When I was 25

Friday, 28 October 2016

Ahhhh, where, oh where, did that year go.  I sit here on the eve of my 26th birthday, feeling somewhat melodramatic, a little melancholy and mostly excited for Luke and my weekend trip to Copenhagen!  Maybe it's the burning candles, the great dinner we just had or the bottle of wine that was shared, but I'm looking back at the year and feeling so many of the moments over again.

I'll reflect in the nicely systematic way that I've done in years passed (When I was 23 & When I was 24).  There's something about writing it all out. I have a journal that I revisit - usually when I'm feeling intense emotion, be it joy, sadness, anger, whatever.  I do it to process, to remember. I'm always writing for my future self - the one that will need to read this in months or years to come and identify the lessons, remember the failures or successes, and learn from it all over again - or quite possibly for the first time.

Namely, November of last year. I actually clearly remember that month.  Having just recently moved to Oxford (October was our first full month here), it was in November that I started to crave some routine.  It didn't necessarily mean a job, but this is when I started to look.  It was more about working on some entrepreneurship ideas and putting some solid time into that. It was also about enjoying the time off.  I took pleasure in the freedom.  I remember being downright shocked that I was ok with this 'in-between' jobs thing.  I thought I'd be climbing the walls but instead I was catching up on sleep, incorporating exercise into the day and taking on my own projects.  I loved it.  

I soon learned that Christmas in England is just about as lovely as they make it out in The Holiday (minus the snow - that doesn't happen).  Nevertheless, we went to Christmas markets, carol sings in the most beautiful of concert calls and our fair share of Christmas meals.  We happily donned the ridiculous/wonderful Christmas sweaters and really did take in the novelties of Christmas here with all of the traditions that we so love.  And then it was time to go home :) It was a packed and amazing two weeks at home.  It had all of the 'coming home for Christmas' hype, but also some of the regular, practical moments that make up regular life. That is what you miss out on in being away.  And that is just what I wanted in coming home.

January brought about some change. While home for Christmas, I did my second interview via Skype and later learned that I got the job.  I was so excited! Getting that email while still in bed and waking Luke up was such a fun moment.  This brought about more of a commitment to being here. It gave my presence here more legitimacy, in a way.  I was so happy and excited to be here with Luke, but it gave me a purpose of being here outside of him. Yes it was good content for cocktail chatter and networking receptions, but it's more than that.  Through the career opportunity and growth, it gave me a personal sense of commitment to Oxford.

The next few weeks/months were mostly uneventful, but a challenge of seeing the sweet little moments.  Luke was/is on the golf team which meant he was away for many of the weekends. That of course, brought about lots of girls dates and chick flick movie nights.  I watched About Time, one such evening and was totally taken and inspired with the final narration.  They really get you, in this movie!

"We’re all traveling through time together.  Everyday of our lives.  All we can do is do our best – to relish this remarkable ride."

Sure, a little cheeseball, but tell me this isn't true. And now picture me red-eyed and dazed, starring at the screen as the credits roll, in a pile of tissues on the bed with an empty glass of red and the remains of a popcorn bowl.  Or maybe don't.  Oh, February.

Daffodils bloom in February here, so March can truly be considered Spring.  Don't get too envious, however, as it can still be ridiculous rainy and cold!

March brought about our first trip of the year. We extended the Easter long weekend and went to the South of France. It was lovely, though in all honestly and retrospect, a little unplanned. Ha!  I think we were about two weeks too early.  We were hoping for a warm(er) escape, but didn't quite find that.    I also had more Provence-style vacation in my head but had actually planned a French Riviera/Provence split.  I didn't even anticipate the size of Marseilles.  Where was Rick Steve's when I needed him?! He usually tells me these things.  Our lack of foresight and planning aside, it was a week of jumping in the rental car and driving where we wanted, of eating some of the best meals (I still drool about one meal in Nice) and taking some time away from work/the Oxford bubble.

April was a crazy month.  I went on my first major work trip to Dubai, where I had my first exposure to the Middle East.  Well, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, that is.  The calls to prayer, the Western brands, the smells - it was so interesting.  I then came home to have my sister arrive a day or two later.  It was so exciting to have her here - our first visitor!  This girl isn't a visitor, though.  She fits into life wherever she is - easygoing and beyond helpful. We basked in all of the time that we could, getting our fill of the long conversations and easy silences that sisterhood just brings.  Each of the weekends had a different trip.  First up was London, as she had to get a good taste of the world class city so close to us.  Lots of tea, pubs, and walking.  The next weekend was a little road trip to Wales, where we were treated with beautiful weather, castle ruins and a pitstop in the Cotswolds.  The final weekend was a treat - an extra long weekend to Paris, the city of all cities.  It was so much fun for me to show Lydi around.  Cheese fondue, pain au chocolats, crepes, Eiffel Tower picnics, aimless wandering and museum hopping. What's not to love?

It was during Lydi's time here that we heard about Luke's Dad having leukemia.  It changed everything.  It took the focus from settling into Oxford and life here and into the realities and worries for our family, who felt so painfully far away.  Luke went home very shortly after hearing, which brought about our phase of distance.  I've been quiet on this blog for much of this, but have also been very straight up that it was and is a difficult experience for everyone involved.  I went home in May for a week to be with family for a short but helpful week, putting me in more touch with the realities and emotions of life there.  It also gave Luke and I a week to be doing it together - caring for each other in the ways that phone conversations and texts fall short.

Coming back to England after that trip was really hard. I felt isolated and lonely. It didn't feel right to be here but it was the practical reality.  It was a phase of raw emotions.  When I needed to cry, I cried. When I needed to go out and be amongst people, that's just what I did.  I was reminded of how much energy interpersonal relationships give me but also of the peacefulness in silence.  I so often have the urge to fill the spaces, but I think I learned more in tuning into the silence.  Luke was then back in England for most of July.  It was healthy, relieving and built up our marriage.  We also had so much fun when my wonderful friend Leslie came to visit, and we filled any and all free time with trips around England.  In the midst of it all, it was amazing.

I looked forward to the last week of July for months in advance.  I was meeting my parents and aunt for a trip through Portugal, and was so excited.  I couldn't' wait for warmth, new cultures and food, and being with people that know me so freaking well. I missed that familiarity and feeling of being known.  We were reunited in Lisbon, went south to the Algarve, back up to Evora and I left them after some time in Porto.  However, after some time in the Douro Valley my parents joined me in England.  It was a different trip than we had planned; we thought Luke was going to be with us.  We also thought my sister and brother-in-law would join us in England.  At about 6am one morning, I woke up to missed calls and texts telling us that my sister had gone into early labour, and had a beautiful baby boy to care for and love.  We were all so thankful that they were at home when this all happened.  And, I became an aunt!  I can't wait to hold that sweet baby and officially meet the addition to the family.  He's the cutest.  I don't care if that's biased.

It was all quite a whirlwind, as I left for India soon after my parents departure. Being a work trip, I got just a taste for the tourist sites of Delhi and Mumbai, but you can't help but have the culture wash over you.  It's at street corner, restaurant or school.  It's in the food you eat, the disparity between the shanty villages and gated hotels, the families living on highway meridians, the straw livestock (literally, cows and goats) eating the piled garbage on the streets.  There's a feeling of passion and stubbornness in so many of the people you meet.  It was fascinating - truly an assault on the senses and there remains so much to explore and discover - to slowly unravel the subcultures, foods, landscapes and experiences.  Luke and my one year marriage anniversary was spent with me in India and him in Canada... thanks to the hotel, it came complete with 3 dozen red roses and a full chocolate mousse cake.  I think they thought Luke was joining me and were very confused. The front desk receptionist offered to keep me company.  Bless her.  #cakeforone #soundsaboutright

The only bad thing about India was that I had salmonella poisoning that hit a couple days after my return (so I don't rule out the plane food!).  I had a trip home to see my Luke and all family, but that was very rudely interrupted. I was a painful deliberation but one that had a clear right answer.  I couldn't risk spreading the bacteria with my little nephew or with my father-in-law, who was in the stem cell transplant stages of treatment.  I was bitter and angry over this one.  The trip home was a huge motivator and encouragement in the lonely preceding weeks. Again, digging down especially deep at this stage.

Luke came home (Oxford home) late September.  It was utterly relieving.  A sweet reunion after a long time apart.  We quickly took off to Tenerife so have some down time together and take a pause before jumping back into work and school routines.  It was 5 days spent looking at the ocean from our balcony, exploring a volcano, driving along steep and winding roads, and, as always, finding the good food :) It was so good to be back together.

So what did I learn this year? That life takes a good dose of grit - but we all have that when needed. That you never know what is around the corner. That each day is truly a gift.  Cliche, but so damn true.

See you later, 25, and cheers to 26! 

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Summer Flashback: The Lake District

Friday, 21 October 2016

Yes, the weekend I want to share with you was from this past summer, but it also be the most idyllic Fall getaway, so the inspiration still stands.  When Luke was back home (as in England.. still intermix what gets called 'home'!) we took full advantage of our weekends.

This one particular weekend, we has plans to head up to the Lake District.  I had the rental car all booked... said we'd pick it up at 6pm... I got there at 6:10pm... learned that the shop closed at 6pm.  How can it be ok that I pick up a car the minute it closes?  Needless to say, after a few knocks on the closed garage door, put me in tough with a gentlemen who was more than happy to charge me the £60 late charge (for those ten minutes) but not before he refused some work pay stubs as proof of address, and certainly not before Luke had to bring me my passport from home, so I could prove my Canadian citizenship.  Because 2 other kinds of ID didn't do the trick.

Sometimes, you just have to roll your eyes and be like, 'England, you crazy ******-******'.

Anyway, that £60 had me ready to cancel the weekend, but the rational and wise Luke talked me into it with 'it's just money' and blah blah blah.  Which, it was.  And it was a wonderful weekend.  I'll let the pictures speak for themselves, but we hiked, drove through absolute beauty, wandered through quaint towns, and took in the moments, peacefulness, and companionship.  It was amazing!

England wins a point.

A crazy evening.. we had just been in a pub where it was raining out one window, but sun streaming in the other, then went outside to this beauty of a golden hour:

Never without our trusty friend, Ricky-boy:

Follow along with our England adventures at #lukeandemdoengland or my Instagram.

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Everyone, meet Girlfriend Collective

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

I have something exciting to share: free leggings! Thanks to a friends' Facebook post, I came across Girlfriend Collective.  They are giving their inaugural product, just at the cost of shipping/handling (usually $30 USD - they'll retail for $60 USD down the line).  An up and coming activewear company, they're based in Seattle with their factory in Hanoi, Vietnam.  Intent on recycled fabrics, sustainable development and recycled fabrics, have an enduring commitment to quality and a responsible development process.

Co-founder Ellie Dinh writes: 
"We know that if we can just get somebody into a pair of our leggings, and let them know and experience firsthand what we stand for - they'll fall in love."

I think their 'marketing plan' is frigging amazing. The "experience what we stand for" part is what I find most interesting. It's about having faith in your product and understanding the kind of peer review, sharing community that we are.  They just ask for a share of any kind - Facebook, over coffee with a friend, or even just your email.  They believe in their product and will put their money where their mouth is.

I get so excited by this new era of company.  One that wants to partner with their customers, not manipulate.  Companies that care about their production and who it effects, not just their bottom line. Companies that are transparent and operate in good faith.  I want to be one of these companies.

I also find it liberating as a customer.  As a consumer, I have so many options about where my money goes and what I invest in.  I can choose big, small, expensive or cheap - all within reason, of course! - but I have the choice whether I prioritize convenience, cost, status, etc.  I find it a wonderful option to be selective in my purchases and truly believe in the company that I'm purchasing from.  I say, care where you buy from and what their ethical policies are. Care about where they source their materials from.  Care about how they ship the package to you. We now get to know, and we get to care.

Girlfriend has a lot to come - My hat is tipped to them, and I'm pretty darn excited to get my free leggings :)  Sign up for yours and share away. Thank you Girlfriend!

Any companies that you're impressed with these days?  I love hearing about them.

Image via Girlfriend Facebook.

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Got to go..

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Hey guess what! This is a good week.  Luke got back on Sunday and by Tuesday, we were on route to a sunnier and warmer island - Tenerife - one of the Canary Islands.

The past few months with Luke back in Canada, I learned how companionship is such a gift.  Everyone does life different and has different styles, but I am so thankful to have someone to do life with.

So we're going to go celebrate that, and just chill out and relax. Ever been to Tenerife? If you have any suggestions or recommendations let me know!

[Image via]

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Lean In

Monday, 26 September 2016

As I've mentioned, life has been crazy for the past few months. Everyone is dealing with their own 'something', and the specific situation isn't even the point.  I feel that the point is how we respond to it - how we deal with it and learn from it.

As I've been solo-living for the past little while, it has given me a lot of time to do whatever I want, whenever I want. Not as fun as it sounds - I much prefer companionship! All of this alone time has translated into an embarrassing number Parenthood and Gilmore Girls episodes, but there has been an enduring feeling that this is important time. It's a formative time and I'm a firm believer that you learn more in the lows of life than you do in the highs.  That there is something to learn in this phase and it's not to be wasted.  "Don't waste the pain" is a phrase that's been going over and over in my head.

So I've been trying to see it as an opportunity. I don't just want to get through this phase or to get through to the other side and feel only relief. There will be relief, no question about it, but I also want to look back and be able to identify what I have learned.  What I have felt.

So I say, lean in.  Tune in.  Don't waste the pain.  Listen to what is going on inside of you and think about it. Pay attention to the little things.  Look for the positive things and don't dismiss the negative.  It takes intentionality and a bit of stubbornness.  It takes digging deep and sitting with the uncomfortable thoughts and feelings.  It's raw, but it's good.

One of the things I keep coming back to is the idea of the bitter and sweet.  One of my favourite authors, Shawna Niequest put it best:

The idea of bittersweet is changing the way I live, unraveling and re-weaving the way I understand life. Bittersweet is the idea that in all things there is both something broken and something beautiful, that there is a moment of lightness on even the darkest of nights, a shadow of hope in every heartbreak, and that rejoicing is no less rich even when it contains a splinter of sadness. ‘It’s the practice of believing that we really do need both the bitter and the sweet, and that a life of nothing but sweetness rots both your teeth and your soul. Bitter is what makes us strong, what forces us to push through, what helps us earn the lines on our faces and the calluses on our hands. Sweet is nice enough, but bittersweet is beautiful, nuanced, full of depth and complexity. Bittersweet is courageous, gutsy, audacious, earthy.  This is the work I’m doing now, and the work I invite you into: when life is sweet, say thank you, and celebrate. And when life is bitter, say thank you, and grow.”

I went out looking for those little gifts - the 'moment of lightness', as Shawna puts them.  They have become referred to as 'manna' moments in my family.  They were simple.  Like riding my bike to work and seeing the first bloom on a big vine.  Or on that same bike ride, seeing a police officer admiring an old lady's earrings (it was adorable).  Or just a really good coffee.  An easy, genuine conversation. Just those little things that you can pass by without a second thought or, take a minute to be present in it and appreciate it.

For you today, whether life is sweet or bitter, I hope you claim your moments to be present and thankful, and through that awareness, you see your manna moments.  Happy Monday :)

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