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)

Update

I am a dry well: I have nothing to say and no stories to share. Without my words guiding me to shore, anchoring me home, I feel barren and soulless. I haven’t written creatively in over a month, I don’t know what to write; I struggle that it’s not good enough or even worse, that it’s boring and mundane. The cursor on my screen mocks me as I type, delete and then try again. It is a hopeless endeavour.

Like a drought, this won’t last forever, rain is inevitable and so too are my words. I just have to be patient, and let this pass, but that doesn’t mean I can’t help it along the way. I will be like the farmer who waters their land during the dry spell; I’ll pick up my pen and write a line or two about the day, and I’ll continue to read until that eureka moment, then I’ll harvest my words, just for you. Until then.

Currently:
Anxiously waiting to play in the dirt and start gardening
Reading The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan
Listening to “Nice for What” by Drake
Drinking Malivoire Rosé Moira

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Is Etiquette Extinct?

Let me start by sharing my experience meeting a Prince of Royal English descent. Picture a young woman in her early twenties on the verge of ditching her punk-rocker/hipster aesthetic and attempting to adopt a bohemian-hippie vibe. Yes, that was me. I was working in the hospitality industry in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and an event was planned with the Earl of Essex as the guest of honour. Oh my, what a tizzy! Everything had to be perfect, especially us, the lowly staff. A Finishing School teacher (yes, there is such a thing!) was hired to teach us royal etiquette, and instruct us on how to behave, address and acknowledge the Prince. I practiced how to act and what to say until it was perfect – I was going to nail this visit, and possibly become the next Duchess, Countess, Princess whatever.

When the Prince arrived, he greeted everyone in the room and in turn, received a bow or a curtsy. It was nearing my turn, and nervous me did that game we all do and started counting down the number of people ahead of me. In my head, I recited what I had to say and before I knew it, the Prince was in front of me, my name was called and I half curtsied/bowed/lost my balanced and awkwardly jumbled “Pleasure to meet your RoyalHighnessMajestyPrince.” Wrong! It was embarrassing, and in that moment I thought he was going to yell “off with her head” (wrong monarch) and the Scotland Yard, who were standing guard at every possible entryway, would come running with their swords.

Thankfully, that did not happen; my head is still intact and my curtsying days are over. However, there is something to be said about proper manners, even though some seem dated, while others are daunting. I will be the first to admit that I am nowhere near perfect when it comes to being a prim and proper manners queen, actually, I’m the contrary, I am a bit of a slob, but you’ll never know that (unless you live with me) because I have almost mastered the art of etiquette.

We live in a unique time right now: technology is ever evolving and continuing to advance the human race, yet I think humans, my generation in particular, are failing when it comes to our Ps and Qs. I can’t be the only one that thinks that, and if I’m not, have manners become a thing of the past, dare I say it, possibly extinct? Is it because we have lost practice of properly communicating to people without a screen in front of our face; are we too self-centred that thank yous are no longer in our vocabulary; or does it have something to do with a cultural shift of slow and steady to fast and furious?

Whatever it is, I say that we push the pause button and examine our etiquette practices. What follows is a short little ‘mind your manners’ list to use as a cheat sheet, or fake it until you make tips.

Thank Yous
This shouldn’t need reiterating, but sadly it does. Thank yous are free and the greatest gesture to show someone that you appreciate them and their generosity. If someone gives you a gift for a shower, bridal, or wedding, thank you cards are necessary. Say someone shovels your sidewalk while you are away, they deserve a thank you and maybe homemade cookies. To people that serve you, say thank you. If someone has gone out of their way for you, be it monetary or physically, say thank you.

Host/Hostess Gifts
This may seem a bit old-fashioned, but if you are invited to a dinner party know that your host has spent time and money planning and creating a delicious meal. A gift is a token of gratitude for their efforts, and can be small or complement the dinner party. Flowers, wine or a dessert are my go-to gifts.

Dinning
When at a formal setting, fancy dining can seem daunting but it is fairly simple. Remember to place your napkin on your lap as soon as you sit down and leave it there until you are done. Always wait until everyone at the table has been served before you pick up your cutlery, and start with the utensil that is away from your plate and work your way in. When finished, place your utensils at 4:20 on your plate. Confused with which bread plate and drink glass are yours, connect your left pointer finger and left thumb to make an ‘o’ and do the same with your right, the letters b and d will form; b is your left hand where you will find your bread plate, and d, for your drink, is on your right.

Daily Life
We all go through moods and sometimes we are not in the proper mind space to smile or chat with anyone, which is okay. But, on days when our spirits are bright we should share some of that warmth to others we connect with throughout the day. Smile at the people you pass on your walk; hold the door open for the person behind you; compliment a colleague on their awesome outfit, or their great presentation. Respect your partner, check in with a friend, and call your parents and grandparents.

Etiquette may seem archaic, mundane, silly and unnecessary, like that curtsy/bow debacle, but it is a sign of respect, to you and to others. So bow, open that door, send the thank you letter, and let the resurgence of etiquette commence.annie-spratt-113596-unsplash

Precious Cargo by Craig Davidson

I am embarrassed to admit that I tend to shy away from books written by men, especially memoirs. When I read a book I want to feel a connection to the characters or to the story that unfolds with every page turned, and I have rarely felt that way towards anything written by male authors.  I know that this is a terrible way to read, that I am limiting my reading scope, and that I am being a biased (read “bad”) reader, however it’s what I do and I doubt it will ever change. With that being said, CBC’s annual Battle of the Books aka Canada Reads, persuaded me to step out of my comfort zone and read Precious Cargo: My Year of Driving the Kids on School Bus 3077 by Craig Davidson. Let’s just say, I’m glad I did.

Craig finally made it as an author following the debut of his short story collection, and was praised as the next up-and-coming writer, but after the release of his second book, he becomes a flop; the book didn’t sell well and he is dropped as a client by his publisher. In order to make ends meet, he works odd jobs, one of them being a stint at the local library, where he is shortly fired for watering someone else’s plant (office politics, amiright?).

It’s the beginning of summer 2008, Craig is living in Calgary, and at a low point in his life, that is, until he finds a flyer in his mailbox stating “Bus Drivers Wanted.” Maybe it is fate, or the fact that he was broke, but whatever the reason, Craig calls the number on the flyer and registers for bus driving lessons. From the start, Craig decides that his bus driving career will only be a temporary one year transition before he moves on to something else, but what he doesn’t plan are the friendships he develops with the kids on Bus 3077.

The start of the school year is near, and Craig, now equipped with his bus driving license, is ready to drive, and when it comes time to pick his route, he agrees to transport a group of kids with special needs that range from autism to cerebral palsy. This decision made on the fly turns out to be one that creates a lasting impression. What follows is transformative experience for Craig that leads him to evaluate his life, his work, and the way society treats people with cognitive and physical disabilites.

This is a heartfelt memoir, that is lighthearted despite its serious content, thought provoking, beautifully written, and funny. I highly recommend it.IMG_6515

Fitbit Thoughts: The Lives of Others

Last Christmas I asked for a Fitbit, and was generously gifted one by my significant other. I wanted one for the same reason every other Fitbit user has one, to track my daily steps, which to my horror, was/is quite pitiful. I’m not lazy, per se, I just work a 9-to-5 desk job and in the evenings I just want to read, eat, watch T.V., and sleep. However, since rocking this super fashionable rubber step tracker, I have felt accountable to the number that mocks me daily; sometimes it reads 10,000 steps other days it reads 3.5K steps. Needless to say, I have started to walk more to show that number who’s boss.

This act of walking would make me less creepy, say if I was walking a dog, or with someone else, but nope, I walk on, and on these walks, I am even more of a creep as I house shop. You know the act because you do it to: You go for a Sunday drive to look at houses; you check out the nearby open house, not because you want to buy, but because you want to see what’s inside; and you, like me on these evening walks, glimpse inside windows if the curtains are open and the lights are on.

That is what I do on my Fitbit-10K-a-day walks: I house shop. I unplug from my phone, and from other distractions, and tune in to the stories untold by the houses I pass. I am intrigued by the story every house has, its past and its present. Who lives in it now, and what do they do, but most importantly, what does it look like inside? I have taken it one step further and added careers to the owners of these homes. For example, on one of the streets I frequent I am positive a witch (obviously there has to be one) lives in the house on the corner with the magical turret overlooking the neighbourhood and the windows that are never open. I met her once as she was sweeping her stoop while a grey cat, that wasn’t hers – she mentioned this fact twice – circled her legs purring. We had a nice, albeit brief chitchat. Continue north, and we’ll meet a bookseller, I know this because there are bookshelves that are overflowing with books in the living room and the front foyer, and there’s even a bookshelf on the front porch – I often wonder if the mail-person sometimes grabs a book while delivering the mail. The bookseller’s neighbour is a doctor, while a graphic designer, a drifter, and retired elementary school teacher live in the Tudor-style home turned apartment across the street. Eventually I’ll end up back at my house and wonder if people think the same thing as they pass on by: Are they curious about the lives and the stories being lived in this little old house of mine? Maybe.

After all, it is human nature to be intrigued by the lives of others. If we weren’t, our media landscape, the outlets that willingly allow users to invite people into their lives via stories, tweets and posts, would look a lot different, possibly be non-existent. Memoirs, biographies, epistolary novels (I love books that are narrated through letters or diary entries, it’s like I’m participating in the secret), would never be written, and many documentaries would be left untold. So, my curiosity for the lives of others wagers on one tracked step at a time.

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An open letter to the girls from my youth

Dear you,

I am writing you this letter almost fifteen years since we were last together hoping that you are well. Crazy how fast those years have flown by when we don’t have semesters and summers to separate our carefree years.

I want you to know that I’ve thought of you, how life is for you, what you have accomplished in the past decade: are you married, a PhD candidate, do you have kids, did you travel, what do you do for work, are you happy? I am genuinely interested, which may seem strange since we never really talked in high school. Why do you think that was? It is a regret of mine, for being afraid to say hi, to sit beside you, to ask how your day was and wanting for that one second to build a connection, but that never happened because I was too scared. But maybe you were too. It’s ironic how what comforts us actually burdens us.

Then just like that, our high school life was over; we forged our own separate paths as we walked out of those doors, carefree and thought-free of the people we were walking away from, some forever. Then Facebook happened, a tipping point for human connection and interaction. We added one another as friends – what a funny misconception, because we weren’t IRL – and yet, at a safe distance and free from judgement, we were able to like and comment on posts shared. Through this mediated form, I have been able to witness you kick-ass building a career; I was able to see how stunning you looked on your wedding day; I was proud of you when you accomplished that project; I also sympathized with you when you shared some sad news. It made me realize that I never complimented you or encouraged you while we were teens, the pivotal time when compliments and encouragement are so very needed.

That in-between stage of childhood innocence to adulthood awakening is such a difficult time as we figure out how to navigate through wonky hormones and crazy attitudes, yet barely understanding any of it. So we build a wall to protect ourselves from this unknown, but our barrier is uninviting and quick to judge others, and for that I apologize. I apologize for judging you instead of taking the time to get to know you; I apologize for not asking you to join me at my lunch table; and most importantly, I apologize for being mean. But we were young, we didn’t know better, right?

Now, we are not so young, and we do know better, so should our paths ever cross again, I promise I will say hello to you and ask how you’ve been. Maybe we will grab a coffee and catch up on each other’s lives, or we will simply chat for a couple of minutes and then walk our separate way, but whatever the outcome, I will be happy that we were able to connect unhindered from fear for that brief moment in time.

Love,
ali

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Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin

I vaguely remember the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal; I was too young to be interested in the romantic affairs of politicians, but as I matured, the more I began to learn about America’s most-loved/hated seductress. Now, over twenty years later I read a similar, yet fictitious story in Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin where readers are transported to Southern Florida and meet twenty-year old Aviva Grossman. Aviva is an intern for a “handsome” congressman, and we quickly learn about an affair between the two of them, and so does the rest of the country following a car accident. Aviva is not injured, but the publicity ruins her name, and the fact that she wrote an anonymous blog about their scandalous affair for all to read, while the congressman apologies for his poor judgment and walks away unscathed.

This quirky novel is divided into five episodic parts centered on the woman who are affected by “Avivagate” and the genius part; all sections are engaging, humourous and loveable in their own way. We meet Rachel, Aviva’s mother, as she re-enters the online dating world later in life and how her daughter’s past still makes conversation. We learn about Aviva’s new life post-scandal. We are introduced to the loveable and very curious 13 year-old Ruby. We get a glimpse into the life of the congressman’s long-suffering wife. And lastly, we are taken on a chose your own adventure where we are brought to the beginning on how the love affair began, and because of its first-person narration, we don’t judge Aviva’s actions, but place ourselves in her situation.

Young Jane Young is an easy read that addresses themes of sexism, feminism and relationships: mother-daughter, friendships, mentorships and romantic relationships. Most importantly, this is a story about a woman who was shamed for her actions, yet rebuilt her life instead of being ashamed. I really enjoyed it, and if you read it, I hope you do too. DB462A24-7EF1-4E36-9373-AE6420C6D4C2