Love Where You Are

A few weeks ago, I went on what I can only describe as a trip of a lifetime. I traveled with my husband through central and northern Europe, to places we’d both dreamed of visiting. We spent more money than I care to talk about, but our experiences, as you can imagine, were worth every cent.

As much as I’d love to hop a plane right now and head on our next adventure, I know it’s unrealistic. And I know there’s always going to be that point at the end of our travels where we have to come home.

On our recent trip, I came up with a little pros/cons game that went like this: for every time I took mental note of something I loved (in a place we were visiting), I also thought of something I was missing from home. It seemed like the perfect way to take in my surroundings while making that transition out of “holiday mode” easier when the time came for it. Here’s how our destinations fared:

DSCF0030Munich

Our entire purpose for stopping in Munich was Oktoberfest. John wanted to get the true experience of beer, pretzels and Bavarian culture. Also, both of us really needed a break from our crazy-stressful jobs, so we thought, what better way to do that than to party and drink to our hearts’ content.

As expected, Oktoberfest was a blast. I would compare it to K-Days in Edmonton, but way more awesome and filled with Bavarian-themed tents and food. Also, instead of people dressed in casual summer clothes, think dirndls and lederhosen.

Our day at the festival started at 11 am and ended close to 4 pm. We were advised to get there early as it fills up quickly with people. When we went, it was a calm, 24-degree day with clear blue skies. We opted out of rides, but spent the entire time drinking in one of the beer lodges. The place was roaring with excitement, and was overall a great atmosphere to be in. If we weren’t listening to the traditional German band playing , we were hearing people cheer each other on as they chugged 1-litre steins of beer while standing on wooden tables.

Both of us loved the festival, but where we started to get nostalgic for home was when we were watching groups of people having a good time, conversing in German. None of us speak the language, and that certainly made things difficult for us. Even ordering a meal or drink took a fair bit of effort. Luckily, we met a sweet, English-speaking American couple who made our time at the festival a lot more fun.

The second moment we longed for home was when we were trekking back to our rented apartment after the festival. We were both drunk (to say the least), and all we wanted to do was to was head back and crash. The thing about being that drunk is that it’s way more uncomfortable when it happens away from home. And especially in our case, when it happens in an apartment that we’re sharing with other people. In Munich, we booked an apartment room, because that was our best and most affordable option.

Overall, I enjoyed our short, 2-day stay in Munich. For the time we had, we used it well. I also felt as though I could live there. I loved how green the city was, I thoroughly enjoyed the meals we ate and I appreciated how friendly the locals were in spite of the language barrier. That said, I was ready and excited to head to stop number two, Budapest.

Across the Danube RiverBudapest

Ever since my best friend told me about Budapest and how it was her favourite city she had visited in Europe, I knew I wanted to see it for myself. I had heard of the city’s interesting blend of culture and architecture with its two sides: Buda and Pest.

When I first stepped off the train from Munich, I was in awe. I thought: “If the train station is this beautiful, I can only imagine what the rest of the city looks like.”

And I was right. In fact, it is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen. The majority of our time in Budapest was spent walking the streets and taking in all the sites we could without having to pay for a guided tour. Some of my favourites were the Liberty Statue and the panoramic tour at the top of St. Stephens Basilica.

What I loved most about Budapest was the fact that we didn’t have to spend a lot of money to experience the city to its fullest. Some of the most memorable buildings and restaurants were ones we stumbled across during our daily walks. I also really enjoyed having an apartment (and a spacious one at that!) all to ourselves, unlike the shared one in Munich.

My only complaint was the fact that it was difficult to get any sort of vegetables when ordering food. I would call it a meat and potatoes kind of city. On the other hand, John and I ordered, quite literally, the best burgers of our lives while there.

John and I also discovered  that Lays Paprika and/or “Cheese” flavoured chips are not worth buying just to satisfy a junk craving. We’re definitely snack people, and we both longed to eat chips in flavours we know and love like Ketchup or Salt and Vinegar.

I missed the luxury of being able to eat anything I want from home, but overall, I was very happy with our stay in Budapest. After spending four days there, I was certain nothing could top it, that is until we went to Prague.

DSCF0949Prague

I didn’t realize how few visitors there were in Budapest until we arrived in Prague. The city was jam-packed, wall-to-wall with tourists, but with good reason. Simply put, Prague is gorgeous. This was apparent to me from the moment our taxi dropped us off outside of our apartment.

At first glance, I felt like I was staying in New York. Our area, Wenceslas Square, had a modern look to it and was full of trendy shops, restaurants and hotels. Aside from the cobblestone sidewalks and older style to some of the buildings, you would never  guess you were in Europe.

Once we stepped out of Wenceslas Square and into Old Town, just minutes away, that’s when Prague started to come alive for me. Among a sea of people, I could see all sorts of action happening from singing to dancing to selling of goods from outdoor vendors. All the buildings were colourful and of Neo-gothic style, with pointy, castle-like spires. Enchanting is what Old Town was to me.

Yet, that wasn’t even my favourite part of Prague. My breath was taken away when we walked over to the Charles Bridge. The pedestrian-only, popular attraction oozed with romance as live bands blared their instruments and artists sold a variety of handmade crafts. And those views from the bridge were unlike anything I had seen before. I bought a stunning piece of art to keep the memory fresh in my  mind.

Along with the Charles Bridge, I also fell in love with a site I found in one of our Lonely Planet travel books: the Strahov Monastery and Library. While the one-hour, cobblestone-lined, uphill walk to get there was intense and the entrance fee to get in exorbitant, the whole experience was worth it. Not only was the Library beautiful, but the walk on the way down from the Library boasted panoramic views of the city.

Day or night, I never felt bored in Prague. There way always something magnificent to see or do. I did, however, miss the peace and quiet of home. I forget how wonderful it is to live in a country with so much vast, open space and such a small population.

The masses of tourists in Prague were often overbearing. And so were the neighbours in our terrace-top apartment who smoked like chimneys and stayed up all hours of the night. I’m all for having a good time, but it’s tough to travel when you don’t get any sleep.

All the noise and activity in Prague made it that much more exciting to head to our last (and total opposite) destination of the trip: Reykjavik.

GullfossReykjavik

Truth be told, Iceland wasn’t at the top of our list when we first planned our itinerary for Europe. It just so happens that the Edmonton International Airport offers a connection to Europe (through Icelandair) that’s cheaper, and in some cases shorter, than flying with other airlines. Icelandair was the reason we could afford our trip.

Once John and I started doing some research into Iceland, we went from being lukewarm about it to thrilled. There are so many natural wonders there, that it’s impossible not to be enamored by your surroundings.

On our first day in Iceland (out of four), we explored Reykjavik. We walked around downtown and up to the coast, where we had a great view of the mountains. The city’s quaint and peaceful vibe was a welcome change to the hustle and bustle of Prague. We instantly felt comfortable and at ease there. We also loved our cozy, downtown apartment.

Reykjavik reminded me of small mountain towns in Alberta like Jasper or Canmore. The main difference, of course, was the architecture, which I found to be very unique. Some of my favourite buildings were the Hallgrimskirkja Church, with its sleek column walls and the Harpa Concert Hall made of glass.

On our second day, we went on a night tour called, “Warm Baths, Cool Nights.” The first part included a trip to the Laugarvatn Fontana Geothermal Baths, of which all I can say is “ahhhhhhh.” The baths were incredibly relaxing and exactly what John and I needed after two weeks of travelling. For the second half of the tour, the bus drove us to nearby areas in pitch black darkness in search of Northern Lights. While the Lights are nothing new for us Edmontonians, they were still a delight to see.

On our third day, we went on a tour called, “The Wonders of Reykjanes,” where we had the opportunity to see a variety of landscapes and coast lines. Some of the best parts of the tour were the Seltun and Gunnuhver Hot Springs. The sheer magnitude of those Hot Springs impressed me. I also loved learning that Iceland is self-sustainable entirely through geothermal energy.

On our last day in Iceland, we went on the popular “Golden Circle” tour where we stopped at four renowned sites: Geysir, Gulfoss and Pingvellir. For me, Gulfoss waterfall was the highlight, and perhaps my favourite site of our whole trip. My eyes were drawn to the raging waters, flowing from all sides of the Hvita canyon.

There wasn’t much about Iceland I didn’t enjoy, except for the biting winds and bone-chilling cold. Coming from Edmonton, it’s strange to hear myself complain about weather in other places, but I’m just not accustomed to humidity. John and I were freezing the entire time we were in Iceland, to the point where we both had to buy overpriced toques at a gift shop.

Believe it or not, it was the brutal weather in Iceland that made it easiest to come home to Edmonton, where ironically, we had an unseasonably warm fall.

***

More than anything else, my travels, both recent and past, have taught me to love where I am, whether it’s at home among familiar routines, or away from home into the exciting and unknown.

I’m lucky enough to be able to go anywhere in the world, for any period of time, and always have so much to look forward to when I get back.

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Ashamed

Ashamed. It is one of my least favourite words not only for its literal meaning, but also for how it makes me feel. The thing about shame is that once you’ve felt it deeply, you will never again do what it is that made you feel that way in the first place.

A few days ago, a friend of mine gave me a hard time for posting a picture online of her family member (and rightfully so). This wasn’t just any friend, but a close friend who I respect and care about dearly. After our conversation, I had this awful feeling in my stomach like I had completely broken her trust and infringed upon her privacy.

Then it got me thinking, why am I sharing so much of my “life” on the Internet? And more importantly, what gives me the right to share the lives of other people online?

What it comes down to is consideration of others. With such public forums like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, I think we (including myself) tend to lose sight of how our actions online will affect others, and not just in the short term, but over the long term. A few words and innocent photos can spread so quickly over the Internet, and in unexpected ways, yet we often don’t give such posts a second thought.

In terms of online activity, I can honestly say my intentions are good and genuine. I’m someone who loves photography and takes great joy in sharing photos online with friends and family. I also work in the communications industry, which makes it near impossible not to use social media  in some form or another, as either a creative outlet or means for networking or sharing information. But in a digital world where nothing is private and everyone knows your business, it’s important to keep some things sacred and to recognize and respect the privacy of others.

A part of me is relieved that my friend got upset with me, otherwise I don’t know if I would have learned such an important lesson. Like a bucket of cold water in the face, that tough and somewhat uncomfortable conversation is exactly what I needed.

Since then, I’ve made the difficult decision to de-activate my Facebook account and spend as little time as possible on social media channels. As it stands, I rarely use Twitter and I post on Instagram sparingly. Even my blog (which you’re reading right now) is constructed with care and anonymity with the mention of specific people.

Hopefully my experience will encourage some of you to reflect upon your time online and how it impacts not only yourselves, but the people you care about.

Ashamed kitty

 

 

 

Me Time

There’s something I haven’t been doing a great job of lately. It may be apparent in my lack of recent blog posts or by the fact that I’m lying in bed right now with covers, Kleenex and a mug of tea. And since I don’t have the voice (literally) to talk about it, I’m going to write about it.

In short, I haven’t been taking care of myself. My mind is always on other people, places and things, but rarely do I stop for a minute and occupy my thoughts exclusively on me.

The truth is, I don’t think you can be the best version of yourself, whether at work, at home with your family, or in your relationships if you don’t dedicate the time you need and deserve on yourself. I read this article a few weeks ago, and it made me stop in my tracks. I thought to myself: “Oh my God. I’m turning into that person.”

I don’t get nearly enough sleep. I become way too absorbed in my work. And I have a hard time living in the present, especially with distracting devices like smart phones that seem to make everything instant. So in an effort to steer myself in the right direction, I’m making a list of all that I’ve done (or am planning to do), to make “me time” a top priority:

1) Join a Corporate Challenge team. I won’t even deny it: I’m NOT active. Or at least not to the degree I should be. For that exact reason, I joined a badminton team this month as a part of Corporate Challenge. We’ve had one practice so far, and I’m already hooked. It feels awesome to participate in a sport that I actually enjoy and to be getting my body back into shape.

2) Cook more meals from scratch. Did you know that there’s daily recipes on the last few pages of the Metro News? And that the newspaper is free? Anytime I’m on the LRT, I pick up a copy. Last Monday, I saw a recipe in the Metro News for grilled chicken burgers and was inspired to make them that evening. They were easy to prepare and super healthy. Without fail, when I’m eating better, I’m feeling better.

3) Get at least 8 hours of sleep every night. This one is tough. Especially for a night owl like me. But honestly, it is the reason behind half of my struggles. I know a good night’s sleep is key to a productive day and a strong state of mind. Also, as someone who suffers from a chronic illness, I know how important sleep is to my health.

4) Stop feeling guilty about saying “no.” I love my friends and family, but sometimes I just need to chill at home with a bag of chips and my favourite TV show. When you lead a busy life, it’s hard to please everyone, but I think it’s essential to carve out some time for yourself, even if it means giving up a fun night of socializing.

5) Don’t let work consume me. I’m very career-driven and find it incredibly difficult to achieve work-life balance. Part of that is my strong work ethic and the other part is anxiety from past experience. I’m scared that if I drop the ball (work-wise) for even a moment, I may not have a job to come back to the next day. What I’ve come to realize is that you can’t control everything, and that those other aspects of life, within your control, deserve just as much, if not more, attention than your job.

6) Leave my phone alone. It’s not necessary to pull out your cellphone when you’re out for coffee with a friend. Or out for dinner with your husband. Or at a birthday party for your niece or nephew. I’ve been trying to make it a goal to leave my phone alone when I’m out anywhere in public. Really, I should only be using it for emergencies. It’s hard to enjoy your life when you’re always plugged into a piece of technology.

So there you have it: my little action plan for self improvement. I figure if I document it, I have to follow through. And at the end of the day, it’s not at all selfish or wrong to to put “you” first.

Self improvement

It’s All Relative

About a month ago, I made a quick stop to Remedy Café downtown to grab some lunch. The first thing I noticed was how busy it was despite it’s small size, and that it’s clearly a popular place to eat.

The first thing the lady behind me in line noticed was a family of three (husband, wife and baby) seated in the restaurant. In fact, it caught her eye to the extent that she said to me: “Doesn’t that family look just perfect?”

Yes, the husband and wife were attractive. And indeed, their baby was well-behaved. But aside from those two factors, there was nothing particularly remarkable about them.

I responded to the lady’s question with a nod, but inside I was thinking: since when did being married and having a family become the ideal? And how can you possibly know what’s “perfect” just by looking at it?

Don’t get me wrong, I love being married. I can honestly say it has brought me happiness and fulfillment I had never known before. But that’s not to say I didn’t value my time as a single woman—the specific kind of freedom and independence that comes with it. And I adore kids. Every day that passes, my maternal instincts grow stronger.

That being said, I think too many people search for their “ideal” and don’t appreciate the current phase of life they’re in. Sometimes I wonder: does anyone ever look at me through rose-coloured glasses and think, “Hey, that girl’s life is pretty damn awesome.”

Just over the long weekend, I caught a plane (by myself) to New York to visit my friend. One of the best trips I’ve taken in awhile! If I didn’t have a laid-back husband and a kid-free household, that trip simply wouldn’t have been possible. Every other weekend, John and I have full control over our schedules and what we want to do with our time. We can drink a bit too much one night, and sleep in far too late the next morning. Again, the kind of behaviours that wouldn’t be possible if we had kids.

Personally, I’m soaking in all the great moments and luxuries I have with my husband before we take that next big step of starting a family. I also look back fondly on my past (before I was even married) and appreciate how far I’ve come over the years.

But we’re all guilty of it. That is, looking at others and comparing lives. This is especially true when we’re feeling down about our own. To me though, it’s all relative. A great life should be defined by you only, and it’s much easier to do when you’re focused on yourself rather than a superficial view of life you’ve created for someone else.

Nobody__s_perfect__by_pica_ae

Too Good

About a month ago, John and I moved into a beautiful house, far beyond our wildest dreams—the type of house we’re both accustomed to seeing and touching, but not having.

It takes me back to my days working as a hostess for Landmark Homes. Every shift, I would be tantalized by the stunning displays of architecture, furniture and decor in front of me. The moment I would step into a showhome, I would feel as though I was in a designer clothing store way out of my league.

Fast forward to March 2013, and there I was with John, sitting on the other side of the sales desk, making the most important purchase of my life. In the same way I thought I would never get married, I also never expected to have enough money or patience to buy a new house. Even now, I’m still feeling the excitement and disbelief that comes with owning your first piece of property and home.

So far, our house has brought us nothing but joy. We hear faint sounds of traffic at night rather than police sirens and drunken yelling. We smell fresh and new instead of old and musty. We have an entire basement for our cats to play in rather than a cramped apartment. Overall, we’ve been really happy with the house, and no matter where I am or what I’m doing, I always look forward to coming home.

That being said, I’ve also been feeling a bit guilty. Especially now, around the holiday season, I can’t help but think of the less fortunate who don’t even have a roof over their heads. Some questions that come to mind are: “What on earth did I do to deserve such a nice home? Am I too materialistic for making it a priority? 

The pessimist in me also thinks that it’s too good to be true—that because I now own a wonderful home, I’m going to be riddled with bad luck. It doesn’t help that I lost my previous job a few months ago—right before I was about to start paying a mortgage.

I suppose I should stop overthinking it and just be proud of what John and I have worked tirelessly to have. There’s no such thing as too good, too perfect or too much if you’ve been rewarded entirely based on your efforts.

I’d like to toast to my friends and family who, like me, are blessed with health, happiness, and of course, good fortune.

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Moving On

You know that gross curl you get in the pit of your stomach when you’ve been through a really bad break-up? That anxiety that seems to last for days on end? Yeah. That’s how I’m feeling at the moment.

Except, the difference is that it has nothing to do with my husband. In fact, his overwhelming love and support, along with that of my close friends and family, is about the only thing that’s keeping me going.

It’s hard to notice you’re in a toxic relationship, of any kind, until you’ve left it. And it’s even more difficult to realize that you’re unhappy until you’ve been freed from that person who has been making you so miserable.

The signs have been there all along. For months, all I’ve been talking about (indirectly) is this person, and how frustrated I’ve been feeling as a result of our interactions. Yet, I’ve tried to hold onto something that clearly wasn’t working, and that was causing me unhealthy and unwarranted amounts of stress.

At the end of the day, your worth should never be defined by another person, place or thing. You should be strong enough on the inside to ward off any darts that get thrown your way. You should accept no less than the full respect you deserve.  And you should be able to move on, when you know there is something or someone far better for you out there.

So, that’s exactly what I’m doing. I’m moving on. As impossible as it seems, I’m picking up the broken pieces and putting them back together. Here’s my toast to new beginnings, and to making life the best it can be.

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Insomnia

This past week, for the first time ever, I’ve suffered from true insomnia. And wow, do I ever sympathize with those who experience it on a regular basis.

I honestly don’t know how I’ve been able to function since Monday, but I’ve felt like a walking zombie with a nagging headache. And let me tell you, the lack of sleep certainly hasn’t done me any favours for my work, relationships and overall health.

You don’t realize how much sleep affects your life until you’re not getting enough of it. According to WebMD, insomnia is a disorder characterized by difficulty falling and/or staying asleep.

In my case, I would get jolted awake, like clockwork, every night at 4 am — which in my opinion, is the worst possible time to get disrupted in your sleep (too late to go to bed, yet too early to stay awake). The following morning, I would wake up with dull pains in my head and an intense hunger for anything terrible for me (ex: greasy or fattening foods, sugar or coffee). Then, to make matters worse, I would be grumpier than a bear by evening, which forced me to take naps, resulting in a vicious cycle of insomnia all over again.

Aside from those issues, the changes I noticed most from my lack of sleep were the ones that affected my behaviour. Like every married couple, John and I have  occasional disagreements, some more heated than others. But yesterday, I picked an especially bad fight (over computer problems, of all things!) that I’m 100% certain was caused by my sleep-deprived lack of patience.

Only today, did I realize how irrational I was being, and how easy it is for a small argument to spiral out of control when you haven’t been sleeping well. Along with my irritability, I haven’t been able to concentrate on any sort of project or chore of value. At work, I’ve had to push myself harder than ever to complete the simplest of tasks, and at home, I’ve had to put off doing things that are a regular part of my regular routine, such as dishes and laundry.

At the very least, I’ve tried to take actions, within my control, to help me get a better sleep. I’ve left windows open to let in fresh, cold air. I’ve changed my sheets from silky ones to a cotton pair that I thought would be more comfortable. I’ve gone to bed earlier than ever before.

And yes, by last night, my sleep patterns finally started to improve — but there’s no guarantee those measures will work again, or that I won’t suffer from insomnia in the future. Also, sleep-aids/medications, to me, are always a last resort.

To all my friends and family: what do you do to not only get to sleep, but stay asleep until morning?

Insomnia