Archive for the 'places' Category

Rejuvination

I just had the perfect weekend. I don’t mean to brag, but sometimes you just get that weekend sweet spot where you find the perfect mix of activity and lounging to leave you rested but not resenting the next day at work.

First, it helped that I had a 4-day weekend. Who doesn’t love extending long weekends with their last vacation day before year-end on May 31st. I had Friday off and Monday was a holiday and I had absolutely NOTHING planned.

My past few weekends before this one were jam packed with activities and driving. A few weeks ago I headed to my parents (about 2.5 hours away) to celebrate Mother’s Day with my lovely mom and last weekend my sister came home from Trinidad (!) and there was airport pick ups and driving home (again) and all around busyness. They were both wonderful weekends, but wonderful in the way that leaves you exhausted and totally unprepared for the week ahead.

This past weekend was none of those things.

On Friday, Matt and I took a spontaneous trip to our favourite conservation area – Mount Nemo – for a wonderful hike. The weather was gorgeous and we took the long, scenic way there which took us through a few cute little hamlets and past beautiful farmland We also saw an Aston Martin out for a drive, so that was exciting!

View from the top of the escarpment.

Matt exploring and me trying not to freak out that he’s going to fall and die.

Saturday night involved a night out dancing with friends. I danced my heart out and the aches and pains I currently feel are totally worth it. In other news, when did I get so old that a night out dancing results in days of an aching back and neck and a massive charlie horse that WON’T GO AWAY in my calf?

Sunday and Monday were spent taking lots of walks around the neighbourhood in between the thunder storms, watching Firefly and getting some housework done.

Overall, I started this Tuesday back in the office feeling refreshed and ready to work. It was a nice switch from the past couple weeks and I hope I can make it last for the whole week. Considering it’s a 4-day week, I think I can probably make that happen.

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I think I’ve gone soft

I used to be an awesome traveler. But, as mine and Matt’s trip gets closer, I’m starting to second guess my travel skills. It’s been five years since I’ve done any travel that required a flight other than business trips and I think I’ve gone soft.

On business trips, I usually get put up in a posh hotel and I can often finagle AT LEAST one steak dinner out of the whole experience. But, for our trip to Europe, our budget is significantly smaller than my employer’s. We’re going the traditional young traveler route and staying in hostels most of the time. We don’t have a whole lot of spending money and plan on taking advantage of the kitchens in our hostels so we don’t have to eat out for every meal. We do have an apartment to ourselves for our stay in the Scottish Highlands, but most of our trip will be spent in bunk rooms.

On my last travel adventure, I spent 4 months in India and I grew accustomed to staying in accommodations that left a lot to be desired in the comfort, cleanliness and safety departments (also pretty much every other department, for the record). In once place in Pondicherry, we squished 5 to a room and everyone got bed bug bites. In another place in Rajasthan, I paid $1/night for a bed in a 12-bed room with one shower and a hole in the floor for a toilet. I also got used to squat toilets, carrying my own toilet paper and having showers using a bucket and a plastic cup (I even helped a friend dye her hair with this bucket/plastic cup method. Why someone would dye their hair while in India is a story for another day).

In fact, I once stayed in an actual shanty (sort of):

But, I have decidedly gone soft. Travel nowadays means business travel where I get my own hotel room in a reputable hotel with lots of fluffy white towels and room service if I so choose. I get a king size bed to myself and once, I stayed in a hotel that had those fancy sleep number beds where I got to play with the controller making the bed softer and firmer while I watched the Real Housewives of Orange County.

I had this view of Vancouver when I traveled there for a conference last year:

And now, I’m off to Europe and I don’t know how well I’ll handle bringing my own towels and bunking with 10 other people. I’d like to think I can still cut it and carry my backpack like a pro, but I worry that I like 400 thread count sheets and free wifi WAY too much for my own good.

But, I think getting a once in a lifetime chance to ride an old steam train through the Scottish Highlands (Hogwarts Express!!!), see Buckingham Palace and drink beer in an Edinburgh pub makes up for the fact that I may have to back some ear plugs and sleep in a dorm room.

Planning for vacation is *almost* as much fun as the vacation itself

The days are booked off and the flights are paid for. It’s official, Matt and I are finally getting a chance to travel together.

Matt and I both love to travel and we’ve been very fortunate to have a lot of opportunities to do so. But, we’ve never had an opportunity to travel overseas together.

In fact, for the first year of our relationship, we were both so good at traveling on our own that we spent 6 of those 12 months apart. I spent 4 months in India and he spent 2 months gallivanting around Europe.

But, it seems after 6 years together, our time has come to upgrade our road trips and camping adventures to a vacation involving an airplane! We’re off to the UK in June and I couldn’t be more excited. We haven’t solidified our plans beyond the flights, but we are tentatively planning some time in London and then we are probably going to head to the Scottish highlands.

London is Matt’s favourite city of all time. He has visited a number of time with his family and on his own and he is super excited to be going back. I’ve never been to London and I’m really looking forward to him showing me around.

As for the Scottish Highlands, we kind-of, sort-of arbitrarily chose this area of the UK because of this:

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Why, yes. That is indeed the Hogwarts Express from Harry Potter. It’s a real steam train ride you can take through the Scottish highlands and it is supposed to be breathtaking.

We haven’t totally settled on the plan to go to the Highlands to take this train, but it’s pretty high on the list of things to do. This itinerary would also give us an opportunity to hike Ben Nevis, the highest point in the UK. That hike would be totally reasonable and not exhausting or terrifying at all.

{via}

Whether we stick to the Scottish Highland plans or head off to Wales or Ireland, I don’t think it really matters. Whatever we decide to do will be awesome. But, if you have any suggestions of places to go in the UK, send ’em my way!

A little less summer-y than summer should be

I love summer. Who doesn’t really? Do you ever hear anyone say “You know, I’m not such a big fan of summer.”? No. Because everyone loves summer.

But this summer has seemed a little lacking.

Yes it’s been hot. Yes it’s been sunny and yes I’ve worn my fair share of summer dresses. But, for some reason, this summer doesn’t feel all that summer-y to me.

I think I’m still adjusting to this whole real-world, grown-up phenomenon in which you don’t change jobs for the summer. I’ve been in my current job for 2 years now and I started pretty much right out of university. Despite this, sitting in the same cubicle in July as I was in March seems strange to me.

Prior to this whole real-world, grown-up biz-nass, summer meant a change of pace. Summer meant school was out and camp was in. It meant I woke up and put play clothes on instead of school clothes. It meant hours walking fields looking for bugs. Summer meant going to the beach on weekends and catching up with old friends.

Now, summer means putting on the light-weight skirt instead of the darker more fall-appropriate dress. It means open-toed wedges instead of tasteful pumps. Lunches are spent escaping from the frigid air conditioned office to the patio where you can shirk your cardigan and bare your shoulders.

For me, this summer has been lacking the dirt and grit that I grew up with. All through high school and university my summer jobs were outside jobs. I was a camp councilor who would marvel at that fact that I was being paid (albeit not much) to have sponge wars with 8 year olds and to mediate ice cream sundae eating contests – “whoa! That was a spoon-use violation! 20 second penalty.”

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When I wasn’t working at summer camps I had jobs in agriculture outside in the field. I drove around in a truck, walked through soybean fields scouting for bugs and disease. I dug up roots and identified weeds. I chatted with farmers and quickly changed from the pop to the country radio station before pulling into a farm house. I helped plant research plots and raced around on an ATV mapping fields of seed corn.

Before the real-world, grown-up biz-nass came knocking, I spent my summers with dirt under my finger nails, grass stains on my shorts and my hair pulled back in french braids.

I don’t miss it all. I love my job and the work that I do in that cubicle totally makes up for the fact that I’m in a cubicle. I love that I can sport coloured nail polish not to hide my dirt-stained fingernails but because I think it’s cute. Now when I get a tan, I know I’m not going to see it wash off in the shower as it wasn’t a tan at all just a fine layer of dirt.

But, I do miss it a little bit.

I hope to get some of it back soon. We’re heading to Matt’s family cottage in northern Michigan for a weekend. I plan to spend a great deal of time reading on the dock with my SPF 45 but I also plan on getting sweaty paddling the canoe and sandy in the dunes. I hope I get to see some of my tan wash off in the lake and I plan on sporting a french braid at least one afternoon. I also won’t shy away from a few grass stains or an ice cream sundae eating contest.

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Duck parades and cotton fields

This past week I had the great opportunity to travel for work. Now, I know that for some, traveling for work is all about the hassle of airport security and small bottles of shampoo but I don’t travel for work that often and those shampoo bottles are still a novelty I stuff in my bag anxiously awaiting for the hotel staff to replenish the counter with new ones (I swear, they appear like magic!).

This wasn’t my first work trip but it was certainly an exciting one. I was off to Memphis, Tennessee for a whorl-wind tour of press conferences at the Peabody Hotel and farm tours in Arkansas (I work in agriculture, yo. Have I told you that before?).

For me and my vanity, the most challenging part of the trip was figuring out how to pack. I was only gone for 2 nights and 3 days and I was traveling with a group of people. Therefore, I didn’t really want to have to check any luggage. I envisioned myself waltzing into the airport with my carry-on and whizzing by all those schmucks waiting to get their bags checked.

But as many seasoned travelers know, there are rules about traveling with liquids, aerosols and gels. What would I do about my HAIR PRODUCTS. I was going to MEMPHIS with curly hair in the middle of JULY! I need several products to calm my frizz on a regular day, how would I manage with soaring temperatures and 80% humidity!

I scoured the pharmacy shelves the night before I departed desperate for a hair solution that would meet the airports 100ml bottle restrictions. I ended up settling with some sort of scrunching gel product for curly hair. For a girl who swears by the volume-enhancing and touchable outcome of mousse, this was most definitely a second-rate product.

But, when no one else in my group checked luggage, I was relieved at my prudent hair taming choices.

We arrived in the birthplace of Rock n Roll with little fanfare. The farm tours took us across the Mississippi River into Arkansas and it was a real eye-opener to drive through some of the small towns there. Small town-Arkansas seems to really be struggling with lots of failing infrastructure and boarded up homes. It made me ever more grateful for how good small-town Ontario has it.

In seeming direct contrast to the trials of rural towns in Arkansas was the green fields of cotton, soybeans and sorghum and the blinding lights of Memphis.

The conference was held at the Peabody Hotel and although we stayed in a very nice hotel down the street, the Peabody was truly spectacular. The hotel’s main attraction is the ducks that swim in the fountain in their lobby. Every day the ducks parade in on a red carpet after taking the elevator down from their home on the roof at 11am (I wish I could sleep in till 11). I was lucky enough to watch them parade out at 5pm as they walked the red carpet home for the evening.

Apparently the whole duck thing started back in the 1930s when 2 men were out hunting. Back then it was legal to use live decoy ducks and after a bit of Tennessee whiskey they decided that it would be more fun to place their live decoys in the Peabody fountain instead of bringing them home to the farm. The prank didn’t have the outcome they expected when the ducks pliantly stayed put and hotel guests oohed and awwed.

I joined past generations and did my own oohing and awwing as the Duck Master led them home. Yes. The Duck Master. That is a job that exists in real life.

I was also lucky enough to spend some time on Beale Street in the evening and enjoy a pint while listening to a live blues band. To be honest, Beale Street wasn’t quite what I expected. It had more of a college party vibe and less of the sophisticated blues vibe that I was expecting. Either way, it was pretty weird for me to be legally drinking a pint in the middle of the street. I kept looking over my shoulder expecting the cops to come shut the street party down.

Fortunately, I left the city with no police record and our flights home were equally uneventful.

I’m excited about more travel opportunities for work. I would really like to see more of North America. There are so many places in both Canada and the US that I would love to visit!

Putting an end to The Wallow

These past few weeks have been a little tough for me. Despite the amazing-ness of this sunshiny weather, I’ve been feeling less than awesome about the upcoming summer.

This warm, humid, sunshiny weather reminds me of the years I spent working at a summer camp. Summers past found me with a standard uniform of cargo shorts and tank tops. I would wake to a ringing bell and not worry about brushing my hair before stumbling into the sun to find 100 smiling children and a day full of crafts, running, swimming and face paint ahead of me.

I love my job, but it’s primarily an office job (although I do get to go tour farms every once in a while. Farm days are my favourite days). It’s hard not to fall into a bit of a seasonal slump when you trudge into a climate controlled, weather-neutral workspace which features tauntingly large but unopening windows giving you a perfect visual to the outdoors but no way to actually enjoy them.

I’ve been longing for the summer where I used to wear my watch tan line with pride; the summer where I used to muscle children out of the 2 feet of clay they got stuck in; the summer where I would invent games to entertain children for hours with simple props like Popsicle sticks and milk crates (I worked at a POOR camp); the summer where I would marvel at my ‘tan’ only to see it wash off in the hose and realize that it was just a nice layer of dirt.

I haven’t worked at camp in years, but I still miss it. I miss being outside and wearing french braids.

But, the time for wallowing has come to an end. I need to get out of this slump, pull up my big girl panties and start enjoying this summer.

To help me with this plan to end The Wallow, I have created a(n incomplete) list of fun things I will do this summer:

  • Become a girl who wears nail polish – I have nice nails, I should colour them.
  • Fall in love with all of my old jewelry again and find ways to wear it – I have a lot of chunky, ethnic-looking jewelry from when I was a pseudo-hippie in University. It was all delegated to weekend wear when I got a big-girl job and then it went from weekend wear to being forgotten. I think it’s about time I reclaim those hippie days and match that rockin’ bejeweled faux-silver cuff with some dress capris and a stylish, yet office appropriate top. And yes, I will be sporting that obnoxiously chunky ring in the board meeting. Deal with it.
  • Run a 5 km race.
  • Grow a vegetable – I only have a small balcony but, by golly, I will grow some cherry tomatoes!
  • Train and complete a mini-triathlon.
  • Get outside more – I want to explore the trails around my city and I want to find some activities that let me re-live my glory camp days. Anyone up for some Capture the Flag? (seriously, who wants to play?)
  • Find a friend with a pool – If you follow me on twitter, you will already be aware that I am currently accepting applications for this position.
  • Spend more time drinking on patios at local pubs with friends and host auditions for “Claire’s favourite summer beer.”
  • Party with my family at my brother’s wedding and all the events leading up to it.
  • Plan an awesome vacation with Matt for the end of the summer before he starts school again – we’re currently considering Washington, DC but Boston is also an option. Please advise.
  • Spend at least one weekend at a cottage – do you have a cottage? Can I come visit?
  • Wear summer dresses as much as possible.
  • Continue to expand my music library – I am slowly breaking out of my pop-radio-only slump and I’d like to keep on that.
  • Expand my sandal and summer shoe options.
  • Get dirty – whether it’s from gardening, hiking or an awesome game of Capture the Flag (seriously, please let me know if you want to play), summer isn’t summer without getting a little messy.

That’s all of I’ve got for now, but I’m sure there will be more to add to it. This should be enough to hold the wallow at bay for at least a little while.

What are your summer plans?

Montreal-Ottawa Adventures

Although I’ve been back for nearly a week, I just took the photos off my camera from my vacation to Montreal and Ottawa. Join me on a photo tour of my vacation. I promise it’s mostly worthwhile to keep going if only for one specific photo of this amazing sub-culture of absolute craziness that I learned about in Montreal.

After a long-ass drive filled with great new music and some amazing story-telling podcasts brought to you by the Vinyl Cafe (seriously, if you are unaware of who Stewart McLean is, check him out. He’s well-known in Canada as one of the best story tellers).

Upon arrival in Montreal (7.5 hours later!) there was pub-hopping to do and hockey games to watch. The following day, M and I hit up the Biodome which is this awesome mix of zoo and museum.

M and I at the Biodome. Check out the awesome forest behind us.

They had these cute, weird little birds there running around like they owned the place. There were signs up everywhere that warned you not to touch them but they were so damn friendly I was wishing that I had brought a bigger purse in which to shove them in and take them home as pets.

Then there were these beautiful creatures. Although they were totally beautiful, I was less inclined to take them home with me because they would probably clash with my more subdued home decor. Although, those design shows always say you need a splash of colour in a room. Hmmm….

The trip also involved an unsavory night on the town of which I will not post photos for all the world to see cause I like my friends and do not wish to draw unwanted attention from the authorities.* However, I will say that the evening did begin with a rockin’ birthday dinner for M at a classy place that provides you with sombreros on your birthday!

The other highlight of the Montreal portion of my trip was Tam Tams. Apparently, every Sunday in the summer in Montreal people gather at Mont Royal for a huge party. The highlight of the party is all the drums. People bring drums and form impromptu drum circles complete with dancing, drinking, smoking and that guy in the tye dye shirt.

It’s truly a remarkable experience. There were probably over 2000 people there of all walks of life. You had the traditional hippie types with their dread locks and joints but you also had the parents with their little kiddies in strollers enjoying the music, the tourists and the seniors and everyone in between.

Although the music was great, the best part was the people we found a little ways up the hill. While walking through the crowds we stumbled across something truly remarkable. We stumbled across a battle:

Apparently, there is a group of people (there were well over 100 there at the time) that get together to battle. After watching for a while, I determined a few things:

  • There seems to be no dress code for such situations. Some people, as you see the two boys above, were dressed in everyday clothes. Others were dressed in full body armour. The armour ranged from full medieval traditional garb to outfits more befitting of hobbits in the Lord of the Rings. One guy (sorry I couldn’t get a photo) was clearly inspired by Russel Crow in Gladiator and had a Roman-esque outfit complete with big fur pelts.
  • There is no age limit. Although the boys above are young, there were men and a few women there that were well into adult-hood enjoying it all the same.
  • They were definitely organized. From what I could tell they were playing some form of capture the flag. There was definitely a King (he had a crown more like Cesar’s golden leaves than a European crown). There were even people around the battle who were in ‘training.’ They were being trained by more experienced battlers on proper battle etiquette and weapon use. In the one training match, the King came to observe and was clearly impressed because he greeted the trainee with some secret handshake. The trainee was clearly overjoyed but trying to keep his cool in front of the King.

My friend C informed us all that this strange hobby was called LARPing (Live Action Role Playing) and was sort of the real-life off-shoot of those fantasy games like Dungeons and Dragons (I’m sure if C was wrong on this someone will correct me). No matter what it was it was such a mixture of super weird and super awesome that I was mesmerized. We stayed and watched the battle for over an hour. We all picked out of favourites and had mini bets going on. I think we had just as much fun watching as they did playing.

Post Montreal, I headed to Ottawa to visit my friend K and her puppy. The puppy is at that awesome ‘teenager’ stage where their legs are a little too long for their body and they are super cute and super awkward all at the same time (once again, sorry no photo, my batteries are almost dead at this point).

I did however get a photo of K and I at parliament hill.

Not the greatest photo, but in true Ottawa fashion, the beautiful warm, sunshiny weather had turned into a windy, snowy day of gloom so we were both cold and tired and wind-swept by the time we made it to the Hill.

Ultimately it was an awesome vacation with just the right ratio of party-chill out and relax-touristy stuff. It’s not often you achieve the perfect ratio, most vacations tend to fall into one of the three categories, or 2 at the best. But this one was pretty damn near perfect.

What was the last vacation you took? Was it everything you wanted it to be?

*If you happen to be the authorities, I assure you that nothing illegal happened on our night(s) out. But, please don’t tell my friends, I don’t want to lose my street cred.


Hi There!


I'm Claire. I like to write about ridiculous things.

I love chocolate but don't think cheese and cake belong together.

I often wish it was socially acceptable to wear glitter before 10pm.

If you want to chat, email me at clairesuzanne1 at gmail dot com.

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