Waking Up In Canada

Time Out Just To See

The firmness of friendship March 29, 2012

Filed under: Friendship — wakingupincanada @ 6:00 pm
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When I was 16, our English teacher, a cheery, wise and happy man with a smock of white hair and thick black eyebrows commented that for our final exams, our poems would largely be based on transience, a mis-balance he believed, as in life, poems were mostly about love. I have become to wonder if he was wrong.

Banff is a transient town, and the lives of people like me are built upon hellos and goodbyes. Much revolves around the workplace here. In Banff, living space is everything, and many employers provide subsidised accommodation to their staff. The people I work with, I live with, ski with, eat with and socialise with.

Every week, people walk into our store, resumes in hand, and we don’t know if this is our new best friend standing in front of us. In our team, we have a plethora of characters  – the high energy people, the super-organised individuals, the laid-back crew, the super sellers and the super helpers. This mesh of personalities is like a microscopic view on the world and all that it takes to make it go around every day.

And just when you fall in love with it all, it is time for another goodbye. This week, we have a double dose of departure, with 2 beautiful people heading home. Unlike before in my life, when treasured companions move on to a better job or better home but stay in the area or at least the friendship circle, the international melting pot that is Banff sees possible Best Friends Forever fly off to the far reaches of the world, to a different career, a different lifestyle.

Somehow here, you connect with the transience that is life, the constant ebb and flow that is people. With every changing staff member or housemate, there is a change in the balance, the routine, the atmosphere. Sometimes it is a little shift barely noticeable, other times, for better or worse, a sudden movement occurs forcing ripples out in all directions. Sometimes the only thing is to stand firm in yourself and allow others the same courtesy. Other times, it seems to me, it is about learning from them, trusting them and enjoying them for as long as you have them.

It has been 7 months and many friends now. As 2 of my BFFs move on, I see all that they have given me: 6 mile runs through the mountains and gym workouts; pyramid hill sprints and scrabble in Tim Hortons, indulgent breakfasts and cheap cinema nights, wine and crackers and double dates. Only a true friend allows you to swear at them at the beginning of a 3 minute hill sprint or shares the joy in playing scrabble over good coffee at Tim Hortons, and offers to share the car she will win in Roll Up the Rim. A BFF gets lost with you and enjoys the views regardless.

It strikes me at these times, not how tough it is to say goodbye, but just how brilliant a good friend is. As we move through life and all its phases, a good friend grounds you, wherever your roots may be.




Another Year Over December 31, 2011

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


Karaoke Night December 19, 2011

Somehow it has become a tradition, a ritual; Sunday Night Karaoke in the Paddock Pub. I can’t remember how it started, or when, but it was sometime around the time Wendy arrived in town. Last night, I actually worried that nobody was going, and I had even managed a shower on my evening break, but, locking up the store at the end of the night, the true Karaoke Queens stood on the opposite side of the road, shouting Red Rover, Run Over, and another Sunday night began.

I’m not sure if it’s Banff or the Karaoke Queens’ influence, but Karaoke is different here. They don’t need to be drunk, or have everyone else drunk first. From the moment we arrive, we are there. A note to the wise, I don’t sing, I cannot sing and have known that since my teacher stopped me singing Away In The Manger when I was around 11 years old. I dance, even when nobody else dances, I dance by the stage. I’m not good at that either, but at least people can look away. But they sing, a wide array of songs, last night including the most wonderful renditions of Santa Baby and Rocking Around the Christmas Tree. They sing smiling, laughing, and we dance along. Sometimes our group is bigger, sometimes smaller, but we are always hardy and always singing. The secret to good karaoke is play to your strength. If you cannot sing brilliantly, don’t belt out a ballad, make it upbeat and dance along. Some of the best crowd movers are people who can’t sing but can entertain. The secret is knowing you can’t sing. There is one baby-faced soul who pumps out a wicked Eminem: I’ve no idea if he can sing, but that white boy raps good.

Alcohol is optional; there are nights one of us will stick to soda, and that is always ok here. There are nights we drink bottle tops, a Canadian delicacy I ask you over 18 to try. There are nights we get pizza on the way home, perhaps via a club. It doesn’t matter if we’ve had breakfast together, at Karaoke the truth will out. We’ll know everything by Hey Jude right down to whether you are wearing (new) underwear.

You never know when you walk into Karaoke what kind of night it will be, but you do know that you will be dancing, you will be laughing you will be grabbing life by the balls.




The lesson outside the church December 18, 2011

Filed under: faith — wakingupincanada @ 11:45 am
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Today, a week before Christmas, we were getting into the good stuff: the Angel has visited Mary and so it begins. Again, we were reminded, this is Christmas not just a Happy Holiday and it is our role to bring what we hear within the walls outside, all through the week.

As I met my friends for breakfast, I reflected on this. Or rather, was challenged by it.  As I sat and discussed an awkward situation with someone, I was reminded of talking behind someone’s back. This was not the angel in my head but rather my friend, who does not go to Mass on Sundays. Her voice pulled me back. To talk in spite is wrong. I know it is, despite how good it feels to vent my anger and have others validate my negativity. I do not trust those who talk behind people’s backs, a lesson my mother long ago instilled in me. Why is it easier to complain to those who can do nothing to improve the situation that to talk it through with those who can? The friend keeps pulling me back. Just being in her presence reminds me about loose tongues and helps me to be a better person, a person I want to be.

I go to Mass every Sunday and yet, the lessons I learn often come from those who spend their time elsewhere. I think it’s God’s way of teaching me humility. Just like He preached against those who parade their generosity or their fasting, He is showing me that going to Mass doesn’t make me special. I just go because I know He is special.

There are many people I know this year that I didn’t this time last year. Some have come and gone, people I have shared hostel dorms or train journeys with, some who have moved on on their own journey. Some surround me now. Each has been a gift. They may believe in different things, different ways, but they are helping me through my flaws, to stand on my own feet, to live my own faith.



16 days to go December 9, 2011

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



I ski December 2, 2011

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