Prince Edward Island 2019

Oh, my beautiful Island, I simply cannot keep away from you…

In keeping with our tradition of spending time in Prince Edward Island at least every two years, Adam and I returned to my beloved, soul-awakening island this Summer. We went in July, which is later than we usually go and we were treated to an Island even more colorful than when the lupins are out in mid to late June. Lupins bring vivid splashes of color to the Island in late Spring but Summer blankets it in multiple shades of green, yellow and gold all mixed in with the blue of the ocean and the sky, the red of the cliffs and beaches and the lavender of the sunsets. I will admit that we weren’t planning on travelling this Summer but with the year we were having, Adam and I decided that a bit of time in a place so familiar and dear to us was needed. It helped us to ground ourselves and talk some things through. I have been struggling with isolation and solitude for months now, which are feelings quite common among women going through infertility and pregnancy loss, so while we were away, Adam and I began to talk about adding a dog to our family to help ease my loneliness. One thing led to another and our little golden retriever will be joining us in October. I am therefore very much looking forward to driving up to Prince Edward Island with her for our next visit and having her to frolick in the waves with. Because yes, Prince Edward Island is very dog friendly. The only beaches dogs are not allowed on are in the National Parks and even there the ban is only in place from May through October to allow Piping Plovers to nest. So perhaps the next time we go to the Island, we will give a Fall trip a try so I get discover more of my woundrous Island’s colors.

UpdateSince completing this post I have learned that 80% of the coastal forest in the western portion of the Cavendish sector of PEI National Park were lost due to the damage it sustained when the Island was struck by the remnants of Hurricane Dorian last weekend. The same area of the park also lost 2 meters to coastal erosion during the storm. I strive to keep this blog and my social media profiles as free of political discourse as possible, however in the name of my love for Prince Edward Island, a location that is extremely vulnerable to climate change due to the highly fragile nature of the red sandstone that it is formed of, I will ask this: please, vote in the upcoming election and when you do, vote with the climate in mind.

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My most memorable moments in Ireland

 

The overwhelming sense of awe at the sight a smell of thousands upon thousands of ancient books in Trinity College’s old library.

The smell of roasting barley coming from the Guiness Brewery, which our apartment was down the street from.

The first sights, sounds and smells of true Spring we were treated to after a very long, hard winter.

The feeling of connecting with a huge swath of my ancestors when we arrived in Cork and saw my great-grandmother’s maiden name everywhere.

The kindness of the caretaker at Saint Fin Barr’s Cathedral who turned on the lights in the church when he saw me taking photo after photo of the place where my great-grandmother’s family more than likely spent time in prayer.

The endless views of impeccably kept famers fields and how green they were, even so early in the season.

The understanding I gained for the pain that my ancestors must have felt when they made the difficult decision to leave such a beautiful country.

How priveleged I felt to visit Newgrange and the Hill of Tara, sites of burial and worship that are more ancient than both Stonehenge and the pyramids of Egypt.

The hope I felt upon seeing a single, tiny purple flower growing out of the wall of the Elizabeth Fort in Cork. I saw myself in that flower.

The sense of belonging I felt, almost as soon as we arrived. I felt quite at home in magical, mystical, misty Ireland.

If you have Irish roots, I cannot encourage you enough to go visit Ireland, no matter how long ago your family came over. I had one Irish great-grandmother whose parents came over to Quebec in the late 19th Century. She was a Lynch and they were from Cork. I had another great-grandmother who was half Irish and half Scottish. Her father was a Malloy and we unfortunately know much less about her Irish ancestry. Regardless of this, I still felt a strong link to Ireland and its people, namely because for the first time in my life I found myself in country filled with short, pale-skinned, freckled folk with reddish, dirty blonde hair and blue eyes. I grew tearful when I realised just how Irish I actually look. Never lose your connection to your ancestry and if you can, visit the country your family has roots in. You will never be sorry you did.

 

2018: a year of motherhood and loss

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Rarely has there been such a contrast between my feelings with regards to two years. Last year at this time, I was looking back on a year that had been filled with joy, celebration and positive change. This year, I am looking back on a year filled with loss. Loss of family members, loss of hope, loss of innocence. A year in which I have lost an uncle and a beloved grandmother. A year in which my husband have lost not one but two babies in the space of just under six months.

We named our fist baby Jasper when we found out we were expecting him. He brought us such joy and hope. We found out we were expecting him just after the loss of my uncle, so the happiness he infused our life with was felt all the more. He was a very laid back baby and I felt he was at his happiest when I took the time to sit down with a book and one of our cats would come to curl up and purr away beside me. We lost Jasper on my paternal grandmother’s 87th birthday, one day after we had planned to reveal our pregnancy to my family at her birthday dinner. Very few people knew we were expecting a baby, but we had to tell everyone when we lost him because I was so unwell after. My grandmother was exceptionally helpful to me in my grief because she experienced the tragic loss of her third child. She was one of the few people who I felt truly understood how keenly I felt the loss of my precious little baby even after having him with me for just a few weeks, even after never having been able to hold him in my arms, or look into his eyes. It made the sudden loss of my grandmother a mere six weeks after Adam and I lost Jasper all the more difficult to bear.

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When Adam and I found out we were expecting our second baby, we named him Chase. His name was short for ‘chanceux’, which is the french word for lucky and also a reference to the fact that we were fully aware that we would eventually end up chasing our little one away from trouble on a very regular basis. We found out Chase was on his way in mid-november and his pregnancy felt much more stable and healthy than Jasper’s had. Chase was a baby who liked it when I was on the move and particularly enjoyed it when I swayed to jazz music while listening to the radio and cooking on Friday nights. This may make it sound like my second pregnancy was active and bucolic and that I felt confident that all would be well, but let me tell you that second pregnancies after a miscarriage are nerve-wracking. You are perpetually afraid of finding blood in your panties or on the toilet paper or in the toilet when you go to the bathroom. You freak out if you feel fewer pregnancy symptoms on one day than you did the day before and you have to constantly repeat to yourself that recurrent early pregnancy loss is extremely rare (only about 1% of couples experience recurrent miscarriages). Throughout my pregnancy with Chase I had to constantly talk myself down from anxiety and worry. I even started pre-natal yoga at six weeks to help myself relax. Once I got through week seven, the week when we had lost Jasper, I relaxed a little and when I made it to week eight and a tiny little bump appeared in my midsection and I had experienced zero spotting and no cramping for two weeks, I finally began to believe everything would be well this time around. Then one day before week nine of my pregnancy I spotted at the end of the day. I called Adam in a panic and he came home from work. The next day when I was still spotting we went to the hospital and had an ultrasound. Chase had no visible heartbeat. Chase seemed like he hadn’t grown in two and a half weeks. The doctor was concerned and gave us a referral to a specialist who looks into cases of recurrent miscarriage. He told us he sincerely hoped we would not need to see the doctor and asked us to return to the hospital on Christmas Eve for another ultrasound, because sometimes babies can be surprising and a fetus with no visible heartbeat can have a good strong one a few days later. There was absolutely no change in our baby after two days. The little one we had been loving and cherishing for a bit over nine weeks had been dead for the last two and a half. I had a D&C on Christmas Eve, we came home, listened to Midnight Mass on the radio, went to bed and I cried myself to sleep. Being heartbroken and miserable when there is Christmas music playing on every single radio station just adds insult to injury, let me tell you.

It has been a week today since Adam and I said goodbye to our baby and we are, in some ways, more than ready to say goodbye to a year which has brought us so much pain and loss. In another way, we are moving into a year without those we have loved so much and lost. We are also moving out of a year where we were still filled with so much hope and confidence that what we had planned for our future would come about. We always knew I might not be able to become pregnant, we just never expected that I would be able to fall pregnant but not carry a baby to term or even to the point where we would be able to hear and see their heartbeat. I cannot put into words how utterly heartbreaking it is to stare at an ultrasound monitor, search for the tiniest sign of a heartbeat and then not see one.

2019 will be the first year Adam and I look to with no clear plan for our family. We know we are taking a break from growing our family but we do not know for how long. It will depend on when we see the specialist and then our decision will depend on what, if anything, he finds wrong with us. We are welcoming the break though, our hearts and my body need time to heal. We need time to live, time to be something other than a couple who is trying to build a family and not succeeding. We need time to grieve for our babies and all the hopes and dreams we had for them and finally, we need time to accept the fact that no matter what happens in the future, we will be okay. 2019 will be our year of healing.

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Fields of lavender and loss

Two weeks ago Adam and I took a trip to La Maison Lavande in St-Eustache. It was a spur or of moment decision made over Sunday breakfast. I had seen a photo taken there go by on my Instagram feed the day before and felt inner peace just looking at the lavender flowers, so off we went.

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A nice, soothing experience was just what Adam and I were looking for that beautiful, sunny Sunday because the Saturday of the week before, I had suffered a miscarriage. I am not sharing this information to garner pity or to shock anyone. I am sharing it because I feel that pregnancy loss is not something that is spoken about enough in our society. I have spent nearly a month now mulling over how to write this post and why I have not come across more women who share their stories of loss publicly.

Pregnancy loss is a very painful experience both physically and emotionally, however it is a very atypical type of grief which comes with a fear of misunderstanding when it is shared. Often, miscarriages occur before the twelve week mark, so parents may not have even had the chance to hear their baby’s heartbeat or if they have heard their baby’s heartbeat before a miscarriage occurs, then they likely have not had the chance to feel their baby move since babies movements in the womb can only be felt by their mother for the first time anywhere between sixteen and twenty-five weeks of pregnancy. Adam and I did not have the chance to experience either of these things, but our hearts still shattered to pieces when we lost our baby because when he died, we lost the chance to ever get to know him. As soon as we found out we were expecting, we began to wonder whether our baby would be athletic or laid back or whether they would be musical since we both are. We speculated about the chances our child would be a creative dreamer like me or more of a rational thinker like Adam. How, though, can you hope that people will understand how deeply you are grieving for a little being you never really got to know? The fear of this misunderstanding pushed us to keep our pain largely to ourselves for the first few weeks after our loss.

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Don’t get me wrong, we did find a great deal of comfort and support from our family and friends, some of whom who had also experienced a miscarriage or if they hadn’t, they generally had another friend or relative who had. Despite all the kindness and understanding, I still ended up feeling quite isolated in my grief and going through a pretty bad bout of depression, particularly during the week following our loss when my ongoing physical healing process prevented me from being as active as I normally try to be when dealing with grief. To compensate for my inability to use endorphins to get me over the worst of my emotional pain, I tried to find books written to help parents through their grief following the loss of an unborn child. After searching through the online inventories of every single book store in Montreal, I found one book devoted to mothers grieving miscarriages and stillbirths at Indigo. I went down to the store, found the book and nearly burst into tears when I realised that it was not what I was hoping to find. The book had been written by a very conservative Christian and therefore addressed healing from a purely religious standpoint i.e.: read the bible and pray and you will feel better in no time once you have understood that God took your baby back into his loving arms for a reason. I respect the fact that this may be helpful to some but it was not helpful at all to me.

IMG_6927 I went back home empty-handed and spoke about my experience with Adam and that’s when it finally struck me that maybe families also do not share their stories of pregnancy loss because miscarriages are often referred to as failed pregnancies. Modern society is endemically afraid of failure. We try as much as possible to project an image of perfection, especially nowadays with social media. Anything less than perfection is of seen as not worth sharing. Some would even point out that we lost our baby because he was not perfect. I, for one, have not been afraid of failure for some time. I have had plenty of practice at it, I challenge you to find anyone who failed more math exams than I have. I failed both my theoretical and practical drivers exams the first time I took them and it took me an extra year to get through both high school and university. I don’t care that it took me longer to do these things, it just makes me prouder that I did eventually succeed at them. I also don’t care that science says that our baby more than likely died because he wasn’t perfect. To Adam and I he was exactly who and what he was meant to be and lived the life he was meant to. Our little one brought us such hope and joy while he was with us and we loved him so very deeply. Some might call that a failure and be ashamed and hide it, but not me, not us.

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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.

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!

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.