Finding that Work-life Balance

Work-life balance has always been something that I’ve struggled with. When I worked at Free The Children, they pushed the term “work-life integration” instead of work-life balance. Basically, the idea was that the stuff you do from 9 to 5 should … Continue reading

Welcome Home, Ellie!

For those not following my daily Instagram posts or Snapchat stories…

WE GOT A DOG!!!!

Please meet our sweet girl, Ellie!

Ellie naps 23 hours a day

Ellie is a four year old chihuahua mix who loves napping on the couch and giving lots of kisses. She’s 12.4 lbs (we just had her weighed at the vet) and has the most adorable little snaggle tooth. Ellie is still a bit nervous with all of the new surroundings but she’s already the sweetest thing and absolutely has my heart. Case in point: on her third night with us, she finally worked up the courage to come into our bedroom. For a good half hour she ran from one side of the bed to the other, putting her paws up and hoping one of us would lift her into bed. We didn’t want her up in the bed so decided not to lift her. And while I know that was the right decision and Ellie wasn’t negatively affected, I did lie there crying that she wanted up on the bed and we weren’t letting her. Poor Colin thought I was losing it!

Showing off her new name & collar!

So how did we end up with a dog?

About two years ago, shortly after Colin and I met, I began fostering a sweet anxious dog named Waffles. I was completely in love. But I knew Waffles wasn’t going to be a good fit for me longterm. She was very anxious, and needed someone with her 24/7. She would cry and paw at the door when I went to the bathroom. Luckily, I worked in a pet friendly office but I wasn’t sure if that would be the case forever. It was stressful to have a dog at the office and to always have to pass on after work drinks or activities because Waffles needed to go out and get home. I loved my month of fostering Waffles but was very happy when she found her furever family.

Look at that wink!

When Colin and I were looking for an apartment, we were ideally looking for something pet friendly, because we thought we might have to take in Colin’s family cat. But we quickly learned in Vancouver’s crazy rental market, you can’t be too picky. So we stopped prioritizing pet friendly places yet still managed to find one. Our building is completely pet friendly – there’s even a grass terrace on the floor below us perfect for Ellie’s walks.

So once we moved in together, we talked about maybe getting a dog as a Christmas present to each other. We both grew up with dogs and with me working from home, a dog could be a real possibility. We figured we should get settled first and then introduce a fur baby. But then we thought, it would be a lot more fun to get a dog in the summer when the weather is good instead of in the cold and rainy winter. So we were thinking about summer. But then I joined a bunch of dog adoption sites on Facebook….whoops!

In the first month of us living together, I was constantly sending Colin pictures of adorable dogs I was seeing on these dog adoption sites. The wonderful guy that he is, he put up with all of the pictures and would listen to me talking about the cute pups I was seeing online. We talked about fostering, but decided it might be too hard to part with a dog.

And then I saw a picture of Ellie (previously named Colleen). She was the perfect size and perfect age; we wanted a smaller dog since we’re in a one bedroom apartment and an adult dog so we didn’t have to worry about training. We also wanted a dog who was fairly low energy, since we’re not big athletes, and one who wasn’t going to bark or have any behaviour issues. Ellie fit the bill perfectly. I sent the photos to Colin and he agreed that she looked great. And then I took it a step too far: I posted on the Facebook page asking if she was still available and ended up chatting with her current foster mom. Ellie’s foster mom was telling me all of the wonderful things about her and I knew she was right for us. I sent Colin a screenshot of our conversation with the title “REMEMBER YOU LOVE ME.”

She loves her belly rubs!

Colin, who was only sitting in the other room, came over to my desk. I was hiding my face full of nerves, guilt and embarrassment that I had let it go this far. I nervously asked Colin if he would be okay if we put in an application for her and he, the sweet guy that he is, agreed. He knew how much I would love having a dog around when I’m home alone and saw how perfect Ellie would be for us.

So from there we applied, did a home check, visited Ellie at her foster’s house and then picked her up on Monday! We’re currently doing the foster-to-adopt program; we foster Ellie for two weeks and if it works out, we then adopt her. We’re 5 days in and it’s definitely working out. On her first day, Ellie stayed in her crate all day long and we struggled to get her out for a walk. But by day two, she was out on the couch with us. Now she’s next to us all the time, exploring the other rooms of the apartment and she’s even over her fear of the elevator!

We’re really loving having Ellie around. It’s been an adjustment for sure – I’m waking up much earlier than I used to and spending more time working from the couch so Ellie can sit next to me. As I type this, she has her little head on my leg, fast asleep. It’s the cutest thing! Once I publish this, I’ll have to wake her up for her last walk of the day. Fingers crossed she does her business and we don’t wake up to any surprises on our floor!


PS: We chose the name Ellie for a couple of reasons. First of all, we really didn’t like the name Colleen. Colin has an aunt named Colleen, I have a friend named Coleen, it’s very close to “Colin” and is just a strange name for a dog. We toyed with a few ideas and realized we wanted a more human sounding name (so no silly puns or naming her after food). We settled on Ellie in honour of two people: Ellen Degeneres, because both Ellie and Ellen are very kind and give lots of love, and Eliza Schuyler, one of the protagonists from our favourite musical, Hamilton. Of course, I almost never use her real name preferring nicknames like Smelly Ellie or Ells A Bells.

Night night, my sweet girl!

Welcome to Our Home!

It has been exactly one week since Colin and I moved into our new place in New Westminster!

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And I’d have to say, I think we’re doing very well for our first week together. We had the place all unpacked by Day 2. And in this first week we’ve managed to get rid of all of the empty boxes, go on multiple trips to IKEA and Walmart, grocery shop, clean, hang pictures and not kill each other 🙂

Our first night here was exhausting. We spent all day moving from my house, moving from Colin’s house, unpacking the essentials and cleaning. Luckily we had some awesome friends help us, but the 28th was still a very tiring day. We both felt like we were staying at someone else’s house for those first few nights. But now it is really starting to feel like home.

I love that our bed is finally not shoved up against a wall so we can both have nightstands. I love that we have photos of our friends and family on the wall. I love that we have giant windows which let the sun stream in (on the rare Vancouver spring day where we get sun). I love that we have fresh tulips on the table – a gift from Colin’s mom. I love that we take turn making meals in the kitchen and go grocery shopping together. And I really love that we have a garbage shoot on our floor so we don’t have to go outside to take out the garbage!

Okay, enough rambling! Basically, I am really loving our new home and living with my guy. I’m excited to finish up the last touches we need to settle in, have people over and explore our New West neighbourhood. Here are some shots of our place:

Colin’s desk and our stunning view of a construction site that will be a 40-storey building one day. Yay….

Kitchen table, bookshelf and some artfully arranged photos

Our second bookshelf, which is pretty much all Colin’s

Our collection of Funko Pop Dolls and shot glasses. Do we sound like an 18 year old boy?

Our kitchen! Check out that fancy fridge

The other side of our kitchen. Eventually we’ll get a dishwasher where those bags are sitting

You would not believe how much crap we have shoved into this closet

Our bedroom! Featuring Bear and the curtains that we struggled to put up

My little desk. Grainy photo but we spray painted and papered that desk ourselves

Tulips! I love fresh blooms in the house 🙂

Our bathroom!

Our closet. It was a work of art to get all of our stuff in there

Our couch with some new pillows and our first piece of “artwork” (a print from IKEA, but we like it)

Home sweet home!

5 Fears of Freelancing

I am a freelance writer.

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That sentence on its own is pretty terrifying, to be honest. But it’s true! I am currently a full time freelance writer – meaning that my current and only source of income is freelance writing. I have been doing some freelancing on and off since 2012. But it wasn’t until I quit my job in October and took off to Vietnam for a month that I found myself freelancing full time. So it’s been two and a bit months now and so far, freelancing is a work in progress and something I’m learning as I go.  Overall, I have to say that it’s going really well! There are lots of aspects of freelance writing that I love and many I’m still getting used to. Financially, it’s also working out and I’m actually making a decent amount seeing as I’ve only been doing this a short time. But despite how well things are going, I’m still scared. These are the five things that run through my mind pretty often and what I’m trying to do to stop them.

5. I’m scared I will hate writing.

Sometimes I’m scared I will hate writing. I have countless unfinished stories and starts of novels on my computer that are proof that I can fall out of love with my writing. And I get those feelings again when I find myself working on an article that I’m not passionate about or not interested in. When writing was just a hobby, it didn’t bother me too much that I would start a story and not return to it. But now that I rely on it for my income, I don’t really have the luxury of hating my writing and not returning to it. I have to keep going. And that is scary.

The cure: I went into my freelance “career” (can we call it a career yet?) with this fear in mind. And someone pointed out to me that even though I may have dropped stories or given up on ideas over the years, I have always consistently wrote. Since penning a play in high school, I have always returned to writing in some form. That’s almost a decade of writing! I also have this Hemingway quote up on a board by my desk which reminds me, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now.”

Other things I’m doing to ensure my love for writing doesn’t burn out is splitting my jobs into smaller tasks, taking breaks, working on client projects that I enjoy and always having some fun writing that’s just for me to fall back on, like this blog!

4. I’m scared no one will want to hire me.

I think this one boils down to our universal fear of rejection. Most people in regular 9-5s don’t have the opportunity to experience rejection all that often. As a freelancer, the chance of getting rejected comes up almost daily. Especially when I was first applying to jobs, it was hard to grow a thick skin so quickly and get used to the idea that some people will not want me. This also relates to a fear of having no money, since rejections are closely tied to my income.

The cure: This is definitely still something I’m working on. One thing I do to help is look back at the jobs I have gotten. I have about six clients that I am currently working for and have been hired by more than a dozen in my time freelancing. That’s twelve people who wanted to work with me and enjoyed my writing. That’s something! I also have a list of all of my published work and accomplishments, which helps to boost me up when I do get a rejection. Another thing I want to put together is some positive responses to my work, milestones I’ve hit and things that inspire me to write to help me get out of any rejection slumps.

3. I’m scared all my current clients will drop me.

With freelancing comes instability. None of my jobs are guaranteed. This isn’t something I had to worry about working at UBC. There was no way the university was going to run out of money and eliminate my job. And if they did, my union would be working hard to get me a sweet pension. But as a freelancer, I don’t have any of that. I could wake up tomorrow and have emails from all of my clients saying they no longer require my servces. That’s the scary reality of being a freelancer.

The cure: The first step to getting over this fear is just accepting that instability is a risk of freelancing. If I want to freelance and work for clients on my own time, I have to be willing to take the risk that the work could dry up. Practically, I feel better knowing that I have something to fall back on. I have my savings and I am confident that I could pick up a job in retail or serving if I really needed to. This fear also helps to motivate me to always be on the lookout for new clients and opportunities for work.

2. I’m scared no one will understand my work.

I don’t mean that I’m scared no one will understand my writing because I’m writing incredibly complicated and deep stuff. I mean that I’m scared no one will understand the type of work that I’m doing. The idea of being a freelancer is foreign to most of the people in my family and friend group. I don’t think it’s intentional, but it feels like it’s looked down upon by some. I had some conversations over Christmas and it felt like I had to justify what I was doing to people who just thought I was taking a break from real work. Another issue I’ve run into is people not understanding my need to work. I don’t have an office I go to where I can put in 8 hours. I have my desk in my living room and I divide up my work time throughout the day. But I still need to put in that time. So just because I’m home, it doesn’t mean I can get up and do errands or hang out. I’m working! And if I’m honest, this is a part of my freelance job that I also need to get better at. I need to get better at creating those boundaries that respect my time to work and my space. Because when I don’t, I spend all my non-work time stressing. My job doesn’t end at 5:00pm so if I put away my laptop to do something else, odds are I’m still worried about all of my unfinished work.

The cure: I know the cure to this one lies in me. I need to be more confident in my own work. I think a lot of this fear is my own projection and self-doubt. At Christmas my family treated my job like it was fake because that’s how I introduced it. I was self-deprecating and joked that I was working in my pajamas all day (not a joke though, I do work in pjs most of the time). I have to ask for what I need and explain to the people around me what my work schedule looks like because it’s so different from what they’re used to.

1. I’m scared I’m not good enough.

This one definitely has to be my biggest fear. What if my dream career is something I suck at? It was easier when I was working at a job I didn’t care about that was easy to do. But it’s a whole new thing to feel unqualified or inexperienced at a job I love and want to make a lifelong career out of. I have this fear a lot when I’m applying to jobs; it goes hand in hand with my fear of rejection. It also creeps up when people make snide comments about the type of writing I’m doing. No, I’m not writing the great American novel or hard hitting journalism. But I am writing. I’m writing for a living. And I want that to be enough.

The cure: Again, the cure to this one definitely comes down to my own confidence. I need to get more confident in my writing. How do I do that? For me, it helps to look to my past work. I try to keep track of times when I’ve felt good enough and celebrate my small wins as a writer. It also helps to remember that I am new to this and can only improve from here.

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All of these fears are legitimate and I feel them on a regular basis. But they don’t cripple me. It helps to have this blog as a place where I can explore these feelings and put them down on (virtual) paper. As you can see, I’m still working on these fears. I have some cures in mind but I don’t always remember to implement them. I want to figure out a better routine for my writing and work on keeping myself motivated.  I’m still learning!

But one thing I know for sure is that I am so much happier now working as a freelance writer than when I was working my 9 to 5 at UBC. I am excited about my work. I don’t wake up dreading the day and counting down the hours until I can go home – partially because I’m already home. I get to control my own schedule and do the work that I want. I get to write! It’s amazing and despite my big fears, I’m very happy to be doing it.

2016: A Year In Review

I think it’s safe to say that 2016 really wasn’t anyone’s year; I mainly blame Trump. But even though it wasn’t a stellar year, I still love to look back to recount the highs and lows and see what’s coming up for 2017.

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I usually start my annual round ups by looking back at the previous year’s and seeing how well my predictions played out. Except, this year I took an accidental blogging hiatus from September 2015 until April 2016. Whoops! So I didn’t actually write a round-up for 2015. But I think I can safely say that my life is pretty different than what I thought it would be at this time last year. That actually seems to be a trend every time I write one of these reviews! Should I be surprised that my life is constantly changing?

So here’s a quick recap of my 2016:

January
In January, I had just finished spending my first Christmas with the Marriotts in Vancouver and had just moved into my new apartment. I was a month into my brand new job at UBC and was hosting Sophie, my previous roommate, on the couch in my studio apartment. Things were squishy but it was a fun-filled month.

Colin's birthday on the Canucks big screen!

Colin’s birthday on the Canucks big screen!

February
Sadly, Sophie returned to Ontario in February and I was roommate-less for the first time in a year. Besides that, February was business as usual as far as I can remember.

March
March was a busy month! My mom came to town so I got to enjoy lots of quality Moo time with delicious dinners and outings around Vancouver. We also celebrated Colin’s birthday and at the end of the month, we took off to LA!

April
We started the month of April in Los Angeles where Colin, his mom Margie and I spent 6 days thanks to a amazing flight deal. We packed in a lot during our short trip such as a basketball game, hockey game, city tour, beach day and visit to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter! Later that month, Colin and I celebrated our one year anniversary.

Venice Beach, California

Venice Beach, California

May
May was another busy month. We went to Victoria for Victoria’s Day, saw Macklemore and Matt Corby in concert, watched Billy Elliott and I started my new gig at the Allard School of Law at UBC.

June
If I thought May was busy, just wait until June! I spent the first couple of weeks getting settled in my new job. We also had Colin’s aunt, who had been sick, pass away, which was tough for the family. At the end of the month, it was off to Toronto for Colin and I where I got to be a co-maid of honour at my friend Kimberley’s wedding. We then took off for a quick couple of nights in Montreal. We got back to Vancouver, unpacked, repacked and left the next day to spend the long weekend in Pender Harbour.

Colin & I at Kim's wedding

Colin & I at Kim’s wedding

 

July
Our original plan for July was to do a roadtrip out to Calgary to visit Colin’s family and hit the Calgary Stampede. Unfortunately, with Colin’s work schedule, it didn’t happen this year. Maybe in 2017? But we did manage to get away to Harrison Hot Springs for my birthday weekend where we indulged in massages, courtesy of my mom, and a fancy birthday dinner. July was also the month where I got to see Newsies, Rock of Ages and a Vancouver Festival of Lights fireworks show!

August
In August, I headed back to Toronto where I was in yet another wedding. This time, I got to watch my best friend Andrea marry the love of her life. When I got back to Vancouver, my cousin Ryann and

Andy's wedding!

Andy’s wedding!

her boyfriend were in town thanks to med school placements that brought them out west. It was so fun to hang out with Ryann and Alex, go out to some great meals and experience Vancouver with them. Adding one more show to our year (we really see a lot of theatre!), Colin and I went to The Book of Mormon (his second time seeing the show, my fourth) with his good friends from high school.

 

Montreal

Montreal

September
Unfortunately, September was the big low of 2016. Towards the end of August, Colin’s dad Randy entered the hospital and on September 8th, he passed away. The short 11 days we spent in the hospital is still a bit of a blur and doesn’t quite feel real. Even though it’s been months, I still sometimes find myself waiting for Randy to come in from his workshop in the backyard when I’m staying in Surrey.

October
October was a month of a lot of changes, definitely spurred by the great loss our family suffered in September. I decided to quit my job, booked a fairly spontaneous trip to Vietnam and finally said out loud that I want to be a writer. We ended the month with my last day working a 9-5 at UBC (maybe forever!) and a complimentary stay on Granville Island thanks to a contest I had won earlier in the year.

Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An, Vietnam

November
I started this month by living with Colin and Margie in Surrey for 12 days before heading off on a three week trip to Vietnam with my friend Emilie! It felt great to get on a long haul flight and check somewhere new off of my bucket list. There were definitely moments that I did not enjoy – when I was too hot and just wanted to lie in bed with air conditioning all day. But overall, I loved the trip! Highlights include our perfect day in Hoi An where we hit the beach, went to a cooking class and got dresses made, cruising beautiful Halong Bay, going on my own writer’s retreat to Phu Quoc Island and all of the delicious and cheap food we enjoyed!

Christmas light maze

Christmas light maze

December
I got back to Vancouver just in time for the most festive month of the year. I had a couple weeks in Vancouver where I split my time between my Kits apartment and Colin’s place in Surrey and tried to fit in as many social catch ups with friends as I could. And then it’s back to Toronto for Christmas. I didn’t get to go home last year, so it’s really nice to know I’ll be spending the holidays with my family and Toronto friends. But it’s also very hard to leave my Vancouver family behind, especially since they’re a smaller group this year after some pretty significant losses. December was also my first official month of what I like to call “fake employment.” I’m really giving this freelance writer thing a proper shot. And, a bit to my surprise, it’s working out. I’m not rolling in the dough, but I am making a decent amount of money from something I only got serious about in the last two months of the year.

I’m posting this on the eve of my flight to Toronto, so I assume the last 8 days of the year will be filled with chilly Toronto temperatures, lots of happy reunions with friends and family, all of the Christmas songs and decor I could want, and more food than one should reasonably eat in 8 days.

What’s next?
This is my favourite part! I love looking ahead and trying to predict what the next year will bring me or writing down some of my hopes and goals. I used to do resolutions; I’m not sure I’m going to make any for 2017. I like the idea of setting goals and having affirmations to guide me through the year, but I don’t want to rush to come up with a list just to meet an arbitrary deadline.

So what is happening in 2017?

Career: I would love if I could be a full-time freelance writer in 2017. It would be the dream to make my living just from my writing. However, that might not be realistic, especially since I’m just starting out. So I’m looking to pick up clients and get some steady gigs. But I’m also applying to some part-time stuff so I can still focus on writing but have something more steady on the side. I hope by the end of January/February, I’ll have that a bit more figured out. But if I could end 2017 confidently saying, “I’m a writer” when people ask what I do, that would be huge. I can’t even put into words how happy that would make me to be able to boldly say that.

Living: Surprisingly, I managed to stay in one apartment for a whole year (I can’t say the same about any of my jobs…). But as I shared previously, the plan is for me to give my notice when I get back from Toronto because Colin and I will be moving in together in March. We’re looking for a spacious, modern and affordable apartment in New West, preferably right by the skytrain. Any leads?

Travel: My first trip of the year will be in February. Colin and I are joining his mom and some other friends and relatives at an all-inclusive in Huatulco, Mexico for a week. I’m not usually a fan of all-inclusives but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit a country I’ve never been to, hang out by the beach with my boyfriend and escape a dreary Vancouver February. Other potential travel plans include a family trip to Europe in May with my stepmom’s side, a possible trip with my mom in September and a little surprise I’m working on for the summer!

Anything else? I think that’s all I’ve got planned for 2017 so far! I kind of love that the year is open and that I can take advantage of any opportunities that come my way. You know I can’t resist a good deal on a flight! But I’m really stoked for the things that I do have planned. I’m trying out my dream career as a writer and I’m loving every minute of it. I’m months away from moving in with my boyfriend and getting to live out my domestic fantasies in decorating a new place and maybe stepping up my cooking game. And I’ve got lots of exciting travel plans on the horizon. 2017 is sounding pretty stellar already.

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Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! All the best for your own stellar 2017 🙂

Ch-ch-ch-changes!

Whenever I go on a big trip to somewhere new I know I’m going to learn my way around a new place, learn local customs, learn a bit of the language and learn about a new culture. But I never count on learning about myself.

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My trip to Vietnam came at a huge point of transition for me. I had essentially quit my job to go on this trip and was/am forging down a brave new career path to follow my dream of being a writer. The trip was also exactly two months after the loss of Colin’s dad, which really put everything in my life into perspective. Vietnam was both me running away and starting fresh. Whenever my life is in flux, my instinct is to get on a plane. When I’m bored of filling out job applications, I look for flight deals or read through other travel blogs. Travel is always the answer, no matter what the question.

Except, this time it felt different.

A part of me was scared to go to Vietnam. After my disastrous trip to China last year, Vietnam was sort of a test. Could I do it? Was I still a traveler? Obviously this trip was a million times better than the China one, based solely on the fact that I planned it myself and I wanted to go. But I was still nervous. I think a large part of why I wanted to do this trip with someone was to help me really commit to it. If I had a China meltdown all over again, I had someone there to help get me through and as an incentive to stay.

Luckily, Vietnam was not China Trip Part 2. There was never a point where I wanted to throw in the towel and move my flight up. But some things did definitely change in my travel style.

The first time I noticed this was when we were having dinner with my friend Jonathan and a new friend of his he had met on his travels. We were asking her about her trip and she explained that she was travelling for 8 months through Asia, Australia and parts of Europe. My immediate reaction shocked me. As soon as she said that I thought, “No thanks!” Which is crazy! If you had told me two years ago that I would be turning my nose up at 8 months of travel, I never would have believed you. That was the dream! But I guess my dream has sort of changed. I’ve talked before about wanting to travel at a slower pace and not rush from city to city, which I think has a lot to do with my disgust at the idea of spending 8 months on the road.

This showed up in other parts of our trip. I’m sure Emilie would concur that it took a lot to get me out of the hotel room some mornings. I was having a hard time getting motivated to go out and see the city. The idea of putting on sunscreen and lacing up sneakers pained me. A lot of that had to do with the heat – I do not do well with humidity. But I think there was probably more to it than just hiding from the sun. As I’ve said before, I am a homebody who loves to travel. It’s a very weird dynamic and sometimes one wins out over the other.

Another part of this feeling was missing out on stuff at home. Even though Colin and I had lots of time to prepare for this trip, including the 14 days straight we spent together leading up to it, I really missed him. It’s hard to not be with the person you see and talk to all of the time. Colin was so great about messaging me and having a couple long chats on Skype but I still missed being with him. And I missed experiencing the trip with him. I have always been a huge proponent of solo female travel and people travelling without their partners. We met lots of people on the road who had left their significant others behind. I’m really happy that I got to do this trip with Emilie. And Colin was super supportive of me going. But all that being said, there’s still that part of me that would have wanted him there.

Another aspect of home that affected the trip was the pressure of my current job situation. As I wrote above, I quit my job a couple weeks before going on this trip. Thinking back, I still believe that quitting was the right decision. I was unhappy in that job and heading in that direction. This is the time for me to try something that I actually want to do and not be stuck in a soul-sucking administrative job. But it’s stressful! It was hard spending 3 weeks away knowing that I wouldn’t be coming home to a 9-5 or a vacation days paycheck. I was also keeping up with some of my freelance assignments, which was a bit to juggle at times. And anytime I took a break to watch a show or even write a post for this blog, I felt guilty that I wasn’t applying for jobs and attempting to figure out my life.

So yes, Vietnam was a very different trip from any I have taken in the past. I still had an amazing time and wouldn’t trade the experience. I’m so glad that I went (besides the horrendous jetlag I currently have; not so glad about that). I needed something to shake up my year and help me start this writing career track on a new foot. I think Vietnam was that. But it also has made me think about the type of travelling I want to do in the future. I don’t know exactly what it will look like but I want to find something that will make me happy. Or maybe it’s about accepting that travel, despite the perfectly filtered Instagram photos and adorable souvenirs, is not always fun. Sometimes you have a bad day, even when you’re living the dream and travelling in a new country. So maybe that’s the lesson I am actually learning: how to be okay with travel not always being 100% fun. Look at that! The lesson even changed from the beginning of my blog post to the end 🙂

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Speaking of changes, it seems that my living situation will also be changing soon. Colin and I are planning to move in together in the spring, hopefully into a nice apartment in New West. So if you hear of anything, let us know!

A Granville Island Staycation

So I finally got to use the Granville Island Vancouver Tourism package I won back in April. The timing worked out perfectly: my subletter arrived on Monday, I stayed at the hotel Monday – Thursday, and then headed up to Surrey for my final week before Vietnam.

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Welcome to Granville Island!

Arriving at the hotel Monday after work was really blissful. Even though I’ve been to Granville Island countless times, I was excited to just have a little break. I had spent the whole weekend doing an intense deep clean of my apartment in preparation for my subletter and packing up all of my stuff for the hotel, Surrey and Vietnam. It was so nice to put down the heavy bag I had lugged to work, plop onto the super comfortable king sized bed and just have a bit of indulgent relaxation.

Monday night I had the hotel to myself. It’s comical how much I enjoyed sitting crossed legged on the big bed eating fish n’ chips and watching Jeopardy. Those are the joys of hotel life that really thrill me. I ended my first night with a nice long shower and star-fishing in the middle of the bed with the lights out by 10:00pm.

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Best. Bed. Ever.

Unfortunately, going to work the next day wasn’t as fun. It’s hard to have a real staycation when work keeps getting in the way. Staying in a hotel usually means sleeping in so it was upsetting to be leaving my beautiful big bed before 7:30am.

On Tuesday night, Colin met me at the hotel and we headed to Dockside Seafood Restaurant for dinner, courtesy of the $200 Dockside gift card that came with my contest win. I had heard that Dockside was a nice place but Colin and I were both really blown away with the gorgeous decor, stunning view over the water and delicious food. We got the best seat in the house, right by the window, and thoroughly enjoyed our chili shrimp, prime rib and chocolate lava cake dessert.

We continued living our fake rich lives by heading to the hotel spa/health club and watching our TV show “Flash” from the jacuzzi. We had to blast the volume on the TV in order to hear it over the bubbles of the hot tub.

The next day, I headed off to work while Colin enjoyed a proper staycation by spending the day on Granville Island. He got to sleep in, have lunch at the Public Market and wander through all the little shops on the island – I spent the day printing posters and formatting excel sheets, so he clearly won.

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Super blurry pre-show selfie!

But we reunited that night. We went back to Dockside to finish off the rest of the gift card, enjoying a seafood carbonara and Thai bouillabaisse. We then headed over to Vancouver Theatre Sports League’s Improv Show with the ticket voucher that had come with my contest win. I had seen VTSL shows a few times before and usually found them pretty hit or miss. Luckily, the show we saw on Wednesday was definitely a hit! We laughed our heads off and, despite my nervousness when we got sat in the front row, didn’t get picked on by the actors. We ended our night watching “Survivor” while sharing a Toblerone from the vending machine.

And the next morning, I went off to my last day of work at UBC! That part hasn’t really sunk in yet. I imagine I’ll write about it once I’ve been funemployed a little longer and settled into my 12 day stay in Surrey. But I’m really glad I got to start this big time of transition in my life with a nice relaxing staycation on Granville Island with my favourite person!

A new adventure: Vietnam!

I have been chomping at the bit to reveal this on my blog. So now that all of my ducks are in a row, I can officially announce:

I am going to Vietnam for the first time ever for 3 weeks this November! 

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Yeah, I guess you could say I’m pretty excited 🙂 I have never been to Vietnam, which will make this country #31 that I have visited. And it feels like it has been a while since I’ve been on a big trip. Sure, I’ve done a bit of travelling this year to LA, Montreal and home to Toronto for weddings. Last year there was San Francisco, New York and a very short stint in China. But it’s been a couple of years, since my time studying abroad in Europe and working in Japan, that I have really done a big international adventure. I have been itching to get on another long haul plane ride, take out a currency I have never seen before and try to navigate my way around a new city, new language and new cuisine.

That’s not to say my life here in Vancouver hasn’t been adventurous, because it certainly has been a ride. Since finishing up my UBC degree at the end of 2014 I’ve had a number of major life changes such as switching careers (a few times), switching rental leases (a few times) and finding a new partner and adoptive BC family (thankfully, just the one time!). But there’s a part of me that is still so desperate to get on the road. Poor Colin has had to listen to me whine and shove travel deals in his face for the last 18 months until I finally bit the bullet and did it.

So how did I settle on Vietnam? And why now?

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Well, for starters, how could I say no to this picture?

The whole Vietnam thing came about kind of serendipitously. I’ve been going through some career confusion for the better part of the last year. To be honest, I definitely don’t have it all straightened out yet but I know I want to be a writer, in some capacity, and that I don’t want to be doing admin work that hurts my soul at 24 years old. And after everything that happened with Colin’s dad, I realized that life is short and it was time for me to start loving mine again. So, for me, that meant making a change and going on a trip.

Luckily, my awesome girlfriend Emilie was also looking to do a little vacationing so I get to do Vietnam with a travel buddy. I floated the idea by Emilie when an awesome flight deal came my way (if you aren’t signed up to YVR Deals yet, do it now). About a day later, Emilie and I were booking our round trip flights from Vancouver to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam for $505 per person! That’s $505 Canadian for round trip international flights – unheard of!

And with that one credit card purchase, everything kind of changed. I didn’t have enough vacation days at work and was honestly looking for an excuse to leave anyway so booking the trip meant giving my notice. Which in turn meant needing to figure a new income source. For that I’ve got someone subletting my place while I’m gone, a couple new exciting freelance writing projects, leads for opportunities to pursue once I return from Vietnam, and enough in savings to get me by for a little bit. It’s definitely not as settled as it could be but I’m confident everything is going to be okay.

So, that’s what’s new with me! I’ve been so anxious about giving my notice at work, confirming everything with my subletter and trying to stay on top of my writing that I haven’t actually taken the time to get excited about Vietnam. But now that everything is settled and we’re less than a month away from our departure date, it’s starting to feel real and I’m having a hard time keeping the smile off my face.

Here’s what we have planned so far – it’s a bit of a whirlwind trip, to be honest!

We land in Ho Chi Minh (aka Saigon) and spend some time in the city. From there, we want to do an overnight tour of the Mekong Delta, famous for its floating markets. Then we fly up to Hoi An, the spot I am most excited about. This is the city where you can get clothing custom made for next to no money! There are also some great beaches nearby. Then we’ll bus/train to Hue, where we get our temple fix since we won’t be seeing the famous Angkor temples. I was hoping to add Cambodia to our itinerary but there’s just too much to see and do in Vietnam, so it will have to wait till my next SE Asia trip! From Hue we fly up north to Hanoi. After exploring Hanoi, we’ll head east and do a cruise on Halong Bay (pictured above) and then west to stay overnight in Sapa and see the iconic rice fields. That gets us to 16 days and the point in our adventure where Emilie heads back home because she actually has a job to get back to. Meanwhile, I’ll be heading to Phu Quoc Island where I intend to spend 4 blissful days by the beach sipping cocktails out of coconuts and frantically searching for a job online. I cannot wait!

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See you soon, Vietnam!

A labour of love

When I started this blog, it was a place to express my strong desire to escape and get away.  And when I finally did get away, it became the perfect platform to share stories and photos from my trips abroad.  Now, more settled back at home, my blog has become a way for me to express myself and still share aspects of my life with anyone who happens to be reading.

Throughout all the phases of this blog over the last 4+ years, it has always been a creative outlet. Writing has always been my creative outlet.  I’ve dabbled in different types of writing over the years: fictional with short stories and scripts, blog posts, academic writing, editorial writing and freelance article writing.

I’ve always said that I love writing.  In fact, one of the reasons this blog came into existence is because it combines my two greatest loves: writing and travel.  I have never had a problem admitting my love for writing.

But admitting that I want it to be more than just a hobby? Now, that’s scary.

Over the last year (or probably longer), I’ve really struggled with a career path. I bounced around – non-profit, counselling, HR – but nothing really stuck.  I used to think I was so much smarter than those kids who decide they’re going to be doctors at the age of 7 and hold onto that for the rest of their lives. I thought by being open to all my interests and not committing to one thing, I was setting myself up for a more realistic career path.  And hey, maybe I will return to those other interests in the future and I don’t regret any of the career turns I’ve taken.  But I’ve also realized by not committing, I’m not putting myself out there. I’m not saying what I want. I’m not going after my dream. And honestly, it’s because I’m scared.  I am terrified that if I say my dream out loud, it means I could fail.  But if I don’t say it out loud, I’ll never know if I could succeed.

So, I’m saying it: I want to be a writer.

In fact, I am a writer! Not only on this blog, but I’ve been freelance writing for almost five years.  In the last few months, I’ve picked up a couple of new projects.  And I’m looking to add even more.  So I’m a writer and I’m looking for work! I really want to make writing my career. I want to be a writer. That’s my heart work. It’s terrifying to admit that. But it’s also really empowering. I’m not sure when I decided it was okay to bury my dream of writing but I’m done with that. I am slowly learning how to acknowledge my passion and give it the attention it deserves.

And with that acknowledgement comes all of the terrifying possibilities of rejection, writer’s block, networking, etc. I’m slowly coming around to those ideas. But it also comes with a lot of pride, creativity and great opportunities. I’m nervously excited.

So with that, if you or anyone you know is looking to hire a writer, I would love to be considered.  You can check out my work in my Writer’s Portfolio and contact me with any projects.  Please feel free to spread the word: this writer is going after her dream!

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.