Waking Up In Canada

Time Out Just To See

Another Year Over December 31, 2011

Filed under: New Year,Travel — wakingupincanada @ 4:28 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

And what have I not done? It has been a heck of a year.

As I look back, it is like an adventure unwinding. It began with meeting a new best friend in the early hours of January 1st. The month wasn’t over when I had the dream of running away, and I knew I was leaving Ireland for a while. I spent 2 wonderful months in Dunfanaghy, my hometown, under the refuge of my parents, enjoying it in a way I had never done before. I hung out with my 2 nieces and learned the importance of play to a happy life. I spent time with old friends. And, when I was ready, I booked my ticket and flew away.

I cried at the airport, was amazed by Casa Loma, walked the streets of Toronto and looked down at a baseball game from the CN Tower. I soaked myself in the spray of Niagara Falls, and took a long hike out to the Glens and got a little lost, finding the most beautiful view of the Whirlpool accidentally. I talked to strangers and made friends for a little while in children. I drank a peanut butter hot chocolate in Montreal and ran along the water’s edge. I was asked to go swimming by a man my father’s age in the middle of a park. I saw an outdoor adults’ gym of sorts, so easily done, I will bring the idea home with me. I wrote to my old colleague of the Bio-Dome and promised to work harder for my environment. I spent a day in the Museum of Civilisation, a day that was too short, and promise still that I will go back there. I ran below Parliament Buildings and looked out of the Peace Tower and fell in love with the Capital City.

I prayed in cathedrals and little churches and found my faith grew on a yoga mat. I wrote home to friends and family in texts, e-mails and letters and made new friends, slowly but surely but strong and sweet. I realised that my needs are much smaller and more easily met that I ever knew, and that there is something comforting about sufficient rather than substantial.  I fell down a hill on skis, and then learned to ski. I did headstands and handstands and ice-skated. I dressed as a Forest Nymph, the first time I took part in Halloween Dress Up since I was a child. I ran my fastest 5 miles.

I felt more deeply the love of family by taking time apart. I had wonderful chats with my nieces and nephew. I wrote and I read and I sat drinking coffee, watching the world go by. I walked on a frozen river and lay in Central Park under a hot sun.

My year is a photo album of memories. I’m not sure what my intention is for 2012, but on the 31st of December 2010 I would never have predicted being on the far side of the Atlantic Ocean. So perhaps in that lies the way ahead: I will say yes to the opportunities presented to me, and enjoy the blessings granted to me.

Slán agus Beannacht


16 days to go December 9, 2011

Filed under: Christmas,Travel — wakingupincanada @ 8:22 am
Tags: , , , ,

You know how I love Christmas and you know how I love getting mail? Well, yesterday, the two crossed paths. TWO, not just one, package notifications were in my mailbox, and I walked home with 2 boxes. I texted my mother, just in case one could be opened right away, only to get a reply at 5am her time, telling me no, they both had to wait until December 25th.

I walked home about 5 inches taller, which at 5’2 is a big leap upwards. I left them under my housemate’s bed: out of sight, out of mind. I feel my mother has unfairly prepared me for this. Growing up, 99.9% of our gifts were only delivered on Christmas Morning. Since becoming adults and having to help Santa with delivering his gifts, our gifts were left sitting under the tree without a name on them. No, we never forgot to give a gift or who one was for, well at least not by the time the turkey was served. So, for the first time ever, I have been given my gifts, with my name on them, 16 days before Christmas.

My mother is annoyed that the post worked so fast: currently mail is getting across the Atlantic faster than any time since I got here. I do applaud the postal service for their diligence, however, I have to look at my gifts for more than 2 weeks, unopened! The anticipation is overwhelming. Given the time difference, I wonder can I open my gifts along with my family, through the power of the Internet which would mean I’d be opening them around midnight, which is, of course, still December 25th. I think that would be fair.

Christmas Day is still a work in progress. We need to work out what we are eating: traditional or contemporary, the time we are eating, and who will be here. We know that there will be a Christmas Eve Service, Baileys, either in coffee or hot chocolate, and to my surprise, it will be hot chocolate for me: hot chocolate has raised in my estimation in Canada, largely due to a little place in Montreal called Juliette et Chocolat. There will be a few Skype dates. It is almost certain there will be a Christmas Film playing, and it is time the negotiations for that began. Apparently, a Banff tradition is tobogganing. They use proper toboggans too, I hear. I’ve seen them on sale. That’s a few steps up from us using fertiliser bags in the back field, and I’m not sure they’ll be any better to tell you the truth.

It is now the second week of Advent, and in the preparation so far, I feel just like I would if I were at home. Perhaps having a big family that keep in close contact means that I feel part of all their celebrations. Yet, it is more than that. To me, Christmas is about hope, love and joy, and that permeates all, whether it is my family I am sharing it with or my new friends. I see it in the customers in the store and the people on the street. It is about seeing the best and not focusing on the worst. It is about knowing where exactly your gifts are but loving the giver and the day enough to know that it will be so much more special to leave them unopened until Christmas Day.



Happy to be me December 7, 2011

Filed under: ski,Travel — wakingupincanada @ 10:22 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

The morning on the slopes was fun, it was ok; I learned more about skiing and balance and speed and turns. Then, after lunch, at the top of the chair lift, we took the plunge and went left instead of right. By the base, we were in love. We had found the bug, the thing that brings people back day after day, sees them move to these hills for winter. There it was, on those wide open white runs, in amongst the half-pipes and trees and drops and inclines.  Letting go and soaring along, working my legs to speed up and slow down and turn and laugh and fall over and stand back up, I found what the others had told me about. This week it wasn’t about doing it; it was about loving it.

I arrived at my mat after a short nap, happy, tired, at peace. The bamboo is not jealous of the oak’s strength, the oak not jealous of the bamboo’s beauty, and I breathed through yoga, happy to just be me, right now, right here. The wise words of my teacher move through me hours later as I think back and say thank you. Whoever or whatever guided me here, wow, this is the life.



Learning December 6, 2011

Filed under: Travel — wakingupincanada @ 6:06 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,

I felt like I belonged. I was walking home with my skis and my ski boots and my poles. All mine. No more renting for me, these are mine and I no longer have to come home, tired and heavy and troop back into town, a full 5 minute walk, to drop them back to the store. I felt like I belonged just like those people we see all day walking up and down Banff Avenue with their skis or snowboards.

Now, we are planning our next day on the slopes. I hope my skis are ok, and I wonder would I know if they are or are not. I am still very green. The gleam of last week’s success glows inside me yet I wonder what this week will bring. I am learning again. As my time at yoga has taught me, learning is not a linear trajectory but curves upwards and downwards, and even backwards as it moves forward. My driving instructor once said that learning to drive was about moving from unconsciously incompetent to consciously incompetent to consciously competent to unconsciously competent. Or put simply, from not knowing how you are doing it terribly wrong to not thinking about how you are doing it right. So the more I learn, the more I know that which I do not know. I wonder what I will learn that I do not know this week. I hope I always remember how to get up after I fall, and after that I guess I just have to keep pushing through.

Isn’t it strange that it has been a long time since I learned new things? I tried Spanish but quit. I tried philosophy but just did one term. And here, I am now trying yet another new skill. I am quite proud of that. As much as I would love to just keep running and reading, I love that when I get home I can talk about this new stuff I tried. Me, who likes her routine, her usual, her traditions; I am trying new things.


The beauty of Banff December 5, 2011

Filed under: Travel — wakingupincanada @ 12:13 pm
Tags: , , ,

It is beautiful here. Walking to the gym, from the gym, home from work late at night, sitting looking out my bedroom window, it is all around me. It is too overwhelming to take for granted. The mountains are snow-covered but each differs from the other.

As I run on the treadmill, I looked out, up to Sulphur Mountain, its evergreen trees rising above the white blanket covering the mountain. In the distance, mountains I cannot name stand white and grey.

In my bedroom, I look out at our 2 snowmen. They were built after my first day of skiing with 3 friends, new friends, good friends. With each new snowfall, they get a new coat of white. The deer has taken their noses and we have learnt not to do that again. One is headless, the result of human wildlife straying through our lawn. When we get more snow, I will put a head back on him. Across the street, a red water column stands amidst the white snow.

Now and again, snow falls. Sometimes, heavy and thick and sometimes, just a light dusting. I imagine this will continue throughout winter, but who knows, Banff is full of surprises, like this morning, the 2 big beautiful, brown horses pulling a trailer down my street and I wished I had my nieces and nephews to see, because I think only they would have been as excited as I.

It sometimes feels to cold to breathe, and I breathe through or onto my jacket or scarf. Temperatures take on a new meaning. -2 is quite fine. -20 means a little more time to wrap up.

At the Banff Centre, I walk down the stone steps and there stands on the green at least 2 reindeer, or elk, or deer, I am not quite sure, but the general shape at this time of year suggests reindeer, and they are wrapped in fairy lights. The path is cleared of snow and I appreciate those who take the time to de-snow and de-ice the paths all around town. I appreciate even more those who do it with a smile and a nod and those who stop to talk to me while I do ours.

When I arrived here it was beautiful, a summer sun shining down with rich greens and tall trees and a blue sky. Tourists thronged and hiked and climbed and shopped. It is quieter now; Banff may be a ski capital but summertime is the busiest season of all. I lay in the Park and read, and ran along the river, walked up Tunnel Mountain and sat by the river. The lying outside has long ended. The trails are now to icy to run on. I sometimes sit by the river even now, wrapped up, watching it freeze from the outside in. In some places, it has already frozen over but at my spot the water still flows.

There are people I know now; the lady at yoga who goes to my church, my yoga instructor in my favourite cafe, my coffee server, people I once worked with who have now moved to a different job. It feels more like community. There is a kindness here. This is a place of holidays and leisure and those who live here protect and guard their Park. People smile and take time. They sit and enjoy. They ski and snowboard and walk and hike and skate. They mix and help.

I am glad I saw it through from summer.



I ski December 2, 2011

Filed under: ski,Travel — wakingupincanada @ 10:29 am
Tags: , , ,

I skied.

I really did.

Last week, I realise I was simply sliding and falling down the hill while wearing skis. Yesterday, I felt what it was like to fly one way then another, traversing down a ridge, up one side, turning and sliding down the other, looping down the hill. When I arrived at the bottom, I got the chair lift straight back up and I made friends with the hill, not as steep as last week and not nearly as long. I learned where I gathered speed and how I could take the speed out, where I could fall into the speed knowing I was about to loop up another uphill and enjoy the ride while it lasted.

When I arrived on the hill, I determined to take it slowly. I stayed on the bunny hill and when my friends returned I was delighted with how I was doing: staying upright. Then I fell over. I refused help, determined to do this myself; after all, I excelled at standing up again last week. I fell over again. Eventually, I made it up and followed onto the chair lift.

I’m glad I wasn’t told how to get off the chair lift until I just had to: don’t touch the snow with your poles, stand up, go! What? Now? Oh darn (or something a little more frantic) and so it began. The help on my first slope had me repeating my Karate Kid-esque mantra all day: right-left-right-left-right-left and I began to understand how to balance, how to move.  I did not mind what people thought of me, skiing downhill, talking out loud, directing my feet. The first few times, I seemed to gravitate towards the orange fence around the bunny hill and fall over just there, where everyone could see. I feel this was fair: I was simply showing them that even us on the bigger slopes were not anything great; we were them, just on a bigger hill. Then, it seemed like they put more space on that final path. I saw I could move far left instead of sticking to the tight right. There was room after that tree to ski up again and slow my speed.  I fell spectacularly further up to, somehow flying into powder and losing my skis. Oddly I am sad: spectacular falls lead to better stories. But I had a better time, I felt in control, I wasn’t holding people back. I actually managed to loop around some  slower snowboarders. Yes they were children, but children are just as, if not more capable on the hills. Faster does not mean better, often slower is simply more controlled.  Age does not count. In finding my balance, I saw there was time in between turns and loops. I started a little zig zag dance down the hill, and actually enjoyed the ride. The white of the snow, the cold of the mountain, the snowboarders and skiers who brought skill and grace. I wasn’t just wanting to get to the bottom alive, I wanted to savour the snow, ski as much snow as I could between the top and the bottom.

I’m not sore today. A little ache in my left thigh, a lot less than a gym session. I’m looking forward to getting back up there. The more I learn, the harder I will work, the better I will become.

I always wanted to go on a skiing holiday but never had anyone to go with. Look at me now. I’m living it.  I’m one of the lucky people who can head up on my days off or even in the mornings before my evening shift.

I ski.


Preparing for Christmas November 25, 2011

Filed under: Christmas,Travel — wakingupincanada @ 8:31 am
Tags: , , ,

There is a beautiful ad in Ireland for An Post, the postal service: “The moment you send a card, it’s Christmas”.

Christmas is my favourite time of year. There is a slowing of pace and warming of spirit. Perhaps its the collective spirit of preparing for one big event, a feeling of togetherness. I love the mulled wine, the long days Christmas shopping to find the right gift, walking around toy shops just to see, to remember, to believe. I love the ads; the Coca-Cola ad, the Guinness ad, the Cornflakes ad, the Budweiser ad, the Penney’s ad, and the afore-mentioned, An Post ad, with the tune “Walking in the Air”. I was born, raised and still a practicing Catholic, and to me, it is the spirit of hope and love that shouts louder than the commercialism. Christmas Eve, just after Christmas Eve Mass, just before falling asleep, those moments are pure golden. In that small amount of time, magic is real, hope is strong and love cloaks a land. With the candles lit on our window sills, I fall asleep ever year, believing in more than just what we humans offer.

I am a strict Decemberist, or rather was, and ignore the trappings until December 1st. Christmas in Canada changes that. All our Christmas messages must be in the post by the 29th November.  So, a week early, I sat yesterday morning, with my ski-aches, my pen and my Christmas cards. It looked like Christmas outside, the snow, the cold, the trees along Banff Avenue. A week early, I embraced the holiday spirit.

There is so much I wanted to put in there; I wanted to send a hug to my best friend and the Christmas Cake I always make her. I wanted to put my hand on my Mother’s shoulder as she read my card to her and whisper that it is ok, I am happy, I will be home soon. I wanted to pour a glass of Baileys for my aunt and enjoy our usual festive beverage in front of her open fire in her sitting room. I wanted to show my nieces and nephews the snowmen I built outside, and the carrot- noses the deer ate overnight. I wanted to build one with them, and I wondered if their Christmas would be white. I wanted to sit with my brother and my sisters and remember Christmas past, of sleepless Christmas Eves and the best gifts, of the love of our parents and how lucky we were. The BMX and the roller blades, the doll’s house our nieces now play with, the monster munch and the first walkman, remember washing our dolls and dressing them in their best so that Santa knew we cared for our toys.

So often Christmas cards are hastily written, another thing that has to be done. Yet, a Christmas card offers an opportunity. It gave me the chance to say thank you, to say I miss you, to renew old friendships and mark new ones. In writing a card, I was gifted the opportunity to look at who is in my life and how they have helped me, supported me, stood by me this year, this long, fantastic, scary, different year. Those absent are missed and I send a silent card to Heaven. I hope when they are opened, the receiver stops, remembers the memories shared and feels the spirit in which it was written. To you, with all my love. I’m glad you are here, with me.

The cards are sent; it is Christmas here in Canada.