Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Mayflower Land

Today in class, while discussing the heavy topic of ‘ecocide’, the term solastalgia came up. This is the term used to describe the feeling of loss or sadness related to environmental change.

After going through examples from my students, I shared my own example - Mayflower Land. 

Image source: www.whatabloom.com
For anyone not from Nova Scotia, the mayflower is our provincial flower. It is a small pinkish-white flower, which tends to be in full bloom during the month of May. For many of us, it was the first signs of spring. It has a light but floral sent, and makes a lovey centrepiece in any small vase.

But as far as Mayflower Land goes... that’s something different!

When I was a kid, I grew up in a few smaller neighbourhoods, where kids would gather after school or on sunny days throughout the summer. I am so lucky and thankful to have had these experiences, and the memories of playing street hockey as the youngest member in goalie, or playing endless games of tag, or acting out Power Rangers scenes in snowbanks are some of the highlights of those early years. Some days I wish I could go back.

There was one particular place, however, that we would always come across. A place we would lovingly refer to as Mayflower Land. A hill covered with these tiny, yet beautiful flowers - they seemed endless. If I close my eyes and really think about it, I can still see it; I can even smell them. And it was magical - almost like a real life Narnia - having to pass through a wooded area in order to reach this hidden gem. I sometimes wish I could return, if for no other reason than to see if it is actually how I remember it.

Unfortunately some years ago this mystical place was transformed into an extension of that subdivision. While I’m happy those families have a safe place to rest their heads, I often wonder if they ever knew what their land once was.

Thinking about Mayflower Land frequently makes me smile. But I still get a pain of sadness whenever I remember that it is no longer there.

-the Orange Canadian

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Free Fallin'

It wasn’t Jerry Maguire that got me hooked onto this tune, but it sure has been relevant as of late. And it seems that Tom Petty has been taking over the airwaves this past week, and I’m also okay with that.  But, it’s a different type of free fallin’ I’m talking about these days...

Male relatives, colleagues, and any creepy guys I don’t know, this is your warning to choose a different page.

One of the hardest parts of winter is how much work it takes just to get out the door. Add in a puppy who requires occasional, and dare I say, additional, visits to the cold out-of-doors, and this struggle becomes real pretty quickly!

When I wake up in the morning, I like to slowly ease my way into it... starting with a quiet cup of coffee and a few minutes to just be with my thoughts. But, I realize that one of my responsibilities as a dog owner, is that I must take her out to pee, and of course for a walk. And 9 times out of 10, I’m cool to do that while I wait for the water to boil. But there’s just one part of getting ready for those early morning releases that I just can’t stand. The dreaded bra.

Look, I’m in my cozy p-jams. I don’t want the cold air to change that just because I have to go outside. So, this past week I did something I wouldn’t have dreamed of doing... I’ve been taking Gertie for a walk braless. And it’s...been...awesome!

I know you smaller chested ladies are fortunate enough to be able to do this on a whim without the fear of public outcry, but that’s not a blessing I’ve been given. Taking to the streets, with only a few layers and my free flowing ladies is slightly nerve-racking, and yet it’s been freeing all the same. In a small and weird way, it’s been kind of empowering. I know it’s small potatoes, but really - why am I going through all the work to put on a bra just to take my dog for a quick tinkle stroll? It’s bad enough we have to countdown the hours until we are home from work so we can take it off!

- the Orange Canadian

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Onwards and Upwards

2018 is quickly nearing, and I have to say this year can't end soon enough. When I look back on the past 12 months there are surely things to be celebrated and for which I am proud of, or that I’m thankful for. My time in The Netherlands, once again, adopting Gertie, and registering my organization in Uganda are all among the top highlights. However, these were marred by a plethora of not so good moments, for which I am hoping will not be repeated in the coming year ahead.

To say this year has been a struggle is surely be an understatement. Dealing with my mental health has been on of my greatest challenges as of late. They began in May, and have continued on even as I write. Depression and anxiety have been apart of my life since I was a child, and they have come and gone throughout the years. Usually they can easily be managed but this time around it has become increasingly more difficult. My low points have been places I have not felt in years - not even after losing my Mom almost 5 years ago. It’s painful and lonely, and can be quite scary at times, as a result. This isn’t a state I have spoken about a lot, mostly because I still believe my doing so overburdens those around me, and partly because I seem to think I can get through it all without the help of others. Gertie has been a tremendous help in this area, but she is only one pup - and the burden is not solely hers to cure or carry. Plus, she has some issues of her own. You could say we’re both a work in progress, but I’m glad we’re figuring it all out together. She’s such a good companion.

But a huge part of my challenges this year have stemmed from support - or lack there of - and readjusting to a place I don’t really feel I relate to anymore*. It’s funny how only a few years away can make a place you’ve always known feel so distant. The landscapes alone have changed, especially when looking at the Halifax skyline, but so have the people, the norms, and pretty much everything else. I don’t think I ever fully grasped Ugandan culture, but I do feel like it was becoming a part of my core. And this has been felt more so since returning to Canada (and not just because it’s now cold!). It didn’t help that it wasn’t a welcomed decision to leave in the first place, but rather one made out of necessity. I was in a bad place, and I thought I would have more support when I returned. But in all honesty I have felt replaced more than I have felt supported. It’s forced me to open up old wounds and really focus on just how much of an impact my mother’s passing has had on my life and how unfair it is that certain circumstances have been greeted with unequal results. The not knowing where I’d be resting my head from one day to the next, and the lack of having a steady routine were some of the things I hadn't anticipated, and the consequences are still something I am struggling to understand. All of this, mixed with some crummy relationships that need to be cut loose, have been a recipe for disaster.

The sad thing is that throughout it all, my physical health has also been in decline. Thank goodness for Gertie who gets me out at least twice a day for walks, and some indoor playtime fun! I know I have let down my workout buddies immensely; in the last few weeks, in particular. They are such a reliable source of positive energy and encouragement. But, there have been far too many days where it has been hard to muster up the strength or motivation to exercise and eat right, when the prospect of the future seems such a long shot. I know I need to get on board again - and I will step up.

But let’s not focus solely on the bad. The coming year has some pretty incredible opportunities in the works - starting in a little over a week, I head to the front of the classroom, as a lecturer at Acadia University. This is an opportunity I had been working towards since I left the school as a graduate only a few short years ago**. I have some travel plans, including heading to Japan for a little work-play adventure, and then heading back to the continent I love - beginning in Kenya, and then eventually making my way next door to Uganda. I also have some writing contracts lined up, and if all goes as planned, I may very well find myself in a classroom once again - this time as a student.

There is a lot of good. I know this. You, as a reader, hopefully know this about your own lives. There will always be negative moments, and unforeseeable changes, no matter what. I have come to recognize this simply as life. But these tend to be the things that further strengthen one’s capability to thrive. These are the moments we will look back on - hopefully with minimal resentment - and recognize as those pivotal moments that could have, but didn’t break us. And that, my friends, is what I’ll be holding onto in 2018.

- the Orange Canadian

*More on this latter topic potentially in the next few days.
**And if I’m really being honest, well before then!

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

December 6th: Marking 100 Years

It was a day much different from this one. For starters, it’s 10°C, and a hundred years ago, a snowstorm was on its way. But the rainy, solemn morning in Halifax today seems equally appropriate.

Marking its 100th anniversary, the Halifax Explosion is Canada’s largest maritime disaster and one of the most significant events in the country’s war history. Sadly, the events of this day are often omitted from curriculum* in other parts of the country, despite the impact it had from coast to coast.

An estimated 2000 people were killed, countless others were injured, houses and businesses were destroyed, and life in this city changed in a flash. The cause? A munitions ship (the SS Mont Blanc) collided with the SS Imo, causing a blast that could be felt miles away. And if this wasn’t bad enough, a snowstorm hit that same evening, placing even more stresses to an already challenging situation. There are loads of sites, books, and other platforms to learn more about this event in detail, so I’ll leave this to you to investigate further. There’s even a few good tunes to be found!

Today I had fully intended to head over to Fort Needham Memorial Park to participate in the official memorial. But I just couldn’t get organized enough to do so. Instead, I prepped Gertie for her daily morning walk, and we made our way down to the Dartmouth waterfront - the next best place, I figured.

As we reached the edge of the boardwalk, the cannon sounded from atop Citadel Hill, and our minute of silence began. The ships in the harbour blew their horns, which presented an even more eerie mood to the day. It felt heavy. And it was all sort of overwhelming.

I thought of my paternal grandfather and how if he had been in a different place that morning I probably wouldn’t be here. I thought of my grandmother’s friend and infamous survivor, Barbara Orr, and of all the wonderful tales Grammy has told me about her over the years**. I thought of the kindness of those who came from near and far to lend a helping hand, and how recent disasters have typically been shown the same sense of humanity.

And as I move forward with the day, I will continue to reflect on how lucky I am and try to focus on the good that people can do. I will also take a few minutes to think about another horrific event that took place on this day and which marks the 28th anniversary of the events at École Polytechnique. This day is now recognized as the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.

It’s a big day for Canadian history. It’s a sad day. But it’s also a day to consider and envision a way forward, towards a more peaceful world, while embracing the gravity of both of these events.

-the Orange Canadian

*Not that we need to know every historical detail of our country, but one of this magnitude should certainly be mentioned at the very least!
**I even have some of her artwork still - pieces that my mother cherished.

Friday, 17 November 2017

Lessons learned from life with a puppy

It’s hard to believe, but somehow 6 months has already passed with Gertie. Yes, half a year ago, I brought home the sweetest little pup, and my entire life changed almost instantly. And while she’s still pretty sweet, she’s certainly not that little nugget anymore. She still remains hyper, loving, curious, WAY too amused by the male species, and a super snuggler. She’s also still quite timid at times, racked full of anxiety, and won’t let anything stand in the way of her and any source of food.

Gertie, at 9 weeks old. The first day home. 
Gertie at 6 and 8 months old, respectively. 

When I brought her home from Uganda, she weighed about 9.5kg. When we were last at the vet, she had doubled*. She has taken on an even happier personality since we arrived, and agrees that bacon is one of the better reasons to wake up in the morning (when I’m willing to share).

But aside from all of this, she has taught me so much about myself, life, and the true meaning of love. Here are just a few insights:

There is nothing better than coming home to a puppy after a long day of work

Since Gertie came into my life, I have a new understanding of time. That is, for a puppy, being gone for five minutes is the equivalent of being gone for 5 hours. Whether I run out to the car quickly, close the door while having a pee, or leave for a full day of work, the reaction when I return is the same - sheer joy, and whimpers that I can only assume translate to Mama, why did you leave me for so long?

The greeting I receive when I come home is sometimes the best part of my day. It’s also when I get a nice facial cleanse, but that’s neither here, nor there. No human I have ever encountered has ever been that excited to see me on a consistent basis like she is... except for maybe the little guy who’s family I stayed with Uganda...but I’m pretty sure he just wanted candy!

Bodily functions/fluids aren’t so gross

I have been on the record enough times for most people to know I’m not so big on the idea of children. I mean, I know they exist and are a requirement to continue the human populous, but to have one myself... PASS!

When Gertie entered my life, my maternal instincts surfaced immediately. From the first night fearing the massive responsibility I just took on (and staying up with her because she was crying and wouldn’t use the bathroom and being completely terrified I would somehow kill her) to moments where she’s been under the weather - my number one concern was for her health, happiness and safety.

A week or so ago I came home from work to find a mess that had stemmed from both ends leaking out of her crate, which then proceeded to cover my floor after letting her out. Usually this stuff would cause me to gag or throw up myself, but in this instance, all I wanted was to comfort her and make sure she knew she hadn’t done anything wrong. Thankfully, her follow up indicated she was all good, but it was terrifying not knowing what was wrong.

It does, however, still freak me out, how willing she is to clean any sidewalk of poop...especially now that it’s usually found in solid, frozen form! That’s my girl!!

Karma’s a bitch

I’m a redhead (hence my ‘Orange’ status). This meant that as a child and well into my teen years I exuded that stereotypical fiery red temper. I was a snot more simply, and there are many occasions that I look back on that I think, why didn’t my mother just drop me somewhere and never look back?

Gertie has taken on some of these same qualities. I mean, she is an Orange Ugandan, after all! But I frequently catch her rolling her eyes at me, having some temper tantrums, etc.

To the latter, I now know why my Mom didn’t just drop me somewhere. Gertie has developed a number of aggression problems, mainly around food, but also my bed, and a few of her toys. We’re working on it... but it’s hard. I constantly feel like I’ve failed her, or that I can’t take it any more. And just as those thoughts enter into my mind, she usually stops and gives me the sweetest look or does something really funny that I know I shouldn’t laugh at, because she’ll think I’m encouraging it, and all those negative thoughts dissipate (which goes back to the first point!).

There are people who should be in your life, and others that shouldn’t 

The best piece of advice this little four-legged beauty has offered me is that of my value and self-worth. She has taught me so much about unconditional love and the type of relationships I should have in my life. And, I’m not just talking about romantic ones, although she has been an incredible lesson in that department, as well.

Part of my leaving Uganda has been the result of some not-so-good friendships. Ones that demanded more of me than I was willing, or should have been asked, to give. A few of these became quite dangerous**. However, I’ve noticed that some of the relationships I thought I had awaiting me when I returned to Canada were of a similar, unhealthy nature, which has made coming back far more challenging than I needed or thought. But with the help of Gertie, I’m weeding out the people in my life that don’t allow me to live a positive, healthy life. So, people who only focus on my weight, my career, the fact that I brought a dog home from the opposite side of the planet, etc., don’t get the attention they used to, because I am more than a number, a confused workaholic, or a crazy dog person, etc.

But relationships of the romantic variety are also starting to change. I’ve never really felt the need to be in a relationship, and in fact, I actually quite prefer the single status! I’ve learned over the years that I’m way too independent and goal-oriented to put another person ahead of any of that, and luckily Gertie falls into those objectives more than she inhibits them! Yet, guys I’ve been involved with in the past haven’t been the greatest, either***, and Gertie is slowly teaching me the power of standing up for myself, and not just continuing something for the sake of routine. She’s teaching me that I need, and should only give time to, a sir that challenges my ideas about the world and supports my career goals. She’s teaching me that reliability, honesty, and hard work is a two-way street and not one that I am solely responsible for (which has been difficult!). She’s teaching me to stop making excuses for such behaviours, as well, because I want to see the best in people, or I want to believe that the glimmer of hope I saw on that one occasion a long, long time ago is worth putting up with all the other foolishness for in the hopes that that glimmer will once again shine again. (Insider tip: it usually doesn’t!)

So there you have it - a few of the many, many lessons that this little beauty has taught me in the short time we’ve been together. I know there is much more to learn from her, and many more adventures to come!

- Gertie’s Ma

*I sure hope she soon stops growing, because my flat isn’t big enough for Clifford!
**although to be fair, I have left some pretty amazing friends behind also, and I look forward to seeing them someday soon!
***I’m not saying all of my selections were poor, just that most have been

Thursday, 16 November 2017

A Walk in the Woods

Today was my first day off, that didn’t include some form of work. In fact, I’ve just awoken from a much need 4-hour power nap. Now I’m sipping tea, wrapped in a blanket and reflecting on the past few weeks. It’s been quite a trip overall - travels to The Netherlands, interviews with Acadia Alum and CBC Radio, writing contracts, and everyday work.

While in Zeist, I took a much needed walk in the woods...times two. It gave me a bit of a chance to ponder what was then my current position in life. It was beautiful! The leaves were turning, the air was crisp, and the smell of autumn was inescapable.

This morning I woke up, enjoyed a sip of coffee (or three...) and packed up Gert before making our way to one of my favourite spots* to unwind/unclutter my thoughts/enjoy nature - the Musquodoboit Harbour Trail. Now, in full disclosure, there was once a time (once a year, to be more specific) that I hated this spot. This was none other than the ESDH Walk-a-thon. But in the years since I left that dingy old school, I have come to appreciate that trail more and more.

I had hoped to get there before the leaves had completely fallen, as that walk is so stunning when the leaves are various colours. There were still some leaves attached, but most had fallen and begun settling into their winter hibernation. Still the crisp fall air and smells were all around us - it was perfect nonetheless. And best yet, a solid 6kms of training went off without a hitch, so my training is well underway for the PeaceWalk in May!

Not a bad way to decompress, if I may say so myself!

-the Orange Canadian

*Most of you have come to know Lawrencetown Beach to be my #1 spot to think

Saturday, 28 October 2017

The Ultimate Nudge in the Right Direction

You might remember that last year I found myself in the Netherlands for a 3-day intensive workshop/conference for leaders in sustainability. This was known as the Nudge Global Leadership Challenge, but was changed to the Nudge Global Impact Challenge. This basically means, that of the participants that attended last year, 6 were selected to return to this year’s edition, and pitch what they’ve done over the past year in 3 minutes. I was honoured to have been selected as one of the six, AND the only female nominee for the Impact Award.

Yesterday, I met up with a few of my fellow alum, to prepare our presentations, and catch up on all of the things that have happened over the past year. This involved endless cups of coffee, many laughs, and the familiar feeling of being welcomed home after being away. This in and of itself was an honour. I felt like I had already one. BUT, I was also hoping to use this opportunity to network, and potentially secure the funds required to make my Uganda project get off the ground.

The foreigners - Hector, Lucky, and myself - outside of the Peace Palace. 
Last night, we arrived at the Peace Palace in The Hague. Surrounded by the current cohort, industry leaders, and many other important figures, we stepped up on stage, and spoke of what we had achieved over the last year. I was once again surprised at how comfortable I felt on stage in front of 200+ people. But I put my heart on my sleeve and told the story of my team in Gweri, Soroti. I tried to paint the picture of how amazing, resilient, and inspiring the members of that community were, while also throwing in a joke or two about my love of the Backstreet Boys!

Above: Inside the dinner at the Peace Palace
Below: Giving my all!
Photo credit: Nudge Global Impact Challenge

After the speeches were given, the judges left the room and deliberated on who had made the biggest impact over the course of the year. There would be three awards in all, in a first, second, and third place standing. I was super excited when it was announced that my friend, Hector was the third place recipient for his efforts in making work uniforms, and the Mexican textile industry more specifically, more sustainable. Michiel, came in second for his work with Heroes and Friends by accomplishing 8000 acts of kindness. And, unbeknownst to me, I was awarded the top prize for my work in developing the Youth in Agriculture Initiative.

The nominees, a Maasai Elder, and one of the judges
Left to right: Bart-Jan, Matthijs, Ezekiel, a judge, Hector, Michiel, moi, and Lucky
This morning I awoke, ate a lot of bacon, sipped bottomless cups of coffee and tried to fully comprehend what has just happened. I later took a walk on one of the several trails on the property where the conference is held. This walk involved a lot of crying, contemplation, and the initial absorption of just how far I’ve come in the last year. I’m completely overwhelmed, honoured, and humbled by this.

My award - sculpture by Bart Ensing
What’s more, is that this walk has served as the first of many training sessions. Part of the award, aside from this amazing sculpture made from an olive tree, is a trip to Kenya, to spend 6 days walking in the Maasai Mara, hosted by my dear friend, Ezekiel, and joined by me fellow award recipients. I cannot wait to experience Africa in a complete different way, nor can I wait to share this all with you. More about this leg of the adventure to come!

-the Orange Canadian