Wednesday, May 1, 2013


I finally decided to put on my big girl pants and have officially moved to: Connecting the Black Dots  

Which, thanks to Jessica of The Brazen Bible, is now all shiny and pretty and new. 


I need to figure out how to get this site to redirect there, and once that is sorted, I'm set yo. Set! 

Monday, April 8, 2013

Learning to Learn (and Schedule and Budget)

I haven’t been a full-time student in 10 years. After high school I went into the world and shunned education for a while, as some 18 year-olds are prone to do. In my early 20s I took an introductory O&G course part time at SAIT and a few years later I took the CELTA which was a month of intense full time school. It was 8 hours a day plus a couple of hours of homework a night, but I mean, it was only one month!

So yeah, when I got back from teaching (irony at its best) I really wanted to start university. I had applied while I was away and was accepted a couple months after I got home. I also found a fantastic job for an investment regulator that is flexible (I'm a 0.8 meaning I work Monday to Thursday) and I volunteer on Fridays, so having classes Tuesday and Thursday nights isn't terrible. Tuesday is the longest day ever – I work 7 am-3 pm and have classes 3:30-9:30 pm but it’s not SO bad.

My boss is so awesome that this summer I have a required class Tuesday/Thursday mornings and he’s letting me rearrange my entire work schedule so I can go to that class. Life is good.

However, I'm really not used to this whole school thing. I'm almost done my first 8 months (exam week coming up – eek) and after spring and summer semesters I’ll have completed 10 courses – just like a normal full-time student, only I'm fitting in classes where I see cracks in my schedule whereas most of the students in my classes can take class whenever they want.

I'm not sure if I'm being over-dramatic but when kids in my classes complain about being busy or poor, I want to give them my schedule and bills and be like: "booooya baby!” most of them live at home still paying minimal (if any) rent, work a part time job (if any), and have very few bills (cell phone, and….going to the bar?!). I know that’s not true of ALL my peers but I'm definitely in the minority – living on my own, working (almost) full-time, full-time student and not getting any help.

This was my decision and the route I chose to take. My younger sisters lived at home while in university and worked part-time jobs over the summer. My parents helped them with most of their tuition (plus they didn't pay for rent or food). Now my parents are split up and my dad is retired so they can’t really help me out. Sometimes I wonder if I made the right choices, but I know university at 18 was just not for me. I don’t regret anything but I do reflect and wonder ‘what-if’.

We all do.

So I take deep breaths and I look around my messy apartment, and at my pile of textbooks and my files from work and I repeat “I can do this, I can do this”.

You guys. How was your university experience?! 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Little Country That Could [Overwhelm Me]

This post is a Guest Post I wrote for Caryn @ A Day in The Life - she's away volunteering in Africa and has a series on travel with guest bloggers for the whole month - check it out here! 

This is also part of my series on travelling, volunteering and teaching. So far, I have two parts to this series – Central America and Eastern Europe. For the Central America stories click here. For tales of Georgia and Eastern Europe click here.

When I was volunteering in the Republic of Georgia, I stayed with a host family in a tiny village three hours away from the big city. In fact, the closest next “town” was over an hour away and lays right smack on the Azerbaijan/Georgian border.

“This street Georgia, next street Azerbaijan!” my co-teacher proudly told me.

As my village used to be an Ossetian village, half of the houses were burnt down. You may remember in 2008 Russia invaded a little-known country called Georgia. I think my first reaction upon hearing that was “why are the Russians attacking the United States? And Georgia of all places?”.

Well, turns out they were attacking Georgia – the Republic of – to gain control of a region called South Ossetia (and another region called Abkhazia). My village was just outside of this (still occupied) zone. The Georgians in the village were afraid that the Russians would invade their area too, if there were Ossetians living there so they literally burnt their Ossetian neighbors houses to the ground.  

What a great, welcoming story to hear upon arrival!

Never mind the fact that no one in my village spoke English, even my co-teachers could hardly understand me. And they were the ones supposedly teaching the kids English! I knew it was going to be a difficult semester.

Have you ever tried to learn a new language? I speak French fluently, and Spanish fairly well but Georgian was nowhere even close to either of those languages. In fact, the root of Georgian is…Georgian (Kartvelian). The only known similar languages are the ones spoken in the Caucasus Mountains. If you spoke Russian, you could at least communicate with most people – after all, Russia has been a huge influence on this area of the world. As for me, my French and Spanish got me nowhere. Georgian lessons it was.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved learning Georgian – the letters fascinate me and my attempts at the guttural noises were a source of laughter for many a Georgian. But I would be lying if I said it was easy. Now I know how those poor kids I taught felt.

It also made for some sticky situations. For example, I didn’t realize the extent of limited hot water at my host-house. So of course, one morning I wanted to shower before school. I came downstairs with all my washing needs, flicked the electric heater on and hopped in the (freezing cold) shower. After about 10 minutes of waiting, teeth chattering, I got dressed and went to ask my host father what was up with the water situation.

His English was limited to three things: “baby”, “sit down”, and “hello”.

Super helpful.

I managed to get it across to him that the shower was freezing (repeating “me gaq’inva c’q’ali” while using spider fingers above my head to indicate shower – this roughly translates to “I freeze water” What? That’s the limited vocabulary I had to work with!) He finally managed to explain that it takes two hours to heat the water. TWO HOURS!

Needless to say, I did not get my shower that day. In fact, I wore more head scarves, headbands and ponytails in those few months than I have in my entire life. Showering was not a priority in the small villages. In fact, my house was one of the only ones that actually even had hot water.

There was also the problem of traffic jams. No, not of the vehicular kind. I’m talking cows, ox, goats, pigs, chickens – even a horse or two. Most of the animals just ran around doing as they pleased. It was not unusual, on my way to school, for me to pass a few pigs grazing in the street, while a horse trotted by, narrowly missing the flock of chickens stationed by a spewing water spout, while a man on a goat-driven cart shouted Georgian obscenities at the herd of cows blocking his route. And the problems that arose when more than one cart was on the dirt roads – vy may!

I learned a lot in those months; about Eastern Europe, about the Caucasus region, about culture shock, about learning, about friendship, about gutting rabbits and eating them for dinner (seriously), about traveling, about adapting, and most importantly, about tolerance.

I mean, I was a vegetarian for like 10 years and I managed to eat an animal that I had seen alive earlier that day. If that’s not learning, I don’t know what is. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

On Stalking Strangers

This post is one in my series on traveling, volunteering and teaching. So far, I will have two parts to this series – Central America and Eastern Europe. For the Central America stories click here. For tales of Georgia and Eastern Europe click here

I woke up early on my second day in Mexico City. If you’ve traveled alone, maybe you remember the first day you woke up in a strange place by yourself – it’s a weird feeling. My plan for the day involved the Turibus (a hop-on, hop-off tour around the city for $7 kinda thing) and Chilaquiles (corn tortillas with green sauce and scrambled eggs – so good).

After breakfast, I hopped on the Turibus and put on the requisite headphones to listen to the tour. A few stops in, two young guys got on the bus and I noticed that they were speaking English. As an extrovert, I was already feeling a bit lonely and lost so when they got off at one of the tourist stops, I shamelessly followed them off the bus. I wandered around looking at the fountain until one of the guys asked me to take their picture, and offered to take mine.

The picture the guys snapped of me by the fountain
I ended up chatting with them – it turned out one of them, Enrique, was from Mexico City but had gone to school in Vancouver where he had met Syd, who was visiting for the week. They invited me for lunch, and glad for the company, I happily accepted.

We spent the rest of the day together; touring around on the bus, doing a bit of shopping, heading to the top of the Torre Latinamericana (one of the tallest buildings in Mexico). 

My new friends and I at the top of Torre Latinamericana
At the end of the day, the guys walked me back to my hotel – where we stumbled upon the 100 Year Celebration of Mexican Revolution in the Zoloco.

This was honestly the most amazing show I’ve ever seen. The Zocolo in Mexico City is a square in the center of the city with striking buildings on all four sides – the National Palace, a beautiful cathedral, the federal building and the Old Portal de Mercaderes. The celebration took place in the giant square in the middle of all these buildings. They used the buildings as screens – literally projecting HUGE pictures all around us with a stage and dancers in the middle. The cathedral lit up with gorgeous colours and huge skeletons dancing across the Palacio National is something I’ll never forget.  

The Zocolo all lit up - Photo Credit HERE
For an idea of the epicness  - this video captures some of it.   

I was so grateful to have met these guys – if it hadn’t been for them; I would have most likely gone back to the hotel before dark, out of fear. I would have missed this amazing show; I would likely have been too nervous to stand in the square by myself to watch it. I ended up spending a lot of time with Enrique and Syd – we went to the 5 flags amusement park, visited Teotihuacán pyramids, and I even went to Acapulco with Enrique after Syd headed back to Vancouver.

Probably the best decision I made in Mexico City was following strangers off a bus – seems counter-intuitive, but I can’t imagine what the first two weeks of my trip would have been like if I hadn’t risked it, put myself out there and followed my gut to make new friends. Viva MĂ©xico. 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

First Impressions

This post is the first in my series on traveling, volunteering and teaching. So far, I will have two parts to this series – Central America and Eastern Europe. For the Central America stories click here. For tales of Georgia and Eastern Europe click here.

The day I left for Mexico was a nerve-wracking day. I had already been away from home for almost 2 months - visiting my dad in Vegas. I had packed my backpack, plus a suitcase and a carry-on. The suitcase was staying behind with my dad; he was planning on visiting me once I got a little more settled.

I don’t remember what time of day I left, I just remember sitting in the airport, watching the clock, checking and double checking that I had my passport, money, cards, the name of the hotel and my rough plans written in my horribly illegible writing - really, it’s bad enough that I should seriously consider being a doctor.

I had never been to Mexico before and I had two weeks to spend alone in Mexico City before embarking on a tour with GAdventures down to Guatemala. Go big or go home.

After cruising over the giant metropolis for what seemed like hours, we arrived at 4 am. Anyone who’s travelled will probably tell you it’s a good idea to arrive in a foreign country during the day. They are correct. I sat in the airport with my suitcase, reading a book and feeling anxious for 5 hours. Luckily, there was a group of 12 friendly students that were waiting for their ride to show up – so I had people that could watch my bag for me if I had to run to the washroom or go grab a quick snack.

As soon as the breakfast place in the airport opened, I headed there to try some real Mexican food. Now, I fully expected to learn Spanish and had some key phrases down. I also expected that maybe someone there would speak English – at least in the airport, at least a little?! No such luck. As I struggled to try and order eggs (huevo), she asked me what juice (jugo) I wanted and I replied revuelto (scrambled). After that I just took to pointing.

I then took a look at the prices and felt immediately sick: $68 for breakfast? This couldn’t possibly be right. Why had everyone told me Mexico was so cheap? I must have looked utterly pathetic and confused, as the waitress kindly pointed to the price and said “peso!” so the equivalent of 5 or 6 dollars (actually pretty expensive for Mexico City). They just use the same symbol – because that’s not confusing at all. Then again, we use the same symbol in Canada and our money isn’t the same as the American dollar either.    

Finally at 9 am, I was feeling confident enough to leave the airport. I know, I’m practically Braveheart.

I found a cab driver who thankfully understood my mangled attempts at asking for the Monte Carlo Hospedaje and managed to get me there AND make me laugh even though I understood approximately 2% of what he said.

The check-in guy at the hotel was helpful as can be as he showed me to a little room with a table, basic bed and bathroom with the shower in the middle of the ceiling. Meaning I practically had to stand on the toilet to get under the water, but after the long day of travel it felt glorious.

After my shower, I wandered around the streets with no plan. I headed to the Zocolo (main square) and browsed the windows. Men in police uniforms with guns stood guard on almost every street corner, which actually made me feel very safe. A lot of my friends had been worried about me going alone to Mexico City: “it’s so dangerous!”, “You’re crazy!”, “Why?” but I knew that if I never put myself out on a limb, I’d be dissatisfied and no one had wanted, or been able, to come with me. I had a nice day touring and getting my bearings.

That first night though was actually pretty tough. Not knowing much of the language, my first time traveling by myself, my first trip away from home for longer than 3 weeks. Sure, I had traveled throughout Canada and been to the US. I had been to the U.K. when I was a flag-twirling Colour Guard member, on tour, and had even gone to Cuba with some friends on an all-inclusive resort vacation, but I had never done anything even close to this. Every trip I’d been on before this was structured. I had been born and raised in one city, and lived there my entire life. What was I doing? 

After I found dinner (my first dinner in Mexico was pasta – I don’t know what I was thinking. It was delicious, but seriously?) I made my way back to the hotel, curled up with my book and cried myself to sleep. I think that was the first time in my life I ever felt homesick. 

Luckily for me, my travel confidence was about to go up, and my fun about to really begin.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

That Time I'm Going To Go To Vegas

After carefully thinking it over (for like 20 seconds), I decided to sign up for Bloggers in Sin City - a wicked blog 'unconference' in Vegas. I went in 2010 and had a blast, I'm hoping this time I'll get to spend more time with some of the people I briefly met that year, and make new, amazing friends.

Our Scavenger Hunt Team 2010
My life has changed a lot since that time - 2 years ago I was working as a waitress, working towards my CELTA and had just moved back home with my mom for a few months. I had no idea what I was going to do "with the rest of my life" and BiSC came at a great time, right while I was trying to figure out if I was strong enough to venture to a new country on my own for a year. 

Over the year I learned to relax, breathe, let things happen the way they will but change the things you want and are able to, and also to reach out. Reach for things that seem impossible, or things that you never thought you'd do. Get out of your comfort zone. Get real with yourself. 

All these ideas, I saw the peak of in Vegas and were solidified over the next year. I wouldn't say BiSC gave me the courage, or gave me the strength but it certainly gave me some knowledge. It made me see that I COULD go by myself  somewhere where I didn't know anyone, meet new people and have an amazing time.

Myself, Allie and Jenny - posing with the bartender
Also, there will be glitter and guitars filled with booze; zumba dancing, pole dancing, table dancing; martinis, wine and whiskey; cheese, desserts and buffets - SO many buffets; glitter, sequins and puffy paint; shop-talk, life-talk, blog-talk, drunk-talk, food-talk, wanderlust-talk; and most importantly, there will be friendship. And did I mention GLITTER??

Mandy and I, on the way to the Skyy Vodka Mixer
There are still 8 spots left (registration almost sold out the very first day - I was starting to get worried after half an hour! But luckily for you, it calmed down a bit and there are a few spaces available!) and every one who signs up by February 15th has the chance to win their registration fee back - thanks to Paper’d, (a brand new iPhone app designed by the lovely ladies at Shatterboxx). 

So what are you waiting for? Go sign up, and we'll see you in May! 

Friday, January 13, 2012

Once Upon A Time in Mexico

Fridays should be quick and easy and take minimal energy (TWSS?). Here are a few of my highlights from Mexico - Mexico City, Oaxaca, Acapulco, Puerto Escondido and San Cristobal de las Casas.

And people think Canadian money looks fake...This is worth about $30.

Breakfast of Champions - yes, I ate a worm

Barefoot Beach Party in Puerto Escondido

Acapulco - My parents honeymooned here almost 30 years ago

Mexican Chocolate Mole - ALL the deliciousness