Farewell to the Freshman Freelancer

As of 2018, I have finished my freshman year of freelancing. I have officially been working as a freelance writer for over a year!

It doesn’t feel like it’s been a year. A whole year (actually 14 months) since I’ve worked at an office job with regular hours. A whole year of doing everything on my laptop. A whole year of very rarely putting on a real bra (work from home perk!).

The freelance life is pretty different than what I thought it would be. And actually, I don’t know if “freelance writer” is the right title for me. A lof of the work I do is just remote or contract. I have work that I complete for clients on a per project basis (e.g. two articles per week) or a set number of hours per week. But I’m not pitching magazines or online publications to write one time only pieces. Though that is something I’d like to add whenever I can find the time.

I actually prefer the more regular work I’m doing than super traditional freelance work where you just do a one-off project and then move on. It’s nice to know that I have something reliable to work on every week (well, as reliable as contract work can be). It allows me to build relationships with my clients, take on new projects with them and advance my skills. And it means that I don’t have to spend time trying to find new clients all the time.

Another reason why the title “freelance writer” doesn’t really fit is because I’m actually doing a lot more than just writing. I’m doing a lot of social media work, which has been a new found love for me. I’m doing editing, content management, emails and different types of writing like copy writing, that I haven’t done before. And I’m actually really happy that it worked out that way. One of my fears of freelance writing was that I would get burnt out and tired of writing. So I love that I can mix it up and work on my non-writing projects when I’m not feeling too inspired to put pen to paper.

It’s also allowed me to find new areas, like social media, that I’m really interested in. A year ago, I had zero experience in social media beyond my own personal accounts. Now running social media channels, scheduling posts and engaging with audiences is a part of my daily routine.

Speaking of daily routine, that has got to be my favourite part of freelancing full time. I love that I can start whenever I want. I’m not on a set schedule. So when Colin worked his 5:00am shifts, I could mimic his schedule (well, a modified version where I’d start working around 7:00am). And when Colin worked his night shift starting at 4:00pm, I could mimic that too. I’m flexible if we need to take Ellie to the vet, visit Grandma or run errands. I love having that flexibility!

I also love that every day is different. Right now, I have about seven clients on the go. So every day is a different combination of tasks to do for those clients. Of course, some of the clients have similar work that needs to be done each week, but it’s never exactly the same. And there are always brand new things popping up – like this week where I got to work on a free elopement contest.

Of course, there are things that I don’t love. I don’t love that I don’t get vacation days, sick days or benefits. The pay is variable to a degree, which can be tough at times. Some clients have run out of funding and had to eliminate my position and sometimes I’ve had to part with clients when the project or pay wasn’t working out. I dislike that there is always work to do – which makes it hard to stop working and have real time off (especially when I can do a lot of work from anywhere on my phone). Sometimes it gets lonely when I spend all day in my office with only Ellie to talk to. I hate the competitve feel with fellow freelancers when fighting for jobs and comparing rates. I’m nervous about filing taxes for the first time as a freelancer. I miss having co-workers (well, only certain co-workers). I don’t have a set trajectory for the future or really any job security.

But overall, I am so happy with my decision to go for it and try on freelancing. It’s not roses and sunshine every day but there are many rosy and shiny moments. It has allowed me to live my life the way I want to live it – if I was still working at UBC there is no way we would have adopted a dog or bought a home in Surrey. And I probably wouldn’t be able to say yes to so many awesome vacation plans. Plus, you can’t beat my commute ūüėČ

But the best part about freelancing has to be the fact that I actually enjoy my job. I don’t wake up dreading going to work, like I did at my UBC job. I don’t daydream about quitting. I don’t stare at a screen mindlessly and waste time on Facebook all day (okay, I still do this on occasion). I’m excited about the work that I’m doing. I’m challenged by it. I’m good at it. I’m learning from it. And, most importantly, I’m really passionate about it. Again, it’s not perfect, but it is pretty great. I don’t think I’ve ever said this about a job before but a year in and I’m happy to say: I love my job!

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Looking Back on 2017

Every year I like to take some time towards the end of December to look back over the year and everything that has happened. I also like to make some predictions for the year ahead and see how accurate my predictions from last year were. So here is my review of 2017:

January:

I spent Christmas 2016 in Toronto with my family and returned to Vancouver just in time to ring in the new year. January was spent packing up my place, packing Colin’s house, trips to IKEA and shoveling snow.

February:

In February, we went with Colin’s mom and cousins to an all-inclusive resort in Huatulco, Mexico. It was so nice to leave the grey, cold and snow in Vancouver for a week of sun, beach and drinks. Plus, this was Colin and my first time in Mexico (my 32nd country!). The rest of the month was non-stop packing and moving.

Huatulco, Mexico

March:

We officially moved into our first apartment together in March – our one bedroom apartment in New West. We actually moved on Feb 28 but let’s just call it March. We also celebrated Colin’s 24th birthday and attended a date night with Young Hip & Married.

Our New West home!

April:

April was a really fun month for us! On the 1st, we brought home our Ellie pup! It was earlier than we thought we’d get a dog but looking back, we couldn’t be happier with our choice and the pup in our lives. We also celebrated our anniversary on April 16th and towards the end of the month, my sister Jade came out to visit us.

Look at that wink!

May:

May was fairly low key for us. We went on our first family camping trip with Ellie when we joined Colin’s friends for a weekend at Weever Lake.

10 points if you can spot Ellie!

June:

At the end of June, we headed up for our annual weekend in Pender Harbour. It was really fun to have that time away from everything with family and to be able to bring Ellie with us. We also had a really special time spreading Randy’s ashes up in Pender – one of his favourite spots.

July:

After Pender, we had about a week or so at home and then we were back on the road. This time to San Francisco! I love SF and was so excited to explore this city more and share it with Colin. We found lots of cool new gems (like Coit Tower and this delicious Korean restaurant). Plus, we got to see HAMILTON!

Hello, Lombard!

HAMILTON!!!!!

August:

In August, we headed up to Kelowna to visit Colin’s brother and his new baby boy. It was awesome to spend a weekend away and to meet the newest member of the Marriott clan. This is also the month when we started getting a bit more serious about our house hunting.

Colin and baby Jordan!

September:

Somehow, by September we had taken our house hunt to the extreme and actually had an accepted offer on a home! But outside of house stuff, we still had more traveling to do. In September, my mom came out from Toronto for a week in Vancouver. And then Colin, his mom, my mom and I all set off on a west coast train trip! The four of us journeyed by train to Portland, Eugene, San Francisco and Napa Valley. It was an amazing trip!

October:

October was all about the house. We closed and got the keys on October 6th and moved in on October 10th. Leading up to that move was so much packing, throwing things away, driving over boxes, sending emails, filling out paperwork and meeting with insurance people, mortgage people and bank people. Who knew it would be so complicated and time consuming to buy a home? But after all of that, we are so happy in our new place and hope to call it home for quite some time.

Our new home!

November:

November was kind of a chill month for us – which was needed after all of the house crazy and a busy December ahead of us. I got a new phone and buckled down to do lots of writing work.

December:

December was a crazy busy month and it was jam packed with family goodness. My dad planned a last minute trip out to Vancouver and it was so nice to host him here. The weather gods must have been smiling down because it was nothing but sunshine the entire time he was here. After he left, we had two days to pack up, finish off work stuff, watch the new Star Wars movie, and then we were off again. Onto our second trip to Mexico – with my family this time. We met the Lees in Toronto and carried on for a fun week in Cozumel. On the way back, we got to see some of my Ang family at the airport and then returned to Vancouver for Christmas with Colin’s side. It was a whirlwind but so nice to see everyone this month.

Christmas at Terminal 3!

My 2016 predictions:

So last year on Dec 22, I wrote my 2016 review post and broke down my predictions for 2017 into career, living and travel.

One of my big career goals for 2017 was to end the year being able to say that I am a writer. I was hoping to be full time freelance by the end of the year. I’m really proud to say that not only am I a full time freelancer now but that I have been all year long. I would confidently say I am a writer (and have said so when people ask what I do). But my work also went in cool new directions and I’ve found a lot of interesting projects in social media and editing. So I am a writer – but I’m more than that too. I really love the new areas I’m learning about and the possibilities for growth in these areas in the future.

On Dec 22, 2016, I was putting the call out for an apartment for Colin and I to rent. Little did I know that we would find an apartment a few days later and then move out of that place and buy a condo of our own before the year was up. Becoming homeowners has been the biggest shock and surprise of 2017 by far. Did not see this one coming! If someone had told me I’d own a home in Surrey with my partner and dog at 25 years old, I would have laughed so hard. But here we are. And while it wasn’t something I thought would happen, I’m so glad it did.

Last year I knew about our Mexico trip in February, surprise SF trip in the summer and train trip in September. I thought Europe was a possibility, but that turned into our second Mexico trip with the Lees. So there weren’t really any surprises travel-wise in 2017. We added a couple little trips but nothing major. But no complaints here – we got in lots of “local” (North American) travel and I really loved all the places we visited and people we got to visit with.

2017 in summary:

2017 was a big year for me and for my little family. It was my first year as a full time freelancer who works from home in a field that I am passionate about. It’s probably the first time I’ve been able to say I loved my work all year long and I really enjoy what I do. Travel wise, I think I learned to appreciate trips that aren’t as exotic or unique. Everyone and their dog has done an all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean but it was still really fun and a great way to spend time with family. I’m learning to appreciate local travel and smaller trips.

Despite living away from my family in Toronto, I feel like I got to have a lot of family moments this year. And for our little family, we grew by one when we adopted Ellie, our wee pup. And we took another big step by not only moving in together but also buying our first home and returning to Surrey. So it’s been a year of some pretty monumental changes and shifts that will be with us for a long while. Overall, it’s been a really good year. I didn’t think it would be nearly as life changing as it was when this year started but all of the changes have been for the better and I’m excited about how they’ll continue to shake out into 2018.

Looking ahead to 2018:

My favourite part about these posts is predicting what will come in the next year. And maybe it’s because I love surprising myself and seeing how different things actually end up being. 2017 was definitely full of some big surprises that I didn’t think would be happening. But that has sort of been the case every year. So I’m thinking 2018 will also be full of a bunch of stuff I can’t predict. But here’s what I’m planning and hoping for:

Career: I want to continue working as a freelancer and growing in my writing, editing, content managing and social media. I want to strengthen my relationships with current clients, get raises, take on new projects and be even more successful. I want to get better at my craft and be more successful. I love being able to work from home and I want to keep fine tuning my work so that I’m on a schedule, in an office and working on projects that I absolutely love.

Travel: So far we have a trip to Ireland planned for April (which we are SO EXCITED about!). We got an amazing flight deal (about $320 per person, round trip) and can’t wait to get back to Europe. It’ll be a new country for both Colin and I and a new adventure. I’m itching to go out and do a big trip so I’m sure Ireland will satisfy that. We’re also planning to spend next Christmas in Toronto, which will be a first for Colin. I’m really excited to introduce him to all of my family traditions. And then there is talk of a trip to Arizona over Colin’s birthday in March. And I’m also hoping for some smaller trips in between Ireland in April and Toronto in December. Maybe we make it out to Calgary for stampede and to see Colin’s cousins, a weekend in Seattle, a last minute deal to Vegas, a weekend in Kelowna to see Kyle, a mini trip to Victoria to see Emilie – lots of options!

Life: So I feel pretty confident saying that not much is going to change on the home front. We’re so happy in our new home and with our pup. We have no plans to move or add to our family in the next year and I’m really okay with that. We’re not rushing down an aisle or to bring any human kids into our life (a dog kid is just fine, thanks). As I said, it’s been a big year. So 2018 is our time to just sit back and enjoy that. I want to work on the smaller things like getting my office set up just right, keeping plants alive, cooking better meals in our kitchen, using our condo gym, going to Zumba classes, reading more, cleaning more often, going out on more date nights and just being more purposeful with my time and working on things to improve myself and my life. It doesn’t have to be flashy or dramatic but just bettering the little things. That’s the goal for 2018.

A Year Later

Today my good friend Emilie came over to see our new place and catch up. The same Emilie I was sharing a hotel room with in Ho Chi Minh City exactly one year ago. We both couldn’t believe it had already been a year. How time flies! And how life changes in just one year.

Last year, Emilie and I were just a couple days into our Vietnam trip. This was my big escape trip. It was the kind of trip you book last minute and your stomach does flip flops as you finalize the flights. It was an exciting trip. It made me smile uncontrollably. It was also a great way to run away. It was a nice break from real life. It marked the end of one chapter of my life.

When I left for Vietnam, I had just quit my job at UBC. I was living in a studio in Kits. I had a couple of writing gigs but nothing long-lasting or high-paying. We were still fresh off of the loss of Randy and so many things were up in the air. My life seemed very uncertain at that moment. Vietnam was kind of like the fork in the road.

If you had asked me a year ago, over eggs and fresh fruit for breakfast at Hello Hotel in HCMC, where I would be in a year, I would have optimistically said I would hope to be writing part-time, working another part-time job I didn’t hate and looking for apartments with Colin, maybe in Burnaby or East Van.

But of course, I was wrong.

Emilie was visiting me today from Victoria where she is living now and going to law school. Last year, she was working at Science World, pretty fresh off leaving her Master’s program at UBC. Now she’s in a completely different field and different city!

And, of course, I was way off for my predictions for myself too. I’m working full-time from home as a writer. It’s not exactly what I thought it would look like. In fact, a lot more of my time is spent in content management and social media than actual writing. But I am loving it! I didn’t even know I was interested in those fields. I’m learning a ton and there is so much room to grow. It’s scary and there’s a lot of unknown but I actually love what I do for work. I definitely wasn’t saying that when I worked at UBC.

I’m no longer in my Kits studio or even looking for rentals with Colin. We live in the home that we OWN in SURREY! I could have never predicted that.

And then there’s Ellie ūüôā We had talked about getting a dog sometime down the line. But Ellie coming into our lives this soon was a big surprise (even though I pretty much orchestrated the whole thing).

So life is totally different than it was a year ago. It’s way better than I thought it would be at this time. I’ve been catching up with a few friends over the last couple of weeks and it’s crazy to see how much has changed in such a short time.

Everyone keeps asking me (or us) what’s next. But I’m pretty happy where we are. We did quite a bit in a year. It’s been a lot of big changes. They were all positive changes. But it was a lot very quickly. I would be so happy if the next big things in our lives were awesome work promotions, really cool trips and new successes in the kitchen or at the gym. We can hold off on rings or babies or any of that business for a while now. We have this awesome life with our own home, a dog and jobs we love. And I just want to take a breath and enjoy it all.

Of course, that being said, if I had to predict right now where I would be in November 2018, I’m sure I would be way off. Life is just funny like that! Let’s hope that like my 2016 predictions, things are different for the better!

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

5 Fears of Freelancing

I am a freelance writer.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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 ūüôā

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 ūüôā

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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 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 ūüôā 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.

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