2018 — An obligatory New Year’s Day post


It is 2018.  It is January 1st.  Actually, in the time zone I inhabit, by the time I’ve hit publish on this post, it’ll likely be January 2nd.  Thankfully, I’m currently chilling in the Rockies and Mountain Standard Time has gifted me with two whole extra hours — something I’m thankful for tonight, but was annoyed by at this time last night as I set myself a reminder alarm to remember to text my Ontario peeps at 10 pm to wish THEM a Happy New Year!

Anyway, I digress.  Where was I?  Yes; it’s 2018.  Nothing really feels like it’s changed from yesterday.  But yet, so much has, hasn’t it?  We do this yearly.  We wait til January 1st to start things.  We spend the last week of December eating all the junk food in our houses in hopes to start fresh January 1st.  I was a day late with this silly plan and made my last bag of chips my personal mission for today.

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But it doesn’t have to be like this.  Futility doesn’t have to be our best friend as we launch into every single new year.  New Year’s Resolutions don’t have to be a to-do list that extends no further than the first week of January.

In the fall of 2016, my dear friend Rachel sent me a link to this thing she’d heard of called Power Sheets.  Lara Casey and her team make them over at Cultivate What Matters.  It’s designed for intentional life planning.  Intentional goal setting.  Progress.  Not perfection.  Rachel and I dove right in.  We each ordered a set and split the shipping (since it has to come from the States and the shipping is steep), and we dug in.  (This year 6 of us ordered and split shipping — highly recommend this if you’re Canadian and want your hands on a set!)  We did the prep work while discussing all of our goals together, and we were ready over the course of about a month of intentional thinking, planning, and praying to meet 2017 head on.  For me, it felt like 2017 was going to be the year I finally got my act together and stopped making resolutions I couldn’t keep.  Resolutions I knew even as I made them I wouldn’t keep.  But it’s what we do, right?

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I can’t say that my Power Sheets were overwhelmingly life-changing in 2017.  Though maybe I can — it’s hard to achieve perspective since I don’t have a 2017 without Power Sheets to compare it to.  I don’t know.  It certainly wasn’t the productive year I’d hoped it to be.  The entire point to Power Sheets is to set goals, track your tending lists, make progress, and cover yourself in grace when you fall short of your own expectations.  After all, we don’t keep pushing into what we want to change when we feel defeated and like it’s hopeless, do we?  Progress.  Not perfection.  But I know they made some difference.  I was able to measure growth in some areas.  Some were more stubborn than others, and I’ve had to re-evaluate what I really wanted to see change in this year to make sure that I was choosing the right goals.  But more importantly, I’ve had to evaluate the why for my goals.  Why am I choosing this?  Am I choosing “be healthier” because I think people will like me more?  Or am I choosing it because I actually want health and I want to be able to do things I’ve only ever dreamed of — like learn to surf.  The prep work at the beginning of the planner for each year asks big questions and makes you look deep into the whys, and I know I got to the root of some of my wishes for 2018.

I don’t have my 2017 book with me.  I don’t have the list of goals I chose for 2017 with me because they’re in my book, and they’re in Ontario, and I am not.  But I do have the goals I’ve chosen for 2018, and I’d like to share them with you.  I’d like to be a little bit vulnerable and put them out into the air for the blogosphere to read.  This year, I’ve chosen bigger, over-arching goals.  There’s a Facebook group dedicated to Power Sheets users where a couple people have referred to them as “umbrella goals.”  They’re more like a topic where I want to do some work in my life this year, and then the more specific goals (which I have a lot of for 2018) will work their way into my monthly, weekly, and daily check-lists for each month.

Without further ado, here are my umbrella goals for 2018:

  1. Finances ~ Saving and not spending needlessly.  Obviously each month will have specific targets for this.  I’d been working on it throughout 2017 as well, and with some careful planning and some good timing, I managed to pay off a pile of debt in May, and have been relishing in the freedom of that ever since.  Can I recommend You Need A Budget (YNAB) to you?  Seriously, it changed my life in March of 2016.  Jesse Mecham, the creator, has written a book and it just released last week.  It’s on my list of things to do in January.
  2. Spiritual Growth ~ Depth.  I want a relationship with Jesus that is marked by reliance, listening, and trust.  That doesn’t come from just thinking about it and hoping it comes.
  3. Fun ~ Responsible Fun; Not running to fun to escape uncomfortable emotions.  This felt like a funny goal, but through a lot of introspection this year I’ve discovered something I don’t really love about myself.  Where I’d perpetually thought I just liked to have fun, it dawned on me that I’m prone to running to fun as soon as I don’t want to deal with something that doesn’t seem fun.  Awkward relationship situation?  I run away.  Work sucks?  I want to switch jobs — it isn’t fun!  Pain?  No fun.  Let’s go on vacation instead.  Where I want to goal-set around fun this year is to make sure it’s not my escape, as much as it is something that is just necessary to live.
  4. Mental Health — This is something I began to take very seriously in 2017, as I battled some anxiety that it turned out had been simmering just beneath my surface for a long time, and I’d never dealt with it.  I’ve started seeing a counselor, and I honestly can’t recommend a professional therapist enough — seriously.  You get to talk about yourself for an hour, and you don’t have to do anyone the social courtesy of listening back to them.  My goals here revolve around leaning into stress and anxiety and the situations that cause them so that I continue to get better at managing and reducing both of these things.
  5. Leadership — I am a leader.  For better or for worse, I’m in leadership positions in my church and at work.  I’m not sure how this happened.  I’m honestly not sure how I got here.  But people see potential in me, and I’d like to harness it for good!
  6. Health — this one is so common.  How many of us set healthy lifestyle New Year’s resolutions?  This one could be a whole post for me, but it’s a very raw spot at the moment, so… nope!  That doesn’t sound fun!
  7. Creativity — Brene Brown once said in a podcast interview I was listening to her on (For the Love with Jen Hatmaker) that “Unused creativity is not benign.”  It hit me to my core.  For a long time, I’ve wanted to write but have been too afraid people wouldn’t buy it.  I’ve wanted to paint but have been self-conscious because I’m not as good as someone else.  I’ve wanted to be a better musician but again, compare myself to others and always fall short.  But if unused creativity is harmful to me, then this needs intentional work as well.
  8. Bravery.  It has occurred to me that I am not that brave.  I’m a pretty big chicken, actually.  So 2018 needs to hone in on some of those areas where I could use some bravery the most.  I read Annie F. Downs’ book “Let’s All Be Brave” (buy it on Amazon here) in November, and I cried through parts of it.  I’m so ready to be brave.  So ready.  I highly recommend the book, but if you’re determined to stay seated in. your comfort zone, it may not be for you.  I’m doing her 100 Days to Brave devotional starting as soon as I get home (as it’s arrived in Ontario before I have).
  9. Adventure — I thrive on this.  It’s linked to my fun, and it’s linked to my finances.  I found a lot of my goals are linked to each other — I actually created a very messy flow chart that reflects that!  But I will have adventure based goals.  Where will I travel next?  Europe is calling — Scandinavia?  The South of France?  Switzerland (the land of my ancestral people)?  Who knows?
  10. Relationships — This is not just the romantic kind — though that’s pretty intrinsically linked to bravery.  I want to be intentional.  I want to be present.  I want to be brave.  In all of my relationships.

 

And there you have it.  My over-arching umbrella goals.

Do you set goals?  Do you make resolutions?  Do you keep them?  If you’ve been a successful Power Sheets user, I’d love to hear from you!  I really want them to help me make big changes this year!

Even if you don’t use Power Sheets, I highly recommend both of Lara Casey’s books.  They’re less intensive than using Power Sheets, but still give you lots of great tips and encouragement for living a more intentional life.  Get Make It Happen on Amazon here, and get Cultivate on Amazon here.

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How (not) to Road Trip a Foreign Country


I’ve had a week to process my way through this post.  I returned from 11 days in Ireland last Saturday (July 16th), and since I’ve waited long enough to be objective (read: I let the jet lag finally wear off), I feel I can give a pretty comprehensive list of things to do (and NOT to do) while one road trips across a foreign country.

Advice and Tips

The most important piece of advice I could give you would be to research everything — there were details we missed because we just didn’t think about them, and I’ll outline a few while I write.  I think other than research though, my best advice would be to not hold too tightly to your expectations in a country you’ve never been in.  Things may not work out like you hope, and that has great potential to ruin what could have been a great day if your brain can just convince itself to be flexible.

My basic recommendations are these:

  1. unless you are used to it, Youth Hostels may not be the best option for you.  I will be the first to admit that I am quite spoiled, and I normally stay in hotels.  Not the swankiest of hotels, to be sure, but there is a big gap between hostels and hotels.  I hadn’t stayed in a hostel since I was 15, and when I did so, all of us in the room were from the same group travelling together, and we were chaperoned, and our chaperones told us when to be in the room, when to have the lights out, and when to be quiet.  This was not the case, and didn’t fit with what I had remembered.  Especially in Dublin when I was in a room with 9 other people, all working on their own schedules, it was very challenging to fall asleep, all while fighting some pretty wicked jet lag.  More on hostels in a bit, as I’ll let you know where I stayed and give a review of each, BUT this to say:  This is a good place to check your expectations.  Budget accommodations are wonderful.  I can’t complain too much, because I wouldn’t have been able to afford the trip if I hadn’t stayed in hostels, or at least — not for as long as I went.  But remember to check your expectations 🙂
  2. Things to remember to take with you if you’re staying in hostels:
    1. cheap flip flops to shower in.
    2. a lock for lockers if the hostels have them.
  3. Read every last piece of fine print and check for any possible hidden fees if you’re renting a car.  We booked a car through Sixt Ireland.  The reason we went with Sixt and not with Budget or Enterprise was that you could waive the CDW (Collision Damage Waiver) insurance with them as long as you had written proof of it that you were covered from somewhere else.  My VISA card offered this protection, as long as the rental was booked entirely onto my VISA.  I got the letter I needed, emailed back and forth multiple times with customer service to the company to make sure there would be no hidden fees or charges when we arrived to pick up the car.  What no one ever bothered to mention in the exchange of almost 20 emails back and forth, was that if you opt to waive Sixt’s coverage and provide your own, regardless of the documentation you provide stating that you’re covered, they will place a hold of 5,000 Euros on your credit card while you’re away.  Having a 7,500 dollar limit on my VISA, that was my entire card availability and so naturally I couldn’t afford to have a hold on that for 8 days — I needed to access my money.

    We ended up paying separately for their coverage, which cost us almost 500.00 Canadian more for the period of the rental.  We should have gone with Budget, because while they didn’t give the option to waive the CDW coverage, their fee for the rental including their own coverage was far cheaper than the 1,100 dollars Canadian it ended up costing us to rent a car for a week.

  4. On the driving note, look up the specific road signs of the country you’re going to, and be aware that some of them may not make sense to you.  Don’t be like me and wait til you’re driving to go “huh, I wonder what that means…..”

    Also please note that if you’re following a GPS, pretty much none of the roads are labeled on the signs what the GPS tells you it’s called.  For example, the GPS will tell you to enter onto “South Ring Road” but the road will be called like R528 or something else like that.  Nowhere on any signs will it say South Ring Road, and you’ll be in the middle lane of a 4-lane roundabout with traffic lights (WHY do you need traffic lights in a roundabout??!  Roundabouts are supposed to make it so you don’t NEED traffic lights!!!)

  5. This brings me to number 4 — Roundabouts.  They’re crazy.  I knew they were there, and I knew they’d be different from ours here in Canada, but no one told me that they’d be every 30 metres, that they’d be 4 lanes across, and that you’d just have to kind of point the car and hope for the best that you end up in the right spot….. for real.  Insane.  And as I mentioned in point 3, the TRAFFIC LIGHTS!  oy.
  6. Along with looking up road signs, familiarize yourself with what the new country’s roads are like.  I looked up enough to know that any road in Ireland that has an M in front of it is a motorway.  The speed limit will be 120 km/h.  Any road that has an N will be a National road, and the speed limit will be 100 km/h.  Any road that has an R in front of it will be a regional road, and any road that has an L in front of it is a Local road.  I don’t remember if there were consistent speed limits for those or if they varied by road.  What I didn’t realize when I looked up that information was that just because a road is called N62, for example, and the speed limit is 100 km/h., does NOT mean it’s safe to drive 100, or that I want to be on it.  I drove from Killarney to the Cliffs of Moher, and then from the Cliffs of Moher to Galway, and I ended up on N62 which, while a National Road, is also part of the Wild Atlantic Way, and I often felt comfortable going NO FASTER than 28 km/h., and even that was a stretch.  I parked the car in a parking garage in Galway, turned it off, put my hands on the steering wheel and my head in my hands and cried.  That drive was the most stressful thing I think I’ve ever done in my life.  It may have been worse than the ridiculous snow storm I got stuck in one year on my way to my Grandparents’ where all I could see was the tail lights of the car in front of me and nothing else.  I have never been so certain I was not going to make it out of something alive.  Corkscrew Hill?  With a little research I could have avoided it.  However, I’ve lived to tell the tale, and I might be a stronger person for it?  Time will tell.

    This is not my video, but this accurately captures the terror that was my drive down from the Cliffs.  Driving on narrow, winding, cliff-side roads on the other side of the road is not something I’m itching to do again.  Ever.

  7. Embrace the bus tour — some of my most relaxing days were spent not driving, but on bus tours out on some crazy crazy roads (We did the Ring of Kerry and the Giant’s Causeway on buses — and should have done the Cliffs of Moher as well).

Pictures

If you’ve tracked with me this far, here are a couple of my favourite pictures from my trip — the ones that made the driving worth it!

 

The Road Trip

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We did two days in Dublin using Hop-on-Hop-Off bus passes as our transit around the city before we picked up our rental car.  I had NO desire to drive in Dublin, and the second we got into the city this was confirmed as a great decision.

In Dublin, we stayed at the Dublin International Youth Hostel for two nights.

From Dublin we drove to Cork via the Rock of Cashel. (I highly recommend renting from the Swords Airport business park — it’s right near the airport and North of the city, and to get anywhere other than downtown Dublin, all you have to do is jump on the M50 ring road.  There are tolls for this road, and they’re electronic — ask your rental company if they deduct the tolls automatically from your card or if you have to pay them.  Ours were deducted automatically.)  The Rock of Cashel was a great stop!  I highly enjoyed the village of Cashel, and while Cork was a total bust (more on that in a second), it was still worth it to go through Cashel to get to Cork instead of having gone straight on to Killarney.

In Cork, we stayed at Bru Bar and Hostel.  More on the hostels near the end of this write-up, but I don’t recommend it.  Also, it was pouring when we arrived in Cork, and the parking was expensive!  We had a hard time finding somewhere to eat (I’m gluten and dairy free), and my umbrella broke the first time I opened it.  Combined with not having slept more than 5 hours in the previous 72, Cork was kind of a wash.  I’ve heard it’s lovely though, so it’s worth a fair shake of your time if you’re not jet lagged beyond recognition I would think.  And embrace the rain — it’s Ireland, after all!

The next morning, we drove on to Killarney and experienced our first slightly narrow roads.  Nothing like what was to come, but it was interesting to say the least.  Killarney is a lovely town with a great feel to it.  We ate at Cathleen’s Country Kitchen and at Roost while in Killarney, as well as at Caragh Restaurant.  Cathleen’s was AWESOME!  So was Roost.  And so was Caragh.  I loved Killarney, and have nothing bad to say about it.  We stayed at Neptune’s Town Hostel.

While in Killarney, we did a bus tour of the city and surrounding areas (Muckross House, Torc Waterfall, Ross Castle…), as well as a bus tour of the Ring of Kerry.  Totally worth it, and I’d recommend doing it by bus instead of driving if you’re the least bit scared of the drive.  It took way longer than I figured it would have, so I was really glad we bused it.  I was disappointed that we didn’t manage to fit in a tour to the Dingle Peninsula and a boat ride to see Fungi the dolphin.  I guess I’ll have to go back!

From Killarney, we drove to Galway via the Cliffs of Moher.  The trip up to the Cliffs wasn’t terrible, but the rest of the journey to get to Galway was terrifying, prompting me to tell you that if you value your sanity, take a bus tour.  For real.  Unless adventure, cliff-side winding roads, and near-death experiences at the hands of trucks and tour buses that are just bigger than the lanes they’re in sounds exciting to you…. then, by all means, lol, try it….. But me?  Never again.

Once we finally arrived in Galway in one piece, I was quite shaken from the drive and felt sick to my stomach at the prospect of driving to Sligo the next day, because once I’d realized what the roads could be like, I looked at a map and wondered if the drive to Sligo and then on to Belfast wouldn’t just be more of the same.  The staff, particularly the manager, Ewa, at Kinlay Eyre Square Hostel in Galway were amazing.  They helped me look at a map and decide that in fact I did NOT want to do that drive to Sligo, and since it was just a place to crash for the night they helped us cancel our hostel in Sligo and switched us into a room we could stay in for two nights.  We were encouraged to just go straight to Belfast because it’s all motorway and it’s an easy, straight-forward drive. I loved Galway as well, and am going to have to go back to see the things I missed out on, like The Burren and Connemarra National Park.  While in Galway we ate at Quay Street Kitchen, where I had a gluten free pineapple chicken sandwich that was heavenly, and then the next night we ate at …. Fat Freddy’s I think it was called?  It was right next door.  The atmosphere in Galway is incredible — live music just kickin it in the streets, authentic Irish music coming from pubs all up and down the pedestrian walkway through the center of town…. I left part of my heart in the beautiful seaside town of Galway, and I’m going to have to return to get it.

We did a bus tour of Galway, but I’d not do that if I were making recommendations — the things there are to see are walkable within half an hour to an hour of each other, and we didn’t see much on the tour that we hadn’t already seen by walking around.

We were going to go to Sligo after Galway, because I heard the beaches were amazing, and then on to Belfast via Enniskillen, which looked super cute in the pictures I saw, but after the harrowing drive…….

After two not-long-enough days in Galway, we completed the indeed very easy drive to Belfast via Dublin, and arrived at the Belfast International Youth Hostel where we’d make our home at our last real destination city.  My only caution when driving to Belfast from the Republic is that you pay close attention to where you cross into the UK (just north of Dundalk if memory serves correctly), as the speed limit drops from 120 km/h to 70 mph (about 113 kph) and I found it challenging to keep myself from speeding like a crazy person after 3 hours at 120-130 kph. There is a sign, and it tells you, but you’ll miss it if you’re not conscious of the change.

We did a bus tour of Belfast, but it was unfortunately one of the last of the day so we couldn’t really get out and explore anything, but it was VERY informative and I learned a lot about Belfast that I didn’t know going into the tour.  I didn’t research Northern Ireland nearly as thoroughly as I did the Republic before booking all the trips, so learning things was sweet.  If I ever get back to Belfast, I’d spend a whole day doing that tour so that I could take in things like the Titanic Museum.  We also did a bus tour out to the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge and the Giant’s Causeway.  That in itself was worth the drive to Belfast (though I’m sure you can do them from Dublin if you’ve found yourself a great place to stay there — it would just be a much longer day I would think).  In Belfast we ate at a great Italian place called Fratelli’s.  It was expensive, but delicious.  Try the duck salad, and their pizza (gluten free) is great!  We also ate at McDonald’s the last night after spending so much the night before, haha…. #balance

From Belfast we traveled back to Dublin where we stayed at a Travelodge HOTEL (yes!  Back into my comfort zone!) by the airport so that we had easy access the following morning to head back to Toronto.  We walked into the village of Swords to a restaurant called The Old School House (a little hard to find, but totally worth it!) and had a fabulous steak dinner to commemorate our final night.  Spectacular.  They garnished our food with shamrocks.

 

Accommodation Reviews

  • Dublin International Youth Hostel, 61 Mountjoy St., Dublin — 10 bed female dorm

    Disclaimer:  I was jet lagged and hadn’t slept much if at all the whole time we were in Dublin, and as I mentioned earlier…. I prefer hotels.  Take this with a grain of salt.

    • This place was LOUD.  Doors slammed until well into the night.  Like 2 and 3 am.
    • There was a decent breakfast of toast and cereal — but nothing if you’re gluten or dairy free.  Luckily, I’d thought this aspect out and I brought oatmeal with me that I could eat.  I just needed hot water every morning.
    • the lockers provided in the dorm rooms were not big enough to hold my suitcase.  Perhaps this says more about my suitcase than the lockers, but still… I wasn’t super comfortable leaving my suitcase under my bed when sharing a room with 9 strangers, but it was what had to happen.
    • there were either no hooks or very poorly placed hooks in the showers, and the women’s showers on the lower level were gross.  The ones on the 3rd floor where I was staying were ok, but stall doors or at least something to prevent your clothes from getting wet while you were showering would be nice.
    • Parking:  Not sure about this, as we didn’t have our car yet, but they did have a sign that pointed to a car park so I’m not sure if it was free or not, but they appeared to have parking.
    • no elevator
    • There was not a single outlet in our 10-bed dorm.  We charged our phones in the dining hall before we went to bed, but wouldn’t have been able to plug anything in in the room
    • The wifi was spotty in the room and worked better in the common areas, but it would have been nice to have it from bed.
    • They don’t wash the comforters when they change the bedding — just the sheets they provide you.  But if you’re used to hostels, you’re probably aware of and used to that…. I wasn’t prepared for that.

We ended up cancelling our last night and staying in a hotel near the airport instead because if it was as loud and hard to sleep as it had been on a Wednesday and Thursday night, we did NOT want to try it on a Friday.

  • Bru Bar and Hostel, 57 MacCurtain St., Cork. — 3 bed private room (which was actually one bunk bed but the bottom bunk was a double) with private bathroom
    • You have to go through a bar to get to the reception area of the hostel and to get to the stairs to the rooms (no elevator)
    • The whole place smelled kinda smoky even though there was no smoking in the bar and there were stern no smoking signs throughout the hostel.
    • We were two floors above the bar, and there was no live music the night we were there, but you could still hear the dull thump of the bass from the music at the bar.
      • what was louder though was the slamming of doors that lasted well into the night as well.
    • no parking was provided.  It cost us nearly 20 Euros to park in a lot that wasn’t even super close.
    • We had a private bathroom, which was nice — we had our own key for it.  But there were no towels of any kind — not even to dry your hands after you went to the bathroom, which was bizarre to me.
    • on the up side, there were plugs close enough to our beds that we could charge our phones while we slept and have access to Facebook and such while trying to fall asleep.

 

  • Neptune’s Town Hostel, New Street, Killarney — 4 bed mixed dorm.
    • the common area was LOUD our first night (Saturday).  There was a bachelorette party going on where girls were yelling chug at each other in Spanish….
    • The wifi didn’t work great in our room, and there was only one outlet for four people…
      HOWEVER
    • once 11 pm hit, the hostel staff shut down all the common areas and patrolled the hallways to make sure people were quiet as they were coming in from wherever they were
    • the front desk staff, especially Peter, were VERY helpful
      • when I told him how poorly I’d slept in Dublin and Cork, he made mention to the night security to make sure it was quiet in the hallway by my room, AND he made a point of asking me how I’d slept the next morning
      • they’ll arrange activities at the front desk
    • there was free parking, even though it was a bit far away — when you’re staying for two days it’s worth a walk to not have to pay.
    • the showers and bathrooms were insufficient for an entire floor of people — only two showers and two toilets for the whole floor.
      • there were no hooks to put anything on and the shower was small, so my clothes got wet while I showered
      • if you were using the toilet while someone else used the shower, your shoes and pants may get wet as the water comes under the floor
    • no lockers in the rooms.
    • no sheets on the beds, and they only appeared to change the pillow cases and the bottom sheets — not the comforters — when they cleaned the rooms.

 

  • Kinlay Eyre Square Hostel, Merchants Road, Eyre Square, Galway — 4 bed mixed dorm
    • The staff were so friendly and helpful.  As you read in my description of our route, the manager Ewa, as well as a guy at the front desk, Evan — were amazing.  After I arrived shaking at the front desk they provided nothing but great service.
    • The place is very well decorated.  Posters, fish tanks — very inviting.  The common area isn’t scuzzy…. very nice.
    • They’ll arrange activities for you at the front desk
    • They’ll give you directions to places, let you use the phone
    • the breakfast was great — they even had gluten free options and fruit, which we hadn’t seen in a week!
    • there were plugs AND lights in the beds.
    • our beds had curtains.  Curtains!  So nice in a room that you’re sharing with strangers.
    • there were lockers under the bed big enough for my mammoth suitcase AND some other items, as well as shelving by the beds for things that didn’t necessarily need to be locked up.
    • They had good security, and they were also conscious of making sure the atmosphere was quiet and conducive to sleeping between 11 pm and 7 am.
    • They validated our parking so that it was 8 Euros per 24 hours, which is excellent because it otherwise would have been quite expensive.
    • The bathroom was pretty great, at least the women’s — my travel companion said the men’s wasn’t awesome, but I didn’t see it.  There was a separate curtain separating the shower area itself from where I’d hung my clothes.  That’s a win in my book.
    • Unfortunately there were no sheets on the bed — just a comforter.  It got quite warm in our room the second night, and disregarding the cleanliness issue, I would have much preferred a sheet to sleep under than a comforter when it was warm.
    • The dinner recommendation we received on our first night was top notch!  We almost went back the second night but decided to be adventurous.

I can’t say enough great things about this place and the people who work here.  Hands down, the nicest place we stayed in Ireland — maybe even nicer than the hotel, though my jury is out on that.  I was very ready for a hotel by that point.  As far as budget accommodations go, there is definitely good reason that this place has won awards multiple times for being the best hostel in Ireland.

 

  • Belfast International Youth Hostel, 22-32 Donegall Rd., Belfast — private room (one bunk bed with a weird, random sink….)
    • small, lacklustre room
    • we arrived the day after Orangemen’s Day (July 12th), which I learned on our tour is a very big deal.  The bar across the street was still blasting music that had to do with it, but thankfully that stopped by bed time.  The people in the streets did not, and so it was noisy the first night, but that’s not really the hostel’s fault.
    • Our window in our room didn’t seal properly.  Even when closed, I could feel air coming in, which made everything quite damp while it was raining, and I certainly would not have wanted to stay in that room in the winter time.
    • The online pictures of the rooms were pretty misleading, unless the dorms were nicer looking than the private room
    • Wifi barely worked in the room, and was spotty in the cafe and common areas.
    • Weird showers — the water lasted about 20 seconds (I’m not exaggerating) before you had to push the button again
    • Weird bathrooms — they’re gross, for one.  Like…. the worst of all the places we stayed.  They could use a good coat of paint to cover some of the dirty hand prints on the doors and some of the gunge growing in the corners.  They are poorly ventilated to be sure.  Some of them on our floor (3) didn’t even have sinks!  One was a toilet and a shower but no sink, and one was just a toilet.  None of them had anything to dry your hands with.
    • The cafe on site was great, but it meant that unlike the rest of the places we’d stayed on our trip, our breakfast wasn’t free.
      • They did have a great take-out lunch option though, which we opted to take on our Giant’s Causeway tour
    • They have a tour company that has an office right in the main level of the hostel, so you don’t have to worry about getting to the pickup and drop-off points as you’re right there to leave
    • no locker in our room — it was a private room though, so there may have been in bigger rooms, but I don’t know
    • There was a duvet cover on the comforter, which I assume they wash when guests leave… I hope so anyway, but I still would have enjoyed a sheet for when it got warm in our room because we had to close the window because it was pouring our second night.
    • parking was free, on-site, and secured.  That was awesome!

 

  • Travelodge Dublin Airport North Swords – Pinnock Hill Roundabout, Swords — 2 bed room
    • Yay!  TV!
    • Yay!  Hot shower!  Long shower!
    • Nice restaurant on-site with all you can eat breakfast
    • short walk to Swords village for shopping and dining
    • they appeared to have parking on site, but we’d returned our car by then so it didn’t apply
    • 2 Euro each direction airport shuttle — but we had a hard time finding info about that on the website ahead of time (they said at the desk that the website is out of date), and so we paid 15 Euros for a taxi from the airport to the hotel when we wouldn’t have had to if the website were up to date.
    • No elevators

 

Well, that’s it!  I’ve been typing for hours, so I imagine you all have more than enough information to plan an Irish road trip if the need ever arises for you!

31 goals


I turned 31 two weeks ago.  It felt just like any other day.  There was no fanfare, no trumpet blowing, no life-changing ‘a-ha!’ moment to signal that another year had come and gone.  Just some loving friends who made sure I wasn’t forgotten, took me out for dinner, went to wander around the local art gallery’s Christmas light display (which was bizarre with no snow…. weird), and then to Starbucks for a gingerbread latte.

It was lovely.

But at dinner, my dear friend Laurel encouraged me to set 31 goals, as I turned 31.  She said it’s something she started doing at around 27, and she’s really enjoyed it.

To me, it seems almost like having to make 31 New Years Resolutions, because my birthday is a mere 3 weeks from the moment when the entire world notices that another year has come and gone, but that’s neither here nor there.  I’ve decided to take Laurel up on her suggestion, and I’ve decided to set 31 goals.

I’ll check back in around this time in 2016 and let you know how I did

  1.  Read 40 books (So far this year I’m at 22 of the 25 book goal I set for 2015.  I think I can pull it off.)
  2. Write every day (summer 2016 — I’m not going to Camp for the first time in 6 years.  I think writing about SOMETHING every day is a solid aspiration).
  3. Be generous.  I’m not limiting this.  I just want to be open to the voice of the Holy Spirit and do what He tells me to with the money and time I’m blessed with — things like helping refugees and caring for the homeless.
  4. Actually use my Instagram account.  I just revamped it yesterday.  Follow me if you’d like: @epicwings84
  5. Love deeply.  Who cares if I get hurt?  Hurts heal, but regret takes longer.
  6. Learn to chord on my mandolin
  7. Learn to chord on my guitar
  8. Keep playing the violin
  9. Not hide my piano in its carry-case/bag, but actually play it every once in a while.
  10. Create a music nook in my basement — because 6, 7, 8, and 9
  11. Watch all the Star Wars movies.  I’ve never done it.  I want to know what they hype is about.
  12. Actually read my Bible.  I haven’t figured out what this looks like yet — whether I start a plan or just read, but I want that to be a Dec. 31-Jan. 1 deal, since I already missed my birthday goal start by 2 weeks.  Details to follow.
  13. de-clutter my home.  It’s so cluttered.  I can’t handle it.  I will be removing clutter, filing clutter, giving away and selling clutter.  And if I manage to pull out enough to clutter to have a sale of some sort, I will donate the proceeds to somewhere important — probably to refugees.  They hurt my heart and I want to help everywhere I can.
  14. pray more — not in a “God, this situation sucks please fix it” kind of way.  In a “I lean into the Spirit because the Spirit is in me, and let’s do life together” kind of way.
  15. Start running again.  This is a tentative, hopeful goal.  I don’t know if I can do it, because I wrecked my ankle a couple years ago.  When I stopped running, I then gained a bunch of weight, which leads me to 16….
  16. Lose 50 pounds.  Or more.  But at least 50.  But healthily.
  17. Eat good food.  Goal # 16 does not have to mean I don’t eat good food.  It means I stop eating sour keys and chips.  Seriously — big vices right there.  I just got a Ninja professional kitchen system for Christmas.  And a veggie Spiralizer for my birthday.  And a sweet frying pan.  I seriously feel like I can make anything.
  18. Learn.  I keep saying “if I were to ever go back to school, I would study….” Well, I’m not going to go back to school.  I haven’t paid off round 1 and 2 yet.  But that doesn’t mean I can’t just learn.
  19. do something adventurous and scary.  I haven’t decided what that is going to be yet.  Time will tell.
  20. Play more — do the things I love even if they seem a little childish and like a waste of time.  Like colouring.  Or playing in the rain.
  21. actually stick to my budget.  At the end of August, I created a spreadsheet that’s been really helping me watch where my money is going.  This needs to continue.
  22. Choose love.  Where I can judge, be snarky, be rude, or even just be apathetic… I must choose love.
  23. Practice my French.  I’m not teaching it anymore, and this is the third year in a row that I haven’t been using it regularly.  I don’t want to lose it.
  24. Drink water.  This sounds so cliche and ridiculous, but it’s something I really, really, really need to do.
  25. Take my vitamins every day lol.  See 24.  Also, I’m running out of goals.
  26. Take time to watch the sun both come up and go back down.  I tend to ignore the sunrises, because I firmly believe I should be sleeping, but they’re a part of the natural process, and their beauty is just as profound.
  27. Install a dog door in my back door so Kloe has freedom this summer — something she’ll miss not going to my Mom’s for 2 months.
  28. Road trip somewhere (in Ontario) that I’ve never been.
  29. Write a song.
  30. eat way, way less refined sugar
  31. Choose joy — life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.

 

We’ll chat at the end of 2016 and I’ll let you know what I accomplished.  Do you have any goals?

Back Roads Road Trip


I had an amazing weekend.  My brother is getting married next weekend so his fiancee’s bachelorette party was this weekend at a spa called Scandinave at Blue Mountain near Collingwood.  I was very excited to go hang out with the girl who’ll be my sister in now less than a week, and the other friends she’s chosen as her bridesmaids.  I was also very excited because, since it’s a 3 hour drive back to my home in South Central Ontario from Collingwood, I opted to crash for the night with a friend in Wasaga Beach.  I haven’t been to Collingwood since I was in Junior High (and it was in February!), and I’ve never been to Wasaga Beach, so it was an exciting opportunity!

Now, most normal people would plug their destination into Google Maps and take the route they’re given.  I’m admittedly not that normal.  I plugged my destination in, and laughed when it said the best way to go would be to take the 403 to the 407 to the 410 to 10 and then hit some county roads.  But that’s not how I roll.  When it’s this nice outside (it was 24 degrees today and 23 yesterday), I prefer not to sit in traffic.  I’d rather take abandoned county roads that I hardly have to share than a 400 series highway.

If I hadn’t taken said abandoned back roads, the pictures you’ll see in a minute wouldn’t have been possible.  It’s a lot easier to pull over to take pictures of fall foliage on Nottawasaga County Road 10 than it is on the 410.

As I drove through 6 counties (Brant, Waterloo, Wellington, Dufferin, Grey, and Simcoe) and switched through 4 radio stations, I had time to reflect on some amazing sights.

Saturday morning, I woke up at 5:50 am, knowing I wanted to be in Collingwood at 9.  It has been a really long time since I’ve seen the sun rise.  Yesterday morning, it took my breath away.  Does this get old?  Those of you who regularly watch the sun come up… do you get used to it?  Because I don’t know if I could.  Watching the sun crest the horizon of gently colouring fall trees then kiss the tassles on the top of stalks of corn, while the fog burns off with the coming heat, I couldn’t help but wonder if I regret that I don’t see this more often.  But… would it get old?  Would I get used to it and just not think about it anymore?  I guess I don’t know.

As I drove through windmill country near Shelburne, I shook my head at the intrusion into the scenery but then found my brain wandering toward whether they’re beneficial or not.  There are also signs all over wanting the wind farms to stop.

As I belted country songs out at the top of my lungs while I drove, Jason Aldean’s song “Fly Over States” came on the radio and I identified so much with it because… well…. how many people miss this view because they can’t handle the extra half hour it takes to avoid the 400-series-highways?

So things like the fog, the corn fields, the colourful fall trees… those are memory markers for this weekend.  Things like birds flying through the bright blue sky on Melancthon Side Road 30 as Grey County welcomed me…. priceless.  Things like the pictures taken from pulled over on Nottawasaga County Road 10, County Road 124, and Tenth Line (I pulled over for all of these pictures)…. they’ll stick.  Things like cresting hills with colourful trees and a stunning view of Georgian Bay on a hazy afternoon will take your breath away.

After a phenomenal day relaxing in the Scandinavian Baths at Scandinave Spa (can’t say enough good things about this place, by the way — want to enjoy a day of relaxing?  Take a book and go to Collingwood.  Fantastic.  I bet it’d be best in the winter, but who knows?)  the bridesmaids and I went for dinner right in Collingwood.  We laughed, we ate, we laughed some more.  We ate until we couldn’t eat anymore.  Then I headed for Wasaga Beach.

Ps I’m super thankful for GPS devices after this weekend…. I’d never have found my friend’s house in Wasaga without my phone.

As you arrive in Wasaga Beach, all you smell is Campfire.  To me, that’s what Wasaga Beach will always smell like.  That, and Georgian Bay.  But that comes later.

I had such a fantastic weekend, I just don’t think I could put it into words… I’ve been trying… I may have lost you by now…. but I digress.

When I arrived at my friend’s, we chatted, we bonded, we had refreshments… I met my roommate (a gecko named Lee), and it was just so nice to see her.

Today we headed down to the beach with her paddle boards to Georgian Bay and set out.  We both ended up swimming, me fully clothed, because when Georgian Bay beckons…. I wound up having to drive home in my bathing suit and the shorts I slept in because I wore my only shorts and tshirt in the water.  I couldn’t get over how, even at 20ish feet over our heads (we were pretty sure there were whales out there), you could still see the bottom.  Growing up camping on Lake Erie, I’m not used to seeing the bottom of the water I’m swimming in.  It was so calm and so beautiful… but the water was so cold.  I mean, it is Georgian Bay… but… it was still an amazing beach day.

As I drove out of Wasaga Beach headed for home this afternoon, I noticed that all the flags on the lamp posts said “The Beach is Just the Beginning” on them.  And I think they’re right.

This whole weekend, all I could think of is …. if we’d just slow down and drive the back way, what wouldn’t we miss?

 

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The Keys to Traveling with Pets


I was recently approached by a fellow writer named Kendra who wondered if I’d collaborate with her on a project to share tips for traveling with pets.  If you’ve been with me for any length of time, you know my Kloë is very important to me, so naturally this appealed to me, because I’ve got a pretty standard set of routines for when she and I travel together.

I was surprised to find though that Kendra’s (check her out on Twitter at @KendraThornton) routines are completely different from mine.  Check out what she has to say on how to travel with pets.

Going places with pets is a great idea especially if you love bringing your pet along. However, a good amount of planning is necessary to ensure that your furry friend has a fun trip too. I always go through a checklist to ensure that our dog has treats, water, food, treats, favorite toys and blankets so that she is always comfortable. My extended family is planning a trip to Chicago at the moment, and so it’s very important to me to get things all planned out before they leave as they will be bringing their dog. These are some of the best tips for traveling with pets that I have found.

Bring a Crate

Even though you may not want to crate a dog, I have found that they really like to be in a crate on vacations. It’s a familiar place, and it makes them safe no matter where we go. I bring along toys and blankets that are familiar to our dog so that she has the same scents and touches of home that make her feel safe. Before putting her in a crate, I always take her on a long walk for exercise just so she wants to rest in her crate when we get back.

Finding the Right Hotel

Some hotels out there have wonderful pet policies and even some amenities for pets. Whenever we travel with our dog, I pick a hotel that offers some kind of doggy breakfast or play area just for pets. If she starts to bark in the hotel room, I always take her out right away and burn off excess energy with a fun run around the hotel grounds. I suggested my family stay right in downtown Chicago, not only are there plenty of places to stay, but they are close to all the sites and are pet friendly too!

Staying Safe

Whether you plan on traveling on a plane or going out on a boat, it’s important to take the necessary precautions. Dogs and planes don’t really mix, but if you do plan on flying with your pet, always bring their favorite toys and follow PETA guidelines. If going out on a boat, make sure that pets have a flotation device on at all times.

Keeping Dogs Calm

One secret to ensuring that my dog is comfortable in new places is to bring along lavender oil. I find that just rubbing some on my hands and petting her will relax her even when she is frightened or not feeling well on long road trips. In addition, we take frequent stops so she can get out and look around while we are driving.

It’s important to plan ahead when bringing your pet along on any vacation. It will make their vacation just as fun as yours.

So my thoughts are as follows… I think Kloë would lose her mind if I crated her.  I have a hatch back so I lay the seats down and pad the back with a nice blanket, which gives her space.  I do this if I have little enough stuff that she’s ok back there sharing space with my stuff.  Otherwise, I leave the seats up, and she snoozes in the back seat on a hammock that prevents her from falling in between the seats into the foot room.  Mine looks about like this, though I bought it at Wal Mart for $20.00.  It’s lasted since she was super little, so it was a great purchase.

I have never taken Kloë on a plane, train, or boat.  If I do, however, I’ll be sure to take Kendra’s advice to heart!  Very good tips.

Lastly, I am totally going to try the lavender oil.  Kloë has taken recently to absolutely freaking out when we set out on car trips.  She doesn’t get sick or anything, but she cries for probably half an hour until she gives up the fight and stops the flip out.  When we head North for the summer, I’m going to try it.  I’ll let you know how it turns out.

 

Do you have any tips for traveling with pets?  What do you do?

Weekly Photo Challenge: Selfie


Apparently selfies are starting to be displayed in art galleries and art shows… so…. wanna add my best selfie to the shows?

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However, normally my selfies look like this:  (this set was all the result of the brilliant decision to spend 18 hours in a car driving to Georgia last March Break.)

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When you’re a really little fish in a gigantic ocean


I went into downtown Toronto yesterday to go bridesmaid and wedding dress shopping with my brother’s fiancee and the rest of the bridal party (I’m a bridesmaid).  I’m not a city girl, by ANY stretch of the means.

I drove from my town to the nearest GO Train station and left my car in the parking lot.  It was a little over an hour on the train, and to my shock, I’ve discovered that while I become violently motion sick while moving if I read in most other forms of transportation, I can read quite happily on a train.  I read for a glorious total of 2.5 hours yesterday with all the time I spent on trains and subways.  I think, if I ever had to take a job in the city, I’d move closer, but not that close… just close enough to take the train.

I made my train by a measly 4 minutes, which if you know me at all is not acceptable, and I felt quite at odds about it.  Once I was settled into my seat on the train with my open book though, I was much happier.

I arrived at Union Station and Roseanne, the maid of honour, was to pick me up at Front and Bay street, but if you’ve been downtown Toronto lately, you know that Front Street by Union is pretty blocked off because Union Station is completely under construction.  Roseanne had trouble finding me.

Once we finally met up, after I’d waved off many hopeful taxi cab drivers and explained to very many random wanderers that no, sorry, I have no idea where the aquarium/York Mills/whatever is… I don’t really even know where I am…. we were able to proceed to our first appointment.

We went for lunch after the first place, and it was delicious!  If you’ve never been to Artegelato on Bloor, I recommend it.  Good panini, and the gelato looked AMAZING!

We then traveled all over the city, between the downtown core and North York and back again.  Traffic sucked.  There were SO MANY LIGHTS!  There were SO MANY CARS!  There were so many angry motorists who weren’t driving properly, and then got really angry at those who were!  People trying to turn Right, stuck at red lights behind people going straight through (who obviously can’t run red lights) would honk incessantly until the light turned green.  Motorists going straight through would honk while waiting in line behind someone turning left, who obviously couldn’t just turn left into a steady stream of Bay Street traffic.  Drivers would just drive down the middle of two lanes.  Drivers would sneak up in closed construction lanes, bike lanes… really, wherever they could.  It was insane.  I’m beyond glad that I wasn’t driving.  There would have been tears.

By the time we got to the last place, I was exhausted and my self-esteem had taken a huge hit while dress shopping, so I was already edgy and nearing tears.  We did four appointments between 10:30 and 3.  Nutso.  At each appointment, I found that each store only carried my size of dress (18) in two or three styles, and so trying to try on different styles was like trying to stuff a big, fluffy, Queen-sized pillow into a cheap twin-sized pillow case.  It wasn’t working.  At one point, one of the staff at the last place we visited handed me a size ten dress and expected it to work.  I hadn’t looked at the tag because I assumed when I told her I was a size 18, she’d understand that that meant probably the smallest dress I’d be able to get my hips into would be a 16.  Maybe a 14 if it were forgiving.  This conversation actually happened while I was in the dressing room.

As she kept trying to open the curtain, she says “Laura, are you ready?  Need help?”
“No, this dress is a size ten, it won’t go past my mid-thigh.”
“Put it over your head!  I’ll hold it closed for you!”
“I’m an EIGHTEEN!  Putting it over my head isn’t going to work.  My chest won’t fit.  My waist won’t fit.  My hips won’t fit!  It’ll be a really awkward shirt, and I may never get it off again!”

Luckily, despite my not being a size ten, we had tons of time at the last place and were ALL able to find our dresses!  Super exciting.

This is where the fun starts, though.  I had plans to meet my cousin downtown at the Eaton Centre for dinner, and that means I had to navigate Toronto’s transit system all by my lonesome.  I’ve taken Subways, I’ve taken buses, but I’ve never been left to figure it out all on my own before.

I left the last bridal store on Sheppard, which unbeknownst to me is technically in North York, and I started walking the direction I thought I needed to walk to get to the Yonge-Sheppard Subway station.  I was texting my cousin as I walked… even though to my dismay, I left the bridal shop with a mere 29% battery life.  I asked him to text me instead of iMessage so that I could turn my 3G off to save battery, but for whatever reason it wouldn’t work, and I was only receiving his messages as iMessages, so I HAD to leave my 3G on.

It was rainy, it was damp, and the wind picked up through the day yesterday, so it was rather chilly walking through the streets of North York in the dark by myself.  I felt like I was walking out of civilization… which I wasn’t, it just didn’t look built up like I thought it should when I was supposed to be walking toward Yonge Street.  I was actually walking toward Rexdale and Brampton, turns out… because I was walking West and not East.  It would have been a very long walk had I not recognized the fading signs of big city life compared to the quieter buzz of suburbia.  I imagine I’d have clued in by the Allen Expressway if I hadn’t figured it out sooner :p

As I was walking, I got swamped by a TTC Bus… and let me assure you, when you see it happen in the movies, they’re not exaggerating it.  A bus drove through a giant puddle of muddy, icy water and sprayed it all over me.  It ran from my hair onto my neck, down my back, and soaked my leggings and coat.  My purse was soaked.  I was soaked.  And now I was chilled.  And I was lost, and quite frankly at this point, I was scared.  This attempt at independence I had made was not working well, and my poor cousin was waiting at a mall for me.  I felt bad for keeping him waiting.

Found at http://www.flickr.com/photos/cmuffins/5465619890/
This picture was found at http://www.flickr.com/photos/cmuffins/5465619890/ I do not own it, and I did not alter it.

Thankfully his phone had much more juice than mine, and he was able to look up transit routes for me.  He explained that I needed to get on the 84 bus going East and take it to the Sheppard-Yonge Subway station, take the Yonge-University line going South, and get off at Dundas, and he’d meet me at the Subway.

I finally saw a bus.  It was an 84 bus!  I had hope!  I ran across Sheppard at the cross-walk and flagged down the about-to-depart bus, got on in the nick of time, and made my incompetence known immediately.  This conversation with the bus driver actually happened:

“Thanks for stopping!  How much is it?”
“3.00”
“Ok.. *I fish change out of my purse.*  Where’s it go?”
*she points to the change intake thing.*
“Thanks!” *I put my change in the thing, and out pops a ticket*
*she hands me the ticket.*
“Is this my ticket?”
“yes.”
“thanks.”
“where do I need to get off if I need to go to the Eaton Centre?”
“Sheppard Station ma’am.  Step behind the white line, please.”
“ok.  oh.  ok.  Thank you!”

My cousin is still texting me subway instructions at this point, and asks me if I got a transfer ticket.  I look to the unsuspecting woman I’m sitting beside, hold up my ticket, and ask “is this a transfer ticket?”  She nods.  I tell her I’ve never done this by myself before.  She smiles and says it takes some getting used to.

I managed to get off the bus at the right station, and I managed to get into the subway station.  I found the first person dressed in a TTC uniform, and asked him to tell me where I needed to go.  He brought me to a map, where I was made keenly aware of just how far away from the actual city’s downtown core I really was, and he very kindly explained to me exactly what I needed to do.

This picture was found at http://www.flickr.com/photos/imuttoo/8320951638/lightbox/ and was "posterized" in Picasa to hide faces.  This picture does not belong to me.
This picture was found at http://www.flickr.com/photos/imuttoo/8320951638/lightbox/ and was “posterized” in Picasa to hide faces. This picture does not belong to me.

I texted my cousin to let him know I was off the bus and at the subway station, and then I planned to text him once I was on the subway to tell him I was leaving, but I had no service for like ten minutes!  I turned my phone off for a little bit to save some power.  By this point I had 16% battery life left.  I turned it back on after about ten minutes, only to find that I had a text from him saying “u ok?”  I assured him that I was, told him I was on the subway and would be there soon, he told me he’d meet me by the doors at the Dundas station, and I told him I was turning my phone back off.

Luckily, I was able to find him, and let me tell you, I don’t think I’ve ever been so glad to see a familiar face in my life.  He gave me a big hug, and then as the stress released, it hit me that I was in fact quite hungry, and needed to eat.  We went into the food court, and I purchased a meal that was far too large, and couldn’t finish it.  Then, I made the very wise decision to go to the Telus store and purchase myself a car charger for my phone so that I’d have it when driving after returning to my car.  The last thing I’d want would be to break down on the 403 at night with a dead phone.

We had a nice visit, and decided that on a Saturday in the near future, I’d come up to Toronto for the day, and we’d see some of the sights and do some of the cool things the downtown has to offer, and I’m looking forward to that.  I feel like I can handle the GO train, and I can handle the Subway, but without my cousin texting bus instructions, I don’t know what I would have done.  Walked to Brampton, maybe?  Died on the streets of North York?  Who knows?  I’m being dramatic, of course, but I was getting quite scared.  If I hadn’t had battery dying issues, I’d have just Google Mapped my course, but I wanted to make sure I had at least some battery power in case I had an emergency.

The biggest thing I learned through this entire ordeal is that I am not cut out for big city life.  I very much enjoy that my city takes 15 minutes to get across, and that while the drivers here are also idiots, I feel much safer at home.

It was an experience…. one that may have shaved a year off my life due to how tense I was.  At one point I couldn’t decide if I wanted to cry or vomit…. or do both… and then I couldn’t decide what order I’d do them in.  I was stressed.  It did, however, give me an opportunity to pray.  I asked God to help me see where I needed to go as I stood in the lobby of an apartment building trying to get warm, and regrouping my thoughts trying to figure out what to do.  Just after I walked back out the doors to turn around and walk back East, I saw the 84 bus on the other side of the road, and I booked it.  It had to be divine intervention that the crosswalk let me walk just as I needed to to be able to catch that bus.  I don’t know how far apart those buses run, but at the very least, I knew I wasn’t going to die on the streets of North York.  There was hope.  And in that moment, that one thing was enough to get me going again.  Thank the Lord.

As I watched all the people around me moving seamlessly on and off the bus, then transferring to Subways without any hesitation, I very much felt like I was on the outside looking in on a totally different culture and way of life.  Big City living is not something I’ve ever had to navigate solo, and while I will try it again to go meet my cousin in the city, I will make sure I have a charged up battery, that I bring my charger with me (an outlet at a Tim Horton’s for 20 minutes would have saved a LOT of trouble!), and that I’ve planned my routes out ahead of time.  Never again will I assume that public transit “can’t be that hard” when you’re a teeny tiny little minnow swimming in a sea full of really experienced, gigantic…. whales?  I think that’s about how small I felt yesterday.  A minnow in a sea full of whales.

 

 

 

** The photos used in this post are licensed for use by Creative Commons.  I do not own them, and I was not endorsed for using them.**

Come Fly With Me – Daily Prompt


I love this prompt idea…. because the furthest I’ve been from home is a big deal.  When I was fifteen, a grade 10 student, I had never been away from home longer than a couple of days without my parents.  My best friend was going through an application process to go on an exchange — she’d decided she wanted to go somewhere for three months (honestly, I can not remember where… but she was going to go).  She told me all about the program, and my brain started to spin.  I thought, hey, this could be kind of fun.

I applied on the second-last day possible to accept applications, much to the stress of my parents and the French Department head… it involved a phone call to my Mom from the school to say “hey, I’ve impulsively decided I want to go to Switzerland for three months.  Applications are due tomorrow…. can I do this?

Bless my Mother, her (and my Dad’s) answer was yes.  Yes, bring the application home, we’ll fill it out together.

I brought that application home, we spent hours pouring over it and filling it out, and I got psyched up.  I got to choose three destinations in order that I would like to visit.

1.  Switzerland
2.  Belgium
3.  France

The plan was to go somewhere French-speaking and come back fluent.

After the process of the applications and interviews was all finished a few weeks later, it was announced over the PA at my high school the names of those of us who were going to go (my best friend had not submitted her application after all…), and apparently there were no suitable matches in Switzerland OR Belgium, so, I found out I was off to France!

This was May.  In August, we picked Emma (my exchange partner) up at the airport, and she began a journey of three months in Canada.  If memory serves correctly, she loved it and didn’t want to leave.

In February, my Mom put her baby girl on an airplane for the first time in her life, and sent her across the Atlantic for three months.  I bawled all the way to the airport…. Second thoughts… I had them.

We landed in Paris after an 8-hour red-eye flight (let me tell you… for never having been in an airplane, that’s a LONG time to sit in a giant piece of metal with wings flying over the Atlantic), I couldn’t hear anything because my ears don’t pop on landing, and my three month adventure started.

For those who know me personally, you know that I talk a LOT…. well… for the first 3-ish weeks I hardly said a word.  You see, if you’re familiar with the Ontario Core French program, you’ll know that going to a foreign country with a grade 9 education in the subject is not adequate.  I knew how to describe clowns, the names of some animals, and how to ask to go to the bathroom.  Yup — 6 years of French, folks…

As the first month came to a close, I was getting the hang of my new surroundings, and I was starting to be able to converse.  I could go to the bakery by myself (gosh, I miss the bakery.  You could smell it from down.  the.  street.) and order our bread for the day.  That’s right, we bought bread by the day.  We did not buy a loaf of bread shocked full of preservatives that would last over a month in the fridge.  I could talk to my classmates…. and once I figured that out, I never stopped talking.  My new classmates were like “je pensait que cette fille était silencieuse.”  (I thought this girl was quiet.)

I spent the last two months continuing to be pathetically home sick.  My friends and my Mom sent me awesome care packages, though.  You have to remember this was pre-fast-internet.  Dial-up with a pathetic monthly limit meant I didn’t get to email much, and had I gone the year before I wouldn’t even have been able to do that because no one really had it.

It was full of adventure — a science-themed amusement park called Futuroscope with one of my classes, a group of British exchange students at the end of the three months who stuck me between them and the French students and let me translate — what a feeling, snowboarding in the French Alps, crushing on my 17 year old snowboarding instructor who happened to be from New Zealand and was the first English-speaking person I’d found in three weeks, shopping in downtown Grenoble, nearly stepping in dog poo INSIDE Charles de Gaulle International Airport…. swimming in the Mediterranean, 30 degree weather in April (in Toulon for a beach trip for Spring Break, not in Meylan in the Alps where I lived), and so many more experiences I’ll never forget.

While France is not currently high on my “must visit” list (and there are many places that are), I have valued the experiences that made me independent, self-sufficient, fluent in French, and showed me the true value of the friends and family I had at home that I missed TERRIBLY.

Most of the pictures are pretty terrible.  You see, before the age of digital cameras I was a terrible photographer.  Pretty much everything is crooked, a lot of them are blurry, and the lighting is all awful.  Does that mean I’m not actually a good photographer?  I would argue no, because when I got a digital, I spent a lot of time learning how to actually use a camera.  However, that being said, I’ve got only one picture that I’m comfortable putting out there… and I didn’t even take it.

On a day in April in Toulon, in the year 2000, I was standing on a balcony with palm trees and the Mediterranean in my background, having just spent the afternoon on the beach at 30+ degrees… and been in the Med up to my collar bone (briefly, because it was only 18 degrees…).  This view is something I’ll never forget.

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side note:  the random dot in the sky is because I had this hanging on a bulletin board for a long time.  Also… dear 15 year old me… whoever told you that navy blue baggy tshirts, black umbro soccer shorts when you don’t play soccer, and ugly velcro sandals were ok owes you a big apology.  That is all.

Dear Greyhound – a letter to address a concern


Dear Greyhound,

I’m writing to you, mostly on behalf of my brother’s friend, but also out of my own frustration.  Are you aware that you have bus terminals over-booking your buses on the Friday night of Thanksgiving weekend, and repeatedly bumping passengers as a result?  If you’re not aware, please allow this letter to inform you.  If you are aware, shame on you.

Let me start by clarifying — I’m not mad.  No, I’m disappointed.  I’m disappointed that a mega company such as yours would place so little value on the customers they serve that the following story could even come to pass.

You see, Friday evening, I battled long weekend traffic to make it to Barrie, Ontario from Brantford, Ontario… which, on Thanksgiving weekend Friday, leaving Brantford at 4 pm, is a chore.  I took back roads with my car to completely avoid touching a highway… not because I was in a super big rush to get to my final destination, but because I was picking people up in Barrie, one of whom was a passenger scheduled to arrive at 7:30 on a bus from Yorkdale.  He had a pre-paid ticket.

When the bus arrived at the Yorkdale terminal, however, your passenger found that the bus had been oversold, and since it stopped in Toronto first, he wasn’t able to get onto that bus because it was already full.  And he couldn’t get on the next bus.  Or the bus after that.  Finally, after waiting an hour and a half, he thought he’d be able to get onto a 6:30 bus, but that one was canceled.  He wasn’t given a reason.  A 7:15 and a 7:45 rolled on past, neither time allowing him to board.  The next bus, he was told, would be an 8:30, and that would be the last.  Later, he was told it was a 9:00 bus.  If this was to be the last bus, and he were unable to board, his ride further North for Thanksgiving weekend would leave without him, leaving him stuck, and still at the bus terminal, after being there 4.5 hours already.  His only other option was to hope to catch an Ontario Northland headed for Burk’s Falls, arriving at 8am the following morning.

Thankfully, he did manage to get on the bus at 9:00.  That meant that he arrived in Barrie at 11 pm (remember how he was supposed to arrive at 7:30?), which also meant that I drove, exhausted, another two hours North until 1:00 am.  We were supposed to arrive at 9:30 pm.

I understand that travelling during the holidays can be tough, but the point of reserving a ticket in advance, in my mind, is so that you know you have a place on whatever method of transit you’re using.  When you overbook a bus, I imagine you do this because you assume that not everyone who pays for a ticket will show up, and you can stipulate no refunds and make money on people that don’t even use your service, because you’ve charged more people than you can fit on a bus.

There is no excuse for this kind of greed and poor customer service.  Your passenger wasn’t offered any refunds, any compensation… he was offered nothing, even though he held in his hand a bus ticket to Barrie arriving at 7:30 pm.

I see that customer service is not high priority here.  Personally, I find the idea of overbooking anything abhorrent to begin with.  When airlines do it, people miss connecting flights, cruises… many of these things are non-refundable.  However, when airlines bump someone off of a flight for which they already held a ticket, they are legally required to generously compensate the traveller for their inconvenience, as well as get them on another flight.  Your passenger was simply told that he could try for the 9pm bus, but that that would be the last bus.

I consider it highly irresponsible at best that you can’t foresee heavy traffic on a holiday weekend, and that you don’t plan accordingly in order to have enough buses.  Moreover, I find it shocking and, to be truthful, indicative of a major ‘value of customers’ deficit that nothing was done to try to compensate passengers who’d worked or sat in classes all day, only to sit in your terminal for four and a half hours before finally being able to catch a bus… that they had to sit on for another two hours or more, depending where their end destination would have been.

How dare you?

Is Greyhound that hard up for capital income that they have to rob people of their holidays?

I expected better from a company that services so many people all over the country year long.

Personally, I’ve only ever traveled with Greyhound once in my life.  I assure you that after the way my brother’s friend was treated yesterday, I will not make that mistake a second time.  I can also assure you that once I have posted this letter on my blog, https://thisblogisepic.wordpress.com, (which has a reach of 800 people, many of whom will likely pass it on among their readers), there will be many others who will make the choice to find an alternative themselves.

It is absurd that you’re legally allowed to pull this off, but even more disconcerting  to me is the fact that Greyhound is a-ok with paying customers being treated in this manner, especially on a holiday weekend.

Sincerely,

A really disappointed family.

Flying Into Heaven


After five glorious days in the Southern US this past week, I had to fly home yesterday.  I left a piece of my heart in Georgia.  Beauty as far as the eye can see, even right in the heart of the downtown district.  Even in the places we were told not to be walking alone.  Beauty.  Spanish moss, which although apparently neither moss nor Spanish, and full of a bug called a chigger which will eat you alive if you touch the moss, hangs everywhere, giving it that unique look that is so… Southern.

The Savannah Airport was a dream to fly out of when I went to leave yesterday.  Though, I truly did not need to be as early as I was.  It’s been more than a decade since I flew internationally, and so I thought I’d follow the requirements that wanted me to be at the airport 3 hours prior to boarding.  My plane took off at 4:30, so I decided I should be there at 1.  By 1:30, I was sitting reading a book waiting to board at 3:50, haha.  Oops, could have spent a bit more time around Savannah, but Mom needed to get to Orlando anyway, and it’s a long drive, so I read at the airport.

I was going to write this post last night, as I have to take such ridiculous amounts of pain killers to be able to fly without tears, and of course they’re non-drowsy, that when I landed in Toronto, I wasn’t tired at all… but there was a bit of panic following landing in Toronto, and by the time I got home and got myself (and all 3 dogs) in the door, I wasn’t so wide awake anymore.  So I’ll try to do this with the eloquence that I could accomplish it with last night.

I am so glad though, that while I could have saved a few extra hours in Savannah, I’m glad my flight left when I did.  The way the sun shone on everything as we took off was completely spectacular.  I had a book in my bag that I was completely prepared to read the whole way on both flights, but I couldn’t stop staring out the little teeny tiny plane windows for most of the trip.  Especially heading over the mountains in Virginia, the way rivers mingled in and out of valleys and up and down mountains, winding through sleepy little towns (or at least that’s how they look from 20,000+ feet in the air) was breathtaking.  I snapped a few photos from the air, though they’re hard to capture, and not many turned out.  All photos taken from my iPhone.

Check them out.

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I’m clearly wearing lime green… but check out South Carolina below.
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another airplane on a different flight path off in the distance 🙂
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Another plane on a different flight path headed for somewhere else 🙂
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a big river right before we flew over the mountains in Virginia
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The mountains in Virginia from tens of thousands of feet above, through a thin veil of cloud cover.

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We flew into some pretty thick cloud cover as we headed for the Great Lakes region.  I had to transfer in Detroit.  We landed with water streaming off the windows, because, you guessed it, last night it was raining in Detroit.

I had a little over an hour between flights.  They boarded us back onto the plane in Detroit on time, which I was thankful for.  I can’t stand sitting around at airports.  I had just finished a book before landing in Detroit where one of the chapters was about how stress can lead to weight gain (well, not the whole chapter, but it was mentioned), and how these daily opportunities to be stressed out and frazzled are equal opportunities to be gracious, thankful, and patient.  I thanked God for the ability to just switch planes with ease…. and then we didn’t take off at 8:00.  Or 8:10… 8:15… At 8:20, the flight attendant finally came over the speaker to tell us that there was a mechanical issue with the plane and we were waiting for a mechanic to show up to determine whether we could stay on the plane or have to switch.

We had to switch.

We finally took off at 9:30, and I was finally headed for Toronto.  Not overly bothered by the delay, I just kept reading, and decided to be thankful that whatever the mechanical malfunction was was caught before we were in the air, and that we didn’t have to make an emergency landing somewhere or worse yet, crash.  I’d rather leave almost 2 hours late than crash.

I was pretty content, and like I said, wide awake from the pain killers needed to fly (I forgot to buy Advil Cold & Sinus in Canada before we left, so I bought it in the States… I use it to make sure my ears actually pop… had to get it from behind the pharmacy counter and sign to assure the Pharmacist that I was going to use it for medicinal purposes only… apparently you can make Crystal Meth with Advil Cold & Sinus).  As we were headed for Toronto, I’m sure because we left almost two hours late and therefore didn’t have the same flight path/plan, we had to wait to land… so as we were flying across SW Ontario, low and slow, I was caught by the beauty.  The sky was clear, and the lights were all lit up in the cities below.  I could make out the end of Lake Ontario.  I found Hamilton, Burlington, St. Catharines, and more, just by knowing where they are in proximity to the Lake.  I found Lake Erie when the lights stopped, and the towns on the other side of Lake Ontario were a faint glow of light in the distance.  It was stunning, spectacular, breathtaking.  All I could do was whisper “wow” under my breath as we flew over.  I found the CN Tower and the Downtown Core as I flew past it and looked down on it, from thousands of feet above and at the other side of the city.  The expanse of Toronto is incredible.  I mean, I know it’s big.  It’s the biggest city in Canada.  I know what it takes to go around it to avoid it when the traffic’s too busy… but to fly around the outskirts, slowly, at 10,000 feet, waiting for the go-ahead to put the bird on the ground… that was new.  The only other time I landed in Toronto it was day-time, and I hadn’t yet discovered that sinus medication makes it so that I can in fact land without pain.  I was distracted to say the very least.  This time, the breathtaking intricacy with which everything around me has been created was not lost on me.

After we were given clearance to land, the pilot started to descend, and as he did, we went through a low-lying patch of dense, puffy, grey clouds.  Right before we disappeared into the clouds, the view out the window was nothing but strikingly beautiful, puffy mounds of grey beside me, and a black expanse with the crescent moon above.  No city, no lights, no cars (because before we dipped into the cloud cover, we could see the cars on the highways… I found the 401, the QEW, the 407…), just me, the clouds, the moon, and an airplane.  Oh, and millions of people below and a bunch on the plane… but at that moment, none of them were really there in my world.

I couldn’t get a picture.  We were in “no electronic devices” mode as we were below 10,000 feet.  But someone managed to, because I Googled it and I found it.

 

See what I mean?

Now imagine disappearing through a veil of clouds, and it all goes away.

Once we hit the runway though, that peace was gone… my phone decided not to find service, and I couldn’t let my ride know where I was.  I had to go through customs while panicking about my phone, and I was doing my best not to freak out, but by the time I got to the exit, through customs, with all my bags, and NO IDEA where my ride was, I lost it.  I cried a little bit standing in front of a payphone that I had to use my credit card for.

Not my shining moment.

BUT we found each other, my phone works again, and life is good.

Life is very good.