Saturday, December 4, 2010

Ode to a summer "funemployed"

IMG_6315My "funemployment" lasted from the end of April until September, and now that I'm part of the workforce again serving at East Side Mario's I can evaluate my decision to be jobless for four months.

IMG_6597After my Europe trip I moved out of my apartment in Hamilton and into my parents' house again. I did so without a job in Whitby and without any prospects or intention of looking for a job right away. That makes me sound like a bum, but in my defense I was also taking two online courses over the summer that demanded a lot of my time. However, looking back on my summer I can see that I could have successfully juggled school and a part time job. And probably also a gym membership.

IMG_6725IMG_6766Those four months were great! I went to Europe; enjoyed my last couple of weeks in Hamilton by going for hikes, exploring waterfalls, going to the aviary, and having a picnic on the escarpment with my sweetie; visited family; went to Cobourg beach several times in the hot summer months; celebrated birthdays; went to seven concerts; camped at Sandbanks; went to my family's cottage; relaxed; had fun; and when necessary I went to the library, studied, wrote papers and an exam.

Cobourg BeachIMG_7214IMG_7208
The positives:
  • Flexibility and freedom. School was my only obligation and since my courses were free-form and individual I could plan school around fun. I planned my library trips on days that my friends were busy. When plans were made with friends or family I was always available, so I almost never had to say no to summer fun! 
  • Relaxation. I have a habit of spreading myself too thin and becoming a big ball of stress. I work best under pressure, but it makes me a little crazy. I didn't get stressed out this summer because I was never overwhelmed, because I was never very busy. I think this has had a lingering positive effect on me, because even now that I'm juggling work, school and a social life, I feel much more capable of balancing everything, and I don't get as stressed out as I used to. It might help that I'm living rent-free... but I think my relaxing summer helped too.

The negatives:
  • Lack of income. This one is obvious; no job=no money. I knew that my Europe trip would eat into my savings quite a bit, and I was okay with that. But I thought that since I wouldn't have the same expenses living in Whitby with my parents as I did living in my apartment in Hamilton I wouldn't notice the lack of income so much. Unfortunately fun often costs money (even a trip to the beach costs money for gas and snacks), and since I had a lot of free time to fill up with fun I spent a lot of money.
  • Lack of motivation. I had all the time in the world to get school work done, and I usually didn't. It was very hard to motivate myself since a) my assignments had no deadlines, just a final end date for the courses, and b) I had no other obligations so there was nothing to keep me from procrastinating and putting off school work. I also put off other things in my life I wanted to achieve while I had so much spare time simply because I couldn't find the motivation.
  • Inactivity. There is some merit to having a routine and obligations. Now that I have a job I am more active not only on the days I work, but I want to accomplish things on my days off too. When every day is a day off it's very easy to spend them very lazily. I gained a few pounds over the summer, which I attribute to having a much less active lifestyle in Whitby than I did in Hamilton. In Hamilton I had to walk 10 minutes to take the bus to work or the library. I also walked to friends houses, to get groceries or do any other shopping, and I did a good amount of walking while at work (as all servers do). This doesn't sound like much but it added up, and cutting out all that walking had an impact. I also consistently worked out with the EA Sports Active Wii game in my living room, and though I tried to keep this up after moving home it quickly became another thing defeated by laziness. I didn't get a gym membership because of the cost, but I think I would have had a hard time motivating myself to go anyway, and it would have been a waste of money.

IMG_7639I don't like regrets and I look back on this past summer very fondly. I spent quality time with friends and family, kept up good grades, soaked up the lovely weather, and even got a tan! Now it's cold, I'm pale again, I'm working, and I even have a gym membership. I think that my current situation is much better for me. I'm "funderemployed!" I work part time, I'm still working on online courses, and I have a pretty good work-fun balance going on.

IMG_7795In conclusion, "funemployment" is great for taking trips or seriously tackling something in your life unrelated to work (ie: learning a second language, learning how to cook, etc). But you have to replace work with something else that will keep you going. Basically, you need a reason to get out of bed in the morning (instead of noon) other than driving to the beach to play and nap. It's a slippery slope of laziness if you let it be! But maybe time to relax is what you need, and if that's the case my advice is to wait until summer; it's the best time to unapologetically embrace laziness.

    Thursday, November 11, 2010

    Lest We Forget

    ...and Support Our Troops?

    I don't want to be as controversial as to say that I don't support our troops. As complicated as it would be, I want to live in a world without war, thus I'm reluctant to "support the troops" because I don't support war. This leads me to my dilemma today, Remembrance Day. I remember the assemblies in elementary school each year on November 11th, and how my teachers expressed the importance of being thankful for the soldiers that put their lives on the line for my freedom, and those assemblies made me very emotional. What I don't remember, however, is my teachers mentioning that Remembrance Day is also a day to support the troops.  Is that what teachers are saying now? An advertisement I heard on the radio encourages Canadians to wear a poppy (though it sounds distinctly like puppy) this November to remember those who served our country, and those currently serving.

    To me, this is a day to remember the sacrifices veterans made for our freedom. But I am not of the opinion that the war in Afghanistan is related to my freedom (or anyone else's for that matter). If people want to show their support for the troops on Remembrance Day, that's fine, but that's not my aim. My dilemma is the Poppy: do I wear one to show my remembrance of lives lost? Or not wear one because of my objection to current conflicts around the world? The latter won out simply because I could not reconcile these concerns. And I feel bad today, though I took the minute of silence, I am Poppy-less. I feel like a bad Canadian.

    Today I stumbled upon two articles, one from, the other from The National Post, that offer a solution: white poppies. This symbol "isn't meant to act as competition, but as an alternative effort to mark Remembrance Day - a symbolic gesture to remember fallen soldiers and an opportunity to send an anti-war message." Perfect! This so completely expresses how I feel about Remembrance Day, but unfortunately (though not surprisingly) it has upset many veterans who find it disrespectful. While I can understand that standpoint, my opinion is that the white poppy is a way for those who oppose war to respectfully honour the lives lost during war, and stand up with veterans, not against them.  

    Another appealing aspect of the white poppy campaign is that it was started by women. The article quotes Claire Hurtig, a local activist and union organizer in Montreal, who says, "It is particularly important to note that it is women who started this campaign because not only soldiers die in wars, it is also civilians, particularly women, who suffer greatly in times of war." I have always been interested in how war really affects women, as opposed to how they are portrayed in war films as the "woe is me" wife/girlfriend of a soldier abroad (ahem, Pearl Harbour, I'm looking at you). 

    One flaw in this solution is that the proceeds from white poppies go to peace organizations instead of to veterans. While I am fine with supporting peace organizations I also think that supporting veterans is still important, even while advocating against war. 

    So perhaps next year I will buy and wear a white poppy, but put my toonie in the Salvation Army red poppy box as well. Or maybe I'll wear both poppies? I think they look quite nice together. Ask me on 11/11/11.

    Sunday, October 17, 2010

    My Europe Trip- Part 2, May 5th-12th, 2010


    On Wednesday we moved on to Paris, and after checking into our hostel, Le Village (where we had a private room that night, which was marvelous!), we explored our neighbourhood, Montmartre. We saw Sacre Coeur, Au Lapine Agile Cabaret, which is where Picaso used to hang out, had wine and cappuccino at a cute cafe, then Kaiti and I raced up some stairs- I won, but stepped in dog poop, learning that there are no poop scoop laws in Paris, gross. Then we walked around the area some more, I got a banana and nutella crepe, which was super delicious and we got a nice view of Sacre Coeur at night. There is also an amazing view of Paris from Sacre Coeur, which is gorgeous at night, and gave us our first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower. Unfortunately at this point in the trip I was starting to get a bit of a cold, and my second pair of flip flops died in Munich to be replaced by an uber shitty pair from an "Accessorize" store in the train station that were wrecking my feet. I would have killed for vegan Birkenstocks at that point, and yes, I see the irony.


    On Thursday we walked around for awhile and saw a very interesting mix of businesses. We were near the Moulin Rouge (which was really cool... redeeming itself from the terrrrrible movie), so it was basically the "sex" district. There were very nice and expensive looking cafes and bars right next to sex shops. We also saw a sex museum with a very interesting chair in the window... there was a hole in the seat, and a rotating tongue mechanism... a couple of police officers laughed at us while we were discussing it.

    Then we met with Amber, a friend from McMaster who is living in England and came to visit us in Paris. We had a lovely French lunch (my meal was just cheese in a baguette- very French, and delicious), and then went to Musee d'Orsay. It's an amazing museum converted from an old train station, but my cold was getting worse, so I only saw about half the pieces because I was wiped out. They had a crime and punishment exhibit that was really cool and creepy, featuring a good mix of fictional works as well as historical depictions and photographs, ending with a disturbing piece by David Lynch. My mom was upset to find out that I didn't actually go in the Louvre (I saw the outside on the walking tour!), but I think this smaller museum was perfect for me, as I'm not exactly an art buff.

    Next we stopped at the Shakespeare and Company Bookstore. I felt that I needed to buy something from such an amazing bookstore, so I bought Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point... which I have yet to read. (*Edit: I finally read the book in February, 2011. I highly recommend it*). Then we bought a bottle of wine to drink on the River Seine. Well... Hayley and Amber drank the wine, Kaiti and I copped out with tea, but it was still lovely. As we were sitting and enjoying the nice Parisian evening, two young Frenchmen approached us and we chatted with them for awhile. I was worried they would push one of us in the river or rob us, but luckily they were nice guys. I won a thumb war, and we were taught some dance moves, then they went on their way. After we said goodbye to Amber, we returned to the hostel and chatted with a young fellow traveler from Winnipeg on the terrace (from which we could see Sacre Coeur). She's only 18, traveling by herself, with a fiddle, and speaks fluent French. She's my hero.

    On Friday Hayley and I went to the post office so that we could ship home the massive and heavy beer steins we bought in Munich, and I (finally) mailed the post cards I bought in Berlin, Munich, and Paris. Then Kaiti and I did the New Europe walking tour, while Hayley went to Musee de Cluny, France's middle ages museum. The walking tour took us to Pont Neuf, the oldest bridge in Paris; a statue of King Henry IV, and our tour guide told us about his assassination, and the horrible way the assassin was killed by the people because of how much they loved Henry; L'Académie française, where they preserve the sanctity of the French language by making up new words (like ordinateur, because computer was too non-French) and determining the gender of things (such as iPods, which are male, by the way); outside the Louvre; Jardin des Tuileries; and Champs d'Elysses.


    Then, as Kaiti and I were trying to figure out how to get back to the hostel on the subway, a drunk man approached and started talking to us. He seemed harmless at first, but became rather scary. We put our tickets in and went through the turnstiles to get away from him, but he pushed his way through with Kaiti, kicking her in the process. A security guard saw what happened, and came over to yell at Kaiti for letting him through without paying!! We told her the situation, and said that the man was harassing us, but she did nothing about it. She didn't even kick him out for not paying!! Luckily he sauntered off in the other direction when we went to get on the subway. When we got back to the hostel we met up with Hayley, ate dinner and then stumbled on an impromptu jam session on the terrace with the awesome Winnipegger and another traveler.

    Then we went to a restaurant near the Eiffel Tower that Hayley's Dad recommended for drinks and dessert (I had a poached pear, covered in chocolate, so delicious!), then we went to the Eiffel Tower, which was just as wonderful as I had imagined- though mighty chilly and windy on the second level observation deck.

    On Saturday we went to Père Lachaise Cemetery, and I cursed cobble stones: although they look charming, they were hell on my sore feet. Then we went shopping around the 1er Arrondissement area on the Rue de Rivoli, we bought some lovely clothes, and I finally bought some comfortable flip flops.

    Then we went on a pub crawl- which was not of the same calibre as the other ones we had been on so far. There were far too many people, mostly Canadians, and the crawl consisted of bars not unlike any bars in Toronto. So it basically felt like a night out at home, not exactly what we wanted. My raging cold took over and I left after the 2nd bar, but Kaiti and Hayley had a good night.

    On Sunday we said goodbye to the lovely Paris and ventured to the beautiful Bruges! Our hostel, Snuffel, was very nice, and we shared a 4-bed room with a socially awkward American man with one hand. He was a really nice guy, but I couldn't help thinking that if our trip was a horror movie, he would be the red herring suspect, and the killer would really be one of us! Dun dun dunnnnn!

    Our Belgian buddy Matthias took us to a park and we had a cold but wonderful picnic by the river. We fed (and chased) ducks, ate like kings (seriously, Matty brought so much delicious food! Box of wine, home made dip, plenty of vegetarian things, and totally nut free! Lucky us!!), and took in the gorgeous scenery and sunset. Then we walked around a carnival, went out to a couple of bars and tried some of Belgium's wonderful beers (which come with cheese and spicy mustard).

    Monday was delicious and gorgeous! We walked around Bruges doing a little shopping; went to the chocolate museum where we learned the history of chocolate, sampled some freshly made goodies, and saw Choc-Obama; and then took a boat cruise. There were so many swans and ducks, and our friends now think Canadians are obsessed with birds. Our other Belgian friend Thibault took Hayley and I to a take-out restaurant that is famous for its (vegetarian) fries, and I was officially converted to mayo on fries when I tried their homemade mayo. The lady there was so nice, she translated the whole menu for us! We took our fries and had another lovely picnic by an old windmill, and then walked back to the hostel through the "slums" of Bruges- which made south Oshawa look like a third world shanty town.

    At night we hung out with some fellow Canadians from our hostel, and then, box of wine in hand, ventured to the buffalo bridge (dedicated to Canadian veterans) where we cheers-ed to Canada's liberation of Bruges in WWII. We walked by a little canal-side park, full of ducks and swans. The swans were nesting there, and we even saw some unattended swan eggs. We were a little terrified. Except Thibault, who ran right up to a swan. It squawked and fanned its feathers at us, so we ran away a little. We went to a bar and drank more Belgian beer, and then explored Thibault's grandma's 17th century house that he is renovating. The house was incredibly cool. Very 70s-fresh with wallpaper on the ceilings, but also charming, with just enough creepiness in the basement and attic.

    Amsterdam (The conclusion)
    On Tuesday Hayley and I said goodbye to our friends and my new favourite small town, and journeyed to Amsterdam, our final stop on the trip. Kaiti stayed in Bruges for an extra night because there were a few more things she wanted to see there, and not so much she wanted to do in Amsterdam.

    At this point, traveling became so familiar for me that I didn't take very many pictures (and there was a garbage strike in Amsterdam this time around, so it wasn't as gorgeous as when we landed in April). But Amsterdam was a blast! On Tuesday Hayley and I settled into our hostel, The Flying Pig Downtown (which had kitties!), and saw the red light district on a rainy New Europe tour. One very interesting part of the tour was a store called the "Condomerie," which sells custom sized condoms as well as hilarious novelty condoms. We never got the timing right and they were always closed when we were in the area, so no one got awesome animal or Darth Vader condoms as a souvenir. Sorry friends. The tour ended at a bar called the Winston Kingdom, where we hung out with a new friend, an American named Ben. Then we went to a coffee shop, and... chilled out for the night.

    On Wednesday Hayley and I did some shopping, and then walked to Anne Frank House. The walk was very lovely (minus all the garbage), and we only got a little bit lost. Amsterdam is pretty easy to navigate because of the canals running through, and the tourist area isn't terribly big so we could walk to most places from the hostel. The Anne Frank House was amazing, inspiring, and terribly sad all at once. When I think about it now, I'm left inspired by Anne's overall hope despite her situation.

    When we got back to the hostel, Kaiti had just arrived, so after getting settled we met up with Ben and went out for dinner. The restaurant we chose seemed really funky and awesome. It was very colourful with unique furniture, a bar cat, live music, and a decent menu. However, despite pleasing aesthetics, it was a very poor choice, because we were incredibly hungry and our food took over an hour. They don't tip in Amsterdam, so apparently (at least at that place) they don't care about quality of service. After we were (finally!!!!) fed, we went to the Winston Kingdom for a Flatliners' concert. When we got there we got awesome Malibu cowboy hats, which we wore all night, even though we were made fun of by the coat check guy. Unfortunately, as we found in many other places on our trip, the bar allowed smoking inside, so it was FULL of smoke and thus hard to breathe, but we mostly got used to it. Kaiti wasn't feeling well so she went back to the hostel early.

    The opening bands were not bad, and the Flatliners were great! It was very nice at that point in the trip to see a Toronto band, while surrounded by people who didn't speak English. Kind of refreshing and humbling at the same time. I spent the whole show in the mosh pit, which is something I hadn't done in ages, and I had an absolute blast! When the show was over, we left the Winston Kingdom to find a coffee shop. As we stumbled out onto the street, we ran into a fellow stumbler. He was asking us how to get back to his hostel, but there was a communication barrier. He spoke English, but was deaf. He could read lips, and carried a note pad to help with any miscommunications. He was also on mushrooms and absolutely hilarious. He accompanied us to the coffee shop, and I had an awesome time getting to know him, while Hayley further acquainted herself with Ben. In the end, we accidentally pointed our new friend Chase in the wrong direction (which we found out when we passed his hostel on our way home), but learned later that he made it back safely. Overall, one of the best/most randomly awesome nights of my life.

    Thursday was our last day of the trip. We took a tram to the Van Gogh museum, which was really great, and explored that area of Amsterdam a little. We took the standard touristy pictures in front of "I amsterdam," and bought some souvenirs, then took a tram to do some more shopping (no wonder I spent so much money on the trip!) Next, we went to the Sex Museum, which had a lot of robotic mannequins participating in lewd acts. Upon entering the museum, we were flashed by a particularly creepy mannequin man.

    Then we met up with Ben for our last European dinner at an Irish pub (which was carefully pre-selected as being vegetarian and allergy friendly). Then we went to a very cute bar where we had the "attic" to ourselves, and drank really good beer (Kaiti was pleased that they served screw drivers). The walls in our booth were covered in "art" on coasters, so of course we made our own coaster art to leave our mark on Amsterdam. 

    Then we tried to find a coffee shop, but none were open (they all close at about midnight). So we ventured back to the hostel, skipping and boisterously singing Spirit of the West's "Home For A Rest" (which Ben had never heard of.... pfffft, Americans). The others went to bed (since us gals had a very long flight ahead of us the next day), but I soaked up the last few hours of Europe Trip 2010 glory by hanging out in the Flying Pig's lounge. I didn't take any pictures of the lounge, but I found this one on their website:

    The area on the right is a completely pillowed sitting area, and it says no sleeping, but I found out that people commonly do. It was very comfy, so I can see why. I chatted with some fellow travelers, and shared the last of my Amsterdam fun with them. It was a lovely way to end the trip.

    Friday was completely bittersweet. I missed Tyson (my boyfriend) and Penny Lane (my cat) like CRAZY, and was pretty worn out, so I couldn't wait to get home. But I also had the time of my life on the trip, so I was sad that it had to come to an end. We were hoping to get some duty-free booze at the airport, but there was an issue with the flight being overbooked, so we had to check in right away to help ensure we could actually get on the flight. At Schipol Airport, you go through security before entering the boarding gate, so once you're in you can't walk around or shop (or use the bathroom!!!!), so we were there awhile. We got on the flight fine, but sat nowhere near each other. It was a pretty good flight, same good food ("delicious meal" indeed), but no crying babies or obnoxious drunk people this time. I really enjoyed flying over the east coast and Ontario, because it was during the day this time (and I had the window seat), so I could actually see it.

    I got a ride home with Hayley's parents, and was greeted by Tyson with a big hug, flowers and my first home (re: not hostel- even though they had kitchens, nary was a full substantial meal made) cooked meal in weeks. It was very lovely, and I struggled to stay up past 10pm. Jet lag was a bitch.

    Auf Wiedersehen, na shledanou, au revoir, tot ziens, goeiedag, good bye Europe!!! It was an amazing journey, and I can't wait to do it again!