Tuesday, October 25, 2011

See the World Hanging Upside Down

Working working, always working.  I miss traveling and school, but the world is not a place where such things are free.  

While I can't travel too far off the beaten path, for Thanksgiving, Peter and I escaped to Belvedere -- the proverbial Eden of my childhood.  

Located close to Ellicottville, NY, Belvedere is a quiet patch of land owned by my grandparents.  For as long as I can remember, Belvedere has been at the forefront of my list of favourite places in the world. 
Belvedere's beautiful pond

Going up the ski hill!

The breath-taking view

We found awesome hats!

As for schooling, while my formal education is taking a hiatus, I am not missing out on my favourite type of education; books that change your life.  My top three picks of the books I read this past month are as follows:
3. Girl With Curious Hair (David Foster Wallace)

On the stripped bed- neatly littered with papers and cards, my notecards, a decade of stenography to Lyndon- lay my lover, curled stiff on his side, a frozen skeleton X ray, impossibly thin, fuzzily bearded, his hand outstretched with dulled nails to cover, partly, the white face attached to the long form below the tight clean sheets, motionless, the bed flanked by two Servicemen who slumped, tired, red, green.

2. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (Haruki Murakami) 
 Is it possible, in the final analysis, for one human being to achieve perfect understanding of another? We can invest enormous time and energy in serious efforts to know another person, but in the end, how close can we come to that person's essence? We convince ourselves that we know the other person well, but do we really know anything important about anyone?
1.  The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Milan Kundera)
  The heaviest of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground. But in love poetry of every age, the woman longs to be weighed down by the man's body.The heaviest of burdens is therefore simultaneously an image of life's most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become. Conversely, the absolute absence of burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant. What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Winding Down the Seasons

Dwarf-Winged Burning Bush in autumn.
Autumn is my favourite season.  I love the collective slowing down of the world.  I love the scent of the leaves as they go dormant.  I can't get enough of the hues of the season; the crisp apple reds, the spicy pumpkin oranges, the deep mahogany browns... breathtaking.  The cooler winds and the early evenings, the quiet of the dark, early morning mist and the softness of the longer nights; I adore this season!


Spirea Goldflame, common but lovely
For the first time in 21 years, Autumn is not, for me, associated with returning to studies.  I am still working at Connon's, and still enjoying the change of pace.  It's fascinating to watch various types of plants enter their stage of dormancy.  Euonymous Alatus begin to 'burn', Spirea Goldflames begin to pass the Goldmounds in beauty, and the Caryopteris Jasons finally wow me with their blossoms.

Sunshine Blue, worth the wait!

Part of me misses the lifestyle of a student.  All of me misses the adventure of traveling.  But luckily, I am able to see the adventure inherent to these changes in my life.  I have entered a third phase of the self, one which feels to be the most in-touch with who I truly am, and discovering the self this year is going to be an unprecedented journey in my Year of Discovery.

This fall, besides spending time with my fantastic boyfriend, my incredible friends and my crazy family, I am also enjoying (a) reading through Chapters' List of Books that Will Change Your Life (titles such as Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and Heller's Catch-22 have already been transforming my everyday thoughts), (b) wearing a lot of plaid at work and feeling particularly Canadian, and (c) the return of the Pumpkin Spice Latte from Starbucks. 

Cheers to Autumn!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

We Frolicked About in our Summer Skin

This seems to happen every summer; getting all caught up in the adventures of this wonderful season, I forget to update my blog.

Brief life updates include an upcoming promotion at work, a new man, a great new-found group of friends at work, and a trip through northern Ontario and Quebec.

Northern Ontario is something to behold.  Canada is already, in my mind, a raw and untouched land.  We Canadians have a connection to the earth unlike most other citizens of the world.  The most beautiful things I have seen in my 21 years are scattered throughout the world, are both tangible and theoretical, are confusing and intriguing, and are melancholic and delightful... one of these things is the northern township of Temagami.  Below are some quick shots of this beautiful place.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Living Off the Alcohol

My life seems to consist solely of vices lately.

Wake up before the sun has risen, chase with coffee.
Have a few cigarettes on the drive to work.
After picking up the work van, have a few smokes and another coffee with the yard boys.
Drive to Mac farm and work ten hours.
Cigarette and coffee, cigarette and lunch, cigarette and coca-cola.
Drive to the yard, drop off the van, chase with a Red Bull.
Have a few smokes on the drive home.
Beers and cigarettes until the night has become the morning.
Sleep an hour or two, get up, repeat.

Luckily, I am not alone in this cycle.  Thanks to Bestfriend for living off our vices with me.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


I believe we were created.  The more I see on this planet, the more I see evidence of an intelligent design.  Working with plants, I am constantly and consistently amazed by the diversity, the grace, and the beauty of the natural world.

I believe we were created to live on this Earth.  I can't stand the mindset of 'we are on earth for a time; our citizenship is truly in heaven' for one more second.  We were created to live.  I love living.  The act of living, and truly being engaged in life is the most fantastic feeling.  Life is beautiful; Carpe Diem.

I believe that love trumps everything.  There is nothing else in life that we should seek before it.  Love is fascinating, terrifying, weakening, strengthening, beautiful and terrible all at the same time.  We were made to love, in any and every form imaginable.

I believe in the simple act of believing.  I think that no human can live out a satisfying existence without discerning that in which they place their faith.  It may be a simple belief that man is inherently good, or a more complicated manifesto of political and religious beliefs.  Be that as it may, man needs to believe.

I believe that death is what gives value to life.  If life were unthreatenable and never-ending, we would have no reason to seize it and live in it actively.
Finally, I believe in God.  But not in the God that you are thinking.  I believe that there exists Something or Someone out there who has created us.  But I can certainly no longer call myself a Christian, and I am certainly not going to attend any more hypocritical, corrupt, money-grabbing churches or schools.  I am not going to let some governing 'authority' tell me what is wrong and right, when they have historically condoned slavery and condemned women.  And I am no longer going to attempt to fit in to a community of lies and hatred.
 I understand all of this is quite blunt and potentially shocking, but I felt the need to get it out there.  I don't want a to maintain the facade I had been maintaining before.  I live unapologetically, and I want you to all know at least the gist of who I am and what I believe.  I don't want to start internet wars here, so I may not approve many comments on this post,  If you simply need to engage me in a debate, email me.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Just Wanted to Know If I Could Go Home

Sorry for my ultimate failure to update lately!

My life has been insane as of late.  Here are some brief updates.

I went to England for my last weekend of backpacking, to meet up with the boys from Vienna.  I can summarize the trip in one photo:

Camdentown, hookah, 4 miserable Jews and myself.
And one video:

After that, I was back in Paris for a few hours; enough to empty my studio entirely, and spend a night in debauchery and tears of goodbye with the beautiful people I met there
Table one

Table two
 Saying goodbye is hard.  It's especially hard if you are uncertain whether you'll ever see some of these people again.

But goodbyes are beautiful, too.  Because in the same way that death is what gives value to life, goodbyes are what give value to hellos. 

With any luck, I'll be backpacking again Easter of 2012.  That is, assuming the world hasn't ended.
Definitely going to miss this crowd

 Meanwhile, I've been lucky enough to meet the best people I could have ever imagined possible to meet.  And I get to share so much joy and enlightenment with my friends back home for a little while.
The future doctors <3
Massive shoutouts to the people who made this trip a wonderful experience.  Above all: Lynette Van de Hoef, Rachel Stevenson, April Larochelle, Martha Maris, Maria Noorloos, Jemima Dickinson, Larissa Gare, Gemma King, Christina Ammon, Nicolas Sanchez, Bram Van Beek, Paula Molz, James Lloyd, Hayden Lawn, Remi Piriou, Kara Abernethy, Liz Rosenberg, Darren Helstowski, Aidan Kenny and Liam Kerry.  I've never been happier than in the company of any of those people.

Shoutouts also to the best of friends ever, and especially those who kept in touch with me from back home: Amber Lepine, Adrian Vander Vaart, Jill Van Ryn, Amber Burns, Jess Crandall, Elle Rombough, Amanda Fraleigh, Rich Oosterloo, Natalie Campbell, Chad Haverkamp, Dan Kikkert and Austin Miedema.

Some congrats are also due!  Upon my return, I was in a wedding for one of my dearest friends.  Congrats to Elle and Lael and many, many blessings.  Nathan and Janelle, some of my favourite people ever, also tied the knot this May, the day after James and Katie, some of my oldest friends.  Congrats to all three beautiful couples!
James and Katie

Nate and Janelle

Elle and Lael

Those are essentially all of my life updates for now.  I've moved into my fantastic new apartment in Hamilton, am working off the debts that I acquired this year, and am planning to take a year off to work (and travel, of course) before returning to Europe to complete the PhD.

Stay tuned!

Friday, May 20, 2011

So Irritating

In the past two days I have watched two crimes happen to my friends, one was only attempted and the other was sadly successful.  Even though I've posted general tips for travelers, I thought perhaps I should post ways to avoid specific crimes. 

Crime Number One:  Ring Trickers
This is more common and successful than you think.  Generally, a Romani woman (for simplicity's sake I'm going to use the term 'gypsy' henceforth) stands in a tourist place waiting for ladies to pass by.  When they do, she drops a ring and then "finds it" for you.  After that, several things can happen.  Often, she will simply rob you while you look at.  Other times, she will offer it to you as a gift and then try to charge you for it. 
Best avoidance technique: This one's hard, because you'll be caught off-guard.  I have a very nice diamond ring, and the first time I saw this I asked myself "was I wearing that ring today?".  Ignoring simply won't happen; it's too unnatural.  Most likely she will be quick enough to at least show you the ring.  My best avoidance maneuver has been to knock the ring out of her hands and run

Crime Number Two: Petition Wavers
This one gets really annoying.  In the span of five minutes I've been approached three or more times on several occasions.  Essentially, younger gypsy girls approach you with a petition to sign.  You can tell them apart because rather than ask for a moment of your time, they simply stick the clipboard under your face and wave the pen close to your eyes.  Two known consequences of this crime are either (a) they manage to pickpocket you while you're trying to see what you're signing, and (b) you unknowingly sign it and it turns out to be a contract stating you'll pay them $___.
Best avoidance technique:  It's been fairly easy to simply run away from these girls, but on a few occasions they've followed me and gotten forceful.  In that case, my best technique has been grabbing the pen out of her hand and throwing it behind me (the most successful escape was when I did that while simultaneously knocking her clipboard to the ground). 

Crime Number Three: Cash-Machine Creepers
Yesterday's failed crime was at an ATM.  My friend and I were headed to a cafe to study for exams, and she needed to take out some money before going.  I saw two suspicious-looking gypsy kids approaching from behind, and even though we were bigger than them, aware of what they were doing, and in the midst of cancelling the transaction for protection, they still attempted this.  Essentially, these kids wait until you've punched in your pin, and then use all force possible to take your money as it comes out.  Yesterday they tried hitting my friend in the face with a newspaper, and we were fortunate that was all the force they tried.  I've heard horror stories of much, much worse.
Best avoidance technique: Even though we would have won a fist-fight, I can honestly say that even I couldn't simply hit a child.  That's why most of these kids succeed.  Try your best just to avoid the situation all together: don't take out cash alone, be attentive to them if they look like they're going to approach, and hit cancel immediately if they do come up to you.  If the worst happens, your best measure here is to yell for help and hang on to your cash for dear life.  We yelled for help yesterday and a lovely older gentleman pushed the kids off of us.

Crime Number Four: Bracelet Makers
Another surprisingly successful scam.  I've found that these men are often not Romanis, but of French-African descent.  They usually work in groups and are centered around areas from where tourists take pictures.  They find any sort of way to reach your hand (asking you to point to something, asking you to see your hand, simply grabbing it... if you're caught off-guard nearly anything will work) and in less than a few seconds, they've made a string bracelet around your wrist.  Then they tell you that you've purchased it and owe them $___.
Best avoidance technique:  Saying no doesn't work.  Walking away doesn't work.  These men are persistent and often violent.  If you see men holding string coming towards you, run away.  If, however, he manages to catch you in his trap, get angry and scream at him.  Rip off the bracelet, cause a scene; show him that you, too, are violent, and that you have the law (and all surrounding citizens) on your side.  It seems like it will just escalate the situation, but these guys get enough people out of fear and persistence that they're not going to deal with a crazy person.  It worked for me in Paris.

Crime Number Five: Map Questers
Having spent a lot of my life being a tourist, this crime enrages me.  I have legitimately been lost and needed help before, and so I always help people when they ask for it.  In this trick, someone approaches you and asks for directions.  Sometimes, it's not a trick.  Sometimes, they steal from you and run while you're left standing and pointing out the corner they need to turn at.
Best avoidance technique: Seriously, as a plea on behalf of people like me who tour a lot and are bad with maps, answer people on the street who need help.  That being said, never ever ever help someone without first taking a strong hold of your bag.  It takes a bit of training, but this should become your second-nature.

Crime Number Six: Table Approaches
Today's successful crime really blew me away.  I was eating lunch with a group of five other girls, all of whom you would call world travelers and big-city girls (Melbourne, Cologne, San Fransisco, New York, Toronto and Ottawa).  And yet, even though we knew what was happening, our reaction time was too slow and one of my friends lost her iPhone to two gypsy girls.  I still cannot believe it.  These people come up to you while you're eating and distract you in some way.  They work in teams and use a paper or something to block your view of whatever they're taking.  Today, we launched towards the purses and kept them safe, without realizing the iPhone was on the table under their blank blue pages.
Best avoidance technique: Besides being generally aware of where your stuff is, the best maneuver here is to rip the papers out of their hands and yell.  The owner of the restaurant will come and will probably help you if they managed to get anything, and by grabbing the papers you'll throw them off-guard as well.

Crime Number Seven: Item Borrowers?
Do you have a cigarette?  Lighter?  Tissue?  Euro?  I've heard them all. 
Best avoidance technique: Say no.  Don't be polite, don't be kind and don't ever open your bag.  Hold tight to your position and get loud if you need to.

I know some of these seem mean or over-dramatic, but it's often what it takes.  You'd be surprised how persistent and even violent some of these criminals can be.  It's hard, but don't forget that they are committing a crime.  Not to mention that -- assuming you're in my financial position of school debts -- they likely have more money than you do!  Don't let pity get in the way of keeping yourself safe.  Life can be tough for these kids, but life's not easy for anyone and it's not impolite to keep your own stuff safe from crime.