2020: More joie, more vivre

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I just watched a documentary called The Long Goodbye. It’s about a Christian woman, Kara Tippett, a wife and mother of four, who shares her experience with dying from the moment she learns she has breast cancer to the moment she passes.

As a religious woman, she believes there is dignity in suffering; that there is a purpose to it. So much so that she reached out to 29-year-old Brittney Maynard, who chose death with dignity, and urged her to live on through her terminal brain cancer.

“There is dignity in suffering,” Kara says.

To suffer is to be human, yes, but even more so, to feel joy is to be human.

As a society, we often hear that to know joy we must know suffering.

“All things are difficult before they are easy.”

Really? All things?

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

Or it just kills you.

In a way, suffering has been marked as a rite of passage; that things need to be hard to be fully appreciated.

I think that’s bullshit.

There will absolutely be difficult moments in live–saying goodbye to loved ones when they pass, not getting to say goodbye to loved ones when they pass, losing a job, feeling heartbreak, snaking the bathtub drain of your rental–shitty, hard things. But there is also soooo, four ‘O’, much potential for joy.

Suffering can offer perspective, sure, it can remind us to cherish the good parts, but I simply do not believe that we must experience pain, sorrow or hardship over and over again to feel joy, peace or contentment.

To know joy is to know thyself; to be able to recognize when your heart is full. This is often the hard part.

Who am I anyway? What bring me joy? What does joy even feel like?

Sure, there are things that we know will achieve this, for some it’s cuddling babies and for others it’s not cuddling babies, but it’s so easy to get caught up in rushing around, distracting ourselves, to notice when we feel.. well… good! Really good!

Sometimes we rush around so that we don’t give ourselves time to feel the good feelings. Sometimes it’s easier to be numb; for things to be hard, to feel sorry for ourselves.

To settle. To accept defeat.

There is a time and place for that, I suppose; to retreat; reset, but I’m over that being the norm, for me, anyway.

From here on out I intend to seek out moments of joy as much as possible.

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The word joy can be defined as:

  1. The emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires; the expression or exhibition of such emotion 
  2. A state of happiness or felicity 
  3. A source or cause of delight

North America’s dominant culture is fuelled by acquiring, moving, doing. Success is largely attributed to achievement of the following:

  • Post-secondary education
  • Career
  • Partnership
  • Homeownership
  • Reproducing

We strive to check these boxes, but in doing so, we sometimes forget what it’s all for.

Why does it matter? Does it even matter?

It feels like we are always striving for something: a gym body, money, a job title, shoes…

Why?

I have had all of these things, and none of it made me feel as good as I do when I hear my nieces and nephew laugh as they chase each other around the raspberry bush.

It really is that simple.

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If I could have one thing in excess it would be moments of joy.

“Ashley, tell me more about what it means to feel joyful?

Oh you… of course I will!

At the end of September, I flew to Vancouver Island for a three-day festival of love (My best friend’s wedding) in a small, remote logging town north of Sooke.

We had hoped there would be waves, but it was the shoulder season and it wasn’t likely that a north swell would roll through.

And then it did…

Jordan River was pumping at a time of year where it doesn’t often pump.

Coincidence? I think not.

I wasn’t sure if I’d make it to the break before low tide, but I drove to the spot anyway… just to see.

I saw the cars on the road before I saw the wave. When I rolled into the parking lot it was full of vans and trucks. The shore was lined with spectators and there were 20 – 30 wet suited bodies bobbing on their boards.

The wave was technically a beach break, but because of the shape of the rocks underwater and the swell direction, it was working like a perfect point break peeling to the right.

I watched the wave for a few minutes before stripping down, peeing in the bushes and getting suited up. As I worked my hood over my head, an awkward undertaking at the best of times, I asked the guy parked beside me who just got out of the water for tips. After a two minute tutorial on rocks and channels he wished me well and I paddled out.

The sky was the most perfect shade of blue. The water was cold, but the air was warm and there was no wind. After catching a few waves, I paddled back into the line-up, closed my eyes and held my face up to the sun. My lobster claw-encased fingertips grazed the surface of the ocean and I said a quick thanks to the sea for this epic September gift.

In that exact moment, bobbing on my board in a 5/4 wetsuit, booties, gloves and a hood, I felt utterly at peace and full of joy.

“Remember this moment,” I said to myself. “Remember how you feel and how little it took for you to feel so much bliss.”

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When I think about the moments that make me feel like I did in the sea that gorgeous fall day, I am reminded of the simplicity that is required to feel so much joy.

It helped to make a list.

  • Surfing
  • Swimming in the ocean
  • Listening to the sound of the ocean
  • Walking about in the mountains
  • Coffee, especially in bed
  • A good yoga class with a great teacher
  • Every single moment with my nieces and nephews
  • Dinner with my family
  • Bubble baths
  • Laughing out loud
  • Bakeries and eating anything that comes from a bakery
  • A message from a friend who was positively impacted by something I wrote
  • Reading in a hammock
  • Feeling the sun on my face
  • Inside jokes

This list isn’t exhaustive by any stretch of the imagination, but it helped to take the time to actually think through the things that make my heart feel full, my face light up and my soul at peace.

On this New Years Eve when many of us are setting intentions/goals/resolutions for the year ahead, I encourage you to think about what’s on your list? 

When was the last time you laughed out loud, smiled to yourself or felt at peace? What were you doing? Who were you with?

I believe deep in my soul that in our final moments on earth, regardless of what we believe is on the other side, these are the moments we will come back to; the moments that will define us.

Our legacy.

“She loved the sea,” They’ll say as they scatter my ashes in the surf. “She was happiest outside, near the water, laughing in the waves with her friends, and celebrating a sunny day with her family.”

And then I hope they’ll do their version of those things; more joie; more vivre.

 

Lost and found: A year in review

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“Are you writing still?”

It’s a question I’ve gotten quite a bit recently. The truth is–in true Ashley fashion–I have been writing, but I haven’t finished anything. For the most part, everything I’ve typed over the past eight months hasn’t ever felt complete.

It was only after a conversation with my psychologist that I was able to put my thumb on why.

Earlier in the year, I watched a Brene Brown talk on Netflix. At one point, she was talking about how she uses her personal experiences to help explain the work that she does. The caveat: she doesn’t share her experiences until she’s worked her way through them; until she’s on the other side.

I finally feel like I’m on the other side. 

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The year started off relatively uneventful. I was in bed by midnight and woke up on New Years Day feeling fresh which was a victory after far too many years of waking up feeling like I narrowly avoided poisoning myself with a mix of prosecco/vodka/random shots, and that one New Year’s Eve I think I did poison myself…

“It’s going to be a good year,” I thought to myself while drinking coffee, warm in bed,  gazing out the window at the snowy Rocky Mountain peaks that surrounded my small town.

The first three months were pretty good, relatively normal; then everything changed. 

Naturally, it started with a boy.

A year earlier, my best friend proposed that we “give it a go” as a couple. Four days later he changed his mind. It took us a long time to recover from that, but we eventually did and celebrated our two year sometimes-more-than-friends “friendaversary” in Peru.

After an epic adventure trekking through the Andes, drinking Pisco sours and getting in some sunset surf sessions in Lima, I couldn’t help but bawl my eyes out when we said goodbye.

The man at the front desk asked me in Spanish how long until I would see him again. I responded that I didn’t know which was the truth. Despite my heart aching, the more I thought about it, the more I realized it was probably better that way. 

Being more than friends when we traveled together was incredible in the moment, but our goodbyes kept getting harder. 

For me, anyway. 

I wanted to preserve the friendship that we had developed, the one we salvaged after the “let’s date, just kidding” incident and I thought it was best that we did so from a distance going forward. 

I told him that a week before his 31st birthday. 

A week later, he proposed we try to be a couple… again. Four days later I agreed.

Some say I’m a romantic; others a masochist. The jury is still out.

As much as I want to say that this was the start of something amazing, it actually initiated the unraveling of everything we had built. We still haven’t fully recovered.

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I was in a bit of a daze the first month. It didn’t feel real. Part of me was waiting for the other shoe to drop; for him to change his mind again. Deep down I think I knew it would come, but I was hopeful.

Lesson one of 2019: Trust your gut. 

Because he lived over 1,500 miles away, we spoke frequently and eventually made plans to meet for a road trip and weekend in Mexico with his family.

Around the same time, things at work were getting a bit bumpy, really bumpy, so when my vacation request got denied (My boss said it wasn’t a good time for me to be gone for four days but couldn’t explain why) I escalated the issue to HR and eventually to the CEO. I had their approval. I still did not have hers. 

This refusal naturally felt like more than just a power trip. It was as if she was saying work was more important than my relationships and life outside of the office and anyone who really knows me knows that I couldn’t get behind that.

That was just one of the many things that started to make me have second thoughts about my job, but I kept plugging away until my body eventually made me stop.

On April 13, two weeks before my trip–because of course I was going despite my vacation not being approved–I was admitted to the hospital after experiencing quite possibly the worst pain I have ever felt aside from grief.  After a T-3, anti-nauseant for the side effects of the T-3 and a Percocet, I was sent home and ordered to return the next day. It took an ultrasound and far too long in the emergency room waiting room watching Notre Dame burn to learn that I had a gallbladder attack the night before.

Twelve hours later it was still inflamed. It had to come out.

As I lay in the hospital bed hoping to fart so they would operate, I knew what I had to do… besides fart.

Ten days later, with a swollen belly full of incisions, and renewed perspective, I tearfully sent my letter of resignation.  

As much as I know it was the right decision, resigning left me feeling defeated. Would I ever find a place I belong? Where my values, skills and experience lined up with the organization? I thought this job was it; I had hoped it was it. I tried really hard, but I couldn’t make it work. The same eventually became true for my relationship.

I started May in Mexico with my love and his crazy family who I had also grown to love. Even his older brother who thinks that all Canadians are straight out of a Letterkenny episode. 

I was so excited when my plane touched down in Texas, but as soon as I saw him I knew that something was off. That feeling carried through the trip and when he dropped me off at the airport, I had a sinking feeling that would be the last time I saw him.

I was right.

When I returned home, I buried myself in finishing up at work, packing and ignoring the signs that something was not right in my relationship. I had enough to keep me distracted considering that I wasn’t just leaving my job, I was also leaving the mountain town I lived in for the past eight months. I was unemployed and moving back home with my parents. Again. Never one to have a plan B, I accepted this and tried to make the most of it.

Despite the feeling that something wasn’t quite right, my relationship is what gave me hope in the future. I held onto the fact that he and I would find a way through whatever was going on with him; that we would figure it out together. 

We’d been lost in the woods, twice. We survived a night in a tent after an epic night of diarrhea (Him not me, and still one of my favourite stories to tell). We spent 15 days driving up and down the coast of California after only knowing each other for three days.

We managed to get through lost luggage, a four-day trek with no showers and his relentless hunt for the perfect Alpaca sweater. 

We could get through anything, right?

Wrong.  

Lesson two of 2019: Speak up. Ignoring things won’t make them go away. 

I moved back to the big city at the end of May and two anxiety-filled weeks later I got the call.

The details of that conversation are for us, but there was no doubt when I hung up the phone that it was over.

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I was 60% heartbroken and 40% relieved; heartbroken because I lost my best friend and relieved that it was over. 

The other shoe finally dropped.

I woke up the morning after the break-up with swollen eyes and a sense of resolve. It would be ok. I would be ok. 

Five hours later I got a job offer.

It felt like the universe’s way of saying, “I got you, boo.”

It felt good to get my career back “on track” and eventually find a home of my own… for now. I negotiated a six-month lease instead of a year and I still don’t have a sofa, but I’m as settled as I get. 

Up until recently I have been mourning the loss of that relationship, but also the life that I had imagined for us. When everything went to shit at work, what kept me going was the fact that at some point in the near future I would move south and we would build our life together. A life that included Sunday dinner with his family and nightly sunset rides in the wash trailed by a couple dogs and eventually a couple kids. He would keep an eye out for rattlesnakes and I would stare up at the sky, on hand on the reins and the other holding a beer. 

We would travel to Central America a few times a year for surf trips where his stoke would grow beyond mine. I would take him to Europe for his first trip overseas and we would wander through the streets of Lisbon, Barcelona, Paris and Amsterdam looking for bakeries. I would look at the places I’ve been to before, but through his eyes.

When he called it quits it wasn’t just the end of us it was the end of the life I dreamed we would have. That was almost as hard as losing him. 

Now, as we approach the end of the decade, it feels like as good as time as ever to let go; to leave it all behind. 

I refuse to define 2019 by the hard times–him, leaving my job and mountain town, losing an organ, starting over again in the big city, moving back in with my parents… again–and now that I’m on the other side of it all I can see that every single obstacle was a lesson in disguise; a cruel, evil disguise. 

Despite the challenges, I’m more certain of who I am and what I want. In a way I have him to thank.

It helps that along with the hard times, I had so many moments of epic-ness that provided the perspective I needed to remember all that I have rather than all I have list. 

I was lucky enough to witness two of my best friend’s marry the loves of their lives. I had an epic week of surfing in Kauai with my best friend and that one gorgeous day of surfing alone at Jordan River where for two hours everything was right in the world.

A few weeks ago, my sister gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. 

Life is good. Really good. It’s dark at 4 pm which fucking sucks, and I’m sick of wearing winter boots and a parka that weighs more than I do, but it’s temporary. 

Lesson three of 2019: It’s all temporary. 

After too much time feeling sad, defeated and heartbroken, I’m ending 2019 feeling uncharacteristically optimistic. 

The best has yet to come.  

 

How to fall in love

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What began as what I thought would be a fun exercise over beers after a day in the sun, sand and surf, ended in frustration.

My best friend had forwarded me the article To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This and I was immediately intrigued. The writer, who is also a professor, stumbled across the study The 36 Questions That Lead to Love and decided to give it a shot with a friend.

I first read about the study when I was in the midst of a breakup. Each time I thought of leaving, my heart overruled my brain. I felt stuck. So, like a good academic, I turned to science, hoping there was a way to love smarter.

They ultimately ended up together… for a few years. The whole story unfolds in her book How to Fall in Love with Anyone: A Memoir in Essays.

Since I already loved my boyfriend, I thought it would be fun to go through the questions.

The result? Doubt.

We had known each other for ten years, and we had dated very briefly early on, but we weren’t compatible on a number of different levels at that time.

Some things never change.

We remained friends but lost touch for five years after I met someone who wasn’t a match for me either. On the outside it would appear that everything was great, but the truth was in the end I wasn’t even sure if I liked the guy never mind loved him.

If you don’t want to sit with your partner and shoot the shit over a beer it might not be a  match.

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When my new bf and I passionately reconnected five years later we told ourselves and each other that now was our time. After completing the questionnaire, I immediately wondered whether or not that was true. It had been a year at that point. I thought I knew him. I thought I knew me and what I wanted!

Wrong.

Here’s the thing, it wasn’t even his responses that stirred the doubt in my gut, but rather how much he waffled and changed his response after I shared mine.

I don’t know why I did it, but I told him to go first. Perhaps I was testing him. I do that sometimes.

For at least half the questions, after I shared my answer, he would say something like, “Oh good answer, babe I want to change mine.” Or “Ya that’s the same for me.”

It felt so inauthentic. Like he couldn’t be himself.

This is the same guy who tagged along with a friend who was car shopping and ended up walking out with a Mercedes for himself.

I started to wonder if who he really and questioned whether or not he was ever himself. I couldn’t decide how much of that was because he was trying to figure that our or if it was because he was a chameleon and changed who he was based on who he was around.

It wasn’t just that. Whenever we cooked he stood in the kitchen waiting to be told what to do. When I asked him to cut the carrots he asked me exactly how I wanted them to be cut.

I lost my fucking mind.

I don’t mean this to be a hate on the ex sesh, so I should say that this person is a good human being. He is kind and smart. He has great qualities, but he wasn’t for me for a lot of good reasons that I didn’t learn about until late in the game. And if you asked him I bet he would say the same about me. I mean, maybe not that I’m good, kind and smart, but that we weren’t a match.

One day we were driving to my sisters house and he had said something that triggered me.

“Babe, I feel like I can never say or do anything without annoying you.”

He was right, and that annoyed me. I confessed that I had started to hate who I become around him; the person he brought out in me. It was not a good situation.

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Far too long after we sat on our balcony in Mexico taking turns answering silly questions about our lives, we broke up.

It was dating him that made me realize how much I admired humility; how important it was to me to be able to prepare a meal with the person I was with. I needed someone who took initiative and wasn’t afraid to take risks. Someone I could get lost in the woods with without wanting to strangle him.

The 36 Questions definitely got me thinking, but there were so many experiences afterwards that shone a spotlight on qualities I found attractive in a partner based on the fact that my partner didn’t exude those qualities. That experience has changed the way I approach relationships.

Regardless of how long we have known a person, we may not really know who they are. After all, many people only share what they want to share: they essentially apply a filter so that only the best, desirable, attractive, characteristics shine through.

Not me. I like to get right to it. Now.

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If I’m into a guy and he is terrified of the ocean it probably won’t work. I want to know about those quirks sooner than later so I can make better decisions instead of waiting 2-5 years avoiding hard conversations in fear of the outcome.

Doing this questionnaire with my partner helped me see how superficial our relationship was. We hadn’t gotten into the tough stuff. We hadn’t talked about the things that really lit us up, our frustrations. We hadn’t even really talked thoroughly about our hopes, dreams and fears.

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Since that relationship, I met someone I was incredibly compatible with. We had a natural chemistry, as if we’ve known each other for ages, and could spend days together without a break from one another. While nothing came from it, it was exactly what I needed to experience to validate the qualities that are important to me and remind me that there was someone out there who made me feel how I longed to feel in a partnership.

I felt calm. Patient. Spontaneous. He brought out a side in me I didn’t know and I have since come to decide that when we meet the right person they will lovingly hold a mirror up for you and show you things you don’t see, good and bad, and stand by your side as you decide what to do about it.

It’s dancing in the kitchen while dinner is cooking and singing to spice girls on a road trip.

It’s laughing, crying, fighting and then laughing about crying and fighting.

Based on all these lessons, I’ve determined some pretty key experiences to help me, and maybe you, really get to know the person I’m with on a deeper level, sooner.

  1. Go for a hike to some place neither of you have been before. Hopefully you get lost. Critical parts of who we are emerge in moments of uncertainty, fear and frustration. How you deal with navigating a trail together or getting lost is a solid indicator on how  you will overcome obstacles as a couple down the road.
  2. Prepare a meal together. I’m not talking a bag of salad and canned pasta. Go grocery shopping, pick out ingredients and cook together. I love to cook, so this one is critical for me. It’s one of the things that I actually look forward to doing when I get home from work and one of my favourite things to do with another person; the right person.
  3. Go camping. Even if you aren’t a “camper”. Spend a weekend in the woods eating, sleeping and whatever else you decide to do. Have dirty hair and muddy jeans and sticky marshmallow fingers. It’s always interesting to me how people respond when they are away from the routine of their day to day life. I went out with a guy last summer and when I asked him if he had any plans to do any camping he responded with, “I’m not really a camper.” He went on to say he never camped growing up. That’s fine, neither did I, but it became pretty clear that he would rather work six days a week then get out of the city and into the woods. It never would have worked.
  4. Learn your love language. This might seem like a weird thing to ask someone on a third date, unless you’re like me. In that case it’s totally normally and totally insightful. Everyone should do this quiz whether they are in a relationship or not. My last long term partner and I did it and we were total opposites. That’s not something that people can’t overcome, but it was something that we couldn’t.
  5. Introduce the person to the people in your life who matter the most. If they’re anything like mine they will let you know what’s up in those moments that you may be blinded by lust. My people are hugely important to me. My nieces and nephew are hugely important to me. If he can’t get down and dirty at a cattle branding or push my niece on the swing than he’s not for me.

As an aside: I just asked my best friend who sent me the 36 Questions what she thinks every couple should do when they first meet (without telling her why) and she sent me a link to the 36 Questions. She’s consistent, that one.

These five things may not resonate with you, but whether you are in a relationship or single I seriously recommend thinking about what those things are for you. What conversations haven’t you had because you are afraid they’ll scare the person off? Are you holding back parts of who you are in an effort to have it “all together”? Have you changed what matters to you and in part who you are in an attempt to be more attractive to the other person?

Remember that at the end of the night the make up comes off and the chicken cutlets fall out of the bra. Who you are then is who you want your person to love.

Full disclosure, I am very single, but I am very picky. If you couldn’t tell, I have a pretty serious set of criteria. It’s hard to meet guys, especially in a mountain town where most of the dudes in my age range are married or ski bums, but at the end of the day my life is pretty incredible and I would rather be very single and have an incredible life than be in a mediocre relationship.

Been there. Done that. Wrote the blog.

Just another Monday

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It’s been said that the way/person you spend New Years is the way/person you will spend the rest of the year.

I think that’s bullshit.

What if your midnight kiss is a total dud!?

Even if the night is epic, every day isn’t going to be like that. You are going to get food poisoning  at some point this year and probably a pimple or two and you’re car might break down.

Not every night is going to be all sequins and disco balls.

Or board games and Lucky Lagers if that’s your thing.

It’s one night.

I’m not bitter. I don’t have strong opinions about New Years because I’m single, but because all the shit we get fed is god damn depressing. There is so much pressure for the perfect night! And for what?

It’s just another Monday.

It’s like engagement rings. Diamond engagement rings weren’t a thing until Da Beers said it was in likely one of the most effective marketing campaigns in the history of the world (aside from those that convince millions of people for many years that smoking was good for you) and now look at us! We’re mad for diamonds!

And cigarettes!

I prefer great grandma’s ring or a down payment on a cabin in the woods or a trip to Hawaii.

I digress.

We put so much pressure on ourselves to do all the things that people and Facebook say that we should do but for what?

Why should we feel ashamed for not having “plans”?

Yes, we made it through another year. And yes, we have another year to look forward to, but that doesn’t mean that the year ahead is cursed because we’re in sweats at home binge watching XYZ or hunched over a toilet barfing of dancing it up with a stranger with kind eyes.

Or all of the above…

Who thee actual fuck cares?

You do? I know. I get it. I have TOTALLY been there. Just not tonight. And hopefully never again.

New Years can be a magical night, but so can the Sunday after… Or March 22 Or…

Just like weddings and 30th birthday parties, all too often we put the emphasis on the wrong thing. It’s not about the event, it rarely is. Regardless of how epic the photos are of your best friend’s cousin’s black tie wedding their marriage has no more of a chance of working out than someone who got married in cowboy boots in a field with 20 people and a hot dog-fuelled reception.

That’s a wedding I want to be at… Just add Bon Jovi and it sounds like a perfect night.

I digress again.

For any of you who are not feeling too good about what your situation is this evening just remember this:  In 24 hours the Instagram stories will expire and life will go on.

Besides, what better way to start the new  year than to be OK with being exactly where you are.

I love you. Happy New Year.

 

 

 

A million kinds of Christmas

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I wear a silver band on the ring finger of my left hand. It belonged to my friend and mentor, Hazel. It’s the only finger it fits on.

Hazel loved Christmas. She was the type of person who counted down the days on the outside of her office door. She listened to Christmas carols as soon as they were on the radio, decorated and bestowed cards and gifts upon colleagues and friends throughout the holiday season.

Her generosity and thoughtfulness didn’t start and end with the holidays. I have a starfish keychain she gave me after she returned from a weekend on Vancouver Island. And a bracelet with multicoloured rocks from another. After the successful execution of a project, she bought me a gift certificate to pick up any last minute items I needed for Spain, where I participated in an exchange program after my eight month work term.

She kept in touch the entire time I was gone.

Hazel was a force; a wild spirit in a red cardigan and glasses she often forgot were perched on her head. As strong was her heart was, she was maybe 100 pounds soaking wet. Whenever she hugged me I feared I would crush her, but we both always made it out alive.

“You smell good,” she would tell me.

She often said what she thought.

When Hazel was excited about something her eyes would sparkle and her smile would light up a room.

Her enthusiasm was contagious.

When she was concerned, she furrowed her brow in a way that made you concerned too. She was so well respected that when she had something to say people listened.

She was my hero and my inspiration. When I grew up into a career woman who wore glasses and cardigans I wanted to be just like Hazel.

A few years before I was laid off from my job in oil and gas I received some feedback from my boss.

“You need to be careful about your facial expressions. People can tell what you’re thinking.”

I shared this with my then-mentor.

“That’s what I love about you,” he said. “You have a way of getting people excited about something and when you’re concerned about something people take notice of that too.”

Hazel.

Hazel had her flaws, like all of us, but she loved and was deeply loved. This was evident in her standing room only funeral service.

Two months before Hazel passed, she sent this note out to her loving community:

I don’t want folks to feel sad or bad for me.  I’ve had a great 2
years and I’m now coming to the end of my journey on this earth.  With
no complaints with no pain and with a strong quality of life. I’ve had
a pretty good run at life with lots of love coming my way.  That’s
what’s important to me.  And the process has been long enough that
it’s carried me along with it.  There are worse times to leave this
earth.  Christmas is a very Festive time with lots to celebrate–24/7
carols (FN 95.9)!

I think of her often, my dear friend, but I especially think of her at Christmas.

Jim loved Christmas too. I didn’t know Jim, but I trust he was loved.

Is loved.

I was sauntering in the woods behind my house yesterday, when I stumbled upon a tree that had been decorated with ornaments. For some reason (I was too much in my head, likely), I hadn’t noticed the tree on my way up the trail, but there it was with red and purple glass balls hanging off of it. One decoration in particular stood out: it had a photo of a smiling man on it. Below the photo, the following was written:

To Jim, who loved Christmas so much.

I can only guess that Jim passed on which got me thinking about Hazel and the other people who are no longer here to celebrate the season of togetherness. It also got me thinking about the people in my life who felt deep loss this year.

My dear friend lost her husband. My mom’s amazing best friend lost her daughter. My sweet friend Chloe passed away tragically only two weeks after we reconnected.

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Christmas is a time of joy for many people, but not everyone. For some, Christmas is the hardest time of year because as the people we love gather around we can’t help but feel like someone is missing; something is missing.

For others, there isn’t anyone to gather around with.

For some, 2018 was the hardest year of their lives. I would love to say next year will be better, but I can’t.

For some, Christmas will never be the same because it’s not about the presents, is it? It’s about the people, the food, the memories of past years and the making of new memories.

As crazy as my family makes me sometimes, I am forever grateful to celebrate the season in a house full of people drinking various shades of wine and snacking on cookies while the turkey roasts. My favourite times are those where we all gather around the table together and share a meal, laughter and sometimes tears.

I missed Christmas two years ago because I was living in Panama. It was heartbreaking to be alone. The hangover didn’t help.

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Christmas can be a lonely time for many people.

Some people are away from their families and others are curled up in their beds nursing broken hearts.

Some people are sharing a table with others and still feel alone for a variety of reasons.

There is something about the holiday season that brings out a number of different emotions and not all of them are joy.

So what do we do?

For those of us who are riding the holiday high, take a moment to send a message or make a phone call to someone you are thinking of. Not a group text, but a Merry Christmas thinking of you, [insert name here] text. Take a friend for coffee. Send them a meme or a card or a quote that will remind them of how fucking awesome they are when they feel like garbage.

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Regardless of how great our day is, I don’t know a single soul who doesn’t appreciate hearing they are being thought of.

For those of you who are feeling lonely/sad/heartbroken know this, someone is thinking of you. Someone in this big wide world saw an Instagram post or heard a story or ate a cookie and thought about you today. Maybe they didn’t tell you, we aren’t always good at that because it either makes us feel too vulnerable or because we think you already know we think of you, but it doesn’t make it less true.

For those of you who are down one person at the dinner table, I wish I could tell you things will get better, I wish I could make things better, but I can’t. Instead I will say that as long as we toast these incredible humans they are never truly gone. As long as we tell their stories and sing their favourite songs and eat their favourite holiday treat they will always be with us.

It’s not the same and it never will be, but that’s love, isn’t it? It changes us forever whether the person is still with us or not.

I wish you all a season full of joy, laughter and tasty treats, but I know that this isn’t reality for some people.

You might be watching the Hallmark channel and crying into your morning coffee. I get it. Last night I watched Dear John. I cried. A lot.

GD Nicholas Sparks gets me every time.

You might be curled up on the couch holding a sweater that belonged to someone you loved who is no longer with you.

So while I wish you all a joy-filled holiday season, I also wish you peace. I wish you the space you need to feel how you feel and if that means you don’t say Merry Christmas that’s OK. If it means you don’t wear Christmas PJs or post happy holiday photos that’s OK too.

Maybe next year will be different. Maybe it will be a little bit better; maybe you will feel a little bit better.

Only time will tell.

But for now, for however you are feeling and wherever you are, I am thinking of you.

Redefining failure

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Warning: Contains poo talk

I woke up feeling ill. I’d had a wet cough and sinus congestion for a week, but that wasn’t it. Something was off. Immediately after breakfast I hurried to the toilet to do toilet things. It was not good.

I couldn’t be sick. I was on a mission that day. I had a 10.5 km hike ahead of me which included a 1,200 m descent. I had another 20 km in the subsequent days.

I’ll be fine, I told myself.

Halfway down switchback number 25 I started feeling the effects of heatstroke. There was no shade to be found and it didn’t matter how many sips of water I took my mouth felt immediately dry. I tortured myself about not leaving earlier and bringing too much stuff, but the truth was it didn’t matter.

I was not fine.

The worst part wasn’t being sick. It was being sick and alone.

When I reached my final destination at the bottom of the canyon I immediately fell asleep. An hour later, I made my way to the “hot” springs in hopes of washing the day and my sickness away.

Thank goodness there weren’t any signs prohibiting people who have had diarrhea in the past 24 hours from using the pool…

The mosquitoes were biting like mad, the pool was cold and I was still exhausted. I was trying to be positive, but the idea of two more days of trekking with a day pack and three litres of water made my head ache and my stomach gurgle.

After putting on all my warm clothes, I sat on the side of the canyon starting down at the river wondering what in the fuck I was going to do. Fortunately, I had wifi and was speaking with my dear friend who just returned from a two week solo trip to Sri Lanka.

“I feel like a failure,” I wrote after telling her I was thinking of taking the bus back to the main town 1,200 m up instead of carrying on for another two days and 20 km of trekking.

That’s why I came to Colca Canyon after all–To be in the canyon.

She typed no in five different languages.

“You are not a failure. Traveling solo is all about listening to yourself and do what works for you.”

She’s wise. I know.

Even with her permission, I felt like I was taking the easy way out. People do this all the time! They shit in the woods. They carry their 3 L of water and provisions without a peep of complaint. They make it happen.

So why couldn’t I?

When dinner was served, I immediately felt ill. Just the smell of food was enough to make my stomach turn. I forced it down because I knew I needed sustenance and I didn’t want to be ungrateful, but it didn’t matter in the end because it didn’t stay in my stomach for very long.

I’ll decide in the morning, I told myself before passing out at 8:15 pm.

It was a restless night of tossing and turning from side to side because the pillow was so hard my ear would get numb and hot. I went from kicking off all the blankets to pulling them back on my shivering body. It wasn’t the rest that I wanted or needed.

I woke up at 5 am when the light entered my room. I rolled over and fell back asleep until 6 am when the sound of a Peruvian man pounding a stake into the earth woke me up. I spent the next hour lying on my back wondering what to do. In doing that, I missed an hour on the trail before the heat of the day kicked in.

Fuck it, I thought. I quit.

I picked an orange from the tree and ate it quickly before the mosquitos bit into every part of me. Then I packed my bag and started my trek back to the main road to the catch the bus.

Naturally it was 45 minutes late.

When the bus stopped to change a flat tire 30 minutes after I got on, I couldn’t help but doubt myself.

Did I give up too soon? Or did I do what I needed to do to take care of myself.

I want to be the girl who says, fuck it! I’ll poop on the trail and drink from the river and sleep in the bush.

Sometimes I am that girl, but not today.

There are a lot of things I can tough out, but I don’t always think that doing so is a badge of honour.

It’s hard not to feel pressure to perservere. You see all the quotes about not being mediocre and crushing the day and how you have to work hard to get what you want bla bla bla, but sometimes I just want to pull the blankets up over my head and scream “No crushing it today. Today I will be mediocre.”

There are so many times in my life that I have held myself to an unreasonable/unrealistic standard, and naturally when I don’t hit the high bar I set I am totally down on myself. But why does the bar need to be that high?

What am I trying to prove? And to who?

I still don’t know the answer to this.

Here’s what I do know,  sometimes I give up too early. Sometimes don’t give up soon enough; I hold on too tight to things I need to let go of. I am a work in progress, but at least I know this.

So my story isn’t that I failed. Not today. My story is that I hauled my ass down the side of the canyon, sat in the hot springs and took the bus out. That’s that.

 

 

 

From hostels to hotels: the evolving identity of a traveller

20181204_105115_HDRI’ve been known to change my mind. I don’t think I’m flighty, but sometimes I make decisions before I have enough information and when I get that information it leads to a course correction.

Take this trip, for example.

I started thinking about a fall trip in July. I weighed two options: travel alone to a new country (Peru), or return to Costa Rica and Nicaragua where I would possibly meet up with my best friend.

In the moment, I felt like I needed to get out of my comfort zone. I started looking at flights and found a smoking deal to Lima. 

Decision made. 

Five months later, I arrived in Lima exhausted, but excited. I originally planned to travel alone, but in a last minute turn of events an old friend who I hadn’t seen in ten months decided to join me. 

We had an incredible time strolling through the streets of Lima and Cusco looking for the best ceviche and sweaters made with “Pura Alpaca” wool (Easier said than done). We weathered sleepless nights at a loud hostel and lost luggage. He went for water and looked for accommodations post-trek (which was my job) as I barfed my brains out after a bad experience with local cheese, and I tried to make sure we always had snacks. 

There was a balance, a rhythm, and it was nice.

We trekked to Salkantay Mountain, Lake Humantay and Machu Picchu. We took a collectivo to Pisac and explored the artisan market and ruins. We surfed little Waikiki in Lima. We fell asleep every night exhausted, yet energized from the day we had and the days that lay ahead of us.

To say we had an epic time would be an understatement. 

Then he left.

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I have travelled alone many times over the past 15 years, so I know I can do it, but it wasn’t until he left that I realized that I didn’t want to. 

I’m not the badass solo traveller I once was.

I liked having someone to ask me if I was ok after throwing up in a nasty hostel toilet or getting a slight headache from the altitude. It was nice to have someone to experience sunsets and ruins and amazing meals with. When I saw something beautiful it warmed my heart to hear someone say aloud exactly what I was thinking. 

Walking through the streets of Lima the next day, all I could hear was his voice. When I saw pom poms in the tree, I heard him making a comment about Christmas decorations. When I walked by the statues near the mall I remembered his observation about them looking like vaginas (they did). I watched the surfers at little Waikiki and remembered the pure stoke on his face after a surf sesh the night before. 

Everywhere I went in Lima reminded me of him, so naturally I had to leave. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to remember our time together but rather Cusco and Lima were places we experienced together and being there without him didn’t feel right. 

I decided on a night bus to Huanchaco. At the time it made sense – sleep on the bus and not miss any daylight. Arriving at the bus stop at 9:30 pm made me feel a little less sure of my decision.

The bus was packed and while the seats reclined, I would be lying if I said I had a decent sleep. I’m not even sure it could be called sleep.

Ten hours later and another restless night under my belt, I awoke somewhere outside of Truijillo to the sound of a poorly dubbed cop movie playing on the big screen. When I could no longer hold my bladder, I reluctantly peed in the bus toilet, which was basically peeing in a toilet bowl full of other people’s pee. 

I prayed we didn’t hit a bump.

I arrived in Trujillo exhausted and after learning I had to walk a ways to find the collectivo to Huanchaco I bartered with a cab driver and buckled up. 

Well, I tried to buckle up. There were no seat belts.

Ten minutes later, I rolled up to my hostel. It had a great rating, but as I walked up the stairs and through the common area I could tell the reviews were given by mega budget backpackers looking to party. 

The cushions in the common area were torn and stained with god knows what. The hammock looked as though it had a few STDs to give and three German girls sat chain smoking at the bar. After dropping off my bags, I went back to the common area – an outdoor patio facing the ocean – and watched the waves. 

The sky was grey. It matched my mood.

A couple joined the German girls and I overheard them talking about all the shots they took the night before and what time they got home at which was basically an hour or so before I arrived. I didn’t judge them. I understood where they were coming from, but I just wasn’t there anymore.

After a quick check in with my best friend about my new living situation and my mental state, I got the fuck out of there and booked myself into a hotel down the street with a pool for two nights to adjust to my new setting.

After being back in hostel situations, I’ve realized how much I have grown out of that environment. I love a good night out once in a while, but I also love sleep and not being hungover. I like to read on the couch without worrying about what I’m sitting on. I don’t want to share a bedroom with strangers anymore never mind a bathroom.

After 15 years of travel and countless hostels (several dodgy ones), I’m over it.

I don’t want to travel like a broke backpacker anymore. I mean, I’m not a broke backpacker for one and two I like to be comfortable. I’m not on the road for three months and pinching pennies. I have three weeks to explore this epic country and I don’t want to be sleeping with my passport for the rest of my trip because I’m afraid someone in my room is going to steal my shit.

I hate stepping into a shower that has someone else’s hair in the drain.

I don’t want to be woken up by someone snoring unless I adore them because at least I can roll them over if I adore them. Or kick them.

I thought staying at a hostel would be a great way to meet people and get tips, but the truth is I don’t really care if I meet new people and I can ask Google for tips. Or friends who have been here before.

Thanks, Phil!

If I meet someone cool along the way, YAY! I am not so closed off that I would cold shoulder an opportunity to have a good conversation, but I don’t want to talk about how many shots you did last night. If I can’t be with someone I legitimately love traveling with, sometimes I think it’s better that I just travel alone.

Which brings me to my current situation.

I had big plans to surf Northern Peru and then head up to Ecuador, but after my friend left I started looking into it more and realized how many buses it would take. At least two 10 hour rides.

Fuck. That.

I could fly from Lima to Quito and back, but the cost of that flight is worth the same as my flight from Canada to Lima.

If Huanchaco was the sleepy fishing village the books and websites said it would be, I would stay here, but the streets smell like diesel and fried food and dog shit. The buses roll through every few minutes drowning out the sound of the sea. If this town is sleepy, it’s the kind of restless night bus sleepy and that’s not the vibe I was going for.

As a surfer and beach bum, I’m surprised at how drawn I had become to the idea of flying to southern Peru to explore the mountains, canyons and volcanoes in the Arequipa area. The thought crossed my mind before I started north, but now that I’m here…

After all the stories of the Andean people and experiencing the Andes for myself I couldn’t help but think that I could have an epic girly surf trip in the new year. I will find waves close to home in the very near future. I may never come back to Peru.

And so, I booked a flight out of here.

I changed my mind.

This isn’t the first time that I have altered my course. It’s not an easy decision to make. Sometimes I feel like I failed for not sticking to a plan, but what would I be accomplishing by forcing myself to stick to a plan I am no longer inspired by?

Sometimes we need to slow down. Sometimes we need to move forward. And sometimes we need to do a complete 180.

Sometimes we try something – a town, a hostel, a travel buddy – and it doesn’t work out. Is it more noble to roll with it our to course correct? In my experience, the decision to make a move is sometimes difficult in the moment but is always worth it.

Sometimes the right thing and the hard thing are the same.

When you travel you are constantly faced with options. There is always somewhere to go and always something to see. The time constraint make things both easier and harder because our time is finite. If we sit around for too many days feeling uncertain or refusing to make a decision for whatever reason (cost, fear) our trip will be over before we know it and what would we have to show for it?

Regret is a heavier burden than the back packs and day packs we carry with us.

This is true in life as well, but time seems infinite when we’re in our day to day routine because nothing really changes.

When you travel, the only constant is change.

So, with a week left and heavy heart I say good bye to the sea and hello to a day of air planes and airports in anticipation of great adventure.