This was the first and only snow I saw this winter and when I look outside my window, it’s hard to believe snow even exists at all and that it is still several inches deep in certain parts of the world. Here, in London, it continues to rain and I’m thinking perhaps the UK should just give up and rename its seasons “the rainy season” and “the less rainy season”. Because, hey, will you look at that, the sky is spitting on us again.
So yeah. The weather. Also, I joined a Canadian expat group last month. We sit at the Maple Leaf pub in Covent Garden and eat chicken wings and drink Canadian beer and talk about hockey and why we are here (as in, London, not the Universe – it’s beer and chicken wing night, not “drop acid and get existential” night). No, we talk about the simple stuff, like how weird the Brits are and how poutine should never, ever be made with grated cheese (the cheese must squeak between your teeth when you bite into it and that is a fact). We talk about how it takes 3 days to cross Ontario and then someone mentions they come from Belleville and the guy from Ottawa replies “Ah ya! I know Belleville, my car broke down there once” and this is music to my ears. A strange comfort. A land I know.
Canada is a big place and not all Canadians are the same but here, we are fish out of water, and because of this we connect, even if only for a couple hours. We have a few beers, we watch a game, we go home and we come back every month to water our roots before we start to wither.
And on that note, I’m off to spend the weekend studying for my Life in the UK test.
I know. The good times never end around here.
Happy weekend, kids. xo
Photos by the ridiculously talented Xanthe Berkeley.
I’ve moved 25 times since I left home at the age of 18, twenty years ago.
I’ve lived in 12 cities, 5 provinces and 2 countries and, somewhere in there, spent six months in Jamaica and Hawaii, doing bird research. I’ve lived in apartment complexes and duplexes, a little lodge in the mountains and a cabin in the woods, various sublets in various cities, a trailer overlooking the Rockies, a room by the sea, a two-storey house on 4 acres of land. I’ve lived on my own, with boyfriends and flat mates and family members and friends. I’ve lived with cats and dogs and a ferret named Fergie. I’ve lived without electricity and running water. I’ve also lived in the richest part of town.
I once had an eccentric, old Greek landlady who paced up and down her hallway like the woman on speed in Requiem for a Dream. I also had a downstairs neighbour who played Unbreak My Heart 32 times in a row one Sunday morning in 1997. I dropped a washing machine moving it up a flight of stairs in college and spent that year at the laundromat every Wednesday night. My flat on Latimer was so small, I had to wash my dishes in the shower and cook dinner in a toaster oven. My dog is buried under an oak tree in the back yard of my old house in Nova Scotia and I often think of the cherry blossoms in Nelson and wonder if I’ll ever go back to visit.
I’ve painted more walls that I can count, sometimes in very bad colours (the flamingo pink bathroom springs to mind), packed and taped and unpacked a thousand boxes, bought and chucked far too many toilet brushes and brooms and mops and all those things that are a bit too unclean and awkward to move.
My life sometimes feels like a bunch of boxes, gathering dust and mildew, waiting to be opened.
And I am ready to unpack, people. Once and for all.
The daffodils are in bloom in London and Spring is on its way and we are so close to finally starting the actual physical work on this house. Everything has been on paper so far, perfect plans of walls and doors and miniature stoves and beds and dining room tables. We’ve been dreaming in 2D but soon, we’ll watch our house get demolished and built back up again into a home.
Home: a cat sitting on a window sill, books scattered about, a very plump chair, a bowl of lemons on the kitchen table, a pie in the oven, old photos on the wall.
Joe and I are quite adamant about refitting this house in the most “green” way possible – using solar panels and rain water harvesting and insulation fit for Eskimos and VELUX® sun tunnels to bring natural light into dim places. And then, beyond the structural stuff, what if we were to put a round window in the kitchen? And maybe we should have a green roof with thyme that turns purply-pink in the autumn. Should we expose the brick on the bathroom wall? How crazy would that be? And can we build an entire wall of built-in bookshelves? I’ve always wanted an entire wall of built-in bookshelves. A home for all those books in boxes. And let’s have an orangerie in the back yard and host outdoor movie nights in the summer.
It’s going to be a checkerboard year – one small move at a time. But it’s all terribly exciting and by this time next year, I, we, will have a home.
And I don’t expect I’ll be moving again anytime soon.
This post is sponsored by VELUX. All opinions are my own. Girl’s gotta pay the reno bills, yo!
Today marks the 2-year anniversary of the day I landed in England, fresh off the boat and newly wed and ready for a big old adventure, feeling invincible, capable of tackling ALL THE THINGS.
I took the bloody bull by the horns, alright, but I was foolish in thinking the bull wouldn’t retaliate. And I especially didn’t expect it to stubbornly fight its corner for two whole years.
When I die, if they make a nice colourful graph of my life, these will be known as the abject years, a great dip where it all went pear-shaped and tits up and everything I thought I knew about myself was turned upside down and examined, like some sort of god damn airport security line; my baggage searched with a fine toothed comb and stuff I thought was innocuous and neatly packed in a transparent and resealable bag turned out to be explosive and suddenly I’m the woman being escorted to airport jail, shouting: “I swear someone else put that there, Mr. Security Man. It’s not my stuff. It wasn’t me. I swear it’s not mine.“
It turns out the shit is mine and mine alone.
And my point is this.
There comes a time in most people’s’ lives called the “cold, hard look”, when, as the term implies, you stop and have a good think about who you are and what you’ve done, missy. And I’m not talking about the fantasy version of yourself. I’m talking about peeking behind the curtain and seeing a weird-looking Technicolor wizard running the show, pointing fingers at everyone and everything else, protecting you from having to take the “cold, hard look”.
Because the trite truth about the “cold, hard look” is that it comes with “cold, hard work”, which is about as fun as a poke in the eye. Actually, fuck it, I’ll take the poke in the eye, thank you very much.
Now you’re probably thinking, what the hell is she going on about? Don’t worry, kids. It’s not like I’m an addict or anything. Or like I’ve tortured kittens or insulted Mother Theresa.
No, no. Nothing of the sort. I’m just really fucking negative, is all. And it’s never been so blatantly apparent as it has in the past 2 years, in the land of “Chin up, mustn’t grumble, carry on” and other sickeningly positive idioms.
“One who has a stiff upper lip displays fortitude in the face of adversity, or exercises great self-restraint in the expression of emotion.“
Stiff upper lip, I have not. More like limp upper lip. My whole world is governed by emotions, most of which, I’m afraid to say, are rather negative.
So yes, the past two years have been hard because, well, moving to another country is really fucking hard. But moving to a new country and failing to see anything positive in any given moment is really, really, really fucking hard.
So it’s time for the slow incline (refer to graph). Hark, a shift is coming! It’s barely perceptible on a day-to-day basis but, as you can see, in the long run we are heading for some serious golden years.
In two years, I want to say “Today marks the 2-year anniversary of the day I decided it was time to sort my shit out. And I did.”
Day One. Here we go. I can already feel my upper lip stiffening.
There are few things in life as blissful as sitting in a chalet after a day of snowboarding, snow falling on pines, wisps of smoke drifting out of chimney tops, glass of wine in hand. Everything is soft and hushed outside. And inside is pinewood and skis and snow pants and thermals and rosy cheeks and vin rouge and low ceilings and a crackling fire in the corner.
Sure, everything hurts. Every single inch of my body hurts. I am a bruised and battered and broken woman. But I feel bloody amazing. Not only because I managed to get down a red run without breaking my face but because I have conquered a fear. A big one. And it feels a bit like being Bilbo Baggins in the dragon’s lair.
I can say this now, on day five. Day one wouldn’t necessarily qualify as blissful. Day one wouldn’t qualify as blissful at all, actually. Day 1 was ripe with pain and discouraging frustration and a whole lot of “this sucks”.
I consider myself a pretty sporty girl, not really afraid of a physical challenge. But I’m not a big fan of hurling myself at death speed down a mountain on a slippery board with trees and people and obstacles all around me and rather hard, compacted snow beneath me. And I’m especially not fond of not excelling at something within moments of trying it (Brene Brown would have a field day with me).
The thing, you see, is that in my perfectionist head, before I arrived, before I had even tried snowboarding, I was doing tricks and jumps within days, in deep powder off piste! A bonafide badass I was, up there, in my head (I blame Chalet Girl, entirely, for my delusions of grandeur). But it turns out what I imagined in my head wasn’t matching up to this mess of a woman by the side of the piste with a massive lopsided green helmet and snots running down her face.
So. That was disappointing.
After I accepted that I was a mere mortal and not Chalet Girl and I was going to have to start at the beginning just like everyone else, things got harder before they got easier. But I was dedicated. I gave it my everything. I said “Hello scary slope, pleasure to meet you, here is my everything”. I took a course with a very nice and very French man who said things like “zee ski” and “cup of tsea”. I walked up the bloody practice slope dozens of times before the sun had risen over the farthest peak, before the resort had even opened, when everyone else was asleep. I walked up, practiced my three turns on the way down, took off my board and walked up again. Over and over and over. And when I’d mastered that, I took to the “Charmettes” blue slope and did that one over and over and over. I fell rather theatrically a thousand times and I have the ass and knee bruises to prove it (as well as some super awesome padded shorts that do nothing for my sex life but saved my bum bones from certain breakage). And I cried in frustration too many shameful times to count: “I might as well give up, I’m never going to get it, I’m too old for this, it’s just not for me.” Then, I’d shout “FUCK” and, fuelled by anger, get off my bruised arse and try again. And within 5 days, in just 5 days, I went from being a complete beginner to boarding down a red run without falling.
I soon realised that 9 times out of 10, the reason for my falling was fear. I’d get the fear, kids. I’d be so afraid of falling that… I’d fall. Funny thing, that is. The thing you focus on is the very thing that will happen. Call it physics, call it mind over matter, call it the law of attraction. Whatever it is, it’s a very real thing. And when I breathed through the fear and remembered everything I’d learned and focused on the task at hand, I got it. Every time.
Most of the things that no longer serve me have their root in fear. Fear of failure, fear of judgement, fear of pain, fear of the unknown, fear of socialising, fear of missing out, fear of not being good enough, fun enough, cool enough, intelligent enough, witty enough, generous enough. Fear of being alone, fear of aging, fear of getting sick, fear of dying, fear of being… unloved.
And so it is that I am rooted in fear. I am so full of fear; it’s like a cancer spreading throughout my entire body. It casts a dark shroud on everything I do. It sucks the enthusiasm right out of life. It is curiosity’s sworn enemy. It is the monstrous shadow on the wall that, when you turn around, turns out to be a very little creature (that probably just needs a good hug) casting a very large shadow.
It used to be that fear was what kept you alive. It was a real fight or flight response. But these days, fear is a thug, a cunning con artist that sells his lies so very convincingly; they turn to truths before your very eyes. I believe so strongly in my fears, I’ve given them so much power over the years that I sometimes feel like I can’t move forward. I am in belief paralysis.
(Because we all know that power resides where we believe it resides.)
My word for 2014 is BRAVE and I am reminded of that word every single day, when I feel the stirring of a thousand fears in the pit of my stomach. And I am exhausted from the business of being afraid. I am tired of caring so deeply what other people think of me. I’m constantly comparing myself to others and fretting over what I’m not good at instead of focusing on those things at which I excel. And I’m so busy being someone I am not and so deep in the habit of morphing into the person I think people want me to be that I haven’t the slightest clue who I am or am incapable of accepting those parts of me that are in direct conflict with 90% of the people I know here. I’ve somehow equated these differences with inadequacies.
- It does not serve me to be afraid of what other people think of me. I will never please every single person on this planet. It serves no purpose for them to love a Botoxed version of myself.
- It does not serve me to be afraid of failure. What else am I here to do if not try everything?
- It does not serve me to be afraid of death. It’s going to happen whether I’m afraid of it or not. Might as well live my one life to the fullest.
- It does not serve me to be afraid of socialising. I do not have to be an all singing, all dancing monkey. I can say, “yes” to things that light me up and “no”, unapologetically, to anything that doesn’t.
This bag of fears is far too heavy to carry any longer. It’s time to lighten the load. If I can conquer the fear of hurling myself down a mountain, cut through that pain with cold presses and hot baths and Ibuprofen, then I can rise above other fears too. I do believe that anything is possible with will and perseverance and dedication and repetition. The rewards far outweigh any potential pitfalls (real or imagined).
It’s all about practice.
Over and over and over until you stop falling.
This post is part of the Let it Go Project: a collection of stories leading up to a beautiful releasing ritual, hosted by Sas Petherick on the 30th of January. All the details for this free event are here. And you can take part! Be inspired by other posts in this project, and share what you are ready to let go of on the Let it Go Project Community Page!
I remember a field that was half way down the hill to the village where I grew up and there were electrical lines that looked like giant insects made of metal and sounded like cicadas in the summer and I remember the grass grew tall there and turned amber in the fall. I don’t remember why I was there or if I was ever there. I only know when I hear the CHOM 97.7 FM jingle from the 80′s, that’s where I go in my head.
I remember I used to be really good at drawing little yellow chicks when I was 6 years old. I remember my teacher me telling so. I remember the bean plants that were poking out of the soil behind her when she said it. I drew hundreds of little chicks for weeks. And then I moved on to tulips.
I remember the wax lids on my mom’s strawberry jam – wild strawberries picked by three small pairs of hands. I remember how my grand-ma always used to walk with her hands interlaced behind her back and how her skin was silky soft and paper-thin. I imagine it still is.
I remember the prickly cucumber that grew by the brown lake on the way to my grandma’s house. I remember the big tubs of caramel that she stored in her basement and her dog Sunshine, who neither had a sunny nor shiny disposition and whom she called Someshine, either because of her French accent or her dentures or both. I remember seeing her without her teeth once and her dentures sat in the bottom of a glass of water by her bed, like something from a Halloween shop.
I remember Halloween at our house was special and dad used to put a lot of effort into making a cemetery out of nothing. I remember pillow cases full of candy and peanut shells stuck to the fabric. I remember eating 16 pieces of toast with peanut butter once. I remember sitting by my window sill in the apartment on St-Dominique with the sun shining through and placing my Easter chocolate bunny there because somehow, I convinced myself that it tasted better when it was sun-melted, just a little bit.
I remember hearing loons for the first time on a lake in Eastern Canada. It sounded like solitude. I remember my ornithology teacher telling me you’d only ever find one pair to a lake. I thought it romantic.
I remember the cocky confidence I had in my early 20s. Big glasses and short shorts. All overtly sexualised and bordering on arrogance and how I was just coming out of 20 years of shyness and trying on impudence for size.
I remember the first and only time I ever made ketchup. I picked and peeled and blanched the tomatoes and ground them with sugar and spices and simmered the whole thing down for hours. I remember being surprised at how much it resembled ketchup in both taste and texture. I left the ketchup in the cupboard when I left him and I wonder if it ever got eaten.
I remember how my dog’s paws used to smell like Doritos.
I remember the Spaghettini alla Boccalona I ate at a trattoria off some piazza in Florence and I wanted it so badly to be true that it would be some of the best pasta I would ever eat. And maybe it was the way the waitress said Grazie and Prego or the Chianti or the taste of my own independence, but it was.
I remember the rain in the tropical forests of Borneo. Hard and heavy and fat and torrential and deafening. And how it fell so suddenly and so quickly, as if someone had emptied a giant bucket from the sky, that the earth couldn’t drink it fast enough so that rivers appeared where trails once were and every leaf on every tree quivered in delight as if to say at last. At last.
I remember that time someone left the bacon pan in the oven and the oven on broil and it caught fire and all I could say was “There’s a fire in the oven, there’s a fire in the oven” until someone came to the rescue and threw the pan in the sink and turned the water on and the flames grew higher and all I could do was shout “That’s not what you’re supposed to do, that’s not what you’re supposed to do” through the smoke and over the shrill of the fire alarm. I did not shine in that moment.
I remember my dream last night, how it was father’s day and my dad flew in from Montreal and my grand-pa came down from heaven and we were at a friend’s house and everyone’s kids were there, all aged two or so, each a miniature version of one of their parents.
I remember a lot of things but I’ve forgotten so much. And I suppose that is why we record our lives. In photos and videos and words. Proof that we have lived. Fully. When our memory fails us.
P.S. I found this writing exercise in a book called Old Friend From Far Away. Highly recommend it for anyone who needs help digging up memories.
“You can’t will a memory. Sure, you can doggedly recall details, but the true moment when the details merge with feeling – when the scene is alive – cannot be artificially born. It’s like combing the ocean, calling up an abyss – you don’t know what you will receive.” – Natalie Goldberg
A couple of weekends ago, on the shortest day of the year, I was standing in the forest of East Dean, preparing for my very first pheasant shoot, possibly the most British thing I’ve experienced since moving here two years ago. Men in tweed, wearing plus fours ruffled where knee meets shooting sock with mustard coloured garter ties, and herringbone flat caps and Barbour coats smelling of damp and guns made in the 1800s with Damascus steel.
Everyone gathers at the house of the host and then sets off for the woods. Beaters with their beating sticks and shooters with their guns and the sweetest little retriever at her master’s heel, keenly awaiting instructions. The shooters take their place and the beaters spread out in a line and start walking through the forest, beating the ground and bushes and tree trunks and making all manners of calls (aye-aye-aye-aye-aye or grooo-grooo-grooo or woop woop in my case as I hadn’t a clue what to do). And once in a while, we’d scare song birds and wood cocks and pigeons and grouse and then, the occasional pheasant, plump and fat, would take to the skies where its fate was met by either a good shot or a bad one and I must admit that I always hoped for the latter and in my heart, I whispered “fly, little pheasant, fly”.
For hours, rain fell in sheets and wind howled and over it, the faint sound of a symphony of calls that would surely have made my uni ornithology professor’s ears bleed (his name, incidentally, was Dr. Bird). In the end, three birds were retrieved, held by the neck, blood at the mouth. And I know that if I’d seen this on television, on some nature show, or even 5 years ago for that matter, I’d curse the predator and probably cry as I’m always rooting for the prey, whether fur, feather or fin. But I suppose I was too fascinated, that this was part of my new life now; this ex vegetarian who studied zoology for the love of animals, driving pheasants out of warm leafy nests into the rain towards almost certain death.
We walked home drenched, hung our wet clothes to dry in the wet room and ate a hearty stew for lunch and the power went out and the candles came out and the wine was warm and welcoming and eventually everyone left and I still wonder how I feel about the whole thing. I suppose if one is going to eat meat, then I respect the hunter who has the guts to pull the trigger, pluck the bird and serve it up for dinner. Better that, than picking up a chicken wrapped in cellophane at Tesco’s. Still, I think I’m less bothered by the shoot itself than my acquiescence to it all when there was a time, not so long ago, I would have vehemently objected. It’s a mysterious, insidious thing that occurs, how we merge into our spouse’s life and lose little parts of ourselves along the way and take on little parts of them until one day, you catch yourself doing something and don’t quite recognise what is yours and what is his and where your own values lie. It’s natural, I suppose. But the thing is this, you see, when I’m with someone, they become my everything, I get lost in them.
I’ve been thinking about this next year a lot and I do believe it’s time for this little pheasant to come out of her warm, leafy nest and fly. I’ve been so consumed with living my husband’s life for the past two years that I haven’t taken any concrete steps to create my own life here. Truth be told, I’ve been too scared and far preferred warm cuddles to stepping out into the unknown on my own.
2009 was the year of yes (which, as we all know, is what landed me in London), 2010 was all about focus, 2011 was the year of trust, 2012 tested my patience, 2013 was meant to be about stillness (though I felt more restless this past year than I have in the entirety of my life). This year, I want to be brave, intrepid, lion-hearted, fearless… spirited. I want to come out of my shell and explore this new world, knowing that my shell will always be there when I need to curl up in comfort and recoup from my explorations. And I’m fairly certain there isn’t a man hunter in plus fours on the loose so I’ll be quite fine taking to the skies.
What is your intention for 2014?
“I’ve come to believe that there exists in the universe something I call “The Physics of The Quest” — a force of nature governed by laws as real as the laws of gravity or momentum. And the rule of Quest Physics maybe goes like this: “If you are brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting (which can be anything from your house to your bitter old resentments) and set out on a truth-seeking journey (either externally or internally), and if you are truly willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue, and if you accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher, and if you are prepared – most of all – to face (and forgive) some very difficult realities about yourself… then truth will not be withheld from you.” Or so I’ve come to believe.” – Elizabeth Gilbert
All photos by the amazing Xanthe Berkeley
Our first wedding anniversary found us on the beaches of Thailand, bikini clad and sun-kissed and cocktail in hand. This year, we opted for the comforts of home. This year we are lying low in our bathrobes, drinking wine, ordering pizza and watching The Great Gatsby.
Our second year of marriage was quite a ride. We biked from London to Brighton, hiked the three highest peaks in the UK in less than 24 hours and went to the top of the Shard. We sold Joe’s flat, packed everything up, moved in with his brother and bought a derelict house. We attended three weddings, camped by the river Wye, had our first Canadian Thanksgiving in London, went to Winter Wonderland and a murder mystery dinner and a tea party at Fortnum & Mason’s. We decorated our first Christmas tree together, went skating and sledding, saw Andy Murray play at the Queen’s Tennis Club, caught 5 gigs, 4 plays, 3 circus performances, 2 festivals and one comedy show, won a 12-pack of beer at a pub quiz and ate way too much bacon.
In between, there were many walks in the countryside and a thousand cups of coffee and Sunday roasts and dinners amongst friends and weekend getaways and culture club events. I was introduced to British classics such as Withnail and I and pheasant shoots and mince-pies and Christmas pudding. And Joe discovered that his wife can’t help belting out the lyrics to Don’t Stop Believin’ whenever it comes on the radio (which isn’t often enough, in her opinion, and which is also the reason he bought her the Journey album in vinyl for their anniversary). Joe still makes fun of my accent and I still refuse to say “trousers”, so some things haven’t changed.
We learned that social extroverts and creative introverts aren’t necessarily the perfect match for marital bliss and that marriage isn’t always a walk in the park– it’s more of a work in progress. It’s always evolving. It’s ebbing and flowing. It’s about compromising and accepting and learning how to choose your battles and when to let go. It’s about being vulnerable and hoping that your spouse will be gentle with your heart. It’s about recognising that they won’t always be gentle with your heart but trusting they’ll do their best, as will you. It’s about accepting apologies and giving hugs when hugs are needed. It’s about unconditional love. You don’t have to love every bit of your partner. You just have to love them, as a whole, regardless of those bits that drive you crazy. And thank God for laughter through it all.
Armed with everything we’ve learned this past year, about ourselves and each other, we are looking forward to year three. We’ve poured a solid foundation for our marriage over the past couple years and we’re now ready to start on the framework.
Happy anniversary, dear husband. You really are the sweetest thing.