2016 In Review

2016 >> Life In Limbo

Doing a year-end review always brings me so much joy and reminds me of that old saying: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I have a tendency to feel like I’m not “doing enough” as the weeks and months go by, but taking the time to look back over the year as a whole always reminds me of how lucky I am and how much I’ve experienced. This year was a big one for me, and it’s pretty surreal to remember all that’s happened in the past 12 months. Here are my highlights from each month of 2016:

January

2016 >> Life In Limbo

My boyfriend (at the time) and I took a trip to the coast of Ecuador, to a place called Canoa Beach. We spent a few days enjoying the heat, the food, and the sheer novelty of being on a beach mid-January! Throw in some outdoor yoga classes, stunning sunsets, and beers with my toes in the sand and I was a pretty happy camper. I also tried paragliding for the first time, and despite a rough crash landing with the instructor, it was a lot of fun. Canoa, like so much of the coast, was unfortunately affected when the earthquake hit in April, so it turned out to be extra special to be able to visit when we did.

February

2016 >> Life In Limbo

The highlight of February was my friend Katie coming to visit me in Quito! We spent a week running around the city, exploring the old town, heading up El Panecillo, soaking in the baths (and hanging out with the llamas) at Papallacta, watching movies on my couch, and eating as much awesome food as we could manage. We also went to a local soccer game, checked out the drive-in movie theatre, risked our lives climbing the tower at the basilica, and took the TelefériQo up to the top of Pichincha for amazing views of the city. It was so great to show her around and to get to know Quito a bit more myself.

March

2016 >> Life In Limbo

I spent most of March getting more involved in life in Quito. I joined a book club full of awesome people, found cute coffee shops near my apartment, started teaching private yoga classes, went to a few trivia pub nights with new friends, started volunteering for a local organization, and helped run yoga in the park every Saturday. I also went to another live South American soccer game! What an experience that was, especially since it was a FIFA 2020 qualifying game, and Ecuador won.

At the very end of March and the beginning of April, I went on a press trip to the Amazon rainforest and stayed at Sacha Lodge. The experience had me pinching myself the entire time – I saw monkeys and caiman, climbed up to the top of a 600 year old tree, walked a 40m high sky canopy, went on a night walk through the jungle (very loud, very amazing), and stayed in my own private cabin complete with a hammock on the porch and a lullaby of frogs outside. It was incredible. You can read more about the adventure here.

April

2016 >> Life In Limbo

After kicking off my birthday month with a trip to the jungle, I went on to have a fabulous time back in Quito. On my birthday, my boyfriend’s family surprised me with a four-piece mariachi band that marched into the living room and played for hours while we all danced. I cried, because it was so hilarious and thoughtful – and even though I no longer live in Ecuador, the people I met there will always hold a very special place in my heart.

In April I also started an intermediate Spanish course at the local university, which was a ton of fun. My professor was a real character, a born-and-bred Quiteña with tons of personality, and it was so great to start to get a better grasp of the language.

May


This was a busy month! I finished up my Spanish course and wrote my final exams. I picked up a couple new freelance jobs. We went to a beautiful wedding and danced the night away. Toward the end of the month, I flew home for the summer, and a couple days later, we had a big beautiful party in my mom’s backyard for my Grandma’s 88th birthday!

June

2016 >> Life In Limbo

This was my first time home (besides 2 weeks at Christmas) in a very long time, so June was spent reconnecting with as many friends and family members as possible. My sisters and I took my dad out for a lovely Father’s Day dinner on the waterfront. I started sewing my very first quilt! I went to see the Making a Murderer Conversation on Justice with my friends (#fangirl #TeamStrang). On a whim, Katie booked a trip to Toronto (we are in the best LDR ever) and we spent the week exploring yet another city together: we had beers on the waterfront, saw a Jays game (which was inadvertently a Korea reunion), went for hikes, ate great food, had a campfire, and really kicked off summer.

July


My favourite month of 2016! July was packed full of things I love. One weekend, I was invited up to my friend Mike’s cottage with Laura and a group of friends, and we spent the whole time eating delicious vegan food, playing board games, stand-up paddle boarding and swimming. Another highlight was a day spent filming videos and doing photoshoots with the Red Tent Sisters at a beautiful home in Toronto.

Best of all, in July I took my now-annual (!) trip to New York City to hang out with Katie and Nancy Sue! We spent the whole time eating amazing food (special shoutouts to Benny Tudinos and Goa Taco: you have my heart now and forever), hit up The Strand and Nature Republic as much as possible, rode bikes through Central Park, played Pokemon Go in taxis, went to a Gaelic football game (and a Gaelic football afterparty), toured The Tenement Museum and did a hundred other amazing things together. Katie & I also went to Vermont with her family for gorgeous, highly strenuous hikes, gin & tonics, outdoor showers and star-gazing. Then we topped it all off with a Rob Thomas and Counting Crows concert, for the win.

August

2016 >> Life In Limbo

Without a doubt, the best part of August was bringing home Bodhi, my mom’s Golden Retriever puppy. He is the best, and really helped to make 2016 so special for our family.

August was also important for another reason: I ended my long-term relationship with my boyfriend and simultaneously decided to move to Toronto.

September

2016 >> Life In Limbo

The first words that come to mind are: busy and messy. There was a sudden death in our family, which meant a very emotional time and a bittersweet memorial service.

All at the same time, things very quickly fell into place with my new living situation, so I spent most of the month running around getting things out of storage and buying new kitchen stuff. Also, my friend Adrienne came to Toronto and we had a sleepover to celebrate our first time seeing each other in more than 2 years.

October

2016 >> Life In Limbo

Yay! I moved into my first Toronto apartment and instantly fell in love with my new neighbourhood. I hung things on walls, put things on shelves and settled into my space. I celebrated my move to Toronto by spending lots of time with my friends and exploring: tons of walks on the Sunnyside boardwalk, friend dates at adorable coffee shops, a walk down Leslie Street Spit, lots of time meandering through High Park, and leaf peeping. I also did some dogsitting with hearts in my eyes.

November

2016 >> Life In Limbo

November was a bit bumpy as I worked on finding my rhythm and building my new life. I read a lot of great library books, suffered after the election results, watched the Gilmore Girls revival, started knitting a sweater, and kept up my weekly coffee dates with Laura. My sisters and I went home to celebrate my mom’s birthday with tons of sushi and cuddles with the puppy. November was also when I had my most profitable freelance month ever!

December

2016 >> Life In Limbo

I always love December for the lead-up to the holidays, but it was even more fun this year because I was finally close to home! My whole family visited my apartment at different times, which helped to make it feel even more like home. I went to my friend Laura’s yoga jam class where her brother Ian played acoustic guitar the whole time…it was amazing. Other super-fun events included an aromatherapy workshop, hanging out my high school friends for the first time in 3 years, having a surprise lunch with my mom and Grandma, and of course, every moment of the holidays.


And so here we are, at the end of another year. When I look back like this, I feel grateful. I feel blessed. I feel excited about what hidden, wonderful opportunities 2017 might hold that I don’t know about yet.

One Second Everyday

This was my first year doing the one second everyday project and I’m so happy I did it! I definitely missed more than a few days – basically all of August, in fact – but it really doesn’t matter. Having this little record of what each day looked like is so special to me. It is also so interesting to see just how much my life has changed over the past 12 months.

Firsts of 2016

My friend Laura inspired me to think about the “firsts” I experienced this year (you can see her list here), so here are some of mine:

  • First time I sewed a quilt
  • First time I knitted a sweater
  • First time in the Amazon jungle
  • First time living in Toronto
  • First Toronto Public Library Card
  • First photo shoot for a brand
  • First time seeing a Santa Semana Easter parade
  • First time on a beach in January
  • First time paragliding
  • First time in Vermont
  • First visit to New Jersey
  • First time at Marie’s Crisis (but it won’t be the last)
  • First time visiting Wishing Well sanctuary
  • First time trying a matcha latte
  • First time my grandparents have seen an apartment of mine

 

2016 By the Numbers

  • 8 flights taken
  • 75 books read
  • 68 blog posts written
  • 2 articles published
  • 4 compensated photoshoots

 

Goals & Intentions

1. Read 75 books: ✓

I had a great year of reading! Not only did I hit my goal, I also did pretty well on this reading challenge: see my entries for the different categories here.

2. Travel to one new place a month: 8/12 ✓

  • January: Canoa, Ecuador
  • February: Historic centre of Quito
  • March: Amazon jungle (near Coca, Ecuador)
  • April: Condor Machay waterfall (near Sangolqui, Ecuador)
  • July: New Jersey and Vermont
  • August: Windsor, Ontario
  • September: Wishing Well animal sanctuary
  • October: Roncesvalles Village, Toronto

3. Write about my word for 2016 monthly: 5/12

4. Buy one thing to spark joy each month: ✓

5. Donate to charity once a month: ✓

I donate monthly to Pencils of Promise through their Passport program. I also began giving to the Ian Anderson House, a local hospice, made some one-off donations to UNHCR, and supported both my sisters’ fundraising efforts for runs they were each doing.

6. Daily goals:

  • Plan my day: I’d say this happened this year about 75% of the time. I also realized that I’m ready to drop this as a ‘goal’, because I do it when I need to and soften it when I don’t.
  • Wake up by 7AM: I didn’t count, but I’d say this only happened about 25% of the time. I’m more of an 8AM kind of gal, even if I wish I were more of a morning person.
  • Do something creative: This wasn’t really specific enough! I am creative every day, but not always “for fun” – often it’s for work, which I usually find fun anyways. I’d give this one a score of 80%.

 

My Word of the Year: Light

This was easily my favourite word out of all of the words I’ve chosen over the years. I kept up an Instagram hashtag all year to collect the photos that made me feel happy, were inspired by something positive, or that helped me find perspective during a weird or sad time. My word was catchy enough that it stayed in mind as the months went by, and broad enough that it popped up for me in so many different ways and at different times. Although this was an amazing year, it contained quite a bit of dark (as most years do). I was grateful to have this word as a reminder when things got hard.


If you’re curious, you can see more of my year-end reviews here:

201520142013 | 2012 | 2011

Happy Holidays

Happy Holidays >> Life In Limbo

After spending the weekend at my mom’s house (peaceful, cozy, nestled deep in the woods), I took the streetcar home to my own apartment. Well, first I waited in the freezing cold for 10 minutes, and when it finally arrived, it was packed to the gills with people. There was a sizeable stream of dirty water flowing up and down the car as it moved and stopped, it was steamy and smelly, and everyone was cramped in together like sardines in puffy winter jackets and clunky boots, trying to navigate the crowded space as people got on and off.

After a couple minutes, we stopped at a red light, then sat there through a green one, and then another red one. The driver got off the streetcar for a while, but nobody could tell where he had gone or why. People started complaining and muttering, a drunk guy was threatening to pick a fight, we got instructions to “move back” even though nobody could much move at all, and one lady stood next to an empty seat, blocking it with her bag even while people stood around her.

Needless to say, it was awful.

Around Christmastime we say (repeatedly), “happy holidays!”, but the fact is that this time of year is stressful, can be unpleasant, and – at least around here – is cold, slushy and dark by 4:30PM. The holidays are a time when we throw together people who often have different lifestyles and values, and who might be exhausted and totally overwhelmed. And overwhelm is a natural outcome! Maneuvering crowded shopping malls filled with long lines, worrying about choosing the right gift, being seemingly surrounded by the impatience and irritability of strangers, interacting with overtired customer service reps, dealing with that one family member who always gets on your nerves: these are all things that are trying at the best of times, and totally overwhelming at the worst.

Happy Holidays >> Life In Limbo

As I was sitting on that streetcar, I felt myself getting increasingly irritated at the situation. I was annoyed with people for complaining and jostling. I was exasperated by the girl next to me who was on the phone, talking loudly and swearing frequently. I kept thinking: if people would just keep their negativity to themselves, we’d all have a better trip.

Here’s the thing, though. As the girl’s conversation continued, I realized that she was talking about needing to help her dad move out of his apartment. Then she began talking about how hurt she was that a good friend hadn’t come to a funeral, how she hoped the landlord wouldn’t hassle her, how she had a move of her own to deal with at the same time. I suddenly realized that she didn’t need to help her dad move out – no, her father had recently passed away, and it was now her responsibility to clear out his things by the end of December.

This is all 100% true. It sounds like a cliché, like I’m writing this in order to prove some big point, but I’m not. Or maybe I am, because maybe the clichés are 100% true: everybody has a story that could break your heart. If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else’s, we’d grab ours back. Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.

Because can you imagine anything worse? I can’t. My heart broke for her, and, more importantly, I softened towards her completely. My annoyance disappeared.

Happy Holidays >> Life In Limbo

The fundamental attribution error is this belief we all tend to share, that:

  • if I do something bad, it is because of situational factors, not my deepest nature, because I am fundamentally good.
  • if others do something bad, it is because of their deepest nature, not because of situational factors.

What happened in that moment was that for a moment, in my head, I broke the fundamental attribution error. To put it differently: I gave her grace. I welcomed her into the cozy space in my mind that I normally reserve for only myself and my loved ones. I broke my automatic reaction of seeing everyone else as morons, and remembered that I, too, am a moron in some situations, as are others in some situations. If my father had just passed away, I do not know what I would do. I do not know who I would be. I imagine that I would do things much, much worse than complain and swear on a streetcar.

I’m not telling you this story because I’m some saint that doesn’t get annoyed or angry with others – I did, on that streetcar, both before and after this particular situation. I do, daily, constantly.

I’m telling you because it occurs to me that I really desperately needed this reminder, and maybe you do too. This week, there will be traffic. There will be lineups. There will be tension. There will be logistical issues and things that don’t go as planned. There will be people who rub you the wrong way. There will be strong emotions, positive and otherwise.

So, my Christmas gift to all of you is one of my very favourite things ever written: This is Water, by David Foster Wallace. I once printed this speech out and taped it to the bathroom stalls in my residence hall. I’ve played the amazing video version for countless friends, and posted it here on this blog several times before. I’ve considered getting “this is water” tattooed to my arm (or my face). It’s what I try to remember all the time, especially in trying situations. It’s not necessarily a sexy idea, but it is true, honest, and important. Maybe the most important. If you have the time, watch it. It has changed my life.

At this time of year, we talk about values like peace, connection, love, meaning, kindness, generosity. But in practice? In practice, we seem to live these values only in relation to our closest friends and family, and sometimes we struggle to do even that. We hurry, we rush, we think and act like only our own lives and our own families are important. We might not smile, or hold the door, or take a deep breath when someone is being slow to help us or downright unpleasant. We might complain or yell at other drivers in a traffic jam. We might huff and puff and sigh while waiting in line. We might snap at the people we love most, when what we really mean to say is: I see you. I love you. I’m happy you’re here. 

My sister sometimes makes fun of me for being ‘zen’, but the truth is that I’m probably the opposite. My default reaction, like everyone else’s, is to assume that all those other morons are in my way. But sometimes I remember that I have a choice, as do you, in what I believe. We will never know all the facts of a stranger’s life, which means that we can do one of two things: we can consciously choose what we want to believe, or we can just use the good old fundamental attribution error to make things simpler for ourselves (ie. quickly decide that strangers = morons in my way).

The way I (and David Foster Wallace!) see it, we might as well choose to believe something that will make our day better instead of worse. For example: it makes me angry and irritable to think that all those other morons are in my way. It helps, even if only the tiniest bit, even though the situation might still suck, to think that all these people are just as stressed, just as tired, just as full of love, and just as important as I am. Or that maybe they just got let go from their job. Or that maybe their kid is sick with the flu. Or that maybe their father just died, unexpectedly and a month before Christmas.

As DFW so beautifully puts it, “none of this is likely, but it’s also not impossible”. And really? I deeply believe that it is likely. I believe that it is true, more often than not. The girl on the streetcar proved that to me.

This week (and every week), I wish you so much love, peace, connection, joy and generosity. If I meet you on the street, I hope I will remember to stop hustling and hurrying, and smile at you. If you help me, I hope I will remember to thank you. If our paths cross, whoever we are, I hope that we will remember to give each other grace. I hope we will remember to say: I see you. I love you. I’m happy you’re here.

 

What Matters

What Matters >> Life In Limbo

My lovely friend Laura posted this on Instagram the other day:

I’ve been getting a lot of my digital photos printed recently. And I’ve realized that I have many photos, presumably taken for social media, that I have ZERO interest in getting printed – that picture of a vegan donut, of my latte, of me just looking pretty… they’re not the memories that make me happy. They’re not what I’m trying to preserve. What do I want to remember? What do I want my grandkids to find when they’re digging through my old albums? Overwhelmingly I want to preserve and frame and celebrate my relationships. I want to capture big moments, but also small ones.

Right?!?

This is the time of year I spend looking back, reflecting, noticing the wins and the lessons, my triumphs and my struggles. It’s also a time when I’m always drawn to set goals and intentions, and to decide what I want to paint (in full colour!) on that blank canvas of a whole new year. What projects do I want to start? What experiences do I want to have? What do I want to value, not just in my words, but in my actions?

I haven’t yet settled on my word for 2017, but there are a few that keep calling to me: Connection. Flow. Authenticity.

These words seem to hold a different kind of energy than in years past, when I chose words like reach, abundance, and light. This year, I’ve been asking myself what I needed more of in my life, and these are the words that popped up right away.

And I think what keeps coming up for me, through blog posts and my reading and of course posts like the caption above, is that I need to constantly remember to get back to what matters. I need to focus and re-focus on the things that truly make me feel alive. I need to remember that the phone glued to my hand is not where I find peace, except if I’m using it to call a loved one. That I don’t want what everyone else wants, and I don’t need to want those things. That reading a book is (and will always be) more valuable to me than knowing what’s going on in the pop culture world. That making memories is more important than making money.

I read this terrific post the other day which reminded me that you are what you eat (especially on the internet), so today I went on Instagram and followed a bunch of writers and spiritual teachers who remind me of what really deeply matters to me. I’ve cleaned up who I follow on Instagram before, but this time I specifically decided who to follow solely based on the messages they share, rather than the way their photos look. I’m planning to do the same on Facebook – leaving groups that tug me down black holes of reading comments, or anything that makes me feel like I need to do more, have more, or be more.

As we move towards 2017, it’s more important than ever to really take stock of what matters to each of us. It’s alarmingly easy to set completely arbitrary goals and work towards them, without really stopping to question whether or not they get to the heart of what matters. I’ve certainly done it before. I’ve done it recently!

So, here is what really matters to me, in no particular order: spending time with my family, laughing with my friends, learning new things, reading books, making things with my hands, writing, documenting my life, and being outside.

Those things have not changed for as long as I can remember. I can think of almost nothing that I deeply love and care about that does not fit into one of those categories. And so. In 2017, I want oodles more of all of these things, and I want to cut back on as much time as possible spent not doing these things.

How about you?

 

Give It Time

Give It Time >> Life In Limbo

I was looking through old photos today, and I realized something: I used to live in Korea. I lived there! For a whole year! I hadn’t forgotten of course, but it still took me a little by surprise because it suddenly felt like so long ago that it could have been another life.

Tomorrow will be exactly two months since I’ve officially lived in Toronto. Before October 1st, this city was more or less a mystery to me, despite having grown up nearby. Now I live here, it’s my home. It still doesn’t quite feel like home, but it’s getting there: I’m slowly learning the streetcar lines, and the major intersections, and the best place to buy flowers, and which cute coffee shops I like best by trying them one at a time. My family is nearby for the first time in 7 years, which feels like a peaceful miracle even though of course it’s not, it’s just that I’ve finally settled.

I’m learning how to make a life again, like I have a couple times now over the past few years. And every time, I re-learn and remember how hard it really is to find your tribe and start to feel safe and make your home feel cozy and to be yourself in a brand-new place. It’s hard, man! I say that, even though I’m so grateful for every experience and opportunity I’ve had: it’s still hard.

Looking at the pictures of my life in Korea, I saw that I really did make a life there. I found my people, some of whom are still so important in my life today. I found favourite spots in my neighbourhood. I had adventures (so many adventures!) and figured out how to run errands and how to feed myself and how to stay connected to loved ones. I (obviously) did not figure out how to do these things all on one day and then spend the rest of the year in a constant state of joy and fulfilment. The pictures I scrolled through might have told a story of ease and happiness (and of course it was both those things at times), but I still remember that it was a huge challenge and sometimes a struggle. There were sad days, and so many frustrating ones, and lonely ones, and ones where I questioned whether I was doing enough, whether I was okay the way I was or if I needed to change.

So the really beautiful thing is that I can see these photos and remember how I felt when I lived there, and I can realize, “Oh. Right. We’ve been here before.”

I can remember that day by day, this is how it feels – a lot of weird vibes and fumbling around, a lot of laughter and loveliness. A lot of wondering whether I’m doing it right, a lot of blissful moments when I know that I am.

I can also remember that “the useless days will add up to something,” that these days are my becoming. I can remember that “the days are long, but the years are short.” I can remember that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and that a life is built over time, across many small moments of light and love. I can remember that having a good life is a practice, not a place at which you arrive one day.

I can try my best to remember these things as I build a new life here again. The best part is that I know I can do it because I’ve done it before, I just have to be patient.