Montreal, I love you

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It always breaks my heart when I hear Montrealers say they hate Montreal. How can you possibly hate our city? Then again, this negative train of thought often comes from people who have grown up in the far reaches of suburbia or elsewhere in the province and have moved to the city for school or work. In other words, people who grew up completely outside of a dense urban environment or who have spent their entire lives commuting in and out of it.

I have seen both sides of Montreal. I grew up in the suburbs and it was great. I had a huge yard to play in and my parents didn’t worry at all about where my brother and I were during the day when we were kids as long as we weren’t making noise outside before 10:00 A.M. on the weekend and showed up for lunch and dinner.Mix living in suburbia with a fixed work schedule though and you have Hell, whether you are driving yourself into work or letting the urban transit authority do the driving for you. I did not own a car when I was living in the suburbs and working in town. My hours were from 8:30 A.M. to 4:30 P.M. I was therefore up at 6:00 A.M. five days a week, out the door by 7:00 A.M. and not home until at least 6:00 P.M. on a good day. I remember one particularly horrible winter day just before Christmas in 2007 when it took three hours to get home.

Needless to say, my suburban lifestyle was leaving me perpetually exhausted. I never, ever said I hated Montreal though. I did, however, say that I hated traffic. The way ahead for me was pretty clear. Either do like a lot of young adults who grew up in the suburbs and get myself a car, or move into an apartment in town. I chose the apartment and promptly fell in love with my new urban lifestyle, which turned out to be everything I ever dreamed it would be and then some. I could get groceries on my own without a car, I could walk to Mount-Royal park and I could even walk home from work! I had time to have a life, because instead of spending an average of three hours a day getting to and from the ofice, it only took me a half hour at the very most to get there.

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I do understand that just because moving into town was the right decision for me, doesn’t mean it is the right decision for everyone. It depends on each individuals financial situation, personal preferences and goals. When my husband and I had to decide last year where we were going to spend the thirty years of our lives, we did consider a very specific area of the suburbs where we could have bought a less expensive home while still not becoming entirely car dependent. In the end though, suburban life, no matter how bucolic the neighborhood, was simply not compatible with Adam’s unpredictable work schedule and our long-term plans. We therefore willingly gave up on the idea of a big yard, a pool and lower taxes and bought a house in the neighborhood we already lived in and loved. We just weren’t willing to give up on all the extra time we gained when we both moved into town ten years ago, time we now get to spend together. Time we also get to spend enjoying our beautiful city and everything it has to offer.

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In with the new

Most people greet the New Year with the saying ”Out with the old, in with the new!” in mind. I have done so myself, almost every single year and, I will admit, with a particular amount of vigor for the past five years. This year though? I feel like I have won the lottery of life. I have found myself actually fearing, on several occasions, that I was too happy. That being blessed with so much happiness after being either so miserable or so unlucky for so long had to be a prank.

Life this year wasn’t perfect every day, don’t get me wrong. I definitely had a few iffy passes in there. My car cost me a bundle when I wasn’t expecting it to in October, Adam had to work some serious overtime in the weeks leading up to our wedding because of the flooding we had in the Montreal area this Spring and the renovations on our new home cost us a tad more than we had budgeted, namely when the wire that brought power to our house snapped in a wind storm in the middle of February just as the guys were starting to sand the floors so they could varnish them. Also, there was a snow storm the day we began our move…the last weekend in March. That’s life in Canada for you, never take off your snow tires until mid-april!

Despite all the little hiccups this was, I must say, the best year I have had in my entire life. I have, overall, been deliriously happy. Adam and I moved into our dream home after searching for it for nearly a year and, most of all, we got married. I didn’t know I actually had the capacity to be as boundlessly happy as I was on our wedding day. It was the most amazing feeling and one I am very pleased to say I can still find when I look at Adam 🙂

So let me give you all this bit of wisdom, based on life experience: Do not ever give up on happiness. Do not ever give up on love. Do not ever give up on your dreams. Life can be complete and utter shit, believe me, I know. However if you keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep focusing on and reaching out for your goals, your hopes and dreams, even if at first you only have one little spark of light to reach for you will reach it. Be confident, be hopeful and use that little spark to keep going. Most of all, remember that you are stronger than you imagine.

Thank you 2017 for bringing so many of my dreams to life. 2018, you have some seriously big shoes to fill! Happy New Year to all of you, may 2018 bring you all kinds of treats!

Fall beauty and searching for stillness

 

It is no secret that we live a frenzied lifestyle nowadays. We are constantly connected to others through cell phones and social media on top of regular, everyday human interaction, especially if you are a city dweller like me. That is why I love getting away to the countryside when I can. That can be difficult to do though, because getting out to the countryside requires that ever precious and elusive thing: time. That is why it was difficult for me when my mom announced that she was moving out to the boonies last Spring. It is no fun when your mom tells you she is moving 100 kilometers away, even when you are an adult. Mild consolation came, however, the first time Adam and I went to visit my mom and saw how lovely her home was. It also happens to be right on a lake. So the downside: my mom lives 100 kilometers away and it takes us an hour and twenty minutes to get there when traffic is good. The upside: look at this beautiful, serene setting. We can go canoeing on her lake when we visit her in the Summer and leaf peeping in the fall. It will more than likely be drop-dead gorgeous in the winter as well.

My last visit to my mom’s place left me wondering what I could do to slow down the pace of my frenzied life a bit. Felling overly solicited is a problem of mine and am known for my bouts of Superwoman syndrome which leave me drained and guilt-ridden when I cannot handle taking care of the house, cooking every day of the week, running errands and a few hours at work thrown in for good measure on top of taking the car into the shop. Of course, taking care of myself goes completely by the wayside when this happens as well. After my most recent Superwoman syndrome attack I analysed what I spent time on every day closely for a week or two. I was alarmed by how much time I spent checking my e-mail and social media accounts, so I decided to gradually cut back my access to them. I started by turning off e-mail alerts on my cell phone and tablet, then I removed Instagram from my tablet as well. I gained a lot of time during the day just by doing that. Then a few weeks ago, I was embroiled in some Facebook drama and that was the last straw. ‘Real’ life is dramatic enough, I didn’t need Facebook antics adding to my every day struggles, so I removed the Facebook app from my phone and my iPad. I now have to go onto the Facebook site on my phone, PC or tablet and log on to access my account and news feed. Talk about liberating! I still have Instagram on my phone so I can take and share photos and those go onto Facebook but that is pretty much all I put on there. I have shared one status update in the last three weeks or perhaps even longer and I feel like my privacy level has gone way up. I have more time to do what I love, like reading, writing, cooking and working on my photos and I feel much less like I am living in a fish bowl.

Lesson learned: life will always be crazy, there is no getting around that. You can, however, find ways to free up some precious time for yourself by analyzing how you spend your time and where you waste any of it. For me, my use of social media was the logical thing to cut back on and I have been considerably happier since I have done so. My private life has become just that: private.

Our Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia Honeymoon

 

Hello everyone!

Here, now that I am finally done sorting through our wedding photos, are some pictures from our amazing Maritime Honeymoon!

Adam and I were asked many times why on earth we would decide to go to the Maritimes for our honeymoon? Would we not rather go to some far-flung tropical destination with palm trees, a swim up bar and room service?  Uh…no, no, we would not. We thought about it at first but that’s just not us. Adam and I wanted peace and quiet and to be with nobody but one another for our honeymoon and you just can’t have that in a resort. Also, for the price we paid for our cottage for one month, we would have only been able to spend two weeks at the most in a resort. We wanted to go to a place where we knew we would be able to fully recharge our batteries, do things at our own pace and not feel like we were missing out on anything if we decided we needed to spend the day just loafing around at home. We both know and love PEI so it was the logical choice and we decided to stay near the Wood Islands ferry terminal so we could make a day trip to Nova Scotia, which neither one of us had ever visited.

In the end, our honeymoon was perfect and just what we needed. We spent the first week and a half taking things slow, napping whenever we wanted to and the third week we made our trip to Nova Scotia where we visited Halifax, Lunenberg and made a quick photo stop in Mahone. We came home tanned, much to everyone’s surprise (hello, beautiful PEI beaches!), rested and blissfully happy. So, when planning your honeymoon, do not be afraid to think outside the box. Honeymoons do not have to involve sunny, tropical destinations. They can also be built around going back to a place you love or around an activity you love.The main thing is, make sure you can relax during your trip and do not feel the need to leave 24 hours after you walk down the aisle. Even though weddings are a blast and you come through them on a massive high, they are stressful and once you come down off your adrenaline rush, all you will want to do is sleep and lie around in your PJs for a few days and we really appreciated being able to do that for a week before we had to spend a day and a half driving to the Island.

Finally, here is a list of the most romantic things to do in PEI:

1- Sunset beach walks

2- Having dinner at the Point Prim Chowder House at sunset

3- Dinner at Dalvay by the sea

4- Indulging in an ice cream cone from Cow’s while strolling through Charlottetown in the evening

5- Enjoy a walk through the PEI Preserve Company’s Gardens of Hope

I hope you all enjoy the photos from our trip, I’m so glad I finally had the time to get on here and share with all of you!

 

 

Settling in

Many of you are already aware of this, but after months and months of searching, a few failed purchase attempts and many tears, Adam and I finally found a house we loved as much as our beloved upper duplex and we moved a week and a half ago. We were not able to stay in Monkland Village as we had hoped, but we are still in our much-loved neighborhood of NDG and are settling into our new house wonderfully.

Now that we are done packing and almost done unpacking boxes, Adam and I have been able to get back to our much-neglected evening walks. We went out for our first on this past Sunday and I was struck by how beautiful our new area was in the early evening light, so when we went out again yesterday I brought my camera with me and thoroughly enjoyed taking some pictures of the stunning architecture our neck of NDG and neighboring Westmount had to offer. I hope you will enjoy these photos as much I enjoyed taking them. Oh and just in case you get some crazy ideas, no, our place is nowhere near as over the top as any of these houses. They don’t build houses like the ones in these photos anymore, and have not for the past 150 to 100 years, at least not this close to Downtown Montreal and not one of them has a tax bill under 20 000, I kid you not…

Oh Canada, my home sweet home.

Oh boy, it has been a while since I have blogged. Life has been so hectic in the past few months with wedding plans, family issues, neighbor issues, house hunting, trying to keep up with a new exercise regimen and not letting my house fall into complete disarray in the midst of all that, that blogging fell completely by the wayside. I do have a slew of photos put by though and am hoping to have the time to share them with you and tell you the story behind them in the near future if my life allows it. In the mean time I felt compelled to write today about what happened in the US election and how it has me feeling.

I, along with many Canadians, watched with varying degrees of horror and disbelief the circus that was the campaign leading up to Tuesday’s presidential election. I honest-to-goodness could not believe what I was seeing and hearing every single time Donald Trump opened his mouth. I have to say though, I was not shocked that Trump made it in. I groaned and hid under my duvet a bit on Wednesday morning, but I was not shocked, just disappointed. Why was I not shocked? Because I have spent a lot of time in the United States, especially over the past twenty years or so, since my grandparents retired down there. As a side note, my grandmother is getting the heck out of there. That’s the silver lining on this for me, Trump gave her the final bit of incentive she needed to move back to Canada. However, having spent a fair bit of time visiting my grandparents in the southern United States over the last few decades allowed me see the true colors of the country and they are not pretty and have not been pretty for a very, very long time. The level of social and racial inequality in America is staggering and far greater than anything I have ever seen here in Canada. Our country is not perfect, no country is, but the huge, huge difference is that here, no matter how poor you are, you can walk into a hospital and get treated and not go bankrupt and high quality university education is also far more affordable. Think of Canada with no universal healthcare and the best universities costing upwards of 40 000$ per year in tuition fees (add housing to that and you hit 50-60k easily) and the havoc that would bring about in our social structure. Yes, there are community colleges in the United States but I encourage you to read a bit more about them here and see that while they have some advantages and give the opportunity to get a higher education to students who could otherwise not afford it, they can also leave much to be desired.

The bottom line is, you cannot have a country with such major social inequality and not end up with a huge political upset at some point, which is why Trump gained such a massive following when he came in with his ‘Make America Great Again’ message. Give a disillusioned population someone to blame for their problems, ideally a group that is already marginalized, in this case illegal Hispanic residents, Muslims, Blacks and yes, even women and they will jump right on the bandwagon. If you think things are going to get better now that the election is over and Obama is saying that his first meeting with Trump was ‘excellent’, think again, read this and just look at Obama’s face in this picture:

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Does he look very encouraged to you?

This is what the gentleman looks like when he’s had a pleasant exchange with someone:

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And one more with Trump:

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Excellent meeting, my eye. Once again, let’s make this clear: Trump’s victory is not shocking. If you find it shocking, please get your head out of the sand and educate yourself on life in the United States. It is absolutely nothing like what you see on your favorite TV show. It has nothing to do with what you see in the movies. TV and movie producers show what sells. The ugly truth of 43.1 million Americans, that is 13.1% of the population, living in poverty (U.S. Census Bureau 2015) does not sell. Study education inequality and race inequality in the United States, look at how much health care really costs and you will understand how this happened a bit better and remember, even if the percentage of people living in poverty (they refer to it as ‘low income’ here) in Canada is roughly the same as that in the US at 12.9% (or at least it was in 2011, the latest census data is not in yet), we have far greater opportunities for low-cost education and universal health care!

The saddest part of Trump winning the election is that he will not be able to fix the rampant social inequality in the States. His racist, sexist rhetoric will only make it far, far worse. America’s greatest chance for greater social and racial equality was Barack Obama, but in this age of constant desire for instant gratification, Americans were not able to appreciate his efforts.

Polish Travels

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So, it’s been a while again and a lot has happened! In mid-June Adam and I were finally able to get away from the constant noise and dust of our downstairs neighbors renovation project and off we went to Poland, but not before getting engaged on June 14th! I had sort of been expecting him to pop the question for a while, but he still managed to surprise me and the proposal was so simple and perfect and romantic and so completely US! As many of you know, planning has been going full steam ahead and most of the big things are already dealt with. THANK YOU to everyone for your good wishes, encouragement and help so far, we love you all dearly and feel very fortunate to have all you in our lives 🙂

Now, on to Poland! We were very busy during our trip since Adam wanted me to see as much of his country as possible. We changed cities six times in two and a half weeks, beginning with Warsaw. We then traveled to Adam’s mother’s home town for a two-day visit with his family there before going to Czestochowa, Krakow, Zakopane and back to Krakow. My favorite place to visit was definitely Krakow. I love the architecture and laid back, small town feel of the city and also the fact that the entire historic center of it is pedestrian. A major highlight of Adam and I’s time there was being able to spend a few minutes alone in a room with Leonardo Da Vinci’s ‘Lady with an Ermine’, which is temporarily on display at the Wawel Palace while the Czartorinsky museum where it is normally exhibited is renovated. Pretty much every single person in Poland has seen Lady with an Ermine because it is a point of pride for Poles that they have one of the only completed Da Vincis in the world outside of the Louvre Museum in Paris. Since most Poles have already seen the painting and the country is not nearly as overrun by tourists as France is, it is incredibly easy to spend time alone with the painting if you’re willing to wait in the room a little while until it empties out. What a treat! Another must-see in the Krakow area is the Wieliczka salt mine. They have tours in several different languages, including French and English, but be prepared to go down a ton of stairs at the beginning of the tour and to walk a lot. One of the most impressive things you will see during your tour of the mine is its chapel which, as with everything else in the mine, is carved directly into the salt bed.

Another treat during our trip was our lovely, long hike in the mountains in Zakopane, barring a rather traumatizing episode when we ended up in a rather more challenging area than we should have been. Heed this warning: If you go hiking in the mountains in Zakopane, do not rely on the tourist maps, difficulty levels of the trails are not indicated and the locals have a rather distorted view of what is difficult and what is not since they have grown up in the area and are very proficient hikers and rock climbers. Czestochowa is beautiful as well and I absolutely loved visiting the Jasna Gora sanctuary.

As for the food, it is generally excellent and authentic. Do not go to Poland expecting to have an easy time finding sushi and Italian food, you will be grievously disappointed. Enjoy the Polish food, it is hearty, made with local ingredients and not full of all the nasty funk we have in processed foods almost everywhere else nowadays. You will wait for a while for your food anywhere other than in a milk bar (Polish fast food restaurant) and that is a very good thing because guess what? You’re getting fresh stuff made just for you! I was only disappointed by my food twice and both times we ate in a flashy tourist trap because we were starving and it was what was easiest to do. It can happen to the best of us, so just steer clear of tourist traps that seem to be full of Americans and you will be fine 🙂

The only downside to this trip was the language barrier. I have a basic knowledge of the Polish language and I still ended up feeling homesick about 3/4 of the way through the trip because I just could not process what was being said around me most of the time. Polish is a very difficult language to master (this coming from a girl who is completely french/english bilingual and has studied and done not too badly in three other languages) and even when you do okay in a basic situation, like being able to ask for the washroom or a tram line, you will end up being completely befuddled when trying to comprehend what people are talking about around you because there are so many different tenses and gender variations depending on just about everything under the sun, like whether you are referring to a table, a table with something on it, a table with something under it, or dancing on a table at your grandparents 70th wedding anniversary. I kid you not. I’m not saying communicating in English is an issue in Poland, everyone who works with the public in any capacity speaks very good English, but it is definitely a good idea to have some basics of the Polish language under your belt before travelling there, or make sure you have a very good Polish/English dictionary in the back of your travel book just in case.

All in all, I highly recommend a visit to Poland, it is a beautiful and authentic country, with plenty to offer and that is not, as with so many other European destinations, completely overrun by foreign tourists. It is also wonderful for travelers on a budget, because the country has kept its own currency, the Zloty, which is much friendlier for Canadian travellers since you can typically get about three Zlotys for every Canadian Dollar. Your biggest expense will be your plane ticket there, but once that is paid for, you will be stunned by how little you will spend on food, attractions, accommodation and shopping. Enjoy!

Spring and Summer beauties

 

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Macro shot of one of my Hibiscus blooms.

Ah, Spring! It finally made its way to Montreal! Okay, you can’t really tell today because it is pretty darn chilly out there, but that’s the nature of the climate in this neck of the woods at this time of year: just when you’re convinced you won’t have to wear a sweater or jacket again until September or October, Mother Nature plays a trick on you and throws in a touch of April weather just to keep you on your toes! At least there are leaves on the trees, flowers in my pots and strawberries growing on my from deck though and I’m happy to be sharing these pictures of them with you! Isn’t it awesome how the pollen on the hibiscus bloom looks like caviar? I got a serious kick out of that! I also loved that I was out on the front balcony just at the right moment to snap a photo of this ant as he wandered around on my strawberry plant. I have gotten photos of butterflies, bees and other small insects before, but never an ant.

People often think that you can’t get photos of nature when you live in town, but really you don’t have to look too far, especially in my neighborhood which is full of parks, small front gardens and balconies that most people take a great deal of pride in. I honestly adore my part of town and wouldn’t move out of it for the world!

For more photos of flowers and gardens from Montreal and elsewhere, you can head over to the ‘Flowers’ page.

 

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An ant wandering around my strawberry plant.

Two days in Québec

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So, you have undoubtedly noticed that I have been away for a while. We have some new downstairs neighbors and it has been a bumpy ride since they took possession of the lower half of the duplex in mid-March and began demolishing it in order to renovate it. A bumpy ride as in beyond the usual irritating consequences of a nearly hundred year-old house being gutted to the studs and rebuilt. We were expecting noise, dust and a few issues being discovered with our home as well, but on top of that we got work being done on common elements of the building without our permission, legal threats, express instructions that  only electricians cut wires being ignored and therefore power to sections of our home being cut, our alarm system being damaged and our phone line being cut. We were also treated to personal accusations and insults being thrown our way through the hypocritical medium of e-mail which led me to put my foot down and cut all ties with the neighbors except for requests for bills being paid or permission being requested for work to be done on common elements.With all this going on, to say that I have been lacking inspiration to create anything at all would be an understatement. I have actually been lacking the time and energy to get anything done beyond dealing with the mess being created by the new neighbors at all. The one thing that has been able to give me a reprieve from the confused heap our life has recently become was a two day trip to Quebec City we ran off on at the drop of a hat two weeks ago so Adam could attend a conference. It gave me a chance to spend some time wandering around one of the most photogenic cities I have ever seen, reconnect with my mother’s family history and disconnect from anything neighbor related. Oh, and Adam and I got to have a nice, romantic dinner in one of our favorite restaurants as well. We discovered it on our last trip to Quebec City two years ago and were so happy to be able to go back.

Quebec City is a beautiful little jewel of a place filled with colorful row houses and its oldest section is surrounded by the only intact fortified walls to be found in America north of Mexico which were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. The city is one of the oldest in North America and was founded by Samuel de Champlain in 1608. While all of this makes the city exceptional in and of itself, it is the history of my family that always makes me happy to go back and visit it. My mother’s family has its roots in Quebec City and can be traced back to the 17th century in the area, so needless to say I always feel at home when I am there and love remembering all the stories my grandmother has told me about growing up in Quebec City. I love walking through Quebec’s narrow streets and feeling my family’s past around me. This was the first time I really had the time to photograph the city as well and my goodness did I enjoy every second of those two days.

Finally, I’ve decided to post only in English from now on to make life simpler for myself on here. One language to post in means it takes me half the time to get a post up which is a good thing. All the photos featured in the slideshow in this post will be added to the travel photography page, so if you want to get a close look at them, you can pop over there.