Between the Vines

I vividly remember Take Our Kids to Work Day in grade nine, it was the beginning of our high school career signifying that we too will soon enter the coveted workforce and bid adieu to the dreaded school bell. (Hindsight is 20/20, amiright?)

While other kids in my grade were pumped about the idea of tagging along with their parents to the big City to do what grown-ups do best, work, I on the other hand was less thrilled about my dad taking me to his work. A couple of reasons, but the main one being that I was embarrassed to talk about where I went for TOKTWD with my peers. As we all know, high school is tough, mean girls do exist, and 14-year-olds just want to be Cher Horowitz, not some farm kid.

Fast-forward 18 years later (don’t do the math), I am shadowing my dad again for a day in the life of grape farmer under my own volition. Things have changed slightly, like the truck my dad is driving, but everything else still looks the same: the grapes are still purple, the leaves are still green, and the barn is still standing. What is new is the fact that my brothers, all too young at the time of TOKTWD, have found their own niche doing what they love on the farm. IMG_8206

It’s a busy Saturday during harvest and there’s lot of action on the farm. The crew were out early harvesting grapes for an 8am drop-off at a nearby winery, then a rinse and repeat for an 11am drop-off at a different winery. There is much to do and the crew are racing against the impending rainstorm that is on its way. Back at the barn, the group has a long break – their next grape drop-off isn’t scheduled until 11pm.IMG_8190

Since we have some time to kill, I meet up with my younger brother for a quick catchup. After we chat about life, I get down to the nitty-gritty.
“So, what do you do now?” I ask, as I figured they would be picking from 9-5 with a few breaks in-between.
“We catch up on paperwork, clean the machines, help the guys in the vineyard. There’s always something to do.”
“How do you manage everything?” I ask.
“What do you mean?” He retorts.
“You know, all the farms you pick for, what wineries get what, who’s harvesting where?”
“It’s a challenge coordinating everything, but we have a great team that we trust and rely on.” He then shows me the day’s schedule on a dry-erase board and tells me that it is updated daily for the team to check regularly, and further adds that communication is key.
My phone buzzes, “It’s go time. They are about to pick chardonnay on concession 8. I’m coming to get you.”IMG_0258

A few minutes later, I’m tagging along beside my dad like it’s grade nine again, but this time I’m interested. Unlike grade nine, a few colourful words escape my dad’s mouth as stress levels increase due to to the time constraint they are battling.
“Why is the rain bad?” I naively ask.
“We need the weather to remain warm and dry. We can’t pick in the rain, and the longer we wait the more susceptible the grapes are to rot. I can’t sell rotten fruit.”
“Oh” I respond, as I silently pray to the weather gods to not mess with my dad.

We make our way down a bumpy back road and spot the harvester already in one of the rows. A few seconds later, I’m riding on what can only be described as a transformer as the machine straddles a row and picks the grapes. The driver, one of three on the farm, tells me that this is his favourite part of the job, and I can see why. You are on top of the world.
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Nova Scotia, My Heart’s Always Yours

It seems like forever ago when my sister and I boarded WestJet’s new airline, Swoop, and ventured to the east coast for a mini #sistasdoNS getaway, but it was only a couple of months ago and yet, I didn’t get enough and am already dreaming of retuning one day soon.

For as long as I can remember, I have always felt a gravitational pull to visit the Maritimes; it all started with a tourism commercial from the ‘90s that proudly showed colourful homes, fishing villages, lighthouses, rolling hills and the ocean. I was hooked by the carefree energy and inviting spirit of the east coast life that these ads portrayed, and twenty years later, I finally ventured to Nova Scotia and experienced a small taste of seaside life. The salty ocean air, the seafood, and the stunning views did not disappoint.

What follows is our very busy #sistasdoNS four-day itinerary, which will hopefully stir up some maritime wanderlust and get you hopping on the next plane to the east coast.

Day 1:
Up at the crack of dawn to experience Peggy’s Cove before the large tour buses took over. From there we drove to Lunenburg, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and my favourite part of the trip. If you go, make sure to roam the streets and admire the old homes, visit the Blue Nose, grab a coffee at No.9 (best chai latte I’ve ever had), buy a book or two from Lexicon Books, I recommend this one by local artist Emma Fitzgerald, and grab a lobster roll at The South Shore Fish Shack. We spent the evening in Halifax, and dined at the amazing Lot Six – most creative cocktail list I have ever seen. Visited the Citadel, explored the old streets, and took the ferry back to our super cute Airbnb in Dartmouth.IMG_7095

Day 2:
Up early for the 5-hour drive to Cape Breton Island. Drove part of the Cabot Trail to Ingonish, where we stayed at the adorable Salty Roses and the Periwinkle Café in a room overlooking the ocean. If you visit, don’t expect a busy town or nightlife. Come here to relax and enjoy the great outdoors. IMG_7144

Day 3:
Completed our 298km loop around the Cabot Trail, and stopped every 15-minutes or so, which made the drive extra long, but we couldn’t get over the breathtaking views, it was as if the next lookout point was better than the last. Due to time constraints and the long drive ahead of us to Wolfville, we only hiked one of the 26 trails in Cape Breton, the Skyline Trail, but that trail did not disappoint; rugged coastline views of the Cabot Trail and the ocean were on full display as we reached the lookout. Words cannot describe the beauty of Cape Breton Island, and what I write in an attempt to express its grandeur will only fail miserably. It’s no surprise that it’s touted as one of the world’s most scenic drive. IMG_7268

Day 4:
Up early to walk the ocean floor in Blomidon as the tide was out – what an experience! Headed back to Wolfville and visited a few wineries. First stop was Benjamin Bridge, to taste their renowned sparkling, then off to Luckett Vineyards – if you go, make sure to visit the old red telephone box in the vineyard. Last spot and the most anticipated was Lightfoot & Wolfville Vineyards an organic winery that practices biodynamic viticulture, and the nicest family you will ever meet. Nova Scotia has one wine appellation, Tidal Bay, (Ontario has three: Niagara Peninsula, Lake Erie North Shore, and Prince Edward County), and every winery produces a Tidal Bay wine. Tidal Bay is a crisp, aromatic white wine that reflects the terroir, coastal breezes and cool climate region, and pairs perfectly with their local seafood. One last sweet stop at the Real Scoop and a quick walk to the Waterfront Park to witness high tide to cap off our getaway before we slowly and begrudgingly made our way to YHZ.IMG_7347There was a somber air to the trip as we realized it may be the last one we take together before new life chapters begin, as they do and as we want them to, so my sister and I savoured every moment, took too many goofy pictures and made new memories to last a lifetime.

Have you been to the east coast, or is it on your travel bucket list? Let me know, I’d love to hear highlights from your trip, or places you’d like to see.  IMG_8165.JPG

Pictures:
1. Lot Six in Halifax
2. Our room overlooking the ocean at Salty Roses and the Periwinkle Café
3. View from the Skyline Trail
4. The ocean floor
5. My beautiful sister and I at Peggy’s Cove.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

“I have always taken pride in managing my life alone. I’m a sole survivor–I’m Eleanor Oliphant. I don’t need anyone else–there’s no big hole in my life, no missing part of my own particular puzzle. I’m a self-contained entity. That’s what I’ve always told myself, at any rate. But last night, I’d found the love of my life. When I saw him walk onstage, I just knew.”

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman is a refreshing, funny and so very real read. This isn’t a novel about villains or heroes, there is no plot twist or crazy characterization, but what this novel has at its core are honest characters that are lonely, funny, kind and just so darn loveable.

Eleanor Oliphant is a thirty-something year old single woman; she works a full-time job as a finance clerk, rents a flat in Glasgow, drinks too much on the weekends, and has a crush on a unsuitable man. Seems pretty ordinary, but Eleanor is anything but: she’s smart, sophisticated, and extremely socially awkward. She can’t stand small talk, has no friends, is terrified of her mother, and consumes two bottles of vodka each weekend. She lives a structured life, but when an unexpected event changes Eleanor’s scheduled Friday night plans (Tesco pizza and vodka alone), her predetermined days quickly change as new acquaintances become friends and new experiences unfold for this quirky heroine.

Unlike traditional happily ever after tropes, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine does not end with romance saving the girl. The storyline is a bit rom com of sorts, but the love Eleanor finds is the love for herself, which is so refreshing to read in this female-centred novel. IMG_7768

The Old Apartment

Last week I was reminded via Facebook Memories that seven years ago I moved into my first apartment. It was nothing fancy, but it was love at first sight: French Doors, a claw foot bathtub, and hardwood floors. I loved this small 550sq.ft space more than anything. Sure, the floors were squeaky, the neighbours upstairs were noisy, and the water pressure was weak, but it was mine, a place to call my own. It was in this apartment that I adopted my cat, Kingsley; I wanted a companion but not the human kind, and a dog was just too much. It was in this small space that I learned what it feels like to have mere cents in the bank account and no food in the fridge. This was the spot that girlfriends would come over to chat late into the night. And most importantly, this was the place that I finally grew comfortable being on my own.

I remember locking myself out of my apartment one evening in the winter. I didn’t realize until after a few drinks as I searched for my keys inside my purse. As most amazing ideas are the brainchild of booze, my idea of climbing the garbage cans to my bathroom window that was ajar, was a given. After failing, and falling, I had to call my landlord.

I have hazy memories of hanging out with a girlfriend who lived a few blocks away. My back-stoop became the spot we would smoke Sobranie’s, sip rosé or some homemade cocktail and discuss our current life choices; Lana Del Rey’s drowsy voice and the murmur of busy St. Paul Street the soundtrack to those summer nights.

I became comfortably at peace with the place I called home, but after two and a half years of safe refuge, my fear became a reality, as my beloved apartment turned against me. It was an early summer morning, but the city was still asleep when I was jerked awake by what sounded like my door knob turning. Too scared to move, I stayed in bed and reassured myself that it was just a dream. A few seconds later, I heard a deep bellowing voice say, “B!tch, let me in.” I screamed, and jolted out of bed – it sounded like an someone was inside my apartment. With nothing to protect myself, exposed and terrified, I slowly walked towards my kitchen, where I stood face-to-face with an unrecognizable man, my only protection, the window screen that stood on guard between me and this intruder. I yelled at him to leave, colourful curse words escaped my mouth, and with shaky limbs, I slammed the kitchen window closed and locked it. The man did not recognize that his behaviour was unwanted but continued to pound on my door and the walls of the building, spewing profane language, and causing me to feel weak, dirty and isolated. Finally, the man gave up and ran off somewhere, while I remained hidden on my living room floor crying.

After I gained a bit of strength, I called the police, and to my horror, they did nothing but made me feel as if the incident was my fault.

That moment changed my carefree spirit and I became paranoid of what could be lurking around a corner, or across the street. I became a 27-year-old woman who triple checked that the door was locked, and that the windows closed. I could no longer sleep in the dark and had to leave my night table lamp on – shadows that were once familiar scared me and sounds that were soothing became unbearable.

I remained in that apartment for ten more months. When the day came to leave, I was sad; I didn’t want to say goodbye to my first home, to the memories I created in that small space, and to the place that taught me to stand on my own. Although it felt like she abandoned me that one summer morning, in reality, my old apartment protected me.IMG_1028

Hi Ali, It’s Botox Calling

As I was driving into work the other day, I looked at myself in the rearview mirror to make sure that toothpaste residue wasn’t caked around my lips, and noticed, instead, a faint sign of a wrinkle just above my upper lip. The horror: a new line, a new crease, a new sign of the impending inevitable aging process. I’m not young and I’m not old per se (what constitutes old and young anyways?), nor am I a wrinkle rookie as lines slowly decorate my flesh. Yet, it’s still upsets me when I find a crevice that was not there the day before, and I quietly curse the anti-aging potion I spent a fortune on for not doing its magic.

The same day, an editorial piece popped up in my news feed about the benefits and beauty of injectables, and I felt defeated for being victim of another clickbait article brandishing the vulnerable. But I had to know, what is the aging cure, so I read and found that the answer is in the form of repeated cosmetic treatments. Okay, but there has to be something else? Can’t I just slather Fun Dip on my face, relive the 90s, drink lots of water and go to bed at a respectable hour to rejuvenate my youthful glow? If only.

Alas, the never-ending desire for flawless skin free of lines, creases, furrowed brows will always be prevalent in my own everyday narrative when I greet my face in the morning and clean it at night. I’m not alone in this struggle as women everywhere are echoing these sentiments. A study published in 2017 from Reuters, stated that “the Global Anti-Aging Market was worth $250 billion in 2016 and is estimated to reach $331.41 billion by 2021.” Our skin is our identity, yet we disguise its truth with lotions, potions, fillers and enhancers. Why?

I will be the first one to admit that I am bamboozled by the beauty industry; my makeup drawer is an embarrassment, my Sephora buyer status is VIB (it could be worse), and I’ve contemplated many times on getting a little prick here and there to eliminate a line or two. I’m a sucker, the biggest sucker, for concoctions that promise beauty in the form of perfect youthful skin. But aren’t we all in search of that one product that defies time by tricking others, and ourselves, that we are untouchable from the signs of aging?

Maybe one day I’ll try Botox, or maybe I’ll simply accept fate and appreciate the slow process of my body changing over time; that these lines slowly creeping on my face are merely lines celebrating smiles and contemplative thoughts over a lifetime. Easier said than done, amiright?

BotoxImage credit

The Home for Unwanted Girls by Joanna Goodman

“Elodie is an orphan, which, Tata has explained, means she does not have a mother or a father. When Elodie once asked her why not, she was told quite plainly, “You live in a home for unwanted girls because you were born in sin and your mother could not keep you.”

The Home for Unwanted Girls by Joanna Goodman is a historical novel based on true events in Quebec during the 1950s and ’60s, at a time where the province is governed under Premier Maurice Duplessis dictatorship, and there is a divide between the French Canadians and the English Canadians.

Living in this era is 15 year-old Maggie Hughes, an innocent girl who dotes on her English-speaking father and dreams of one day taking over his seed shop. However, Maggie finds herself torn between abiding by her father’s rule, and allowing her feelings to bloom for her neighbour, Gabriel Phénix, a poor, rough around the edges French Canadian, the type of guy Maggie’s father has ruled her to avoid.

Conflicted between love and honour, Maggie chooses love, and shortly after becomes pregnant with his child and is forced to give up her baby, Elodie. Elodie is sent to an orphanage, while Maggie is forced to continue living a life that never bore a daughter. Meanwhile, Elodie becomes a Duplessis orphan, and is falsely certified as mentally ill.

Following the birth of her daughter, Maggie’s narrative is interwoven with Elodie’s, where the reader has a glimpse into Maggie’s heartache and longing for her unknown daughter, and insight into the horrific treatment Quebec orphans in the ‘50s were subjected to, and what Elodie goes through.

I could not put this book, I was engrossed in the story of Maggie and her daughter Elodie, and did not want it to end. It is a heartbreaking, beautiful and powerful story about love and family.IMG_6815This dark part of Canada’s history was unknown to me prior to reading this novel, and I  feel guilty for not knowing, but The Home for Unwanted Girls (and Google) made me aware of this ugly part of Quebec’s past.

History of Duplessis Orphans
During the 1940s and ’50s, several thousand orphans and children born out of wedlock were “reclassified” by authorities as mentally ill and placed in psychiatric hospitals. Premier Maurice Duplessis’s government was receiving a federal subsidy of $1.25 per orphan, but psychiatric patients were more lucrative at $2.75 each. Overnight, Catholic-run orphanages were converted to hospitals, and the young residents were treated like unpaid servants, forced to clean and provide basic care for other patients. Only later did the stories of physical, psychological and sexual abuse by nuns and other workers come out. (The Quebec government has offered financial retribution to the survivors, but the church has never formally apologized.) (Source)

Happy Campers

We made it, dear reader, the first long weekend of unofficial summer is here and with it an abundance of plans for backyard get-togethers, pool parties, beach hangouts, and of course camping.

Growing up in the country, our backyard was often the campground, as my parents would set up the tent, my brothers would build a fire, and I would search for roasting sticks. Spider dogs, smores, searching for constellations and sing-along songs would be our evening entertainment. Eventually, the kids would head to the tent for bed while my parents said good night and went back inside as the mattress was more comforting than the ground under our sleeping bags. As soon as the back door closed, the flashlights came on and the ghost stories shared. It was a favourite game to see who could tell the scariest story or who would be the first one to run inside for fear of monsters, ghosts and bogeymen.

In my tween and teen years, summer camping was often spent at camp where I would bunk with girls my age in musky row cabins where ghost stories became stories of crushes and grownup aspirations, and the days were carefree and full of childlike wonder. And then just like that, the days of camp life were over, and I became too cool for nature. Thankfully, that phase was short-lived, and a few years later, I tackled my first extreme camping trek and portaged through backcountry Algonquin.

These days, my camping trips are fairly easy with weekend stints at nearby provincial parks that are accessible by car and make packing a dream.

If you have never been camping, go and experience the outdoors. You will get dirty and there are bugs, but at night, when you look up and see a million stars staring back at you, you lose yourself and realize that the dirt is nothing compared to the beauty of nature.

To help with your planning, I’ve compiled a list of camping tips for a successful semi-wilderness adventure.

  1. Make a packing list, don’t over-pack on clothing, and socks are a must.
  2. If you use an air mattress, don’t forget a fitted sheet – they get very cold in the middle of the night.
  3. Plan easy meals, and pre-make what you can ahead of time.
  4. Use a Tupperware container for storing camping dishes (this will double as your sink).
  5. Bring a tablecloth for the picnic table – this will save eager eaters from unwanted splinters.
  6. Lawn chairs for fireside and the beach.
  7. Tiki torches or solar power string lights – creates a bit of ambiance at your campsite.
  8. Pack a hammock for ultimate campsite relaxation.
  9. String to use as a clothesline.
  10. Don’t forget sunscreen and bug spray.
  11. Wet wipes are a lifesaver.
  12. For play, pack lawn games, cards and a book.
  13. Lastly, make sure you are aware of the campground rules, as some sites are quite zones. Also know that on long weekends, most campgrounds do not allow alcohol.

If sleeping in a tent on an air mattress is not your thing, then glamourize your camping experience and go glamping. The cost is a bit more, but for luxury, it is worth it. Happy camping, friends!

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Camping at Two Jack Lakeside in Banff, Alberta (2015)