unfurnished room!

The bed I ordered and put together myself in my first unfurnished room!

April: April was a pretty busy month for me! Unfortunately, it started on a sad note with my grandmother’s passing.  I flew back to Toronto for a quick weekend visit to be with family.  But back in Vancouver, things did seem to turn around.  I met a very special someone and we’ll be celebrating six months together in October.

Grandparents Canning on their wedding day :)

Grandparents Canning on their wedding day :)

May: May (and you might start to notice a trend here) was also incredibly busy.  It started with me fostering a gorgeous little puppy named Waffles who was the cutest and most clingy dog in the world.  We only had Waffles for 3 weeks and I still miss her, but I think I realized I’m not quite ready for full-time dog ownership.  Maybe when I live with a partner and have a flexible work schedule, I can revisit the dog situation.  But I wouldn’t be opposed to fostering again!

How cute is this puppy??

How cute is this puppy??

May was also the month where I officially graduated from UBC! My parents and siblings made the big trek from Toronto to watch me walk across the stage with 300+ other students at the ungodly hour of 8:30am on a Friday morning.

Quick snap of my diploma while I get ready to walk the stage!

Quick snap of my diploma while I got ready to walk the stage!

June: June was a bit of an up and down month.  Most notably, I set off for 6 weeks of facilitating in China through my job with Free The Children.  And while I have no desire to rehash the details, suffice to say that trip did not really work out and I was home shortly after Canada Day.  I also finished up my 10 months of serving at the Arbutus Club in June!

Last shift selfie!

Last shift selfie!

July: Coming home early was actually a huge blessing in disguise.  I got to take part in so many amazing summer activities and finally spend this season in beautiful Vancouver.  Bonus: I also got to see my mom who was in town for a wedding! Some of those summer activities included: concerts (One Direction, Journey and Taylor Swift (in order from worst to best performance)), camping (without running water, unless you count the insane amount of rain we got), kayaking (not my forte), FIFA World Cup soccer games and visiting Pender Harbour on the Sunshine Coast. I turned 23 in July and got to celebrate with my mom, my guy and some wonderful friends in my beloved city.

The beautiful Pender Harbour

The beautiful Pender Harbour

Kayaking: not my sport...

Kayaking: not my sport…

Swifties for life!

Swifties for life!

I don't know about thee, but I'm feeling 23!

I don’t know about thee, but I’m feeling 23!

August: August was a month of some big changes.  I decided to move on from my position at Free The Children to try something new.  And I got to go on another trip! This trip was a whirlwind 10 days in Toronto, Fort Erie and New York with my guy along for the ride. **I’ll probably do a separate blog about this trip, so more stories & photos to come!**  We did a lot of family bonding, friend meeting and sight seeing in a crazy but so wonderful 10 days.  I can’t wait to see my loved ones again, do New York in a less humid season and get in some more air miles with my new travel companion.

Brooklyn Bridge! One of my fave NY spots

Brooklyn Bridge! One of my fave NY spots

September: September has been all about settling into my new routine.  I’m working in an admin role at a counselling office which has a much different feel and different hours than my previous job.  I’m enjoying my new position, but it’s definitely a change from what I had been doing for the last nine months.  I think it was a good change, and important for me, but it does come with a few low points – such as missing all of my wonderful colleagues at my old job.

What’s next? I can almost guarantee that whatever I predict here is going to change but here I go!

I definitely want to continue blogging.  I love to write and use this medium to express myself and share my life with loved ones far away.  I should problem tie myself down to a schedule, but I’m not quite ready to make that commitment.  Can we tentatively say 2x per month?

I intend to continue in my current position and keep learning and growing in it.  But I also want to take on some side projects.  In January, I’ll be taking a course online at UBC in preparation for hopefully applying for a Master’s program in counselling.  Less than a month working at a counselling office and I’m already seriously considering a future in this field.  I’m still doing my research and won’t apply for some time, but I do want to start lining things up to make it happen.

In addition to my school course, I want to look for a volunteer or part time job opportunity.  I’d love to get some counselling experience, maybe through a mentorship or crisis line volunteer position.  I’d also love to do some freelance writing.  I’m still in the research stage on this too, but I’m definitely open to some new opportunities.

And then, in terms of my personal life, I definitely want to be more intentional.  Now that I don’t spend my 9-5 with most of my friends, I have to put in the effort to make plans to see the people I care about.  I have so many amazing friends here, one of the reasons I feel at home in Vancouver, and I want to cherish those relationships and not let them slip away.  I also want to do some things to better my daily life: try new recipes and pack lunches for work as much as possible, plan fun date nights that take advantage of this awesome city, head to the library and always have a book in my purse, keep on top of house cleaning, institute some sort of workout regime (my new office has a gym in it that I really need to take advantage of!) and still find time to indulge in take out sushi, my colouring book and nightly ritual of Jeopardy and House Hunters.

<3

I used to write.

I used to write.  I used to write for online magazines and wellness blogs. I used to write how-to guides and gift guides. I used to write music reviews and movie reviews.  I used to write interviews and list-icles. I used to write for so many websites, unpaid of course, and one or two paid ones.  I would write what to buy your boyfriend for his birthday for $20-40 and think I had hit the big time.  I would write a short paragraph on a new lawnmower for one of those freelance dashboards earning a measly $5.05 and still think I had made it.  I was being paid to write.  Take that BFA program that couldn’t see my genius in last year’s application: I was now a paid writer.

And I used to write for me.  I used to update my travel blog weekly, if not more often, whether travelling or not.  I used to keep a list of story ideas on my phone and a dozen story beginnings on my laptop; I would finish them one day.  I used to write every night in a journal.  I used to write every morning using an online writing prompt (or two or three if the first one sucked).  I used to write short stories, letters, plays, movie scripts.  I used to write for classes: essays were always preferable to exams, even if the subject was an analysis of that one research paper I had skipped and the other I had skimmed.

I used to write.

I used to be defined by my writing.  In grade 12, I was an editor of the school newspaper.  I had written (and directed) a one act play and won an award for the script-writing.  I spent a day in the literal dumps with a Haitian refugee and wrote words that still bring me back to the sweat, sad and sweet of that moment.  I was off to UBC to major in Creative Writing (with a minor in business of course, because I wasn’t crazy!).

I used to write.

I used to tell people I wrote.  I used to share my blog posts, articles and reviews.  I used to share the posts with friends and retweet the publications.  I used to copy the URL links and screenshot the homepages where my name was prominently (or, at least legibly) featured.  I used to hole up with my computer and announce that I had a deadline.  Or carry my computer to my bedroom stating that I just wanted to write something for me.

I used to write.

I miss writing.

I miss having these inspired ideas.  I miss seeing characters come alive in my head.  I miss having deadlines.  I miss having a topic to research and synonyms to discover.  I miss checking a word count and editing my work.

Reading my writing brings back a new nostalgia (and an ever-present editor: did I really use that word?).  Story beginnings that ache to be finished and published articles that yearn to be filed into a portfolio.

It’s hard to start writing again.  Just like it’s hard to find inspiration or, maybe in my case, motivation.  I used to write regardless or in spite of talent.  I used to write even though the BFA program wasn’t sure I should.  I used to write even though jobs one through thirty refused to respond to my inquiry email or sample articles.  I used to write like it was my job.

I used to write.

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!